Mother’s Day 2018: The Many-Gendered Mothers of my Heart

Good afternoon brothers and sisters, and happy Mother’s Day. If you forgot, I give you permission to frantically order flowers for your mom on your smartphones while I speak. In case we haven’t met, my name is Ingrid, I’m from Provo, and I’m here in San Diego to work on my Ph.D in art history at UCSD. Today I want to meditate with you on one of my favorite scriptures, a maternal sentiment spoken by our Savior and quoted in both the gospel of Matthew and of Luke. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” Luke 13:34. There is so much to love about this scripture, and I especially love what it teaches us about every person’s relationship with motherhood.
Jesus Christ, like all of us, was made in the image of God. He was created with a distinct divine nature. When he shared these tender feelings of desire to protect and guide the people of Jerusalem, he identified himself with a hen, a classic symbol of The Maternal. The divine heritage of Christ is that of both a Father and a Mother. Each of us was made in the image of both of our Heavenly Parents, and we have received attributes from both of Them. Although we don’t remember what Eliza R. Snow referred to as our “first primeval childhood,” our spirits were shaped by perfect parents and our hearts know Them and Their love perfectly. We are all so different from one another and yet we share the same spiritual DNA from our Heavenly Mother and Father. I think it would be beyond the scope of sacrament meeting to speculate on what makes divine Motherhood and Fatherhood different, so for today I want to share some of my favorite things that I’ve heard and read that help us understand the qualities of great motherhood.
I’m not sharing these for the sisters to store up for some future day while the brothers nod appreciatively. The principles of motherhood apply to all of you and to me today. Because motherhood is such a vital, noble, and important calling, every disciple can become more loving and Godly by emulating maternal characteristics.
When I think of motherhood in a more general sense, I think of nurturing. The pinnacle of divinity is to create and to nurture. According to Neill Marriott, whose beautiful Southern accent I will resist trying to imitate, “Nurturing is not limited to bearing children. Eve was called a “mother” before she had children. I believe that “to mother” means “to give life.” Think of the many ways you give life. It could mean giving emotional life to the hopeless or spiritual life to the doubter. With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can create an emotionally healing place for the discriminated against, the rejected, and the stranger. In these tender yet powerful ways, we build the kingdom of God. The Savior’s creation of the earth, under the direction of His Father, was a mighty act of nurturing. All of us need a spiritual and physical place of belonging. We can create this; it is even a holy place.”
Sister Marriott was addressing the sisters in the women’s session of general conference, but everyone who is here today has a responsibility to nurture, to create places of belonging, and to give life. I promise that the Lord has blessed you with life-giving attributes and opportunities that are tailor made just for you. I’d like to share three examples of what it can look like when we nurture in similitude of motherhood. These examples will be Aunt Beast, my favorite character from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a home teaching companionship of mine who magnified their callings, a new mother who I assisted in childbirth, and of course my own mother. Let’s start with Aunt Beast.
I recently reread A Wrinkle in Time. This is a book with a beautiful Christian message. Meg, the main character of the book, has just had a traumatic and life-threatening encounter with a dark and evil force called IT. She and her party land on an alien planet where they have to decide if they should trust the creatures they find there. The narrator says,
“The three beasts stood around Meg, and it seemed that they were feeling into her with their softly waving tentacles. The movement of the tentacles was as rhythmic and flowing as the dance of an undersea plant, and lying there, cradled in the four strange arms, Meg, despite herself, felt a sense of security that was deeper than anything she had known since the days when she lay in her mother’s arms in the old rocking chair and was sung to sleep. With her father’s help she had been able to resist IT. Now she could hold out no longer. She leaned her head against the beast’s chest, and realized that the gray body was covered with the softest, most delicate fur imaginable, and the fur had the same beautiful odor as the air. I hope I don’t smell awful to it, she thought. But then she knew with a deep sense of comfort that even if she did smell awful the beasts would forgive her. As the tall figure cradled her she could feel the frigid stiffness of her body relaxing against it.”
This chapter is amazing because it shows what a literally universal thing it is to nurture, and because it describes so well how it feels to be in the presence of a person or creature who is possessed of the attributes of motherhood. Meg feels comfort in the gentle tentacles of her new friends. She feels that she is free to be vulnerable. She feels unconditionally loved, and that love gives her a deep sense of comfort and security. You and I meet people every day who are facing challenges as heartbreaking and life-threatening as the cosmic darkness in A Wrinkle in Time. You can nurture those who desperately need love and care and offer them the deep security of unconditional love. You can create a holy place within yourself for every person you meet, and this love will fill people around you with emotional and spiritual life.
I’ve never traveled outside of this planet, but I do remember going to college far away from home and yearning for a sense of belonging. I found this belonging in the welcoming brothers and sisters of my ward family, who took me under their wings and helped me feel as though they accepted me just the way I was. In particular, I had a pair of home teachers assigned to me who truly embodied the vision of ministering that has been revealed to the church recently.
I’m not sure if we became friends because they were assigned to minister to me or if they were assigned to me because we were already friends, but sometimes I wondered if they had requested the assignment. Their names were Eric and Benton, and they helped me out so much that I used to call them my Fairy Godbrothers. I’m not sure how much they liked that, to be honest. They gave me countless rides to the airport, Eric let me crash on his couch before my dorm re-opened, and Benton the dental student even offered me free dental consulting. I remember distinctly during a visit with the home teachers in a dorm common room, I mentioned a toothache and Benton graciously took a look at it. He grabbed a nearby lamp and perched it at an awkward angle and as he peered at my teeth, I thought, “This is true friendship.” Eric and Benton gathered me under their wings as a hen gathers her brood, and I will never forget the relief of knowing that I had those two on my side. As a church, we are all learning anew what it means to minister, and I believe that maternal nurturing is an amazing example for how we can conduct our life-giving church service.
However, because there is opposition in all things, loving deeply is a big risk, although of course it is a risk worth taking. Pain is inherent to motherhood in the traditional sense and to nurturing more generally. I promise that this pain is worth feeling, and that we are never alone in any suffering, especially when it is the price we pay to care deeply for others. Motherhood and nurturing love involve a lot of pain, I think not despite but because of their importance. The scripture I quoted earlier contains a tender pathos that helps me understand how deeply the Savior loves us, and how well he understands the heartbreak of rejection and of knowing the harm that may come to those we loves. Learning to nurture means learning to let our hearts be broken, and we can take comfort knowing that right by our side is a Savior who knows exactly how to heal broken hearts.
I have learned a lot about pain and love as a birth doula. In case you don’t know what that means, doulas are childbirth coaches that offer support, both physical and emotional, to individuals and families during the process of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery. A lot of my work is celebratory, but the majority of what I do involves helping people cope with pain. I will never forget the first labor I attended. It was also the mother’s first experience with childbirth, and there was an intense fear in her eyes that I saw as soon as I met her. It was a long and difficult labor but at one point I asked her to describe the outfit she was going to bring her little girl home in. She finally smiled and told me about a Minnie Mouse onesie that she had received. After the delivery, I got to see this precious, perfect baby in her polka-dotted and ruffly outfit and there was no question at all as to whether it had been worth it. It was as if the hours of labor had never happened. The powerful joy that I witnessed that day was the natural result of giving life to somebody, in this case a brand new, squishy pink baby.
I’ve probably bragged to you about my amazing mother the amazing poet, and I want to share one of her poems with you now because it expresses so beautifully the risks of mothering. For a little background, my mom wrote this poem about my little sister Cecily. When my mom was pregnant, her doctor realized that Cecily had a large cyst growing in her lung, threatening the development of her heart and lungs. I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you know that Cecily is 14 years old now with healthy amounts of both lungs and sass, but when she was mango-sized, we weren’t sure how her story would end. I still remember my mom’s face one day as she picked me up from school after an especially concerning doctor’s appointment. I could tell she had been crying and that she wanted so badly to put on a brave face for me and my sisters. My mom wrote this poem of hope and sadness about that time, and I invite you to listen for imagery that echoes the shape of a pair of lungs. The poem is called “farfalla”
POEM PAUSE
Broken valentine
Spread across cork with straight pins
Live
Away
And fly

