Thursday, July 16, 2015

India vignettes: Faith

Today as I was stepping out into oncoming traffic to cross the street with Willie strapped to my back, I had a deep realization about the meaning of faith. 

India Vignettes: Parks

(I'm too overwhelmed with life here to post--or even journal--about all the things that we encounter and think and feel during the day.  So I decided that rather than try to be chronological, I'll go by topics and do little paragraphs at a time.)

We are really blessed to have three parks within walking distance of our house! The parks are different here, though--they are all fenced, with posted rules and hours. None of them are open during the middle of the day--just early morning for exercise and then late afternoon after the children get out of school. We often go to Joggers' Park in the afternoons after nap time. It's lovely, with concentric walking and jogging paths, birds in cages, a long wall against the ocean where we can throw rocks, a duck pond, and a playground. My love for it decreased a LITTLE bit after we tried to take a tricycle there (after our kind neighbor found us one to borrow for the summer!) and were told "No tricycles." I had wondered if it would be allowed based on how over regulated all the parks seem to be, but I thought we needed to at least try. When he said that, though I almost cried, and even my super conflict-avoidance self objected. I stood there and read the ten-foot tall poster of the rule list, and announced "But it doesn't say that in the rules!" And what I got for my efforts was "No tricycles."

I am still super fond of that park, though. It does a lot for us. Its nice to have somewhere to go in the afternoons to play outside, even if we can't bring our borrowed trike.

Hands-down my favorite thing about parks here is the way they attract lovers. In a city and a country this crowded, you have to really be trying to find some space to be alone, and so the parks and boardwalks and sea walls and benches always seem to be adorned with pairs of guys and girls, heads bent, talking, or her legs over his lap or his head in her lap, just enjoying the relative privacy. It's really cute

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What we didn't get to talk about on Sunday

I've been thinking a lot about agency, lately, and so when I saw what the topic of the Relief Society lesson was going to be, and later when we were having that guilt-ridden Sunday morning conversation about how bad does a runny nose have to be to keep my kid out of nursery (he went), I insisted that I would be the parent who got to attend her meetings alone.  This was a lesson I needed to hear, a discussion I wanted to be part of.

And it was good.  It was a good lesson and we discussed and I expect women learned important things.  But we didn't get to that part, you know?  That part of the lesson that really spoke to me, and that I was just starting to try to understand, and that I would have loved to have heard input on from my sisters.  We just kind of recited platitudes to each other and kept our soft parts hidden and coasted back and forth along the highway of ingrained, acceptable answers and appropriate recent experiences without ever really looking deeper.  And I was frustrated and I wanted to raise my hand and pull the switch to completely derail the discussion in my direction but something in between lack of time and acknowledgement of my own selfishness stopped me.

The lesson was on agency.  What we talked about was obedience.  I've spent the last several years of my life trying to understand the intersection of these two, and although they're commonly conflated in church culture, I'm fairly certain they're not at all the same thing.  In the church we talk a lot about how this life is a test, and I think that contributes to the confusion.  It may well be a fitting analogy, but I think it's a really limiting analogy, without proper elaboration.

Saying life is a test implies correct answers.  So if life is a test, what kind of test is it?  True or false?  I doubt it.  True or False tests have always been a pretend sort of test, the celebration of high-schoolers--sometimes the truth can be disguised but it's always pretty easy to guess right.  If not that, then what?  Word problems?  I think that, up until recently, this is the paradigm I was functioning under.  We believe in the existence of absolute truth, truth that applies to everyone and doesn't change.  It seems to follow then, that if you learn the truth, learn the proper formulas, all you have to do is just figure out how to apply them in real world situations, and you'll find The Right Answer.  If Jack is 17 and Mary is 15, how long will it be until they can go on a date?  Easy.  But if Henry has 3 potential majors he's interested in, which one should he pick?  Or, for example, if Maria is going to go on a mission but is simultaneously falling in love with her boyfriend, what should she do?  It was on that question, in college, that my worldview started to fall apart.  I prayed the most helpless and pathetic prayers of my life over this question (and I'm so grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who was--and is--everlastingly patient with me, because I was a mess).  For months, I cried and agonized and yelled at God to tell me what to do, because I was sure He knew and just wasn't telling me, and that this not-telling-me was just a test and I was supposed to learn something.  I just wanted to do God's will! Why wouldn't He tell me what it was?  I was so mind-numbingly afraid of choosing wrong that I refused to choose at all.  Because there had to be a right answer, right?

No.  Well, yes.  But no.

So five years later, I think it's an essay test.  Well, maybe true-or-false followed by an essay test.  There are some right answers, some super basic things you absolutely need to include or it doesn't even get passed.  Then there are other right things that contain and streamline your choices, like, a 5-paragraph structure is good.  But you can't just gather your evidence and present a sound thesis and expect to win a Pulitzer.  The artistry is just beginning.  Go write something personal and true and beautiful that delights and expands you.

I married him.  I didn't go on a mission and I married the boyfriend, and God, in the end, didn't tell me what to do.  He didn't reveal The Right Decision.  What He did do was reassure me that the choice I was making was A Good Decision, once I realized what I wanted.

