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Concubines!

19 May

Whats-The-Deal-With-3Hey! Let’s talk about concubines! Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Here’s the story: Whilst casually browsing Twitter one day, I came across a tweet by Bronwyn Lea, who has a lovely blog about faith, family, and life, asking for help to understand concubines and their place in the history of God’s people. Though polygamy is part of my Mormon religious history and even my family history, I hadn’t given too much thought to polygamy, but after the recent essays on polygamy by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, combined with my growing interest in girl power, I had started exploring the issue (including this excellent podcast).

You can read the result of my explorations on Bronlea’s blog. My answer to the question of concubines is very much a work in progress–I am sure my understanding will evolve and grow over time, as human understanding is wont to do. I look forward to the day that I can fully understand difficult issues like this, but for now, I wanted to share what I’ve learned–and welcome you to share anything you have thought about or learned. Please feel free to weigh in with comments here or on Bronwyn’s blog.

I also wanted to add a few thoughts to my initial answer. (Because I am never, ever brief.) Namely, what can we do?

What More Can We Do?

For me, making peace with difficult elements like concubines in the Old Testament is not simply a matter of saying “OK, I’m fine with this,” and shelving the matter. There are things we can do while we wait for further understanding.

First, we can confront the manifestations of inequality in our own time. As you mentioned, sex trafficking is tragically prevalent today. The Half the Sky Movement advises that we put pressure on officials worldwide “to shut down jail-like brothels, investigate criminals buying underage girls, and crack down on corruption and trafficking across borders.” You could start with writing to your elected officials to let them know what you think, and consider supporting an organization that helps victims of trafficking.

Second, we can remember and ponder about the women we read about in the scriptures—like Sarah and Hagar or Rachel and Bilhah. Their stories deserve more than to be glossed over or explained away. We can consider what their lives were actually like, what their relationships were like, what they might have struggled with and how they found joy. (I am also discovering wonderful resources that explore women in the scriptures, like this blog and this book.)

Third, we can draw closer to Jesus Christ. Whenever I struggle with something—in the scriptures, in church, in life—Christ is what gives me the greatest hope. He is hope; he is the light and the life of the world.

Christ gives me hope specifically in regards to women. The first person to whom he declared His role as the Messiah was a Samaritan woman. He showed compassion for the woman taken in adultery. The first witness of his resurrection was not an apostle but a female disciple, Mary Magdalene. I believe what James E. Talmage wrote in Jesus the Christ: “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.”

And Christ gives me hope in all things. The good news of the gospel is that Christ allowed himself to be broken, and in doing so overcame this broken world (concubines and all!) and wants to help us do the same. As we invite him into our hearts and our relationships, we can be healed and united: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

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Mad Men, Granite Flats, and “family-friendly” TV

8 Apr

graniteflatsUpdate 5/7/15: I just read an article in BYU Magazine by Scott Swofford, the producer of Granite Flats. It’s a must-read for Mormons who, let’s face it, could all use a little more humility, authenticity, and love in their efforts to share their beliefs with others. But it also provides some interesting background about the evolution of the show and of BYUtv. Also, some cast members (including my girl crush Parker Posey) were apparently on the Today Show this morning, so that’s cool.

I originally wrote this just to convince friends to start binge-watching this show so I have more people with which to wildly speculate about exciting plot points. Then it devolved into philosophizing! Yay! (If you’re not into that, maybe scroll down to the bulleted list.)

Do you like Mad Men? Do you hate Mad Men? Either way, you’ll probably enjoy Granite Flats.

The show, which just released all episodes for its third season online, begins in the same decade as Mad Men, but is set in a small military town rather than on Madison Avenue. The first season offers intrigue in the form of a deadly explosion, a mysterious crash landing, and an eerie psych ward. The second and third seasons escalate into a tangled web of secrets involving the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, and a trio of meddling kids. There is also a police chief with uncannily Don Draper–like chiseled features and brooding gazes.

mormondondraperReally, he’s just Don Draper minus the ennui.

When it comes to Mad Men, I relate to both fans and haters: I quit watching after three episodes because I found it too depressing, but I’m still intrigued enough by the show to indulge in reading the occasional think-piece about it (like this, this, or bwahahaha this).

Granite Flats offers some of the elements that make Mad Men shine—complex characters and storylines and a meticulous historical authenticity that captures both the aesthetic (read: awesome vintage dresses!) and the spirit of the times in 1960s America. Yet Granite Flats strives for a decidedly more hopeful spirit than Mad Men, and it’s just as realistic and compelling. As a New York Times article said of the decade: “Glamorous debauchery and cynicism may have underpinned the marketing of floor wax and cigarettes, but earnest yearning and anxiety were twitchingly, poignantly alive then, too.”

Granite Flats can be seen as a reaction to the “debauchery” depicted in Mad Men, but it’s also a reaction to, well, debauchery writ large: The producer said the explicit goal was to create an entertaining, watchable show that forgoes the violence, sex, and profanity prevalent on most hit shows. That’s why they chose to wind back the clock by fifty years—“to make conservative social mores feel intrinsic.”

A show steeped in nostalgia for the sixties also makes sense given that the show is hosted by BYUtv, the network of the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University (my alma mater). The fact is, the 1950s and early 1960s was a good time for Mormons. A New York Times article chronicles a moment in 1962 when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir starred in a Cold War satellite broadcast that vaunted American culture to audiences abroad–the choir sang with Mount Rushmore in the background, interspersed with feel-good scenes of baseball games and Niagara Falls. After nearly a century of tension and anti-Mormon sentiment, Mormons appeared to have finally assimilated: “The Church had become closer to mainstream American life than probably any period in history, before or since.” Then, as Neylan McBaine points out in her book Women at Church, it wasn’t long before “Latter-day Saints in the 1960s and ’70s weathered cultural wars that forced us to leave behind the comfortable acceptance of the 1950s.”

