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
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
2:57 pm

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

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 friend 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
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
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
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
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
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.

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


Kathryn Thompson
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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Preserving Religious Freedom and Separating Darkness from Light

On Sunday, July 12th, 2015, I presented the following ideas in a talk that I gave in my YSA Singles Ward. I was assigned to base my remarks on Robert D. Hales' most recent general conference address, Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom.  As you can probably imagine, I was entirely uncomfortable with the topic, but I think that with the help of the Spirit things came together. I outlined my thoughts and then improvised from there. So this is not a direct transcript of my talk, but rather my best piecing together of what I said.

I know that I'm breaking the first rule of public speaking by introducing my topic at the beginning of my talk, but I'm going to do it anyways, because I feel like it's important for me to be transparent about what's going to happen here today. I was assigned to base my remarks on Robert D. Hales' most recent general conference talk, which he titled "Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom." I'm very intimidated by this topic, and would rather not speak on it. This is especially true because over the three days I've had to prepare my thoughts, I have been unable to separate this topic in my mind from gay marriage. So, I'd guess that what's going to follow this introduction is a talk on both protecting religious liberty and gay marriage. And I am sorry for that.

As I've read Elder Hales talk, too many times probably, I've felt very hesitant about the subject matter. I grew up in a politically conservative family. At one point in my life I would have called certain members of my family tea-partyists. Growing up, it seemed like every liberal advance (even Democrats being elected as president) was cause for my family to declare yet again that the end of the world was almost upon us. Now, fortunately, I have recently re-evaluated my attitudes concerning my family's perspectives, and I've been working to remove pride from influencing the way that I see their opinions. I like to believe that all perspectives have truth in them, and so I'm trying to see the truth in my family member's perspectives.

That being said, I have many friends and loved ones who identify as LGBT or Q, or same-gender attracted, insert your phrase of choice. I honor them and I respect them and I do not want to espouse ideas or perspectives that could do them harm. This has made it difficult to fully align with the notion of 'defending religious liberty.'

I've noticed within the culture of the Church a tendency to talk about defending religious liberty in an angry, or a fearful way.  It seems like many Latter-day Saints still carry the persecutory complex imbedded in them as a result of their pioneer ancestors being traumatized and abused by those who did not believe. It's part of our heritage as Mormons, but also as Christians. Consider the story of Daniel in the lion's den.

I think it's hardly any wonder that so many of our Mormon people react to news like gay marriage being nationally legalized with instinctual fear. But the scriptures teach us that fear does not come from God. And so as I've approached this topic, I've had two questions in mind:

1. Why is it important for us to preserve agency and protect religious freedom?
2. How do we preserve agency and protect religious freedom in a faith-based, love-filled way, rather than from a place of fear or intolerance?

I found the answer to my first question in a story that I'd like to share. I consider myself somewhat of a student of Mormon history, and I've found a lot of interesting stories in the research I've done. This particular moment from our history has resonated with me deeply, and I hope that it will be as relatable to you as it has been to me.

In the late 70s and early 80s an amendment to the constitution was causing a national stir. The amendment was dubbed the Equal Rights Amendment, or the ERA. It was actually penned in the 1920s, but I guess it didn't make it through Congress for 50 years. The ERA was a document that would have guaranteed equal rights for women (equal pay, opportunity, etc.) in a grand sweep; and it had a lot of support. As someone who feels very strongly about women's rights, and recognizes that we still have a long way to go before we will have reached true political and social equality between men and women, I have often wondered what life would look like now if the ERA had been successfully passed.

For all the support the ERA had, it also had a very large group of people campaigning against it. Interestingly, the Church did not support the amendment, and took a pretty public stance. I have not been able to come to any personal conclusions about the Church's involvement. I've read a fair amount from both sides, and still, in my heart, feel confused about this period in our history. What was the big deal? Did it matter that much? I will confess that I've come a long way, as my initial reactions to learning about the Church's involvement were laced with anger and a strong sense of injustice.

But here's what makes the ERA different from what's happening now on the gay marriage front: 30 years have elapsed since then, and so we can now look back on things through the eyes of retrospect. I'd like to call your attention to two women who played key roles in the ERA movement of the 70s and 80s: the first, a Mormon housewife living in IdahoSonia Johnson; the second, a Mormon wife and mother living in D.C. employed under the Kennedy administrationBeverly Campbell.

Sonia was in favor of the ERA. She actually formed an activist group called 'Mormon Women for the ERA' that eventually directly opposed the Church's stance. Beverly, on the other hand, was appointed to be the Church's official spokesperson on the issue. Sonia rose to fame, becoming somewhat of the media darling for the liberal side. The two women traveled national radio and television circuits, one speaking for the Church, and one speaking against it.

Now, eventually the ERA was not passed. But that's not the part of the story that has stuck with me. It's what eventually happened to each of these women.

Sonia was excommunicated. After her excommunication she led a demonstration wherein many of her followersMormon womenchained themselves to the Seattle temple in a display of defiance against the Church patriarchy. At some point following her excommunication her husband divorced her and she took a lesbian partner. She published three books which document the radical decline of her philosophies. In 2010, she wrote a book that suggested that her theological stance had evolved from being mostly Mormon, to believing that Heaven would be entirely populated by females. Which is, unfortunately, not at all in harmony with the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beverly Campbell however, eventually became the director of International Affairs for the Church, a position she served in for over 10 years. Because of the international connections she developed while working under the Kennedy Administration, she was able to open doors for thousands of souls to be taught the Gospel. She also published a groundbreaking book on Eve, which went on to inform the recent temple film remake.