We believe in universal truth.  But we don't believe in universal homogeneity.  I actually think that extrapolating universality out to an inappropriate point is almost as damaging as embracing moral relativism.  As with so many things in the Gospel, there's a delicate balance.

So, does God have a plan for my life?  I absolutely believe He does.  I just don't think it is necessarily as detailed as I once believed.  Sometimes God is specific in his guidance, and sometimes He is vague.  Sometimes "His Will" for me can embrace several different "correct" options I might choose.  That was the case with my mission papers.  From my experience, He can be specific in one person's life and vague in another, even on the very same question.  But fearful paralysis in the face of vague guidance is not the answer.  Free agency, free response.  I still absolutely need to pray about decisions, because unless I do I won't know if God has an opinion on that particular subject.  If he does, I already know what I want to choose.  And if He doesn't, how hopeful!  How fortifying!  God believes in my ability to choose for myself, to wield my agency with strength and power to make us both happy.

I came home on Sunday night and happened to read this interview.  I think it was a little gift from Heaven, because it was just what I wanted to talk about in Relief Society, only she said it better than I would have.  Integrity!  We each have an obligation to make choices that are in line with God's will.  But once we choose to obey, are we done talking about agency?  Is that all that our agency was meant for?  Of course not.  We also have an obligation to make choices that are in line with our will, the deepest desires and beliefs of our own best selves.

"I understand why we value obedience, but I think we can hyper-value it at the expense of our moral development. I don’t believe in a god who would let us obey our way into godhood. Instead, God gives us a world in which we may borrow wisdom from others, but we also must learn through the exercise of free will, through mistake-making, through the earnest seeking of truth based in our own thinking, discerning, and seeking. As moral agents, we have to assert imperfect choices amid imperfect realities. That process is fundamental to our personal and spiritual development, but we often don’t want the responsibility that comes with that imperfect process. And because of our fear of responsibility, I think we take comfort in the idea of obedience. We can act but have it be on an authority’s shoulders—we can escape some of the anxiety of figuring out what is really right. But this pseudo escape from responsibility is to our own detriment" (Dr. Jennifer Finalyson-Fife)

So can I suggest another analogy?  Apprenticeship.  We are apprenticed to become gods.  There are rules, and we can still flunk out, if you will, and lose our chance at godhood, like a carpenter's apprentice might lose his chance at mastering the trade by repeated failure (is that how it works?  I'm making the analogy work because it's the best thing I can think of).  But we are expected to create.  We are expected to work, and not to be commanded in all things, but to demonstrate that we are capable of doing the work the master does.  Otherwise how could we ever be certified?  I believe in Parents in Heaven who make their own decisions.  They do not take commandment from another, They are perfect and make consistently perfect choices.  If I am going to become like Them, I need to learn to make perfect choices on my own, and that takes a little help, for now, and a lot of practice.  They are also infinitely creative.  I presume that They created the world based on their own design, based on what they wished and found most delightful and good.  I believe I am expected to do the same--create a life that is pleasing to Them but that is also beautiful and delightful, and good, to the very best me I can become.  We are here "that we might have joy," not so that we could be "compelled in all things."

Navigating the white space under the free response prompts is what I wanted to talk about on Sunday.  Because I think this points to integrity as one of the most elemental virtues of the Gospel, and to "know thyself" as right up there with Love God and Love One Another.  So where does that fit?  How does it reconcile with the ideal of selflessness?  Anyone?

Sunday, July 20, 2014


"I have been thinking about existence lately.  In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly."  (Marilynne Robinson, Gilead)

Sometimes I think the greatest argument for immortality is the fallibility of human memory.  The fact of forgetfulness seems, to me, proof enough that life on earth cannot be the pinnacle of human achievement.  If this were all there was, don't you think we'd remember it better?  I'm not talking about forgetting to return my library books, I'm talking about my inability to remember with perfect clarity the most important days and moments and interactions I ever hope to have.  My wedding day?  A blur of ivory lace and rust-colored flowers, pearls and lemonade and too-high heels and hugs from new relatives.  The babyhood of my firstborn child, which I was sure was diamond-strong and precious enough to last, has dissipated into fog and every laugh and coo and sleepy smile from this new little one I can feel vanishing from memory almost as fast as it comes.  I can't remember all I see, and I can't even see everything there is to see!  I can't stare at husband and children individually every minute, and catch every passing expression and emotion and word.  I can't, I can't, and then it's all such a waste.

