Tag Archives: LDS

Walking to Church in Oxford

For four Sundays we have walked the 2.5 miles to church. At first we walked through the center of Oxford, but recently we found a less busy route. Let me take you with us.

First we walk through the streets of Jericho where we live, past the ales and fine food.IMG_6363

We cross a bridge and walk alongside the canal. (Oxford is called Oxford because it was a place where they would cross oxen through the Thames River. Swineford is another city where they would cross the pigs. I’m glad I live in Oxford.)

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We cross another bridge and walk under the train tracks. Often there is a train rumbling above us. IMG_6373Then over a rainbow bridge.IMG_6379

We keep following the canal. IMG_6381

We will soon cross that bridge up ahead and get onto Botley Road.IMG_6384Crossing Botley Road.IMG_6385Usually this road is very busy with traffic, but on Sunday mornings it isn’t so bad.IMG_6387.JPGAnother bridge.IMG_6388Another row of houses.IMG_6390

We pass by a loch where they raise and lower the water level to let boats from one canal onto another.IMG_6392.JPGYet another bridge.IMG_6393Then through a small grove and a meadow. Danny also uses this route to ride his bike to school. Danny’s school is just after this meadow. IMG_6397Another row of houses.IMG_6398

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When we pass the duck pond . . . we are almost there . . . IMG_6405But first we have to pass a steaming, inviting swimming pool. Come on, Danny!IMG_6406 And sometimes we see old men sailing little boats on the Thames.IMG_6408

Then down the straight and narrow path . . .IMG_6409And we reach our destination. We take off our walking shoes and put on our church shoes. Then after church we do it all again! IMG_6410

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Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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Looking for God

This afternoon I was sitting on my porch watching the prelude of an August storm bend the tree trunks in my front yard. The wind tossed the leaves and snapped the American flag hanging from the eaves so hard that my dog tucked his tail between his legs and pawed the front door. Thunder rumbled overhead and I leaned back in my rocker and soaked it in. This is my favorite weather. The only air that feels better than the air right before the storm is the air that comes right after. New air. Swift air. Air that rushes in, shakes everything up and makes the world clean again.

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As I was savoring the drop in barometric pressure I remembered that my friend told me that thunder is God’s Testimony. Could there be a more wonderful way to think of thunder?

God: I LIVE.

The more I watch the people around me the more I am convinced that you cannot find the answers to spiritual questions on the internet. The only thing you will find are the musings of others.

But when I am outside, my thoughts become my thoughts again. Ever since I was a child I have felt God’s presence when I am outside. But we don’t go outside as often anymore. (At least not in August, in the South.) We stay inside with all of our man-made stuff looking into our man-made screens, and we start to believe the lie that the things our brains have made are the most sophisticated things in the world, and that we can learn anything the internet.

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But, of course they aren’t and we can’t, because people are just people after all. So when I get these moments outside, especially on gusty, stormy afternoons like this, I am reminded of His presence again. I can hear His testimony. And His testimony isn’t just in the thunder. It is in a leaf. It is in a bumblebee. It is in everything. Like any great carpenter he left his signature all around us, reminding us that not only He created this world, but that he lives, and that someday he’ll come back.

If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words. But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.   Alma 30:44

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Cover Reveal: The Last Messenger of Zitol

So remember when I told you that it took me five years to write The Cenote?

Well, I lied.

I actually was writing two books. This is the other.

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I could’t be more thrilled to share this book with you. This is a young adult novel about a girl who is kidnapped from her island and taken to the land of her ancestors where she is forced to choose between retaining her virtue or preserving her life.

I wrote this book because I was tired of going to the bookstore and seeing all the latest YA books about teenagers giving up their virtue. I wanted to write a book about a young woman who was determined to keep hers, no matter what.

I will be updating my blog over the next few months to let you know when you can pre-order The Last Messenger. Until then we are just going to have to wait. You and I both!

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Holding to the Blog

This post is for all of you that love to read LDS blogs, or that are fascinated by LDS blogs, or that are secretly disturbed by LDS blogs.

When I was in college I took a Spanish intensive course. Part of this involved living in the Foreign Language House, an apartment complex devoted to helping students get a taste of language immersion.  While in the apartment we would eat, socialize and interact completely in Spanish. When we left the apartment, say, to go grocery shopping or to work, we could speak English, but as soon as we entered our apartment we were back to Spanish.

