Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Work of God

(Painting by Karen Woods, 02)

I love my father. He’s a good man.

One of my most favorite memories with him took place during a windstorm. I was about 13 years old. The media called it one of the worst storms of the decade.

We went to church on Sunday, but there was no power, just dark hallways lit by dim emergency lights. Hardly anyone was there. As members trickled into the dark chapel the bishopric announced church was canceled and that they needed able-bodied men and young men to help with disaster relief. They were instructed to go home and change, get their shovels and chainsaws, and report to designated areas.

My father, having no sons, took me and my older sister home to change. I remember complaining in the car about how my sister and I, technically, weren’t required to go, but he insisted that were we equally capable of using a shovel.

We drove on the side of the road to avoid the flooded highway. There was mud and debris all around the shoreline of the swollen river as we crossed the bridge. There was a huge pine tree uprooted lying on its side in the river. Homes were damaged and people were suffering. The raining had finally stopped but there was a lot of work to be done.

We shoveled. I remember shoveling knee deep in mud until my back and hands hurt. I wore my dad’s yellow leather work gloves that were drastically oversized compared to my small hands, but I was still grateful I had them. I knew my sister and I couldn’t physically do all that my father did. His loads always seemed twice as big as ours, but I knew that my service was seen equally to God as we shoveled side-by-side.

There were many people working together, mostly men, but that didn’t matter. We were a part of something far greater. We transcended our gender, age, positions, titles, callings, and differences to become equal human beings shoveling mud.

It was beautiful. It was the work of God.

Today, there is still work to be done. We have many strong, intelligent, capable, sincere, and worthy women, yet our gender excludes us from the power and authority to serve equally with men.

I am told my desire to serve like my father is unrighteous and improper. I am told to raise my sons with an earnest desire to righteously exercise the Priesthood and then in the same breath tell my daughter that those desires for her are blasphemy.

It’s disheartening to put so much faith into a religion that puts so little faith in me.

I hold on to that day of shoveling mud with my father, because it gives me hope. I am grateful he gave me a shovel. I imagine the beauty of that single day could be outshone by the glorious vista of all God’s children working together, with equal authority, as partners, without inhibition, and with complete compassion and immersive love of humanity.

Perhaps I’m too optimistic or imaginative, but I choose to continue to stand by my husband while he shovels mud until my church sees fit to hand me a shovel, too.

*
Published at Feminist Mormon Housewives on Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Soldiers' Wives

In our mid-twenties my husband, Drew, and I lived near a military base. Our ward was predominately composed of army families. We were but a minor fraction of the membership that was not associated with the military.

Drew served as Elders Quorum President for the majority of our time there, roughly 3 years. He was then called to be the Ward Executive Secretary for just under a year until we moved. I served in the Young Women’s Presidency up until I was pregnant with our second son, and then served in the Primary.

The husbands of the military families were strong, hard working, faithful men. Certainly not perfect, but good men nonetheless. They were gone quite frequently for days, months, or even years at a time due to their military obligations. There was a heavy wave of deployment during our time there and many men left for the Middle East. Some returned broken, and a few did not return at all. In their absence, many women and children were left behind to fill the rows of pews in the chapel.

There were so many women and children and so few Priesthood holders that the weight of the various Priesthood responsibilities fell onto the backs of a select group of men that offered stability to the ward membership. Drew was among them. Over the four years we served there, I watched my husband work rigorously, tirelessly serving in three or four Priesthood callings at a time. Home teaching was extremely time-consuming as he visited up to 8 families a month—most of them husbandless or having severe family issues relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There was also a rampant amount of pornography addictions that needed to be addressed as pornography and sexual violence seemed prevalent in the military. As Elder’s Quorum President, Drew was responsible for maintaining a Priesthood relationship with the fathers and husbands that were deployed overseas, while still tending to the Priesthood needs of the soldiers wives and children that were left behind.

I remember one night in particular he received an urgent phone call to help a returned soldier and his family who was having a dangerous outburst of PTSD. Drew offered countless blessings of comfort and many hours of love and devotion, but there was only so much he could do. He is only one man.

I had the honor of serving with some of the most strong, valiant, faithful women I had ever met. Their devotion to their faith and husbands was unwavering as they brought their children to church alone each Sunday, some of whom struggled greatly with depression or mourning the loss of their husband. Every Sunday it was the same story: loyal, worthy women unable to serve in Priesthood positions, men (my husband included) worked raw with the weight of multiple Priesthood callings, and me, powerless to serve equivalently with my husband when there was so much more I could give.

This was not the first time I had observed a group of worthy, capable women left the in the wake of an imperfect system. We were all worthy with the same common goal, but powerless to execute due to gender policies.

We have been counseled repeatedly to practice self-reliance and yet the soldiers’ wives were not given the necessary tools to be self-reliant in our church.