water aerobics

January 29, 2017

Before heading back to Boston, I visited my aunt and uncle in Florida. One of my favorite moments happened during a water aerobics class with A. Kelly (which we didn’t think would be much of a workout but it turned out to be both a workout and entertainment): While kicking around in circles on a ball, I got an episode of the giggles, couldn’t stop laughing, tipped off my ball, and swallowed some water. The older, more experienced ladies liked to show me how to do moves correctly, which also gave me the giggles. If you ever get the chance, go to water aerobics in a retirement park in Florida; you won’t be disappointed (unless you’re a grumpy person and/or embarrassed of looking silly).

On this trip I LOVED driving out to the tiny rural towns of Sebring and Avon Park to visit some friends from my mission. Waldir joined us for the weekend and on Saturday we celebrated his birthday by going to the beach and meeting up with friends. After the beach, A. Kelly & U. George cooked a special birthday dinner for Waldir, we had flan for dessert, and then Waldir opened presents. Sunday, Waldir and I went to church and visited more mission friends. It’s a blessing to still be connected to many people from my mission. As I showed Waldir around places where I spent so many days knocking doors, I felt so much love. Driving by all those orange groves in the beautiful Florida countryside had me waxing nostalgic. I truly loved my mission and I love the people I met. I wish I could go back and live one of those days again.

Chaplaincy for LDS Women

November 2016

Since I’ve been in survival mode, I’m slowing down and reevaluating my life’s direction. Rather than move forward with a summer internship in air force chaplaincy, I’m going to take this upcoming summer off. This was a hard decision to make because I love to work and I want to get all the experience I can, but I need to do this. Maybe pain is the only thing that could slow me down because I was pushing too hard and wouldn’t listen otherwise. I don’t know. I try not to make meaning of the pain—to figure out why—but I can’t help wonder what I’m supposed to learn from this. I want to wisely listen to the Spirit and to my body. Throughout my life I’ve ignored pain signals and other issues in my body and have just had a lot of anxiety held in there. So I’m working on looking into that and listening on a different level. This requires a mindful slowing-down process.

However, over the last few months I’ve been in touch with some people in Salt Lake about my request for the LDS Church to endorse female chaplains in the military. A few weeks ago I had a second phone conversation with the director of military relations and chaplaincy for the LDS Church, and also his colleague. These men were kind and we were on the phone for over an hour. I could tell they care, which means a lot to me. They did, in their September committee meeting, bring up my question of endorsing women for military chaplaincy. The committee still recommended “no” in their report to Elder Holland (because of the issue of a non-priesthood holder chaplain getting deployed). However, the director told me that things may change in the future, and that this is a historic moment because I’m the first LDS woman enrolled in divinity school, officially qualified to do chaplaincy, who has made the request. A woman requested it before but she wasn’t in divinity school so it wasn’t a possibility. It might seem hard to imagine it taking this long for a female Latter-day Saint pursuing chaplaincy to make this request—but then again, there are not many female LDS chaplains and the Church only started endorsing women for other chaplaincy roles a few years ago.

I was persistent in the conversation. The director encouraged me to write a letter to Elder Holland requesting a policy change that would endorse women for service in military chaplaincy. I haven’t had time to write that letter yet, and now because of my health, military chaplaincy isn’t looking like an option (at least not immediately), but I still plan to write the letter because I think it will benefit my sisters in the Church.

Leymah Gbowee

leymahOctober 2016

This week I had the incredible privilege to attend workshops and hear speeches at HDS by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who mobilized women to demand peace during Liberia’s long and devastating civil war. After Gbowee heard a voice tell her in a dream to bring women together to pray for peace, she went on to play a major role in helping end her country’s conflict in 2003. I can’t do justice to Gbowee’s powerful presence. Leymah’s influence lit a passion inside me to stand for sisterhood. This may sound strange, but in the past I didn’t spend much time thinking specifically about the power of sisterhood. And I hadn’t considered the power of uniting women to demand men to stop torturing, massacring, and raping fellow women and children. Leymah planted seeds in my mind and she buoyed me up and empowered me as she led me to further consider my identity and influence as a woman. She reminds me of President Nelson’s October 2015 General Conference Address, A Plea to My Sisters: “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God!” Nelson then quoted President Packer: “We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out…We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.” Then Nelson adds that we need “women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly.” Leymah is one of those women. She risked her life to protect children and families; she taught and today continues to teach fearlessly and to boldly testify of God.

