Boy Scouts – It’s About Time

So, the Boy Scouts finally did it and the church newsroom wasted no time reacting. Read more »

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The Summer of Heaven and Hell

The summer of 2001 was the worst. Rob and I were pushed to the max with our demanding jobs, church callings and taking care of our 3 children. We lived far from family and had no support system other than church. Read more »

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What Exactly Are We Defending The Family From?

I admit I am pretty worn out. It has been a hectic few days since the Supreme Court decided that marriage should be available to all couples who choose it, regardless of their gender. I have spent more time on the computer, reading and reacting to what I’ve read, then ever before. (Sorry to my loved ones who haven’t had a hot meal for a couple of days. It takes a lot of time to defend the family.)

So, after spending way too much time immersed in rallying cries that allowing LGBT people to marry signals the destruction of the family, the destruction of the world, and is definitely a sure sign of the Second Coming of Christ (make sure to buy more guns and ammo NOW!), and the numerous ways the world is going to hell in a hand-basket in the meantime, I am left exhausted and spent with a single thought remaining.

What exactly are we defending the family from? LDS folks, including the official church PR department, whipped out the Proclamation on the Family (1) as their response to marriage equality, which is fine, I guess. If you thought the proclamation was written by the finger of God and canonized as official church scripture, I hope you aren’t too disappointed to find out the truth, which is that the proclamation was written in the 1990’s by church lawyers as a legal brief to argue against Hawaii becoming one of the first US state to accept marriage equality. (2) We have been at ground zero on fighting against marriage equality from the very beginning, way before most people even knew there was such a thing. Nothing against the document, it is one fine piece of writing, as proclamations go. I’m just glad no one on the all male committee that dreamed it up, threw in a bunch of thee’s and thou’s to make it sound more religious than it is. Because of course, it isn’t religious doctrine. It is a proclamation – as in church policy, not doctrine.

Anyway, in the 20 years since the proclamation was declared an important church policy, things have changed, haven’t they? Church leaders have gone from calling homosexuals devils in human form, to suggesting they butch up and marry unsuspecting women and have kids, thereby insuring massive causalities within families when that social experiment blew up, to now leaders are kind enough to acknowledge that it appears that there might be something else going on (3) besides Satan’s minions in action, with this whole gay thing. Now we are kind and respectful to those in our flocks who are gay. We even allow them to serve in church as long as they know the rules.

They can be as gay as the day is long and that is fine, as long as there is none of that crazy talk about love and marriage and families for them. Homosexuals are no longer automatic sinners, they are the odd family relatives we don’t invite to eat at our delicious Thanksgiving feast. Only heterosexuals are worthy of eating all the meal courses, including 5 kinds of pie for dessert. Our homosexual family members should just be grateful we allow them to sit in the same room, watching us while we feast.

After 20 years of waving the Proclamation on the Family as our Mormon flag of righteousness, my arms are tired from holding this pole aloft . And because I and many others are fully aware of the reasons behind the creation of this particular flag, I am confused as to who I am defending it from.

The family; my family, your family, our church family, our community family, our country family and our world family, IS under attack. But it is not coming from the our LGBT siblings. It is coming from wage inequality, poor health care, a lack of affordable housing, non-existent public transportation, poor food and water availability and all the other millions of ways that being alive is difficult.

How about we redesign our Proclamation on the Family and make it reflect the things we are actually fighting against? Now that would be something I could defend.

(1) https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng

(2) http://rationalfaiths.com/from-amici-to-ohana/

(3) http://mormonsandgays.org/

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Me, Rex and the Supreme Court

Young Family and Rex
Clockwise: Rex at top, Rob, Elise, Ty, Jennifer and me in the center, right where I belong.

Back when I was getting reacquainted with my brother after an eleven-year separation, I realized I had some thinking to do.

In the beginning, Rex lived in a nasty, run-down apartment on the bad side of town. His sweet good-nature made him the target of all the drug dealers, prostitutes and who-knows-who-else in the neighborhood. Rob and I couldn’t convince him it was a bad idea to let people use his phone to arrange their business dealings. It was obvious to us that Rex’s phone was the epicenter for all the illegal activity in the area. At the same time, Rex made a new friend. The guy needed a place to stay and my brother, being my brother, generously offered let the guy live with him.

