1st Chapter of Wedding Belles!

Sutton aimed her camera at Lily’s face. Lily whispered in Deacon’s ear, her long tapered fingers with their rosy pink nails resting on his arm. She knew she shouldn’t click, but she couldn’t miss out on such a compelling shot. Maid-of-Honor Delivering Bad News. Why else had Lily half-run, half-marched down the aisle in her very high heels?

The look on Deacon’s face as he’d watched Lily’s advance said everything. The closer Lily got, the less Deacon’s eyes danced with nervous excitement and the more his brow creased with worry. By the time Lily had finished whispering to him, his eyes were wide with disbelief.

But there was a glance between Deacon and Lily that Sutton hoped she had captured. A moment of electricity in the breath between Lily laying her hand on his arm and then leaning close to whisper in his ear. Sutton hadn’t caught anything close to that kind of tenderness in the hundreds of pre-wedding shots she’d taken of Deacon and Dahlia.

The hundreds of shots that all looked contrived and forced, except when Dahlia was looking in the distance. Those were the most honest pictures. They were the ones that made Sutton wonder whether Dahlia would actually make it down the aisle.

Sutton had buried her doubts about Dahlia saying I do underneath her relief that Dahlia was paying her more for one job than she’d made in months. Of course, giving in to Dahlia’s pleas to come back to Charleston for the bridal and wedding photos had cost Sutton a chance to network with other photographers at the opening of her brother’s show in Soho.

But good friendship required sacrifice, and Dahlia would have done the same for her.

On the other hand, with Dahlia’s failure to appear, Sutton’s wedding job had turned into a typical Dahlia event. Dahlia always pitched her ideas as benefitting everyone else more than herself, yet somehow always came out on top.

“No one is as good as you,” she’d said to Sutton six months before, even though she knew Sutton’s number one goal in moving to New York, aside from escaping Brett—her crazy ex-husband—was to get as far away as possible from the wedding photography industry. Sutton wanted to be a real artist, even if reaching her goals meant riding her brother’s coattails for a while.

“I’ll pay you double what you used to charge, plus travel expenses,” Dahlia had promised, knowing things hadn’t been easy for Sutton since moving.

“Hadley has to be my flower girl. She’s my god daughter,” she’d pleaded. Sutton’s daughter loved her “Aunt Dolly.” Being in her wedding would be the highlight of her five-year-old life. And that little girl deserved some highlights.

Dahlia must have felt Sutton’s resolve slipping, because then she’d pulled out the big guns. “I helped you out when you needed it most.”

And Sutton couldn’t say no, because Dahlia wasn’t exaggerating.

So, here she was. Taking photos of the groom and maid-of-honor. No bride in sight.

Deacon motioned for the music to stop as Lily stood by his side. Sutton heard Deacon say something about Dahlia not coming, but everything after that went blurry. She didn’t hear him say why or what next. If Dahlia had bolted, like Sutton suspected she had, Hadley might be alone.

Hadley hated being alone. Ever since the night her father had lost his temper with her, she clung to Sutton. If the bride had been anyone besides her Aunt Dolly, Hadley wouldn’t have left her mother’s side long enough to walk down any aisle, no matter how pretty the dress. Sutton didn’t like her being alone either, especially when she wasn’t one hundred percent sure her ex wouldn’t show up.

She swallowed hard, pushing back the fear making its way to her chest, threatening to fill her heart with the same darkness pulsing through her brain. Dahlia had promised not to let Hadley out of her sight until she sent her down the aisle. Hopefully she’d kept that promise.

Sutton ran by the candle and magnolia decorated tables ready for dinner guests who likely wouldn’t be eating. She turned down the hall and ran to the bridal suite where she’d taken the pictures of Dahlia in her dress and Camellia helping her with her veil. The same room where she’d held open Hadley’s crinoline and helped her shimmy into her “princess” dress. The final touch—and Hadley’s favorite—was the crown of flowers Sutton had pinned on top of her curls.

Sutton threw open the door, expecting to see her little girl, though the silence hinted at the worst. The door swung wide, hitting the wall with a loud thunk and revealing a room empty except for the chaos left by eight bridesmaids, two flower girls and one bride. A wild array of flowers, hair products, and a lacy wedding gown draped over a chair that served as a testament to the way Dahlia lived her life. Go big and leave the clean-up for someone else.

Hadley had to be close, but the mansion was huge. Sutton cursed the venue and Dahlia all in one breath as she thought about how scared her little girl must be.

