Friday, January 30, 2009

trek diaries: jeans considers jeans

One of my sons was convinced that jeans were historically appropriate for trek. I said I didn't think so, and neither did the head of the clothing committee, who said he could write a report on it and convince her if she was wrong.

A day or so ago, I found his report sitting in the family printer. I was right. But he hasn't mentioned it, so I'm not gloating.

Denim as a fabric is old; George Washington toured a denim textile factory in the 1780s. But it wasn't until Levi Strauss popularized and sold denim pants fastened with metal rivets to California miners in the 1870s that we get jeans as we know them. And the zipper came even later - not until World War I.

So, to be accurate, I guess you could wear denim pants, without rivets, and with button fly. To be fair in today's real world however, I'm thinking khakis with zippers are probably going to go, but maybe not jeans.

There's your history lesson for today.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

trek diaries: the fireside kickoff

And we're off!

Last Sunday my stake leadership introduced this summer's Trek Youth Conference in a fireside for all the youth who'll be 14+ by then and their parents. The stake leaders were so excited and enthusiastic, I think it was contagious. The only horrified murmur that went through the audience was when the stake YW president said that cell phones were staying home. We truly have great stake leaders and when a member of our SP spoke about what LDS pioneers mean to him and his personal connections with their story, it was very moving - and he adapted it in a way that everyone could appreciate this, even if their own family stories were different. I would follow that man anywhere, he is that inspiring. After hearing about the months and months of planning that have already gone into the event I am very heartened that this will go off well and it's been thoughtfully conceived.

At one point, the stake YW president ticked off the names of the people on the "Trek Council," who handle all the various aspects of the planning and who have been preparing their parts of this event for months. I caught all but two of the committee names, so I'm leaving something out, but we have: 2 of our stake presidency involved and attending, the stake YW and YM president are the co-chairs, and then there are committees for Trail, Ma&Pa's, Medical, Marketing, Fitness & Safety, History, Music & Dancing, Food, Clothing, Logistics, Water & Sanitation, Transportation, and the Welcome to the Valley.

The plan is a 3-day, 17 mile total trip, which starts with a meeting at the temple. From the temple, we will be transported to the trail head (not sure where that is yet, but the YW president said they already have all the permits in place) for the trek. We'll trek, eat, and pray in family groups & do activities along the way, each family led by a married Ma & Pa and a Priest/Laurel pair as Big Brother/Big Sister. There will be 14 families, of about 10 people. The families will be arranged with a balance of younger/older and male/female. The poor real pioneers didn't have this advantage, but of course it makes sense in this context. Plus, I get to use my dutch oven, yay! At the end on Saturday we arrive in the Valley, where there will be a gigantic stake picnic and celebration with the whole stake invited.

To involve families across the stake & not just those with youth 14+, they've also designed a "Trail of Faith" award which anyone can earn & the stake activity on that Saturday will include an awards ceremony. It has our stake goals in it, Faith in God goals for Primary kids, Personal Progress/Duty to God goals, all mapped out by month.

The after-fireside activities also gave a chance for the Ma & Pa couples to meet all together and have a Q&A. In the cultural hall there was one of the handcarts so people could see it, and people walking around in period costume so we'd know what that looks like (Yes, we'll be in period costume except for footwear, more on that in future posts). Everyone got a "food survey" to alert the food committee about preferences & allergies and to rate possible menu choices on a 1-5 scale (I had no clue what a "haystack" was, and I'm sure the pioneers never ate anything called that). We picked up a fitness booklet that lays out what we'll be expected to do on trek, and a 6-month plan to get us there. We had refreshments (apple slices, water, corn muffins). Although my teens thought the hype was starting too early, I don't agree, I think this was the right time to launch it.

Before the fireside, we were joking around the dinner table about how "authentic" this was going to be.
  • neighboring stake to portray angry mobs burning our home behind us as we leave?
  • one of my sons was convinced it would be a good idea to bring our horse, and a rifle, so he could rustle up rabbits and prairie hens along the way.
  • someone will be designated to get a bone marrow infection and be operated on without anesthesia.
  • One of our YW leaders has a baby due the next week; I said she should come along so we can deliver the baby in the handcart.
  • Coffee. The pioneers packed it along with their other essential items, brewed and drank it on their trek.
  • ox gores, wagon wheel injuries and malaria...
  • shoes without rights or lefts?
I still have lots of questions about what we'll have with us & how it will all work out, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how it unfolds, and to how I'm personally and spiritually going to be stretched. Here we go.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

So you just got a new calling with young women?

Well, howdy.

In Sacrament Meeting today our high councilor gave the kind of talk that even the teenagers were sitting up and listening to (yes, our High Council is occasionally that good... our stake rocks). His advice was so useful that I thought I'd borrow some of his ideas and add my own and past advice from our blog, and give advice to you if you're just starting out in young womens.

When you get a new calling (any new calling):

Step one: repent. Because it's good for you. Because it's time. Because that's the necessary spiritual preparation for any new calling. Because you need to (we all need to).

Step two: re-read Lehi's dream and see in it a pattern for when you have been given a new calling. You're in the dark and dreary waste, you're wandering in the dark. However, you have spiritual guidance standing by if you pray for help and mercy - note how in verse 9 Lehi finds that he's standing in a large and spacious field. Aha! (Maybe... he was there all along...)

Step three: pace yourself. Most callings are marathons, not sprints. Especially when you're stepping into an existing YW program, in which some people are already serving, it's best not to go in with both guns blazing. Don't try to do everything at once.

