Relief Society Lesson 19: Leadership

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

This Relief Society lesson which can be found here can be an empowering discussion about how to strengthen our leadership abilities as women.  I would start this lesson by asking the sisters to think about times in their lives when they have been leaders and to contemplate what it was that made them a leader.  Was their leadership effective or powerful?  What qualities helped them to be powerful?

You might share a personal experience to help them to begin the process of self-inquiry.  Last spring I had an experience with my son in which I needed to step up as a leader.  My kids and I were visiting my parents at their home while I was doing some training to become a licensed yoga instructor.  One morning my son was playing the wii and accidently threw the remote control into my parent’s big screen tv, shattering the screen.  When I came upstairs I could feel the charged emotions.  My parents were in shock and didn’t know what to do.  My son looked like his heart was shattered along with the tv screen.  My first thought was that I wanted someone else to take charge of this one, but the mantle of leadership fell to me as the parent.  I had spent all weekend in training, learning how to be a powerful leader.  I had learned how to keep my feelings neutral in order to neutralize the charged emotions of others.  I sat down with my son and talked to him about how this was a big deal and it was going to cost a lot of money to fix.  But I told him that I loved him more than I loved the money or the tv.  I told him that mistakes happen, that there is nothing we can do about it now other than to move forward, and make efforts to be sure it doesn’t happen in the future.  I also shared with him some big expensive mistakes I had made in my life too, like breaking grandma’s car.  I could see the relief flood over him.

My ability to be a leader at a moment when I wanted to scream at my son or hide in my room, came from love, as well as spiritual strength that I had built up through twenty-five hours of yoga training over the course of the weekend.  My ability to be a leader at that moment empowered me to change a bad situation into positive one.  I found that I had power to influence everyone involved.  At this point I would write the words “Love,” and “Spiritual Strength” on the board and ask for more suggestions of qualities that make up powerful leadership.  Some qualities suggested by this lesson are: humility, spiritual strength, knowledge, loyalty, unity, love, and delegation.

Read More

September Visiting Teaching Message- Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ: Powerful and Full of Glory

Link to the message on here.Lioness Roaring

The main story in this lesson is of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, which admittedly, is some pretty awesome power. However, as I tried to make a list things Christ did with or through power, I noticed they were quite varied. He had physical power over the elements: calming the waves, turning water to wine, feeding the 5000. He had power to heal the blind and sick. He also spoke calmly and powerfully when scriptural and traditional religious arguments were brought to him. He used his power to push cultural norms and customs when it came to talking with and eating with people of varying social levels. His power included showing emotion, being honest about fears and facing them, and forgiveness.

Read More

Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage?


Earlier this week, the Mormon Newsroom released a statement regarding the potential end to the long-standing Boy Scouts of America (BSA)-LDS Church partnership, citing the recent decision to allow openly gay men to serve in leadership positions. As discussions popped up across social media, individuals in favour of the split reasoned that those who are attracted to the sex of the minors should not be in isolated situations with them. Many assured me their concerns were not due to prejudice and bigotry. In fact, they would be the same if men were to oversee and be in isolated situations with young women.

The problem with this assertion is, of course, that LDS men are frequently in isolated situations with young women and hardly anyone bats an eye.

It has been a little over 11 years since, as a teenager, my single’s ward bishop asked to meet with me after church. I obliged. Once behind closed doors, he asked if he could give me a worthiness interview. Confused at the timing (I was not in need of a temple recommend renewal, nor was I to receive a new calling), I again obliged. As he went through the temple recommend questions, special emphasis was placed on the question regarding the Law of Chastity. I responded that I did, indeed, keep the law of chastity. As a never-been-kissed, always-careful-to-double-date young woman, there was little doubt in my mind that I was chaste and pure before God.

