Wednesday at the High


We made it to the High!  What a great experience.  On Weds. morning, we got dressed, ate, and ran out the door to go see the art museum.  It was significantly warmer than Tuesday, but everyone was still glad to have hooded jackets.

The symphony is on our way there, so we stopped to take a look at this cool statue in the plaza.  There were no signs, or fences, or any other indications that this was a Don’t Touch display, so the kids ran up to get a better look.  As soon as I finished getting some pictures, a security guard came scowling towards us and shooed us away.  She was not pleased that we had gotten up close and personal with the Guy Made of Guys, as we dubbed him.


When we got to the Sifly Plaza, and the kids could run on the grass and play on the Tio Vivo exhibit without interruption or danger, they took off like wild beasts were after them.  We spent about an hour letting off steam and exploring the exhibit, then headed inside to find out about passes.


Let me just say, if you live close enough to the High to visit often and you aren’t taking advantage of the family pass, you’re wasting a great opportunity.  It would cost my family $87 for one time tickets to visit the museum.  The Family Pass Plus (which has reciprocity with hundreds of other museums around the country), is $125.


The art was amazing, and the kids’ interest in it was delightful.  We had a really good time walking around, taking notes, deciding what we want to learn more about before we return.  But the really great part about being there was that we weren’t just wanted, we were celebrated.  It was wearing on everybody a little that we’re constantly in everybody’s way.  On the sidewalks, at the library, in the apartment, we’re trying to be quiet and leave room for people to get around us.  At the library, the patrons and the librarians acted put out that we were in their space, and some expressed concern that all the children weren’t physically attached to my body at all times.  We had to go to a busy hallway to stop and have a drink and a snack, and there were concerned and irritated looks there, too.


At the High, people were happy to see a crowd of matching kids.  We were encouraged to check everything out, ask questions, touch the things that were made for touching, there was plenty of space and tables and chairs for a lunch break or just a break.  There was a children’s section with chairs, tables, toys, and a cool exhibit.  It was restful to be there, and we can’t wait to go back!


And on the way home, we even met some cardinals hanging out in the bushes.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real cardinal, before, or if I did, I didn’t notice him.




I have so many delicious things to tell you about Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s exploits, but those posts will have to wait for another day.  Right now, I’m going to tell you about the humidity.

My 4yo’s hair has become animate.  Check this sucker out –

And she got croup, last night, and I discovered another side to humidity.  Every single one of my kids has dealt with toddler croup, from time to time, and I felt like I was an expert at handling it.  But you can’t add steam to a fog bank.  My rule of thumb was “Cold is better than hot; wet is better than dry, and a change in the air generally helps.”  The only thing I could do for her last night was to hold her in a somewhat upright position, until my husband had the bright idea to turn on the heat and dry it out a bit.  I think it did help.  I’ll try that for night two.

Monday in the City


After we all crashed for 24 hours or so, it was Monday morning, and everyone was dying to get out of the apartment.  We hastily got ourselves dressed in our warmest clothes (really not warm enough, because we were expecting Georgia weather, not Wyoming weather, for some silly reason), and got ourselves out the door to go check out the library.


Once were were all outside, we realized that the library didn’t open until 10, and it was still only 9.  It might sound strange to get 7 kids outside before you know what time it is, but if you had been there, you would sympathize, I bet.  Our little peanut there in the stroller, wearing the pink hood, does not like small spaces, and since we have the metal spiral staircase to the loft blocked off, she considers the apartment a small space.  And she has a very healthy set of lungs.  You can do the math.  We got outside without any delay.

So, to kill time, we walked over to Dad’s office and said hello.  The kids were thrilled with the revolving door that leads into the lobby.  The front desk was less than thrilled with their enthusiastic use of it.  We had a Conversation about the use of revolving doors that are not our property.  I did not pause to take a picture.

