Heavenly Mother, Where Are You?

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I thought I would be sharing a different post today. In fact, I have two other posts partially drafted that I thought I would be sharing shortly.

However, I have something that really struck me this morning that I feel like I wanted to share. LDS General Conference is coming up in just a few short days (April 5 and 6 and you can watch it live online). Mack and I have tickets to the Saturday Morning session, something I’m very excited about. We’ve lived in Utah for four and a half years and have not yet made it to a conference session in person (First World Utah Mormon Problem, I know).

As we approach General Conference, it is tradition for members of the church to pray for guidance and direction on things that they are facing and to watch the Conference sessions in a spirit of receiving answers. I also try to do this and have had really enriching experiences as I’ve seen Conference answer questions for me and for others. Sometimes these talks were almost as if they were written specifically for me or for someone close to me.

This spring, I am hoping and praying for something I hadn’t even considered six months ago. It is surprising and humbling to me to see the way that my mind and my heart have changed over the last six months as I have prayed and studied and prayed and listened to the promptings of the Spirit.

I join with women throughout the world, but especially here in America, in my longing to hear and know more about my Heavenly Mother.

The LDS doctrine of God teaches us that we have a Heavenly Father who is literally, biologically our Father. He is the Father of our Spirits, which make up half our Soul, and the Father of Adam and Eve’s Physical Bodies, the other half of our Souls. We are also taught, though with much less regularity or depth, that we have a Heavenly Mother who is the Mother of our Spirits and Bodies.

I believe that when we speak of “God” we are talking about Heavenly Father AND Heavenly Mother just as much as we are speaking about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost when we reference God. When we talk about Heavenly Father we often do so without understanding that Heavenly Mother’s hand is in the blessings we receive and Her ears hear the prayers we pray.

In fact, in the April 1978 General Conference, Elder Neal A. Maxwell (then a member of the presidency of the 70 and later called the the Quorum of the 12) taught that:

“Finally, remember: When we return to our real home, it will be with the “mutual approbation” of those who reign in the “royal courts on high.” There we will find beauty such as mortal “eye hath not seen”; we will hear sounds of surpassing music which mortal “ear hath not heard.” Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother?”

There are other references to Heavenly Mother throughout LDS Church teachings, but as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley taught in October 1991 (when he was a member of the church presidency but not yet president of the church):

“Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me….[However]…we have no revealed knowledge [of her].”

My heart aches at that statement.

The LDS church is founded on the believe and claim that continuing revelation did not end with the Bible and that truth continues, even to this day, to be restored to the Earth. We believe that “[God] will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Surely the doctrines surrounding Heavenly Mother are one of those things.

As a Mormon woman seeking for truth and desiring to know more about who I am, what my role is in both mortality and Eternity and especially as I learn Salvation, I want to know more about my Mother. I want to know who She is. I want to see Her hand in my life. I want to know the ways She is preparing me for my return and how she is preparing the heavens on my behalf. I know she is.

So as I approach General Conference I am praying for even just a glimpse of my Heavenly Mother. I know She is real and I am certain Her presence will be at General Conference just as I believe my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ will be. I am praying that the speakers words will reflect that. I know that I’m not alone in this.

As women of God throughout the world, we really should want to know both our Heavenly Parents. Mormonism is a religion of Revelation. I’m praying that we receive more this weekend.

Observing Lent

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One of the elements of my faith that I love the most is that all truth is considered part of the LDS gospel. It’s a concept I wrote about almost a year ago. Reviewing that post was a timely reminder for me as I begin my Lenten Season. Ash Wednesday was yesterday and I again missed Mass due to work to my sadness. One year I am going to get to go.

I started observing Lent in an effort to increase the value of my Easter worship. Unlike Christmas, I feel like Easter has a habit of sneaking up on me. There is no long lead up and very little religious observance prior to Easter. There’s just the commercialism that appears a few weeks before and then suddenly: Easter Day. And then it is over.

Easter is the crowing event of all of human history. It is the fulfillment of the promises of Christmas and, for Mormons, of a premortal existence. It is the singular event from which we can draw hope for Eternal Lives and Salvation through Christ. Without Easter, the whole world would be utterly wasted.

