Our Visions, Our Voices in Arizona Review

Posted on March 27, 2010. Filed under: Mormon women | Tags: , , , , , , , |

by EmilyCC, Jessawhy, and Kay Gaisford
There has been such great writing this week generated from the “Our Visions, Our Voices” tour (see Reese’s lovely review of the California’s leg of the tour and Joanna’s moving depiction of the writers’ afternoon in Colorado City) that some of the Arizona feminists felt we would be remiss if we did not share what we learned when the tour stopped at Arizona State University on Tuesday night.
After an introduction by poet Judy Curtis, our Arizona representative on the tour, Joanna Brooks introduced the readings by inviting each of us in the audience to participate in creating a poem by reciting in succession the name of one of our grandmothers. A handful of people chose to state only a first name, a personal gesture of connection. Most of us stated the full name of our grandmother, fashioning a string of first, middle, and family names of variety and color. Most of the names denoted Anglo roots, while others suggested a Scandinavian heritage. Taken together, it was a poetic patchwork of connections binding us in a crazy-quilt of Mormon femininity.  There was a palpable feeling of power and pride as we said the names of those women.   

Our group poetry project was followed by Lisa Van Orman Hadley’s essay about her father and Reuben sandwiches.  We watch as their relationship grows from the basics of sandwich assembly to the two creating their own Thousand Island dressing with special secret ingredients.  The piece is particularly wonderful because she was able to turn to her junior high memories of making Reuben sandwiches with her dad when years later, she realized that he was no longer the same person and no longer shared her important memories of their times together.  

Canadian and RLDS member, Susan Scott connected her story about a town’s epidemic with tainted water to the importance of water in our Arizona deserts. The piece she read was taken from a collection that took her years to write. We learned about a small town that was betrayed by the people who kept its water supply clean. When half the town became ill and seven people died, the tragedy was so immense it altered the future of the community. Focusing on the issue of trust, Susan was able to connect us, as her audience, to our own lives where losing, gaining, and keeping trust are crucial to our successfully functioning in our communities.

Danielle Dubrasky offered several expressive poetry readings.  Her poem about being a child in her home church building growing up was poignant and evocative—one could almost smell the mustiness of the basement Primary room.

Judy Curtis also did some fabulous poetry readings.  Her poem, “Dessert,” talks about the self-sacrifice and often unappreciated offerings we, as women, make for our families.  She ended with a longer poem about Aunt Sarah, a fictional polygamous wife’s life post-Manifesto.  So many of us can’t wait until she gets back to Phoenix so that we can get our own copies.  How often do we think about the lives of those women who weren’t able to stay married to their husbands after the Church stopped polygamy?

Joanna Brooks came back with a piece about a blue Econoline van, which served as a symbol of life.  The stories that she wove together kept circling back to the van, driven by older women who control the lives of girls, approaching womanhood. The themes of childbirth, wife-work, and the eternal role of women were juxtaposed with amusing and almost-unbelievable tales of rides in the blue Econoline van. Most insightful for several of us was the realization that women’s traditional roles here were not reinforced by the patriarchy, but enforced by the matriarchy

We were delighted with Holly Welker’s memoir, blowing many of us away with its fast pace and depth of content.  Her ability to weave the themes of diamonds, swine, and a hand print on her chest throughout a piece that seemed to be as smooth and jumbled as her life was so impressive and reminded some of us of our favorite contributors to “This American Life.”

In Joanna’s final contribution to the evening, she turned our thoughts again to the connections we feel with our grandmothers, and by extension, with all women. She read “Invocation/Benediction,” inspired by a grandmother’s patchwork quilt, with phrases evocative of feminine connection, including:
        “Where there is no pattern, God, give me courage to organize a fearsome beauty…
         “Give me an incandescent all-night garage with a quorum of thimble-thumbed
                    grandmothers sitting on borrowed folding chairs.
         “We will gather all the lost scraps and stitch them together:
         “A quilt big enough to warm all our generations.”

As Exponent women, we thoroughly enjoy and admired Joanna and Holly’s undertaking to warm all generations of all Mormon women.

