Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaching Children About Sexual Intimacy

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic this post is not appropriate for young readers.

I received a wonderful comment a few days ago on a post I wrote last year called "In Which I Vent", which was an rant about a PG rated movie that showed several scenes of intimacy between a husband and a wife. This reader's comment brought up some really interesting thoughts and I thought it would make for a really good discussion. Here is what she wrote:
I have been mulling over this post for about a year now! I am very inclined to agree with you in every way. But I am also curious about how to teach children about sexuality in general. I told a friend of mine about your perspective on this movie and she said "I disagree, I want my daughters to have a good experience on their wedding night." Not that you have to view "soft porn" or any such thing to have a good experience, but when we view sexuality as "bad" it can be hard for our children to get the message that, between husband and wife, it is very very good. I know so many LDS women who have had a difficult time transitioning from "don't have sex, don't think about sex, don't do anything to arouse those emotions" to "enjoy it and become one with your husband." I mean, it took probably 10 years for my mom to not feel guilty after she was married. And I know many women feel the same. I even have an aunt who isn't active who thinks that the LDS Church views sex as bad in any form! So I guess my question is, how to we "live in the world and not be of the world," but at the same time teach our children to view intimacy in marriage as sacred and right?
I really appreciate this reader for being brave enough to address these questions because I think they are really important. Yet before I open up the conversation I just want to give my thoughts, I have two.

First, I think that sometimes when we are watching TV that we forget that the scenes and the people on the screen are real. We get so caught up in the fantasy world that TV creates for us that we forget that the man and the woman on the screen who are making out, taking off each other's clothes, and laying on top of each other in bed (all things that were in the movie I vented about) are not really married and therefore are not demonstrating healthy marital intimacy but rather fornication or adultery. Yet even if the actors were really married it would wouldn't make watching those type of actions any better. Just imagine if you were at the park and you saw a scantily clad married couple making out or lying on top of each other on a blanket under a tree, would you sit your children across from them and encourage them to watch it? If you are struggling with trying to decide if something is appropriate for your children (or you) to be watching just take a step back and ask yourself "Would I feel comfortable watching this if it were happening right before my eyes in real life." If the answer is "no" then you should probably turn it off.



Second, I think that this reader brings up a good point that there are some men and women who associate intimacy with feelings of guilt and shame. Yet I'd venture to say that one of the reasons men and women sometimes feel guilty about intimacy isn't because they haven't been exposed to it enough; it is because they have been exposed too much. Some of the feelings of shame associated with sexuality come from seeing something sacred and divine portrayed common and dirty. When we allow sacred things to be exploited for purposes of entertainment or curiosity we degrade and cheapen them. It hurts us to the very center of our divine nature and keeps us from fully experiencing the joy and the enlightenment that God wants us to glean from them.

I think that saying, "I want my daughter to have a good experience on her wedding night so I'll let her see sexual intimacy before she is married" is like saying, " I want my daughter to have a good experience the first time she goes to the temple so I'll let her see people performing temple ordinances before she goes." In both cases having a good experience has nothing to do with what you have seen or heard but has everything to do with how emotionally and spiritually prepared you are and how well you understand the sacred nature of what you are participating in. We would never want the sacred nature of the temple to be treated as common or to be misrepresented and the same is true of sexual intimacy. It is to be kept sacred-- not secret or scary-- but very sacred.

In speaking of sexual intimacy between a couple who have kept themselves morally pure and have a relationship built on mutual trust, commitment and respect M. Russel Ballard said,
"..For those couples sex becomes a form of communication, a way of expressing deep feelings for which there aren't adequate words. It is nature's most sublime way of bonding one human soul to another. And when its desired result is the creation of new life, it allows a man and a woman to join hands with God in fulfilling one of the key elements of Heavenly Father's eternal plan for his children. If that sounds old-fashioned, so be it. It also has the benefit of being true. And right." ( "Our Search for Happiness", pg. 107)
Each couple's form of communication is going to be different, and it can't be learned from a book, a magazine or a movie, it is something they must discover together. Part of me wishes we lived in the days when men and women went into marriage with no sexual expectations. They truly got to create and discover their own intimate language and communication without outside voices telling them what was "normal", "right" or "good". I think that today in our world that is so inundated with sexuality that couples have to unlearn much of what they have been taught by the world about sex in order to have a good healthy relationship.

So my advice for wanting to help your daughter be ready to have a good experience on her wedding night is to keep her away (as much as you can) from the world's portrayals of sexuality, even if they seem relatively harmless... because they aren't. Let her and her husband discover and learn to speak their own sacred, intimate language. Don't handicap her by exposing her to things that are only going to cheapen and demean her divine nature. Instead focus on helping her understand the divine power that she houses within her body and her responsibility to use it wisely, show her what a good relationship between a husband and wife looks like, and answer her questions honestly and openly but still keep sacred things sacred.

Okay those are my thoughts... now lets discuss.

Please remember to be kind and considerate of others when you comment, not everyone is in the same situation.

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Jo from East Yorkshire, England

For today's guest post I am excited to introduce Jo! She does a good job of introducing herself and so I'll just skip straight to her post. The questions in bold are the ones I asked and her responses are below.



Hi. My name is Jo and I live on the East Yorkshire coast, UK with my husband Dominic and our 2-year-old son Caleb. Dominic and I have been married for 3 and a half years; we met in 2003 as friends, dated for a while from 2004 and then both left to serve missions in 2005. I served in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission and Dominic served in the England London Mission. I returned home in 2006, he came home in 2007 and we were married in 2008! I am currently serving as the Relief Society president in my ward (just one of the reasons my blog is in desperate need of an update or two).

1. What is the dominate belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?

A few years ago, if you asked people here what religion they were, most people would answer Church of England although all that means is that they were christened in the Church of England... very few people actually attended church services. Now people are much more open about not being religious at all and, particularly where we live, that makes up the vast majority of the people! Many of the religious people actively attending any church in England are immigrants from other countries. I grew up in an area predominantly Muslim for much of my childhood and observed how they worked hard to preserve their cultural and religious roots, for example many churches were converted into Mosques. I had a wonderful childhood as it allowed me to grow up with many children who were being taught the same moral values.
Religion is generally tolerated here as long as it doesn't impose on anyone and the only strong opposition against our church comes from other Christian churches. Businesses and stores are all open on a Sunday, it is a trading day just like any other now.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

I have been a member of the church all my life. My mother is a convert to the church and my paternal grandparents are converts. I have recently been gathering together information from my grandfather about his personal history and it was a great blessing to hear him tell me about the amazing experiences he has had over the years, many of them too sacred to share. My grandfather worked as a coal miner in West Yorkshire, he and my grandmother had only been married a few years when the missionaries found them and they were baptised in 1957. He has been a real inspiration in our family and really led the way; he was a member of the first bishopric to be organized in Europe, helped establish the church scouting programme in the UK and was called onto the temple presidency when the Preston Temple was first dedicated. We would consider him and many like him to be (slightly more modern) pioneers.


3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area? How many stakes, wards, or branches are there in your area? On an average Sunday how many members attend church? Do people have to travel far to attend church? What are the demographics of your ward? Are most members young, old, married, single, are there more women then men? Or it is it a good balance?

