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We have another son! Our third baby, a complete miracle, a wonder, a gift.

Everyone, even people who aren’t overtly religious, recognize that one time in their lives when they truly felt the presence of God was at the birth of a child.

I always like to record my experiences after a birth because it is one of those rare moments where you take leaps and bounds toward your divine destiny.  Of course being a parent adds volumes to your eternal identity and purpose, but also just the birthing process draws you out of yourself, your barriers, your pride, and gives you a glimpse of your true relationship to God.

Namely, that He holds all of life in His hands and while you have many liberties given to you, ultimately, you are His.  You came from Him, you will return to Him, and when it matters most, He is the only one who can help you.

I am reminded of a scripture from the Pearl of Great Price which echoes my feelings, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10)

And concurrently, I remember these wise words, “This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast.” (The whole address by Dieter Uchtdorf is amazing, you should read it.)

Every new mother knows that there is something more to her child than just their physical creation, majestic and awe-inspiring though it is.  There comes with every baby a sense of that more-ness, which Uchtdorf calls “the spark of eternal fire”.  I feel it also as a grave importance, a discernment that this child is not mine, but Gods; not mortal, but an immortal spirit in an earthly frame.  Not solely an infant, but a fully-formed soul to whom I am beholden to protect, nurture and prepare for a unique purpose under heaven.

Don’t worry. That’s not staggeringly overwhelming at all…(picture me sinking out of my chair, landing in a puddle of ineptness on the floor)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we often hear new parents in testimony meeting.  One common phrase that’s said is that their newborn “brings a sweet spirit into their home”.  I’m going to be completely honest and say that I have, at times, found that statement annoyingly trite.  “Oh, come on,” I call their bluff internally, “You’re not sleeping a wink, the baby can’t even smile yet, let alone interact.  Having a newborn is just plain hard!”

Which is true.  Having a newborn is hard. (Did I mention that I’m nursing WHILE I write this?  BTW thank you for picturing that, it’s as awkward as it sounds. I nurse 40 hours a week right now and feeding the baby is just one aspect of the job. It’s a big undertaking.)

However, with this baby perhaps even more than the previous two, I have been reminded why this experience is so transcendent that it’s hard to find words (and we tend to grasp at the familiar ones, even sensing that they can’t do justice).

So, I’ll also add my imperfect attempt to describe a glowing, knowing mother heart and the thoughts that trail from clouds of glory along with the birth of a child:


I know that God stands at the helm of this life.  He loves us.  He sends us here to earth, and while that seems like a cruel fate at times, He is so much closer than we can understand.  He is eternally and endlessly interested in our well-being.  When the dust, drudgery and distress of this life have passed away, we will be shocked to realize that while life felt so real, it was more like a dream (albeit sometimes a nightmare) and the reality is that God had a plan and a place for us all along.


Why is it that it’s so much easier to see these truths on behalf of our children than for ourselves?

Perhaps that is why God has given us parenthood and family.  Little children help their parents fathom the mysteries of life.

Humph. Imagine that.  And all this while I thought I was in charge.

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What If There Were No Easter?

What if there were no Easter?  What would the world be like without the Spring?  An eternal winter, a frozen landscape.  Not the magical, musical snowman, ice-palace-and-fabulous-wardrobe-change Frozen wonderland you might be picturing.  No. The absence of spring would really mean the absence of life, renewal and growth on Earth. Death would be the end of our existence. There would be nothing but degradation.  An endless entropy with no hope of renewal.

What If Christ Hadn’t Suffered?

What if Christ hadn’t suffered? Without Christ’s suffering, we would have no way to escape our sins. Remorse would have no end.  Guilt could never be forgotten. Harsh words could never be amended, mercy never extended, progress never made. We, none of us, would ever really have a chance.

What If Christ Didn’t Atone For Us?

What if Christ didn’t atone for us? Can you remember a time when your heart was weighed down with the horrors of the world: Abuse, disease, war, cruelty, maliciousness, poverty, hate? Without Christ’s atonement, these tendencies would reign supreme.  Innocents would have no hope for better times to come.

The innate spiritual part of us seems to reject the implication of life without a Savior.  We recoil from reality too awful to face. When I am confronted with dark views that send my mind spinning, shrinking away from problems too big for me to solve, the thought of Jesus Christ is a beacon to my soul.  As soon as I catch hold of this thought, and remember Him, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. My relief is as deep and poignant as was my pain. Because through Him, every wrong will be made right again. Sometimes there is no satisfactory answer in this life.  For those moments especially, Christ is the answer.

