For my birthday we went to the beach, not a sandy beach, but a secret rocky beach down a path rife with poison oak that we jumped over. The day was a little bit foggy, a little bit colorless, a little bit cold. I walked along behind my husband and two children, stopping to pick up a fossil of a shell, a piece of abalone, a memory of my son looking out into the vast ocean. We had been collecting quietly, sliding over wet rocks, filling our pockets with treasure for almost an hour when my two and a half year old daughter came and sat next to me. I noticed her little palm was tightly shut and when I asked her what she had, she opened her hand to reveal a dozen carefully selected round pebbles. She has a propensity for small round things, and I welled up with intense pride and love as I went back over in my memory that devout little girl searching, examining, holding on to the very best things without even the intention to show me unless I had asked.
Today, in a devotional, as Elder Nelson talked about the process behind the recent policy change, I couldn’t help but feel deep disappointment as he spoke. I knew I was hoping for something I would not hear. In no way did the workings include the voice or mind of a woman. I do believe in prophets, and I do believe in revelation, but that does not mean I am not disheartened to again and again see the absence of a female voice as decisions are made.
After Thea was blessed, I wrote this in my journal: One of my favorite lines in Thea’s blessing was that she will ‘find her voice and advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.’ I’ve been thinking so much about how to teach a little girl about finding her voice in this world, and not just finding it, but using it, speaking with it, letting it rise and fall and speak again until it is heard. I want her to know that the voice she finds will not be perfect for a long time, it will be clumsy, wrong sometimes, in need of trimming and shaping and re-saying a thousand times over, but I also want her to know that if she works at it hard enough, there will be times when that voice does have the perfect thing to say, at just the right moments. I want her to know that her voice will turn into actions, and those actions will be the stories that shape the world around her.
While I am in the blessed place to have so many, so many, good men who give my voice a space, who take time to let my thoughts sit between us without ever making a move to make me feel less, regardless, so much within this church that is also mine is devoid of my voice, rather is devoid of a feminine voice at all. This lack does not just hurt women.
I believe what I wrote in my journal for my daughter, that you must use your voice, let it be wrong and clumsy at times, until, at some moment, many moments, it will have just the right thing to say to heal and change, but I am saddened that so often, that feminine voice gets no practice. There is no playing field for practice, and relief society, where we must teach and discuss from the manual of a male leader does not count. So often, when the voice gathers courage, it more quickly pulls back into quiet places out of intimidation, out of fear of saying the wrong thing, of not being up to speed, out of tradition.
If I were ever to make a plea out into the space of the Internet, let this be it: Women, please speak. Speak about meaningful and deep things amongst yourselves; let your spiritual wanderings take shape, even if they happen between the odd hours of making casseroles and bathing the children, or in the hours of feeling alone and without direction, in a workspace or sleepless nights. Speak, even when you are sure there is someone smarter and more informed than you in the room. Give credence to your spiritual ideas. Allow a bit of chaos to reign within your thoughts and then let that wildness spill into this ordered religion you belong to. The feminine voice is more than a female saying words, it is honesty, deep hurt and deep joy, and beautiful complexity that create families and friendships and relief society and primary lessons. I don’t mean angry, fighting words, though use them if you need. I am talking about that voice that lives deep inside your heart, the ancient, wise voice that must be unlocked and coached with patience, fervor and faith that it will have something to say when it surfaces. Speak in your home, in classes, amongst friends, in writing, to children, at work, to your leaders, as leaders. Your story carries power. Your experience is valid. Your voice is vital.
It becomes more and more clear to me that while what is said from the pulpit, “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices,” may be true, our voices were not the ones consulted in making decisions that very much affect this church we are trying to raise the next generation in. And so, I suppose my plea is not actually that different from Elder Nelson’s, except let this be a plea from a woman—me. A woman who has spent much time feeling inadequate to speak and is finally finding steady ground in her voice, if for no one else than my son and daughter.
I think back on that moment on the beach and I want so much for Thea’s first impulse to not be to simply siphon away the palm full of precious and strong pebbles that miraculously tumbled to her from a vast and completely wild earth. I want her first impulse to be to open her hand and talk about how she found them, let them shine out like rising firelight on a dark hillside.