Step four: be open to what the Lord wants you to learn from this calling. Most callings are answers to prayers, and the prayer that's being answered here may not be yours.

Step five: "magnifying" a calling can mean finding the tool that allows you to read the fine print. If you think your new calling is insignificant, small, unimportant, or meaningless, then you haven't found the fine print yet. He said he's been called as Sunday School president 4 times. The first two times, he thought it meant he was on paid administrative leave, and that the only part of himself he needed to give to the calling was his index finger to press the bell 5 minutes before the end of the second hour. Round about the 4th time, he finally GOT that the calling was about teaching the ward how to teach the gospel in their homes. He found the fine print.

If, however, the calling seems too big, and you feel you can't do it, you're absolutely right. You can't do anything without the Lord, nothing of your own strength - but you can give your heart and time to it and your work - imperfect though it always is - can be consecrated by the Lord for the benefit of the girls and leaders in your stewardship.

Advice specifically for a YW calling:

Remember you're not their BFF. Don't make the mistake of trying to dress like them, either. You're not their mom (if they're not your kids). You're also not there to have social hour with the other leaders. Be attentive to the Spirit about where your focus should be in any given meeting, and keep it there.

Consider and work through your own personal feelings about the program - on your own. This is not about you. It's about your ward's girls and their needs, not your leftover anxiety/bad experiences/emotional baggage from your own teenage past. Leave that stuff at the door.

Don't just worry about presentation, handouts, and doo-dads. Make sure there's substance, not just style. And for goodness sake, I've said it before but I will say it again, don't apologize for your lesson! Don't go on and on about how poorly prepared you are. Trust me, we will start to believe you.

Hope that helps; if you're new, what do you want to know? If you're an old hand, what do you wish you had known at the beginning? What were some of the qualities of the best YW leaders you have had or worked with?

Lesson 1-5 "Finding Joy in our Divine Potential"

How appropriate that my first lesson post introduces us to the section on Women's Roles. My next turn comes around on the Homemaking lesson. If I didn't know better I would have thought we planned it that way, seeing as how, on paper at least, I am the most homemakery, babytending, crafterson that ever wore a pair of size 32's (metaphorically only of course.)

In practice, I'm probably the least likely person to so whole-heartedly embrace my culturally sanctioned role. I think the people who knew me in high school and college would be mighty surprised to discover that I turned out to be a professional scrapbook designer. :shakes head: Who me? The girl who chased the boys around the playground at age 5, shouting out all the accomplishments of notable women to show that in point of fact, girls do not "drool." The girl who was a co-chair in BYU's feminist club and planned on moving to London to study...oh I don't know. Something? Is now Scrapbooking????

Rest assured, none of my homemaking efforts come because they're what I think a "good" woman is "supposed" to do. I have a long, thought out manifesto on the subject that I'm sure you'll hear in the homemaking lesson.

Now, as for today: There is not a lot to this lesson. The objective is that every young woman will understand her divine potential and find joy in that, and yet there is nothing in the lesson that explains anything about divine potential. Instead the lesson essentially says, "Get a guest speaker. Ask her to testify about how great it is to be a woman. Make sure she's married in the temple and has kids, because otherwise her testimony doesn't count as much."

All right, forgive my bitterness. It does say, "Invite an exemplary sister (preferably one who has married in the temple and has a family), who has been approved by priesthood advisers, to speak to the young women about the joy of being a woman."

As a woman who went through eight years of infertility before finally getting my miracle baby, this statement automatically hit all kinds of raw nerves. Is it really more important that this exemplary sister has all the big life goals checked off, or that she has a profound testimony that she can articulate to the girls in a way they can really understand? What about a woman whose life experiences directly addressed some of the concerns or challenges of that specific group of young women? And I don't know about you, but if I wanted my priesthood advisers to approve of something, I would have had to turn the name in about three months before I needed it.

This lesson could instead be a good opportunity to address some of the cultural pressures the girls feel. One of my young women has been a member for less than a year, has only had me as her teacher (and I never NEVER tell the girls that they need to follow the One True Path of young marriage and many babies), and yet she has still somehow managed to internalize a message that a "good" mormon woman doesn't prioritize education or career, marries young, has a lot of children close together, and does it all with a smile on her face and gratitude in her heart. This could be an opportunity to have a really frank discussion about what some of their perceptions are and strike down the cultural baggage that becomes so heavy, especially at this age.

The last time this lesson came around for me was in another stake. We only had 6 YW total, so each member of the presidency took turns teaching the lesson. The counselor in charge of this one took the panel discussion option and had the rest of us speak on what about our womanhood brings us joy. I think it was fairly impactful because the girls knew us all so well. Instead of just being some random sister from the ward, they heard from all of the leaders that they saw twice a week. By knowing us and having a relationship with us, our words meant more to them. Maybe on this topic it would be worth combining classes to draw on all the points of view from all the leadership available. I imagine it might also make a really moving message if some of the speakers were mothers of some of the young women.

One thing I think we should guard against is turning this into a marriage and baby lesson. I am blissfully, syrupily, embarrassingly happy in my marriage, and after years of heartache and suffering I finally have my gorgeous peaceful miracle child. No one is more primed to expound on the joys of family life than I am. My current obligations are really what bring me joy right now, and I know most women would say the same thing. But these are not the only way joy comes, and I have to be sensitive to my audience. Statistics say that not every one of my young women will marry. Not all of them will have children. Half of them won't stay married, and almost all of them, in my region at least, will have to work full time at some point in their married adult life. If the rest of the panel and I just have an hour long gush fest about how great marriage and babies are, am I really doing my part to prepare them for their future?

