Thursday, December 26, 2013

Homemade "Poopourri"

First things first: If you have never heard of poopourri, please take a moment to watch this, ok?



Now that you know what it is, I will just say that it works, and is a real savior of a product for a household with only one bathroom!

However, it is $10 per 2oz bottle, and that struck us being a smidge on the spendy side. So we did a little research into whether we could create our own. (Do take a minute to look at the official website and note the amusing names for their various scent combinations though, they are hilarious!)

Test 1: putting a few drops of plain essential oil into the toilet DOES do the job. However the bottles can be a little messy or easy to spill, and it did seem like it gave more oil than we really needed...which makes me mildly concerned about pipes and so on.
Verdict: functional but not ideal

Test 2: witch hazel with essential oil. This works fabulously!
We used 4 oz bottles, filled them most of the way with witch hazel, and then added 20-25 drops of essential oil. (If you do a different size, just use 7-8 drops oil per oz of witch hazel.) You can add any oil you like, whatever scent combinations you find appealing. We did one with equal parts grapefruit and lime, and one with about 15 drops orange and 8 drops clove, and one with close to equal parts fir and juniper which my Hubby thinks smells just like a christmas tree.
Each oz is good for 75ish uses, depending on how much you use, so the whole bottle is 300 uses, give or take.

And, the best part was that this recipe cost us about $4-5 per bottle (depending on the oils), and that included the glass bottles! So that's 1/4 the cost of the commercial stuff (half the price per bottle x double the bottle size). Alaska is not the cheapest of places either, so I imagine that in some parts of the country would be even cheaper.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Claim You

I vividly remember the day that I listened to Joanna Brooks' speech at the 2011 Mormon Stories Conference in SLC.  She talked about her Mormon heritage, and then about how many different kinds of people there are who have Mormonism in their bones. She celebrated the diversity, and then said loudly and passionately "We Claim You!"

At the time I was feeling quite awkward about my relationship with the LDS church. My husband had disaffiliated from Mormonism just a few months before, and I suddenly found how disenfranchised I felt now that I was in a "part-member home" and had "no priesthood in the home." The kids saw daddy staying home from church and they didn't want to go either. I found myself often going to church alone. I found myself missing church more than I ever would have in my youth. My husband's faith transition had been happening simultaneously with my own, but our conclusions had been different: he was done with it, but I could not be. Mormonism is in my bones. I'm not the same kind of Mormon as I once was though. For so many reasons I cannot return to the safe, sweet way I used to live.

Being an outsider is nothing new though. I have always been an outsider. As a kid I was homeschooled. Now I'm a hearty supporter of homeschooling, but it made me an outsider at church because I was the only one.

And I realized that we make many kinds of outsiders.

And here's the thing. A lot of people have looked at the PANTS event and concluded that it is about female ordination. Or that it is about LGBTQ something or other (because of the suffragette purple I suppose). Or that it's about feminism in general. Or trying to attract attention and create contention. Or trying to put down women who wear dresses or are satisfied with the status quo. Or about trying to prove a point.

I will grant that last one. It IS about trying to prove a point: It is about proving that we believe that love is bigger than judgment. It is about saying to all those outsiders WE CLAIM YOU and we love you and we count you among our brothers and sisters.

  • To the young person who is homeschooled and always feels left out; I claim you.
  • To the one who is 'weird'; I claim you.
  • To the one who is whispered about behind his or her back; I claim you and promise those whispers will never come from me.
  • To the one who is overweight; I love you.
  • To the one dealing with an eating disorder; I love you. 
  • To the one who has ever felt awkward because your clothes were 'wrong' or 'not stylish' or 'uncool'; I claim you and I understand.
  • To the sister who is disenfranchised because she is unmarried, divorced, or otherwise "does not have the priesthood in her home"; I claim you and support you
  • To the sister who wants children but cannot have them; I love you, I understand you, and I support you more than you realize.
  • To the sister who does not want children; I claim you and respect your choice.
  • To the sexual abuse survivor; I accept you, love you, and do not blame you for what happened to you.
  • To the one who is the only member in her or his household; I claim you and support you.
  • To the one who is struggling to find her or his place in the church; I claim you and I am your sister no matter what.
  • To the one who has been so hurt that you cannot bear to come to church anymore; I claim you and I love you.
  • To the one who wears pants to church because the weather is cold, because you have small children or a calling in the nursery, because you play the organ in church, because you have a health condition, because you don't have a dress, or simply because you feel more comfortable or confident in pants; I claim you, I support you, and I stand with you this year and last year and every year.
Pants for church in 2013


This is me actually 'in church' today via conference call. Cuz that's how it is in the Alaskan bush.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear

Last year, on December 16, women around the world joined in wearing pants to church. I had mixed feelings about it. I supported the idea of feminists doing something instead of just talking about it, but I had been more in the mood for a letter writing campaign or something. But pants was the choice and so I supported it. I still had mixed feelings about wearing pants myself, but I decided to go with it because I remembered having felt judgmental towards pants-wearers in the past, and decided that it was worthwhile to take a conscious stance against judgmentalism. As I said then:
I have never ever worn pants to church. It so happens that I love wearing dresses and skirts, and often wear them on weekdays. I don't particularly want to wear pants to church. BUT, I will be doing so because of this experience. I will be wearing pants to church to be an example to my children that I really do believe that "the lord looketh on the heart [rather than the outward appearance]." I believe in walking the talk. Is wearing pants to church a big deal? No. Will this single event bring about any of the other changes that the All Enlisted movement is hoping for? Not really. But we hope that it will help people to take a look at themselves and their socio-cultural prejudices, and take the opportunity to practice a little non-judgment.
Wow, I had no idea what would follow. Dozens of people (family and friends and total strangers all in chorus) told me that wearing pants was a total non-issue, and that there was no point. Then they told me that I shouldn't do it because it was a point of contention and that contention is of the Devil. Aside from being confused about how pants-wearing can be simultaneously a non-issue and a point of contention, my attention came sharply into focus on two points.
  1. All the contention came from outside the pants-wearing group. (This seemed to prove that it was NOT a non-issue.)
  2. I was scared to wear pants to church.
Scared!! Of wearing pants!! Wow was that a realization. Especially with the knowledge that I was living in a tiny branch in rural Alaska where frankly nobody would care what I wore so long as I showed up. But I was doubly nervous about it because I was supposed to sing in church on that day, and in a congregation of 15 that meets in a room the size of a typical primary room... my pants would be as bold as could be.

