Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A New Way to Study Women in the Scriptures

I got a new set of scriptures for Christmas and, even though it has been hard letting go of my old ones, I am loving the adventure of marking up a new set. It is almost like reading the scriptures for the first time again. I am discovering things that I never saw before, and it is really fun.

I decided when I got this new set that I wanted to mark every story about women and all the references to women in the scriptures. I chose a blue colored pencil and as I've been studying my scriptures I take the time to mark and highlight every time that a woman or women are mentioned. It is a little like re-taking my "Women in the Scriptures Challenge" except that this time I am not keeping a journal of the women listed I am just highlighting them.


I remember when President Hinckley challenged people to read through the Book of Mormon and highlight every place that Christ is mentioned. He said that having that visual representation (the pages literally turn red) is a powerful reminder that the Book of Mormon is indeed another testimony of Jesus Christ. In a similar way it has been a huge testimony builder for me to have a visual representation of how much women are mentioned in the scriptures. I pull out my blue pencil at least, if not several times, every time I study the scriptures. My pages are slowly turning blue, which now that I think about it is kind of funny. Why didn't I choose pink or red to mark their stories? A Freudian slip maybe?

I have been thinking about it and I want to re-frame President Hinckley's challenge and challenge anyone out there who is struggling (or has struggled) with women's roles or place in the gospel (to any degree) to go through their scriptures and mark all the stories of women. Not only will this force you to read your scriptures (which is #1 on the list of "things to do to understand women's place in the gospel") but it will also give you a powerful witness that women are NOT left out the scriptures and that we are not second class citizens in God's kingdom. The more I study the scriptures with my eyes open to the women in them, the more I realize the immensity of God's love for His daughters and important role in His plan.

Even if you don't' struggle with women's issues I encourage you to try this, I promise it will change your perception of yourself in an incredible way. I am also going to make it a formal part of my "Women in the Scriptures Challenge", so that if someone doesn't want to keep a journal of the women they can try highlighting them instead.

I hope you try it!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Abraham's Tent

I wrote this essay about 6 years ago, my last semester in college. I wrote it for the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, a very prestigious essay contest, and it made it into the top 50 essays. Which, considering there were over 3,000 submissions was pretty good, even if it didn't win. I later won 2nd place in a BYU Studies essay contest for it and had it published there. I really had a "fire in my bones" to get this written and it took a little piece of my soul to do it. Today I read this post and I felt prompted to share my experience. I wish this message could be shouted from the tops of the house tops (or at least the UN) because we live in a world that SO needs it.


A Rabbi asked a man how he could tell when the night was over and a new day had begun. The man replied, “When you look into the East and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun.” The man then asked the Rabbi how he could tell that the night was over and the day had begun. The Rabbi thought for awhile and said, “When you look into the East and see the face of a woman and can say ‘she is my sister,’ and when you can look into the East and see the face of man and say, ‘he is my brother,’ then you know that the light of a new day has come. 1

The light of a new day is dawning. I know because I can see it. The light isn’t strong yet but I am beginning to feel its warmth and I as I look toward the East I can see the face of my sister. Her name is Noor.

It may seem strange to claim Noor as my sister; we certainly don’t share any of the qualities that normal sisters would share. She is Arab; I am American. She is Muslim; I am Mormon. She speaks Arabic; I speak English. She wears the hijab; I wear the garments of my faith. She’s never eaten waffles; I’d never tasted falafel. Yet none of those differences matter because we can see that we are children of the same family. We can see that we share the same father, Adam, the same mother, Eve, that we share a belief in one God who created man from a single soul and scattered him across the world. We can see that we share the traditions of the prophets and that we both share respect for God’s word. Most of all we can see that our roots are the same. Even though I am from a Judeo-Christian background and she from a Muslim, we share a common heritage. We both claim an inheritance from the tent of Abraham.

Yet when Noor and I look at the world we have inherited, all we can see is fear, hatred and violence. What has happened to us? If we were one in the beginning, why can’t we be so now? Shall the children of Abraham always hate each other? Or will we find the story of reconciliation, the story of peace?

****

For the last two years I have been working for a professor at my university doing research on the effectiveness of peace education. My assignment was to find all the peace education programs in the world and to see which programs were the most effective in creating long-term peaceful world views. Over the course of nine months, I read nearly 300 scholarly articles on peace; analyzed over 1,000 websites on multicultural education, peace, conflict resolution, and non-violence education; and read more than three dozen books on international peace and education. What I found was discouraging. Not one of the peace education programs or articles could provide significant evidence that their method of peace education was effective in creating long-term peace based on mutual respect, understanding and love. In fact, most of the programs didn’t even try to create this type of peace and only focused on creating participants who could coexist and tolerate one another. And none of them mentioned God. I had been researching to find answers, hoping to find an example to follow, to find a story of reconciliation and hope for the future. But I didn’t find one.

So, last summer I went searching for an answer. I signed up for a volunteer program to Amman, Jordan with the public health school at my university. My plan was both to work with a local organization to provide breastfeeding resources for Iraqi refugee women living in Amman, and to learn more about Islam and the Middle East. But that summer Amman was in chaos. Three weeks after I arrived in Jordan, an Israeli solider was abducted by Hezbollah. Before anyone knew what had happened, Lebanon was in ruins. Each day the news was full of stories of Israeli attacks against Lebanon, targeting Hezbollah but destroying far more. Within days Amman’s already full streets were flooded with millions of refugees from Lebanon, many of whom had lost homes, businesses and loved ones to Israeli bombs. Amman was a city alive with fear and anger. Almost every day there were anti-Israeli and anti-American demonstrations on the college campuses and in the streets. God’s name was shouted as a justification for revenge and retaliation. Yet there were some who were quietly pleading to God, trying to understand the violence and the hatred. I could see that they were just as confused about the nature and justice of God as I was.

