Friday, September 23, 2016

Poem


Words don’t relay
They catch in your throat besides

You pray
And you say
Make me thine

Grace is something like falling rain
For after the years of changing pain

Mine

He says

You are mine.




(You can listen to this song too, if you'd like to.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Irene and the Miscarriage

This post is the eleventh in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.



A still from Women of Faith, 2013.

"And then shall that which is written come to pass: Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord."*

***
I've recently reached a tipping point of sorts. I think the scriptural turn of phrase is "a mighty change has been wrought" in me. It doesn't look the way I thought it would, and it didn't happen through any predicted mechanisms. In fact, the weight that tipped the scales was something unbearably sad. Two somethings actually. A baby boy and a baby girl. Each belonging to someone dear to me. The boy didn't have a name. But the girlher name was Sequoia.

***
Five years ago, in August of 2011, Anna and I started developing a project we dubbed "Women of Faith."  2011 had been a harrowing year for me, and it was poised to get quite a bit worse. The depth of pain that I would become acquainted with in the following months would have been entirely incomprehensible to me in August, but by the end of the season it would become as close to me as an old friend. Closer than Anna probably.

But there we were. Sitting in my basement living room I had painted grey and robin's egg blue. Camlyn was there. And Caitlin. And Alex. And Daughters in My Kingdom. And we prayed and we asked to be led to the stories that we were supposed to tell. The women that we needed. We asked to be led to stories of women of faith.

If I were to paint a picture of myself at the time... well she's not too unlike me as I am now. Same unruly hair and unusually skinny arms and the same kindness in her eyes. But she carried more pain than I do now and more doubt too. And I think that's the important part. The mighty change.

***
In February of 2016 I felt expectantfiguratively speakingbecause these two dear ones, one Anna and one not, were expecting. The second mother-to-be had waited for her baby for a long time. For Anna though, the growing daughter was... more of a surprise, at least relatively speaking.

Both were due near the end of the summer.

***
"God will you please send me a woman to help me through this? Someone who knows what this is like? I can't relate to the men I read about in the scriptures anymoreand I need a woman. Please, I need a woman."

We'd made it to October of 2011. And it was General Conference. I'd written down my list of questions in my journal prior to conference. Standard procedure. And then Sunday afternoon as I was putting together my things to watch the session at a friend's apartment, a question popped into my mind with uncharacteristic spontaneity.

"I wonder if anybody Mormon was connected to the Titanic?"

The thought passed. I laughed. "Not likely that question is getting answered in General Conference," I responded.

You can imagine my surprise when near the end of the session, not quite four minutes into his remarks, Quentin Cook segued his teachings on tragedy into a history lesson on the unsinkable ocean liner. And then, at 5:42 he said, "There were at least two Latter-day Saint connections to the Titanic."

***
"For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God."

***
The baby boy went first. His heart stopped beating before he would have been ready to leave the womb. I read a post about it on Facebook. Inhaled sharply. That breath was suspended for what might have been months or years. Don't know how long it was really. 

You don't know what to do in those moments. I don't at least. Do you string together a few vowels and a few consonants in a white digital box when someone's world has been shattered? Aim for somewhere between pithy and pathetic and pray that what comes out is some shade of comforting? Probably. That's what I did. At least I think I did. Can't remember now. 

***
By the time the vertigo of the coincidence had passed Elder Cook had reached the really important part. Important for me anyways.




Her name was Irene. Irene Corbett. What I knew after listening to him relate what happened to her that April night was this:

She died when that ship sank.

And she was my answer twice over. Irene would be my she-mentor and my story. The story I was supposed to tell. The woman of faith I had asked for.

Knowing these things, of course, didn't change her story. And I was about to discover that there was quite a bit lurking under the surface there. Her story was a kind of sea-buried wreck in it of itself.

***
Anna's miscarriage was less sudden. Drawn out over an entire night and day. We had texted that evening about meeting up with some friends to attend a poetry slam. She was going to bring her sister and her sister's friend. Thirty minutes into the slam she still hadn't turned up.

"Are you here?"

"No. Something weird just happened. Like pregnancy weird. And my on-call nurse thinks I should go to the ER. So I think I'm going to go :-("

Later text messages revealed that her gestational sac was hanging out of her cervix and that she'd been moved from the ER to Labor and Delivery. She was only 18 weeks along, so I knew almost immediately that there wasn't a whole lot that could happen in Labor and Delivery at the hands of its human workers that could save this little one. It would take a miracle, definitely.

***
Why did Irene go to London? 

That's a question I've asked God many times.  The knot at the heart of Irene's story was wound more tightly in controversy than most knots I'd seen. And I didn't want to risk it. How could she be a woman of faith when she acted against the council of the prophet?

***
We, Katie and I, went to see Anna in the hospital that night. I was worried about her. Her husband, Paul, was out of town. You could see it in her eyesthe apprehension, the fear. If you know Anna, really even at all, you too would probably react with intensity to seeing those emotions in her demeanor. They're so completely antithetical to who Anna is, at her core. I can't think of a person who's taught me more about gratitude and sunbeams and trusting than Anna.

So I held her hand in the rigid way that I usually do and something fumbled it's way through my teeth and I cried a little and so did she and I prayed prayed prayed for God not to pain Anna like this. "She's already suffered so much in this last year," I reminded Him (and Her). Katie and I drove home and I cried some more. Didn't really sleep.

