September 04, 2017

Civil Societies Change the World for the Better

Have you ever heard the term civil society?
Are you a member of an organization that was started by citizens to help make the world a better place?
How much of your time is spent volunteering?
How much money do you devote to philanthropic causes?

These are questions we should all as ourselves as we consider the applied role that citizenship and religion should play in our lives.

Active community service is not only central to my belief as a Christian generally and a member of the Mormon Church specifically, but participation in society is incumbent upon us as citizens of a democracy.

“Western societies are not held together primarily by the overall enforcement of laws, which would be impractical, but most importantly by citizens who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internal norms of correct behavior. For many, it is religious belief in right and wrong and anticipated accountability to a Higher Power that produces such voluntary self-regulation.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Read the transcript of his talk The Complementary Functions of Religion and Government in a Global Setting here.



One of my favorite things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the humanitarian aide work that we are involved in. LDS Charities is an example of a faith-based organization (FBO) that is an active part of our Civil Society.

There are many different definitions of civil society, in general this refers to a third-sector of society, separate from both government and business. Civil society usually refers to nonprofit organizations formally and any charitable group informally that is focused on philanthropy, volunteerism, and contributing to the overall good society in the world.

This year, I am in graduate school full-time completing a one-year Masters in Public Administration program with a certificate of advanced studies in Civil Society Organizations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Prior to returning to school, I was a civil society junkie without ever knowing the term civil society. I have been actively involved as a member, teacher, leader and Public Affairs representative for the Mormon Church. I have been a National Face of Accreta and president of the New York chapter of Hope for Accreta,  a Red Cross Spokesperson, MOPS member, a PTA and PTO member in 4 different states, a PTA board member, President, and district board member. I helped to design the Finding Common Ground 6 week interfaith dialogue course with the El-Hindi Center for Dialogue at Interfaith Works of CNY. I was a sponsor and planner for Dinner Dialogues, World Harmony Day, the Duck Race to End Racism, Refugee Ambassador Program, and The Spirit of America. I'm currently serving as the National Communications Chair on the board for American Mothers, Inc. Additionally, I have been part of many informal, socially involved groups including my Tully Mother Cluckers book group, various quilting clubs, mom preschool and play groups, and as a member of many online Facebook or blog groups. I love civil society.

For twenty years, I was a full-time, stay at home mother and homemaker who rarely stayed at home. One of my favorite parts of not having a 'career' was the fact that I could choose how I spent my time and efforts. Early on, I realized that my family and community were equally blessed as I served outside my home. My eight children have grown up sitting quietly beside me as I attended community meetings, helping me to set-up and clean-up from community events, interacting with friends in our communities who were physically, ethnically, and religiously diverse. My children have developed a natural ease and confidence, they are quick to help, they aren't afraid to plan large events, suggest large projects, or to lead large or small groups of people. Because we were always involved in our communities, my home had to function smoothly and orderly. Civil society has blessed my family.

Civil society or charitable efforts have brought about great changes in societies around the world. As we work together to find peace, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, respond to disaster, rescue, teach, heal, and love each other, our world is becoming a better place. Goodness begins with citizens.

I believe in civil society.
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Giving USA 2017 Infographic

August 26, 2017

Loving Your Neighbors


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He was a French teacher and she has the happiest laugh and the sweetest daughters.  They are from Mozambique and spent 10 years in a refugee camp before coming to America. I learned in a storytelling class that I participated in, that we need to be very careful telling other people's stories.  I honestly can't tell you their story, but I can tell you mine.

I was scared of refugees when I was first asked to pick up a large Muslim family who was arriving from the Middle East. I got the call from my friend, Daryl, who works with Interfaith Works in CNY who works along with Catholic Charities to settle refugees in Syracuse. She called because it was a large family and they needed my 15 passenger van to get them from the airport to their new home.  She mentioned that they usually provided a meal but due to the late notice, they didn't have a meal planned. I was sitting in library story time and withing 5 minutes all of my fellow story time moms had agreed to make part of a meal that I could bring with me later that night.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that being there, at that airport that night, was a trans formative moment for me. I was born-again, again. I saw a family walk nervously through the halls of the Syracuse International Airport and stop, unsure how to proceed through the revolving doors that separated us.  Their clothing surprised me because it was very American.  The parents wore colorful, native outfits, but the children were dressed in shirts with NFL team logos or funny American "drink milk" slogans. They wore shoes awkwardly, flip flops really, and were obviously cold but had no jackets. All of their belongings were packed in a few zippered, plastic bags, similar to the recyclable bags you can buy to bring your groceries home in.

It is hard to describe the people, because they had a depth in their eyes that is hard to describe. I saw pain, hope, exhaustion, excitement, fear, love, worry, and gratitude. My soul immediately loved them and I yearned to ease their concern and welcome them to their new land. I have NEVER felt more proud to be an American then I did in that moment.  In that moment, I felt like the statue of liberty, representing America to these people.

Emma Lazarus' poem was etched into my soul with a strength and love that will ever remain.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 
Give ME your tired, your poor, your HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE, THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE. SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST-TOST TO ME". (I love this inspired poem.  I love the image of a brass warrior, a Greek giant who guards against intruders who has been by a welcoming MOTHER holding a torch in her hand to guide weary travelers safely to our doors. Yes! Let us welcome. Let us hold our torches high! Not just to welcome kings, but to welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to BREATHE free.  We breathe free my friends. Can we not share this great gift? Isn't there always room for one more at our table?)

I remember the sign-language, charade style introductions.  My husband helping with bags and logistics and me, trying to catch the mother's eye to smile deep into her soul.  Instantly I was drawn to the children. The teenagers had eyes that held secrets no teenager should have to carry, but the young children still twinkled with mischief and joy. As I buckled these sweet children into my van, into my own children's car seats and boosters, I literally felt my heart attach to theirs. I knew then, as I know now, that these families need our help. They are not 'foreigners' or even terrorists.  They are my brothers, my sisters, my sons, my daughters, and not only did my conscience demand that I help them, I knew that my religion meant NOTHING if I did not love and serve His children who were seeking refuge.

And, since that day, I have shared my conversion story with many people.  I have helped to initiate some beautiful efforts to help refugees in our area.  But, there is so much more I wish I could do.

I get overwhelmed when I think of all the world problems.  I frankly get overwhelmed when I try to write a To Do List of all that I have to do for my own family each day.  But, I have learned an eternal and essential lesson.  Our families are BLESSED as we  SERVE with them. Perhaps I should say SERVING others is actually BLESSING your family.

Jesus taught the parable of the loaves and the fishes.  Share all that you have and He will multiply it. He makes 5 loaves and 3 fishes enough to feed 5000.  I believe in miracles because I have SEEN miracles. I have watched me teenagers become holy, kind, loving young adults BECAUSE they serve others.

I don't feel sorry for refugees. God holds them in his hand and His light shines in their eyes.
The reason I believe in a loving God even when I see tragedy around me is two fold.

First, I believe trials refine and purify our souls. I believe suffering is temporary and holy.  One of our main purposes in coming to Earth (indeed even one of our Savior's main purposes in coming to Earth) is to descend below all things. As we ache, we are able to feel comforted. As we yearn, we recognize answers. As we want, we feel true gratitude. As we are filled with sorrow, we have room for a fullness of joy.  Suffering highlights all that is real and true in life.

