Temple Issue Extras: Dressing Grandma for the Temple

Los Angeles Temple by Ashmae HoilandWe had so many lovely submissions for our Summer 2013 Temple issue and couldn’t pack them all into 44 pages. (Order yours by Monday, September 2nd to ensure that you don’t miss this touching issue.) Special thanks to Ashmae Hoiland who has allowed us to use some watercolors of temples in this series on the blog (and in the magazine). More of Ashmae’s work can be found at her website, http://www.ashmae.com/.

Grandma spilled the beans when she walked me through the temple ceremony.  Scene by scene, she detailed what would occur during my upcoming endowment, omitting only explicitly secret portions.  The imagery and specific eccentricities of the rituals were all new to me.  As I earnestly listened to her I was fascinated with how different the temple was from any other church experience.  Grandma’s first time through the temple had been disastrous.  She was ill-prepared and blindsided by its novelty.  She compartmentalized her confusion, compliantly wore her garments, and continued to attend church.  It took 20 years, and her son going on a mission, before she would go back to the temple for a second try.   My grandma’s genuine concern and preparation help altered the way I experienced the temple. Thanks to grandma, I felt prepared.

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Daughters in My Kingdom: “Live Up to Your Privilege” (Chapter 10)

After the previous nine chapters discuss themes throughout the history of the Relief Society, this concluding chapter is the call to add yourself to that history. This chapter is full of great quotes and it would be very easy to pick your favorites, read them, and then discuss them, which is what I’ll do here.

Daughters of God

This section has a quote from M. Russell Ballard that I really like. As an opening activity, I would have this written up on a board and ask the class to pick out traits listed in it and circle them or list them on the side. I highlighted some of them here:

“We believe in and are counting on your goodness and your strength, your propensity for virtue and valor, your kindness and courage, your strength and resilience. We believe in your mission as women of God. … We believe that the Church simply will not accomplish what it must without your faith and faithfulness, your innate tendency to put the well-being of others ahead of your own, and your spiritual strength and tenacity. And we believe that God’s plan is for you to become queens and to receive the highest blessings any woman can receive in time or eternity.”

I think it is interesting to note that the most-used word is strength.

When I was growing up, one of my Young Women’s leaders moved away. One of her last Sundays at church was a Fast Sunday and one of her non-member neighbors came to church with her. This neighbor went up to the pulpit and talked about the service that my YW leader had done for her and said, “When I look at her, I see Christ. She looks like Christ to me.” I think that is probably one of the highest compliments I’ve ever heard. These traits highlighted above are all Christlike traits. And not only are we like Christ, because we take on Christ’s name at baptism, we walk every day as if we are Christ himself and can be saviors for others and ourselves. When I went to the Relief Society minutes where the quote from this chapter is found, the minutes note that Joseph Smith stated, “It is an honor to save yourselves.”

True Charity, a Legacy Passed from Heart to Heart

In this section, I like Elder Eyring’s quote,

I will speak to you … of the great legacy those who went before you in the Relief Society have passed on to you. The part … which seems to me most important and persistent is that charity is at the heart of the society and is to come into the heart, to be part of the very nature, of every member. Charity meant to them far more than a feeling of benevolence. Charity is born of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is an effect of His Atonement working in the hearts of the members. …

The sentence “Charity meant to them far more than a feeling of benevolence” struck me. I would even say it’s more than filling out a tithing slip or making dinner for someone. After the last section and thinking about how we are like Christ, I think that charity asks us to see Christ in the people around us. The chapter tells some stories of charity demonstrated in the lives of the women in a family, but I think it would be neat to have a story of your own to share or have the group share their own stories.

