Friday, April 30, 2010

"Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?": Sarah's Birth Story

I really love Sarah's birth story. We don't actually get to hear how she physically gave birth to Issac, which is too bad because personally I would love to hear how a woman who was almost 100 years old handled childbirth, but we do get to hear a lot about her journey towards becoming a mother for the first time.

Jan Provost's "Abraham, Sarah and the Angel", 1520

Sarah was ninety years old when three holy men unexpectedly came to visit Abraham's tent (Gen 18). Abraham and Sarah scrabbled to get food and drink ready for them and once Abraham sat down to eat with them they asked, "Where is Sarah thy wife?" It is significant that they ask for Sarah, the new name God had given her when He made his everlasting covenant with her and Abraham (Gen. 17). Once they knew that Sarah was within hearing distance in the tent behind them (it wouldn't have been culturally appropriate for women to eat with men) they told Abraham, "... I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. (Gen. 18:10) " This wasn't new news to Abraham, he had know that Sarah would bare a child for awhile because the Lord had told him way back in Genesis 17. Apparently he hadn't shared this good news with Sarah because when she heard what the three holy men said she was shocked. We read that she, "laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Gen. 18:12)"

Sarah was an old woman and had already gone through menopause, probably 30 years before. By any medical standard, ancient or modern, it would have been physically impossible for Sarah to bear a child. It sounds like Sarah even doubted Abraham's ability, as a 100 year old man, to even be able to sire a child. It is no wonder that she laughed, that she doubted, what the holy men told her. She had probably given up hoping for a child years ago and she knew it would take a miracle, a literal miracle, for her to become a mother at such an old age. Yet the most beautiful part of this story is what the Lord tells Abraham, "Wherefore did Sarah laugh... Is any thing too hard for the Lord? (Gen. 18: 13-14)" What a beautiful phrase for every woman to remember; whether she is struggling with infertility, struggling with a hard pregnancy, a hard labor, or struggling with raising a difficult child, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Obviously nothing is because in Genesis 21:1-2 we see that "... the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him." I wish that we had more information about this visit that the Lord gives Sarah before she conceives. It may have been similar to the visit that Abraham received (Gen. 17) or it may have been completely different. I think the significant thing is to know that Sarah received a personal visit from God before she became a mother. In a very real way every woman whose womb is "opened" receives a visit from God since it is from Him that all life comes. It is also very true that women, who are ready and willing for them, often receive personal visits from God during their pregnancies and labors. These visits take many different forms: dreams, visions, whisperings of the spirit, ministrations from angels-- on earth and above, feelings of peace, tender mercies, answers to prayers, and many other ways. I think that one of them most important things that Sarah's birth story teaches us is that, even if it seems impossible, God will answer the deepest desires of our hearts and personally give us the knowledge and strength we need to accomplish it. "Nothing is impossible with the Lord" should be every woman's new motto... it wouldn't hurt to tape it on your bathroom mirror:)

"Is Anything too Hard For the Lord?" by Elspeth Young

What We Can Learn From Her Story:
  • All conception and life comes from God. If He wills it, even women who are physically unable to bear children will;
  • Nothing is too hard for the Lord;
  • Never give up hope... even when there is no logical reason to have hope;
  • Birth is a miracle. We often don't realize how precious and miraculous it is until it is taken away;
  • The Lord often sends "holy men (and women)" into our lives to teach us certain lessons and to deliver his messages;
  • God keeps His promises;
  • The Lord personally visits women, in many different ways, before and during their pregnancies.
Questions to think about:
  • Who do you think the three holy men were who came to visit Abraham and Sarah? Why would God send them? Why didn't He just let Sarah get pregnant? Why did he send someone to tell her before hand?
  • We know that the Abraham covenant (Genesis 17) was made not only with Abraham but also with Sarah. Why do you think that the Lord made her wait so long to become a mother? What sort of lessons does waiting teach us?
  • How did the Lord "visit" you before, during or after your pregnancy and labor?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Teaching Children About Adam and Eve

I've been making felt pieces as a fun way to teach my toddler scripture stories and gospel principles. As I was pondering on what stories I should teach him I realized that there is NO more important story for him to understand, and understand well, than the story of Adam and Eve.

My little boy needs to know this story up, down, inside, and outside as soon as possible. He is going to grow up in a world that will do everything it can to confuse him about the nature of gender, the family, and men and women's sacred roles. The Adam and Eve story is the key to understanding who we are, what we are here to do, and where we are going. I don't think it is any coincidence that it one of the most repeated story in the LDS church. Once we understand that story... we understand everything.