He Offers the Gifts of Easter Freely. 

Because He rose from the tomb, we can overcome death.  Perhaps the most beloved scripture in holy writ proclaims, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Because He suffered, we can repent from sin.  In the words of Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”(Isaiah 53:5).

Because He atoned for us, every wrong can be made right.  Christ (and Isaiah) said, “The Spirit of the Lord … hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion … beauty for ashes.” (Isa. 61:1, 3)

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“Today we celebrate the gift of victory over every fall we have ever experienced, every sorrow we have ever known, every discouragement we have ever had, every fear we have ever faced—to say nothing of our resurrection from death and forgiveness for our sins. That victory is available to us because of events that transpired on a weekend precisely like this nearly two millennia ago in Jerusalem.” (Jeffery Holland Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet)

We Can Choose.

The most amazing part is that sometimes we choose to live without Christ.  As horrible as a world without Easter would be, sometimes we live in that world, a devastation of our own making. When we do not accept Christ, it is as if there were no Easter.  Knowing that many would reject Him, the scriptures are full of Christ’s imploring invitations:

HE BECKONS, “Come unto me…and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  He offers, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

The light in our lives is directly proportional to our willingness to draw near to Christ. In the words of Thomas S. Monson, “Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.” We can live in the darkness of a world without Easter, or we can accept Him, remember Him and honor Him as our Savior.

Springtime Is an Invitation to All.

God’s invitations and reminders are all around us, especially at this glorious springtime season of the year.  He calls to us through the beauties of nature, the magnificence of the self-renewing Earth, the reminders of His majesty.  My heart echoes Isaiah’s words:

“Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted… Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me…Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 4:13-16 , Isaiah 1:18)

The reality of the atonement of Jesus Christ is the most joyful message ever given.  Better than little girls in pastel floral dresses, white gloves and broad-brimmed hats (although these are dear to my heart). Better than a bunny who delivers free candy eggs.  Better than a fairytale, even Disney’s Frozen. I hope we each get the chance this Spring season to reflect on the joys that last and the messages of greatest worth: Easter being the champion among these.

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Visit the original article at the Small Seed for a free printable download!

 

Post originally written by Johanna Wagstaff for the Small Seed. Visit the Small Seed site for a free download of the above pictured artwork created by Johanna Wagstaff.  Happy Easter to All!

Our little beauty makes my heart glow.  I sometimes just stare at her— walking and talking—and marvel.  I can’t believe that we gave her life.  Parenthood is one of the few spontaneously joyful experiences of adulthood. Adult life seems to be lived in grey areas, not the comforting contrasts and bright colors of childhood.  However, parenthood brings joy and simplicity (of course sprinkled with struggle and difficulty and sacrifice and…lots of worries).  But somehow, in a way that completely defies logic, parenthood is overwhelmingly joyful and more purely fulfilling than any other endeavor.

Outwardly, logically, it doesn’t add up that anyone would want to be a parent.  It’s a hard job with no monetary reward.  However, to be a parent is to see God’s face in the faces of your children.  To hear His joy in their laughter.  And at night, when the children are (finally) sleeping in all their rosy-cheeked majesty, I feel the approval of the Divine.   It is humbling work, to be a parent.  Humbling and vital, menial and glorious all at once.  Sometimes, in the best moments, parenthood truly feels like a walk with the Divine.

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Can we just applaud pregnancy for a minute?

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 3.50.39 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 3.51.31 PMI’m 30 weeks pregnant with my third baby.  Inspired by my globe-sized bump, my thoughts have been orbiting around motherhood. And ducks.

Let’s talk about Eider ducks. Pure Eider down is quite valuable, it’s considered a superior grade feather down. The Eider duck has an interesting pattern of nesting behaviors. I had assumed that all birds gathered bits of twine and other found objects to insulate their nests.  I’ve seen plenty of nests lined with garbage.

Not the Eider duck, apparently. A mother Eider plucks the soft, valuable down from her breast to feather her nest. She gives her best for her babies. She gives the very softest feathers from close to her heart. She literally gives all that she has, and when her down is exhausted, the father Eider duck will contribute his own.

I heard this tidbit years ago and I’ve often thought of this imagery. It seems like it would really hurt the duck, to individually wrestle the feathers from her skin until they are all gone. Parenthood is like that, though.

