Truth Eternal Tells Me I've a Mother There

Without further ado, let's do a scriptural deep-dive on Heavenly Mother. I've put a lot of thought into the best way to create a long form version of my thread on Twitter, and to add new material to it. I've decided the most coherent way to organize my thoughts is through the same series of questions I used to study out these topics on my own. Enjoy!

Who is Heavenly Mother?

To Latter-day Saints, we believe God to be our literal Father in Heaven. We lived with him as spirit children before we were born on earth. As we have a Father in Heaven, we believe we also have a Mother in Heaven. When Psalms speaks of us being "children of the Most High," she is included in that description. When Paul's epistle of the Romans calls us "children of God," "heirs of God, and joint heirs of Christ," we know we are literal children of divine parents. We receive our divine purpose and potential as their offspring, having been created in their image. We will become as they are, and inherit all they have, as we embrace the plan of happiness they have created for our lives. (See Psalms 82:6 and Romans 8:16-18)

What is her relationship to our salvation and exaltation? 

The Creation

Like many mothers here on earth who love and care for their children, our Heavenly Mother wanted to see us grow, develop, and succeed. She participated with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ to make this possible for all of us. She participated in the creation of the earth, in all of its beauty and goodness. When God (which is a title, not a person) said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," this was the voice of our heavenly parents, speaking in unison. They decided together to create this world for us, and to bring each and every one of us into existence, beginning with Adam and Eve. On earth, creating human life is impossible without the male and the female. This eternal archetype reveals our divine heritage as children of both a Divine Father and Divine Mother. (See Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24 and Abraham 4:26-31, 5:7, 15-16)

Jesus Christ and His Atonement

We believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. His birth was foretold by prophets for centuries, but his life also began long before he came to earth. He volunteered to come to earth and take upon himself all of the sins and suffering of the entire human family. He gives us the grace and power to overcome our sins and challenges in life. Without Jesus Christ, we would have no hope of ever seeing our Heavenly Parents again. We rely "wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save." (See 2 Nephi 31:19)

Where does Jesus receive the power to be the Messiah, the Savior of every soul who has ever lived? Book of Mormon prophets speak of the divine influence our Heavenly Father would have upon our Savior, to make him equal to his task. (See 2 Nephi 2:8 and Mosiah 14) Jesus himself testified of his total reliance upon our Father in Heaven for the power and authority to perform his mortal ministry. (See Matthew 19:17 and John 5:17-23, 30)

The scriptures also testify of the role our Mother in Heaven has had in preparing her Son to save and exalt the human family. Before Mary, who "was the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh," our Heavenly Mother was his mother after the manner of the spirit. As prophesied by both Isaiah and Nephi, "the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name." She was present for, and instrumental to, his divine preparation for the role he would play. (See 1 Nephi 11:18, 21:1)

Jesus "received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him." (See D&C 93:17) This isn't possible without an equal influence of the Divine Feminine upon him. He could not take upon himself the experience and wisdom of women from anyone but a woman. In doing so, he becomes the perfect champion and advocate for their advancement. The enmity between Satan and "the woman," before it was ever with Eve, was first with our Mother in Heaven--between his seed and "her seed," who is Christ. But because Jesus has access to her power, he will destroy Satan and all evil upon the face of the earth. (See Genesis 3:15)

Without our Mother in Heaven, we wouldn't have a Savior. There would be no Messiah without her.


Heavenly Mother is an exalted woman, and she empowers others to also become exalted. Her soul has been redeemed, and she has been crowned with glory. (See D&C 88:17-20) She helped to author the plan by which all of us could become as she is, and have everything she has. In coming to mortality, we forgot all of our experiences with her. This is a necessarily part of the test we each are undertaking throughout our mortal lives: "we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (See Abraham 3:25) In addition to the Savior's words, these are also her words and her will. She has complete confidence in our ability to make our own choices and succeed valiantly in the cause of Christ.

To be saved from sin and death is a free gift from Jesus Christ, given to all of God's children regardless of how they live. But to receive an increase, to include all our Father and Mother have, we must meet the requirements they have established. The lesson at the heart of this test is to choose our Heavenly Parents and their plan, whenever an alternative is placed before us. To do this is to receive the joy and fullness we were born to experience. We cannot have a fullness of joy without our Heavenly Parents in our lives. Being separated from them is to be in an incomplete state, contrary to our nature. (See D&C 93:22-34)

To understand exaltation is to understand the life our Heavenly Mother lives, and the destiny of every woman in the Church:

They shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a [sic]fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

D&C 132:19-20

What is she like?