While Granite Flats eschews any distinctly Mormon identifiers, it does embrace faith. And rather than promoting a particular faith, it supports the idea of many paths to faith. (The show’s producer has touted the fact that the writing team comprises a Buddhist, an Orthodox Jew, a lapsed Catholic, and two Mormons.) Many characters attend a generic Protestant church, with varying levels of devotion. Some are ambivalent, some seem to go through the motions, and some routinely seek out the pastor for counsel. There’s even a family of secular humanists, and although one of them may be considering conversion, their lack of religious belief isn’t fixated on as something to be fixed.

What pleasantly surprised me (and the New York Times) is that the show doesn’t use the vintage setting and the no-swearing policy as an excuse to avoid storylines about people with real flaws and struggles. Unfortunately, this is less true of Season 1, which is often sluggish and one-dimensional. As the Mormon Iconoclast blog observed, “By insisting on creating an entertainment that doesn’t have certain elements, they haven’t really defined what they want to do instead. As a result, the show seems peculiarly undramatic.” But the second and third seasons evolve to show actual drama and characters who are more morally complex.

The approach of Granite Flats to a morally complex world is, unsurprisingly, different from that of Mad Men. In Mad Men, love is merely something invented to sell nylons, and characters frequently spiral into self-destruction and rationalize (or are oblivious to) selfishness, to the point where such a path seems inevitable. (But hey, I’ve only seen three episodes! Correct me if I’m wrong here!) In contrast, Granite Flats depicts a world where people struggle, and often make mistakes, but also find ways to extend forgiveness to each other and themselves, to comfort each other, and to press on despite darkness and confusion.

A more important difference than Granite Flats vs. Mad Men is Granite Flats vs. typical “clean” or “family-friendly” entertainment, which too often is dull, preachy, or unrealistic. (As Jim Gaffigan wrote in Dad Is Fat: “As a parent, I know ‘family-friendly’ is really just a synonym for bad.”) But over the course of the series, people negotiate complicated relationships (like a woman with her foster son and his alcoholic father) and confront ethically fraught situations (like a nurse deciding whether to stay involved in a questionable government program in which she is trying to protect a patient from harm)–and that’s what makes it interesting. And while some characters come off as one-dimensional heroes or villains in the first season, a fuller picture of their motivations is gradually revealed.

GFLTS_LargeSee what they did there?

Granite Flats isn’t perfect, of course, but I’m grateful it’s out there. It shows that “family-friendly” or “faith-based” doesn’t have to be boring, and more importantly that it doesn’t have to mean tidy black-and-white moral choices. In fact, faith cannot exist in black and white. It’s natural to crave black and white. Everything is easier that way! But it’s when we feel we are in the grey—or in the utter dark—that we have to reflect on what we know and what we feel, then act in faith. And as we experience the consequences of our choices, we continue to learn and grow.

This touches on the distinctive Mormon view that the purpose of this life is to be tested and thereby refined so we can ultimately become like God in the next life. Answers that are self-evident don’t make a very effective test—nor do they make for interesting television. In life and in TV, we require nuance and paradox to uncover and mold our best selves. That’s just the sort of idea Don Draper might say he invented to sell nylons, but it’s what I believe, and I’m glad Granite Flats is attempting to articulate it in a way that appeals to audiences.

* * *

On a not so high-minded note, here’s an assorted list of what I like and don’t like about Granite Flats. If you’re convinced to check it out, you can watch the series online. (And then let’s talk!!)

Bad:

  • Season 1: Sluggish and one-dimensional compared to Seasons 2 and 3 (but worth watching for the setup of various plot points).
  • Kids: Two of the kid characters are painful to watch. Their dialogue and storylines together are overwrought, like a garish parody of Hermione and Ron. Anytime they’re onscreen together, my husband and I are just like BARF BARF PLEASE MAKE IT STOP PLEASE INTRODUCE A STORYLINE WHERE THEY GET HIT ON THE HEADS WITH A METEOR.
  • Stiff acting and dialogue: It’s hard to tell which is the culprit. The writers are ambitious in sprinkling casual conversation with literary references; sometimes it comes out clunky. And the actors earnestly try to channel the dialects and manners of the era; again, sometimes it comes out clunky.

Good:

  • The plot!!! The tangled web of espionage and family secrets is delicious, particularly because the storyline about a secret government program called MKUltra is based on real (and troubling) events.
  • Parker Posey: She steals every scene she’s in and elevates the rest of the show. And she rocks blue eyeshadow.

parkerposey

  • Other guest stars: George Newbern (from Scandal) lends a natural ease to his scenes. And Cary Elwes and Christopher Lloyd do an excellent job of channeling the character types they’re well-known for.
  • Character development: Even the admirable characters have flaws and make mistakes, and even the unlikeable characters have understandable motivations at times.
  • Intertextuality: Each episode has a lofty-sounding title drawn from literature or scripture, and characters frequently cite Shakespeare, Whitman, and the Bible. Sometimes it’s executed gracefully, sometimes not, but either way it deepens the meaning of the story.
  • High production quality: I’m no film expert, but the set and costume design, cinematography, etc. is lovely.

Twitterature: Girl power

16 Mar

womanreadingWoman Reading, Édouard Manet, The Art Institute of Chicago

Twitterature = quick reviews of books I’m reading these days, inspired by the brilliant bibliophile blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This edition of Twitterature is overdue (and, sorry, NOT CONCISE AT ALL)–it’s a summary of books I read mostly last summer and fall that inspired my 31 Days of Girl Power series.

tannenYou Just Don’t Understand, Deborah Tannen (4 stars)

I regret it took me so long to read this book–it is a fascinating combination of linguistics, gender, and sociology. Tannen’s thesis is that male-female communication so often perplexes and challenges us because we are, without realizing it, speaking different dialects. Girls and boys are socialized differently–girls are encouraged to be cooperative and boys to be competitive–which leads to different conversation styles. Not only that, the purpose and goals of conversation are viewed differently: for men, conversation is a way to negotiate power and status; for women, conversation is a way to negotiate closeness, confirmation, support, and consensus. Tannen deconstructs these differences and gives illuminating examples from real life, research, and literature. While she makes it clear that the communication clashes tend to harm women more than men, she impressively maintains that each gender’s typical conversation style is equally valid–but we have much work to do in understanding the other style. (My only quibble is that Tannen’s analysis was sometimes lost in the sea of examples, and a short summary accompanying each chapter would have been helpful.)