But then a scripture came to mind. "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). I remembered that fear is the opposite of faith. I remembered the reasons why I supported this whole idea. And on Sunday, December 16, 2012, thirty miles above the Arctic Circle at -16 Fahrenheit, I wore pants to church.

The blouse had pink and purple embroidery so I had my purple too
Can you what happened? Absolutely nothing. I sang in church. In my pants. People told me how well I sang. No one said a word about the pants. Because it was a complete non-issue for all of them.

Except that it was not a non-issue for me. I practiced faith over fear, and love over judgment. And I will do it again.







Friday, December 6, 2013

Warrior for Peace

Nelson Mandela died this week. In response, the interwebs have lit up with quotes and (in our graphic-heavy culture) memes featuring quotes. Yesterday as I saw my facebook feed fill up with these images and quotes I was struck by something.


Do you see it? Do you see the pattern? Warrior, conquer, victory, front lines, weapon... A man famous for his efforts toward peace is constantly using the language of war. And for good reason.
As another blogger put it
News outlets around the Western world are hurrying to publish obituaries that celebrate his electoral victory while erasing the protracted and fierce guerrilla struggle that he and his party were forced to fight in order to make that victory possible. Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical. Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.
As Mandela himself explained
"I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone...Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence."

As a man who loved and wanted peace, Mandala also had the wisdom to recognize that there are times when conflict and force are necessary. He spoke of using sabotage rather than outright attacks whenever he could, in order to preserve human life whenever possible. But he did not hesitate to do what needed to be done to achieve the goals he had in mind. 



This man of peace was a warrior, because he made the choices to do what had to be done in order to effectively get the results he wanted. Now I'm not saying that most of us will ever face a time where physical violence is the appropriate approach, but there is a time for talking and gentle civil disobedience, but there is also a time for confrontation and outright rebellion. I always advocate using the gentlest measure that will accomplish the task at hand, but if persuasion has no effect then yes, there is a time for action.
Women in this country asked for the right to vote for twenty years. Then they stood in front of the White House with signs that threw the president's words back in his teeth, Alice Paul handcuffed herself to the White House fence, and she and others went to jail and participated in hunger strikes because they were willing to become martyrs if needbe. Not all confrontation has to be violent, but it is confrontation nonetheless, and can be powerful in places where gentle persuasion was not. Discussion is GOOD and sometimes it is effective (and when it is, hallelujah). But action is also GOOD and even aggressive action has a place when other means are unsuccessful.
Over time some things improve, but do not be so complacent as to think that the world is perfect yet. There are battles still to be fought; are you willing to stand and participate?






And for good measure, a few final thoughts from a man who should be remembered for both aspects: his desire for peace and equality, AND his willingness to stand up and literally fight to achieve those goals.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”(Margaret Mead)


Do not be blind to your own privilege. Prejudice is everywhere, and that is a battle that can be won more effectively in individual hearts than in legislative chambers.


Love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Loving God More than We Love The World"

I'm teaching the lesson in Relief Society (the women's organization) in church today. Here is the outline of my lesson. The lesson from the manual is here. My thanks to The Exponent for their ideas about the lesson as well (I used several of them).

The parts in bold are the section headings from the manual. The parts in italics are the questions I asked of the class (and the parts [in brackets] following them are answers I anticipate, or the direction I will guide the discussion into if needed]. Quoted things are indented.


The title of this lesson is “Loving God more than we love the world”

I want to begin by defining what it is to love God, and then move into what it is to love the world.

 In October 2012 conference Elder Holland told the story of the eleven remaining apostles immediately after Christ’s death and resurrection. They were not sure what they should do now that Christ was not there, so they returned to their fishing boats. Christ came to them on the beach and told them that they should not be still fishing, because they should be changed because of their time with Him. This is when He asks Peter “do you love me” and Peter says yes he does. Jesus tells him “if you love me, feed my sheep.”

[quoting from his talk]
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before. The Crucifixion, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ mark the beginning of a Christian life, not the end of it. It was this truth, this reality, that allowed a handful of Galilean fishermen-turned-again-Apostles without “a single synagogue or sword” to leave those nets a second time and go on to shape the history of the world in which we now live. 

I have often noticed that basically every commandment we have, from the ten commandments on down, falls into one of the “two great commandments” of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. All hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~ John Lennon 
We’ve been told that faith is the opposite of fear, and also that it drives it out. I like this comparison of faith and love, because it goes right along with the idea that if we have the faith to love God, then we’ll show it in fearless love of others.

God shows us an example of unconditional love, forgiving us our faults and offering support in our struggles. Julian of Norwich was an early Christian mystic and she said “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”

As our Heavenly Parents love us, so we are to show our love in return by serving our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? In the story of the Good Samaritan the neighbor was simply someone who was there, who was willing and able to help, regardless of religious, political, or economic differences.

What acts does Elder Holland suggest we perform to show our love for God? 
[neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, truth to defend, wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship]

How do you show love for God in your daily acts? 

[Going back to faith and love over fear…my story of picking up the old man on Christmas Eve if there is time]

Christ says that when we do something for another person—ANY other person—then we are doing it for Him. When we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, we are loving God.

Most of us have probably heard the quote from President Kimball “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other.”

I really like the way that Mother Theresa put it “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”
Do you ever feel like God’s little pencil? In what ways? 


When people allow worldliness to pervade their minds and hearts, they turn their backs on eternal principles. 

Now that we’ve established what it looks like to love God, let’s move on to what it is to love the world.

In this lesson, President Snow discusses a time in church history where many people had powerful spiritual experiences during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, including prophesying, speaking in tongues, and seeing and hearing angels. Shortly afterward there was a great deal of speculation—financial risk-taking—going on in the area. Many of the church members got involved in it, and divisions and contention came among them because of it. At every level people were leaving the church, even including several of the apostles, all because their focus on personal gain—or potential personal gain—was the center of their focus and they stopped remembering the Lord.

So what do we mean when we talk about “worldliness” or loving the world? 
How did it happen then? How can it happen to us now? 

