The Land of Promise (A Sunday School Lesson)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

These are my notes and outline of a Sunday School lesson I taught on 2/2/20. I was assigned chapters in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 16-22, which covers the story of Lehi's family in the wilderness, Nephi's broken bow, Nephi building a ship, and Lehi's family arriving in the Promised Land.

I try to make my blog posts (and lessons) relatable enough for everyone, no matter what stage of faith development or what spiritual path you find yourself on, but I do understand that the context of this post and the audience it was written for (Mormons) is pretty niche. If you have no idea what or no desire to know what I'm talking about, I want you to know thats 100% ok and I truly, really, with all my love encourage you to skip this one.
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One of God's favorite things to do is call people into the wilderness. It sounds weird, but think about it. What stories do you know from sacred text where wilderness wanderings were a God-led thing?

In case you need a few examples to get you started:

  • our beloved pioneers
  • the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt
  • the Jaredites
  • The prophet Elijah
  • Christ in the desert for 40 days
Today, we are going to use the journey of Lehi's family as an archetype to work with and see what applications it has for our own lives. I'd love for you to think of two things: a journey in your past and a journey you are presently on. It can be a literal journey, it can be a journey of faith, a journey of trial, whatever comes to you. Just hold those two experiences close as we examine this story.

Every journey starts with a call into the wilderness. Sometimes we are led, sometimes we are pushed, and sometimes we are dragged kicking and screaming along the way. Truly, I think it really doesn't matter whether we embark on the journey as a faithful Nephi or a murmuring Lemuel. At some point, all that matters is that we answer the call. Sure, there is something to be said about having a trusting heart and a "go and do" attitude, but be honest with yourself - do you always respond that way? I don't. In fact, its something like 70% of the time I resist the call until it becomes impossible to ignore, murmuring in fear the entire way.

No matter the posture of our heart and spirit, when we follow the call, we step into the unknown. We have left the beginning and for the rest of our journey we find ourselves in the arduous and challenging middle of our story. As we get further into our journey, with wilderness behind and before us, I think its pretty normal to get (or at least feel) lost. It makes sense then to ask for directions.

This reminds me of a verse from Proverbs 3
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge (or turn to) him and he shall direct thy paths.
God is good.
God's promises are good,
and God makes good on every promise.



So it makes sense then that God would direct the paths we are called to. We can trust God's directions.

Sometimes the directions make perfect sense,
and sometimes you walk out of the house to rush your kids to school and find a fancy brass compass ball thing on your porch.

The idea of the Liahona is pretty wild, which is wonderful for me because I am absolutely obsessed with these weird stories. Lucky for me the scriptures are full of them. I mean, brass ball compasses, blind people seeing, people building boats without Youtube, dead people not dead anymore... wild. Our sacred stories are weird and complex and mystical and magical. That is why I love them.

So instead of thinking about the Liahona as a literal ancient artifact, I'd like you to think about it more like a metaphor for your two journeys. What has been a Liahona to you? What has guided you when you've felt lost? What has pointed the way when you needed direction? What guides you even now?

At the beginning of the year, my ward had what they called a "musical testimony meeting". Members had the opportunity to stand up, share their favorite hymn and why it was meaningful to them (in less than 60 seconds - believe it or not, no one spoke for more than that) and then the congregation sang one verse from their favorite hymn. I loved hearing how many of those songs had carried people through some of the darkest times in their life.

For me personally, something that has carried me is Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese". It has guided me and offered comfort for many years.



But there is a real kicker about the Liahona. The text says it runs on faith. Like, faith is its power source. So my question is

What happens then when you're fresh out of faith?

What happens when you had a baby six months ago
and every morning since, you've woken up from your nightly 3 hour nap
with a heaviness that envelops you,
that slumps your shoulders
lower, lower;
threatening to sink your ship
that barely stays afloat now?
and every evening as you lay you down to sleep
you think
"give me this night
tomorrow's breath"
because you're not sure you'll make it.
Faith? Fresh out.

