Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Recommendations for Studying the Women in the Scriptures

I have had many requests for book recommendations for studying the Bible and women in the scriptures. I have amassed a fairly impressive library over the years and so I thought I'd go through it and just share with you several of my favorites.

All of these books will help you dig deeper into the scriptures and gain new insights, but they are no replacement for studying the original text yourself. It is much more rewarding to get your own insights about stories instead of reading other people's... make sure you read the scriptures in along with these resources. I know that sounds silly but you'd be surprised how many people spend more time reading commentaries about the scriptures instead of reading the scriptures themselves!

I hope that this list gets you excited about scripture study and that you find something to help deepen your understanding and study. If there are any great books or resources that I have missed please let me know in the comments. I am always looking for good additions to my library!

General Bible Resources

My most used resource when studying the scriptures. For those of us who don't know Hebrew or Greek this is a must-have resource for learning what the original (or alternative) meanings of words are. Using this has done more to increase my understanding of the scriptures than anything else. I use an online version (there are several) and wrote a blog post here about how to use it. 

Josephus was an ancient Jewish historian who wrote the history of his people from the start (Abraham) to the end (after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans). He is a very good resource when you want to get another perspective on a Bible story, or a few extra details. Like any historian he had his biases, but he is a very reliable source. I often look what he has written about a story before I write about it. 

Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines

These Rose books are incredible resources for Biblical study. With maps and charts and timeline galore they are really a treasure trove of information for helping you dig deeper into the history of the Bible-- which can be really confusing a times! Their is also a Rose's Guide to the Temple and a Rose's Guide to the Tabernacle, which look awesome. 

The Lost Language of Symbolism: An Essential Guide for Recognizing and Interpreting Symbols of the Gospel by Alonzo L. Gaskill

Super useful guide for understanding general symbolism in the scriptures (and temple). Has great lists that are easy to use as references. This will really open your eyes to many things (colors, numbers, animals, shapes, etc) you glance right over in the scriptures, temple and in daily life that are full of symbolism. 

The Gate of Heaven: Insights on the Doctrines and Symbols of the Temple by Matthew B. Brown

This book is all about temple symbolism in the Old and New Testament as well as in the restoration. It is incredibly helpful for understanding the religious practices mentioned in the Old Testament and in Jesus' ministry. Don't skip the footnotes! They are often jammed backed with way more detail than the main text. This is a valuable book for increasing your scripture study and for helping you better understand the symbolism of the temple. Must read for anyone getting ready to go to the temple! 

Jerusalem, the Eternal City by  David B Galbraith, D Kelly Ogden , Andrew C Skinner

Jerusalem is central to the Old and New Testament, and even the Book of Mormon. This book does a beautiful job of explaining it's history and significance. The authors also write about Jerusalem from an LDS perspective, including future prophesied events and significance. Awesome book for getting your mind wrapped around the crazy history of this city! 

These are three apocryphal books that I think are very helpful, and full of a lot of truth. Like any apocryphal work you need to take it with a grain of salt and discern what is true and what isn't, but I have found these three books to be really helpful. The book of Jubilees has a complete listing of all the women from Eve on down, which is really interesting. All of these books are also online. 

If you haven't ever read this you should. Much of it is inspired and adds to your understanding of the Bible. There are also a few great stories about women, like Susana and Judith that aren't in the Bible. It is all online as well. 

General Women in the Scripture Resources

Women in Scripture by Carol Meyers

This is probably my favorite and most used book about women in the scriptures. It is a encyclopedia of ALL the women (named, unnamed and metaphorical) with entries being written by dozens of different scholars. It is an awesome reference book. My only caveat with it is that it is written from an academic feminist viewpoint, so sometimes the entries are skewed much more liberally than I think is necessary. But if you are aware of the bias you can make your own choices about each woman.

All the Women of the Bible  by Herbert Lockyer

This book was written in the 1960's and was one of the first attempts to list all the women in the bible. It is a very helpful resource and I often enjoy Lockyer's insights about women. Unlike the Women in Scripture book this one is often skewed more conservative sometimes, and is also a little dated. I feel like combining this one with the Women in Scripture books usually gives me or more balanced view of a woman.

All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen

This was the first book (published in 1955) to undertake a comprehensive list of the women in the bible. Edith Deen was not a scholar, just a woman who loved the bible and started studying the women in. I can relate to her! Some of the women are very sparsely covered by her, but for others she has beautiful insights.

Daughters of God by S. Michael Wilcox

For its size this compilation includes an impressive amount of women from the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. His insights are more spiritual than historical in nature and are often given from an LDS perspective. I recently got this book and have enjoyed reading through his thoughts about different women.

Women in Eternity, Women in Zion by Valerie Hudson and Alma Don Sorenson

I can't explain how awesome this book is. It is not necessarily about the women in the scriptures but it is packed full of incredible insights about Eve, women in the gospel, women's place in the creation of Zion and eternity. It will blow your mind and expand your heart in so many ways. Important book to read! 

Old Testament

Eve and the Choice Made in Eden by Beverly Campbell

If you haven't read this book you really should. She outlines Mother Eve and her important role in God's plan so beautifully-- she is both simple in her explanation and mind blowing all at the same time. My copy is underlined to death. I feel like this is a must read for anyone going to the temple for the first time. She also has anther book called "Eve and the Mortal Journey" which I haven't read, but which is on my list to get.