****

I saw the fear in Noor’s eyes when she turned to me and asked, “Do you like Condoleezza Rice?”

I was surprised by the question and gave her a blank stare.

You know Condoleezza Rice, your Secretary of State, do you like her?” she persisted.

I paused for a moment, pulled back my hair, and said, “Honestly, Noor I can’t say that I’ve ever given her much thought. But I guess I like her, why?”

Because I think Condoleezza Rice is the devil and that she deserves to burn in Hell!”

In all the time I had known her I hadn’t heard her so much as raise her voice. To hear pure, unadulterated hatred and anger in her voice scared me.

Every time she comes on TV she is talking about things she does not understand,” she continued. “She says we need a ‘new Middle East,’ but we don’t want a ‘new Middle East.’ We just want to be respected and understood. Arabs and Muslims, we are not bad people. But America, she doesn’t listen, she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t know who we are.”

I just stared at her pain-filled eyes and didn’t say anything. I realized that what she had said was true; America and Islam don’t understand each other. I’d only been in the Middle East for six weeks, but already I could see that the root of the violence and fear went deep. The problem didn’t just go back to Lebanon, the Iraq War, the Seven Days’ War, or even to 1948 when Israel was recognized as a nation despite the silent screams of the Palestinians. The root of the fear and hate went back to the ancient story, back to Hagar and Sarah and Ishmael and Isaac. We were still stuck reenacting an ancient story of violence and hate, a story where one brother always triumphs while the other wanders homeless in the wilderness. I saw that these problems would take a lot more than a little democracy and a Band-Aid to fix.

****

The sky was growing dark as the last strains of the evening call to prayer echoed through the open window. I sat uncomfortably at my desk trying to stay focused, but my eyes kept straying to where Mervat was praying. Her veiled head was pressed to the floor and holy words flowed from her lips. Only a few minutes earlier, she had washed herself, hung her head out the window to orient herself to Mecca, and laid her small mat on the floor. As she began the prayers that she had said five times a day every day of her life, my thoughts turned to my own prayers offered to God in faith each morning and night. I wore no veil. I knew no holy words from the Quran. We both believed that there was just one God. And if we both prayed to the same God, whose words did He hear and whose prayers did He answer?

Mervat was different from any believer I had met. In Islam she had found a devotion and love of God that I respected, admired and even envied. I am a faithful Mormon. I have been taught to keep high moral standards. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t swear. I dress modestly. I believe that sex should be saved for marriage. I pray every morning and evening. Throughout my youth these behaviors set me apart from my American peers, and I had anticipated that my religious beliefs would set me apart in Jordan as well. During my first days in the Middle East, however, I felt like a prostitute among nuns. By my standards I was dressing modestly, and by American standards I was even stuffy and conservative. Yet compared to Muslim women, who covered their arms and their legs, veiled their hair and wore little or no make up, I was revealing, provocative and ostentatious. I felt confused and a little betrayed. I wondered, should it have been Sarah who was cast out rather than Hagar? Certainly Hagar’s posterity, among whom I was living, led good lives. Their submission to God and kindness toward humanity was as natural to them as breathing. I began to question a God who would choose me over them.

****

In search of answers I turned to the Hebrew Bible and the Quran. In the Hebrew Bible I found that although Ishmael, Hagar’s son, was Abraham’s firstborn, he was not the child of promise. Instead it was Sarah’s son who became the heir to Abraham’s covenant, while Ishmael was forced to wander in the desert (Genesis 17-18). Yet the story in the Quran claims that it was Ishmael, not Isaac, who was the child of promise (Sura 19:54). Therefore God’s promises were meant for Ishmael’s descendants, not Isaac’s.

So, which story is true? Or more importantly, why does God appear to play favorites? Certainly such favoritism, as interpreted by Muslims and Christians, has resulted in bloodshed rather than kinship. Why would a Father God be a respecter of persons, creating an endless cycle of vengeance by choosing one daughter and her son over another?

If God has a chosen people, if He differentiates between the prayers of a Muslim and the prayers of a Christian, then wouldn’t it mean that He is a “respecter of persons”? That He is an unjust and changeable God, one who finds a sadistic pleasure in blessing one people and cursing another? Wouldn’t it mean that there must only be one religion, one people that have the whole of God’s words, and one people with His Truth? Yet my whole soul cries out against such an idea. How is faith possible in a God that is a respecter of persons? Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Mormon Church, said:

in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation... men should have an idea that He is no respecter of persons… because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in Him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion... God is no respecter of persons, and every man in every nation has an equal privilege.2

I cannot believe in a God that is a respecter of persons. Nor can I believe that He has chosen one people, that He only gives truth and guidance to one people, that He only hears the prayers of one people. I believe that while He requires people to earn His blessings by obedience and faith, He does not make them compete for them. If that were the case there would be no hope for peace. There would only be room for fear, the fear that someone else’s faith would cancel out yours, the fear that if someone else was right, then you must be wrong, and the fear that if someone else appeared to be blessed, then God must be cursing you.