I can't quite put into words how much it hurt me to see her on the prow of a sinking ship.

***
Nobody really knows why Irene went to London. Her parents and siblings were so grief-stricken by the tragedy that they burned all her letters and personal effects. Irene's three children were too young to remember anything. And so what we have now is a handful of puzzle pieces passed down through hearsay over the hundred years that have elapsed since that fateful night.

What is clear is that Irene wanted to go to London to study anti-septic midwifery. The infant mortality rate was high in Utah at the time, and the school Irene had been accepted to, The Lying-In Hospital, was the first in the world to merge germ theory with birthing practices.

Irene did have three children at home. And she had a husband, Walter, who understandably didn't want her to go. But for some reason she persisted in her desire. She had the support of her parents, Levi and Mary Colvin, who mortgaged their farm to pay for her schooling. Her mother-in-law, Mary Harris, decidedly did not feel the same way. She was a favored niece of the prophet, Joseph F. Smith.

The way Irene's grandson tells the story, Irene had made up her mind to go. She and her father went to see the prophet, because Irene figured that since she was going to be in England for six months anyways she'd like to be set apart as a missionary. The prophet did not give his blessing. He'd already spoken with Irene's mother-in-law and so he duly informed Irene that she had a duty to her husband and to her family.

This didn't change Irene's mind. 

***
Next morning I was up early. Put on a dress. It was a Sunday. I fretted around for an hour or two before driving to the hospital. I arrived mid doctor's visit, so I waited in the lobby. The thickness that hung in Anna's room quickly relayed to me that things hadn't improved. Anna still thought that they might. And I wondered if perhaps they could.

The rest of the morning was a blur. There was a sacrament meeting we attended. There were more tears, lots of them, that landed on that vinyl hospital floor. 

Anna asked me to read the scriptures to her. And here: a tender mercy. Just that morning a piece I'd written about Eve had been published on another blog. Anna and Eve are very close. If you can say such a thing.  And so a bit of gratitude found me in the midst of those grieving tears. Because I'd been prepared with a bit of Eve for Anna.

***
"In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but in everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer."

***
I knew. The answer was in my heart already. Irene went to London because God called her to go. But who would believe such a thing? Would God call a woman to leave her family and travel to the other side of the world to pursue advanced training? By itself it's far enough outside cultural expectations surrounding who God is and what He (and She) will ask of a woman. But when you add on top of it that she died... that she didn't make it off the Titanic alive. That her breath and heartbeat ceased in what has to be the greatest maritime miscarriage there ever was. Well it seems like the moral of the story speaks for itself.

And yet God told me. He (and She) told me that Irene was a woman of great faith. And in his own way, Quentin Cook said the same thing. "She was careful, thoughtful, prayerful, and valiant."

And besides all that in her I saw myself. It made sense to me that her path of revelation could be misunderstood by those she loved, it even made sense to me that it could take her, lifeless, to the bottom of the icy sea. Because in a very real and figurative way that was where my path of revelation took me.

***
I don't know as much about Heavenly Mother as I want to. But among the many gifts Anna's miscarriage gave me was this: from now until forever when I think on Her my mind is filled with an image of Anna on that hospital bed, and the choice that she made.

Anna chose to move forward with the birth knowing that it would and only could be a death. Choosing it despite the promise of life and health she'd carried in her womb for the previous 18 weeks. It was a very visceral moment of agency. The Eve kind. 

I wasn't present when she decided. I had gone home to eat after Anna's mother had arrived. After I finished my meal the Spirit said to me in an unmistakable voice, "Leave your house at 6:00." So I did. And I returned to her hospital room a few minutes after the pitocin had been administered. 

What neither Anna nor I realized was that miscarriage is still, for all intents and purposes, a birth. Shorter in its duration, sure. But all the other trappings, the water, the blood, the contractions, the pain that produces the screams you've never heard and surely never wanted to, they would all be present and accounted for.

***
I've often thought that if I could pick my death I'd choose to drown. I nearly drowned once, when I was twelve. And it was pleasant, almost. Of course I've always been comfortable, probably too comfortable, in the water.

I was river rafting with my grandfather and aunt and cousins. After a long day on the water we came to a portion of the river the guide called—I still remember it—Cherry Rapids. He told us that the swells in this part of the river were caused by the current rather than any submerged rocks, so we'd be safe to ride them outside the raft. No undertow.

One by one the four of us bailed out. I was last. I didn't jump quite far enough away from the boat. So rather than getting guided around the raft by the current I was sucked under it. The life vest I had on posed a significant problem, as it was pulling me towards the surface as the inflated raft above me pushed me down. 

A brief sensation of terror swept through me that fueled a lot of futile kicking. I have no idea how long I was under the water. But I do know that enough time passed for the terror to subside. A kind of oxygen-deprived trance took over. 

But somehow, I felt peace too.

I thought that if this was the end of my life, I should probably pray. "Dear Heavenly Father," I said, "If this is the end please help my father and my mother and Diana, and Eli, and Emily. If not, please help me now. In Jesus' name amen." It was a total and genuine submission. 

I opened my eyes after the prayer. Not something I often do underwater. Sensitive eyes. And at precisely this moment a thin orange rope floated into my view. I grabbed it and was yanked out from under the raft. 

So sometimes, you are saved.

