A Book Review: Girls Who Choose God

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Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the Bible by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, Illustrated by Kathleen Peterson

Girls Who Choose God is a book I wish I’d had as a child, and am thrilled to have for my children. Featuring 11 women from the Bible, this lovely book was conceived when my dear friend Bethany’s three-year-old daughter asked her, “Mom, where are the girls?” when looking through her cartoon book of scripture stories. Bethany wanted her daughter to know not only were girls there, but they have stories that are stirring in their boldness, unconventionality, morality, and dedication to changing the world for good. The women featured are,

Eve
Miriam
Mahlah and her Sisters
Deborah
Esther
Mary the Mother of Jesus
Samaritan Woman at the Well
Mary and Martha
A Generous Widow
A Healed Woman
Mary Magdalene

Each of their stories framed as a choice. For example, when Miriam sees Pharaoh’s daughter approach the basket in the river, the authors write, “Miriam had a choice to make. She could stay hidden to avoid getting in trouble, or she could speak to Pharaoh’s daughter in hopes of saving her brother.” The stories conclude with the choice the girl or woman made, and then provide a question for the reader. From Miriam’s story: “What choices have you made to bring your family closer together?”

I like that the women featured run the gamut from sister to prophetess, and I like that the questions are far-reaching, not at all pointing girls toward deferential female roles. There is Miriam’s question that may seem at first to point toward a role type-cast for women (nurturing families). But there is also Deborah’s question: “When have you chosen to be a leader?” And Esther’s question, “When have you chosen to stand up for others?” When I read this book with my kids they are enthusiastic about answering those questions, they see themselves as leaders, peacemakers, and helpers.

I love that the book uses inclusive language. Male names are not always first (“Eve and Adam” instead of “Adam and Eve”). The authors use the word God instead of Heavenly Father throughout the book. I notice a great effort they’ve made to use language to shine light on women playing the key role in stories that make up our spiritual heritage.

The women are described as people children can aspire to be, with qualities they might see in themselves. “Miriam was a quick thinker. [Her] boldness rescued her brother and reunited her family.” I am used to stories of prophets and heroes from the scriptures being almost always men, and it surprised me how I felt reading about the widow who gave her two mites: “Jesus admired her noble deed. He called his disciples over to learn from her actions.” To learn from her. Our girls need stories told in this way to help them see themselves as full agents in the gospel.  The words “bold” and “courageous” appear several times in this book, words usually used to describe people like David and Nephi, but now used to describe Mary and Mahlah.

I love that the authors included the Daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah and her Sisters), because this is one of my favorite Bible stories. To me this story has delicious subversive potential, but the question that follows is so perfectly relevant to children (and adults): “When have you chosen to solve a problem peacefully?” I didn’t know of this story until I was an adult. I hope it becomes more well known through this book.

Girls Who Choose God is unique. I don’t know of another illustrated book on women in the Bible, and it’s definitely a first for an LDS audience. The illustrations are striking and accessible, and match the text perfectly in their portrayal of bold women. Excitingly, the Church has acquired the paintings and will install them in the Conference Center this year.  Finally, the authors are donating 100% of the profits to a charity called Interweave Solutions that supports educational and entrepreneurial endeavors for women.

I think this an important book for two reasons: it’s the first of it’s kind, and it’s providing something we have far too little of — examples of strong, godly women.  Stories matter.  They don’t determine what girls can dream of becoming, but they absolutely inform it, and these are stories I want my daughter to know.  It’s also a beautiful book, in prose and in the artwork.  I hope you have a chance to own it.

 

*If you’ll be at the Exponent Retreat this year, you can buy a copy from Bethany there.

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God Recognizes the Matriarchy

Last Sunday in Sunday School, we discussed the book of Judges. As a Mormon feminist, my normal instinct is to turn to the Deborah chapters and start chattering away on prophetesses and female judges. However, our teacher started with a different story that turned my world upside down. I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten very far in my Old Testament reading this year and I had never heard of the annunciation experience of Samson’s mother. This was an entirely new story to me!

I’ll give a short summary, but you can read it in full in Judges 13.

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Nursing Madonna as God’s Love

Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that gave you birth. Deuteronomy 32:18

Mary nursing in a Nativity scene
I am sharing these pictures and scriptures, inspired by the Pope’s recent comments on breastfeeding, which led to a revisitation of this Huffington Post article:

“Ask anybody in the street what’s the primary Christian symbol and they would say the crucifixion,” said Margaret Miles, author of “A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750,” a book that traces the disappearance of the image of the breast-feeding Mary after the Renaissance.

“It was the takeover of the crucifixion as the major symbol of God’s love for humanity” that supplanted the breast-feeding icon, she said. And that was a decisive shift from the earliest days of Christianity when “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity.”

We know God loves us because God nurses us, has birthed us. I love the use of Mary as God’s love and it reminds me of all that Heavenly Mother has done for us.

