Scripture of the Month

For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

~2 Nephi 4:15

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Preach by the Spirit
I'm a writer, editor, and linguist. The words I choose and how I organize them are very important to me. That is why I prefer expressing myself through writing over any other method.

I also enjoy public speaking because sharing my insights is exciting. I prepare my speeches, talks, and lessons in advance so I know exactly what I'm going to say. Church talks I always write out word for word to ensure I don't forget anything and so it's coherent and cohesive. As a teen, I would practice my talks until I practically had them memorized.

Due to the increased focus on making the Sabbath a delight and sacrament meeting more spiritually fulfilling, our branch president told us he wanted us to have only an outline for our talks and to lean on the Spirit for guidance. Only once have I ever used just an outline. It was September 2006 in my college ward for a talk about how to prepare for general conference, a topic easy to expound with just notes.

Two weeks ago I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting the following Sunday (last week). I decided to try the new preparation style since the topic was simple. I read the talk several times and highlighted on my tablet the portions I wanted to read. I inserted short notes and a couple extra quotes. It didn't take me long to finish. I felt like I wasn't as prepared as normal.

I decided to fast that Sunday to be closer to the Spirit, especially since I also had to teach Sharing Time and my son's Primary class. I asked my husband for a blessing the night before as well. Once at church, I was very nervous and emotional.

I started with the disclaimer that I hadn't written out my talk, so I would probably fumble over my words. I did a little in the beginning. After that, it went very well. I never cry during talks and only rarely during testimonies, but I got very emotional this time during certain parts. I shared more personal experiences and applications than I normally do. The branch seemed to be more engaged as well, probably because I didn't sound as intellectual as usual. My approach was more relatable and inviting. I received many compliments afterward, more than I ever have in this branch.

I can't say I received any promptings while I was at the podium, and I do think you can be inspired while you write a talk. Still, it was a very unique and uplifting experience. I think I'm going to do all my talks like this from now on and save the intellectual essays for this blog.

Sharing Time: How do you like to prepare and give talks? Is there one that ended up being a meaningful experience for you?

Title from D&C 50:17-22

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Understanding Your Endowment" Book Review

As the time approached for me to enter the temple before I got married, I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect and I don't like feeling clueless. I had read The Holy Temple by President Boyd K. Packer the year before, but didn't find it particularly helpful.

I took a temple prep class while engaged and learned some of the covenants I would make. I knew some other things from what people had said here and there under various circumstances. The night before my endowment, my mom showed me her ceremonial clothing so I would know what each piece was. I didn't even know they existed. (The Church has since made the clothing public, as shown in this official video.)

Despite all this and being raised in an active, gospel-study-focused family, my first time going through the temple was somewhat strange. It did not feel wrong, but it did feel unusual at times. Besides baptisms, the activities in the temple are only done there, so there is no way to prepare for them in advance. However, there are ways to prepare so that the temple ceremonies don't feel surprising, odd, or unappealing. Cory B. Jensen's book, Understanding Your Endowment, achieves that goal perfectly.

Some of you may worry that such a book might be inappropriate or breaking covenants, but Brother Jensen shows it is possible to thoroughly examine all aspects of covenants and ordinances in an enlightening way without disclosing confidential information. As he noted in the book, President Ezra Taft Benson expressed
Because of its sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the temple to our children and grandchildren. As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into. I believe a proper understanding or background will immeasurably help prepare our youth for the temple.
What the Mormons like best about their temples is the obligation of secrecy that exonerates them from ever having to speak, and hence to think, about what they have learned by the ordinances and teachings. So strict are they in observing the confidential nature of those teachings that they, for the most part, scrupulously avoid dropping so much as a hint to outsiders by putting any of them into practice.
We need to be more open and vocal about the parts of the temple we can discuss. Doing so will better prepare those who have yet to go to the temple and will help those who have gone recently to better understand what they experienced. 