And yet, in the Mormon world, in some Christian religions and in the secular world, Easter is a mere blip, one day and then gone.

This is part of why I have fallen in love with Lent.

Lent extends Easter observance to over 40 days prior to Easter day. Catholics and some other reform sects of Christianity (Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians in particular) fast for 40 days (the Sundays that fall during this period are excluded). While some fast from meals (As I understand it, Catholic rules limit meals to only one full meal a day although snacks are allowed), many fast from something else, giving up a bad habit, something they enjoy or something that they feel keeps them from being closer to God. Others still don’t “give up” something but instead use this time to create a good habit. Many do some combination of the three.

This fasting period is in similitude of Jesus Christ’s 40 day fast in the wilderness.

In considering what I want to fast from during Lent, I try to pick something that will be a challenge, but not impossible, that takes my current situation into account (for example, while I was pregnant I gave up something easier to sacrifice because I was already having a very difficult time being pregnant) and that will draw my mind to the Savior repeatedly – something that I will think about regularly-ish.

It is so easy in my busy, go-always world to forget my covenants to “always remember Him.” Lent helps me do that better. It’s become an important part of my Easter observation and has enriched and blessed my life.

I try very hard to only add good things to my life. Lent is one of them. I’d love to hear your Lent stories. What have you given up in the past? What are you fasting from this year? How has it enriched your life? Questions? Clarifications? Comment below!

Modest Is Not Hottest

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laceyluwho:

I stumbled upon this today and I thought it was a beautiful addition to my thoughts. Blunt and frank and honest and I’m so glad to see more messages that say the same thing: Men, you can do so much better and women, we can expect so much better. A woman’s dress does not make her responsible for a man’s deviant actions.

Originally posted on The Life and Times of an Exceptionally Tall Mormon:

So for those of you who aren’t familiar with how Mormons dress, we have modesty standards, similar to other faiths. We wear clothes that have some sort of sleeve, shorts/skirts to the knee, and nothing too low in the front or back. This is an outward expression of an inward commitment. This essay is in no way intended to imply I am unhappy with dressing modestly. This is actually something I have chosen to do, and love to do.

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Modesty is a lot of things, and it is primarily a way in which we show respect for our bodies and Heavenly Father. However, over the years, as I’ve attended Firesides, Girls Camp, Youth Activities, Sunday School, etc., I occasionally heard a different message. Modesty was my responsibility to make sure the boys around me were not tempted toward immoral thoughts or actions. Now that I’m older, I’ve started hearing it…

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On Modesty, Chastity and Responsibility

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Oh boy… This is a huge and potentially very controversial topic. It’s also one that’s getting a lot of buzz in the last week or so in my online community (mostly among Salt Lake Mormons).

For reference, you should start with reading Elder Tad Callister’s article in the March 2014 Ensign.

Before we go any further, I want to emphasize that disagreement with the end result of a message does not mean I do not sustain the brethren, that I don’t believe in continuing revelation/inspiration or that I reject the basic teachings of chastity, morality and modesty. My mom always says that “Good information leads to good inspiration” and so it’s important to communicate with our church leaders if there’s a problem. I believe that the best way for us to understand if our teaching method is useful is by openly discussing the content and end result of those teachings and analyzing their effects and value.

I have previously written a little bit on modesty mostly in relation to breastfeeding (see The Modesty Question, Why The Mothers Room Makes Me Sad, and A Few Points of Clarification). In fact, most of my evolving thoughts on modesty in my LDS faith has come as I’ve become immersed in my mothercare education (pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, etc).

I have become increasingly unsettled with the messages we are sending our young men and women and young single adults in the LDS church in regards to modesty, chastity and responsibility. This concern has caused me to really critically study the materials put out by the church on modesty and chastity, particularly that which is directed towards the teenagers in the church. The more I read the less appropriate I think the direction we have taken is.