This problem is the subject of one of my favorite passages from what just might be my favorite book of all time:
"'One more sun,' sighed the king at evening, 'and now another darkness.  This has to stop.  The days fly past us as if they were racing pigeons.  We may as well be pebbles, for all the notice life takes of us or we of it.  No one holds in mind the blind harper when he is gone.  No one commemorates the girl who grains the geese.  none of the deeds of our people leave the least tiny mark upon time.  Where's the sense in running a kingdom if it all just piffles off into air?  Tell me that, whoever can.'
'Why is it that the moon keeps better track of itself than we manage to?  And the seasons put us to shame, they always know which they are , who's been, whose turn now, who comes next, all that sort of thing.  Why can't we have memories as humble as those?  Tell me that, whoever can.'
'Oblivion has been the rule too long.  What this kingdom needs in the time to come is some, umm, some blivion.  There, that's it, we need to become a more blivious people.  Enough of this forgettery.  But how to do it, it will take some doing.  What's to be done?  Tell me that, whoever can.'"
(from Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig)

Today was our last Sunday in our ward, before we move.  I spent most of it looking around the room and trying to memorize faces and thinking about what I'd learned from people and wondering if I'd remember them long.  Some I know I will, others I suppose will gradually recede until they become people whose faces, though once important, lie so long unused in my memory that even when needed and dusted off they can never really be recalled with their original clarity.  The talks today were on love.  The First and Great Commandments, loving God and loving our fellow men.  And it struck me then that perhaps loving our fellow men is the hardest thing we're asked to do.  Not hard because it's always so difficult, but hard because to love someone is to open oneself up to pain and loss, to make oneself unbearably vulnerable.  We are commanded to love like God loves, and yet live in a temporal and mortal world, governed by time and circumstance and natural laws and death and separation.  The achievement of this commandment comes at great sacrifice.  The more you love, the harder is the eventual and certain loss.  But.  The reward for success in this life, success at fulfilling this commandment and all others, is an absolute recompense for the losses sustained in God's service.  God loves perfectly, and, all things are present to Him.  He remembers perfectly, if you can call it that in Heavenly terms.  I'm sure that comes with its own share of pain, but a perfect being with perfect love must have many happy memories to reflect upon.  My idea of Heaven, and sometimes what I think is my greatest desire for the life hereafter, is to achieve God's memory--to be outside time, to have all my happy earth memories returned to me in full perfection and thus become whole.

Another favorite passage from another favorite book:
"I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again.  I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that.  There is a human beauty in it.  And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us.  In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.  Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try." (Marilynne Robinson, Gilead).

And that's all I have to say about that right now.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

On womanhood and power.

This isn’t a birth story; it’s more of a birth opinion editorial.

(It's also an announcement. Voila!  Here he is.)

I had this baby without an epidural.  I wanted it that way for a few reasons, but topping the list were these two:  1) I am alive, and I want to experience life to the fullest.  2) I have a magnificent power, a gift.  I want to receive that gift with open arms and holding nothing back. 

I used to think that unmedicated childbirth was for weird hippies who were afraid of modern medicine or completely OCD people who thought they needed to do everything the hardest way possible.  Or both.  I briefly considered natural childbirth, long before I had any reason to, and dismissed it as too high a standard to be reasonable.  Then I talked to my mother.  Then I did some serious pondering.  I talked to women who had given birth naturally about their experiences and motivations.  I did a lot of reading.  I did some self-analysis.  And from familiar facts I came to the startling conclusion that I wanted an unmedicated birth. 

Pregnancy and childbirth are astounding.  My husband and I collaborate on the design of a new human body.  That much we do together, but then I proceed to create it and bring it into the world, with the tender encouragement and support of my husband, but really under my body’s own power.  Not only do I have this power, but every mother has since Eve!  This is a defining characteristic of the human condition, of the feminine condition, and since it was being made available to me, I wanted into that club.  I wanted to do it all by myself, and I wanted to experience and remember the whole process.

It’s an awesome power to possess.  As a Christian it becomes even more meaningful when I consider the resemblance it bears, in infinite miniature, to the Atonement of the Savior.  There’s a reason we call baptism being “born again.”  Let me elaborate briefly:  a woman creates life.  She nurtures life.  At a certain point, that life cannot progress any further without her giving it further life. 
This process of giving her creation further life:
   -is very painful but the pain leaves very little physical mark on her body
   -involves a flowing forth of blood and water
   -generally pushes the woman just to the point of feeling that she cannot or would not do it, but it is 
    accomplished regardless
   -is very readily life-threatening (if something goes wrong), so the mother is in a very real sense 
    putting her own life on the line for the life of her child.
This is a gift I wanted to receive in the fullest sense. 

Additionally, in the sense that things generally oppose each other, that along the sinusoid of life you can’t have a peak higher than the depth of a trough, I had the thought that experiencing the full pain of birth might heighten the associated joy. 

I wasn’t terribly inclined to talk openly about my plans, but when it did come up it was often met with polite dismissal:  “I could never do that.”  It’s a hard thing to explain to another woman without sounding aloof and judgy and so I mostly kept my mouth shut unless directly addressed.  Besides, I hadn’t even found out if I could do it yet.

In retrospect what floors me is that I really wondered if I could.  But of course, that’s the secret.  The thing is, we women can do it.  Of course we can.  It’s innate.  In the moment, with no other options, women have amazing power and strength.  (In my opinion, the hardest thing about natural childbirth in a modern environment is the mental fortitude required to say no to relief when offered). 

Why did I doubt myself?  My first labor was long and drawn out, I was tense and terrified and uninformed.  I ended up choosing medical interventions after many hours, which led to complications which led to other interventions, and I was left with the feeling that without interventions, I couldn’t have had that baby at all.  That somehow my body had made a mistake and needed help. 