My alarm bells went off the first time I met Rex’s roommate. Instantly, from the first hand shake, I was concerned. Every time I tried to talk to Rex about getting rid of the guy, he got defensive, saying, “He is my FRIEND! I don’t want him to leave,” and then Rex would tear up and start to cry. It broke my heart. I understood how lonely Rex was, I could see how he longed to be appreciated and needed. But this guy? Not to be trusted.

After one particularly stressful visit where I found porn magazines stashed in the bathroom, I demanded Rex tell me exactly what was going on. Was the porn his? Did he buy those nasty magazines? How does that kind of filth fit in with what Jesus would want for him? Rex told Rob and I that the magazines were not his, they belonged to his roommate. He knew they were in the apartment, but did not look at them. I was mad and confused. The roommate was at work so we couldn’t talk to him. I told Rex that was enough, his roommate had to go. No ifs, ands or buts, he was leaving. Rex cried, begging us to let the man stay. He really liked him and didn’t want him to be homeless again. I replied I didn’t care what happened to the roommate. My only concern was his well being, no one else’s. As Rob and I left his apartment, Rex was still crying. I was scared. What was going to happen when Rex told his roommate to leave? Would he beat my brother up? Should we have stayed and taken care of this ourselves?

During the hour long drive back to our home, a new thought occurred to me. What if my brother’s affection for his roommate went beyond companionship? What if my brother was sexually attracted to him? Was Rex even aware of that? What if my brother was gay? I hadn’t considered that before. We were raised in the church, like everyone else. The church that said it was a sin, grievous unto death, if you were gay. I didn’t know any openly gay people. I knew they were around, but not in any circles of my life. My only thought about being gay was I didn’t want that for my children or my brother because life would be very, very hard for them. No loving parent wants their child to be ostracized by society, told they are sinners, and shunned. I just wanted my family to be happy.

I was so bothered by this new thought, I picked up the phone and called Rex’s bishop and told him the situation. What if Rex was gay? Would he be kicked out of church? Would he lose the only group of people in his whole life who ever showed him unconditional love? Where would he go? What would become of him? What would the bishop do? This situation was so far beyond a theological debate, it wasn’t even funny.

The bishop reassured me that he didn’t believe Rex was gay. He didn’t know for sure, they had never talked about it, just like I hadn’t either. All the bishop positively knew, was that Rex was fine. No matter how this played out, he was not going to lose his church family and no one would treat him poorly. I was flooded with relief. In 1994 this was not a topic widely discussed in public, let alone in the church. I just needed to know my brother was safe and accepted. Since Rex lived his life on the emotional level of an 8 year-old boy, I didn’t know how to even discuss it with him.

The next weekend, Rob and I informed Rex’s roommate he needed to pack his porn and leave. I took Rex and my kids to play at the park while Rob helped the guy move out. Rex was still very unhappy with what we were doing, but I pulled the same sister rank I had always used in our childhood to do what I thought was best for him. I had been the boss his whole life and that wasn’t changing.

Within a matter of weeks, Rex’s apartment developed a deadly gas leak and he was moved to emergency housing across town, far away from the drug dealers and other shady characters still in his life. He was placed in a low-income, secured high-rise apartment building traditional reserved for elderly women. He quickly went to work making friends with all the residents. My brother found his home and I was so relieved.

I never did get a clear picture of Rex’s sexuality. He talked often about getting married and having kids, but was that because of how we were raised, or because he was attracted to women? I decided it didn’t matter. My love for him transcended whatever my brother’s sexuality was. Gay, straight, bi, whatever, I didn’t care. He was my family and I loved him, including whoever he chose to love.

Yesterday the US Supreme Court decided that everyone, regardless of their sexual preferences, should be afforded the opportunity to legally wed if they choose to. I am glad they made that decision, the same one I made 21 years ago.

If my brother taught me anything, he taught me Love Always Wins. Always.

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Holy Shikes, What Happened to Father’s Day?

