Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Certain Woman Necklace {Giveaway}

Way back in September my daughter Rose was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was an awesome day and an awesome experience. I have been meaning to write about it for months now, but I've been so caught up in finishing and launching my Old Testament book that I haven't had time to. But better late than never, right?

First, I just want to mention how much I love it that this little girl wanted a red dress for her baptism. It seems to be the custom for little girls to have white dresses but Rose was adamant that she wanted a red one... with roses on it of course. We decided that a red dress was perfect for a baptism because baptism symbolizes new birth and birth always involves blood. In mortal birth it is the mother's blood which is shed for us and in spiritual birth (baptism) it is our Savior's blood which is spilled for us. So red... it works.

Second, I wanted to share this very special necklace that I had made for Rose. It is her "certain woman" necklace and the phrase is from Sister Burton's talk about the "certain women" who followed Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament it states that there were many, many women who followed Christ and since we don't know their names the account simply calls them "certain" women-- as in "specific but not explicitly named or stated".

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pre-Order Walking with the Women of the Old Testament!

I have so neglected this blog the last year. The little widget on the sidebar tells me that I have only posted three--- THREE--- posts on here in 2017. One of the big reasons for that silence is that for the last year this project has taken a huge part of my time, my creativity and my heart.

I am so pleased to announce that Walking with the Women of the Old Testament has an official launch date of November 15th and is now available for pre-order! Last time Walking with the Women of the New Testament sold out really quickly at Christmas time and people had to wait until March to get copies! So if you want a copy or would like to give it out a gift make sure you put in your order soon! 

This book has really been such an incredible--- and difficult--- project. The Old Testament is MUCH harder to understand and write about  (and there are way more women in it ) than any of the other books of scripture. Writing about such a diverse group of women taxed my skills as a writer and a storyteller. But it does help that the women in the Old Testament are my favorite. Their stories are the oldest stories about women in the world and they have so much to teach us about who we are and what we are meant to do here on this earth. The process of writing about these women and really grappling with their stories taught me some incredible things, and I am so excited to share them with you. 

If you have missed my voice then I hope you will take the time to order my book, because it is where I have poured my heart and soul into the last year and half. I hope as you read it you will have some of the same "ah ha" moments I had, and deepen your love for yourself and for all women of God! Not to mention that Mandy Jane William's pictures are even more incredible than the ones she did for the New Testament book. They are incredible!  

You can pre-order the book on Amazon right now (and it is 20% off) and it will be available at Deseret Book and other LDS booksellers very soon! 

PS. If you want a sneak peek into what is in the book you can listen to the interview I did about Old Testament women with LDS Perspectives. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

What Makes the Women in the Bible so Beautiful?

It has been a crazy summer and I apologize for abandoning my blog for the last few months. If you don't follow me on Facebook or Instagram then you may have missed the news that my husband got a new job in Idaho. This summer we have been in the process of selling our house in Iowa and moving up to Idaho! We are sad about leaving the Mid-West because we really loved it, but it does also feel nice to move back home and closer to family. I am hopeful that wonderful things await us in Idaho.

We've been living with my in-laws in Utah for a few months until we can close on our new house and it has been a neat opportunity to do some speaking events (which I love) and to do some interviews with Utah-based organizations. Several months ago Stephanie at Bloom Productions Utah contacted me about making a short 1-minute video for their Instagram account. Her group is trying to spread good messages online about inner beauty. Stephanie had read my post about Getting Adam to Partake and wanted me to share some of my experiences wearing a headscarf. I am SO not comfortable on video, but it was exciting to try something new.

Stephanie and I also made a longer video discussing beauty and the women in the scriptures. This one is about 2 1/2 minutes long. It is so hard for me to watch myself on video, and I need to practice my looking at the camera skills (apparently I bat my eyes when I am nervous) , but I'm pretty happy with how I did. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

List of All the Women in the Old Testament

All art work by Mandy Jane Williams. 

I have been working on a book about the women of the Old Testament (similar to the one I did for the women in the New Testament). The Old Testament women have been way, way more complicated than the New Testament, and it has been quite the undertaking for the last while.  I just finished it last week, and am really happy with how it turned out. I wasn't able to write about all the women in the Old Testament (there are way too many) but I did a good number of them. And the art work is turning out beautiful.  Yay! Walking with the Women of the Old Testament will be out sometime this fall.

