My Valentine to the Church

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve felt inspired to take a moment and write some reflections on my gratitude and love for the Church.

My last few weeks have sparked a renewed joy in the gospel.  Two years ago I left my cluster of friends in the one and only true ward (thanks California!).  Ever since, I’ve felt a little aloof from the heart of Mormonism.   Yet recently, my Sabbath experience has been refreshed as a delight.

The new two-hour block and Come Follow Me curriculum seems to have galvanized my ward — gospel doctrine discussions have increased in thoughtfulness; Relief Society lessons have increased in vulnerability.  I’ve heard raw and inspiring commentary from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting; slightly shorter talks have focused the content on Christ.  My family created a listserv to discuss the Book of Mormon; my friend circle Mormon Studies book clubs are going strong.  An intimate discussion on the temple overflowed with wisdom and hope.  I love the emphasis on ministering and the ways I’ve begun connecting with every individual in my ministering circle.  Then last Sunday, I had a conversation with my Bishop that embodied the best of pastoral care.

When the body of Christ is healthy, it is truly divine. [Read more…]

Infertility and Choosing Motherhood

When we first got married, my husband, Jon, and I figured we’d eventually have three children, but agreed to wait and enjoy life with just the two of us for a good long while. During those first couple years, my periods went from problematic to extremely painful, and then debilitating, culminating in an embarrassing incident in the mother’s room at church where an investigator found me writhing on the floor and throwing up from pain. Visitors welcome! This was a turning point for me though, because once I was recovered enough for Jon to walk me to the car, the Primary president (who was the first person the investigator found when she ran for help, whom Jon had to talk down from calling an ambulance) kindly insisted, “This isn’t normal; it doesn’t need to be like this,” and urged me to see the reproductive endocrinologist who had helped her daughter with similar symptoms. I made an appointment the next day.

He believed me. I cried in his office! (I am not a public crier.) I was just so grateful to be validated instead of having my pain be downplayed again. (I had been told by more than one doctor to just take Midol.) [Read more…]

When the Primary President Doesn’t Love Kids

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Today’s guest post comes from Rebbie Brassfield, a copywriter in Los Angeles.  

I was 29 years old and just discovering our infertility when I got called as the Primary President.

This calling was so far from any natural ability I possess that I had not seen it coming. Not even when the Bishop invited us to his office on a Saturday.  Not even when the words came out of his mouth.

I sat there stunned, unable to hide my dismay.  It made no sense to call a childless woman to be in charge of a bunch of kids – what could I know about them? Not to mention that since growing up I’d always been self-conscious of the fact I wasn’t naturally “good with kids.” I worried over how I would fare as a mother when I seemed to be the only one of the Young Women who disliked babysitting.

I was currently serving as the Primary secretary, and the calling had been both a reminder of the children I yearned for and a potent birth control.  Each week I sat in the back, awed that such small people could wield so much power.  They rarely behaved or folded their arms or listened – some weeks it felt like they intentionally rallied to torch the whole lesson or bleed the teacher of all her candy.  They frankly terrified me, and that terror swirled in my mind as I sat looking up at my expectant Bishop. [Read more…]

Part II – Environmental Supports for Your Classroom #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal. This post is the second of a two-part series.

The previous post outlined how you can begin to thoughtfully consider the challenging behaviors you see in your classroom. Many challenging behaviors can be addressed simply through environmental supports.  In other words, how you physically structure your classroom can make a big difference in how your kids behave. If you spend time in the schools and special education, you won’t be surprised by anything on this list.  For everyone else, I hope you find these suggestions helpful. [Read more…]

Part I: Challenging Classroom Behaviors #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal. She previously guest-posted about using developmentally-appropriate language. This post is the first of a two-part series.

The goal of this post is to provide background information about challenging behaviors you might encounter in your classroom. [Read more…]

Using Language to Support Classroom Learning #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal.

I appreciated the post by Lyndsey Jarman, and highly recommend that all primary teachers refer to it as an excellent resource for their classroom.  My goal with this post is to provide additional ideas for teachers to consider, specifically with respect to their use of developmentally appropriate language.

Expert vs. Novice

As adults, we often take for granted how much we know.  In my very early twenties, I was called to teach the CTR 4 class.  One of the lessons focused on missionary work, and each child had a turn to talk about people in their family who had served missions.  I had a beautiful map on the wall to point out the locations where everyone served.  I thought it was going really well. They’re learning! They’re participating! Finally, one of the boys raised his hand and asked, “Is the blue stuff water?”  It was the first time I really understood that we have to teach children EVERYTHING, including that water is the blue stuff on the map. Having a visual is good. Having a visual that children understand is better. [Read more…]

Where Can I Turn for Support? abuse.lds.org

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

Abuse is the neglect or mistreatment of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, the disabled, or anyone else) in such a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm. It goes against the teachings of the Savior. The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form. 

