Monday, May 24, 2010

To Prepare the Way: Elisabeth's Birth Story



Elisabeth, the wife of Zacharias, became the mother of John the Baptist who was born only six months before his cousin, Jesus. Before he was even born it was prophesied by his father that John would "go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways." (Luke 1: 76) John's ministry among the children of Israel was to help prepare them to hear the words of Christ whom he said was "...one mightier than I... the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." (Mark 1:7) In the same way that John prepared the way for Christ to accomplish his divine mission his mother, Elisabeth, helped prepare the way for Mary to accomplish her divine mission.

In Luke 1 we read that Elisabeth and Zacharias were righteous and "blameless" before God and yet they had never been granted children. They were both "stricken in years" when Zacharias, performing his Levitical duties in the temple, was visited by an angel who told him that Elisabeth would bear a son and that his name would be John. Zacharias doubted and so the angel struck him dumb. Yet just as the angel, Gabriel, promised Elisabeth became pregnant in her old age. She hid her pregnancy from everyone until she was five months along saying, "Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men." (Luke 1:25)

When she was in her six month of pregnancy Mary, her young cousin, was visited by the same angel that had spoken with Zacharias and told that she would bear the son of God. When Mary doubted asking, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" the angel explained that the Holy Ghost would over shadow her and gave the fact that Elisabeth was six months pregnant as proof that "with God nothing shall be impossible." (Luke 1:37) Not long after this visit with the angel Mary leaves her home in Nazareth and travels to Judah, which was about 67 miles away, to visit Elisabeth. One can only imagine that she was anxious to know if what the angel had told her was true and to gain the strength to handle the heavy burden that had been placed upon her young shoulders.

When she got to Elisabeth's house Mary was greeted with two additional witnesses that what the angel told her was true. First, Mary could plainly see that Elisabeth, despite her old age, was more than six months pregnant. Second, the babe within Elisabeth lept within her when he heard Mary's voice and Elisabeth was filled with the holy ghost. She knew, before Mary even told her, that she was carrying the savior and the redeemer of the world within her womb. Elisabeth blessed Mary and told her "...for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." (Luke 1:45)



The story of Elisabeth and Mary is very powerful because it demonstrates first that when God gives us a commandment or inspiration he always give us multiple witnesses to proclaim the truthfulness of his word. One can only imagine that Mary must have felt quite afraid and alone as she faced her future life. She was betrothed and pregnant and didn't know how her future husband would react but she knew she faced the possibility of being stoned to death. She also didn't know how her family would react or how she would be able to explain to them her situation. She must have felt quite afraid and very alone. What a blessing then for her to have Elisabeth who through the power of the Holy Ghost was able to discern what had happened to her and who was able to give her the emotional, spiritual, and physical strength she needed to go forward on the hard path she had accepted from the Lord.

I think God usually sends someone into our lives who helps pave the way for us to accomplish our divine missions on this earth. He sends people to us who will guide us onto the right path, who will validate our feelings and bear testimony to the promptings, dreams, visions and revelations that we have received from the Lord. I know that for me my beautiful sister-in-law was my "Elisabeth" and it was her faith, strength and encouragement that guided me and sustained me on my path towards becoming a mother.

After a long struggle with infertility my beautiful sister-in-law gave birth to her first child just six months before I gave birth to mine. I was terrified of motherhood and doubted my ability to handle pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and all the other responsibilities that came with a baby. Yet as I watched her blossom in her pregnancy, saw her make faith filled and conscious decisions about labor, breastfeeding, and motherhood and then watched her bloom as she gave birth to her daughter naturally without drugs or interventions... I was in awe. My soul took strength from her example and I began to look forward to the experience of child birth and breastfeeding with joy. Even though she didn't have a home birth she was the one who directed me towards my midwife and who joyfully supported me me when I told her that I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to have my baby at home. She was the one I turned to when my fears overpowered my faith and when I began to doubt myself and the Lord. She, like Elisabeth did for Mary, bore testimony to what I knew the Lord had told me and gave me the courage to go forth in faith. She paved the way for me and helped me take my first fledgling steps into motherhood. Without her help and encouragement I don't know if I would have had the courage to make the choices I did. Yet the choices I made about my son's birth have made all the difference in my life and have changed my soul and the direction of my life more than any other experience I've had. God knew that I needed those lessons and he sent a beautiful woman into my life to guide me towards them... I will be forever grateful for her.


Me (second from the left) pregnant with my first baby with my sister-in-laws

I know that there are people in every person's life who are sent to "...go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way" and help give us the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical strength we need to accomplish what the Lord has sent us here to do. For me this person was my sister-in-law, for Christ it was John the Baptist, and for Mary it was Elisabeth... who was it for you?