The city we live in has a population of around 300,000. It is split into two wards, one with an average attendance of around 110 and one with an attendance close to 200. Our ward boundaries cover over 100 sq miles; half a city, 3 towns and around 40 villages, many of which are too far for the missionaries to travel to and so have no members. The furthest active members of our ward live around 15 miles from the chapel, many travel by Bus, some have to take a bus and a taxi. Our ward has more women than men and only 4 active YSA, with most of our active members being over 40. The ward on the other side of the city covers the university area and so has a much different demographic!


4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

Our nearest temple is the Preston temple about 90 miles away. It was dedicated in 1997 and serves all of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland. Before the Preston temple, we would attend the London Temple, 250 miles away. We often would leave at 3-4am to arrive for our allocated time.

I remember my Parents telling me about their experience getting sealed in the London temple back in 1982. In our country, the sealing ceremony is not recognised as a legally binding marriage and so we must be married in a civil ceremony first. My mum and dad were married on a Friday evening at their local LDS chapel. They had a reception there and then drove down to London through the night, arriving at the temple in time for an early morning sealing!

The saints in the North of England rejoiced when we found out a temple would be built so close to us! It takes us just under 2 hours to drive to the temple and it is wonderful! Because the temple district is quite large there is an accommodation centre on the grounds so saints can stay overnight, usually for the week, and work in the temple.

The temple is not very busy during the week but at the weekends it gets really busy. Mostly with youth in the baptistry!

There was some opposition to the building of the temple and the usual anti-Mormon protesters but it seems that mostly people are just curious as to what it is. Many people comment about how beautiful the building is as it stands on a hill overlooking the moors and is clearly seen from a busy motorway!

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

Most people have heard of Mormons although the very next thing they ask is “Are you those people who have a ton of wives?!!” It is vary rare to find anyone with any accurate knowledge and so it is commonplace to be quizzed, especially at school and work.



6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

Missionary work has been going on here since the church began (the oldest ward in the whole church is in Preston and the first mission of the church was the England London mission) but is usually thought to be challenging. The greatest barriers to the work seem to be the general apathy toward religion, most people just don't think – or want to think about it. And the relative affluence and comfort most people here live with - “we don't need it” is a common response. In our ward we have a convert baptism probably on average once a quarter. We have one companionship of Elders assigned to our ward at any given time and they generally find it challenging and would like to have the success the elders in the university area have. The general feeling here is that the key to success with missionary work is with young people, and we are no exception, the average age of converts baptised into our ward is in the early 20s.

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

The national average for number of children here is about 2. it is usually larger within the church but a family of six would still be considered large by most, even in the church. The traditional family is no longer the most common kind of family here, married heterosexual couples are fewer than the combination of single parent or same-sex parent families, with so few fathers present in families that the government is officially trying to get more men into teaching so that the next generation have some idea of a male role model.

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?


I visit 4 sisters, most of them within a couple of miles and I do visit one sister who lives in a village about 10 miles away. The best experience I can remember with Visiting Teaching was at conference time this autumn. I have always felt that many times we make a visit and give the message to be able to report we have “done our duty”, I was determined that this would not be the the case. I visit one older sister in particular, she is a widow living alone and I had noticed from my earlier visits that she just loved to talk and was not so interested in receiving a message. Well for October, instead of just making another visit I invited her to come and share dinner with our family on conference Sunday and to stay afterwards to watch conference and socialise. She had a great time, enjoyed playing with our boisterous 2 year old and spent most of the day in the company of friends. We all really enjoyed having her over, but more than that, I felt that making that small extra effort to think of her needs made more difference to her than a year of well prepared and laminated messages! And it wasn't just me, helping her. She was able to bring to our family, a sweet spirit as she shared stories of when she had a young family at home. She shared her memories and her testimony with us and it was an experience that I will treasure!


9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?


The most common challenge of the sisters in our ward is finding a worthy man to marry. We have so many sisters who have to live without some of the greatest blessings God has for us in this life. It is often the case that faithful sisters choose to remain single as the only available men are not members.


10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

The greatest blessing I feel has come to me directly through the gospel is that it has given me the ability to have a relationship with my Saviour and through Him, a relationship with my Father in Heaven. The knowledge that I am part of something much greater than what I see around me, gives me hope and helps me not get discouraged when trials come my way.

When all around me seems dark, the gospel of Jesus Christ offers a bright hope and pours light into my world-weary heart.

Thank you Jo! Oh, and you should really go check out her blog she is an AMAZING photographer!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Amy in Japan

Today's guest post is from one of my sweet friends (and fellow doula) Amy. She use to live just down the street from me but last year moved with her husband and two little kids to Japan. I was thrilled she was willing to talk about her experiences being a member of the LDS church there. She is lovely.

Link

Our family belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Both my husband and I were born into the church to convert parents. We met at the church's private university, BYU, in Provo, Utah and have lived in Utah off and on the past 9 years. The LDS church is prevalent in Utah, which means that living there is quite a unique experience. There is a church on every block or two, it seems, and temples are abundant.

In January of this year, we moved from Utah to the smallest prefecture, Kagawa, on the smallest island, Shikoku, in Japan to teach English. This is our second time living here--something about the countryside of Japan is appealing to us. However, being LDS on a small Japanese island after living for years in the mecca of Mormonism is extremely different and something we are still getting used to.

Besides the language, the differences about the church here and the church in the U.S. are quite extreme. Let's start with the temple. When Fox and I moved from Logan, we attended the temple regularly. It was about a 5 minute drive from our house. Here, the closest temple is the Fukuoka temple, which opened in 2000. About every 4 months, our branch charters a bus on the day of a national holiday. The bus picks everyone up at midnight outside the branch building and treks the 8 hours to the temple. Once there, members go through two sessions and then clean the temple. The bus leaves in the afternoon to make the long journey back--the price for a bus ticket on the temple trip is about $120.

Even though we drive 45 minutes each way to our small branch building with only 60 active members on a good day (and our little Cosette is the only child in the nursery), the distance to the temple is what stings the most. There are some other noticeable differences, as well. Visiting teaching is done in groups of 6 and held after church, since most people have to travel a bit to the building. Members worthy to hold callings are few, so most worthy members have 2 or 3 callings. We are fortunate that we have 3 amazing translators in our ward who translate the Sunday talks into English for us. We also have about ten Americans in our branch (all from Utah!), so we have an English-speaking Sunday school, which is nice.

Culturally, we deal with a lot more Word of Wisdom issues than we have ever faced before when living in the United States. Most people here are Shinto--which is a cultural religion honoring the link between the past and the present, the earth and heaven--or Buddhist. There is a lot of tea drinking! We get the opportunity to explain why we don't drink tea quite often. Also, drinking alcohol with friends and colleagues is a huge part of the culture here. It is a sign of respect to get drunk in front of your coworkers. Luckily for us, our boss is the Young Men's president in our branch :) Unfortunately, pornography is rampant in Japan--adult video stores are everywhere. Pornography is openly displayed in every convenience store--which is quite a shock. The culture is very casual with nudity and adultery. This gives us an opportunity to constantly stand for what is right.