The great irony is that neither Christianity nor Islam professes belief in a God that is a respecter of persons or who is changeable and unjust. The Quran says:

Those who believe (the Muslim) and those who are Jews, Christians and Sabeans—all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (Sura 2:62)

(Such has been) the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah. (Sura 33.62)

In the New Testament Peter expresses a similar belief when he says:

Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10: 34-35)

Yet despite these statements of God’s love for all His creations, the children of Abraham still cling to prejudice and ancient stories that cause violence and competition. Abraham’s children fear that they are competing for God’s blessing. This competition provides no room for cooperation, no way to find common ground and no hope for peace. It just creates fear.

****

The tensions between the West and Islam are increasing. The divide between those who side with the West’s liberal emphasis on personal freedom, democracy and consumerism and those siding with Islam’s fundamental emphasis on community and religion is growing rapidly. A clash of civilizations seems imminent and hopes for understanding and peace seem unlikely. It seems that the West and Islam have narrowed their consciousness and closed off their ability to hear and communicate with each other. Both are unwilling to find common ground. They struggle for dominance and assert that one road to truth is the only road to truth.

The world has become so secularized that is seems like there is no space for religious conversation, no room for the people of the world to talk freely and openly about their beliefs, values, histories, fears and hopes. It is not individual Americans or Muslims who are fundamentalist and violent, but rather the political and social structures by which they are bound. Noor explained this simply to me when she said, “You know, we really do love Americans, the culture, the people. What we hate is America’s politics.” Could the anger and fear that we feel as Muslims and Americans come from a feeling of being trapped by politics, social structures and leaders that do not allow room for understanding, for cooperation, or for peace? Why must we veil our language, talking about human rights, peace and global governance, but avoiding talking about the topic which has the most potential to bring us together, our belief in one God?

****

Nidal looked at me with intense eyes and handed me a Quran, “I am giving this to you so that you will know that we, Muslims and Christians, do not have to hate each other. We are very similar and I want you to read that,” he said pointing to the Quran, “so you can find Truth—that we are the same.”

For the last hour Nidal and I had been talking about religion, about his beliefs as a Muslim, about Muhammad and about Jesus Christ. At first I had been scared of Nidal, intimidated by his passion and zeal for Islam but as we talked, the fear melted away and I found that we shared many of the same beliefs. By being a good Muslim, Nidal taught me how to be a better Christian.

Remember,” Nidal had instructed me, “you must go home to America and tell your family what you have learned. Christians must respect Muslims and Muslims must respect Christians if we are to achieve harmony in our world.”

****

It is an exciting time to be alive, an exciting time to be young. The world is on the move. The old systems that once governed our interactions with each other are becoming archaic and irrelevant in a world that is quickly becoming globalized, interdependent and dynamic. The possibilities for peace, understanding and international cooperation presented by this globalization are phenomenal, yet so are the possibilities for war, fundamentalism and hatred. Globalization is a pendulum that swings both ways, with the possibility to drive us apart and widen ancient divides, or to bring us together and heal ancient wounds. We must be prepared to find common ground in spiritual stories in order to create lasting peace, based on respect and understanding and not just tolerance and coexistence. Alwi Shihab, the Presidential advisor and special envoy to the Middle East for Indonesia said,

Religious tolerance is not enough. Tolerance does not always lead to true social peace and harmony. Tolerance is to learn to live with something even when you think it is wrong and evil. Tolerance is a grudging willingness to put up with something you hate and wish would go away.3

Young people, like Noor and I, are the architects of the future generation. It will be our challenge to move the world beyond religious tolerance, beyond fundamentalism. We must remember and celebrate our common roots—that we are children of the same God. We must seek for a modern-day tent of Abraham, a tent with four sides opened toward all the corners of the Earth, where there is no feud between Hagar and Sarah and no “chosen” between Ishmael and Isaac; a world in which there is space for inter-religious conversations, room for the religions of the world to freely and openly talk about their shared beliefs, values, histories, fears and goals. We must be willing to listen to people’s stories, to let go of our bipolar constructions of the world and to find the truth in the beliefs of others. We cannot be so afraid that someone else’s God will make our God irrelevant, that we leave Him out of our social and political conversations.

The Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, testified of such a world when he said,

Thou fool… Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men…and I bring forth my word unto all the children of men, yea, even upon the whole earth? ...Wherefore I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another? And it shall come to pass that my people… shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word shall also be gathered in one. (2 Nephi 29:6-8, 14)

To gain peace we must realize that no one has a monopoly on truth. Truth is like a great puzzle whose pieces have been scattered across the world to all nations, cultures and religions. Together we have more parts than we had alone. When we try to understand our piece of the puzzle as a piece that fits into a great whole, we begin to get a vision of what the completed puzzle must look like. This knowledge should excite us and fill us with love for all the other millions of other people who hold the other pieces. Gathered together we will gain more pieces of God’s truth and better come to understand our place and purpose in the world.

****

On my last night in Jordan, Noor and I sat eating dessert on the balcony of a cafĂ© overlooking the city of Amman. I looked out across the city and saw Jordan’s flag flying across the sky and I realized that this land, this people, this way of life had come to mean so much more to me than I ever thought it could; it felt like home, it felt like family.

There were tears in our eyes when we said goodbye that night. Standing in the middle of the darkened street we stared at each other, trying to fill our eyes with memories. Something beautiful and sacred had happened between us the last few weeks and neither of us knew how to name it. My eyes filled with tears and they spilled freely down my cheeks. Noor saw the unspoken words in my eyes and she put her arm around my shoulders, pressed her white veiled head next to mine and whispered in my ear, “Do not be afraid. This is not goodbye. It is not the end. You are my sister in America, and when you come back to Jordan, you must stay at my house.”

