reading list: random

The first three books I read in 2024 were not on any book list I’ve ever looked at or compiled myself – they were absolutely random.

1 – Reign by Katharine McGee – it’s a teen romance novel that one of my kids got from the library. It’s set in modern times with texting and SUVs, but as if the USA had made George Washington a king and stayed with royalty terms, such as the Duchy of Texas, and GW’s descendants were now the King and Queen of America. That could have been really interesting, but no, it was not – just lots of uber-wealthy and privileged teenagers and young adults drinking and sleeping around, and deciding who would eventually end up with whom in a relationship. And this was book FIVE of a series, the conclusion. This goes on for FIVE books? Ugh. I’m glad I just read the last one.

Why did I read it? Because sometimes I pick up my kids’ books to see what’s out there and what they’re absorbing. Meh – the same “rich people are amazing” fantasy stuff I read as a kid, just with smartphones.

2 – The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett – set in the 1950s/60s at a Catholic home for unmarried but pregnant young women. Again, I didn’t particularly like it because the protagonist was a mean and selfish person. The whole thing was kind of depressing.

Why did I read it? Because I read online that it’s banned in Florida, thank you to book banning whackheads that are trying to take over the entire US education system, so I got it from the library and read it for sheer spite.

3 – Of Time and Turtles by Sy Montgomery – yay! A book I liked! It’s a memoir of … a person who writes books about animals – I don’t even know what to call her. I don’t think she’s a scientist, but she interacts with people who are, and this time, it was a “turtle hospital” in Massachusetts, either on or near Cape Cod. I also liked it because it made me think of New England. (I like being in the DC area, but I miss New England. It’s both/and.)

Why did I read it? Because I saw it on the New Books display at the library and picked it up on a whim. I started flipping through it and one of the turtle stories got my attention even though I’ve NEVER been interested in turtles. So I checked it out.

submitted article

About a year ago, I submitted an article to a hard-copy magazine printed by an LDS group – not an official church publication, but in support of it. My article was accepted but before that issue was printed, the magazine was very abruptly canceled in favor of other projects. The theme of that issue was being strong in life’s opposition, and I need reminders more often than I care to admit about how that strength should be demonstrated.

P.S. Yes, this really was a dream I had during college. I got up the next morning and wrote it into a poem, and I’ve thought about painting it.

STORMS

I had a dream once. I saw myself standing alone on a rocky cliff above the ocean with wind and rain raging all around me, while the waves crashed high enough to almost reach me. I saw many shades of gray – the sky, the water, the leafless trees, even the cabin in the distance. All gray. The only color was my purple fleece jacket, getting darker as it absorbed more water from the rain and the ocean spray. 

I just stood there, legs braced, feet actively pressing into the ground. I didn’t try to dodge or hide from the storm, but confronted it straight on – my face was turned into the wind and my tangled hair blew back. No shaking, no weakness. I was part of the stone mountain. The storm was all around, but I didn’t need to move. The sun would come out eventually. 

And then I woke up. It’s been more than two decades since I had that dream, but the mental picture comes back to me again and again. 

I see myself on that stormy cliff every time I hear the hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” I remember so much gray with a speck of dark purple when I read Helaman 5:12 – 

Remember, Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

I am reminded of my dream again when life is a storm … which means it is in my mind’s eye pretty much all the time. 

Our entire world seems to be in a hurricane of hatred toward people other than our chosen team. Fury and fear swirl around us constantly – anger about others’ choices that we disapprove of, meanness over innate differences such as the color of one’s skin or sexual orientation, an angsty desire to contain our children in a bubble free from opposition. Some days (most days, if I’m being honest), I want to lock up in my house with my husband and children and hide away from it all with our books and fuzzy blankets, our art supplies and board games, and extra snacks. We do not want to encounter the hatred in the world. 