My Turn to Serve

What I like about this next section is the stories of service relating to death. Now, I’ll be the first one to say that I get worn down by the third, fourth, fifth, etc. dying child story in a single conference weekend. Talking about death can be draining and sometimes feels emotionally manipulative. But I liked the emphasis on the service rendered during the time of death. I think that because it can be difficult in our culture to discuss death and grief, having examples of appreciated service can be helpful for when we find the people around us, or ourselves, in mourning. This is really where we can “mourn with those that mourn” and the Relief Society can really live up to its name. Again, personal stories are great for this, but it’s sometimes nice to have the stories from the manual if it’s too hard to share personal stories about grief.

“Lead the World… in Everything that is Praiseworthy”

This is the rally cry and ultimate urging of this book: band together, pick up your tools, and be amazing. The heading for this section is not passive and is not timid, and neither should we be. What I really like is the phrase “everything that is praiseworthy.” If you think about all the things that are praiseworthy… well, it’s a lot of things! Art, science, performance, parenting, mediating, etc. I can’t think of too many non-criminal activities that aren’t praiseworthy. So take charge and live the best you can.

At this point, I think I would ask the class if they can identify what is keeping them back from doing something “praiseworthy” that they’ve always wanted to do and if it’s possible to remove that. That can provide a lot of discussion.

For me, the biggest hinderance to this is feeling like it’s too late, that I should have done all those praiseworthy things earlier. I’d write off things, “I can’t become a great pianist- I didn’t start lessons at 5!” or “I’d never be able to contribute anything to my field of study- only young people in college do that.” However, earlier in this chapter, the phrase, “potential as holy women” is used, and when I think of a “holy woman” I imagine a wizened and thoughtful older woman. There is still time!

I also get held back if I worry that I won’t succeed or if I can’t give the time needed for success. But even a little bit is a success.

In preparing for this lesson, I listened to the TED talk Unlock the intelligence, passion, and greatness of girls by Leymah Gbowee, peace and women’s rights activist and Nobel laureate. Trigger warning: rape, incest.

In watching her tell her story, I was impressed by what she and the girls and women she talked about were able to accomplish in such a short time. Gbowee got involved in activism in 1998 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She admits that she wasn’t saving the girls asking to be saved at the beginning. While a listener might say, “Just take that little girl in!” And maybe it wasn’t the best choice, but maybe it was. Our lives don’t have to be perfect to make things better. I also think of the character Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His change of heart was near the end of his life and that’s ok, too. Or if you’d like a non-fictional character, there are plenty of scripture stories like Saul/Paul in the New Testament, or the woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more.”

I think the biggest concern with discussing this chapter is feeling like we have to do it all and immediately. Sometimes “leading in all that is praiseworthy” requires a nap or a break. And knowing your limits is praiseworthy, too.

The chapter finishes with a reminder that,

“The charge to lead out in everything that is praiseworthy, Godlike, uplifting, and purifying is a demanding one. It always has been. But individual Relief Society sisters are not alone in accepting this charge. They are part of a great organization, founded by priesthood authority and strengthened by the teachings and declarations of prophets.”

One of my favorite aspects of Mormonism is the idea of Zion and that we are all working for that, and we are all working together. We believe that Zion has happened on earth at least a couple of times (Enoch’s city, the Book of Mormon peoples post-Christ’s visit), and so it gives us hope that we can again create it. It’s hard, but not impossible and let’s get to it!

What questions/thoughts would you like to add? Also, a Happy Relief Society anniversary to all today!


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Relief Society Lesson #7: The Immortality of the Soul

Christ's resurrectionTalking about immortality and eternal life necessarily requires discussion of mortality and death, which can be hard to talk about, especially in front of a large audience.  I think it would be easier for the women of my large Relief Society class to have this discussion in small groups, so I am going to ask them to divide into groups of about six people.  Each person in the group will receive one of these quotes and its accompanying discussion questions to share with the rest of their group.

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Mormons and Death Guest Post: The Loss is Real, Even for Mormons

by Bethany

(Bethany and her husband live in Arizona. They have 4 children, 3 on Earth and 1 in heaven.”)