Our Lady nursing the Infant Jesus

His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow. Job 21:24

Louvre-Breastfeeding Jesus

Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Numbers 11:12

The Virgin Mother feeding the Infant Jesus

That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. Isaiah 66:11

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Young Women Lesson: How do the things I say affect me and others?

The overall theme in September is “commandments”, which I think is an important idea to couch this lesson in.  Commandments are laws given to bless and guide  – and protect from potentially harmful ill in this mortal life.  Following the commandments can bless us, make us more like the Savior, bring us peace, and build our testimony of the Gospel.

Bringing Depth to a Lesson on Words

This lesson is about words – what we say, hear, and read.  The manual focuses primarily on cursing and bad language. While I think this is a good thing to discuss, I feel that this lesson will be richer if we open it to the content of the things we say to others and how we speak to and about others.

1. It has been my experience that we can really build others up by the things we say to them.  We can give hope, encouragement, and comfort to others when we speak to them in kind ways and compliment them.  We give insight to their lives when we point out their spiritual gifts.  And we give can give them courage and faith to face life’s challenges as we bear testimony and build them up as individuals.

 Use scripture stories to illustrate this point.  You might consider the story of Christ speaking to the woman taken in adultery.  He lifted her up, comforted her, and gave her courage to go forward in a better life.  He also shielded her from those who were speaking ill of her.

2.  It has also been my experience that we can impact a person’s experience by the way we speak about them to others when they are not present.  If we speak positively about a person to our friends, they are met with positive energy when they join the circle of friends.  And the converse is also true.   When we speak positively about others it builds trust and confidence among our friends because they know we will speak well of them when they are not present.

 Share an experience from your own life where the positive or negative side of this has impacted your life or others.  I, for example, can remember a time where the negative words of another poisoned a bookclub that I loved and I ultimately left the group feeling frustrated, hurt, and alone.  I can also remember another time when I spoke ill of another and hurt her chances in a relationship.  It still fills me with shame today when I think of it.

Rule of Thumb

My rule of thumb in communicating with others (especially those who are difficult for us) is to always be honest and always be kind.  It can be tricky to do both at times, but it can be done well if we are thoughtful in our communication.

Self Discipline

Good, honest, productive communications takes self-discipline and emotional energy.  Discuss the idea of discipline in communication with the girls – such as refraining from sharing gossipy tid-bits that are so juicy or showing restraint in speaking a constant flow of all thoughts.  This will build our own spirit and our own character.

Positive Uses of Words

  • To Teach Others
  • To Bear Testimony of Christ
  • To Inspire and Encourage
  • To Bring Comfort
  • To Lift Up
  • To Build Community
  • To give a Good Recommendation
  • To defuse anger

Consider using scriptural examples of the King Benjamin’s sermons or Abinadi’s courageous testimony.  Think of Abigail intervening with David’s soldiers to save her family, the daughters of Ishmael reasoning with Laman and Lemuel when they wanted to hurt Nephi, or Pahoran’s peaceful response to Moroni’s angry letter.

Negative Uses of Words

  • To Lie
  • To Bare False Witness
  • To Destroy Self Esteem and Confidence
  • To Hurt

Consider using scriptural examples such as wars and battles that were ignited by words – ie: David and Saul, Moroni and Zerahemnah, or Moses and Pharaoh.  Think of how the evil words of the Jewish leaders hurt Christ’s mortal ministry.

 

 

 

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Sunday Meetings and the Anniversary of the Relief Society

As the final day in our series dedicated to International Women’s Day and women of the first Relief SocietyDaughters in My Kingdom, we find this Sunday, 17 March 2013, is the 171st anniversary of the establishment of the Relief Society.  Last January, we made a common-sense suggestion to invite all to celebrate the Relief Society anniversary by asking your ward or branch to host a sacrament meeting dedicated to women (not necessarily mothers) and the Relief Society with all talks given by women, and flanked with hymns written by and for women. After all, Mother’s Day is for mothers, so it makes sense to have a meeting aimed at celebrating the accomplishments, testimony and dedication of biblical and Mormon women, if only to displace some church traditions which exclude women as final speakers in sacrament meeting.

So- what happened in your ward or branch today? Did you have a meeting all about women? or was it all about motherhood, disguised as women? Or something else? Share!

 

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November 2012 Visiting Teaching Message: Teacher’s Choice from Conference

I like honey. I remember peanut butter and honey sandwiches that my grandmother used to make me when we visited her in summertime. I recalled when my aunt taught me to substitute honey for the small amount of sugar in bread-making, and thinking it made all of the difference in the world to the taste of fresh bread, especially when topped with creamed honey butter. A childhood facisnation with Egypt that still resonates with me has me seek for honey and bee symbolism in Egyptian hieroglyphics.  When my throat or mouth is sore, I am drawn to Mānuka honey.It is a staple in my food storage, and a sweet Asian variety was a treasured gift from a visiting Korean exchange student when he stayed with us years ago.

 

But that is not all. I also love Deborah, the righteous judge and prophetess. In Hebrew, her name, דְּבוֹרָה, translates as “bee”. How can I not think of her when I think of honey and beehives?

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