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.) There’s been only one other time in my life I’ve been that deeply disappointed in church leaders, and 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 proceed talk about other things.
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. Just the outline. 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.
When I started writing and editing for the LDS Women Project in April 2020, my goal was to write and publish 100 interviews, and work with other writers to get the full database to 500. We crossed 300 this past year, so there’s still a long way to go. My personal goal is more manageable and I’m chipping away at it, not as fast as I’d like but still moving forward. I’m up to 32.
The women I’ve talked to – every single one thinks of herself as small potatoes, a person of no significance. Some are certainly more visible than others. I’ve interviewed well-known artists and published authors and the founder of an international charity and the historian who researched copious amounts of LDS women’s history for decades. I’ve also interviewed women who aren’t known outside their families and stakes and small towns.
Everyone has something to share about God’s love, and those are the stories I’m looking for. And finding.
“To me, the gospel is a way of living, it’s just who I am. The most important thing of living the gospel is following Christ, and the best way to follow Christ is to share and to help and to smile. I think what characterizes me is that I love to help others. … I love to see that in my children as well. My two older daughters chose not to go to church anymore, but they are such good people. They want to help, they want to serve. I received a phone call from a friend – she needed help with cleaning her house because she is injured. My oldest daughter volunteered to go do it. My other daughter heard about all the Ukrainian refugees and asked what she can do to help. That’s the strength of the Gospel – we can spread the love of Christ. Charity is so important. It’s not only serving in your calling and serving Church members, but serving all the people around you.”
“One of the best gifts I’ve given my two girls and my son is the idea that you can do everything you feel prompted to do. When I grew up, the line was – you can be a professional or a mom, but you can’t do both. I no longer believe that. I am a much better wife, mom, human, and member of the Church, because I’m fulfilled as a person. Because I pursue things that light my soul on fire. Because I am alive as a spirit child of our Heavenly Parents.
“There are a lot of women who 100% feel called to motherhood and have no desire to go beyond that. I absolutely support that. I’m not saying that there’s one template. But that’s just it – there’s not one template. What I was taught was – this is the one template. But I think a reason I felt so empty and spiritually dead was I had not pursued the things that made my soul feel light and fire and love. I want my daughters and other women to know: you are here for a reason and whatever that reason is, you can pursue it tenaciously.”
“People paint what they know and it’s a reflection of themselves. It’s so funny – we had an assignment in school when we had to paint eyes. I painted my eye, my husband’s eye, and my dad’s eye. They happened to be of a different ethnicity. I didn’t pick doing that, that’s just me, that’s who I am. I painted what I knew. But I had people come up to me and say, “Oh, it’s so interesting that you’re painting a Black eye.” How is that interesting? I don’t go up to any white artists and say, “It’s so interesting that you paint white people, why do you do that? What makes you so interested in that?”
“It was interesting that people automatically thought diversity and painting different ethnicities was not the norm. Diversity is the norm – this whole world is very diverse, and I feel like art should reflect our world.”
“When I prayed as a little Catholic girl, I prayed to Heavenly Father, to Jesus Christ, and to Mary. I wasn’t sure if it was Mary I was connecting with, but I definitely felt something from a loving female. My little six-year-old self had a witness of a Heavenly Mother.
“When I was a new convert, I was in the Sunday School class for investigators and new people, and we sang, “O My Father.” I was sitting with one of the sister missionaries, and pointed to the lyrics and said, “Wait a minute, we have a doctrine that there’s a Heavenly Mother?” And she said, “Oh, yeah. We believe there’s a Heavenly Mother.” All the bells went off, and I practically leaped out of my chair. “I knew it!!!!! I knew it!!!!!”
“Making room for the human in myself has freed me up to make room for the human in the Church. I believe that the “true church” will be fully realized when Jesus is here, when He is at the head and humans aren’t in charge of anything. The truth to me is that God lets humans make mistakes, and that has freed me to stay in this particular faith. This is the church I want to be in. When I think big picture, there are so many pieces of the puzzle that we have that I don’t see reflected in other Christian faiths. There are pieces we could definitely work on – it would be remarkable to live up to our own doctrine of Heavenly Parents and have that reflected in how we structure the church, giving women more of a visible part.”