Did God Have a Wife? by William G. Denver

Awesome book about ancient Israelite life and religious practices. He especially focuses on the prevalent goddess worship, mostly of the goddess Asherah, that was prevalent in most civilizations at this time period. The Old Testament is filled with references to goddess worship and the Israelites were warned time and time again by the prophets to stop it or they would be destroyed (which they were). This book is very helpful in getting your mind wrapped around what the Old Testament writers meant when they talked about "high places" and "idols". It is very scholarly at the start, but towards the middle is more readable.

Forgotten Women of God by Diana Webb

Webb uses apocryphal sources to dig deeper into many of the Old Testament stories. She fleshes out stories in a really incredible way and has some brilliant insights about them. This was one of the first books I read about women in the Old Testament, and in still one of my favorite. It is short and easy to read. Diana Webb is LDS but the book is not written exclusively for an LDS audience.

Women's Rights in the Old Testament Times by James R. Baker

This is my go to book for lots of the more confusing cultural practices in the Old Testament, like dowries, marriage contracts, inheritance laws, etc... He draws extensively from ancient texts to give ideas about what was customary in Old Testament times. Very useful for helping you get a better idea what women's lives would have been like and what their rights would have been.

Women of the Old Testament by Camille Fronk Olson

Beautiful book that goes in-depth (impressively in-depth) for several dozen women in the Old Testament. I really like this book for its helpful charts and timelines and pictures. I find it is especially good at explaining the background and history of stories, and putting a woman in context.

Sarah Laughed by Vanessa L. Ochs

This might just be my favorite book on women in the bible EVER. Ochs is an academic but she has a very personal understanding and experience with the women in the bible (love, love the story she tells in the introduction). She tells each story three times, once as the bible tells, again as a narrative story in her own words, and again when she explains what the story means to her. She also gives ideas for things you can do to learn to "embrace the gift" of each woman's story. Even though I was very familiar with all the women she talks about she helped me see them in a different way. Love this book!

The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible by Thomas A. Wayment

In a side-by-side format this book lists ALL of the changes that Joseph Smith made to the Old Testament in his inspired version. Our modern day LDS scriptures do not include all of the changes he made (not even in the appendix). Several years ago a group of BYU scholars were allowed by the Community of Christ to view Joseph Smith's original manuscript of his translation of the Bible. This is one of the books they published after, showing all the changes that Joseph Smith had made. It is important to know this doesn't not have the full text of the bible in it, it only has the scripture verses that have corrections in them.

Rebekah by Orson Scott Card

This is a fiction book, and not historically accurate, but  it gives you a good feel for the time period and customs of the day. I also think he portrays Rebekah fairly well and many of the main characters. Many of the "extra" things he puts in are pulled from apocryphal sources and you tell that he went to a lot of work to try to create a plausible story. Books like this are nice because they help you fall in love with the characters, and learn to see them as real people.  He also wrote  similar books about Sarah and Rachel and Leah

New Testament

Walking with the Women of the New Testament by Heather Farrell

You know, just have to put a plug in for my own book right? Make sure you get the study guides (here and here) too! 

Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage

Probably one of the best books written on Christ's life and ministry, ever. He doesn't go in depth on the women's stories but he does give you a better understanding of the context of each of their stories in Christ's life and ministry. This would be a good place to start your study of New Testament women.

Women in the New Testament by Camille Fronk Olson

Like her Old Testament book this books is beautifully done and is very helpful for understanding the historical context of the New Testament. She goes very in-depth and gives you a really good basis for understanding what women's lives would have been like. Camille Fronk Olson was the first person who got me excited about the women in the scriptures, and her books will do that for you too. Almost as good as taking a class from her!

Sisters at the Well by Jeni and Richard Holzapfel

A very well done look into the historical background and spiritual significance of most of the women in the New Testament. It is written by a husband and wife team and I like the combination of male and female perspectives on the women's stories. It is very easy to read and very accessible for someone who isn't very familiar with the history of the New Testament.

Joseph Smith's Complete Translation of the New Testament by Thomas A. Wayment

Like its Old Testament counterpart, this book is very easy to use and helpful in discovering what additions or corrections to the Bible Joseph Smith made in his Inspired Version. It is always amazing to me to see that so many of his corrections were things that have to do with women!

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

This is a fiction book about the Roman solider who killed Christ, but it gives you such a beautiful (and I think accurate) picture of how life would have been in Rome and in Judea. The author does a great job of mingling fictitious characters with real historical people and events. Don't take everything as truth in this, but read it for the picture it will paint in your mind of the time and its history. Its a great read! 

Book of Mormon

Women of the Book of Mormon by Heather Moore

I think this might be the only book on women in the Book of Mormon out there. It is a short book but Moore does a good job of examining many of the stories of the women in The Book of Mormon and fleshing them out. She focuses on the main ones we all know (Sariah, Abish, etc..) but also deals with a few of the lesser known ones (the 24 daughters of the Lamanites, Morianton's Maid Servant, etc...). It is hard to give historical background for the Book of Mormon but she does a great job of writing about these women in the context of their stories and giving spiritual insights.

Women in the Book of Mormon Study Guide by Heather Farrell

Some day soon I hope to write a book on the women in The Book of Mormon, but until then you can study them on your own with this study guide. Similar to the ones I made for the New Testament, it has ALL the women in the Book of Mormon listed with journaling pages and study prompts. 

In Search of Lehi's Trail by Lynn H. Hilton

I actually haven't read this book (hope too) but I went to a fireside once by the author's daughter and the information was fascinating. It is really helpful in helping to understand the story of Lehi and his family, especially what the women would have experienced. It looks like he has another similar book too. 