Second, I believe in a God of Compensatory blessings. He compensates when times are hard by sending angels round about us. He blesses us with gifts and understanding, compassion, empathy, eternal perspective, community, and peace. In the midst of great suffering, He sends true healing.

Perhaps this is why I love refugees so much. I feel within them a refined soul. I feel their nearness to God. I feel their humility and their pure gratitude.  Having watched naturalization ceremonies where refugees have become American citizens, and having sat with them as these new Americans talk about what they love about our country, I have felt renewed in my love for democracy, and citizenship in this land that strives for freedom and justice for all.

I am not bragging about the service that I have done. In all honesty, I have done VERY little. My heart is bigger than my capacity to serve at times.

I'm sharing with you my deep, heartfelt conviction that we can and should love our neighbors more.
We should start with a desire and try to do something, even if it is a small thing.

We should invite people into our homes who are different religions, different colors, different nationalities. We should love their children and share the gifts God has blessed us with. As we do this, our families will be blessed.  Not just blessed by God because they are doing some noble service.  Blessed by the people we THINK we are serving because really, it is an honor to serve people who are refined.

Matthew 25
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.


If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a "Mormon," I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.

—Joseph Smith, 1843
Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Do you want to help refugees in your area? Click here to read 40 Ways To Help Refugees in Your Community.

40 Ways to Help Refugees in Your Community.

❤️

The Labor of Graduation: A Second Birthing Story

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I felt my first graduation Braxton Hicks contraction sitting in a band concert at the end of my oldest child’s Junior year.  My neighbor was watching her only two children, twins, perform for the very last time before they headed off for college and I felt a pain I remember only distantly from child birth.  This odd pain that started in my stomach and increased in pressure through my very core until it nearly took my breath away.  My eyes filled with tears and I looked around at the other mothers in the room wondering how on earth women from all generations of time just seemed to naturally transition into the empty nest stage of life with grace when I was beginning to panic and scream for an epidural one year before my child was even out of my house.
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Those Braxton Hicks lasted all through my son’s Senior year. They would hit me hard in moments that I least expected them. I would be cleaning up my kitchen after sending my kids off to school in the morning and notice three varsity soccer jackets or hoodies draped over the chairs in my kitchen. I would be upset and think, “For 18 years I have been telling this kid to hang his coats in the closet or take them to his bedroom.  Will he EVER learn?” And then, my eyes would cloud over with tears and that pang would start in my stomach and tighten up to my heart and I would know, this time next year, his coats will not be draped over my kitchen chairs.  And, oh how I would miss them.
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It’s as if that whole year, every event was foreshadowed with the knowledge that “this is the last” first day of school, the last football game, the last Halloween, the last Christmas morning, birthday at home, family trip, Easter basket, Highschool Soccer game, track meet, band concert, award ceremony, prom. The last time I would pack a lunch for him or bring cinnamon rolls up to the school for a bake sale. Even as I enjoyed every moment, there was this pain that I did not expect and could not escape.
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Jakob was my first of eight pregnancies. I had great plans for a natural childbirth. I remember when my first real contractions pulsed through my body, taking my breath away and opening my eyes to the reality of the event I had spent 22 years and 9 months anticipating. I remember telling my husband that “this is really stupid.” I couldn’t imagine that every single woman throughout history had experienced this and survived. My nurse said, “Why do you think there are bars on the window honey?” She really told me that.  What a horrible thing to tell a first-time mom in labor. I took Lamaze classes and I spent eight hours breathing deeply and envisioning my flower opening before my doctor announced that this baby was ready to come but I wasn’t dilating.  He said we either needed a c-section or I needed to try an epidural.  30 minutes after an epidural helped me to relax, I had dilated from a 4 to a 10, and I was looking into the eyes of the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen.  I was tired and scared, but this little baby in my arms stared into my eyes with the confidence and wisdom of the ages.  I knew we would be okay together. 
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Pregnancy is 9 months long, because a mother really needs to feel done before she is ready to push that baby out.  I think it takes 9 months to prepare for your first birth and 18 years to prepare for your second. 18 years of watching your child learn and grow and prepare for life outside of your home. 18 years before your home, like your womb, begins to feel restrictive instead of nurturing.
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You see the ultrasounds of college acceptances, future plans and dreams, and you know that on the other side of this major transition is a human being that will bless humanity. You are so excited and anxious to see the next stage of your child’s life. And yet, it hurts. The thought of letting go and saying goodbye literally rips you apart sometimes. A casual good night hug extends as you just hold him a little too long trying to squeeze that little boy who you will forever see inside this man-boy’s eyes.
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Maybe it’s good that we really don’t comprehend how painful it is to say goodbye to half of your heart.  No matter how many children you have, saying goodbye to one of them is a labor of love.
It is confusing to be so excited for the future and so sad to say goodbye to the past, all at the same time. Every mother WANTS her child to graduate, to move upward and outward.  We want our little boys to become men even as we mourn the loss of life as we know it.

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I took Jakob to his last physical at the pediatrician’s office he had visited since he was a child.  They were kicking him out even as he was preparing to leave for a two year LDS Mission. Because Jakob was 18, I sat out in the waiting room during his exam, right next to a new mom who was bouncing her 2 week old little boy. Oh, how I have loved being a mother.  Every stage is equally challenging and rewarding. I saw that new mother’s worry and her pride as she smiled at her sweet baby and fumbled with her over-sized diaper bag and awkward car seat. I knew that she would soon experience teething and rolling and walking and talking. I wanted to tell her to take pictures and laugh when things are hard, to hold him tight when he is naughty, and to not give up when he complains about piano practicing.  I wanted to warn her that teaching your child to drive is scarier than she might imagine it to be. And promise her that he won’t always sneak into her bed at night, or tease his little sister (actually, that’s not true, he will always tease his little sister and she will love it). I wanted to tell this new mom that she doesn’t need to be afraid of the teenage years, because teenage years are SO great.  Watching your kids grow into funny, frustrating, and inspiring young humans with friends that you love is one of the best stages of motherhood.  
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I wanted to just pick up that little boy and hug him and smell him, and rock him in the middle of the night ONE LAST TIME.  Instead, I just sat there watching this cute mom with her baby, with tears running down my cheeks.  I smiled and I told her to enjoy every moment because it goes so fast.  Right there, in that pediatrician’s office, I BECAME that old woman in the grocery store that tried to warn me so many times as I muddled through motherhood.  Enjoy this moment, it goes quickly.
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I said goodbye to Jakob at 4:30 am on 8/8/17. He was 138 lbs, 6’2”, and wore a size 10.5 shoe. There was a moment when all my Lamaze training up to this point was failing me and although I was breathing and trying to envision my flower opening, I was panicking and couldn’t breathe.  I held on so tightly to this kid and really didn’t know if I could let him go.  And then, he pulled away. He was dressed in man clothes with his suitcases meticulously packed.  He was the most beautiful 18-year-old missionary I had ever seen. I was tired and scared, but this little man in my arms stared into my eyes with the confidence and wisdom of the ages.  I knew he would be okay.  I would be okay.
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Sometimes, in the grocery store, I run into veteran mothers who understand what it is like to deliver a child into the world. You can see it in their eyes. Some mothers have an easy time of delivery, they make it look simple. Other mothers have deliveries that last weeks and weeks.  I just talked to a sweet kindergarten teacher who said she slept in her son’s bed for three weeks after he left for college and wore his sweatshirts each day.  She said two things helped her to transition, putting her heart into teaching kindergarten and remembering that her younger son still needed her. I didn’t understand how hard it was to say goodbye, until those first Braxton hicks hit me my son’s junior year.  I have successfully endured my first, graduation labor, and I must say it was harder than I imagined it would be.  But, it was worth it. 
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I still get teary-eyed when I talk about saying good bye to my oldest.  I still feel sore when I sit down at the dinner table and there is always one empty seat.  I still count kids on Sunday morning as we head out the door for Church and I always, always feel that someone is missing.  I mourn for the compact family life I have grown to love even as I am excited to learn a more expanded definition of family.
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But, I have a new life that I am loving.  We receive letters home each week from a man-child in Mexico City who is learning a new language as he is learning to love a new culture of people. He is still the same kid joking about poop stories and sending home pictures of the beautiful mountains around him. And, he is different, more humble, more independent. I like this stage. Jakob still teases his little sister and is still setting an example for her.  We hang pictures of him on our fridge and the emptiness I was dreading isn’t really an emptiness. I feel him with us. I feel him close to me. I didn’t realize that even though he is over 2,642.6 miles away, I can still feel when he’s having a hard day. 
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His heart is somehow still connected to mine. I’m glad for that.
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Labor is not something you can really prepare for, the first or second time you experience it.  Labor is an initiation ritual that qualifies you to be the sage women in the grocery story that has the authority to tell young teenagers to enjoy their youth and young mothers to cherish each moment. We know why there are bars on the windows and we also know that life beyond delivery is absolutely worth every pain we endure to get there. Life is beautiful. Growing hurts sometimes but the result is worth the process. Looking back, I cherish my yearlong labor. Because every single tinge of sadness I felt inspired me to really SEE each moment. I loved being a mother. And, love hurts sometime.
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“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” (The Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjorie Williams)
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August 08, 2017