“We sing music that by its very nature brings the Spirit because we’re singing about the Atonement, or the peace the Savior can bring into our lives, or faith, things where the Spirit is always there. I have no doubt the Lord is part of this work. We’re a very important missionary function of the Church, and He is part of what we are meant to be doing. The Spirit is what makes some of these songs so powerful.
“Last year in a General Conference, we sang “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy” – the last verse says, “Trim your feeble lamp, my brother, some poor sailor tempest tossed, trying now to make the harbor, in the darkness may be lost.” Singing that and testifying of the lower lights burning, thinking about the power of being light for somebody else – even our little tiny light makes a difference.”
“The reason I do these things is because of my faith. It’s not about connecting secular practices back to my faith. My faith informs the more secular aspects of my life—the reason I care so much about social justice, about representation in the arts is because I believe to the very roots of my soul that every human is valuable, that every culture is valuable, and everybody benefits from understanding that they are a child of God. They are made in the image of God. They have inherent value, inherent beauty because of that. If I see any lack in that understanding, I feel like it’s my responsibility as a person of faith to help spread that truth. My research and art are missionary work—I am striving to teach the pure doctrine of the eternal plan and help God’s children through what I’m doing. …
“I think there is great significance that one of the first terms used for God is Creator. God is first and foremost a creator. When humans exercise their creative capacities, it is a shadow of the Divine. When we honor that and share with each other, we are honoring and recognizing the divine in each other.”
“It is such a blessing to walk with God, to wake up in the morning and feel like I’m being sent on errands. I love being God’s errand woman. It’s a blessing to learn and grow and help other people learn and grow and heal. I am in a place of unmistakable privilege to have the flexibility and means to do these things, after two financially disastrous divorces. I liquidated everything and live minimally, and have a completely unexpected income that’s portable. My plan is to continue to go wherever God calls me and do whatever I’m called to do until my last breath.”
Another book project I worked on in 2023 was Listen, Learn & Love: Building the Good Ship Zion by Richard Ostler.
I suspect this will be the last book installment of the LLL series, at least for awhile. Richard started his podcast focused on the personal stories of LGBTQ people, expanded it to include other challenges people have in life and religion, kept expanding to include two books on outreach … and announced recently on his podcast that he’s narrowing back down to just LGBTQ support. He really has taken on a lot and it got to be too much. Frankly, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did before refocusing.
That said, his two books of Improving Latter-day Saint Culture and now this one are really excellent tutorials on How to Be a Better Person and How to Build Zion Now. They both cover a lot of territory but when you drill down, the heart of it all is loving people as they are and accepting them where they are. That’s it. I said a long time ago that his first book, Supporting LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, could be summed up with, “Don’t be a jerk to gay people.” The whole series is – don’t be a jerk. Really. Just be kind to people. Why are you not kind to everyone? Come on, we can do this.
This project was an editing referral from Susan Hinckley, from the At Last She Said It podcast – Russ is her husband. She told me about it when I met her in Utah last May, and he followed up with an email about a month later.
From the first sentence, I was intrigued. “It isn’t clear to me that Jesus was trying to start a church. A movement, yes; a church, no.”
Excuse me? Jesus and NO church?
Well, no, not “no church,” but Jesus was working within the church that was already there, not necessarily trying to start a new one. Teaching an advanced version of faith, most definitely.
And that’s how we got going. We did the editing rounds between June and October 2023. It’s easy to work on a book and do multiple rounds of editing when you support the premise and believe it’s presented in an interesting way. This checked all the boxes for me.
And I’m grateful Russ took a chance on me with the publishing, because that took A LOT longer than we thought it would. He wanted to self-publish. I wanted to learn the tech of how to self-publish but had never done it before. I was upfront that I didn’t know what I was doing but wanted to try, and we ran with it. I used Adobe InDesign, a lot of YouTube tutorials, a lot of texts and emails to various people asking for advice, and a lot of swear words when things didn’t work over and over and over. It took over two months for the production after the manuscript was fully edited, when we thought it would be about two weeks.