‘The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form’ (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops [2010], 17.3.2). Abuse violates the laws of God and may also be a violation of the laws of society. The Lord expects us to do all we can to prevent abuse and to protect and help those who have been victims of abuse. No one is expected to endure abusive behavior.

At 12:05 yesterday, I was driving to lunch when a message from a friend popped up on my phone. It consisted of six exclamation points (“!!!!!!”) and the text “abuse.lds.org.” Within 15 seconds I’d pulled over and clicked on the link. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [Read more…]

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [Read more…]

Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete. [Read more…]

Omit the Sexual Details

The first time I heard the word “masturbation,”  I was 12 years old and sitting in my bishop’s office.

I believe we were discussing a limited use recommend for an upcoming temple trip.  I remember the bishop walking through the 1990 version of For the Strength of Youth, which used a lot of large, sexual words I did not know — like “petting” and “perversion” and “pornography.”

My bishop defined them for me.  When he realized I had no idea what he was talking about, he apologized.  He explained how due to the evils of the world, children were getting exposed to sex and having their innocence corrupted by Satan younger and younger.  As much as he hated the topic, he felt like it was his pastoral duty to make sure the youth knew what constituted sin.

[Read more…]

A Proverbs Acrostic For My Daughter

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Kaylee McElroy only wears sensible shoes (if she has to wear shoes at all) and is passionate about pants with functional pockets (even her Sunday slacks). She has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, but has spent the last few years as a rather alarmingly domesticated mostly-stay-at-home mom.

Proverbs 31 holds a special place in my heart.  I found it using the “open the scriptures to a random page” method, and marveled at the wonderful and rare picture of a strong, capable woman. You see, I had been praying to know if I should get engaged to the man I now call my husband, and I felt a strong impression that a marriage with him would allow me to become a capable and praiseworthy wife like the woman depicted in the text. (We’re over a decade in, and I’d still call it a good choice.)

The Proverbs 31 woman is empowered and not oppressed. A while ago, I read a book that challenged my thinking of women’s place in ancient societies. Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years discusses textile manufacture in a variety of ancient cultures.  The Bronze Age in the Near East was a time and place of relatively great freedom for women, and I was delighted to learn that the woman of Proverbs 31, while certainly idealized, was also based on historical norms. [Read more…]

Women of Valour – and Economic Worth

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For as much as Mormons appropriate from evangelicals, I’m surprised we’ve never stolen the Proverbs 31 woman.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans dedicates a chapter to the evangelical emphasis on Proverbs 31 as a guide to all things righteous feminine. “Visit a Christian bookstore, and you will find entire women’s sections devoted to books that extol her virtues and make them applicable to modern wives. At my Christian college, guys described their ideal date as a ‘P31 girl,” and young women looking to please them held a ‘P31 Bible Study.’”  The Proverbs 31 woman “looms so large over the biblical womanhood ethos” that many Christian view the passage “as a task list” to which they must comply in order to become perfect housewives and win the favor of men. [Read more…]

I am a child of Heavenly Mother

Lily Darais is a mother of four living in Orem, UT.  She earned a B.A. from Michigan State University, a Masters of Education from Harvard, and has earned a diploma in culinary arts.  She currently spends most of her time trying to keep her toddler and baby alive and begging her older kids to practice their instruments.  The following is the Mother’s Day talk she gave yesterday.

The Apricot Blossom

“I am a child of God” is such an obviously loving statement that even–and perhaps especially–children can sing “I am a child of God” with fervent, joyful understanding. While the words, “I am a child of God,” function as a holy affirmation for all of us, they are also more than an affirmation. We can read them as an invitation–to learn more about God, to develop our own divine potential, to consider our utter dependency and also our protected, beloved status. We can even read the words as a gentle rebuke, a reminder to, in the words of President Hinckley, “be a little better.”

Depending on how we read these words, we can be healed, shaped, or driven by our understanding of them.

As I wrote those last words, I happened to glance out of the window at a neighbor’s tree. I am not a tree expert, but the puffy clusters of white blossoms recalled to mind another primary song, this one a little less theologically packed: “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” As I stared at the flowering clusters, I thought of the apricots that will follow in a few short months. I compared myself to an apricot in spring. [Read more…]

Practical Tips for Helping Victims of Abuse

The #MeToo movement is a stone cut from the mountain of silent victims’ pain, rolling forth to break in pieces the corrupt and powerful institutions of this world.