A native Spanish speaker lived with us, to help us keep the rules.  As long as she was around we ate, talked, sang, read and prayed in Spanish. It was intense. Every day I could literally feel my brain expanding, and it hurt.

Our native speaker was kind and encouraging. And when she wasn’t at home we did our best to always speak Spanish. But sometimes, in her absence, we would slip back into our Spanglish, or, even worse, we would start creating a whole new language altogether.

Por favor, pass-a-me el salto. Gracias.

It was faster to speak that way, especially when we became better friends and had more we wanted to say to each other. Often we tolerated each other’s mistakes without correcting each other because we knew what our roommate meant to say. Plus, it was hilarious, and our feeble attempts at fluency would often leave us rolling on the carpeta (real word: alfombra).

But then the native speaker would return home, and we dutifully went back to speaking proper,

painful,

pure,

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español.

Now, back to LDS blogs (and blogs in general).

There are a lot of great blogs out there. They are interesting, colorful, easy-to-absorb, witty and intimidating. And they are written by people. People who have opinions and flaws and who are still in the process of building their testimonies (a process which lasts forever).

So sometimes they post or write things that make us feel uncomfortable and we think, “This person is a Mormon. Why are they writing/posting/sharing this or that? Oh my heck. The church must not be true.”

And then we lay awake at night, thinking about it.

Okay, well maybe you don’t. But sometimes I do.*

And that is when I have to remind myself about this prophet who had a dream. He dreamed about a misty land with an iron rod running along the landscape towards a magnificent tree that bore fruit that, when eaten, brought unspeakable joy. He knew that if he held on to that rod as he walked everything was going to be okay and it would lead him to the tree, and that it would bring great happiness to him and his family.

In the interpretation, the tree is the love of God, or more specifically, Christ. The fruit is the atonement. The rod that helps us get there is the word of God, or, in other words, the scriptures and the prophets. The rod is like the native Spanish speaker. All of the other stuff we read–facebook posts, videos, blog articles–these are people who are trying to learn Spanish. They are working through it. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they are just speaking craziness and are making up their own languages and calling it Spanish.

I just wanted to remind myself (and anyone else who might be listening) that it is easy to get confused, and that when we want to know the real truth the best place to look is in the scriptures. It is not as easy, it doesn’t have as many pictures and it is not as witty, and sometimes studying it makes your brain hurt. But that is just because it is expanding.

Some things are True. Everything else is just someone’s opinion.

Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. D&C 19:23

* Let me clarify. I do not doubt my testimony, the truthfulness of the gospel or the church, but it troubles me deeply when I read things written by members who seem to be actively spreading doubt rather than building faith.

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A Letter From an Apostle

It was the summer of 2003 and change was in the air.

First of all Scott and I discovered we were expecting our first babies. Yes, babiez.  Then Scott got accepted to a PhD program that was 2,000 miles away (2,103 miles, to be exact). I would leave my full-time library job and all my friends and family in Utah and move to North Carolina where I didn’t know one person in the entire state, and become a full-time mom to twins.

Job change, place change, role change, life change! So exciting! We did not see it as something that would be hard, we saw it as an adventure!

But an unwelcome change was also on its way.

It was during this period of transition that Elder Neal A. Maxwell, one of the living twelve apostles, came to visit our ward (congregation).

Now, for those of you who are not LDS, this is a very significant event. Since we believe in modern-day apostles this is like having Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John walk into your church service.  Usually the only time we get to see or hear the apostles is twice a year at a big mega-conference that is broadcast all around the world. Each apostle is loved and respected, and the sounds of their voices are as recognizable to us as the voices of our own family members.  This particular apostle, Elder Maxwell, was coming because his granddaughter was in our ward and her son was being blessed, and by some miracle I was asked to give the closing prayer. I lumbered up to the stand with my big twin-belly, gave the prayer, and felt pretty exceptional that I was within winking distance of an apostle.

Soon after that my life took a most unexpected, untimely and unwelcome turn. My father passed away. Yes, you know him. My dad: the firework salesman. The builder of log homes. The creator of Him.

