Aspiring Mormon Women recently published a post about getting to know other women by asking good questions. The author, Christanne Harrison, encourages women to discuss dreams, interests, and aspirations beyond the usual “church questions”.
This got me thinking. I wondered: “Are we truly authentic in our discussions with other church members when we talk about our faith, our concerns, our feminism, our ideas about scriptural references, our spiritual experience?” and “Do we ask others to share their authentic feelings, ideas, and experiences with us?”
Even more important: ”Do we seek to understand another’s spiritual point of view with an open heart?” and “Do we seek to communicate our feelings in a language that will be understood by others?”
My guess is that we don’t talk about our faith – in the faith – as authentically as we could. I know I don’t. And maybe that’s OK. For example: I am very involved in the Ordain Women movement – and, for me, it’s an integral part of my faith and my worship. I share my feelings often, but not always. I don’t hold back because I fear judgement, but I do hold back when I sense it will be upsetting to others.
If you hold back your authentic faith in discussions, why? What questions could be asked to explore faith more fully?
One thing I really like about this Relief Society General Presidency is that they pick themes each year for the sisters of the church to focus on. Last year was furthering our knowledge and understanding of the atonement, this year’s theme is becoming better covenant keepers. President Linda K. Burton conducted the meeting and gave the first address.
There seems to be a divide in our rhetoric surrounding covenant keeping. We focus on what it means to make and keep sacred covenants for ourselves but also what it means to be a covenant keeper in a community of saints. This divide was apparent in President Burton’s talk as she tried to address both topics to show how keeping both personal and community covenants proves us as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Today is Palm Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem – one week before Easter. On this day, Jesus rode through the city gates on a donkey and has hailed by the Jews as their King. Only four days later, after the Last Super with his apostles, Jesus was betrayed and taken away from the Garden of Gethsemane by soldiers. And five days after His triumphant entry, He was tried and crucified.
It didn’t take long for the Hailed King to move into a downwardly spiral of events – just a few days. While Christ anticipated these events and knew they were part of the plan, I’m sure they were not pleasant. We too know how fast things can fall apart in this earth life.
On the morning of Friday the 13th of July 2012, I sat alone in my small Honda Civic slowly absorbing the words I had just heard from my doctor and trying not to cry. I had a 25 cm cyst in my abdomen that needed to be surgically removed immediately before damage was done to my internal organs. I had no health insurance, no job, and nowhere to live to recover from such a surgery. My heart was very heavy.
The phone rang. It was the HR Department from my previous employer telling me that my Cobra Health Insurance had been reinstated. Then I did start to cry. I wept tears of gratitude and knew that I had been a part of a miracle. It was the first of many miracles – and I had unknowingly taken just one step into a journey that would last many months.
That morning in the dark mood of that small car, my path was illuminated by that miracle and God would continue to guide me throughout this journey. “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angles round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88)
Four days later I was in Alexandria Hospital hooked to an IV and waiting for an ambulance that would take me to Fairfax where a surgeon was waiting to operate. A friend waited with me, insisting that I have a blessing before I left for surgery. After several calls – and to my surprise – Elder Wilson of the Seventy was on his way to anoint me. The moment he put his hands on my head, my whole body filled with power. It was an overwhelming feeling. I knew then that this man had lived a life dedicated to righteousness and that he had become a powerful tool in the hands of God – and I also knew that God wanted to show me, His daughter, how powerful He was – and assure me that He was in charge and would strengthen me. Another miracle. ”I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand. Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” (How Firm a Foundation – #85)
And so it went, from the ambulance to the hospital, and into the hands of a very particular surgeon. One miracle after another. I was guided and strengthened and kept safe down a narrow illumined path as my life exploded around me. My friends worked in shifts to be with me until my family could arrive. My sister, Heather, was with me one week later when bad combination of stress and pain killers caused my intestines constrict and cramp – leaving me with the worse abdominal pain of my life. I was curled up in a ball on the Stinson’s couch – crying and desperate. Heather called the doctor and listed the pros/cons of an emergency room visit. She asked if I wanted her to call for a blessing – and that didn’t feel right, so I asked for a prayer of faith. With me on the couch, my sister knelt and offered a prayer on my behalf.
It was then that I felt the great comfort of the Lord. Like a warm blanket, I felt the arms of love encircle me and a soft voice in my mind telling me to relax. I knew if I could just let my body relax that the pain would start to work itself out. And it did. I have felt this same comfort many times since in moments of distress. “His presence shall my wants supply, And guard me with a watchful eye. / To fertile vales, and dewy meads. My weary, wandering steps he leads. / My noon-day walks he shall attend, And all my midnight hours defend.” (The Lord My Pasture will Prepare – #109)
And, through these experiences, I came again to know – even more deeply – what I’d know before: that the Risen Lord Lives! He knows me! He lives to guide me and strengthen me and comfort me. I know more intensely now that He is my Savior.