As I was making the pieces for him I was struck again by how much beautiful symbolism there is in the Adam and Eve story.

First, out of tradition (I'm not really sure whose), I made the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge red and the fruit on the Tree of Life white. I realized that the red symbolizes the choice to become mortal, our blood and the blood that will have to be sacrificed for us. The white represents our clean and exalted state, having passed through mortality and become clean from the blood and sins of the world.

Also, I made Adam and Eve the same size. This was based off a vision Joseph Smith and Zebedee Coltrin had in which they saw a vision of Adam and Eve:
"The heavens gradually opened, and they saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a light house, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind he ever saw. Joseph said, "They are our first parents, Adam and Eve." Adam was a large, broad-shouldered man, and Eve as a woman, was as large in proportion." (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 11, 1883.)

I love the symbolism of Adam and Eve not only being spiritual equals, but also physical equals. So here is my rendition of the most "perfect specimen" of womankind, as large in proportion as her husband.

Then I made their fig leaves. Hee... hee...

And after some deliberation I made their clothing exactly the same. I debated about making Eve's outfit more "feminine" and maybe making Adam bare chested. Then I realized that the garment God made for them, symbolically Christ's atonement, is exactly the same for men and for women. The atonement's covering is the same no matter if you are male or female.

Poor Adam... his fig leaf is a bit too big. I might have to fix that one of these days.

When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden they would have been the same stature, the man wouldn't have been bigger than the woman, and they would have been wearing the exact same coverings. They were equals in every sense. True, they had been given different responsibilities on this earth, but they were equals before God and before each other in every sense of the word.

From the moment my little boy and girl can form coherent sentences (which is getting pretty soon for my two-year-old) I want them to understand this story. I want them to know, deep down in their soul, that even though men and women are different they are equals before God. I want them to understand their divine roles and to know that God is no respecter of persons, male or female. I want them to treat themselves and those of the opposite sex with equal respect, love and faith.

Too ambitious?

I don't think so.

Here's what my two-year-old re-created for me the other day. He especially likes to point to the trees and yell, "Don't Eat It!" to Adam and Eve when they are put in the garden.

I think he is getting the idea.

How have you taught your children the Adam and Eve story?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Women of the Book of Mormon": Book Review

Recently I have been in contact with Heather B. Moore, the author of the Out of Jerusalem series and the recently published book, Women of the Book of Mormon: Insights and Inspirations. She sent me a copy of her book to review and I was so excited to receive take a look at it.

I have to admit that when I got it I was kind of disappointed that it was so short. It is an incredibly beautiful book but it is only 90 pages long. When I opened the cover and saw that only 12 women (or groups of women) were mentioned I was kind of disappointed. There are over 87 different women or groups of women mentioned in the Book of Mormon and I was hoping more of them would be included. Still, most people don't even know that are more than 2 or 3 women mentioned in the Book of Mormon, let alone the 12 that were included in this book. Also, in all fairness, she does mention a lot of other women than just the ones she has chapters for. For example, in the Sariah chapter she covers Nephi's sisters, Ishmael's wife and his daughters. So really this book covers quite a bit more than just the 12 women she lists, who are:
  • Sariah
  • Eve
  • Mary
  • Sarah
  • Twenty-four Lamanite Daughters
  • Queen of King Lamoni
  • Abish
  • Queen of King Lamoni's Father
  • Isabel
  • Mothers of the Two Thousand Stripling Warriors
  • Daughter of Jared
  • Wife of Mormon
I really think Moore does beautiful job of capturing the essence and experience of each woman. Her excellent historical and cultural data helps paint a picture of what each woman's life would have been like and her spiritual insights are beautiful and inspired. Yet I think the most valuable thing that she does in this book is to model how to study the women in the scriptures. There are very few, only 6, women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon and so it takes quite a bit of "reading between the lines" in order to see and understand the other women whose stories make up a significant portion of the book. I think that Moore demonstrates how, if you just dig a little and pay attention, you can discover a treasure trove of information about a woman's life and experiences.

I especially loved her chapter on the Wife of Mormon because she was able to take what is only a vague reference and, by examining the events surrounding her life, is able to paint a beautiful picture of who this woman might have been and what her experiences would have been. I also loved her chapters on Eve, Mary and Sarah because I liked how she focused on how the Nephites would have understood and applied these women's stories. How Sariah would have found strength from her knowledge of Sarah's story or how understanding the story of Eve would have influenced the prophet Jacob's sensitivity towards women (Jacob 2).I think Moore did a wonderful job of demonstrating how the ancient Book of Mormon women would have likened their knowledge of the women in the brass plates to their lives, and how likewise we can liken the lives of the women in the Book of Mormon to our modern lives.

