Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lesson 1-22 "Repentance"

I think we can all agree that the YW will have had this lesson before, no matter how old or young they are. There are a dozen Mormon mnemonics and "EZ-Steps" lists that they will have heard from Sunbeams on up. Everyone knows the steps of repentance. Yawn.

But does everyone truly know how to repent? Really truly?

It's like a fine car sitting in the driveway. It's going nowhere without the keys. You need to be able to put something in the ignition and turn it ON in your life.

One way that helps me in my own preparation is to play with the word itself - to explore the language, to see a fresh way of defining the concept. Sometimes a good way to do that is to look at how others might use the word. That might spark something new or relevant.

Take the fact, for instance, that there is a Star Trek Voyager episode by that title. Honestly, the episode description written by a fan was totally confusing to me, and I haven't seen the episode, but I vaguely get that the reason the episode was titled "Repentance" was that the medical crew were holding an alien Nygean in the sickbay, and they couldn't find anything wrong with him but he was feeling sick, and they finally realized that he was feeling something that his species didn't usually feel, which was guilt - evident in his neural pathways.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the best help. What about the fact that there is a World of Warcraft spell called "Repentance"? I don't play that game, so I haven't tried it, but apparently "Repentance" puts the enemy in a "state of meditation" for one minute, allowing you to escape or something like that. The WoW spellbook helpfully tells me that repentance is "usable against Demons, Dragonkin, Giants, Humanoids and the Undead." I think there's a gospel analogy in there somewhere, and sin can sure feel like demons, dragonkin, giants, humanoid, or the undead, so it's good that it's useful against all of those.

The term isn't unique to Christianity, of course, so perhaps we could approach the term through other religious uses.

In Judaism, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, focused on teshuva (repentance) - the day in which the people are reconciled to God. I've got to admit, there is something very appealing about the idea of a single day of reconciliation. That must be tremendously cathartic for the entire congregation, who come fasting and contrite.'s page on Yom Kippur explains, "If the main reason for our sins is our quest for physical gratification, the way to atone for our sins is to elevate ourselves above the physical and into the spiritual realm. Praying, fasting, and abstaining from work and physical pleasures, enables us to envision the divine image that lives in each of us, denounce our bad deeds, and aim to do good deeds." (Aside - I had the somewhat jarring experience of having an LDS banner ad for the "Lamb of God" video when I looked at that page... maybe not the ideal target audience?).

Rabbi David Blumenthal elaborates, "Judaism does not recognize confession of personal sin to a religious figure as part of the process of sin and repentance. There is no designated authority to whom one can confess sins; sins are confessed privately, in prayer, before God. Nor does Judaism recognize penance as a necessary part of the process of sin and repentance." So are there some similarities and differences that are worth thinking about.

The concept is also present in Islam - the Arabic word Tawbah (Repentance) literally means 'to return'. "In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what Allaah has prohibited and returning to what He has commanded."

I then encountered a really interesting essay on the idea on a Christian evangelical website, which starts with the image of Moses's brass serpent - with Moses asking the people to LOOK and LIVE. The poisonous venom of sin was coursing through their veins. You know when you're walking a balance beam, where do you look? Not at the beam, you'll topple. I remember in a driving lesson being warned not to look at cars on the shoulder since you're likely to aim the car where you're looking. Look in the direction you want to go. Repenting = TURNING a new direction and LOOKING towards the Lord. And the Lord specifically warns against looking backwards at the old things we used to desire (think of Lot's wife... every time I read that story I want to shout, "Girl! Don't look back! It's not worth it!").

I think it would be time to bring back my old friend from a few lessons last year - the "snake on a stick" as a visual aid - the simple act of TURNING and LOOKING. Consider these scriptures (the wording is from various other Bible translations):

Ps 105:4 (NIV) Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Ps 119:36-37 (NIV) Turn my heart toward your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

Acts 2:38 (TEB) Peter said to them, "Turn away from your sins, each one of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God's gift, the Holy Spirit."

2 Tim 2:19 (NIV) "everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."

Acts 3:19 (NIV) "Repent, then, and turn to God..."

Hebrews 12:2a (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith."

The essay concludes with this thought, which I think is central to this lesson: "when at first we hear 'repent or perish', it seems harsh. But as we turn, we see that it is an incredible gift to have something to turn to. If not for God's love, our only option would be to perish. But the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has appeared. To have the option to turn is sweet indeed."