But whether we want to or not, we must engage with it because hate, left on its own, continues to develop. Hatred cannot be “fought” in the metaphor of great battles, with swords dramatically wielded by ancient military battalions. It also cannot be fought with today’s weaponry, people literally arming themselves with guns, guns, and more guns. Even the perception of fighting only feeds hatred more – helps it grow and makes it stronger because it pits person against person as enemies. Protection against hatred doesn’t work in a warrior mentality either – no bunkers or shields can keep it away, because hiding from fear also inexplicably enhances it.

Hatred must be overcome by being outnumbered and outmaneuvered by LOVE, and that doesn’t need a metaphor – just real-live basic action by real-live basic people. Protection against the storms of hatred is as simple as filling our souls with love. The containers of our hearts cannot carry hate when they are overflowing with kindness and good will toward the people around us, especially people who have different patterns of behavior, different child-raising methods, different political opinions, different understanding of gospel principles, so much different. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded us that everyone loves their friends and that’s not a big deal – the higher law is to love those who are rude and mean to you. 

I know it’s difficult to do that, which is why my all-time favorite scripture is Moroni 7:48 – 

Wherefore, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the children of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.

This protection of love is not something we have to generate within ourselves through sheer force of will. The Lord will give it to us when we ask for it, and that gives me so much hope. We can quite literally get on our knees and say, “I really don’t like that person. Please help me to see them and love them as You do.” I know this works because I’ve done it. 

I always imagine a massive ceramic pitcher above my head, pouring the living water of God’s love over me. This is not the time to get out an umbrella. 

And then I get up from my prayer and put on my purple jacket, to go out into the gray of the storm and share the love of God. Love is the answer to protect from the storm, and it will also calm the storm. Sympathy and gentle answers to confrontational questions ease the winds of rage. Quart jars of hot chicken soup and plates of fresh cookies cut through the cold. Smiles and hugs light the path.  

Here comes the sun. And here comes the Son.

behind the scenes with Cherish: part 4

Part 3: Waiting

book launch event at a home in Holladay, Utah, Thursday, May 4, 2023.

Chapter 4: Utah

Tuesday, May 2, 2023: Adam and I left our kids with his sister Naomi and flew to Salt Lake. It took the entire afternoon and evening, with a layover in Denver – when we landed in Salt Lake and his best friend Walter picked us up at the airport, it was 10 pm. Dinner at Five Guys anyway.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023: I had breakfast with Cynthia Winward and Susan Hinckley, hosts of the At Last She Said It podcast. I worked with them when they wrote one of the chapters for Richard Ostler’s second Listen, Learn & Love book. They are LDS feminists who are active members but are basically fed up with patronizing patriarchy in the Church, so they’re saying the things.

In the afternoon, Adam and I went to the Light of the World Garden at Thanksgiving Point, which was amazing. It’s a collection of larger-than-life statues of Christ depicting scenes from the New Testament stories and absolutely beautiful. Most are of Christ’s interactions with women. It was a good place to sit and get centered for the Heavenly Mother events.

The woman touching Christ’s hem to be healed, Light of the World Garden, Thanksgiving Point, Utah

Thursday May 4, 2023: Ashli and I FINALLY met in person for the first time. We decided to go out to lunch together before our first event – the Jordan River Temple grounds were an easy and central location for Adam to drop me off, Ashli drove me around for the day while he hung out with Walt, and Adam met us at the last event.

As soon as Adam and I got in the car to drive to the temple grounds, a text came in from McArthur – WE HAD A LIVE LINK TO THE BOOK. I knew Ashli wasn’t going to get the text right away because she was driving, so I spent the 20 minute ride posting as fast as I could on Instagram and texting people. I walked in circles around the temple fountain waiting for Ashli and the first thing I said to her in person when she was still 50 feet away was, “Did you get McArthur’s text? We’re LIVE.”

Ashli and me meeting in person for the first time, after working together for a year and a half.

We had three events that afternoon/evening, all in people’s homes. We met McArthur at the first address and at each one, we spoke in front of the group – McArthur did most of the talking with Ashli and I filling in our bits and pieces of the story, and then a lot of one-to-one conversations with the guests.