***
I've been trying to write this passage for some time. And I've decided that I cannot adequately express the horror that is a miscarriage. 

I remember Anna, bloodied and crippled with pain. The anesthesiologist arrived with his needle, but a bit too late for it to really take effect before too-small Sequoia left her. He grabbed Anna and flipped her body over in the midst of the kind of screams that tear through your ears and the rest of you.

But somehow, I felt peace too. 

He was there. He always is. 

***
I've wondered why Irene didn't make it off the ship. She was 1 of 22 second class female passengers who didn't. Quentin Cook put forward something I heard from Don Corbett, Irene's grandson. "It is believed that she didn't get into one of the lifeboats because, with her special training, she was attending to the needs of the numerous passengers who were injured in the iceberg collision."

But my research has indicated that nobody was injured. At least not in the collision.

If you've seen James Cameron's Titanic you probably have a frame of reference for the third class passengers. The historian I've talked to said that they weren't truly locked in the bottom of the ship. Even still though, many of them would have died down there, as the iceberg tore its way through the hull, and those lower compartments were the first to take on water.

52 third class children died. 52 out of 79.

Irene had been working with mothers and children of the lower caste during her time in London. Prostitutes. The uneducated. The homeless. One of the postcards she sent home that wasn't destroyed describes how she would pick fleas off of the babies who came to The General Lying-in Hospital. So I like to think that she was down there. With them.

Of course she was.

***
And suddenly there she was. Sequoia. So, so tiny. So unready for the world. She had a fragile little body colored like a grape. But so beautiful. The way her tiny toes and fingers rounded. Her cheekbones visible and her eyelids too.

I cried for what could have been. And I cried for what was. And I cried for Anna and Paul. And for the things I didn't understand. There were so many. I cried for Anna's grace, for her courage, grateful for her strength to let go and to clutch.

I went home a few hours later and sat parked in my car outside my darkened house. I wailed into the steering wheel. Some sad song coming out of the speakers. To help me finish. Because, sometimes, you have to feel it through to the end. All the way.

And I also cried in a different way. Cried to the Lord for my own strength to let it go. Like Anna.

***
"O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."

***
Sapphires come in bluemost people know thatbut my aunt who was a jeweler taught me that sapphires also come in yellow, pink, and green. Agates are multicolored. Orange and purple, often. Carbuncles are a red stone.

They call babies that come after a miscarriage rainbow babies. And a few weeks ago Anna announced that she is having two. Twins! An exquisite and intimate fulfillment of Isaiah 54:11-12. But it took time. For my other friend, no such relief is in sight. And for Irene... her tragedy might take even more time to be righted.

And for me?

I don't understand it. But somehow, I too have been healed. It didn't go backwards though. My questions haven't dissipated. My awareness of the wrongs I've been dealt, the wrongs womankind, and more largely humankind, have sufferedthey haven't disappeared. But they have moved from centerstage. The love that found me is so big that it's swallowed up the grief. It happened because finally my capacity to trust has deepened. I believe. Something.

I believe that Jesus Christ is who he says he is. For now he's given me a crown and, given time, he has true recompense for every injustice, every pain, every malady that I've suffered here. He has this balm of mercy and justice for all of us. I don't know how to describe it. Except for this way:

And somehow, I feel peace too. 

Me as Irene Corbett on set for Women of Faith, June 2013.



*The italicized verses of scripture are all pulled from the 54th chapter of Isaiah, which I think has to be among my top five favorite chapters ever. Such exquisite female imagery.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Eve, the Temple, and Fruit that is Bitter and Sweet

Another version of this post was written for Q.Noor (a modern temple dress start-up run by a friend of mine) and published there February 28th, 2016.


Me in my temple dress August 2015. Photo by Arielle Nelson.

I wanted to go on a mission. God told me no. I wanted to get married. God told me yes. Then my heart, made of glass as it were, was dropped from a skyscraper. To say it shattered wouldn’t be the most apt description, because what was left was a pile of fine, sparkling dust that grew as my heart was somehow dropped over and over and over again.

But I’ll let you in on a secret. Below both of these desires, mission and marriage, was another. I wanted to go to the temple. Badly.

God told me to wait.

I’d always had questions. Loads of them. What I didn’t have were the words to ask them or the courage to verbalize them. But after all this yes, no, wait runaround with God, I found myself in possession of both.

I wondered, asked, demanded at times if I was of worth. As a woman. If I had a valuable role to play. My life experiences up to that point had taught me that I didn’t.

In early fall of 2012 a friend gave me a priesthood blessing. I had requested it because the previously mentioned heartbreak was mutating into a case of depression that would stick around for the next three years. The blessing was comforting and inspired, but about halfway through it I found that my spiritual ears were being filled with something in addition to what was coming out of my friend’s mouth. An impression the Spirit was firmly repeating: “Study Eve.”

So I started.

Over the years that have passed since then I’ve seen many blessings come into my life from following that prompting. I worked on a play, and then a short film where our creative team featured Eve. I gave a talk about Eve in my singles’ ward during a time when many of my peers (myself included) were experiencing a lot of confusion about women in a Gospel context. This talk led to more opportunities to testify about Eve and her role, including this article. In Eve I found courage, royalty, revelation, and direction. She became my pre-eminent role model at a time when I desperately needed to know if God loved me, as a woman.  To sum up all that I’ve learned isn’t easy, but I guess it can be broken down into these two principles:

  • It was Eve’s role as both a woman and the mother of all living to enact the Fall. No one else could have done this.
  • Eve’s unique mission provides all women everywhere with an eternal feminine template. When her choice, the Fall, is juxtaposed against its partner, the Atonement, this template becomes more clear.