From the manual:
The god of the world is the gold and the silver. The world worships this god. It is all-powerful to them, though they might not be willing to acknowledge it. Now, it is designed, in the providence of God, that the Latter-day Saints should show whether they have so far advanced in the knowledge, in the wisdom and in the power of God that they cannot be overcome by the god of the world. We must come to that point. We have also got to reach another standard, a higher plane: we have got to love God more than we love the world, more than we love gold or silver, and love our neighbor as ourselves. 
Can someone do their callings, pay their tithing, read their scriptures, come to meetings every week and still succumb to worldliness?
[Obviously yes]
Are there people outside the church who are loving and serving and doing good in the world?
[Obviously yes]

We have covenanted to separate ourselves from worldliness and devote ourselves to the kingdom of God. 

From the manual:
I thank God that in these times of corruption and wickedness in the world, we have holy and righteous men and women who can devote those superior talents which God has bestowed upon them to His praise and glory. And I might say further, that there are thousands of virtuous and honorable men and women, whom the Lord has gathered out from the nations, that are also willing to devote their time and talents to aid in accomplishing the work of God in the interest of His children. 
How do you avoid worldliness in your daily life? 
How can we help others do so?
[working long hours instead of spending time with family or other loved ones, focusing on social status, overconsumption of worldly goods, vanity, intolerance of other cultures, religions, political positions, _________]

From Matthew 6:
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
24 No [one] can serve two masters. 

We follow the Savior’s example when we refuse to trade the glories of eternity for the riches of the world.

From the manual:
Now let me ask the question, Who [does] possess anything, who can really and truly call any of this world’s goods [her] own? I do not presume to, I am merely a steward over a very little, and unto God I am held accountable for its use and disposition… Who shall say that the rich, or those that possess many talents, have any better hope or prospect to inherit these blessings than the poor, or those who have but one talent? As I understand it, [one person] who lives according to the law of the Gospel, and is honest and faithful in his [or her] calling, that [person] is just as eligible to the receiving of these and all the blessings of the New and Everlasting Covenant as any other [person]. 
I think sometimes we have a hard time translating Jesus’ example to a modern context. He walked around the desert healing people and telling stories, but we have jobs and kids and laundry to do. However there is a modern day person who I think does an amazing job of following the Savior’s example and that is Pope Francis. I’m hoping that you have seen some of the many articles about him. He may not heal people or feed them by the thousand, but he does talk with them, pray with them, and hug them. He made the Vatican get rid of the expensive mercedes and since then he’s been using inexpensive and used vehicles. He keeps setting aside the extravagant things, and instead spending his time and energy with people, especially those who are poor, sick, disabled, disfigured, or otherwise disenfranchised.

From Matthew 25
34 Then shall the King say unto them…Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.
What can we do to make sure we are loving God more than the world?

 My testimony that serving others makes us happy. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Taking Up Space


I saw this today, and thought "yes, this. This is why I claim the name of feminist. Because the difference in experience matters. Because a person should not have to live in fear or pain simply by virtue of what's between their legs. Because a life lived in fear is a life half-lived."




Also, although I very much see this happening on a cultural and societal level, I am very grateful to have grown up in a home where it did not really happen on a familial level. A family where I always knew that I could go and do and be whatever I dreamed. A family where mother had the math degree and father taught school so that he could have summers off to go hiking and globetrotting. A place where egalitarianism was standard enough that I had been on my own for ten years before I could even recognize the continuing need for feminism in the rest of the world.

So go forth my sisters (and my brothers). Speak the truths you know. Don't be ashamed to speak the unpopular or taboo truths. Do what your gut tells you is important. Be a rebel if you need to be. Take up your space.

(here is the transcript, in case you have trouble with the video...but it is worth listening, because she speaks it well.)

Across from me at the kitchen table my mother smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass. 
She says she doesn't deprive herself, but I've learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork and every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate. I realize that she only eats dinner when I suggest it. 
I wonder what she does when I'm not there to do so.
Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return. As she shrinks, the space around her seems increasingly vast. 
She wanes while my father waxes.
His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry, a new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager but my dad reports "now she's crazy about fruit."

It was the same with his parents. 
As my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund stomach, and I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking. Making space for the entrance of men in their lives. Not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave. 
I have been taught accommodation. 
My brother never thinks before he speaks. I have been taught to filter. "How can anyone have a relationship to food?" he asks, laughing, as I eat the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs.
I want to say we come from difference Jonas. 
You have been taught to grow out. I have been taught to grow in. 
You learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, how to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence. You used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much. 
I learned to absorb. 
I took lessons from my mother in creating space around myself. I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters. And I never meant to replicate her, but spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits. 
That's why women in my family have been shrinking for decades. 
We all learned it from each other. The way each generation taught the next how to knit, weaving silence in between the threads which I can still feel as I walk through this ever growing house. Skin itching, picking up all the habits my mother unwittingly dropped like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again. Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark. A fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled. Deciding how many bites is too many; how much space she deserves to occupy. 
Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate her, and I don't want to do either anymore. But the burden of this house has followed me across the country. I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word "sorry..."
I don't know the capstone requirements for the sociology major because I spent the whole meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza. A circular obsession I never wanted, but inheritance is accidental. 

Still staring at me with wine-soaked lips from across the kitchen table.

 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Living Like Hydrangeas

This summer we visited my husband's aunt (along with many other friends and family members) during our summer vacation. On the way into her home I saw a beautiful hydrangea and had to snap a picture.
On the way out of the house I noticed that same hydrangea, now with the sun shining on it. It looked so different, yet still so beautiful in a new way, that I took another picture.
 
Three days and two hundred miles later I saw another hydrangea in a yard near my parents house. It was a brilliant, vivid blue, quite different from the pinky-purple of the one at our aunt's house.
 