Here's another short essay on repentance from a Christian evangelical site, Theopedia, which lists the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible that are translated as "repentance" - there are 5 of them, each with a slightly different slant of meaning:

Hebrew = shub
This term is found over 1,000 times in the Old Testament, and in the vast majority of its uses refers to a literal change of direction. However, in more than 200 occurrences it refers to Israel or God turning toward or away from one another. The modern idea of repentance is found in turning away from idolatry

Hebrew = nacham
This term is found over 100 times in the Old Testament and means to be sorry, or to pity or console oneself. In three of those occurences it is referring to repentance.

Greek = metanoeo
This term is the one most commonly translated in the New Testament as "repentance" and literally means "to change one’s mind or purpose, to repent." From this same root comes the noun metanoia: "after-thought, repentance." This is a reversal of thinking. You see yourself differently: as fallen and corrupt

Greek = metamelomi
This term carries a more emotional implication and literally means "to feel repentance, to rue, regret."

Greek = epistrepho
This word means "to turn about, turn round; to return; to run towards; to correct, make to repent; to turn oneself round, turn about; constantly turning."

Well, enough background. Here's how I plan to approach this lesson:

Begin with the question:

Have you ever been lost?
How did it feel?
How did you get out of the situation?

From there we'll talk about the so-called "steps" of repentance, which aren't really sequential nor so neat & tidy - might be actually rather messy in real life. I think I'll map them on the board or on the wall as more of an "idea web" than a path or list, as they appear here:
Recognize wrong
Feel true sorrow
Promise not to repeat sin
Recommit to the Lord’s path
Make restitution
Allow time
Forgive self and others
Work with priesthood leaders if needed – confess & develop a plan to return
Receive & feel forgiveness from the Lord

We'll talk about how this works through the power of the Atonement, which is not necessarily linear. The lesson really emphasizes that repentance is a gift to help us progress, which we should use wisely – not to just get us back to where we were before, at the point we commited the sin in the first place. It's a learning tool for making progress in our lives. I was thinking of the analogy of a "power tool." Maybe I'll bring some kind of power tool from home?

Other questions to discuss:

Are there things you can’t repent of?

Can’t you just break the commandments and plan to repent later?

For the Strength of Youth has strong words about that: “Such deliberate sin mocks the Savior’s Atonement and invites Satan to influence your life. Repentance for such behavior is difficult and can take a long time. If you sin in this way, you may lose years of blessings and spiritual guidance.”

What’s the difference between a daily course correction, keeping the commandments, and repentance? Are the first two “repenting”? Is the third one fundamentally different?

Another good approach would be to look in depth at Alma retelling the story of his youth to son Helaman in Alma 36:6-27, but you could also try to do in class part of #4 of the Virtue Value requirement:

"Determine to partake worthily of the sacrament each week and fill your life with virtuous activities that will bring spiritual power. Study about repentance and the sacrament in Moroni 10:32, the book of Enos, the section on repentance in For the Strength of Youth and the sacrament prayers in D&C 20:77–79."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

camp correspondent?

Just thinking... We get a lot of Google traffic from people looking for ideas and discussion about girls camp. Neither of us is involved in girls camp this year, although we've posted about it before, and then of course we have reese's amazing list of camp crafts.

Would anyone out there like to be a guest blogger about girls camp for a few months? Let us know - we'd love to bring that in more. My email is bnjeans AT gmail DOT com.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lesson 1-21 "A Righteous Example Influences Others"

There isn't a lot to this lesson, but what is here is really good. It's just that there's only two stories and some scriptures. With my Laurels, I never know if I'm going to get a group of eight girls with lots of stories to share, or two girls who get sick of answering every question, so I better have some backup for this one.

I'm sure that our girls could provide some fantastic examples from their own life "in the trenches" so to speak, so if you can find that magic way to draw them out, I think this topic would lead to some great discussion.

If there was one point I'd really like to hammer in to these girls, it's that an example doesn't count as good unless it's sincere. We don't teach them to merely Act good, but to Be good. We can all see through someone whose words don't match their actions, but teenagers and young adults, deeply enmeshed in their own quest for self discovery, seem especially affronted by that falseness. On all the cheesy reality shows I watch (America's Next Top Model, Real World/Road Rules Challenge, all the VH1 ...of Love shows [yes, it's a sickness and I deeply need a life]) the worst insult contestants can hurl at one another is being fake. Setting an example shouldn't be the foremost reason we choose one action over another, but it can certainly help give us the push we need to overcome temptation.