If you’re lucky enough to live near Utah Valley University or University of Utah, you simply must make it a point to attend one of these last two stops on the tour.


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The Trimurti: A Birthing Poem

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: Changes, death, Friendship, Mormon Life, Mormon women, motherhood, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , |

My new little one.

by Alisa

Twelve days ago, I gave birth to my first baby. As I labored in the hospital, I was aware that I would be missing my dear oldest friend’s great big birthday bash that night. Diagnosed eight months ago with neuro-endocrine cancer, my friend recently learned she probably has less than six months to live. Deciding not to wait for her birthday later on in the year, a huge party was organized in her honor.

While I am overflowing with joy at the birth of my son, and the birth of my motherhood, I hardly know how to begin to say goodbye to someone who has always been there with me, through nursery, primary, junior high and high school, boyfriends, weddings, and more. I am struck by how seemingly polar opposites can hit our lives at the same time.

The Trimurti

I wore a necklace throughout my pregnancy
A trinity charm, swirled into one
Creator, Sustainer, and Purger

For all three sometimes come at once
As they often do at a birth, I suppose.
I crouch upward—breathing, pushing, exhaling
With all I have and more, then sink back,
Eyes shut, catching my breath
All of the moment in my heart.

I smile then—truly
Because I know nothing but love and intensity
For this baby boy

While I lay there
Another birthday is celebrated—
Really, it isn’t exactly her birthday
But if you had less than six months
You’d celebrate early too

Thirty years, her last milestone.
Shiva, do you know you take a mother of five babes?
What do you want to purge? I dare not ask why.

The Creator smiled on us that day twenty years ago
She and I sat over our cross-stitch, two merry misses
When Mother called from two houses down
To witness a birth
My calico calm, near serene, purred her kitten into life
With her hypnotic humming

And I, struggling to do things right
Hastened to tie the thin, red thread around the chord,
When he began to chirp, hardly a mew.

The Sustainer is come to stop time.
I never watch the ticking clock
And open my eyes with ecstatic surprise,
When they place his wet, slippery body on my chest.
And the weather is so mild

February forgot its season
At my back door a crocus pushes its tender leaves upward
Childhood is not unlike motherhood: tenderly aware of only now

Motherhood is not unlike the yoke
Of rainbow connections and pulsing sensations
I love, I feel, I know, I heal
As we vibrate to the lullaby
I sing in the key of present tense

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Save the Women’s Research Institute!

Posted on November 5, 2009. Filed under: Changes, education, feminism, Mormon women | Tags: , , , , |

by mraynes

This morning I awoke to the terrible news that Brigham Young University had decided to shut down the Women’s Research Institute. This is a personal tragedy for me, one that I am deeply grieving.

I have written before about how lonely and isolated I felt as a young feminist at BYU. But that was before I found the Women’s Research Institute (WRI). I was in my junior year when I discovered that a Women’s Studies minor even existed at BYU and was housed in the WRI. I eagerly changed my minor in music to women’s studies and never looked back.

I took every class I could sign up for: Women’s Studies 101, The International Political Economy of Women, Women’s Lit, Women in Music, Sociology of Gender. These classes saved my college experience and had a profound impact on who I am today.

As I became more entrenched in the Women’s Studies minor, I started making connections with the teachers and eventually I was hired as a research assistant. That job took me in and out of the WRI office on a daily basis. There I met women who embodied Emmeline B. Well’s belief in”thinking women.” It was the staff of the WRI and its affiliated faculty that proved through their example that I could be a thinking woman and a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Almost three years ago I got a request from the Women’s Research Institute asking me to share my experience as a Women’s Studies minor and as an employee of the WRI. Unfortunately that letter came the day I gave birth to my oldest child and it got pushed aside as I fumbled through the first couple of months of motherhood. I deeply regret that missed opportunity. But today, I will endeavor to share what the Women’s Research Institute has meant in my life.