Most people were lovely and kind but a few looked at me like I’d crawled out from under a rock, so that didn’t help my overall feeling of imposter syndrome. I asked Adam to join us for the last party, expecting it would be a mixed group of men and women but nope. It was a huge women’s meeting and I felt awful for him because he was so out of place and just stood off to the side the whole time. I wasn’t much better – all of my conversations were awkward and superficial, and ended very quickly. Hmm. Hope the rest of the trip goes better.

Friday May 5, 2023: Adam and I spent the morning and early afternoon visiting friends and attending the Provo City Center Temple. The one Friday event was speaking at the Writ & Vision bookshop and art gallery in Provo – friends and family were there so it wasn’t a sea of strangers, so I was more relaxed. Hooray! My parents were in town and came to the panel, my sister who I hadn’t seen for a long time came, and friends from different phases of my life were there. So good to see them and have their support! And it was a much nicer event for Adam to attend, because it was a good mix of men and women – not a girls night that he accidentally crashed.

The most important part of that event was WE GOT THE BOOKS! Once the sale link was live, BCC rush-shipped three copies of the book to Utah. Ashli picked them up in Salt Lake and brought them to Provo, and we opened the box together. So when doing our panel, we had the books actually in our hands. It’s so little and sturdy and full of beautiful things. Love it all. I thought McArthur was kind of nuts for wanting a 4×6 inch book but it was the right call.

WE HAVE BOOKS!!!!

Saturday May 6, 2023: We started with what became my favorite thing of the trip – a brunch for the contributors of the book. I asked everyone who came to sign my book and it made my copy that much more meaningful. I’m going to keep carrying this around on other trips to Utah because if I meet more contributors, I will ask them to sign it also. Anyway, we literally sat for hours talking, and then went outside to take a bunch of pictures individually and as a group.

So many awesome writers and artists and scholars – best part of the trip!

The most memorable greeting was when I met Alyssa Wilkinson – she said her name and my reply was total reaction, no thought. I practically yelled in her face, “OH! YOU!” … an instant of terror for her … “You wrote my favorite poem! I want to print and frame it on my wall!” And then we talked and it was great.

Two more speaking events that afternoon and evening, which went much the same as the others but with more and more people. At that point, everything was starting to blur together a bit because in less than 72 hours, we’d had seven different events. The imposter syndrome went in waves – sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn’t. It went away when personal friends were in view so I was grateful for them!

At the last one of the evening, some friends came and stayed for only about 15 minutes, and that’s how I learned Wife is really into the doctrine of Heavenly Mother and wanted to be there, but Husband was with her and he really does NOT like Wife’s interest in Heavenly Mother because don’t we know that this is apostate … so they left. Big, big sigh of disappointment because come on, Husband, I know you and I know you can do better than this.

Sunday May 7, 2023: Ashli flew home to South Carolina on Sunday morning, and McArthur and I spoke at two more events Sunday afternoon and evening. At the last one, I talked with a woman who had a story to share of connecting with Heavenly Mother … which became the first submission for a SECOND collection of Cherish poetry, art, and reflections.

Post trip: BCC Press told us that we set their record for the highest number of book sales in the first ten days. We gave away our author copies to the contributors through a drawing, and immediately jumped into prepping book 2, which is a whole other story for another day.

behind the scenes with Cherish: part 3

Part 2: Gestating a Book

a primrose on my front porch, spring 2023

Chapter 3: Waiting

Once the manuscript went to BCC in October, things were quiet. We occasionally had a phone conversation and Ashli posted things on the @cherisheddoctrine Instagram, but we were waiting for the publisher to do the layout and whatever else it is that publishers do to prep a book. (I actually don’t know – I’ve asked various people but that doesn’t seem to be question important enough for anyone to answer.)

