Learning to Follow My Heart


By Jenny

I trudged slowly up the hill.  I guess you could say I was running, but really I wasn’t moving very fast.  Despite the hour that I had already been running, my legs were still stiff.  I was hoping that the sun would rise soon.  The sunrise was usually a good boost to my motivation.  I had left my passion for running at home that morning.  All I had running through my head was self-doubt.  I had all these great plans for my life.  Yes, I was just crazy enough to have running a marathon on that list.  But here I was, simply trudging up a hill, looking at the top and wondering if I would actually get there.

Like the boy Santiago, in the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Cohelo, my heart was deceiving me.

“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked, when they had made camp that day.

“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”

“But my heart is agitated,” the boy said. “It has its dreams, it gets emotional, and it’s become passionate over a woman of the desert. It asks things of me, and it keeps me from sleeping many nights, when I’m thinking about her.”

“Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.” The Alchemist pg. 128

Santiago goes on the have a conversation with his heart that I think anyone who follows their personal legend can relate to. I have had many similar conversations with my own heart lately.  His heart tells him:

“Even though I complain sometimes…it’s because I’m the heart of a person, and people’s hearts are that way. People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.” The Alchemist, pg. 130

I was nearing the top of the hill I was running on and it started to flatten out.  As I emerged at the top, I looked up to see the street sign above me: Sunrise.  At that moment, the rays of the morning light began to peek over the tops of the mountains.  I was suddenly wrapped in the sun’s warm glow.  It was so small and simple really.  If I hadn’t looked up I wouldn’t have even seen the sign.  But to me it was everything.  It meant that my worries and concerns were important even to God.  My sunrise had come, along with an omen from a powerful, loving universe that knows the language of my heart, my heart that was treacherously trying to deflate my dreams.  I felt overwhelmingly that there is a God, who knows me, knows what I am capable of, and knows what my life can mean.

Thinking about personal legends, omens, and the universe conspiring for my good is fairly new to me.  Most of my adult life was spent in a safe and simple mold of a specific role that I was culturally conditioned to accept.  I was sleepwalking through my life.  And when I awakened, this hill lay before me.  It was steep and daunting, filled with pain and struggle that has helped me to discover my own power and develop a deeper connection to a loving God.

As a Mormon woman, I was influenced by a consciousness that told me I had one role to fulfill in life.  Multiply and replenish the earth.  It was the same role that every woman was “commanded” to fulfill.  Commanded….the word causes a churning in my stomach now.  It is a word that doesn’t belong in a universe that I now view as infinitely good and loving.  I don’t believe in a God who commands, because I have met a God who pushes me toward my greatness through love and compassion, rather than coercion.

As a budding feminist in college, I began right away to follow my heart and my dreams.  During my first week at BYU I collected a handful of papers about study abroad programs and began working on a plan to travel.  A year later, I arrived back at BYU after an intense internship in Southern Bavaria.  My bishop asked me to meet with him.  He quickly asked me about my travels and then turned the conversation to the fact that a guy I had been dating before I left was now dating someone else in the ward.  When I told him that the guy had dumped me while I was gone, my bishop blamed me.  He told me that I needed to be more focused on getting married because that was my main priority.  Travelling and fulfilling my dreams was not as important.

Back then I was more accustomed to listening to my leaders than listening to my heart.  When I think back on this conversation with my bishop, I don’t think that his counsel changed the course of my life too much.  I don’t think the bishop’s counsel affected my choices, so much as it affected the relationship I had to those choices.  Over the last thirteen years since I sat in his office, I have spent most of my time and energy in marriage and family.  Getting married and having a large family was one of my biggest dreams.  The problem was not that I had a family and chose to stay home and raise them.  The problem was how I viewed myself as a wife and mother.  I saw myself as a martyr.  I was sacrificing my dreams for my family.  I needed to give up who I was as an individual and recreate my identity around my family.  In essence, I became my family, inseparable from my husband and children.  For a time, I lost some vital aspects of myself.

It wasn’t just the bishop’s counsel on that fateful day that caused me to feel like my dreams and passions needed to be subsumed.  It was years of cultural conditioning that told me that motherhood would be everything I would ever have or need.  It was a cultural mindset that told me life was about fear, sacrifice, obedience, commandments, and authority that existed outside of me.  I was never taught about following my heart and claiming authority to live my own life of authenticity.  Even now, as I am rediscovering those vital parts of myself and doing things that I love outside of motherhood, I am finding many harsh critics of my choices.  They say that I just don’t understand how important I am as a mother.  They say that I’m being selfish.  They say that I’m on the wrong path.