What happens in the moments when you look in the mirror
and you don't recognize yourself because you're
tired, ragged, running to a hundred doctor's visits
only to get a slice of news here, some there,
most of it not good.
and you're worried, you're afraid,
especially when you're laying in a backless hospital gown,
waiting.
What happens when someone says
"have faith" then?
Do you turn your eyes to the speckled grid ceiling and whisper,
"I'm fresh out, God."

What then?
Does the Liahona still work
when you're fresh out of faith?

I think of Jairus who was once caught in a moment like these. His daughter had just died. He did the only thing, the last option left, by going to Christ and asking for help. Upon hearing his request, Jesus asks Jairus, "Do you believe?" Jairus replies, "Yes Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief."

All that was required in that moment was a mustard seed of faith. Such a small and simple thing. Nephi says in 1 Nephi 16:29
"by small means the Lord can bring about great things."
A lot of religious accounts I follow on Instagram will occasionally post an inspirational quote that says something along the lines of "How big is your faith?" as if the measure of it is what matters. But according to this passage, Nephi is essentially saying

it.doesn't.matter.

because God magnifies and multiplies all we offer.
even a mustard seed.
knock and it shall be opened to you -
even if you knock softly, gingerly;
even if all you can do is place an open palm on the door and weep.
ask and it shall be given -
even if the asking is a silent, desperate,
half-feeling prayer.

because God is good
to me,
to you,
to all.

To those that cry out with quivering breath,
who hold their mustard seed with trembling hands,
God gives this promise:

"out of them shall proceed thanksgiving;
I will glorify them,
and they shall not be small."

All of this to say, friends, that the Liahona works on faith.
Not big faith.
Not mountain faith.
Not Nephi-large-in-stature faith

just faith.
only what you can muster in this moment.



So returning to our story of Lehi's family in the wilderness, very soon after they receive the Liahona, a series of tragedy strikes, culminating in the story of Nephi's broken bow. Archetypally, this is the point when the journey's trajectory arrives at a cross-roads.

There are two examples in this story to follow:

  1. Nephi, who does stuff
  2. everyone else, who complains
To be fair, lets get real right now.

Have you ever lived with a 3 year old? I currently do. I love my little guy to pieces, but I like him just a tiny bit less when he crawls into my bed at 5:30 am and says - with morning breath right up to my nose - 

"Mooooooommmmm
I huuuungry.
I waaaaant a prooooooteeeeein baaaaaar."

Because I'm a good mom, of course

I turn over and pray my most sincere prayer
that if I promise to lay very still and quiet,
he will think I'm asleep and he might go back to sleep too.

Just as I think my prayers are answered,
he asks again,
louder this time,
until there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Hunger is a real thing.
A three year old's hunger is a very real thing.
And there were definitely some 3 year olds 
in Lehi's family out there in the wilderness.
As a mom I can almost guarantee you that
most of the "murmuring" looked at lot like
my house at 5:45 pm when I call my hubs on his way home from work and say,
"The natives are restless. Please bring pizza."



So today instead of giving you a speech about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps Rachel Hollis style, to make yourself a bow and be the hero of your own story, I'd like to offer you a new perspective. The hunger, pain, and doubt Lehi and his family experienced were real. As real as your own hunger. As real as your own pain, your own doubts. Nephi did NOT look down on them or tell them to stop their whining. 

No. He sat with them, encouraged them, and with his own strength and faith he helped them. There are times when we need people in our lives to step up, step in, and help us. I look at these verses as an opportunity to honor those who have helped us in our wilderness. How have others used their strength to bless you in times of trial?

Very soon after we moved into this ward, I got a phone call on Pie Day. A new friend asked if I'd like to come over and bake a fresh pie. "You see," she said, "its my mother's birthday. She passed away a while ago, but I always like to do something fun to honor her and pie just seems like the right thing to do." There was no way in heck I was going to say no to 1. a tender invitation like that, and 2. fresh banana cream pie. She was kind and welcoming and tender in a way I had not felt since moving from Phoenix.