What if instead of giving the hard sell to marriage and motherhood, I testify of how our Heavenly Father knows me personally and individually and has guided me throughout my life? If I teach my YW that fact, then I think I can relax about pushing the rest of it. If they know Heavenly Father knows them, loves them, and guides them, then they'll follow Him to wherever the right destination for them happens to be.
President Hinckley's talk and Sister Tanner's talk,both recommended in the supplement, go along with this line of thought.

I think Elder Uchtdorf's recent talk from the RS Broadcast is a perfect fit for this lesson. That talk had me wanting to leap from my chair and shout amen! It perfectly addresses Finding Joy in our Divine Potential, and does so without reducing that to just expounding on motherhood.

I love how he speaks about creativity (one of my pet soapbox issues as you'll see next week). How it's not a gift or a talent, but our divine heritage. I was listening to a recent interview on NPR with Maya Angelou and she said:
"I think everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. We come from the Creator with creativity."

This thought fits into our knowledge seamlessly, and we don't teach it enough. Especially to each other as women. When I teach classes on one crafty project or another, I never get through a single one without hearing "I'm just not creative." We hear it so often it's completely acceptable. It's like saying, "I'm just not left-handed." We don't even do creative projects at many of our Enrichment meetings anymore. (Not doing *bad* craft projects is a welcome change. But surely there's something *good* we could replace it with.) But really? What is more elemental to our nature? What is more evocative of our divinity than the act of creation?

Mary Ellen Smoot has another good talk about it here.

I think our divine potential is one of creativity. Motherhood and marriage fit nicely within that category, but that's only one part of a lifelong becoming.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

building bridges, inclusivity & diversity

A guest post from Natalie:

Our ward is blessed with an amazing spectrum of diversity. During our services, we frequently hear prayers or testimonies given in Krahn, Mende, Cambodian, Spanish, Loma, or Bandi. I feel unbelievably enriched by the wide range of experiences and backgrounds surrounding me.

I’ve also discovered, though, that it can be tricky to negotiate these differences when working with the youth. One challenge we have in our YW program is getting the various groups to interact and get to know one another.

Where do you draw the line between girls segregating themselves, and girls just naturally forming their own friendship circles? How do you navigate obvious differences in socio-economic status and educational opportunity when planning an activity for the whole group?

Our ward boundaries are composed of crazy squiggly lines in order to bring in some people from the suburbs. Only three of our young women are from the suburbs. They go to great schools, both have stay-at-home mothers, fathers that make a very good living, their entire families are strong members of the church, and they get lots of support from home for being active in the Church. These factors are not at all shared by most of the girls who live inside the city limits. Our ward encompasses some pretty poverty-stricken areas of the city. The public school system is atrocious. Being recent refugees from Liberia presents literacy challenges for some. I think it’s okay for girls to be closer to those that live in their neighborhood.... but I realized once that the suburb girls and the city girls don’t even know each other’s names perfectly. This is really detrimental to the spirit of unity we try so hard to foster. There is no deliberate separation or hostility between the two groups. They just usually form two different circles and enjoy themselves like that.

I think the suburban parents have very consciously fostered in their girls a non-judgmental attitude, and I don't think they feel like they are better than anyone. But... it's awkward when I've just handed out new winter coats for free to a couple of girls who couldn't afford them, and one of the other girls comes running up to me, excited to show me the new green iPod her grandparents bought her.
How do we plan activities that incorporate everyone?

Often, I find myself catering to the city girls that have so many obvious needs. In doing so, we often forget to make room for the different (but still very real) needs of our suburban girls. When we need reading volunteers on Sunday, it’s tempting to rely on the handful of girls that can read really well every time, but we don’t want those who don’t feel comfortable reading out loud to feel left out or less valued. We always make sure to let anyone read who wants to, and sometimes it ends up being pretty slow and difficult to understand. At these moments, I can see the attention of classmates wandering.

I have learned so much from all of the girls, no matter what their background. I think that sincere spiritual experiences have very little to do with money or reading abilities. But how can we get this through to our young women?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lesson 1-4 "Seeking Companionship of the Holy Ghost"

I have now been snowed out twice for YW lessons, so I'm feeling a bit rusty. Do bear with me. This lesson makes the analogy between a quiet human voice and the voice of the Spirit. It compares the blessings that come with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, with the things we need to do to be worthy of that companionship (amusingly, you the teacher are instructed to provide a card "with a decorative edge" for them to jot their notes on).

I was intrigued by a 1990 article from the New Era that takes the idea of "seeking companionship" of the Holy Ghost one step further. Sometimes in the church we use the language of "seeking an eternal companion" to mean dating, courtship and marriage. Elder Carlos Asay talks about "courting" the Spirit - using the same principles that you'd use for any lasting relationship. You need to really know the other person; you need to be your best; you need to be oriented towards the other person and not wrapped up in yourself (although the second half of Asay's article answers the question "what's in it for me?" in our relationship with the Holy Ghost). Interesting food for thought.

Some additional resources I liked:

1. Dallin Oaks, "Eight Ways God Can Speak to You" (New Era, Sept 04)

He addresses young people's concern about not getting an immediate answer, and I thought this quote was useful:

"the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial.

If a matter appears of little or no consequence, we should proceed on the basis of our own judgment. If the choice is important for reasons unknown to us, the Lord will intervene and give us guidance. Where we are living in tune with the Spirit and seeking its guidance, we can be sure that we will receive the guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare."