Heavenly Mother is powerful, talented, intelligent, and has all of the same accomplishments of our Father in Heaven. She has been held to the same standards, abides by the same laws, and has received all of the same rewards for her faithfulness. (See D&C 76:50-70) Together, they have given no commandment to us that they do not also observe. (See D&C 88:11-13) There is no blessing or ability she does not possess and use in the work of salvation. (See D&C 88:40-41, 67)

Her role in this plan is not simply to bear children. She is in full possession of herself and her personhood. Her work takes many forms, and uses all of the talents in her possession. The woman who best typifies this in scripture is the woman from Proverbs 31:10-31. An inventory of the virtues possessed by this wisest of all women shows her using all of her faculties, inside and outside the home. She runs a household and owns a business. She creates using skills she has developed through work and practice. She is a leader and an employer, dealing with everyone around her in kindness and fairness. She abstains from evil and idleness. In everything she does, she exemplifies ability, intelligence, and wisdom. She balances many kinds of labor, because her life is full of responsibilities outside of caring for children. And among all of the activities she is balancing, all of it shows evidence that she still prioritizes herself.

Nothing makes me more excited to be exalted than to realize the Celestial Kingdom prioritizes everything women have to offer. My Heavenly Mother is not a one-dimensional woman whose sole eternal labor is having and taking care of children. I've never seen a place that empowers and embraces women without hesitation, but I can't wait to see what it's like. Realizing the Celestial Kingdom is that place motivates me more than anything else to make it there.

Is she equal to our Father in Heaven?

Heavenly Mother is equal to our Father in Heaven in every way. By virtue of living in his presence, this must be true. (See D&C 88:107) She is equal in power, influence, intellect, responsibility, and choice. (See D&C 76:92-95) Unlike us, she has already been exalted and does not require any power or virtue of his to complete her. Instead, they magnify each other in total harmony and perfect fairness. (See Ephesians 5:21-33)

Harmony and fairness might suggest to the imperfect mind that this would only be possible by sacrificing independent thought and action. This is false. Just as Heavenly Mother cannot be compelled, she is not absorbed into the being and will of our Father in Heaven. "All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence." (See D&C 93:30) As an intelligent being, this principle also applies to her. She maintains her distinct identity and capacity for independent thought.

How this is possible is beyond mortal comprehension, and is yet another experience of the Celestial Kingdom that likely must be experienced to be fully understood.

How do we develop a personal relationship with her?

To answer this, it's important to first emphasize that Mormons are not trinitarian Christians. We do not believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost make up a single being. They are each distinct beings who play different roles in our worship. We love, revere, honor, and obey each of them. But in the strictest sense, we worship only God the Father. This is why we pray only to him. We pray in the name of Christ without ever praying to him, as a reflection of that total loyalty to the Father. (See Exodus 20:2-3, Matthew 4:10, and Moses 1:15)

We do not pray to our Heavenly Mother, for the same reason we do not pray to Jesus Christ. But this doesn't mean we are separated from her, in the same way we are not separated from Jesus Christ in this arrangement. As Paul testified to the Romans that no earthly force "shall be able to separate us from the love of God," this also refers to her love and influence. (See Romans 8:38-39) Living in mortality has not removed or diminished her influence upon our lives in any way. In every gift and blessing we receive and associate with our Heavenly Father, she has also extended her loving hands to her children. (Genesis 49:25 and D&C 130:20-21)

As in all of these other relationships, the first step to strengthening our relationship with her is to have faith in her. Seeing her impact upon our lives is only possible when we believe in her. (See Ether 12:6-12) We study the scriptures in search of her. We confront the assumption that ignorance of her presence is the same thing as absence or silence. Instead of being content not to know her, we pray for experiences to help us to know her better, believing we will receive an answer. (See 3 Nephi 18:20) We listen for communication directly from her to us.

If I've learned anything in my spiritual life, it's that a lack of revelation on any subject stems primarily from a lack of curiosity and imagination. Nowhere in the church is this more true than on the subject of our Mother in Heaven. Somehow, she is both one of our most revolutionary principles, and the least explored. And the assertion that she speaks is probably the most radical thing I could say on the subject.

But how can we hear a voice if we never stop to listen for it? In a world where no one is listening for her, how can any of us say with certainty that she does not speak?

* * *

In my efforts to establish my relationship with my Mother in Heaven, I've learned so much about myself already. I didn't know my personal and spiritual development was incomplete without this knowledge of her. But how could it not be? I am a woman. She is the image of everything to which I aspire as a woman of God. And for most of my life, I knew absolutely nothing about her. It's like I've been trying to put a puzzle together, when I have no idea what it's supposed to look like. I cannot achieve my divine purpose, or understand my divine potential, without a better understand of who she is. And unbeknownst to me, I've had the tools and resources to obtain this knowledge all along.

I'm still learning how to listen when she speaks. The first thing I ever heard her say made me fall in love with her instantly. How many times have I called the Plan of Salvation my Heavenly Father's plan? But it's not just his plan. It's her plan, too. It's her work, and her glory "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (See Moses 1:39) She told me that herself. I know she is watching over me, and is reaching out to me in this season of my life. And based on many of the struggles and decisions I'm currently experiencing, her timing couldn't be more perfect.