After that, we scurried over to the Peachtree Branch Library.  I have to say, it was a big disappointment.  The kids had a lot to say about how much better our little rural library is.  As my 13yo daughter put it, “They don’t want you to stay at the Peachtree.  It’s get your books, and get out.”  There were a few tables, but no chairs.  I saw 3 puzzles, and no other toys.  The books the kids wanted weren’t available.  Everybody was a little sad, especially when we found out that until I bring in a bill, we can only check out a grand total of 10 books.  My silver lining is that the collection of kids’ and young books is ancient, which means there are some fun things there that you don’t usually find anymore.

The walk home was a lot more entertaining.  We took a different route home than we did out, and walked through a long alley where the kids found all kinds of experiential treasure, the first of which was the joy of actually being on a real, live, alleyway, a creature that heretofore only existed in books.  Then they found a, “Beautiful house!  Look, Mommy!  It has actual vines growing on it!  Isn’t it gorgeous?”


And everybody spent some time checking out the vines growing on the tree.  You have to understand that for the last 5 years, green, living things did not exist in the outdoors world in January.  Ok, there are some pine trees, but they’re generally snow covered, so they don’t look very green, either.  They also found a caterpillar.


By now, we were getting close to our building, and I was getting tired of trying to keep kids on the sidewalk and out of passerbys’ ways, and in general tired of managing strangers’ emotions about a crowd of children, and I just wanted to be inside where people couldn’t look at us, anymore, so when a couple of the kids started Mommylooking, I sort of hurried them along, and kept pushing that humongous, heavy stroller with three kids on it, up the humongous hill.  But then I wasn’t sure of my turn, so I went back, and happened to see what had got them going –



THIS DOES NOT BELONG IN GEORGIA.  But it’s a good illustration of how tough my little chickadees are, that they were willing to go walk a couple miles in frozen fountain weather.

You would think that would be enough excitement, for one day.  But we’re gluttons for punishment, and for good, healthy meals, so after eating our collective weight in granola bars, applesauce, and yogurt, we jumped into the van and boogied over to Walmart, where we needed two carts and a kid carrying a sterilite-type tiny chest of drawers to get out of the store.  We got back to the apartment and basically collapsed wherever we landed.  But by the next morning, everybody was ready for adventure, again.

(Also, these pictures are terrible.  Time to start carrying my camera, instead of relying on my phone.)


A Very Good Place to Start


The actual beginning is for my novel, and I’d hate to give away material, but this is a good enough place to start.  We are That Family.  We had 7 kids in 12 years.  They are now, 13, 12, 10, 8, 4, 3, and 1.  We have 6 girls, and one boy, smack dab in the middle of them.  We homeschool, we live in an abandoned creamery in rural Wyoming, the toddlers spend their summers naked in the mud, we drive an ancient, 4 wheel drive, 15 passenger van (you turn the brights on with your foot; that’s how ancient), our kids ask all the impertinent questions when they’re in a teacher-student situation, and they spend a lot of time making music, preferably around a campfire, on retired sofas and easy chairs.  We elected to give up all this glory for 6 months, and go live in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia.  Paterfamilias has work out here, and we thought it would be a stellar opportunity to enhance and expand their educations.

So, we found a two bedroom, 1,000 sf apartment a few blocks from his office, a short walk from The High Museum of Art, from Piedmont Park, from the symphony, from the library, just a couple miles from the aquarium…  All kinds of opportunities to learn and grow, here, so long as nobody grows too much, mass-wise.  The idea is to treat the apartment as an RV of sorts – a place to eat and sleep when we’re not off gallivanting.

We took a 12:45am flight out of Salt Lake.  It was a 4 hour drive from home, on nasty, icy roads in -20 weather.  I believe we had 18 pieces of checked luggage, including a cello that I was told by Delta could be carried on for a $100 fee.  Apparently, that was a fantasy or an outright lie by a customer noservice rep who just wanted me to get off the phone.  Our 12yo cellist wept while we handed over her precious instrument to be stowed underneath the plane.  We really didn’t have a choice, at that point, because our ride’s cell phone wasn’t working, we were about to be late for our flight, and the cost of a separate seat for the cello was fully half what we paid had for the instrument.  Luckily, it was classified as oversized, which meant it had to be carried by hand, rather than placed on the belt.  It made it through with a few scratches on the case, but the bridge intact.  She still hasn’t got around to playing it, since then.  Hopefully, we don’t find any damage to the instrument.