“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” The Alchemist, Pg. 16

Maybe it scares them to see the change of course my life has taken.  Sometimes it scares me too.  Once I travelled the straight and narrow, and now I scale a winding hill, sometimes barely trudging.  Once I was sleepwalking through my life and now I am wide awake, following my heart, my all-too-often-treacherous-heart.  Listening to my heart has made me vulnerable and open to failure.  Even as I write this blog post and open up my vulnerable self to the world, I wonder if it will be a failure.  But like Santiago, I am on the path to discovering my personal legend.  I have seen failure, but I have also seen the universe moving me in a powerful direction.  I have seen beautiful omens placed strategically just for me.  Omens that I would have missed had I not looked up, had I not awakened from the sleep of following cultural norms, had I not pushed through my struggles and my self-doubt, had I not chosen to listen to my heart over outside influences.  Yes, following my heart, however much it hurts, makes my life more enjoyable.  It makes my relationship with my choices more empowering and uplifting.  And like Santiago:

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” he thought, as he looked again at the position of the sun, and hurried his pace.” The Alchemist, pg. 11
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Ordination and Excommunication Sunday

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

Ordination of Clare Julian Carbone

Ordination of Clare Julian Carbone

As the procession of women entered the church I swallowed a gasp. I knew I was attending the ordination of Clare Julian Carbone to the Roman Catholic priesthood (unsanctioned by the Vatican). I knew that those ordaining the first female Catholic priest in Salt Lake City would be women, previously ordained through a priesthood lineage they trace back to Jesus Christ. But I didn’t know. I only imagined what it would be like to have women presiding and officiating in ordination rite. The surprise of women dressed in robes of service and devotion, leading in a holy space overwhelmed me with joy.  Tears spilled out as I looked up at a stand and podium presided over by women (with a talented man playing the piano).  

I marveled at how different the scene before me was compared to the LDS Sacrament service I attended a few hours earlier. In my LDS ward I looked up at a stand full of men in suits with a woman leading the music and a woman at the organ. The LDS scene communicated to me that women are the accompaniment. Men are the main story. The opening hymn for my LDS Sacrament meeting was Hymn 59, Come O Thou King if Kings. I choked as I sang verse four:

Hail! Prince of life and peace!

Thrice  welcome to thy throne!

While all the chosen race

Their Lord and Savior own,

The heathen nations bow the knee,

And ev’ry tongue sounds praise to thee.

Was I the chosen race that owns their Lord and Savior? Or am I of the heathen nation bowing the knee? I felt keenly, “I do not belong here. This is a space for white men. Not me.” No more sound came out of me after the word “race.” I could not sing the words, “Heathen nation.”

In contrast, the sight of male and female congregants smiling in fellowship as we looked up to female presiding leaders astonished me with feelings of peace and well being. As I looked at female bodies, dressed in white robes that remind me of my temple clothes, I felt like I belonged. Then we sang an opening hymn:

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A Classic Midrash of “Our women . . . were strong . . . like unto the men.”

Guest post by Bradley J. Kramer

Bradley Kramer is a scholar of interfaith studies, particularly the relationship between Mormonism and Judaism. His book Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon is available here. Brad’s work in Mormon midrash inspired the Exponent II short story contest. This post is an example of one kind of midrash: a classic dialogic midrash. There are, however, many other kinds, including straight narrative. The point of midrash is to pay attention to subtle clues within the scriptural text and uncover the stories left “between the lines,” as it were.  We hope this post will inspire you to think about the scriptures in a new way and, perhaps, submit your own midrash.

midrash image

Rabbi Abigail asked: Why does the Book of Mormon say that the Lehite women “were strong, yea, even like unto the men” (1 Nephi 17:2)? Is this supposed to be a compliment? Many of the Lehite men murmured continually during their journey to the Promised Land. Some even rebelled against their leaders. This does not seem very complimentary, or respectful.

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Like unto” here means “better than” or “greater than,” as in the brightness of God is “like unto the brightness of a flaming fire” (1 Nephi 15:30) or God’s voice is “like unto the voice of thunder” (1 Nephi 17:45). In these examples, the first element in the comparison is clearly superior to the second element. Therefore this passage is saying that the Lehite women were superior to many of the Lehite men, in that “they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings” (1 Nephi 17:2).

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To Hold In Their Hands

Last fall, I sat in a room on Yale University’s campus, and listened to Terry Tempest William read aloud from her book, When Women Were Birds. There were so many beautiful, meaningful thoughts, but the one that made my heart beat most wildly was this: “Mormon women write. This is what we do, we write for posterity, noting the daily happening of our lives. Keeping a journal is keeping a record.” I knew instinctively, that she was right, because of myself, and those who came before me.

My mind was flooded with their names: Eliza R. Snow, Louisa Green Richards, Emmaline B. Wells, and other early leaders who wrote in both their private journals and their published journal, The Woman’s Exponent; Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Judith Dushku, and other Boston area women who found their words in Harvard’s Widener Library, and carried their torch by starting the Exponent II; a myriad of other Mormon women writers and bloggers here and elsewhere.

The February before that, I sat in a room on Claremont Graduate University’s campus, and listened to Joanna Brooks affirm that Mormon women need a book. There were so many beautiful, meaningful thoughts, but the one that made my heart beat most wildly, was this:

The public conversations swirl onward and online as sometimes sort of directionless with nothing like the great orienteering tool of a book, for there is nothing like a book to hold in one’s hand and locate oneself in a tradition… Mormon women coming of age need to hold in their hands the wealth of perspective and knowledge of these last four decades of Mormon feminism… This work has value, and something about a book conveys value, so, I’m setting to work compiling a volume of essential Mormon feminist writings from 1970 to the present.