Lest you think that being LDS in Japan is all cons, there are some pros, as well. Missionary work here (we are in the Kobe mission) is doing amazing. We have been to several baptisms in the last 6 months! Our branch fellowships new and visiting members with amazing lunches held after church. The smallness of our branch breeds closeness--everyone is always smiling, shaking hands, and sharing any small excess from their harvest. Almost everyone is a first-generation convert and will tell you stories of how they rode 6 hours to church on their bike with their two children. Before our current branch building, built last year, members were attending church on the 2nd floor of a dilapidated building for thirty years--several classes held in the large room with just a divider between them.

Our family in 2008 with a friend from church and her family



The closest LDS temple, Fukuoka, about an 8 hour drive



The closest Buddhist temple, about a 15 minute drive

Perhaps the greatest blessing in being LDS so far from home in a country that knows very little of your religion is that you have to seek out the spiritual--it is not just a five minute drive to a temple; paying your tithing requires a long form and a trip to the post office. I think the challenges of living your beliefs in a place where it is difficult to do so brings about the greatest growth and blessings. We are very fortunately to live here with good missionaries, leaders, and a beautiful building. The rest is all just little stuff.

Thanks Amy! We sure miss you over here. Oh, and I am curious about how your tall husband manages over there. He must seem like a giant!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Five Things For Friday, Gratitude Edition

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the United States and so I thought I'd use this Five Things for Friday to express things I am grateful for... which this year isn't hard to do at all.

I am grateful for 5 wonderful women who sent me this beautiful necklace last week!



The women I have been working with for the last two years to write and compile The Gift of Giving Life held a virtual "mother's blessing" for me. A mother's blessing is a little bit like a baby shower except that the idea is to shower the expectant or new mother with love and spiritual strength rather than clothes and baby things. (There is more about this in our book, including the history of LDS women giving each other mother's blessings in the early days of the church, so if you want to know more you'll just have to read the book!) Since we all live far away from each other (some of us have never actually met in person yet) and weren't able to physically get together they mailed my mother's blessing to me. They each wrote me a letter with encouraging and uplifting words about motherhood, pregnancy, and birth and then they each chose a bead and a song that went along with their message. They strung all the beads together into my necklace and burned all the songs on to a CD for me.

The idea was that I would get it BEFORE my baby was born and that when I was in labor I could wear the necklace and listen to the music and remember that I had women praying for me and sending me their love. BUT, because Abraham surprised us all and came early I got it when he was 5 days old instead! Still, I don't think it could have come at a better time. The day it came I was feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable (postpartum hormones will do that to you) and I needed their loving words. I've been wearing the necklace for the last week and it makes me feel like I am wearing a hug. I love those ladies.

I am grateful that we still have 4 more weeks until Christmas! I love Christmas time and am so excited that we can now officially put up our Christmas decorations and listen to Christmas music. It really is the best time of the year!

I am grateful for 3 little ragamuffins. Life has been sort of chaotic around here as we've all tried to figure out how we fit together as a new family, but it has been fun. Abraham has such a sweet spirit and he has only brought us closer together... sometimes too close... as I have to keep reminding the kids not to lay on or squash their baby brother!

I am grateful for the 2 weeks of dinner our Relief Society has brought us! They really went above and beyond this time and I have been so grateful for their love and service. Every time I am the recipient of service it just reminds me of how much even the tiniest acts of love mean to people. I am have been showered in love the last few weeks and it makes me want to give as much of it back as I can. Relief Society is awesome.

I am grateful for 1 amazing husband who has changed way more diapers than me, gotten up in the middle of the night with a fussy baby way more than me, done the dishes and cleaned the house way more than me, entertained two bored children way better than me, and napped way less than me. Not to mention trying to write his thesis at the same time. What a hunk.

Have a beautiful weekend!

If you want to link to your own "Five Things for Friday" post you can use the tool below to add your link. 1) Please link to the URL of your blog post and not your main blog and 2) Please include a link back here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Isa from Brazil

Today's guest post is from Isa from Sorocaba, Brazil, a city of about 630, 000 people about 50 minutes outside São Paulo. I loved reading Isa's responses, she just bubbles enthusiasm for life and the gospel. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do. The questions I asked are in bold print and her responses are given below.



Hello, I'm Isadora. I will turn 20 years old in November and I'm currently dating. I'm from Brazil but I spend my vacations always in the US, to visit my boyfriend Jake. I'm a very outgoing person and just love to meet new people and cultures.

1. What is the dominate belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?

Well, in Brazil we have a lot of different religions. Most of them consider themselves Christians or Catholics. We also have the "spiritism" religion. But the majority are Christian. We have a religion here called "Christian Congregation of Brazil", and its very different. It is very rare to see stores closed on Sundays, but on Saturdays it is more common because the Adventist religion make Saturday as our Sunday, where they stay with their families, read the bible and do good things. Yes, most people attend to churches here, but not all of them are open only on Sundays. There are churches open everyday of the week, any time.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

I've been a member of the church for a few years. I met the church when I was 7 years old when my mom decided to find a good place to go. My mom's parents always taught their children the Presbyterian beliefs, but since they're no longer on this earth, each daughter found a place to go by herself. My mom, on a Sunday morning, found the LDS church very close where we used to live at that time so she asked a sister from the ward: "Do you think I'm allowed to park here and watch the reunion?". That was how everything started. She truly loved the church and got baptized. As soon as I turned 8 years old, I did too.

My dad is not member of the church yet, he has no religion. He likes the church but says that he,"didn't feel he should start going yet..." . I know Lord has prepared wonderful opportunities for him to see what the Gospel looks like and what a big family we all are in the church. I'm just waiting for the right time to let things happen, so I won't push anything and let the Holy Spirit tell him things that will open his eyes and heart. Recently, my boyfriend (who lives in Ransomville, New York) got baptized too. It truly made my life easier and full of peace. He is going to a singles branch one hour from his house and completely enjoying it. Now he understands more the power of the scriptures (we read together through Skype), he knows how sacred and important the Temple is, and we both have the same goals now. It is wonderful to see how big the changes are when someone really lets Jesus' light shine on them. And just so you know, even my dad was happy for him!

3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area? How many stakes, wards, or branches are there in your area? On an average Sunday how many members attend church? Do people have to travel far to attend church? What are the demographics of your ward? Are most members young, old, married, single, are there more women then men? Or it is it a good balance?

My ward is not so big. We have a 70-90 people frequency every Sunday, sometimes more, sometimes less. In my city, we have 4 stakes and lots of wards and branches. Luckily we don't have to travel far to attend church, but some far away branches have a big walk to meet at the closest church. Members of my ward are mostly families with kids or just-married couples. There are way more women then men, for sure. Our relief society has around 60% of all people in the ward.

4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

We have two temples very close to us: São Paulo temple and Campinas temple. Our ward always goes to Campinas temple, which is around 50 minutes from where we live. This temple was dedicated on May 17th, 2002. I still remember how excited everyone was to do the ordinances there for the first time. My ward has a special love for the Temple and every talk on Sunday at least one person talks about it, its importance, and also about genealogy.

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

Their answers are mostly, "Oh, thats why you don't do this, this and this?" hahah..