I don’t know how we fit all of that plus 10 people into The Whale.  It was a looooong drive.

The kids’ reaction to the flight was half entertaining, half heart-wrenching.  You can read about it Here.


She has no idea what’s coming.


Yep, I made them all wear bright orange shirts so I could count them quickly in a crowd.  They were such good sports about it.



Do you even know what time it is?  Not picture time.


We’re here!



First ride on an underground train.  More popular with some than with others…

img_20170108_041953969We arrived in Atlanta at 6am, Eastern time and were flabbergasted to find that the new (to us) van Dad had parked in long-term parking for us was covered on the driver’s side and the rear with a good 1/4 inch of solid ice! My hands hurt so badly as I was loading suitcases into the car!  Wasn’t this supposed to be our sun-soaked escape from nasty weather?

We took a quick detour on the way to the apartment to turn virtual friends into the real, live, kind that loan you an air mattress and feed your army of children a hot breakfast, and then we (qui etly) filed into our building, up the elevator, and down the hall to a DOUBLE LOCKED front door.  What a weird sensation.  In Wyoming, the door is barely ever shut, let alone, locked.  The next 24 hours are a complete blur.  Monday morning, city living began in earnest.

First Flight

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I wish we had had someone taking video of our 7 kids when the plane took off, whenever in the time warp it was that we flew here – feels like 10 minutes ago or last year, not sure which.
We had to de-ice, so we putzed around on the tarmac for a half hour or so. There was a constant stream of narration from the kids about the other planes, the lights, whether or not we were already in the air and didn’t know it, what magic formula of orange stuff was melting the ice, etc., etc.
When we finally started to pick up speed on the runway, the cloud of elation was palpable. As the ground fell away from us, some of the squeals of joy turned into squeals of fear, then screams of terror. Annie was freaking out between Nathan at the window, and Sadie on the left aisle. I was sitting on the right aisle. Nathan appeared to be levitating into little boy heaven – bouncing, chortling, I didn’t see his eyebrows until we had been cruising for 20 minutes. Just next to him, Annie was panicking, and Sadie was getting into a fear feedback loop, gnawing on her hands. He really wanted to help his sisters, but it was just all so wonderful, and literally ascendant that he seemed to be getting lost between their worlds and his. He’d bounce at the window for a second, then turn around and side hug Annie and shout-laugh, “It’s ok, Annie! It’s FUN! Look out the window! We’re going UP!” And you can imagine how helpful that was. I was trying to shout assurance from my seat across the aisle. I was holding Matilda and didn’t want to fall, trying to get over to Annie. Ben was reaching through the seats from behind Annie, trying to hold and comfort her while blind and one-handed. I finally just lunged across the aisle with the baby and squeezed into Annie’s seat with her, and she and Sadie both calmed down right away. Nathan still hasn’t come down from his high.

Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?


I learned, recently, that discussing gender roles is a surefire way to get everyone I know angry at me and angry at everybody I know who seems to support part of what they think I have to say.

It was a messy afternoon, let me tell you.  So, I thought, why not wade in to the fray again?  This time, I can give everyone more and better things to yell about!  My Sunday’s looking open, and it’s been a while since I’ve broken a bottle of Guinness against the bar and threatened someone with it.

I have 7 children – 6 girls, and one boy, smack dab in the middle of them.  My 3 eldest are all nipping at each other’s heels in the race to puberty, and I am finding that The World At Large has a renewed interest in them.  Up until now, most of the direction and the expectations were aimed at me, the mother.  Now I am being told that it’s time for me to quit sheltering them, and let others take it from here.  The girls are on the cusp of realizing their sexuality, after all, and with sexuality comes involvement in long-term relationships, with the accompanying solidification of identity.  That is not something parents can expect to successfully guide their children through.  Kids think parents and sex are a disgusting combination.  Did you not know this?