We know this don’t we? If you’re me at least, you inherently somehow knew before you read it, that partaking of the fruit was Eve’s choice to make. Does it ring as familiar to you as it does to me? Prophets have lauded Eve’s wisdom and courage since the restoration began.

Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “she partook of that fruit for one good reason, and that was to open the door to bring you and me and everyone else into this world, for Adam and Eve could have remained in the Garden of Eden; they could have been there to this day, if Eve hadn’t done something.”


This one is my personal favorite. Henry B. Eyring in the first general women’s meeting, April of 2014. Speaking to the women of the Church he said, “You have her example to follow. By revelation, Eve recognized the way home to God."

You mean that Eve acted on revelation? That she made an intentional choice? That she knew, at least in part, what she was doing? And that that revelation came to her—and not to Adam?

But why? Why would all of this come to a woman?

Consider for a moment, if you will, that her body was, in fact, an extension of the veil. She was the receptacle and growing place of the first generation of spirits to leave the Father’s presence after her and her husband. God titled her “the mother of all living.” He breathed the breath of lives into her. Doesn’t that make her the appropriate pre-ordained agent in that Garden?

Consider also that it was her choice, intentionally made, that created a need for the Atonement. Bruce R. McConkie taught this principle in his talk “The Three Pillars of Eternity.” Think about it. The vehicle through which we left the Father’s presence is the Fall. The vehicle through which we return is the Atonement. Sure the Atonement is the balm for sin, pride, illness, and a host of other maladies that afflict us here. But it is also a sacred doorway, the doorway we must pass through to be resurrected. Joseph Fielding Smith used this metaphor above, when he said that Eve opened the door to mortality. Think of that door as the Fall. And the Atonement is the other door. The one through which we re-enter the presence of God.

You can’t have one without the other for together they form the crucible of life. They form our testing ground.

Although I follow Christ, as his disciple, in many ways I follow Eve, as her daughter. The two, and their sacrifices, directly support each other. My role as a woman is a derivative of Eve’s. I create mortality. Christ, and members of “his order” (Alma 13:16) create it’s opposite: the resurrection, otherwise known as immortality.

“Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman.”

-M. Russell Ballard, “This is My Work and My Glory,” April 2013

Although we don’t have much revealed knowledge on this yet, it would appear that just as men play a key role in the conception of mortality, that women play an equally vital role in the conception of immortality.

Eve taught me that. She is a type of our Heavenly Mother, and a type of all women everywhere. As I continue to study her, my own role here in mortality and in the eternities becomes more clear. Because of Eve I can now write and say with certainty that I am of worth. That I have an important, eternally significant role to play. And that without me, the world would be missing something special.

In the spring of 2015, I finally got the divine go-ahead to receive my endowment. I went through the Provo Temple on August 6th. Despite a lot of preparation, many parts of my experience were jarring and confusing, and I left the temple with many more questions than I had entered with.  I was surrounded by friends and family members, but still I felt incredibly alone in that endowment room. I acknowledged then, as I do now, that I felt a powerful something that night. Something that testified to me that what was happening in the temple was good, in the highest sense of the word. But that awareness didn’t take away the searing ache I felt as it dawned on me that I would have to continue forward carrying the burden of questions.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Eve to make an appearance. I sat and watched her exodus from the garden. Her yielding to the will of God, as confusing and paradoxical a will as it sometimes is. And then I saw her putting her broken heart on the altar, and stumbling through her wilderness, and beginning her journey of reparation and healing.

I realized, as I had before, that her and I were on the same journey. And I remembered then, as I do now, her words in the book of Moses: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have… known… the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (5:11)

And so even though sometimes the temple still tastes like it is simultaneously the bitter and the sweet fruit, I see Eve there, and I trust that if we truly are on the same journey, that someday I will know clarity, I will know joy, and I too will know my Redeemer.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Healed Woman (Part 3: With the Woman with the Issue of Blood)

This post is the tenth in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.


"For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit... For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee."
Isaiah 54: 6-7



My doubts about womanhood were given breath in very personal places. A path of revelation that was illuminated only as far as the entrance. An overcast trail that wound into sharp extended pain, and finally dropped into perceived Divine abandonment.  Promises unfulfilled. Now, this disclosure doesn't mean that my woman questions are less real or viablebut what it does mean is that they opened because of obedience. Which is an interesting idea, and probably worthy of its own post.

But that post might never get written. I've been slow lately. This piece for exampleI've been sitting on it for months. But not for laziness so much as for expectation. As early as April, I knew that this essay was going to be the last one in a series of three posts about healed women that I would write. And then, by September, I knew the angle I would take. But I've been waiting to write it. Waiting for a miracle.

Every part of this experience, the healing, the waiting, the writing, have felt like a slow gestation to me. And I haven't reached the end yet. However, I have been given a great boon since last sitting here in front of my keyboard. Something so great that I don't think I'll ever be able to move retroactively. At least not on this particular path.

