The Handbasket is Empty

One of the benefits of having lived so close to the edge for so long is not taking things for granted. I know what it’s like to be facing losing (and then actually losing) my home. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one to addiction, to parent alone, to be afraid, to be facing homelessness, to be dependent on the charity of others. I know the sting and humiliation of throwing my lot at the mercy of an overworked DSHS caseworker in hopes of receiving aid. I know what it feels like to have our names on paper ornaments on the Giving Christmas Tree, where a “Boy, Age 8″ would like some Legos and a coat. I know well the spaces inhabiting our periphery, the margins of our lives, where we all hope to never go, and where hope is all you’ve got if you get there. [Read more...]

Are We Not All Beggars?

blind beggar“…look to the poor and needy and administer to their relief, that they shall not suffer.” Now note the imperative verb in that passage: “They SHALL not suffer.” That is language God uses when he means business.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey R. Holland stood at the podium delivered a gut-wrenching punch to all Latter-day Saints on what it means to actually live as a Christian. Being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on what it means to dedicate our lives to following the Son of Man. [Read more...]

The Boys Are Alright

mormon-missionariesIn my new ward, my husband (that is still SO weird for me to say) and I have been called as Ward Missionaries. The last time I was really involved with the missionaries was 12 years ago when I walked up to them after Sacrament meeting, baby in my arms, and asked what I had to do to be baptized (Hi Elder Fish and Elder Pendlebury!). After my divorce, it was ridiculously hard for me and my kids to have regular contact with the Elders- and I missed it. (The rules can be explained ten ways from Sunday, but it’s still a drag single mamas aren’t able to have the Elders over for dinner.) With my new calling and marital status, the world has again shifted. [Read more...]

Chances for Learning

359532891_680af26c0e “And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Ne. 6:12).

For the last two years, my kids have gone to decidedly less-advantaged public schools. Out of necessity, we lived in a higher-density, lower-income neighborhood. There were a lot of rentals and turnover (though my own neighbors stayed stable for the entire two years). While our neighborhood wasn’t great, it also wasn’t scary, and our neighbors were kind and friendly, even if we frequently didn’t share a language. I knew my kids would be a minority in their schools, but it didn’t really hit me what that meant until the first day of school, when they were the only white kids at each of their bus-stops. Aware others frequently face those statistics in their own demographic helped me encourage my kids to enjoy school and make friends. My oldest son started middle-school, and while he made some good friends, he also had a terrible time. Bullying rapidly became a huge issue. I was forceful with the school about addressing the bullying, but my previously happy son was now loathing school. It was bad enough that I had to threaten police action at the school. I had hoped being in a different environment would be good for my kids, stretch them a little. It was a rough two years, and my youngest was the only one who managed to maintain her enjoyment of school. [Read more...]

Sunday Sermon: Faith in the Lord’s Timing

trustI gave this talk today in my ward in the DC Metro area.

As Latter-day Saints we have a long, rich tradition of having a plan. We have a respectable and well-deserved reputation- a reputation for responding in times of need, for helping others, for being organized and for having not just a plan, but the Plan.

All of this planning tends to lead us to make very careful choices in our lives—we can almost create a checklist of the steps we will take, from the time we learn Jesus wants us for Sunbeam until we return with honor from our missions and set about finding our Eternal Companions. It’s really nice when all the pieces fall into place and the Plan works out in the ideal manner—I just haven’t met anyone yet for whom that’s the case. We can check all the boxes, we can do everything according to the plan, our desires can be righteous, and we forget that our faith is not a bartering chip with the Lord.

If faith is built upon the premise of exchanging anything with the Lord, it is not faith. [Read more...]

The Spirit of Elijah

Angus Mackay, Piper to Queen Victoria

Angus Mackay, Piper to Queen Victoria

When my twelve year-old son Jeffrey wanted to learn to play the bagpipes, I thought it was cool. I honestly did— I have always loved highland bagpipes, and find them haunting and beautiful. While our surname is an obviously Scottish clan name, I never really gave it much thought beyond knowing we were one of thousands of families whose “Mac—” became “Mc—” during the emigration to the United States. I knew my ancestors came down through Canada via Nova Scotia, but I somehow missed picking up Nova Scotia is NEW SCOTLAND.