Anyways, some are very familiar with the church and some aren't. Its incredible how always after saying I'm a Mormon I have a few questions to make clear and explain. People still think we practice polygamy! Things should be more clear to them, so let's do it. I always try to tell them how happy and together people at church are, and they are always very curious about it. They always complete the sentence with, "Well, I heard you Mormons love spending time with your families and you also go on a mission." Also, some don't understand why young people go on a mission. For them it is a waste of time and money. Unfortunately, a few people here should be more "open" to religious diversity. Respect and love is the foundation for everything! As a Primary teacher, w
e recently had our special presentation during the sacrament meeting and the kids were talking about the temple and the scriptures. Something so funny and also lovely, is that they already have the Temple as their "marriage place". A few weeks ago, a cute brunette five-year-old boy came up to one of the little girls from my class and asked, "Will you be my eternal companion? Because you know, we must marry in the Temple" And it just made my day.



6.
How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

Missionary work is great! Mainly in the North of Brazil, where conditions are harder and they're constantly needing some help. They are lovely and so receptive. In the South it is a little harder, they are not so open but still very polite people. I guess you've heard about how Brazilians are friendly and happy all the time, and that is true. This is a bonus for the missionaries. Some people are hard to teach, and some are not. You can see a whole family getting baptized or even only one person going to church every Sunday by himself. Our ward is currently "saying goodbye" to a few people. Some are going to study in other towns, people are getting married and others are going to serve a mission but we have constant baptisms, mainly for kids who just turned eight. I am a Valients teacher and I always see in Primary how kids get excited and kind of make a "competition" of who gets baptized first. Cute!

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

Well, a few them do. Our ex-bishop had 9 children (well, most of them are married now) and the last one was adopted. So the total is 10. This is the biggest I've ever seen in the ward (kind of hard to compete compared to this number, I guess!!) Our average is always around 2-3 kids per family. I am a single daughter, but I plan to have at least two kids.

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?

Me and my mom (my visiting teacher companion) are set up to visit two ladies from our church. It is not far at all, they live in our neighborhood. Every time we visit teach we cherish even more our lives and notice how blessed we are. Sometimes we complain about something so small and then we hear other people's stories and we just want to cave a hole in the ground and put ourselves inside and hide there forever, from too much shame. I am thankful, so thankful for everything I have. Life in Brazil is not easy, but we are blessed that in our region and area we have everything we need - electric energy, pure water, food, and a warm and safe home to sleep. Some people don't, and every time we lay our heads down on the pillow at night to sleep we always remember those ones who don't have all the comfort and things we do have. This is a big lesson that I have learned for myself.

9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

Actually our Relief Society president just moved out, so I guess we will have some changes around here. She is going to a small branch in another city and I'm sure the next president will have a good opportunity to keep doing some work with all the ladies. We have a few women (including my mom) who don't have their husbands with them, so we are working hard on families recently, and also marriage for the ones who just got into the Relief Society. I stay in the Primary with the kids during the Relief Society meeting, and I miss those ladies. But I'm sure I'm doing a good work with the little ones and preparing them to be good sisters of the Relief Society in the future.



10.
What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

For sure the opportunity of being sealed to our families for eternity and the chance we have to get married in the Temple for all time. I'm lucky to have those goals in my life and I'm sure I'll make them happen someday. Another great blessing that the gospel has brought to my life is that we can truly be good examples for people if we want to and for me, it works for my father. You, that have a full and complete family at church every Sunday, be thankful for that! You may not notice your dad sometimes sitting next to you, or don't even give him a kiss on the cheek in the church hallway because you are "used" to see him around there. But next time, remember me and do it. Tell him how grateful you are to have a priesthood holder in your home, that can pray for you when you're sick or even advise you with the power of the Holy Ghost when you need it. This is one of the biggest blessings someone can have in their home - and that is what I want for my kids one day, for sure. I'm so thankful and happy to be a Mormon and have an eternal family!

Thank you so much Isa. Your testimony is beautiful. And I will for sure give my dad a kiss on the cheek next time I see him!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Gabriella from Hungary

Thanks to the wonderful international readers who responded to my post a few weeks ago I am excited to start my series on Latter-day Saint Women Around the World today! My first guest post is by Gabriella who is a Relief Society President in Pecs, Hungary. I have so enjoyed getting to know Gabriella and loved hearing her testimony. She is an inspiration. The questions I asked are in bold print and her responses are posted below.



1. What is the dominate belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?

Most of the people in Hungary belong to the (Roman) Catholic Church but some Internet polls say that almost one third of the population do not follow any religion or believe in God at all (40 years of communist rule gives an explanation to that). My experience is that even "religious" people don't attend church regularly, mostly the elderly do especially in the rural parts of the country. Though business and stores work on Sundays there is a tendency to keep them closed at least on major bank holidays.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

When I was a child I did not believe in God. Both my parents were baptized to the Catholic church after being born. My maternal grandfather was said to be a Jew but he not only never practiced any religion but he put his "faith" in the Communist party and materialism. In our family we never talked about faith, religion was considered something to blindfold unsatisfied people. Through the years I developed my own faith, first it did not have much to do with God. The birth of my child made me realize I needed to make a commitment to God and that we both need to be baptized. Don't misunderstand me: I was looking for an easy way. I never had any intentions to take an active role in any church.

And when I started seeking was the exact time that I met the missionaries 2 years ago. This Elder baptized me after a 4 month investigation and he was teaching me the Gospel for 8 1/2 months altogether till the end of his mission! Everything the Gospel said, everything the Elders taught matched my opinion of the world. My testimony came line by line very clearly and undoubtedly. I obeyed a commandment and I received the blessing accordingly. Never doubted the Gospel was true, only had doubts in myself if I can endure. I was endowed last month on my 40th birthday which makes it even more unforgettable.



3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area? How many stakes, wards, or branches are there in your area? On an average Sunday how many members attend church? Do people have to travel far to attend church? What are the demographics of your ward? Are most members young, old, married, single, are there more women than men? Or it is it a good balance?

To my knowledge there are about 4600 latter-day saints in Hungary, 1 mission, 1 stake, 2 districts and 25 branches. The LDS church has been present in Hungary for about 20 years.
Our branch in the city of Pécs (with 160,000 inhabitants) has about 170 members but not more than 50 attend church regularly. The farthest people travel is about 30 kilometers. It they have to travel more they'd rather not come at all. :(

I would say there are not too many old people in our branch, I say they are mostly my age or younger. (I hope being 40 does not make me old). There is a common characteristic to most of the members: they come from a background/family with problems - single parents/divorced/disabled/immigrants (Hungarian minority in another country)/gypsies (minority in Hungary)/unemployed. And there are a LOT more women than men!!! We don't have our own church building yet. The place where we reside at the moment used to be a bank office downtown.

4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

The nearest temple is in Freiberg, Germany, about 900 kilometers from Pécs. It is the first temple built in the Communist area (East Germany at that time) and the smallest. It was dedicated by President Hinckley in 1985. Poland, Chech Republic and Hungary also belong to this temple. We visit the temple in pre-scheduled group visits. Each month they have special weeks for Hungarians, Chech and Polish people. During these weeks ordinances are done in our own languages not in German. We can hardly wait to have our own temple here in Hungary!

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

Most people identify Mormons with the Amish and all they have ever heard of is polygamy. Those who learn more about us get to like us and appreciate the values we share.