As I prepared for Leymah’s visit, I watched a short documentary about her movement (Pray the Devil Back to Hell) and also read her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers. (I highly recommend both of these, especially her memoir. Heads up, though: the book is full of war descriptions, including explicit language and sexual violence.) While I was preparing for Leymah’s visit by learning about her life, at some point I felt like I should give her a Book of Mormon. I decided to bring the book with me to school and write a message in it for Leymah. I started praying to have the chance to hand her the book as a gift. When someone famous comes to campus, it’s a high demand event with lots of people, and I anticipated it might be difficult for me to have a chance to interact with Leymah. On Wednesday when she came and gave a special workshop for students in the Religions and Practice of Peace course, I just so happened to get a seat in the front, as close as possible to Leymah. She even came up and put her hand on my shoulder and asked me a question during her workshop (“What keeps you up at night?” she asked. She was teaching us the importance of doing what we are passionately called to do—the thing that keeps us up at night). Immediately after the workshop, though, before I had a chance to approach her, she was whisked away. By then I was even more excited about Leymah’s work than when I went into the workshop, because she was such a thrilling speaker and gifted story-teller, and so passionate and bold.

After hearing her story in person, and having her as a teacher for a few hours, I loved her even more than I thought I would! She is a true soul sister; I even said to myself and wrote in my journal, “I think I knew her before this life.” I felt like she is a soul very close to my soul. The Lord answered my prayers; after the second (and final) workshop of the day, I managed to get a quick photo with Leymah before she was called for a group photo. Then as she quickly made her way to exit the room with an escort (before people could grab her for individual photos), I ran up behind her and handed her the Book of Mormon. Definitely not the most graceful moment of my life—I practically shoved the book into her hands (just kidding, but it was definitely a quick move!). I hope she opens it and reads the note I wrote. Most importantly, I hope she reads the book! In my note, I thanked her for her life and for testifying of Christ. I told her that the book teaches about peace.

Chaplaincy, and a cyst

July 31, 2016

Friday I completed my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, nearly finishing my summer chaplaincy internship at Saint Vincent Hospital! I’ve got a bit of time to make up. After my surgery, I missed 6 days of work. I’ll make the time up in August. My supervisor’s been merciful with this health bump of mine and I’m grateful that I was able to receive my level 1 CPE certificate even with the unexpected obstacle. Back in May, the morning of the first day of my internship, I had severe pain in my lower left abdominal area. I made it through work and then went to a doctor who advised me to go to the ER, so off I went. I drove myself since Waldir was out of town. Ultrasounds showed that I had a large ovarian cyst (over 5 centimeters). Cysts bigger than 4 cm can cause the ovary to “torse” (twist) around itself and block blood flow; that’s a medical emergency and needs to be taken care of surgically in order to save the ovary. By the time I finally saw the gynecologist that night, though, I felt better. She said the ovary was likely on the verge of torsing but the cyst probably moved, which is why I felt better. She decided not to do surgery because usually the body takes care of cysts by itself. After that day I started feeling better and thought the cyst was disappearing.

But on the eve of July 12, a sudden pain wave caused me to cry out. Not wanting another hospital bill, I stuck it out an hour and a half, thinking I’d be fine. Waldir gave me a priesthood blessing for healing; in the blessing I was promised that although the pain would not leave, there wouldn’t be permanent damage. After the blessing and a prayer, I knew I needed to go to the ER. I vomited on the way out (but made it to the toilet!). I finally went into surgery around 5 a.m. the next morning. During that time, the pain didn’t let up, even after two doses of morphine and a dose of dilaudid. Finally my nurse gave me more dilaudid and I relaxed, but by then I was about to go in for surgery. When I came out of it, one of the doctors told me they saved the ovary! I wasn’t surprised (because of the blessing), but I was grateful. I’m always emotional coming out of anesthesia, and I cried tears of joy. The ovary was twisted around itself, along with the fallopian tube, not once but twice. But once the doctors untwisted it, blood flow came back immediately.

I’m nearly all recovered now and feeling much better! Thankfully, Waldir was home to take care of me—huge blessing. Recovery was a setback but it didn’t ruin much; I still “graduated” with the other CPE students on Friday; yesterday I still got to throw the baby shower a friend and I planned for another good friend; and I will still get to go to girls camp this Tuesday-Saturday, which is good since it’s stake camp (girls from multiple congregations come together to attend) and there aren’t many leaders. I’m one of the four leaders assigned to the 1st-year campers. There are 33 of them. I was thinking this would be easy (because 12-year-olds will love you, right?). 