So when Jeff picked up the pipes, I started poking around. (He is also a tuba player, and his younger brother plays the bugle. Take a moment to grieve for our neighbors) Jeffrey also wanted a kilt. My uncle is a judge who wears full Highland Dress for formal occasions, and I discovered our family has a tartan. A specific tartan, tied to very specific ancestral lands in the northern highlands of Scotland. Cool, right? We don’t just have a modern tartan- we’ve got an ancient tartan, a hunting tartan, a formal tartan… [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on Divorce

DivorceDivorce sucks. The unraveling and separating of lives is painful and messy, no matter how mature or well-intentioned the parties. My own divorce is now four-plus years in the rearview mirror, but I have several friends who are at various stages in the process right now, and it’s got me ruminating on what I learned, and what I wish I could share with people in the midst. [Read more...]

When God Talks

Inspiration is a tricky thing, and, at least for me, the muse is always elusive. Recently, quite unbidden and utterly unexpectedly, the sky split open and gave me a downpour of light and inspiration. I hadn’t realized the fog had gradually gotten so cottony and thick around my spirit; but there it was, suddenly blown away by the shocking and beautiful flood of light. This appears to be my pattern with the divine. There are people who seem to carry quiet, constant inspiration with them, on a slow drip like irrigation pipes under straw on a hot summer day. I used to wonder what was wrong that I didn’t always feel the small but companionable whispering. It would make me question my faith. [Read more...]

Unbreakable

praise-you-god-i-give-it-all-to-youWhile everyone’s journey into faith is unique, there are often archetypal threads and motifs that wind through our stories, drawing us together into a unified chord- stronger and richer for our unique contributions to the whole. I came into the church backwards. When I asked to become a member of the church, I wasn’t even sure I believed in Jesus as the Christ, but I suspected God was real and I had felt both the burning and the whispering of the Spirit- in fact, I had felt it all my life, in different moments and times, but hadn’t the language to give it a name. [Read more...]

Blue Collar / White Collar

lego-workersHave you ever had a blue-collar bishop or stake president? Do any General Authorities from North America or Europe have blue-collar backgrounds before they were called as representatives of Christ? What about Mission Presidents?

What’s your experience been? Do lines fall differently in urban/suburban areas? I’ve heard the argument that it’s more about spare time and ability to serve, though I’m not sure that holds up under actual scrutiny. What does your ward leadership look like? [Read more...]

The Holly & The Ivy

IMG_1227Yule approaches.  This Saturday, in the late afternoon, the sun will appear at its lowest apex in our daytime skies, signaling the shift from days of light waning into days of light waxing. This nadir is a tipping point, creating the longest night and shortest day each year, and this was a tremendously significant moment to many northern cultures (my own Highland and Norse ancestors included).

Historically (because what’s a BCC post without some history!) the solstice was celebrated by widely varied northern cultures, but there are common, remarkable themes to those celebrations. Of note, because it’s difficult to calculate the azimuth [1], many celebrations of the solstice were over a period of days. [2] [Read more...]

FMH Tracy McKay Scholarship Fund Drive

“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” —Abigail Adams

Last year, in very real move towards affecting change in the world, the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog community rallied together to start a scholarship fund for Mormon mothers going back to school. The inaugural scholarship was granted to me, and allowed me to finish the last year of my undergrad. There was much ink spilled about it, and you can read here, here and here if you’re interested in the story. Later in the year, the women at FMH decided to name the scholarship for me. I burst into tears when I got the call, and it still leaves me stunned.  [Read more...]

Ministering on the Spectrum

My son with Autism wears shooting-range ear-protection for all three hours of church.

My son with Autism wears shooting-range ear-protection for all three hours of church.

There are nine Primary instruction manuals (yes, nine!) for teaching Primary lessons to children in the LDS church.

The Primary manuals are thick with ideas, support, scripture references, instructor guidelines and suggestions of age-appropriate activities. There are additional supports for teaching children found on the church websites— that support includes resources by topic, additional ideas for sharing time, and even short videos with weekly topics and tips.