I do not exaggerate when I say that the WRI has affected every aspect of my life, both while I attended BYU and since I left the university. It was the professors affiliated with the WRI who opened my mind and allowed me to think critically about really difficult things. The director of the Women’s Research Institute took time to individually counsel me about my career and pointed me in the right direction after the disappointment of not getting into grad school. And then when I was working in the domestic violence field, it was the things that I learned as a research assistant that paved the way for me to frequently lecture to professionals and students about the effect of domestic violence on women worldwide.

Of more eternal significance, it was the lessons I learned in my women’s studies classes that influenced my ideas of marriage and motherhood. I have a happy marriage because I was taught gender theory and was looking for equal partnership. I love being a mother because my teachers not only validated motherhood as a feminist choice but provided models of how to be a mother without losing one’s self. I am still a faithful, temple-recommend holding member of the church because my teachers acknowledged the painful and problematic aspects of our doctrine and provided me with enough satisfactory answers to stay. And they were able to do this because of the safety and support of the Women’s Research Institute.

No where else on BYU campus were topics such as female sexuality, the exploitation of women and feminism safe to broach. The WRI was a haven of academic freedom, largely due to contributing over half  of their operating budget themselves. But the WRI was not just concerned with academic pursuits; they actively strived to make every lecture, film, and colloquia a matter of conscience, social justice and faith. This was their foundation.

In the press release, BYU says that they are trying to streamline their programs and there are other campus entities that address women’s issues. It is true that the Women’s Resource Center is specifically interested in issues that affect the female population at BYU. But they address them by offering activities like “Risk Free” Speed Dating.

While the contributions to BYU that the WRC and the Faculty Women’s Association make are important, the academic rigor and vitality that the WRI provides in the field of women’s studies is irreplaceable. For ten years the Women’s Research Institute has been studying the lives of women in a small town in Mali, and offering micro-finance opportunities to the women there. The WRI has published groundbreaking studies on peace and violence, specifically studying women’s perspective. And it was the Women’s Research Institute that almost single-handedly financed the WomanStats project when no other department on campus wanted much to do with the it. This project has since become the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women in the world. WomanStats is beginning to have a profound impact not only in the academic community but also where this information can do the most good, in government. Just recently, some of the contributors to this project were asked to testify before Congress. This project, and the many others that  the Women’s Research Institute have undertaken are a credit to BYU and something they should be very proud of.

It is for this reason that it is so hard for me to understand why Brigham Young University is taking this action, one that no other university in the nation has done in the twenty years that records have been kept! I understand the argument that having a separate institution for women’s studies further bastardizes the study of women because it keeps it isolated from the rest of academia. And perhaps this is what BYU is trying to do, mainstream women’s studies. But I fear that this is a premature action. Women and their needs have not been equally mainstreamed into American society, the Academy or the structure of the church. The WRI was the one lone beacon demanding that BYU, academia, the church and the world take notice of the needs and issues of women.

I don’t presume to know why BYU has decided on this course of action. In a time when good PR for Mormonism is hard to come by, shutting down a symbol of social progress and equality seems to be a very bad idea. But I would hate for the genuine frustration over the elimination of the Women’s Research Institute to turn into a conversation on how BYU/the Mormon Church are trying to silence women. While there may be some validity to that argument, I don’t believe it is productive.

Here are some actions I do think are worthwhile:

  • Join the Facebook group “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute”.
  • If you live in Utah, attend “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute” and Parity’s rally on Thursday evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in room 270 of the SWKT.
  • If not write a letter to President Samuelson and tell him how you feel about this decision.
  • Or write a letter to the Academic Vice-President, John Tanner whose office has been in charge of this decision. His email is: john_tannerATbyuDOTedu
  • Write a letter to the editor of BYU’s Daily Universe.
  • Call BYU’s Alumni association and threaten to withhold further financial contributions.
  • Send a letter to the First Presidency. Yes, it will get sent back to your Stake President but at least leaders will begin to see that members are concerned about their decisions regarding gender.
  • Talk to anybody who will listen. Talk to ward members, family members, friends, media. The more public outrage over this decision the more chance we have of saving the Women’s Research Institute.