2. Joseph Wirthlin, "You'll Grow Into It" about how the gift of the Holy Ghost is given to us when we're young and we grow into it, much as he had to grow into skates & sports equipment that were way too big but were all his family could afford. Sweet analogy, and a great article which I think sums up most of what this "unit" covered - gospel basics, essential parts of one's testimony, the spiritual bedrock.

It's good to have those gender-neutral pieces in place, since the next unit is a bit more fraught, on women's divine roles - in which, I have to say, an awful lot of "culture" often gets in the way (hence, a lesson on "homemaking" in a unit on women's divine roles). But that's a discussion for another time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

trek diaries: the fitness check

Our ward YW leadership is using the trek as a chance to set some long-term group goals for fitness & physical challenge. The pioneer trek this summer will only be for the 14+ group, but the presidency wants to involve all the girls.

So this Wednesday, all dressed in comfy clothes & sneakers, we had a discussion session about exercise. A wide range of responses... some girls attend schools that mandate physical activity in some way, others don't. Some are very talented HS athletes, some don't exercise and don't like to. We talked about challenges: in our area, most organized sports fall on Sundays & tend to be really competitive in the schools, so unless you're a prodigy or you are willing to play on Sundays it's hard to get involved on a sports team. And talked about opportunities, even in the dead of winter in New England: some households already have exercise equipment like a treadmill, if you have cable that has "on demand" there are exercise shows (I mean, you people who live where the weather is nice year-round really have no excuse). I actually thought it was a useful discussion. The leaders stressed that exercise is part of being healthy, along with rest & eating well, and tried to cut the link that many girls assumed: that you only exercise if you want to lose weight.

We kicked around some plans & possibilities: joining the President's Challenge as a group, where you record online your physical activity & can chart how your group is doing as a whole. Goal: 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week. (Which to me, sounded really steep). Running a 5k or 10k road race. Charting exercise & setting goals. Our YW pres is doing a group challenge within her extended family, charting not only exercise minutes but also fruit/vegetable consumption, water drinking, scripture reading & some other things.

Finally, we got up & got moving: we recorded the girls' times and scores on the physical fitness challenges that go along with the "Presidential Fitness Award" in public schools, just as a fun way to do a baseline measurement. Of course it was awkward, some girls apologizing for how "bad they are" at jumprope or situps, some boys peeking in the glass windows of the cultural hall doors, etc. But at least we were doing it together, and the girls could see their peers trying their hardest. (No, we didn't chart the leaders too, there wasn't time, but I'll try to record my baseline this week). Then we finished up with refreshments, a big platter of cut fruit and Fruit2-0 bottled water.

So here's the deal. I hate exercise and have zero natural aptitude for it, but I know I've got to put it in my life. It will help me deal with stress, it's part of taking care of the vessel God gave me, it's just a good idea, builds strength, I know all the reasons but I don't "have a testimony" of it in my life (yet). I have gone through times where I exercised regularly and I'm not a couch potato, but I just don't enjoy it and I rarely make time for it. I know what my personal goals would be: strength, toning, and cardiovascular fitness. Maybe having a group challenge will help kickstart me. If I'm going on trek this summer I need to work on that anyway. When I got home that night I hopped on the treadmill and I did that again this morning. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Virtue - the talk

I really appreciated the help you guys gave me on my talk last week. You sent me off into all kinds of new directions. I thought I'd post the talk here since we're all busy planning how to address this new value with our young women, especially with New Beginnings needing to be thrown. I hope it helps!

Good morning. My name is Tresa Edmunds, and right now I serve as the Laurals Advisor in Young Womens. So if you don’t recognize me it’s because I’ve been off reliving my youth playing with this awesome group of teenagers. I’ve been serving in Young Women’s since I was a young woman, and I adore it. I feel like this is my life’s work and I just have so much fun with your wonderful daughters.

A few weeks ago we got some pretty big news in the Young Women world, when a new value was added to our personal progress program, the value VIRTUE. This now makes eight values that the young women focus on developing in themselves. Every week we stand together and recite a theme that elucidates who we are as women and young women in the gospel. We say:

We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places, and will strive to live the YW’s values. Which are: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue. We believe as we come to accept and act upon these values, we will be prepared to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.

It’s still very new, and we don’t have all the information yet to see exactly what the lessons of the goal of virtue will bring, but for the past several years General Authorities and Officers have been speaking about the need to return to virtue.

In the letter sent by the YW presidency introducing the new value, the General Officers explained that
“This addition will assist young women in developing high moral standards. We invite parents and leaders to teach the doctrine of chastity and moral purity to help each young woman to be virtuous and worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple."

The main focus of this new value appears to be preparation for temple attendance and developing the high moral character that will keep us worthy of entering.

Preach my Gospel contains a section on developing Christlike attributes, and one of the traits they spotlight is Virtue. In this book it explains that Virtue is
“a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. Since the Holy Ghost does not dwell in unclean tabernacles, virtue is prerequisite to receiving the Spirit’s guidance. What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue. Virtuous people are clean and pure spiritually….They live worthy of a temple recommend.”

Our young women and men frequently attend the temple to perform baptisms for the dead, so they are well acquainted with the standards they have to live in order to be worthy of entering. They are taught to be morally clean, keep the word of wisdom, and to develop a testimony of the gospel. Many of them have already seen firsthand the blessings of temple attendance with a pure heart and ready mind that comes with living a virtuous life.

D&C 97: reads, starting in verse 15:
15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.

The Lord will not come into unholy temples, and that includes us. But if we are pure in heart, we will see God.