As part of the book I put together a list of all the women in the Old Testament. I included only real women (not metaphorical or figurative women, like  the"daughters of Zion"). Some names are repeated, for example there are 5 Maachah's, but they are all individual women. There are more than 317 women and groups of women in the Old Testament, and most of them have names! No wonder I like it so much.

Eventually I will put together a study guide for the women of the Old Testament, like I have for the women of the New Testament and the women of the Book of Mormon. Until then I hope this list is helpful for your scripture study. I also have lists on all the women in the New Testament and Book of Mormon women on my blog as well.

List of Women in the Old Testament (in Chronological Order)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Recommendations for Studying the Women in the Scriptures

I have had many requests for book recommendations for studying the Bible and women in the scriptures. I have amassed a fairly impressive library over the years and so I thought I'd go through it and just share with you several of my favorites.

All of these books will help you dig deeper into the scriptures and gain new insights, but they are no replacement for studying the original text yourself. It is much more rewarding to get your own insights about stories instead of reading other people's... make sure you read the scriptures in along with these resources. I know that sounds silly but you'd be surprised how many people spend more time reading commentaries about the scriptures instead of reading the scriptures themselves!

I hope that this list gets you excited about scripture study and that you find something to help deepen your understanding and study. If there are any great books or resources that I have missed please let me know in the comments. I am always looking for good additions to my library!

Friday, December 2, 2016

The American Woman Today-- What do You Think?

We recently inherited a 1960 set of Encyclopedias from my in-laws. It has been fascinating to skim through these books and get a snap shot of what the world was like during that time and what people were thinking about.  Many things haven't changed (like an elephant is still an elephant, right?) but there were other entries that were obviously dated. For example, there were several pages under "fallout shelter" about how to create your own shelter in your home with detailed instructions about what to do in case of a nuclear attack! It was also very interesting to read though the entry on "family" in this Encyclopedia. Here is the first paragraph, 
"Family is the oldest human institution. In many ways it is the most important. It is society's most basic unit. Entire civilizations have survived or disappeared depending on whether family life was strong or weak. Families have existed since earliest times and will undoubtedly exist as long as man lives on earth. 
Families make up the basis of every society because they serve three vital human needs found everywhere. First, the family is the means for producing children and continuing the human race. Second, the family provides for protection and early training of infants. Human infants are perhaps the most helpless of all living creatures... Third, the family sets up a division of labor so that each member contributes something.... 
...Marriage is the beginning of family life. When a man and a woman marry, they make a legal contract to live together as husband and wife. They also accept the legal responsibility to support and care for any children they may have. 
... Most people belong to two families during their lives, the first as children and the second as parents. We are born in to the first family and we establish the second one."

It seems almost incredible in our day in age to think that this was published as the DEFINITION of what a family is. I feel like this definition says so plainly and concisely the truth (and what I was trying to explain in my Cultivating a Heart Open to Life series). It a little sad that today many people are choosing to live in ways that are in incompatible with the perpetuation of human life and, as the definition, stated that is often what makes or breaks an entire society.

Another interesting aspect of these Encyclopedias is that they came with three "year books", one for 1968, 1969, and 1970. There was one article in the 1969 Year Book that interested me particularly. It was entitled The American Woman Today written by the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead. It is a fascinating glimpse into what was perceived as the problems, challenges, and opportunities facing American women in the 1960's. There were a few parts that I thought were really interesting. For example she wrote about why, even though American women are often "the envy of women throughout the world", they are not the happiest women in the world.  She wrote:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Vashti: Put Your Crown on and Stand Your Ground {Idea for YW Mutual Night}

I was recently (okay, recently as in four months ago) called to be the Young Women's president in our Ward. I haven't ever had a calling in young women's (not since I was a young woman) and so it has been a big learning experience for me. I've also never been a president of anything. I'm discovering that being the president is much different from being a counselor. Kudos to all of you who make it look easy!

Overall though, I have been  having lots of fun. I love having a captive audience to share all my love and excitement about womanhood and the women in the scripture with. I'm not sure if they appreciate it,  but so far I have absolutely loved teaching and learning with them. I'll also be honest and admit it is nice to "have" to go do something without my kids on Wednesday nights-- or you know-- take a whole day and go boating. It has been a nice break and something I've really needed. I really have an incredible group of girls which makes it even more fun.