As He Grows From Boy To Man

We give our children roots and wings.
We want them to leave us, to learn, to grow, to serve.

And yet, as they progress to the next momentous stage of life we know they are leaving behind a stage that we love. We will mourn the loss of boy even as we love the new man.

Jakob has caused me my fair share of heartaches.  But oh how I love that kid.

We were out running errands and had lunch at some big taco joint.  I told him I really wasn't sad that he was leaving.  I'm SO happy for him and I really don't want him at home watching dumb TV for the rest of his life.  He looked into my eyes with his twinkling half smile and said.  "Ok mom.  So you won't cry when you don't see my coat hanging on the kitchen chair."  I cried just thinking about that.
I can't help it.

I love that child SO much. 
I LOVE having my kids all together, playing in the pool, singing in the car, squabbling at the dinner table, teasing in the church pew, laughing, sleeping, working, just being together.
THIS stage of togetherness has ended.
That hurts.
But, every single sunset in my life has been followed by a beautiful sunrise.  

I bawled when Jakob left for kindergarten.  Bawled.
And then, he came home happy and told me all the wonderful things he had learned.  And, my ache was less.
He was scared of the mean lunch ladies and didn't know what a "single smile line" was, but he figured things out.  
We both did.

When Drew left home the next year it was still hard (for me and him) but not as hard because Jakob had led the way, with a smile and a wave and the assurance that he would be fine.

God sent me Jakob first because He knew I would need his strength and confidence.

Oh my dear, dear boy.
Know every second of your life that you are loved.  Know that God is real, that He hears your prayers, that Heaven is near, and that you have angels on your right hand and on your left.
Serve with your heart, might, mind, and strength.
Love like your mom taught you how to.
Believe.
And take lots of pictures.
We will miss you and celebrate all that you are.
Two years.  A life tithe.  
Oh, what a beautiful plan.  

I think I'm going to love this new stage.
Life is good.
This is the best kind of hard.

August 06, 2017

Family Dinner



(The Elders in our ward today.)
I believe in family dinner.

I'm SO excited for Jakob to serve a mission.  He is ready. I am ready.

But, I just get choked up at the little "lasts".

Tonight I made a one minute Instagram video of everyone sitting around the dinner table.  Our last Sunday dinner together for at least three years because Drew will be gone when Jakob gets home.

While I'm typing this Ellie is braiding Anna's hair trying to copy a picture she's looking at from Pinterest.  Ellie is telling Anna "You could let me do your hair everyday for school and you'd look so cute.  You're almost 16 do t you want to date guys?"

My years and years of wrangling little kids to Church is almost over.  Those years have been hard and wonderful.  

Today my 6 oldest kids all bore sweet, powerful testimonies.  They feel God in their lives. I love that.

I'm standing here on the edge of another milestone. An era of eight kids at home is coming to an end.  It was a good era.

Life's seasons are sacred.
I know it.
Life is good. 

July 28, 2017

Healing or Growing Old: Construction Vehicle, Do Not Follow

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Have you ever seen a vehicle with a sign like this? "Construction vehicle do not follow."  This is one of my favorite signs ever.  I have to admit that once I was behind a truck like this at a stop light.  As I was pondering the sign, the light turned green and I went forward, following the truck.  Before I knew it, I had all these construction workers waving their arms at me trying to keep me from entering a construction site that I was heading into-- because I was following the construction vehicle.  Haha.  Even as I was trying to understand the sign, I was actually doing what the sign warned me against.  

I saw a truck like this on my way home from school this week and it made me laugh out loud.  I kept thinking I need a sign like this on my blog.  

For the next year (or two) I am spending a lot of time outside of my home getting a graduate degree.  While I know this is right for me and my family.  I don't know if it is right for you and your family.  So, don't follow me.  

There is another part of my need to go back to school.  Something that I don't really understand completely.

When I gave birth to Ben, I had balloon catheters in the main arteries to my legs.  The balloon catheters burst and doctors had to cauterize those arteries.  I did not have good circulation to my legs.  I couldn't walk.  My right foot was completely cold.  They also severed my right illiac (which provides the main blood circulation to my right side. I also had a near-fatal blood clot that formed in my right leg and was caught by an IVC filter just seconds after they placed it near my lungs (saving my life AGAIN).  I couldn't walk for weeks.  I used a walker or wheelchair for months.  There was a time when doctors felt I might end up paralyzed in my legs.  (That time is hazy in my mind.)  

My point is, the path to my physical recovery was LONG and PAINFUL.  I had nerve damage in my feet that was excruciating.  It was almost constant and lasted for months.  My nerve damage went away after a few months, but does return when I'm stressed.  

But, overall, I can WALK! My feet get blood.  I'm pain-free most of the time (and so empathetic of those who suffer with long-term pain).  My body healed.  My body created new passageways to deliver the blood to my feet.  HEALING is amazing.  (I also had two major reconstruction surgeries in the past four years that were similarly life-threatening.)  My body is a warrior body.  I have NO urinary issues, no intimacy issues.  I feel good.  AMAZING.

It was hard to heal physically from a trauma.  But, it has been HARDER to heal mentally.

After twelve hours of surgery and over 200 units of blood transfusion, doctors were not sure that my brain would still work at all.  They warned my husband I might never talk again.  I might have permanent brain damage.  I couldn't SEE for a week after my surgery.  I was swollen to over 200 lbs and my poor brain and nervous system took a beating.  

YEARS after my surgery, I could still feel my body in FIGHT or FLIGHT or FREEZE mode.  Something would happen, a minor stress, and my brain just didn't handle it well.  I couldn't think.  I couldn't make decisions.  I have a very hard time understanding people who talk with accents (something I never experienced before my surgery) and I am awful with directions (I was like that before my surgery but I think it's worse now).  I have a hard time with word recall.  When my brain is tired, I really have a hard time naming things (like my children or the pantry).  