Light on my wet sleeve
Tell the child of my womb
Breathe
*

Touched wings
Will ground you
*

Iridescent one
Your eight eyes blink
Yes no yes
Breath in god’s nostrils
*

Breath of god’s nostrils
My blue butterfly
Fly
Fly
Fly
Away

(find the book here)

I love this poem because its invocation of “breath of god’s nostrils” helped me understand that to nurture is to co-create with God. We can do this in a literal, biological sense as my mom is describing in her poem, but I believe that any life-giving unconditional love we offer is offered in partnership with God. We can join our mother hen Savior in taking people under our wing. It is hard to find an experience sweeter than knowing we are collaborating with God.
I invite each of you to start nurturing today. Mother’s Day is an amazing holiday but it can also be really challenging for so many reasons. Perhaps some of you are missing a mother today, or feeling unfulfilled without children of your own, or feel intimidated by the expectation to one day bear children and raise them in a difficult world, and I’m sure there are many more kinds of Mother’s Day-related pain than I could name. I promise that the Lord has placed in your path people to nurture and people to be nurtured by. I encourage you to reach out to those around you and put an arm around your spiritual brothers and sisters who may be in extra need of comfort today. Your Heavenly Parents know you so well. They gave you special gifts that you developed before you came to this earth, and They know what your needs are. I know that God will put people in your path whom you can bless and nurture, and in turn you will receive many mothers of your heart to take care of you, to give you life, and to share in your joy. The more we take care of each other, the better life will be. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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Mother’s Day 2017

A few weeks ago, my brother Moses gave a talk about our ancestor, Erastus Snow, who served as an apostle while Brother Brigham was the President of the church. Moses and I both grew up hearing a lot about Erastus but only recently did I learned the name of Artemisia, his wife and our foremother.

 

In reading more about Artemisia I realized what an impressive and humble leader she was, organizing within her community and writing confident articles for the Women’s Exponent Magazine. Much of her autobiography described enabling the priesthood work her husband did by being a strong, independent spouse and parent. As newlyweds the Snows served together as missionaries in Nauvoo, but for much of her life Artemisia took care of matters at home while Erastus traveled.

 

For example, Erastus journeyed with Brigham Young and his small group across the plains. Meanwhile, Artemisia remained in Winter Quarters with the children, and in 1848 she drove a team of oxen and cows to Salt Lake City.She had the often thankless task of being yoked in marriage with someone in a high-profile and demanding calling, but I am sure that the Lord has blessed her and will continue to bless her for the labor she humbly gave to the cause.

 

Many families today don’t look like a traditional nuclear family, often led by single parents, extended family members, adoptive and foster families, and other combinations.  Artemisia was the first of four wives, and while plural marriage is an uncomfortable topic for many of us, her account describes a feeling of harmony and family, and demonstrates her ability to take an unusual and perhaps difficult family situation and use it as an opportunity to be a great leader. She wrote, “ I was head of the family.  Erastus always called me “Bishop” of his house and affairs.  The other wives and I talked things over and we agreed, and managed to get along real well while he was absent.” Her collaboration with her sister wives and the thirty-six children the four of them raised together reminds me of Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge.” The conclusion of her biography reads, “Pioneering has been a hard life but I have met it bravely.” I don’t know how well the pioneering life would have suited me, but I know that I wouldn’t be here without Erastus and Artemisia and I feel a great personal debt to their union and to the sacrifices they made.