I'm going to link again to Sister Tanner's talk given after the addition of "Strengthen home and family..." to the YW theme, because in that she gives some absolutely fantastic anecdotes about how young women strengthened their family, usually through the examples they set to their siblings, that are thoroughly modern, relatable to this group, and show how you can set an example without a trace of self-righteousness - by having it come from genuine concern.

Sister Tanner's talk and the first story from the lesson show that setting an example is not accomplished by standing unattainably on a pedestal and looking down at everyone below struggling along through life. Setting a true example of Christ, living as a disciple of Christ, requires getting our hands dirty. It's not passive, it's not solitary, it requires service, it requires speaking up, it requires strict honesty. Some of the most profound examples I've been witness to in my own life were men and women who were brave enough to share the challenges they were facing in life, who were honest about their failings and their motivations, and still did good in the world.

The first one that comes to mind is a gay friend who calls himself a Mormon Monk. I don't know that his story would be the first someone would look to on this topic, but the truth of his life makes it so much more powerful to me. Forsaking companionship in this life, struggling against temptations more powerful and intrinsic than I could ever comprehend, he put all that he is on the alter of sacrifice because he knows the gospel is true. To me, knowing what he's facing makes his actions heroic and I think that the same is true for each of us. The person who always appears well dressed and happy with spotless children on time for every ward function is easy to write off as a freak of nature. But if we let each other in, if we brave the judgments to share ourselves honestly with the world, copping to our mistakes and failings but showing that above all else we are continually striving for better - well suddenly that's a whole different story. Suddenly instead of a freak of nature, that's just a woman trying the best she can. And maybe I can do that too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

girl power tales: summer reading?

This past weekend I had invited my department colleagues over for dinner (stress! but it turned out great), and one of the guests struck up a conversation with my tweenie daughter. He asked her what her favorite subject was in school, and she thought for a minute. I actually had no idea what she was going to say, because she likes school in general and I think of elementary school as relatively undifferentiated - it's all just "school" to me (no offense to my elementary teacher friends).

She finally said, "Math. Or science."

GLORY Hallelujah! That's what we like to see 9-year old girls sayin'!

But... I'm afraid to read Reviving (or Surviving) Ophelia, because I'm dreading that, that, THING that happens to girls when they get just a little older than my daughter. Maybe it won't happen to her. Maybe if I squeeze my eyes shut real tight and click my sparkly red heels together, it will all come true for me, and she won't go through that, that, mysterious GATE into the "I hate math, I'm no good at science, drive me to the mall Mom" world. She won't get whacked by the wand of the Mormonism princess fairy that says a future's all determined by your sweetness, your compliance, and your bust size, and your intellect can be checked at the door. Maybe being raised by me & my husband, and surrounded by brothers, will be enough for her. Maybe the "virtue/strength" message will continue to move towards the center of the YW program by the time she gets there.

We recently came across three books that she hadn't read in a long time and delightedly re-read and I realized that all were feminist retellings of fairy tales, that subvert the typical paradigm. One's the now-classic Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) - in which the princess, after completely outwitting the dragon, eventually figures out that the prince is totally not worth her time and doesn't get married after all.

The other is Alain Vaes's version of
The Princess and the Pea, in which the princess (Opaline Von Highbredde) drives a tow truck and is really good at lots of things and smart in lots of ways that aren't typically "feminine."

Then there's also
Clever Beatrice, a lovely version of a classic American folktale featuring a fiesty and smart girl with wild hair, who outsmarts a giant in order to bring his wealth back to her family - kind of a girlpower version of Jack and the Beanstalk.

What are some of your favorite books to empower girls, young women, or yourselves? What would you put on your essential list for stories that build girls up? Summer reading list, anyone?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Where are you now?

We're just under half way through the year now (WHA???? Will this ever stop catching me off guard?) and I thought the time was right for another scheduling check up.

We find that we get the most productive discussion going when we're posting as close as possible to when the majority of teachers are planning that particular lesson, so we don't want to get too far ahead. By now we've had a general conference, odds are we've each had a stake and ward conference, and there's probably been a couple of special weeks in there too.