On Father’s Day I posted a short, sweet anecdote about a girl in my ward who acknowledged her thankfulness for the stepfather in her life.

I liked her testimony because it was spontaneous (the bishop hates it if we get out of Sacrament meeting early. It is not usual in our ward for spare time to be filled with two or three people who are asked spur-of the-moment, from the pulpit, to share their testimonies. I can think of worse ways to fill time.) and fresh and honest.

What I didn’t expect is what happened all Father’s Day on my newsfeed on Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I like to think my FB friends are varied. I’ve got people from all religions, all socio-economic levels, all political persuasions as friends. Some I appreciate more than others. Anyway, on Sunday, as the expected Happy Father’s Day FB posts rolled in, I was really, really surprised at how many people posted photos or comments thanking their stepdads for being there for them. There were a few who openly acknowledged the pain they had from having no father at all. I had no idea there were THAT many deadbeat dads (emotionally speaking, I don’t know or care about anyone’s child support payments.)

I am telling you, on Mother’s Day, I can’t recall one person thanking a stepmother for being there when their mom chose not to be. Wow, wow, wow. There are a lot of adults in the world who’s biological father missed out / is still missing out on having relationships with their children. And those kids, even as grown ups, are hurting.

I am not a sociologist so I can’t speak to the history of fatherhood in America, but I can say as a mother and human being, things are messed up in the dad department in our country. If you are a dad, or are married to one, tell them to pick up the phone, pick up a pen , or turn on their computer and have a conversation with your kids. They are waiting to hear from you.

And once again, thank you to all the men who are wiling to do the hard, messy work of raising children. You are a gift and your children know it.

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Best Father’s Day Ever

In Sacrament meeting this morning, a teenage girl was asked to give an impromptu testimony. She got up, walked to the pulpit and began by talking about her love for her mother. She told us that her mom was a single parent to her and her brother for most of her life. The girl said her mom did a great job juggling being both mother and father in their home. Then she said she was thankful for C_______, the man who has been with her mom for a couple of years. She thanked him for being a good stepdad and acknowledged that he treats her mom well and makes their whole family happy.

It was the most simple, sincere, and honest talk about fatherhood that I’ve heard in a good long while.

Thank you to all the men in the world who treat their wives well and make their whole family happy. What a tribute to fatherhood!

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Good News Update

Due to the plague hitting my house, I have been delayed in relaying this news to you. We are now feeling better, thanks for asking.

Good News #1 –

We’re Number #2!
We’re Not Number #3!
Wa-hoo!
Thanks to your votes, I managed to wrangle a second place finish in the 2015 Momon Lit Blitz. I am more than satisfied with the results. I look better in silver than gold, anyway.
Here is the link if you are interested in the ranking of the other winners.

http://lit.mormonartist.net/2015/06/2015-mormon-lit-blitz-winner/

Good News #2 –

Kirkus Book Review

Kirkus is a professional company that does book reviews and catalogs for booksellers and libraries to help them decide which books to buy. The thing about Kirkus is they have a reputation of being hard core. Some authors and publishers refuse to have their books reviewed by Kirkus because there is a higher chance for a negative review. So you can only imagine the happy dance I did when I read their review of my book. You remember my book, right?
Book Front Cover

Anyway, here is Kirkus’s super nice review of Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of o fAmerican Royalty. If you haven’t read my book, you really need to get to it. All the cool kids are reading it and I would hate for you to be left out of the party.

KIRKUS REVIEW

A heart-wrenching memoir recounts two siblings’ upbringing by their abusive adoptive parents and Oregon’s foster-care system.

