Burning Questions: A Conference Compilation

One of my takeaways I’ve from October Conference is the preponderance of questions within the talks. Not just rhetorical ones— the typical set-up questions that direct the listener to answers within their talk—but questions meant for us to consider asking ourselves or God. These questions encouraged personal, direct communication with God, reflection on our life path, and contemplation on life’s struggle and meaning. Perhaps the Come Follow Me1 model of asking the right questions is creeping into conference talks. I like it. Here are some of my favorites. Continue reading

Forever Yours: The Poems of my Grandparents

One of the most fascinating things about my grandparents is studying their relationship dynamic—especially their courtship years. Dorothy Smith and Ellsworth Clark dated for about two years in the early 1930’s while attending the University of Utah. Theirs was a protracted, sometimes bumpy affair marked with with long absences when Ellsworth spent summers home in Idaho working the hay fields or selling suits with his father. Even when their engagement became official, Ellsworth left—at Dorothy’s suggestion—for a six-month Western States mission. This proved fruitful ground for angst-filled letters filled with both doubt and devotion.

Among all the letters my grandma saved, there are a number of poems from their courtship. Because Dorothy seems to have thrown out some of the letters she wrote (there are significantly more letters from Ellsworth in the collection), these poems help tell a fuller picture of their courtship. In reading them, I am struck how in such a relatively short time in history, love letters and poems have devolved into texts, selfies, and tweets. In all that we have gained in convenience, we have lost the ability to communicate intimately and thoughtfully. Modern convenience has robbed our minds of time spent waiting, yearning, forming thoughts, and pondering. Continue reading

The Armies of Shelamen: Traces of Women in the Book of Mormon

A few years ago when I was an advisor in the Young Women’s, I tried whenever possible to include stories by and about women. In my search to uncover the hidden women in the scriptures, I came across Marjorie Meads Spencer’s “My Book of Mormon Sisters”[1] and was impressed at her comprehensive teasing out of the women—both named an unnamed—in the Book of Mormon. Yet, I felt the need to look beyond established lists and re-imagine our familiar stories populated with the women and girls we know are there. Why is this necessary? As Neylan McBaine, author of Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact explains,

We are currently in the process of digging ourselves out of a deep hole in the sheer volume of role models women today have to look to. Why are role models important? Because they act as a blue print upon which we can pattern our choices and life paths. As Marie Wilson of the White House Project said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”[2]

With this idea of re-imaging or recreating narratives that include women, it brought to mind a literary theory application from my university days. It has been a very long time since I studied Jacques Derrida, much less applied his method to any text, but there has been a particular concept of his that has always stuck with me. Derrida’s “presence absence” theory[3]—the idea that you cannot have a story about, say, men (presence) without evoking meaning through the absence of women. In a simplified manner, men bear the traces of women, as do women of men, as a sign of their absence. So in the case of the Book of Mormon, we can find women present in absence. Continue reading

Our Cumorah Connections

A recent article on lds.org, Reclaiming Hill Cumorah1, prompted me to share some interesting Hill Cumorah stories of our own. My grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark’s book of remembrance and collection of letters reveal her deep connections to Hill Cumorah’s beginnings, both through her mentor Torleif Knaphus and her parents Hyrum and June Bushman Smith, who were missionaries at the Cumorah Farm from 1935 to 1939.

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Stealing Peonies

With peonies starting to bloom, remembering again Grandma’s peonies and how I brought them home.

This Great Deep

Stealing Peonies
To Annie Virginia Chamberlain

peonie2My grandma’s home in Poplar Grove was an oasis of certainty in an uncertain place. Her double lot on the corner of Navajo and Wasatch had been in the family for two generations, but it was just hers now. Inside, it was an evolving patchwork of hand-hewn cabinets and pink homewallpaper. Outside, a bright stamp of green and pink in a neighborhood of thumping cars and chain link fences. Years of raising chickens made the roses flush with color and grass so thick that mowing was an aching chore that stole the Saturdays of our fathers and brothers. On one corner there was a pine so tall we could play under its boughs standing up. On the other, a patio surrounded by roses, a clothesline, and large patch of pink peonies.

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The Invitation Game

As I walked the neighborhood delivering invites to our next church social, I fingered the roll of tape and stack of invitations in my pocket, and decided this time to knock. After a while, labored footsteps grew louder and finally, a heavy woman wearing pajamas answered the door. “Come in and stay a minute,” she said, already walking away from the door and directing me to the couch. If she saw the invitation in my hand, she didn’t say. I knew of this woman. She was one of the first to build a home in the neighborhood. She was a widow, and did not attend church anymore. I sat obediently as she told me about her new pacemaker, her swollen knees and ankles, and how, due to the inexperience of a student doctor, a pin was left in her foot during surgery that gives her pain with every step. I listened and asked questions as the sun lowered in the window behind me. I could feel my cellphone buzzing; I promised my daughter I would take her shopping. Continue reading

We Ate Everything: On Food and Memory in Paris

As I emerged from the Metro steps at Boulevard Saint Michel, I was not prepared to be cast so intimately into Paris: stone buildings are softened with curves, fountains call for your stray fingers, and people everywhere, eating. I was swallowed up by the smell of butter, smoke and dirt as we darted with luggage in hand to the Crêperie Des Arts. Our bodies brushed against other bodies, passing cafe tables, tourists, and trees just opening for spring. We hurried. We were hungry. Continue reading

Gifts from Strangers

Over the past few weeks following Jane’s heart surgery, our family received many gifts: meals, kind words, help with children, and numerous crafts, toys, and cards that otherwise helped fill our stomachs, alleviate stress, and pass our time.

It is especially humbling and poignant to receive from those we don’t know well. A girl who played soccer for Ed made Jane a blanket to comfort her in the hospital. A couple at our church reached out to inquire how Jane was doing, as they had fasted for her. A neighbor whose children are grown asked if it would be alright if he brought Jane a doll. School friends visited in the hospital and at home, and those we know just as acquaintances brought cards and gifts. On top of this, my siblings and parents have revealed their generosity in thought and deed. Last week, we even received an anonymous gift to help with Christmas. Continue reading