Before I sign my pubescent children up for the standard fare of teenage-hood, I feel the need to examine what is on offer, here.  The school system, the Church, and popular culture all seem to think that this is a time for girls, in particular, to discover what it means to be a woman.  I’ve spent 34 of my 35 years wondering what it meant to be a woman, and extremely unsure that I met any of the qualifications beyond having a uterus.

As I struggled to fit myself and my worldview into any semblance of acceptable femininity, I spent a lot of time observing how people interacted with my girls.  Here are some things I have noticed –

Most people call little girls, “Princess,” the vast, vast majority of adults do it.

Everyone comments on their clothes and their hair.

People expect me to coddle them more than my son.  No one would bat an eyelash when I let him climb playground equipment by himself at age 2, but my daughters get an average of 3 assists per half hour if I’m sitting on the bench and the toddler is climbing by herself.

People expect me to respond to my girls’ cries by picking them up and removing them from the situation, but I got smiles of approval if I waited for my son to come to me when he went ass over teakettle.  I was actually told, “You don’t want to make her hard!” when I protested a man picking up my toddling daughter who had taken a very minor spill and was self-correcting with some minor whining.

People like to tell my girls what kind of faces to make.  “If you’re going to say no, do it with a smile!”  No one has ever said that to my son.  Ever.

Toys, clothes, and especially shoes that are made for girls are absolutely worthless trash.  Many of them are designed to show off assets that girls that age don’t even know they should want to have.  And they are not designed for any kind of active play.  I can buy shorts and shirts for my son and expect the next two kids to wear them out when they get around to acquiescing to being clothed.  My daughters are no longer passing clothes down to each other – they get holes or become misshapen in about 3 months of careful wear.  If the kids wear them to play outside, the clothes are ruined immediately.


I could also pick through talks and lessons from church, children’s books, television programming, movies, lunch boxes, magazines, and newspaper headlines, and complain all day about this – girls are taught to sit still and look pleasing/hot.  Girls are taught to look to others for approval, permission, and even a sense of self.

So where do these girls go for power?  If a girl’s identity is based on her relationships and her ability to coax “Princess” out of someone with authority, what will she do if and when people stop swooping in to save and comfort her for a scraped knee, or aid her in getting to the top of the slide?  Will she realize that sending messages of sexual availability can give her both status and power?  When we rush in to deliver our girls from over-exertion and apprehension, we aren’t teaching them to be gentle and pliant, we’re teaching them that they should use other people to get what they want rather than getting it themselves.  We’re teaching them to manipulate others.  And since we’re teaching this to all girls, we’re implicitly teaching them to manipulate men to get what they need.  Is it any wonder that girls are then so likely to obsess about their looks, to dress in ways that make parents and elders so uncomfortable, to become consumed with portraying just the right persona at the expense of other pursuits?


I think it is vitally important for me to first and foremost, look to my children, individually, to know how to raise them, individually.  When the woman with an issue of blood came to Jesus and touched the hem of his garment, Jesus said, “I perceive that virtue has gone out of me.”  I love that phrase, because it tells me that virtue is not something we put on, like a straight jacket, to prevent our wicked selves from flailing around and laying waste to our surroundings, it is something living inside, that we bring out to bless others.  This is how I attempt to deal with my children.  I try to look at them as fully human people with less experience in meeting their own needs, not as raw material that must be molded into the correct shape.  My job is to facilitate the bringing forth of their inherent virtue, and that often means weeding out actors who wish to direct my kids rather than to support them in their self-direction.

The forces that wish to train my girls to be humble and teachable are not the only ones I feel the need to engage and subvert.  Pop culture – movies, television, music, and all the attendant merchandising that it serves, often portrays itself as the answer to antiquated and burdensome gender roles, and its message to my girls seems to be, “Your body is your currency, and if you give us all your money and all your brain cells, and all your hours, and your will, we will protect the value of your currency.”  We live in a country that spent $8.1 billion on cosmetic surgery in 2015.  In 2014, 92% of cosmetic surgery patients were women, and breast enhancement was the top cosmetic surgery.  But we still don’t have a single, solitary diagnostic test for lactation supply.  If you have trouble breastfeeding your baby, the medical industry in the United States has one drug for you, and zero tests to look at why you might be having problems.

