Monday, June 30, 2014

Lessons learned from girl's camp

Our church girl's camp was canceled this year. We set up tents in the rain, huddled around a fire beneath a tarp, and left with four inches of snow on the ground. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to load everything up, so we had to return a couple of days later in order to clean up the fallen tents and sodden sleeping bags. I was asked to speak about it in church. This is the extended version of the talk I gave.

Surprisingly, I learned a lot from the 12 hours we spent at girl’s camp. I learned lessons on being prepared, smiling in the face of adversity, but probably the most important lesson was that of obedience.

 In D&C 130:20-21 we read:
 20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
 21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

The first lesson in obedience was before girl’s camp even began. Our ward was assigned to get eight volunteers to go up to the camp area and ready it for camp. It was my plan to go up, but then my husband had to work and my mom was out of town. My sister had her baby and I was suddenly left without a babysitter for my three children. I texted Melody to let her know I wouldn’t be going to the camp cleanup.

The next morning I woke at 6:18, 12 minutes before we were supposed to be leaving to go to clean up the camp. I was still tired and the kids were all asleep in their pajamas and hadn’t had breakfast. Besides, I had let them know I wouldn’t make it. I was off the hook. Then a voice in my head reminded me of something.

One of the challenges I face as a mother is instilling a strong work ethic in my children. We live in the suburbs. There is no need to change irrigation pipes each day. My vegetable garden has roofing material over it so the weeds are minimal and even at harvest time, rows don’t extend for seeming mile after mile. My other gardens are covered in mulch to also keep the weeds down. I have one producing fruit tree. Only one level of our house is finished and needs constant cleaning. At times I feel like all they will ever learn to do in life is pick up their bedrooms, fold laundry, play video games, watch television, and socialize with neighborhood children.

That morning, as I was lying in bed debating whether to go back to sleep or get up, drag my kids out of bed and rush them down to the church, a voice came to me and said something along the lines of, “I have given you a perfect opportunity for your children to serve and to learn the value of hard work. Are you really going to deny them that?” So I got up, got dressed, threw together some edible things and woke the children. We might have been a few minutes late, but we met up with the others and drove up to the camp site.