Now all those happy changes we were looking forward to suddenly darkened. My father would never see my babies–neither the two I was carrying or any more that would follow–and I was moving away from a mother who needed me about as much as I needed her.

The next week we travelled up to Idaho for the funeral. The day we got back to our apartment we checked our voice mail and heard a familiar voice:

“Hello? This is Neal Maxwell. I hope I have the right number. I’m trying to reach Chelsea Dyreng. I heard that her father passed away and that she is having twins soon and she moving across the country, and I thought I would call . . . “

Scott and I looked at each other, our eyes humongous. We checked the next message:

“Hello? This is Neal Maxwell . . . again. I’m still trying to get a hold of Chelsea Dyreng. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. I’m sorry I missed you . . . “

Two messages–from an apostle–and I missed him!

I was totally disappointed that I had missed my one chance to speak with a living apostle, so I immediately sat down and wrote him a letter (this was back when people wrote letters), a letter that ended up being much longer than it probably needed to be. But I had to write and tell him all about my dad.

Then, a week or two later I received this in the mail:

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(You can see how carefully I opened it . . . )

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His letter was wonderful and sincere. How exceptionally kind it was for him to go out of his way–an elderly man, a cancer survivor, a man very busy with many other responsibilities–to take a moment to acknowledge my grief! What was I to him? I was just another church member, one of millions. He didn’t have to do anything for me, there was no benefit in it for him. But he persisted, not just calling me, but leaving multiple messages and then answering my long, circumlocutory letter with a compassionate letter of his own. Who does this?

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In the Bible Jesus Christ designated twelve men to be his apostles. Their primary job was to be special witnesses of Christ.  It means that they have a duty to tell people about Him. The word apostle means “one who was sent.” It means that they spread the good news and they act in the name of Jesus Christ, doing what he would do if he were here.

It would be enough for the apostles to just speak every six months at conference. It would be enough for them to travel around the world, organizing congregations and training leaders. It would be enough for them to be at the helm of the church, teaching people to be like Christ, but to go out of his way and to actually do something that Christ might have done?

Elder Maxwell passed away a year later. He was 78 years old. I can picture him up in heaven, meeting my dad and telling him, “I already know everything about you, thanks to your very thorough daughter.”

By seeking to comfort an insignificant pregnant woman in mourning, Elder Maxwell gained nothing . . . except a true and loyal follower.

I know I am not the only one who has had an experience like this. If you are LDS I bet you have a story, too. The apostles are always saying good things about us . . . let’s return the favor.  #imetanapostle

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Teaching Children to Be Believers

The first thing you might notice about a Mormon sacrament meeting is the noise.

In almost every Mormon congregation (besides college wards and nursing home wards) there will be a moderate-to-loud roar of children. Children crying, children asking, children chewing, children humming, children making car noises, or if you were near my pew today, children burping.

But now imagine you are a four-year-old boy.

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You have to sit still for an hour and ten minutes.  You are scrunched between three sisters, a mom and a baby while you listen to people give sermons using words which you don’t understand.  You are told you are not to make noise unless you are singing hymns from a hymnbook that you can’t yet read. And when you feel the urge to kick or run or jump or yell your mother hands you crayons and expects you to draw. For my 4-year-old who can’t even stand to wear shoes on his feet, I would have better luck making him eat the crayons than use them.

There are strategies I’ve used over the years. I’ve brought food, bottles, blankets, books, notebooks, markers, pens, magnets, toy cars, silly putty, flannel toys and truckfulls of Cheerios. I’ve drawn things for him, read things to him, explained things to him, colored pictures of him, spelled words for him, folded origami for him, created pipe cleaner animals for him.

But there comes a time when the child can no longer stand the monotony of the meeting, and no pipe cleaner animal or origami creation or cheerio will suffice. If he does not get to beat his chest and howl or toss his shoe three pews back he will explode. And since you are not allowed to howl or throw your shoes at church, that is exactly what he does.

When this happens he must be taken out.

They say the most effective way to correct an unruly child at church is to take him to an empty classroom where there are no treats, no snacks, no toys to play with and they can sit there and calm down. The theory here is that he will see that it is more “fun” to come back to the pew than be in a toyless, sugarless room.