If these measures fail and the Women’s Research Institute closes its doors on January 1, 2010 then we need to keep BYU honest. We the alumni of BYU and the tithe-payers who keep this institution running need to demand that they live up to their word of “significantly expand[ing] resources for research and creative activities pertaining to women.”

This is an opportunity to show BYU, the leaders of the church and the outside world that yes, gender is important. This is an opportunity to demand that women have place and a voice in our religious institutions. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

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Sharing the Map of Female Experience

Posted on October 5, 2009. Filed under: female divine, feminism, Mormon women | Tags: , , |

by mraynes

I can remember the moment, a cold, March day in a warm classroom on BYU campus. The inversion was beginning to loosen its strangle-hold over the valley and I was beginning to emerge from a months-long depression, a byproduct of emotionally violent misogyny and my first heartbreak. I had read the article with interest but had the detachment of a soul lost in a dark mist.  The article was in no way controversial; a faithful essay acknowledging and de-constructing  the problematic aspects of the gospel for women. Indeed, the main thesis of the essay was that Mormonism was not oppressive for women but rather, revolutionary for women. The class’s discussion on this particular topic was like many that take place at BYU, remarkable only for the antipathy towards the subject. But somehow, for me, that was the day the fruit was offered. And I partook.

It began subtly at first, a fire in my womb, as if that which makes me what I am awoke and refused to sleep any longer. The fire spread to my limbs one at time, taking a moment to activate each nerve-ending, and then slowly planting itself in my heart. I had been born again only to feel that life being asphyxiated under the weight of a force I could not control. It was as if a war was being waged between this awakening and my physical body. All of my muscles constricted at once, an unseen serpent of muscle memories, socialization, indoctrination and fear wrapped around my chest to crush the life-force within me.  In desperation I cried out, “Why? Why have I never heard this before? Why haven’t they taught us this?” I did not recognize my voice but I recognized the pain; a deep, primal pain that my body had been hiding in a forgotten sinew.  In the awakening of a deeper consciousness, the unheard sob of my soul escaped and hung in the air as a cry for help. For a moment I saw my pain reflected, briefly igniting in the eyes of my dear teacher and then disappearing just as quickly as it had come. That was all the answer I needed.  The knowledge that the pain was real and that I had not awakened to be alone in this new and often inhospitable world.

I share this story, not only because it is the story of my feminist awakening, but because there is power in the sharing.  I have never spoken of it before. It was a memory known only to me, and perhaps my teacher, and I kept it because it was raw and painful. But as I sat down to write this essay, it was this experience that kept bubbling to the top, longing to be released. Longing to be shared. Longing to be healed.

Ursula LeGuin once said that “when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” In reading this, I am reminded of how California spent 100 years as an island because those who knew the truth believed those in authority who told them that their truth was wrong.  I was afraid before that someone would take my story, my truth, and use it to diagnose me.  Afraid that someone would use this painful, personal story to prove that I was crazy or abused, that I had delusions of grandeur and that I have manipulated truth to push my own agenda.  Perhaps some still will.  And perhaps I fear this because some part of me believes these things are true. But I have recently been convinced that those who would do this to my story are not worth thinking about.  I also know that I will never begin to get over my fear, that I will never be a whole person worthy of that god-given spark of divinity until I offer my experience as truth.

For too long, too many of us have stood at the sidelines content to have our stories, our experiences told through the eyes and language of somebody else.  How can we be surprised then, when those stories are no longer about us and instead we become an object in somebody else’s story? I have been thinking a great deal recently on how the female experience within the gospel often gets caught in this trap.  I asked that question all those years ago because despite being raised in the Church, that was the first time I had been introduced to the idea that the unique experience of Mormon women should even be considered and that was deeply painful to me.

Perhaps there is no more poignant example of where women’s experience is either not considered or forgotten all together than with the revealed doctrine of Heavenly Mother. We are told nothing about Her, we are told that She is too sacred to talk about, certainly to sacred to be talked to and if we do, we are disobeying the prophet, pushing our own agenda and blaspheming God. We are supposed to be content with the knowledge that she exists and somehow makes sense out of female exaltation. To some this knowledge is nothing more an amusing academic riddle, one to be talked and talked to death with little consideration for the half of humanity to whom this question means everything and unaware that it is they who profane the very being of God.