Once there we spent the first part of the morning removing weeds from the amphitheater. The younger children became disenchanted rather quickly, but the oldest borrowed a shovel and worked the whole time taking down thistles and clumps of grass.  When we had finally finished, we headed up to our own group’s camp site and found the others cutting up deadfall and stacking it for firewood. We helped them for awhile and then, when it seemed there was little left to be done, I packed up my kids and started the journey back home. Little did we know that we wouldn’t reap the benefits of our labors this year. But the immediate blessing given through obedience was that I had a chance to spend the morning with my children doing something productive where we worked together. And, when we stopped at IHOP for breakfast on the way home, it was nice to sit and eat together with no one rushing to get to work or school or soccer practice or a friend’s birthday party. We were filthy and could have been mistaken for transients, but it was one of those moments where for a few minutes life slowed down enough that I could just enjoy it.
            I can’t lie. When we set up all our stuff and then were told to grab only what we could carry and walk away, I was disappointed. The whole drive home I felt the loss of another of the few times in life when I am able to walk away from my other responsibilities and focus only on the  young women and my own relationship with the Lord. I look forward to the chance to get away and commune with the spirit. And in it was just gone. Equally discouraging was the fact that in a couple of days, we would have to go back to clean up the sodden mess. Other leaders had worked for months to prepare for camp, and for what? I know I’m supposed to be an example, but sometimes reality gets the better of me.
            But despite the rain and the cold, when we were asked by leaders to stay and wait it out, we did. Despite my disappointment and despite the hours of preparation, when we were instructed to walk away from it all and go home, we did. And once again, there were blessings given for obedience.
            One of the first is that two days later I traveled with others back up to camp to help clean up. My husband has recently gone back to school. He hates school. He has been working on the same associates degree since high school because he can’t bring himself to get through the course work. This year he reenrolled and was able to get caught up on his homework enough that he was available to go with us to help with the cleanup.
            That same day my son was supposed to enter a 4-H cooking demonstration contest. As I went to bed on Wednesday, I told him it probably wasn’t going to happen for him and that I was sorry, but I didn’t control the elements. Thursday morning, I woke at 5:13 and one of my first thoughts was, he likes soccer. His recipe could be relabeled as something involving soccer, like “soccer snacks”. His old soccer shirt could be folded and used as the placemat for his table setting. There is still time to make this work. So I woke him up and got him started while I gathered the items for his table setting. It came together almost miraculously and he ended up earning a high blue ribbon. We might have made others in the group late leaving by a bit. Sorry.
            A third blessing through obedience was haven’t we been fasting and praying for weeks and months for the precipitation we need in this state? When some came by and encouraged us to pray that the weather would stop, I just thought No! We don’t control the Lord’s timetable. He is blessing us with something we’ve pled for. Even if it comes at an inconvenient time, it is still a great blessing for us. Most blessings we get in this life come when they are best for us, not necessarily when we want them.
            Lastly one of the greatest blessings came yesterday. Giving in to peer pressure, I signed up for a sprint triathlon. It was a race I had finished before, last year, to be exact, but this year there were additional interruptions to my training schedule. I would be lying if I didn’t admit part of it was my own disinterest and lack of motivation, but in the cool hours of the morning if the choice is to work in my yard or to go running, working in the yard is going to win 9 times out of 10. Unlike last year, this year I have taken on more hours at work. My husband has gone back to school and needs academic support. I have more responsibility as the young women’s president. All of these factors mean the need for a greater filter as I attempt to balance my time so it is distributed as necessary to be successful in my employment, nurturing and available for my family, and a profitable servant to the Lord. Sometimes getting out and running, swimming or riding my bike just hasn’t been the priority.
            As I went to bed on Friday night my prayer was just to finish. On Saturday, I got up, ate a small breakfast, packed my gear and got ready to go. At 7:00 I was at the starting line. It was hard, just as hard as I remembered. As I finished the running portion, there were only three people behind me, but my transition included a bathroom break, which put me second to last. I rode along main street, and a couple of times as the road was steep and cars passed, I imagined one of the drivers texting, swerving, and taking me out so I wouldn’t have to finish the race or being pulled under the tires of a passing semi. On my second lap of the biking, the last person passed me and of those that finished the race, I was dead last. It is my goal in life to at some point legitimately use the phrase, “On your left,” but it is likely that would never happen except in the water and then it would be “blubbb, blub, bluuubbb.” Finally I made it to the pool, swam the 400 yards and finished adding 5 minutes to my current best time.
            Just as I had prayed, I finished, and along the way I noticed things; life lessons, we’ll call them. I was not born a natural athlete, and certainly not a runner. From the get go, I start out behind others because despite my effort, I just don’t have it in me. As many, many, many of the other bikers passed me, they offered encouragement such as “Keep it Up!” “You’re doing great!” “You got this.” And even as the last person passed me she commented, “You can do it. You made it past the hill.” As I realized I was very last and there would be no one else watching, I considered turning the corner and taking some of the miles off my course. No one was around to see me. Maybe no one would ever know. But then I noticed that even though I was minutes behind everyone else, the police officers guarding the intersections stayed until I had safely passed by. I was only one biker. It was a Saturday. Certainly there were other things they could have been doing with their time. But they stayed. They waited as I slowly made my progress forward.
            If we imagine life is a great triathlon, we can imagine there are all types of athletes. There are those who were born into perfect circumstances where two parents love one another and were sealed in the temple. Where a father and mother attend church with their children regularly. Where the scriptures are opened and studied daily and at night children are lovingly tucked in following family prayer. We’ll call those individuals the spiritual natural-born athletes. Those are the individuals who, like the bikers that passed me, offer encouragement and support to those of us who are struggling.
            Along the way we will have times when we realize no one is watching and we could reasonably cut corners. No one will know if we cheat on a timecard, click on a few inappropriate videos, or take something that will make us feel better for awhile. Yet, just like in the race, I would know. Cheating is dishonest and the spirit of the Lord cannot abide with one who cannot be true even when no one is watching.