As the taxi drove away I realized that Noor was right. Tonight was not the end; it was the beginning. It was the beginning of a gathering, the gathering of the family of Abraham and their stories. Our friendship is evidence of the children of Abraham returning home to his tent. Yet they will not come as Jew, Christian or Muslim, but rather as brothers and sisters. For Noor and I such a gathering has already occurred. We are sisters, the daughters of Ishmael and Isaac. We know each other, each other’s stories, fears and hopes. We have dried each other’s tears. We have laughed together and worked beside one another. The ancient feud is over, Sarah and Hagar may once again live in peace. I have seen the face of my sister, I have learned her name and now I see that the night is past and the light of a new day is beginning to dawn.

Sources:

1 Shimon Perez, during conversation with Gordon B. Hinckley.

2 Joseph Smith. Lectures on Faith. Published 1834.

3 Alwi Shihab. Building Bridges to Harmony through Understanding. Forum Address. Brigham Young University, Provo, UT. 10 October 2006.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Five Things For Friday, My Favorite Books Edition

A few weeks ago one of my friends started a book club to study the Classics for a group of homeschooling mothers in our area. Even though I am not a homeschool mom (unless you count pre-school) she invited me to participate. When we met for the first time we chose several books we wanted to read over the next few months. We are reading the first half of Don Quitoxe this month. So far I really, really love it. Reading it has gotten me thinking about some of my other favorite books, and since someone (forever ago) asked me to share what some of my favorite fiction books are I figured I’d finally do it since I am in such a literary mood.


I am a huge bookworm and so picking a favorite book, or even five favorite books, is really hard for me. But I decided on these one because I have read them all more than once and all have all had significant impact of the way I look at the world. I also didn’t realize until I made this list that all but one of my favorites were written by women!


-1-


The Good Earth by Pearl Buck


Pearl Buck was an American woman who grew up (and lived most of her life) in China because her parents were Christian Missionaries. She was an incredible feminist writer and in many of her books she addresses important women’s issues, but she does it from an Asian woman’s perspective. It is really incredible to see how even though culture, language, and background may differ women and their struggles are the same all over the world.


The first time I read this book I was very tempted to throw it across the room and scream because the main character, a man named Wang-lung, is so infuriating. But I didn’t fling it, which I am sure the book was grateful for, and it has by far become my favorite book because the story and its message is so powerful.


I am not going to give the story away, but in a nutshell here is what the story the message is (according to me). When the earth suffers, women suffer and when women suffer, the earth suffers. Through her character O-lan, Buck makes the argument that all of man's (in the story Wang-lung's) increase and prosperity comes because of his reliance on the "good earth", which refers not only to his land but also to his good woman. Without his woman he would have had none of the prosperity he enjoys! The tragedy is that he doesn't appreciate what he has and the woman suffers. My heart just aches for O-lan and she reminds me that so many woman in the world live similar lives. So many women bring forth fruit, raise it and cultivate it, in silence. They are trampled on, destroyed, and unappreciated. Life would cease to exist without the earth, just as life would cease to exist without women.

I think about this book all the time, which I guess is why it is my favorite.



-2-


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


The first time I picked up this book I was totally blown away by it. I was expecting it to be a scary horror story, like I had seen it portrayed in the movies, but it was definitely not. I was really surprised to discover that it is a powerful and poignant treatise about the sanctity of human life and our responsibility towards all life-- no matter how it was born or how it looks. I could really go on all day about this book, about how the real monster in the book is Dr. Frankenstein because of his prejudices and his unwillingness to be a father to the “child” he created, how the monster is pure and trusting at first but how the world destroys it and slowly eats away at his self-worth and the consequences that come of it. And mostly, how we as a society have a responsibility to create, protect, and nurture the life we create.

Oh man, I really love this book. I think I might just go re-read it.


-3-


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe


This was another book that totally surprised me. I don’t know why but for some reason I had it in my mind that this book was going to be b-o-r-i-n-g. I guessed I just assumed that any book that could, as Abraham Lincoln said “start” the Civil War, probably wasn’t going to be a fun read. I was wrong, way wrong. The story is so engaging and the characters are awesome. I don’t think there could be a worse villain than Simon LeGree and knowing that he was based on real people, and that what much of the slaves suffered really happened, just makes it even more gut wrenching. Stowe does a brilliant job of looking at the slave question from every possible angle. I can see why this book had the impact it had, because no matter what your political opinion this book found a way to open your eyes and heart to the horrors of slavery. There are SO many social topics today that need another Harriet Beecher Stowe to champion their cause. Her book is honestly… brilliant.

-4-


Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie


I have to admit that the first time I ever tried reading this book I hated it. I don’t know why. But when I picked it up again, this time as a mother, I LOVED it. Every time I read it it makes me laugh and giggle. It is really satirical and full of deep levels of meaning, which I didn’t pick up when I was younger. He does such a good job of capturing the essence and spirit of childhood and, as a mother, it helps me remember what it was like to live in “Neverland” and reminds me to enjoy my children more. Every time I start to get frustrated with them I just have to remember that before I know it they will leave “Neverland” and grow up way too fast… except for Peter (who still has all his baby teeth). I have been reading this to Asher and Rose before bedtime the last few months and I love it that they can enjoy the story (they are a bit obsessed with fairies and pirates) and that I get to feast on the "not so hidden” message to parents. This is one that I could, and have, read over and over again.

-5-


The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boon


This is a true story of two Dutch women who were caught hiding Jews in their home during WWII and sent to a concentration camp. The story of their survival is so powerful and so full of miracles. There are two parts that I think about all the time. The first is how the women were able to smuggle in a small copy of the Bible (even though they were stripped searched) and how they would get a group of women together every night to read from it. They were living in flea infested bunks and when they first got there Betsy (her sister) made Corrie thank God for everything, even the fleas. Corrie refused to thank God for the fleas but later she found out that the reason the guards never bothered them during their Bible reading time was because of the fleas. When ever I am hard pressed to see my blessings I just think of those fleas!


