Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Me and the Priesthood: A Series of Vignettes



Some of my earliest memories include receiving priesthood blessings from my father. I remember a blessing when I was constipated at the age of three, blessings at the start of every school year, a blessing when I was 11 and woke up in the night nauseous and anxious and shaking uncontrollably, a blessing when I was trying to decide whether to serve a mission or get married, a blessing before my wedding day. After each blessing, I felt loved, comforted, and known.

*

Most of the boys in my church age group turned twelve before I did. I remember each of them being called to the stand as the months paraded on and raising my hand to sustain them in their new callings as Deacons and priesthood holders. I watched them in ensuing weeks as they trooped white-shirted through the chapel aisles, wielding trays of bread and water, serving silently but visibly. I felt an increasing internal agitation, a painful little itch somewhere in my thorax, as my birthday approached. And on that sunny September day, I was handed my Primary graduation certificate with a handshake from my bishop on the podium. There was no sustaining vote for me, no encircling rite of ordination after the meeting, no subsequent increase of responsibility or service.

I knew women weren't eligible to receive the priesthood, but I was angry. My pride was wounded. I knew myself to be just as capable, just as responsible, just as righteous as my male peers. Let's be honest: I also thought I was more mature, more knowledgeable in the gospel, more prepared for such a privilege than they were. It rankled inside me for a long time that these boys I saw at school who said such crude things were entrusted to serve in the church in a way that I wasn't. 

It was the first time I really understood that being a girl in the church was different than being a boy, that regardless of my efforts and my worthiness, there were many opportunities to serve that were closed to me.

*

I always knew I wanted to serve a mission. It was not a commandment for me like it was for my male friends, but I was excited to go. I was in high school when our prophet, Pres. Hinckley, made a statement about sister missionaries (in Priesthood session of all places) where he, in essence, said that missions were primarily a priesthood (male) responsibility and that the reason women couldn't go until they were older (21 vs 19 for men) was because the church was trying to keep the number of women serving "relatively small." I was bewildered and hurt that this statement on a subject so near to my heart had been made in a meeting I wasn't allowed to attend, and I felt that the church I so desperately wanted to serve didn't honor or value my desire simply because I was a woman.

*

I was 20 when I sat in the office of my singles' ward bishop at BYU. I nervously laid out each of my reasons for wanting to be a missionary like pearls between us and asked if my motivations were worthy. He reluctantly handed me a packet of mission papers, but he informed me that women were not encouraged to serve, that my number one priority should be thinking about marriage and family. He knew I was seriously dating a wonderful man in our ward, but I wasn't sure I was ready to get married. I left the interview clutching the papers with a heavy heart and feeling like my offering wasn't enough.

*

I worked up the courage to consult with the bishop of my home singles' ward over the summer. When I nervously asked if he thought it would be okay if I served a mission, his smile and exuberant affirmation warmed me.

*

I loved my missionary service. It was brutally difficult, but I wanted to be there. I served alongside mostly young men, and I came to love and respect many of them deeply. It rankled sometimes that I wasn't eligible for leadership service positions, but for the most part I enjoyed working with my district and zone leaders. Once, as a formality, I asked a zone leader for permission to leave my ward boundaries to say goodbye to and introduce a struggling investigator who'd moved unexpectedly to the Elders in his area (the investigator lived about 15 minutes away but was in our singles' ward boundary, just not in our family ward's boundary). The zone leader left a message on our answering machine telling us that we could not go. I called him back and said that we knew what was right for our investigator and we were going anyway and who was he to tell us no when most missionaries wouldn't have even asked and we were just trying to be obedient. My tirade wasn't exactly Christlike, but he gave us permission to go (with qualifications). I chafed, knowing my anger had less to do with this Elder and more to do with the knowledge that I would always be the one asking permission, never the one granting it.

*

In one ward I served in, the bishop had previously excluded sister missionaries from PEC meetings because they were not men. We held the same calling and authority as the Elders, but because we were women, we were not welcome. He thankfully reconsidered his position around the time I got there, but I always felt like an intruder in PEC after that and had a burst of anxiety that my voice was not welcome any time I needed to speak.