A few months later, I fell into a really bad depression. A quiet friend followed me closely on Instagram, and on some of my hardest days she left 2 liters of Dr. Pepper, fancy lavender dish soap, and kind notes of encouragement. She never knocked, never asked for a bit of my time or any recognition. Just kindness and friendship and the pure act of Christlike love.

On one of these hard days, I woke up to find that my dear, sweet 3 year old had turned the temperature control on our fridge to "OFF" and all the perishable food was warm and spoiled. I had just done a huge Costco run the day before, so hundreds of dollars worth of food was wasted. That day, another sweet friend invited my son to play while I went for a small grocery run AND made my family dinner that night, which helped my budget and stress levels immensely. 

These are small and simple acts of kindness that are not small at all. I needed these gifts of strength because at the time I was fresh out. These people stepped in, stepped up, and helped me. We cannot always be a Nephi. Luckily, we don't have to be.



We know that in the end, Lehi's family's story ends well. Nephi makes a bow, finds food, builds a boat, everyone travels overseas and makes it to the promised land. In our own lives and journeys, we rarely have the benefit of knowing how our story will end, but we always still have the promise that goes hand-in-hand with the call.

God is good.
God's promises are good,
and God makes good on every promise.

What is your promised land? I'm not talking about primary answers. (spoiler alert: we all make it in the end) What I'm really asking is 

What has God promised you?
What is the land of milk and honey on the other side of your wilderness?
If you don't know,
if no promises have been made yet, 
ask. right now.
Ask for an image of your promised land.

You don't have to know how to get there
because God is good.
God will direct your paths.
God makes good on every promise.

Wherever you are now, 
you have everything you need 
to get you there.
One small step forward,
one little push forward,
what you have in this moment
is all that is needed to get you to 
the Land of Promise.


*This is a drawing I did for my class. For me, my promised land is symbolized by a honey bee. I found all the loving phrases in these chapters that started with "be" and made sure to include them here.*

Phone Calls & Cigarettes

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

  A few weeks ago, a woman I follow on Instagram asked a question on one of her posts and encouraged everyone to write their response in the comments. Her question? "What is the one thing you would say or ask Heavenly Mother right now?"

The responses were equally eye-opening and heartbreaking. "I would ask her to tell me the story of how my spirit was born," one woman wrote. "I'd ask her to squeeze me tighter." "I want to know her favorite thing about me." "I would ask her if she would take extra special care of my boy 'til I get there." "I'd ask, 'Where are you?'"
My one ask was this: "Show me what it means to love myself."
 

No "please." No "If I could, I would ask..." I didn't realize this until later, but there was no separation between the possibility of or appropriateness of asking and the actual asking itself. Just my request, hanging out right there in the middle of Insta-land. Consciously, I wrote it as a question. Subconsciously, I already knew I'd get my answer soon.
So imagine my surprise as one day, right in the middle of an EMDR therapy session, Heavenly Mother reveals herself to me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with EMDR, it is a kind of therapy technique that accesses the subconscious mind. The mental state I am working in during these sessions is very similar to that of a dream. That's my most relatable way to describe it.
It was in an office setting. Heavenly Father sat behind a secretary's desk, shuffling through papers and licking his fingers occasionally as he sorted through the stacks. I walked up to him and said, "I want to see Heavenly Mother." He paused his work and looked up at me, smiling. "You know you don't have to ask. You know where she is. Just go in and see her," he said. As if all these years of being told by prophets, bishops, and Young Women and Relief Society presidents that talking to my big-M Mother was a huge no-no meant as much to him as the stack of papers in the "To Be Filed" folder on the corner of his desk. Alrighty then, I thought. I guess I will go and do.
As I walked to the door that I knew Heavenly Mother was waiting behind, I felt a rise of anticipation. Here was the moment I'd waited for for years. Of course I had ideas of what Heavenly Mother was like - or at least what I'd hoped and thought she was like. Over the last two years I have seen a handful of amateur and professional LDS artists paint her likeness. Among my favorites are those in the After Our Likeness collection by J. Kirk Richards and the works of Ettakay, but my assumption of Heavenly Mother as either a motherly or grandmotherly figure has gone quite unchallenged by every artistic representations of her I've come across. The moment I pushed open the door, I honestly expected to see an elderly face wrinkled with kind and twinkling eyes, and a woman with a heavy-set, long-ago postpartum, post-menopausal body draped in flowing white robes.
Instead, I found myself in a softly-lit room. Sensuous burgundy velvet drapes framed large windows, and the walls were the same shade of red, accented with a glinting gold pattern. Large paintings of still-life floral arrangements hung on the walls in gilded frames, and resting on an over-sized chaise lounge was a woman laying with her back turned to me, smoking a cigarette in a long, sheer, white lingerie robe. She took a moment to take another long inhale of her long lady's cigarette before puffing it out and turning towards me. I could hardly believe it when I realized I was looking into the eyes of Rizzo from the 70s film "Grease".
I panicked for a moment. This was Heavenly Mother? Holding a cigarette between rouged lips, dressed in a black nightie with a white silk robe and raising an eyebrow at me? What the heck was happening?
Before I had too much time to think about it, Rizzo put out her cigarette and pointed to a vintage pink rotary telephone on her nightstand. "You see that?" she asked me. I nodded. I knew exactly what it was. Over the last few weeks, the same image has been popping up on my Pinterest boards, social media pages, and in real (not EMDR) dreams. "We gonna start the revolution," she said.
 