Ever since I was called I've been feeling a reminder from the Lord that I need to share with the girls my love for the women in the scriptures. I've tried to incorporate them into some of my Sunday lessons but the spirit keeps telling me, "More, share more." My counselor and I decided that on the fifth Wednesday of each month (which only happens a few times a year) we are going to dedicate to "women in the scripture" nights and focus on one woman from the scriptures. Since the girls are in a teaching environment all day at school and, then (at least in our ward) have seminary right before mutual, we decided we are going to share the story by doing an activity or craft that reinforces the message that scriptural woman embodied.

Our first fifth Wednesday was last night and our first woman from the scriptures was Vashti. Vashti was the queen of Persia, which meant she was pretty much queen of the known world. In her time period no one, not even men, disobeyed an order from the King and women were expected to obey their husbands without question. So when the Persian king, who was on day 7 of his frat party, wanted to show off the beauty of his wife to all his drunken friends, he expected that she would come.

Yet, she didn't.

 In a very brave and very self-respecting way Vashti refused to come. She knew that what the King was asking of her was wrong and that it degraded her as a queen and as a woman. She held her ground and refused to go, even knowing that her choice would mean death or banishment. Still she had the courage to say "no" and not allow someone to cross boundaries they were not entitled to. Her answer made the king and all the rest of the men angry, and it resulted in harsh consequences for her and the rest of the women of the kingdom, but it was an incredibly brave choice.  I love what Vanessa Ochs wrote in my new favorite book about women in the Bible. She said:

“The women saw Vashti taking care of herself by saying “no”. They knew she was taking care of them too, by modeling what they often imagined doing themselves, but too rarely did. She showed that they boundaries of a woman’s dignity may not be violated. She demonstrated that any woman, not just a queen, could say, “Not now, not unless its on my terms as well, not unless I’m fully comfortable, not unless I am treated with dignity.” Only a woman who is respected can be expected to show respect.
“ I will not go.” Her words stayed in the women’s heads in the days after they had left the banquet, as they brushed their daughter’s hair. They could say it too, and they could teach it to their daughters. They practiced the words in their heads: “I will not go...
...To act in the spirit of Vashti, you will need a crown to remind you and announce to others that you have the right to do what is necessary to preserve your dignity. True, you might not actually go out wearing your crown… But you do need to own a crown, and place it somewhere you and others can see it easily, to remind you of your right to define your own boundaries.”
I told the girls the story of Vashti and talked about how it is okay to say "no" and to set personal boundaries for yourself. Like Vashti there are times when every woman will need to, royally and regally, put on her crown, stand her ground, and refuse to be treated in a way that degrades or belittles who she is. Every woman needs a crown. This part didn't take more than ten minutes and then we went to the gym and made mirrors with crowns etched on them to remind them of Vashti's story.

The mirrors were just ones from the dollar store and we traced this crown template onto contact paper. The girls then used etching cream to put the image of the crown on their mirror. If you have never used etching cream before, it is really easy. The result was a mirror that when you look into you see yourself with a crown on your head-- a reminder of who you really are and what you are capable of.

It took about a half hour to do the mirrors. The mirrors needed to sit with the cream on them for about 20 minutes, so in the meantime we had a dress competition. We broke them into two teams and gave them each several rolls of toilet paper and the dregs of my wrapping paper box. Their instructions were they had 15 minutes to create a dress Vashti would have worn (including a crown) out of only those materials. The end result was pretty impressive I think!

We had intended to play a short game of charades where they girls would mime different scenarios where they could be a Vashti and say "no". It ended up that we didn't have time to do it, but some scenarios were thinking about giving them to act out were:

  • A boy who tries to put his hands somewhere where they don't belong
  • A boy who tries to kiss you when you don't want him to 
  • A friend who tries to manipulate you into choosing sides against someone at school 
  • A friend who tries to get you to gossip about, exclude, or mistreat someone else
  • Being asked wear an immodest outfit for a performance
  • A person who takes advantage of your kindness 
  • Someone who refuses to leave you alone even when you have asked them to
  • A person who bullies or teases you
  • A person who puts you down or treats you unkindly or unfairly 
  • Someone speaking for you or assuming that you feel or think a certain way
  • Someone trying to exclude or silence your voice 
There are lots more, but those were just a few of the ones we had thought of. It is also important with this type of lesson though that you are sensitive to those girls who are or have been in abusive situations. Be prayerful and thoughtful about how you'd address this topic with your specific girls. 