There was no way I could have known it then, but Joanna would later ask Hannah Wheelwright and I to help her co-edit the volume. It was a massive undertaking of love, and work, and patience, and community. (We ourselves asked for lots, and lots of help from our sisters, and received it.) The book is here now, and Mormon feminists are holding it in their hands. It is among the happiest, most beautiful sights.

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Bicycling in the Women’s Exponent

This week, I started reading Our Bodies, Our Bikes and found a quote from 1885 I hadn’t seen before, though it must be somewhat well-known as it’s quoted in the April 1985 Friend magazine in an article on the history of the bicycle.

The mere act of riding a bicycle is not in itself sinful and if it is the only means of reaching the church on a Sunday, it may be excusable.

This made me wonder if the bicycle was a hot topic in Mormonism, so I checked if it was mentioned in the original Women’s Exponent. And it was. Four times.

Chronologically, the first time “bicycle” was mentioned was in the June 15, 1892 issue, in an article written by someone with the initials “AWC.” She had gone on a trip to Heidelberg and wrote an article titled “A Day in Heidelberg” describing her experience. Her bicycle quote:

The city streets are narrow and crooked, the buildings tall and old and dark, and so shading the streets that it is positive relief to enter the principal promenade, the Anlage where the walks and drives are broader, and there among the border shrubs and trees are pretty rustic seats where one can watch the fashionable ladies ,the children with their nurses, the pretty girls with their staid chaperones, and the gaily attired students strolling, riding, bicycle riding.

The next time “bicycle” is mentioned is in the July 15, 1894 issue, in an article titled Saltair: A Famous Pleasure Resort about an “Old Folks Day” event held there. The editor states, “The Bicycle drill was a genuine amusement, and everybody enjoyed it immensely, judging from the vociferous applause.” I’m not sure what a “Bicycle Drill” consisted of. I’m guessing it’s some sort of race, but if anyone knows better, please share!

Also, that year, the “Miscellaneous” section of the September 1 issue, mentioned the bicycle. The “Miscellaneous” articles in each issue shared current news. This time the section included this:

Miss WILLARD and Miss Gordon returned to “The Eagle’s Nest” chalet, in the Catskill Mountains, July 27, where they will have two stenographers, and continue their work for the W. C. T. U. Miss Willard is to complete her “Handbook of History and Methods,” her booklet on “How I Learned the Bicycle, with reflections by the Way,” and, besides preparing her annual address, she will send out leaflets and articles for the press, and will write an editorial each week for the Union Signal, the organ of the White Ribbon movement.

Here, the Miss Willard is Frances Willard, a suffragist who founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W. C. T. U., above), which was symbolized by a white ribbon. Her friend, secretary, and biographer, Anna Adams Gordon later became the president of the WCTU.

The final mention of the bicycle in the Women’s Exponent comes from Elsie Ada Faust’s address from the Alumni Banquet at the University of Utah. Her speech was published in the February 15, 1897 issue of the Women’s Exponent and was titled, “The New Woman.” In it, she outlined what “the New Woman” is like and addressing the concerns that women were becoming “too independent” with treasures such as,

Writers and speakers have been so busy separating the sexes and theoretically endowing each with separate elements of character that they have not had time to see (and the misunderstanding of this subject depends largely on the lack of seeing) that there is no difference, for if we look well we will find that all the vanities and faults supposed to be wholly feminine may be found just as often in man as in woman; and all the noble traits and attributes of which men have assumed a monopoly appear just as often in woman.

I really want to share the whole address, but you can find it in the link above. She uses the bicycle as a metaphor in the next section:

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

The new woman, or rather woman in her new light, does not look down on her fellow man as is commonly supposed; not at all, for she knows however short he may fall below the ideal, she may not do any better. And you will find, though bicycle mounted, with her voluminous sleeves set to the breezes, she will not take more than her half of the road. All she asks is equal start and privileges down the race of life.

Victorian opinions on bicycles varied greatly, but it seems that Victorian Mormonism looked on bicycling positively. If you are interested in a great book on the intersection of first wave feminism and advent of the bicycle, check out Wheels of Change.


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General Women’s Session: Carol F. McConkie

Sister McConkieWe have a saying in my family, “Do all the good you can…” It is a phrase that I ponder often and it has affected the profession I’ve chosen, the callings I try to fulfill, the way I mother my children and interact with the people around me. This simple, yet expansive personal mantra has become the cause of my life and it is something that is incredibly meaningful to me.

I was thrilled when Sister Carol F. McConkie, 1st counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, began her talk by encouraging the young women, and by extension all the women of the Church, to have a cause. She argued that having a cause gives us a reason to act and serve in the glorious work of the gospel.

One thing I especially appreciated was that Sister McConkie immediately tied this great cause to Jesus Christ. After two talks focused on other issues, it was refreshing to hear such powerful words about the mission and atonement of our Savior and the role we can play in that.

I loved how McConkie emphasized that we are all valued and needed in the cause of Christ. She urged us to love one another and see the beauty in the lives and experiences of all of our sisters. She wisely counseled us not to compare ourselves to one another for that is wasted energy and doesn’t further the work of God.

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