Book of Mormon Study guide: Diagrams, Doodles, & Insights by Shannon Foster

I haven't used these (there are two) but they look amazing. They aren't focused on the women in the Book of Mormon but any in-depth study of the Book of Mormon is going to help you see and understand the women better! 

  • To be honest I haven't found very many scholarly books about the Book of Mormon that I love. I have though found this web page from FAIR to be very helpful. It goes through book by book and lists articles and resources for different chapters of the Book of Mormon. It is really a treasure trove. 
  • Mormon Interpreter also usually has some very interesting and useful articles on The Book of Mormon as well. You can visit their website here

I have other resources for Doctrine and Covenants that I will add later, but hopefully this gets you started with your study!

I will put a link to this list on the sidebar of my blog and will update it periodically as I find new resources. If there are any really good ones I have left out PLEASE leave me a comment. You think I'd get bored about reading and studying about the women in the scriptures, but I don't! If anything the more I learn the more I love it.

Happy Scripture Studying!

Friday, December 2, 2016

The American Woman Today-- What do You Think?

We recently inherited a 1960 set of Encyclopedias from my in-laws. It has been fascinating to skim through these books and get a snap shot of what the world was like during that time and what people were thinking about.  Many things haven't changed (like an elephant is still an elephant, right?) but there were other entries that were obviously dated. For example, there were several pages under "fallout shelter" about how to create your own shelter in your home with detailed instructions about what to do in case of a nuclear attack! It was also very interesting to read though the entry on "family" in this Encyclopedia. Here is the first paragraph, 
"Family is the oldest human institution. In many ways it is the most important. It is society's most basic unit. Entire civilizations have survived or disappeared depending on whether family life was strong or weak. Families have existed since earliest times and will undoubtedly exist as long as man lives on earth. 
Families make up the basis of every society because they serve three vital human needs found everywhere. First, the family is the means for producing children and continuing the human race. Second, the family provides for protection and early training of infants. Human infants are perhaps the most helpless of all living creatures... Third, the family sets up a division of labor so that each member contributes something.... 
...Marriage is the beginning of family life. When a man and a woman marry, they make a legal contract to live together as husband and wife. They also accept the legal responsibility to support and care for any children they may have. 
... Most people belong to two families during their lives, the first as children and the second as parents. We are born in to the first family and we establish the second one."

It seems almost incredible in our day in age to think that this was published as the DEFINITION of what a family is. I feel like this definition says so plainly and concisely the truth (and what I was trying to explain in my Cultivating a Heart Open to Life series). It a little sad that today many people are choosing to live in ways that are in incompatible with the perpetuation of human life and, as the definition, stated that is often what makes or breaks an entire society.

Another interesting aspect of these Encyclopedias is that they came with three "year books", one for 1968, 1969, and 1970. There was one article in the 1969 Year Book that interested me particularly. It was entitled The American Woman Today written by the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead. It is a fascinating glimpse into what was perceived as the problems, challenges, and opportunities facing American women in the 1960's. There were a few parts that I thought were really interesting. For example she wrote about why, even though American women are often "the envy of women throughout the world", they are not the happiest women in the world.  She wrote:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Vashti: Put Your Crown on and Stand Your Ground {Idea for YW Mutual Night}

I was recently (okay, recently as in four months ago) called to be the Young Women's president in our Ward. I haven't ever had a calling in young women's (not since I was a young woman) and so it has been a big learning experience for me. I've also never been a president of anything. I'm discovering that being the president is much different from being a counselor. Kudos to all of you who make it look easy!

Overall though, I have been  having lots of fun. I love having a captive audience to share all my love and excitement about womanhood and the women in the scripture with. I'm not sure if they appreciate it,  but so far I have absolutely loved teaching and learning with them. I'll also be honest and admit it is nice to "have" to go do something without my kids on Wednesday nights-- or you know-- take a whole day and go boating. It has been a nice break and something I've really needed. I really have an incredible group of girls which makes it even more fun.

Ever since I was called I've been feeling a reminder from the Lord that I need to share with the girls my love for the women in the scriptures. I've tried to incorporate them into some of my Sunday lessons but the spirit keeps telling me, "More, share more." My counselor and I decided that on the fifth Wednesday of each month (which only happens a few times a year) we are going to dedicate to "women in the scripture" nights and focus on one woman from the scriptures. Since the girls are in a teaching environment all day at school and, then (at least in our ward) have seminary right before mutual, we decided we are going to share the story by doing an activity or craft that reinforces the message that scriptural woman embodied.

Our first fifth Wednesday was last night and our first woman from the scriptures was Vashti. Vashti was the queen of Persia, which meant she was pretty much queen of the known world. In her time period no one, not even men, disobeyed an order from the King and women were expected to obey their husbands without question. So when the Persian king, who was on day 7 of his frat party, wanted to show off the beauty of his wife to all his drunken friends, he expected that she would come.

Yet, she didn't.