We will meet up with police officers, who have a specific duty or calling to see us safely along our journey. Even though I was last and clearly not one of the better prepared, they stayed to see me safely on. I imagine them to be comparable to our church leaders, those who have been called to see us safely on in our journey. Those who see us struggling, maybe coming in last place, but they don’t give up because they recognize our potential of finishing. I imagine it would have ended quite differently if I had dismounted my bike and sat down at the side of the road, but as long as I was willing to continue working, they remained.
            Yes, we all want to do our best. But what is best for some differs from what is best for others. I remember last year, when I was talking about the triathlon in ward council, the bishop, after hearing the course layout said, “Oh, you’ll be fine.” And all I could think was, You have no idea what it is like to be 70 lbs. overweight. You don’t know what it is to make a decision like this and on your first day of training being sick all day because you ran a ¼ mile. This is a struggle you have never had to face. How can you tell me I’ll be fine?
            As we run our race through life, we will encounter those setbacks; She has no idea what it is to live with a husband who hasn’t had a job in over a year. He doesn’t understand how difficult it is to raise children who seem to have no interest in the gospel. No one knows what it is like to live with depression and how I know my family suffers because I can’t function, but I just can’t seem to change it. He has never had to live with a child with physical or emotional disabilities and doesn’t understand how draining it is at times. But let me remind all of us that even though those around us may not get it from experience, we all know what it is to struggle. One of the greatest parts of God’s plan is that we each have our own unique struggles. Can you imagine what this life would be if all of us had the same strengths and weaknesses? We would never be in a position to help one another out. One of the greatest blessings we have of this race of life is that those of us in the lead can stop and lend a hand to those of us who are struggling even if we don’t exactly understand the struggle. Because after all, we all have the same goal and that is the goal of finishing and attaining exaltation.
And as I said in the beginning, exaltation comes through obedience. Because “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Elmo Cake

I'm Heather, and I'm guest blogging today to show you a cake that I made for my son's 2nd birthday. I own the Wilton Elmo shaped cake pan, (although you could certainly do it with an oval pan and cupcakes or something) and had previously made it the traditional way for my first daughter's 2nd birthday. However, I had a really frustrating time actually getting the red frosting that I wanted, and as we all know, that much food coloring starts to taste kind of yucky... Additionally, my husband has really weird food issues (Jello is a form of matter that shouldn't exist in his mind, but flan is delicious but that's another subject entirely), one of which is that he doesn't like food with lots of food coloring. However, he doesn't really know what half his food has in it, so it mostly bothers him if he knows I've made something extra colored. He still won't hear about it when we discuss the fact that cheddar cheese is not naturally yellow, he simply doesn't approve of the children eating colored goldfish, because it must have more coloring than the regular orange ones. :)

Anyway, I didn't really want to go that route again, but I had the fun pan, and my children (and us parents, too, I won't lie) all LOVE The Muppets, so I tried to think what else I could do for a July birthday cake. Fortunately, I had just gotten cherries and strawberries in my produce basket for the week, and I realized strawberry tips are nice and bumpy and fur-like. And cherries are almost black, so I went and bought an orange, and voila! All the colors I needed for Elmo's face. I made a white cake mix and used a light cream cheese frosting to compliment the fruit toppings. My son was so excited, and it was delicious (which I can't really say of the traditional red frosted one his sister got).

Sometimes when I look at the picture, it seems like Elmo's got some sort of stubble/5 o'clock shadow thing going on, and other times it doesn't bother me. :-D If you were really wanting to spend the time and expense, you could fill in all the gaps with smaller bits of strawberries to make him more evenly red, but I was in a bit of a hurry. Also, lest anyone think badly of me, all the tops of the strawberries were chopped and frozen to use in smoothies or strawberry rhubarb crumble.

This used 1 orange, one 1 cake mix, one package cream cheese and some powdered sugar, 5 lbs of strawberries (just to have enough points), and about 1/2 lb of cherries, all split in half.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ordain Women??

I'm not really one to get all political and argumentative, but this is my blog and I can say what I want. Perhaps no one will read it, but as I posted when I first started blogging, this is for me.

In light of what is going on in the media, I've evaluated a lot of my religious convictions and as I've sorted through some things, I've come up with a few thoughts.