I was also so touched by the account Corrie gives, after the war was over, of meeting one of the Nazi guards who tormented her. The guard had become a Christan and wanted to ask for her forgiveness. She wasn’t sure she could give it and so she prayed that God would help her. She said that it was a miracle but she accepted the guards forgiveness and from that moment on she felt peace enter her heart and heal her. I love this part because I once met a woman who was a survivor of the concentration camps and was so shocked at how bitter and angry she was. She had never forgiven her captors and she was the most unhappy person I have ever met. It was such a powerful realization to me of how powerful forgiveness is. When we refuse to forgive, even for horrific things, we kill a part of our souls.


Like I said these are just some of my favorite fiction books. There are many others that I love and some of the ones that were vying for spots on my list were “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Vern, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, and “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry.

I am always looking for new favorite books and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear what your favorite books are. But you have to limit them to five or under so that I know that they are good enough to have made the cut!

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, February 21, 2012

The Great UpCycled Dress Challenge!

My youngest sister is an aspiring fashion designer and a few months ago she and I had a lot of fun looking through a blog called A New Dress a Day. The blog started when the author challenged herself to wear a new dress every day for a whole year, but she could only spend $365 the whole year. So she found ugly used dresses and altered them into things she could wear. She had some really ugly dresses and it is amazing to see what she did to them. Her before and after gallery is really fun to look through.

My sister and I, being the nerdy seamstresses that we are, were inspired and went off that afternoon to the thrift store to get ugly old dresses to make over. We turned it into a competition and I chose her the ugliest dress I could find and she chose me the ugliest dress she could find. We laid out a few ground rules:
  1. You had to do all the alterations yourself (no help with the sewing)
  2. You couldn't spend more than $5
  3. You could pair the outfit with things you already owned
  4. You had to wear your dress in PUBLIC on Feb. 14, 2012
and then we got sewing!

We both discovered that altering a dress is so much faster than sewing one from the ground up. Once we both figured out what in the world we were going to do with these atrocious dresses the sewing part actually didn't take that long. It was so much fun to see what the other person came up with!

Here is my sister's (Britt) dress before and after. Oh, and I apologize in advances to any of you who owned and actually wore dresses like these. I am sure they were in style, once upon a time... eek!

Click on the picture to see it bigger

Didn't she do a great job? She took off the parachute sleeves, made the arm holes smaller, shortened the dress so that it didn't look like a tent and took off the sash. I don't think the picture gives you a good enough sense of how atrocious the fabric is on this dress. Orange with psychedelic flowers. Yuck. But she accessorized it so cute that the crazy fabric doesn't stand out so much. She was so excited to wear it to school and looked so stylish in it. She has talent!

Here is my dress before and after.

Click on the picture to see it bigger

To change my dress I took off the bow thingy, took out the shoulder pads (honestly, I have just never understood the appeal of shoulder pads), shortened the sleeves and put elastic in them, took off the lace, cut the scrunchy material shorter and sewed it into the bottom of the dress, and added a ribbon I bought for 2 dollars. I was happy with how it turned out. I actually got a few compliments on it when I wore it, even before people saw the "before" picture. But man, I had to wash it in heavy duty detergent to get the old lady perfume smell out of it! Ick. But now it smells nice. And no, I didn't change the color. It was just the time of day the picture was taken that makes it look different.

As you can tell my sister and I have very different fashion styles but we were both so impressed with what the person did to their dress. It was really fun and we both agreed that we will have to do this again in the future. It is a great way to get cute dresses really cheap!

To finish off our competition though we want to have people vote on our dresses, to see who made the biggest change and who ended up with the most wearable dress. Whoever wins has to take the other person out to dinner. So even though this is my blog PLEASE don't just vote for me... though you can if you want to. We really want to know what people think!

The polls are on the sidebar of my blog so if you are in Google Reader you will have to click on over and take it.

I would love it if you would take a minute to vote. The stakes are pretty high!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Five Things For Friday, 32nd Edition

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I apologize about not having a Five Things for Friday last week, I know some of you were planning on it. Last week was just unbelievably crazy and when it came right down to it my choice was between neglecting my husband and staying up way too late to write my post or spending time with him... and I hate to say it but he is a bit more important! Thanks for understanding.

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If you haven't noticed yet I have a BEAUTIFUL new blog design. I have been wanting to re-design my blog forever, but I am lacking in the graphic design skills. I have actually been praying the last few months to find someone who would help me do it, and Misty was an answer to my prayer! Didn't she do a great job?! I really love the colors and the feel of it. It surpassed my wildest expectations. There are two features that I'd especially like to point out. The first is the new Facebook "like" button that is now attached to each of my posts. This makes it super easy for you to share something you read on my blog with your Facebook posse. Second, Misty made me a new button for the "Women in the Scriptures Challenge". So if you are taking the challenge you might want to update your button. The old one will still work, but this one is MUCH prettier. Thank you Misty so much! You are wonderful, so wonderful.

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Remember the caterpillar that Asher found way back in September? Well after it made its cocoon we put it on top of the fridge thinking that it would hatch a few weeks later. It didn't. Month after month is sat up there not doing anything and Jon and I thought that it must have died inside the cocoon. I almost threw it away, but yesterday when I looked inside I saw that there was a moth. My first reaction was "Ugg, how did a moth get into the jar? I've had the lid closed." And then, in a streak of brilliance, I realized that it must have hatched out of the cocoon. I was so excited.