6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

On one hand listening to solicitors here equals being "brainwashed". People are ashamed of being religious, they like the image of keeping everything in their own hands. But on the other hand they see the faults of other churches-- the contradiction in their teachings and way of life. There are many "blank ones" due to the Communist era when there was no religious education and these people are open to spiritual thoughts. In our branch we have 6-8 baptisms a year (at the local public pool ). I think the greatest barriers are people themselves: they are not willing to give up their life style, habits, time, and MONEY!!!

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

Big families are quite uncommon. Today's politics and economy does not make it easy for parents to raise children. In our ward we have a family with 4 and two other families with 3 children.
But if you see a family with more than 2 children you can be suspicious that they were divorced before and are bringing their children from the previous marriage to the new family. I myself come from a very similar background. I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Both my parents divorced 2 times. I have never been married and I am a single mom with a daughter who is 6.

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?

Sisters usually visit 2 other active sisters, some have an inactive sister to visit teach too. We try to keep in touch with them as long as they let us. The sisters usually live in the same neighborhood, they don't travel far, there are no big distances. Visiting teaching gives me heartache as Relief Society president. The sisters do not yet feel the cohering power of visiting teaching. Maybe the 2nd or 3rd generations, who grow up going visiting teaching with their mothers or grandmothers will recognize what an important role they play in each others lives. We give teachings on visiting teaching every 3 months trying to keep them focused.

9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

We have a sister who underwent a brain surgery in June. She is now active again coming to at least sacrament meetings every Sunday!!!! She is stronger in her faith because of our prayers and the healing power of priesthood blessings.

Most sisters face the challenges of a mixed family: a non-member husband, non-member parents, children. Their family can not accept the sisters' paying their tithing, or the time spent with church duties. To any of us it is not easy to balance between work, home, church callings. There are few sisters who really take their covenants seriously and they are the ones who carry the Relief Society on their shoulders. They are the ones who truly understand their divine nature and strive to live up to it. Others only come to "enjoy themselves" and the fruits of others' work. (oh, I am sorry about the pessimistic tone)

10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

The greatest blessing to me is learning my potentials, being able to do things I would never have thought of because of fear or lack of experience. I am learning how to overcome my greatest opponent, myself. I have experienced that as long as I am faithful to my covenants I can count on the Lord's help no matter how hard the situation seems to be.

You can see more pictures of the Pecs branch and the LDS church in Hungry in this video that Gabriella made for some of the senior missionaries before they went home. It is so fun to see the love and joy that their branch has for each other and for the gospel. Thank you so much Gabriella!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five Things For Friday, Newborn Edition

-1-

Wow, I can't believe that Abraham is already a week old! It has been a really beautiful week. I LOVE the newborn stage, their needs are so simple and they are so fresh from God. Even though our house has sometimes been chaos, this baby has brought with him a little bit of heaven and we've all been basking in it. It has been wonderful not to have any plans or expectations except to rest, eat, and nap. We've been living on a baby schedule and it has been SO nice to slow down. I am going to make it last as long as I possibly can!



He is really a mellow little kid. Either that or I am just a more mellow mother now than I used to be. It is probably a combination of both.

-2-

We didn't realize it when we named him but "Abraham" sounds very similar to "Apricot" (which was the name we called him in the womb) and we've all had a hard time transitioning over--especially Jon. I think half the time he calls the baby "Apricot" and the other half of the time he gets it right. For the first several days Rose didn't even try to call the baby by his name because she was so confused about what to call him. We had the same problem though with Asher too. His womb name was "Buster" and because it ended in an "er" just like "Asher" we got it confused really easily. It took us about a month before his name stuck, and I am thinking that it might be the same with Abraham.

-3-

I really love nursing a baby. It is beautiful to look down and see two big eyes looking back at me with love, trust, and perfect faith in my ability to provide. It makes me feel incredibly needed to know that my body is once again keeping this little boy alive and that we aren't quite separate yet. I think that one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, explained it best:
"One day as I am holding baby and feeding her, I realize that this is exactly the state of mind and heart that so many writers from Thomas Mann to James Joyce describe with yearning-- the mystery of an epiphany, the sense of oceanic oneness, the great yes, the wholeness. There is also the sense of a self merged at least temporarily-- it is deathlike. I close my eyes and see Frost's too peaceful snowy woods, but realize that this is also the most alive place I know-- Blake's gratified desire. These are the dark places in the big two-hearted river, where Hemingway's Nick Adams won't cast his line, the easeful death of the self of Keat's nightingale. Perhaps we owe some of our most moving literature to men who didn't understand that they wanted to be women nursing babies." ("The Blue Jay's Dance", pg. 148)
I think she might be onto something.

-4-

Asher and Rose have been so enthralled with their little brother. They constantly want to hold him, give him his pacifier, "pet" him (as they say), and help with him. For the first few days Asher was especially concerned about making sure the baby was getting enough to eat. In fact, one of the very first things he said when he was the baby for the first time was, "Oh, Mom give him milk. He's hungry." When I explained that I'd already fed him he went into his room and came back with a bowl full of plastic food from his play kitchen for the baby to eat. Then a few minutes later he went downstairs and came back up with a glassful of chocolate milk "for the baby". He ended up drinking it and went back downstairs. When I hadn't heard anything from him for several minutes I told Jon to go check on him and Jon found him making the baby some "juice" out of vanilla, curry powder, cinnamon and baking soda! In the last week he's made the baby several more "juices" and it is getting to the point where we might need to put a lock on the spice cupboard. He is just thrilled about being a big brother.

Rose is doing well adjusting, but I think she is having a hard time with the fact that she doesn't get quite as much attention as she used to. I think it is also hard for her that she is little and can't help with the baby as much as she wants to. She's been peeing her pants a lot the last few days (something she has hardly ever done) and I wonder if it isn't because she wants to get our attention. Our family dynamic has shifted and I think it is going to take us all awhile to adjust to it. Yet in the meantime, any suggestions about helping older siblings adjust to a new baby?

-5-

I didn't realize what a big difference two extra weeks in the womb makes in a baby's development and size! Abraham was almost two pounds smaller than Rose and Asher when he was born and he just feels so tiny to me! He has the skinniest little chicken legs.



I just can't get enough of him. I wish there was a way I could slow down time. I hate seeing these days pass by so quickly.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Abraham's Birth Story



Thursday morning-- exactly two weeks before my due date-- I woke up with a dull, crampy ache in my abdomen, lower back, and legs. It didn't feel like labor and so I assumed it was just another one of the many pregnancy aches and pains I'd been feeling the last few weeks. Yet as the morning progressed I realized that these "cramps" weren't going away and some of them were strong enough to stop me in my tracks. I was really confused by them because they didn't feel like labor contractions and they weren't regular at all. Still, I told my husband that we should clean up the house before he left for work, just in case, but that I was pretty sure that these "contractions" would die out in a little while. The baby had been very, very posterior (meaning his face was facing forwards instead of backwards) at my last pre-natal appointment and Jon and I had been doing all the exercise and techniques the midwife had given us to help him turn, but he wouldn't budge. I was pretty sure that the reason my contractions were so sporadic was because he was still posterior and since he wasn't in a good position things weren't really progressing. I had scheduled an appointment with the chiropractor on Monday to see if she could help him turn but I realized now that I might not make it to Monday. So I called and re-scheduled my appointment with the chiropractor for later that day, just in case.