 

In addition to the pioneer women who crossed the plains during the 19th century, Mormon women make history in every part of the world. I wish I could give credit to all of them today, but because I am bound by the limits of mortal time, I’ll just tell you about a few more of these amazing women. One of them is Sister Priscilla Sampson-Davis, whose story is found in an Ensign article by E. Dale LeBaron written in 1990. Brother LeBaron writes,

 

“In 1979, Priscilla Sampson-Davis and her children joined the Church in Ghana… One Sunday after sacrament meeting, Sister Sampson-Davis saw a vision. It was as if she were at sacrament meeting again, and a person in white apparel stood in front of the stand, beckoning to her. “I came and stood by him. He asked me to turn around and look at the faces of the people to see if they were all enjoying the service. I saw that some of them had bowed their heads. He asked me why some of those people were not joining in the singing. I said, ‘Because they didn’t go to school and they can’t read English. They can’t sing, and that is the reason they bow their heads.’

“Then he said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to help your sisters and brothers who can’t read and who can’t join you in singing praises to Heavenly Father?’”

Even though she couldn’t write the language well, she replied, “I will try.”

The vision ended, and she immediately began to translate “Redeemer of Israel” into Akan (Fante), the language of 85 percent of the Ghanaian people. Sister Sampson-Davis also translated missionary pamphlets and filmstrips, Gospel Principles, Stories of the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Mormon. She bears testimony that the Holy Ghost has been her teacher and guide in these important projects.”

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/08/gospel-pioneers-in-africa?lang=eng

Sister Sampson-Davis had the faith and vision to see beyond her own limitations so that her Ghanaian siblings in the gospel could feel the Spirit in greater abundance. She contributed to a gospel history in Ghana that now sees a thriving community of Latter-Day Saints.

 

The history of our people has taken place in the past and it is taking place right now as well. My friend Sister Tayjha Tripple has already shaped Mormon history and continues to today. When I entered the MTC, I was assigned to work with Sister Tripple. She told me she was from Alaska and had lived in Haiti as a child, but didn’t elaborate. About halfway through our time in the MTC, we were practicing with a mock investigator, and the Spirit moved Sister Tripple to share the story of her sojourn.

 

As a young child, Sister Tripple’s parents felt unable to care for her, and moved her to an orphanage. When she was ten, two elders accidentally tracted into the orphanage. They drew a crowd of little investigators, including Sister Tripple. She walked by herself to church every Sunday, and promised her elders that she would serve a mission when she came of age.

 

As we sat on the stiff, floral MTC couch, Sister Tripple told us that in Haiti, when you turn sixteen, you become ineligible for adoption.When she was fifteen, she started praying harder than ever for a miracle, and she received one when a loving family in the United States began the process of adopting Sister Tripple and her brother. In 2010, she was standing on the playground outside of her school when she felt the ground begin to shake and watched the skyline crumble. A devastating earthquake hit her home country, displacing Sister Tripple and the other children she lived with.

 

Sister Tripple and her brother were miraculously safe and their adoption was expedited to bring them to their family, who live on a tiny Alaskan island. Their adoption was not church-affiliated and didn’t place people according to religion, so young Sister Tripple was surprised when her family announced they were going to church and took them to her church– the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Our pretend investigator and I were silent and captivated. She said, “To be honest, life wasn’t very good growing up in an orphanage and watching the earthquake wasn’t easy. But now life is good.” Once in high school, Sister Tripple picked up English as a fourth language quickly and learned to love hunting, fishing, and running.

 

Along with us in the MTC was Sister Tripple’s cousin, Sister MacArthur, who was also adopted from Haiti by a loving family in Idaho. They grew up very close, then served in neighboring missions where they got to see each other occasionally when Sister Tripple brought investigators to the Washington D.C. temple visitor’s center where Sister MacArthur was serving. Sister Tripple served an honorable and very happy mission and when I called her to review the details of her conversion she told me that the other day she saw a bear while going on a run in her Alaskan hometown and that, as usual, the Lord preserved her as she simply kept moving forward. She also told me that she is the nursery leader in her branch, which seems similarly formidable.

 

I love Artemisia Snow, Priscilla Sampson-Davis, and Sister Tripple. They remind me of the “certain women” Sister Linda K. Burton described in her talk during General Conference in April. Their lives were uncertain in so many ways, but they had a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ that served as an anchor as their worlds changed around them, often because of their own efforts.

 

While doing research for this talk, I realized how many amazing women make history in our church without ever being recorded. You all know some of these women. They serve in our wards, we meet them as missionaries, and of course, they are our mothers and mother figures. Their stories deserve to be told, and we need to hear them in order to survive. We live in a world that is aching for women like these, and a world full of women who are aching for representation and recognition. Each of you has the power to ask, listen to, and record such stories.

 

Of all the women who have shaped and who are shaping our history, I have a favorite. She is my mother, of course. She has always given me 100% of what she has and who she is and 100% of what I have and who I am is thanks to her. She makes history every day as an educator, friend, and poet, and she wrote the following lines when my oldest sister Eva went away to college.