Unfortunately, my answer was not sufficient for my bishop, even after pointing out my very limited physical contact with the young men I had dated. He asked if he could clarify the question and then became more specific. “Had I touched anyone in their sacred or private parts?” “Had anyone else touched me in my sacred or private parts?” “Had I touched myself in my sacred or private parts?” To each, the response was “no” because I knew I had not broken any commandments regarding chastity, but behind every no was a heap of questions. Why was he asking me these questions? What did all of this even mean? Did he mean hygienic touching? Gynecological exams? Changing my baby brother’s diaper?

I know some readers may believe me to have been naive and they are right–as a young woman with very little sexual exposure and even less dialogue around sex, I was very naive. And innocent. And so very much like my other uber-concerned-about-being-righteous church mates. Unfortunately, I was also in the presence of a man and sexual talk with men was verboten. Unfortunately, he was also my priesthood leader so he was given official sanction to have this conversation. Unfortunately, I believed that since God had called him to this position, called him to conduct this interview and called him to go off-book, God and my bishop must know something that I don’t know about my sexual purity.

As I left church that day, I felt Dirty. Shameful. Unclean. Unchaste. Unworthy. But I didn’t know why.

In the days and weeks following that interview, symptoms of an anxiety disorder began to appear–unexplained stomach aches, night sweats, night terrors, loss of appetite and an overall fixation on ridding myself of this horrible, icky feeling inside of me. Week after week I would dread going to church, but would do so because I so desperately wanted to feel clean. Week after week I would head into my bishop’s office to try to find out what I had done wrong, confessing every inkling of an impure thought in hopes that it would make me feel better. Every week he turned me out of his office again, having heard my mildly lurid confession, just to see me again the next week. Every week I felt more and more trapped and more and more unworthy.

It wasn’t until a decade following this incident that I realized what happened and the guilt and shame finally subsided–that interview was inappropriate. Taking girls and women behind closed doors with middle-aged men, asking about sex and masturbation, is perverse. It’s abusive. And it’s upheld, even required, by the Church I trusted to keep me safe.

There is a big conversation to be had about keeping our young men safe and I can understand parents are concerned about the perceived threat to their sons. What I can’t understand is the lack of outrage about the threat of abuse right under our noses. As the Newsroom releases statements about our young men with the overtone that it is for their safety, I wonder, “where are the releases about protecting our girls?” “Where is the acknowledgement that this abuse happens every. single. week under the guise of righteousness?” “Why are the same people who are concerned about the possibility of the abuse of their sons so dismissive when I mention the very real abuse of their daughters?” “Why am I told that I should have known better and taken measures to protect my young, innocent self?” “Why does no one seem to notice or even care about our girls?”

I wish my answers didn’t always dead end with the fear that we don’t notice or care about our girls because we don’t actually notice or care about our girls.

Read More

Personal Revelation in an Authoritarian Church: Balance of Power or Détente?


If you have gotten your 40th Anniversary copy of Exponent II, then you know that many past editors were asked to choose their favorite essay from their tenure at the magazine. The essay I have most often shared from my decade of as associate editor is the following piece by a wise woman and dear friend that taught me that “Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.” 

By E. Victoria Grover first published in The Exponent in Fall 2000

Sooner or later, almost every Latter-day Saint experiences conflict within the framework of his or her religious community. That conflict is particularly challenging when it seems to involve differing interpretations of the will of the Lord. In a religious environment that places great value on both personal revelation and obedience to authority, what are we to do when these two principles clash?

The Church has clear structural and ideological answers to these conflicts when they occur: Either the hierarchy of authority or the principle of stewardship tells us which interpretation will prevail.

But what do we do as individuals when we feel the promptings of the spirit get overruled? When we seem to find ourselves ill-used by someone else’s decision or perhaps even believe we are victims of the injustice within the Church? Whether it’s a matter of how Church welfare resources will be distributed or where new ward boundaries will be drawn, hundreds of decisions are made by those in authority with which we may deeply disagree. How do we deal with this when it happens? What is there for us to learn from these experiences, and where are the dangers? Finally, what is unique about the Mormon view of the dispersement of spiritual power and how can the implicit tension it creates enlighten us as individuals and as a larger community of wards and stakes in Zion?