As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to 7 children, I get my fair share of funny looks.  If I happen to tell someone I am a die-hard feminist and have named 4 of my 6 daughters after movers and shakers in the suffrage and reproductive freedom movements, I get to watch their eyes really bug out.  What is it that would lead people to believe that feminism is not compatible with bearing children and baking bread?  Why do people who work with children receive some of the worst compensation in the United States?  When did we collectively decide that work that is traditionally done by women is, by its nature, menial and low class?   And why are we perpetuating those myths?  What happens to girls who want to have babies, when we tell them that caring for those babies full time until they are raised is a job for the self-indulgent, the ignorant, and the poverty-stricken?  Why have we discarded the idea that mothers and grandmothers should pass on skills and knowledge to their daughters and granddaughters?  Why doesn’t Hillary Clinton, the feminist with the largest podium in the world, have anything to say about birth justice, or relieving onerous tax burdens on single-income families?  Why are all her solutions to the problems of women focused on programs that simultaneously direct more power and money to government agencies – institutions that are, and always have been, dominated by men?  Where is her concern for the women and girls eking out an existence in countries she is so eager to bomb?


I value the work that I do in my home – not so much the cooking, and the cleaning, and the wiping of tiny rears, but the creation of a safe place for small humans to chase bliss.  I love to see my children healthy and clear-headed and strong-limbed.  I like cleaning off the dirt they earned during the day, because I like to see the physical evidence of their pursuit of new knowledge.  I value the efforts I make to expose my kids to knowledge and skills, and I value the work I do to inspire them to keep working until their interests become passions.  I cherish the headaches that come from several instruments being played at the same time to different music.  I love the opportunities I get to learn how to say sorry and make it right with a kid who is learning how to own herself and know her needs and desires.

Please hear me, now.  You can’t put a bow on domestic drudgery, call it God’s will for women, and make me love it.  I will always try to get out of doing chores.  Nor can you look at all the boring, dirty, hard parts of my life and tell me I am wasting my time.  Both approaches completely miss the heart of motherhood.  The job that I have dedicated my time, and my health, and my sanity to, is a simple, repeated act of showing up for the tiny people who depend on me.  It’s an opportunity for me to reach into my soul and drag out the best I have to offer, and it’s an opportunity to overcome my fears and my failings.  This is how I Woman.

I will not teach my daughters that God expects them to cook and clean and have babies, nor will I teach them that having babies is a side hobby they might want to fit in around other, more worthy pursuits.

I show them that I value the precious chance I get to be a part of another person’s life and heart.  That’s it.  That’s all they need to know.

Good Friend, I Am Building This Bridge for Him


I was in a cult during my highschool years. I remember when I was in 10th grade – a sophomore, I guess, we had a Special Outing. It was February in Rhode Island. It had been a long, cold, winter. The heating system was ancient and unreliable, and many of the radiators in the dorms housed families of spiders. The stress of living in a cult plus the terror of going to sleep next to a knocking metal radiator, knowing that spiders would visit me in the night and leave new bites all over my body, had me sleep walking and talking most nights. I even woke up one night jumping on my twin bed and screaming. Some of the girls in my section of the dorm giggled and went back to sleep, some growled, one took me by the hand and put me back to bed. She was waking up with spider bites every morning, too. I don’t remember how that problem was resolved, but I’m pretty sure something changed after the screaming incident because I don’t remember any more spider bites.

One morning, when I went to the office, to fulfill my daily responsibility to print up the schedule for the day, the Director, Maria, was waiting there for me. She told me that today we were to have a special outing. She confided in me that our usual weekly outing had to be cancelled once again, due to more wretched weather, and that the girls desperately needed a boost. We were going to stay home and more or less follow the usual, life-draining routine, but everyone needed to feel like today was special. She asked me to dress up the schedule and give all our usual, dreary tasks new names and by extension, new life. It was amazing how adding a little extra color to the border of the hated schedule and adding clever adjectives to all our usual tasks brought smiles and bright eyes and even furtive whispers (communication outside of sanctioned conversation times was expressly forbidden) to the section of hallway around the bulletin board. Lucky Charms and donuts for breakfast, a slight relaxation of the dress code – jean skirts instead of rayon, tennies instead of dress shoes, a little variety during PE instead of the dreaded, daily, basketball, and board games and puzzles in place of a couple of the afternoon classes, really did change the atmosphere. Most of us lifted a little from our depression and felt renewed in our loyalty to the group, our faith in our leaders and our mission to change the world through obedience.