She backed into the hallway, then ran around the corner into a large foyer with a grand staircase. She slowed when she saw a man in a tux—one of the groomsmen—on the bottom step. She recognized him. He’d given Hadley a high five and told her great job at the rehearsal after she’d tripped.

A puff of white dress on the other side of him caught her attention, followed by a shock of dark curls as the owner of the flouncy dress leaned forward to retrieve her flower crown. The groomsman said Hadley’s name. The sound rippled through the foyer in a gentle wave.

Sutton stopped to collect herself. At only five years old, Hadley had the uncanny ability to pick up on Sutton’s energy and take on her emotions, good or bad. Hadley had felt enough fear in her lifetime, so Sutton was careful about letting her baby girl see that in her mama. Hadley let out a giggle, the first one in a long time, and Sutton knew she couldn’t ruin the moment. She stepped behind a massive potted palm and listened.

“You would have done a great job sprinkling those rose petals,” the groomsman was saying to her. “Did you try out for the job? You were a natural at the rehearsal.”

“I’m Dahlia’s god daughter, so I didn’t have to try out.” Hadley rested her chin in her hands and stared at her basket, her giggle gone. “She had to choose me.”

“Her god daughter? And her flower girl?” Mr. Tux whistled. “You’re a VIP. Probably the most VIP person here now that the bride’s gone.”

“What’s a VIP?” Hadley asked with the lisp that tugged at Sutton’s heart every time her little girl slipped into it.

“A Very Important Person.” The groomsman emphasized each word and nudged Hadley with his knee. “Except you’re the VMIP – very most important person.”

Hadley sighed. “I guess, but I still don’t get to do the rose petals.”

Sutton stepped from behind the palm, calm enough to embrace her daughter and not let her out of her sight again until they were out of Charleston and back safely to her brother’s place in New York. But the man’s next words made her stop.

“What do you mean you don’t get to do them?” He noticed Sutton and gave a tiny wave followed by a thumb’s up. “You can do them right here,” he continued. “I’ll do the music.” He hummed the first bars of “Canon in D” and picked up Hadley’s flower basket, handing it to her as she stood.

Sutton put her camera to her eye and focused. Hadley still hadn’t noticed her, which meant Sutton could get a natural shot of her. She snapped the photo when Hadley, grinning, put the flower crown back on her head and took the basket. The man’s lips were curved into his own grin as he continued to hum. Sutton took as many pictures as she could before Hadley saw her and stopped her procession.

“There’s the prettiest flower girl I’ve ever seen!” Sutton said as Hadley ran to her with rose petals spilling out of the tipped basket.

“I’ve been looking for you.” Hadley wrapped her arms around her mom

“Who’s your friend?” Sutton asked, picking her up.

“Max,” Hadley answered as he wandered over.

“Hi.” He flicked his hand in a wave, and Sutton let Hadley slide off her waist.

“Thanks for looking out for my girl,” she said without offering her name. She was grateful he’d found Hadley, and he seemed like a nice guy, but she needed to keep a low profile. Brett knew a lot of people, and she couldn’t be sure he wasn’t still in Charleston.

“Dahlia promised to keep an eye on her,” she continued, suddenly remembering there was still someone missing. “But I guess she had other places to be. Or something…”

“Yeah, what happened?” His brow creased with a concern that seemed genuine. She hoped it was. She liked his eyes—deep brown, almost as dark as his hair.

“I don’t know—”

“—I do!” Hadley yelled and let go of Sutton’s hand to step between her and Max. She pointed her dimpled chin up to him and spilled. “She told me she remembered being a flower girl too, then she said she wasn’t ready to get married. I think she still wants to be a flower girl!”

“That sounds about right,” Sutton muttered, and Max let out a short laugh.

“You know her pretty well?”

“Well enough I should have predicted she’d do something like this before I let her convince me to be her photographer.”

Music filled the air as Sutton finished her words. Not the rich sounds of the cellist, whose performance had been cut short, but the pulsing bass of the DJ.

“What’s that, Mama?” Hadley asked, grabbing Sutton’s hand and yanking her in the direction of the music.

“I don’t—”

“—Maybe Aunt Dolly is back and they’re still having the party!” Hadley kept yanking, and Sutton reluctantly followed, glancing back at Max with a question.

He shrugged and followed them to the ballroom. Heavy bass pulsed through the closed doors followed by rhythmic clapping and stomping. Sutton knew before Max opened the doors, the room would be filled with people line dancing. She also knew exactly what Hadley’s reaction would be.

“Let’s dance, Mama!” Hadley squealed, predictably, and pulled her mom toward the dance floor, but Sutton resisted.