Both were feminists, both had desires to advance the cause of women, but it would appear that one did it the Lord's way, and one did not.

This kind of polarization is something that we're probably becoming familiar with. Last General Conference, Bonnie L. Oscarson put it this way: "There is a war going on in the world in which our most cherished and basic doctrines are under attack. I am speaking specifically of the doctrine of the family."

Now those are strong words. And I'm an anti-confrontational human being, so those aren't words I particularly like. But all this talk of war has reminded me of something. In several places in the scriptures the armor of God metaphor emerges. You're probably familiar with the helmet of the Plan of Salvation, the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness. When it comes to issues related to sex and sexuality, it seems like Latter-day Saints have been, in the past, very good at wearing that defensive armor.  But defensive armor will only get you so far in a war.

We need to find a way to use the offensive weaponry this metaphor allots usthe sword of the Spiritand we need to find a way to do it that actually allows for us to have the Spirit with us. In other words, we need to truly feel love, for the people we are fighting against, but more importantly I think, for the people we are fighting for.

My favorite passage in Robert D. Hales' talkwell let me just read it.

"Jesus, who exercised His agency to sustain Heavenly Father's plan, was identified and appointed by the Father as our Savior, foreordained to perform the atoning sacrifice for all. Similarly, our exercise of agency to keep the commandments enables us to fully understand who we are and receive all of the blessings our Heavenly Father hasincluding the opportunity to have a body, to progress, to experience joy, to have a family, and to inherit eternal life... The blessings we enjoy now are because we made the choice to follow the Savior before this life. To everyone hearing or reading these words, whoever you are and whatever your past may be, remember this: it is not too late to make that same choice again and follow Him."

I think that if we are truly to be Christian people, then in our fight against darkness we must be defending truth for everyone who could at some future point seek to keep the commandments of God. That's what Jesus did. There was no people-he-was-fighting-against and people-he-was-fighting-for. They were all people that he was fighting for.

This idea, that our battle is for all people, is represented really well in Helaman 5. I'm very grateful to Michael for reading and sharing so much of this chapter in his talk previously, and I promise not to read too much, since it's fresh in our minds. But let's take a look at Helaman 5 together, through this lens of defending religious liberty.

In verse 2 we read, "For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted."

Now, you're smart people, and I doubt you need me to interpret this verse for you. But I would like to share something that I've learned as I've been studying this chapter over the last few weeks. It looks like perhaps there is no such thing as a superfluous law, at least in God's eyes. Especially when it comes to those human laws that reflect eternal law. Laws, particularly in a republic, are reflections of the collective state of the collective heart of the people; and when that collective heart is evolving towards favoring dark over light, that people is then "ripening for destruction."

And that's kind of scary isn't it? That's where the fear comes in I think. And this is where what happens next in Helaman 5 becomes very instructive. Nephi, one of the judges at the time, and Lehi, his brother, react to this corruption of the laws in a surprising fashion. Nephi abandons his post as judge, and he and his brother go out among the Lamanitesthe more wicked part of the peopleto preach the Gospel.

After they have been among the Lamanites for a time they are thrown in prison for what Elder Hales would call their "freedom to share their beliefs with others." A mob is approaching with the intent to murder Nephi and Lehi, and it's here in this crucial moment that a miracle occurs. Nephi and Lehi are encircled about by a pillar of fire, and a cloud of darkness overshadows those who are bent on killing the two brothers. The darkness grows and grows and it's not until Aminadab, a former believer, declares that the Lamanites must call out to Christ for the darkness to clear, that the Lamanites begin to pray and the darkness lifts.

I love verse 29. "And it came to pass that there came a voice as if it were above the cloud of darkness, saying:  Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings." Good tidings. Isn't it funny that so often when we are truly acting in the best interest of our loved ones, their best eternal interest, that we are accused of bigotry or intolerance? That's something I appreciate about studying the pattern of descent into destruction in the Book of Mormon. It becomes quickly apparent that what's happening today is not simply an issue of 'Murica. It's not simply an issue of dogmatism or the uneducated masses who just can't get with the times. Nephi and Lehi's good tidings are the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as relevant then as they are now. Because eternal law was just as relevant then as it is now.

Nephi and Lehi did not react with fear to what was happening in their world, they acted in faith and love and took good tidings, truly good tidings, to the people who meant them harm. And the real miracle in all this is that through their faith they found people who wanted the light.

Helaman 5 has been a very meaningful chapter for me for a long time, because I once had an experience of sorts that allowed me to look at it differently than most people do.

Several years ago I had a dear friend, someone I cared for very deeply, teach me about darkness and light, albeit a bit unwittingly. Now, here's where I have to admit to something a little strange. I could see his light. Physically. With my eyes. I'm usually pretty in tune with people's feelings. It's easy for me to tell how someone is doing if I'm around them long enough. But this was different. I could see a literal light surrounding this young man's body. And I knew exactly how he was doing in moments because I could see it. I've never been able to see anyone else's light. Just his. Which is actually very awkward, frankly.

One year, right before Thanksgiving break, God told me that when my friend returned to Provo after the break, he would be struggling and there was something that I could do to help. I doubted it. For one thing, this was not the revelation I wanted. I would have much rather been told, "Everything is great," or, "There is nothing I want you to do." That's much more comfortable revelation. I wondered, "What does struggling even mean?" and I questioned the seriousness of the situation.

A week later, my friend came back to Provo. I first saw him in Church. He was sitting at the sacrament table and I immediately noticed a very thick, gray, almost black presence surrounding him.  "Cloud of darkness" is the perfect phrase to describe what I saw. It was so visible to me that I glanced around my congregation to see if anyone else had noticed. Nope. Just me again.