But it’s available now! At the link above!
Thank you to:
Andrew Heiss and Jaida Hancock for scooting me along with InDesign.
Mindy Sebastian for the cover – both the photography of that cool trail, and the design.
Ashli Carnicelli and Jeff Andersen for the previews and promotional blurbs on the back.
Russ Hinckley for the really nice acknowledgement in the book, and his patience while I learned how to MAKE a book, not just edit one.
I wrote an op-ed for Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) to be published in Virginia media outlets prior to the November 2023 election. I don’t know that it was ever printed, or if it was, where. So I’ll hang onto it here because it’s still very applicable, and by the way – please support politicians who support the right to decide one’s own medical care.
Real-life Experiences Behind the Need for Birth Control
My husband and I chose to have five children very close in age. Then we chose to stop having children and needed contraception. I was done having children and wanted to be an active mom with the children we already had.
While becoming pregnant was not an issue, being pregnant was difficult. With each successive pregnancy, my energy level and mental health deteriorated more than the previous one, which clearly complicated life with small children. I spent about half of my final pregnancy on antidepressant medication. Fortunately, when the baby was born, my mental fog cleared. My recovery period was an energetic rush to organize my home, take my kids to the park and library, and make up for lost time.
Five children in less than seven years is rewarding but challenging, both then and now that they’re all teenagers. The long-term contraception options provided by our medical insurance have been a necessary part of maintaining our family’s physical and mental well-being.
Alongside my own pregnancies, I have many family members and friends who live with the heartache of infertility. For these families, what we commonly call “birth control” could more accurately be called “hormonal or menstrual regulation.” In the situation of infertility, contraception is not a means to prevent pregnancy but a tool to regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle and enhance her chances of welcoming a child.
Two common reasons women do not become pregnant when they want to have a baby are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. PCOS causes irregular menstrual cycles and prevents consistent ovulation – releasing an egg from the ovary to the uterus. No ovulation, no chance of becoming pregnant. But here’s the good news – oral contraceptives can be used to treat PCOS and help get things back on track.
Endometriosis happens when the uterus lining tissue developing for a fertilized egg to implant actually grows on the outside of the uterus and sometimes even on other organs. It is extremely painful regardless of pregnancy opportunities, and contraceptive medications are some of the most effective ways to treat it for many women.
Contraception can also help a woman recover after a miscarriage by regulating her menstrual cycle while her body heals. Depending on the specifics of the miscarriage, doctors often recommend waiting three to six months for recovery before trying for another pregnancy.
And let’s not forget about periods. Menstruation itself can cause all sorts of problems – heavy bleeding, iron deficiency, severe muscle cramps, loss of appetite and energy, even vomiting. Contraception can ease these symptoms so women can keep up with their daily lives during their periods.
What I share are not rumors I’ve read online but the painful experiences of women and girls I know personally. These aren’t just abstract concepts or distant problems; they’re tangible, painful realities that we live with every day. These experiences demonstrate the multifaceted roles contraceptives can play in women’s overall health. I’ve always found it a misnomer to call these medications “birth control” because they have nothing to do with the process of giving birth (that’s an epidural), and preventing pregnancy is only one of their many uses.
However, elected officials and political candidates around the U.S. and in Virginia have openly stated their intention to ban these medications that help women regulate their menstruation, prevent unplanned pregnancies, or create the right physical conditions to become pregnant. Almost 200 members of the U.S. House opposed a bill in Congress to enshrine the right to contraception in federal law after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called on the Court to overturn its past ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut regarding access to contraceptives for married couples. In Virginia, we have seen bills introduced that could ban highly effective contraceptive devices like IUDs.
The irony is that many lawmakers introducing these bans oppose universal health care on the grounds that it would insert the government between a doctor and a patient. I cannot think of a more dangerous way to insert the government into health care than to outlaw medications and medical procedures, and criminalize healthcare professionals and patients for using contraception to maintain the good health of women and mothers. That is the exact definition of “inserting the government between a doctor and a patient.”