halftheskyHalf the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (5 stars)

This is another book I postponed reading for years. Frankly, I thought it would be too depressing. But once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Yes, it details the harrowing experiences of women and girls around the world who suffer from violence, neglect, and oppression. It’s hard to confront that reality, particularly in contrast to my own comfort and freedoms. But the stories of survivors are infused with hope and resilience, and the authors offer pragmatic suggestions for making a difference in the lives of these women. It was painful and visceral to see so vividly that injustice toward females runs wide and deep, even in this supposedly enlightened age. Still, that knowledge drives me to seek ways to get involved in the fight against injustice.

malalabookI Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai (4 stars)

I’ve discussed previously why I’m a fan of Malala. Her autobiography offers details about her infamous experience of surviving being shot by the Taliban, but even mundane aspects of her life demonstrate her courage and conviction. What also shines through is the heroism of her father, who always encouraged Malala to learn and to stand for education. I also appreciated the explanations of the region’s geography and history and a new-to-me perspective on the war in the Middle East. As a teenager when 9/11 happened, I clearly remember the picture painted by politicians, of a people who rose from desert caves and attacked us simply because they hate our freedom. It was easy to project that image onto the entire region. But of course, it’s more complex than all that.

dewWomen and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew (3 stars)

I came into this book with high expectations, hoping it would neatly answer all my questions about, well, women and the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So perhaps it was no surprise that I was disappointed. First, those are high expectations for any book. Second, though I continue to admire Sheri Dew’s writing and gospel thinking, the approach in this book simply didn’t work for me. Throughout the book, she mentions that she is not concerned about this or that gender-related Mormon doctrine or practice because of her own testimony–which isn’t very helpful to readers like me who picked up the book because they do have concerns they’re struggling with.

Furthermore, some of the arguments seem contradictory. For example, she mentions that LDS women in the early days of the Church were more empowered than other women because 19th-century “society at large was still highly patriarchal and, as such, strictly limiting of women’s rights.” Then she mentions the idea that the LDS Church has a “hierarchical structure” where “men make the rules and they enforce the rules.” But rather than refuting the idea, her examples only address how nicely men make and enforce the rules. Which, in my experience, is generally true. But benevolent patriarchy is still patriarchy, which Dew herself defined as inherently limiting to women. It’s something I’m still trying to make sense of.

All that said, I still found the book to be full of insights on womanhood, motherhood, prayer, and humility–and most importantly that “the doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation.” It helped me realize I can’t rely on one book; I need to find my own answers through study and prayer.

mcbaineWomen at Church, Neylan McBaine (5 stars)

I was the opposite of disappointed by Women at Church. Amidst the controversy about the group pushing for female priesthood ordination in the LDS Church, Neylan McBaine had commented that “ordaining women won’t end sexism.” The premise of her book is that, assuming there were no changes to priesthood doctrine or Church leadership structure, there is still “much more we can do to see, hear, and include women at church.” She suggests strategies aimed at the local level, reasoning that we won’t be ready for systemic, Church-wide change until we exercise our “spiritual imaginations” to implement smaller-scale solutions. The local-only approach isn’t foolproof, but I think the suggestions are a very good place to start, and admire McBaine’s consistently optimistic, pragmatic perspective in this book and on her blog.

She speaks both to women who are currently struggling with the place of women in the LDS Church, and to people who don’t understand that struggle. (Her own biography seems perfectly positioned for street cred on both ends of the spectrum–she grew up in NYC and is a working mom who kept her maiden name, but she’s also a lifelong Mormon living in Utah doing marketing for the LDS Church.)

More broadly, McBaine deftly navigates the myriad paradoxes a faithful person confronts: “How do we reconcile the eternal search for knowledge with the sincere claim that we ‘know’ the Church is true? … How do we honor the prophets, writers, and editors of our scriptures while holding at the same time a concern that half of their populations are silent? How do we reconcile millennia of male-centric priesthood while also having faith in our doctrine of eternal gender equality and Restoration-born improvements for women? … How we do this, how we wrestle with this tension, is a true test of our spiritual maturity.” Fittingly, McBaine advises that through our wrestling, we look to the example of Jesus Christ, who was “mature, principled, and selfless” in even the most vexing circumstances.

Rather than tidily answer all my questions, Women at Church articulated my feelings more clearly and concretely than I could on my own, and helped me progress in my seeking. I am in awe of and grateful for Neylan McBaine’s careful thinking and writing.

talmageJesus the Christ, James E. Talmage (5 stars)

Reading Jesus the Christ was a truly enriching experience. It covers what we understand of Christ’s life and mission, from before we came to Earth, to His mortal life, to the prophecies of His return. Though I have learned about Jesus Christ since I was very young, this book gave a new level of cohesion to His story and helped me better understand and appreciate His love for us all.

Favorite quote: “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.” (A recent Church magazine article also discusses this quote.)

womenNTWalking with the Women of the New Testament, Heather Farrell (4 stars)

I know the Bible is filled with wonderful eternal truths, but I have a hard time getting through the violence, slavery, and women-are-unclean-and-property business. The real challenge is to discern which painful elements were not of God and simply due to the failings of men, and which were OK but have become obscured because we lack the historical, social, and theological context to understand their value.

In this book, Heather Farrell shares her rigorous yet accessible approach (it’s primarily exegetical) to scripture study, and the insights she has gained in her study of women in the New Testament. I learned so much from her treatment of topics like menstruation, birth, and adultery, and from her illuminating commentary on each woman’s story. Many of the women I had never noticed or given much thought to, and I found new ways to look at the well-known women like Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This book, as well as her blog, is a great starting point for improved scripture study habits and greater understanding of women in the scriptures. (This writer/editor’s nitpicky quibble: There was an awkward amount of blank space between chapters, and it could have used a slightly closer copyedit.)

pinkblueParenting Beyond Pink and Blue, Christia Spears Brown (4 stars)

This book offers a solid evidence-based approach to understanding gender differences in children. (It was a great complement to reading about adult gender differences in Tannen’s book.) The book is dense with research and analysis, yet thankfully avoids opaque academic writing and instead opts for straightforward prose and clearly organized points. Plus, the author tells her own stories from the front lines of parenting as well as research to make sense of the concepts presented. Though I agree with many of the author’s conclusions, I liked that the book was focused on research, so I could assess the evidence and draw my own conclusions.