This book is not just for newbies, however. Temple "veterans" also will gain a better understanding of their endowment and learn how to gain even more with every visit. Even those with vast temple experience have more to learn. Elder Boyd K. Packer revealed this in an experience he had in the Salt Lake Temple with President David O. McKay:
Not long before he died, when on infrequent occasions he would come to our meetings, he stood one day in the meeting and began to discuss the temple ceremony, the endowment. I will never forget! He stood there in that tall majesty that was typical of him. He had his big, bony hands on his chest and looked at the ceiling as he began to quote the endowment. (We were assembled there in the upper room [of the temple] and it was not inappropriate to discuss that there.) He quoted it at some great length. We were enthralled and inspired and knew we were witnessing a great moment. Then he stopped and looked again at the ceiling for a moment or two. Then he said, “I think I’m finally beginning to understand.” That was very comforting to me. After nearly sixty-four years as an Apostle, he still had things that he was learning. Then we knew we were in the presence of not only the teacher who was teaching, but of a student who was learning.
Understanding Your Endowment has reignited my fire to return to the temple and go regularly. It has made me want to delve more into the symbolism there for deeper, broader understanding and application. I'm excited to allow my temple visits to be more revelatory to me, both in general spiritual matters and in my personal journey back to Heavenly Father. I recommend all members to read this book to obtain a new perspective on the temple and the blessings it brings.

For a more standard review, visit my blog The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"The Family Is of God"

For this talk, I did not have everything written out beforehand and just used short notes, so this is not everything I shared nor exactly what I said.

Sister Carol M. Stephens, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, spoke at the General Women's Broadcast in March about the Primary song "The Family Is of God." She began, "Is anything more beautiful and profound than the simple and pure truths of the gospel taught in a Primary song?" I have a strong testimony of the Primary songs and the pure and plain gospel truths they teach.

"In the words of “The Family Is of God” . . . [w]e learn not only that the family is of God but also that we are each part of God’s family." Although Sister Stephens addresses the importance of our individual families in her talk, I found that the focus was more on how we all are a part of God's family.

"The first line of the song teaches: “Our Father has a family. It’s me! It’s you, all others too: we are His children.” . . . We each belong to and are needed in the family of God. Earthly families all look different. And while we do the best we can to create strong traditional families, membership in the family of God is not contingent upon any kind of status—marital status, parental status, financial status, social status, or even the kind of status we post on social media. We belong."

Some of us may feel inferior or alienated because our familial circumstances look different than the ideal. But we need to remember that we are a part of the most important family. We are all spiritual brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. Heavenly Father wants us all to return to Him. We often think of sealing families as a linear chain, but it's really a chain link fence, spreading outward to unite every link into one big family that will live together with God.

The next lines of the song read, “He sent each one of us to earth, through birth, to live and learn here in families. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be.”

There are three purposes to families. The first is universal regardless of culture or religion: to provide a place of love and support. Most people express gratitude and appreciation for their family members, and those who aren't close to their biological families find others to fill in the gap because they realize the importance of having that unconditional love, reliability, and care.

The second is to provide a place to teach and learn the gospel. President Henry B. Eyring said, "Heavenly Father has assigned us to a great variety of stations to strengthen and, when needed, to lead travelers to safety. Our most important and powerful assignments are in the family. They are important because the family has the opportunity at the start of a child’s life to put feet firmly on the path home. . . . The family has an advantage in the first eight years of a child’s life. In those protected years, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Satan’s use of the mists of darkness to hide the path to return home is blocked."

The third is to provide a place to practice godhood. Godhood is parenthood, so if we don't enjoy it here we won't enjoy it in the eternities. We are given families so we can learn to become the type of parent that our Heavenly Father is to us.

These purposes don't just apply to the families whom we live with, but also to our ward or branch families. Sister Stephens said,
Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”—in part through us as we follow Him.