 In a very brave and very self-respecting way Vashti refused to come. She knew that what the King was asking of her was wrong and that it degraded her as a queen and as a woman. She held her ground and refused to go, even knowing that her choice would mean death or banishment. Still she had the courage to say "no" and not allow someone to cross boundaries they were not entitled to. Her answer made the king and all the rest of the men angry, and it resulted in harsh consequences for her and the rest of the women of the kingdom, but it was an incredibly brave choice.  I love what Vanessa Ochs wrote in my new favorite book about women in the Bible. She said:

“The women saw Vashti taking care of herself by saying “no”. They knew she was taking care of them too, by modeling what they often imagined doing themselves, but too rarely did. She showed that they boundaries of a woman’s dignity may not be violated. She demonstrated that any woman, not just a queen, could say, “Not now, not unless its on my terms as well, not unless I’m fully comfortable, not unless I am treated with dignity.” Only a woman who is respected can be expected to show respect.
“ I will not go.” Her words stayed in the women’s heads in the days after they had left the banquet, as they brushed their daughter’s hair. They could say it too, and they could teach it to their daughters. They practiced the words in their heads: “I will not go...
...To act in the spirit of Vashti, you will need a crown to remind you and announce to others that you have the right to do what is necessary to preserve your dignity. True, you might not actually go out wearing your crown… But you do need to own a crown, and place it somewhere you and others can see it easily, to remind you of your right to define your own boundaries.”
I told the girls the story of Vashti and talked about how it is okay to say "no" and to set personal boundaries for yourself. Like Vashti there are times when every woman will need to, royally and regally, put on her crown, stand her ground, and refuse to be treated in a way that degrades or belittles who she is. Every woman needs a crown. This part didn't take more than ten minutes and then we went to the gym and made mirrors with crowns etched on them to remind them of Vashti's story.

The mirrors were just ones from the dollar store and we traced this crown template onto contact paper. The girls then used etching cream to put the image of the crown on their mirror. If you have never used etching cream before, it is really easy. The result was a mirror that when you look into you see yourself with a crown on your head-- a reminder of who you really are and what you are capable of.

It took about a half hour to do the mirrors. The mirrors needed to sit with the cream on them for about 20 minutes, so in the meantime we had a dress competition. We broke them into two teams and gave them each several rolls of toilet paper and the dregs of my wrapping paper box. Their instructions were they had 15 minutes to create a dress Vashti would have worn (including a crown) out of only those materials. The end result was pretty impressive I think!

We had intended to play a short game of charades where they girls would mime different scenarios where they could be a Vashti and say "no". It ended up that we didn't have time to do it, but some scenarios were thinking about giving them to act out were:

  • A boy who tries to put his hands somewhere where they don't belong
  • A boy who tries to kiss you when you don't want him to 
  • A friend who tries to manipulate you into choosing sides against someone at school 
  • A friend who tries to get you to gossip about, exclude, or mistreat someone else
  • Being asked wear an immodest outfit for a performance
  • A person who takes advantage of your kindness 
  • Someone who refuses to leave you alone even when you have asked them to
  • A person who bullies or teases you
  • A person who puts you down or treats you unkindly or unfairly 
  • Someone speaking for you or assuming that you feel or think a certain way
  • Someone trying to exclude or silence your voice 
There are lots more, but those were just a few of the ones we had thought of. It is also important with this type of lesson though that you are sensitive to those girls who are or have been in abusive situations. Be prayerful and thoughtful about how you'd address this topic with your specific girls. 

After the dress game we washed the cream off the mirrors. They turned out great and I think the girls really enjoyed learning how to etch things. Before they left I wanted them to all look in their mirrors and see themselves with a crown on their head, a reminder of who they really were. I also wrote this phrase on the chalkboard and had those who wanted to (which was most of them) to write it on the back of their mirror. 

I am the daughter of a king. 
I am wonderfully and beautifully made. 
I am powerful because I am kind and courageous. 
I can do hard things. 

I don't know who to give credit to for that saying (if you know please tell me) because I just read it on a friend's Instagram account. It has stuck with me and I've used it a few times in my lessons before with the Young Women.

All in all I think it was a good activity and I think the girls learned something and had fun. What more can you ask for, right?

Though I hope that when they look in their mirror's they will remember that as literal daughters of the most high king of the universe they can each be a Vashti. They can act with power and courage and say "no" to things or people who do not honor and respect their divine nature. When they find themselves in a "Vashti moment" I hope they will put on their crown and stand their ground, regardless of the consequences.

I hope that maybe this will be helpful to some of you who help plan Young Women activities. We are planning on doing this every fifth Wednesday so I'll try to share what we do. I think next time (which is in November) we will do Vashti's counterpart-- Esther. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Homeschool Tour and the Cabinet of Curiosity

Painted as Maori Warriors for one of our Story of the World units

I've been wanting to do a homeschool tour for awhile but was intimidated by all the typing and pictures that a post like that would entail. So I decided instead to do some videos and give you a tour of our home school set up and show you how we do things. I had to break it up into several different parts in order to get it to upload, but they are each short. We are not perfect by any means, and are always learning new ways to do things. I just wanted to share because I know I learn so much from other homeschoolers when I see what they use and how they set up their homes to encourage learning.

The videos are a bit chaotic and I am not going to win any awards for cinematography, but I wanted to give you a quick overview of our homeschool set up. I also made it a point to leave our cupboards how they are most days, a little messy and random. I wanted to keep this real because I know I get easily discouraged by homeschool blogs that make it looks like everything  in their house is organized perfect and their kids love everything, because I don't think that is true for anyone.

Also I can talk really fast (I'm gifted that way) and so sorry about being a motor mouth. I think I was worried about getting everything in before the memory on my phone got full! Hopefully though something is helpful, and I'd love to hear more ideas or suggestions you have.

The first part goes over our morning routine and our homeschool binders

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mrs. Weasley's Pensieve

This is something completely different from what I normally write. Our library is having a Harry Potter fan fiction contest and it inspired me to write down this story I've had ruminating in my head. I've been piecing it together ever since I wrote my post  about "Why Being a Mom is Just as Cool as Being Harry Potter." 

It was also really fun because I haven't done any creative writing for... ages. So it was nice to do something different. I've written it like a missing chapter from the books. So if you aren't familiar with Harry Potter you might be a bit lost, but if you are Harry Potter fan I hope you enjoy it! 