There is an inconsistency in how we teach modesty and morality to our young men and young women. Take this statement by Elder Callister:

Immodest Dress
Our dress affects not only our thoughts and actions but also the thoughts and actions of others. Accordingly, Paul the Apostle counseled “women [to] adorn themselves in modest apparel” (1 Timothy 2:9).
The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.
Men and women can look sharp and be fashionable, yet they can also be modest. Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.

Unfortunately, there is no mention here about the impact of how a man dresses on a woman. There’s no mention of how a man’s behavior towards a woman might influence her dress. There’s no discussion at this point on how important it is to control one’s behavior – not merely thoughts – even in the presence of an improperly dressed woman.

If women can “prompt” the thoughts and actions of men into impure paths, surely men can do the same for the women in their lives. Yet Elder Callister neglects to mention that men might also have a responsibility to help women live modestly (and not just because it helps the men keep control of their thoughts).

In fact, while preparing this post I spoke to a number of now adult men (primarily my peers) about what they were taught growing up about their responsibility towards young women. In almost every case the only answer was “to encourage them to dress modestly”. Most could not tell me what that meant or why they were counseled to do so.

Elder Callister does emphasize in following paragraphs that we (general) must control our thoughts but there is never any reciprocal direction that men influence women.

There is, however, the potentially ominous statement (taken in whole) that “…most women get the type of man they dress for.” Without flying off the handle, is it possible that the adversary might use that statement to attack a young woman who has been raped or abused to justify a young man’s immoral or abusive behavior? This gets uncomfortably close to victim blaming to me.

And again, do men also get the type of woman they dress for?

Take also the entry on modesty from the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet. Young women are counseled thus:

Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back.

Meanwhile, the church’s direction to young men is non-specific:

Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance.

I am left to wonder a little if there was nothing else to say to the boys? Should they not be counseled that tank tops are immodest? What about pants that are so baggy as to show their underwear? Jewelry that is over the top? What about going shirtless while they play basketball or work in the yard? Could no specific direction be given to the young men? Or do young men not need the direction because modesty is only an issue that young women need details spelled out on.

In actuality, I somewhat like the guidance to Young Men. Direct but without being so specific as to micromanage or leave room for the “but the pamphlet doesn’t say this…” type rationalizations. In fact, why couldn’t the guidance simply be:

Young men and young women should maintain modesty in their appearance. As you strive to dress modestly, allow the Spirit to guide you and talk to parents and church leaders if you have questions.

We see this same sort of language in other parts of the FTSOY pamphlet and elsewhere in church teachings to youth. It is not unreasonable to think it could extend to modesty.

If this message seems to simply be a difference between the difference between men and women, you should compare also the upcoming August 2014 curriculum for youth on Eternal Marriage. Under the sub topic What Are The Lord’s Standards for Dating?, there are three talks from past conferences, one for young men and two for young women. The article for young men focuses on being prepared for marriage in a well-rounded way: financially, emotionally and spiritually. The two articles for young women – one from the priesthood sesson of conference – focus heavily on being sexually pure, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

Over and over I’m afraid the message we are sending is one that objectifies and continues to sexualize young women instead of rejecting the world’s message that women’s bodies are primarily sexual.

There is no doubt that this world is increasingly oversexualized. I am so thankful for a church that is holding a line, even though it is not popular or easy, in an attempt to stem the tidal wave of immorality in the world around us.

There is also no doubt that men and women are different and from time to time need different lessons. However, we do a major disservice in our lopsided teaching of responsibility to each other and to self when it comes to modesty. Our young women deserve more and our young men are capable of far more than “we” give them credit for.

It’s time to teach modesty in an unsexualized way, one that recognizes that culture plays a huge factor in how we view how men are “wired” and what the purpose of a woman’s body is.

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(I’ve been asked to add a photo. On my wedding day, not only was my dress modesty in the traditional sense, but also modest in the sense that it was affordable and simple and it fit me well. It made me feel good about myself. It was not however, warm and most of my temple pictures are of me bundled up. I suppose my point is that “modest” doesn’t guarantee something is appropriate under every circumstance. It’s important that when we’re talking about modesty we’re not just talking about a list of rules for young women to follow to keep young men out of trouble.)