 

“a thousand plateaus

five children

mountain children

cult children

the children of my youth

who took my youth

and gave me my youth

and now

*

i tucked them as tightly as i could

into tiny handcarts before i left

do not go do not go do not go

i wanted to follow the oldest girl

you should not

but i tucked them in and left

and the five are gone–

changed into a four and one

*

i am a leaf i am a tree i am a thousand branches” 

http://www.literarymama.com/poetry/archives/2010/08/the-alphabet-of-deseret.html

This poem captures just one facet of what women can do. Women are capable of doing so much, but today is special because we focus on what women carry, and what they give away. I think about Artemisia with her literal wagon, lead by what I hope was an equally-yoked ox and cow and of course I think of my mother carrying me inside and outside of her body. All of us, whether or not we are mothers, follow the example of motherhood when we fulfil our baptismal covenant to carry one another’s burdens, that they may be light. We too can act as a thousand branches, bringing hope, support, and comfort to the people who need it. All of God’s children form a family tree, and rely on one another for life-sustaining nourishment.

 

Since before the world began, Jesus Christ’s female disciples have organized to change not only the world within our faith, but the world in general. The Lord has asked us to lead efforts that shape the course of history and we are living in a pivotal historical moment right now. From Artemisia Snow to Tayjha Tripple, our history is full of people who needed refuge and who deserved it simply because they are children of God. Our general Relief Society has asked us to be a people with our hearts softened to refugees and immigrants, especially in a world that is increasingly hostile toward foreign and displaced peoples. It is my testimony that the Lord has directed His church through inspired leaders to know what His children need the most at this particular historical moment, just as he always has. We must be a people that embraces diversity in race, religion, and national origin if we are to be a Zionic people. Finally, while this has been a Relief Society-focused effort, I invite the priesthood organizations to join in as well and follow the example of the Lord’s Relief Society.

 

I know that our Heavenly Parents use people of every gender to accomplish their work, whether that work is pioneering efforts, making the word of God accessible to more people, missionary work, or poetry that changes hearts and lives. All of us are called to accomplishing the work of God in our own homes, and everyone who is alive today has been asked by God to accomplish a divine mission by being a voice of love and belonging to those seeking physical or spiritual refuge. What a glorious thing it is to be part of a church and a human family full of so many amazing women, always under the loving guidance of both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

aesthetic outdoorsy: another summary of my week

I miss writing weekly emails, so here’s one from this last week. Shout out to Wayne’s family for inspiring me to get back into it with their consistent missionary-style emails. This week I watched General Conference in real life for the first time back home in Utah, road-tripped to Yosemite, visited the Bay Area, and finally landed in San Diego again.

I have a long-standing theory that there are three general categories of outdoorsy people: 1. Athletic outdoorsy (high-adventure, grade-a gear, marathons, drive to summit), 2. Redneck outdoorsy (hunting, fishing, Cabela’s, camo, campfires), and 3. Aesthetic outdoorsy (crying at views, strong hippie tendency, Nalgene with stickers, old-school gear, takes too many photos, sunrises). Obviously I’m 100% aesthetic outdoorsy and I have concluded that the Sandholtz family outdoor culture is a mix of aesthetic and athletic during our trip to Yosemite together. That’s a great combo.

Some of my favorite General Conference memories were:
– sitting in the vast conference center and standing as President Monson entered the room in unity with my fellow saints
– realizing how comfortable I finally feel on my home turf after adjusting back from my mission
– picking up Moses, a deacon of less than a month, for Saturday afternoon to find him already dressed in a suit in anticipation for seeing his very first priesthood session live that evening
– traditional girl’s night with my great-grandma, two great aunts, mom, and baby sister

Some of my favorite Yosemite memories were:
– exploring peanut butter cups with my fellow peanut butter aficionado Carrie
– LaMyrl’s sunglasses put together with chewing gum
– how amazing food tastes when you’ve been hiking all day
– struggling to get up a steep trail with Carrie, Wayne, and Ben that we thought LaMyrl and the rest were supposed to be going up, assuming this couldn’t be the right trail because it was way to steep to take a wheelchair up, and then being wrong and delighted to find LaMyrl and her four noble steeds at the top of a mountain
– soaking in the hot tub with Wayne and Ben
– hanging out with Heather and getting to know Uncle Bob on the drive to the train station

I arrived in Berkeley ready to spend time with my wonderful sisters and of course with Kurt and Taylor. I went with Eva to her book club and met some of her friends, visited Mills campus with Lula, accidentally ate four cupcakes, got lunch with Taylor, and ate some really good food (besides the cupcakes, of course). Eva is a true foodie and took me to a little place in China town where we ate rice porridge ft. beef balls and pork belly, baby bok choy, rice noodle dumplings ft. roasted duck, and egg rolls of course. It was a feast. It’s so good to be with my sisters. We have known each other for so long that we can convey novel-length amounts of information in just a few words, usually for the purpose of a compressed comedic monologue.

Traveling from Oakland to San Diego was kind of an ordeal but in a fun way. It was the kind of adventure that would have a shoddy flute cover of Fucik’s Entrance of the Gladiators as its theme song (do you think I can request that from the shoddy flute people?) so just play circus music in the back of your mind while you read this. Because I am what my family calls a Cheeto Person (basically a cheapskate), I was flying on Spirit Air, a Cheeto Airline for Cheeto People. My flight was at 6am so I shared a bed with Lula (who instructed me that I was not to talk to her while she was sleeping and that I could not wake her upon leaving but that I could give her a peck on the cheek) until my alarm went off at 3:30am. I tried to call an Uber but because I have been traveling so much my bank account and PayPal account were both shut down based on “suspicious activity.” Eva charitably summoned an Uber for me and I grabbed my suitcase and went on my way. I discovered that Spirit Air charges for carry-on luggage and actually charges more than for checked bags, so as a Cheeto Person I took the option that was $7 cheaper and checked my small suitcase. Because of all my accounts being locked, I paid in a pile of crumpled cash, which I miraculously had enough of. I got to the gate and found that my flight was to be delayed, putting me in Las Vegas a mere fifteen minutes before my connecting flight. What follows is an account with my negotiation between me and the young employee working at the gate, whose position I do not envy. What we actually said is written in standard text and what I imagine we were thinking follows in italics.

