How many times?

joanI sat on the floor with my legs crossed, leaning against a console stereo, my ear pressed to the textured side. I listened, intently and for hours, to the music emanating from the speaker. My mother carefully placed records on the spindle inside and from the outside I learned how to live in the world. Peter, Paul and Mary sang the questions of “Blowing in the Wind;” Bob Dylan’s poetry woven with their plaintive and impassioned harmonies. “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?” The answers were elusive and elemental, but in the questions we were urged to look in our own heart. It was the questions that taught me the woman I wanted to be.

With this soundtrack, I went out into a world where war was on television, where kids got teased, where people with difference were made to feel that way. I fought back, cried, worried, wrote poems, and listened to the music that gave me courage. I read voraciously about rebels and holy people who stood for what was right amid challenging circumstances. Every quest began with a question that defied an established order. I read passages over and over, memorizing the words and actions of change. I internalized their stories and looked for how to enact them in my tiny, suburban sphere.

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Summer 2015 Issue of Exponent II Going to Print–Subscribe Now!

what would you do

The following is the Letter From the Editor from the about-to-be-released Summer 2015 issue of Exponent II. If you’d like to receive a copy of this issue, subscribe now here.

While writing a fundraising appeal letter for Exponent II in 2012, I looked up some older essays by Exponent II founding mothers about the organization. I found this quote from Carrel Hilton Sheldon, describing the process of preparing manuscripts in the early years of the paper:

“One scene, firmly etched in my mind, is of me sitting at the end of the table typing up submissions to the paper with baby #3 balanced on my knees, in such a position that he could nurse while I typed. Children #1& #2 happily raced around our big old kitchen. At that moment I was awed by my commitment to get the job done and felt powerful in my ability to accomplish it. It was an amazing contrast to my usual feeling that taking care of three little children was so difficult that adding anything–like getting the laundry done–was almost beyond me. Somehow in the process of working on Exponent II, I became someone who could do an awful lot more than I had previously realized I could. ”

I immediately loved this quote, and used it in that letter, but I never dreamed in that moment that my life would soon mirror Carrel’s description. In February of this year, my husband and I welcomed our third baby into our family. In March, Pandora and I began work as the incoming editors of Exponent II. And in June, my family moved to a new state and my husband started a new job. Little baby Theo has spent much of his nursing hours “balanced on my knees” while I have read essays, edited, and corresponded with authors.

The cover of this issue features the art of Emily McPhie, one of my favorite artists I discovered while working as Art Editor for Exponent II. Her art weaves together whimsy and internal struggle and often features women mixing domestic work with heroism and elements of fantasy. In this piece, a woman in a blue dress and red sash stares confidently at the viewer. Interlaced through her ears and head is a slip of paper reading, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

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“My entire belief system has shifted”

My name is Sherry. Forty-eight. Mom of three with four bonus children! Happy, fun with a liberal heart and mind. I live in Utah, with my husband, our two cats (Prince Jerry and Princess Madeline). I’m constantly creating, looking for inspiration, and always up for an adventure.

Andy Carter/flickr/Creative Commons

At the young age of 8 years old, I was baptized into the Mormon Church, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I didn’t really know much about the church or religion other than I knew it was expected of me to be baptized and my parents were members.

I think I realized around age 10 or 11 that my family was exclusively different from other families in the church. By this, I mean the way other families behaved versus the way my family (parents) behaved.

My friend’s parents would hold weekly Monday night family nights. My parents didn’t do that. My friend’s families would pray together, pray at meals and read scriptures. My parents didn’t do that either.

I learned the word hypocrite at a fairly young age. One morning after a Sunday school class I was called a hypocrite by another young girl. At that moment, I didn’t know what the word meant but I learned later on and it devastated me. I began to dread going to church because of the other children and I always felt like my family was different. I mean, my family had never even been to the temple, let alone, sealed for time and eternity. Nevertheless, I had to go to church every Sunday, Wednesday and any other afternoon or night that an activity took place. My childhood and preteen social life revolved around the Mormon Church, which at the time didn’t seem too awfully bad.

I didn’t learn about the church history or what Mormons truly believe until just a few years ago. Of course I had heard rumors about Joseph Smith and his mystical and enchanting behavior and obviously I knew about Brigham Young’s polygamy. At any rate, I didn’t give any of it much thought and continued on with my “beliefs” and developed a rather judgmental attitude towards anyone who didn’t believe the way that I did or practice Mormonism.

Here is an example: after my husband I were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 2006 our son (my stepson) had recently returned home from his mission. He met a girl who was not a member of the church and asked her to marry him. I was furious! I was mean to his fiancée and talked behind her back. It breaks my heart now just knowing how mean and closed minded I was. I have since, apologized for my behavior and we are close and I love her unconditionally.

A few years ago, I read a book by Rebecca Musser called The Witness Wore Red. It’s a story about the woman who brought Warren Jeffs, the “prophet” from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), to justice. While reading her book I noticed quite a few similarities between the FLDS and the LDS churches. In fact, almost everything was the same except for the polygamous relationships. It really bothered me. I couldn’t shake the feeling off and decided that I needed to do more research on the Mormon Church’s history.

With that said, after a full year of research, reading and studying I made the decision to be fully authentic with myself. What this meant was that I could no longer subscribe to an organization that had more flawed history than what I was willing to put my trust and faith into.

It has been a journey and a huge eye opener for me. I have some family who continue to accept me and some who do not. It’s taken a toll on my marriage and we have had some tough times. We are still together though. I have learned not to discuss or bring up religion with my husband. I accept him as a person and love him. His beliefs are not my beliefs. My thoughts are that we don’t have to share the same beliefs in order to be a couple. It’s still uncertain to me if he would agree with that statement. We just don’t “go there.”