Elaine Dalton, the Young Women General President wrote, “When we are worthy, we can not only enter the temple, the temple can enter us.” She points out here that the goal of worthiness is not so we can get in the building. Becoming a virtuous person is not red tape we need to navigate or a to-do list we need to cross off. The behavior itself is not the goal. The goal is to be receptive to the lessons of heaven, and that occurs when we are pure and worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost who gives us instruction from the Lord.

A virtuous person has the Holy Ghost with them and reaps the blessings of that relationship. Virtue can be described simply as behaving in a way that allows you to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who offers instruction in lessons of eternity, comfort from the Savior, answers to prayers and directions for our lives. There is a direct causal link between living a life of virtue and returning to live with Heavenly Father, and that link is having the Holy Spirit available to guide us along the way.

The scriptures are stuffed full of blessings waiting to shower down upon those who keep themselves pure and live up to the standards of the gospel. D&C 121 45-46 reads:
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

The constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is a pretty powerful promise.

One of my favorite Stake Presidents told me a story once that really made me think about my priorities. He was at a Stake Conference where one of the Apostles came to speak. It was a great meeting and the Spirit was very strong. Afterwards, the majority of the congregation rushed up to try to meet this Apostle who they so admired, complete with a lot of jostling, chaos and an occasional thrown elbow. My old Stake President saw a woman sitting quietly by herself in the back of the room, so he went over to her and asked why she wasn’t fighting for a chance to shake hands with an apostle. She paused from her deep thoughts to look up at the man and say, “Right now, I’m spending time with a member of the godhead.” When seen in that light, it is pretty humbling to realize what a privilege it is to have the Spirit with us, and amazing to think how accessible that privilege is to us if we live worthy to claim that blessing.

Virtue, like so many of our values, can’t be achieved and then stored in a trophy room until judgment day. It’s not a level you beat in a game, it’s a daily quest towards progression. Sister Dalton compares it to training for a marathon. “It is strict training. It is the daily, deliberate practice of small things.” Virtue is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions.

A phrase we see over and over again in the scriptures is, “Practice Virtue.” Here in D&C 46:33 it says:
33 And ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually. Even so. Amen.
I think both meanings of ‘practice’ are fitting here. We practice virtue and holiness by applying them, but we also practice virtue and holiness by trying to get better at it over and over again every day.

When we think of virtue, we might automatically jump to the law of chastity, but church leaders point out that there a million other choices we make before we get there. The clothes we wear, the language we use, the friends we hang out with, the television we watch. Every standard of the gospel and every small choice adds up to create what our lives become. What determines the course of our life is what we spend our time on, and what we spend our thoughts on is what we spend our time on. We make choices every day that bring us closer or further away from our eternal goals.

I grew up in the 90’s in Seattle, and in that time and that place, it seemed like everybody had piercings and tattoos. This was back before the Prophet said we shouldn’t do it, so it was up to me to decide what I wanted to do about this fad on my own. After my first semester at BYU I came home feeling like I wanted a little rebellion, so I pierced my belly button. There were no grounds for anyone to tell me that I was making a wrong choice, there was no For the Strength of Youth pamphlet to tell me not to mark myself up, so I told myself that I was just fine. But in my heart I knew that the reason I got that stupid piercing was so that I could feel worldly and rebellious. So that I could feel cooler than all the people I went to school with. And every day I kept that little piercing, I was showing that I cared more about the things of the world than I did about the promptings I received in my heart.

Another time, about a month before I turned 16, a boy asked me out on a date. My parents weren’t active, so they didn’t care if I accepted or not, but I was torn. How much difference could a month make? When the big day was that close, wasn’t waiting really just a formality anyway? I went back and forth about it, and ultimately I decided not to go. I doubt very much that one date before 16 would have made the decision between heaven and hell, but that day it was not a choice to obey some arbitrary rule, it was a choice to show where my allegiance was. That that day, I wanted to be closer to the Lord.

The 13th Article of Faith reads:
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

If we are people of virtue, then we are living a higher law of not just avoiding the bad, but seeking out the good. We should seek out what is virtuous, whether it’s our closest friends or great art that lifts our spirits.

The teenage years are all about developing characteristics that will benefit you as an adult. These values that the young women work to accept and act upon are values that every one of us should be striving towards.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lesson 1-3 "Following the Example of Jesus Christ"

How about that, two lessons about Jesus back to back in the same manual? We are on a good roll here.

In this lesson you get to explore:
  • who Jesus was - personality traits, characteristics, qualities & which of those we are capable of developing
  • how He acted & what it means to be like Him
  • what He did (or would do, in our situations). I found it interesting that long before the evangelical Christian WWJD jewelry craze, young Marion G. Romney was given a tract posing that question & it helped him frame his decision-making for the rest of his life. If he was in his "early teens" at the time, then this would have been around 1910.
So, just as an aside, what might young Marion Romney have read? Well, one idea is that he may have read something based on the hugely popular 1896 novel by Rev. Charles Sheldon, titled In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? This novel was enormously influential (it sold over 30 million copies) - and perhaps worth looking at again (it's in the public domain now - see Project Gutenberg or Google Books for an e-text - or spring for the daily devotional printed version). It's really been much neglected nowadays, except for the slogan it spawned.

Charles Sheldon was the pastor of a Congregational church in Topeka, Kansas. He was an indefatigable reformer around the turn of the 20th century, an early proponent of what came to be called the "Social Gospel" movement, and a rather innovative religious leader, too. He filled the pews by coming up with the rather brilliant idea of telling serial stories from the pulpit on Sunday nights, ending each evening with a suspenseful cliffhanger to bring people back the following week to see what happened (Note to Sheldon: that was genius). One of those was the story that became In His Steps. In the novel, a vagrant collapses on the doorstep of the fictional Reverend Maxwell's church, which inspires Maxwell and five prominent members of his congregation to confront the question of what Jesus would do, literally, in their very same lives, for an entire year. Just constantly asking themselves that question revitalizes Maxwell and his community, because it leads these people in some very unusual directions.

