Wow, what a week it has been! It has been so full and I have to admit I am terribly homesick for my kiddos, my husband, and my normal life. Which is good, right?
In fact, when my kids dropped me off at the airport they were hanging all over me, smothering me in hugs and kisses to the point that that I had to push them away in order to even get out of the car. As I got my bags out I thought to myself, "Oh, I'm going to be glad to have a break from them!", but by the time I'd gotten through security and sat down in the terminal to wait to board the plane I realized I already missed them.
Though I do have to say that staying at the Grand America for a whole week has really had some perks. I've never stayed in a hotel this fancy before and it kind of makes me feel like a movie star... a big round pregnant movie star... but a movie star none the less. I think the highlight of the week was when my friend Becky came up to visit and to cut and highlight my hair. When she got to the hotel she realized that she didn't have enough foil to highlight all my hair and so we called the hotel room service to see if they had some aluminum foil we could use. They said they did and that they would send some up in about 10 or 15 minutes. Three minutes later Becky answered the door (I had foil in my hair) and there was a waiter holding a large silver platter, covered with a white napkin, with three pieces of aluminum foil sitting on it. Talk about fancy! Becky was kind of in awe when she came back in and said that moment had just been the pinnacle of her hair styling career-- to have aluminum foil delivered to her on a silver platter!
The World Congress of Families has been a very interesting, eye opening experience for me. It has been such a mix of people and viewpoints and has really pushed me to figure out what I believe and what I stand for. It has been way more conservative than I expected it to be which has been interesting. I consider myself to be a moderate and I've been to lots of liberal and secular conferences before but I've never been around a super conservative crowd before. I feel like I got quite the education this week!
There has been a wide variety of speakers and panelists, who have all centered their messages around the importance of the natural family for the stability and prosperity of our nation and world. This is a topic that I very feel passionate about, yet it has been interesting to see how different people have shared their message. Before this week I had never experienced an evangelical preacher but wow, did I get a good taste this week! There have been some incredible preachers and ministers who have been so dynamic and powerful. I've enjoyed many of their messages, but it has made me grateful that our own LDS leaders aren't so concerned with being entertaining speakers, but with sharing things that are true and right in a quiet and very diplomatic way... because some of these other guys were not very quiet or diplomatic.
Like any conference there have been things that have resonated with me and other things I have disagreed with, but for the most part is has been a really great week and I've really grown in my own understanding of the importance of the natural family and in my ability to speak intelligently about it.
Here are just a few of the highlights from my week:
It was awesome to hear Elder Ballard speak. He was very soft and yet powerful in sharing the message of the plan of salvation and the importance of families in that plan. It wasn't anything earth shaking but it was neat to see an apostle bearing testimony before a diverse group of people from all over the world.
Hearing Jenny Oaks Baker and her four young children play in the opening session. They were just incredible, really just incredible. Even better because I got to meet Sister Oaks afterwards and shook her hand! Our Big Ocean group even got a picture with her and Sheri Dew.
|Me shaking Sister Oaks, wife of apostle Dallin H. Oaks, at World Congress of Families|
|Big Ocean Women, plus Sheri Dew and Sister Oaks|
Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. was also at the conference and gave a really insightful presentation into how the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement are linked. It was interesting to listen to her because so often any cause that wants popular support tries to frame itself as a "civil rights" issue and play under the banner of Dr. King's work. Yet it was interesting to remember that for Dr. King his movement was a spiritual one, and that it was grounded upon a faith in God and that any movement that really wants to use his banner and follow in his footsteps must also be grounded in a faith in God and the sanctity of human life. She was pretty awesome.
Cathy Ruse, a lawyer from the Family Research Council spoke on the effects of the US Supreme Court decision about marriage on people of faith. She was an incredible speaker and there was one thing she said that really stood out to me. She was talking about laws that have been passed, and laws that may be passed, that encroach on religious freedom and she said, "No magistrate can make us bend a knee at the altar of a foreign God." Her statement made me think of the story of Daniel who was thrown in the lions den for not praying to a statue. I hope that our country never comes to that, but her comment was a good reminder that as a religious person I still have a moral and a constitutional right to choose. After her speech I also went and read the talk Elder Oaks recently gave about the boundary between church and state and it was a good combination. If you haven't read his remarks yet you should... they are really insightful.
Nick Vujicic, was completely amazing. He was born without arms or legs and has gone on to found Life without Limbs, a world-wide Christian ministry. He was one of the most happy upbeat people I've ever seen and his message was really incredible. The take home message I got from him was, "If God can use a man with no arms and no legs to be His hands and feet, He can use you."
I heard Stephanie Nielsen speak, which was awesome. I also got to meet her (and her whole darling family) in the hall later and got a picture. She is kind of amazing, and made me want to me such a better mother.
Wendy Ulrich, a professor from BYU, gave an incredible talk about how to create a marriage that is based on deep, committed loved. I liked her talk so much I'm going to just share some of my notes. She talked about how there are four phases to marriage:
- The honeymoon stage--choose to love someone and learn that we are more loving than we realized, but also have to learn how to trust and to be okay with vulnerability. Learn that love is worth the risk.
- The "I love you, but..." stage-- prompts us to grow, and growth and change are the meat and potatoes of a strong marriage. We learn to handle two types of problems, those we can change and those we can't-- 69% of problems in marriage are the type we can't change. So marriage is learning to look at unsolvable problems with curiosity, love, compassion and creativity.
- The distancing stage-- All couples get to this point at some time in their marriage. The surviving and not thriving stage. This is the point you have to choose to stay and to be committed, or choose to fall apart. "The magic of Christmas morning is created by ordinary people who sacrifice for each other."