On this Palm Sunday, we, with all Christendom, hail Him as our King and look with eager eyes to Easter Sunday when HOPE is made fresh again in the world. ”He is Risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. / He has burst the three days’ prison; let the whole wide word rejoice. /Death is conquered. We are free. Christ has won – the victory.” (He is Risen – #199)
I will spend my Palm Sunday worshiping at two different churches. During this Holy Week, I will attend a session at the LDS Temple and a mass at the Basilica of Catholic University. I hope to spend Easter Morning on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial with my scriptures, watching the sun come up above the Cherry Blossoms.
My story starts like this: I was very excited when the Church released Daughters in my Kingdom, the new history of the Relief Society. But months went by, and despite my best intentions, I didn’t read it. I know. I suck. Yet I felt a bit frustrated that the book was not incorporated into Church curriculum. At the very least it seems like it should be studied in Relief Society itself.
Meanwhile, it came to my attention that a few women in our ward were struggling with their English. In another lifetime I taught English as a second language and so I mentioned to our ward’s welfare specialist, Carrie, that I’d be happy to help them. This is where things got tricky. There are procedures and handbooks and certain members of the ward council who feel they needed to be involved in Every. Single. Decision. So while Carrie thought it would be very helpful to have such a group, it might take ages to set up and then would be controlled by well meaning leaders who just can’t keep their fingers out of other people’s pies. No me gusta.
So I cut out the hierarchy. I started a group on my own, just as friends. If it’s not a calling, then I’m under nobody’s jurisdiction (can you tell I have issues with micromanagement?). As soon as I made that decision I felt so good about it. I invited a few women, found a time that worked, and tried to come up with a study plan. What these women really need is to just talk. But we needed a text to read monthly as our springboard, something that would be interesting but also spiritual. And as I pondered this last September at the Exponent Women’s Retreat, it hit me—DIMK was the perfect solution.
It’s not an easy text for a non-native to read, but I don’t regret my choice. A couple of the women are recent converts and I’m proud to have them learn about the early sisters and how kick butt they were. We’ve had fascinating discussions about polygamy (“yes, Joseph did indeed have multiple wives”), the temple, how RS was disbanded and started again. And of course the big cliché is true: I swear I am learning more from these women than they are learning from me. I usually end up crying at some point because I am overcome by the strength and determination of these sisters who are all pioneers.
Let me share what happened this month and then I’ll stop my gushing over my Haitian/Nepalese/Dominican sisters. As is the case with many wards, if you are not on time to ours, you will sit in the foyer. My 13 year old loves when we’re late on Fast Sunday because we get to play “Name that Testimony.” We were on the couch and hear a woman bearing her testimony. I’m usually really good at it. But this time I was stumped. I sat there, entranced by the lovely testimony, and when I stood up to peak in the chapel, I could not believe my eyes. There was Yvette, my shyest, quietest, least fluent friend up there being articulate and totally proficient. I just cried. After sacrament the entire ward was atwitter about the dramatic change in Yvette.
We had our meeting that night. We were reading Chapter 4 and there’s this part where Eliza Snow is encouraging women to speak up: Some women felt reluctant and unprepared to speak in public. Sister Snow gave the following counsel to such sisters: “Do not let your president have to say all. … Has not God endowed you with the gift of speech? … If you are endowed with the Spirit of God, no matter how simple your thoughts may be, they will be edifying to those who hear you.” When I finished reading that out loud, I told Yvette how proud I was that she spoken in front of the entire ward, that that is no small thing. Yvette smiled coyly and said she had been reading the assignment the night before. When she read that passage, she felt as if Sister Smith was speaking directly to her and she knew she had to get up and share her testimony on Sunday, no matter what. She really was endowed with “the gift of speech.” Is she miraculously fluent now? Is she reciting the Gettysburg Address? No. But something is different. She’s more confident and is striking up conversations. I’d love to take the credit, but it’s the Spirit of God and more specifically, the Spirit of Eliza. God bless you President Snow. You do good work.
Have you read DIMK? What do you think? How would you like to see if used in the Church?
When I was growing up my Mom referred to herself (facetiously I now realize) as “The Fount of All Knowledge.” She comes by the title honestly, having a BA, an MLS, an MA and a PhD. Like a good reference librarian, if she didn’t know the answer, she knew where you could find it. If I asked her something unanswerable, like “did Adam and Eve have bellybuttons?” she would refer to me to The Great Information Booth in the Sky. Evidently when you die, there is an information kiosk staffed by angels to provide you with answers to all your questions.
