Sunday, March 30, 2014

We are Different in Happy Ways

Sometimes my heart just gets so full that I have to write a blog post. Now is one of those times. I would say sorry to post twice in a row about women, but I'm not sorry. 'Tis important stuff.

Can I just say how happy the gospel makes me? How true it is that there is joy in obedience?

Last night I got to listen to the first-ever general women's meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was filled to the brim with the Spirit, with gratitude, with happiness, with motivation and with love.

What we have as women in the Church is so unique! We have this giant network of sisters, who know who they are, who know how to find true joy, who understand the importance of service and who love Jesus Christ. I feel like if I was not a member of the Church, and I watched that amazing conference, I would do anything to be part of such an amazing sisterhood.

As President Spencer W. Kimball said clear back in 1979, "Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world."

We are different. We are distinct. We are peculiar. Some might see our modest clothes and alcohol-free weekends and chaste lifestyle and say we are weird. And if we women of the Church live those standards feeling that we are restricted and missing out on something, we are missing the point. We must live the gospel so that other see us as distinct and different in happy ways, because if we're living the gospel right, happy is what we will be.

Sheri Dew talks about a time when a reporter interviewed her and said, "You can't be ordained to the priesthood, so I assume you feel oppressed about that, so how do you deal with that?"

To sit and think that women of the church are suppressed and unhappy is simply a skewed perspective. To quote president Kimball again, "Great women and men are always more anxious to serve than to have dominion." We, as women, have so much to give, so much to teach, so much happiness to exude and so many reasons to do so. And God is calling us to step up like never before. Last year, in his excellent talk "Let us Think Straight," Elder Ballard said, "Sisters, your sphere of influence is a unique sphere—one that cannot be duplicated by men. No one can defend our Savior with any more persuasion or power than you, the daughters of God, can—you who have such inner strength and conviction. The power of a converted woman’s voice is immeasurable, and the Church needs your voices now more than ever."

I sat down to write this with no solid direction to take than simply to say: the gospel brings me so much JOY. Thanks to the gospel of Jesus Christ,  I can have the worst luck and no success in the academic and social scene, yet still find joy.  I've been able to work as a volunteer helping in the temple each Saturday morning. My heart was just bursting with happiness yesterday as I was there. I think of all the sister missionaries in the world, the temple workers, the primary teachers, the visiting teachers, the young women leaders, the moms, the grandmas. Their work makes them happy. My work makes me happy. Last night in the broadcast, Elder Eyring talked about the joy of making covenants and helping others make them, and I wanted to stand up and shout, "Amen!" The best decision I ever made was to be baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The second best decision I made was to serve a mission and help others make that same covenant. It's because only through covenants can we have full access to the atonement of Jesus Christ, which is the source of all happiness. Covenant keeping increases our access to the Source of all true happiness.

And here's just a shout-out to my dear sister Hope, who is happily serving a mission in Brazil, helping others make covenants that will bring them more joy than anything else. This is a picture from exactly two years ago, at the General Conference right before I entered the MTC.

The mission in Brazil hasn't been a cake walk for her, but after a rough week this is what she said: "I love being a missionary, though, and if I can say that after 3 paragraphs of sad stories, then you better believe it's true." 

Making covenants and helping others make covenants makes us different from the world in very happy ways. 

"Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity." Margaret D. Nadauld

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Success as a Woman

I've recently been inundated with articles and comments as I scroll through my newsfeed that have opened my eyes to the way we're viewing the role of women. The topic has been consuming my thoughts. You should see the comments of horror when Susan Paton's article about marrying young (i.e. before 30) is posted. Or the feisty comments from both extremes on an article in which one writer criticized the fact we celebrate things like weddings and births, saying, "If women can do anything, why are we still content with applauding them for doing nothing? I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job--not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing which is the path of least resistance." Because producing and sustaining life is less miraculous than backpacking Asia...and is doing "nothing?" (As Matt Walsh says, "Whatever moms are doing, they ARE doing something, and our civilization DEPENDS on them doing it well. Who else can say such a thing? What other job carries with it such consequences?")