Stress effects my body.  
My ankles swell.  My hands tingle.  I had a full-blown case of Sarcoidosis (where doctors told me I had stage 4 lung cancer, but it was really just an auto-immune response).  

I was home everyday with my children, but I was a different mom.  Joy was harder to find.  I felt overwhelmed with life.  I was pushing through everyday and I just couldn't get back where I wanted to be.  I also had a strong feeling that I was going to die young.  It is hard to prepare for death and then live.  Death haunts you.  It is hard to be frail physically and mentally, to accept years of bed rest or modified ability and then come out of it.  I tried but the more I pushed, the more my body flared up.  

I'm not complaining.  I'm just admitting that the physical part of healing was tough but it was still easier than the mental aspect.  

My PCP wants me to go to a neurologist.  I still haven't.  Perhaps I don't want to know if there really is something wrong with my brain.  

Anyway, I was at a pretty low place when my husband suggested I apply to grad schools.  Thanksgiving and Christmas used to be my favorite time of year, but with my new stress-brain and large family and love of visitors, those months are hard for me to navigate.  

It makes NO SENSE at all for someone who is already overwhelmed with life to think that adding MORE stress is going to help.  NO SENSE AT ALL.  I know that.  That's why I told my husband he was crazy.  It is also why I was SHOCKED when I started feeling the answer to my years of praying for health was to just start studying for grad school.  

Sometimes, it is easy to tell when God is talking to you, because He tells you things that you would never think of on your own.  I barely trust myself as a mother.  I worried that my surgery had changed me.  I would just never be the person I was before my surgery.  That was OK, but sad.  

And then, I started studying MATH and vocabulary.  Equation after equation.  It almost felt like taking those first few steps down the hospital corridors.  

I personally believe that my brain is creating new pathways because old pathways were damaged, just like in my legs.  Maybe, instead of hurting my brain, using my brain more is helping to heal it.  

There is another part of me that realizes it was VERY hard for me to consider my oldest son, Jakob, leaving my home forever (or two years).  The thought ripped out my heart.  It was really, really hard for me.  I sometimes wonder if God knew I would not be able to sit at home and just watch my children leave one after one.  (In the next four years, four of my kids will leave home.)  I don't think I can handle that very well.  I wonder if God ignited a dream inside my soul to distract me from my loss or to replace loss with growth?  

I don't know.  I don't know why.  But, I do know that I was praying for joy and God blessed me with desire.  Desire to do something I never, ever imagined I would do.  I was having a hard time planning meals and God has me planning Day Care Budgets, personnel, fringe benefits, tax rates, etc.  My brain is stretching and my feet are NOT swelling.  I'm amazed and so, so grateful.  

And, how is my home?  While I am at school, my mother and my husband are with my children. My mom has been untangling the mess at my house.  She has been able (in one month) to create an order in my home that I have been unable to create in four years.  We needed her.  My kids needed her.  I needed her.  Even though I am using my mind more, there is a greater peace because my house is in order.  My home wasn't bad.  But, it wasn't my standard either.  

This wasn't something I wanted to talk about on my blog.  For months I thought that my blogging stage was done.  Blogging seemed to die with my old-self.  I was scared to type because I feel different.  But, this was something I miss.  I don't type for YOU, I type for me.  I type for my daughters because I want them to read my thoughts when I'm gone and when they are 40, so they can know how I felt.  

There is a very real possibility that what I am experiencing is brain-damage.  There is also a very real possibility that what I am experiencing is called MIDDLE AGE.  That maybe, after 40 years of life, people change.  Either way, I just want to say, don't follow me because I am just doing ME.  I'm trusting my own ability to receive inspiration on this one.  I'm trusting that after 40 years of life I know how to receive revelation and that God could have opened my heart and poured in me a deep contentment at home and he did not.  Instead, I feel really, really excited to learn and grow and to make new goals for my future that do not revolve around having children.  Maybe this is evil, but it doesn't feel wrong.  It feels ALIVE.  

I need to know God still has a purpose for my life.  I need to know that my brain works and my body works.

It is hard to tell your story when you feel you are unsure what the next chapter will look like.
But, all along, I've shared my ROUGH DRAFT with whoever wants to read it. 
I'm still in rough draft stage.  

I really, really tried to just stay home and be happy as a mom whose children were growing up.  
But, for whatever reason, I COULD NOT DO IT.  
Now, I am a mother whose children are growing up, with a goal.  
And, it feels SO GOOD.  

Pray for me.  I have a final this morning that I really do not think I can possibly do in the 3 hour time frame.  And-- I love this.  
God saved my life for a reason.  I don't know why.  But, I do know that I'm alive today.  I can study and take a silly test.  
Then, I am going to drive to Palmyra and spend the afternoon with Drew, my second son, and one of my favorite people in the world.  My mom and my dad (who have been divorced for years) are both here at my house helping to fix things around the barn and celebrating Jakob's mission farewell that is this Sunday.  The weather is beautiful.  Todd is in Michigan, camping with the kids and his family.  They get home tomorrow.  My cow, Daisy, is pregnant and could deliver any day.  

And, life feels SO, SO good.  

Life is good.  

Do not follow--  Construction Vehicle.  

July 22, 2017

Righteous LDS Women Are Educated and Working Mothers

John 11:1–44, Mary of Bethany and others mourn for Lazarus
(Christ comforting Mary and Martha)

I believe the Restoration of all things will not be complete until we have a full and correct understanding and appreciation for the role of women.  As I have watched and learned from modern-day prophets, apostles, and general auxiliary leaders, I have felt that revelation regarding Relief Society and women is expanding.  I predict that in the next ten years, we will continue to hear much about the true nature and calling of women in the Church and in world.

As I have looked at women who lead in these modern-days it is clear to me that the Lord is trying to change some common LDS misconceptions.  In a three paragraph description about their lives, almost ever female auxiliary leader outlines places that she has WORKED outside the home while at the same time emphasizing her role as a MOTHER.  The two are not exclusive.

Good, righteous, committed, nurturing, wise, discerning mothers can get an education, have a family, raise their children, volunteer in their communities, and even work outside the home.  Some may find this growing trend concerning.  I find it interesting.

I love how Professor Eva Whitesman (who gave the wonderful devotional at BYU, Women and Education: "A Future Only God Could See For You") describes female educational pursuits as NON-LINEAR.  She says,


"In a world that values education primarily as a means to increase our value in the workplace, nonlinear educational paths may sometimes be considered nontraditional, but they are not nonessential. As Kristen Oaks observed, “Women’s educational paths and experiences are often very different from men’s.”As Latter-day Saints, we know that the pursuit of education is not merely about gaining marketable skills in an efficient and linear fashion but that education is a tool for gaining important spiritual growth and spiritual gifts that can be used in all facets of our lives."

Righteous LDS women leaders have worked throughout history. I'm not sure when we began to think that women could not be good mothers if they made money.  How do you think early pioneer women supported their families while their husbands served missions?  Mormon Women are some of the most industrious women in the world.  We all work, we work hard, and we value motherhood.