Favorite quote: “The process of paying less attention to gender and more to the individual child begins by noticing how little gender really predicts our own children’s skills and abilities. Because we tend to exaggerate the differences between groups but overlook the differences within them, we rely on stereotypes without intending to. The goal, then, is to start paying more attention to each individual child.”

girlschoosegodGirls Who Choose God, McArthur Krishna, Bethany Brady Spalding, and Kathleen Peterson (5 stars)

This is a lovely new children’s book about women and girls from the Bible, with a focus on courageous choices they made. The book highlights well-known ladies like Eve, Mary, and Esther, and lesser-knowns like Zelophehad’s daughters. The storytelling is inspiring but not preachy, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

backlashBacklash, Susan Falaudi (want-to-read list)

OK, so technically I haven’t read this yet. But I’ve read a handful of articles about it, if that counts for something. Matter magazine did a series of interviews with people about each chapter and how the book, which was written in 1991, relates to today. Falaudi argues that the 1980s saw an anti-feminist backlash, led by the mainstream media, basically telling women that they were only unhappy because they were too darn liberated, and the cure to their alleged unhappiness was to return to their traditional status/roles. It was, Falaudi wrote, an “attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won victories that the feminist movement did manage to win for women.” When I actually get around to reading this book, there will definitely be a full post about it.

Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.

Twitterature: Faith, race, and dump trucks

15 Dec

Twitterature = a compilation of short(ish) reviews of books I’m reading these days, inspired by the brilliant bibliophile blog Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Let me show you how dedicated I was to getting this blog post together: We just moved yesterday, and I carefully labeled a box so I knew where my latest books were:

recentbooksThen again, I’m an overly specific box-labeler anyway. I’ve learned from sad experience what a pain it is to open up a dozen boxes just to find one thing–it’s much easier to label beforehand!

Now, back to the books. (Book title links are Amazon affiliate links.)

FINISHED:

weepsThe God Who Weeps, Terryl and Fiona Givens (5 stars)

The subtitle is “How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life,” but it is so much more than that. The authors examine what centuries of thinkers–theologists of both Christianity and other faiths, scientists, philosophers, poets–have pondered, reasoned, imagined, and believed about the purpose and meaning of life. It was refreshing and faith-restoring to see my own faith deconstructed and then built back up from scratch. I appreciate and admire the authors’ approach in drawing from such diverse sources, in valuing reason as well as faith, and in weaving it all together in a poetic style that mirrors the inspired works they quote. And their thesis that God is powerful yet vulnerable–it is a game-changer. Aside from the Book of Mormon (obviously), this is the book I would recommend to anyone interested in learning about Mormon beliefs, or anyone intrigued by the idea of a personal yet powerful God. #gamechanging #faith #requiredmormonreading

doubtThe Crucible of Doubt, Terryl and Fiona Givens (5 stars)

For me, this book and the Givenses’ previous book (above) were incredibly helpful reads at a time when I had questions about my own faith. We tend to have a language of certitude in the LDS Church–we hear people say “I know the Church is true” and think that if we don’t know, we’re failing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle, recently spoke about believing and knowing, and the Givenses offer a more in-depth view of how we can productively approach doubt. #faith #requiredmormonreading

My favorite quote from The God Who Weeps, which also applies to The Crucible of Doubt:

“Whatever sense we make of this world, whatever value we place upon our lives and relationships, whatever meaning we ultimately give to our joys and agonies, must necessarily be a gesture of faith. Whether we consider the whole a product of impersonal cosmic forces, a malevolent deity, or a benevolent god, depends not on the evidence, but on what we choose, deliberately and consciously, to conclude from that evidence” (p. 3).

nienieHeaven is Here, Stephanie Nielson (3 stars)

Stephanie Nielson’s blog was popular from the early days of mommy blogging, and Nielson made headlines after surviving a plane crash with her husband that left severe burns on much of her body. I’ve only checked out a handful of her blog posts–when it comes to Mormon mommy blogs, I tend to prefer the satirical kind. I admire her resilience in overcoming significant physical and emotional challenges and was fascinated by the details of her difficult recovery. There were some details that rubbed me the wrong way, like the fact that she nonchalantly bought a ($400 to $700) Vitamix blender as a gift even though she had noted her family would be living off money donated by caring friends and strangers (and turns out, most of their hospital bills were covered by insurance or forgiven). Still, her memoir is an absorbing and inspiring read. #memoir #mommyblogger #survivalstory

KID LIT:

dumptrucksDump Trucks, by Charles Lennie (5 stars, even after the millionth time)

Lars is really into trucks these days. The library just got this new “construction machines” series, including books about cranes, excavators, concrete mixers, loaders, and bulldozers. We’ve been reading Dump Trucks, Cranes, and Concrete Mixers on repeat.  #dumptruckoverload #kidlit

hughesPoetry for Young People: Langston Hughes (5 stars)

You all know why race is in the news. Lars, not yet two, is too young to have meaningful conversations about race (or why he shouldn’t throw his dinner on the floor…). But I’m a believer in the power of literature, and I think exposing him to diverse books is a great start. Even though this isn’t a board book, I have been pleasantly surprised that Lars loves it. Maybe it’s the illustrations? Or he is magically enthralled by the lyrical lilt of Langston Hughes? Who knows. There are so many beautiful selections, and it’s haunting how many are still relevant decades after being written. Favorites: “I, Too,” “Note on Commercial Theatre,” and “Harlem.” #kidlit #poetry #weneeddiversebooks #larsloveslangston

afroamPoetry for Young People: African American Poetry (5 stars)

Another great library find. Lars isn’t as enamored with it as he is with Langston Hughes, but I like it. This and the Langston Hughes book are part of the Poetry for Young People series. I’ve been interested in poetry lately thanks to my friend Allison, who wrote a poem a day last month (read them all!), and I appreciate that this series offers brief notes for each poem, providing historical and literary context, and even definitions for less-common words. They’re perfect for people young and old who are new to poetry or to a particular poet. #kidlit #poetry #weneeddiversebooks

IN PROGRESS:

rightmindThe Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt

This has been on my to-read list forever. Reading the Givenses’ thoughtful analysis of faith motivated me to look this up again. I’m not far in, but so far so good. #psychology #religion #politics #audiobook

 

yesplsYes Please, Amy Poehler

I say “yes please” to this book and to Amy Poehler because she is awesome. If you shudder at swearing (Mom), there is some of that. But just like Amy and her many alter egos, the book is delightful. This is what got me through a week of packing the house! Definitely get the audiobook (narrated by her and other guest stars). #humor #audiobook

What are you reading these days?