You Are Enough

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Mamas, perhaps I am possessed of an over abundance of confidence as one who has no idea what the heck she’s doing and doesn’t even know enough to realize it. I do, after all, have only one child and she is, after all, only 16 months.

Much of my knowledge is book learning and I lack practical application.

I have not experienced a difficulty labor or an unwanted c-section or of a birth experience that was stolen from me.

I do not know the heartache of a rebellious and self-destructive teen or being witness to my adult child in an abusive relationship, helpless to help.

I do not know the devastation of losing a child – be that a miscarriage, a stillbirth or a baby who has come earthside and stayed for any amount of time. I do not know the incredible tragedy of potential stolen away from a child with regressive autism, vaccine injury or in some sort of accident.

I do not know the fear of having a premature baby or the struggle of being a mother to one with special needs.

In some of these cases, the closest I get is the lostness of trying to figure out how to comfort and/or support a friend through this. In others, I do not even have a frame of reference.

So, perhaps in my limited experience I am naively and gluttonously overconfident.

However, in this world of “perfect” mommies, having it all and never showing a crack, where we trust pediatricians and school nurses over our instincts and value teacher opinions and “professional” parenting advice authors over our own children’s feedback, I think, perhaps, I am right in saying: You are enough. Quit worrying. Quit fearing. Be human. Be imperfect. Trust yourself and trust your kids. Because you, and they, are enough.

Mamas, be honest. Be fearless.

Don’t let a doctor make you feel inferior because you don’t cry it out or because you cosleep.

Don’t let a principal or teacher tell you your five year old is broken because he doesn’t fit into their rigid school model.

Don’t let the neighbors’ fear and the news’s scare stories prevent you from letting your kids play outdoors because something might happen.

Don’t ignore that pull of concern when your teenager leaves the house with friends you don’t know because you’re the only overprotective parent.

You are enough and more. You are powerful. Being a mother is powerful.

We as women have an unbroken bloodline to a Heavenly Mother, the Goddess of the Universe who stands as Queen with our Heavenly Father the King. We are daughters of the Most High and we have been granted an incredible calling.

We carry on the mission of Eve to be the Mothers of All Living. That role is more than bearing and rearing children but it is so powerful when we fulfill our calling through our children.

For hundreds and thousands of years there were no experts to tell us how to raise kids. There was just grandmother knowledge handed down and instinct. Even today this pattern continues all over the world. The Western Way of doing it is both modern and unproven. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it and don’t be ashamed of it.

The only experts on your children is you and your spouse. Do not substitute anyone else’s judgment if it means subjugating yours or relegating it to a corner.

As for help, learn and grow but don’t be afraid to completely dismiss it if it’s not right for you.

Maybe this post has turned into a rant or a lecture. That’s not my intent. Maybe it’s become one of those posts that starts out positive and ends up preachy. Maybe I shouldn’t write at midnight anymore.

My point is, this world is full of messages that try to make us feel inferior, like we are doing things wrong, like we can’t trust ourselves to figure things out. It is a lie of the most evil kind. It is not an accident. Reject it. Reject anything that makes you feel like you don’t measure up. Reject this post if it makes you feel less.

But do not reject this: You are a mother. You are powerful. You are enough. You are enough.

What half a decade looks like

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Well… I’ve officially been married for five years. That’s half a decade and almost a full 1/5 of my life (for those of you who are good at math, yes, that makes me about 25 and yes, that means I got married young).

In some ways five years feels like a very short period of time, which it is, and also feel like a eternity, which it can be.

In the last five years, we have: lived in four different apartments in three cities, held a collective 10 different jobs, attended three different schools, gotten 2 degrees (and DH is almost done with another), owned at least six different cell phones and three computers, bought a house and three cars, paid off about $10,000 of debt, driven over 10,000 miles in vacation road trips, made dozens of trips between Idaho Falls and Salt Lake and had a baby. We have had incredible ups and downs, easy and tough times. We’ve done for richer and for poorer and for practically broke. We’ve seen each other through all sorts of things.

Marriage has been both my biggest trial and my biggest blessing, second only to parenthood.