Because of the misconception that valuing motherhood was incompatible with a career, women who worked have not told their stories.  Women who have worked rightfully emphasis their greatest priority their families, without accurately showing other women how much they were truly able to do.
Almost EVERY women in my husband's good, righteous, hardworking, full-pioneer roots, family has worked.  They would say things like "I worked until my first child was born and then stayed home until my youngest was in school," or "I taught piano lessons from home while my children were young," or "I worked at the school where my children attended," or "I worked at the library, part-time."  "My children helped with dinner until I got home."  "I was a nurse at night while my children were young."  Mormon women work. Please note-- these mothers who worked are women who are the very best mothers IN THE WORLD and in the Church.

Mormon women are also well-educated.  These women get their degrees fast and don't postpone motherhood to do it.  Most of us have given birth to our first children just barely at the end of getting a school degree where we doubled up on credits to complete it quickly.  Many of us are using online programs like Pathways to earn a degree while staying home with our children.  Many Mormon mothers, like myself, go back to school in later years when our children are all in school.  Women without formal degrees spend their lives studying religious texts for Sunday School, and we are encouraged to seek learning out of the best books.  Many Mormon women homeschool their children.  We read.  We fix things and talk about politics.  It takes great knowledge and education to successfully manage large families on a limited budget.  I love the stories of Sis Hinckley and Sis Monson, who had to manage their homes with a husband who worked double-duty almost all of their lives as church leaders and providers for their families.  Sister Monson, for example, always fixed the plumbing issues and assembled the Christmas presents.  Mormon women are called to be educated, industrious women.

It would be interesting to truly evaluate the educational and career paths of LDS women.  I think you will see a collection of women who use creativity and ingenuity to become educated and to help support their family while continuing to have large families who they care for with great emphasis and skill.  You would also see husbands who support these women in many non-traditional ways.

Let's look at the women currently leading General Auxiliaries.

I don't believe it is a COINCIDENCE that these women mention WORK in their short biographies on LDS.ORG.  This is purposeful and DIFFERENT from traditional female biographies.  Why?  Ask yourselves that question.  I don't believe they are the first female leaders who have all worked outside of their home at some time in their lives.  They are also NOT women who put money and careers ahead of motherhood and family.

I'm going to copy and paste right from THIS page that links to their biographies.


An indoor semiformal group portrait of Joy D. Jones, Jean B. Bingham, and Bonnie H. Cordon wearing colored blazers.
(Primary needs a new picture, now that Sister Bingham got called into the General RS.)

PRIMARY

Sister Joy Jones, General Primary President, "As a young adult, Sister Jones worked as a dispatcher for the U.S. Forest Service at the Redmond Air Center in eastern Oregon, sending out smokejumpers, suppression crews and supplies for forest fires in the northwest, and as an administrative assistant at the Federal Building in Provo. She was also trained as a medical assistant and worked at a dermatology clinic in Provo. She received an associate of science degree in family living at BYU. Sister Jones and her husband lived in Santa Rosa, California, for 14 years, where her husband opened a chiropractic practice." 

Sister Bonnie Cordon, First Counselor in the General Primary Presidency, "Sister Cordon received a bachelor’s degree in education from BYU. She worked in management in the software industry. She was a working mother until she was expecting her third child and she and her husband relocated to Indiana. “I put all my corporate clothes back in my closet and put on my peanut butter and jelly clothes,” she said. After a move to Boise, Idaho, she jumped back into the business world, starting her own businessShe also was a school volunteer in Idaho and Utah, serving in PTA, the classroom and community council." 

Sister Cristina Franco, Second Counselor in the General Primary Presidency, "After graduating from high school in 1977, she moved to Utah with her family, where her father continued his career as a watchmaker. This turned into a successful family business that specialized in fixing and selling watches, a company that Sister Franco was a part of for 28 years. She worked in the family business when her sons were at school and received the support of her parents when long hours kept her from being home, but she always kept her children’s spiritual nurturing a priority: “We made scripture study each morning a must before they left to school,” she said."

A portrait of the Young Women general presidency in pastel-colored jackets, standing outside in front of green trees.
Young Women

Sister Bonnie Oscarson, General YW President, "She served with her husband when she was still a young mother as he presided over the Sweden Göteborg Mission and then 30 years later returned to Sweden where she and her husband served as matron and temple president of the Stockholm Sweden Temple. She has served as a ward Young Women president three times, in a stake Young Women presidency twice, and taught early morning seminary for nine years. Sister Oscarson loves working with the youth of the Church. She doesn’t regret any of the sleep she missed while teaching seminary. She returned to school after 35 years and earned a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in British and American Literature." 

Sister Carol F. McConkie, First Counselor in the General YW,  She graduated from Arizona State University in English Education... and now has seven children and 24 grandchildren. Prior to her call as first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, Sister McConkie was a member of the Young Women general board. From 2005–2008, she served with her husband when he was mission president of the California San Jose Mission. She has also served in ward Primary and Relief Society presidencies and as ward Young Women president. If you have ever heard her speak, you have heard how educated Sister McConkie is.  I believe her talks sound like Psalms.  Her knowledge and faith is so evident and admirable. I love her favorite scripture as it relates to a woman's WORK.  “the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17)."

Sister Neill F. Marriott, Second Counselor in General YW, "attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, USA, where she earned a degree in English along with a teaching certificate. At the age of 22, she was converted and baptized into the Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. One year later she married David C. Marriott in the Salt Lake Temple. They are the parents of 11 children and 26 grandchildren. At the time of her calling as second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, she was serving on the Church Writing Committee. She has worked in many stake and ward callings and also served for three years with her husband when he was president of the Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission." 

A formal group portrait of Sharon Eubank, Jean B. Bingham, and Reyna I. Aburto.
Relief Society

Sister Jean Bingham, General RS President, is "the mother of two daughters and was also foster parents to teens and children, many of whom have become part of their family. While her children were in their later school years, Sister Bingham returned to college. She received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in teaching from National Louis University in Illinois. She also received associate degrees from Brigham Young University and Elgin Community College. She taught English as a second language to elementary students at a private school, in addition to immigrants and others for nonprofit organizations. She also worked as a nurse’s aide. Sister Bingham worked as a volunteer aide in her children’s schools and served in numerous teaching and leadership positions with the women, children and youth in her local congregation, serving as president of the Primary and Young Women and as counselor in the Relief Society. She taught teenagers in early-morning seminary for six years and served as a temple ordinance worker in the Chicago Illinois Temple."

Sister Sharon Eubank, General RS First Counselor, At the time of her call in April 2017, Sister Eubank was employed as the director of LDS Charities, the humanitarian organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she continues in this role while serving in the Relief Society. She served as a full-time missionary for the Church in the Finland Helsinki Mission and received a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University. After graduation, she taught English as a second language in Japan, worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and owned a retail education store in Provo, Utah.  Since 1998 she has been employed by the Church’s Welfare Department, helping establish LDS employment offices in Africa and Europe before directing the LDS Charities wheelchair initiative. In 2008, she was also asked to oversee humanitarian work in the Middle East as the regional director of LDS Charities. In 2011 she was named the director of LDS Charities worldwide. She believes serving others is “the very DNA of being a member of Christ’s Church” and the heart and soul of Relief Society.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto, General RS 2nd Counselor, "attended Universidad Centroamericana, where she studied industrial engineering for four years, and holds an AAS degree in computer science from Utah Valley University. She has worked in the language industry for more than 25 years, balancing work, family and Church responsibilities, and now owns a small translation business with her husband.

I do not know how to find research on the wife of every General Authority, but here are a few of the women I know of. (Many facts I found in an article by Breanna Olaveson, "12 Reasons to Love the Wives of Genereal Authorities, you can read it here.)