When you get what you pray for

21 Nov

Ten days ago I posted this:

fbstatusThe idea of our toddler sleeping until the late hour of 7 in the morning was indeed laughable. I chuckled mid-prayer.

It was not unlike Sarah, who “laughed within herself” at the idea of giving birth in old age–she was all, yeah sure, like that’s gonna happen.

Then the thing she thought was a joke became reality. She was gently reminded, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?”

Of course I thought it would be nice if Lars slept a little later so I could sleep or–gasp–shower. But his average wake-up time of 6 (it’s 5 on the most punishing days, 6:30 on the most luxurious days), and asking for more seemed downright esurient.

So maybe God, along with me, laughed at Dave’s boldness. Maybe He wanted to reward Dave for dreaming big, or to humble me for lacking faith.

Whatever the divine thought process, this is what happened: Almost every day in the past week and a half, that baby has indeed slept in until 7. Once, even 7 freaking 30. And today he magically slept in ’till 10 (I checked a couple times to make sure he was still breathing), though that was because he came down with something from a kid at the park who was literally coughing in his face.

The thing I thought was a joke became reality.

I had sent many pleas heavenward in the first year of Lars’ life. Please help me know how to get him to stop crying. Please help me get through the next ten minutes of painful breastfeeding. Please, please, please, let him sleep.

In some moments prayers seemed to be answered, others not. But as far as I understand the whole faith thing, sometimes God answers your prayers the way you want, and sometimes He doesn’t, and the trick is to keep believing in His love and His plan whatever and whenever answers come.

These days, I am grateful that answer comes in the form of a 7 a.m. wake-up call with my sweet boy.

LDS Women’s Meeting highlights + Pinterest motivational quotes

29 Sep

This weekend was the Women’s Meeting of the twice-yearly general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (if you’re not familiar, best description ever = TED talks with a twist). As with every session of conference, I learned a lot, felt the spirit, and was reminded deeply of God’s love for me and for all His children–those in the room watching the broadcast with me, and those across the globe.

I wanted to highlight some of my favorite parts–and I’m jumping on the chalkboard-and-cute-font bandwagon to make some of my own Pinterest memes (see below)!

The opening prayer from Dorah Mkhabela, a member of the Young Women General Board from South Africa. Aside from the increasing visibility and voice of diversity in the Church, I LOVED that this sister said in her prayer “Please bless our general women leaders.” We often pray, and rightfully so, for our prophet and apostles to be blessed and sustained in their work, but of course our women leaders need our prayers as well.

Dorah Mkhabela of the Young Women General Board.{Dorah Mkhabela of the Young Women General Board. Image via LDS.org.}

The choir. As the camera panned over the faces of the girls and women comprising the choir, I was struck by how beautiful it is that we are all different. I especially enjoyed the one woman in a bright tangerine shirt amidst the sea of pinks and purples. I would love to know how they describe the dress codes for these choirs. Like, “Remember, ladies, warm-hued jewel tones only! But nothing too yellow!” Be your own kind of beautiful, Lone Tangerine Shirt Lady. #youdoyou

When someone in the choir clearly missed the shirt color memo...you immediately think of this MormonAd.The Korean children’s choir. Almost too adorable to bear. Seriously, watch it now. (I had trouble loading the page, so you could also watch it here starting at 9:09.)

koreanchoir1{The little girls holding hands are killing me.}

The video about the temple: The story of the woman’s six children dying in the earthquake had everyone teary, but there were plenty other examples of wonderful women that make me want to be better.

President Jean A. Stevens: “Our differences cannot separate us, above all we are His [God’s].” “I saw them as God would: individually.” Go to the temple. Do family history work. Every minor change matters to the Lord.

President Neill F. Marriott: Love her sweet Southern accent and her FLOTILLA OF CHILDREN. “The blessings of the temple circling the earth.” “Each of you is valuable and essential in Heavenly Father’s plan.” “We need more distinctive and influential voices of women.” (YES!) “Sometimes I feel like a dim lightbulb.” (HA!) “We must continue in God.” “Every temple lessens the power of Satan on earth”–we can do the same as individuals living patterns of righteousness. Memorize “The Living Christ.” Push back the darkness, give voice to the truth that we know, and help and influence others.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Amazing women shaped his life. You are a child of God. Walk the path of discipleship. It can be hard, but “I think God knows something we don’t.” Don’t make people you serve feel like a checkmark on your to-do list. A powerful metaphor: God doesn’t keep blessings locked up in a cloud in heaven and unlocks them only when we obey; blessings are constantly coming down like a rain shower. “It is our fear, doubt, and sin, that like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us. His commandments are the loving instructions and divine help for us to close the umbrella so we can receive the shower of heavenly blessings.” I also appreciated that he mentioned that we are “daughters of heavenly parents”–I would love to learn more about the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. And he also acknowledged that the Women’s Meeting is the opening of general conference, rather than a separate event, which is apparently a first, so that’s cool.

And now, for something completely different: As always, President Uchtdorf offered moving and memorable words of wisdom. Each of the apostles of the Church has his own style, but President Uchtdorf has always been able to understand and connect with the women of the Church well. (My family also thinks he’s a doppelganger for my dad, so that helps.) Even if you’re not Mormon, you’ve probably seen a number of quotes from him show up on Pinterest, complete with whimsical script lettering and a chevron or floral background. So when he said this, I knew I had to find a way to illustrate and share it:

“We need to accept that the commandments of God aren’t just a long list of good ideas. They aren’t lifehacks from an internet blog or motivational quotes from a Pinterest board. They are divine counsel based on eternal truths given to bring peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.”