I really enjoyed reading this book and think it will be valuable addition to my library. I learned a lot from her insights and can only say I wish there was more of them. I guess that is a sign of a good book though, when you want more and not less. I also feel like this book will be a valuable tool to help other women start on the path towards becoming a women in the scripture scholar... or at least enthusiast. There definitely aren't enough of us... yet.

Oh, and did I mention the art work is lovely. I think that the picture of Mary on the front cover might just be one of my new favorites.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bearing Children in the Wilderness: Sariah, Nehi's Sisters, and Ishmael's Daughters

There were 9 (at least) amazing women who traveled for over 8 years in the wilderness with Lehi and his family-- Sariah, Nephi's sisters (2 Nephi 5:6 ), Ishmael's wife, and her five daughters who married Zoram, Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi. Nephi tells us that these women "...suffered all things, save it were death" (1 Ne. 17: 20) which included toiling while big and heavy with child, bearing children in the wilderness, starving, not having enough to feed their children, loosing loved ones, and many other hardships. It is important to remember that these women weren't the pioneering, live in a tent, cook outdoors, kill your own food, and wear animal skins type of women. They were rich, pampered Jerusalem ladies who had probably never had to lift a finger most of their lives. We know that Lehi was a man of wealth and substance in Jerusalem and it is likely that Ishmael was as well. Before leaving Jerusalem these women would have had very comfortable lives with lots of servants, nice houses, fancy clothes, and expensive foods. I'm sure that when they envisioned their futures they didn't see themselves trekking across the wilderness nine months pregnant and eating raw meat.

Yet because they had faith in God and in His chosen prophet they left their homes, family, friends behind in Jerusalem and took a leap of faith into the wilderness. In the wilderness God pushed them to their utmost limits spiritually and physically. At one point or another they all had their moments of weakness and doubt but they clung firmly to their faith and in the end.... they did it. They overcame their doubts and became spiritually stronger. Yet maybe even more significantly, they were able to endure their physical trials and they became physically stronger; so strong that Nephi wrote this about them, "... our women...were strong, yea, even like unto the men." (1 Ne. 17: 2)

"Daughters in the Wilderness" from

I think that one of the most beautiful things that these women's birth stories teach us is that women are strong... spiritually and physically. In my post "Appreciating the Physicality of Birth" I wrote this which I think fits beautifully in with these Book of Mormon women's experiences:

"For most women pregnancy, labor and birth are the hardest things they will ever do physically. Carrying and giving birth to a child requires a great deal of endurance, faith in your body's ability, listening to and trusting your body, learning how to handle pain, learning to let go, sheer strength and willpower. Most women wouldn't ever stretch their bodies and their souls in that sort of physical way (I make an exception for marathoners and other athletes) unless they were asked to. God didn't have to design childbirth to be physically hard, but he did. I think it is because He knew that his spiritually minded daughters needed to learn eternal lessons that could only be learned by learning to listen to their physical selves and learning to trust their bodies."

The process of becoming a mother often pushes us to the limits of what we think we can endure; it strips us down to what we are at the core. What we learn by suffering, enduring and overcoming in our mortal bodies is important to our eternal souls. These women's stories teach us that we shouldn't shy away from or be scared of challenges which push us physically because they are often a catalyst for spiritual growth. When women learn to trust to God, put their faith in him, and take a leap out of their comfort zone they often discover their inner strength and realize that they can do anything...even give birth to babies in the wilderness.

Questions to think about:

  • Take a second to imagine what it would be like walking across the desert nine months pregnant. Think about where these women would have given birth, who they would have been surrounded by, and who would have delivered their babies? What would their labors and births would have looked like? Imagine them holding their babies for the first time. Imagine them strapping their babies onto their backs and continuing on their journey. What sort of strength can you gain from their experiences and stories?
  • Did your birth experiences take you out of your "comfort level"? Did they strengthen you physically? Spiritually?
  • Why is motherhood a physically demanding calling? Why didn't God make it easy and pain free?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why I Love My Stretch Marks

Do you remember that part in Gone With the Wind when Scarlet has just had her baby and is upset because Mammy can only get her corset laced up to 21 inches instead of her pre-pregnancy 19 inches ?

Mammy tells her, "Honey child, you done had a baby. You ain't never gun a be 19 inches again."

I think those are some of the wisest words of the entire show and lately they have been circulating through my mind a lot.