While there are occasional blurbs at the end of a lesson about making accommodations for children with special needs, conspicuously missing are basic instructional guidelines and support for teaching children with learning, processing, or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This includes but is not limited to Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Sensory Processing Disorder. [Read more...]

Embracing Our Peculiarity

UniverseThere’s a lot of buzz about our missionary work lately. The most obvious change, of course, is the age-requirement, and more specifically in allowing women to serve at 19. More has been written on the possible benefits of this change than I can touch on here, and it’s not my gist anyway. I want to talk about something else: I want to talk about the subtle shift in emphasizing not our unique Mormon-ness, but rather our basic similarities with broader Christendom. [Read more...]

The Passing of Frances B. Monson

president-monson-with-wife-dEarly Friday morning, Frances Beverly Monson passed away. Sister Monson was the beloved wife of President Monson, and the mother of their three children, Thomas, Ann and Clark. She met her husband in 1944 after he saw her perform in a production of “Hello Dolly”*, and one cannot help but fondly wonder how much this influenced his well-known love of musicals.

Sister Monson, the youngest of five children and only daughter, grew up in Salt Lake City. Like so many of her generation, growing up in the Depression influenced her and accorded her thrift and resourcefulness. She graduated from the University of Utah and enjoyed math and science, which served her well in her accounting job, which she used to pay for college.

[Read more...]

Richard G. Scott: For Peace at Home

richard-g-scott-largeI look forward to General Conference. Since I joined the church almost eleven (!) years ago, I haven’t missed one. Like so many of us, I turn Conference weekend into a fun family thing. We cook all our favorite foods, have a picnic on the living room floor, the kids get to bring their blocks and toys downstairs and we all basically live in our pajamas and loll around listening to church. For eight hours. Yeah, I’d say my conversion is pretty complete. [Read more...]

The Right Time to Marry?

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about women getting an education, and about how while our leaders encourage getting as much education as possible, we are culturally and ecclesiastically reinforced, as women, to often delay finishing our degrees and begin our child-bearing quite young. I pointed out how Utah has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduates, and this data is supported by the US Census, footnoted in the original post.

The comments were lively and interesting, and per normal on a blog discussion there was ample disagreement on some issues. One point, brought up more than a few times, was the idea women were not actually struggling with this anymore- that women were now fully encouraged to get their degrees, and that the church wasn’t pushing them into sacrificing their educations for the sake of marriage and of starting their families young.

I submit to you, from the 2013 March Ensign, The Right Time to Marry.

On Education and Being a Woman

DSCN0662“It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith.” [1]

Encouraging women to get an education is something our leaders do with frequency. It’s easy to find quotes from Presidents Hinckley, Monson and Benson, and from a myriad of apostles, and frankly, I believe them in their sincerity with this counsel. When you hit up the church websites, women are well represented in the text and in the photographs. [Read more...]

Date Me, Not My Uterus

r-LDS-SINGLES-large570The other night, over dinner with friends, we got to talking about dating in the LDS world. The demographics at the table: two married (not to each other), and three  never-married or divorced. Since my divorce over three years ago, I’ve written here and there on my adventures in the dating scene, or what I like to think of as the Pool of Perpetual Enforced Adolescence, which some LDS websites non-ironically and with a straight face, call “Celestial Dating”.  [Read more...]

BCC: On the Road Again

IMG_2942 It’s no secret Mormons are great when it comes to rolling up our sleeves and helping. Our yellow vests and humanitarian aid trucks are known worldwide. In our wards many of us know the tender care of being loved through hard times. There are things we might miss the boat on, things that are hard reconcile sometimes, but there is little doubt when it comes to lifting where you stand, we rock.

The thing is, as the world gets smaller, the notion of where we actually ‘stand’ to do our lifting is also broadening. The community of Saints ready to lift with us was once our own neighborhood, our ward— and while a great deal of the love still comes via that conduit, I think the idea of a community of Saints is shifting, opening, walls are thinning and vistas are opening up. [Read more...]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #2: Behold, I Am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual.

Unlike the first installment for the 2013 Gospel Doctrine lessons (WVS’s Lesson 1), week two finds us already going slightly off the rails (that didn’t happen in anyone’s ward last week, did it?!) and skipping about chronologically. Instead of discussing a specific verse, we find Lesson Two instead lightly and somewhat gracefully flying over the text in a search for how the entirety of Doctrine & Covenants* testifies of Christ.