As the day progressed the contractions stayed pretty much the same, varying in strength and having no real pattern or consistency to them. I was really grumpy and irritable with the kids, but besides that it was pretty much a normal day. We cleaned the kitchen and watched movies. By the afternoon I was really confused about what I was feeling because it didn't feel like labor, but it didn't feel like it was going to go away anytime soon. I took a nap and when the contractions still didn't go away I decided to call my midwife and see what she thought. When I explained what I was feeling she said that it sounded like it probably was real labor but that because my baby was so posterior that the contractions weren't really doing very much. She suggested that I put on a movie and hang out in the "polar bear position" (head and chest resting on the ground with your bottom up in the air) to see if I couldn't give him a bit more room to turn around in.

I went to the chiropractors at 4:15 PM and she adjusted my hips and said that they felt really pliable and soft. She also helped loosen up my ligaments and did some things to help encourage the baby into a better position. I only had two little contractions the whole time I was at her office and when I got home around 5:15 PM my contractions were still not very strong or regular. Jon needed to run up to work for a few minutes and I told him that it was fine if he left because I was feeling pretty much like I had all day. I just told him he needed to be home by 6:15 because we were having a Relief Society meeting that night at 6:30 and I was in charge of one of the crafts and needed to get things set up. After he left I put another movie in for the kids (Asher thought he'd hit the jackpot with all the movies I was letting him watch) and laid down on the floor in the polar bear position. I'd been lying like that for about 30 minutes when I felt the BIGGEST and longest contraction ever. It was awful. After it was over I told God that I never wanted to feel another one like that, ever again, and that if that was what labor was going to feel like that I changed my mind and didn't really want to do it.

After that contraction I couldn't get comfortable again and so I got up and warmed up some soup for the kids to eat for dinner. I didn't make anything for me because I was still planning on going to the Relief Society meeting and knew that there would be dinner there. I went up stairs to try to get dressed to go to Relief Society but I couldn't bring myself to put on any pants (I'd been wearing a dress all day)-- the thought of anything touching my belly made me want to scream. It was about then I realized that I probably wasn't going to make it to the Relief Society meeting. I called Jon but he didn't answer his phone. I left him a desperate, angry message (which he got the next morning) and told him he better get home as soon as he could because I couldn't handle things any more. I also called my cousin and asked if she might be able to come get my kids and have them stay the night at her house. I told her that I might might not be in labor but that I would just feel better if I knew my kids were taken care of.

Jon got home around 6:20 PM and I told him that I wasn't going to go to the Relief Society meeting but that I still needed to drop off the supplies at the church or else they wouldn't be able to do the craft. We loaded up the kids and drove over to the church. As I was walking from the car to the church I had a big contraction that took me a few minutes to recover from. It was then I realized that this was the "real" thing and that I should probably call the midwife. We dropped off the craft supplies to the Relief Society president (who was super excited when I told her I was in labor) and when we got back home I called the midwife. She knew how fast my last labor had been and so she said she'd be there as soon as possible. My cousin showed up to get the kids (who were oblivious to what was going on) and she said she was excited that I'd be having a 11-11-11 baby. I looked at the clock and saw that it was only 7 PM and I told her, "Oh, I sure hope this doesn't take that long!".

After she left with the kids I was able to start focusing but I was having a really, really bad attitude about being in labor. I had one contraction on the toilet and it hurt so bad that afterward I told Jon "I don't think that I want to do this." Things were getting hard and I thought that I still had several more hours of labor ahead of me. In my heart I knew that I could do it (I'd already done it two times before) but I didn't really want to do it. I remember thinking to myself, "Maybe I'll just go get an epidural this time because I just don't want to do this again." Looking back now I realize that I was probably in transition but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that things were hard and that they were just going to get harder and I didn't know if I could handle that.

Jon started setting up the birth pool and I went into the living room where I turned off the lights and turned on some relaxing music. I knelt on the floor and leaned up against the couch. With every contraction I'd rock back and forth making scooping motions with my head. I was doing a good job of handling the contractions by myself but I was still having a bad attitude. After every one ended I'd think, "I hated that. I don't want to do that again. I don't think I can do this." I knew that I needed to change my self talk to something more positive (just like running a marathon labor is really about 10% physical and 90% mental) but I just couldn't seem to do it. It was about this time that Jon came in and randomly picked my scriptures up off the shelf and opened it to where my bookmark was. He read me,
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (1 Corinthians 13: 11-13)
I don't think he could have read anything better to me at that point. I'd been working on memorizing that chapter (which is all about charity) the last few weeks and as I had been memorizing I'd been pondering on how giving birth is one of the greatest acts of charity that can be performed in this life. Charity "suffereth long" and I knew that I was willing to "suffer" as long as was needed to bring this little child into the world. I realized that like Paul said I was "seeing through a glass darkly" and that at the time the pain and the discomfort did not seem worth it. Yet I knew that if I endured I would soon see this baby "face to face" and I then I would know that it was all worth it. After that my attitude changed and I started telling myself that even though I didn't want to do this I was willing to do this. I was willing to feel everything the Lord had prepared for me to experience in order to bring this little one to the earth.

Changing my self talk helped a lot, but it didn't make the contractions any easier to handle! They were getting harder and harder. I found that I was holding a pillow in my hands and that as I rocked back and forth with each contraction I'd brush my nose against it. Jon was sitting on the couch next to me holding my hand and whenever he'd try to say something I'd tell him to be quiet. I just needed him there. As the contractions increased in frequency and intensity I found my mind groping around for another thought that would help me cope with the contractions. I found that an essay I had written for our book "The Gift of Giving Life" called "The Breath of Life" came into my mind. In the essay I wrote this:

"...in the Book of Abraham we read how after God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth he took his spirit (which had already been created) and put it into him. At this point Adam’s body and spirit were separate but then we read that God, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul.” (Abraham 5:7) It is our breath, the breath of life that God grants each of us, that unifies our body and our spirit together and allows us to become, like Adam, a living soul. When we die we loose our breath and our body and spirit again separate, waiting until the time when they will be resurrected and inseparably unified as a soul. Our breath is the glue that holds our body and our spirit together. The more conscious we are of it (and the more we are able to express gratitude for it) the more we strengthen the connection between them and increase our soul’s power. Breathing is a truly one of our greatest gifts from God."

It is by God's grace that we take each breath and breathing is a constant reminder that He is with us, sustaining us, every moment that we live. At that point in my labor I knew that I couldn't make it through to the end without God's help. The thought came to me that I could use my breath to give me strength and to remind me that God was with me. I continued to rock and scoop my nose on the pillow with each contraction, but I'd take deep, deep breaths and focus on sending the air down to where the contraction hurt the most. I imagined that there was a fire in my uterus (which is what it felt like!) and that with each breath I was sending air to blow it out. I also told myself that it didn't matter how much stronger the contractions got-- how big the fire raged-- because God had given me an unlimited supply of air. God would always be more powerful than the pain and he would always have enough air for me to blow out the "fire." That was a really profound lesson for me to learn and, even days later, it still gives me an incredible sense of power and peace when I think about it.