And I'd like to tell you about it. But I'd like to tell you about it in tandem with the story depicted above. You're probably familiar with the woman with the issue of blood? She was a woman of Capernaum, and as you might recall, she was healed. But not for 12 years.

Four years ago a dear friend of mine married a terrific soul, and together they formed a wonderful union. As the months and then the years that followed their marriage began to tick by, both my friend and her husband came to know darkness. For them this darkness came in the form of infertility. My friend has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

It's not really possible to link the phrase "issue of blood" with any contemporary diagnosis. What we do know is that in Leviticus an "issue of blood" refers to vaginal bleeding; either monthly, menstrual bleeding or bleeding after birth. One writer has suggested that this woman's issue of blood could have been something like menorrhagia, which is a heavy bleeding that persists for several weeks at a time and makes daily life almost impossible.

I don't know much about PCOS aside from what I've heard from my friend, and a few others who share her diagnosis. Between the four people I'm thinking of the range of symptoms experienced is pretty broad. For one friend, the physical pain she endures when she ovulates is debilitating. For another, there is no pain at all, but a persistent problem with weight management. For all these women though, potential fertility is a major concern, and for the friend who I am primarily writing about, it had moved from a concern to a reality.

I wonder how heavy, repeated hemorrhaging affected this scriptural woman? Did this issue of blood closely follow her childbearing years? Or was she a young woman when it got its start? She would have been isolated from any family she hadprogeny or ancestralbecause of her condition. Under the Mosaic Law, a woman with an issue of blood had to be separated from others during the time of her bleeding. And not just separated from her people, separated from her God. What a painful realization that must have been every time one of her physicians failed to heal her. Every time she bled. Can you imagine it?

I think of my friend and every repeated negative pregnancy test. The truth is, I wasn't privy to that pain. Although I've heard about the mounting grief she and her husband felt as more and more of their loved ones conceived. Or the gradual estrangement from God that grew and grew. Sitting in sacrament meeting, or in the plush chairs of an endowment room. Who was this God that would command his children to multiply and replenish the earth and then would leave His (and Her) children unable to conceive?

I don't know anything about that painexperientially speakingalthough I'm sure there must be plenty of people who do. But the person who knows it best, knows it inside and out, knows how it breathes and how it lives, is of course, Jesus Christ. We talk about that a lot. His abilityability isn't really the word is it?that innate facet of his character that allows Him access to everyone, all pains everywhere. What we talk about less I'm noticing is how He, this man who has experienced everything, has also been healed of everything. And if we are to follow Him, I think He intends for all of us to be healed eventually too.

That's what makes the moment depicted above so iconic. After 12 years of trying and waiting and agonizing and enduring, with one final reach "the fountain of her blood was dried up." And it was over. Just like that.

As you've probably guessed at this point, my friends conceived. They're bringing a baby boy into the world this summer. And it's very exciting. Because they're my friends I am very pleased and full of happiness for them. Watching friends come to the end of a trial naturally makes a person feel very contented.

But there's more to this story. And it might surprise you. A little more than a month before they conceived, September it was, I received a very strong, very unsolicited prompting. I knew that if my friends continued to exercise their faith, that they would get pregnant. And I knew that it would happen within 40 days.

I can't answer your questions about stewardship. I really don't know why this message came to me. I guess it could be because I was listening? If you knew me personally, you'd probably know that strong unsolicited promptings form much of the territory that is my life. But even so, this one was pretty... big. In it of itself the information wasn't so bad. It was the second prompting that complicated things. I was instructed that I needed to tell my friends what the Spirit had conveyed to me; I needed to extend this 40 day promise to them. And stewardship questions aside, I honestly didn't know how I could possibly be the bearer of good news.

Maybe that sounds silly to you. But let me tell you something. I've followed a sizable handful of promptings in my life. Promptings that are so outrageous and uncomfortable that they make this one look like kiddie stuff. The promptings I have in mind have always been attached to promises. Promises not unlike this one. And those promptings? They haven't led me anywhere that I've liked being. And that is an understatement.

So perhaps I did know their pain after all. I knew the pain of hoping for something. Yearning for it.

"For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole."

You're willing to give up anything you possess to see the promises of the Lord made real. To see that He loves you. And maybe you're a woman, and you have reason to doubt that He does, love you I mean. You have reason to doubt that He cares about you. You have reason to doubt that there is a Mother in Heaven that you could ever want to emulate, because if She exists She's clearly silent, and subordinate; She's clearly oppressed, and how could you ever want to be like Her? Wouldn't you rather live in single hell because wouldn't an oppressed subordinate silent existence be hell anyways?

And so you pray and you hope and every unfulfilled promise and every continuing hurt feels like every repeated negative pregnancy test. And then the Lord tells you to step out on a limb. A big one. He asks you to tell your friends that after all their yearning and desperation, after all of their unanswered prayers a miracle is about to be thrust into their faces. And deep down, in one of the darker cavities of your soul you know it's Him speaking to you but still you wonder if He is telling you the truth. You decide to act in faith.

And you drive up to your friends' apartment and you deliver the message with your eyes cast down at their beige carpet. And you look up and you see a grimace on his face and tears streaming down hers, but you don't take back what you said because you've decided. Faith.