And so here is my contribution to truth: I have experienced the Mother.  She came to me, uninvited, as I hovered between life and death and this has transformed me. Whether or not She is theologically relevant, the gift She left me with is knowledge…knowledge of myself.  Is there any gift greater? There is no agenda in the desire for knowledge about ourselves and there is power in sharing the truth we have learned. After all, sharing our truth gives voice to our humanity, heals our wounds and gives us the courage to find new territory within our existence. And maybe in sharing, we women will develop the key to understanding the incomplete map we’ve been given.

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Modesty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Posted on August 15, 2009. Filed under: body image, confidence, feminism, Mormon Life, Relationships, religion, women | Tags: , , , , , |

two women

by mraynes

Before I left my job two weeks ago, one of my colleagues came into my office and asked to speak with me.  She immediately started apologizing for the behavior of her adult son who had been volunteering at the shelter for the day.  I stopped her and asked why she needed to apologize for his behavior; she looked at me with some bemusement and said, “Because he’s been checking you out.”

I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed her son looking at me but my co-worker assured me that he had been looking at me in a way that she deemed inappropriate.  We laughed about the situation, my co-worker told me that her son loved redheads and I jokingly said, “well who doesn’t?” and then promised her that I wasn’t offended.  But I left that conversation feeling a little bit uncomfortable. 

Uncomfortable because  the first thing I thought upon being told that I had been an object of lust was, “what am I wearing that would make him look at me in that way?”  I was shocked by my reaction, I am an adult woman who was wearing perfectly appropriate and professional clothing and still my first inclination was to blame myself for another’s behavior. 

It probably comes as no surprise that I have major problems with the rhetoric of modesty in the church and its implications for both sexes.  I will not focus on those reasons in this post because they have already been endlessly discussed on the bloggernacle.  Rather, I want to offer this experience up as a case study of the long-term ramifications of our focus on modesty in adult, Mormon women.

As a life-long member of the church, I have been indoctrinated to be modest like all good, Mormon girls are.  My mother refused to let me wear sleeveless dresses after the age of 8, I sat through modesty lessons at least once a month from the time I was 12 to 18.  At BYU, I signed the honor code, lived through the one-shoulder backpack fiasco, received the modesty talk once a semester from the bishop and listened to the concept reiterated in CES firesides and General Conference.  Even now, as a married woman with two children, I am still told that it is my modesty that determines the kind of disciple I am.  All of this is to say that I thoroughly understand and live modestly in my life.

Up to this point, while acknowledging the problematic aspects of our modesty rhetoric, I had not experienced anything negative from being modest.  Sometimes I think in acknowledging the problems of an over-focus on modesty, we forget the empowerment that comes from controlling how we present our bodies to the world.  By living modestly, both in dress and in deed, I have felt more confident that it is the quality of my thoughts and actions that garner the respect of those I interact with. 

That being said, the modesty indoctrination is insidious and the ugliness which has been discussed in the past undoubtedly rears its head in many Mormon women.  Perhaps the mildest form are experiences like mine where I had to do a mental check of what I was wearing despite being completely faultless.  The more serious cases range from women who blame themselves for a sexual assault to those who are unable to appreciate the beauty of their bodies and let it affect the intimacy they can find with a partner. 

In the end, I go back to the conversation I had with my colleague.  Despite being a zealous evangelical christian, she placed the blame for her son’s actions squarely on his shoulders.  Nowhere was there condemnation for my behavior or the way that I was dressed.  She did not stomp into my office and accuse me of being walking pornography.  She realized that her son was an independent actor and was therefore responsible for treating another human being with dignity and respect. 

If we are to believe as a church that we are only accountable for our own sins, then it is the paradigm of my co-worker that must be adopted by our highest leadership and the members in general.  If, indeed, it is the opinion that women are accountable for the lustful thoughts of men, might I suggest supplying young girls with a set of scriptures that omits the second Article of Faith…it would cut down on the confusion later on.