Once I took my misbehaving 4-year-old into a deserted room to let his temper tantrum run its course. He yelled and screamed and pounded the wall. I told him we would stay in there until he calmed down. My plan backfired on me, though, when a man who was teaching a class on the other side of the wall my son was pounding on opened the door and  asked if everything was alright. We had to leave, of course and go some place else.  But the other classrooms were full and it was raining icicles outside. So we went back to the pew. Child 10 points, Mom 0.

Another time I took him to a deserted room and turned off the lights, hoping that a toyless, sugarless, lightless room would do the trick. I didn’t leave him in there alone, of course. I stood next to the door, frightening the next three adults who unsuspectingly opened the door to see my face staring at them from the darkness.

And then there was the time that he was being good. I remember it very clearly: he was sitting with his hands folded, swinging his feet and making soft buzzing sounds with his lips. Ahhhh . . . I thought . . . this is great. This is nice. He is calm and quiet. And just as I was basking in those thoughts the woman in front of me turns around and asks, “Do you want me to take your son out?”

After which I promptly burst into tears and had to walk around the parking lot by myself for 15 minutes.

Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves and our children through this mutual torture session? Why? Is anybody getting anything out of this? Is it worth it?!

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

We Mormons are pretty over the top when it comes to teaching our kids about religion. We bring them to three hours of meetings on Sunday. We give them another devotional on Monday night. We read scriptures as a family every day. Teenage boys pass the sacrament and hold the priesthood. Teenage girls can preach from the pulpit. Children of every age take the sacrament (our communion).  Youth give lessons, participate in leadership meetings and sing in choir (the choir pianist just got his driver’s license last year!). At 6:00 am every weekday morning they take seminary classes where they memorize scriptures from the New Testament, Old Testament and Book of Mormon. They are expected to dress modestly, act modestly, they have a pamphlet of standards they carry around with them. They don’t have sex. Once a month they fast. They go on missions.

Who does this anymore?

I’ve heard some people say we brainwash our kids into believing the doctrines of our church. But that is not brainwashing. I’ll tell you what brainwashing is, but we have to switch into a darker gear.

The Dark Side of Teaching Children

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State.  In it they interviewed children that escaped Islamic State military training camps where children as young as 8 regularly witness beheadings. Where children are gathered, school-field trip style, and given candy as they watch executions. There are many more graphic details that I can’t go into on this blog because my children read it. But suffice it to say that Islamic State knows how to do a few things really well. And one of them is to raise a generation of devout believers.

In his book Acts of Faith Eboo Patel wrote:

“Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

Are we Christians doing our part provide today’s youth with “a clear identity to make a powerful impact”? Americans in particular have set aside many rituals that once gave children purpose and destiny: prayer, baptism, repentance, chastity. So how do we expect children to make good decisions when they have no moral foundation? Many parents seem to have no problem releasing their children into an immoral world without giving them a spiritual direction. Instead we arm our kids with phones so that they can get answers to their problems from Google instead of God.

I even have Mormon friends who do not want to “indoctrinate” their own children with Mormon beliefs so that they can be “open-minded” and make decisions for themselves.   This is crazy!  Children come to earth with minds like open buckets. If parents do not fill that bucket someone else will.

But how do you know what you are filling their bucket with Truth?

I don’t know if I’m filling my kids with Truth or not, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is the Truest thing I have found, since it has already brought a lot of happiness to my own life. My aim is to give them the hope that there is so much more to this sad, earth; that there is a greater Plan, a greater Designer and greater Hope, and that death is not the end, but just graduation. I am teaching them that no matter what horrible mistake they make they have a Savior who has died for them and will forgive them if they repent.  I teach them to not forget they are children of God, and not to forget that everyone else is, too. I can’t prove to them that God exists, but no one can prove that He doesn’t.

“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” We unapologetically flood our children with this knowledge.

We can’t be ambivalent about our children’s spiritual education when there are people on the other side of the world teaching their children there is value and honor in intimidation and killing. We must match their increasing darkness with our increasing light.

Children need a moral education that goes beyond teaching them to recycle, wash their hands, play by the rules, and don’t do things that will get them in jail. They need to have a spiritual identity. And with that spiritual identity will come an inner voice that will guide them to make choices consistent with their beliefs.