Quoting here from Sheldon's bio page at Bookrags:
"One episode in In His Steps involved a Christian newspaper editor who decided to edit his paper according to the "What would Jesus do" standard and thus changed his guidelines for news coverage and began to reject advertising he found unwholesome. The publisher of one of Topeka's daily newspapers decided to try the idea in real life, offering Sheldon the editorship for a week. Sheldon accepted the offer, and for a week in March 1900 the Topeka Daily Capital was a very unusual paper indeed. Gone were stories of boxing matches and violent crimes; in their place Sheldon ran inspiring stories about social reform, the progress of Christian missions, and crises needing attention from good people. In the latter category was a famine in India; Sheldon ran stories about it every day, and by the end of the week huge sums of money had been raised for relief. Farmers also donated a boatload of grain which was shipped to the starving nation. Meanwhile, advertising also was changed at the Sheldon Capital; out went ads for products of which Sheldon disapproved, such as corsets, patent medicines, alcohol, and tobacco. Sheldon even changed ads for unoffensive products so that their claims would not be exaggerated. The newspaper was heavily promoted and was a huge success; over 300,000 persons around the world subscribed for the week, and many more bought the paper on newsstands."
(Again, note to Sheldon: Dude, brilliant!) "Writing for The Saturday Review, commentator Eric Goldman in 1953 cited In His Steps along with The Federalist Papers and Uncle Tom’s Cabin as ‘one of the volumes that had a substantial role in changing America during a particular period.’ In a ‘decade swinging for reform,’ it ‘reached as many as 20 million Americans with its reformer’s insistence that Christianity means not fear of God but love of the distressed'." (Quote is from here)

One snippet from Sheldon's book illustrates the thought-provoking idea that as each person seeks out what the will of God would be in their circumstances, it may lead them in different directions. What would Jesus do if He were ME? Very likely, it's something that's different from what He would do if He were YOU.

"'I'’m a little in doubt as to the source of our knowledge concerning what Jesus would do,' said Rachel Winslow. 'Who is to decide for me just what he would do in my case? It is a different age. There are many perplexing questions in our civilization that are not mentioned in the teachings of Jesus. How am I to tell?'

'There is no way that I know of,' replied the pastor, 'except as we study Jesus through the medium of the Holy Spirit. . . . You remember what Christ said, “When the Spirit of Truth is come, he shall guide you into all the truth.” . . . There is no other test that I know of. We shall all have to decide what Jesus would do after going to that source of knowledge.'

'What one church member thinks Jesus would do, another refuses to accept as his possible course of action. Will it be possible to reach the same conclusions in all cases?' asked President Marsh.

Mr. Maxwell was silent some time. Then he answered, 'No, I don'’t know that we can expect that. . . . But we need to remember this great fact. After we have asked the Spirit to tell us what Jesus would do and have received an answer to it, we are to act regardless of the results to ourselves.'
In an age of self-absorption and self-preservation, when the highest praise a guidance counselor can give is that a teenager is a "good self-advocate," that kind of surrender of will doesn't come easily or naturally. "Act regardless of the results to ourselves," wow. Jesus was a consistent advocate for the Father's will. He apparently never acted out of self-interest. For us, having an eye single to the glory of God, only doing things which build the kingdom, losing self in the service of others, and trying to imagine & then do what Jesus would do IS the daily walk of the true Christian. I think we get better at it over time and when we put in sincere effort, but not because it gets easier to do.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

beginnings new does new beginnings, 2009

Since I'm one of the "Sunday teachers" and not in the presidency, I don't get to experience the behinds-the-scenes planning for the various events in the YW liturgical calendar, but I am aware that New Beginnings is coming up soon in most (all?) wards. I also know that "new beginnings ideas" is one of the most frequent Google searches that brings idea-hungry women to our site. So, what can we floor them with?

And remember, gals, you finally have to get rid of the "Snow White and the 7 Values" script once and for all (good riddance!!) because there are now 8.

Spoof of "Eight is Enough"? No, the cultural reference would be lost on millennials.

"I Can't Believe I Eight the Whole Thing"? No, Hmm, that's not quite right either.

Okay, enough from me in the peanut gallery. Tell us about a smart, non-sappy approach to New Beginnings.

Lesson 1-2 "Jesus Christ, the Savior"

This lesson answers the "why" of Jesus's Atonement & along with Lesson 3 is this manual's only serious, straight-up lesson about the Savior. Your approach to it must be personal, heartfelt, and real. You should involve the Lord to find out how He wants you to teach it. That said, I got a kick out of the instruction at the beginning of the lesson:

"Before the class begins, display a picture of the Savior on an attractively arranged table to create a reverent mood."

I mean, does it say that in the Aaronic Priesthood manual for the same lesson?

[Pauses, searches]

A: No, it does not! They get a lesson on having faith in Jesus Christ for #5, and it does not instruct the teacher to make an "attractively arranged table." That is hilarious!

Anyway, all that aside, it's great that this is the second lesson, the first one being that YW are daughters of God. These are the one-two punch of the entire restored gospel. Lesson 1 is the one big story, and this is the second big story: Jesus Christ born, crucified, resurrected, living.