Here is the thing about hydrangeas: like any flower, they may look different in one lighting or another. But hydrangeas do something more. They bloom in different colors depending on the soil where they are planted. In acidic soil, the flowers are blue, in more alkaline soil, they will be pink. And they come in a dozen shades in between too. It is not a matter of different strains of the flower either, because if you don't like the shade of your hydrangea you can amend the soil and get it to change color. I have been attracted to hydrangeas ever since I learned this about them.
Why am I sharing this here when you could look it up in any plant encyclopedia? Well, aside from the excuse to post some pretty pictures, I do actually have a good reason for discussing hydrangeas.
Like these flowers--like any flower--we do not really have a choice about where we are planted, or about what experiences we will have in our lives. In some lights or circumstances we will appear one way, and in other lights or circumstances we will look different. But hydrangeas are something special because of how they react specifically to the soil where they are planted. Some plants will die if their soil is too acidic or too alkaline, but hydrangeas simply adjust. They take what they are given and become a new kind of beautiful.
I think we all have the potential to be like hydrangeas. Initially we may mourn when we realize that we cannot be the same as someone else's kind of beautiful, or someone else's kind of happy. But our life experiences--where we are planted--don't allow us to be the same as those who grow in other soil. Ours is to work with the soil we have, and to realize that we have our own beauty, our own goodness, our own kind of loveliness. We should not be jealous because we are different, we should be proud because we have bloomed where we were planted.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

On raising children

Do not try to control your children. 
Instead, listen to them, 
help them to learn the gospel, 
inspire them, 
and lead them toward eternal life. 

You are God’s agents in the care of children 
He has entrusted to you. 
Let His divine influence remain in your hearts 
as you 
teach and persuade. 

~Russell M. Nelson

I'm pretty sure I've said things like this before. Over and over and over. But Elder Nelson says it pretty. :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Agency and Obedience: internal and external control

"Obedience is the first law of Heaven." I heard this so often growing up that I was sure it was scripture until about fifteen minutes ago when I actually looked it up. It seems that a couple of well-know church leaders said it, and at least one non-LDS philosopher said it before either of them.
I was an extremely compliant young person. The notion of obedience as the most important thing in the universe did not phase me...until I considered it in light of some other oft-repeated tenants of the faith:
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. [Doc & Cov 58: 26-27]

Wait, did I read that right? Someone who obeys "in all things" is still "slothful and not wise" and "receiveth no reward" because he did not "do many things of his own free will"? Because that is what it looks like to me. If we are simply compliant in all things, without learning to be independent and proactive, then we are not where God wants us to be.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon... Wherefore, men are free to choose liberty and eternal life, [or] to choose captivity and death [2 Nephi 2:26-27]
In the great council in Heaven there were two plans, one which would force compliance so that every person would definitely return to God, and one which promised freedom of choice for every individual. Which one did God choose? Choice. Free will. Self control.

It is important to note that "self control" means actively controlling oneself. It doesn't always mean that you're making the choices that someone else thinks you should. But it does mean that you are making your own choices.

~~~~~~~~~


Swedenborg (he was that other philosopher I mentioned earlier) suggested that obedience is the "first" law in that it is the most basic (as opposed to the most important). It is a building block. Without argument, obedience is a useful way to build healthy and righteous habits. But there comes a point where each individual needs to be able to evaluate a new situation and know how to make a choice about it, without the support of pre-designated rules.

Some people, when they reach adulthood, are still looking for someone to control them. They feel safer with a high fence of rules all around them. They look for rules in philosophies or advice books. Religious leaders and scripture give delightfully long lists of rules to follow. But is this really self-control? Or is it still deferring to someone else to control you? I would argue that it is the latter.

But, but, but, WAIT! I hear you saying, When there are rules, you choose whether or not to obey them. So even with rules you still have agency. You still can choose whether to obey or not!

Yes and no.

Studies consistently show that children who are heavily controlled by their parents grow up without much self-control.  In fact, these overly-controlled children can be just as out-of-control as the kids who are neglected. (When they grow up, some of them continue seeking outside sources to control them, and others cut loose all over the place. I argue that neither is very healthy.) What children--and the rest of us--need is to have some guidance in how to make decisions ourselves. We need to develop our own ethical guidelines and moral values; we cannot just have someone else's thrust upon us. We can use those other rules and values as guide to forming our own, but ultimately we do need to form our own.

"he that is compelled in all things is a slothful and not a wise servant"

So it is not just a matter of choosing to obey or not. It is a matter of forming our own internal source of guidance, rather than relying on an external one.

~~~~~~~~~ 

Some people have a remarkable sense of direction. Blindfold them, put them anywhere, spin them around, and then let them go...and they can point north or find their way home without any assistance from anyone. Other people can only do that if there are familiar landmarks or geographic features to rely on. Some people will point every which way unless the have a GPS in their hand to show them which way is actually north. Some people can have a GPS in their hand, be looking at it, and still end up pointing somewhere vaguely southwest...

Life is a little like that.The GPS is a useful tool (if you know how to use it!), and it can help you get oriented in unfamiliar territory. If it is just a GPS, then all it can do is tell you where you are, but offers no help in where to go next. Many newer GPS systems have directional programs in them that may be able to give you the directions to get home. On the other hand, if you rely wholly on that GPS, it may send you on an indirect or inconvenient route--in other words, a route that is not good for you. Is it a functional route? Sure, probably. But it's someone else's idea of the best route, and it may or may not be appropriate for you.

Ultimately, we need to learn to read the map ourselves, to read the street signs ourselves, to trust our guts, and figure things out ourselves. It is not wrong to have maps, guides, or rules to help you find your way. But it is very problematic to rely on them so totally that you are unable to function independently.

And it is very problematic to raise our children with so many rules that their only options are compliance or defiance, and not true agency. Of course we are bound to give them some rules (I vote for as few as possible) in order to help them develop some good habits. But I think that guidelines (such as "respect yourself and others") are more useful than strings of specific rules ("don't hit your brother, don't sass your mother, do your homework on time, don't put the cat in the dishwasher, turn the lights off when you leave a room, clean up your own messes and don't leave them for someone else," etc etc etc...) More general guidelines leave room for personal interpretation and understanding, and demand individual thought and commitment to the behavior choice. Of course these things adjust with age, but even a three year old can understand the idea of  "respect" a lot better than most parents would probably give him credit for.

you may choose one

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bedtime Stories

Bear likes us to tell him stories at bedtime. (He's six. Three-year-old Eagle usually wants a song, but Bear always wants stories.) He does enjoy listening to stories on CD (the Magic Tree House ones are favorites), and he does like books, but most of all he likes told stories, and he especially likes new ones.