It’s also deeply disappointing to see those who claim to support families actively stripping away resources that assist women in becoming mothers.
It’s crucial for policymakers to understand that there are myriad reasons why women may need medical intervention to manage their reproductive and endocrine systems. It’s time to take action in the 2024 legislative session in Virginia and across the US to adopt legislation that protects women’s health and the right to contraception.
Design Mom: A room by room guide to living well with kids
Gabrielle Stanley Blair
Write For Your Life
Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living
Apple Pies and Promises: Motherhood in the Real World
Linda Hoffman Kimball
The Mother Tree
Kathryn Knight Sonntag
CHERISH: the Joy of Our Mother in Heaven
ME!!! & Ashli Carnicelli & McArthur Krishna
Listen Learn & Love 3: Building the Good Ship Zion
Without the Mask
Girls Camp: Ideas for Today’s Leaders
Marci McPhee & Julia B. Blake
Anne’s House of Dreams no.5 (read aloud)
Lucy Maud Montgomery
What I Like About You
The Night Garden
Lisa Van Allen
Mikayla Orton Thatcher
The President’s Shadow
Twice a Quinceanera
Yamile Saied Mendez
The Hotel Nantucket
Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith
Editing projects: 3
Fiction: 11 (that’s the most fiction I’ve read in a LONG time). Favorite – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Memoir: 4. Favorite – Beehive Girl
LDS commentary: 3
Home and life: 2
Reading goal for 2024: have a rotation of 1 nonfiction writing or related to a book project, 1 nonfiction memoir or biography, 1 nonfiction religious (which has crossover with work related, but not necessarily), and 1 fiction.
10: Starting Scouts BSA with four of my five kiddos has been a challenge. When we’re actually DOING SCOUTS – campouts, skills development – life is good and the kids are progressing well. But among the adult leadership, there’s a lot of angry jockeying for power and it’s … not what I expected. My self-appointed role is to be a buffer so the scouts can scout and be less affected by dumb ego trips.
I haven’t started writing about Scouts for the “do a extreme thing” memoir, because well, I haven’t started my own efforts yet to pass off all the requirements (see: adult leadership unnecessary drama). 2024 will give me a lot of material to work with – I’m registered for Wood Badge.
9: I branched out in my writing with some new publications:
8: Marci McPhee and I tackled Listen, Learn & Love: Building the Good Ship Zion with Richard Ostler – the third installment of the LLL series.
7: I’ve heard enough bits and pieces of Marci’s personal history that I wanted more details. So I interviewed her for the LDS Women Project: Go Far, Stay Long, Look Deep. My other favorite interview of the year was with childhood bestie Rebecca Cheney, and now we know why the Tabernacle Choir sounds amazing. Because it’s REALLY HARD to get in! Nearer to the Lord Through Music.
6: I took a flying leap into the unknown of self-publishing production with Russ Hinckley and his book, Beyond Belief. Learning Adobe InDesign for producing a book has been its own version of hell. I’ve learned a lot and I’m glad I did it, but I don’t know that I’ll be ready to try this again soon.
5: A couple of years ago, I interviewed Celeste Mergens for the LDSWP – she’s the founder of Days For Girls, an international nonprofit that provides reusable fabric menstrual supplies and education to women and girls around the world. She recently released her memoir and was in DC for a book tour presentation, and I made sure to be there. So great to meet her and get my book signed!
4: It was the year for meeting people in person … I went to lunch with Charlotte Condie when she was visiting her sister about an hour from me. I broke an internet rule and invited Jeff Andersen and his family to my HOUSE for dinner just based on Instagram conversations, but all is well, he’s not an axe murderer. He is a strong LGBT ally, podcaster, and writer, and his wife is just as awesome. Instagram friends are real friends!
3: The LDS Women Project had an in-person event in Washington DC, and for the first time in three years of working together, the editorial board was all in the same place at the same time. Liz gave a great presentation on her dissertation about cultural narratives among LDS women and how they affect our perceptions of ourselves and our place in the world.