Have your experiences with modesty as an adult, Mormon women been positive, negative or both? 

Have you experienced any long-lasting ramifications of the modesty doctrine?

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Healing Martha, Fortifying Mary

Posted on July 9, 2009. Filed under: charity, Friendship, marriage, Mormon Life, Mormon women, suffering | Tags: , , , , , |


By Alisa

Years ago I had a conversation with an old friend that changed my view of sisterhood. Julie and I had been bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, which occurred in the same year. She and her husband had several blessings that I envied. They had completed their education, and they had owned their own property. However, she had found married life to be somewhat difficult. Early in her marriage, her husband’s faith fell apart. He struggled to become established in his career. They had a child, and she felt it was best for her to stay at home and brave the financial difficulties. There was even a few months of separation before she and her husband decided to reunite. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her.

By contrast, my marriage had gone relatively smoothly up to that point. We were struggling with a serious family illness and other hard issues, but I had completed graduate school, and I was working full time while DH finished his graduate education. We were living in our third rented apartment so far in our marriage, and I was considering taking an additional part-time job so that we could put some money away to pay tuition, pay off student loans, and save for a down payment on our first home.

When I told Julie of my additional job plans, she responded in a way I hadn’t anticipated. She chastised me for “not following the prophet and having kids right away.” I’d like to say I responded with compassion, particularly given my knowledge of how difficult the last few years had been for her, but that wasn’t the case. Becoming defensive, I went to the argumentative side of my brain and began to pick apart her statement. I told her that rarely did we hear that we should throw caution to the wind and have kids unprepared. On the other hand, at least at some point in every General Conference the Prophet speaks about avoiding debt. I told her that we were counseled to do three good things as young married couples in the Church: get the best education and grades we can; avoid and/or get out of debt; and have kids, preferably with one parent staying at home full time to take care of the kids. I told her they were all good things, but without large scholarships, a trust fund, or years and years to pursue education slowly (not an option for DH’s program), it was hard to do all three of those things simultaneously. Doing any two of the three is a more realistic mix. I pointed out that we had decided to put off having one of us stay home full time with a child to focus on education and debt management, but that we might change up that combination sometime in the future.

Julie responded in sobs. She said she felt bad that she was struggling financially. She expressed helplessness and fear, and I sensed that she felt my defense was actually a rebuke on her choices (I didn’t intend it that way, but I had been defensive, and I can see why that hit her where she was hurting). At that point, my anger at having been judged for my procreative choices dissolved into more of an understanding of her pain. Perhaps she told herself that while her life was incredibly difficult and her marriage was fragile, at least she was doing “the right thing.” And to show herself that it was right, she needed to find women whose choices contrasted with her own so she could build a case to make herself feel validated. But it all came from a place of hurt and her need to try to mitigate the very immense pain she felt in her life.

Given a different turn of the conversation, it might have been me crying to her about the frustrations I felt that I had to postpone children in order to do what I felt was right for my family – even my future family – at the time. I would have told her how I wished I was the one getting more education, and that work seemed to be a distraction from my PhD goals. She might have heard how hard my job was, and how I felt uncomfortable talking about my job at Church because I felt I’d be judged for working. How I felt ostracized from the other women in the ward who were, in my mind, privileged enough to be SAHMs (the grass is always greener, right?).

Both Julie and I had made hard choices that inevitably had sacrifices. The good news was that things change. Life changes. Finances can change. We don’t have to have it all right now. It’s a timeline thing, and we each have our own. As James E. Faust said of women in the Church, “She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.” (“A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming Great Women”) In fact, in the years since this conversation, we have both taken several turns with happy and sad news, both in finances and in marriage.

Unfortunately, I let that old conversation become a theme in my Church life. I’m often afraid of being judged by SAHMs for my work, and when they ask me questions about it, I hesitate to go into detail. On the other hand, I look at them and think they’re lucky to be in their situation, as difficult as it may be. I am aware that most of the judgment I fear is made up in my head – I am serious when I say I can’t think of one SAHM in my ward who isn’t an amazing, gracious woman. I guess that while I’m such a proponent of diversity, I have a hard time when I am that diverse person who doesn’t fit the rest of the group. And therein lies my insecurity.