Whatever this project was that Heavenly Rizzo was cooking up, I knew I wanted in. But something kept holding me back from a "yes." She must have seen these emotions play out on my face, because she asked me, "What's up?"
"I... I'm not ready," I said. "A revolution? How much more upheaval can I handle? I want a simple life. I want to garden, decorate my house, and write. I want to be a good mom. I want to love my hubs and I want to keep him around. I'm not sure how much more of feminism my marriage can handle. Not only that, but I am still right.in.the.middle of healing childhood trauma and now is the moment  you want to talk to me about revolution?"
"Its your choice, babe. Garden, grow one hundred zuchinni a summer. Mother, kiss those skinned knees and boil a thousand pots of water. No one here is stopping you from loving your man. He's a good one, and you ought to keep him. Give him time. All good things in time. But here's what you need to consider. Garden, mother, wife, full stop. Are you happy there? Is that really what you want? 'Cause you are the one who came barging into my bedroom mid-smoke with your big, heavy questions, and that doesn't sound to me like a woman content with the simple life. You can stop and turn around, back out anytime you like. But is what what you want?"
 

"Fine." I said. "You want me to say it out loud, right? Okay. I want more. I want a big-a** piece of your revolution cake. But a change on that scale needs power, and I don't think I have enough. Show me how..." my voice trailed off as I remembered the "ask" I had written on the Instagram post. Show me how to love myself. A lyric from Frozen II's "Show Yourself" came to me in that moment. Step into your power... 
"But I don't know how!" I said, tears of frustration welling in my eyes. Rizzo walked over to me, put her arm around my shoulder. From the pocket of her robe she pulled what looked like a business card and handed it to me. I read the writing on the front. "Get Out Of Jail Free" was printed in metallic rose gold ink.
"This is what I want you to do. For three days I want you to do nothing except listen to your body and do exactly what it tells you to in the moment. After three days, call me. If anyone judges you or tells you what you're doing is wrong, give them the card and tell them to come talk to me. I'll handle it." I agreed with a quick nod of my head as I wiped away my tears. At that moment, Secretary Heavenly Father walked in and poured himself a cup of coffee. 
"What are you girls up to?" he asked. 
"We're starting the revolution," Rizzo said.
"I expected nothing less," he said, pausing to smile gently at me wrapped beneath Rizzo's arm before taking a huge swig of his cuppa.
"Three days," Rizzo said as she turned to me. "If you don't call me, I'll call you. I know how much you hate the phone." I laughed. Suddenly I realized the phone on the nightstand was ringing, and I woke up, or "came to" my real life again, sitting on my therapist's white leather couch. I told her everything, questioning the validity of what just played out in my mind. "What's the harm in trying it out for a few days?" she asked mischievously.
 