But, we were easily manipulated. We were completely cut off from the world. Every moment of our lives was scheduled, down to our bathroom breaks. Good luck if lunch disagreed with you or your minimal water and fiber intake got the best of you. There was a table by the director’s office window, covered with newspapers and magazines – full of carefully scissored holes, of course, to prevent us from seeing anything that could “damage” us, and in full view of the director’s watchful gaze, presumably to keep track of who was skipping scheduled activities to find out what was going on in the evil, scary, worldly, Outside. We spoke with our parents once a week for 45 minutes. The phones were public and we were expected to inform on girls who were complaining or seemed unduly emotional during their phone time, as well as reporting on ourselves to our spiritual directors everything that was said during our calls home. The stated goal of the organization was to deconstruct faithful little Catholic girls and re-make them into obedient, faithful, soldiers for the cause of Christ. They drew each of us detailed mental pictures of our sinful selves – each of us was told, privately, in our twice or thrice weekly one-on-one interviews with our leaders, how terribly, how unusually, how colossally prideful we were, how cripplingly lazy, how massively self-absorbed, how pitifully vain and small we were. Of course, we weren’t those things. We were mostly exceptionally generous and religiously-minded teens, but they very effectively convinced us that we did not measure up. If we really were committed to shedding our faults, we would convince siblings and cousins and friends and parents to send more money to the organization, to attend camps and projects and activities. Our countenance would shine with the light of Christ if we were really living the gospel. It would shine so brightly that people would be drawn to us and want to join our organization. If we really cared about being consecrated to Christ, we would never be negative or complain or frown or have questions or doubts. We would always smile, knowing that our faces didn’t belong to us, they belonged to others. If we had love for our fellow men, we would always be positive and upbeat and dwell less on ourselves and more on what others needed in their lives to help them be happy.

Now take a moment and try to remember everything I’ve told you and tell it to yourself again, but this time, imagine that you believe in the system. Imagine you are completely convinced that this program changes lives and softens hearts and brings people to Jesus. Imagine how you would re-write what I’ve written putting a positive light on it and trying your best to understand and accept it as right and good and necessary. Is it difficult? I have lots of practice, so I’ll give you a hand –

I spent the best years of my life in Rhode Island! I made friends there to whom I have a closer connection than my parents and siblings. There were some crazy times, and we participated in some hilarious hijinks, especially at night in those creepy, ancient, dormitories. Remember the night when Anna had to wake me up and put me back to bed? Remember what a great spiritual experience we had that one February when we hadn’t been out of the building in months? Our directors sure knew our needs and cared for us like we were their own children. They were so careful to guard us and protect us and they worked so hard to form us into Women of the Kingdom. It’s too bad so many of us have lost our faith in God, have struggled for years to form healthy relationships, have bad connections with our families or no contact at all with them, have been crippled by depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. It just goes to show you that God will never take away a person’s free will. I pray that those who are lost will someday remember what they learned in Rhode Island and will come back to the faith they know is true, but have rejected in the hardness of their hearts. It is so easy to lose your faith. The small bad decisions people make damage them, and before they know it, they are past feeling. If only they had obeyed more, if only they had trusted more, if only they had been more generous and more careful…

