behind the scenes with Cherish: part 1

I’m baffled at myself for not writing all of this as it happened – what kind of journalist am I … But better late than never.

So here’s the WHOLE STORY from my perspective. McArthur and Ashli will have different details.

Chapter 1: Heavenly Mother Is An Instagrammer

Spring 2021: Instagram is a mysterious thing that prompted “Suggested Accounts” of LDS women artists, and a wave of Heavenly Mother art showed up in my feed. So beautiful! When you follow one, another shows up, one thing leads to another in the algorithm world, and the next thing you know, I was following more than 20 artists, all with some kind of Heavenly Mother depiction in their portfolios. Number one pick for me: “Worlds Without Number” by Rose Datoc Dall.

One of the artists posted a question box: “What led you to seek out Heavenly Mother?” Hmm … well, I didn’t seek Her … She just showed up. On Instagram. Wait a minute … She came looking for ME. Hello, Mother!

October/November-ish 2021: I had previously connected with McArthur through the LDS Women Project (not because of Heavenly Mother) – she writes essays for the LDSWP and had referred some people for me to interview. One evening, she posted on Instagram (!!!!) a call for submissions for a Heavenly Mother poetry book and my immediate thought was, “I don’t write poetry, I wonder if I could edit it for her.” So I sent a DM suggesting that, and she replied to ask for my phone number. We talked and she wanted to run the idea past her collaborator Ashli, who I didn’t know, but as far as she was concerned, the job was mine. McArthur is all about action – she’s sees something, grabs her phone, and gets it done. Do not underestimate McArthur. The time I saw the original post to ending our phone call was less than 20 minutes.

Another conversation introduced me to Ashli Carnicelli, whose idea this book had been in the first place: 365 reflections and poems and art about Heavenly Mother, a “thought a day for a year” type of book.

The overarching decision before we even started was that this book would align with the stated doctrine of the LDS Church – the Heavenly Mother gospel topics essay. McArthur and Ashli had both gone to the temple to pray about doing the book, and they felt prompted to hold to that standard. We know that many women feel constrained by the essay and are unhappy with various cultural restrictions placed on the conversation. And we want them to grow and expand their light! But THIS project would color inside the lines for a lot of reasons, but the main one is – because God said so.

We worked as a 3-member team from the beginning. Ashli and McArthur were handling intake and acceptance for all the submissions, and then I would organize everything into the actual manuscript draft. I started a spreadsheet to make sure the different types of entries were spread out – every ten would be an art piece, mix the reflections with the poetry, that sort of thing.

General Conference, April 2022: There was a lot of Instagram gossip that apostles were giving stake leader training around the US to put a damper on discussions about Heavenly Mother – concerns of “doctrinal drift.” (If you ask me, doctrinal drift is to NOT teach a belief in Her existence, but … nobody asked me.) You can notch me in the column of Not Happy when Elder Renlund spoke in the women’s session to briefly mention the gospel topics essay as the ONLY thing we know about Heavenly Mother, and then he talked about other things. There’s been only one other time in my life I’ve been that deeply disappointed in church leaders.

McArthur swooped in to talk me off the cliff – yes, the essay is short but there’s a lot of doctrine in those paragraphs. It’s based on a huge paper from BYU titled “A Mother There.” Go read THAT. And how many people knew the gospel topics essay even existed, let alone read it? Far fewer than you’d hope. Many church members in other countries – she travels internationally a lot – don’t know that this is in our doctrine at all, and HE SAID IN GENERAL CONFERENCE THAT WE HAVE A HEAVENLY MOTHER. All those people around the world, hearing that for the first time!

It took me a couple of days and I still have to consciously focus on the positives sometimes, but okay … we can go forward with this.

Maybe … McArthur has a lot of contacts at church headquarters and there were enough red flags after that general conference that we talked about revising the book, or pausing it, or something … We all wanted to go forward but the question was how. There needed to be a change. I was feeling snarky and said, “Fine. If they want the gospel topics essay, they can have the gospel topics essay.”

There it is. There’s the change.

All of our accepted submissions already aligned with the essay – we didn’t have to change any of that. Only the outline changed. We restructured the book to literally follow the essay. Instead of 365 random thoughts in no order, we pulled 12 doctrinal statements out of the essay, started each chapter with an essay quote, and sorted the entries by topic into the chapters.

To be continued … Part 2: Gestating a Book

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