I think I doubted myself because the message from doctors, the message from current society, and certainly the messages on TV and in the movies made childbirth appear to be an emergency; a horrible, painful oppression; a terrible experience to be avoided; unsavory certainly, and impossible without medical intervention to “save” the woman from the whole process.  Not to mention a royal inconvenience.  In retrospect, this makes me so angry.  It’s so evil.  Childbirth is strong and galvanizing and wonderful--and I was made to fear it! 

It’s not that I resent the modern advances that allow birth to be so much safer and more comfortable.  Childbirth can be very dangerous when things go wrong and these advances are wonderful, inspired blessings.  What makes me mad is the culture that tells unsuspecting, uninformed women that they need help to do this thing their bodies were very specifically designed to do, or that this power, this beautiful life-changing experience needs to be attenuated to suit their fragility.  Or something.  It’s unbearably demeaning.  It tells women their beautiful, glorious power is an terrible, scarring inconvenience that should be avoided at all costs.  It goes to great lengths to prevent us from discovering just how powerful we are.  It strips women of our inherent power and offers to save us from something we’re strong enough to conquer on our own.  Are there women in the world who want more power?  Start by owning, by acknowledging what’s yours. 

At one point during this most recent labor I remember thinking, “This had better not get any worse or I won’t be able to handle it.”  And then I stopped and asked myself what not being able to handle it meant.  Was I going to die of pain?  Of course not.  How could I not handle it?  It was just happening to me and all I had to do was be still and observe and allow it to happen.  The labor pains were coming from my own body, so therefore the stronger they got, the stronger I was.  How could my body not handle what my body was itself producing?  People compare labor to a marathon and in some ways it’s like that but in others it really isn’t. 

Here’s what unmedicated birth is:  Painful.  Legitimizing.  Glorious.  Womanly.  Strong and tearful and loud and raw.  Goddess-like.  Difficult.  Deep.  Joyful.  Very human, and very, very real.  It is also:  Relatively short (a matter of hours or days is not the same as a broken bone, which takes months to heal).  Inconsistent (brief periods of pain interspersed with periods of rest).  Very hard, but very, very possible (if I can do it, anyone can).  If it weren’t, the human race would not exist.  It is also surprising in its emotional repercussions.  I birthed a child, but I was reborn myself.  It sounds so cliché to say, but I feel like before this birth I saw myself as a girl—now, I see a woman.  It changed me in a powerful way.  I have strength and power and self-confidence like never before.  I really feel like I have joined the ranks of my matriarchs.  I share in their power.  

It’s not so much that the experience that I had, in the moment of birth, was so much more meaningful than my medicated birth. Each time, I brought a new person into the world, and that is something momentous in any situation.  (Although without the epidural I knew I had experienced it fully and accomplished it unaided and that itself was a thrill).  It’s more that I learned something—I proved something to myself, about myself, and now I can’t see myself the same way anymore.  I know how powerful I am.  

I think this quote really sums up my feelings:
I wanted to "make [birth] a far more deep and memorable experience.  Everything is so cheap these days--in-your-face, mass-produced, common, and banal.  Yet within [her] own sphere, each [wo]man has the power to sacralize something--to take it back from being trampled under foot and make it something more meaningful--to turn it into something that will add a richness and texture to [her] life rather than just another run-of-the-mill experience in a tirelessly ordinary and worn out world." (Brett & Kate McKay)
Refusing the epidural helped me sacralize my experience.   
Or, from Emerson, more succinctly:  "Give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces." 

So, that was my experience.  I don’t believe everyone will feel the same way I do, nor do I think that my choice is the right choice for every woman.  Medicated birth (I’ve done it both ways) is still a beautiful and life-changing experience.  But my goodness do I ever want to share my choice just the same.  Because what I would love to do is supplant the oppressive, demeaning, terrifying messages about childbirth with stories that share the good, the beauty, and the self-discovery that birth can bring.  Stories that celebrate the power of women doing what is and can only be women’s work.  It’s a glorious thing, to be sure, but the glory is buried in a landslide of fear and shame and self-doubt.  I just want women to be able to make an unbiased decision in the face of that landslide.   I was fortunate to have a woman very close to me plant the seed in my mind, and fortunate to know other women with similar feelings that I could learn from.  That’s what I want to do now. 

So, in the words of a friend who inspired me in my choice and preparation for unmedicated birth, let me just tell you:  “Girl, it wasn’t that bad.” 

To my sisters considering natural birth:  go for it.  I mean, if that's what you want.  Or don't.  An epidural is a miraculous pain-reliever.  I just want you to think it through, really put some thought into it, be an active participant.  Somehow, make sure you sacralize the experience.  Wield your agency with confidence--there's more than one way of doing things.  Read and be informed and make your own decisions.  Stop watching birth shows on TV.  (Seriously.  With the possible exception of Call the Midwife, which is fairly non-toxic and sometimes quite uplifting).  Stop listening to women who want to tell you their birth horror-stories.  Try to believe those who tell you how wonderful it will be.  Stop asking yourself ridiculous questions about your pain threshold and your physical strength, and start asking meaningful questions of older or more experienced women you trust.  All of us have imperfect bodies, and some of us have imperfect reproductive systems (my imperfections tend more toward hyperactive allergies and weak lungs and astonishingly bad enamel; we all have our issues).  But except in rare cases, our bodies generally do what they are designed to do.  WE ARE WOMEN.  Let us embrace that fact.  Prepare.  Study.  Practice visualizations, hypnosis, breathing, whatever.  But trust your body.  Decide to have your own experience.  Reach out broad and deep and really feel your life.  You can do this.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The birth plan.