Humans are born hungry to believe in something. If we neglect our children spiritually they will find other places to fill that void. Science can prove a lot, but one thing that science will never be able to tell is us what happens to us after we die. Only faith can claim that prize. And why not choose a faith that in the process will make you into the best possible person you can be?

Last Sunday I watched my son, now 5,  get ready for church without prodding and without complaint. He sat in the pew reverently and thoughtfully, cradling scriptures he brought himself. This lasted for a record 20 minutes before he finally stood on the pew and tried to swipe the scriptures from the girl in front of him. Hopefully this trend can keep improving, and by the time he is a young adult he will have the power and knowledge to make an impact on the world because he will have a gained personal testimony. He will choose light instead of darkness, he will choose to spread the Good News instead of spreading hatred, and he will choose to ignite hope instead of instilling fear . . . or worse, indifference.

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What is a “Strong Woman”?

I have three daughters, and like every mother, I would like to raise them to be “strong women.”

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But what does that mean?

I’m sure everyone has their own idea of what a “strong woman” is. But this phrase gets thrown around so much that I want to define it in my own terms for my daughters so they know the meaning that I give it, lest they think that being a “strong woman” means they should aspire to be Katy Perry.

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Often we hear the term “strong woman” describing women who are in charge. A woman who shakes things up. A woman who can win arguments and lead and wave flags around and protest against conformity, authority, superiority, and all the other -orities. A woman who personifies the bumper sticker: Well-behaved women seldom make history. 

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When I first saw that slogan I thought it was kind of clever. But the more I thought about it the more I decided that its message is not quite accurate.

Take my mother, for instance. My mother grew up in a poor family with a father who never believed she could go to college. She proved him wrong. She went to college. She became a scientist and studied at Harvard. She published papers, won awards and became world famous. Later on she won the Nobel Prize. Haven’t you ever heard of Dr. Patricia Q. Bagley?

No you haven’t. Because after my mom graduated from college she stayed home to raise seven children.

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She never ran for anything, she never made any money, she never had a job outside the home. But she was an exceptionally good mom. And she sacrificed a lot to put us at the center of her world.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the female presidents and doctors and CEOs and lawyers are not strong women. These women are amazing. They are what I call Obviously Strong Women.

But can a woman be strong if she would rather study dance instead of engineering?

Can a woman be a strong with no degree at all?

What about the NSOSW?

(the Not So Obviously Strong Women)

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Let’s have some fun. Let’s go back to the bumper sticker and dissect it.

The first part: Being well-behaved. That word is purposely condescending, suggesting that women who are well-behaved are much like a good dog.

But being “well-behaved” also means that you have self-control. It means you know when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut. It means you are considerate of the feelings of others. It means you are wise. Being well-behaved is something I’ve tried my whole life to be, and it is not easy!

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It would be much easier to yell when I feel like yelling. It would be easier to tell someone EXACTLY WHAT I THINK OF THEM than breathe, breathe, breathe . . . and forgive. It would be easier to FREAK OUT whenever I encounter something that makes me afraid, than to study it, understand it and see it for what it really is.

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Second part: Is “making history” really what a woman of true strength is aspiring for? Many Obviously Strong Women definitely gain fame in the process, but in my definition, Obviously Strong Women who become famous for being strong were not searching for fame at the beginning of their journey. They were trying to correct something, establish something, change something or stand for something. “Fame” was something other people created while these women had their shoulders to the wheel and their feet in the mud.


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Being a “strong woman” in the context of the Mormon church

Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have always been given a lot of responsibility. We have callings, we lead, we teach, we administrate and we preach from the pulpit, in addition to the responsibility of caring for our children. Many women serve full-time missions. But women are not given the priesthood.  This bothers some women, but it has never bothered me and I’ll explain why.

When Scott and I were first married we went to an intramural basketball game early one Saturday morning, and one of the players, a friend of ours named Richard, was dribbling the ball across the court when something odd started happening. He slowed, he staggered, and then he crumpled to the ground. By the time we approached him to see what was the matter he was unconscious. Three seconds later he was not breathing. A couple of guys went to call an ambulance. I knelt down next to him and sealed my mouth on his and breathed into his lungs. It was easier than I thought it would be. But then he lost his pulse. I started doing chest compressions while another girl took over with the breaths.