After the dress game we washed the cream off the mirrors. They turned out great and I think the girls really enjoyed learning how to etch things. Before they left I wanted them to all look in their mirrors and see themselves with a crown on their head, a reminder of who they really were. I also wrote this phrase on the chalkboard and had those who wanted to (which was most of them) to write it on the back of their mirror. 

I am the daughter of a king. 
I am wonderfully and beautifully made. 
I am powerful because I am kind and courageous. 
I can do hard things. 

I don't know who to give credit to for that saying (if you know please tell me) because I just read it on a friend's Instagram account. It has stuck with me and I've used it a few times in my lessons before with the Young Women.

All in all I think it was a good activity and I think the girls learned something and had fun. What more can you ask for, right?

Though I hope that when they look in their mirror's they will remember that as literal daughters of the most high king of the universe they can each be a Vashti. They can act with power and courage and say "no" to things or people who do not honor and respect their divine nature. When they find themselves in a "Vashti moment" I hope they will put on their crown and stand their ground, regardless of the consequences.

I hope that maybe this will be helpful to some of you who help plan Young Women activities. We are planning on doing this every fifth Wednesday so I'll try to share what we do. I think next time (which is in November) we will do Vashti's counterpart-- Esther. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Homeschool Tour and the Cabinet of Curiosity

Painted as Maori Warriors for one of our Story of the World units

I've been wanting to do a homeschool tour for awhile but was intimidated by all the typing and pictures that a post like that would entail. So I decided instead to do some videos and give you a tour of our home school set up and show you how we do things. I had to break it up into several different parts in order to get it to upload, but they are each short. We are not perfect by any means, and are always learning new ways to do things. I just wanted to share because I know I learn so much from other homeschoolers when I see what they use and how they set up their homes to encourage learning.

The videos are a bit chaotic and I am not going to win any awards for cinematography, but I wanted to give you a quick overview of our homeschool set up. I also made it a point to leave our cupboards how they are most days, a little messy and random. I wanted to keep this real because I know I get easily discouraged by homeschool blogs that make it looks like everything  in their house is organized perfect and their kids love everything, because I don't think that is true for anyone.

Also I can talk really fast (I'm gifted that way) and so sorry about being a motor mouth. I think I was worried about getting everything in before the memory on my phone got full! Hopefully though something is helpful, and I'd love to hear more ideas or suggestions you have.

The first part goes over our morning routine and our homeschool binders

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mrs. Weasley's Pensieve

This is something completely different from what I normally write. Our library is having a Harry Potter fan fiction contest and it inspired me to write down this story I've had ruminating in my head. I've been piecing it together ever since I wrote my post  about "Why Being a Mom is Just as Cool as Being Harry Potter." 

It was also really fun because I haven't done any creative writing for... ages. So it was nice to do something different. I've written it like a missing chapter from the books. So if you aren't familiar with Harry Potter you might be a bit lost, but if you are Harry Potter fan I hope you enjoy it! 

Harry couldn’t sleep. He leaned over and used his wand to light up the watch on his night stand. 2 AM. Still hours to go before morning. He rolled over and flopped his head back on to his pillow. He heard Ron’s heavy snores coming from the bed across the room and for a moment he deeply envied his friend. How nice would it be if the most pressing issue on his mind was the contents of  Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches? 

He thought about getting up and going to the kitchen for a drink, but hesitated. What if someone was still awake? He knew that Mrs. Weasley, and just about everyone else it seemed, were overly worried about him. The last thing he needed now was for people to find out that he wasn’t sleeping.

Still, he desperately needed a drink. Deciding he could always lie and tell someone he’d gotten lost on the way to the bathroom, Harry quietly drew back the covers. He slipped his feet into the slippers beside his bed and grabbed his bathrobe. Before he closed the door he looked back at Ron, who was mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like “Hermione”, and stepped out into the hall.