Let’s just take a minute and think about all that is required of a mother just to bring a child into the world.  It literally costs a pound of flesh.  In many ways, mothers have a horrible, exacting price to pay. (I’m talking morning sickness, varicose veins, stretch marks…I should stop there because this list gets unseemly at an alarming rate…) And then there’s the actual labor and delivery of a child.  I was SHOCKED when I had my first child.  Absolutely overwhelmed by all that motherhood required of me physically.  It suddenly seemed astounding that there were so many people in the world, knowing the price that a mother pays to bring just one person into it.

Mothers are tough. There is nothing easy about it. So, regardless of what mothering takes place AFTER the baby is born, can we just applaud pregnancy for a minute?  I want to shout out to all mothers everywhere.  Look what you sacrificed!  You did an amazing thing.  A divine act, truly.

It is a great and terrible process to join hands with our Divine Creator in the process of carrying a baby.  But, there is something so right and so beautiful even in the horrors of it. Like the Eider duck wrenching feathers from her heart, it is natural for a mother to giver her all, her very best for the benefit of a child.  In those moments, I know many mothers feel the gravity of their gift, I hope all mothers do.

Regardless of whatever else a mother can give her child, the gift of life is a sacrifice worth honoring.

“No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.

To all mothers in every circumstance, including those who struggle—and all will—I say, Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are.”

-Jeffery R Holland (Read the whole address I’ve quoted from.  It’s a feast for the soul.)

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Photos curtesy of Christy Calton of Sugar Plum Shots.

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I submit that we are ruining ourselves with a mantra of self-indulgence that puts personal satisfaction above every other goal, duty or virtue.  Our society is primed for a world of hurt.

I love chocolate cake. I’m talkin’ the molten chocolate kind made with real ganache topping.  Guittard milk chocolate chips melted into heavy whipping cream and drizzled over moist, made-from-scratch cake. It’s filling and decadent and absolutely satisfying. (I love Ina Garten’s Recipe minus the instant coffee, plus milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet.)

I can honestly attest to the virtues of this dessert and it’s healing powers.  I have baked this cake in times of celebration: Graduations, dinner parties, birthdays, holidays.  I have baked this cake in times of sorrow and loss when a tangible reminder of ‘the sweet things in life’ is helpful.   We live in the real world.  Sometimes a slice of real chocolate cake helps a bitter moment pass a little gentler.

When I take that first bite of cake, I find myself wishing that I could eat it all day, every day.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  But, yeah, let’s be real. No one can actually eat chocolate cake three times a day without some serious consequences.  Sometimes, I can barely even finish a SLICE before my stomach complains of a little ache.  It’s rich stuff.  If I ate it for every meal, I would make myself dreadfully ill.  Not only that, but I would be malnourished.  And severely overweight.  And pretty miserable as a host of other health problems developed.  Statistically, the most likely consequences would be heart failure and diabetes.  At some point, my indisputably wonderful chocolate cake would become the means of my demise.  Death by chocolate.

We, as human beings are not designed for a diet of chocolate cake.

But HEY, I’m a free agent!  I can do whatever I want to do with my body and my life and MY CAKE!  Chocolate cake is good! No one can tell me it’s not.  In fact, how DARE anyone tell me it’s not.  It makes me happy.  And, I think anyone else who wants to eat chocolate cake all the time is entitled to that right.  Who are these doctors to tell me I shouldn’t have it?  Who is society to stand in the way of our happiness?  How dare they say it’s bad, I’ve tasted it and it’s helped me through hard times and made my life a joy.  I will stand on a podium and petition to change laws getting in the way of chocolate cake. I will bring lawsuits to anyone who stands in my way.  I’ll put chocolate cake in every popular TV show. I’ll put chocolate cake in the hand of every beautiful, happy, fit and healthy actress in hollywood so everyone will see how glamorous it is. I will threaten and cajole and bully anyone who even implies that chocolate cake isn’t good.  I have that right.

Soon everyone will be on the band wagon.  We’ll all be pro-chocolate cake and pro-happiness.  Society will fall apart because people will be too ill to work.  Hospitals will be overloaded and the doctors themselves will be too sick to help anyone.  Children will grow up eating chocolate cake  three meals a day, thinking it’s good for them.  They won’t understand why they are always in pain.  Our way of life will fail, but hey, it’s all in pursuit of our right to be happy, right?

Okay, okay, this parable is getting a bit heated, so I’ll give it a rest.

However, I submit that we are ruining ourselves with a mantra of self-indulgence that puts personal satisfaction above every other goal, duty or virtue.  Our society is primed for a world of hurt.