See how it ate itself out of its cocoon, neat huh?



I was a bit disappointed (only for a moment) that it wasn't a butterfly. But as I explained to my children what the caterpillar had done I was struck by the incredible miracle of re-birth and transformation. I love it how God teaches us important eternal lessons through the nature that surrounds us. The answers to the deepest questions in the universe are all around, we just have to have the eyes to see them. God really is the ultimate teacher.

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I was really humbled by the article in the Ensign this month entitled "Keeping Safe and Keeping Balanced in a Google- YouTube-Twitter-Facebook-iEverything World." The article gives suggestions to parents about how to set good boundaries for their kids in using technology and the Internet. At the end of the article the author gave "10 Signs of Digital Overload". As I read through the list I was appalled to find that I could answer yes to about 6 of the questions. I've written about it before but I have really struggled with finding a good balance of technology and Internet in my life. Reading this article just reminded me that I still have some things to work on. I realized that if I want to be able to teach my kids good technology boundaries then I need to be able to have stronger boundaries for myself.

So, the first thing I did was to turn off the email notices on my phone. I realized that they really stress me out. I am constantly checking my phone and reading emails but since I hate typing on my phone I can never answer them. It makes me stressed out all day thinking about all the emails I need to respond to. It has been heaven having it turned off. Also, inspired by things I have read on other people's blogs and the article in the Friend magazine this month, I made some "technology tickets". I took Popsicle sticks and painted them a different color for each member of the family. Each child gets ONE movie ticket a week and four 15 min. tickets to be used for time on the ipad. I also gave myself some tickets-- one hour of internet/ipad time a day and broke it up into 15 minute interval sticks. On Sunday everyone has to cash in their tickets-- meaning there is NO technology usage by anyone on Sunday-- and for each one you haven't used you get some money in exchange. We have only been doing this for a week and it has been amazing the change in our home, especially in me. Knowing that I have to cash in some of my tickets when I get on the Internet has made me use my time so much better. And not having the TV or Internet on on Sundays has been so peaceful. It forces us to play and talk together instead of staring at a screen... which is an improvement. Hopefully we can keep it up. It really requires me being honest with myself... and sometimes that is hard;)

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When I went back to read the post about Asher's caterpillar I realized that at the time I told you we were going to be graduating, selling a house, moving, and having a baby all in the same month. Well, things didn't quite work out like that... thank heavens. My husband ended up staying an extra semester to finish his Master's thesis and his new job was good enough to let him postpone starting until the end of May. I am really glad that we didn't have to move with a new baby, that would have been crazy. The one downside is that the extra semester in school has made our financial situation a bit tighter than usual and I am really having to find ways to make our paycheck stretch. I would LOVE to hear your best suggestions for reducing expenses and getting by on less. It has been an adventure for me, and I'd LOVE some more ideas!

Hope you have a wonderful 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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Karin from Denmark

This is the last submission I have for my series on Latter-day Saint Women Around the World... sob. I've really loved getting these and I just want any one out there who is still working on one-- or who thinks that they might like to do one-- that I would be VERY excited to get some more... hint, hint.

This guest post comes from a woman who over the last few years has become a good friend. Karin was one of the first people to send me an email when I started this blog a few years back. We have had some very interesting email exchanges over the years and she even translated my Re-enactment of the First Relief Society script into Danish! I have loved getting to know her and loved hearing about the church in Denmark, my father served his mission in Denmark and so it has always had a special place in my heart.

My name is Karin, I am 31-years-old and I live just outside the second largest city in Denmark. I moved here 12 years ago because I had just fallen in love with the city and less than a year after I came here I fell in love with my husband whom I met at work. We celebrated our ten year anniversary this summer and are still going strong. This is my husband and I on a windy day in the summertime at the beach in Skagen; the top of Denmark.

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?

The main religion in Denmark is the Evangelical Lutheran Church or, as it is called if you translate directly from danish: "The Church of the People". That name makes good sense to me since the church is connected to the state and is governed both by the Danish Parliament as well as Bishops around the country. Recently it has been decided by the Government that same-sex couples can marry. Most people come to church to have their babies christened (which makes them members of the church) and their teenagers confirmed, to get married and to be buried. Some people go to church Christmas Eve and of course some do it on a more regular basis. You can find many different belief systems in Denmark, but I would say that it is considered quite unusual and "weird" to belong to another (than the Evangelical Lutheran Church) church while it is getting more and more usual to be tuned in on something spiritual. Many celebrities "come out" as Buddhists or reveal that they pray, but not many will say that they believe in God or Christ.

As for stores open on Sunday I remember through my childhood Priesthood leaders teaching us not to do business on Sundays and we couldn't help but thinking it was a little "American" and not minded for us because it was absolutely impossible to buy anything else but gasoline. But now it is a whole different story and there no limitations on how stores can be open for business and you cannot go though a commercial block on TV without seeing at least one commercial screaming "great Sunday offer" in your face. And the prices really are low and very tempting, which make me even more thankful that the whole idea of having a prophet is having someone telling us what is important now as well as in the future.
Do I think it was important and meaningful that we were taught twenty years ahead not to do business on Sundays? Yes, indeed!

Aarhus down town in the spring. Right now it’s just grey, cold and dark much of the time.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-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 was born in to the church and got baptized when I was nine. My mother wanted me to wait to get baptized and not just do it because I was turning eight. I am so grateful for her letting me take that decision on my own and at my own pace. I value my agency very much and it is important to me to have used it in this important matter. Maybe because I live in a country where the "religious temperature" is as described it is even more important to me to have chosen on my own and gained my own testimony both then and ongoing.