“Finally, the testimony that is given of Jesus Christ— his divinity, his majesty, his perfection, his love, and his redeeming power— makes this book of great value to the human family and of more worth than the riches of the whole earth.”[1]

I’m not an historian, and I don’t even play one on this blog (though I’m surrounded)- so it’s seemly and certainly not coincidental that I nabbed the lesson in which not much (natch, any) history is addressed. There are others far, far better schooled than I, from whom we shall later drink deeply. What I can do is agree with the strongly voiced sentiment that the Doctrine & Covenants pretty much testifies everywhere of Jesus Christ. What we find in these pages at the back of our Standard Works is more than just a testimony. Throughout the 138 sections, we frequently find the voice of the Savior himself, and while we don’t ink his words in red, it’s very plain to listen and hear. [Read more...]

The Redemption of Melville Dutad

Melville was a bright boy. In his room he would devour calculus textbooks and dismantle the family electronics. Alone, his preferred state of being, he would sort through the neighbor’s junkyard of a car lot and take apart internal combustion motors and then build a forge for smelting shards of metal in his backyard. His mother was confused but unsure of what to do, and he would shrug her touch and affection, returning his nose to the texts that provided keys to his insatiable mind. Decades ago, there were not ready diagnostics for a child who with an aversion to social and physical contact, a dislike of strong smells and textures, a perceived unwillingness to communicate. He was so obviously smart, so willfully disobedient, he understood but refused to listen, he frustrated everyone. It was much easier to label him a bad kid, hopeless. The vocabulary of autism spectrum disorders being a fluent part of the public vernacular was still decades away— school in the 1970’s was a string of wretched situations and expulsions. [Read more...]

Is There No Other Way?

What a giant mess. As I approach the ten-year mark of my baptism, I realize more and more clearly that conversion is not a succinct pinpoint in time. It’s a grand, messy, ongoing, trying process. Becoming something aside from our easy, default self requires the constant renting of the shell we build around our hearts and selves, and the process is uncomfortable.

There is a lot I’m uncomfortable with in my Church. There is a lot I’m uncomfortable with in myself- but only one of those do I have any real power to change. That fact, in and of itself, is something I am uncomfortable with— the invisibility and institutional impotence of women in my church is something that causes me ongoing and continuous discomfort. The discourse of “modesty”, ad infinitum, makes me feel ill, particularly when I look at my own children. The constant and firmly entrenched conflation of the culture of my church with the Gospel of Christ creates an environment alienating to converts and infuriating at times. [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on Divorce and Children

The other day, an acquaintance said to me “I didn’t know Mormons could get divorced.” It stopped me short, but I recovered quickly. Yes, Mormons can and do get divorced. The general impression is that we do it with less frequency than the broader population, but if you look at the numbers, we are nearly equal. There is some discussion to be had on those numbers and how the Church counts them- a civil divorce is still a temple sealing, and a second temple marriage after a civil divorce counts as two marriages but if the first sealing was not broken, as zero divorces. Parse that out however you like, but it seems when the cold hard numbers are looked at, we are divorcing only slightly less than the non-Mormon population. [Read more...]

Elder Baxter: Single Parenthood and Scottish Grit

Sitting amid the mess of maple unit blocks and Lego pieces littering the living room floor Saturday afternoon, my ears perked up as they heard the opening words “My message is for the single parents in the Church, the majority of whom are single mothers.”

I admit, I had been murmuring that morning about craving a story about a single mom or woman who had been through hardships that didn’t end with the woman dying (nobly or not). Yes, all of our individual stories end with dying, but I sure would like to have some happy years interjected between the hardship of refinement and meeting my maker.

While Elder Baxter goes on to open his talk with familiar acknowledgement of how hard it is to be a single parent and the various paths that might have gotten us here, he also strikes a subtle but important difference right out of the box:

“Perhaps you have been widowed or divorced. You may be coping with the challenges of single-parenthood as the result of taking the wrong turn outside of marriage; but now live within the framework of the Gospel, having turned your life around.” [Read more...]