Dahlia had already paid in full. The DJ was playing music, the waiters were serving food, Sutton needed to work. She wasn’t going to take any more charity from Dahlia, even if Dahlia wasn’t there to be part of the pictures.

That is, if Deacon wanted pictures.

“I can’t right now, baby.” She pulled Hadley in the opposite direction. “I’ve got to talk to Deacon.”.

“Please, Mama. I want to dance!” Hadley cried before yanking her hand from Sutton’s. “This is my favorite song, and it’s almost over!” She ran to the dance floor while Sutton stared helplessly after her.

“I can keep an eye on her,” Max offered.

Sutton bit her lip. She didn’t know this guy, but she also didn’t get a creepy vibe from him. Then again, given her history with Brett, she wasn’t entirely sure she could trust her ability to read people’s vibes.

“If you’re comfortable with that.” Max held up his hands to prove his trustworthiness, as if he wanted to show he didn’t have anything up his sleeve. “I promise not to let her go anywhere but the dance floor.”

Sutton glanced from the dance floor to Deacon. Hadley would be within her line of sight no matter where in the room she went.  She took a deep breath and pointed to Deacon and Lily.

“I’ll be right over there, and I’ll be back as soon as I find out what’s going on.”

The clapping song faded into “Celebration” and Max said, “looks like…” before singing along with the music “there’s a party going on right here…” in a high falsetto.

She laughed, and the last of her worries about leaving Hadley with Max floated away with the disco beat. Dahlia, for all her anti-establishments aspirations, had chosen the most mainstream wedding playlist ever.

For the first time in years, Sutton actually felt like dancing. She had to force herself not to move to the music as she made her way across the room. The closer she got to Deacon, the closer Lily moved to him, like a mama cat with brand new kittens.

“Hey, Deacon,” Sutton said, meant to sound soothing, but the music forced her to yell. “You okay?”

He nodded along with Lily who answered for him. “He’s going to be fine. This is all for the best.”

Despite her years of friendship with Dahlia, Sutton really didn’t know Deacon. The look on his face told her today wasn’t the day to rectify that situation, even if she’d wanted to. Instead, she turned toward Lily. They weren’t necessarily friends, but at least they’d spent some time together the few times Sutton had hung out at Dahlia’s house.

“So, the dinner and reception are still happening?” Sutton asked, though the answer seemed pretty obvious.

“Aunt Camellia said they’d already paid for everything, so there was no use having all the food and the DJ go to waste.” Lily answered while Deacon shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ceiling.

“Does she still want me to do the pictures?” Sutton leaned close to Lily in a vain attempt to keep Deacon from hearing.

Lily took half a step toward Sutton, blocking Deacon from their conversation. “Do it. I’ll send them all to Dahlia, so she can see the world went right ahead and kept on turning without her.”

Sutton raised her eyebrow. “Good plan. Any idea where she is?”

Lily shook her head. “Don’t really care at the moment.”

“Okay. I’ll go do my job then.”

Sutton left Deacon and Lily, heading back to the dance floor with her camera raised. She scanned the floor for Max and Hadley, then seeing Hadley was safe, Sutton began snapping shots of people milling around the room. She turned to the dance floor and took more shots of guests doing the Electric Slide. Dahlia hated The Electric Slide. That had to be Deacon’s doing.

The perfect shot presented itself a few minutes later when she spotted Hadley ducking under Max’s arm before he twirled her around, her flower crown clinging for dear life to the ends of her curls. The pure joy on Hadley’s face reminded Sutton of the first time her parents took her to Disney World and she’d met all the princesses, a million years ago when she still believed princes existed.

She’d long since given up on that dream, but watching Max sparked an ember of hope.  Prince Charming didn’t exist, but maybe some good guys still did.

Sutton focused in on Max, getting her first shot of him without Hadley. Two years had passed since she and Hadley had fled to New York and longer than that since she’d seen Hadley so happy. Sutton had vowed when she left Charleston that the only two things she would ever care about again were Hadley and her career. Men and relationships were out.

But if more guys like Max were out there, then someday she might be ready for love again. Someday…

Here are the links to the other first chapters:
Harper and Zak
Janie and Emmett
Lily and Deacon

Prizes Galore!

Want to win some incredible books AND a $10 Amazon gift card?

I’ve teamed up with an amazing group of authors to give you some equally amazing books. Here’s how it works:
Follow this link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/18ec79f521/
where you can sign up to receive our newsletters, and you are entered to win one of five free books or a $10 gift card. If you aren’t already signed up for my author newsletter, now would be an excellent time.
You can also earn an extra entry each day by sharing the contest (make sure you do this through Rafflecopter to get credit).