I'm also becoming aware that I couldn't know her, or have any of these experiences with her, without Jesus Christ. He is the one who is bringing me closer to her. (See John 14:6-7) He is the one who makes it possible for me to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Without him, I would have no chance to hear her voice on earth. I couldn't have this experience without my Savior's grace and mercy. I can never say enough of all the good he does for me.

The greatest hope of my life is to be able to see him one day, and thank him myself.

Finding Heavenly Mother in the Scriptures: Part 1

The first time I heard of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, I was sitting on a beanbag chair in a ward member's unfinished basement. My friends and I were talking about being Mormon in hushed conspiratorial tones, away from the eyes and ears of parents and youth leaders. Anyone who has been a teenage Mormon knows these conversations. These unstructured moments are where many decide what to believe, and make critical decisions about their future in the Church.

The Assumption of Mary
Image: Wikimedia Commons
I was the daughter of a single mother, a non-practicing Catholic. I had memories of going to Mass as a child at Immaculate Conception, the only Catholic church in my hometown. Most of the memories I have of that experience are brief snapshots, which are also jumbled together with memories from at least a dozen other Protestant churches. But nothing in those experiences, not even the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary, had prepared me for the conversation I was about to have.

I don't even remember what my friends were saying in vivid detail. I just remember hearing those words, "Heavenly Mother," and everything suddenly coming to a halt in my brain.

"What did you just say?"

My friends stopped their banter, looked at me, then began looking at each other for expedients. Once again, they had forgotten that anything they brought up in front of the convert, they were going to have to explain. And they tried, mostly by asking questions about how logical it was. "How can we have a Heavenly Father without a Heavenly Mother?" one of them asked me.

How, indeed. But that wasn't enough. I wanted proof.

"Show me where this is in the Bible," I said. It was a familiar request coming from me. My relationship with the full Mormon canon of scripture was still tenuous at this point, mostly because I hadn't read them yet. If it was in any of those other books, I thought to myself, it should be in the Bible, too. But I also had the unfortunate habit of not listening to people when they gave me these answers. I'd crack open the books myself, based on what they told me, and find "my answer." Being religious, in terms of simple faith, did not come naturally to me. This was the only way I understood how to believe at that point in my life.

But this time, my friends were not prepared. The most scripturally literate of the three came up with the only answer I still remember.

"Look at the hymn, 'O My Father.' It talks about it in there."

The conversation dropped, mostly because my friends could see the effects of the massive bombshell they had dropped on me. You'd think after months of bumping into proverbial walls, I'd be used to it.

But how do you ever get used to having everything you thought you knew about life, people, and God himself upended?

Or should I say, herself?

* * *

Ten years later, and my life is completely unrecognizable. I've gone to college in Provo, Utah. I've served a mission at both Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and in Sao Paulo. I've been sealed in the temple, and have had my third cross-country move in less than ten years. My husband has a new job and has doubled his salary. In our minds, we're not far from starting our family and living the Mormon dream.

Except, it doesn't happen. Month after month, year after year. No children.  After years of being told that nothing I would ever do could be as important as motherhood, I was failing to do the job. I began questioning if my infertility meant that God didn't trust me. All of the changes, the educational and professional sacrifices I'd made to be a mother. It all was beginning to seem like a giant waste of time. I felt like I had no purpose, and completely inadequate materials out of which to fashion a new one. My life stretched out before me with no direction. And even if I somehow managed to find one, what would be the point? Who would remember me once I was gone?

I didn't have any answers. Just a vague sense that if I could wait it out, something would eventually change. And I hate that feeling. Like I'm sitting on a bench, watching other people's lives happen. Waiting for my life to begin. Impatience and existential angst were becoming inseparable from the rest of my personality.

But I wasn't waiting for something in my situation to change. I was waiting for someone, and didn't realize it until she had arrived.

That was how Heavenly Mother came back into my life. Not as a topic of conversation. Not as an abstract principle. She came much in the way my Savior had, on my road to Emmaus. She simply sat down on the bench next to me and waited with with me for a while. She was listening to me before I fully understood who she was.

This visual is so important. Imagine being on the road to Emmaus with the Savior after his crucifixion. You don't recognize him, but he's asking you about what has been happening in Jerusalem. So you tell him all about what you saw. You tell him about your pain and confusion. It's only once the stranger is gone, and you see the change within yourself, that you realize who it was.

What would Heavenly Mother talk to you about if she got the chance? Who is she? What is she like? What does she do with her time? Is she equal to our Father in Heaven? Does she have all knowledge? If someone started asking you these questions, how would you respond? Where would you go to find the answers?

As I poured out my heart and soul to my Father in Heaven over many years about how I felt, these questions came back. Again and again, with a growing force. This summer, they sat resolutely in my heart, refusing to move. The only way forward for me was to turn and address them.

So I got up off the bench. I opened my scriptures. I pulled up the essay on Mother in Heaven published by the Church. I started walking, knowing for the first time in years where I was going, but not knowing what I would find.