I have long-since exhausted the easy-to-remember ones, the common fairy tales, and the simple poems. I have never been good at making up stories (Hubby has told the boys a whole series of "Sir Reginald" stories which he makes up with apparent ease, but I do not have that gift.) Then I began telling the less familiar stories, some of the more obscure fairy tales, and trying to remember books I read as a child but have not seen in years. One such nearly-forgotten book is Bartholomew Cubbins. Actually, it's two books:  "The 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" and "Bartholomew and the Oobleck." They are Dr Seuss books, and I enjoyed them as a kid, and thought that Bear might too.

So I tried to tell him the stories.

Only it's been at least 18 years since I cracked either book, and I fear I have forgotten more than a little. As I told the stories, I regularly got to places where I said "um, I kinda forget what comes next..." so then I made up bits which may or may not resemble the original story.

The next night, Bear said "Mom, I want the stories of Bartholomy Covins again!"

Of course he did.

And the night after that, and the night after that...

The day after that I emailed my dad. Grandpas are good at reading stories, and he was agreeable to helping a tired mommy and the story-hungry grandson.

I remember one Christmas, when I was perhaps 11, my grandparents bought us a book of fairy tales. It had elaborate illustrations and was a beautiful book. With the book was a cassette tape of Grandma and Grandpa reading the stories from the book. We listened to that tape over and over and over...there are phrases which I still hear in Grandma's voice or Grandpa's voice, and I can't think of any of the stories without thinking of them.

Of course we don't use cassette players so much now, but digital options have simplified both the recording and sharing processes. Today I got an email with .wav files of two stories, recorded in my father's voice. We may live 2500 miles away from Grandma and Grandpa, but they can still read bedtime stories to my boys. (And I no longer have to wrack my brain trying to remember the details of books I haven't seen in two decades!)

May I suggest, for anyone who has beloved little ones who live far away (or even not so far away), that you record some stories for them. Send the books along if you like too, but definitely read them stories. Parents who are tired of the same three books all the time could make recordings too, but I really think that stories from grandparents are invaluable. And the digital copies won't wear out the way that old cassette tape did. Make some mp3s, burn a CD, share stories across generations. ☺

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The law of the land: considering same-sex marriage


Today my facebook wall is covered with these:


Today the Supreme Court will decide whether same sex marriage is legal in this country.

In recent years, the equals symbol has been used by the marriage equality movement and those who support it. I am told that representing it in red is indicative of this movement being about love.

I have been raised my entire life with the teaching that homosexual behavior is wrong. That is a moral stance adopted by more than a few religions, and I believe that these religions are entitled to it.

I also believe there is a reason for the separation of church and state. Our founding fathers were spiritual men and I think they were inspired men, but most were not actually religious. They objected to state religion because they saw how it had been abused in Europe. They felt strongly that government and religion need to operate independently. I agree with them.

There are times when government and religion agree on issues (such as murder), and there are times when they disagree. When they disagree, each should function in their own sphere. Government establishes what is legal in the temporal world, while religion declares what is acceptable in the spiritual one. In this imperfect world, it is inevitable that they will not always be in perfect alignment. Marriage equality is one such issue. I believe that government has a duty to interfere with things like underage marriages (because by legal definition the underage party is not able to give consent). I believe that government has a duty to interfere in cases of abuse of spouse or child. I do not believe that government has a duty--or even a right--to legislate or vote on the non-abusive relationships of consenting adults.

Ironically, just over a century ago my religion fought hard for the right to polygamous marriages. Sixty years ago many states had laws against interracial marriages. I do not think it was right for the government to interfere at those times. I do not think it is right for them to interfere now. The constitution says that people should have equal rights under the law. The only logical constitutional conclusion that I see for the Supreme Court today is to legalize marriage for any pair of consenting adults. No religious group will be obligated to perform religious rites for these couples unless they want to (and I'm sure that many will not). No religious group even has to allow these couples to be part of their sects (and again, I'm sure that many will not). But I also think that no group (religious or otherwise) has a right to overrule the constitutional rights of anyone else. (Writing as someone from within a faith group that has had our rights stomped on, I feel very very strongly about this.)

As my friend eloquently put it:
As homosexuals couldn't possibly do anything to desecrate the institution of marriage that hetereosexuals haven't been doing for millenia, I cannot support the notion that marriage equality is going to destroy it.
As "traditional marriage" has very often historically meant as a transfer of property from one man (the bride's father) to another (the groom), sometimes based on affection but often based on convenience, politics, economics, or the need for another generation, I cannot support the notion that our modern ideal of marriage union largely based on love should exclude consenting adults.
I think the rift between the exclusive and the inclusive will cause more damage to society than marriage equality.
I can't support that it's bad for children when lesbian homes have a 0% rate of reported abuse, where 1 in 4 children in heterosexual homes report abuse. http://bit.ly/aOkzC3 I cannot look at my friends' long-sought daughter and think she will be disadvantaged for having two amazing mothers.
I hope that when Justices go to make a decision, the Constitution alone becomes their Bible.
I am a straight ally.
I have heard people speak with great emotion on this issue. I have heard appeals about love, about physical ambiguity, about moral imperatives... Ultimately, the thing that speaks the most loudly to me is logic. And while I do feel some conflict over how to reconcile these opinions personally in my religious context, I do not feel any conflict over what I think the law of the land should be.

I know these statements will probably be troubling for some of those nearest me (particularly my family). I hope they can be understanding of my attempts to reconcile my thoughts on this matter. Honestly, I hadn't planned to say anything about this today. As I said, my facebook wall is covered with little red equals, but I had no intention of joining them because I simply did not want to engage in the conflict. I was going to stand quietly on the side. But Thomas Jefferson put it well when he noted that "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."

This is my conscience. I will speak it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Speaking of Faith...

(My talk in church today)

 I admit, I have often thought it was a little cheesy to start with a dictionary definition of something, but in this case I want to do just that, because there are two sides of what ‘faith’ means, and those two sides are what I will be talking about today.

The first definition of faith is “belief in something for which there is no proof.” We believe things we have been taught. We believe that God is there, we believe that He hears our prayers. But we don’t have proof for any of it.
The second definition of faith is “allegiance to duty or a person, loyalty, fidelity to one's promises, or sincerity of intentions.” This can be summed up with the word trust. We may have faith—trust—in a person or in a promise. When we speak in religious terms, we mean that we trust that the things we have been taught about the gospel will happen the way we’ve been taught.