Harry couldn’t sleep. He leaned over and used his wand to light up the watch on his night stand. 2 AM. Still hours to go before morning. He rolled over and flopped his head back on to his pillow. He heard Ron’s heavy snores coming from the bed across the room and for a moment he deeply envied his friend. How nice would it be if the most pressing issue on his mind was the contents of  Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches? 

He thought about getting up and going to the kitchen for a drink, but hesitated. What if someone was still awake? He knew that Mrs. Weasley, and just about everyone else it seemed, were overly worried about him. The last thing he needed now was for people to find out that he wasn’t sleeping.

Still, he desperately needed a drink. Deciding he could always lie and tell someone he’d gotten lost on the way to the bathroom, Harry quietly drew back the covers. He slipped his feet into the slippers beside his bed and grabbed his bathrobe. Before he closed the door he looked back at Ron, who was mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like “Hermione”, and stepped out into the hall.

If the old house at Number 12, Grimmauld Place was eerie in the day time, it was downright spooky at night. He, Ron and Hermione had spent the last several days helping Mrs. Weasley and Sirius clean out the old haunted house, and it had not been pleasant. He didn’t know how they both managed being cooped up in this creepy place, especially when there was so much going on outside. He was glad that he would be leaving tomorrow for Hogwarts.

When he finally reached the kitchen he was surprised to see that there was still a light on. He knew that members of the Order of the Phoenix were often in and out of the headquarters, but he wondered who would still be up at this late hour.

Cautiously he peeked into the kitchen. It was empty. The light he’d seen was coming from the dying fire in the large stone fireplace, and a single candle on the long table in the center of the room. Beside the candle sat a small stone bowl covered in ancient runes, its misty contents reflecting the dancing rays of the diminishing candle. Surprised, Harry quickly crossed the room.

The pensieve? He couldn’t believe it. What was it doing here?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Psalms Project {Giveaway}

I love the Old Testament. I've loved it from the first time I read it as a fourteen-year-old struggling through the confusing names, places and stories, but enthralled with the sense of discovering hidden treasures. In the years since I've read it at least a dozen times. The more I read it the more the stories, the names, and the places make sense and become more intriguing. Yet, despite my love for the Old Testament there is one part that I dread every time I read it-- Psalms.

It has always been my least favorite book of scripture.  It is long, has no recognizable story or characters, is repetitive, and just sort of boring. In fact, I'd assumed that most people didn't enjoy Psalms but have recently had cause to recant that opinion.

On my most recent reading of the Old Testament I was rapidly approaching (and dreading) the book of Psalms when I went to the adult session of Stake Conference. I was amazed when the temple matron (our temple is Winter Quarters) got up and spoke of her love for the Psalms. She spoke about them in such a loving, personal way and I realized that I had been missing something important. Afterward I went up to thank her and admit my dislike for Psalms. She smiled, a big knowing smile,  and said, "Oh, they aren't meant to be read. The word "Psalms" means "songs". They are hymns. You have to sing them!"

I thought about her words, but I knew that I wasn't musically talented enough to put anything to music... let alone ancient scripture. So, when I reached Psalms in my personal study I promptly skipped over it again and went on to Proverbs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ancient "Relief Society" of the New Testament

Samaritan Women by Mandy Jane Williams

When was the last time you opened up your copy of "Daughters in My Kingdom", the book about the history of the Relief Society?

If it has been awhile then you should go and grab yours off the shelf and open up to the the first chapter. I want you to notice that the title of this chapter is called, "Relief Society: A Restoration of an Ancient Pattern", meaning that the Relief Society is not a modern organization. It is something that has existed every time that God's church has been organized on the earth. As Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the church, taught,
“You [ Relief Society sisters] have ever been found at the side of the Priesthood, ready to strengthen their hands and to do your part in helping to advance the interests of the kingdom of God." 

The history of the Relief Society, doesn't begin with the women in Nauvoo when Joseph Smith organized the women there. It begins with the women of the New Testament, the ancient "Relief Society". It was Christ who organized it, set its mission, endowed women with power, and enlisted their aid in doing His sacred work. Women were involved then, just as women are involved now.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Relief" Society vs. "Fix-it" Society By Amy

These words by Amy really resonated with me and helped me think about the ways I try to "fix" things that I can't. There is some real wisdom in her words and I hope you learn from her. And, by the way, I didn't tell her to put my book as her favorite... though I'm flattered she did. 

When I first received the calling to be the Relief Society secretary, I asked Heavenly Father a couple questions. I wanted to understand the purpose of Relief Society better and what my personal responsibilities are as a member of the Lord’s organization for women.

I had completely forgotten about these questions until the beginning of this year. We know that the Holy Ghost can “bring all things to [our] remembrance.” (John 14:26) And as I was wondering whether the things I have been learning, as I struggle to improve as a mother, were appropriate to share the Spirit reminded me that I had asked these questions. It whispered to me that I had received the instruction I was being given specifically as answers to those questions. And I realized that these questions were universal to all of us as members of the Lord’s organization for women.

My questions were:

1. What does the title “Relief Society” mean and what does it have to do with me?
2. What is meant by “Charity Never Faileth”?

What’s in a Name?
After careful reflection, I realized that what I was wondering is: who named the Relief Society? Was it named by the women who had the desire to be organized? They had a purpose, a strong desire, wrote up a constitution and had a vision….you know the history.