The children of a paranoid schizophrenic mother and a developmentally challenged father, Hadassah and Ezra split their early years between foster homes and their parents’ unstable household. When their already tenuous living situation was swept up in 1970s-era adoption reform, they were taken from their biological parents and adopted by the Spencer family, who changed their names from Hadassah and Ezra to Heather and Rex. The Spencers were cruel taskmasters, using adoption to gather young laborers for their home, incapable and uninterested in helping with Rex’s developmental disabilities or Heather’s emotional withdrawal after being molested in foster care. This was compounded by the severe beatings and draconian punishments inflicted on the Spencer children, so pitiless that Heather was barely able to protect herself, let alone help her older brother, whose inability to fly under the family’s radar left him locked away in his room, unfed, and living in filth. Heather escaped at 18, finding a measure of stability with an understanding and loving husband. With this support, she reunited with Rex, who rediscovered his faith and professed a personal, literal friendship with Jesus, turning him into an odd but enthusiastic figure of forgiveness in her life. Young’s debut avoids many of the typical pitfalls of an abuse narrative, approaching its often tragic subject matter in a forthright manner, never sensationalizing her own or others’ suffering. Though Mormonism figures prominently here, the Mormon church’s assistance and shortcomings are treated with honesty, and those outside the faith won’t find themselves feeling recruited or ostracized. The book’s heartbreaking power emanates from the author’s candid account of her struggles, from her fear of inheriting her mother’s mental illness or the abusive tendencies of her adoptive parents to dealing with the guilt that comes with sometimes prioritizing one’s own health and survival.

An unsentimental, affecting look at foster care, abuse, and mental illness.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/heather-young/ezra-and-hadassah/

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Use Your Power For Good

Today is the day you change my world! It’s time for you to pick up your fingers and vote for the winner of the 2015 Mormon Lit Blitz! Click on the link below and follow the directions, they aren’t too hard. Don’t forget you have to vote for my essay, “The Best Wedding Advice Ever” and 3 other essays of your choosing.

http://lit.mormonartist.net/2015/05/lit-blitz-voting-instructions-2/

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Mormon Lit Blitz

Ok, peeps. It’s time to expand your Mormon literature library to include a bit of fabulousness. I entered an old post I wrote for Mormon Mentality in a Mormon literature contest (totally legit, they allowed previously published stuff and besides, let’s be real, who besides my husband (who I require to read my MM posts) actually reads my posts on MM? Don’t worry, I’m not bitter. I enjoy having a whole website all to myself. I prefer not sharing my kitchen, bathroom or words.) Read more »

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My Five Mothers

I believe we are given as many parents as we need to learn the life lessons that are necessary for us. I’m not sold on the idea that it is a predestined contract signed before we all showed up on Earth, but I do believe that there are special people to help us along our way. I also believe there are as many relationships as there are people in the world, so there is an overabundance of opportunities to get things right if that is your goal.

I needed five mother’s to get me through. Most people only need one and maybe a good second mother-in-waiting to get the job done, but I had five. I am perfectly happy with the women who I chose or they chose me, to teach me the ways of the world. I am lucky because for every difficult mother I had, I was able to find another who was able to erase the pain and give me a boost of needed courage and confidence.

Let me introduce you to the important women who mothered me and made me whole.

1. Claudia – My biological mother. Through no fault of her own, she was only able to mother me until I was 7 years old, and most of that time she had to share me with my second mom. I honor Claudia because she gave my brother and me all that she had. She has suffered unimaginable heartache in losing her children to an unfair system that she had no control over. I can’t imagine having her strength to carry on and live a full life without overpowering bitterness and anger against the world. I am so glad we found each other as adults.

Claudia with my brother Rex, circa 1966. Cuties, right? 

2. Dorothy – My foster mother from age 2 to 7. She was a helper mother to Claudia and made it possible for us to have a relationship with our biological parents. Since we weren’t her only foster children and she had 3 biological children of her own,  I was just another child in her home. I had freedom in her home because she didn’t have rules or much structure. As an adult, I can see that I pretty much ran wild.
I don’t have a picture of Dorothy because my computer crashed and I lost all the photos from a research trip to Oregon that Rob and I took in 2009. I did keep a handful of pictures that were still on a cell phone. The only one that survived from Dorothy’s house turned out to be very appropriate since Dorothy only vaguely remembered me and my brother. Even though we lived with her for 5 years, we didn’t register high on her list of memorable children. We were just a paycheck to her.


The basement door in Dorthy’s foster home. Each foster child signed their name.
 There are A LOT of names on that door. 