To be continued...

Why I Go to Church with Trump Supporters

Full disclosure: I find Donald Trump's administration and policies to be a morally, ethically, and sometimes even Constitutionally indefensible. When it comes to diplomacy, and many of the valid objectives Mr. Trump wants to achieve, he has all of the administrative finesse of a butcher. I didn't vote for him, and I think those who did misplaced their trust. I feel confident they will come to regret that decision in their own way, and in their own time. 

I'm also aware that I go to church with a lot of people who disagree with me. This post is not for them. It's for me, and those like me, and our struggles to find peace in sharing pews with them on Sunday.

Mormons in Utah have the luxury of saying that more people didn't vote for Trump there than did overall. Mormons in Idaho can't say that. It wasn't even a close race. Donald Trump won in Idaho because a lot of Mormons voted for him. There is no way to objectively distance ourselves from that fact. 

How that translates into my feelings about attending my own congregation is something I've been dealing with for months, ever since I found out my then-bishop supports Donald Trump. And I mean, really supports him. As someone I greatly respect, it wasn't easy for me to see him lift up someone I find so degenerate, and tear down others on social media with language I never heard him use in church. Even when he conceded to me that Mr. Trump had troubling flaws, it didn't help me to reconcile the conflicting thoughts and emotions I was having. We ended the conversation on good terms, agreeing fully in wishing we'd had better choices presented to us. But I eventually had to give up on understanding his line of reasoning. It didn't make sense to me then, and makes even less sense to me now that we're almost two weeks into this administration.

Until this week, I didn't realize how separated I've felt from my church family because of the election and all of its consequences. I felt betrayed by the community I love. They had consistently taught me to aspire to the highest values of morals and ethics. I never thought I would watch them elect a leader that does not represent or uphold any of those values.

How could I ever take them seriously again, as teachers of moral behavior? How would I find peace with our differences? As much as I tried to ignore those questions, they continued to fester into a resentment that I didn't talk about with anyone. I barely even acknowledged it myself.

This past Sunday as I was taking the sacrament, everything I was feeling came to the surface in a mixture of anger and grief over this week's Muslim refugee ban. I couldn't hold onto it anymore. I needed guidance from the Lord in how to continue loving my brothers and sisters, when some of what they say and do just isn't lovable.

If anyone would know the answer to that question, it would certainly be God.

Why do I Share a Pew with Trump Supporters, even when I Disagree with them?

The answer came to me, as I partook of the Sacrament this past Sunday. As I looked around and felt the familiar pangs of resentment, God answered my question when I wasn't expecting it.

Because there is nowhere better for them to be.

Examples of how true this is flooded my mind, beginning with the ordinance in which I was participating.

Where better for a Trump supporter than in a sacrament meeting, partaking of the sacrament? Where else on earth would they commit themselves so completely to follow Jesus Christ and keep his commandments? Where else would they swear, before each other and God himself, that they will "bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light... to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort"? (See Mosiah 18: 8-9) Where else would they recommit themselves to that promise, week after week, month after month, year after year, until they extend it to the entire human race?

I didn't have an answer. Where, indeed? The questions didn't stop.

What book could be better for a Trump supporter to read than The Book of Mormon? What book of scripture preaches more movingly against pride, greed, corruption, and the dangers of wealth, racism, sexism, and privilege? For Latter-day Saints who are also Trump supporters, what book would they willingly read that gives a more moving sermon than that of King Benjamin in Mosiah 4?

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. 
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— 
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. 
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? 
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. 
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. 
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. 
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.

I sat in sacrament meeting, thinking about this sermon. As I pondered on the plight of refugees the world over, I couldn't think of anything I wanted more than for Trump supporters to carefully study these words, and apply them. Mormon Trump supporters who read The Book of Mormon, and already believe it to be scripture, couldn't be in a better position to do this.

Where else could an LDS Trump supporter go where he or she would attend general conference, and find access to living prophets, seers, and revelators? Where else would they sustain these leaders, then later be called upon by them to serve the groups they marginalize? Where else would a Trump supporter willingly go to hear this talk, or this one, or that one, or the one from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf who was a refugee? How else would they ever see this website, dedicated entirely to serving and supporting refugees? To say nothing of this lesson from this year's manual on former President Gordon B. Hinckley, where he condemns all forms of prejudice:

May the Lord bless us to work unitedly to remove from our hearts and drive from our society all elements of hatred, bigotry, racism, and other divisive words and actions. The snide remark, the racial slur, hateful epithets, malicious gossip, and mean and vicious rumor-mongering should have no place among us.

Or perhaps stumble into this conference where Elder Jeffrey R. Holland warned:

"Governments today are not responding to the refugee problem urgently enough, nor on a large enough scale. Unless matters change, the refugees will be left to their own devices just as the Mormon migrants were. Right now there are simply not enough safe places—not enough Quincys, if you will—for the large amount of refugees around the world."