I spoke those words, and then, a few years later, those pitying, accusatory words were spoken about me and to me and much less kind words were spoken, as well. I left the cult, and the Catholic church, and I took up with a group of returned Mormon missionaries who loved to sit and discuss and debate with me the finer points of their theology and my philosophy. I fell in love with a modern day School of the Prophets that happened in fast food joints and the Institute parking lot and parks that we somehow found our way to after classes or YSA activities. I argued my way through the Book of Mormon and parts of the Doctrine and Covenants, and fell in love with the seed of faith that grows if it is good, and the Title of Liberty, and the lesson that Oliver Cowdery learned about studying it out in his mind instead of expecting someone else to do the work for him. I fell in love with a creedless faith that embraced all things that are true and expected to find more true things daily, forever. I fell in love with a faith that recognized that God was not so different from man, just more experienced and more knowledgeable. I fell in love with a God who was both limited and empowered by the same laws of the universe that both limited and empowered me. I was finally, after all the years of trying and giving and obeying and churching, accepted and valued by a church community that wanted nothing more from me than what I wanted to and felt able to offer. This community accepted Me and valued Me – not who I could be or what I could give if I were trained better, but the Me that showed up on the doorstep. This was my community. These were my people. This was the church I joined, and I did not do it lightly. I knew what the response would be. I ran the gauntlet, knowing that even the people I loved the most would not hesitate to beat me with the club meant for those dangerous Others.

Because I’ve been on both sides of groupthink and both sides of the indoctrination machine, I feel I have an unusually sensitive propaganda detection meter. I don’t accept anything at face value. I know how groups operate, I know how people delude themselves into believing that men who claim to speak for God have more authority than God’s voice to their own hearts. I know how conscience is corrupted – and it’s not through disobedience to people in authority, it’s through disobedience to the authority and immutability of moral law.

As my eldest daughter draws close to her 12th year and greater involvement with the church I love, I find myself in a very difficult situation. I know what peer pressure and emotional manipulation can do to a vulnerable teenager. I was one, and I was broken by the messages they burned on my heart. They meant well. They meant to inspire me to do good and to be faithful. Where they failed was in teaching me that good was something outside of myself to be pursued at the cost of the good that already existed inside me, and in convincing me that fidelity was something I owed to an organization or a set of people or a title rather than to a set of principles. The people who actually helped me become my best self, accepted me as I was. They valued me. They did not feel the need to break me down and build me back up in their images. They did not carefully arrange circumstances and activities that would create in me the “correct” emotional response.

My husband and I have gone to some trouble to keep our kids free from the prison of society’s expectations for them. We want them to grow up figuring out what is inside of them and how to enhance the parts they like and channel the parts that would keep them from accomplishing their goals. We don’t have TV or Target ads or Barbies or anything else in the house that will make them feel like their looks and their style and their thoughts and their goals are something they need to buy or imitate or long for. Our idea, our hope, the goal we’re working for, is for them to figure out who they are, not to learn from our sick society who they are expected to be. Until I became more familiar with the youth programs, I expected the church to be our ally in this goal.

We have Trek in our stake every 4 years. For those who are not familiar, Trek is a multi-day activity in which the young men and young women of the church dress up in period costume (dress pants, a button-up shirt and boots for the boys, a pioneer dress for the girls – ankles to wrists covered, a bonnet, an apron, and bloomers), they go out to the desert, usually in the middle of the summer, and hike, push handcarts, and camp out. Adult men and women go along to assist, to teach, and to chaperone. As I read the Trek Handbook, I feel a lot of conflicting emotions. A hiking and camping trip with a bunch of great kids, singing, walking next to people playing guitars and violins, a hoe down, campfire cooking – all these things are my idea of a superbly great time and a tremendously beneficial activity for any kid. But many of the descriptions of how the activity should go seem primarily concerned with how to get the kids to feel this, that or the other. There are several elements here that bother me – first is that the clothing is almost always inappropriate for the weather, especially for the girls, whose movements are hampered and whose costumes are much more intense. The Women’s Pull, when all the men take off and leave the women and girls to fend for themselves is described this way:

The women’s pull can be a valuable part of the trek and can be used to emphasize the principles of faith, obedience, and sacrifice. This pull humbles the young men as they observe it and helps the young women rely on their own strength and their faith in the Lord. Page 8

My guess is that the girls are learning more about how the game is rigged – pulling handcarts in the girls’ costumes is going to be a lot tougher than it would be in pants and a collared shirt.