But there's an important difference between the two and what is asked of the listener. The first story requires simply affirmation, acknowledgement, recognition. (Yes, I am a child of God.)

The second story asks somewhat more of us: a voluntary act of will to believe, repentance, and a conscious, decisive turn towards Christ. (I want to follow Him). You can't simply acknowledge the truth of the second story - you need to enter it, you have to DO something with it. It has to be that real to the girls, that they don't just recognize truth through the Spirit but are moved to an act of spiritual will.

In the old days, Puritan sermons followed a predictable, even prescribed formula. Each sermon was designed to move listeners, to awaken them, to alter their attitudes, to stir up genuine spiritual anguish and point them in the correct direction. The art of sermonic preaching is "homiletics." (Mormons pretend not to be interested in homiletics, but they are, in secret). In the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, for example (remember the spider dangling over hellfire in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"? Not Edwards's most typical sermon, perhaps, but certainly his most famous), there was always the same structure: Text, Statement of Doctrine, and Application. Edwards's listeners knew the drill, and they followed the trajectory because they knew where it was headed... always, every time. The listener, it was hoped, would be so moved that inaction was not an option.

So, too, in this lesson - building from a set of scriptures (a "scripture chain," as the Gospel Doctrine student manual calls them), through the doctrines, and on to the application: believe, re-commit, turn, come unto Him. What an ideal way to start the year.

The supplement's recommended questions, I think, offer one way to help make the lesson feel relevant - have the girls figure out how they'd teach these ideas to someone else (in other words, a roundabout, indirect way of getting them to teach them to themselves):

"How could I explain my views about Jesus Christ to someone who does not believe I am a Christian?"

Fine. Except I am hoping that I, and my YW, have more than "views about Jesus Christ." We should have hunger... passion... fervor... not just "views."

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: "A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other."

Like "America runs on Dunkin?" We run on Jesus. That's not just a "view," that's my everything.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Spread the word

I made up a couple of buttons a few months ago, and so far they've done nothing but decorate my blog. So I'm braving my mediocre internet skills to try and share these with you. Post them on your blog, myspace, facebook, family websites, wherever, and help us get the word out about our little place here for all us YW leaders to go and discuss our callings with depth, insight, and sensitivity.

Here's the simple one:

And here's one just because it's so very true:

To use, just copy the text in the boxes, and paste where you want it.

Thanks for reading, commenting, and participating!

Monday, January 5, 2009

trek diaries, part one

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later... our stake has decided that youth conference 2009 will be a pioneer trek. Now, I haven't been involved in the planning committee at all, but I am getting vibes that my husband and I may be asked to go as chaperones. We have 2 sons who would go, and as my friend put it with his tongue in cheek, my husband and I "fit the behavioral profile of pioneer parents."

Which means...?

We know how to handle horses, chop wood, and raise some of our own meat? (True)

We are that rare combination of medical doctor and US history professor? (True)

We find it hard to turn down callings and will go long distances without complaining? (True)

We look like Ma and Pa on Little House? (Not true - well, definitely not in my case)

Anyway, it looks like in order to prepare both families and participants, our stake is rolling this idea out early and at least in our ward, is using the trek as an opportunity to get kids in shape, set long-term goals, etc.

I thought it might be fun/instructive for me to blog about the whole process as it unfolds - maybe as a help to other groups that are thinking about doing it. I remember reading the lively debate on Mormon Mentality last year when we all jumped in to give advice to a stake in update NY contemplating a pioneer trek in February (hey, ESO, what ever happened with that?), and in general I know that the emotional and physical manipulation of reenacted treks have not been looked upon favorably in the Bloggernacle (the topic completely hijacked a thread on BCC about girls camp in June 08). Ours will be in July, but I'll post about it now and then as the plans unfold. In the meantime, I guess I should start working on my homespun.

(just kidding, I haven't heard anything about the dress code yet).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Help me write my talk

I just got off the phone with the bishop minutes ago, and he's asked me to speak next Sunday on the new value virtue.

I normally enjoy speaking, so I'm happy to do it, except for the small fact that they haven't really explained what the new value means yet.

Of course I'll be pouring over the suggested talks the website lists, but do any of you have any additional thoughts to help me out?

Boy, what I wouldn't give for the new definition at least!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

check out the "Brand New Year" website

It's the web version/tie-in to the '09 DVD, launched today

It looks nothing like (which may be a plus or a minus depending on your perspective). And it's got widgets!

go see it... and then let's talk about it... and/or join the conversation about it over at T&S where the DVD is getting panned but the website is getting cautious kudos for effort if not execution. Did anyone use the DVD in a ward or stake activity this holiday? What do you think of the website? How did the youth in your ward find out about it - which I think is the real test of whether it will take off or not...

Lesson 1-1 "A Daughter of God"

It's a first Sunday of the month, as well as of the year, so that means someone from the YW presidency teaches and we “regular” teachers get the day off. That's good because I spent my holiday either traveling or hosting friends at my house, or trying to write a 4000-word article that's due on Tuesday, and I won't have a lot of time to prep. I do have some thoughts on this lesson topic, though... in somewhat random order.

1) The main idea = "each YW will understand her unique relationship to her Heavenly Father."

Wait. If everyone is a child of God, and all young women are His daughters, what's the "unique" part about? My relationship to HF is no more unique than anyone else's, and in fact no one doesn't have the identical one to Him that I do. But I think what the lesson's getting at is that we can have individualized, personal encounters with God because He is our Father and He parents us as individuals – lovingly, wisely, and forever.