*

There were a few times over the years where I met with various bishops to discuss matters that were very sensitive and personal. I felt so awkward and ashamed to talk about such issues with a man, especially one so much older than myself. I remember desperately wishing I could talk to a woman who might be better able to understand me, might better know how to comfort and counsel me. 

*

Jay and I were asked to speak in church in a previous ward. The bishopric member asked Jay to speak for 15 minutes and me to speak for 10. Jay was asked to speak last. I'm sure the bishopric member didn't mean anything by it, but I was hurt and angry. I felt like my voice, as a woman, was considered less important. I worry that, in our culture, we unwittingly pass on the message that what women have to say is only important for women (and children) to hear, while what men have to say is important for everyone. We are slowly improving in this regard, but I still yearn for more strong women who are treated as spiritual leaders for the membership as a whole, and not just for women.

*

I held a calling in a stake capacity several years ago. My stewardship was minimal, but I was able to observe the workings of the authority hierarchy in the stake. I was stunned and frustrated when, multiple times, my committee's decisions were overturned and our needs were not met. Despite logic and appeals, our various requests were denied by a leader who, while a wonderful man I very much respect, was a stubborn micro manager. There was no recourse for us; we yielded to his directives (some of us with more grace than others). 

*

I handed over my sweet baby, swathed in yards of gauzy white, to my husband, who joined a group of other men at the front of the chapel to give her a name and a blessing. I was so proud and so pleased, but a small part of me wished that I could be part of that sacred circle, too.




*

I am currently serving in the Young Women organization in my ward. I love the girls I work with: they are bright, beautiful, and capable. Young men in our church have the opportunity from the age of twelve to serve the general ward membership in very visible ways (performing sacrament ordinances, home teaching, collecting fast offerings), which is wonderful. I have been looking for ways that the young women can likewise serve and support the members of the ward. I have suggested a few things, but coming up with ideas takes a lot of creativity and implementing ideas/seeking permission takes a lot of work. With the way the church is so efficiently run under the structure of the priesthood, it can be difficult to carve out places for women (and young women) to serve and minister to the general membership and not just children and other women.

*

I first heard about the group Ordain Women a year ago. I never joined it since part of their platform and many of their methods were not in line with my beliefs, but I marveled that there were other women like me who felt unheard and underutilized, who had love for the gospel but pain from their experiences in the church. I respected their courage and grace, especially in the face of a vitriolic backlash that horrified me. I did not feel I could join them, but I understood them. I have compassion for them. 

I join with them now in mourning during this difficult time while simultaneously trying to withhold judgment on whether Kate Kelly's excommunication was right or wrong. It is not my place to judge or condemn, but to love, to acknowledge all pain and experiences as valid, to mourn with those that mourn. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

On Motherhood: Conduit

I wrote this over a year ago, and it came to mind on this mother's day evening as the erratic movements of this new woman-child inside me erupt like fireworks across my distended belly.

{2012; photo by Katie}

My daughter has transformed my body into something useful, sustaining. In utero, she stretched and grew, and my body made room for her as she displaced organs and created a conduit for her entrance into the world. Even now, a year later, my body bears her mark: widened hips, thinning hair, puckered stretch marks, loose and dimpled flesh, soft and drooping breasts. 



I no longer have the body of my lean, lithe, 20 year old self. Those days are gone. But I have the body of a mother, a figure shaped by pregnancy and nursing, arms strong from lifting and carrying, a face marked by laughter and tears. It has taken some time, but I love this body more now than I did ten years ago.




I feel God reforming my character sometimes, molding me as deftly as my daughter has--wider here, softer there--fashioning me into something different and beautiful, something useful, a conduit to bring more of Him into the world.