(I’m not fibbing this time, by the way.)

The guys who were playing basketball a moment before watched. Soon some of them knelt down at Richard’s head and gave him a priesthood blessing. The paramedics arrived and took Richard away. He was in a coma for three days.

But he lived.

I’ve often thought of this experience in the years since. Did he live because he got CPR? Or did he live because the boys gave him a blessing? I have no idea, but I’m glad he got both. We were ALL using our own specialized talents to do everything in our power to keep our friend alive. We can’t all run around giving people priesthood blessings and calling for ambulances. Someone has to keep the blood pumping through the heart.

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Strong women support men, just as strong men support women. But is it possible for a strong man and a strong woman to coexist together? Or does one have to be pushed aside so the other can be “the leader”?  I believe they can. Especially when they value each other’s different and essential roles. Having different roles forces us to depend on each other. The perfect match for a strong woman is not a weak man, and a strong man does not have to settle for a weak woman. We marry our equal, but not our identical.

When I was 7 or 8 years old I remember standing at the top of my driveway and seeing something strange coming up the long dirt road. Two people were walking up the road, a taller one and a shorter one. The taller one was struggling, leaning against the shorter. I remember feeling alarmed when I realized it was my parents. My parents never walked so close to each other like that, and especially not in public. Then it dawned on me. My father had had a seizure. I knew that my dad sometimes had seizures, and even though I had never witnessed one myself, I knew that he must have had one at the filling station where he worked, and that my mom was helping him back to the house. I will never forget that intimate moment as my strong, capable, indestructible father leaned completely on the slender shoulders of my mother. It has since become a powerful and very symbolic reminder to me that taking a supporting role is not a sign of weakness.

Ultimately I believe a strong woman is someone who has not conquered the world or conquered other people but has conquered herself. She has recognized in herself a flaw, whether it be anger, self-pity, doubt, intolerance, impatience, or selfishness and she worked hard to overcome that weakness. Or perhaps she is still working on it. Every. Single. Day.

And, ironically, could that not also be the definition of a strong man?

Not all of us have the capacity, the ability or opportunity to become wives, mothers, engineers, doctors, gold medalists or presidents of the United States. And whether or not we are “strong” should not be measured by how much money we make or how many children we bear. For we all have the ability to be kind, selfless, honest, loving, forgiving.  We all can be on a constant quest for refinement and excellence. And that, my dear daughters, is my definition of strong.

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Eight

There is something magical about turning eight years old.

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You can think for yourself. You can ride a bike, swim, do math, read, make goals and most most importantly, have self-control. You are practically a grown up, except that you haven’t yet forgotten how to have fun.

In the scriptures the number 8 symbolizes new beginnings. Think about it . . . Jewish babies were circumcised at 8 days, there were 8 people on the ark, and there were 8 Jaredite barges that travelled a new land in the Americas. (If you are unfamiliar with that Bible story, don’t worry. There are a lot more where that one came from.)

So in the Mormon church we believe 8 is the age when a child can make decisions for herself. She has faith in Jesus Christ. She understands how to repent. With this knowledge she is ready to be baptized.

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We do not baptize infants because infants they are too young to be accountable for the things they do. Small children are innocent and guiltless, and there is no need for baptism, for their salvation has already been paid for by the Savior’s atonement.

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After she is baptized with water she will be baptized with fire. That is, she will be given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If she keeps herself clean and worthy the Holy Ghost will be a constant companion and friend who will teach her the truth of all things. Did you catch that? I said: The Truth of All Things.

Baptisms are significant. They are a “saving” ordinance, meaning you cannot be saved without it.  Many people come to watch this great event in your life. Grandparents travel across continents and you get to invite your best friends.

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Even your little brother gets all dressed up . . .

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. . . for a little while, at least.

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(By the way, the tie has been found, and the reward will be given.)

Grown-ups get a little excited about baptisms and they do all kinds of nice things for you. Like your mom might ask all your aunts and uncles and cousins to send you their testimonies.

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So thanks for being born, Naomi. And thanks for turning 8. We are proud of you.

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Now you can stop growing up, okay?

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