Sister Packer had 10 children and is an avid genealogist and historian. Taking classes from home, she received a Family History Certificate from BYU in 2012.

Sister Perry worked as a nurse before getting married.

"Wendy Watson Nelson was a professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU before her marriage to Elder Nelson. She is well-educated with degrees from four different colleges and universities, including a Ph.D. Sister Nelson is the author of several books on marriage and family topics, including “Rock Solid Relationships” and “What Would a Holy Woman Do?”

Deseret book has this biography of Sister Kristen M. Oaks"Kristen McMain Oaks has spent much of her life teaching. She earned a bachelor's degree in English, a master's degree in special education (both from the University of Utah), and a doctorate degree in curriculum and instruction from Brigham Young University. She was a former educational consultant in the publishing industry, instructing teachers and supervisors both nationally and internationally. She was also a Visiting Assistant Professor at BYU and served a full-time mission to Japan. After marrying Elder Dallin H. Oaks, she taught and trained auxiliaries in the Philippines for two years while he served as Area President. She currently serves on the board of trustees of the Deseret International Foundation and the Primary Children's Hospital and recently authored the book, A Single Voice. In addition to her love of teaching, she loves being a wife, mother, and grandmother. She and her husband reside in Utah."

Sister Jeanene Scott "was active in church and civic affairs. She served as president of the Senate Daughters in Washington, D.C., and as president of the American School Board in Cordoba, Argentina."

Sister Patricia Holland "studied at three different colleges after graduating from high school, including the Juilliard School. She was called to the Young Women general presidency in 1984, when her oldest child was 18 and while her husband served as president of Brigham Young University, which was an hour’s drive from Church offices in Salt Lake City. Fittingly, she later wrote about responding to chaos in a book, titled A Quiet Heart."

Sister Susan Kae Robinson Bednar "was an accomplished pianist in her youth, driving several miles for lessons in Rexburg or Idaho Falls, Idaho, from her native Star Valley, Wyoming. She participated in several competitions during that time and later taught piano lessons as an adult."

Here is a talk recently given by the wife of Elder Dale G Renlund, of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles.

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/sister-renlund-recalls-professional-career-mormon-law-group

"Sister Renlund was a civil litigation attorney in Utah before her husband was called as a General Authority of the Church in 2009. Their first assignment took them to Africa for five years, where she said it was the first time in her adult life that she was not employed.  

“It took about six months for me to name what had happened to my life. I can only describe it as entering the witness protection program,” she said, explaining that people at home didn’t know where she really was and people in Africa didn’t know she had a past. “I had a new name. I practiced law using my maiden name, Ruth Lybbert; here I was Sister Renlund.”'



Conclusion-
Righteous, Latter-day Saint female leaders are educated and hard-working.  These women serve in their homes and in their community.  They hold degrees.  They have careers.  They have children.  And, they are NOT the exception to a commandment, they are examples to the believers.

Righteous LDS women are educated, working mothers.

Our education does not have to come with degrees and our work does not have to be compensated financially, but we are certainly not breaking any commandment if we do hold degrees or are gainfully employed while we are wives and mothers.

I still consider myself a stay-at-home mother.

I worked for the Church as a full-time seminary teacher when I got pregnant with my first son, 18 years ago.  For 20 years I was a full-time mother who almost ALWAYS served outside of my home in numerous volunteer and leadership positions.  My children are the confident, educated, kind, compassionate children they are because I have taught them how to serve others.  I learned this example from watching other beautiful, powerful women.

Here is a part of my story I haven't told you.  As I wrestled with the decision whether or not to go back to school full-time this year I had convinced myself it was against church counsel and yet I felt so compelled that I was going to damn myself to hell by moving forward with my application.  I wrote a facebook message to my dear friend who is the daughter of a former General RS President and a mother of 9 children (whose youngest just entered kindergarten).  I told her that I was having a midlife crisis and feeling so strongly the desire and need to go back to grad school.  I said, "Help me!  I think I'm selling my birthright for a bowl of porridge."

She wrote back the most beautiful and soul-soothing note... "Hey, you're talking to the wrong person!  I spent the summer studying to be a financial planner and I am now licensed in securities and life insurance!  I work from 9-3 every day. I absolutely love it and feel completely energized every day.  It has made a huge difference for me and for our family.  So of course I say GO FOR IT! Times and seasons, baby! Your time to be pregnant is over. Your brain is craving a bit of a stretch!"

Oh how those three words "GO FOR IT!" have just sent peace and confidence into my soul.

I am not the advocate for working mothers.  I am not saying in this blog that LDS females have all been typical "working mothers." Most LDS mothers are stay-at-home moms, and that is because we listen to wise, prophetic counsel.  Children are our greatest work.  Mothers at home can teach lessons children can learn no other way.

But, I am saying to so many of you, serve more, love others more, learn more, lengthen your strides, un-circle your wagons, ask God what He wants you to do and then TRUST HIM.  This might mean you have another baby.  It might mean you take a class at the local university or it might mean you decide to home school a child.  God might call you to a calling you are so unsure how you will be able to do.  It might mean you support your husband and move to an unfamiliar state or choose to welcome a foster child into your home.  Trusting God will almost always cause you to stretch and grow.  Your path will not look like my path.  It might not be linear.  But, it will be beautiful.  Listen to the Spirit.  Counsel with your husband.  Pray, go to the temple, ask your mom or another trusted friend what they think.  Feel in your heart if your worries are peaceful concerns or just cluttered fear.  And then-- GO FOR IT!

Life is good.
Women are good.
God knows YOU, He is guiding you.  Follow Him and He will make you Fishers of Men.

He taketh the barren woman and maketh her a joyful mother of children.
Praise ye the Lord.
A painting by David Lindsley showing Christ sitting in the home of Mary and Martha, counseling with them.

July 21, 2017

Did God COMMAND Mothers to Stay Home With Their Children?

Image result for christ healing the blind lds
A response to a comment on my last two blogs:

Stephanie-  I love you, I love your comments, I love this discussion.  I think you are so good and brave to talk about issues that I have been pondering for months.  Thank you for your comments and your friendship.

Here is how I see it and how we disagree in our logic. 

I do not feel that it is a commandment for mothers to stay home with their children unless their husbands cannot provide the necessities of life.  I feel that is good, inspired, and very important prophetic counsel.  

We could have a great chat about what it means to break a commandment. 

In my opinion, when you break a commandment you are sinning.  You have done something contrary to the will of God and He expects you to REPENT.  

Did Christ “break a commandment” when he healed on the Sabbath day?  No.  He did do things different from traditionally viewed beliefs about how to keep the Sabbath day holy, but he did not do something contrary to God’s will.  In fact, had he NOT healed on Sunday, he would have been “breaking a commandment.”

We are often given contradictory counsel from prophets, counsel that is impossible to obey at the same time.  Evaluating our priorities at different times in our lives is one of life’s greatest challenges. For example, we have been counseled to do our family history and we are told numerous blessings that will come into our lives as we obey this counsel.  Mothers taking care of young children who are unable to devote time to family history are not “breaking a commandment”.  They are missing out of very real blessings that come from family history, but there may be a time and a stage when these blessings are more essential in their lives.  Discernment and prioritizing is not the same thing as sinning and breaking a commandment.   