2: I spoke in church on Mother’s Day about Heavenly Mother – I’ve never heard a talk or lesson about Her in a church setting, ever. I was requested by the Relief Society president, and I’m still curious (although I’ll probably never know) what she said to get this idea past the bishopric. It was interesting to me that the most feedback I got was from men, who thanked me for bringing up this doctrine because they’d never thought about it before.
1: By far, the top thing of 2023 was publishing Cherish, and being with Ashli and McArthur for a 4-day book tour in Utah. More meeting people in person! Lots of them! In Utah, I had breakfast with podcasters Susan Hinckley and Cynthia Winward (At Last She Said It), and dinner with Monica Packer (About Progress). I met lots of contributors to Cherish. But most importantly, I met – after working together for a year and a half – Ashli. We had both spent time with McArthur in 2022 when she did a speaking tour on the East Coast, but it was the first time Ashli and I were together. All the way around, creating the book and talking about it has been one of the pivotal experiences of my life.
I’m reviewing plans for 2024 this week, but it definitely includes more Cherish, more LDSWP, more Scouts, and more writing of my own.
I spoke in church on Mother’s Day (May 14, 2023) about the Latter-day Saint doctrine of a Mother in Heaven. Here’s the speech:
Good afternoon, and Happy Mother’s Day!
An online institute teacher said recently that sacrament meeting talks tend to fall into two categories: good news and good advice. Good news talks bear testimony. Good advice talks discuss principles and different ways to put them into practice. I would like to focus on the good news of Mother’s Day.
Elder James E. Talmage stated this GOOD NEWS in the spring 1902 general conference:
“The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] is bold enough to go so far as to declare that man has an Eternal Mother in the Heavens as well as an Eternal Father.”
Sister Patricia Holland, counselor in the Young Women general presidency in the 1980s, added this:
“I have heard it said by some that the reason women in the Church struggle to know themselves is because they don’t have a divine female role model. But we do. We believe we have a Mother in heaven … Furthermore, I believe we know much more about our eternal nature than we think we do, and it is our sacred obligation to express our knowledge, to teach it to our young sisters and daughters, and in doing so, to strengthen their faith and help them.”
This doctrine of having a Heavenly Mother is not just for our young sisters and daughters. The Family Proclamation in 1995 opened with this:
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
We are ALL children of heavenly PARENTS. So I hope the men will tune in better, rather than thinking this talk is irrelevant to them. It is important and essential for EVERYONE.
In April 2022 general conference, Elder Renlund taught about being children of God and named our Mother in Heaven:
“We have heavenly parents, a Father and a Mother. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother comes by revelation and is a distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints. … Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library app.”
He didn’t go into any details of the gospel topic essay, but his statement is that it is our doctrine. The Church website, in the introduction to the grouping of essays, says this:
“The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications, and place it in the Gospel Topics section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.”
So, this is considered foundational doctrine of our Church.
Prior to the talk by Elder Renlund, I had known about Heavenly Mother. I’d had some very strong spiritual experiences that confirmed to me that this is a doctrine to treasure, that Heavenly Mother is a divine being worth developing a personal relationship with, that I needed to study this more. I had not, however, read the Gospel Topics essay and it was barely on my radar that it existed at all. I’m told that when the series of essays were released in 2016, seminary classes were encouraged to read them, but I don’t remember any kind of announcement directed to adults that they were released and should be studied.
So after that talk, I went into the app and found the essay – if you’d like to read along, go to the Library home page, choose Gospel Topics, and choose “Mother in Heaven.” I was, I admit, not impressed – it’s only six paragraphs and I read it in about a minute. I was feeling frustrated when I had a picture come to my mind of starting blocks for a sprint race.
When I was in high school, I ran the stopwatch for the sprinters on the track team. A starting block is at a 45-degree angle for the bottom of a runner’s foot, with only their toes actually on the ground. They lean down onto their fingertips with their rear end in the air and their head down. For a race that lasts less than 30 seconds, they spend two to three minutes getting set on the block, because if they’re not positioned correctly, they will launch onto their face.