Basically what we have so far is Colby will reenact the following for me while I'm in labor:

"A lost cause is the only cause worth fighting for."

"I see pride!  I see power!"

"Listen... take a lesson from the dead."

"This day we fight!"

"St... stay gold."


And of course, if it really gets bad, the hole card:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

9 Thoughts about Women and the Priesthood

I have been doing lots of thinking about women and the priesthood.  I feel comfortable with the organization of the Church as it stands and don’t have a great desire to ask for priesthood ordination, but I do have a great curiosity and desire to understand as much as I can about why the Church is organized as it is and what is to be my individual role in the Church, in this life, and in eternity.  I’ve been doing lots of research and thinking and pondering, and have come to some conclusions.  Those conclusions were confirmed and expanded upon by Elder Oaks in the Priesthood session of General Conference.  I am so grateful for that talk; I’d been praying for it. 

By describing my comfort with the Church and my starting points of faith, I do not wish to elevate myself above those who may be struggling with doubt in regard to this issue.  First, because knowing is a spiritual gift and I can’t take much credit for having it in this case (D&C 46:11-26).  Second, because there are other things in the gospel that do give me pause (see missionary work, for example), and I certainly do not pretend to complete faith or complete obedience in every case.  I just want to share what I’ve learned and been thinking about this particular topic.

For my own benefit and that of anyone interested, I’m going to lay out what I’ve discovered.  Some of it is doctrinal and comes from sources of authority.  Some of it feels right to me but I would hesitate to declare it as truth.  Some of it is wild speculation, which I don’t believe the Church has ever discouraged.  In order to lay out my thought processes and conclusions, I will start by laying out my premises. 

Here are some things that I know, and some things that I believe:
I know that I am a daughter of God and that he loves me.  I believe that I have a Heavenly Mother as well, who is equal to Heavenly Father in power and authority.  I know that God values women and men equally as his children.  I know that gender does not define the extent of the potential of any of God’s children.  I believe that men and women have distinct qualities and characteristics of spirit, emotion and mind stemming from gender, far beyond visible physical characteristics.  Of course I know that individuals may vary greatly, but taken on average, I believe there are distinct gender differences and gender roles.  I know that each of God’s children has agency and that that agency is given and honored by God.  I also know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Christ on the earth.  I know the prophets and apostles will never lead us astray in a major or significant way that will harm our chances for salvation or for understanding on topics of critical importance.  I believe that gender, family, and earthly responsibilities and duties are topics of critical importance.  I believe in the Restoration, and in continuing revelation as described in the ninth article of faith.  I also believe that even if new revelation may soon be forthcoming, we will do no wrong by abiding by the revelation as it currently stands, and indeed are expected to obey the laws as they have been given to us.  The Nephites obeyed the law of Moses until it was fulfilled in Christ, even though they knew there was a new covenant on the very near horizon.  (3 Nephi 1:23-25)

Beginning from these premises, I limit my speculation to that which will fit in line with what we have learned from the scriptures and from modern-day revelation.  Here are some points I have been considering.

1)   Satan is a great imitator and perverter of truth.  The greater population of the world is coming to accept doctrines that are partially true.  It’s so easy for us humans, as children of God, to see and feel truth that we occasionally run off with a partial truth that feels good without making sure it’s true to the core.  In my opinion, the idea that men and women are inherently the same but for certain physical parts is an example of this.  The partial truth:  men and women are of equal value and potential.  The untruth:  men and women, taken as a whole, have the same characteristics and responsibilities and should have the same roles.  (We read in The Family, a Proclamation to the World that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.  Meaning, to me, that I was a woman before I had a body, and that that fact influences my purpose.)  Here’s another example:  Equal means identical in opportunity and role.  The truth:  equal means having the same value, the same access to the same amount of happiness, the same grace and forgiveness through the Atonement, and the same eventual goal:  becoming like God. 

Not only that, Satan gives us counterfeits of application beyond just counterfeits of doctrine.  I can’t even use the phrase “separate but equal” in my argument, because of the horrible connotation that has of the evil perpetuated on blacks in the last century.  (The difference here is that there is no difference beyond the physical between black people and white people.  There are plenty of differences between men and women that go beyond the physical).  For another example, compare the counterfeit of socialism (consistently seen to fail and to limit the agency of Heavenly Father’s children) to the true ideal of a Zion people.