For Christmas, I made quilted pillows. Heavenly Mother is represented to me in flowers, so I made a flower block for each of the three of us – McArthur is coral, Ashli is pink, I’m purple. Heavenly Mother is the 4th flower in white and pale blue (blue is the Indian color for deity). You can barely see it but it’s pulling everything together. I sent one to each of them, and kept a third for myself.

March 14, 2023: Ashli, McArthur, and I were interviewed for the Listen, Learn & Love podcast with Richard Ostler. We wanted so badly to represent Heavenly Mother well, to share the book as a testimony builder … the entire time we were recording, I was very on edge to be precise in what I said, not make any kind of reaction, and apparently it worked! As soon as we got off the Zoom meeting, I relaxed down and the phone rang immediately with McArthur and Ashli to review the whole experience, and for McArthur to tell us that during the recording, she had a text message that BCC was ready to send the layout PDF document for the final check.

That kicked off the whirlwind of the next two weeks.

McArthur contacted a graphic designer friend to make the cover, and our subtitle was tweaked just to get it to fit onto our little 4×6 inch book. We originally had something long and kind of laborious: “Celebrating the Joy of the Doctrine of Heavenly Mother.” Kate cut it to “The Joy of Our Mother in Heaven.” Much better! The flowers were put around the edge as a border as a sort of gift to me from McArthur, because … flowers …

I went over the entire manuscript to see how everything lined up in the page layout (when we turned it in, it was one huge google doc with no page breaks) – Andrew, the BCC layout guy, nailed it. It is so beautiful. While I was reviewing it, I had the distinct thought (which I cherish – haha if you understand the reference) that we did it. We did what Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother wanted us to do. This is it.

There were missed things here and there – not a big deal and easy to fix, but we had a punch list and the updated PDF emailed back and forth for about two weeks. I was also finishing a Richard Ostler manuscript – Listen, Learn & Love 3 – at the exact same time. So my family didn’t see much of me in the second half of March. That didn’t make them very happy, but fortunately, book projects go in waves. There’s a lot of downtime, and the “tie yourself to a chair and work like crazy on the computer” push is a few weeks at the most. Most of the time creating a book is at a much more manageable pace.

April 10, 2023: uploaded to amazon! We should have had a link three to five days later. We did not. We hit refresh on our Amazon app A LOT over the next couple of weeks. But nothing.

We finally heard after a couple of weeks that our mini size is not standard, so it takes Amazon a lot longer to do their thing of creating a hard copy book. So we just had to wait.

And wait.

End of April: Over multiple texts and phone calls, McArthur and Ashli and I discussed long and hard about doing a book tour with NO BOOKS. We were scheduled to be in Utah for book tour events May 4-7, so now what?

Well, this whole project is to teach about Heavenly Mother. The books are just one vehicle to share testimony of Her – we can share testimony of Her by meeting with people and speaking. It’s not about the book, so we decided to go forward with it anyway.

To be continued … Part 4: Utah

behind the scenes with Cherish: part 2

Part 1: Heavenly Mother is an Instagrammer

“A Mother’s Womb” by Dylan Landeen, in Cherish: The Joy of Our Mother in Heaven, page 324

Chapter 2: Gestating a Book

May 2022: McArthur travels around the US, and even internationally sometimes, to speak at firesides and other gatherings about the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. This month, she went to North Carolina and spoke at a Heavenly Mother fireside in Ashli’s stake. Then she flew up to New York and spoke at a Heavenly Mother public event hosted by the LDS Women Project. I drove down to Brooklyn for the event, and loved meeting in person McArthur, her co-author Bethany Brady Spalding, and the LDSWP editor in chief Liz Ostler for the first time. I was a little starstruck – I’ve been following McArthur and Bethany and buying their books for a long time. But they are so comfortable with everyone they meet that it was never a big deal.

I chauffeured McArthur for the next two days, up to my house in Connecticut. We had tried to host a stake fireside but it was canceled just the week before.