Abuse is no respecter of victims.  Religious and secular, clergy and celebrities, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, women and men.  #MeToo stories infect every community — our friends and families, our churches and coworkers.  Hypocrisy is rampant.

Victims who speak out are prophets, calling the world to repentance.

The world is listening.  You are listening.  As #MeToo has erupted, I hear the same questions again and again from concerned observers with desires to help.

I believe victims, I know abuse happens, but I don’t know who they are. 

Someone close to me is in a terrible relationship.  I’m listening, but I don’t know what to do.

How can I help?  [Read more…]

Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)   [Read more…]

Family: Isn’t it about…time?

Like wage laborers all over the world, I spent most of my waking hours with other people’s kids. I try to compensate by spending “quality” time with my own when I’m at home by setting aside cares and electronic devices and playing, reading and making music, for example. I like to think this engaged approach makes a difference, though of course it’s difficult to measure the overall impact. Actually, that’s not quite true. In one area in particular—language acquisition—the impact has been quite clear: quality is no substitute for quantity.  [Read more…]

The Fat Red Creep

Image result for creepy santa royalty freeChristmas gift giving can be the source of stress, disappointment, marital discord, or surprise and joy. Often it is all these things wrapped in one holiday, with a big bow on it. When I was growing up, we opened our family presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was reserved for stockings from Santa (funny how even typing that, my fingers first typed “Satan.”) As I recall, Santa wasn’t a top biller, and he didn’t give presents–just candy in stockings. Parents, the people who actually knew you and cared about you, gave presents–not some random weirdo who lived like a hermit in Superman’s ice cave. Santa was like the bad grandparent, plying you with sweets to keep you quiet, not caring about things like Type 2 Diabetes or what you really wanted for Christmas. [Read more…]

Halloween Haters

Image result for stranger thingsAre you a Halloween hater? A few years ago, I was surprised when one of my Australian colleagues was dissing on Halloween! His complaints were somewhat standard: “The kids don’t need all that sugar!,” “It’s American colonialist propaganda!,” “It’s not safe for the kids to go wandering the neighborhoods hopped up on sugar!,” “It’s a school night!” Everything he hated about Halloween is what I love about it. Moreover, Halloween is both responsible parenting and the best kind of American colonialism.

This weekend many of us gathered together, independently in the sanctity of our own homes, for a new American ritual: the Netflix binge. We watched, separately and yet jointly, all 9 episodes of season 2 of Stranger Things. This season opened with the kids of Hawkins preparing for that most American of holidays: Halloween. They did the things we all did at middle school age: discussed the various merits of different candy bars, opined over dressing up at school (being on that cusp between childhood and teenagerdom sucks), and fretted over the details of their incredibly professional-looking Ghostbusters costumes. All while dealing with the palpable, ominous strangeness in the town around them. This is what Halloween is all about: the fun, superficial “tricks” suitable for kids, and the true danger and evil lurking beneath the veneer of polite society. [Read more…]

And the Tobias Funke Award Goes to . . .

Tobias Funke is a character on the TV series Arrested Development who constantly says things that have a double meaning, but without recognizing that there’s a double meaning. Often in online groups, people will post statements or pictures, particularly things done by BYU, that suffer the same problem: unintentional double entendre. A few of Tobias Funke’s most famous lines: [Read more…]

Families vs. Dynasties

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Dynasties are all about appearances. And shoulder pads.

A disturbing trend surfaced in the last year or so in which parents wrote letters to their young adult children explaining that if they did not stay active in the church, they would be cut from the inheritance.  These letters were shared in various Mormon internet groups. At roughly the same time, LDS Philanthropies published a video featuring a father who said that if his sons continued to follow church teachings, they would keep their inheritance, but otherwise, he would simply donate his money to LDS Philanthropies.  The video was subsequently removed due to backlash.  It’s an interesting parenting trend, some might say alarming.

First of all, my own view on inheritances is that nobody should count on it.  If you are living so close to the edge that the inheritance will make or break you, maybe you should be focusing on more sustainable sources of income.  Furthermore, it is the right of any individual to donate their earthly goods as they see fit.  And yet, it is unsavory to imagine parents using their inheritance as a bribe to control their children.  It also seems like a recipe for hypocrisy, if one’s children are encouraged to pretend to be living one way for the benefit of the parents, but in reality feel differently.  Do some parents really only love their children if those children do as the parents wish?  That doesn’t feel like love.  That’s something more like a dynasty than a family. [Read more…]

LGBT Questions: An Essay

Bryce CookThis week, Bryce Cook published a new comprehensive essay on the church’s stance toward LGBT members. Bryce Cook is a founding member of ALL (Arizona LDS LGBT) Friends & Family and a co-director of the annual “ALL Are Alike Unto God” Conference held every April in Mesa, Arizona. He is married to Sara Spencer Cook and together they have six children, two of whom are gay. Since their oldest son came out publicly in 2012, Bryce and Sara have become public allies for LGBT people in and out of the church.