If the old house at Number 12, Grimmauld Place was eerie in the day time, it was downright spooky at night. He, Ron and Hermione had spent the last several days helping Mrs. Weasley and Sirius clean out the old haunted house, and it had not been pleasant. He didn’t know how they both managed being cooped up in this creepy place, especially when there was so much going on outside. He was glad that he would be leaving tomorrow for Hogwarts.

When he finally reached the kitchen he was surprised to see that there was still a light on. He knew that members of the Order of the Phoenix were often in and out of the headquarters, but he wondered who would still be up at this late hour.

Cautiously he peeked into the kitchen. It was empty. The light he’d seen was coming from the dying fire in the large stone fireplace, and a single candle on the long table in the center of the room. Beside the candle sat a small stone bowl covered in ancient runes, its misty contents reflecting the dancing rays of the diminishing candle. Surprised, Harry quickly crossed the room.

The pensieve? He couldn’t believe it. What was it doing here?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Psalms Project {Giveaway}

I love the Old Testament. I've loved it from the first time I read it as a fourteen-year-old struggling through the confusing names, places and stories, but enthralled with the sense of discovering hidden treasures. In the years since I've read it at least a dozen times. The more I read it the more the stories, the names, and the places make sense and become more intriguing. Yet, despite my love for the Old Testament there is one part that I dread every time I read it-- Psalms.

It has always been my least favorite book of scripture.  It is long, has no recognizable story or characters, is repetitive, and just sort of boring. In fact, I'd assumed that most people didn't enjoy Psalms but have recently had cause to recant that opinion.

On my most recent reading of the Old Testament I was rapidly approaching (and dreading) the book of Psalms when I went to the adult session of Stake Conference. I was amazed when the temple matron (our temple is Winter Quarters) got up and spoke of her love for the Psalms. She spoke about them in such a loving, personal way and I realized that I had been missing something important. Afterward I went up to thank her and admit my dislike for Psalms. She smiled, a big knowing smile,  and said, "Oh, they aren't meant to be read. The word "Psalms" means "songs". They are hymns. You have to sing them!"

I thought about her words, but I knew that I wasn't musically talented enough to put anything to music... let alone ancient scripture. So, when I reached Psalms in my personal study I promptly skipped over it again and went on to Proverbs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ancient "Relief Society" of the New Testament

Samaritan Women by Mandy Jane Williams

When was the last time you opened up your copy of "Daughters in My Kingdom", the book about the history of the Relief Society?

If it has been awhile then you should go and grab yours off the shelf and open up to the the first chapter. I want you to notice that the title of this chapter is called, "Relief Society: A Restoration of an Ancient Pattern", meaning that the Relief Society is not a modern organization. It is something that has existed every time that God's church has been organized on the earth. As Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the church, taught,
“You [ Relief Society sisters] have ever been found at the side of the Priesthood, ready to strengthen their hands and to do your part in helping to advance the interests of the kingdom of God." 

The history of the Relief Society, doesn't begin with the women in Nauvoo when Joseph Smith organized the women there. It begins with the women of the New Testament, the ancient "Relief Society". It was Christ who organized it, set its mission, endowed women with power, and enlisted their aid in doing His sacred work. Women were involved then, just as women are involved now.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Relief" Society vs. "Fix-it" Society By Amy

These words by Amy really resonated with me and helped me think about the ways I try to "fix" things that I can't. There is some real wisdom in her words and I hope you learn from her. And, by the way, I didn't tell her to put my book as her favorite... though I'm flattered she did. 

When I first received the calling to be the Relief Society secretary, I asked Heavenly Father a couple questions. I wanted to understand the purpose of Relief Society better and what my personal responsibilities are as a member of the Lord’s organization for women.

I had completely forgotten about these questions until the beginning of this year. We know that the Holy Ghost can “bring all things to [our] remembrance.” (John 14:26) And as I was wondering whether the things I have been learning, as I struggle to improve as a mother, were appropriate to share the Spirit reminded me that I had asked these questions. It whispered to me that I had received the instruction I was being given specifically as answers to those questions. And I realized that these questions were universal to all of us as members of the Lord’s organization for women.

My questions were:

1. What does the title “Relief Society” mean and what does it have to do with me?
2. What is meant by “Charity Never Faileth”?