Prizes include:
“A Little in Love With You” by Jenny Shelton Proctor
Love on Pointe by Tiffany Farrell Odekirk
Beneath the Belmonte Sky by Ranee Savage Clark
Scarlett by Jen Geigle Johnson
The Matchmaker’s Match by ME
and
$10 Amazon gift card from Joanna Barker

Good luck!

The Matchmaker’s Match is Here!

My newest book is available for  on Amazon and in Deseret Book and Seagull Book.  This is an Emma update, and even though Emma is not my favorite Austen novel, it was really fun to retell. It’s set in San Clemente, California — one of my favorite beach towns. I loved playing with the idea of Eliza (my Emma) thinking she’s aware of her privilege but gaining more understanding about not only what love is, but also that her wealth and privilege don’t automatically make her the expert on how people should live their lives.

It’s a fun story, and I hope you love it as much as I do!

Thanks For The Mansplainin’

Dear Sir,

I happened upon this comment you posted on a Facebook thread: “if you consider yourself as a ‘college educated white woman’ and are not going to vote for Donald Trump only because of his offensive words 11 years ago then you are not considering things from an ‘educated’ view, you are considering things from emotional view.”*

Really? Gosh, thanks for mansplainin’ that to this college-educated white woman and all the other women who may not have realized their crazy lady hormones could be affecting the way they vote. What would we do without single white guys like you pointing out when we’re not being so smart?

Let’s pretend for a minute that there’s a college-educated white woman who’s not aware of Drumpf’s racist comments that consistently imply people of color all live in slums and ghettos, his refusal to pay people money earned for work he hired them to do, his threat to not only create a national database of Muslims, but also to deport them. Let’s pretend she doesn’t know about charges of fraud brought against Trump University, his claims of being a philanthropist despite any credible proof to back up his boast, and his refusal to release his tax returns. Let’s pretend this woman also doesn’t know about his many appearances on the Howard Stern show making lewd comments about women and sex, the rape charges his first wife brought against him that were only dropped as part of her divorce settlement, or the civil case making its way through the courts by a woman claiming Drumpf raped her when she was thirteen. Let’s even pretend she has no idea about the women who keep coming forward with further allegations of groping and assault that you so blithely brush off as suspect.**

In fact, let’s pretend none of those things exist at all (a lot of Drumpf supporters are already doing this, so it shouldn’t be too hard), and your college-educated white woman decides not to vote for Drumpf based solely on the words he used eleven years ago. I’ll tell you why that’s still okay.

As a college-educated white woman who has a loving husband, lives in one of the safest cities in the entire United States, and is fortunate enough not to be one among every four women who’s been sexually assaulted, let me give you some insight to the thoughts that go through my head every day.

If I plan to go for a run alone, will I be okay if it’s not light out? Is it safe to wear my headphones on while I run today, or is this trail so secluded that someone could attack me from behind, and I wouldn’t hear him coming? Did I nod and make eye contact with that guy who just passed me, so he knows I could identify him if I had to?

If I walk to my car alone in the dark, here’s what I have to do: Make sure I’m not on my phone, carry my keys in a defensive position and keep my car locked until I’m next to it, and then only unlock the driver’s side. When I’m alone, I have to always be aware of my surroundings, who’s in them, and what kind of vibe I’m getting from any man who’s nearby. I’m 5’3″. The chances of my being able to ward off an attacker are pretty slim, so I have to trust my instincts and take preemptive actions to stay safe.

These are things I do as a college-educated white woman who’s been catcalled, touched inappropriately, and had lewd things said to her, but never been sexually assaulted. These are things every woman–no matter her race or education level–does in some way or another. I can’t imagine what other thoughts about protecting myself would go through my head every day if I had been the victim of a sexual assault.

As the mother of three daughters, I have to walk a fine line between keeping them safe and not teaching them to be afraid. I never want them to fear men or think people are inherently evil. They have a father who shows nothing but respect for women, so they don’t always realize there are men who think nothing of talking of women as objects, rating their worth on a scale of one to ten based on what they look like and/or the size of their breasts. Men who feel their sex gives them the right to “explain” why a woman is wrong if she doesn’t support the same candidate as them. Men who feel entitled to interrupt and speak over women, and worst of all, men who feel entitled to put their hands on women whenever they want.

I have to teach my daughters all the same things I’ve had to learn to protect myself. I have to ask myself if they will be okay walking a block to a friend’s house after dark, and whether they will be safe once they get there if I don’t know the friend’s father or brothers. I have to ask myself that question even if I do know them. I have to ask myself that question if that father or brother is related to me. I have to ask myself that question because one out of every four girls is sexually assaulted before she’s eighteen.