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With my whole heart, I believe there is a wise God who has DESIGNED us.  God did not design us for a diet of chocolate cake. He has outlined what is meant for us in the words of his commandments and scriptures.  We have no real happiness on any other path.  All the indignant, personal satisfaction-seekers in the world can’t change that.  I hope that we can find the wisdom to see these arguments and trends for what they are.

In the words of  LDS Apostle Quentin Cook: “For many centuries the gospel of Jesus Christ has inspired beliefs and established standards of conduct as to what is righteous, desirable, and moral and results in happiness, felicity, and joy. However, the principles and basic morality the Savior taught are under serious attack in today’s world. Christianity is under attack. Many believe that what is moral has basically changed.9

We live in difficult times. There is an increased tendency to “call evil good, and good evil.”10 A world that emphasizes self-aggrandizement and secularism is cause for great concern. One prominent writer, not of our [LDS] faith, has put it this way: “Unfortunately I see little evidence that people are actually happier in the emerging dispensation, or that their children are better off, or that the cause of social justice is well-served, or that declining marriage rates and thinning family trees … promise anything save greater loneliness for the majority, and stagnation overall.”11

 

Also, the wise words of Von Keetch from his LDS General Conference address titled, “Blessed and Happy Are Those Who Keep the Commandments of God” are illuminating:

“As you and I walk the paths of life and pursue our dreams, God’s commands and standards…can sometimes be difficult to understand. They may appear rigid and unyielding, blocking a path that looks fun and exciting and that is being followed by so many others. As the Apostle Paul described, “We see through a glass, darkly,”1 with such a limited perspective that we often cannot comprehend the great dangers hidden just below the surface.

But He who “comprehend[s] all things”2 knows exactly where those dangers lie. He gives us divine direction, through His commands and loving guidance, so that we may avoid the dangers…

We show our love for God—and our faith in Him—by doing our very best every day to follow the course that He has laid out for us and by keeping the commandments that He has given to us. We especially manifest that faith and love in situations where we don’t fully understand the reason for God’s commands or the particular path He is telling us to take.”

My God bless us with wisdom, I pray.

 

A WORD ABOUT EQUALITY

Recently, I was enlightened by a friend not of my faith.  He shared with me his reasons for believing that women should hold the priesthood.  1) He hated the thought that, if his little girl grew up and felt the call to lead, teach and testify of Christ, that she would be denied a position in the clergy based on her sex.  2) He felt that the position of priest/bishop/pastor/spiritual leader was one of reverence and influence.  He said that in a way, the spiritual leader was meant to be an example to the congregation of how to live, and in that, they were held to a higher standard.  I could imagine how he would feel if his daughter were deemed unworthy of that privilege due to her gender.

After hearing his experiences, I felt like a lightbulb went off in my brain!

Oh!  THIS is why I have never really understood the passion behind the issues of women and the priesthood!  Because for me, as a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these restrictions do not apply.

Let me explain:  In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is NO PAID CLERGY.  Everyone in the church community is asked to contribute on a volunteer basis.  Being a Bishop is not a career path.  It is an assignment given for a distinct period of time (usually 3-7 years), after which the former Bishop might be asked to teach the 5-year-old Sunday school class. Both callings would be considered equally respectable.  Being part of the church leadership, though respected and valued, is not esteemed any higher than being the primary children’s song leader or the scout master in the congregation.  We are each expected to give our contribution and each contribution is valued by the Lord and the church community.

Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church said:  Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).

As a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I speak and give sermons at the pulpit, I teach lessons and classes for Sunday school, I oversee meetings and activities for the Relief Society. I hold the same temple recommend as the Apostles and Prophet of the church.  LDS Women serve full-time missions, preside in presidencies of church auxiliaries, and are valued members of church leadership worldwide.
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What’s more,  in the LDS Church, I receive the highest praise, respect and support for my calling as a mother—which is considered more important than the calling of Bishop or even Apostle, parenthood comes before any other office.  President David O. McKay said:

“The noblest calling in the world is motherhood. True motherhood is the most beautiful of all arts, the greatest of all professions. She who can paint a masterpiece, or who can write a book that will influence millions, deserves the admiration and plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose immortal souls will exert an influence throughout the ages long after paintings shall have faded, and books and statues shall have decayed or have been destroyed, deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God.”

Another President of the Church, Ezra T. Benson said:

“God bless our wonderful mothers. We pray for you. We sustain you. We honor you as you bear, nourish, train, teach, and love for eternity. I promise you the blessings of heaven and “all that the Father hath” as you magnify the noblest calling of all—a mother in Zion.