2)  It is easy to come to incorrect conclusions if we do not check our premises.  A year ago, Elder Holland addressed this so touchingly in General Conference.  When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your ‘unbelief.’ That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.”  Questions arise for all of us.  This is normal.  Weaknesses are not given to us so we can feel guilty about them and hide them and pretend to be better and more faithful than we are.  Weaknesses are given to us (were given to us by Christ, let’s remember that) so that we “may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”  (Ether 12:27).  Having questions is part of the plan.  But the idea is to address the questions we have within the frame of reference we’ve already developed, not to clear the decks, throw out all the old evidence, and start all over every time something new comes along that distresses us.  Begin with what you know.  Also, check what you think you know to make sure it is actually true.  Compare your premises to revealed doctrine and scriptural teachings.  Ask in prayer if every one of your starting points is true.  Make sure your premises are correct or your conclusions may not be. 

3)  It is easy to let terminology get in the way of our understanding.  Ever since the tower of Babel, we speak in imperfect language—and by we I mean everyone in the world.  Our words aren’t powerful the way God’s words are powerful, and often that means we are stuck trying to describe something that is difficult or impossible to get across in human language.  That’s one reason we need the Holy Ghost.  I’m afraid that sometimes the necessarily imperfect terminology that we use gets in the way of our understanding critical points of doctrine.  Let me give you three examples of this: 

a.     The Relief Society.  We know from Joseph Smith’s words in the early meetings of the Relief Society that this is a grand organization with a grand scope.  It existed in Christ’s original church.  It is clearly much more than homemaking night and super Saturday and even much more than a wonderful opportunity for women to learn from other women, as uplifting and enlightening our Sunday lessons may be.  Are we overlooking the gift and power given to us in Relief Society because of the terminology?  Are we looking “beyond the mark” for something to get ordained to when the Lord has provided us a divine organization that offers us ample opportunities to learn, grow and serve?  We may be missing what’s right in front of us because we are not “living up to our privileges,” and instead mistaking a divine organization for a nice little club that teaches us how to make chintzy crafts and occasionally does service projects. 
b.     It is all too painfully common to hear Church leaders speak of priesthood holders as “the priesthood.”  This is not the case:  they are not the priesthood, they hold priesthood authority.  The power of the priesthood is available to all of us.  In her book Women and the Priesthood:  What One Mormon Woman Believes, Sherri Dew describes her frustration with the phrase, “not having the priesthood in your home.”  She feels strongly that not having a priesthood holder in her home does not limit her access to the blessings and power of the priesthood, even in her home. 
c.      The fact that we have a word and a system of ordination for the power men possess, while there is none for the power women posses, tends to be misleading.  However, we often hear things like this in General Conference (too often, in my opinion, for it to be mere conciliatory speech or human speculation on the part of general authorities): “God placed within women divine qualities of strength, virtue, love, and the willingness to sacrifice to raise future generations of His spirit children.”  (Elder Cook, “LDS Women are Incredible!”)  We are so frequently told we are by nature more charitable, more eager to do service, more faithful and devoted than our brothers.  I understand this can have a sting of superciliousness or false flattery to some women.  I agree that it doesn’t really fit with my belief in the equality of men and women.  However.  Let me submit my own idea here:  these words about being given divine qualities may be referring to a power given to women, complimentary to the power being given now to men.  What if all we’re missing is the terminology?  We women don’t get ordained to any sort of power in this life, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t given to us at some point.  I believe that our Heavenly Mother is immensely powerful, and in order to be like her I must be immensely powerful too (I don’t believe that power is necessarily priesthood power as it is now given to men, but I’ll get to that in point 7).  If that power isn’t being given to me in this life, well then one of three options remains to me:  it was given to me before I came to earth, I am expected to develop it on my own, or it will yet be given to me after this life.  I don’t yet have a clear guess about which of these options it is. 

4)  Creation keys exist.  This one is mostly my own speculation, but speaking of things that may or may not have been given to women in the pre-earth life, let us not fail to mention the power of creation.  I thought it was very significant that during his talk in the Priesthood Session of General Conference, Elder Oaks mentioned that among the priesthood keys not available to us on the earth are the keys of creation, thus identifying creation as a priesthood power.  However, the power of creation is very clearly available to us on earth.  This applies widely to all God’s children, as in the sense President Uchtdorf employed in his October 2008 talk, “Happiness, Your Heritage”: “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.”  However, it also applies, in a very specific sense, to women alone.  When I was younger I understood procreation to be a power shared equally by men and women.  But when I became pregnant with my first child and saw the changes in my own body and thought more deeply about the process, I had a grand realization.  While my husband was a necessary and absolutely critical part of the procreative process and I could not have begun it without him, after providing half of our child’s DNA his role in physical creation was over.  And that is where my body took over in the most miraculous way.  Every nutrient, every molecule that went into the building of the mortal body of a new human being, passed through my body first.  My body, without any effort or know-how on my part, effectively nourished, protected, and built another human body.  And not just up until birth, after birth while my son was still exclusively breast-fed.  And, in another sense, I continue to nourish, protect and build his body as I feed, clothe and snuggle it.  None of us possess perfect bodies (yet) but the vast majority of God’s daughters are able to do all or part of this at least once.  (Certainly a greater percentage of God’s daughters on earth are able to bear children than the percentage of God’s sons on earth who are able to bear the priesthood).  THIS IS AN ASTOUNDING POWER.  And, in the words of Elder Oaks, “What other power could it be [than priesthood power]?”  If one is looking for a power given to women in the pre-earth life, conceiving, bearing and nursing a child might be a good place to begin.  Scientific findings about mothers (like this and this) seem to me to be further symbolic of the essential and divine role of mothers.  I do not intend to intimate that a woman’s only value or role is her ability to bear children.  I do not imagine anyone has ever hinted that a man’s only value or role is his ability to hold the priesthood, either.