But I am coming to realize just how important names are to our Heavenly Father. In the Book of Mormon, Christ is given over 100 distinct names and each of them have "particular significance"  in describing Christ’s divine nature. When we make covenants, we are given names. For example, when we are baptized we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. And in the temple we learn more about the eternal significance of names.

Names matter to God.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love Life and Learning by Michelle Lehnardt

I'm excited to have Michelle as my guest poster today for my Relief Society Celebration! I've been following her blog, Scenes from the Wild, for awhile and it is one of my favorites.  Mostly, because she gives me hope. Hope that maybe someday this wild family of mine might look something like hers does, with amazing grown and growing up children, a strong family culture and enthusiasm for the small things. So thank you Michelle!

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As women in the Relief Society, we are life-long learners, life-long teachers. Today I'm focusing on raising kids who love to learn, but everything in here applies to ourselves.
When I asked my 14 and 16 year old separately on their ideas on raising smart kids I expected them to cite all sorts of examples such as reading books, learning a musical instrument, visiting the library etc. I was surprised by their nearly identical answer– “be prepared to be very different.” My older boys, my nieces and girls in my neighborhood confirmed the same idea: it's hip to be too cool for school.
How did we get here? In the past, education was highly valued. When did “smart” equate with “uncool”? And doesn’t every parent want to raise intelligent, creative children– boys and girls.
If you’ve read this far, you’re the kind of parent who cares about education, so I’ll offer up my best tips.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Finding Nobility in Motherhood and Joy in Womanhood by Nikki Yaste

You are in for a treat today! Nikki has the most incredible story and the testimony to go with it. I have learned so much from her and she constantly inspires me to be better and to look at things differently. Enjoy!

I’ve been asked to write a special blog to celebrate the anniversary of the Relief Society. It’s been 142 years since the founding of this amazing organization in March 17, 1842. As I read through the Relief Society Declaration and thought about what I “bullet” I wanted to specifically address in this, I kept circling back to this:

“[Finding] nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.”

Why?! The topic I most wanted to avoid!

Often times, I feel like I come up short when the subject of motherhood is specifically addressed in Conference or Relief Society. I want to avoid these topics like the plague. I spent a lot of time extremely jealous of people who had the “loving” and “doting” mothers in their lives. Honestly, I go so far as to ignore Mother’s Day, chalking it up to just another Sunday in the month of May. As a child, I didn’t grow up in the most conducive environment that would produce any “noble” qualities of motherhood and certainly, there was little joy to be found as a woman.

As a child, I felt like a burden to my parents. Something that was to be seen and not heard. I was to fall in line or suffer the consequences, no questions asked. For along time, I didn’t have a relationship with my own parents as a result of their abusive behavior. When I am asked “what was my childhood like?” My normal response, with a smirk, is always “what childhood?” I didn’t have the “normal” upbringing and comfort that most children, hopefully, have. Simply things, like napping on the couch or having an open imagination were mocked relentlessly. There were few hugs and fewer expressions of “I love you.”  As I entered into my teenage and young adult years, it became all about sex, alcohol and drugs. I partied with the best of them, sneaking into clubs and bars. I built an identity on exploitation (If I got it, flaunt it.) and the false idols of sex and power. I married the old wise tale that I was really living the “good life.” When I became a mother, all that changed. There is nothing that that will focus your life like a baby.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Strengthening Marriage, Family, and Home by Destiny Mawson

Speaking in this last General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson expressed the following,
"...we need women who. . . are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world. We need women who are devoted to shepherding God's children along the covenant path toward exaltation; . . .women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly." 
More than ever before our children need us to be the "guardians of the hearth" that President Hinckley mentioned. We need to feverishly be dedicating ourselves to strengthening our marriages, families, and homes so that our children have a haven in which to develop and leave with testimonies firmly in place. 

Time and again, we as women have been championed with defending and fortifying these three elements.

Strengthening Our Marriages
I am presently in my second year of homeschooling my five children and a move for our family allowed my husband to now work from home. We are nearly always all together. The biggest difference I have noticed from when my husband worked in an office and my children attended public school is the need I have for consistent date nights with my husband. Prior, we would maybe get one date a month, sometimes not, but it was enough. However, as my duties as a mother have increased, so has my need to cleave unto my husband more often. I need those quite moments, just he and I to reconnect, to discuss our day without eavesdroppers, to plan and prepare for our future together. Strengthening my marriage allows me to be a better mother and to better focus on my family and home. A former Bishop's wife once told me that she knew her husband was the one when he told her that as much as he loved her, he would always love the Lord first. As hard as it may be sometimes, the order in which we put our efforts should be, first to God, second to our spouse and third, to our children. The order matters.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Why Relief Society Is Not A Glorified Book Club by Jan Francisco

I'm excited to have Jan as my first guest poster (is that a word?) for my celebration of Relief Society! I love everything that Jan writes. She has such great thoughts and says things so well... so make sure to jump over to her blog afterwards.


I love me a good book club. Or a girl's night group. Or even a sit-on-the-couch and crochet-together group. It is so agreeable and validating to surround myself with people who think like I do, have similar pressures of job or home, have 3-5 kids of similar ages. I go from echo chamber to echo chamber and it is comfortable. Pleasant. The conversations don't challenge my status quo, just make me laugh. And, of course, the food!!

Relief Society, however, is not one of these echo chambers. Relief Society is a mix of real women, living in all different phases of maturity, with all different family situations, and vastly different life experiences. Relief Society does challenge my thoughts and the way I live my life. Sometimes I laugh. Often my eyes tear up at the sincerity and goodness of the women around me, their vulnerability in sharing deeply personal and spiritual things with a room full of friends and strangers. I love their hearts. I can see myself in them, whether it is the ghost of Jan Past, Present or Future--and seeing them in their strengths and weaknesses helps me to better see myself. Their motes become my beams; and I see my potential in their triumphs.