{Taken today, Mother's day 2014}

Thursday, May 1, 2014

In Defense of Bodies

Pictures of a few of the life-enriching experiences I've had because of my body. {Exploring England in 2007}

Kate runs toward me with abandon, short legs pumping, round stomach heaving, head thrown back laughing. Her hair flops wildly about her face; her knees are scabbed, and her face is dirty. She launches herself into my arms and I tickle her until she hiccups. We stretch our bodies as we do actions to silly songs, and she glories in the different sensory experiences available to her. 


One of the things that brings me certainty about the existence of souls--that we are more than just flesh--is the the way our bodies function with miraculous complexity without any conscious thought from us. Our cells and systems work in perfect synergy with diverse strains of bacterial flora and fungi. When we unknowingly ingest something harmful, our bodies sense the danger and purge themselves of toxins. When we become host to a damaging virus or bacteria, our bodies engage a host of defenses--fever, mucus, gastrointestinal revolt--to defeat the harmful infestation.

{Pregnancy, 2012}

Our hearts contract, our food is digested and stored and utilized, our blood is filtered and replenished, our tissues heal and regenerate, all with little to no input from us. It's amazing. This complete conscious disconnect from our bodies' automatic systems, however, comes with some downfalls: we often aren't aware when our bodies have serious problems. If we were just bodies, wouldn't it stand to reason that we would be able to sense a growing cancerous tumor? Detect the buildup of fatty plaques in arteries that slowly strangle the heart? Mentally switch our metabolisms from fat-storing to fat-burning when starvation is unlikely?

{Getting married, 2008}

But we are not only bodies. We are spirits clothed in skin and sinew. We are a divinely sparked creative consciousness entwined with a glorious mortal instrument.

{Hiking Observation Point in Zion, 2014}

Our bodies are our greatest assets. We can serve others and glorify God and enable ourselves by the choices we make regarding our bodies. They allow us to interact with the world around us, providing guiding sensory input. Our bodies allow us to experience life--to push our limits, to accomplish goals, to raise families. With them, doing becomes possible. Having a body is a glorious, full experience.


I worry about the alarming cultural attitudes we carry about bodies: that they way they look, how they're shaped, and what they're adorned with eclipses what they actually are. We obsess about the physicality of them; we focus on the fact that, since they have mass, they are objects to be looked at, judged, and acted upon, when the reality is that they're instruments we can use to be active participants in the world. We deconstruct our bodies as parts with varying desirability instead of seeing them as a glorious whole. We shrink from photographs, brush off compliments, and disparage and pick apart inconsequential things that form the beautiful uniqueness of who we are.

{Fishing/hiking Boulder Mountain, 2013}

I work to make my body a healthy, fitting home for my spirit. I feed it (mostly) nutritious foods, I stretch and exercise it, I use it to live my life as a fully involved participant, not dividing my attention between what I'm doing and how others may perceive me. I am well aware that there are many things about my body that do not meet society's impossible standard (and it is impossible), and some days that's still hard. But mostly, I love this body. I love that I can use it to accomplish, to produce, to serve, to play, to experience, to create. What I am trumps what I am not. What I can do trumps what I can't. What I do trumps what I look like while I'm doing it.


I am more than my generous hips, narrow shoulders, sturdy legs, slender arms, and curly hair. These pieces are part of who I am, but I am so much more than the sum of my parts. My identity is determined by how I choose to utilize my body to make my mark on the world, and my sense of worth is solid when I remember to honor my body as the divinely designed vehicle for my spirit. 

{Serving a mission (and hiking Multnomah Falls), 2006}

I have hope that my evolving attitude toward my own body will help my daughter keep her innocent joy in her own. 

{Completing a quilt, 2013}

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Adventures in Parenting: The Importance of Contingency Plans

{Pictures of various shenanigans, January 2014. Counter height table + tile floor = bad news when your toddler figures out how much fun it is to climb}

Contingency plans are an essential part of parenting. They are the reason diaper bags exist, the purpose of Poison Control magnets, the impetus behind first aid kits, the motivation that brought us Tide pens and travel-size Kleenex and outlet safety covers and single serving fruit snack packs. 