After about a half hour of handling the contractions like this I suddenly felt the baby's head move down into the birth canal. Jon, who was still holding my hand, says that I calmly said, "Oh, not yet!" I thought that I would still have at least 3 or 4 more hours of labor and I was surprised to discover that I was already ready to push. A few contractions and pushes later and I felt something crowning. I thought it was the head but it turned out to be my bag of waters. With my other babies I've always been in the water when my water broke and so I never realized how much water there is! After it broke I reached up and could feel the baby's head -- and was frustrated that it was still pretty far up-- but three contractions later his head was out! And with the next contraction the rest of him slid out into Jon's arms.

It was a really sweet experience for Jon to "catch" this little baby. He said that as soon he saw that it was a boy he felt a voice whisper "Abraham" and he knew that was what this little boy's name was. We'd never even considered the name before and so when Jon asked me what I thought of the name "Abraham" I was really confused. Yet after hearing his experience and basking in this little boy's spirit for a day the name just felt really right. It was like he came with a name tag and wanted to make sure we read it!

I have to admit that the word that best describes how I felt when I held Abraham for the first time is -- shock. I just couldn't believe that he was already there. All day long I'd tried to convince myself that I wasn't really in labor and so it just seemed so surreal to me that he was actually really there... in my arms. It was also a little surreal because he was covered, and I mean covered, in vernix. He couldn't even open his eyes it was so thick on his face. He looked like a little white polar bear! Yet the midwife reassured us that babies who are born early often have lots of vernix. And the amazing thing is that we didn't wipe or wash any of it off and within an hour after birth his body had re-absorbed most it! It was pretty amazing and made his skin super soft.



After the birth we waited for my placenta to be ready to come out. Yet after about 35 minutes I hadn't had any cramping or contractions that indicated that it was ready to release. The midwife and her assistant tried pulling (gently) on the umbilical cord and massaging my uterus to see if they could encourage it to come, but it wouldn't. The midwife tried a wide range of techniques to try to get the placenta to detach from the uterine wall but nothing worked and she was concerned about being too aggressive with it as she didn't want parts of it to rip off and cause me to hemorrhage. After about an hour of trying to get the placenta to detach I could see in the midwife's face that she was really concerned. She said that it was really rare to see a placenta behave the way mine was. I asked, "Are we going to the hospital?" She said that we might have to because my membranes weren't releasing at all and that I might need a fairly serious procedure to get it all out in one piece. I actually felt a lot of peace about having to go the hospital and was willing to do what ever I needed to do. The midwife said she'd try again but asked Jon if he would give me a priesthood blessing first. Jon gave me a blessing and in it I was told that I would be able release, that everyone present would have the wisdom and knowledge to know what should be done, and that my placenta would come out whole and complete. After the blessing the midwife tried again to get my membranes to release but this time my body gave two big contractions (the first it had done since the baby was born) and the placenta slid out--in one complete piece. The midwife was astonished and we all just stared at each other.

We knew we had just witnessed a miracle.

After further inspection the midwife said that my placenta was completely intact and that she didn't think that any membranes had stayed inside me. She didn't think I needed to go to the hospital. I'd been prepared and willing to go, but it was so nice not to have to! The midwife was still concerned though that I might hemorrhage and so she gave me some medicine to help prevent it and watched me really carefully. The second part of the miracle has been that I've hardly had any bleeding during my postpartum recovery, which is remarkable considering what my placenta went through! It has been such a testimony to me of the power of priesthood blessings. I know that without that blessing things may have turned out much differently.

Afterwards the midwives got us cleaned up and tucked into bed (which in my opinion is the best part of giving birth-- having people take care of you!) Abraham nursed for the first time and chomped down like a champ. I'd forgotten what a sweet experience it is to feel little lips tugging at your breast for the first time. There is nothing sweeter. After we were done nursing Abraham had his newborn assessment, which he passed with flying colors!







After the assessment I got in the shower to clean up. As I rubbed soap over my belly I couldn't help but think how strange it was that just earlier that morning, in the same shower, I'd rubbed soap over a full, pregnant belly. Now it was empty. I thought to myself, "Wow, where did it all go!" and the then the phrase "He is not here" pierced my heart and I found myself remembering another part from our "The Gift of Giving Life" book. In her essay "Birth in Remembrance of Him" Robyn Allgood writes,
"The Atonement was not complete until after Christ voluntarily suffered and then demonstrated His power over the grave by rising from the dead. As the women approach His tomb, they said to each other:

Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre they saw a young man . . . and he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here; behold the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:3-6)


The empty tomb symbolizes the power of Christ and new life through the Atonement. It symbolizes joy and wonder and even possesses mysterious significance. In like manner, the mother’s empty womb symbolizes the power of creation made possible through our Heavenly Father. It is a sacred event as is the Atonement and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It symbolizes physical life offered to a spiritual being. It offers joy, wonder and mysterious significance. Mysterious because it is easy to ask, “How is this done?” The only answer can be through God, through His infinite wisdom and power."
Just like Jesus left his tomb empty when he rose again, so did my little boy leave my womb empty when he was born. The symbolism between birth and the atonement is so incredible and as I pondered on that phrase "He is not here" I realized what a miraculous thing I had just been a part of. I'd just given one of God's precious sons his mortal body. A body that, because of Christ's resurrection, would live eternally and had the potential to become a God. The full magnitude of that knowledge has overwhelmed me and I over the last several days I've found myself looking in awe at my deflated belly.

"He is not here".

No, he isn't because I'm holding him in my arms



and what a blessing that is.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Let Me Introduce You To...




Abraham Bay

Born two weeks "early"!

on Thursday, 11-10-11

@ 7:57 PM



6 lbs 15 oz (smaller than my others by almost 2 lbs!)

20 3/4 inches







And practically perfect in every way.



We are a little tired (mom, dad and baby) and
a little thrilled beyond what we can handle (Asher and Rose)
but we are just loving every moment with this new little boy.





Life is sweet.



Really sweet.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Egyptus


The Egyptian goddess Hathor greeting Queen Nefatiri (Image Source)

Abraham 1: 23-24

There are two women named Egyptus mentioned in the Book of Abraham, the wife of Ham and Ham's daughter. In order to clarify which woman I talking about I will designate the wife of Ham as Egyptus (W) for "wife of Ham" and the other Egyptus (D) for "daughter of Ham." Hopefully that will make things more clear.


Background:

After the great flood Noah and his family, which included his wife, three sons and three daughter-in-laws, began to spread over the earth and multiply and replenish it (Genesis 9: 17). One of Noah's sons, Ham, became the Father of Cannan (Genesis 9:18). Yet later on Ham found Noah drunk and he,
"...saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness." (Genesis 9:22-23)
Because of Ham's actions he and his posterity were "cursed" and denied the right to hold or administer the priesthood (Genesis 9:24-29).