Within this mix of women in every ward I've attended, I always find several who just thrill me with their gospel knowledge. These women who make comments like, "Well, you'll remember that Joseph F. Smith promised. . . " or "I have always loved the thought by Brigham Young that. . . " and then they say something profound and topical and analytical and it just wraps the whole thing up in my mind. I adore these Sister Scriptorians. In a 1979 Women's Conference, Camilla Kimball delivered a talk in behalf of her husband, President Kimball, admonishing:
We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family. . . Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to “treasure up” the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?

(I know about this quote because of one of these wonderful women saying, "You know, President Kimball told us all to be Sister Scriptorians, and so I decided that was what I was going to do!")
As a 16-year-old Laurel, my leader was the brilliant Sister Wilson. She was learning Greek so she could read the New Testament in its original language. She taught lessons of doctrine, almost devoid of crafts and handouts. She knew stuff. She blew my mind about the possibilities for sisters in the church. After watching her live the gospel, I had my trajectory roughly laid out--following her lead.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Relief Society Declaration {Giveaway!}

Keep reading for a chance to win this beautiful printable of the Relief Society Declaration
This week the Relief Society, the oldest and largest women's organization in the world, will celebrate is 173 birthday! I have a great love for Relief Society, which has mostly been gained by serving in it for the last 13+ years of my life.  Even though we have moved often somehow Jon and I would always get called to the same callings (him in the young men's and me as the Relief Society secretary), we joked that we must come with sticky notes on our foreheads. In 10 years I served in 8 different Relief Society presidencies!  In fact, I'm teaching seminary in our Ward right now, and besides a few months as the primary chorister (best calling ever!), it is the first time I've had a calling outside of Relief Society.
I've often wondered why the Lord had me serve in Relief Society at a time when most of the women my age were being called to Primary and Young Women's, and I've decided that it was because He knew that I needed to gain a strong testimony of Relief Society. I know that for me, coming to understanding the history and the real purpose of Relief Society has done more to strengthen my testimony of womanhood than anything else (well, besides studying the women in the scriptures). It has changed my heart and opened my eyes to spiritual truths in a big way.
This week I want to celebrate the Relief Society by focusing on the Relief Society Declaration.

Did you even know the Relief Society had a declaration? 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Counseling Together in a Marriage: An Example from Jacob, Leah and Rachel

When my husband and I were first married the best advice we got from our parents was, "Always say a prayer together before discussing money." We have always tried to follow that counsel and not only has it helped us manage our household better, but it was also the first way we learned to counsel together as husband and wife. We learned how to pray together before discussing hard topics, we learned to listen to one another's viewpoints, to respect the revelation received by the other person, and we learned how keep our voices kind. Later on in our marriage we began doing weekly Family Executive Council (FEC) which has been a big blessing to our family. We use to be good about doing it every week, which we need to get back to doing. Now it seems we usually only have one when things reach a crisis point!

The pattern of counseling together is one that has been taught repeatedly by our church leaders. They have  stressed the importance of holding regular counsels, at the Stake, Ward and family level. The point of a counsel is to listen to everyone's viewpoint and then work together to figure out what God wold like you to do, not what you want to do. This is an important principle for any organization but nowhere is counseling together more important than in a marriage, where both the husband and the wife have equal stewardship and authority over their family.

There is a really great story in the scriptures that models what counseling together in marriage looks like. It is the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah in Genesis 31. If you remember, Jacob was the son of Issac and Rebekah and the twin brother of Esau. When Jacob received the birthright Esau was angry and Jacob's parents were afraid he would kill him. So his parents sent Jacob to go live with his Uncle Laban in Padan-aram and to seek a wife from among his family. Jacob ended up staying with Laban for many years and married two of his daughters, Leah and Rachel. After marrying Rachel and Leah Jacob worked with his father-in-law Laban as a shepherd for a long time. Even though Laban was never honest or fair with him, Jacob's riches began to eclipse those of Laban. This made Laban and his son's jealous and eventually, things between  Laban and Jacob reach a crisis point. As it says in Genesis 31:2, "...Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and behold, it as not towards him as before." 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Too Many "Speedo-ish" Dresses Worn to Dances

Here is the original illustration that went along with the story 
I wrote this opinion piece when I was 16 years-old for my High School newspaper. It came from a talk we had one day in the journalism room with some of the Senior boys, who hated asking girls out to dances because they never knew what type of dress they'd have to dance with all night. It sort of went "viral" at my high school and was the first time I'd ever gotten attention for writing, good and bad. I consider it a pretty pivotal piece in my writing "career", because it made me realize that if you said things well people would listen to you. 

A few years ago my step-sister sent me a text telling me that her Seminary teacher had read it to them in her class. Apparently even 12 years later it was still a hit. I begged her to get me a copy of it and she sent me a photocopy of the original piece. I recently found it at the bottom of a drawer and thought I'd share it. 

Please remember this was written by my 16-year-old self. The title of the post is the original headline it had in the school paper and I have kept it just as I wrote it, punctuation and everything. I think the Speedo analogy is still a good one, but it has taken a lot of self-control to not change things, because I'm sure today I wouldn't use words like "disgust"  or "extreme public humiliation" when talking about other people. We all grow as writers and as people. So just keep that in mind. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

What Does it Mean for a Woman to be "Unclean" in the Bible?

