September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

Jean A. StevensIt seems that the theme for this women’s meeting is covenants and the temple. Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary Presidency focused on the covenants, starting with the baptismal covenant and leading up to the temple. She used her own mother as the central example saying she had a “remarkable connection to heaven” and later used quotes from many women of differing ages and their examples of looking to the temple. I loved that she used regular Church members and especially women as examples and multiple times emphasized that we all have different paths. We have so few in the scriptures and often go through whole Sunday School or RS lessons without any quotes from women. I also liked her story of her parents getting married before her father’s mission- it’s a great example of how our current practices aren’t doctrine and that there is a lot of leeway in how we practice the gospel. I really enjoyed her talk and I don’t have much to add to it, so I will share some of my favorite quotes from her talk.

“We are known and loved individually by Him.”

“As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple.”

“Tonight we gather as covenant women of God. Our ages, circumstances & personalities cannot separate us. ”

“Temples are an expression of God’s love”

“Every mighty change of heart matters to the Lord and it will make all the difference to you, for as we go to his holy house, we can be armed with his power, his name upon us, his glory round about us, and his angels have charge over us.”

I am really looking forward to re-reading the talks from this meeting when they become available. I hope you all can find something for yourselves in at least one of these talks.

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Created in Their Image

Soon after graduating from BYU and leaving Utah, I left for a study abroad in Denmark, hence my prolonged absence from the comment section (I took Danish for two years at BYU and since being in Denmark, my Danish has become–– according to the locals–– better than the majority of missionaries there and those who’ve lived in the country for several years, almost equivalent to a native speaker, American accent notwithstanding). So far, I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ll be here for close to another four weeks. It is the most magical land and I am close to burning my American passport and living secretly in what is now my favorite country.

During the study abroad, our group has also organized trips to other countries, including Sweden and Germany. And just recently, I returned from a trip in Oslo, Norway. Oslo is a modern city and home to the friendliest people. Oslo is also home to Frogner Park that houses the Vigeland Installation by Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures there are magnificence and worth a trip out to Frogner. Not only for their aesthetic and unique nature of the statues (they are all nude), but for the thoughts and intellectual stimulation they provoke.

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Each of the sculptures in the Vigeland Installation were nude and anatomically correct and full figured. As members of the LDS Church, we are programmed to treat nudity and nakedness as “other”, taboo, or strange. In other words, unacceptable. So to be confronted with this public display of artistic nudity instilled in me the question of vulnerability. It made me question why we as Latter-day Saints afraid of the naked human form. I saw nothing offensive. Is it because of the vulnerability and insecurity it rouses in us? As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, nudity does sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable and insecure. So it was refreshing and challenging to have the park confront me with what is naturally uncomfortable and taboo for most others, and sometimes myself. We believe that our bodies are holy temples, created in the image of the most power Being in the universe. How did we go to being uncomfortable with it?

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My body was, indeed, created in the image of my Heavenly Parents, so it’s sad that sometimes myself and others feel uncomfortable with it. I am learning to be empowered by my body–– something I once believe was disgusting and broken because of the abuse in my past. I am trying to love all my imperfections and curves and embrace normal sexuality. But lessons in church teach us that we must control our bodies in every form and function. We must cover up. We must be modest. We must not express the fulness of our sexuality. We are merely aesthetically pleasing objects. In the same breath, we teach that our bodies must be hidden and are shameful while simultaneously saying that our bodies are holy and to be embraced.

It is confusing and unhealthy.

Our bodies are modeled after Gods. And we are ashamed of that?

We are created in Their image.

Embrace it. Love it.

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Comfort Box: The 72 Hour Kit that will save you from becoming a zombie.

 

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Am I prepared? Anytime I am watching a zombie apocalypse roll forth on television I question if my emergency preparedness supplies are sufficient. Would I survive or become a zombie? The ward emergency preparedness guy hides from me the week after an especially violent episode of The Walking Dead. To be fair, he has already helpfully referred me to the CDC guide to surviving zombies.

I don’t have any life experience in surviving disasters of the natural or zombie variety, but another kind of disaster rolls through my life routinely. Emotional earthquakes, fire, tsunami, tornado, or sometimes (on a slow news day) a muddy puddle are enough to knock me out. I am regularly afflicted with unwanted feelings of depression, anger, loneliness, betrayal, sadness, boredom, jealousy, or confusion.  Some days I have no idea what I am feeling. I only know that bad stuff happens and keeps happening. Too often the tornado sets me down in my own emotional zombie apocalypse.

When faced with emotional disaster, my first response is to become a zombie. I was raised in a home without healthy models of how to express and positively cope with challenging emotions. My inclination is to eat my feelings while numbing out on a binge read or a mindless Facebook game. As I compare my response to family traditions of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, or child abuse; being an emotional zombie doesn’t seem so bad. Unfortunately, the zombie life fails to bring me lasting relief and harms my health through impaired sleep and weight gain. The unwanted feelings remain and eventually demand attention. These are the times when I turn to my emotional 72 Hour Kit: The Comfort Box.

How prepared are you for the next emotional tsunami? Will you become a zombie? Read on to learn how you can get your very own Comfort Box!

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Sacred Music: How Firm a Foundation

It was a few years ago, when I lived an hour’s drive from the nearest church branch (we joked that it was a “twig”), that I started to download and listen to General Conference. It seemed rather pointless to me to drive for an hour to sit on uncomfortable, cheap chairs in a room with maybe 4 other people to watch the conference that the rest of the world has seen 2-3 weeks earlier. So I began the habit of listening to the talks online as I did dishes, folded clothes or worked otherwise on an almost daily basis.

As an audio learner, this turned out to improve the conference experience for me, and probably for the first time in my life, I really heard the layers of meaning in each of the speakers’ talks. But this experience was not limited to the talks.

aloneThis one morning, I was ridiculously stressed. It really was nothing new. I was undergoing IVF for either the 3rd of 4th time in preparation for a surrogate to hopefully carry my child. IVF itself was no easy task with my complicated medical conditions. And we lived rurally, purposefully so, for the job there would pay enough for us to undergo IVF and surrogacy. So I was preparing for a 2-day, 20-hour drive to the city where I actually undergo the IVF surgery. My surrogate lived even further away, and was having family and fertility problems of her own. On top of that, we needed to arrange for post-IVF transfer of the live embryos to the surrogate, which involved a number of additional governmental bureaucratic authorities that required additional medical test results from all of us.

I was ridiculously stressed. I cried daily, several times a day, often bitterly, sometimes for reasons I still can’t understand. Sometimes I cried tears of joy from General Conference e talks. Other times, I cried uncontrollably because of General Conference talks.

And I felt completely alone.

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I know you are, but what am I?

I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time.  “Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult.  My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool.  It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms.  The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”

The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are.  My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that.  The question is troubling, and terribly insistent.  For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.

Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her.  She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents.  Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.

For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church.  From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents.  But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image.  And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.

For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it.  Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity.  In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him.  I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven.  I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven.  I know who they are, but who am I?

I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone.  But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men.  I know that’s not true.  But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that?  I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word.  So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.

Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?

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