I haven't backpacked through Asia or attained my dream job yet, but I've studied in Israel, done orphanage projects in Guatemala, escaped an Egyptian riot, scaled Macchu Picchu, survived a near-shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, taught health classes in Africa, run many a long-distance race, defended my beliefs at a UN Conference in New York, become fluent in a foreign language and testified of what I know to be true on many a hot day in Paraguay. I've had a top-notch education, held leadership positions, and seen some of the most beautiful sites life has to offer.  Granted, none of that would have been as possible if I had married young and was "stuck" at home raising kids. Maybe, when I'm a stay-at-home mom in the future with more than a few rambunctious children testing my patience, I'll sigh and I'll look back at this time and miss the calmness, the occasional solitude, the ability to do what I want without having to organize babysitters or pack a diaper bag. 

But I'm actually pretty sure that I will never look back on this period of being single and think....."Wow, those were the days." I'm pretty sure I'll never think that. In fact, I think the best moments are yet to come, when I'm devoted to my own little home. Yes, I'm sure I won't be as appreciated as I wish, it won't be as "fun" as the humanitarian projects and tours, but it will be the best of all. Call it being naive, but I call it having your priorities straight. These years of opportunity and adventure have been important, life-changing, educational, perspective-broadening, testimony-building---yes. But I was created to serve. And the ultimate service is in a family. I didn't come to earth to just build a resume, check off a bucket list, and have adventure. I came here to find true happiness, which is found in the family. I didn't come to earth to see how far I could climb up the corporate ladder, but to see how close I could get to becoming like my Ultimate Example, and I can't imagine a better way to become like the Best Parent than being a parent myself. I didn't come to earth to prepare for an amazing career. I came here to prepare for eternal life, and family life prepares us for eternal life. 

Of course, while I hope to have a family and make them my first priority, I don't think a woman's influence is limited to her household. Oh no. Before and during and after the child-raising years, there is much more to be done than sit and wait and assume our only chance to do good is in the home. Yes, it's the most influential and most important place to do good, but it is not the only place. I still plan to be involved in my community, in politics, in public health, in development work of impoverished areas, in local events wherever I may live, and much more. And I believe that if I put my family first, God will bless me with opportunities to serve in many capacities and even develop myself. Marathons, learning to ballroom dance, having my own catering business. There is a time for everything. But if not, there is time for the most important things, which is why I'll put them first.

But as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I don't measure my success by how impressive my life looks from a resume stand-point (click here for a great Ted Talk about how to really measure your life). I measure the importance of my priorities by the words of one of our prophets, David O. McKay, who said, "No success can compensate for failure in the home." 

Without the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, I wouldn't understand this whole perspective of "the greatest good a woman can do is in the walls of her own home." Without the gospel, I'd probably be planning my next adventure and applying to grad schools--the idea of settling down to get married and have kids would not even be in my peripheral vision. But I have felt and truly believe in the importance of the family. I believe what the prophet has said that, "the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." God has so wisely mapped out the best plan for our happiness, and if the family is central to it, who am I to disagree? Who am I to say, "Well, God, I think I'll be happiest if I put my first priority on my personal promotions and plaudits and popularity. Maybe the family thing makes some people feel fulfilled, but it's not for me."  

Which is why it makes me so sad to hear Latter-Day Saint young women my age say just that. To hear them want to be like men and focus their priorities on their careers, to hear them look down on stay-at-home moms and consider that old-fashioned.  Where is their faith? 

I feel like I perfectly understand their point of view. When opportunities for foreign internships or exciting, but long-term-commitment, jobs come along, it's hard to not embark on them. It might not seem that rocking the cradle is the best way to rock the world when exciting new ideas on poverty termination come knocking on your door, pry into your humanitarian heart and tempt your sense of altruism and adventure.  At times, being a world-traveling National Geographic photographer seems a lot more impressive and influential than sitting down with the kids to look at the pictures when the National Geographic comes in the mail. But if I took advantage of every golden opportunity that came my way, I'd never be in the same place long enough to be in a relationship and eventually have a family.

If it weren't for the gospel in my life, I could go on for years on my own and think I was taking the "path of resistance" and doing the noblest and most meaningful thing. But if I were to live my life like that, and never put my efforts into building a happy family, I'm afraid I would die with an impressive photo album and many material comforts, but no posterity of my own, and no one to be with in heaven. With the gospel in my life, I feel like I haven't had to learn the lesson that so many learn the hard way, when they get old and think, "I should have spent more time with my family." 

It's the eternal perspective that keeps me focused on the truly important things that will bring the truest joys in life. As Alma 39:17 so wisely says in the Book of Mormon, "Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you." 

The most important things in life are the spiritual things. The most meaningful things in life really aren't things. They're people. Living life according to that knowledge is success. 

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
 This is the first and great commandment.
 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:36-39

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