My little nursling will be 7 months old soon and my body is still not back to how it was before I was pregnant with her. Even though I've been back to my original weight for a few months (breastfeeding works wonders on my metabolism) my body is still different. I'm sure you wouldn't notice anything by looking at me, but I've lived in my body for a quarter of century and I can tell you that things aren't the same as before-- my hips are wider, my chest is a bit more saggy, my core muscles aren't quite as tight, and I have six purple marks on my side that remind me my belly really can stretch to an unfathomable size.

I just have to keep telling myself, "Heather child, you done had two babies. Your body ain't never gun a be the same again."

It has taken me awhile to come to terms with it, but it is true. No matter how hard I try my body is never gone to be the same as it was before I had my children. My children are literally parts of myself and they exist because my body sacrificed blood, cells, calcium, iron and millions of other particles to make them. I am literally missing pieces of my body that I will never be able to get back because they are now walking, talking, breathing, laughing, crying, and living in the form of two beautiful children. Becoming a mother, even if you don't physically give birth to a child, requires a huge sacrifice from your body and spirit. It is a sacrifice, that according to Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the First Quorum of the Seventy and his wife Marie K. Hafen, greatly parallels the sacrifice made by our Savior, they said:
"Just as a mother's body may be permanently marked with the signs of pregnancy and childbirth, [the Savior] said, 'I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands' (1 Ne. 21:15–16). For both a mother and the Savior, those marks memorialize a wrenching sacrifice--the sacrifice of begetting life--for her, physical birth; for him, spiritual rebirth" ("'Eve Heard All These Things and Was Glad': Grace and Learning by Experience," in Dawn Hall Anderson and Susette Fletcher Green, eds.,Women in the Covenant of Grace: Talks Selected from the 1993 Women's Conference [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994], p. 29)."
I gives me strength to remember that just as Christ bears marks in his hands, feet and side as symbols of his blood sacrifice; I too have stretch marks on my side that bear testimony to my sacrifice of blood and my willingness to bring life into the world. I find strength to go forward with my mothering by remembering that just as Christ's body was resurrected, making him complete physically and spiritually, that my body is constantly renewing itself and that one day I too will be complete, physically and spiritually. I also know that my joy is more full because of my children and that because of the sacrifice my body has made life will go forward and my family will go on eternally.

So for all the mothers our there I want to remind you to rejoice in your stretch marks, to be grateful for your extra weight and wider hips, to accept your c-section scar, and to find joy in the tired bags under your eyes because they are symbols of your sacrifice.

For all you who have yet to become mothers I want to remind you to rejoice in the blood you shed each month because it is a beautiful symbol of hope and it bears testimony to the promise of continuing life.

And for all you women who are struggling with loving and accepting your body I want to remind you that anything or anyone that belittles, exploits, demeans, or mistrusts your body is not from God. Your body is beautiful, mind boggling amazing, and so deeply symbolic of Christ. Also, remember that in the eternal scheme of things-- frankly my dear, no one will give a damn if you had a 19 inch waist or not. If you are shocked by my swearing, you need to watch the end of Gone with the Wind :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Easter Gift for You

For my Easter gift to all of you I want to share this video. It is Mary's perspective of the crucifixion and resurrection of her son. If you don't have a calm five minutes to watch it right now, come back when you do. It is really beautiful and if you are like me it will make you bawl all over your keyboard. The scenes are taken from the movie "The Passion" and I will forewarn you that minute 3:15-3:46 is when they put the nails in His hands and raise the cross-- it can be hard really hard to take so you might want to close your eyes if you are squeamish.

I love this little glimpse we get into how Christ's sacrifice must have been viewed through His mother's eyes. The more I learn about Mary that more I am stunned by what an amazing woman of faith she was. From the very beginning she knew who her son was; she stood by him even when others doubted him, she stood beneath him when he hung on the cross. and she held him when they brought him down. How could she bear such grief? She, who was His mother and who knew of his divinity, how did she have the faith to watch her son suffer and die?

Seeing Christ's sacrifice through the eyes of His mother has touched my own mothering heart in a powerful way. I feel now that I more fully appreciate and understand the magnitude of what Christ went through to atone for my sins. I also understand more the sacrifice made my Mary and how God must have wept and how Heaven must have mourned as they witnessed Christ's death and the great joy that followed his resurrection.

I just want to you all to know that I know Jesus Christ lives and that He is our Savior and Redeemer. I bear testimony to His resurrection and express my joy and gratitude for His love and sacrifice.

Have a beautiful Easter!