{Writing checks}

In my two years of parenting experience, I have learned multiple times that no matter how well-laid my plans are, no matter how many spare outfits or diapers or snacks I carry, there is always something that will catch me unawares. I constantly find myself in situations I'm ill-equipped to deal with. Part of this is because, once I've figured out how to avoid one set of shenanigans, Kate's abilities level up, increasing her disaster-capacity tenfold. It's toddler Darwinism, and her evolutionary leaps leave me swinging in the proverbial tree.



{Flour floor}

Last week, after a Costco/Winco run, Kate was in the house while I toted in loads of groceries from the garage. I had just grabbed the last couple items and saw that the door I had left ajar was shut. Panic mounting, I wrenched the doorknob--it was locked. 




My keys were in the house. Despite my better judgment, we don't have a spare key planted outside. I checked just in case, but both the front and sliding glass doors were locked. 



{On tiptoe, stealing handfuls of cheese}

I knocked on the garage door and wiggled the doorknob. "Kate, can you unlock the door?" I asked. "Can you turn the lock so Mommy can come in?" In response, she rattled the doorknob and banged her small fist on the door. "Outside! Outside!" she demanded.




Now, this situation could have been avoided. Kate had occasionally fiddled with the lock on the garage door before, and I remember commenting recently to Jay that we needed to have a backup key in case, well, in case the situation I was living at that moment ever happened. But like it goes with so many good ideas, I didn't act on it.



{Also note the mess behind her--pulling stuff out of cupboards is a favorite pastime.}

I left a message for Jay at his office ("Please tell him to call me as soon as possible. No one is hurt, but it's kind of an emergency."). I wasn't sure what to do, and I wasn't thinking very clearly. I knew that Kate would be fine in the house by herself, but her little voice was starting to sound panicky as she scrabbled unproductively at the doorknob. 




I ran around again to the sliding glass door and matched my outstretched hand with hers on the glass. "Kate," I said, my voice still very calm, "can you go unlock the door?" And I mimed twisting with my fingers. She ran over and touched the garage door and ran back. 



{September 2013. Buying in bulk is smart, except when you have a toddler who learns to open boxes.}

"Kate," I tried again, suddenly taking a different tack, "can you push up that little lever? Push it up." And I motioned at the locking mechanism for the sliding glass door.




She did it. I threw the door open, scooped her into my arms, and spun her around. I was a bit teary, and she squirmed at the confinement. Jay called just then, so I released my hold on a relieved Kate and grabbed the phone.



{October 2013. This is what it looks like when Kate wants something she can't have.}

I realized (right before Jay said it) that I probably could have gotten in the house through an unlocked window. I felt silly I hadn't thought of it in the moment, but was also grateful that my round pregnant self was spared the indignity of shimmying through a tight, waist-level space. 




All's well that ends well, and we've added another contingency plan to our growing list. I give it about two days before Kate finds another vulnerability in our defenses. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Tired.

It's been a no sleep kind of week. A car-breaks-down-on-the-way-to-work, Dad-in-hospital, almost-go-to-hospital-myself kind of week. A slightly-hysterical-laughing-fits-because-it's-been-such-a-week kind of week.

I'm exhausted and sore and so looking forward to a cozy weekend of family and General Conference. I'm not going to lie, my soul's a bit parched and desperately in need of some dew from heaven distilling

Life is still good, and we've had some peaceful lulls this week, too. I feel the thumping of this baby fairly regularly now. Jay and I played a game together for the first time in months on Sunday. Kate's naps were becoming increasingly erratic (last week she only slept two out of seven days), but she has had a good nap every day since Sunday (five in a row now, knock on wood). Most of my pain from yesterday melted away overnight. We have wonderful friends. Other than some uncharacteristic occasional night waking, Kate has been a joy. She has so much to say that she doesn't quite have the words for it. It is fun to see her so excitedly try to cram the big ideas in her head into disjointed two to three word utterances.

So, in that sense, it's been a normal-and-happy kind of week, too. Let's hope next week is blissfully boring.