BELIEF
The scriptures talk about some people having the gift of faith, or of belief. For those people, it seems natural to be trusting and believing. For many of us however it is not as simple. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican priest in the 1200s, taught that faith is ‘midway between knowledge and opinion.’ Faith resembles knowledge, Aquinas said, in so far as faith carries conviction. But it’s not the same as knowledge because there isn’t that physical proof.. Faith or belief becomes a choice we make when our senses are not able to give us scientific evidence. As Paul says “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). If we had sight—if we had proof—we would not need to believe, because we would know. 


TRUST 
The Greek word ‘pistus’ is the one that we translate as ‘faith.’ But the literal translation of it is not belief, it is trust. “To trust someone is to act on the assumption that he will do for you what he knows that you want or need, even when the evidence gives some reason for supposing that he may not and where there will be bad consequences if the assumption is false” (Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy). Trust requires vulnerability, and willingness to give up control to something or someone else. 

While belief is in our heads, trust is more in our actions. You may believe that parachutes work, but it is not until you jump out of the plane with one that you have shown that you trust that that parachute works. When we trust that the atonement has real power in our lives, then we go through the process of repentance. When we trust that someone is listening, then we say our prayers. In other words the belief side of our faith guides the trust—or action—side of our faith. We believe, and we behave as though we expect results.



THE CYCLE

Believing and trusting are part of a cyclical process. It is our belief that leads us to be willing to trust, but choosing to believe in the gospel in the first place is in itself an act of trust. Thomas Aquinas said that faith showed an orientation toward the divine. In other words, having faith doesn’t mean that you have to know everything, but it shows that you are choosing to go toward what you perceive as a good thing.



THE CHOICE

Terryl Givens is an LDS professor and author who spoke at BYU a couple of years ago about faith. His speech was titled “Lighting out of Heaven” and I will be quoting and summarizing ideas from it for most of the rest of my talk.         (italicized parts are quotes, the other is summary)


Some things are easy to believe. Nobody has to ask you to believe in gravity, because you have proof of it all around you. On the other hand, no amount of money could make you genuinely believe that snow is green, again because you have proof of the truth all around you. But God and the gospel are different, because there seems to be evidence on both sides.


It would seem that among those who are committed to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and rational inquiry, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.


[The gospel] message [spreads] because millions of men and women have freely chosen to believe. They [listened to] the opinions of doubters, and they gave a hearing to the critics. They know Joseph was human and subject to err, but they sampled [the gospel] and agreed [that the fruit was sweet]. They found reason to doubt, and they found reason to believe. They chose to believe.



IN OUR MINDS AND OUR HEARTS


Some people understand faith as a kind of knowledge attended by a certainty that excludes doubt. But faith cannot be all mental. The reformer Calvin said that faith-knowledge is not only ‘revealed to our minds’ but also ‘sealed upon our hearts’. In this model faith will have an emotional as well as cognitive side.

Studying and scholarship can create conditions under which faith can flourish, but they cannot create faith itself.



NOT WITH CERTAINTY

(Terryl Givens again)

If you consider the average LDS testimony meeting, you will probably hear person after person declare that they know things. That they know that God lives or that they know that the Book of Mormon is true. These messages of shared belief can be powerful for building community, but this rhetoric of knowing can also have a downside. It can create the tragic impression that with certainty there is no room or need for searching; and it can create discomfort and alienation on the part of those who do not or cannot share in expressions of serene, unconflicted conviction.

For those who are struggling with faith, or who are new to it, our these statements of knowing can be hard to hear. How can someone really know these things? The truth is that—at least in most cases—they don’t really know. They have faith. They choose to believe, and to trust, and to hope.



Alma says that faith exists when we simply hope to believe, or want to believe. Choosing to believe, along with trusting enough to act, is the backbone of faith. It is not certainty. Faith has never been certainty. Certainty that excludes doubt is not faith. Therefore, faith necessarily includes doubts, or questions. Lehi taught his son that "there must needs be opposition in all things," and so it is with belief. If you really care about your faith, about your spirituality, then you will have to face a certain amount of conflict over it. Sometimes that conflict comes from outside yourself, and sometimes from within. Sometimes it comes both directions. Joseph Smith had conflict, he had questions and doubts. Almost every revelation he had came as the result of a question he asked. A faithful people must be a question-asking people. Unless you are one of the few with the gift of faith, choosing belief probably means accepting unbelief as something that you'll have to face repeatedly. And that's ok. Because when your doubts cause you to question your faith, you can also use your faith to question your doubts. 

MARCHING ON 
Like Calvin said about faith being ‘revealed to our minds’ and also ‘sealed upon our hearts,’ The Doctrine and Covenants says that the Holy Ghost speaks to us in our minds AND our hearts. Faith includes belief and action, and also doubt, and also feelings. A heart that believes—or even that simply wants to believe—can sustain us even when our minds go through ups and downs. For many of us, the natural ups and downs—the doubts that come hand in hand with belief—are scary things. Especially in the context of a church with so many people around us saying that they know. I’m sure we have all heard that faith is the opposite of fear, and that the two cannot exist together, because each will cast out the other. 1 John 4:8 says that “perfect love casts out fear,” so then I begin to think about the love—or heart—aspect of faith. Paul taught that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God knows that we will have doubts, but he also tells us not to be afraid. Instead he counsels us to rely on power, love, and a sound mind. Our desiring, trusting, believing, learning, hoping, and pressing on in spite of doubts gives us the strength to cast out fear and carry on.

I have been through my share of ups and downs in faith. Study has both built my faith and poked holes in it. People around me have lifted me up at some times and dragged me down at others. Sometimes fear has snuck in. Sometimes doubts or questions cause me to hesitate or even withhold my trust for a time. But I still want to believe, and the combination of my desire to believe and my willingness to trust are the basis of my faith. I don’t have to know anything. I can have questions. I can hear arguments both for and against the gospel. And then I can choose. And I choose faith.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Postpartum Anxiety. My Story.

I wrote this to be shared with Momma Trauma. I'm not sure how much of it she'll use there, or in what form, and I know I get different readership here anyway so I wanted to share the story here as well. I just discovered MT's site last week as part of The Amethyst Network's networking. Momma Trauma addresses pregnancy and birth-related traumas of all sorts, from loss to traumatic births to postpartum psychoses.