What’s in a Name?
After careful reflection, I realized that what I was wondering is: who named the Relief Society? Was it named by the women who had the desire to be organized? They had a purpose, a strong desire, wrote up a constitution and had a vision….you know the history.

But I am coming to realize just how important names are to our Heavenly Father. In the Book of Mormon, Christ is given over 100 distinct names and each of them have "particular significance"  in describing Christ’s divine nature. When we make covenants, we are given names. For example, when we are baptized we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. And in the temple we learn more about the eternal significance of names.

Names matter to God.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love Life and Learning by Michelle Lehnardt

I'm excited to have Michelle as my guest poster today for my Relief Society Celebration! I've been following her blog, Scenes from the Wild, for awhile and it is one of my favorites.  Mostly, because she gives me hope. Hope that maybe someday this wild family of mine might look something like hers does, with amazing grown and growing up children, a strong family culture and enthusiasm for the small things. So thank you Michelle!

 photo IMG_4536copy.jpg
As women in the Relief Society, we are life-long learners, life-long teachers. Today I'm focusing on raising kids who love to learn, but everything in here applies to ourselves.
When I asked my 14 and 16 year old separately on their ideas on raising smart kids I expected them to cite all sorts of examples such as reading books, learning a musical instrument, visiting the library etc. I was surprised by their nearly identical answer– “be prepared to be very different.” My older boys, my nieces and girls in my neighborhood confirmed the same idea: it's hip to be too cool for school.
How did we get here? In the past, education was highly valued. When did “smart” equate with “uncool”? And doesn’t every parent want to raise intelligent, creative children– boys and girls.
If you’ve read this far, you’re the kind of parent who cares about education, so I’ll offer up my best tips.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Finding Nobility in Motherhood and Joy in Womanhood by Nikki Yaste

You are in for a treat today! Nikki has the most incredible story and the testimony to go with it. I have learned so much from her and she constantly inspires me to be better and to look at things differently. Enjoy!

I’ve been asked to write a special blog to celebrate the anniversary of the Relief Society. It’s been 142 years since the founding of this amazing organization in March 17, 1842. As I read through the Relief Society Declaration and thought about what I “bullet” I wanted to specifically address in this, I kept circling back to this:

“[Finding] nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.”

Why?! The topic I most wanted to avoid!

Often times, I feel like I come up short when the subject of motherhood is specifically addressed in Conference or Relief Society. I want to avoid these topics like the plague. I spent a lot of time extremely jealous of people who had the “loving” and “doting” mothers in their lives. Honestly, I go so far as to ignore Mother’s Day, chalking it up to just another Sunday in the month of May. As a child, I didn’t grow up in the most conducive environment that would produce any “noble” qualities of motherhood and certainly, there was little joy to be found as a woman.

As a child, I felt like a burden to my parents. Something that was to be seen and not heard. I was to fall in line or suffer the consequences, no questions asked. For along time, I didn’t have a relationship with my own parents as a result of their abusive behavior. When I am asked “what was my childhood like?” My normal response, with a smirk, is always “what childhood?” I didn’t have the “normal” upbringing and comfort that most children, hopefully, have. Simply things, like napping on the couch or having an open imagination were mocked relentlessly. There were few hugs and fewer expressions of “I love you.”  As I entered into my teenage and young adult years, it became all about sex, alcohol and drugs. I partied with the best of them, sneaking into clubs and bars. I built an identity on exploitation (If I got it, flaunt it.) and the false idols of sex and power. I married the old wise tale that I was really living the “good life.” When I became a mother, all that changed. There is nothing that that will focus your life like a baby.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Strengthening Marriage, Family, and Home by Destiny Mawson

Speaking in this last General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson expressed the following,
"...we need women who. . . are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world. We need women who are devoted to shepherding God's children along the covenant path toward exaltation; . . .women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly." 
More than ever before our children need us to be the "guardians of the hearth" that President Hinckley mentioned. We need to feverishly be dedicating ourselves to strengthening our marriages, families, and homes so that our children have a haven in which to develop and leave with testimonies firmly in place. 

Time and again, we as women have been championed with defending and fortifying these three elements.