So where are you guys? Should we plan a couple bye weeks or just keep chugging along?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lesson 1-20 "Reaching Out to Others"

Once you get past the truly bizarre animal fable (which I won't bore you by deconstructing, as I've done in my head for the last week), this lesson's solid and rather standard (although hasn't been updated with new material since 1976). You'll know which of your own personal stories to tell based on what the needs are in your group -

do you have a small number of active girls, and a large number who don't come often?
or vice versa?

are there some who always seem to be on the margins?
or is your group unusually cohesive (and if so, please share the secret of your success)?

is missionary work valued in your ward, and strangers welcomed?
or is it "all is well in Zion" and new move-ins or converts need not apply?

is there a culture of outreach? or self-absorption?

I was reminded of the wonderful article by President Hinckley (2006) about new members of the church. It applies to people who don't come frequently, or to those who come but aren't members:

"I have said before, and I repeat it, that each of you as a convert needs three things:

1. A friend in the Church to whom you can constantly turn, who will walk beside you, who will answer your questions, who will understand your problems. You also have home teachers, visiting teachers, and other members who will help you on your marvelous journey of faith.

2. An assignment. Activity is the genius of this Church. It is the process by which we grow. Faith and love for the Lord are like the muscles of my arm. If I use them, they grow stronger. If I put them in a sling, they become weaker. Each of you deserves a responsibility.

In handling that responsibility you may make some mistakes. So what? We all make mistakes. The important thing is the growth that will come of activity. Your leaders can help you find ways to be involved. Be willing to accept new challenges, and trust that the Lord will help you be equal to them. If you get discouraged, ask for help. But don’t give up. As you keep trying you will find that your abilities increase.

3. To be constantly “nourished by the good word of God” (Moroni 6:4). You will be affiliated with a priesthood quorum or the Relief Society, the Young Women, the Young Men, the Sunday School, or the Primary. Come to sacrament meeting to partake of the sacrament, to renew the covenants you made at the time of your baptism. Read from the scriptures every day. Pray every morning and every evening, that you may stay close to the Lord."

My husband was brought back into the church after 10 years of inactivity as a teenager and young adult. He was in medical school at the time (single; this was before I met him), and had a friend who was Mormon and had no idea my husband was a member or had ever been active. He invited my husband to help on a youth trip, which got him back in the door, and opened him up to the feeling that he needed to come back. Sometimes (most times? ALL the time?) having your expertise or talents tapped is the key to unlocking and softening your heart - because you feel what it's like to give of yourself, and to be needed. We all need that.

This past week, the church building I attended from 1988 to 1995, in Cambridge MA burned down. The fire started during the conference broadcast (which is a tender mercy, actually, because it meant everyone was in the chapel, not up in the 2nd floor classrooms, and the fire started just below the roof, but I digress). It was a beloved building to many generations of students who'd passed through it during their college or grad school years, including myself. Over on the ByCommonConsent blog, there's a memorial thread for people to share their memories. And a funny thing happened there deep in the comments. One young lady remembered coming to church, brand new and unsure, wearing secondhand clothes, knowing no one. And a small thing happened; someone was friendly and struck up a conversation. It encouraged her to feel she was welcome there, and she came again and again, and became a strong member of the ward. That conversation was one of her key memories about that building.

The person who reached out? It was me. Honestly, I don't remember that moment, it was certainly not life-changing for me. I do remember her, of course, but I had no idea at the time (or until this week) that something that small could have made a difference in her life. I have many examples in my life when people's kindnesses to me made a difference - and I'm sure that the outreachers similarly have no clue how helpful they were. I hope in the afterlife we all get to share those moments - like in "Defending Your Life" when all the wonderful scenes get to be replayed.

One caveat about this lesson: the instruction to "find the similarity" is a good starting place. But "value the difference" is important too, and if I were rewriting the lesson I'd find a way to make BOTH points. I think that's one important lesson from the multiculturalism movement, which hardly existed in the 1970s.