I realized that the Mother in Heaven essay is a starting block. We believe in continuing revelation and eternal progression, so presumably the race we are getting set for is related to that. But we have to get set on the block before we start the sprint, or we’re not going to get anywhere and instead we will make a huge mess of things.
Sarah Granger Kimball, the woman who founded the organization in Nauvoo that became the Relief Society, and was a prominent Relief Society leader in Utah, said this:
“They that seek, by faith and earnest prayer, find the light that leads to the golden gate. They that knock with study and faith’s assurance have the narrow way opened to them and are received into communion with the Infinite Father and Mother.”
That sounds fantastic to me, so I started looking a lot more closely at the Gospel Topics essay about Mother in Heaven. There are multiple doctrinal statements in it, and there are 17 footnote references that include scriptures, general conference talks, and extensive historical documents.
I want to point out footnote 2, which includes a BYU Studies project titled “A Mother There.” In 2008-9, a team at BYU did extensive research into Church history to document when leaders have taught about Heavenly Mother or referred to Heavenly Parents. Their findings were published in 2010, and they had located more than 600 references to Mother in Heaven from Joseph Smith through 2010. There have been more since then. This paper was the basis of the Gospel Topics essay.
So let’s read it.
Paragraph 1: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.
We learn from this paragraph again that we have heavenly parents – Father AND Mother. ALL people are their children and can have a relationship with them. We are loved by them. All people have eternal potential for progression. This is most definitely a distinctive belief – recently a Harvard professor, who is Jewish, was interviewed by some LDS podcasters, and the professor said that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has the power to be our most effective missionary tool. People want to know about the feminine side of God, and we are one of the few faiths that even believes that it exists.
And this is cherished. How do you cherish things? Some people keep their cherished things very personal and private, other people splash it all over social media with poetry and visual arts. My kids are starting to get annoyed that I cherish Heavenly Mother with art – I just got another one? Yep. When I was a young adult, church members were encouraged to cherish the temple by having art of the temples in every room of our homes. I see this as no different.
Paragraph 2: While there is no record of a formal revelation to Joseph Smith on this doctrine, some early Latter-day Saint women recalled that he personally taught them about a Mother in Heaven. The earliest published references to the doctrine appeared shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, in documents written by his close associates. The most notable expression of the idea is found in a poem by Eliza R. Snow, entitled “My Father in Heaven” and now known as the hymn “O My Father.” This text declares: “In the heav’ns are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare; / Truth is reason—truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”
Paragraph two confirms that historically, this teaching goes all the way back to Joseph Smith. We of course know of the Eliza R. Snow poem that became the hymn “O My Father,” but did you know that W. W. Phelps, who wrote the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints,” also wrote poetry stating our belief in Heavenly Mother. It’s in the essay footnotes.
Paragraph 3: Subsequent Church leaders have affirmed the existence of a Mother in Heaven. In 1909, the First Presidency [Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund] taught that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” Susa Young Gates, a prominent leader in the Church, wrote in 1920 that Joseph Smith’s visions and teachings revealed the truth that “the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father.” And in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued in 1995, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared, “Each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
Doctrinal points here: we are the children of God, and we are created in the image of Father AND Mother. This is HUGE in a world that treats women’s bodies as property and commodities, and women’s feelings about their body image start to decline at about age eight. But we are created in the image of our divine Mother, who is GOD. The Father and the Mother are side by side – a crucial point that we’ll get into more in the next paragraph.
Paragraph 4: Prophets have taught that our heavenly parents work together for the salvation of the human family. “We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us,” taught Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Harold B. Lee stated, “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”
Our Heavenly Parents work together, they designed the divine plan of happiness together, they are influencing us from beyond and constantly working. This is not, as some naysayers think, a situation in which our Mother is insignificant or not essential. She’s right there with Father, active in our lives, whether we realize it or not.
This is so important to understand because it can and should affect how we treat each other now – in our families, in our church assignments, in our jobs – everywhere there is interaction between men and women. President Ballard has been talking for years about counseling together and listening to each other. Sister Jean Bingham, the Relief Society general president, gave a talk in April 2020 about men and women working together in the Church. And here we have multiple doctrinal statements in a row stating Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are side by side, working together, designing the plan of salvation, and working for our good all the time.