Strengthening Our Marriages
I am presently in my second year of homeschooling my five children and a move for our family allowed my husband to now work from home. We are nearly always all together. The biggest difference I have noticed from when my husband worked in an office and my children attended public school is the need I have for consistent date nights with my husband. Prior, we would maybe get one date a month, sometimes not, but it was enough. However, as my duties as a mother have increased, so has my need to cleave unto my husband more often. I need those quite moments, just he and I to reconnect, to discuss our day without eavesdroppers, to plan and prepare for our future together. Strengthening my marriage allows me to be a better mother and to better focus on my family and home. A former Bishop's wife once told me that she knew her husband was the one when he told her that as much as he loved her, he would always love the Lord first. As hard as it may be sometimes, the order in which we put our efforts should be, first to God, second to our spouse and third, to our children. The order matters.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Why Relief Society Is Not A Glorified Book Club by Jan Francisco

I'm excited to have Jan as my first guest poster (is that a word?) for my celebration of Relief Society! I love everything that Jan writes. She has such great thoughts and says things so well... so make sure to jump over to her blog afterwards.


I love me a good book club. Or a girl's night group. Or even a sit-on-the-couch and crochet-together group. It is so agreeable and validating to surround myself with people who think like I do, have similar pressures of job or home, have 3-5 kids of similar ages. I go from echo chamber to echo chamber and it is comfortable. Pleasant. The conversations don't challenge my status quo, just make me laugh. And, of course, the food!!

Relief Society, however, is not one of these echo chambers. Relief Society is a mix of real women, living in all different phases of maturity, with all different family situations, and vastly different life experiences. Relief Society does challenge my thoughts and the way I live my life. Sometimes I laugh. Often my eyes tear up at the sincerity and goodness of the women around me, their vulnerability in sharing deeply personal and spiritual things with a room full of friends and strangers. I love their hearts. I can see myself in them, whether it is the ghost of Jan Past, Present or Future--and seeing them in their strengths and weaknesses helps me to better see myself. Their motes become my beams; and I see my potential in their triumphs.

Within this mix of women in every ward I've attended, I always find several who just thrill me with their gospel knowledge. These women who make comments like, "Well, you'll remember that Joseph F. Smith promised. . . " or "I have always loved the thought by Brigham Young that. . . " and then they say something profound and topical and analytical and it just wraps the whole thing up in my mind. I adore these Sister Scriptorians. In a 1979 Women's Conference, Camilla Kimball delivered a talk in behalf of her husband, President Kimball, admonishing:
We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family. . . Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to “treasure up” the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?

(I know about this quote because of one of these wonderful women saying, "You know, President Kimball told us all to be Sister Scriptorians, and so I decided that was what I was going to do!")
As a 16-year-old Laurel, my leader was the brilliant Sister Wilson. She was learning Greek so she could read the New Testament in its original language. She taught lessons of doctrine, almost devoid of crafts and handouts. She knew stuff. She blew my mind about the possibilities for sisters in the church. After watching her live the gospel, I had my trajectory roughly laid out--following her lead.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Relief Society Declaration {Giveaway!}

Keep reading for a chance to win this beautiful printable of the Relief Society Declaration
This week the Relief Society, the oldest and largest women's organization in the world, will celebrate is 173 birthday! I have a great love for Relief Society, which has mostly been gained by serving in it for the last 13+ years of my life.  Even though we have moved often somehow Jon and I would always get called to the same callings (him in the young men's and me as the Relief Society secretary), we joked that we must come with sticky notes on our foreheads. In 10 years I served in 8 different Relief Society presidencies!  In fact, I'm teaching seminary in our Ward right now, and besides a few months as the primary chorister (best calling ever!), it is the first time I've had a calling outside of Relief Society.
I've often wondered why the Lord had me serve in Relief Society at a time when most of the women my age were being called to Primary and Young Women's, and I've decided that it was because He knew that I needed to gain a strong testimony of Relief Society. I know that for me, coming to understanding the history and the real purpose of Relief Society has done more to strengthen my testimony of womanhood than anything else (well, besides studying the women in the scriptures). It has changed my heart and opened my eyes to spiritual truths in a big way.
This week I want to celebrate the Relief Society by focusing on the Relief Society Declaration.