As daughters of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we then “act according to those sympathies which God has planted” in our hearts. Our sphere of influence isn’t limited to our own family members.
I have such a strong testimony in the importance of fulfilling Primary callings to help children feel loved and welcomed at church and have a solid foundation in the gospel. When they have strong testimonies early on, they need less rescuing later and are able to do all that the Lord wants them to do. Likewise, President Eyring shared,
In those precious years the Lord helps families by calling Primary workers to help strengthen children spiritually. He also provides holders of the Aaronic Priesthood to offer the sacrament. In those sacramental prayers, the children hear the promise that they may someday receive the Holy Ghost as a guide if they are obedient to God’s commandments. As a result, they are fortified to resist temptation when it comes and then, sometime in the future, to go to the rescue of others.
Many bishops in the Church are inspired to call the strongest people in the ward to serve individual children in the Primary. They realize that if the children are strengthened with faith and testimony, they will be less likely to need rescue as teenagers. They realize that a strong spiritual foundation can make the difference for a lifetime.
We all can help. Grandmothers, grandfathers, and every member who knows a child can help. It doesn’t take a formal calling in Primary. Nor is it limited by age.
Sister Stephens shared an example of a woman who understood the importance of this work:
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Sister Yazzie of the Chinle Arizona Stake in her hogan. When she welcomed me into her home, the first thing I noticed was the variety of framed family and missionary photos on her walls and tables. So I asked, “Sister Yazzie, how many grandchildren do you have?”
Surprised by my question, she shrugged her shoulders. Confused by her response, I looked at her daughter, Sister Yellowhair, who answered, “She doesn’t know how many grandchildren she has. We don’t count. All children call her Grandmother—she is Grandmother to everyone.”

Sister Yazzie doesn’t limit her love and influence to her biological family. She understands what it means to expand her sphere of influence as she goes about doing good, blessing, nurturing, and defending the family of God. She understands that “whenever a woman strengthens the faith of a child, she contributes to the strength of a family—now and in the future.”
On the other hand, someone else in a previous general conference (I couldn't find the reference) told a story of a single woman who became bitter because she never married or had children. She did have the opportunity to influence children through teaching but let her bitterness prevent her from loving and blessing the children as she could have simply because they weren't her own. We all are responsible for every child that comes into our lives, whether they "belong" to us or not.

We also need to support the adults in our church units. This task can be hard when we can't relate to the trials that others have been through. Sister Stephens explained,
I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
So right now some of you are thinking, “Well then, Sister Stephens, you just don’t understand!” And I answer that you may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,” who experienced all and understands all.
We can invite others to come unto Christ, the One who truly understands exactly how they feel. Even if we have had the same trial as someone else, we may not have experienced the same thoughts and feelings about it because we are different people.

Sister Stephens continued, "The final line of the song returns to where it began: “This is how He shares His love, for the family is of God.” The Father’s plan for His children is a plan of love. It is a plan to unite His children—His family—with Him. Elder Russell M. Nelson taught, “Heavenly Father has but two desires for His children … : immortality and eternal life, ‘which means life with Him back home.’” Those desires can be realized only as we also share the love that Heavenly Father has for His family by reaching out and sharing His plan with others."

These words confirm that Heavenly Father wants us all to be united to Him and each other regardless of our earthly family relations.

Sister Stephens closed, "[W]e belong. We are loved. We are needed. We have a divine purpose, work, place, and role in the Church and kingdom of God and in His eternal family. [This reminded me of a line in the Primary song "Dare to Do Right" that says, "You have a work that no other can do."] Do you know deep in your heart that your Heavenly Father loves you and desires you and those you love to be with Him?"

We need to do our part to help in Heavenly Father's work to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39) by strengthening our homes and church units and by spreading the gospel so others can do the same.

Challenge: Strengthen and bless the family of God, both the one within your home and the ones without.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How Not to Teach Modesty to Young Women

photo from

I recently wrote an article entitled "Five Myths About Female Modesty" for a liberal feminist site. It addressed harmful ways we tell women why they should dress modestly. Since it was written for a broad, worldly audience, I did not explain each point from a gospel perspective. I thought this blog would be a better place to do so.

[Please remember that as much as I always try to back up my opinions with scriptural references, authoritative quotes, and other legitimate Church resources, these are still only my interpretations and should not be taken as official doctrine.]