In other news: Waldir and I went to the temple yesterday and accidentally ended up in a Portuguese group, which was FUN! I loved it.

Today in church, Waldir made a special appearance in the primary (children’s class) as David from the David/Goliath story. He came out of a “time machine” and told the kids how his faith in the Lord helped him defeat Goliath. 🙂

Veganism Keeps Coming Back to Me

When I was growing up, my mom only cooked meat on special occasions. She’d been a vegetarian earlier in her life. In high school, after my friend Molly introduced me to The China Study, I decided to commit to vegetarianism for ethical reasons. Vegetarianism wasn’t hard for me since I didn’t like eating meat anyway. In college, I had a brief stint as a vegan and eventually abandoned the effort because I felt awful. I had put myself on a highly restrictive weight loss diet (I’d been obsessed with losing weight since age 13, after I began menstruating and my previously skinny body became extremely curvy within just a few months). Now, of course, I realize the reason I felt sick as a vegan was because I wasn’t eating enough. After stints of not eating much at all, I’d binge and eat sugary junk like Reese’s Puff cereal–a product that’s technically vegan (no animal products in there) but certainly isn’t healthy. After that miserable phase, I convinced myself I couldn’t be vegan. Eventually I convinced myself that vegetarianism wasn’t working for me either. It was easier to eat chicken once in a while and feel full than to expend the effort and money needed to buy, prepare, and consume enough quality foods in my diet.

But over the past few years, vegetarianism–and now veganism–keep coming back to me. I try to deny it; I’ve even recently told people (I’m pretty sure I said this last week): “I eat meat now.” I’ve felt relieved saying that, because in some ways, the declaration makes me feel like I fit in better. I’ve told myself that I definitely can’t be vegan because it will be difficult socially–what will I tell my family and friends?

I don’t want to make excuses any longer. I can’t push away the ethical implications that keep coming to mind when I think about human consumption of animals. I can’t ignore the feeling I had two weeks ago in the grocery store, walking along the meat isle toward the produce section and then veering my cart away from the sight and smell of flesh. I thought, “I’m walking around in here with dead creatures sealed in packages in the fridge. How is this ‘normal‘?

I’m no longer obsessed with losing weight (that’s a post for another day. I’m grateful God helped heal my attitude toward myself). But I am seriously considering what I consume and what that means. The more I think about the miracle of life, about people, about animals, about our planet, and about God, the more I want to live deliberately. I want to take responsibility for my lifestyle not only for myself but also for the planet and the species with whom I share Earth. After I die, I don’t want to face the Creator and tell Him that, while living on Earth, I consumed thoughtlessly, purposelessly. I don’t want to support industries that verbally and physically abuse, and kill, God’s creations. I don’t want to support that form of violence.

Coming to this conclusion has taken a long time, research, prayer, thought, and struggle–and a lot of food experimentation (including juice fasting–the two weeks of my life I felt more spiritually enlightened, more closer to God, and more connected with the Earth and with other beings than ever). I’ve been inspired by books, by documentaries like Food Inc., and by people like “Fully Raw” KristinaPaul and Yulia Tarbath, and a BYU professor and her husband who told me why they decided to quit eating animals. But what finally woke me up–what finally led me to choose to quit making excuses–came because of this short video from Ellen DeGeneres.

After forcing herself to watch the film Earthlings, Ellen said, “It’s inside footage of factory farms and dairy forms. You just see that and you go, I can’t participate in that.” Ellen’s commentary got me curious, so I googled “Earthlings” and then, I forced myself to watch the violence. I cringed, cried, covered my eyes. The thoughts and feelings I’ve had about animals over the past few years of my life culminated in a moment of overwhelming sadness. Forcing myself to watch the grotesque footage from hidden cameras–a real life horror film–I, like Ellen, came to the conclusion: “I can’t participate in that.”

The question of what species do to each other is not merely a question of ecology. Of course it’s about ecology–but I also believe ecology is inseparable from theology. As a Mormon who who believes that animals have souls, I commit to better respect the inherent value in all creatures. In an effort to live a more compassionate life, I commit to veganism.


 

Mormon teachings on the treatment of animals: this 1972 article. 