Did you even know the Relief Society had a declaration? 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Counseling Together in a Marriage: An Example from Jacob, Leah and Rachel

When my husband and I were first married the best advice we got from our parents was, "Always say a prayer together before discussing money." We have always tried to follow that counsel and not only has it helped us manage our household better, but it was also the first way we learned to counsel together as husband and wife. We learned how to pray together before discussing hard topics, we learned to listen to one another's viewpoints, to respect the revelation received by the other person, and we learned how keep our voices kind. Later on in our marriage we began doing weekly Family Executive Council (FEC) which has been a big blessing to our family. We use to be good about doing it every week, which we need to get back to doing. Now it seems we usually only have one when things reach a crisis point!

The pattern of counseling together is one that has been taught repeatedly by our church leaders. They have  stressed the importance of holding regular counsels, at the Stake, Ward and family level. The point of a counsel is to listen to everyone's viewpoint and then work together to figure out what God wold like you to do, not what you want to do. This is an important principle for any organization but nowhere is counseling together more important than in a marriage, where both the husband and the wife have equal stewardship and authority over their family.

There is a really great story in the scriptures that models what counseling together in marriage looks like. It is the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah in Genesis 31. If you remember, Jacob was the son of Issac and Rebekah and the twin brother of Esau. When Jacob received the birthright Esau was angry and Jacob's parents were afraid he would kill him. So his parents sent Jacob to go live with his Uncle Laban in Padan-aram and to seek a wife from among his family. Jacob ended up staying with Laban for many years and married two of his daughters, Leah and Rachel. After marrying Rachel and Leah Jacob worked with his father-in-law Laban as a shepherd for a long time. Even though Laban was never honest or fair with him, Jacob's riches began to eclipse those of Laban. This made Laban and his son's jealous and eventually, things between  Laban and Jacob reach a crisis point. As it says in Genesis 31:2, "...Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and behold, it as not towards him as before." 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Too Many "Speedo-ish" Dresses Worn to Dances

Here is the original illustration that went along with the story 
I wrote this opinion piece when I was 16 years-old for my High School newspaper. It came from a talk we had one day in the journalism room with some of the Senior boys, who hated asking girls out to dances because they never knew what type of dress they'd have to dance with all night. It sort of went "viral" at my high school and was the first time I'd ever gotten attention for writing, good and bad. I consider it a pretty pivotal piece in my writing "career", because it made me realize that if you said things well people would listen to you. 

A few years ago my step-sister sent me a text telling me that her Seminary teacher had read it to them in her class. Apparently even 12 years later it was still a hit. I begged her to get me a copy of it and she sent me a photocopy of the original piece. I recently found it at the bottom of a drawer and thought I'd share it. 

Please remember this was written by my 16-year-old self. The title of the post is the original headline it had in the school paper and I have kept it just as I wrote it, punctuation and everything. I think the Speedo analogy is still a good one, but it has taken a lot of self-control to not change things, because I'm sure today I wouldn't use words like "disgust"  or "extreme public humiliation" when talking about other people. We all grow as writers and as people. So just keep that in mind. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

What Does it Mean for a Woman to be "Unclean" in the Bible?

There is one word in the Bible that bothered me for a long time. It was the word unclean, especially when it was used in connection with menstruation, childbirth, sexual intimacy and women's bodies. For example in Leviticus 15 it says this,
"And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean." (Lev. 15:9-20)
These scriptures go on for thirteen more verses explaining all the ways women can be unclean during menstruation. In Leviticus 12 it explains how a woman is unclean after childbirth, and how she is doubly unclean after giving birth to a girl. It seems like the Bible is filled with examples of how a woman's body, especially the blood she sheds, is unclean. So unclean in fact, that just being around a woman who is bleeding can make you unclean.

This all really bothered me. I know that are there are some women who were taught to be ashamed of their ability to menstruate, or who are embarrassed or inconvenienced by it,  but my mother did a wonderful job instilling in me the beauty, joy, and responsibility of having a female body. I'd been taught at home, and in church, that things like menstruation, childbirth and sexual intimacy were good things, ways designed to bring new life into the world, and that they were important parts of fulfilling God's plan for His children. It confused me why God would call them "unclean" and even require extensive rituals to become "clean" from them.

When I was writing Walking with the Women of the New Testament I did some research about the Woman with an Issue of Blood. I was interested in knowing what she would have experienced and why she was considered to be unclean. The first thing I learned was that the Hebrew word that is translated as "unclean" in the KJV is the word tuma and it does not mean "dirty" or "contaminated".