As anyone who is not completely off the grid knows, there are several hot topics in the media involving the LDS church. I happen to be a member of said religion. I also happen to be somewhat of a feminist. How on earth could the two coexist without one eventually drowning out the other.

There is only one answer. It has been a struggle. There was a time in my life when the balance was nearly destroyed and as a feminist I was so very angry towards my Heavenly Father. It wasn't when my dad was taken from me and my kids robbed of a grandfather. It wasn't when my father-in-law suffered a massive heart attack and made the man I love most in this world fatherless. It wasn't when a child I was very excited to be carrying slipped away into nothingness. No, those would be natural times.

Instead it was while I was a missionary for the LDS church. I was reading in a book of latter day revelation give to Joseph Smith that later became known as the Doctrine and Covenants. It is section 132 and the verse that was particularly triggering was verse 64, which reads:

 64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.

I'm sure educated minds could argue about my interpretation of this scripture, but as I read it, what I read was that Emma Smith had to agree with plural marriage or she would be cut off and destroyed. DESTROYED???? BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T WANT TO SHARE HER HUSBAND WITH ANOTHER WOMAN?

How could a God consider himself my Heavenly Father if all He wanted for me was to become some man's wife? I was nothing more to him that a species designed to "administer" to my man. I believe the common, present, vernacular is I was nothing more that a tool for making a man great and bringing babies to the earth.

I was so hurt and so enraged. I stopped praying. I stopped working. I stopped reading the scriptures. Essentially I stopped being a missionary and spent several days home, seething. I didn't hate God exactly, but I could no longer abide by the concept that He loved me and wanted what was best for me. Clearly God was a woman-hater.

The natural course of action would have been to call my mission president, tell him about my doubts and have him help me work through it. But he was a man. And I wasn't on the best of terms with his wife because she married him (a man) and seemed so happy to be married (to a man) and to help him fulfill his role in life. She was a main supporting character, but never a lead. So instead I marinated in the juices of anger for a few days. I didn't cry. I didn't lash out. I just stopped.

Then one day, one of the other girls living in our apartment came home. She asked me what was going on. I tried to explain, but as I did, hot tears finally began to fall. Often times when I am upset I get a quavery voice and get all snotty. My voice waivers and my whole face contorts into something unrecognizable. This time there was none of that. This time I spoke with a steady, even voice and the tears that fell were of pure fury.

She looked at me for a few minutes and then said asked if I really believed what I was saying. I considered. I had never doubted God's love for me until then. I didn't really answer her and my mind drifted as she continued speaking. That night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I finally knelt down and sobbed. And I prayed again.

I didn't see angels and I won't go into exactly what happened because it isn't something I can really express logically. But  I cannot doubt that my Heavenly Father is aware of me personally, not as one of his minions of righteous baby-makers/male supporters.

He loves me.

From the very beginning He had a plan so that I could get back to live with Him and others that I've worked so hard to have relationships with in this human existence. I can't answer for Him for everything, but this I do know: In order to get back to him, I don't need to be ordained to the priesthood. It simply isn't my role, not because he has anything against me. It just isn't necessary for me to become all I'm meant to be in this world.

I do not understand everything. I see good people who for one reason or another are uncomfortable with their biological gender. I also see others who want the same blessings I have of a loving, legal relationship with a partner of their choice. It seems almost counter-intuitive that a God who loves us would create us as mortal beings and would set some of us up to fail so miserably.

Some might argue that I am brainwashed by some religious cult. I find that highly unlikely. I'm well educated and have as much culture as my income could afford. I lived in the capital of the world for multiple months and was offered a variety of perspectives on God and His plan for us. I have as much life experience as a middle-aged-contributing-member-of-society could have. I work in an environment where I interact with all types of individuals from a variety of backgrounds.  I do not understand the rationale for everything, but this I do know. God is speaking to the earth through a prophet. The Prophet is God's mouthpiece. If he says that same-gender marriage and women being ordained to the priesthood are not part of God's plan for us, it isn't.


I don't know, but I absolutely intended to live my life in such a way that I can go where He is and ask Him.