Me: “Pardon me, I’m worried that because of the flight delay I’m going to miss my connecting flight.”
“Please, can I pay you my final $5 to be dead right now rather than awake at this airport at 5am?”
Him: “Yeah, it looks like you’ll be cutting it pretty close. You may have to take the next connecting flight in Las Vegas.”
“I should go back to school. I’m awake at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning. What am I doing in this job.”
Me: “When is the next flight from Vegas?”
“Please please please please don’t make me spend a minute longer in Las Vegas than I need to. Hopefully it will just be an hour or two later.”
Him: “It’s not until this evening.”
*a line of fellow disgruntled passengers begins to form behind me*
“Where the hECK is Brenda. Why can’t she ever show up to work on time.”
Me: “Oh.”
“Oh.”
Me: “Can I take the next flight out of Oakland instead and spend the day here?”
“Here = bed = good. Las Vegas = no bed = bad.”
Him: “Oh yeah, we can arrange that. Let me make arrange for it and I’ll call you up to the counter.”
“Please, Brenda. How am I supposed to deal with these animals on my own. I’m going to give Brenda my two cents if she ever gets here, I’ll tell you that much.”
*a million years pass, the plane begins to board*
Me: “Hi, did you get me a boarding pass for tonight?”
“You forgot about me, didn’t you.”
Him: “Yes, let me just finalize that!”
“Oh no, I forgot about this one.”
Him, on the phone: “Yeah, tonight. Vegas then to San Diego. What? Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place? Now I’m going to look stupid.”
“You’re honestly worse than Brenda.”
Me: “I can’t wait to get onto that plane that’s about to leave without me.”
Him: “Ok just one slight problem, the flight for tonight is full. And the one tomorrow. I’ll just get you on tonight’s flight from Vegas and the only difference is you’ll spend the day in Las Vegas instead of here.”
“Please go be another gate agent’s problem. One who didn’t wake up at 3 o’clock this morning.”
Me: “Sounds great, thank you.”
“Sounds terrible, a day in the Las Vegas airport is not comparable to a day with my sisters.”
Him: “You still might be able to make it onto your original flight if you rush. There’s a few other people hoping to make the same connection.”
“There’s a few other people who I’ve been trying to prevent from rioting.”
Me: “Ok, will they take my boarding pass for tonight and transfer my luggage if I make it to the earlier flight?”
“Can I bribe the pilot $5 to fly faster?”
Him: “Yeah, that should be no problem. Just talk to the employee at the gate in Las Vegas.”
“I can’t wait for this group of cranky people to be someone else’s problem.”
Me: “Ok, thank you.”
“I’m 80% sure they’re going to lose my luggage and have a problem with my boarding pass but I just heard the final call for my flight.”

I got on the plane, read The Power of Everyday Missionaries and dozed, and we were to Vegas in a jiffy. The flight crew were very helpful in getting the San Diego-bound folks off the plane and I totally made it to my flight as scheduled! Obviously they hated that I had the wrong boarding pass but they figured it out and they assured me that my bags would land in San Diego with me. Obviously they didn’t. I had a really nice flight making faces at the cranky 3-year-old who was acting the way I felt (until she finally curled up with her pink stuffed otter in her mom’s lap) and her responsible-oldest-child 5-year-old brother who offered to rub her feet. We got to San Diego and, as you can imagine, my bags did not get to San Diego with me. I spent some time filling out a form, including “Contents of bag: 12 dresses, 1 pair running shoes, medication that I really need to take every day please please, 2 pair leggings” and then spent 30 minutes on the phone with my bank, PayPal, and a very longsuffering Wayne so I could call myself an Uber to get to home base. Wayne said, “I can tell you’re very very tired because you have kind of a crazed look in your eyes.” Because of the earliness of my flight I was wearing yesterday’s clothes and of course my toothbrush was lost with my bag and of course I hadn’t eaten yet so Wayne lovingly made me chocolate chip whole wheat banana pancakes and I took a shower and put on some of Wayne’s fresh clean PJ’s and took a very long nap. In the evening we went to Forever 21 and grabbed a dress for $7 so I wouldn’t have to show up to church in the same dress I had been wearing for three days. All’s well that ends well. It was all very taxing at the time but the memory became fun and silly as soon as I had a nap, shower, and brunch. And I’m happy to report that all 12 of my dresses were returned to me about an hour ago! God is good.

homecoming talk: finding peace in a troubled world

This talk was given on September 11, 2016 in the Oak Hills 4th ward. 

Here’s a link to an audio recording if you’d like to listen.