5)  Physical power, in the Gospel sense, is no less valuable than a spiritual power.  In order to consider this clearly, we need to revisit point number 1 for a moment.  Many of Satan’s great perversions of truth have to do with our bodies and their value.  The Gospel teaches us that our bodies have immense value, that they are particular gifts from God, that we need bodies to become like Him, and that at the news we could receive them we “shouted for joy”!  But it also teaches that we are not our bodies, that we existed before we possessed them and will continue to exist though separated from them at death.  The Gospel teaches that our bodies have great value but that our personal value is not based on our bodies.  Satan would have us believe one of two extremes regarding our bodies:  either that our value is based solely on our bodies, or that our bodies are not valuable at all.  We see the first on the covers of celebrity magazines, we see the second in Hellenistic philosophies such as Gnosticism and asceticism that are perpetuated even today in various schools of religious thought, in and out of the Church.  Because we know all to well Satan’s counterfeit application of our bodies’ value (that people, and particularly women, are valuable only for our bodies) we as women and supporters of women are inclined to cry foul when we see any hint that a woman’s role may involve her body.  But as with most of Satan’s fallacies, his emphasis on the value of women’s bodies is a perversion of truth and based (however remotely) in truth.  Women’s bodies ARE MIRACULOUS.  They have great value.  They are critical in women’s earthly purpose. 

Actually, all of our bodies are miraculous.  Think of Christ’s body.  Those who administered to him during mortality were administering to the very body that he would lay down for our sins, and that he would later take up again, providing resurrection for all mankind.  A huge part of Christ’s role on the earth hung on the fact that his body was unique—that it could bear immense pain and suffering without involuntary death.  It seems to me that the creation, care, keeping, and health of bodies, such a pivotal part of the Plan, would be very important.  Indeed, aren’t all of our bodies as important as our spirits?  The goal of the whole Plan is for us to become like God.  And God has a body and a spirit, perfectly and forever joined together in eternal life.  Gaining a body was a huge part of why we came to earth, and why we are told we rejoiced when we heard of the Plan!  Paul emphasized the importance of the Resurrection (and our bodies) to the Corinthians: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, …And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”

Without bodies, nothing, not our prayers, not our efforts, not sacred ordinances, not even Christ’s Atonement for our sins, would be adequate for salvation, because we would still, without bodies, be unable to become like God.  “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more” (2 Ne. 9:8).  Without our bodies, we are left no better than those spirits who did not keep their first estate and never got to life on earth at all. 

We are told today that our bodies are temples.  Many of the commandments we are given are related to their care and keeping – how we are to clothe them, how much to let them rest, what to feed them (and what not to feed them), what words to let them speak, not to mention the sacred controls that are placed upon the creation or destruction of bodies.  Doesn’t it seem like the Lord loves our bodies and wants us to love them, too?  These are not temporary vehicles for our life on earth.  These are the very imperfect seeds of the perfected souls that we are to become.  Same bodies; made perfect, but same bodies nonetheless.  If our bodies are perfectly half of our souls, and Christ’s Resurrection was perfectly half of the great Atonement process (mirrored by the spiritual half in the Garden of Gethsemane), then the creation, mastery, care, keeping, and service of our bodies and the bodies of others must surely be a noble endeavor indeed.   It’s the same kind of work, with the same goal, as service to the spirits of others.  Sometimes it can be the same thing entirely.  To me, suggesting that a major (note I do not say THE major or THE ONLY) responsibility of men is overseeing spiritual growth and development while a major responsibility of women is overseeing physical growth and development is not demeaning, it is a beautiful example of the opposition in all things and a type of the Atonement itself. 

6)  Our agency is inherently limited.  God has given us a wonderful world full of choices and the precious agency to choose between them.  He has not, however, given us the agency to choose anything we please.  If it’s not one of the options, it’s not one of the options.  We are the children and He is the parent and he chooses what options are set before us.  We can ask for another option if we want, but that doesn’t mean it will be granted.  Asking to be received into His kingdom without doing the necessary work and while partying merrily away in Babylon will be futile.  Similarly, no matter how great your desire, I don’t think you’d be suddenly turned into a bird.  Some options are not on the table.  This is why I think that complaining about your gender role in life is futile.  This is who you are, and there are things that you’re meant to be doing.  I believe we should seek all the personal revelation we can get to find out what exactly those things are, and become familiar with God’s personal plan for us as individuals, but we should also not complain if His will for us as individuals does not include some of the things we hoped it might.  As I have heard a mother say to her children, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  Ask for more options, but don’t insist.  This, I believe, is part of becoming “as a child… willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child does submit to his father.” 