Three days later, a phone rang. I answered.
"The revolution is already here," I said, a hint of girlish glee in my voice.
"Do your thing, girl," she said.
I smiled into the phone speaker and answered,
"With relish."

Sacred Geometry

Monday, February 3, 2020

 Not too long ago

I walked the halls of an art museum.
The patrons quietly shuffled
from painting to sculpture to artifact
when suddenly,
clear and brilliant as the shallow pool
that children tossed their wish pennies into, 
a woman behind me said,
"The circle painting gets
really f**king old
especially by the time
you turn 51 years old."

I laughed, shocked at her vulgar honesty,
observing the way it humbled me,
observing the way it pleased me
to be human
together.

"It" Girls

Saturday, February 1, 2020

 My sophomore year of high school I took a US history class. One of my assignments was to complete a report on a famous person from the 1920s.  I knew who I would be focusing on before I even left the classroom. Years before, I had fallen in love with a woman named Clara Bow.

 
Clara Bow was a famous actress who played her most iconic roles in silent film. She mastered the art of storytelling through emotion (for a modern-day reference, think about the silent, emotive technique Pixar and Disney used in films like UP to tell the love story of Ellie and Carl or the interactions between Rapunzel's parents). She had a relatively short-lived career as an actress thanks to the arrival of sound films about 8 years after her debut, but she exited the film industry with a title never before given. She was the world's very first "It Girl".
An "It Girl" is defined as " a young woman with sex appeal and a magnetic personality." Think Marilyn Monroe, Bridget Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, and Kate Moss. For a young girl who longed to be seen and loved, "It" seemed to be the greatest and highest honor achievable as a woman.  As I look back on my adolescence, I notice that I had missed a very key teaching from my teenage role model. Recently, one of my favorite quotes from Clara has played a front-and-center role in my understanding what it really means to be an "It Girl."
"They yell at me to be dignified. But what are dignified people like? They are snobs. Frightful snobs. I'm a curiosity in Hollywood. I'm a big freak, because I'm myself!"
Because I'm myself.
 
In a way, this demonstrates exactly how subjective the definition of "It Girl" really is. It can mean anything. This is both its downfall, as it can be defined by the dominant culture which focuses heavily on physical appearance and the meeting of patriarchal standards for women; and its hope. No one really knows what "It" is, so there really is no standard. This leaves room for creativity, subversiveness, and liberal interpretations of what makes a woman attractive and magnetic.
As I think of the "It Girls" of my life, they aren't supermodels, Instagram influencers, or fashion Icons. They are women who make my heart pitter-pat for one reason: their badassery.
The Amazons, Aphrodite, Artemis, Persephone, Psyche, and Athena from Greek myth.
Joan of Arc, Nellie Bly, Amelia Earheart, Maya Angelou, Grace O'Malley, Boudicca, Anne Frank, and Cleopatra.
Rizzo from Grease, Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennett, and Princess Leia Organa.
Deborah, Miriam, Rebecca, Rahab, and Mary Magdalene.
Each one of these women and their life's story and example has gifted me with an increased understanding of what "It Girls" can look like. I find Maya Angelou's presence and body love incredibly sexy.  Elizabeth Bennett had a pretty magnetic personality. Rizzo's sarcasm and vulnerability was so authentic - how could I not love her? These women, in their defiance of cultural norms and expectations and their resilience and determination, continue to show me what it means to be wholly human and alive in circumstances that seek to suppress their voice and spirit.
This month, I invite you to consider whose portraits hang in your own "It Girl" gallery. Give special thought to those who you secretly love, the ones you feel you can't say their names out loud because you're not supposed to love or relate to "those girls". Challenge that silence. Give voice and appreciation to the women in history, fiction, and your own life that have nursed your inner fire.  If you'd like, you can start that practice right here in the comments by sharing with me who your "It Girls" are. Trust me, I'd LOVE to hear!
 

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