About ten years ago, I had an interaction with a new bishop that changed the course of my spiritual life forever. In that short meeting, it became rapidly clear that he and I had very different views on fundamental principles of commitment and obligation. Over the next week, I struggled with a flood of feelings surrounding the bishop’s decision and the implications it held for me and my children. I prayed for understanding, and when it didn’t come, I prayed for relief. I felt a pressing weight of confusion, despair, and helplessness each time I thought about the difference between my conception of what was right and the bishop’s and how his decision was now going to affect my life. I felt my anger slice like a hot blade through the very cords that bound me to the ward and to the whole Church. For the first time in my adult life, I could envision the Church going forward without me in it.

I can’t remember at what point during that week I finally received an answer, but I recall the answer very clearly. Alone in my bedroom as I wept and poured out my story of injustice to the Lord yet one more time, I suddenly felt a piercing affirmation coming out of a place of emotional stillness that was not part of me, telling me very simply, “You are right.” Motionless, I listened for the rest of what I wanted to hear—the part about how the bishop was wrong and the wrath of a righteous God would soon fall on him like a thunderbolt! But that message never came. Instead, the Holy Ghost poured love out on me, and in those wonderful minutes of spiritual clarity the absence of any accusation against my bishop spoke volumes. The bishop, right or wrong, was not my concern. Instead, I saw the task of enlarging my heart and strengthening my soul lying before me, and with the assurance of God’s love and the blessings of free agency won for me by Mother Eve, I knew I had all that I needed to move on.

When our ideas or opinions are overruled by others, the first and most natural reaction is to contend with those others on behalf of our heartfelt beliefs. But contention is extremely dangerous because it hardens our hearts and drives away the Holy Ghost. It is possible for people to hold different views of what is right without succumbing to contention. People can state their views, explain them, even point out possible flaws in another person’s thinking, without invoking the spirit of contention.

One way to do this is to clarify in your own mind the purpose of the explanation in light of unconditional respect for the free agency of the person with whom you are speaking. If the purpose of your explanation is tainted by a desire to overcome the other person with your words—to convince, to control, to win–you move into dangerous territory. If, while you are speaking, you feel your respect for the other’s free agency draining out of you, watch for contempt to replace respect and any remnant of charity to disappear. You are now contending, and the purpose of your discussion has changed from explanation of defiance, from enlightenment to domination.

Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.

For all our talk about tolerance and diversity, contention as a way of sorting out our differences is both honored and glorified in America’s culture. The world often asks us to fit people and their disagreements into the dichotomous arrangement of “right and wrong.” While there certainly are important laws and principles that fit that arrangement—and knowing that we must guard against the danger of trying to rationalize away our very real sins—still, the rule of “right and wrong” serves us poorly in most disagreements with others. Even so, it is what we naturally fall back on whenever conflict occurs. As we start to fall, we grab onto contention to prop us up and support our need to be seen as “the right one” in a dispute. Even when we try to acknowledge valid issues on both sides of an argument, the very fact that we have taken sides push us us into the “us/them” duality and its corollary, which says, “they” are wrong and need to be stopped—or changed—by “we” who are right.

Christ asks his disciples to see conflict with different eyes—with out spiritual eyes—and get off the see-saw that says, “If I’m up you must be down!” he wants us to look at our brothers and sisters as a part of ourselves and realize that contending with them is as foolish as the foot contending with the hand on the same body. I believe Christ would agree with the comic strip philosopher Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The Church asks us to gather ourselves together in communities of many different people. Different is difficult and this gathering into communities has created challenges since Joseph Smith first restored the Gospel. The challenge is intensified by our belief in individual personal revelation. It is disciplined by asking our obedience to hierarchical authority. The tension between personal revelation and authority keeps us each vibrantly humming and engaged in both the workings of the Church and the pursuit of our own salvation. I believe the latter task is the more important one for each of us, from President Hinckley on down, and the Church organization serves us best when we keep that fact in mind. Then we realize that it doesn’t really matter whose idea gets acted on in the day-to-day business of running the ward, the stake, or the Church itself.

