Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon


I read Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon a bit ago, to the youngest Mormon I know well. (I think that she was six months, then.) I have been meaning to write a review since that time, but it is difficult to write well (or really, at all) about something so small that means something so big.

Because it is a personal book, perhaps I can begin personally: my Mormon heart has felt broken lately–by PR letter after PR letter, and the poor welcoming of women and men who should not have to fight to belong to the body of Christ. Miller’s words are some of the first to help unbreak it, because they are a reminder of everything good and beautiful in Mormonism. I am sincerely glad that my daughter has heard them, as I sincerely hope that she will hear them again, when she is young and old enough to take them in.

As the title suggests, the book is at least loosely inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It is made up of twelve letters: Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, and Eternal Life. Each one begins, “Dear S.,” and ends, “Love, A.” Each is written to his daughter.

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Young Women Lesson: How do I receive the power and blessings of the priesthood in my life?

The title of this lesson is taken from Carole M. Stephens’ talk, Do We Know What We Have?

Daughters of God, do we know who we are? Do we know what we have? Are we worthy to receive the power and blessings of the priesthood? Do we receive the gifts given to us with gratitude, grace, and dignity? 

I think you could take this lesson into 2 different directions: How do I receive the power of the priesthood in my life? and How do I receive the blessings of the priesthood in my life? I’m going to give some ideas for both.

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When Visitors Ask the “Head of the Household” to Call on Someone to Pray

When Visitors Ask the “Head of the Household” to Call on Someone to Pray

home-teaching-446364-gallery A common Mormon custom is that home teachers, missionaries or other priesthood visitors will ask the male householder, as “head of the household” or “the presiding authority in the home” to call on someone to say the prayer. I think most people who follow this custom are trying to be polite. They have been taught by (male) leaders that this is a sign of respect to the (male) householder. However, it is extremely disrespectful to a woman for an outsider to enter her home and define her relationship to her household, describe her husband as her head/president, and imply that she is the subordinate.

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Relief Society General Broadcast: Thomas S. Monson

When I volunteered to do a blog post reporting on the talk by the Male Presider at General Relief Society Meeting, I had no idea who the speaker would be. To be perfectly honest, when I heard President Monson introduced as the concluding speaker, I felt disappointed. Many years ago I became tired of what I call “the foam on top of root-beer” conference talks I’d heard from the now president of our beloved church. But yesterday I did my best to turn off my Inner-Conference-Talk-Critic and prayed for humility and softness of heart. Then I listened.

You can watch and listen to his address here.

I will not comment here about those aspects of his address that I found off-putting. Rather, I’ll focus on the Good Word of God I heard in this talk.

President Monson begins with a story about his deceased wife, Francis. He speaks about her role as either a stake or mission Relief Society President during their time as mission presidents in Canada. And about her love for the Relief Society Organization and all the good things that happen as a result of Relief Society.

Stress freeHe continues with a focus on the power of prayer and of God’s unconditional love for us, especially during challenging times of life or when we feel undeserving or abandoned by God. Heavenly Father is always there for us. No matter what.

He talks about faith, patience and belief in Heavenly Father’s ability (and unwavering desire) to answer our prayers. He refers us to the hymn “Did You Think To Pray?” which I love. He also suggests that studying the scriptures can enlighten us, comfort us and strengthen our testimony of God and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Scriptures can also provide answers to prayer. He quotes the following:

Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another.

~ D&C 90:24

Then he tells the story of a young mother whose husband is in the second year of medical residency. He describes the stresses of life for what sounds like a stay-at-home mom. He paints a realistic picture of the burdens this woman bears — she feels compelled to entertain extended family for the holidays. She runs the house essentially alone. She cares for the kids while her necessarily absent husband completes his residency. Then she learns that someone very close to her has been diagnosed with cancer. This becomes the tipping point for her already over-burdened heart and she essentially suffers an emotional breakdown.  (Maybe you didn’t hear it that way, but my years as a psychiatric nurse left me no other interpretation. Also, I should mention that my word for emotional breakdown is emotional break-through, because that’s the purpose for the crash in the first place.)

President Monson beautifully describes symptoms of situational depression accompanied by anorexia (loss of appetite). Tiffany, the young mother, is simply unable to cope. Friends and family become concerned and try to find ways to support her and to encourage her to eat. At one point, a friend says, “There must be something that sounds good to you.”

Tiffany replies, “The only thing I can think of that sounds good, is homemade bread.”

What I liked most about this story was the way in which Tiffany presumably begins her ascent out of her pit of despair. A woman who had met Tiffany only once, brings a loaf of homemade bread to her door, hands it to Tiffany’s husband, who happens to be home that day, then gets in her car and goes on her way.

For me, the loaf of bread has multiple layers of meaning, not the least of which is the symbol of Christ’s atonement. He is the bread of life. His love is ultimately what nourishes and saves us all.

“And so it happened that the Lord sent a virtual stranger across town to deliver a clear message of love to Tiffany . . . She had an urgent need to feel she wasn’t alone, that God was aware of her and had not abandoned her.”   ~ Thomas S. Monson

You can listen starting at about 09:08 in the audio file at for the details of the story.

We don’t hear whether or not Tiffany arose the next morning filled with hope and renewed energy or if her professionally driven, yet compassionate spouse found ways to carry some of her load. We don’t hear about her follow-up appointment with her counselor or primary care physician. We just hear about a moment of grace, a tender mercy in the midst of this woman’s private hell.

I have experienced such moments. Sometimes as the giver. More often as the receiver. And the message is always the same: there is a God and s/he cares about you. Not just in a general sense, but in a most peculiar, personal and specific sense.

This talk left me with three reminders:

  • Pray always.
  • Love your neighbor.
  • Feel God’s specific love for you.

What did you come away with?


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Plowing the Fields

In Primary, I learned the story of the Whitmer’s fields being plowed mysteriously by strangers.

“When he went out to start plowing the soil in the morning, David discovered that someone had plowed part of the fields already….The next day David went to the place he had left the plaster, near his sister’s house, but the plaster was gone. His sister told him that the day before, she and her children had seen three strangers spreading the plaster with great speed and skill. She had assumed they were men David had hired, but David knew they were helpers provided by the Lord.” Primary 5, Lesson 9 “Witness to See the Gold Plates”

This story captured my imagination. Who were these helpers? Angels? The Three Nephites? It was a great miracle and it followed me for years.

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