Seeing the darkness that surrounded my friend was alarming. And it definitely spurred me to action. I would have done anything for him; I loved him very deeply. But I might not have done anything at all if I had kept doubting God when He told me that something was wrong. And so in retrospect, I'm grateful that God allowed me to see the darkness my friend was under, even though the events that followed this one led to more heartbreak than I care to describe.

And so now it is easy for me to believe in darkness, although I cannot see it anymore. My testimony has grown since that Sunday after Thanksgiving break. Specifically, my testimony of the sanctity of sex, and of the eternal nature of marriage between men and women has grown. I'm converted to these things now, and I've seen how breaking eternal laws causes spiritual death. I do not want anyone that I love to experience that darkness needlessly. And I cannot stand by while that is happening to the people I care about. So if that means that I have to stand up here and give a talk about defending religious liberty and protecting moral agency, I'll do it.

Eternal laws are real, and breaking them causes real darkness to enter our lives. When we follow Jesus Christ we can all become more deeply converted to this principle. It is my prayer that we will continue to emulate and walk behind our Savior, and that as we do that we will more fully comprehend his love and righteousness. He is the light that dissipates all darkness.

In Jesus Christ's name, amen.

After I spoke in Church a fellow ward member found this article about the ERA published by the Church. If you'd like to learn more about the Church's perspectives surrounding that amendment, give the article a once over. Thanks, Garrett!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To First Acknowledge One's Brokenness

This post is the eighth 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.

women with and without children by Caitlin Connolly

"Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?"
3 Nephi 9:13

I have an old friend, a woman I once visit taught and someone I respect very much, who a few years ago made a small study of feminism. After some research she finally concluded that she could not identify with the movement (particularly its Mormon branches) because she felt like it "implied a sort of dissatisfaction with how you are treated as a woman."

Now, I do not intend to disrespect her stance. I admire her tenacity and the prayerful integrity of her search for answers. I believe that we need a range of perspectives in the Church and in the world, and I am grateful for hers. Especially because ultimately, her feelings were that her pre-eminent duty was to align herself with Christ.

That I can agree with. Wholeheartedly.

Although we have that in common, I have to admit that when I first read her post, I laughed. Not a haughty or a scornful laugh, but one of disbelief I think.  Dissatisfaction didn't even begin to capture what I felt.  I wasn't merely dissatisfied. I was angry, hurt, confused, betrayed. I felt these things, surely, for how I had been personally treated as a woman in moments, but more largely I felt them for how women as a whole, through the ages, had been treated. Both inside and outside the Church. I've come to believe since then that feeling anger, hurt, confusion, and betrayal are among a collection of natural emotions that universally follow a tragedy, regardless of whether or not that tragedy falls within the boundaries of injustices exclusively dealt to women.

The truth is, that in one very needed sense, the history of the entire world, irrespective of gender, is a tragic one. Every life that begins with an entrance and a breath, will inevitably end in a breath and an exit. And that is a tragic reality. But as I've said before, too many times probably, women have certainly been dealt their fair share of oppression, sorrow, and pain. Woman pain.

"When the frailties and imperfections of mortality are left behind...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 an exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God."

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

While Elder Talmage beautifully recognizes in this quote what I'm trying to articulate here, it seems like many people within the Church are unable to access woman pain. Perhaps some folks are more natural optimists. Perhaps they are oblivious. Perhaps they choose not to see it. Are they afraid of it? Are they worried that they won't know how to handle it, that it will be too heavy?

I saw this happen recently with the passing of my aunt. One of my mourning cousins, my aunt's daughter, felt especially upset when people would tell her, "At least we know you'll see her again." Or, "aren't you glad that you know about the Plan of Salvation?" These expressions, while very well meaning, seemed to dismiss my cousin's grief. Like she wasn't allowed to experience the pain associated with her loss or something.

But maybe this is not a fair parallel. I'm sure while my friend used the word dissatisfaction to describe what she saw in Mormon feminists she would not have used it to describe the bereaved. But isn't it all kind of the same? Are Mormon feminists not also grieving? Isn't brokenness brokenness?

Perhaps that's where the divide is between myself and my friend. Perhaps she believes that the way things have been and the way things are is how God intends them to be, and that seeking something more is, in a way, wrong.

And I think that she does have something right. God did intend for the Fall to take place. He (and She) foreordained that transaction. But God also intends for there to be an Atonement, a Resurrection, a Restoration of that which was lost.

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so... righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility."

Can a person who doesn't feel some measure of dissatisfaction with their current state truly long for home?

If we must taste the bitter to know the sweet, then doesn't it make sense that we must actually taste it? My bitter might be woman pain, and yours might be the loss of your mother, but isn't bitterness bitterness? Isn't brokenness brokenness? And isn't my woman pain, after all, more like the loss of your mother than you think it is? Am I not mourning the loss of a Mother and the following grief and confusion of her Daughters?

I think I am.

As I write all this, my mind is drawn to the body and how it is healed. Many small scrapes and bruises do mend themselves. You give them time and they'll patch up alright. But some wounds need more attention.  Like tumors or infections or curving spines. They need the healer's touch. Time alone will not fix any one of these ailments. In fact, the more time you give a tumor or an infection or a curving spine, the more severe the ailment becomes. These particular maladies can even threaten death. And if a person were struggling against some such thing, it would be preposterous wouldn't it, for that person to suppress their illness, to dismiss it?

The answer is obvious.