The essay is a long but fascinating read. I’ll cover a few highlights here, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety for yourself here[Read more…]

The Halloween Parent Tax

I was asked on Twitter about the Halloween Parent Tax. And with Halloween coming up, it seemed like it needed a post. So here you are:

Design Considerations

You’ve got a couple options here. Are you going to create an income tax? A consumption tax? A head tax? Each is slightly different, in certain relevant ways:

Income Tax: This is probably what you think of when you think of the Halloween Parent Tax. Essentially, children are required to give their parents some percentage of the candy they get. (My wife’s parents imposed a 15-percent Halloween Parent Tax when she was growing up.) There are some design complications here—for example, are you taking a percentage of the number of pieces of candy the kids get? Or do different kinds of candy have different values? And do you take size into account in calculating candy?[fn1] [Read more…]

Early Morning Seminary and Sleep Deprivation

Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Grow up, Superboy

Way back in the deeps of time, I was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal. It was the end of summer, and the weedy bank was playing hide and seek with some bright afternoon sunlight trying its best to filter through the leaves of an old elm tree.

When I say “end of summer,” I mean school was about to start—five more days of freedom. The thing is, I was stuck in a crevice of time. My friends, the kids I had found a place with, were all a bit younger. Those kids were still in elementary (primary) school, whereas I was starting middle school (in fact, junior high school). A trick of birthdays and school deadlines put me in the way of a buzzsaw that would inevitably cut my friendships asunder. Not only that, the grade school had a different start date than my new fief of educational thralldom. They were already suited up in the new jeans and stiff-keep-your-shirt-tucked-in button up the center first day of school clothing prisons.
[Read more…]

Talking with Children about Death and Resurrection

It was just the two of us at the dinner table. We were eating my daughter’s favorite meal and talking about the kinds of things that concern preschoolers.

After a lull in the conversation–part of which took place in a make-believe language–about her stuffed animals, drawing, playing in the gym and funny things other kids said at preschool, she turned to me and said: “I don’t want to die.” I was taken aback–her closest brush with death was when her grandmother died nearly two years ago when she was, I thought, too young to remember. [Read more…]

The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

“And the child was healed”

As far as Mormon scriptures are concerned, children are holy, they are alive in Christ, and they need no repentance. If we are converted and become as little children, we might enter the Kingdom of God and be called the children of Christ. As far as some Mormon adults are concerned, however, children suffer from a fatal flaw: they sometimes act like children during sacrament meeting.

At least that’s what I heard the other day in a talk that recounted the speaker’s experience with a four-year-old relative. The scene opened with a meltdown over shoes. In response, silent prayers were spoken, faith was exercised, “and the child was healed and acted normally for the rest of the meeting.” [Read more…]

Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple
Samuel M. Brown
Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014. 168 pages. ISBN 978-0-8425-2880-1
Amazon: $16.95, Kindle: $6.99.

Joseph Smith was born into the Second Great Awakening. Gravitating to Methodist preaching, he ranked it above his other experience. Visions and golden plates prompted a New Covenant, born in April 1830. At first the New Covenant looked for a place in the landscape of antebellum Protestant thought and doctrine but gradually that seeking turned to renewal and rethinking. Mormonism moved from the American individualism that played over the billions of pages of Protestant imprints and wrote a new way of seeing the ancient. It didn’t simply try to restore (unsuccessfully) the all things in common of Jerusalem’s Acts. It wrote a story of ritual and liturgy that made family of believers and eternal friends of family.
[Read more…]

Financial Planning for Children With Disabilities

Hoffer family pictureWe’re honored to have a guest post from Stephanie Hoffer. Stephanie is a professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She is an educator, a scholar, and an advocate, and arguably the preeminent authority on the ABLE Act. We’re excited that she’s agreed to introduce us to this important new law.

My son George is a bright shining star. He is almost five, and he loves to read out loud, play the harmonica, and paint. He also happens to have Down Syndrome. He is smart, funny, and loving, and I can’t imagine life without him. I am grateful every day for the privilege of being his mom. And like any other mom of any other child, I worry every day about his future.

Our life with George hasn’t always been easy. On the day that he was born, a social worker came to our hospital room and told me that we should do two things right away: apply for Medicaid and write George out of our will. I was stunned. I choked back the inevitable tears and asked why. “Because,” she replied, “they are really expensive.” Stung by the label “they,” and hurt by the thought of not being able to save for my precious baby’s future, I asked her to please leave.  [Read more…]