3. Virginia – My adoptive mother. She raised me from age 7 to 18. I left on my eighteen birthday and I never spent another night in her house. I don’t regret my decision to leave. Actually, I am confident my leaving saved my sanity and possibly my life. I learned more from Virginia than I care to remember, but I do appreciate that she taught me the proper ways to fold towels, clean the bathroom, and how to keep my deepest soul protected from people who would do harm to it. Virginia gave me many opportunities to practice that last one. That skill has served me well as an adult. Virginia did not break me.

Virginia with Rex and I shortly after we were adopted. We were sweet looking kids. 

4. Anna – My healing mother. I lived with Anna for almost two years after I left Virginia’s house. She and her husband provided me with food, a safe place to sleep and a sense of stability that I had never experienced previously in my life. Anna wasn’t a perfect mother, but she was perfect for me, and I love her for that. She was an excellent cook and my hair and fingernails grew like crazy at her house. Anna’s simple acts of feeding me, asking me about my day and listening when I talked, healed so much. I thank her for being willing to take on me and my beaten down spirit. She did a good job with me.

5. Barbara – My teaching mother. I was 19 when I married Rob. When I became a mother at 21, the reality of my ignorance of taking care of children was painfully obvious. Barbara (my best friend Stephanie’s stepmother) became my phone-a-mother lifeline. She helped with the daily questions that all new mothers had before the internet made parenting one ginormous Google search. More importantly, when my children were diagnosed with hearing losses, and then when we rushed to the hospital on a regular basis for health crisses’, her occupation as a nurse was a godsend because she was able to explain medical procedures and medication in ways that I understood. She was a safe mother for me to cry and wail to, and she agreed it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair my children were sick. It wasn’t fair that I had already had a crappy childhood and now I was having a crappy motherhood. When would it get fair? Barbara’s wisdom was able to calm my fried nerves and give me hope when no one else could. I love her for her lessons about how to survive when you are so worn out you just want to lay down and die. Barbara taught me how to live.

I thank all my mother’s for sharing with me what they had. The good, the bad, the hurtful and the sublime. I accept it all with gratitude.


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We Don’t Need No Bible Study

A couple of my dearest girlfriends have explored life outside of our happy little Mormon circle. They have both attended Bible study/prayer groups started by groups of women of different faiths. And I applaud both of them for doing it.

My one friend started attending a prayer and scripture group specific to women going through divorce. They meet once a week and talk about what is going on for each of them, then they pray together and discuss scriptures that can help them in their struggles. It is beautiful, supportive group that my born-under-the-covenant LDS friend says taught her for the first time her life, what it means to really pray and have an honest conversation with Heavenly Father. She and I can’t understand why our faith discourages independent bible study or support groups among our members. It seems that we are only allowed to discuss scriptures in correlated meetings (translation: where men are present with the Priesthood power ) because women can’t be trusted to discuss their deepest trials and joys without oversight.

My other friend has joined a prayer group consisting of women who get together once a week to pray for the children in their local schools. They also have lively discussions about class, race, social justice, and most interesting, most of the women and their families sponsor orphanages or women’s health centers in developing countries. A few of the women have even traveled to foreign countries with their families to provide boots on the ground care for those they sponsor. It is inspiring to my friend to see women being so active in doing charitable works and having such a deep knowledge of the realities of poverty, corrupt governments, poor health care and brutalities that women and children endure all over the world. It makes our monthly RS home enrichment classes pale in comparison.

Of course, neither of my friends is interested in truly jumping from the Mormon ship. What they talk about though, is their puzzlement that our church does not encourage members to meet outside of regular church meetings for scripture study or prayer groups. I’m sure there are rogue pockets that are allowed to meet, but it is NOT commonplace. I told them both that I figure the internet has solved that problem all by itself because I don’t know of any religion that has more online blogs than Mormons do. We may not meet in each other’s houses, but we are in each others blog sites. Both of my friends shook their heads in frustration. Apparently there is no substitute for a regular old-fashioned meet and greet at someone’s house to make you feel loved and supported. I had to agree they had a point. I’ve just been too much of a Mormon to realize the difference.

So why don’t we do scripture study groups. prayer groups, support groups in each other’s homes? What exactly are we afraid of?