Regular readers here will know that I had been through several miscarriages prior to my first live birth. I experienced a lot of depression during and after those, and credited it to grief, although I knew that there could be chemical components to it too. When I did realize I was going to carry to term with this one, I was shocked to find that I was still depressed. I was depressed for most of my pregnancy, in spite of being extremely excited that I was finally going to have a baby. I anticipated that I might have postpartum depression, and tried to have a support network in place just in case.
I have a family background of depression, bipolar, anxiety attacks, and even severe panic-induced breakdowns. But aside from the depression I mentioned here, I had never experienced any of those things myself. I'd never had an anxiety attack let alone chronic anxiety.

When my baby was born, I was jubilant. Our circumstances were actually really bad, my husband was working two jobs because we were broke, and it was the middle of winter. But I was not depressed. I was delighted to have a baby.

But I was terrified of hurting him. I have eight younger siblings and had been helping with babies for two decades before I had my own baby. I knew how to handle diapers and baths and feedings and all those things, and yet I still found myself feeling scared all the time. I was afraid that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was afraid that as I laid him on the bed that his arm would twist under him and break as I set him down. When I had him in the sling as I made dinner, I was afraid that he would reach out and touch a pan or get cut on a knife or something before I could prevent it. I was terrified that he would get badly hurt and that it would be my fault. Not an accidental kind of fault, but a totally preventable kind of fault. None of these were rational fears, but they all ran around in my head on a daily basis.

I never told anyone. I assumed that I was paranoid about this baby because of the years of miscarriages and the waiting for him. Of course I was hyper-protective of this baby! And I could tell that they were irrational fears, so I didn't tell anyone because I felt stupid for having them. By the time he was about 6 months old they went away.

Three years later I had a second baby. I had not had difficulty conceiving or carrying him. The delivery had been straightforward and good. But I had experienced pregnancy depression again, and I had the postpartum fears again. This time I couldn't justify it to myself, because I didn't have the same set of circumstances coming in. I had HAD a baby before and everything had been fine with him. I couldn't think of why I would feel paranoid this time around, but I did. And it was the same things...stopping breathing, breaking his arm...knives in the kitchen...

 
Sometimes real things did happen. Like when he was 3 months old but had gotten strong enough that he kicked so hard that he tipped his bouncer over. He had been on the floor and was scared but not hurt. I was not much distressed by this, I comforted him, and just accepted that he had gotten too big for the bouncer and didn't use it anymore. But I was still scared that I would hurt him somehow.

 
Again, when he was a few months old it faded.

That baby was two when I listened to a podcast where a woman talked about having had postpartum anxiety. I had never even heard of such a thing. Her case had been so serious that she was institutionalized for several weeks (away from her baby). I was grateful that my anxiety was not that severe, but I also felt so validated in my experiences. I wished I had told someone. I wished I had known what it was. Now that I know (and it's only been a year that I've known) I have started telling people. Nobody should have to deal with this kind alone. It's scary and unnerving and it would have been nice to know that I wasn't crazy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February Blog Circle: The Calling

This post is written in response to The Amethyst Network's February Circle, "Sharing Our Stories." Please visit there for more stories, including the story of how The Amethyst Network came to be born.

This month TAN is also holding a brief fundraiser (and there are some pretty nice perks if you donate). The board and doulas are all volunteers, but we need a little capital to cover things like web hosting and printing costs for the materials that we distribute. Please visit the fundraising site and help out if you can. Thank you.

When I was very first married, I had a church assignment to visit with another woman in my congregation. (This is typical for Mormons, every woman is assigned to visit other women, so that everyone has someone they can turn to if they need help or support with something, and everyone has someone to look out for.) I felt a connection with this particular woman because she was also a newlywed, having married just days after we had.
Less than four  months into my marriage, I experienced my first miscarriage. Right around the same time, Michelle [not her real name] told us that she was also expecting. I was excited for her. Although I grieved my own loss, I never guessed that the road ahead of me would be so long and difficult. I assumed my next conception would be as easy as the first had been, and so I did not resent her pregnancy even in the face of my recent loss.
A few weeks later, I received word that Michelle had miscarried. As the timing worked out, she had miscarried in her early second trimester, just as I had. I baked something (I no longer remember what) and walked the few blocks to her home to deliver it to her. I also took a card in which I had written my sympathies, and shared some thoughts that had been comforting to me in my loss.
Her mother answered the door, and said that Michelle was in the shower. I delivered the card and food, explained who I was, and said that I was available to call if Michelle needed anyone.
She never called. I think her mother was sufficient support for her. Over the years (having long since moved away from the area), I had almost forgotten this story. But this week I remembered it, and I realized something: Although I would have said that it was supporting another friend through miscarriage in the summer of 2010 that instigated my desire to start The Amethyst Network, I actually began that path years before. Perhaps it is a matter of personality, perhaps a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but I realize that within weeks of my first miscarriage I was reaching out to support others through miscarriage. I think it is something I am called to do.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

It never rains but it pours


Several projects I've contributed to have all published my contributions all at once. Today.

It's sortof exciting!

So I thought I'd share the links. Because I may not have been producing much HERE, but trust me, I've been producing.☺

Furthering Women's Health through Feminism at LDS-WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality) (I know someone on the board there, and I had written these thoughts in a discussion elsewhere, but when she saw it she asked if I would work it into something she could post on WAVE).

Finding Heavenly Mother As She Sings, part of the Finding Heavenly Mother Project at Poetry Sans Onions. (Nothing in this story is new if you've been reading my blog for a while, but I thought I'd share anyway.)

Miscarriage from an LDS Perspective Part 1 (my story) and Part 2 (advice for others) posted at the Mormon Mental Health Podcast.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conversion



This was the talk I gave in church a few weeks ago.

            Many Christians use the word “convicted” to describe their faith. When someone is convicted of something that means that some outside source has judged or proven them to be guilty of something. In this case, to be a convicted Christian would mean that others are able to judge the person as Christian based on an outside perspective. Obviously a person’s faith should show in their actions, however it is important to separate conviction from conversion, because they are not the same. While conviction refers to what is apparent from the outside, conversion refers to what occurs on the inside, and is truly known only to oneself and to God.
            The word conversion means change. In the spiritual sense, a conversion is a change in ones self, either in belief, or behavior, or both. Although we often focus on the externally visible conversion signs of accepting the gospel and being baptized, the bible dictionary makes sure to mention that “complete conversion comes after many trials and much testing.” Real conversion is an internal change and a lifelong process. It does not matter if a person was raised with the gospel, or encountered it a week before dying, we all must experience conversion at some point. Alma describes conversion as “a mighty change of heart” and spends an entire chapter talking about it. He makes it clear that he is speaking to church members as well as gentiles, and that conversion is intensely personal, and undeniably ongoing.