Counsel, unlike commandments, change with time.  They are more relevant at different stages of life and there are times when counsel may not be applicable at all.  Is a single woman, who is unable to stay home with children BREAKING a commandment? Are mothers of grown children breaking a commandment when they go to work?  What exactly is the age that mother can leave home without breaking a commandment?  Why would God command someone to stay home with their children and then say it is okay for them to go to work if their husband is ill or dead?  Thou shalt not steal, unless you need food and then it is okay to steal.  No.  That doesn’t sound right because it isn’t right.  You can be a working mother and still be temple worthy.  You cannot be constantly breaking commandments and be worthy. 
Image result for christ healing the blind lds
I have known many women inspired to work (when they felt so guilty about it) and are surprised later in life when their husband dies and they can see how God prepared them for this situation. Did they break a commandment by working before the death of their husbands? No. 

I suppose we do read in scripture times when God does inspire people to break commandments.  But, I think it is more common for God to inspire people to KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS by making a choice that is contrary to tradition.

Prophets and apostles are called to ADMINISTER in the church and to counsel the Church as a whole. The Holy Ghost is meant to guide us in our individual lives to help us APPLY the gospel in our lives.

The commandments we have are to LOVE GOD, LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR. 
A woman, for example, called to serve in the General RS Presidency is called to "work" full-time.  Her family feels her loss.  This is not breaking a commandment, it is shifting priorities.  Sacrificing one good thing for another good thing, but there is no SIN here.

We are also counseled (or some may say commanded) to get out of debt.  Sometimes, we shift to focus on paying off debt.  Would God place someone in the position to choose to break one commandment to fulfill another commandment?  I don’t think so.  There is no sin in choosing what good thing to focus on.  I think Satan has great power over so many good people by continually whispering in their ears that they are “sinning” when they are just trying to be perfect in every aspect of the gospel and falling short.  To everything there is a season.

In life, we are commanded to personally discern between many good options.  I am not breaking a commandment by going to school.  I am discerning that it is better for me, my family, and my community, for me to go to school while my mother is home (during the summer) and while my children are gone at school (during the year).  I feel that I serve God better in my home, in church, and in my community by going to school this year.  I wholeheartedly sustain the prophetic counsel encouraging mothers to be home with their children, just as I wholeheartedly sustain counsel encouraging women to serve in the communities in which they live.  

There are so many instances in life where we discern and choose for ourselves how to obey prophetic counsel.  This is what we, as women, do!  The reason we need the gift of the Holy Ghost in our life is because we have so many wonderful, good opportunities that we need to choose for ourselves each day how to spend our time.  Eve had to choose, Rebecca had to choose, Mary had to choose, Emma had to choose, Mary Fielding had to choose, Nephi had to choose, Abraham had to choose.  Righteous women might have lives that don’t look pretty as they are making decisions that will change the eternal destiny of their families. 

Prophets, apostles, General RS, YW and Primary leaders have continually told us that our families should be our highest priorities.  They have promised GREAT blessings to women who choose to stay home with their children.  I don’t believe that these promises are tied to LOCATION as much as they are tied to PRIORITY.  Women who are home full-time can spend just as much time “away” from their families as women who work or go to school.  Women in the home can still put many things above their families in priority. I am certain that many women who choose to leave their children physically or emotionally while they are young, will come to regret their decision.    
As a mother who is going to school, I am not saying that I am an exception to any commandments.  I am saying that right now, my family will be MORE BLESSED by my education than they would be if I were at home.  My location has changed, my priorities and my righteousness hasn’t.  My heart is still turned towards my family, my God, and my covenants. 

In considering this option, my husband and I were SO grateful for the inspired counsel of prophets and apostles who we sustain.  I am not an exception to a commandment for mothers to stay home with their children.  I am REAPING THE REWARDS of trusting in that prophetic promise for 20 years.  Now, I am trusting in other prophetic promises.  Promises that if I follow the Spirit I will be directed, that if I keep the Sabbath Day holy I will be expanded, that if I listen to the counsel of my husband, my bishop, my stake president, my area authorities, I will not be led astray.  I am trusting the counsel that as we lose ourselves in the service of others we will find ourselves. I feel in my soul the prophetic warning from Elder Nelson who said, “In light of this celestial perspective, if you . . . cut short your education, you would not only disregard a divine decree but also abbreviate your own eternal potential”.  I am preparing to send out four missionaries in the next four years, by making choices that will bless our family financially.  I'm preparing to serve a mission with my husband later in life, financially and educationally. 

I think the reason it is dangerous to judge others based on perceived "commandments" is because you might end up condemning Christ for healing on Sunday or a Bishop for being gone from his family all Sunday by saying it is a commandment to "not work on Sunday".  Keeping the Sabbath Day holy might look as different in reality and application as the counsel that  "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nourishment and nurture of their children". 

It is not a sin for women to go to school.  It is not a sin for women to work.  We could be sinning at home or at work, if our hearts are set more on the honors of men than on the honor of God. 

I struggle daily to overcome my natural man and to avoid sin.  I repent each week for many, many sins.  But, as I walk out the door each morning with my husband, I feel the sweet assurance that I have been led to this place in my life.  I am keeping God’s commandments.  I am fulfilling my eternal role as a wife and a mother and a daughter of God.  I am not an exception to the rule.  I am an example of the believers.  

The opportunities that I have now are BECAUSE I follow prophetic counsel.

I hope every single one of my five daughters is blessed with the opportunity and chooses to stay at home with their children while they are young.  The positive impact of having a mother home full-time in my home for the past 20 years cannot be measured.  I talk of nurturing my children, I preach of nurturing my children, and I AM STILL nurturing my children.  I believe this counsel with ALL of my soul.  

During those years that they are home with their children, I hope they continue to learn and grow and serve.  I hope they listen to the voice of the Lord in their lives and learn to act upon promptings.  And then, if they call me someday and tell me that about an opportunity they have been given to learn more and serve more and bless their family in another way, I will rejoice with them and marvel that God's plan for our individual lives is magnificent.  Women who work are not sinning.  Women who stay home with their children are not more righteous.  Agency is a beautiful gift.  God has blessed us each with unique and glorious gifts.  He will use us to build the Kingdom of God on the Earth as we consecrate all of our time and talents for Him.  I am doing this with a conscience that is not only clear, but swelling with humility, wonder, and gratitude.

Life is good because God is good.
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July 18, 2017

Why would a good mother leave her children to go to school?

Stephanie had a question for me in the comments section of my last post.  She said,

 I have loved your blog for years and have learned so much from you and enjoy your honest and unique perspective, even if I don't always share your opinions. I completely respect that you are trying to follow the Lord's will in your life and yet I can't help wondering why, after feeling so compelled to bring each of your children into the world, you would then choose to have someone else raise them in your place. I understand and believe in the value of education but don't think it is confined to an institution. I sincerely ask you to help me understand the trend I see in our church (I am also LDS) for women to leave their young children to go back to school or work. I so fiercely believe in the need for mothers to be home with and raise their children! In the spirit of love and the desire to understand the women around me who are making that decision, I really would love to hear more of your thoughts on the subject. I apologize for sounding (or even being a little) judgmental. I am so concerned for our nation, as a whole, though--where families are concerned--and feel that mothers can still be home and put their children first and also find ways to make an impact outside of the home. This is a tough issue, and I hope you don't regret your decision to blog about it! Hopefully this can be an opportunity for a great discussion. I think you're an amazing woman and appreciate that I feel like I can ask you hard questions and you (hopefully) won't take offense. :)

First, I want to say THANK YOU Stephanie for feeling like you could ask me this question.