I believe that the same thing applies to the wounds we carry in our hearts. So really, the first step in being healed is easy. You have to acknowledge that you are broken. Not simply acknowledge it. You must also allow yourself to be the kind of broken that you are, whatever that is.

Are you gay? Do you have questions? Are you a trauma victim? Have you been mistreated by a Priesthood leader? Are you a porn addict? Are you transgender? Have you been abused? Is it something else?

It doesn't matter. Take however much time you need to accept your brokenness. And then, move along. Now you must desire to be healed. You must call for the Savior.  Even if you have felt abandoned. Even if he hasn't answered your prayers and pleadings before and his silence has left you to fall even deeper into your brokenness. Sometimes we are meant to fall quite far before he will pick us up again. The depth of your bitterness will be recompensed in the height of your healing, your joy. If what you have experienced has weakened your faith in him you must keep calling until you have the faith you need. And it is then that he finds you.

So, if you're like me, and you have pain, I urge you to truly feel it. Feel it high and low. Taste the bitter. But in your bitter, don't forget the point of it all; that they taste the bitter that they might know to prize the good.

And when you have tasted enough of it, (and God knows when this will be for you), allow Christ a place in your heart and be healed.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Healed Woman (Part 1: With the Woman Taken in Adultery)

This post is the seventh 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.

by Michael T. Malm

"If she hath repented of her sins, and desired righteousness until the end of her days, even so she shall be rewarded unto righteousness."

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend. She sat across from me at a dining room table and she told me that in her earlier years, she had made some mistakes. Some mistakes that would be listed in the 'sexual sin' category. It happened several times, not long after her baptism. She converted in her twenties.

She told me that then, and now, she struggles. Then, it was under the weight of the sin. But now, the wrestle seems to be a fight between an old self and an emerging new. In her darker moments she wonders, "How can anyone ever love me?" And it is while she is in this head space that she gravitates towards using derogatory, debasing words to describe herself.

"But He called her Woman," I told my friend.

A few days prior to this conversation I had taught a Relief Society lesson in which we studied the account in John 8 of the woman taken in adultery. But the story really didn't come alive for me until that moment at the table. It's a short tale, 11 verses long.  I think that the heart of the story is in the final two verses:

"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? (v. 10)  She said, no man Lord. And Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more." (v. 11)

I love the Savior's response to this woman. He does not coddle her. He does not condescend or excuse her actions. Simultaneously, he does not shame her. He does no damage with his words, he stitches no scarlet letter on her chest or on her heart. He speaks to her as an equal.

And, he calls her Woman.

In preparation for my lesson, I (in the most divinely serendipitous fashion that brought forth much rejoicing) found an article printed in the March 2015 Ensign called "The Savior's Respect for Women."  The authors of the article, Robert and Marie Lund, cite Bible scholar J.R. Dummelow:

"'Woman,' or rather, 'Lady,' is a Greek title of respect, used even in addressing queens." (pg. 778)

I'd read this definition once before, but it was while I sat, staring at the digitized pages of the Ensign beneath the plastic of my computer screen, that it finally sunk in. Christ called her Woman. What deference! What respect! What gentle love and compassion he showed this woman who was degraded and humiliated by the men of her time, and likely, by herself.

And you know, I think it made a difference. If you look at the footnote for the last word of the last verse of this story (that's 11c) you'll find that Joseph Smith added something. Something a bit miraculous.

"And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name."

We know that one of the effects of sin is spiritual death. Estrangement from God. Blindness in it's most acute sense. But here, this woman was not only faced with spiritual death, but with physical death. Which makes for a lovely look at what Christ's saving role can be in that process of death and resurrection.

Her life was threatened by the arms of her accusers. By the stones they carried and held high. Women in her situation had been killed before, and sometimes, had met their ends through even more inhumane means if you can imagine that. But Christ intervened for her. He acted as her intercessor, in a very real, present, and physical way. With his words and wisdom, he dispersed the crowd; preserving her life.

She was given a second chance. A new birth. A healing of sorts. And what was that healing? In addition to the gift of life I think she was given the gift of sight. She was shown, in a very firsthand, intimate way, the love and respect that Christ had for herconstant even when greeted with her shortcomings and sins.

Christ's display is revolutionary for a number of reasons. And surely, if you've found this blog you don't need me to spell out all of them for you. You wouldn't need me to detail the way that women have been trodden on through the years. The way that women, especially those who have sinned, have been mocked, ostracized, and abused according to a very long-standing socially kept double-standard.

And yet, it is as though Christ said to her, "My lady, where are thine accusers?" And what's more amazing is that I think that somehow, this woman internalized the love behind His words. She started seeing herself the way that Christ saw her.

That is a powerful change.

But was it all the change that was necessary?


She still had to go back and face her husband. She still had to (with the help of the power of the Atonement) graft out the influences and effects of her mistakes. We don't know any of the details of her relationships. But we don't need to. The history of humanity can fill in the blanks. Matters of the body and of the heart are always messy when they fall outside the boundaries of the commandments of God.

But she could face it now. And she could face it while glorifying God and believing in Him (and Her).

There have been times in my life when I have fallen short, when I have sinned. What I have learned from these experiences is that if I cannot first believe that God loves metruly loves methan I can never muster the necessary strength to change.

And so long as I sit in my position of estrangement from divinity, I cannot get answers.

And without answers, I do not progress.

Sometimes the situations that come into our lives, those situations that rob us of our remembrance of who we truly are, are our own fault. Sometimes, they are the fault of others. Regardless of who has sinned, repentance is necessary for the person needing healing. This is true because repentance is healing. And just like the woman in this story, often the first kind of repentance we need to undergo is turning back to really see God.  Once we've really seen Him (and Her) it naturally follows that we will also truly see ourselves.