2) Why does this lesson not even mention that we have a Heavenly Mother? The suggestion is made that we use the song “O My Father” which is our only piece of Mormon literature that explicitly discusses Her, and which would thus bring her into the lesson, yet she's not even referenced in the lesson's text. I know, I know... controversy... speculation... feminism... specters all... the shibboleth of not mentioning her is usually disguised as “respect” or “reverence” but really in practice means “dismissal.” Sigh. (Update: KB's Dialogue article on Heavenly Mother is getting some lively discussion this week).

3) I'm tossing one penalty flag from the sidelines on this lesson... beware of basing this lesson on blissful ideal father-daughter relationships if they don't exist in your class.

4) For me, this is one of those lessons where less isn't more. Female “potential” is implied but not really explored. The lesson veers close to women's eternal potential with the Marion Romney quote that “man is God in embryo,” but without going the one more step to clarifying whether that includes women or excludes them. A girl could be forgiven for leaving the lesson wondering that if man is God in embryo, then what is woman?

This particular lesson is all about "the relationship" that girls can have with Heavenly Father, and emphasizing that God always meets his side of the “good-Dad list” and the rest is up to us. It's a "this-life-only" lesson – doesn't say a word about what young women can hope to become or do in the eternities. I suppose that will come up in lesson 5, “Finding Joy in Our Potential.”

5) I got to thinking about the use of the word “daughter” in the scriptures, especially the phrase “daughter of Zion” and why the feminine is used in those places. If I were more of a scriptorian I might know more about how that phrase is important in Biblical languages – maybe it will be a topic of personal study for me this year. It even shows up in the Book of Mormon, too, in Moroni 10:31 “Awake and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion, and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever...”

Jesus calls several women in the NT “daughter,” which is intriguing because I would guess that in most of those cases they were not necessarily younger than himself (he does this in Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:34, and Luke 8:48, and in Luke 13:16 refers to a woman as a “daughter of Abraham”).

According to the LDS online scripture guide under “Sons and Daughters of God,” LDS young women are daughters of God in two ways – because of their birth/creation as spirit children, and then secondly, because they have been born again as through the Atonement of Jesus into new life - “children of Christ” in Mosiah 5:7 and Moroni 7:19.

6) The new supplement's core questions for this lesson:

“How can I understand my true identity as a daughter of God when the world sends me so many conflicting messages about who I am and what I should be?”


“I find that I compare myself to others and it makes me feel discouraged. How can remembering I am a daughter of God help me avoid these comparisons?”

I was reminded of the book by child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meanings and Importance of Fairy Tales. Bettelheim argues that parents should introduce their children to the raw, unfiltered, (non-Disney!!) fairy tales. As children hear them and internalize them, those stories tap into a collective human unconscious and achieve certain milestones in emotional development that you don't get from watered-down, illustrated or animated versions. In time, Bettelheim argued, a child will latch onto a particular tale as his/her own, ask for it over and over, act it out in play, powerfully identify with it, and that's the parent's cue that the fairy tale is working its other magic, in helping the child work through things too deep or complex for them to articulate on the conscious level. That's often why the characters have such generic names in the original versions, because they invite the listener to graft the story onto their own lives. Little girls love to play princess, but if they get too much of the highly commercialized version, they won't really get from the princess trope what they need on the deepest level.

When I was growing up we had a big hardbound volume of Grimm's Tales – the “real” ones with all the gore and blood, and I remember reading them many time and there were a few that I came back to over and over. My favorite was the Goose Girl. A princess, en route to her wedding, is tricked by her servant-girl into masquerading as the servant. The false bride marries the prince, forces the true bride to become the castle goose-tender, and lops off the head of the Goose Girl's magical, sympathetic horse (Falada). The Goose Girl arranges for the horse head to be nailed underneath a gate of the city, so she can continue to confide her woes to Falada as she passes in and out driving the geese. Only when she unbinds her hair in the field and it flaps like a golden flag is her true nature hinted at, but of course Falada knows and somehow has the ability to continue to be the girl's protector and advocate. Eventually the king figures out what has happened and restores the Goose Girl to her proper place as the bride. (The prince, as they so often are, is almost an afterthought to the plot and pretty much useless).

Why was this one important to me? I have no idea, except that I really resonated with the idea that my true, powerful, royal nature is concealed behind my ordinary appearance and my ho-hum mundane daily tasks – and that I, too, have hidden guides, guardians, and benefactors who see me as I really am – and who help me not to forget who I really am. I'm not saying that fairy tales have a place in YW lessons, especially the part at the end of the Goose Girl where the false bride is punished by being locked stark naked into a barrel studded on the inside with nails and dragged through the street by horses... well... Europeans can be as brutal in their tales as the Arabian Night stories, and I'm sure in those of many other cultures too... but my point is... I think it's important to realize that the story of the “hidden princess within” is powerful, ancient, and crosses many cultures. Mormon children sing this story (“I am a Child of God”) from their earliest Primary days, they internalize it, they are told the lovely story of the premortal life and their valiance in heaven many times until it may assume in their lives the same force as a myth or fairy tale – that is, its truth gathers strength from the things the story DOES in one's life (provide meaning, structure, a narrative framework). This story is not uniquely ours, it's one of the oldest in the book – and therefore one of the most valuable to retell and retell.

Some additional resources:

  • Russell Nelson explored the term “Daughter of Zion” in a 1985 special Young Women's issue of the New Era
  • Jeffrey Holland's talk “To Young Women” from November 2005 is the recommended supplement, because he talks a bit about how a girl's sense of self shouldn't be based on personal appearance but on internal & eternal realities.