The second element that struck me is that the historic moments that these kids are re-living are presented as a shining example of how Latter Day Saints are called to follow the Prophet of God, even if it means getting your family into a situation that results in most of them dying. It makes me very uncomfortable that the church so seldom differentiates between following the Prophet and following God, as if there is no possibility that the Prophet’s desires for us could ever conflict with God’s desires for us. The Trek Manual has a classic example of that tendency to conflate the Prophet’s pronouncements with God’s –

Obedience: “No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands.”

(Heber J. Grant, Teachings of President of the Church: Heber J. Grant).

Motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ and their desire to be obedient to a prophet of God, Latterday Saint converts gathered together in the American West where they could make temple covenants and help establish Zion.

If the youth of the Church are to triumph over evil and obtain eternal life, they too must learn obedience to God’s commands. Page 6

I find it so difficult to square this quote and this omnipresent idea in the church that we will always be blessed if we follow the Prophet, even if we follow him to perdition, with the ideas and the conversations that drew me into the church in the first place. I love this quote by Charles Penrose, who describes so eloquently what is so very troubling about this wholesale abdication of personal accountability –

“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them — even if they knew it was wrong. But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. It is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise this idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.”
(Apostle Charles Penrose, 1852, Millennial Star, vol 14, num 38, pgs 593-595)

Trek is by no means the only aspect of the Youth Programs that gives me pause. I deeply question the number of hours required, the emphasis on sameness, the emotional highs that the teens tearfully relate to us in testimonies after boys’ camp and girls’ camp and temple trips and other youth activities. Emotional manipulation is hardly novel, much less unusual. We are constantly bombarded with bids for space on our emotional bandwidth. If we were to base our moral choices on emotional experiences alone, well, we’d live in a world much like the one we now inhabit, where people change their moral stances according to the winds of political and cultural changes rather than on studied, rational ideas about how to safely and ethically operate in a complex world. Substituting the cultural winds of Mormonism for the cultural winds of Americanism is hardly a solution to the problems we face today.

We know that racism and bigotry motivated our own prophets to claim they were speaking doctrine when they were actually speaking from the fears and idiosyncrasies of their own experiences and prejudices.

 Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

We also know that prophets and apostles have warned us to think for ourselves, to put our trust in God, not men, and to always look for our own light and understanding rather than expecting others to direct us in everything we do.

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”
(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 150, 12 January 1862)
“Do not, brethren, put your trust in a man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place.”
(Apostle George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star, v 53, p 658-659)

So I’m left trying to figure out how a church, conceived when a 14-year-old boy went to the woods, got on his knees, and asked God which preacher to follow, can tell that story almost every Sunday and still somehow forget that God said that all the authorities were wrong. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf makes it clear that seeking continual revelation is not only the domain of church leaders –

“The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve us from the responsibility to know for ourselves. This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation—and it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth.”  (What is Truth? By Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

As I draw closer to the fateful day when my eldest transitions from Primary to Young Women’s, I ponder daily how to suck the marrow of rich history, freedom of thought and conscience, love for intellectual pursuits, tolerance for new ideas, curiosity about the great and beautiful things of this world, supportive community, and the shining examples of service, love, loyalty, and outstanding moral courage that the church offers, and still somehow save her from the groupthink and other unhealthy institutional behaviors that cut me so deeply as a young girl who wanted nothing more than to offer her heart to her Savior. We are 6 months out, and I still don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I do rest easy in the knowledge that the sacred Mormon traditions of self-reliance, continuing revelation, and personal accountability will buoy our family as we find our way in the church.

I have had so many experiences in my life of the Spirit whispering to my heart, “the path lies this direction,” that I have full confidence he will continue to guide our family in the way we should go. There was a time when I was certain God’s plan for me was to live a life of celibate religious devotion, but that bend in the road lasted only a short season, and it served to prepare me for richer and more challenging times ahead. Since then, I have accepted his promptings without making such permanent plans for the future. The path winds in ways I can’t guess, but I do know where it ends – in a better, more satisfying, more grown-up, more fulfilled, more crowded with family and friends place than where I stand today.

The Bridge Builder

By Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

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