One of my favorite primary songs goes as follows:
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood still.
When I was in the temple yesterday I suddenly thought of this beloved song. We truly were in a house built by a wise man, and of course it was built on the rock of the Savior. There were indeed rains coming down and floods coming up outside but we were firm and still in the house of the Lord. There will never, ever be a shortage of trouble and trials to be had and the storms, both literal and figurative, will only rage on and probably escalate. But the great news is that as we draw near to the Savior, all will be well. There is no shortage of peace to be found as we are carried in the arms of Christ.
In fact, I would venture to suggest that not only does the Savior have the power to make everything ok, He has the power to make everything amazing. One of my favorite scriptures is found in 2 Nephi 2:2, in which Lehi assures his son: “thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” Some trials come from God, some trials come from other sources. Some things in life are terrible, painful, even evil but the promise of the Lord is that He has the power to consecrate all of those things for our good. Only He has descended lower than the rest of us only to ascend beyond the greatness that we can imagine. We can ascend beyond the trouble we are faced with when we use our agency to be founded on Christ.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Firm a Foundation.” I turned to the fifth verse in this hymn many times during my mission, which reads,
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The scary and bad things that happen in the world can actually make us better! But we have to use our agency to turn to Christ. He will not forcefully consecrate our afflictions. He needs our permission.
On this emotionally challenging date, I think of a sister in my first area who I worked with soon after her baptism. Her husband was our ward mission leader and in his youth he had fallen away, taking a path of what he described as poor choices, including drugs, drinking, and immorality. Eventually he married Sister Leavitt and they had two beautiful daughters. Then September 11, 2001 came and she said, “Verl, it’s time for our family to go to church.” He only knew his church of origin and that’s where they went. Sister Leavitt was a self-described “dry Mormon” for the next 13 years, meeting with countless missionaries, attending church, even holding callings and speaking in sacrament meeting. Finally something else significant happened: their older daughter was married in the temple and her younger daughter was called to serve a mission. Sister Leavitt was sitting outside the temple while the rest of her family inside when she thought, how can I let my uncertainty get between me and my family’s eternity? To make a long story short, last month Brother and Sister Leavitt and their older daughter flew out to pick Sister Leavitt Jr up from her mission and surprised her by going to the nearest temple together to be sealed. That is a long-range view: it has been 15 years since the Lord consecrated a major act of evil and destruction to the good of this family, and only a month ago did that good really come together. Only the power of the Atonement is strong enough to turn something as evil as a terrorist act into something as good as a family converted together and united in the temple because Jesus Christ experienced every negative repercussion of every act of evil ever and He came out on top in perfect glory.
Opposition is powerful because it reminds us of the humility with which we should should approach our Savior. Sister Leavitt’s fear is a scary time reminded her that she needed to come unto Christ always. When I think about trouble and trials, I think about my friend Andrew. This fellow told us that he has “probably broken every commandment.” He has a past as a sniper in the military, then he was a white supremacist skinhead for a while, then he got married, then divorced and for a while he was a Wiccan high priest. His tattoos told the whole story. When we met him he was crashing on the couch of another investigator because he had nowhere else to go. This whole family had many trials to overcome. They lived in a smoky trailer full of cats. I loved going there because one of the cats had just kittened and I would sit on the floor with a pile of kittens gathered in my skirt while I taught and testified. One day we were sitting in the dim afternoon light and with kittens squirming in my lap I invited Andrew’s friend to church. He was in the next room and he said, “If you go to church I will.” I tried not to look at his bearded goatee as I realized that he had been quietly listening the whole time. I said, “Andrew, would you like to pray for us?” He did not feel worthy to pray, but with some coaxing we taught him the basics of prayer. I am not accustomed to loving people with Swastikas tattooed on their body. I am used to fearing and avoiding such people. But the Lord is used to loving those who break every commandment as much as those who keep some of them or most of them. Andrew had every reason to be troubled and he was but for just a few minutes that day we all felt peace together as he bowed his head and asked his Father for forgiveness, guidance, and blessings. When I listened to Andrew pray in that squalid trailer that was his only alternative to homelessness, I felt the Lord’s love for him and together we enjoyed a moment of true, pure, and perfect peace. Our Savior wants us to feel that kind of peace all the time and we have access to that kind of prayer whenever we are willing to connect with Him. In Andrew’s case, there was no advantage to his sins and mistakes but when he put them in the hands of Jesus Christ, they were transformed by some divine alchemy into a powerful humility.
There was a challenging time in my mission when I felt like I had made a mistake that was not in line with God’s plan. I had a wise district leader at the time who told me, “Even when we mess up, it’s amazing how God can turn the worst situations around if we let Him.” The same day I was driving with my companion, missed a turn, and she said, “Look how that GPS can reroute you. Heavenly Father can do that too.”
Some of the trouble we face is on a worldwide level, some of the trouble we face is because of mistakes we make, and some of the trouble we face is intensely personal yet we have little or no control over it. Such was the case with the Dubyk family. They were a family I loved working with in the last ward I served in. Brother Dubyk had been struggling with cancer for ten years. He was our gospel principles teacher so we worked with him closely and became close with his wife as well. Toward the end of his life, Brother Dubyk shared his gratitude and his testimony on Fast Sunday. I saw in him the peace that surpasseth all understanding as he approached the pulpit, physically frail but spiritually mighty. In his weak voice I heard the power of the Spirit. He knew that his death was imminent but he had a peace that was greater than the peace of mortal safety, because he felt that he was at peace with God. At his funeral, Sister Dubyk described praying every night in gratitude for the cancer that was killing her husband. She told us that their love had grown stronger and deeper not despite, but because of the cancer and that their love would grow stronger still. This is the power of the Atonement to turn something terrible into something wonderful.
Jesus Christ is our perfect example of peace. It is comforting to me that He knows everything and He is at peace. Just as He was able to sleep calmly in the midst of a raging tempest, He knows exactly how bad things are going to get, but He knows how good things are going to get as well. He has seen the future and He is not scared.
Now that we know that we can find peace in Christ, how do we go about turning to Him? There are innumerable ways to come unto Christ and you know what they are already, but as a reminder the following three activities are especially wonderful for bringing peace in times of trouble.
First, the temple is a refuge from the turmoil inherent to living in the last days. Worldly fear and stress struggle to breach the walls of the temple. The temple is as a sanctuary for our minds and hearts. It’s kind of the opposite of watching the news.
Second, the sacrament has power to facilitate repentance, which offers the peace of the Atonement to oppose the deep-seated trouble that necessarily accompanies sin. The sacrament is the antidote to things we can’t face by ourselves.
Finally, the Book of Mormon brings us peace in times of personal trial because the Book of Mormon brings the power of the Spirit into our lives. The Book of Mormon is also powerful because it is the means of our testimonies. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to provide people in our dispensation with a testimony of Jesus Christ. My mission president’s wife would always say, “If you are struggling with your testimony, all you have to do is read the Book of Mormon!” It really is that simple. A committed, sincere study of the Book of Mormon will provide a testimony of Jesus Christ. I know this because of the testimony of Jesus Christ that I gained on my mission through experiencing the Atonement personally and through learning about it by the power of the Spirit as I read the Book of Mormon. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior. He really is. I know that He lives, that He loves, and that His grace is mighty to save. In living, He truly does direct this church, His kingdom on Earth. I share this testimony in His name, the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