There are three questions I want to discuss today:
1 How do we become converted in the first place? What happens—or what can we do—to begin the process?
2 How do we know that we are converted, or at least that we have experienced the initial change of heart?
3 How can we remain in the converted or changed state? And avoid returning to the unconverted condition?

1 How do we become converted?
            In Mosiah 18, Alma the elder had taught the gospel to a group of people, and was preparing them for baptism. As they gathered by the water, he spoke to them about the things they had learned, and about the covenants they would be taking in baptism.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death…that ye may have eternal life—
 10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
Alma makes it clear that conversion involves not just a willingness to keep the commandments and care for each other, but also a genuine desire to do so. Conversion is a change of heart.

            Sometimes we may think that a conversion will happen through a single stunning event, with trumpets and angelic visions. As Elder Uchdorf said in the April 2011 conference,
            There are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe… They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe.
            There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting [around]. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples… They [hope] for the Christ to be given to them like a magnificent painting—to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.
            The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.
Elder Uchdorf concludes that if we will be proactive in seeking testimony and conversion, then we can find it, but that we cannot just wait around for it to come to us. He goes on to suggest several things that we can do to actively seek this conversion, this change of heart.
            The first is to “hearken and heed,” meaning to listen for promptings of the spirit. He says we should do what is necessary to “turn down the volume control of the worldly noise in our lives” so that we can hear the spirit, and then do what we feel prompted to do.
            Secondly, Elder Uchdorf points out that “we sometimes do not recognize the voice of the Lord in our lives is because the revelations of the Spirit may not come directly to us as the answer to our prayers. Our Father in Heaven expects us to study it out first and then pray for guidance as we seek answers to questions and concerns in our personal lives. We have our Heavenly Father’s assurance that He will hear and answer our prayers. The answer may come through the voice and wisdom of trusted friends and family, the scriptures, and the words of prophets...
            Often, the answer to our prayer does not come while we’re on our knees but while we’re on our feet serving the Lord and serving those around us. Selfless acts of service and consecration refine our spirits, remove the scales from our spiritual eyes, and open the windows of heaven. By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own.”
            The third thing Elder Uchdorf recommends for becoming converted is to share what we know. We don’t have to know everything, we can share what we do know and grow through that.
            There are times when the Lord reveals to us things that are intended only for us. Nevertheless, in many, many cases He entrusts a testimony of the truth to those who will share it with others…. The most effective way to preach the gospel is through example. If we live according to our beliefs, people will notice. If the countenance of Jesus Christ shines in our lives, if we are joyful and at peace with the world, people will want to know why. One of the greatest sermons ever pronounced on missionary work is this simple thought attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Opportunities to do so are all around us.


2 How do we know that we are converted, or at least that we have experienced the initial change of heart?
In Alma 5, Alma asks a series of questions which can help us to ascertain whether we have been converted.
 14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
 15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
            He continues with more questions we can ask ourselves to see if we are exercising the faith of an ongoing conversion. He asks “if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, can ye feel so now?” He also asks if we are stripped of pride, and stripped of envy. He asks us to consider whether we mock or persecute those around us, or feel that we are superior to anyone else. He asks if we ever turn our backs upon the poor and needy, or withhold our substance from them.
            Alma adds that we will have a “perfect remembrance” (verse 18) of all that we have done in our lives, and urges us to be totally honest with ourselves when we ask these questions.
 19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
Married couples often tend to look like each other because of what is known as mirroring each other. Mirroring is when we imitate each other’s facial expressions and other body movements. Children learn emotional and other responses from their parents through this method, and any two people in a close relationship tend to mirror each other. A couple will often develop matching wrinkle lines because of it, because of mirroring each other so often. When you mirror someone regularly, you can in fact begin to look similar.  How do we mirror God in order to look like him?
            In Galations and Ephesians, Paul teaches us some of the divine wrinkle lines that we can look for in ourselves. He refers to them as fruits of the spirit, meaning things that are products of living a spiritual life. Here is the list: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, goodness, righteousness and truth. (Galations 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9)
            Or, as Alma put it,
 40 …whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
 41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.

Finally, how can we remain in the converted or changed state? And avoid returning to the unconverted condition?
            In the October 2011 general conference, Dale G Renlund of the quorum of 70 made the following analogy.
            In December 1967 the first successful heart transplant was performed in Cape Town, South Africa. The dying man’s diseased heart was removed, and a healthy heart from a deceased donor was sewn in its place. Since then, over 75,000 heart transplants have been performed worldwide.
            In each heart transplant recipient, the patient’s own body recognizes the new, lifesaving heart as “foreign” and begins to attack it. Left unchecked, the body’s natural response will reject the new heart, and the recipient will die. Medicines can suppress this natural response, but the medications must be taken daily and with exactness. Furthermore, the condition of the new heart must be monitored. Occasional heart biopsies are performed wherein small pieces of heart tissue are removed and then examined under a microscope. When signs of rejection are found, medications are adjusted. If the rejection process is detected early enough, death can be averted.
Surprisingly, some patients become casual with their transplanted hearts. They skip their medicines here and there and obtain the needed follow-up less frequently than they should. They think that because they feel good, all is well. Too often this shortsighted attitude puts the patients at risk and shortens their lives.
            So what can we do to maintain our changed heart? How can we ensure that we do not reject this new heart? In Ephesians 5, Paul gives some suggestions for how to live continually as what he calls “children of light.”
1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
 2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…
 3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
 4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting… but rather giving of thanks.
 5 For this ye know, that no unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
 7 Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
 8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:
 9 ([Showing] the fruit of the Spirit in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
 10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
 14 …Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
             So it seems that all the things which help us achieve that initial change of heart are exactly the same things that will help us to maintain it. Seeking and listening, serving others and sharing the truths we learn, and above all mirroring Christ in our daily lives, so that in imitating Him, we will become like Him.


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