I am a mother with a huge mother heart.  I am (or have always been) a stay-at-home mother who LOVES being home with my children.  I have eight children because I know there is no greater work.  There is no place on earth that I could have done more good, then right here, in my home, raising my family.  I believe this is truth.  Although a part of me has always dreamed of returning to school, I honestly never imagined I would leave my family.

When I began feeling prompted to look at Grad Schools it was really hard for me to do it.  I felt like I was selling my birthright for a bowl or porridge.  It was the weirdest feeling in the world to feel that leaving my family, even for school, was WRONG, and at the same time feeling strongly that God was prompting me to do that.  I felt similar to Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac.  My closest friends will tell you that I did not make the decision to go back to school lightly.

Not only did I feel that I needed to apply to Grad School, I started studying for the GRE when I had NO IDEA what I was going to study.  Ben is four.  Once I began to seriously consider going back to school, I decided I would wait one more year before starting a part-time program.  But, I continued to feel that I needed to act quickly and that I needed to do school this year.  

It wasn't until after I had applied and was accepted to a program (I had EVERY intention of postponing for one year) that my little town of Tully approved a preschool program that starts this Fall where Ben can go, for free, to the sweetest preschool ever.  This is in the same school that three of his sisters also attend and where he can get the speech services he needs.  It is not just a coincidence, it is providence.  Having my mom here with us this summer is also providence.  

I do know, without a doubt, that I have been led to this program, at this time.

I know that my mother is such a gift in my life.  She is a blessing to me and my children.  She is their grandmother, and she is home with them this summer (my classes go from 8 am to noon), but I am still raising my family.

I am not home raising my children full-time, like I have been for the past 20 years, but they are being raised by me.  They are doing so well. We all are.  A friend of mine said, what God says is right for one is right for all.  Not that the same thing is right for everyone, but that if God tells you to do something, and you obey, it will bless your whole family.  I am feeling this truth.

I honestly don't know why God wants me to go to this Grad School this year.
I don't know what my life is going to look like next year, five years from now, or ten years from now.
This is hard for me and so exciting.

I know that my husband feels strongly that our lives will be blessed because of this opportunity for me to go to school.  We pray about our life choices together and receive confirming and aligning witnesses.

He is the Bishop of our ward.  He is also a professor.  He knows the time and effort this program will take, even better than I do.  And, he's so, so excited for me to do this.  

My home functions well.  In the next four years, my four oldest will leave for missions or college. The older kids drive.  They are helpful with dishes and dinner and younger kids.  I know I still have younger children, but I'm at a different stage of life now.

In a way, this process has been a conversion for me.  
I'm not sure why God opened my heart and mind and poured into a testimony of the power of a mother in the home and then 20 years later, opened up my heart to pour in the idea that there are times and seasons.  He is showing me that we really can't judge the paths of those around us, because our paths are unique.  I'm also learning that you can place family first, you can even raise your children, even as you are called to work outside of your home.  

Adam and Eve labored together.  
Throughout history, women have always 'worked'.  
I don't believe prophets have counseled us against 'working' I believe they have counseled us against the love of money and material things.  I believe God will judge our priorities and our heart.  I'm not afraid of that judgement. I have held 'full-time' callings that took me away from my family for a time.
Serving the Lord best does not always mean that I am the one at home, cooking, cleaning, and caring for my children.  Sometimes, serving means being away for a time.  I felt that when I was in the hospital for months at a time.  I was not abandoning my role as a mother, I was fulfilling it.

Similarly, my education is not distracting me from my mission in life, it is another step in becoming the eternal mother that God is helping me to become.

I don't want young mothers to see me and use my story as an excuse to miss the refining, foundational,  creating years with their children.  I would not trade 20 years at home for anything in the world.  But, I'm at a different season in my life now.  Even with the exact same priorities, my life looks different.  

Sometimes I wonder if I should be so open with the struggle parts of my life.  You might feel so strongly in your soul that you don't need to go to school for an education, and you would be right.  That feeling might be burning inside of you, because YOUR time and season is at home.  

Getting pregnant with Ben was very, very hard for me.  I struggled for months with this decision.  And, in the end, Todd and I together, chose to have our eighth child.  We felt it was God's will and we knew it was our choice.  Similarly, choosing to apply to grad school after 20 years of being a stay-at-home mother was very, very hard for me to do.  I have no doubt that God led me down this path because I know it is not a path I would have chosen on my own.  I don't know why I am in school.  I don't know what I'm going to do after school.  

But, just studying for the GRE did something for my soul and my family.

My mind was foggy after Ben was born.  Having over 200 units of blood and many reconstructive surgeries, left me with a mind that was slower.  When I first took a GRE practice test, I got around 70th percentile for the qualitative and 0 as in Z-E-R-O on quantitative.  I could not answer ONE question.  I studied from a book, all of December.  My teenagers and even my elementary school kids, would sit around and help me with my math problems.  They could all do multiplication facts faster than I could.  My memory was awful. 

My teenage boys spent hours reminding me of geometry and algebra rules that I had long forgotten.  
Just one month later, I got 95th percentile in qualitative and around 45th percentile for qualitative the average in my program was 50th percentile.  It feels so good to stretch my brain.

My kids have been a very active part of my schooling.  They are so excited for me.  I write emails back and forth with Leah while I'm in school.  This is the first email she sent me...

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Anna and Ellie help me pick out my outfits.  Anna made sure we took a first day of school picture.  She said, "Mom, you always tell us how smart you were when you were in school.  Now we can see for ourselves how true that really is."  I am still managing my home.

On my first day home from school, we went around the table sharing two good and one bad.  Lily said, "I can't decide what my favorite part of today was.  It's between getting to go to the library, and seeing how happy mom was when she came home from school."

Again, I don't know why I'm in school right now.
I chose this.  
I really, really love it and I want to be here, but I didn't really believe it was "right" to want to do this.  
Can a mother of 8 still be a good mother to good children while she is at school (or working) outside the home?
Can a mother of 8 go to school full-time and still "raise her children"? 
I hope so.

We judge each other every day.  I think it's good to use discernment in our lives.
I don't think my life is more right than your life.  
When you read my story, I hope you know that I am, and will always be a mother.  
I am raising my children.
I am also going to school, full-time, in the top MPA program in the US.
It's hard and it is really, really, fun.

Today, Ben stood by me, telling me about the magna-blocks homes he had built for his trains.  I looked into his eyes and I knew, again, with my whole soul, that the best thing I ever did as a MOTHER was to choose not to abort that life-threatening, high-risk pregnancy.  The best thing I ever gave my children was that youngest brother, even though that choice made it so that I was away from them for over a year in a hospital bed.  So many people, in my family and on the internet, did not agree with my decision.  They felt that my decision to have Ben was putting my other children at risk.  I understand their perspective.  Maybe, another mother would have made a different choice.  Maybe another good mother would make a different choice.

Right now, I am spending one year in a graduate program.  My children will be well cared for.  My heart will be in my home.  I am ridiculously excited for this program and I'm also somewhat nervous.  I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to be a mom and a student at the same time, but I trust that my Father in Heaven will help me to mother his children.  

Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
I am a mother of 8 and I am in Grad School.  
I'm really grateful for this opportunity.  
It is a blessing for me and my family.
(Hopefully Grad School will teach me to be a little more concise.)

Life is good.
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