revelations

What does the last week in a mission look like? A lot like the other weeks in a mission. We worked, we prayed, we laughed a lot and cried a little or whatever.On Tuesday we had my last zone training. I instructed, but the night before our zone leaders told us that this instruction would be a representation of everything I had learned on my mission. I was all nervous and felt a lot of pressure but it was ok. At the end our zone leaders, who know very well how emotional I get, asked me and the other departing missionary in the zone to bear our testimony, promising frozen yogurt to the person who cried the least. Surprising to literally everyone, I held it together whereas Elder Anderson got all choked up. I don’t know if the zone leaders will really get me frozen yogurt.

Midweek we had a wonderful visitor from the Charles Town ward, someone Sister Feinga and I used to serve with. She brought us to this wonderful Southern restaurant. They gave me pulled pork AND ribs on the same platter. My mission has given me a real Southern angle. Sister Feinga is new to American culture so I’ve been teaching her about what the South is. We also got a few cupcakes.
Thursday one of the sisters we have stewardship over in the field had a birthday so we had her over for lunch. It was so fun. We cooked for her and had a floor picnic because we only have two chairs. We put a candle in some banana bread we had around. I love working with other sisters. They are so sweet and sincere and easy to love.
That evening we were walking around our neighborhood when a police officer pulled over next to us. He said, “Are you two the ones we got called about?” Every once in a while someone gets really steamed that we come by and call the police so I said maybe… he said, “We got a description of two extremely intoxicated white females walking around” Obviously only one of us is white and neither of us were extremely intoxicated. I was like, “Oh no, we are super sober right now actually!” and he drove away. Afterwards we walked by a house with a young man sitting outside. We contacted him and he invited us on to the porch. There were a couple of young ruffians sitting around, they offered us a beer and then our friend said, “Wait. Don’t start. I gotta get everyone else.” He ran inside, said, “Hey we’re having church!!!” and brought out a whole crew of other people and they all sat around kind of giggling. Finally CJ, the drunkest and highest one of them all, came out. He was so shocked and confused. “Is this **** real?!” he asked. I told him, “Oh, this is as real as it gets.” He was pretty sure we were having an intervention. At the end we invited them to pray. CJ did the dap??? is that what it’s called??? and said, “Dear God, I’m thankful for marijuana.” I didn’t really know what to say. His friends were like, “You need help, bro! You need Jesus more than the rest of us!” I think we all need Jesus. A lot.
Saturday was awesome because we had a stake Relief Society activity. Keep in mind, our stake includes my very first area, so I got to see all my cute little buddies from years hence, including one of my very first converts!! Oh I loved it. We ate bread sticks. We learned about creating a heavenly home, of course. And I got so many back-cracking hugs from the sisters of Zion. I also got lots of back-cracking hugs on Sunday because our good bishop announced me and Elder Anderson’s departure. The sisters are so sweet. I taught gospel principles and we had a full house, and in the afternoon they gave me the cutest gifts– a book of poetry written by the sister in question, a hand-made quilt square with a bee on it, a lavalava from a Hawaiian sister. I love these ladies. I can’t keep writing or I’ll cry.
Finally, a chapter in which I can relate to Paul. I remember reading this before my mission and thinking it was true, but now it feels even truer. Acts 20:17-24: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.” and then verses 37-38 describes what Wednesday will be like, “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.”
See you on the dock. And if I had to give you any advice, it would be this: go serve a mission.
Eternal hugs and eternal handshakes,
Sister Asplund
PS: We’re watching the RM right now. You can tell we’re all kind of starved for entertainment because everyone is actually laughing at all the jokes.

blessings

The Lord is keeping us busy these days. I love it. Sometimes busy in the sense of swimming through the humid air but also in the sense of everything else you could think of. For example:
On Tuesday we had exchanges with the Woodstock sisters. It was a great experience. Sister Collins and I got along famously, we were just like old friends. I got to witness the power of spiritual goal-setting during this exchange. Sometimes it will just be hard to find new investigators for a little while and the poor sisters had been experiencing such a trial. We always make goals preparatory to our exchanges and Sister Collins made the goal that she wanted to find a new investigator. Because we had that goal in mind and had made a commitment to it, we were both able to receive divine help and grace and also we changed our behavior based on our faith. When we make a good goal that we are really committed to, it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I suppose I’ve seen this principle work in reverse on my mission as well. When I have really low expectations I usually am not likely to do much about them. Anyway, you’re probably wondering if we found the new investigator. Of course we did! She is awesome! Sister Collins gave her a great review of the Book of Mormon. It’s amazing how working and pushing a little extra can lift a discouraged missionary’s spirits.
We always learn so much about exchanges so we were able to carry that principle back to our area. The day after exchanges we both felt prompted that there were two people out there for us to begin teaching. We were going hard all day but to little avail. In the evening we had a lesson we were so excited about but instead the family we were visiting dropped us. It was so sad. It was around 8:30 and we still hadn’t found the two new investigators we promised we would find. We drove past the house of someone we had been trying to visit for a long time and I saw a light on upstairs so we screeched to a stop, turned around, and knocked on their door. Two young ladies opened, let us right in, and we taught them! It was awesome.
We also had Mission Leadership Council, oh it was so good. I can tell that I have grown so much in my ability to work well with other people on my mission. Especially elders. I used to dread being around them but not I always feel unified around other missionaries. They’re my buddies! Being able to get along with a diverse range of people, I think, is mostly a matter of humility. I have a long, long way to go in that aspect but missions are always humbling. Anyway I have a lot of respect for all the other missionaries, we have a great bunch. We divided up into zones (we have stewardship over two zones so our three companionships got together) and talked a lot about how to bring further progress to our areas. When I got to our zone the work was pretty slow but if my early weeks there I noticed a lot of people feeling like something great was about to happen. Well, something great is happening. It’s amazing here. On the way home I started to get really sad because it was my last MLC… so I cried. In front of the zone leaders. Poor guys. I was just sitting their crying and they were trying to be helpful without being inappropriate so they just played sympathetic-sounding music. It was good, they were doing their best. Then we talked about missionary work, that actually did help a lot.