Where else would a Trump supporter go to experience the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the saving and rescuing influence of the Savior Jesus Christ? Where else could they come to him so personally, to feel and know for themselves "how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you." (See 3 Nephi 10:4-6) In no other place in my life had I ever felt the love of God more profoundly than sacrament meeting, because of the Spirit that is there. That was where I came to see for myself that I had been "gathered," and "spared" too many times to count. Only in feeling that love within their own hearts will Trump supporters ever feel secure in extending deliverance to the entire human family.

There could be no greater witness for the love of God, the love that saves and rescues, than the Holy Ghost. Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, members who support any policies inconsistent with the Lord's agenda will find themselves frustrated, and challenged to repent.

I found myself marveling at the Church in ways I had never before considered. What defense is there for any sort of falsehood in a church like ours, regardless of who tries to perpetuate it? Everything about our organization seems divinely designed to challenge deception, and the hold it has upon our members. The Lord will chasten his people, whether they like it or not. Members of the Church who support Donald Trump are not immune to that correction.

As I pondered on the reformation of my neighbors in the pew, I should have foreseen that God wasn't finished with me yet. As it turns out, God didn't feel they were the only ones in need of an attitude adjustment.

Because I Need Them 

One of the great lessons I came to learn on earth is how to extend mercy and forgiveness to people I don't feel like deserve it. It takes a lot for me to reach my breaking point. But my good opinion, once lost, is nearly impossible to recover. It's something I'm endeavoring to change. But like extracting microscopic gold particles from pay dirt, the Lord has had to blast out these qualities from my heart. It has been a long and painful process, involving some people that I still don't like very much. It was a problem for me long before Donald Trump began his presidential campaign, and will continue to be a challenge long after he is no longer in office. All I can say is, if you think that's not very Christ-like, you should have seen me before I joined the Church.

Forgiveness is hard. If Jesus wasn't making me do it, I just wouldn't bother. And by going to church with people that I'm bound to disagree with at some point, I get plenty of practice.

Who better for me to practice forgiveness on than Trump supporters? The more failures I see in them, the greater need I have to forgive them. This doesn't mean pretending not to see someone else's moral failures. But it puts me into a position to practice what Jesus taught about forgiveness in Doctrine & Covenants 64, which will only bring me closer to him.

8 My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. 
9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. 
10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. 
11 And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

While it's my right to disagree with others, using all of the clarity, wisdom, intelligence, and fervor of my soul, it's not for me to resort to pettiness and smallness of mind. I should never allow what I feel about an issue to interfere with my feelings for a person. I'm not excused from my Christian duties to love, serve, and bear burdens—even if those burdens include racism, misogyny, or privilege. If that's what I see in others, that's what God wants me to help him address. And I can't do that if I pass judgment flippantly and quickly, without going to the uncomfortable places to achieve understanding and tolerance with others. As Jesus asked in the Sermon on the Mount, "how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye." (See Matthew 7:4-5)

If I'm not willing to deal with my own judgmental thoughts and hypocrisy, how am I supposed to help others do that?

I left that sacrament meeting better and wiser than I was when I went in. I left a burden at my Savior's feet I didn't realize I was carrying. I saw myself and my feelings with greater honesty, and it changed the way I see the people around me. If what I truly value is acceptance, and this is what I want to see in the world, I need to be a big enough person to do it first.

A message of unconditional love, peace, and tolerance cannot be preached—it must be lived. And today, instead of starting with the Trump supporters in my life, I'm starting with me.

Bullet Journaling for My Scripture Study

Daily scripture study is not an easy habit to maintain. You'll recall I did a previous post about my scripture study bullet journal, where I said I was making some great progress with consistency. But there were quite a few things in my approach that I didn't like, so I stopped doing them. And once I stopped planning, my study became inconsistent again.

So I sat down and decided to deconstruct what was working for me, and what wasn't. What came from it has me really excited, and I think will allow me to zero in on what was working, and to ditch everything else that was needlessly taking up time and space.

The only thing I need my bullet journal to do is to help me study the scriptures, prepare lessons, and take notes in my various meetings. That's it. I don't need it to be a calendar, a planner, or a place of endless doodling. All of that stuff, as trendy as it is on all of the Pinterest boards for bullet journaling, is a distraction to me. I don't have time to replicate via hand drawn calendars what my cell phone can do in a matter of seconds. So I'm not going to do it anymore.

Instead, I'm going to focus my spreads purely on planning my scripture study. I wanted something simple that requires very little set-up time. With my new daily spread, I feel like I've achieved that goal:

Monday (or date range for prolonged study)Faith, Alma 32, Moroni 7, Holland (April 2016)
  • Find verses for lesson, talk, discussion, etc.
  • Personal goals for daily scripture study
  • Reading material for classes to be taught on Sunday
  • Receive answers from the Holy Ghost to a specific question
Alma 32:1

:2, 3, etc.