Interpretation of the “Word of Wisdom,” a revelation on health and wellness taught by Joseph Smith: this short film.

Sustainability: Cowspiracy.

News

  1. I’ve been homesick for Utah and Idaho: the mountains, the friendly people who smile at me, BYU’s familiarity, the climate, and—I can’t believe this—I even miss the Mormon bubble I used to whine about and talk of reforming. I’ve been homesick for people: my Momzie and Dad, my sisters, and my in-laws. I cried repeatedly in church yesterday thinking about my homesickness. I wanted to walk out of the chapel and leave altogether, but I did not. I made it through all three meetings without walking out. (And that’s a long time.) I looked at my lap, at my feet, played with my hands, sniffed, tried to find a Kleenex. I did not find a Kleenex and—wishing I had worn a sweater over my short sleeve dress (or anything with more fabric)—wiped my nose with my hand. I snuggled up to Waldir, gave him a kiss, and then—suddenly aware of the people around me—thought maybe I should be less snuggly for the moment.
  2. And so, lately as I pray, feeling homesick, I feel extra vulnerable, extra humble, extra child-like. This state of emotional being has its perks: I feel extra close to my Father God because I—like a child—kneel down to pray and ask to feel His arms around me. What’s better than feeling extra close to God?
  3. I think about how upheaved I’ve felt the past few days and then wonder how I would have done this—the east-coast move—without Waldir. Before we got married I promised myself I wouldn’t gush over him on social media. I’ve been doing a good job, but I have to say: I want to gush all over the place about Waldir.
  4. And, I realize as I write this, I’ve probably been emotional lately because Waldir’s been working evening shifts, and I miss him.
  5. But Boston. We love Boston. But then, I feel weary here, sitting inside my apartment, listening to ever-flowing traffic outside. The cars and the (much louder) buses go all night. I hear people talk as they walk by our apartment windows. We’re right on the street, situated beside the Dunkin’ Donuts on one corner and the gas station on the other. The noise! I don’t feel like there’s a place I can go to rest except the temple. There’s not a home base to go and get away from people. Of course I love Boston, and people. I simply want to get away for a few minutes and hear nothing. I could sleep with earplugs but I’d prefer not to have to do that. I did once, last week, and still woke up in the early hours of the morning.
  6. The house in which we live is old. Its sewer pipe has been broken and flooding the basement of our apartment with water. Two men from Nicaragua live down there. They kept dealing with this water flooding the bathroom. Eventually the landlords realized what had happened. Finally, four days ago, the city got to work and found the broken pipe. They finished mending the problem morning. Waldir and me, our Nicaraguan friends downstairs, and the five guys that live on the floor above us had a not-so-pleasant weekend without water: no flushing of toilets, no showering, no shaving, no washing of hands, not much cooking—you get it. I don’t wish to repeat this no-water lifestyle, but it did increase my gratitude as I reflected on the miracle of life’s sustaining resource, the most precious resource we’ve got, and the privilege to live in a country where clean water comes for granted.
  7. Someday I hope to help people who need water, people living in countries less fortunate than mine, immigrants and refugees who just need a chance to make it. Meanwhile I live in my comfortable bubble and mourn the suffering of others. Waldir and I remind each other that Jesus Christ will make all of this right someday—restore and give perfect life to children of God everywhere, the human family. In the meantime, we pray and work and try to relieve some sliver of suffering in the world. We don’t know where to start. We start with each other.
  8. During HDS orientation, Kerry Maloney, the school’s chaplain, ended one of the meetings with a moment of silence and then left us with the following words: “May we relieve some of the great suffering in the world. That’s what we’re all here to do.” I want to remember that the next two years while I’m at the academy, and afterward. This is why I’m at divinity school.

Historical Moment: Four Mormon Women at Harvard Divinity

Four Mormon women begin graduate school at Harvard Divinity School this week.

It’s a historical moment, because the acceptance of four Mormon women to HDS at the same time is an unprecedented event.

We think this is a big deal. Don’t get me wrong–we’re not a big deal. But we’re witnessing, in this moment more than ever, a wave of Mormon women interested in pursuing theology at the university. We’re watching unprecedented opportunities open up for Mormon women both within and without the church.

The four of us–Amy, Kim, Emily and myself–feel God calling us to a certain space. We see Him paving a way for each of us. We’ve been given the gift to pursue our vocation at one of the best divinity schools in the nation. We sense work ahead, and we’re grateful.

MormonWomenHDS