Saturday morning brainstorm:

I think I've got some craft pompoms sitting around somewhere. I'm going to bring enough for the class, and also little slips of paper with everyone's name on them.
In class we'll choose names. You'll take the name you get and "reach out" in conversation & say something nice - giving the warm fuzzy to her. You'll talk long enough to find out something concrete you can do for or with her this coming week. Our Laurels have done secret sisters for a Wed night activity - they got a dollar or two and took a field trip during Mutual to a nearby dollar store, shopped for their secret sister and then came back to the church for treats and the reveal. This won't be secret - I think the value will be partly in role-playing "reaching out" in front of the group, to practice what kinds of things to say. Our group is tight and safe enough for that I think. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

trek diaries: handcart "kitchen" equipment list

Each family needs:

dutch oven, identified with wire/washers so your lid stays with your pot
gluten-free families need two, one for wheat & one GF
10-quart pot
12" frying pan
griddle that fits on a camp stove
2 cutting boards
chef's knife
paring knife
serving utensils
pancake flipper
large salad bowl (20 servings min)
2 plastic dishpans
lots of wash rags/towels
biodegradable camp soap

insulated cooler for fruit
extra plates (metal pie tins) and utensils for those who forget

One nifty thing I've seen at my local outdoor store and which we have for our family's camping equipment are these "sporks" - cheap, sturdy, knife/fork and cutting blade all in one:


trek diaries: Ma & Pa Training Meeting #1

This weekend we have one of those broadcast-from-Salt-Lake stake conferences. Just before the adult session up at the stake center Saturday night, we had a Ma & Pa potluck supper and a quick training meeting - about 45 minutes where the various leaders and committee chairs spoke to us, gave handouts, and promised to be available for any of our questions as they arise. I've said it before and I'll say it again, our stake is awesome and this youth conference seems to me to be extraordinarily well planned and well thought-out. All of that bodes well, in my view.

We also got our first look at the site, via a Powerpoint slide show (Powerpoint in our stake is the default setting for all stake trainings, it cracks me up sometimes, but in this case it was genuinely necessary). It's a 20-mile stretch of unpaved rail trail that ends up at the YW camp the church owns, up in New Hampshire. Twice along the trail we'll be camping on private or Boy Scout land for the night. In one case, the amazing generosity of the landowner has extended to allowing us to fish for lake trout in his stocked pond, if we choose. There will be several road crossings--I can imagine we will be quite a sight for the held-up traffic--and several tunnels that cross under major highways or roads. The tunnels are just those huge metal culverts and they are rather small, but have been measured and we're assured that the carts will fit through, maybe with some unpacking and rearranging. The photos were taken in winter without foliage, but it looks like it will be shady and gorgeous. I think bugs will be our major trial. Even if it rains the trail looks very solid.

Everyone will drop off equipment, bedrolls and the 5-gallon PVC pails we get as "luggage" a couple of days beforehand, so that the only thing being collected on day 1 is people. Someone transports all that up to the site, while the rest of us meet at the temple early in the morning and we have a devotional about leaving Nauvoo and the temple. Then we drive up to the site, get organized into families, load carts, and get started. (And that same someone, somehow, figures out how to get our Ma&Pa real-world cars from the start to the finish by Saturday). At the end, on Saturday, a gigantic stake activity, a "Welcome to the Valley" with everyone there to greet us as we roll in.

We heard from the food committee chairperson and got our cart equipment list. She told us that the food will be "plain" because there are so many food intolerances to consider, and she told us not to encourage the kind of bonding that happens when people complain about food. She said she will put "bug poetry" into our daily rations as a way to use humor to deal with (as she put it) the close relationship that insects will have with our food, and she pointed out that 2/3 of the world has ants in their food daily and just eats it anyway. She stressed the importance of replenishing electrolytes not just fluid, and we'll get a packet of Gatorade powder per person, per day which they should eat as pixiesticks or mix into their water, but not into their Camelbacks since that might go rancid. Hats off to her, seriously. She's got to feed over 150 people for 3 days, taking into account lack of refrigeration, celiac disease, vegetarians, dairy allergy, nut allergies, etc. Whew.

We'll cook breakfast as families and then have each person pack a sack lunch after breakfast from a buffet of fresh fruit, veggie sticks, nuts, bread & jam, granola, dried fruit, and jerkey. Then dinner will be a communal affair with some dutch oven component to it. All the meat will be pre-cooked, no raw meat on the trail. I adore dutch oven cooking, so hooray, it's right up my alley. In June, we'll have a more intensive all-day training with all the Ma&Pa couples, with handcarts, on site, and using our dutch ovens to practice.