Moroni 7:1

Bednar, TopicInclude any direct quotes, personal impressions
New verses on multiple days for prolonged studyAdd additional cross references and notes.

I'm excited to try out this daily spread to see how I like it. I like the elements here, but I could see myself continuing to perfect the formatting until I'm completely satisfied with it. I'll be sure to keep you posted as I find what works best for me here.

In terms of a weekly spread, this really is the full extent of what I need, in terms of long range planning. If I plan my scripture study topics too far in advance, they become too far removed from what my present needs and questions are. So in terms of nailing down exact topics, I'm sticking to a basic weekly spread. I've laid it out to fit the tall, narrow pages of my current journal. But I'm sticking with keeping Sunday as the largest day. That way, I can not only plan for how I plan to keep the Sabbath day holy, I can also jot down ideas during sacrament meeting of topics or questions I want to study in the coming week. These are easy enough to use the typical arrows, to indicate ideas that need to be migrated into an upcoming spread.

Include built-in spaces for FHE, family scripture study, family councils, etc.Plan for individual study, with topics, chapters, goals, etc.
Schedule study for upcoming meetings, lessons on whichever day works best for you (For me, it's always Wednesday_Schedule study before you attend the temple
Plan to record promptings you receive,
scriptures you study at the temple
Schedule spiritual preparation for the sacrament
Finalize prep for Sunday meetings and lessons
Plan to make the study of scriptures, general conference talks, devotionals, etc. a part of your Sabbath day observance
Note scriptures you want to use in meetings, councils, or lessons for the day
→ Indicate topics or chapters to be migrated with arrows

If you're feeling super proactive (or especially bored during testimony meeting or dry council Sunday) you can set up your weekly spread for the coming week, then fill it in. A sacrament meeting speaker may not be holding your attention, but getting something out of it anyway is a conscious choice. I've learned some amazing lessons from the scriptures in meetings like that, because the spirit of revelation is still there. Carrying that spirit into the rest of my week in what I study helps me to see the thread of revelation running throughout my life.

Because I don't find it especially productive to do monthly planning, I'm not going to do it anymore. The only part of that I found to be constructive was the goal setting, creative brainstorming, and personal reflection. So that's what I'm keeping. Instead of calendaring a bunch of stuff that far in advance, I'm going to stick with a list format to help me think of things to study. I can draw from it for my weekly planning if anything catches my fancy. I can migrate anything to next month's list that I still think is important, and add page numbers to the ones I do study.

  • Goals
    • What is working well in my scripture study, and how will I continue doing it?
    • How can I improve my study? What obstacles do I need to remove?
  • Topics
    • What is my least favorite or least frequently studied topic in the scriptures?
    • Break down larger questions into its fundamental gospel components, and study them
  • Reading Goals 
    • Example: Finish the Book of Mormon by the end of the month
    • Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Yearly Reading Goals (with trackers)
  • Lesson Topics
    • Come Follow Me
    • Gospel Doctrine/Principles
    • Teachings of the Prophets
    • Teaching in the Savior’s Way
  • Questions
    • Honest
    • Interesting
    • Personally relevant
  • Follow Up on previous topics/questions
    • Is there more the Lord wants to teach you on a subject you have previously studied?

By simplifying the way I plan my scripture study, I will make it easier for myself to follow through. Instead of managing my study as an event, I want to facilitate the best possible experience for myself, based on what I need most in that moment. What this looks like changes for me so often, I need to more fully embrace the variety and depth that's truly available to me. I'm looking forward to how these new changes will help me to do that, and I'll continue to post updates here as I make these tools and techniques work for me.

Light and Truth: The Unity of Science and Religion

I adore Mayim Bialik. I enjoy her character on The Big Bang Theory, which incidentally is one of my favorite shows. The awkwardness created by intelligence, and the way you interact with the world around you in ways people don't understand—yeah, that's my life.

When I discovered that Mayim Bialik is also Jewish, and doesn't apologize for her religious beliefs, I really appreciated her on a new level. Because in the Age of Outrage, admitting you're religious can make you a target for a lot of unnecessary vitriol. Knowing that someone like her exists, living a life of faith in the public eye, it's refreshing to see. Her vlog about her views on the relationship between science and religion is no exception. And it really got me thinking about how I would explain my beliefs about this relationship in my life.

I'm a deeply religious person who believes wholeheartedly in God. I also believe in the scientific method as a way of learning about the world and people in it. I'm much more of a historian than a scientistbut good historians, objective historians in pursuit of facts, are scientific storytellers. As a historian, I'm obsessed with evidence, source citations, and dissecting assumptions. I love nothing more than a good research project or experiment to challenge a theory. To that end, there is a great deal in science that I believe in and support.

Because of what I believe about God, there is no restriction or limitation placed upon me in what I can or can't learn from science. Because of science, I'm able to discern between truth and error more readily in every aspect of my life, including my faith. For me to obtain the fullest understanding of the world around me, I need tools and answers available to me in science and theology. To that end, there is no necessary reason or benefit to keeping religion and science in conflict with each other in my life.