Tangent: when we arranged for me to host McArthur, I contacted my stake leaders and said hey, this author is coming into town, can we have her speak? We didn’t even set it up for a Heavenly Mother topic – it was women in the scriptures, because she has also written books (published by Church authorized Deseret Book) about that. I had a couple of lengthy conversations with the stake president to reassure him that no, we wouldn’t get into “false doctrine” or teach girls to pray to Heavenly Mother or anything scary (while I rolled my eyes that this type of panic is even a thing), and he approved us to go ahead.

It was really frustrating to try to set it up – reserve the building, announce it to the wards, etc – no one had any interest in helping or participating, including people in my own ward. Then less than a week before, a mysterious person saw my Facebook post about the LDSWP event, apparently assumed it was my stake fireside, and called the Area Seventy (??) who then called the stake president and ordered him to cancel the fireside. Not many people saw that Facebook post because it wasn’t public, so while I will never know who called the area leader, there are only a couple of people it could be. Two years later, I am still shocked and disgusted that likely a woman went over the stake president’s head to deliberately cancel a fireside for women about women.

What we did instead: The morning after the LDSWP event, McArthur and I had a brunch at my house with about a dozen women to talk about how to talk about Heavenly Mother in ways that people won’t freak out about. The Sacred Silence is the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced. Patriarchy says, “Women are so needed and amazing! So we will respect Heavenly Mother by pretending She doesn’t exist because She is too sacred to talk about.”

Event 3 was an independent gathering of LDS people (not an official event so it didn’t have to be approved by any leader) in Boston – I drove McArthur up there and stayed for the meeting and then sent her on her way. Zach Davis arranged for and hosted the gathering and there was a lot more discussion that time than McArthur giving a speech as she typically does other presentations. I don’t remember much, this far removed from it, but I enjoyed the give-and-take.

Summer 2022: the book project had to sit for a little while, while my family moved from Connecticut to Virginia. We had ended submissions in the spring – Ashli and McArthur read everything and chosen what would be included, Ashli sent acceptance letters. Then everything came to me to sort into the topical chapters and create the huge master document to make the book.

The second big decision during the summer – after the book structure – was the title, credit to McArthur. The catchy phrase in Church literature is that the belief in Heavenly Mother is a “cherished and distinctive doctrine.” And we wanted people to recognize that this is a joyful doctrine, not a scary one to be afraid of. Cherish is an action – and we wanted exactly that – the action of cherishing the joy of this doctrine and belief. And that’s how we settled on Cherish: The Joy of Our Mother in Heaven.

September 2022: it took over 100 hours in September and the first week or two in October to place and edit all of the submissions into the master document for Cherish. There’s not a lot to say about this phase – I spend a lot of time at my computer bouncing between files – copying and downloading submissions from this file and putting them in that file. On October 13, off it went to BCC Press, the small publisher we chose to work with for the project.

To be continued … Part 3: Waiting

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

LDSWP: 2023 interview roster

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.

Here are my entries for 2023:

Sheila Prins-Knight, “Working Together in Small Branches,” Lelystad, the Netherlands:

“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.”

Mandy Green, “Courage and Faith to Follow Through,” Herriman, Utah:

“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.” 

Melissa Tshikamba, “Self-love, Beauty, and Divinity in Blackness,” Utah:

“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.” 

Ashli Carnicelli, “Seeker of the Divine,” Charleston, South Carolina:

“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!!!!!”

Monica Packer, “Finding God By Finding Myself,” Salt Lake City, Utah:

“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.”

Rebecca Cheney, “Nearer to the Lord Through Music,” Orem, Utah:

“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.”

Esther Hi’ilani Candari, “Connecting Links,” American Fork, Utah:

“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.”

Marci McPhee, “Go Far, Stay Long, Look Deep,” Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

“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.”

Listen, Learn & Love THREE

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.

Beyond Belief

A new book has hit the online shelves – Beyond Belief: What if Jesus Wrote His Own Creed? by Russ Hinckley.

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.

op-ed

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.