Paragraph 5: Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother. In this, they follow the pattern set by Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples to “always pray unto the Father in my name.” Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to Heavenly Father, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.”
I’ve had lengthy discussions about the instruction to not pray to Heavenly Mother, and I believe it’s important to note that we do not pray to the Savior either. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ to Heavenly Father, but we are still encouraged and expected to have a testimony of and relationship with Jesus Christ. The same can be said and done with Heavenly Mother. I have a friend who feels very close to Heavenly Mother when she cooks for her family. Another one when she dances. Another when she studies Wisdom in the scriptures. I feel a connection on clear sunny days when the sky is very, very blue. There’s no way anyone can get up in church and say, “Everyone will connect with Heavenly Father and Mother like this.” What I will say is – think of what makes you YOU, what makes you feel complete, what brings you joy – focus there and see if you can sense and connect with both of our Heavenly Parents through that thing.
Paragraph 5 continued: Indeed, as Elder Rudger Clawson wrote, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.”
So here’s the ultimate Mother’s Day honorific – to acknowledge that we have a Mother in Heaven, and She is our eternal destiny. Elder Glenn L. Pace said at a BYU devotional,
“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
Paragraph 6: As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited. Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents. Latter-day Saints believe that this pattern is reflected in Paul’s statement that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”
It is true that we don’t know much about our Mother in Heaven. It is also true that we don’t know much about Father in Heaven. If you look through the scriptures, the only time we have record of the Father’s voice is to introduce Jesus Christ – “This is my beloved son, hear him.” So if Father and Mother are working together, side by side, in a divine pattern that says men and women must be exalted together, I think it would be safe to acknowledge that Mother would also say, “This is my beloved son, hear him.”
President Nelson said, “My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ invites us to take the covenant path back home to our Heavenly Parents and be with those we love. He invites us to Come, follow me.”
One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith is this about Jesus Christ:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”
Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, to return to our Heavenly Parents. Everything He did and continues to do is so we can become like THEM.
I am grateful for the Savior. I am grateful for Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Sometimes in a testimony, I don’t KNOW a whole lot, but I HOPE that we will be with all of them, and with each other, in joy and love in the next life. I am confident that we can develop relationships with individual members of Deity and each other in joy and love in this life. I believe that Zion is not some lofty goal of the future but a boots on the ground project that we’re working on right now, and a major component of that is to respect and care for all people as the children of God that we are.
“Until one day, like a bolt, we will race toward the Light and meet Her embrace as we did on this side of the veil with our earthy mothers, and the joyful recognition of Her will be as a mirror. She was there all along.”
1. James E. Talmage, “Services at the Tabernacle,” Deseret News, April 29, 1902, p. 13.
Book one for 2023 is notched on my Goodreads scorecard! I read Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life by Sutton Foster.
She’s apparently been a major actress for a few decades, winning multiple Tony awards and acting in TV shows. But I don’t watch TV and only recently started paying attention to theater, so the first I heard of her was when she was cast opposite Hugh Jackman in the Broadway revival of “The Music Man.”
So when I came across her book at the library, I picked it up. It was less about crafting and more about her life offstage, particularly her relationship with her mother. That had to have been hard to write – it was very vulnerable and candid, and even though she didn’t trash on her mother, I was kind of glad that her mother didn’t ever see this because she has passed on.
The book had an awful lot of name dropping – actors and singers throughout. But hey, that’s who she’s been associating with since she was 17, so what else is she supposed to do? Those people really are her friends and coworkers.
The name dropping that annoyed me, however, was the restaurants and clubs and other odd locations. “We ate dinner at [location] and then went to …” It added nothing to the story, and was an annoying distraction in a lot of cases. I have no idea what all these places are, so there’s no reason to list the name of the restaurant unless it’s to brag that you ate there. And sometimes, it could have been assumed that she ate dinner before she went to such-and-such event because it was an unnecessary detail – she didn’t need to tell us every time she had a meal.