I think that is what this woman accomplished.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Because He Lives

The Hand of God by Yongsung Kim
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."
Proverbs 13:12

I want to tell you a story. Perhaps you've heard this one before.

The scene was the Sea of Galilee, on a dark, stormy night. Some fishermen were aboard a ship, where they had been tossed on the swells through the night. Near dawn, one of them spotted a figure out on the water. They were frightened. Someone said, "It is a spirit!" And they cried out for fear.

But straightway, Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.'

There was a young woman on board this ship; her long brown hair more tangled than usual on account of the high winds. When she saw her master her whole self yearned to be where he was. He beckoned her out with his eyes.

His call left her feeling conflicted. She knew the rule of the fourth watch, and it certainly seemed to her that things couldn't possibly get worse after the storm she had endured. However, she was also a little too aware that her faith wasn't perfect, and that what faith she did have might not keep her upright on the waves.

She made her decision quickly. In a moment of impulse, she flung herself out onto the water.

And if only for a split second, it held her. But then the surface of the sea did what surfaces of seas often do. She dropped. She cried out, "Save me!" But Jesus did not reach out his hand. Jesus did not move so much as one inch from his position.

And so she sank. Minutes passed as she plunged deeper and deeper into the turbulent sea. And all the while, with her fading breath she choked out "Save me! Save me!" But to no avail. For each plea, deeper she sank. And the deeper she went, the darker it got. There was no starlight, no morning rays of dawn streaming down through the water anymore. Only pressure and depth, and a truly oppressive absence of all things life-giving.

And she didn't know how long she was down there. Was it minutes, was it months? Would she reach the bottom? She doubted it, as no one would ever go deeper than Jesus did. But even still, she had certainly gone deeper than she had ever imagined was possible.

She began to doubt that Jesus could rescue her; or more especially that he would. Perhaps she was a special case; the exception to the rule of knocking and opening. There is something truly exhausting about using one's dying breaths to cry out for help to a silent God. She had no breath left.

And that's when she died.

More time passed.

And then at some indiscriminate point, through means that can only be deemed miraculousthe spark of life returned to her chest; her eyes opened. How was it done? She did not know. At this point she had lost so much faith in Jesus that she could not connect her kind of resurrection with his power over death. And besides, she was still just as deep in the water as she was when she died.

And that's when she heard it, a voice. A voice which somehow pierced down through the thick waves, all the way to her position in the sea. It reached her ears, then her heart.

"It is time."

And she guessed that it was Christ. She guessed that it must be time for her to return to the surface. But it required workit required swimming. It required re-discovering things like how to live when she couldn't breathe and how to trust and how to really believebelieve that just because Christ did not rescue her before didn't mean that he wouldn't now.

And so she began the ascent.

And as she swam she hoped. With the first few strokes it was a whimpering, wounded hope, but with each successive kick that feeling grew stronger. It was a puzzle, a paradox. Nothing had yet entered her field of vision that would validate her hope strengthening, her trust increasing. As she continued to swim her hope began, finally, to become what hope was always meant to be: an expectation. She was almost positive that when she reached the surface she would see the Lord's fingertips stretching for her hand, finally ready to catch her and pull her up.


And so she will continue to swim until she is.


I've been learning more about how this kind of healing works as I've studied the stories of three women's interactions with Christ in the New Testament: the woman taken in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman with the issue of blood.

My next three posts will be about them. I think that their stories will help me to keep swimming.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cinderella's Chrysalis

This post is the sixth 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.

"And every woman that hath this hope in her purifieth herself, even as he is pure."
1 John 3:3

A reunion occurs in the opening scenes of Disney's new Cinderella. It's a reunion between a merchant father, and his young daughter, Ella. He has just returned from France, and he's brought with him a gifta paper butterflyor as he teaches Ella to call it, a papillon. A young and thoroughly delighted Ella accepts the gift, and keeps it among her treasures after her parents have died.

It reminded me a bit of the merchant father in another Cinderella adaptation. Do you remember the father in Ever After? If you've seen Ever After I doubt you'd forget. He brought his daughter, his Danielle, a copy of Thomas More's Utopia after coming home from one of his trips. You'll probably recall that this gift served as a key point for character development in the film. Danielle's political perspectives, even her very ahead-of-its-time brand of feminism seemed to have been quite informed by More's ideas. Perhaps informed by More, but I think cemented by her father's devoted (and rather egalitarian) parenting. She even spouted More at the prince, when, disguised as a courtier, she prevented her servant-friend from being shipped to the America's.

But I digress.

Cinderella is a popular story. And while Disney might seem to have a bit of a monopoly on it these days, it came into being long before 2015, or even 1950. The origin of both filmic adaptations was Charles Perrault's fairytale, which was published in 1697. Charles Perrault is credited as being the inventor of the contemporary fairy tale genre (he was on the scene about 200 years before the Grimm Brothers), but in all reality, he was merely a vehicle through which pre-existing folk tales were preserved. It would appear that Cinderella has been told for centuries.

Which is a lovely notion. And hardly surprising. It's the classic triumphant underdog story. People have always been people, haven't they? Through the ages there's something about characters rising above hardships that we, as audiences, gravitate towards. We still fill our movie theaters to watch the old story play out. I wonder if it's because Cinderella is about more than overcoming oppression.

It's not that Cinderella simply came out of her situation, that she broke even. The end of her story, her quintessential 'happily ever after' shows us that the final state of things can be better, so much better, than any given beginning.