We also got such a nice blast from the past. Cissy, our best friend from Cumberland, was in town getting surgery on her back. We stopped by the hospital to visit, it was so nice. She was a little groggy but she is wonderful. It is so sweet to see people who you developed love for by serving together.
As we were walking away from an appointment this week, we ran into someone we had taught briefly, then passed off to the elders. They taught him once but he didn’t really hold interest. When we walked by, he called to us and invited us onto his porch. He said, “I just need some help. Come talk to me.” We shared a little from the Book of Mormon and invited him to church. He got so excited. We texted the elders and told them to go by the next day and they did. They were like, “What did you do with Michael?! He was so excited. We’ve never seen him like that.” Obviously we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, he was the one who changed though the spiritual gravity that Christ’s Atonement has, drawing us all near to Him. There were three of us visiting Michael, me (24), Sister Feinga (20), and Melissa (16). Michael apparently said something about “the young one” and something said teenager did… and we figured out that he was definitely talking about me. Come on.
Some blessings I was able to witness: on Sunday morning, there I was sitting on the back pew, when in walked our investigator with her entire family. She even talked her husband into coming. Honestly, when an investigator walks into sacrament meeting they just look like an angel. There is no sweeter sight. They all stayed all three hours and they loved it. Okay, there is one sight sweeter: someone dressed in white preparing to make promises with God that will change their eternal destiny. A few months back we met a fellow named Tony on the street. He was a warm, jolly guy and we sent his information to some nearby sisters and quickly forgot about it… until we found out that he had scheduled his baptism. We saw him walk out of his baptismal interview all happy and glowing last week and then on Thursday we got to peek in on his baptismal service. How wonderful. I remember almost walking by him because he looked busy working on his car. Little did I know that he was ready to change his life.
I love the work. I love the Lord. I love you.
Hugs and handshakes,
Chastity (some fellow honestly thought that was my name this week… serves me right for dressing like a nun)
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PS: me and the Feing are matching aw

smoky mountain of the lord

I’ll start out with the highlight of my week! On Friday We had a temple trip for the departing-ish missionaries. Don’t worry, I still have a few weeks 🙂 We started out going to Mission BBQ, which of course is an important place for every missionary due to its name and due to their selection of geographically-themed barbecue sauces. My favorite are the “Memphis Belle” and the “Smoky Mountain” (which is the West Viriginia-themed one). We had a wonderful session together and afterward we got to sit with President and gather together and ask him all the questions we have about life and the gospel. I thought my brain was going to explode. I also may have cried like a baby in the Celestial Room and then all the other sisters started crying. Oops. On the way home we pulled the giant 12 seat van over and President ran into Trader Joe’s and bought us all weird vegetable juice and kombucha. I made him get regular lemonade juice boxes too. We ended the night with pizza. The temple trip counted as our exchange with Front Royal. Me and my bud Sister Walker enjoyed a reunion for that time. It was wonderful.
On Tuesday we had our other exchange. We also had an awesome district meeting. We practice teaching a lot but it’s funny, even when we’re fake teaching I feel the real spirit. It was pretty magical. We have this awesome new sister who is just such a natural at missionary work. She was teaching and afterward our zone leader was like, “Man, she made me feel like a DEACON. I feel like I don’t know ANYTHING.” Good. Anyway we had such a nice time with our sisters in Shenandoah Valley. I was with Sister Allen, who was our companion for a week that one time. It was so nice! Oh she’s great. I look up to her so much.
Sister Feinga gave such a great talk on Sunday on the Atonement. It was a really cool Sunday. We have this awesome investigator who came to church. She brought one daughter who is about ten but her other daughter was 13 and she just felt self-conscious and nervous about coming in. We went out before the meeting to invite her in but she didn’t want to come. During the sacrament, the spirit told me that if I went out to the parking lot and invited her to come sit in the foyer, that she would agree. Especially because it was 1,000 degrees outside and church was nice and cool. She came in and seemed to really enjoy it and toward the end of the service she looked up at the painting of the first vision and started asking me about it. It was so sweet.
On Thursday we had a great day! We got lots of fresh produce from the gardens of our neighbors and we went to an awesome meeting with our stake leaders. It was so cool. We have an amazing stake leadership here. Our RS president was there too and she gave such a sweet testimony about missionary work. She was like, “We love our girls” :> Oh… and Thursday was my 18 month mark. What???
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith this week. Faith moves us to act. When we believe that something is really possible, we do things differently. I don’t know why this took my so long to realize. We often speak of how faith can impact missionary work for the better. It’s because it changes our behavior! That’s really basic but I just never figured it out until just now.
I love you my beans! Write me at 841 Thomas Ct #57, Winchester VA  22601.
Hugs and handshakes,
Mister Applesauce (as a little kid called me)