God, the Scientist

The only idea some people have of God is what they see in people who believe in him. They see closed-minded people who never question, even when questioning would greatly improve their religious sensibilities. But God is not like this, and undoing the contradiction between religion and science begins with a correct understanding of who God is.

The Milky Way
Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons
To me, God is more than just a cosmic force in the universe. He is a sentient being, who controls forces and harnesses energy for the purposes of creation and propagation. God is an embodied, perfected being. We are his creations, his children, and he loves us infinitely and perfectly. I am his daughter, and he is my Father in Heaven. I was created in his image. I know, unequivocally, that he is real, because of the hundreds of interactions I've had with him over a lifetime.

God is a scientist, embarking on a great experiment. He knew we had the potential to be so much more than innocent children in his presence. So he designed a plan, or an experiment, where we would gain an education. He created an earth for us, where we would gain our own bodies. We would live as mortals, cut off from his presence, so we would learn to think, reason, and make our own decisions.

Perhaps a better way of expressing this, rather than an experiment God was doing on us, or even with us, is one he was allowing us to do for ourselves. Our world is full of physical forces, laws, rules, opposites to be explored. And he would allow us to have that experience, without him physically being present, to decide for ourselves how we would improve ourselves. As anyone who has ever been to school can attest, not everyone takes learning seriously. So it is with learning here on earth. We have the choice to include in that education a knowledge of God, to live in harmony with his plan, to love and serve him, and prepare to live with him again. Or we can reject him, his plan for us, and refuse to be governed by laws, reason, or limitations.

God is also omniscient. "He knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it." (2 Nephi 9: 20)  Although he knows the end from the beginning, he does not force us to choose differently than the sincerest desires of our hearts. And like any scientist, he observes our choices objectively. He will not interfere with the choices his children make, even when they don't choose him. To do so would jeopardize the results of the experiment, and make them useless to us, in terms of truly measuring our progress.

God, the Creator

To me, God isn't just a scientist. He's the perfect scientist. He has a perfect understanding of all physical laws, and their interrelationship with every other scientific discipline. I believe he used his perfect knowledge of the material universe to create the earth. What we study in physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and geology are more rudimentary grasps of everything that God knows and understands. And I believe he spent a lot more time than six, 24-hour days forming and preparing the earth.

Many religious people don't understand what it means to be a Creationist. They think being a Creationist means believing that God created the earth. But it also means believing God created the earth in six 24 hour days. They seem to have missed the glaring problem with that conclusion, in that the sun and moonthe objects created to rule (or measure) the day and nightwere not created until the third day.

Time, as we have defined it, literally did not exist when God began creating the earth. There is no scriptural injunction to interpret these six creative periods (referred to as "days" in the Bible) as identical periods of time. And there's certainly no reason to measure them as 24 hour-long days. Relying on an honest look at the Bible alone, we can see how Creationism is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches.

Once the six 24 hour-long day Creation is undone, the inference that the earth is 6000 years old (because "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day"), also cannot stand. Even if that 1 day/1000 years reckoning of time is literal instead of metaphorical, there is no limit to how old this earth can be, if we don't limit the creation to only 6 days.

From my perspective, as a Latter-day Saint Christian who believes God created the earth and reveres the Bible, there is nothing wrong with believing the earth is 4.7 billion years old. While this may put me at odds with the opinions and interpretations of other religious people, I'm not bound by their conceptions of God and his creations. I have no moral imperative whatsoever to hold up any idea of theirs when it is false. And God, who is omniscient and can speak for himself, has every ability to guide me to the truth. I must ask questions, then educate myself sufficiently to understand his answers, and listen for his answers. But the imperative of gaining knowledge is on menot on the imperfect people of faith who are trying to reason for themselves beside me.

Their imperfections and mistakes no more disprove the existence of God than my calculation error could disprove physics, or an error on a star chart could blot out the sun. Errors and mistakes are not a source of truth, and should not be used as evidence against God. If what is really up for examination is God, and not the approximations that people have of him, then focusing on their errors is logically wanting in every sense.

Science, A Method

The truth may come as a surprise to lovers of science who question the validity of religion, but serious religious people rely on the scientific method to deepen their faith. They question what they're taught, and how to approach it from a variety of perspectives. They scrutinize the principles of faith, usually within the context of a scriptural canon, which has proven its value and relevance over hundreds, if not thousands of years. They ask profound questions, including in response to challenging subjects, because being a believer is an intellectually rich experience.

The secularists who take the greatest issue with religion do so, at least in part, because they find our fundamental assumptions distasteful, or even intellectually irresponsible. You can't prove the existence of God if you assume the existence of God. And on, and on, ad nauseam.