My grandparents on my father's side were the first ones to get to become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in my family. My father was nineteen and noticed how his parents marriage improved and the tone and spirit in their home got very different. That made him want to get to know about the church, and one late evening as the missionaries went on their bikes to go home he ran after them and wanted them to teach him. To his disappointment they did not teach him that night, but scheduled an appointment for the next day. Within a few days he requested to be baptized, but was told that he had to be taught some more. I am not sure how long after, but not more than a few weeks after that he got baptized. He dated my mom at the time and introduced her to the church as well. After a while she got baptized too, which I am very thankful for today. They are still active members, have had eight children, and served two temple missions in Copenhagen.

The local meetinghouse (not a very large picture… I know)


3. What is LDS Church attendance like in your area?

There are to stakes in Denmark and twenty-two wards and branches (congregations). The local Mormon web page says there are 4500 members in Denmark and I have no idea how many members are considered active members. A few congregations are very small (less than ten members attending church on Sundays) and my guess is that my congregation has about 250 members on paper and fifty-seventy attending. Sometimes less. Right now my husband and I do not own a car and by bus it takes us thirty-five minutes to get to church. With the walk to and from the bus I'd say fifty minutes. By car it would take twenty minutes. We cover quite an area but not many have to go more than an hour to get to church. In some areas they have to go even further.


In my congregation we are quite a mixed flock: widows and singles - mostly women, a few older married couples, families (parents age 40-45) with teenagers and children and a few younger couples with and without children. A few years ago we had many widows, but many have passed away, a large Primary and no Young Women and just one Young Man. Now we have a much smaller Primary, at least ten Young Women and a handful Young Men and the young man who grew up as the only Young Man in the ward just returned from his mission a week ago. I use to say that we aren't many, but those who are, are wonderful ;-)


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?

In 2004 the Copenhagen Temple was dedicated by President Hinckley - something not many Danish members would have ever dreamed of. It covers Denmark, Island, Faroe Islands and the south part of Sweden (Malmø or Malmoe). 25,000 people came to the open house and the temple open house was a wonderful opportunity to tell friends and family about the Church. My husband and I had the privilege to invite and take his mother, sister and her boyfriend (now husband) to see the temple. They aren't members and it certainly was a miracle that they accepted a five hour drive on a bus "just" to see the Temple and then go back the same day. My husband and I were sealed there in August 2004 as the first couple "doing it for them selves" in the Copenhagen Temple. My father, who is Temple sealer, sealed us for time and eternity with my big brother and brother-in-law as witnesses and my sister, sister-in-law and mother present. Those are the ones in my family who are active and/or still members of the church.


The Copenhagen Temple. It use to be a meetinghouse but was reconstructed and it’s surrounded by apartments and shops and actually there is a bar just to the left of this picture ;-) The photographer probably stood on the other side of the street to capture the whole temple.

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?

Not many know the Church and certainly much less know what we believe in. Quite often I experience people connecting us with polygamy (to my frustration and irritation, I'm sad to say...I try to be nice, though ;-) or Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't know whether it's just a Danish phenomenon or if it's the case all over the world? I think it's because both churches come to people's houses and do missionary work and both our headquarters are seated in the US. Well, back to the question: I actually always have to explain my beliefs and once in awhile I also have to defend it. Equality between men and women is an ever lasting hot topic here in Denmark and things like the Priesthood and women's primary responsibility to raise children are often looked upon through very political glasses and tend to outrage some. I truly wish more people would understand the greatness, true meaning and interdependence of the two.

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?

The Danish Mission cover Greenland and the Copenhagen Temple district minus Sweden and it is said to be a hard mission to serve. Some of you may have read or heard about the Danish people being the happiest people in the world. Most Danes think this is a silly study but of course, if you go through Maslow's hierarchy of needs we are fairly safe and sound. This is naturally no warranty for happiness and to generalize, with the risk of getting frowned upon by my compatriots, I'd say that what Danes have in material things we lack in spirituality and humility. It is pretty hard for the missionaries to find people to teach and even more hard for people to change their lives in order to live the gospel and stay close to God after baptism. We have less than five baptisms a year in my ward. Furthermore, it is fairly unusual to discuss religion and it is considered very private and talking about religion can often be perceived as aggressive. I was once asked by a non-member what I had been doing so far that Sunday and when I answered that I had gone to church the reaction was: "Wow! Slow down, you don't have to preach to me!" Some companies even have a policy against discussing religion at work. So I'd say it mostly uphill, but of course there are people who accept the gospel and people who are interested in hearing more about the church and the gospel. I like to keep it simple and that works for me even though I think it's hard.


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?

In my ward there are maybe five "big" families with 5 children each. That's considered to be a big family. It was the same case when I grew up in a smaller branch. Two and three kids are considered to be normal, four a handful, and five or more "must be a mistake" ;-). If you cope well with your (big) family there is a slightly tendency towards it being cool and rich on family values. I'll say that a functioning family is a status symbol. The Crown Prince Couple has four children and most people think that’s great (I think… I haven’t been around asking all of them…) but it did attract a great deal of attention.


The Crown Prince Couple and their four children – the younger ones are twins.


I am the youngest of eight children and that has always been very, very abnormal and I have encountered prejudices from playmates (guess at that age they must have had it from their parents?!) about it being very messy, dirty and loud at our house. Of course, it never really was and I thank my mother for helping me out on that one.


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?