Here’s what I came up with–here’s to you, President Uchtdorf:

“We need to accept that the commandments of God aren’t just a long list of good ideas. They aren’t lifehacks from an internet blog or motivational quotes from a Pinterest board. They are divine counsel based on eternal truths given to bring peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.” ~Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Oct. 2014 #WomensMeeting #ldsconf | Spifftacular

“We need to accept that the commandments of God aren’t just a long list of good ideas. They aren’t lifehacks from an internet blog or motivational quotes from a Pinterest board. They are divine counsel based on eternal truths given to bring peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.” ~Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Oct. 2014 #WomensMeeting #ldsconf | Spifftacular

“We need to accept that the commandments of God aren’t just a long list of good ideas. They aren’t lifehacks from an internet blog or motivational quotes from a Pinterest board. They are divine counsel based on eternal truths given to bring peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.” ~Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Oct. 2014 #WomensMeeting #ldsconf | Spifftacular

Did you watch the Women’s Meeting? What were your favorite parts?

 

 

#ShareGoodness (and cheesy puns)

25 Aug

“Follow the prophet!” It’s a chorus you’ll often hear sung by kids in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now, several senior Church leaders–Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and Elder M. Russell Ballard–are officially on Twitter. Folks, it’s never been easier to follow the prophets! (HAHAHAHA!)

Yes, I’m sure I am the first person to come up with that clever line. I’m sorry for putting you through that. (If you appreciated it, skip down to Very Important Note #2 at the end.)

I did make this graphic myself. For the record, the proper prophetic Twitter handle is @MonsonThomasS.

I did make this graphic myself. For the record, the proper prophetic Twitter handle is @MonsonThomasS.

This Sunday Dave and I were assigned to give talks at church, and my assigned topic was “uplifting thoughts and speech.”

Earlier this week I saw a lot of people tweeting about Elder David A. Bednar’s talk “To Sweep the Earth as with a Flood” at BYU’s Education Week. It turned out to be the perfect resource for my talk, and I wanted to share about it here. I hope whether you’re Mormon or not you’ll find it interesting and helpful.

The title is drawn from Moses 7:62, where God says that in the last days, “righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood.” The tool that Elder Bednar recommended for causing this flood of truth is social media. He invited us all to use social media to share simple messages of goodness and truth. Or, in hashtag form: #ShareGoodness.

The Church has created a #ShareGoodness website with some great resources related to Elder Bednar’s talk, and it has a few questions to get you thinking about what you could post:

What simple truths are you grateful for?

What happy moments did you have during a hard day?

What did someone do for you today?

Elder Bednar also offered several guidelines for sharing goodness on social media:

1. Be authentic and consistent

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate. We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

This should make things easier for us. We’re supposed to share the gospel in natural and not forced ways. So we don’t need to start writing Facebook statuses that sound like a general authority, we just need to say things in our own way that have meaning to us that are uplifting. That’s what will resonate with our friends anyway.

2. Edify and uplift

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle. … Share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others.”

Genuine love is essential. For example, I’ve had several experiences where a friend was struggling, and I shared a link to a Mormon general conference talk that related to their experience. Though we have different beliefs, they were able to find something useful from the talk, they appreciated that I thought of them, and we were able to learn from each other and become closer friends.

3. Respect the rights of others

“We and our messages should respect the property of other people and organizations. This simply means that you should not create your own content using someone else’s art, name, photos, music, video, or other content without permission.” (The LDS Media Library is a great starting place for uplifting, shareable content.)

Also, make sure others understand that you are expressing your personal thoughts and feelings, not speaking on behalf of the Church.

4. Be wise and vigilant

Wise words for any social media user: “Remember that the Internet never forgets. Anything you communicate through a social media channel indeed will live forever—even if the app or program may promise otherwise. Only say it or post it if you want the entire world to have access to your message or picture for all time.”

“… We should not allow even good applications of social media to overrule the better and best uses of our time, energy, and resources. … As Elder M. Russell Ballard recently taught, digital technologies should be our servants and not our masters.”

The final challenge from Elder Bednar was this: “Beginning at this place on this day, I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth—messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy—and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.”

I highly recommend checking out Elder Bednar’s talk. This blog post is my attempt to #ShareGoodness. How will you #ShareGoodness?

VERY IMPORTANT NOTES

1. Acceleration of technology. Elder Bednar discussed the amazing acceleration of technology–and highlighted several ways these advancements were foreseen by past prophets. I’ve been interested in this acceleration ever since my communications classes at BYU. For example, this graph shows how “innovations introduces more recently are being adopted more quickly.” And there are some fascinating (though largely over-my-head) theories and ideas out there, such as Moore’s Law, the work of Ray Kurzweil (as in his TED talk or this essay), and this examination of acceleration. It’s even more fascinating that this technological acceleration is happening in parallel with a spiritual acceleration, or what Mormon Church leaders have described as the hastening of the work of salvation–namely, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, strengthening members of the church, and doing family history and temple work.

2. Of selfies and general authorities. As I mentioned in my talk at church today, it was quite amusing to hear matter-of-fact Elder Bednar use the word tweet. I also loved in the last general conference hearing President Uchtdorf say selfie. So if in the next conference we can just get President Packer to say hashtag, that would be awesome. At this point in my talk, yes, I totally attempted an impression of President Packer’s gravelly voice.

Dave and I had so much fun researching tech terms that have been used by general authorities that we made a quick video compilation of soundbites including the above-mentioned tweet and selfie, along with President Monson saying blogging and Elder Perry saying the Internet. Alas, I can’t post it without permission from the Church’s Intellectual Property Office–if I get the green light, I promise I will post it, because it is awesome.

I find the way our (older) leaders use these tech terms endearing and amusing. But lest anyone think all this somehow means that general authorities of the Church are out of touch, I affirm that the contrary is true. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland testified:

Not often but over the years some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don’t know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times.

As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world, and it shines from these proceedings.