- The acceptance and renewal stage-- The "I un-give up on you" stage where we become deeply curious about who our spouse is and how they got to be who they are. Choose to forgive and choose to accept. "You don't get to this point by jumping ship at the "I love you but..." stage and starting over at the honeymoon stage with someone else."
Isn't that beautiful?
It was also wonderful to spend time with women from Big Ocean and to help share their message. If there was one thing that was reinforced to me this week it is that the family is a feminist issue. When families fall apart women suffer, but when families are strong and men are willing to commit to marriage and fatherhood women prosper. There is no organization in the world that will improve women's lives more than the strong, natural family and so it worth investing in and protecting.
Big Ocean had a booth at the conference and it was always packed with people wanting to know who we were and what we were doing. It was incredible to see how the idea of maternal feminism really resonated with women from all over the world. If you have any desire to be a voice for faith, family and motherhood I would so suggest getting involved (or at least following) Big Ocean. It is really incredible to see the momentum building behind it, but it is a young organization and needs help. So if you feel at all called to do something, email Big Ocean and get involved. We need all the women's voices and help we can get!
|Big pregnant me with my friend from college, Erika (and her baby) and Carolina Allen, founder of Big Ocean.|
It was also really apparent to me that organizations like Big Ocean are the future of the pro-family and pro-life movements. It was surprising to see that a large percentage of the people attending the conference were young people, especially young women, while the majority of the speakers and presenters were old(ish) men. It just made me realize that the young women of the world are being called to step up-- and are stepping up-- into an incredible work. I think our young, female voices are so needed because we see things differently than the generation before us did. I think we are much more ready to share a message that isn't combative or exclusive but one that is uplifting, compassionate and inclusive... and that is the future.
I think my best moment of the week happened during a panel I went to on feminism. The panel turned out to be not all that great because two of the panelists just spent the time bashing feminism, which wasn't helpful. The third panelist was a young woman, who did a fantastic job and-- bless her heart-- really tried to rescue things as best she could. Yet even though the panel wasn't great there were some really interesting comments brought up during the Q&A.
One was from a woman from Kenya who stood up and commented on feminism in Africa. She mentioned that in Kenya they had it written into their constitution that 1/3rd of the Parliament needed to be women. She said it was a nice idea but that they had a nearly impossible time actually making that happen. She said that she'd thought a lot about it because in Rwanda, where there is no such law, women make up the majority of the parliament with it being nearly 65% female. She'd been to Rwanda and observed the women who were in political power and she had noticed that Rwandan women were, as she said, "quiet". She said that this was different from the Kenyan women running for office who were "loud and hard". She then went on to say that she felt that Rwandan women had learned to harness "soft power" and that it was because they were seen as powerful matriarchs that men did not have problems voting for them or supporting legislation that was specifically aimed at improving women's lives.
I was really intrigued by her comment and loved the phrase she used, "soft power". Luckily in between the next session we both went to get drinks at the same time and I was able to tell her how much I appreciated her comment. We got talking and as we were talking the story of Esther popped into my mind. I told her that the Rwandan's women "soft power" sounded just like the same type of power the Esther demonstrated in her story. For example, when Esther needed something BIG to change she didn't do it in a loud or forceful way but very simply. She stood quietly-- yet very majestically-- in the back of the King's court, waiting for him to give her an audience and listen to what she had to say. Then she not only fed him (a good tactic) but also introduced her plan and her problem slowly and in pieces he could digest. Eventually Esther's soft power not only convinced the King that she was right, but also elevated Esther's influence as queen to something that was previously unknown in her part of the world.
This Kenyan woman and I talked about this story for a bit and it was fun to see her face light up as she made the connections. I've been thinking about our conversation and how much influence women really have in the world but how REAL power doesn't always looks like the type of power the world says is power. Jesus knew this. Even when his disciples urged him towards worldly power, His was a "soft" power-- one that changed and shaped from the inside out. That is the type of power that really changes things, in a permanent way, and it is one that I think women are really good at.
Another defining moment from the conference for me was during Wednesday morning's plenary session. After the speakers were finished they opened it up for questions. One of the first questions was by a young woman who introduced herself as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a lesbian. She mentioned how she and her wife had just adopted a homeless boy and were working to help take care of other children who were in similar situations. She didn't really have a question, I think she just wanted to show that there were people there with different viewpoints, but she gave her comments in such a genuinely kind and loving way that she completely disarmed the whole room of 3,000 people.
After her there were several other people from some LBGT groups who gave comments (they didn't really have questions) but they did it so differently. Even though they had good intentions they still had a lot of anger and judgement in their voices and attitudes, and instead of disarming the room like the first woman had done they put the whole room on edge and on the defense.
Watching this exchange was a powerful reminder to me of how important it is to approach hard topics and hard conversations from a place of genuine love. I know that is hard to do when you feel attacked, but I think that it is the most powerful way to share a message and to change hearts. There is no power in contention, anger or judgement but there is incredible power in humility, love and understanding.
Personally, I know that I still need to work on this. It is all too easy for me to let my passion run away with me and make me over zealous. But there is always truth in both sides of the argument and I think that sometimes we need to be willing to let go of our need to be right, to be validated, or to be popular, and just seek for things that are true. To let go of our anger and our feelings of being attacked and realize that the only person who is our enemy is Satan... not each other... and that love and understanding are always the best choices.
Okay, this was a bit of a soapbox Five Things for Friday, but I've been listening all week and it was nice to get some of the thoughts off my chest! Overall, I'm glad I went to the World Congress of Families, glad I got involved with Big Ocean, and glad that I took a much needed break... but I am so excited to get home tomorrow!
Have a wonderful weekend and give the people in your family a hug... they are your treasures.