I can’t help but think of Mary and Martha in this situation. We have two sisters, each making a choice about what they think is best. One chooses to keep Jesus company, while the other decides to make sure Jesus is fed. Both are good choices, and probably each choice is becoming to the personality and needs of each sister. Jesus’ soft rebuke of Martha stems from Martha’s judgment of her sister for making a different good choice. His compassionate, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” helps me recognize and have compassion for the somewhat defensive Martha in myself. (Luke 10:41)

I look back at Julie and me having this conversation, and I believe we were both Mary and both Martha. We are Mary when we let the Spirit tell us what is needful and correct in our lives and direct our lives accordingly, and we become like Martha when we try to validate our own good but difficult choices by comparing our decisions to those of others in an effort to prove that we made “the right choice.” The right choice just isn’t the same for all of us.

And when we’re feeling like Mary, satisfied in our own groove and feeling good about our life decisions, there are bound to be some Marthas on our path. They may blindside us with their criticism, telling us that we’re not doing the right thing because we didn’t make the decisions they would have made. At that point, it is essential to remain grounded in our own truth and path, and lovingly acknowledge the pain that would bring one sister to criticize another. I hope we can then turn on our Christlike switch and extend compassion and grace to those women who need to know that they have a good, if different, path as well. A little compassion and grace might do wonders in helping us value the diversity of each other.

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Guest Post: Telling the Truth About Depression

Posted on June 22, 2009. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , , |

(This post is by D’Arcy’s friend Jo (bio below). Since D’Arcy’s out of town,  I have the privilege of  introducing our guest blogger. I’m grateful that Jo has written about the reality of depression, which is especially important to me because many women in my life have these struggles.   -Jessawhy)

hi, i’m jo. i have a ba in humanities from byu and i used to work at the harold b. lee library. that’s where i met adventurous, compassionate, rosy-cheeked D’Arcy. i got married in 2002 and we had our first baby a year and two months later. shortly after, i was diagnosed with clinical depression (although i first started showing symptoms before i was even pregnant.) since that first diagnosis i have been on ten different anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications, seen two therapists, two psychiatrists, and a handful of general practitioners. i’ve consulted with two different alternative health experts, read lots of books, and taken up (and dropped) yoga (although i’d like to take it up again!) i have two children, both who have never known a mom who isn’t dealing with depression in some form or another. it’s pretty safe to say that depression has affected every area of my life: my physical health, my relationships (especially my relationship with my husband), my ability as a mother, and my spirituality.


sitting in church one sunday a few years ago i felt uncomfortable, anxious, and self-conscious, so it was pretty much a sunday like any other. at the end of sacrament meeting our kind bishop stood up and said that there was a family in our ward who was having a very difficult time and that we all needed to reach out and help them. he explained that the young father had a brain tumor and he became emotional as he talked about how good and strong this family was, and how much they deserved our support.

i couldn’t stop thinking about what the bishop had said, not during the rest of the meetings, and not on the way home from church. i felt truly sorry for this family and their trials, but that’s not why i was so upset. being as introverted and caught up in my own situation as i was, i could only think of how different and yet similar my own circumstances were.

we had told the bishop a couple of weeks before that i had severe clinical depression, that it was hard for me to go to church, that lots of times it was extremely difficult for me to take care of myself and my children. we had shared this with him so that he would know that i probably would not be able to hold a calling or be a visiting teacher, because my “bad times” were unpredictable and i didn’t want to commit myself to something and then continually let other people down. i think he might’ve asked at the time if there was anything they could do for me, but i didn’t know what to ask for. the issue had never been raised again. (more…)

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Posted on April 5, 2009. Filed under: Mormon women, Poetry | Tags: , , , |

dsc_0040-12Mormon women have a rich, if under-appreciated history as poets.  The art of poetry has been a way for Mormon women to express their deepest feelings; the joys and struggles of the everyday, the complexities of womanhood and their spirituality and quest for the divine.  Each poem is an invocation, a supplication for understanding and connection.