I have found the thought of the celestial information booth to be very comforting for a variety of reasons. I hate unsolved mysteries and it is nice to think I will be able to sit down and watch video footage and find out who dunnit. Who was Jack the Ripper? I’ll just queue up and find out. Ever wonder why God made some bugs look so gross? Do you ask yourself why there wasn’t a better solution than menstruation? It’s all there.
Recently I’ve been yearning for access to the information booth right now. There are some questions that are far more important than why centipedes need to exist. (Though really, why?!) Who is my Heavenly Mother? Why don’t women have the priesthood? What was the deal with polygamy, anyway?
So my question for you is this. You can get one informational pamphlet from the Great Information Booth in the Sky right now. It isn’t a lot of information, a few paragraphs, some images or diagrams, maybe a few bullet points. But it is all information that we do not currently have. What brochure would you like to receive from the Celestial Chamber of Commerce?
I will tell you mine. My grammy died in early November. She was not a member of the church, nor was she particularly religiously active. My grandpa died twenty-eight years ago, also not LDS. I want to know what she is doing in a very real day-to-day sense. I don’t want vague platitudes about missionaries, and I definitely do not like imagining her in Spirit Prison.
Who comes in the welcoming committee? Was Grandpa there waiting? Do you get issued robes right away? My Grammy was very self-conscious about not being very stylish and not fitting in with well-dressed people. Will there be an orientation week for new arrivals explaining the schedule? Will there be tours of the facilities? What about showing up to your own funeral or the temple? What are the guidelines for hovering near the living? Is she happy? Is she scared by new things? Are you allowed to be snarky in the hereafter, because if not I’m not sure what she’ll do. Is there a botanical garden to poke around? Is there a Sunday Crossword, or did the cranky old ladies who declare Sunday Newspapers Are of Satan win the day? I’d just like an orientation schedule, site map and a few key facts. Where do I send my request?
In July I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. I had major abdominal surgery and began chemotherapy, which continues today. It’s been a long, tiring, terrible journey – and it’s not over yet. My physical body has been opened, cut, poked, drawn, and filled with poison. My emotions have tugged and pulled. The illness has wrecked my preveiously ordered life. I’m too tired to maintain a schedule of work, athletics, socability, and too worried about germs to always attend activities and church service. The doctors keep me close with an endless schedule blood draws, appointments, transfusions, and infusions. I am left desperately trying to keep up, working only part time, and watching the bills pile up.
I worry a lot. About dying. But more about living. How will I recover? And get on my feet again? What things will never be the same again – and how will I grieve the losses? How will I know how to rebuild the pieces that can be recovered?
It is from this dark place of uncertainty and loss that I write three things I am most grateful for on this Thanksgiving weekend.
1. I am thankful that I can see God.
In the midst of my exploding life (last summer), a path was cleared, and in the wreckage some things were illuminated. I believe it was the hand of God. I was handed the right health insurance; I was transfered to the right surgeon; I was provided the right recovery location; and I was given the right part time work. There were no missteps or tangles around these items, they simply were – available and present. And while the cancer still came to me and the cup was not passed over, I felt God with me in the hospital and on the journey. I heard the voice saying, “you will be OK” and “things will work” and “got to sleep; we will fix this in the morning”. My heart has been granted peace many times. I believe it was and is the hand of God – and I see it more clearly because it shines in the darkness.
2. I am thankful for the goodness, kindness, and humanity of others.
The massive outpouring of goodness from other people has come to me in the darkest night. Others have both sat with me in that darkness and lifted me out of it. It has been extrordinary.
In the hospital, I was never alone. Every time I opened my eyes, my friends were there, committed to staying and being near. They stayed in uncomfortable chairs and slept on uncomfortable benches. They held my hands and unhooked me from myrid machines so I could move. They were a constant.
And then the steady march of visits, calls, prayers, lunches, and well wishes came. And the mountain of cards and gifts – and flowers, quilts, food, scarves, funds, chemo remidies, and chocolates. I have been overwhelmed and humbled with the kindnesses – even from strangers.
My family, immediate and extended, have been formost in the effort, assisting me at personal cost to themselves and their families. They simply made themselves available and cared for me.
The most incredible part is that I feel like the help is far from being expended – rather that it is close by me – like an accessible well of goodness – full and waiting. I simply need reach out and scoop it up.
3. I am thankful for the divine spark that I find in myself.
This time of trial has brought me a deeper appreciation for the divine spark within myself. I feel the will to live, to go on, to push forward. I am filled with the sense that I am important and I have something beautiful to add to the world. I feel stronger deep inside. I have a desire to move beyond the darkness and live outside the despair – in a place of joy. I want my spirit to shine.
For these things, I am most grateful at Thanksgiving.