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I’ve got Swollen Lymph Nodes

heather close 1

On both sides of my neck, the lymph nodes are swollen. Not hugely, but just enough to make my neck and face look fat. It is annoying. It doesn’t hurt, and I’m not dying. Read more »

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The Day Jesus and I Learned About Sex

By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had already sat through a 6th grade girls-only film about the importance of Sally using soap to wash her pits because of her changing body, and an 8th grade girls P.E. class about how I was soon to become a woman. Read more »

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The Part I Didn’t Get

Patriarchal blessings.

Lots of people have opinions about them.
People have opinions about theirs, their spouses, their children’s, and no one else’s because they are sacred documents not to be shared or discussed with anyone outside of your family and preferably not even in your family. It’s between you and Heavenly Father and no one else. And most of the time, I see the wisdom of that. It weirds me out on the rare occasion someone mentions their blessing at church, especially when they quote from them during a talk. (That hasn’t happened for a good long while. Ever since the church instituted the practice of Sacrament Meeting talks being regurgitated General Conference talks, I haven’t heard even one talk about Patriarchal Blessings from a pulpit. Apparently it isn’t a hot topic in Salt Lake City.)

Anyway, today I’m gonna write about a small part of my Patriarchal blessing because I feel like it. I am old enough I am no longer afraid that if I speak publicly about it, a blessing might be taken away from me. I don’t have much big stuff to look forward to and at this point my life is mostly the enduring to the end part. Read more »

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I *Heart* Jack Weyland

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Like first true loves that you never fully shake off, my favorite LDS book author is the first one I read as a teenager. I read his short stories in the New Era, the monthly magazine for LDS teenagers, then at the end of my first and second years of perfect attendance in seminary classes, Brother Davis gave me collections of Jack Weyland’s short stories in book form. Before Brother Davis presented me with those books, the only thing I knew about Jack Weyland was that he made me laugh and feel better about being a Mormon kid. His writing was easy to understand and always empathized with the travails of being a good person in a wicked world full of temptations.

The first BYU film I ever saw was in the Mesa, AZ temple visitors center, where I went with my ward as a youth activity. It was based on Jack Weyland’s short story, “Sometimes a Phone Call.”

If you haven’t seen it or it has been years, please thank the internet for making it possible for you to enjoy a light-hearted remembrance of the awkwardness of teenagers. Read more »

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I’m a Free-Range Chicken

You know how there has been a dust-up with how chickens are raised in America (hint: inhumanely) and now McDonalds and other food companies are saying that they will no longer buy chickens that are raised in cages, only cage-free? Read more »

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My Turn To Say Thanks

Brother Davis now teaches seminary in Utah. Lucky kids.
Brother Davis now teaches seminary in Utah. Lucky kids.

Recently, I wrote a post acknowledging the two men in the church who literally gave my brother Rex, a reason to live. I love both Thelton Skipper and John Carmen with all my heart for the love they unconditionally gave Rex.

Now it is my turn to acknowledge the people who saved me. The problem is, unlike my brother who only needed the attention of two key people to change his life, I needed a truckload of people to help me. All my life I grasped for every bit of positive attention I could get, starting with my earliest memories of being nice to the neighbors so they would like me. I worked hard to be the teacher’s pet at school and if that wasn’t possible, at least to not cause problems for them. Read more »

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5 Church Callings That Don’t Require Man Junk

Lots of people have written about the crazy lack of women’s presence in church callings and the response always has been the same.
The Priesthood.
The Proper Order of Things.
The Prophet.
Don’t Mess With the Man. Read more »

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My Big Idea That I Hope Someone Steals

My ward is planning its quarterly ward temple trip. Our temple is almost 2 hours away, which means a temple trip makes for a great day trip with the youth doing baptisms for the dead and adults doing all other temple work. It also means every temple trip is a mad scramble to take care of the most precious resource the church has – the children. Read more »

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Becoming a Democrat

I registered as a Republican so that I could vote in the primaries for someone I have still never met. Well, Bill sold his mom a car and she called one day asking for our vote. It was county clerk—I think. Bill was delighted to declare his loyalty that way; I was just humoring a little old lady. It has made for interesting conversation because I like to surprise people who think I’m a Democrat (or a socialist). Read more »

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