Iraq: The context is that we are human

13 Aug

A caution: Unlike most things on this blog, this post deals with some distressing subjects and descriptions. I do not mean to offend or sensationalize. If anything, the worst thing I could do is be trite. I want to share my thoughts and raw feelings and invite you to share yours.sinjar

{A woman on Mount Sinjar in 2008. Photo via Bob Coleman/Flickr}

A foreign policy wonk, a war-games analyst, a global-change crusader: these things I am not. I am a homebody at heart. Most of my days are absorbed with my baby and any reading and writing I can squeeze in. I try to maintain at least a minimal awareness of our great big world, but I feel intimidated and overwhelmed trying to keep up with the constant, complex current of uprisings, strikes, disasters, and plights throughout the world.

But no longer are my eyes glazing over as I skim through names of cities I will never be able to pronounce or pinpoint on a map (let alone visit). No longer am I reassuring myself that I shouldn’t bother trying to better understand the situation in such-and-such-place because I’m not familiar enough with its history and culture and it’s just too hard to understand the context.

Now, I have realized the context I should have been starting with all along: I am human and they are human.

Desperate fellow humans

The humans, and the humanness, of one particular story in the news has haunted me. It is the parched mouths of the thousands of refugees on Mount Sinjar in Iraq that morphed what otherwise would have been text on a page about a faraway tragedy–insurmountably foreign in both geography and personal experience–into a story, a reality, that has gripped my heart and dominated my thoughts and prayers.

After fleeing with little but the clothes on their backs from ISIS’s campaign of extermination against religious minorities, thousands of refugees (mostly Yazidis, a religious minority group) are still stranded on the barren Mount Sinjar in the heat of summer. Iraqi, American, and British forces have airdropped supplies and flown out a small number of people, but those who remain are desperate and dying (or dead).

[Update 8/29/14: Although many people have fled or been lifted from the mountain, many are reported to remain.]

The line that most haunted me was from this detailed New York Times report, “For Refugees on Mountain, ‘No Water, Nothing'”:

“… parents were spitting into their children’s mouths to try to get them some liquid …”

And the other day I heard a story on NPR that mentioned a mother and her two-month-old baby who managed to get off the mountain; the mother’s milk ran dry, but she had found a mountain goat and suckled her baby on that. And there was also this report of parents tossing their children onto the helicopters bringing supplies. They would do anything to give them a chance to survive.

I sorrow for each of these desperate fellow humans–parents, children, friends, people with their own hopes and dreams just like you or me–and stand in awe of those that somehow press on.

Haunted by humans

I am in awe of those, now and throughout history, who cling to their humanity in the face of inhumanity.

I struggle with the very idea of inhumanity–because we use the term to describe solely things that humans do. It’s an act of wishful thinking: We cannot wish away these inhuman things from happening, so we tell ourselves that those who do them are separate, that they are not us. But we do have those people in our world, and innocent people do suffer.

Typically I find refuge in my faith when I struggle with sweeping questions like good vs. evil (and I do plan to do a post someday soon about why bad things happen to good people and other such quandaries). But lately literature has been my go-to source of comfort and coping, so I’ll touch on that. As John Green noted in The Fault in Our Stars:

“… the very idea that made-up stories can matter … is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.”

Two novels I’ve read recently grasp at the horrors of genocide, deprivation, and cruelty–all parallels for what’s transpiring right now.

Several characters in Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society highlight humans’ resilience. A man describes his experience in a Nazi concentration camp:

“That’s what I told myself—Well, you’re still alive. I think all of us said the same each morning when we woke up—Well, I’m still alive. But the truth is, we weren’t. What we were—it wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t alive either. I was a living soul only a few minutes a day, when I was in my bunk. Those times, I tried to think of something happy, something I’d liked—but not something I loved, for that made it worse. Just a small thing, like a school picnic or bicycling downhill—that’s all I could stand.”

Another concentration camp survivor notes:

“Elizabeth was my friend, and in that place friendship was all that aided one to remain human.”

In Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, the narrator, Death, muses:

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race–that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

Death also reveals:

“I am haunted by humans.”

Like Death, I marvel that our species encompasses both humanity and so-called inhumanity.

An Iraqi legislator invoked humanity in her appeal to the Iraqi parliament for help. CNN reported that Vian Dakhil, who is a member of the Yazidi minority group, proclaimed:

“Mr. Speaker, We are being slaughtered, we are being exterminated. … In the name of humanity, save us! Save us!”

Taking action

An early report in Slate noted:

“It may seem cynical to point this out, but a specific imminent massacre is more likely to spur international action than ongoing violence, no matter how devastating. Contrast the international community’s response to prevent Muammar Qaddafi’s planned assault in Benghazi in 2011 with the slow-moving reaction to the continuing nightmare in Syria.”

It is only natural that we would take urgent action to respond to an urgent threat. Still, I am ashamed that it took something so extreme as an “imminent massacre” to awaken me to my mutual humanness with those under threat, and my obligation toward them. I told as much to my husband, and he reminded me that regardless of what I have or haven’t done or felt in the past, what matters is my impulse to do good now.

Of course, that’s the tricky part. How to translate these raw emotions into tangible action, with so many borders between me and you and these fellow humans? A friend shared this article with some ideas, which I’ll paraphrase and elaborate on.

1. Get informed. You can’t take any meaningful action without knowledge.

2. Pray and fast (if that’s your thing). Praying for someone or something isn’t a free pass to take no further action, but it is a worthy action. As the LDS Bible Dictionary says, “Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”

3. Donate. You might consider donating to a charity operating in Iraq, such as Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Action Against HungerChristian Aid’s Iraq Crisis Appeal, or  Iraq Refugee Crisis on GoFundMe. If you have any other recommendations, please comment.

4. Contact your representatives. Perhaps you want to tweet President Obama and let him know you support the humanitarian airdrops. Perhaps you want to write your representative to let him or her know that you think the U.S. should offer more support to the Kurds (as explained in this article). Perhaps you think the government shouldn’t be involved at all. Whatever your view, share it with the people whose job it is to represent you.