Overall it was a good book – I would rather give it three stars than four, but there’s no half, so I rounded up.
You know how sometimes a person decides to do a crazy big project that’s completely out of their element, and blog as they go, and then publish their adventure in a book? I found my crazy, big, long-term project to write into a book:
I’m going to earn my Eagle.
Yeah, the Boy Scouts Eagle.
Scouts was created for teenage boys, which I most definitely am not. Let’s just be blunt. I’m a 50-year-old woman who is 50 pounds overweight and a total wimp. Not exactly Scout material here.
But I’m going to do it anyway, because I wanted to be a Scout the entire time I was growing up.
When I was a kid – third grade maybe? – I was briefly a “Campfire girl.” I vaguely remember that my adventure lasted only a few months and I have no idea why I stopped going. (Did my parents pull me out? Did the troop disband? I don’t know.) My brothers, on the other hand, were in Cub Scouts with all the meetings and accoutrements and camps that came along with it. Our mom was the den leader for awhile, so the meetings were even at my house. I can still, forty years later, rattle off the Cub Scout oath from 1982:
On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people, and obey the Law of the Pack.
For decades, Scouts was the official youth program in the LDS Church for the boys. When my brothers moved up to Boy Scouts, they went to summer camp in the mountains with horses, a shooting range, and even a lake with water skiing. They did all kinds of activities all over the place, and all three of my brothers reached Eagle before they were 16.
The girls, on the other hand, got no such attention at church. There was no activity program at all for girls under age 12. When I moved up into the youth program, the girls did have weekly activities but I don’t remember a single thing about anything we did. Probably crafts or cooking or talked about the scriptures. I do remember that our weeklong summer camp was in tents in the middle of an empty field and we all had to walk out to the road where two little outhouses stood next to some brush for our “facilities.” We did crafts and talked about the scriptures. At camp.
Personal Progress and the Young Women medallion – our goal and achievement programming – was supposed to be the girls’ equivalent of an Eagle but I was never convinced. I did complete it, but by the skin of my teeth because I just didn’t care. It was boring – mostly reading scriptures and writing in a journal, and service. I would rather have been in Scouts having outdoor adventures.
(Sidenote: I was a Personal Progress advisor as an adult, and got a lot more out of the program then. It did turn out to be a good thing, before it was replaced by new programming in January 2020. But as a kid? Nope. In part, because it was so inequitable.)
Fast forward a whole lot of years and I married an Eagle Scout. He was a Scoutmaster for a couple of years (only left it because we moved), and has done all the adult training, including Wood Badge. We are the parents of a bunch of girls, no boys. Sooo … no Scouts.
When our oldest turned 8, (the same age boys were enrolled in Scouts in our church), I made darn sure there was a girls activity program. They had activity nights but no structure beyond some vague guidelines in “Faith in God.” So I created it myself. By sheer force of will, my daughters and their friends did have fun activities and summer day camp and a structure for consistent and frequent awards for reaching goal benchmarks with Faith in God. We played and made and learned.
People asked why I was so adamant about the girls’ program doing a lot “because other girls around the area and around the world don’t have this type of activity.” I responded that I did not care what other girls around the area did or did not do – my concern was what my daughters saw the boys down the hall at church get to do, and the girls were going to get a program as equal as I could make it. My strongest measure of success was when parents told me that their little girls could not wait to be old enough to join my group – they were so excited, because we had so much fun.
Four years ago, at long last, BSA opened enrollment to girls. I was STOKED. My girls could do what I could not! We would have located – or formed – a girls’ troop and registered them immediately, except they didn’t want to do it. Outside with bugs? Ewww! Sigh. Adam and I quietly put all of his Scout gear in the back of a closet and didn’t talk about it.
But we have more kids … Last summer on a road trip, we watched the old Disney movie “Follow Me Boys” and our 4th kid – who was now ten (and had been too young at the initial announcement) – said, “I want to do that. Can I be a Scout?” Why, yes you can! As soon as you turn eleven. “I want to earn every merit badge!”