And I suppose that's something else I love about Cinderella. Her. A herione. Hers is the story of a timeless heroine, a story that mothers have been telling their daughters for hundreds of years. And what is she celebrated for? For courage and for kindness the 2015 film would tell you. For these and more, I'd like to posit. For courage and for kindness yes, but also for patience, for faith, and most of all, for hope.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Cinderella descends the stairs of the family manor dressed in a pink dress to go to the ball. She tells her step family that the dress was her mother's, and that she has been mending it so that she could wear it to the palace.

Just like in the 1950 version, the stepmother approaches and rips the gown. Her daughters follow suit until Cinderella's dress is unwearable. They leave Cinderella inside the house, but where they really leave her is at the very bottom. Because she's tried, you see. She's tried to have courage, to be kind, to keep the promise that she made her mother. And until this point, somehow, through all the hardship, she's managed to keep a bit of hope alive. Enough hope that she was able to secretly mend her mother's old dress. Enough hope that she was able to come down those stairs and ask her abusive step family to go to the ball with them. The loss of the dress seems to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

Have you ever felt like that? I know I have. Although it's never been a gown, I've certainly had things that I loved so dearly, things that I'd worked so hard for, cherished so much, taken from me and treated more like garbage than the sacred things they are.

It's what happens next that redeems the moment. As you know, Cinderella's fairy godmother appears. After the coach, and the horses, and the footmen, and the driver have all been transformed from pumpkins, and mice, and lizards, and geese, the fairy godmother turns her attention to Cinderella's now very ragged pink dress.

Cinderella asks her fairy godmother not to do away with the dress entirely, because it was her mother's. And so the fairy godmother agrees. She'll simply modify the dress. Transform it. Beautify it. Beauty for ashes it, you could say.

And that's where the butterfly motif appears again. A whole kaleidoscope of butterflies surrounds Cinderella in the most whimsical flurry since "Colors of the Wind." Then, the lens directs the viewer to Cinderella's feet, where we see that two magical butterflies, one for each foot, adorn her iconic glass slippers.

And here there exists another similarity between this telling and the Ever After adaptation. Ever After features inanimate connections to each of the protagonist's parents; for Danielle it is her mother's dress and her father's book.

For Ella though, it is her mother's dress and her father's shoes.

Sometimes caterpillars struggle to emerge from their chrysalises. But did you know that if someone on the outside were to attempt to help, to maybe cut a small incision in the chrysalis, that it would actually do more harm than good? Such caterpillars can become butterflies, but they will never have the muscle necessary to fly.

And I think that's what Cinderella is really about. It's about a girl who reaches the tipping point in her journey of personal metamorphoses. She loses her mother, then she loses her father. This latter loss catapults her into a dark, oppressive situation. A step mother who neither understands nor loves her. She's taken advantage of and cornered into servitude, where slowly, gradually she's led to what appears to be the bottom.

And it's interesting that her liberation doesn't actually come the night of the ball. And it doesn't come through the prince either. Because after everything, after being locked in the attic, with no chance of being reunited with the prince, Cinderella still chooses to hope. And she sings. It is this action, her voice, that ultimately liberates her.

Her arc isn't simply a tale of an ugly, under-appreciated duckling becoming a swan. And it's not exclusively a story about social ascension either. It's a transformation. She finds herself.

But how does she do it?

Writing about Cinderella has really touched me today. Because I've been in dark places. I've even been led to dark places. Containers of pressure, of grief. But it wasn't until today that I reframed the experience. What if that dark place were actually a chrysalis? And I am a caterpillar; a caterpillar who must stay inside of her container until she is ready to emerge. Which might explain why I so often find myself believing that God has abandoned me. He (and She) wouldn't want me to break free until I have been pressurized long enough to fly.

And doesn't that make Cinderella's journey the journey of all women? I like to think so. First she loses a mother. It seems that our Mother might have been the first person we lost when we left the presence of God. For some reason she is missing, forgotten, veiled.

But we retained our Father. We are taught about our Father. We pray to our Father. Inevitably though, there comes a time in all of our lives when we lose him too. Perhaps we sin. Perhaps we get hurt. Perhaps we lose faith. Whatever the reason, the pattern seems sure. We grow through distance. We find ourselves.

So how do we do it?

The armor of God comes to mind. Particularly this phrase: "and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." I've been tossing that phrase around in my mind for months. Ever since my sister Emily gave me a pair of flats that came in a shade of turquoise that I particularly like.

I guess there is some debate in Christian circles about what the word 'preparation' means. John Locke said that the word preparation would be better translated to readiness. So the entire phrase would mean "with a readiness to walk in the Gospel of Peace." I like that. Especially the connection to walking. As we walk the path back to God, we can do it with our feet, the instruments of our walking, clothed and covered in peace.

But what is peace? I think it is an acceptance of God's plan. It is fully accepting that when our paths get dark, and when the way is hedged up, that we are merely entering a chrysalis, and that eventually we will emerge as butterflies.

Which paints an entirely new picture of Miss Cinderella and her glass slippers doesn't it? The magical glass slippers that were just for her. She entered the ball in the shoes of her fatherthe peace that he'd given her long ago. A promise almost. That she too was a butterfly, and that once she had been under pressure long enough she would grow wings and fly.

She was robed in the dress of her mother. She walked the path of change, in the garments of kindness and courage. And I think that it was her unconquerable sense of hope that eventually procured the strength necessary for her to emerge from her chrysalis.