And then weeks pass, 40 days pass, and then it's been a few months. And at intervals when you catch yourself doubting you repent because you don't know what's going on here, and you don't want your faith to somehow adversely effect this miracle baby's entrance into the world. And one day your spirits are so low that you pray and ask for God to remind you that He (and She) can in fact work miracles. He (and She) sends you a cloudburst and you stand in your backyard absorbing the watery pellets through your severely dampened underthings, and in your heart you turn around and you wait.

And then, in December, you see your friends. Nothing seems to have changed. They greet you warmly, very warmly, but they don't mention a pregnancy. And you figure that just like always, God has muddied the waters a bit. That He told you the truth, you just don't understand it yet, but that you will in time.

And then your friend emails you. And she tells you that she didn't know what to say. Because how do you say it really? We're pregnant. We're due in June. Thank you.

"And He said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, be whole of thy plague."

And I still don't really know whose faith in Christ it was. And I don't really know if it matters. Certainly, I know that it was her faith. My friend's. She (and he) did it. She's going to be a mother. But it's beginning to dawn on me that perhaps in some small way it was mine too. I did it. I'm going to be a believer.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Conversation with My Friend Kathryn (Part 2)

My conversation with Kathryn is still ongoing, so I think I'll continue to post bits and pieces of it here. She writes things very eloquently, and she has a different perspective on things that teaches me. So here's installment number two!





Kathryn Petersen Thompson
8/23
2:56 pm

Hi Amber, 

I’ve given what you’ve said a lot of thought over the last few days. I’ve got many thoughts so it may come out a bit jumbled. I think that the points that you made nailed my issues right on the head. The taboo regarding this topic often feels overbearing. So much of my frustration over these issues, I am learning, stems from the isolation of not being listened to. I often feel that if people would just listen, the truth we would find together would be glorious and bright. But more often than not I am met with disappointment when I try to express my views or questions regarding femininity and feminism.

Just hearing those words is healing and empowering. Saying them is even more so. I recognize that my journey of understanding, healing and growth will be different from yours, but I am grateful for the help along the way. God has lightened a great burden through you. I feel as if I can pray again without feeling as if I am running from God, afraid to admit what is right in front of me and the hurt that it has caused. I can pray again in peace and trust. 

That being said, your validation to my thoughts and feelings meant so much. In a way, I feel almost as if I have cheated. From what it sounds like, you had to come to recognize and acknowledge the truths you shared by yourself (with the help of revelation alone). I, on the other hand, have found it so much easier to acknowledge these truths after hearing someone else say them. Truly, injustice has been around a long time and has existed even within the Church, the injustice itself is an egregious problem, healing is available through the atonement, and, I would add (as you implied), the Gospel is still true.

I am grateful that you and I no longer need to live in the isolation that can come from choosing not to leave the church and rather, to heal. I am so grateful God led me to you that day at that conference.

I love the quote that you shared. I had never heard that one before. Like balm to a wounded soul was the sentence, “Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as an exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God.” Much of my studying recently has been centered around the Family Proclamation, particularly the paragraph about familial roles.

The inspiration Josh and I received that informed us that I needed to go to medical school came as a shock to me. I grew up in a home where my mother and my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s mother were all stay at home moms and homemakers. I always thought that that was God’s plan for me as well. I still don’t have all of the answers of what God has planned for my future as a mother and physician, but I take solace in the sentence that reads, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” It is my belief that God, our Heavenly Mother and Father, work together in such perfect unity and individuality, helping one another in whatever roles They have.

I am intrigued with what you have to say about how this whole hurting and healing process is a central part of what needs to happen for all of us to be prepared to know Heavenly Mother. I often feel wracked with the question “why?” as it applies to not knowing our Mother in Heaven. It seems to me that many, if not most, of the issues our world is facing would be diminished (or eliminated) if we had a proper understanding of the Feminine Divine. I do not yet see the Godly wisdom (or human foolishness) that prevents us from knowing Her. If you have any insight into that that you are willing to share, I would welcome it. I do believe that the day She is revealed will be glorious beyond description. I also believe that we can individually come to know Her in small (and maybe big) ways now through revelation as I have experienced that to some extent. God is good and He and She want to give us our righteous desires as soon as we are able to receive them.

In other news, after sitting through a rather difficult sacrament meeting talk today, I asked my bishop if he would allow me to give a talk regarding what I have learned about what the Proclamation says concerning gender roles, the equality of men and women, and how we are to help each other as equal partners. I told him I would pull the information mainly from this last general conference. He agreed to let me do it although he requested that I show him the talk before I give it so we can go over it together. I know you have thought and written about that topic extensively so I welcome your input.



Kathryn Petersen Thompson
8/23
2:57 pm

Thank you for being with me during this time Amber. It means so much.
Love,
Kathryn




Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Healed Woman (Part 2: With the Samaritan Woman at the Well)

This post is the ninth in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.


Woman at the Well by Liz Lemon Swindle

"She that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and she that murmured shall learn doctrine."
Isaiah 29:24


This post is long overdue. I knew that I understood the subject matter well enough to write about it two months ago. I usually know what I'm going to write about ahead of time, and some experience or conversation cements the angle that I'm going to take. Interestingly, the conversation that sparked this article was with the same friend that I talked to about the woman taken in adultery. Who knew that two women, from very different backgrounds, could both identify so intimately with these women who are profiled in the New Testament? God, I guess.