If God, Then God is not how people arrive at a faith or conviction that God exists, because that argument does not produce knowledge. A religious person cannot sustain devotion on that kind of shallow reasoning. If it makes for useless science, it makes for equally useless theology. Rather, the same investigative qualities that lead to scientific discovery lead to the assurance that God exists. It all begins with an honest question, developing and testing a hypothesis, gathering data, and formulating a conclusion from that data.

  1. Question: Is God real?
  2. Research: If God were real, what would that look, feel, and sound like to me? Have I ever experienced that before? Is there another explanation that is simpler, or more likely? How can I experience God for myself? How can I measure that experience? Can I replicate the experiences of other believers who came before me? Should I come to the same conclusions they did based on those results?
  3. Hypothesis: If I replicate the behaviors of a believer, and the process they followed allows me to know and understand God for myself, then I will know he is real.
  4. Procedure: Establish an honest and objective baseline to describe my thoughts and feelings about God. Replicate the experiments put forth by other believers. Observe and measure changes in my own life, and in my feelings about God.
    (As a Mormon, that experiment was put forth to me directly by The Book of Mormon the first time I read it, in Alma 32 and Moroni 10: 3-5. How to adapt these into an experiment should be an individual experience. And just because it's subjective and intangible doesn't mean it isn't real. Subjective and intangible experiences can still be measured and analyzed.)
  5. Experiment: Study the scriptures. Consider them honestly, and with an open mind. Pray to know if they are true. Change my behavior to be consistent with that of a believer. Observe the difference over a period of time. Record the data. 
  6. Data Analysis: Observe and interpret significant changes. Compare results to baseline or control, as established in your procedures.
  7. Conclusion: Confirm or reject your hypothesis
  8. Abstract: Summarize your findings
  9. Presentation: I "presented" my findings by agreeing to be baptized.

The idea of religion and theology having room for this kind of experimentation was shocking to me when I first heard it. What helped me to view myself within this more complex framework of thought was actually The Book of Mormon.

In Alma 32, Alma describes faith not as a destination, but a starting place. He argues that faith and knowledge are distinct from each other. Wherever there is faith, there is a degree of uncertainty. This is where everyone begins whenever they learn a new principle, but ignorance is not what God wants for his children. Faith that resists knowledge from God is not faith at all. Rather, the purpose of faith is to produce knowledge and increase intelligence, to transition from a place of not knowing and being uncertain, to having knowledge and having certainty. Whether this relates to a law, a principle, or even the nature of God himself, Alma outlines the process to transition from faith in the word to "a perfect knowledge" of the word. (See Alma 32:26-43)

If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

Alma 32:41

No other religious tradition I had ever seen proposed such a deliciously intellectual approach to worship. But to Mormons, "the glory of God is intelligence." (D&C 93:36) Because I cannot fully appreciate that about him without his perfect instruction, part of worshiping him has to mean increasing my knowledge and wisdom. "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance," said Joseph Smith, because "whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection." (See D&C 131:6 and 130:18)

Education and learning are forms of worship in my religious tradition. Challenging my own beliefs until they become increasingly true approximations of God, and laying aside all falsehood. Engaging with God in perfect submission until I become as he is: the embodiment of perfect, knowable, universal truth.

What could be more scientific?

"From Grace to Grace"

At the time I was exploring these questions and probing into religious ways of thinking, I was the living embodiment of the law of inertia. I was never going to move or change myself, until I was moved upon by a sufficiently large force to do so. For many years, I called myself the most unlikely of believers for that reason. If God didn't exist, nothing should have ever interrupted my trajectory as an unbeliever.

But when I was about as confused and closed off to religion as I had ever been, I had a collision with the divine of sufficient magnitude, I could never go back to my life as a skeptical, disinterested agnostic. God had acted upon me, that much I could not deny. And instantly, I could see equal and opposite reactions, precisely calculated by the Engineer of time and space, changing my trajectory forever.

That was ten years ago. In every way that could be scientific and impartial, my life is objectively better with my Heavenly Father in it. I have had greater educational and professional opportunities as a woman of faith than I ever would have had before. In the languages I've learned, cultures I've experienced, the places I've lived and traveled—nothing has been better for my intellectual advancement than the discovery of God. He has been the catalyst of every good thing that has ever happened to me.

I accepted the invitation from the Book of Mormon to "consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God." (Mosiah 2:41) I have determined that I am a better person because I have Jesus Christ in my life. I have lost nothing of my analytical and curious nature by becoming a Latter-day Saint. In fact, the longer I am a Christian, the more I see that an intelligent woman is exactly who God intends me to be. And I can't accomplish the purpose he has given me without a knowledge of a variety of subjects, not the least of which are science and religion.

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I learned these truths by the same process the Savior used to understand Heavenly Father during his mortal probation, having "received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness." (D&C 93:11-14)

I invite anyone with a desire to know God to do the same. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Truth Eternal Tells Me I've a Mother There

Without further ado, let's do a scriptural deep-dive on Heavenly Mother. I've put a lot of thought into the best way to create a lon...