One of the most comforting ideas in the Mormon church is the one of life after death and eternal families. Not even death can break our familial bonds, we will be together forever. But sometimes it seems like because we believe in these things, it gives us a free pass to not grieve when our loved ones die, or worse, to expect others not to grieve.

Mormons pride themselves on having “happy” funerals. The reason being, we “know” we will see them again someday, so why mourn? We should celebrate their joyous reunion with their loved ones who have gone on before, and look forward to our own reunions with anticipation. Yes, we will miss them, but having our gospel knowledge is comfort enough.

So at a Mormon funeral you’ll notice it is not customary for everyone to wear black, instead it’s a colorful affair. You’ll notice more “happy” tears than sad ones. It’s not uncommon for funerals to feel more like family reunions, and you’re more likely to hear laughing and reminiscing about the past than silence in respect for the dead.

When I was younger, I remember feeling a sort of pride that we could treat funerals this way. It was almost like we were more enlightened, we didn’t need to debase ourselves with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. We didn’t need to drape ourselves in black and keep our heads lowered. We knew the truth!

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Mormons and Death: Childhood Pets

Mormons and Death: Childhood Pets
First Pet

Four-Year-Old Me and My First Pet

My sister and her family recently moved across the country, just a few days after their pet cat gave birth to four kittens.  When my sister’s family arrived in their new state of residence, they stayed with a friend of a friend while they looked for a new home.  These hospitable strangers owned a dog.

A couple days into their stay as house guests, my sister and her husband heard their three-year-old daughter screaming.  They ran to her aid but they were too late.  The dog had killed all four kittens and my tiny little niece had witnessed the tragedy.

My niece was naturally traumatized. Her reactions varied from anger, manifested by attacking her baby brother; denial, such as requesting to play with the deceased kittens; to spiritual questioning about what happened to the kittens after the dog bit them and made them stop crying.  Her parents used the classic Mormon glove example to explain to her about death.  Her dad offered her a priesthood blessing. “Heavenly Father wants you to know that He is holding your kitties right now,” he told my niece as he blessed her. He also counseled her to share all the love that she wanted to give to the kittens with her baby brother.

My first memory of death was also the death of a pet.  My first pet died when I was twelve.  She was a cat that had resided with my family since I was four.  My entire family grieved.  We held a special family home evening style memorial service in honor of our deceased pet.  We all talked about our favorite memories of the deceased cat.  The death of this furry loved one must have been an unusually teachable moment for me, because I still remember details of that lesson.  My parents shared a quote from former LDS church president Joseph Fielding Smith about how animals have souls and will be resurrected.  They talked about how they believed our cat had fulfilled her mission in life very well—she had made our family happy, which is the primary purpose of a pet.

With a quick search, I found what may have been that very quote at the church website,  “So we see that the Lord intends to save, not only the earth and the heavens, not only man who dwells upon the earth, but all things which he has created. The animals, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, as well as man, are to be recreated, or renewed, through the resurrection, for they too are living souls.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, October 1928)

I have heard it said that a pet is a story with an unhappy ending.  Children and grown-ups  grow close to these creatures, but the relatively short lifespan of most pets almost guarantees that their human caretakers will watch them die. Perhaps this sad truth is actually another benefit of pet ownership.  These animal/human bonds help us appreciate the sanctity of life and learn how to process our grief.  They also give us opportunities to comfort each other. Such lessons will be invaluable as we suffer much greater losses in the future.  My little niece is going through her first primer in human mortality—even though her teachers were not human.

However, even as I reflect so philosophically on the benefits of loving and losing pets, I wish my niece’s kittens were still alive.  I am so sorry, sweetie.

Previous Posts in the Mormons and Death Series

Poll: Laid to Rest (5/29)
introduction (5/30)
Mormon funerals (5/31)
unconventional funerals (6/1)
miscarriage/ stillbirth (6/2)
the death of a child (6/8)
suicide (6/15)
the right to die (6/22)
organ donation (6/29)
giving comfort (7/6)
the after-life (7/13)
cemeteries (7/20)

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