5. Send a thank-you to a military servicemember. It’s already emotionally fraught to follow this harrowing story, so I can only imagine what it’s like to watch it evolve knowing that you or your loved one could be called to action (yet again). Regardless of our views on conflicts past and present, our fellow humans who sacrifice and serve in the military merit our gratitude. (Here’s a list of ways to say thanks.)

6. Share. Pretty sure we all understand how social media works, right?

7. Stay informed. This will be the challenge for me, to remain committed to seeking the human context of even the most difficult stories. Since I have limited time and emotional energy, I will likely focus on simply reading the World pages of the New York Times more consistently. We all need to find our own balance.

The ideal I strive for is to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” and “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). That ideal is taught by Jesus Christ, but is common across religions: it is human.

Do you have suggestions for how to help? How do you make sense of the dizzying mess of things happening around the world? How do you find human connections across borders and make them meaningful?

Further reading, and a note about journalism

Follow reporter Jonathan Rugman’s Twitter feed for pictures and videos of the continuing situation.

The New York Times has (of course) provided thorough reporting that is still accessible for just-entering-the-story readers. I particularly found its collection of maps and graphics and this article about recent regional politics helpful. I also learned from the CNN article mentioned above, this New Yorker essay about one refugee’s story, and this Slate article about why the U.S. is intervening.

One more line that stuck out to me in the stories I read:

“All of the aircraft returned safely.”

It was in this New York Times article, following a description of the first airstrikes against ISIS near Mount Sinjar. I presume the authors chose to call attention to the safety of the aircraft to abate the fears of Americans wary of yet another conflict in Iraq. In the chaos of war, it is a relief to see the good news that is so often the exception. Although reporting should never be sugarcoated, it is refreshing to hear about bad things that could have but didn’t happen. That is truly a gift.

Five Minute Friday: Fill

8 Aug

This post is inspired by Five Minute Friday: Blogger Kate Motaung provides a one-word prompt, and you’re supposed to write for five minutes flat. No extreme editing. No overthinking. Then, you read and encourage other FMF participants. It’s pretty great!

GO.

Rocks in a jar: it’s an object lesson I remember from many a family home evening and Sunday School lesson. The first time, you try and put in the little pebbles, then put in the larger rocks. You find the larger rocks won’t all fit. So then you take them out, start again. You put in the large rocks first, then fill in the remaining space with the little pebbles. What a miracle! It fits!

rocks{Image via Julia Webb/Flickr}

I’ve been occupied lately with worrying about whether I am filling my time well. The Internet is a consistent culprit; I know that’s a pebble and could do less of. I try to at least read my scriptures before I browse blogs and Facebook.

STOP.

The after five*:

… I figure the scriptures are a worthy big rock to start with, considering Christ is the rock upon which we should build our foundation. And He is the One who promised that those who hunger will be filled. What motivates me is a great one-liner I remember from general conference awhile back: “Let us be as quick to kneel as we are to text.” (Also, guilt. Guilt is a good motivator. I feel so lame when naptime is over if I’ve read five blog posts but no scriptures yet.)

Another big rock I want to work on in filling my day is serving others. I am such a hermit sometimes, it’s hard to stumble upon opportunities to serve, so I want to figure out something I can do from home. I also want to work on filling my day with work–in particular, I really need to be better about cleaning. I’m a little too laidback about housecleaning, so I tried to step it up and tonight I spent two hours scrubbing toilets and floors and sinks. I daresay it was fulfilling.

In other fill-related maters, I wonder what else I might do to fill my day with Little L. Most days we just hang out at home, with his playtime a loop of the same activities: playing with Tupperware, balls, and Legos; eating; making silly faces and tickling; and following me around while I ready food or do stuff around the house. No clever, Pinterest-worthy, ultra-developmental-enhancing activities there. Then again, at this age his attention span is too short and his coordination is just not quite developed enough to manage many of the ideas I’ve seen. Crayons still go straight to the mouth. So for now, I’ll be content with how we’re filling our days together. (I also read a post on this ridiculously hilarious blog recently that made me feel a lot better about this.) And I really do feel lucky that I get to hang out all day with such a delight of a boy.

Now I think I have filled this post with everything on my mind on the matter. (Maybe for another FMF I will fill the entire post with puns on that week’s word. I think that would be fun.)

 

*Because I can barely finish a few sentences in five minutes. I am in awe of the other FMF participants who manage to produce paragraphs of beautiful prose in that time. Perhaps one day I will evolve to that level.

Delayed gratification

21 Jul

Two years ago, my younger brother Ryan left home to live in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area to serve as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During those two years, he learned to speak Spanish. He pushed strangers’ cars through torrential rain. He knocked on doors and talked to just about everyone he met to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. He ate fish eyes, menudo, and all manner of Hispanic fare. He used Mario and Star Wars as allegories for gospel principles. He hung out at pizza parties with teenagers and played card games with seniors. He went caving with fellow missionaries and encountered a ridiculous array of critters  (think ticks, chiggers, bats, snakes, and more). He learned to love the people he served and to love the gospel of Jesus Christ. He witnessed the joy of people coming closer to Christ.

Also during those two years: my sweet baby boy–Ryan’s nephew–was born.

DSC_2306-web

When you’re a full-time missionary, contact with your family and friends back home is limited (to allow you to focus on your work as a missionary). The only times you can call your family are on Christmas and Mother’s Day, and usually you can only email once a week. So when Little Lars was born, Ryan just got a smattering of emailed pictures and four Skype meetings.

Then on Friday, this happened:

DSC_7852DSC_7922DSC_7916DSC_7932DSC_7972DSC_7969DSC_8033{Photography by Janelle Edwards}

Two years was worth the wait.

A mission is an excellent exercise in delayed gratification. For the parents: You try your best to teach your child to be caring and responsible, and when they finally go out into the great, big world on a mission, you see them gradually grow to be that person. For the missionary: You set aside your family and life, and as you forget yourself and go to work, you begin to see a change in yourself and in the lives of those you serve.

Although a mission doesn’t work out for everyone (and that’s OK), the inspiring coming-of-age stereotype of a Mormon mission has held true for my brother, and I have loved seeing how he has changed (while still being himself, of course). I am so proud of his hard work and faith and love for God and for others. And I’m grateful for his example to his nephew Little Lars.