Five years ago, I married my sweetheart after a whirlwind romance. He was sweet and respectful and honest and dang persistent. He invested in me and invested in my family. He was not my “type”, he was not what I thought I wanted at all but he was good and somehow he stole my heart. I was smart and beautiful and engaging and ambitious and he was not intimidated by me (or if he was, he didn’t let that scare him off).

We’d dated before, for nearly a year in high school, but I never thought I’d marry him (and said as much when someone asked me). I was in high school for crying out loud and honestly, when we dated in high school I planned on not getting married (although I do remember thinking he was the kind of guy who could change my mind).

I don’t think we were each others’ “soul mates”. But that was ok. We chose each other. We were blissfully naive and we thought we loved each other.

After we got married all of the differences that make us compliment each other so well now caused us to clash horribly. We struggled and learned how to work together, how to argue without fighting and how to rely on the strength of the Atonement and our temple covenants. Sometimes just by sheer stubbornness we have gotten through things I hope to never repeat but I would never wish didn’t happen.

In the last five years I have learned to be softer, to be kinder, to serve more willingly, to be more forgiving and less judgmental. I have learned that love and patience makes it easier to change than rejection and nagging. I have learned that there are many qualities that makes someone deserve respect. I have learned that God is the best ally in a marriage and that no marriage can succeed without strength borrowed from Heaven. I have learned that sometimes appreciating differences is more important than sharing similarities. I have found that not all pushing is overt and that sometimes a good example is the most powerful motivator.

Five years ago, across an altar in an LDS temple, we committed ourselves to each other and to God for time and all eternity with as much certainty and devotion as two 21 year old kids can. After five years, I can’t believe how much I have learned about what love really means and how much more I love my husband. I’m sure after 10 years, 50 years and 500 years I will feel the same about today and I do now about our wedding day.

To me, celebrating an anniversary isn’t about celebrating the day you got married. It’s about celebrating the life you’ve created in the time since and it’s about celebrating who you’ve become together.

Five years ago, on a very snowy, cold Idaho winter day, I married one of the best men I knew. Today he is still one of the best men I know. I’m so thankful for him and the five years behind us and the eternity before us. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead as I walk, hand in hand with my eternal companion.

Returning to God as we celebrate the holidays

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There is much I hate about this time of year. I hate the snow. I hate the wind. I hate that the days are short and the sky is dark long before I leave work. I hate the traffic. Oh how I hate the traffic. And driving in the snow. And how in Utah drivers don’t slow down which causes accidents and makes bad roads extremely dangerous. I hate the cold. I hate that I can run the heat for hours and still feel cold. I hate the consumerism and how Christmas shopping is so important that Thanksgiving has been washed away. I could go on, as there is much I hate about this time of year.

But there is also much that I love about this time of year. I love the holidays. I love the bustle of the season. I love Christmas Trees and Weihnachtspyramides and Nativities and Christmas lights. I love the shopping and the decorating and the thinking of others. I love brewed cocoa and homemade English toffee and peppermint bark.

And I love how my thoughts, and much of the world surrounding me, pivots, however slightly, towards God.

You see, I feel like there is something special about the time between the end of November and the middle or so of April. Yes, the days are dark and cold, they are not necessarily bleak (except perhaps in late January and February… We should fix that!)

I think these dark days are kind of a blessing. It’s like the cliche The darker the night, the brighter the stars. Christmas is a bright spot in the year, but for me I think it would be lost a little bit in the warmth and business of summer. In fact, it is in the summer that I find the distance between me and Deity grows. There is something about this time of year, and perhaps it is in fact the very cold and dark I so dislike, that pulls me and so many others back towards Heaven.

One of the things I love about my LDS faith is that it teaches than anything that is good comes from God (See Moroni 7:16). So regardless of whether you believe in God or not and regardless of your denomination the Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas/New Year holiday quadrumvirate often causes us to look outside of ourselves and when we look beyond ourselves we look to God.

When we look to God, even when we are not consciously doing it, the world changes, the darkness lifts and the forces of evil are diminished. I think we all can agree that we need more light in our world.