Link Facts About Them:

Egyptus (W)
  • She was married to Ham, one of Noah's three sons (Abraham 1:23);
  • She was one of the eight souls (and one of the four women) who boarded the ark and was saved from the flood;
  • She bore four sons, Chush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan who because their father Ham "saw the nakedness of his father (Noah)" (Genesis 9:20-27) were "cursed", meaning they were unable to hold the priesthood;
  • She bore at least one daughter, who was also named Egyptus (Abraham 1:24);
Egyptus (D)
  • She was the daughter of Ham and Egyptus (Abraham 1:24);
  • She discovered the land of Egypt which, when she found it was under water (Abraham 1:24);
  • She settled her sons in the land of Egypt (Abraham 1:24);
  • Her oldest son was named Pharaoh and he established the first government in Egypt. He "... being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam... " (Abraham 1:26)
  • Pharaoh had been blessed by Noah "with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom." Yet because he was from Ham's lineage he was cursed "as pertaining to the Priesthood" and did not have the right to claim any priesthood authority (Abraham 1:26).
Speculations About Them:
  • It is important to note that whenever the scriptures speak of a "curse" upon the lineage of Ham they do not refer to skin color or to race. We don't fully understand the circumstances that surrounded the story of Noah's drunkenness and Ham's subsequent punishment. It is likely that the garment referred to in the Genesis account had special religious significance and represented Noah's priesthood authority. Apparently Ham did something significantly wicked by seeing "the nakedness of his father" that he lost his right to hold and administer the priesthood as did his posterity (source). When the scriptures speak of the "curse of Ham" they are referring to Ham's lineage being unable to administer the Priesthood, and not a specific skin color or race.
  • Three of Joseph Smith's 1835 pre-publication manuscript of the Book of Abraham show that the name "Egyptus" was first translated as "Zeptah". (source) This name is interesting because in Egyptian Zeptah can be translated as "Daughter- of- Ptah", Ptah being the Egyptian name for Noah. If this name was correct then it would make Egyptus (D) the equivalent of Hathor the Egyptian goddess of love, beauty, music, motherhood, childbirth, and joy, who was said to be the daughter of "Ptah" (Noah) and was also the mother of Re, the first King of Egypt (source). Many of the stories of Hathor are remarkably similar to the story of Egyptus and it is very probable that the deity of Hathor evolved from her story. The picture at the right is an illustration of how Hathor, she was commonly portrayed as a cow (thus the horns).
My Thoughts:

The story of Eygptus has fascinated me for a long time. First, I think it is awesome that we know the name of ONE of the four women who were aboard the ark! That is something we don't often mention. Also, I have a soft spot in my heart for Egyptian history. I had a teacher in Middle School who loved Egypt and I've been fascinated by it ever since. Yet, I'd never spent the time to dig deeper into the Egyptus story until recently. When I started to do research I discovered that it was much more complicated than I realized. So for a better understanding I turned to the writing of Hugh Nibley, a world famous scholar of ancient scripture. I have to admit that I really only understood about a third of what he said, but what I did understand I found fascinating.

The first thing that I gleaned from him were the similarities between the story of Egyptus (D) as told in the Book of Abraham and the story of the Egyptian Goddess Hathor. I won't dive into all the details Hugh Nibley gave (which you can read here if you are motivated) but basically their two stories are pretty much the same. It was really fascinating to me discover that the Egyptian Goddess was modeled off of a real woman. I love to find those moments when history and scripture merge and support each other!

The other interesting thing that I discovered in Hugh Nibley's writings has to do with "Facsimile 3" from the Book of Abraham (pictured below).


Fascimile 3 from The Book of Abraham

Before I start explaining how this facsimile relates to the story of Egytptus I am going to give you the opportunity to feel like a real Egyptologist. First, without opening your Pearl of Great Price and reading the description of the facsimile I want you to take a good look at the picture above and see if you can identify, based on their dress and body shape, which two characters are female.

Did you do it?

Okay, now I want you to scroll up to the picture I posted of Hathor (in the "Speculations About Them" section) take a good look at how she is dressed and then scroll back down and look at the facsimile. Can you figure out which one is Hathor?

Pretty obvious right? It is figure #2... the cow horn head dress sort of gives it away. The other figure that is obviously female is figure #4.

This is where things start to get interesting, because in Joseph Smith's translation of the facsimile he tells us that the man sitting on the throne is Abraham who is dressed in the power of the priesthood. Then Joseph specifies figure #2 as being "King Pharaoh" and figure #4 as being "Prince of Pharaoh". This interpretation seems sort of strange, considering that both look female, and makes it appear like Joseph Smith really had no clue what he was talking about when he translated the facsimile. Yet Hugh Nibley explained all this, he said:
"Anyone wishing to demolish Joseph Smith's interpretation of Facsimile 3 with the greatest economy of effort need look no further than his designating as "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh" two figures so obviously female that a three-year-old child will not hesitate to identify them as such. Why then have Egyptologists not simply pointed to this ultimate absurdity and dismissed the case? Can it be that there is something peculiarly Egyptian about this strange waywardness that represents human beings as gods and men as women?... The two ladies in the Facsimile, figures 2 and 4, will be readily identified by any novice as the goddesses Hathor and Maat. They seem indispensable to scenes having to do with the transmission of power and authority. The spectacle of men, kings, and princes at that, dressed as women, calls for a brief notice on the fundamental issue peculiar to the Egyptians and the Book of Abraham, namely, the tension between the claims of patriarchal vs. matriarchal succession."( From "A Pioneer Mother" in Abraham in Egypt)
The two figures in the facsimile labeled "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh" are in fact males dressed as female figures. They are depicted this way to portrays the general confusion that Egyptians had about the patriarchal order and the tension between patriarchy and matriarchy in their society. In the Book of Abraham Abraham explains that the Egyptians came through the line of Ham, who for reasons we don't understand lost the privilege to bear and administer the priesthood. The first Pharaoh, the son of Egyptus, understood and respected this. He didn't try to take the Priesthood upon himself or to administer that which he did not have. Yet he was a righteous man and wanted his kingdom to be patterned after the manner of God. So he established a patriarchal order, patterned after Adam's, so that he might rule righteously. Yet Abraham tells us that later Pharaoh's of Egypt didn't understand this and tried to claim priesthood authority, that they didn't have, through the line of Ham and Egyptus and that they were "led away by their idolatry" (Abraham 1:27).

This is why Pharaoh is dressed like Hathor (ie. Egyptus) and the Prince of Pharaoh like another female deity in Facsimile #3. They knew that through Egyptus (D) they had access to the lineage of Ham, and thus the lineage of Noah and the priesthood, and they were trying to claim it through her. Hugh Nibley suggests that what the facsimile is trying to teach is that unlike Abraham--who in the facsimile is adorned like Osiris ( the highest Egyptian God) and is wearing a crown representing the priesthood and holding the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand-- the Pharoah and his son were lacking any real power or right to the priesthood.

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

I won't pretend and say that I really understand all of this. I am no scholar of ancient scripture and reading Hugh Nibley often makes me feel like I am reading a foreign language. Yet it is always so exciting to me to discover a new layer to the scriptures... especially the story of a woman from the scriptures!

Questions to Think About:
  • It is extremely rare for a country to be named after a woman. Usually countries are/were named after the person who discovered them and it is very rare that women are ever in a position to discover a new land. How do you think Egyptus (D) discovered Egypt? Why would she have been out exploring (or wandering) on her own? Why would she have settled her sons in a new land? Where was her husband?
  • Why do you think it is that throughout history not all of God's people have been able to hold the priesthood? For example, in the Old Testament only the Levites were able to hold and administer it. In the New Testament the Gentiles were not allowed to have it at first and even in our modern day it hasn't been until the last 30 years that all men ,regardless of race, have been able to hold the priesthood. Why do you think this is?
  • There are lots of things we don't know about the stories of Egyptus (W) and Egyptus (D). What sort of things would you like to know about them? What would you ask them if you got to chat with one of them for awhile?