One week ago, I stood in a park in downtown Salt Lake City with 200 Ordain Women supporters – and said a prayer for the group.
Exactly one week before President Uchtdorf offered his beautiful General Conference address suggesting that there are genuine reasons why some members of the church may doubt, I attended a conference in New York City, dedicated to that very theme.
The official title was “Negotiating LDS History and Faith Challenges.” The speakers were Richard Bushman, Fiona Givens, and Terryl Givens. It was sponsored by The Temple and The Observatory Group.
This is the part where I am about to share my notes. It is also the part where I explain that they are neither perfect nor complete: the conference was 6 hours, and I only had my phone to tap the words and sentences that meant the most to me.Read More
On Sunday morning I flipped through picture after picture of women being turned away from the doors of our worship places. The Mormon Tabernacle choir sung in the background. Tears streamed down my face; many of those women are my friends. All are my sisters.
I have performed this song countless times but the cry remains with me always. Hear Thou my cry.Read More
When I volunteered to do a blog post reporting on the talk by the Male Presider at General Relief Society Meeting, I had no idea who the speaker would be. To be perfectly honest, when I heard President Monson introduced as the concluding speaker, I felt disappointed. Many years ago I became tired of what I call “the foam on top of root-beer” conference talks I’d heard from the now president of our beloved church. But yesterday I did my best to turn off my Inner-Conference-Talk-Critic and prayed for humility and softness of heart. Then I listened.
You can watch and listen to his address here.
I will not comment here about those aspects of his address that I found off-putting. Rather, I’ll focus on the Good Word of God I heard in this talk.
President Monson begins with a story about his deceased wife, Francis. He speaks about her role as either a stake or mission Relief Society President during their time as mission presidents in Canada. And about her love for the Relief Society Organization and all the good things that happen as a result of Relief Society.
He continues with a focus on the power of prayer and of God’s unconditional love for us, especially during challenging times of life or when we feel undeserving or abandoned by God. Heavenly Father is always there for us. No matter what.
He talks about faith, patience and belief in Heavenly Father’s ability (and unwavering desire) to answer our prayers. He refers us to the hymn “Did You Think To Pray?” which I love. He also suggests that studying the scriptures can enlighten us, comfort us and strengthen our testimony of God and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Scriptures can also provide answers to prayer. He quotes the following:
Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another.
~ D&C 90:24
Then he tells the story of a young mother whose husband is in the second year of medical residency. He describes the stresses of life for what sounds like a stay-at-home mom. He paints a realistic picture of the burdens this woman bears — she feels compelled to entertain extended family for the holidays. She runs the house essentially alone. She cares for the kids while her necessarily absent husband completes his residency. Then she learns that someone very close to her has been diagnosed with cancer. This becomes the tipping point for her already over-burdened heart and she essentially suffers an emotional breakdown. (Maybe you didn’t hear it that way, but my years as a psychiatric nurse left me no other interpretation. Also, I should mention that my word for emotional breakdown is emotional break-through, because that’s the purpose for the crash in the first place.)
President Monson beautifully describes symptoms of situational depression accompanied by anorexia (loss of appetite). Tiffany, the young mother, is simply unable to cope. Friends and family become concerned and try to find ways to support her and to encourage her to eat. At one point, a friend says, “There must be something that sounds good to you.”
Tiffany replies, “The only thing I can think of that sounds good, is homemade bread.”
What I liked most about this story was the way in which Tiffany presumably begins her ascent out of her pit of despair. A woman who had met Tiffany only once, brings a loaf of homemade bread to her door, hands it to Tiffany’s husband, who happens to be home that day, then gets in her car and goes on her way.
For me, the loaf of bread has multiple layers of meaning, not the least of which is the symbol of Christ’s atonement. He is the bread of life. His love is ultimately what nourishes and saves us all.
“And so it happened that the Lord sent a virtual stranger across town to deliver a clear message of love to Tiffany . . . She had an urgent need to feel she wasn’t alone, that God was aware of her and had not abandoned her.” ~ Thomas S. Monson
You can listen starting at about 09:08 in the audio file at LDS.org for the details of the story.