7)  The Priesthood that is on the earth is the power that belongs to Jesus Christ.  I have heard voiced a concern that women are to become like God just as much as men, and if the priesthood is the power of God (whom we understand to be a male/female union) then women need the priesthood.  Let me suggest a possible response:  what if the priesthood we have now only represents a part of the power of God the Parents?  Now that I write it, it seems more likely than not, actually.  We certainly know (see Elder Oaks’ Priesthood Session talk) there are keys of the priesthood that aren’t currently on earth.  We know the priesthood is the “power of God given to man on earth” but the true name of the higher priesthood indicates that it is the power of Jesus Christ (who is God).  Because He is God the Son, I imagine his power must have been given/delegated to/shared with Him by God the Father.  Jesus is male; maybe the part of the heavenly power we have on the earth, because it is Jesus’ power, is the part given to males to bear? If there was or is yet to be a power given to women (see point 3.c.), it may perhaps be called after our Heavenly Mother, or modeled after Her example.  You see the pattern I’m suggesting.  Maybe men hold the priesthood because the portion of God’s power that we have currently on this earth is a man’s portion.  This is of course my own wild speculation, but I don’t think it is too far-fetched to be worth considering. 

8)  The Servant/King Paradox.  Christ himself said that one “who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23:11).  We do not worship Christ for the miracles he performed—many prophets throughout the ages have performed miracles.  We worship Christ for the unimaginably selfless service he did for mankind.  Humility and service are the marks of greatness.  And each of us has opportunities to serve, regardless of priesthood ordination.  Harold B. Lee said, “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.”  I do think the Lord approves of honest ambition to learn, grow and develop, but President Boyd K. Packer also tells us, “Do not ever belittle anyone, including yourself, nor count them, or you, a failure, if your livelihood has been modest. Do not ever look down on those who labor in occupations of lower income. There is great dignity and worth in any honest occupation. Do not use the word menial for any labor that improves the world or the people who live in it.  There is no shame in any honorable work.”  We know that all honorable work is worthwhile, and we know where the most important work is to be found.  There is usually time for all kinds of work in this lifetime, but because our lifespans are very limited, we are told “do not spend… your labor for that which cannot satisfy.” (2 Nephi 9:51).  We are given priorities for our work, and families are first on the list.  Do we really believe that the family is central to God’s plan, that it is the fundamental unit in time and eternity?  The Church is not eternal—families are.  Service to our families and those of others is the most accessible and efficient way we can bring souls to Christ. 
We know that service is what makes someone great and that families are the most important place to spend our service.  I do not say that service in the family is a woman’s only role, but if it were—what would be so very wrong with that? 
I am currently a stay-at-home mother.  If I never get to do anything else, that would be disappointing to me, but I don’t think it would ruin anything in the greater plan.  Beyond feeling sorrow for my disappointment, I don’t think it would matter very much to God, who I believe cares more about the order of our priorities and the manner in which we do our work and the kind of people we become than what particular earthly opportunities we might have. 
9) This life is the time to prepare to meet God.  In this most recent General Conference, Bishop Gary E. Stevenson gave a talk that relied heavily on the symbolism of Olympic athletes’ brief performances.  In it he said, “You are an eternal being. Before you were born, you existed as a spirit. In the presence of a loving Heavenly Father, you trained and prepared to come to earth for a brief moment and, well, perform. This life is your four minutes. While you are here, your actions will determine whether you win the prize of eternal life. The prophet Amulek described, “This life is the time … to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day … to perform [your] labors.”  Mortality is a brief, brief blip on the grand timeline of our eternal lives.  4 minutes seems a good approximation.  The Lord has given to us a beautiful, vibrant, and scientifically and culturally fascinating planet on which to “work out our salvation,” and I believe he expects us to experience and enjoy what there is to experience and enjoy here.  But I think He doesn’t lose sight of the real goal of this life, which is to prove ourselves, receive bodies, form families, and become like God.  If we’re doing or trying to do those things, I don’t think it matters to Him (again, beyond sorrowing with us for our personal disappointments) if we got to see the Taj Mahal, hold the priesthood (as women) or even bear our own biological children.  Amulek, who was just quoted with regard to the purpose of this life, learned that all too well.  Just a few chapters later he is forced to watch as all the believers among his people are burned to death.  When Amulek wishes to stop this by the power of God, Alma tells him, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”  These people were already prepared to meet God, so to God their “premature” death was not as much of a tragedy as it might seem to us.  This is the same God we deal with today.  There is a purpose to our life on earth.  Within our 4-minute mortality, we are each given ample time and enough opportunities to fulfill this purpose as much as is individually necessary.  If we are trying to fulfill our purposes, everything else we may get to do is just extra. 
I don’t know all of this is true.  Some things I do know, and many of those I have already stated.  I also know that what God says about his ways is true:  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  I understand a very small part of the Gospel.  So when I come upon something new that I don’t understand or that doesn’t seem to fit, I am inclined to think the flaw is with my own understanding and not with the Lord’s Gospel, or with His Church.  If they announce tomorrow that women will be ordained to the priesthood, I hope I will have faith enough to scratch my previous theories and start back at what I already know for certain.