We heard from the medical committee. Each family gets a first aid kit for blisters, pain relief, splinters, etc. We need to really watch our kids and alert upwards if there are concerns we can't handle. If we have a youth with allergies, food intolerance, asthma or other health issue that information will be in our cart's medical folder so we'll know how to handle that.

We heard from the clothing chairperson. She stressed how much period clothing adds to the spirit of the event. She reminded us that adult women would have worn long sleeves and we should do the same. She said that our footwear should be well broken in, comfortable, and we should wear hiking socks with hiking sock liners, don't skimp on the socks and don't wear cotton socks.

Our instruction to us as "parents" of this youth conference family: 1) Safety. 2) Foster an environment where the youth can feel the Spirit and have their testimonies grow - not by being preached at, but through conversation, finding their own answers to questions, and through one-on-one ministry (our stake YW president quoted Sister Dalton's message in the auxiliary training meeting about the importance of one-on-one ministering - ?can't find that one online). and 3) Build Unity.

We were encouraged to find responsibilities for everyone in the "family." The youth are not there to be entertained, and we "parents" should not do all the work. The Ma&Pa are there to provide guidance and to make sure that the guidelines are being followed and that everyone is being included, but the leadership should come from the youth, especially the older youth (each family gets a "Big Brother" and "Big Sister" who are Priests/Laurels in the stake youth committee).

Key quotes and scriptures for the Ma&Pa =

President Monson: "The leaders who have the most influence are usually those who set hearts afire with devotion to the truth... who transform some ordinary routine occurrence so that it becomes a vista where we see the person we aspire to be." (Priesthood session, "Examples of Righteousness," April 08 conference)

Mosiah 18:21 "And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another."

President Eyring: "my children came to expect in every lesson in family night that I would find a way to encourage someone to testify of the Savior and His mission. Sometimes the parents did it. On our best nights we found a way to encourage the children to do it, either by presenting the lesson or answering questions." ("Our Hearts Knit as One," October 08 conference)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lesson 1-19 "Personal Records"

I wonder, do any of our young women even try to keep journals anymore? I tried as a teenager, usually resulting in one breathless catch up entry every six months, but since I became a blogger around six years ago I think the only time I've actually picked up a pen was to write something in either rage or despair that I didn't want to share with the world. Between emails and texts, blogs and facebook, is there any more documenting to be done? This lesson read straight from the manual could easily sail right over the heads of this youtube generation of teenagers, but luckily we've got some great additional resources to make sure this message gets through.

After a quick perusal through for the most recent talks on the subject, I noticed a distinct trend that wasn't there in the lessons I got as a kid. In my hazy teenage distorted memories it seemed that leaders were just trying to get us to write something - anything - down. Our current leaders seem to know the size of this group, and instead of begging them to just pick up the pen for still more itemization of how they spend every moment of their days, they are calling for sincere introspection and a recording of our experiences with the divine.

Suggested by the really helpful supplementary materials is one of my very favorite talks in recent years, "O Remember, Remember," by President Eyring. I distinctly remember listening to this talk and when he said,
"I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”

it was as if the room closed around me and he was staring me in my face. The Spirit could not have been clearer about that message if someone shook me by the shoulders and said "Reese! Listen up! This part's for you!"

I think about that message daily as I write my blog, as I make notes in my scriptures, as I record my child's activities. I went so far as to make a pretty little image of it and it's now hanging on my wall with a bunch of other favorite quotes as part of an inspiration wall. If you'd like to use it as a handout, you are very welcome to. Go here, save it to your computer, and then you can do whatever you want with it including just send it off to the photo printers (it's all set to be printed as a 5x7) and the rest of the quotes (if you're interested) are here.

President Eyring makes so many good points in this talk, but I love when he talks about how we have to train ourselves to see God in our lives, and then we have to remember. I used to always look at Laman and Lemuel with such curiosity, thinking that if I had ever seen an angel then nothing would ever be able to lead me astray. But all I have to do is go back not very far in my journal and see manifestations of God in my life that I totally forgot. I know that my girls can appreciate an entry I plan on reading that was immediately post Girls Camp, full of spiritual fire, committed to the gospel, a total high. And then a mere matter of weeks later I was back to a state of spiritual sluggishness. It happens to the best of us, but if we record the highs, then we can avoid the lows.