What is important is how each of us uses the Church community to refine our souls, to come unto Christ, to make our selves perfect and complete. When we come before him, Jesus will not ask us if we won in our disputes with others or even if we were on the right side. Instead, he will ask if we won our struggle against the natural man, the desire to control, the need to be essential, to feel powerful, to be right instead of righteous. If we are called upon to sacrifice on the alter of God our most tender and delicate parts—a piece of our ego—then truly in that act we become one with or Savior.

The philosopher/psychiatrist Sheldon Knopp said that all the significant battles are waged within the self. These are the only battles Christ is truly interested in.

Read More

Two years after I submitted an Ordain Women profile, this is what I’m thinking

Hotel_Dieu_in_Paris_about_1500My babies were delivered in hospitals, safely and pleasantly enough.  But delivering in a hospital was not always so safe.  Many women died in European and American lying-in hospitals in the 17th to 19th centuries from childbed fever – an infection of streptococcal bacteria in the uterus that spread to the bloodstream causing sepsis and, usually, death.  Childbed fever can occur in women who deliver at home, but it was so prevalent in lying-in hospitals because doctors unwittingly spread the bacteria from one woman to another through bad hygiene.  Mortality rates averaged around 1 in 5 to 1 in 4, with some epidemics being close to 100% mortality.  

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, began looking at mortality in the maternity ward at the General Hospital in Vienna in 1846.  He noted that doctors patients died at a rate 5 times higher than the midwives patients and set out to find out why.  Ahead of his time, and without knowledge of microbiology, he came up with a procedure that dropped maternal mortality by 90%.  It was washing hands in a chlorine solution.

Read More

#VisibleWomen Series: Please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidency Members to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the High Council

Here is the letter I’m sending to general and auxiliary authorities, and (slightly revised) to my local leaders:


Dear Leader,

I’ve been a Relief Society member for almost 20 years.  During that time I got married, became a mother, graduated from two universities, began working in my profession, and held several callings in Relief Society, always including that of Visiting Teacher.  I’ve taught and been taught by my fellow sisters and received support in life transitions, and have appreciated the company of my peers and the wisdom of women farther along in life than I am.

I have learned something from each of my Relief Society Presidents and have regarded them as inspired women with stewardship for me.  I can name most of them and picture a talk or an event where they said something meaningful.  But as I think back on my years in Relief Society I realize I don’t remember any of my Stake Relief Society Presidencies.  I never even knew most their names.  I rarely if ever heard them speak.  Though I believe they had a spiritual stewardship over the women in our stake, I can’t think of anything I learned from them because I did not know them.  This has also been true of the Stake Young Women and Stake Primary Presidencies of my youth.  By contrast I’ve always known who the Stake President and his counselors were.

It occurs to me that this is a loss, for me personally, and I think for the majority of women in the stakes I have lived in.  There must be a way to benefit more often and more directly from the wisdom and spiritual strength of the women called to leadership positions in the stakes of the Church.

Would you please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidencies to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the Stake High Council speak to the wards of the Stake?  Similar to how women in the General Presidencies of the Church speak in General Conference?  There are no doubt other ways to get to know our stake leaders, but this would have the benefit of allowing all women (and children and men) to hear their words, whether or not they attend Relief Society on Sundays, and whether or not they’re part of a particular auxiliary.

My stake is geographically large and diverse, and while I always appreciate the contact with the stake membership and the Stake Presidency that High Council speakers bring, I really feel the lack of contact with the women leaders of my stake, particularly the Stake Relief Society Presidency.

Thank you for your consideration.

Read More