What We Can Learn From Her Story:
  • Women can receive divine inspiration about who their children are and what their missions are in this life even before they are born;
  • Women are entitled to the gift of prophecy and to be filled with the spirit of the Holy Ghost;
  • If the Lord wills it, even women who are physically unable to bear children will;
  • God knows when every child needs to be born on this earth and to which parents. Sometimes that means that women have to wait a long time for the children they were foreordained to be the mothers of;
  • God always gives us multiple witnesses to attest to the truth and divinity of what he tells us;
  • God sends people before us that prepare the way for us to accomplish our divine missions.
Questions To Think About:
  • Why do you think Elisabeth hid her pregnancy from others for five months?
  • Why did Mary go back home to Nazareth after three months, just about the time her pregnancy would start showing? Why didn't she stay with Elisabeth till after John was born? Or even until after her baby was born?
  • What does it mean to you to "be filled with the Holy Ghost"? Have you ever had that experience before?
  • Who have been the "Elisabeths" in your life? Who have been the "Marys"?
  • It is interesting to note how different Elisabeth's and Mary's pregnancies and births were. Elisabeth's pregnancy was heralded as a miracle and the events surrounding John's birth were "noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea." In contrast, Mary's pregnancy was probably met with tears, anger and shame from her family, Joseph's family and all their kinsfolk and acquaintances. No one, except Mary, Joseph, Elisabeth and God knew the true miracle of her conception and when Christ was born he came in a humble stable with no one, expect the shepherds to bear witness of his birth. Why do you think that these two birth experiences were so different?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Reenactment of the First Relief Society Meeting

If you would like a copy of this program you can find it here.



Every year in March LDS women around the world commemorate the birthday of the Relief Society which was organized by the prophet Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois. In the past our local Relief Society has just had a nice dinner and a simple program... but this year someone got the brilliant idea to reenact the original meeting. I got SUPER excited about this and volunteered to write the script and organize the actors.

As I started to write the script I realized that I wanted it to be historically accurate and that I wanted the actors to say the words that the real people would really have said. So being the overachiever.... super nerd... that I am, I made a trip to Salt Lake City to look at Eliza R. Snow's (the original secretary) minutes taken at the first meeting. The church has them digitized at the new Church History Library and it was so incredible to be able to see Eliza R. Snow's handwriting and read what was said that day.

I copied her notes word for word and then wrote my script making sure that the right people said and did the right things. In almost all the cases (I had to make a few exceptions for the times they used parliamentary procedure) everything that people say is exactly what Eliza said they said.

Getting everything organized was a lot of work but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Besides... I got to be Emma.



And my husband was Joseph...


Don't you think he makes the perfect Joseph Smith?
It was actually really weird kissing him when he was in costume :)


As I read Eliza R. Snow's minutes it was really interesting to discover that they used parliamentary procedure and the meeting was pretty formal. Every woman who was in the society had to be nominated and approved by a show of hands, as did all the officers.

Here we are voting...





I also loved it that every time the women needed to do their "business" and vote on something the "gentlemen withdrew."



I was really impressed by the respect and deference the men had for the women. The Relief Society was, and is, a truly inspired organization and has always done so much to empower and enrich the lives of women all over the world. Here is what Joseph Smith,
"My dear sisters, the purpose of this meeting today is the making complete the organization of the church by organizing the women after the manner of the Priesthood...I propose that you sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over you and let that presiding officer choose two counselors to assist in the duties of her office. I will ordain them to preside over the society and let them preside just as the Presidency presides over the church. And if they need my instruction, ask me and I will give it from time to time... If any officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart as Deacons, Teachers, etcetera are among us. "



This really was such an amazing project for me and it turned out to be an incredible experience for our Relief Society. I think one woman, who was one of the actors, explained it best. She said, "It felt like Joseph and Emma and all the rest were really here. Like they were standing in the background watching us."

It really did feel like they were there and it is kind of hard to describe how beautiful it felt. We had our own little piece of history.













Researching, writing, planning and participating in this reenactment really strengthened my testimony of the Relief Society and of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I realized what incredible people these early Saints were and how my life has been so blessed because of their courage and faith. I am so grateful to have such a great spiritual heritage. It makes me proud to know that I am helping to carry on the work that these women began more than 150 years ago. It is just as important today as it was then and seeing what they went through has made me a more dedicated follower of Jesus Christ.

If you would like to read the full script that I wrote you can access it here or email me at heatherlady at gmail.com for a copy. You are free to use the script for your own use as long as you give credit to where you got it from. In fact... I hope you do use it because learning about the incredible history and mission of the Relief Society is really powerful and helps women understand that as Emma Smith said, "... sisters, we are going to do something extraordinary!"


Pictures were taken by Heather Zwygart Photography

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ask Me a Question About Mormons... Any Question

I realize that while a significant portion of my readers belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (aka. LDS or Mormon) that there are many of you who read this blog who are from other faiths. I think this is SO wonderful. It is always good to be able to share religious beliefs and values with one another. No one has a monopoly on truth and the more we learn to respect and understand different viewpoints, the closer we come to understanding real truth.
So, no matter what faith you are... Welcome and I am so glad you read this.

I've been debating lately if I should try to keep my posts more general so that they appeal to a more diverse audience. Yet, as I've attempted to write some more "general" posts I've realized that my LDS faith is such an integral part of who I am and how I look at the world that leaving it out makes my writing hallow and unauthentic. Still, I realize that I often write from an LDS viewpoint and use religious terms, jargon or doctrinal concepts that may not be familiar to people who don't understand LDS theology.

In light of this I've decided to have an "Ask a Mormon a Question... Any Question" post in which you can ask me, a faithful, life long member, any questions you have about Mormons or Mormon theology. Just post a question as a comment and I will respond back to your comment as another comment in this post. That way if someone else has already asked the question you want to know then you can just read my response. You can ask as many questions as you want. I especially hope that if in any of my posts, future or previous, I talk about a concept or use words that you don't understand that you will come back to this post (I'll put a button on my side bar that will link to it) and ask me to explain it.

I am really excited about this but please remember that ALL comments are moderated on this blog and I reserve the right to not publish questions that are derogatory or rude.

So...

What do you want to know?