God knew something else. Just two weeks before I had this conversation with my friend, I had received an answer to a long-standing prayer about the sealing ordinancean answer that had everything to do with women's roles and equality. Now, this is a theme that I've probably explored before, so I won't develop this tangent too much further, but it took me five years to get the answer to this question. And the reason it took so long was because God was answering me all along, but He (and She) was doing it line-upon-line. My heart wasn't prepared for the answer the moment I asked the question, so instead God has spent the last five years teaching me the fundamental things I would need to know before I would understand.

And this conversation, with my friend, was precipitated because she came home from church with the sealing ordinance weighing heavily on her mind. While at church she had prayed for God to teach her more about this ordinance. And voila! I was blessed with an opportunity to share what I'd been taught, and she was given an answer to prayer almost instantaneously. 

I don't pretend to know exactly why God gave me the answer to my question five years after I'd asked, and why He (and She) gave my friend the answer within five hours, but I feel joy about the way things happened regardless.

This same arc of becoming converted to truth in our questioning unfolds in John 4 in an encounter between Christ and the woman at the well. I love this story.

The setting is a well, Jacob’s well, located outside the city of Sychar, in Samaria. Jesus, who is wearied by his travels sits down at the well, and after a bit of time, a local woman, identified only as the “woman of Samaria” in the text, approaches.

Christ asks her for a drink.

"How is it that thou, a Jew, asketh drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

She's feisty.

“If thou knowest the gift of God, and who it is that said to thee 'Give me to drink,' thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”

He's good.

She retorts, “Sir, the well is deep and thou has nothing to draw with; from whence then has thou that living water?" And before Christ can answer her question, she continues, “Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us this well?”

She's not giving in that easy.

Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give [her] shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give [her] shall be in [her] a well of water, springing up into everlasting life,” he responds.

You can read the rest of the exchange in John 4:16-42. But for a quick summary, keep reading here.

Christ inquires about her husband. She tells him she has no husband and Christ points out that she has had five husbands, and that the man she has currently is not her husband. At this she perceives that Christ is a prophet. He continues to teach her, here at this well, and just prior to testifying to her of his divinity and mission, he calls her "Woman." You might remember the importance of this title from a prior post.

Woman is the English marker of an ancient word that was used when addressing queens.

It finally clicks for the woman of Samaria. When Christ says, "I that speak unto thee am he," she leaves her water pot behind, returns to her city and tells her loved ones that the Savior has come.

But how is this old story, this 20-verse-cameo-appearance by a nameless woman, relevant?

I think it's her honesty.

She doesn't shy away from anything she's feeling. She might not spell it out for Christ (or the modern reader), but it's obvious that her defiance and spiritedness must be masking some pain. And as for the source of the pain, there are lots of possibilities.

She's had five husbands. Hard to say whether they were lost to divorce or death, but we do know that they must have been lost.

She's currently connected to a man who is not her husband. Are they living in sin? Or is Christ communicating to her that this manwhoever he isis not meant to be her husband, and perhaps she knows that deep down but doesn't want to give him up? The details are not for us to know, but I'd guess whatever the dynamic is, it's not fun.

Or maybe her hutzpah is the product of her social situation. The Samaritans were not treated very well by the Jews. Or maybe she learned to be tough because she was a woman. The women were not treated very well by the men.

And maybe I'm wrong about the pain. That's possible too. Perhaps this woman is just a really cerebrally oriented person. Maybe her discomfort comes from a collection of unanswered questions. Before she realizes that the man in front of her is in fact, Christ, she says, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." I love her emphasis on tell. I am certainly excited for Christ to come so that he can unfold his revelations to me. I have so many questions that they form a veritable mountain, and it is always relieving when I can remove a question from the heap.

I really appreciate the generality of this story because it allows me to insert my own angst behind her words and questions. And I'm grateful for her honesty. She, a woman, told Christ, a man, how it was. And he listened. Isn't that amazing? He listened to a questioning, obstinate woman. Even when hethe Savior of the worldwas sitting right in front of her, and she was not recognizing him. I think he listened to her because for him she was not merely a questioning obstinate woman. She was a questioning obstinate Queen.

(By the way, women are totally allowed to be questioning, obstinate, stubborn, angry, and slow to yield. Those aren't male-exclusive weaknesses. You can still be feminine and hard-headed. So if you see some of these qualities in yourselves female readers, and you are shaming yourselves for being this way, knock it off! It's a great starting point, I think. For men and women alike. You'll still have to learn how to be easily entreated, but you've got a buddy on that path. Her name is Amber.)

He's very patient. And I think we all can take a leaf out of the woman of Samaria's book. We can be honest with him, you know. Some of us lead very hard lives. Harder than others'. And we can be honest with him about the parts of ourselves that seem to separate us from others. The darkest most isolated parts of our souls. Do we all realize that the Atonement is the balm, the counterbalance for the very most atrocious things that have happened on this Earth?

Christ has felt the pain, the darkness, and the weight for everything that has ever happened. For massacres, for abuse, for murder, and exploitation, for betrayal, for death, for grief, for war, for crime, for evil. Christ is the ultimate protagonist and his light will outshine the darkest evil you can ever experience, even the darkest evil you can imagine.

So you can be honest with him, like this woman, about your questions, and about the dark places from which they stem.  He knows darker places than anything you can tell him about. But it doesn't matter. He will never patronize you. He will listen. And he will keep on listening until you understand enough for him to show you the lighthis light really.