The first point I made was that we shouldn't teach women that the purpose of dressing modestly is so men won't have inappropriate thoughts. We are only responsible for our own thoughts and actions, not other people's. We are counseled in the Book of Mormon to watch our thoughts (Mosiah 4:30) or they will condemn us (Alma 12:14).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed this in his revered talk about sex,"Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments." Although it is in relation to sexual transgression, I think the principle also applies to modesty: 
In this matter of counterfeit intimacy and deceptive gratification, I express particular caution to the men who hear this message. I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an offensive and unacceptable remedy to this problem. What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, "I will not do that thing"? No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, "He just can't help himself. His glands have complete control over his life--his mind, his will, his entire future."
To say that a young woman in such a relationship has to bear her responsibility and that of the young man's too is the most discriminatory nonsense I have ever heard. In most instances if there is sexual transgression, I lay the burden squarely on the shoulders of the young man--for our purposes probably a priesthood bearer--and that's where I believe God intended responsibility to be. In saying that I do not excuse young women who exercise no restraint and have not the character or conviction to demand intimacy only in its rightful role. I have had enough experience in Church callings to know that women as well as men can be predatory. But I refuse to buy the feigned innocence of a young man who wants to sin and call it psychology.
Indeed, most tragically, it is the young woman who is most often the victim, it is the young woman who most often suffers the greater pain, it is the young woman who most often feels used and abused and terribly unclean. And for that imposed uncleanliness a man will pay, as surely as the sun sets and rivers run to the sea.
With that said, it does not mean women are entitled to dress and act however they want to without any consequences. Of course our appearances and behaviors influence both others and ourselves, and not just sexually. For example, when I stay in my pajamas all day, I'm less likely to be productive--and so is the rest of my family.

The "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet expresses this as well: "When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act" (p. 6).

Still, we are ultimately responsible for our own choices. Potiphar's wife continually threw herself at Joseph, yet he never gave in. When she grabbed his clothes, he ran away. He did not submit to her and blame her for it (Genesis 39:712). And Jesus "suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them" (D&C 20:22).

The second point was that we shouldn't teach women to dress modestly to "leave something to the imagination" of men. This idea upholds the view that women are objects for the pleasure of men to look at, even when we are covered, and condones men imagining inappropriate things about our bodies. It focuses on the interest and desires of men instead of the interest and desires of God.

The third point was that we shouldn't promote "modest is hottest." While well intended, this saying encourages dressing modestly to gain attention and approval from others, even if it's the right kind. True to the Faith counsels us not to dress with the intent to seek approval from others (107). Being modest for that reason is very shallow. Rather, modesty is an outward expression of a personal testimony, understanding, and an inward commitment to obey the commandments of the One who created our bodies and knows them best. It is not so we can be seen as more attractive or valuable than other women. We females should be less competitive with and more supportive of one another.

The fourth point was that we shouldn't tell certain women to dress modestly because people "don't want to see that," meaning physical features that society deems undesirable or offensive. It implies that women whom society labels as sexually enticing should expose their bodies for others to enjoy, and that those who do not meet that standard should cover up to save themselves from embarrassment and others from discomfort. While our bodies are magnificent creations and it is natural and appropriate to appreciate their beauty, their purpose is not for public display and gratification. Furthermore, beauty is subjective. Telling others to cover up to hide "flaws" reinforces the media's unrealistic and narrow standards of beauty, and that leads to low self-esteem and harmful behaviors such as eating disorders.

The fifth point was that we shouldn't teach women to be modest so they won't be viewed as promiscuous. We should not judge others based on appearances but on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We should remember that those outside our religion do not hold the same standards as we do, so we shouldn't judge them according to something they don't know about or believe in. We should also remember that those within the Church, especially new converts, are at different levels of testimony and understanding.

We also need to consider the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law. Clothing is not the only avenue of modesty. It also applies to our thoughts, words, actions, and intentions. The "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet advises us all to "avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior" (p. 7, emphasis mine). True to the Faith states, "Modesty is an attitude of humility and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior" (p. 106, emphasis mine).

It is unfair to judge someone's sexual behavior based only on their appearance. Often, immodest dress is the result of media's lies and peer pressure to look sexy and define our worth according to our desirability. If we want to get to the root of the immodesty problem, we need to address those issues instead of just spouting off cliches about modesty. Beauty Redefined is an excellent resource, and although it has a non-religious focus, was founded by two LDS women. 

Again, this doesn't justify us wearing whatever and acting however we want to. The "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet states, "When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval."

Since people cannot read our minds and hearts, what we wear, say, and do reveal to them who we are. If we want others to have positive, precise images of us, then we need to represent ourselves accurately through our clothing and life choices. However, in the end, we are accountable for how we choose to perceive others and should be careful in the judgments we make.