So perhaps as we continue to walk our own paths of change, we can walk behind Cinderella. That is what good stories are for after all. To show us the way. Every morning we can exercise good faith and good hope and put on our shoes of peace.

As for me, I think I will imagine them as glass slippers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy Birthday, dear Relief Society!

Currently, I'm a relief society teacher in my ward. I absolutely, completely love it. The girls that I serve are bright, eager, and good through and through. It really is a kind of privilege to be in a position where I can facilitate growth and discussion with them.

Recently, they all indulged my love for Mormon women's history and supported an unusual lesson that I had been imagining. To celebrate the birth of the Relief Society, we decided to learn about the past presidents of our organization.

With the exception of Emma Smith, and in some cases, Eliza R. Snow, my girls hadn't heard of any of the 16 general Relief Society presidents. Excluding Linda K. Burton and Julie B. Beck of course. This made for an exciting series of discoveries.

We had our lesson on President's Day weekend (oddly appropriate I'm just now realizing), and almost each girl who was present that day was assigned a president to study. After reading up on her president (we primarily used the biographies printed in Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt's Faith, Hope, and Charity: Inspiration from the Lives of General Relief Society Presidents) she taught the group about the woman she had studied.

Each girl looked for Gospel principles in her president's history, and shared a scripture that reminded her of the woman she was presenting about.

It all made for a deeply enriching experience. The Spirit was incredibly thick in our classroom that day. It was so strong that it seemed entirely possible that these Relief Society presidents were present too. That's the power of stories. Good stories. True stories.

A few weeks after our lesson (which was actually followed by a second lesson because we ran out of time during the first one) we had a small birthday party, where we made the video embedded above. The video almost entirely features the girls from my Relief Society.

I love hearing from these girls, these little women, about what they learned. And also who doesn't love our Bishop? He too, is literally, the crème de la crème.

But I guess you'll have to watch the video to understand that reference.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Asking Questions (Part 3: with Secenump)

This post is the fifth 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.

Goddess Looking Up by J. Kirk Richards

"... and [she] shall mount up in the imagination of [her] thoughts as on eagles' wings."
D&C 124:99

There are two versions of this story. The first, a history passed down through the whites. The second, a tradition of the natives.

The story goes like this: My fourth-great grandfather had four wives, but his first wife, Eunice, was barren. The whole clan was living in Central Utah, trying to make peace with their new desert home and its hostile inhabitants. The local natives were warring amongst themselves. One particular skirmish had just ceased, and, as was often the case in those days, the victorious tribe had kidnapped the children of the losing clan, with plans to sell them into slavery to the Spaniards. But at the mouth of Provo canyon, Porter Rockwell apprehended these natives before they could sell their victims, and he purchased the children with a plan to save them.  He presented them to my fourth-great granddaddy, Joseph Stacy Murdock, who gave them to his first wife, Eunice, to raise. There were two. A boy and a girl. Supickett and Secenump.

The story goes like this: While the first hunters and trappers to arrive in Utah were remembered for treading lightly on the local natives and their traditions, the Mormon pioneers who arrived in 1847 built fences and began scattering the first people. These Mormon settlers would use violence and force when they deemed it necessary, and their leader, Brigham Young, instructed his people to take the daughters of Chiefs into their homes to protect them from attack. Secenump was a Chief's daughter. She was the daughter of Chief Arapene, one of a royal line of brothers that led the Utahn native peoples.

The story continues: Secenump was a Ute. She was raised by Eunice, and given a new name: Prenetta, named for Eunice's grandmother. She grew up to be well-educated, well-mannered, and well-loved by her family.

The story continues: Secenump was a Shoshone. Every month, her father, Chief Arapene, came down out of the mountains to visit her at the Murdock homestead. She grew up to be culturally white, culturally Mormon, and completely disconnected from her roots and from her people.

Where the story ends: Somewhere near her sixteenth birthday, a Gentile man living in the area took an interest in Secenump. This raised alarm in her large, polygamous, family. And so, feeling concerned, Joseph Stacy Murdock went to visit his personal friend, and prophet, Brigham Young. At their meeting, President Young counseled my fourth great-granddaddy to marry Secenump himself. Now, Joseph Stacy Murdock was not one to take prophetic counsel lightly. In fact, Joseph is the same guy who penned the words to "Come Listen to a Prophet's Voice."

Even though he had never disobeyed a prophet before, he couldn't go through with what Brigham had asked of him. So he went home and could not find peace over the issue. After two weeks, he went back to see Brigham Young. And when President Young again instructed Joseph to marry his daughter, this time Joseph returned home, and he did.

Where the story ends:


I'm not actually a direct descendant of Secenump's, although she did have five children with her father. I come through Joseph's second wife, a pioneer woman named Elizabeth Hunter Murdock. This genetic distinction didn't spare me any confusion though.

I remember when I first encountered Secenump's story. I was young—really young. Maybe nine, maybe ten. I was interested in family history at the time. After reading her story I didn't take up an interest in family history for another fifteen years.

I'm not entirely sure what it was that made this event so traumatic for me. Perhaps it was that I grew up on Shoshone Avenue, and being a very imaginative child it was easy for me to feel a sort of sisterhood with the historic Native American women of Idaho.

There was, and still is, something about Native American women. Their courage, their connection to sacred things, the freedom they had to roam, to act. I know that I run the risk of romanticizing Native culture here, but to me it is true that at the heart of Native life was a different kind of woman than you found among the European immigrants and pioneers.