I no longer believe in patriarchy or that men are the only ones worthy to hold higher positions than women. I no longer believe that “God” only wants straight people or members of the Mormon Church in heaven, or in Mormon terms, the “Celestial Kingdom.

My entire belief system has shifted. I went from certainty to uncertainty in a very short time. I believe I’m a good person and I don’t feel a need to belong to an organized religion to prove that to myself or anyone else and if there is a God, I don’t think he/she cares either.

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“What’s your plan when you get home?”

Girl with Books

I always ask missionaries about their schooling. Did they attend college or trade school before serving a mission? Are they planning to go back? What are they planning to study and why? I know that’s a lot of pressure for a young person who’s supposed to be 100 percent dedicated to service for 18 to 24 months, but it’s the luck of the draw, kid: I prep students for the SAT, and my husband is a college professor.

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Changing my mind

brainI have a new job. Same company, but a new boss and new responsibilities. Intellectually, I am pleased. The new position is challenging, needed and supported. Every detail has lined up perfectly, and yet two months in, I am feeling a little lost. I am overly sensitive and questioning everything. I am tired. Cranky. Slow. Moaning at work/life balance and then when home, staring out the window instead of quilting, reading or riding my bike.

What is wrong with me? I have been asking this question over and over. Snap out of it! This is a great opportunity! Go for a walk and get it together! After moping around for weeks, I finally have a diagnosis. The job will be fine. The problem is me. My world is moving fast and my emotions are a tangle of neurons cowering in my primitive brain, scanning nervously for sabor tooth tigers. I am having a textbook change response.   

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Finding God in Community

"Lightning on Columbus River" by Ian Boggs

“Lightning on Columbus River”
by Ian Boggs

By Jenny

The spring thunderstorms have set my mind back to my youth.  I watch the misty greyness creep in as the rolling thunder awakens in me a sense that a powerful universal force exists.  Lightning pierces the melancholy clouds and lacerates the sky with its fierce power.  It’s as if God is raging in the heavens above, until the clouds open and the fierceness turns to a cleansing grace which flows freely to earth allowing life and beauty to thrive.

My teenage years also flowed with grace that allowed life and beauty to thrive in me.  I was nurtured by community and by dedicated leaders.  I lived in a world filled with scripture stories, faith, and miracles.  On a Book of Mormon Trek the summer after I turned sixteen, these scripture stories surrounded me in the form of handcarts and liahonas helping my youth group through the wilderness like Lehi’s family.  Prophets appeared to tell their stories and miracles surrounded us at every bend.  My leaders had put their heart and souls into planning a three-day trek that they hoped would be life-changing for those in their charge.  And it was.

I sat in the forest alone after the prophet Enos had appeared.  He sent us to pray and meditate on our own in the woods as he had done.  My scriptures lay open on my lap as the thunder began to roll in.  I looked up at the sky and smiled.  I could feel raindrops slowly kissing my face.  The smell of newness filled the air.  Thunder crept closer to me, as if warning me of what was coming.  Suddenly a boom shook the earth and the forest was consumed with fire.  A sharp pain shot through my back and I fell to the ground.  Through the chaos of people running down the mountain, I stumbled and was carried to a tent.  The doctor came quickly and looked at my back.  When he decided I was fine (just experiencing acute shock), he couldn’t hide his excitement over seeing an actual mark left by a lightning strike.  He took a picture.

The Stake President and Bishop came in then to give me a blessing.  Everyone in the tent could feel the power at that moment.  I don’t remember exactly what my bishop said.  It wasn’t so much a power of words, as it was a power of love and belief shared among humans.  When they left the doctor checked my back, but the mark was gone.  As a community, we felt the miracle in this event.  No one else on that mountain was hurt.  Through the storm, God had showed us power and grace.  I spent my teenage years feeling wrapped in that blanket of grace, safe and secure.

From that environment of communal nurturing and growth came a strong and powerful faith.  Over the years my faith has become more complex.  I have gained a deeper understanding of experiences beyond my own.  I have found knowledge that extends beyond my cultural conditioning.  I see now that things aren’t as they always seemed to me when I was younger.  Some might call the complexities of my faith “doubt,” but that word doesn’t describe it.

I have frequently been asked over the last few years, “So what do you believe?”  I don’t have the words, or maybe the words are meaningless to someone who hasn’t experienced my journey.  How do you describe what lightning feels like to someone who has never been hit by lightning?  If I could just show you my faith.  If you could see it, feel it, hear it, taste it…like running out into a thunderstorm, arms out, feeling energy flashing in the sky, the rain streaming down your face.  If you could only know my faith the way I do.  But you are in your safe shelter, watching the storm from a distance.  All it is to you is a disturbance to your plans, a tempest when you want sunshine.

I don’t claim to know the form of God.  Male, female, an old man with a beard, a king, a spirit, energy, embodied being, the evolutionary perfection of the human race, Elohim, Allah, Krishna…it doesn’t matter to me.  God is perfect love.  God is brightest light which opens the mind and fills it with knowledge and wisdom.  God is energy to move in a positive and powerful way.  God is grace.

I felt that grace as a young girl.  I felt it through family, friends, and leaders.  It kept me in the light.  It moved me in a positive direction.  It surrounded me with the power of love.  I don’t feel like I am wrapped in a blanket of grace anymore.  So I must generate grace within my own soul.  God is in me.  God is in the way I love, forgive, and connect with other people.  God is in the way I accept my imperfect faith and move forward.  God is in the way my heart tries to understand those who don’t understand me.  I believe God’s power and grace can be found in lightning and miracles.  God’s power and grace are in communities that nurture, build, and support each other.  God’s power and grace are in a heart that is open to love.     As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

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