Until a year ago I served as the ward Relief Society president and had taken it upon myself to visit teach six sisters. Now I only visit teach two sisters and it really is a long time since I had that few. I think most sisters have two, three, or four they have to visit. Right now I have to go one hour by bus or train to visit one of them so actually it's one at a time right now, but when we get a car again I'll be able to reach them both within half an hour. Do I need to say that I look forward to that! I feel the same way about visiting teaching as I've heard many people feel about the law of tithing - as I do it I understand it and love it. I always - always - feel so uplifted and happy on my way home and always wonder if the sisters I visit feel just a fraction of what I'm feeling.

I want to share a single experience from my "career" as a visiting teacher. My companion and I visited a sister who got cancer and we knew that she just got worse every day. She was a very respectable and neat woman and always on top of things, but, of course, as the disease got a firm grip in her that made her sick, tired and she didn't have the energy to do the things she used to. On top of that she also lost her hair and did not want to be seen without it. Well, this lovely but very sick woman was our responsibility to visit, but she didn't want to let us see her. Because of that we could only pray for her, send her letters, give her a call (but she was often too tired for that) or leave something on the doorstep. Sometimes her husband saw us there and came out and we made him give our love to his wife. Month after month this went on and one evening as we came up the driveway her husband came out and, to our surprise, invited us inside. The woman sat in the couch, looking nothing like she use to apart from her strong eyes and her wonderful spirit. She greeted us with a: "Well, you might as well come inside since you probably will keep on trying anyway". And she smiled at us. From then and until her death we were able to visit her and that just taught me so much about what love and perseverance can do. A situation that could easily have torn us apart made us come closer together and even though we could not help her with her actual problem we could be there for her. I think it works that way for most of people's problems, by the way
.

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

I think that the greatest challenges the sisters are facing are low self-esteem, trouble prioritizing their time and strengths, and balancing a life according to the teachings of the Gospel. I think that misunderstandings or lack of knowledge can be crucial in relation to get to these things and you need to know and understand the real reason that God asks different things of us. When we know and understand this we will be able to prioritize according to His wishes and plan and we won't feel guilty for these choices (although we do have to leave somethings undone) because we would know that that is not the way God would want us to feel about ourselves. Well, it may sound like an easy job to do, but I know that it is absolutely not. But I do believe that we have a chance to be getting better at it if we locate the problem and try to do something about it. Currently I serve as first counselor in the Stake Relief Society presidency and our theme for 2012 sounds like this: "I will understand and accept my eternal purpose as a woman, a daughter of God" and we hope that if every Relief Society presidency and every sister make this a personal matter and set goals for themselves within this theme we can be blessed with higher self-esteem, a more balanced life, love towards other people and love for ourselves and of course, love for Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father.


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

I am so grateful for knowing Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Redeemer and for having Him to believe in and hope for when the world is going crazy and I'm facing trials and challenges that could easily get the best of me. Also, I know deep down inside that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father and Mother and that they love me, which is the key to my self-esteem and true identity. These are things I hold very dear.


Karin thank you so much I love hearing you bear your testimony. I think it is incredible that you and your husband were the first people to be sealed in the Copenhagen temple. What an amazing blessing!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Magnificat and Hannah's Psalm

I started writing this post around Christmas time but never finished it but better late than never… right?

This Christmas the LDS church released a series of Bible videos from the life of Jesus. One of the first ones they released was a video of Elisabeth greeting Mary and Mary giving her psalm, also known as “The Magnificat”. I’ve read the words to the Magnificat many times before but as I watched this video and heard the actress repeat Mary’s beautiful testimony I was struck with how similar it is to the psalm that Hannah gives in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.


I went back and re-read the words of these two amazing women and discovered that they are in deed very similar. Let me show you.


Mary’s Psalm (Luke 1:46-55)

Hannah’s Psalm (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

… mine horn is exalted in the Lord

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

My heart rejoiceth in the Lord… my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Hannah calls herself a “handmaiden” in 1 Samuel 1:11.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee:

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

..for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them.

…he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

…The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

…The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.


He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased:

He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail...


As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

…and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.



I have been pondering on these two psalms and the women who gave them for several months. At first it seemed unusual to me that two women, hundreds of years apart and in very different circumstances, would be prompted to give almost the exact same message.

Yet I have pondered on their messages I have come to see that even though they had different experiences and challenges in life that both Mary and Hannah understood the true nature of God. They understood who He was, the immensity of His power and glory, His great mercy, and His love for His children. They comprehended the importance of His work and were humbled to be a part of it. They both call themselves “handmaidens” of the Lord and were willing to submit to His will, even though it was different than how they had planned for their lives to go. For Mary submitting meant being willing to bear a child before she was “ready” and for Hannah submitting meant having faith that God’s timing for her life had a reason and a purpose. Even though their trials were different both of these women understood that God is in perfect control of the universe and that it is He who has the power to grant life; He who has the power to feed the hungry and clothe the poor; He who has the power to control the destiny of nations and kings; and He alone who has the power to grant salvation and exaltation.

The more that I have thought about it the more I think Hannah and Mary's Psalms are the songs that ALL women sing in their souls when they get a glimpse of the immensity of God’s love and power. As mortals we are so small and insignificant in the grand scheme of the Universe, but when we choose to become one of the Lord’s "handmaidens" and learn to trust Him we are able to gain power far greater than our own. And when you get a glimpse of that power I don’t think you can help but sing, like Mary did “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my Spirit hath rejoice in God my Savior."

It is just incredible that the Lord of all Creation allows us, women and men, to be included in His work in even the smallest degree.