And if you listen close enough, you'll probably hear him say to you, like he did to her, "Woman."








Monday, August 24, 2015

A Conversation with My Friend Kathryn (Part 1)

I had the following conversation with a dear friend of mine over Facebook chat last week, and felt like I should post it to my blog. I truly love Kathryn. She's one of those friends that God puts in your life, and you don't always find out why until much later. Anyways, I wish you could see all the ways she's served me. She's incredible.



Kathryn Thompson
8/17
9:38 pm

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the injustice placed upon women? For the past few months I've really been struggling with that. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes it's hard to breathe. I try to read scriptures and conference talks but come away more confused than when I started. Not always, but more often than not. I was praying about it tonight and thought of you. I figured of anyone I knew, you probably would understand best. Any advice for a fellow sister?



Amber Richardson
8/17
11:36 pm

Hi Kathryn! I'm just seeing this right now (it's pretty late where I am) but I wanted you to know that I totally feel ya, and that I'll respond tomorrow morning once I've slept. Love ya.



Amber Richardson
8/20 (definitely not the next morning)
11:35 am

This response is going to be a bit disjointed, so bear with me.

First, I wanted to pass along this quote from James Talmage. It's been a real comfort to me, first because the promises he makes are incredible, but second, because he actually acknowledges the pain that I've felt (and that I imagine you're feeling):

"When the frailties and imperfections of mortality are left behind... husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and cooperating to the full in the government of their family kingdom. Then shall women be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God... Mortal eye cannot see nor mind comprehend the beauty and glory, of a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God."

James E. Talmage "The Eternity of Sex", Young Woman's Journal 25 (October 1914): 602-3.

You should be able to find this talk if you Google it. It's one of my favorites, even though it's a ripe 100 years old now.



Amber Richardson
8/20
11:47 am

I think that one of the things that has been most difficult about feeling pain about the current (and historic) state of oppression towards women, is that it's so taboo to talk about. That taboo seems to definitely be lifting in our larger society, but as with many things, it's more slowly evolving in the Church. I went through a long period where I cried and struggled a lot over this. It's not so raw for me now, and I think that in part, it was because I learned to tell my truth about it.

I understand what you mean about going to the scriptures and conference talks and coming away more confused than when you started. At least, I know what that was like for me. I couldn't take that problem to Jesus until I was willing to acknowledge that it was a problem. Even if nobody else wanted to acknowledge it. And this particular problem (being overwhelmed by the large-scale historic injustice placed on women) is pretty all encompassing.

My first realization was that injustice has been around a long time. And of course, that in many places (okay everywhere), in varying degrees it still flourishes. My second realization (and this one was harder) was that injustice has existed within the framework of the Church. That prophets and apostles of past generations were blind to this injustice, and in some instances promulgated it. It was especially bad in the scriptures. I remember that when this was going on I had just decided to study the Old Testament. As you can imagine, that particular book of scripture hugely aggravated my distress. Actually, I've still never read the Old Testament all the way through, for fear of this very thing. Fortunately, Christ never never never encouraged oppression towards women, in fact, he was quite the supporter of women. But unfortunately, if Christ ever taught in an outright way that women should not be oppressed, we currently do not have record of that sermon.

Which is confusing. And has been a bit hurtful for me.



Amber Richardson
8/20
11:58 am

The way that I've come out that dark place has pretty much everything to do with learning to trust God. With the overarching history of my mothers and sisters, yes. But more than that, with personal revelation. God has been teaching me (painstakingly slowly) about His (and Her) perspectives surrounding injustices and womanhood. And so long as I can believe the revelation I receive, I am comforted and I learn more.

But that can be REALLY challenging, because it's a bit isolating. The first thing that isolated me was that I felt like I could see that what is going on, and what has gone on is not at all in harmony with the restored Gospel of Christ. And I felt pain and weight for all of it. So, as you can imagine, healing from that pain is also a bit isolating. Often times when people (usually women) experience this pain they drop off. It's a hard battle to fight. And people who fit this description got the first part right: acknowledgment, honesty, allowing themselves to grieve and feel the anger and the confusion. But there is a second half of the equation--and that's healing!

You can probably imagine how difficult it is to talk about the healing, the answers, and the peace when most people haven't even gotten to the point where they're willing to do the scary thing and first acknowledge the incongruences and the pain. I think this is why there is such a lack of dialogue surrounding these things.



Amber Richardson
8/20
11:58 am

My beliefs now surrounding womanhood are very full of light and peace. I still have lots of questions, but overall, I feel good about having questions. I couldn't get to that place until I waded through the darkness.

I actually have a little blog where I've been trying to document this process of healing/getting answers with stories from the scriptures and stuff. You can take a look at it, if it's helpful to you.  It's basically an outline of my healing process. But I didn't want it to be too didactic. If you want, you can read it from beginning to end. I'm planning for it to be a 28 part series, and I post about once a month.

http://abrightparticularstar.blogspot.com/search/label/Explorations%20in%20Womanhood?max-results=20

I'd love to read more of your thoughts, and I hope I haven't overwhelmed you with too many of mine.

Love,
Amber



Kathryn Thompson
8/20
1:07 pm

Amber, I am so touched by what you have to say. I feel lifted, as if a little light has begun to show in my darkness. I need some time to think about everything you have said but I promise to write again, hopefully soon. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.