There is one word in the Bible that bothered me for a long time. It was the word unclean, especially when it was used in connection with menstruation, childbirth, sexual intimacy and women's bodies. For example in Leviticus 15 it says this,
"And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean." (Lev. 15:9-20)
These scriptures go on for thirteen more verses explaining all the ways women can be unclean during menstruation. In Leviticus 12 it explains how a woman is unclean after childbirth, and how she is doubly unclean after giving birth to a girl. It seems like the Bible is filled with examples of how a woman's body, especially the blood she sheds, is unclean. So unclean in fact, that just being around a woman who is bleeding can make you unclean.

This all really bothered me. I know that are there are some women who were taught to be ashamed of their ability to menstruate, or who are embarrassed or inconvenienced by it,  but my mother did a wonderful job instilling in me the beauty, joy, and responsibility of having a female body. I'd been taught at home, and in church, that things like menstruation, childbirth and sexual intimacy were good things, ways designed to bring new life into the world, and that they were important parts of fulfilling God's plan for His children. It confused me why God would call them "unclean" and even require extensive rituals to become "clean" from them.

When I was writing Walking with the Women of the New Testament I did some research about the Woman with an Issue of Blood. I was interested in knowing what she would have experienced and why she was considered to be unclean. The first thing I learned was that the Hebrew word that is translated as "unclean" in the KJV is the word tuma and it does not mean "dirty" or "contaminated".

Monday, February 8, 2016

If You Ever Wanted to Learn Ancient Greek

I've had a goal to learn ancient Greek for a long time. It first began with my high school journalism teacher who loved the language and would often write Greek words on the white board when he taught. My senior year I even convinced him to give me Greek lessons before school started, which he did for about a semester. My husband Jon even has a degree in Classical Studies (Latin and Greek) from BYU. When people ask why he studied something so obscure he replies, "To catch Heather", because I was completely attracted to him when I found out he was studying Latin and Greek. Turns out that he was better suited to be an engineer (which he got his Master's degree in). I'm pretty sure that if he'd been studying engineering when I met him that I wouldn't have given him a serious look. Sometimes he jokes that we should have switched majors in college, because I would have loved his classes... which is probably true.

Since I missed my opportunity to take Greek (and Hebrew) in college there haven't been very many other chances. I've still always wanted to learn it and to be able to read the New Testament in the original Greek. I am pretty good with a concordance, but I'd love to be able to read it for myself.

Last year one of my home school friends showed me the Greek curriculum that her 10-year-old son was doing. I skimmed through the book and workbook and got really excited. I knew that my kids weren't ready for something like that, but I sure was! When I ordered my curriculum that fall I ordered the first set for myself.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Learning and Choosing to Be Happy at Home

I originally wrote this post as a guest post for another blog (which doesn't exit anymore). I recently found it in my draft box and I am going to post it here so I don't loose it. This was written when I just had two little children (I can't believe how small they were!) and I was still trying to adjust to the instructions God had given me to stay at home with my children. I think my advice is still good... in fact I probably need to listen to myself a bit more. 

When I was 17-years-old one of my best friends and I were sitting backstage at play rehearsal. I can't remember now what prompted it but I remember that I turned to her and told her,

"Promise me, cross your heart and swear to die, that if I ever call you and tell you that I am getting married before the age of 24, have a baby before I get my Master's Degree or decide to be a stay-at-home mom that you will kidnap me and hit me with a baseball bat- even if I tell you I am happy-- just remind me of what I told you today."

She promised, because she could see I spoke those words in dead seriousness. I really meant them. In my 17-year-old mind getting married young, not having an advanced degree, having a house full of babies, and having no career outside of your home were the epitome of failure. Those were all the things that "ordinary" LDS women did and I was certain that they were all faking happiness. I was certain that I was not, and was never going to be, one of those "ordinary" LDS women.

Well, ten years later I am truly grateful that my friend seems to have forgotten her oath, because it turned out that I got married at 21, passed up the opportunity to do my Master's degree to have a baby, chose to be a stay-at-home mom full time instead of continuing with my career path, and fully intend (if God wills it) to have a house full of babies. Basically, according to my 17 year-old self, I am a failure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Birth and Re-Birth of My Children

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
(John 4: 3- 7)

Isn't this the sweetest picture you have ever seen? It melts my heart to see these two little people that I love dressed in white, together.

As I wrote in Noelle's birth story everything about her birth went perfect, except for the fact she was born on the day Asher was going to be baptized. At the time it seemed like a perfect tragedy and a cruel twist of fate. Yet, like always, God's timing turned out to be much better. We ended up having Asher's baptism and Noelle's baby blessing on the same day, the day after Christmas.

It was perfect.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Princess Story {Guest Post by Jaci Wightman}

In President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s popular Conference talk, “Your Happily Ever After,” he lavished young women with words that I’m sure were music to their ears:
You are truly royal spirit daughters of Almighty God. You are princesses, destined to become queens. Your own wondrous story has already begun. Your “once upon a time” is now (Ensign, May 2010).
What girl (or woman for that matter) doesn’t love being told she’s a princess? It’s the stuff dreams are made of. After all, our world today is enamored with the idea of being a member of royalty. Just walk through Walmart and you’ll find princesses plastered on everything from toothbrushes to T-shirts to tennis shoes. And don’t forget all the images of Princess Kate staring back at us while we wait our turn in the checkout line. I believe that’s the reason President Uchtdorf ‘s talk was so beloved—because he took all that princess hoopla and made it real. To think that we as daughters of God are princesses in our own right is pretty heady stuff.