You may be wondering, "If all these concepts are wrong, then how should we teach modesty?" Here are better ways to teach why we should dress modestly:

1. To Stop Objectification
Although men are responsible for how they think about and treat us, we can help stop the cycle of women only being viewed and valued as bodies. We discourage ourselves and others from objectifying us when we put more focus on our character and abilities and less focus on our bodies. We invite others to notice the beauty inside of us and see us as human beings whose bodies are instruments for glorifying God (1 Corinthians 6:20), not ornaments for decoration. We show God and others that we know our bodies are precious, sacred gifts to be cared for respectfully.

2. To Help Each Other
When we were baptized we covenanted to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" (Mosiah 18:8). So although modesty is not about being responsible for the thoughts of others, it is about showing courtesy and respect to each other as visual, sexual creatures. Just as it would be rude to flaunt a chocolate cake in front of a friend on a diet, it's not okay to purposefully entice someone with your body (unless it is your spouse). Of course we should look our best and our mates should be physically attracted to us, but we shouldn't encourage others to think about and desire us inappropriately. We should uplift our brothers and sisters and help them to "let virtue garnish [their] thoughts unceasingly" (D&C 121:45).

3. To Prepare for the Temple
The "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet notes, "Your dress and appearance now will help you prepare for the time when you will go to the temple to make sacred covenants with God " (p. 8). If we adhere to the standards while young (or newly baptized), it will help us stay close to the Spirit, keep us worthy to enter the temple, and make the adjustment to wearing temple garments smooth and easy.

4. To Be Moderate
The word modesty is related to the word moderate. When we find a balance in looking our best, we can both represent ourselves and the Lord appropriately and have more time and energy for more important matters, such as serving others.

5. To Be Obedient
Sometimes we don't always understand the rules God gives us. We can show our trust in His wisdom by obeying out of faith until we gain understanding. Perhaps the reason for something that seems insignificant to us--like the rule about one ear piercing for women--is simply to test our willingness to obey Him in all things. Furthermore, our bodies are gifts from God that Christ paid for, so we should treat them as He asks us to (1 Corinthians 6:1920).

The Bottom Line

Remember that teaching any commandment from a viewpoint of empowerment, self-control, and blessings is far more effective than teaching through shame, force, and negativity. It is also important to teach modesty properly to our young men. For more in-depth ideas, read my other articles on modesty. Also, check out this LDS modesty lesson created by Beauty Redefined.

Discussion: What are other helpful, positive ways to teach modesty to young women and young men?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Turn Discipline into Gospel Teaching Moments

Earlier this month, I was working in the office while the boys were playing in the bathtub. I heard suspicious activity, but unwisely decided not to check right away. When I finally went in, I saw foam and bubbles all over the boys, bathtub, and shower walls! It took me a second to realize what they had done: they used their baby body wash to make a bubble bath. Not a big deal, right? Easy clean up. But they had used the entire bottle that I had just bought! That soap ain't cheap, let me tell you. In fact, when we bought more last week, it had gone up in price, and I kicked myself for not getting it online when it was on sale. I reminded my son at the store not to use the soap for bubbles.

Tonight's setting was the same. I was in the office while the boys played innocently--or so I thought. When I went in to wash them up, lo and behold, another bubble bath. The good news is that is was nowhere near as big as the first and the soap bottle was still full.

My first instinct was to yell at them. Thankfully, I stopped myself and asked calmly instead, "What did I tell you when we bought the soap?"

"Not to make a bubble bath."

"That's right. But you didn't listen. So what do you think should happen?"


That completely caught me off guard! But it reminded me that the whole purpose of discipline is to teach, not just punish.

"And what does that mean?"

"You don't do it again."

Someone has been listening to his Primary teacher after all. Sometimes gospel teaching can feel pointless when kids are being irreverent and not paying attention. Every Sunday I ask my son what he learned that day in Primary and he rarely can tell me. But this moment showed me things do get heard and understood and we shouldn't give up on teaching no matter how fruitless it seems.

"That's right. So what are you going to do next time?"

"Take a little bit of soap and wash myself!"

Very cute. We reviewed repentance and I let him choose his punishment for disobeying. I told him we would get a bottle of bubble bath to make everyone happy. Then when he said his bedtime prayer, I had him ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. It ended up being a very valuable experience for both of us. I'm glad I didn't stick with my original urge that would have ruined the night for everyone. I hope I remember this moment next time I feel frustrated and turn it into another opportunity for gospel application instead.

Sharing Time: Share a time when you were able to use a disciplinary situation to reinforce gospel principles with your children.