It might also be worth asking this hyper-documented group if their existing records really reflect who they are or who they're trying to become. If I were to know them only by their Facebook page, would I know they were Mormon? Would I think they were a scantily clad party girl? Would they be OK with their Facebook page being included in their entry in the Book of Remembrance? President Spencer W. Kimball spoke on journal keeping and mentioned that "the angels may quote from it for eternity." So would they be using you as an example, or a warning?

The Supplementary Material also includes a quote from a talk given by Elder Clarke, where he mentions keeping a special journal just for his spiritual impressions. Combined with President Eyring's talk, this presents an easy challenge for the girls, and one that could knock off about a dozen personal progress goals. My sisterfriend Schelle made an entire Enrichment activity group around that challenge, where the women got together once every other month or so to journal with some provided prompts and then eat dessert. That sounds like an easily replicated activity night in my book.

Elder Marlin Jensen gave a really great interview on the topic of record keeping. From his perspective as Church Historian, he obviously has a different scale in mind, but his work for the church is insightful in deciding how we approach our own record keeping.
What is the purpose of recording and teaching Church history?

Elder Jensen: The primary purpose of Church history is to help Church members build faith in Jesus Christ and keep their sacred covenants. In fulfilling this purpose, we are guided by three main considerations:

First, we seek to bear witness of and defend the foundational truths of the Restoration.

Second, we desire to help Church members remember the great things God has done for His children.

Third, we have a scriptural charge to help preserve the revealed order of the kingdom of God. This includes the revelations, documents, procedures, processes, and patterns that provide order and continuity for the exercising of priesthood keys, the proper functioning of priesthood quorums, the performance of ordinances, and so on—those things that are essential to salvation.

The church takes that "scriptural charge" very seriously. Each temple actually keeps track, with date and time and witnesses, of every spiritual manifestation that is reported there. Every time someone sees their grandma, every time someone is seen waiting in line for their turn to be baptized, it is recorded. According to the sealer I was talking to about this, it's partly to have a record available to counteract those pesky faith promoting rumors, but it's more to appreciate the significance of these events, to testify that the temple is the Lord's house and there is no where closer to heaven on earth, and to remember that He approves of the work being done there.

These three considerations Elder Jensen describes are a very neat way of summing up the point of personal record keeping. We remember what God has done for us to help us continue in our personal growth, we testify of the gospel to help our families know of the truth, and we record revelation to preserve the work of God on the earth.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

just for fun, my visual aid

Today for lesson 18's discussion of the difference between a "wedding" and a "temple marriage," and with apologies to this month's Modern Bride magazine:

Seriously though, I went through the entire magazine and there was not one, not ONE, dress that could have worked in a temple ceremony. I mean not even close. It was very eye-opening. The girls got a kick out of my altered cover so I thought I'd share.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lesson 1-18 "Temple Marriage - Requirement for Eternal Family Life"

So, I cruise other LDS blogs now and then (well, okay, nearly daily - I love my Bloglines account). I have my radar up for mentions of the YW program. I have noticed that most of the time the YW lessons get mentioned in an offhand way on some other blog, usually in the midst of some other discussion, it's usually to complain that "the YW lessons are always about temple marriage" or to dismiss what goes on in our lessons as overly focused on the goal of marriage in the temple, week after week after week.

In response, I give you the table of contents for this year's manual. While I can see plenty of lessons in which temple marriage could be discussed as a worthy lifetime goal by a zealous leader, including the lessons on dating, divine roles, and purity, I see only ONE lesson specifically concerned with temple marriage, which is this one, #18. The other 51 weeks we're doing worthwhile stuff too, but somehow everyone seems to ignore that and zero in on our temple marriage lessons as if it's all we do. Well, it's misplaced criticism as far as I'm concerned, at least in this year's manual. We've got one.

And it's a pretty good one, too. I really like the discussion-opener, to compare words you associate with "wedding" with words you associate with "temple marriage." My L's are ALL about planning their weddings. I've heard about their colors, their ring settings, their number of bridesmaids, their cake flavors, their reception locations... but yeah, temple marriage is a different thing and it should be, and that distinction is worth discussing.