We don’t hear whether or not Tiffany arose the next morning filled with hope and renewed energy or if her professionally driven, yet compassionate spouse found ways to carry some of her load. We don’t hear about her follow-up appointment with her counselor or primary care physician. We just hear about a moment of grace, a tender mercy in the midst of this woman’s private hell.
I have experienced such moments. Sometimes as the giver. More often as the receiver. And the message is always the same: there is a God and s/he cares about you. Not just in a general sense, but in a most peculiar, personal and specific sense.
This talk left me with three reminders:
- Pray always.
- Love your neighbor.
- Feel God’s specific love for you.
What did you come away with?
General Conference is around the corner, and one of the things I can always count on during that weekend is at least one talk lamenting the unprecedented wickedness of these last days we’re living in. Things have never been worse, and the accelerating wickedness will surely hasten the end of the world. To these speakers change is hardly ever good, it’s the wheel that rolls the world toward it’s inevitable destruction.
I hate these talks. Not only because they’re depressing, but also because I don’t think the world is getting worse. I think there is awful suffering and perversity in the world, but that is not new. Maybe we recognize it better now, with our advanced communications. But sunlight is the best disinfectant, and by shining more light on the ugly things of the world I think we start to turn them around, bit by bit.
So given that I don’t think the world is on a perpetual decline, I like this talk* by Craig Harline, a historian at BYU. He talks about change, how early Christians would have been shocked at our acceptance of everyday things like using the word “Sunday” or lending with interest. He shows how opinions on slavery, interracial marriage, evolution, and women’s suffrage have changed, with examples of things like the fact that in my mother’s lifetime women couldn’t even play full court basketball because it was thought the sport would harm their fragile bodies. Yes, we are shocked at the narrow mindedness of our ancestors. But Prof. Harline says some historians theorize that younger generations don’t reject the older generation’s values, but rather extend those values into new territories.
This is where things get really interesting to me. At the end of the talk Prof. Harline refers to Edward Kimball’s BYU Studies article about his father’s revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy men. I had heard the story of Spencer W. Kimball making almost daily visits to the temple to seek divine guidance on the topic, but references to that story always implied (at least to me) that he was seeking a “yes” from God. As in, “I feel that it’s right and good for all worthy men to be ordained. Can this be? Do you, God, approve of it?” But according to Edward Kimball’s article that isn’t the full story. Apparently President Kimball wasn’t going to the temple to seek revelation in this way, but to get over his assumptions.
President Kimball said this: “I was very humble. I was searching. I had a great deal to fight. Myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it, and defend it as it was.”
I find this stunning. Prof. Harline says that President Kimball was a hero not in the traditional way we think if religious leaders – as one who fights for his convictions – but because he was willing to reconsider them. How much harder is it to search your soul and ask which of your convictions may need reconsideration than is it to cross your arms in front of your chest and insist nothing you believe is wrong? Much, much harder. But much, much more enlightening. I hope to have the courage and humility that President Kimball had in my life.
And I hope that our current prophets will as well. I think the story of President Kimball’s trips to the temple is paradigm changing. That might sound hyperbolic, but I really think it is. I’ve usually thought of prophets going to the mountaintop to see visions of what God has in store for humankind. And it probably does happen that way sometimes. But what about the times they go to the mountaintop to ask God for different eyes, so that they see the world differently?
* The whole talk is great and fun to listen to, but if you only have time for the bit about Spencer W. Kimball, fast forward to 47:00 and listen to the end (it’s a 5 minute segment).
In Primary, I learned the story of the Whitmer’s fields being plowed mysteriously by strangers.
“When he went out to start plowing the soil in the morning, David discovered that someone had plowed part of the fields already….The next day David went to the place he had left the plaster, near his sister’s house, but the plaster was gone. His sister told him that the day before, she and her children had seen three strangers spreading the plaster with great speed and skill. She had assumed they were men David had hired, but David knew they were helpers provided by the Lord.” Primary 5, Lesson 9 “Witness to See the Gold Plates”
This story captured my imagination. Who were these helpers? Angels? The Three Nephites? It was a great miracle and it followed me for years.Read More