We at the Exponent wish to honor Mormon women by giving voice to their heartfelt invocations.  Every other Sunday we will be exploring the poetry of Mormon women, both from the past and the present, whether sacred or mundane.  If you have a poem you wish to share, please consider submitting it to us at ExponentblogATgmailDOTcom.  We hope you enjoy these poems as much as we do.

Perhaps the only way to begin is with a poem so monumental in Mormon women’s poetry, experience and theology.

Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother

 O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence,
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood,
Was I nurtured near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth,
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth.
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here.”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

I had learned to call thee Father,
Through thy Spirit from on high;
But until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heavens are parents single?
No; the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

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Some Things Do Get Better With Age

Posted on September 10, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , |

by Caroline

The other night, some friends and I were discussing getting older, and a few of us concluded that our 30’s were pretty great, compared with our angst filled 20’s.

I just turned 31. While it’s kind of sad on one level – my best years physically are behind me – there are some great things about getting a little older.

1. I’m not as consumed with my looks. When I was in my teens and twenties, I was convinced the whole world was looking at me all the time. I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup. I was constantly checking myself out in the mirror. I was hyper aware of how people might be perceiving me. And I was so critical of my body. Now of course, I look back and I wish I could give myself a big fat kick in the pants. There were several years in which I didn’t even own a swimsuit, because I didn’t think my body was perfect enough to be displayed publicly in one. Idiot! I probably missed out on a lot of fun because of my inability to accept myself.

2. I’m not treated as a sex object (as much). There’s something liberating about being able to pass by construction workers or other groups that sometimes react verbally to women passing by and have them ignore me or respectfully say hello. I can also smile and be nice and not really have to worry about them thinking that I’m flirting with them. Particularly if I have E in tow – apparently having a kid and a wedding ring can help ward off some obnoxious verbal signals.

3. I’m smarter. I know how to do things now. I remember being a teen and thinking that if my mom died, I would have no idea how to cope with life. I didn’t know how to cook, how to pay bills, how to get around an airport, how to apply to college or jobs, how to diaper a kid. Now I know. And even my book intelligence seems to be increasing, if I compare my old GRE score to my new one.

4. I’m less self-conscious. As I alluded to in number 1, I’m just not as consumed with my physical self. Now I don’t care as much about the imperfections of my body. (Full disclosure: I do still care to some extent.) But I stuff my soft self into my bathing suit, show massive cleavage, and figure that if someone is looking at me, that’s their problem, not mine. Likewise, I’m more willing to speak up and speak my mind. I would have shrunk from that in my earlier years.

5. I’m learning to accept myself. I spent a great deal of time in my twenties mentally kicking myself for my inability to fit into a typical Mormon mold. I felt guilty that I just couldn’t get over the polygamy thing. I felt bad that I had such a negative reaction to the idea of men presiding over women both in church and in family. I was consumed with angst over my gut wrenchingly tearful reaction to the portrayal of women in the endowment ceremony. I thought there was something really wrong with me. I’m over that now. I embrace my issues, and I proudly claim my gifts of conscience and discernment. They make me me. God knows my heart, and I now figure that God and I are probably on the same page on a lot of these issues.

What has been your experience with getting older? What are the positives and negatives?

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Crying With China: Thoughts on Transcending the Mundane

Posted on May 21, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life, Mormon women | Tags: , , , |

by Caroline

When I listen to touching or sad stories on NPR, often tears come to my eyes. Sometimes they fall down my cheeks. Rarely do I start having to catch my breath because I’m really crying

Last Wednesday was one of those rare times. It was a devastating story about a young Chinese couple frantically searching for their young child in the rubble of a collapsed apartment buiding. Two days had passed since the earthquake, but this couple still had hope their son and some grandparents were still alive.

Maybe it’s because my toddler is exactly the same age as their toddler. Maybe it’s because of the heart-wrenching wail of the mom towards the pile of rubble, “Wang, Mom is coming for you!”, is exactly what I would have wailed. Maybe it’s because of that final description of the dead boy cradled in his dead grandfather’s arms. (more…)

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