I also think the list of reasons "people" give for not marrying in the temple brings up some very genuine concerns that should be openly and honestly addressed in an age-appropriate way. The list of reasons in the lesson includes "do not understand the importance of temple marriage; marry too young; do not want to wear garments; are not worthy or are marrying a nonmember; to honor family members who could not attend; or--(the kicker)--aren’t sure enough of their love that they want to be married for eternity". There's enough meat in that list to provide a very substantive discussion.

The parallel list, of reasons to get married in the temple, is equally solid: It is a commandment of God; Heavenly Father has promised many blessings to those who marry in his house and live according to the covenants made there; it is the only way to have a husband and wife and family together in the hereafter; it can allow us to dwell in the presence of God, in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom; your parents may have taught and wish for a temple marriage for their children; some of your friends will be married in the temple (positive peer pressure); the couple love each other so much they want to be together forever; it's a way to know that your partner also values the gospel; you know that your partner is chaste and virtuous (and, I'd add - you know your partner knows how to repent...!).

The super-weepy story about the 3 friends whose paths diverged after HS is just unnecessary. One friend marries outside the church, but remains active, a prisoner in her ward having to watch her temple-married friends' lives go all blissful. When one temple-married couple blesses their child, the story drives off the saccharine cliff:

"As I watched David take his little girl from Karen and carry her almost reverently to the front, I could see a side view of Emily. Tears were rapidly filling her deep blue eyes and streaming down her face onto Julie’s downy head. Her shoulders shook violently as she buried her head in her baby’s neck. Emily’s mother tenderly put her arm around her daughter’s throbbing shoulders, and I could see that she, too, was crying. Emily looked up, and I heard her gasp in a desperate whisper, ‘Oh, Mama! Who is going to bless my baby?’"

Please, that gem was from the New Era in 1975. Let's leave it there. Let's also NOT tell that story we've all heard somewhere about the couple who get married in a civil ceremony, fully intending to be married in the temple, but who are killed in a car accident before the year is up. That's an awful story. Girls will see right through that one: 1) that's the Old Testament God of retribution who zaps the naughty; 2) they could be sealed in the temple by proxy and 3) it's not our place to judge the heart and motivation and worthiness with which they left this life, that's up to the Lord - who are we to say they won't be together forever somehow anyway after their temple work has been done by their grieving family? I never got that story.

Just be sensitive - remember that "temple lessons hurt" when life is a struggle at home, and remember that the lesson title doesn't say "temple marriage - requirement for a happy life or a strong marriage." Being sealed in the temple doesn't guarantee anything except the promise of eternity, and the fulfillment of that promise depends on faithfulness. And not every young woman will marry. We all know Mormon girls and guys who rush into temple marriage because that's the thing to do, when they're not really ready for it, and it soon becomes obvious to everyone that they've made a big mistake. But, still, in our one lesson about it: temple marriage should be a joyful (not guilt-inducing or scare-mongering) lifetime goal for our YW; they should catch the vision from us of what the possibilities and blessings are.

All that said, I'll share a personal experience with you. Maybe I'll share some version of it in my class too. This past weekend my husband and I went to the temple with some close friends whose daughter is preparing to leave on a mission. She was there for her endowment. We surrounded that family with love and friendship. She was prepared; she was ready; she looked radiant; she wept happy tears. After the session we went down the hall to give her an opportunity to participate in proxy sealings. Now, most people might not be ready to do that minutes after their first endowment, but this young woman was fine with it and it was obviously something that she and her parents had talked over and planned on. Proxy sealings are great because you get to hear these beautiful promises over and over without all the emotional luggage (good, bad, big, whatever) that comes with your own sealing when you're way too excited to remember what's being said.

In sealings for the dead, you see the whole plan clearly. You see these adult proxies for the children place their hands on the couple's hands, and you get it, the whole reason for the ceremony - in fact, the whole reason for God's magnificent plan, the whole reason for the temple. The voices are quiet and unhurried, the room feels miles away from the parking lot and the bustling world outside. These names from long-ago weddings become more than just names. They're people with stories, marriages, tears, lifetimes. We play-act them in holy theater for a few moments, to bring them to life long enough to let them hear the beautiful, expansive vows and promises for themselves. We let them be blessed through us. It's completely, utterly sacred. It's a glimpse into eternity and the pinnacle ceremony of the covenant path. That's the beauty of temple marriage: all-encompassing, blinding, dazzling love and blessing from God. While it's no guarantee of happily ever after, when done right (right person, right reasons), it's the best possible start.