Only Everything

 O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

My youngest child was four months old when life started to unravel. The prescription from the dentist that made my stomach hurt- but made my husband float away- turned into the loss of jobs, homes, security, marriage, and a hot five and half year burn. There were times I thought I could not lift my head another day- and truthfully, there were days I didn’t. Looking at the ground made it easier to not acknowledge anything beyond my breathing. In and out. Keep going. If I don’t look up, I won’t falter. [Read more...]

Guardians of the Hearth

Visiting Teaching was something I found especially charming as a new convert. It was novel and sweet- having two women, friendly and attentive- drop by my house each month to share something thoughtful was a soothing balm. As a new mother, relocated a thousand miles from my old friends and support system, I really loved the kindness those women showed. In retrospect, I think they were even sincere. Mostly.

But then the shine wore off. The sisters I thought were genuinely interested, thought genuinely cared, were assigned to someone else. The visits stopped. It was the tiniest bit shocking to realize I had been an assignment. The warmth I felt at the charm of Visiting Teaching dulled just a bit. It was a surprise when I realized what life-long Mormons understand- Visiting Teachers change, and no matter how we spin it, it is, in fact, a duty. Is that bad? Perhaps not. [Read more...]

The Better Part?

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a Mormon. In important ways, I have experienced my chosen faith as Christ is recorded saying in Luke- “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, nay… The father shall be divided against the son; the mother against the daughter…” (Luke 12:51, 53) I wonder at what cost I’ve made the choices I’ve made. Then I remember- despite all of our talk about agency and choice, once you’ve had your eyes opened, you cannot doubt any longer. But don’t think for a minute I don’t entertain the idea now and then…

No, I haven’t seen an angel, and I claim nothing divine, other than my own soul. But this is what my family has never understood: joining this faith wasn’t a choice. Not really. I would have had to deny what I knew as the truth of life and walk away from all integrity and honestly in my heart. Were I to have chosen my family the day I was told to either “be a Mormon or be a daughter, but you cannot be both”, I would have denied Christ. And for me, that was, and continues to be, simply not a choice. [Read more...]

Throwing Stones

"Faith" by David Linn

Nine years ago today, I waded down into warm blue tiled font while my wiggly baby watched from his dad’s arms, and my husband’s uncle recited the simple yet beautiful prayer and submersed me in the waters of baptism. I have little recollection of right before other than warmth, and I cannot for the life of me tell you what we did as a family afterwards- I assume food was involved. But what I do recall vividly is the feeling of rising up out of that water. It was fleeting, like a hummingbird on a flower, but it was a moment of singular perfection. The perfection lay not in me, but around me- bathing me, for the briefest moment, in what I can only call the light of heaven. I knew there would be no perfection for me in this moral veil of flesh- not ever- but I was given the barest glimpse of the potential.

In the nearly decade since then, the seasons have passed over my fields, sowing and harvesting, adding babies, death, loss and taking what I thought was going to be one life and instead giving me a whole new one. The husband is gone, children are growing, and I haven’t yet figured out what kind of blossoms that new life will bear, but it’s sprouting and finding out will be fun. My faith has matured, and I understand full-well how fragile and human our hands are as we endeavor to do good in the world, to show mercy and tenderness to our sisters and brothers. [Read more...]

Elder Cook and Songs Unsung

It’s cold comfort when, as a faithful Saint in a situation outside the ideal, you get repeated platitudes about everything being better… after you die. If you’re a sister who is righteous, you will find a husband… after you die (Though Steve P’s scientific demographics cause one to wonder.) If your children are not sealed to you, it will be worked out… after you die. If you have questions that you simply cannot resolve in the hallway outside Releif Society where you sit crying yet again, never fear sister, you can ask the Lord… after you die.

I have to admit, it was with this ever-so-slight tinge of bitterness that I began listening to Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk in the Sunday session of General Conference. Oh no, please…not again. Perhaps it was time to go start the breakfast dishes? Or build another block tower with the kids? Yet there I sat, in my sunbeam on the couch, perhaps from laziness, and I forgot about hiding in the kitchen. I was rewarded as I listened to an apostle of the Lord address me in a way I found surprisingly candid and valuable. [Read more...]

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