One of the things I most cherish about my experience as a Mormon is that my decision to be a mother is honored and respected, supported and reverenced in every way.  I feel that my greatest opportunity for influence as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ is that of teaching my children to honor and love the Lord.  There is no greater, more fulfilling call to teach and testify of Christ.

Explanation part 2:  The priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not only refer to the offices of the clergy or leadership for the congregation.  Worthy men in the LDS Church are offered priesthood authority or priesthood “keys” depending on what office or calling they hold in the church.  When a person holds the priesthood, they hold the authority to administer ordinances of salvation.  For example, a bishop is given the priesthood authority to administer to the needs of the congregation.  Apostles hold the priesthood keys necessary to administering to the needs of the general church, and the Prophet holds all the keys, receiving revelation from God and authority to guide His church.

So, usually, when I hear of women clamoring for the right to hold the priesthood in the LDS church, I understand it as their desire to hold these authoritative keys interchangeably with men.

On the surface, this seems like a question of equality and women’s rights. However, the question really comes down to this:  Is the priesthood an office of service or is it a status symbol?  Because if the priesthood is an office of service, then what sense does it make to demand the so-called right to exercise it?  

Any person possessed of this attitude would immediately loose whatever authority they thought they had gained for, as stated clearly in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”

In other words, anyone demanding authority has no business holding it.  Moreover, the priesthood is not a right one can claim, it is a gift.  The gifts of the priesthood are given freely and equally to all who believe and desire to receive them.

VISUALIZATION EXERCISE

Picture this with me: You’re going on a family vacation.  You’re parents have generously provided a beach house in Laguna Beach, CA (insert your own ideal here) and you are ecstatic!  You’re looking forward to some relaxation, soaking in the beauty of nature, family time—it sounds like pure bliss! Your parents send you and your brother ahead to open up the house, shop for vacation groceries and prepare for the family fun.  Together you drive to the beach house, you’re a little giddy with the anticipation of getting the first peek inside.  You arrive on the threshold, you’re about to unlock the door.

Now, are you going to stand there and argue with your brother about who gets to hold the key?  Does it matter who unlocks the door?

No way!  You wouldn’t even think about it.  Holding the key is just a logistical detail.  All the benefits of the the beach vacation are shared equally and given generously.  It would be silly, maybe even a bit petty, to worry over who got to unlock the door, wouldn’t it?

This is how I have come to feel about the issue of women holding the priesthood.

A PRINCIPLE OF ECONOMICS

Another way I have often thought of the debate over Women holding the Priesthood is that in some ways it is a question of economy.  Thinking waaay back to my college Econ 101 class, I will reference the principles of specialization and division of labor.  You remember… Adam Smith, the pin factory…Bottom line is that we all benefit when we each specialize in different tasks and then share the fruits of our labors. If I want to personally produce everything I consume, I would only receive the benefit of consuming a few things, and/or the quality of each thing would be lessened.  It might take me 2 years of trial and error to perfect my homemade lavender soap recipe, for example.  By entering the market and trading for the things I need, I can benefit from the expertise of others, getting that lovely lavender lather more efficiently as I benefit from my neighbor’s secret family recipe and mass-production prices.

That was a silly simplification but it is always surprising to me that so many women are clamoring for the “right” to do it all, when WE ALL LOSE with that strategy. It just makes sense to specialize in our tasks so that we can each receive more of the richness of life.  I am confident that women are capable and worthy of performing all the same duties as men who hold the priesthood.  I don’t know why God chose to organize His church such that men hold the priesthood and not women.  Perhaps because women are given the office of motherhood and we ALL know that that job is consuming!

The Lord is a great economist.  He has designed a division of labor for us.   Do we as women need to prove that we can do it all at the expense of the richness and balance of our lives?

FAITH AND HUMILITY

As for the rest of the questions and complaints I hear regarding women and the priesthood, my thoughts are thus:  Does God answer to us, or are we here to show our devotion to Him?  Every thoughtful disciple has questions.  I hope we each intentionally consider our beliefs.  But, there are many magnificent mysteries in life.  I do not fully understand the workings of time and space, or the intricacies of the human brain.  I choose to accept that the mysteries of God are sometimes dazzling and sometimes challenging but they are always designed for our benefit.

 


A big thank you to my sister-in-law Kelsie Peterson for an insightful, everyday discussion which inspired this post.  I’m grateful to be surrounded by strong women who know the value of womanhood.