And that was one kind of loss I sensed in Secenump's story. At nine, or ten, I was the same emotional little creature that I am now, and I felt that I instinctively understood the kind of pain that Secenump would have faced. Not just the pain of being displaced, of losing one's way of living. But the pain of longing for acceptance in a new home, but never finding it because the color of your skin always stood as a reminder to yourself and everyone else of what made you different. Perhaps, being a girl, she would have dreamed of love, of starting her own family. And the kind of aching, crushing—disappointment isn't the word—because it wouldn't have been a solitary moment of let down, and disappointment seems to imply something momentary; the kind of aching, crushing, blow that she was dealt in a marriage. This must have been what made her story hurt for me.

I reasoned in my young mind that the only way a sixteen-year-old girl would agree to such a union would be if she were forced into it.

And because we have no words of Secenump's, no history from her, or her adoptive mother, Eunice, there's really no way to know what she thought or felt. We do have these the words of her niece, Amelia Brittingham Murdock Witt, who wrote:

"Many times the girl's heart was made to ache, but Joseph S. Murdock was a just man and he tried so hard to see that she wasn't hurt too badly, knowing too well what she was up against."

As I've recently been revisiting this branch of my family tree I've been (a bit resistantly at times) trying to get to know my fourth great-granddaddy. And you know, I've amended one of my former conclusions. I don't believe that he would have coerced his daughter into a marriage. Although a bit of pride leaks out from behind clenched teeth as I write this, I have to admit that nothing I've read contributes to such a picture of this man. The Joseph Stacy emerging from the pages I've been turning really seems to be a kind, a thoughtful, and even a sensitive being.

I do wish I knew the specifics though.

In lieu of specifics, lately God has been providing me with a little of bit comfort. It started with Hagar actually. Secenump is a kind of Hagar, don't you think? Both are the exotic, the adopted, the stranger. Both were removed, disadvantaged, married, inseminated.

And it's funny, because my initial reaction to Secenump's story was exactly like my reaction to Hagar's. But there is one crucial difference. There's a safe distance created by 4,000 years. Yes, the biblical account of Hagar exists, and I'm sure Hagar, herself, existed in some capacity in the very distant past. It's not like her life really affects me though. It doesn't even have to effect me.

But when a story, such as Secenump's, is only four generations removed, and you know that without the people involved, you wouldn't be here, the tragedy, the confusion; it all takes on an entirely different kind of weight.

You're not given breathing room. You cannot ask, "But what if this is more story than history?" or, "What if this didn't happen the way everybody's interpreting it?" And it's not like you can just tune out the one Sunday School lesson that mentions her every four years. Every time you're reminded to "do" your family history, every time you think about the Natives who lived on the plains (which is quite a lot if you're me), you're brought back to face this strange, toxic, pulsating knot in your family tree.

But why does this matter?

For two reasons, I think.

The first is because I've realized that there are more than my experiences, or the stories of women that surround me that have created a climate, and a need for answers. It feels a bit Mulan to write this out, but I've realized that the stories that have more immediately, even physically created me have left bits of themselves in me. Hurts and pains and dispositions and inclinations, and yes, questions.

But the second reason is the one I've been spending the most time with recently. Remember the well from Hagar's story? The Living Water? I've been trying to find it in Secenump's life. Because if it's there for one woman, it must be there for another. God is no respecter of person's after all. And I haven't been able to find that water. At least, not immediately.

After her marriage, Secenump lost a baby, and then brought four more into the world. She died in her early forties, not long before one of her sons, Alma, was framed for a murder, scapegoated because of communal biases against Native Americans. Not too long after his release from prison, Alma was murdered himself, by a man motivated by upsettingly similar biases.

There's just not much going on here that's very redemptive. Or I suppose, there's not much going on here that is visibly redemptive.

As I've tried to apply my rule for asking questions, that touchstone in 1 Nephi 11, that "I know that He loveth his children. Nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things" idea, very slowly I've watched the veil of redemption being pulled back.

For one thing, is there not a kind of redemption that occurs when you are remembered?  When, even a hundred and fifty years after the fact, a little girl prays and struggles and cries and freezes over the life you lived? Isn't there something redemptive about someone, her perhaps, telling her truth about you? About her telling everyone that you must have been a woman who lived her faith day-to-day, who lived her faith simultaneously in spite of and because of opposition? And is there something redemptive in watching this same girl discover that she wants to be a woman who lives her faith like you?

I like to imagine, that if I were her, there would be something redemptive in that.

But I believe that there must be a bigger picture than that. Surely God would not call one of His (and Her) daughters to face so much and offer to her only the consolation of a girl 150 years her junior feeling some things.

No, no, no. Pains and sufferings are meant to be turned into things of light, of truth. Beauty for ashes.

And that's when a little idea begins to blossom. Because if Secenump really is a type of Hagar, then perhaps some of their redemption is similar. Hagar is the spiritual ancestress of the Muslim people. Some of the reason she was called to sacrifice what she did, was so that we could be a sacred link between her progeny and the ordinances of the Priesthood. What if Secenump could be the same?
She was one of the first Native Americans to enter the temple. Just behind Chief Sagwitch and his wife. But maybe it's not so much about the people who come after her as it is about the people who came before her. The Ne'we, the people from which sprang both the Utes and the Shoshones. And so I've wondered if perhaps her mission is largely playing out on the other side, if perhaps, she has an opportunity to be a bridge, a savior on Mount Zion for her people. An Ambassador.

That was my answer anyways.

And it's the kind of answer that reaches backwards. Back towards that little girl on Shoshone Avenue. But it reaches forward too. Because God has a lot of work ahead of Him (and Her), and I think that Secenump is on their team.

And so am I.