So you want to tell me and my fellow college-educated white sisters that a vote based on words Drumpf used eleven years ago is based on emotion rather than actual understanding of the issue? Let me give you a little education.

Saying “I want to grab (fill in the blank with any body part belonging to a woman a man might be tempted to touch)” is locker room talk. It’s crude and beneath any man, especially one running for President, but not criminal.

Saying “I grabbed (fill in the blank with any body part belonging to a woman a man might be tempted to touch)”*** is admission of a crime. It’s assault.

You still want to label a decision to not vote for a man because of his words as an emotional one? Fine. You know what emotion is driving that vote?

Love.

Love for myself. Love for my daughters. Love for my friends and family members who have been assaulted by strangers, relatives, friends, boyfriends, acquaintances, and husbands. Love for those I don’t know who have been victimized. Love for the thousands who will be.

And as long as we’re making conjectures about what’s driving the opposite sex to vote the way they’re voting in the face of what we think is irrefutable evidence they shouldn’t, I’ll posit this. If you’re voting for Drumpf because you’ve listened to right-winged radio talk show hosts yell about and name call Hillary Clinton for the past thirty years, then I’d say your vote is emotionally driven also. The difference is, the emotion driving your decision is fear.

In a choice between love and fear, I think I’ll go ahead and let love be the emotion that guides me.

Sincerely,
A White, College and Issue-Educated Woman Who Had No Intention of Voting For HRC Until Drumpf Became the Republican Candidate

* Spelling and grammatical errors in this quote are all original to the quote. Any others you find throughout this post are all my fault.

** Talk to a female you know who’s been groped or sexually assaulted (it won’t take you long to find one), and ask her if she told anyone right away and why not. Then try to imagine being sexually assaulted yourself, and be honest about how willing you would be to relive that experience by telling someone else about it or trying to bring charges against the person who did it.

***We know the words he used. They don’t need to be repeated here

Yay For Fans!

I’m dusting off the old blog for some exciting news!

I’m a published author! Look! Here it is:

Isn’t it cute? (No, those aren’t my feet or Shawn’s feet. Our feet are not fit for book covers).

I’ve had a lot of people send me pictures of Pride and Politics as they’re reading it on beaches or airplanes or lounging around on their couches. I’ve also had people send me pictures of it in when they’ve seen it in bookstores and catalogs. I love it! Every text or email I get makes me so happy.

It also makes me want to spread the joy and give something back.
Soooo….
June 1 – June 8, post a picture of Pride and Politics on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter, and you’ll be entered in a contest to win a signed copy of Pride and Politics, in addition to

A signed copy of Love at First Note, by Jenny Proctor. Why? Because I loved it, and Emma Hill in Love is a musician like Summer Knight, except she’s a professional violinist. So, really, she’s like a more refined, fancy version of Summer. I think you’ll love it too.

But there’s also this prize:
The Legend of Johnny Cash
Summer loves The Man in Black (who doesn’t??), and a lot of the songs she plays or uses for ringtones are on this c.d. It’s like your own personal soundtrack to listen to while you’re reading Pride and Politics.
You’ll get a whole heap of points for posting your pictures of Pride and Politics on social media, but THAT’S NOT ALL!
Jenny Proctor is having a give-away too where not only will you have another chance to win both of our books, BUT ALSO, you’ll get more points for entering her contest! You can’t lose!
So know that I love and appreciate you, and GO ENTER HERE!   And right HERE FOR JENNY’S!

Death Be Not Dignified, and Maybe That’s Okay

My Facebook feed is filling up with likes for a CNN story about a woman with terminal brain cancer who has chosen to “die with dignity.” She has set a date to take a prescription that will end her life before the cancer can.

Her story is touching. She is newly married, she loves to travel, she wants a family. All of these have been cut short by cancer, along with every other dream she had for her life. It’s the cruelest of blows.

But she is fighting back. Not only is she getting the upper hand on death by choosing her own date to die, she’s also fighting for every American to have this right. Right now only five states have Death with Dignity laws allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending meds for the terminally ill. She wants every state to have similar laws.

I have to admire her for using the little time she has left to spread a message she believes will help others.

But I don’t agree with her.

I spent ten months watching my aunt die of ovarian cancer. Here’s what I know about that kind of death: there is no dignity in it. None.

The hair and appetite loss were nothing compared to the pain no meds could soothe. I spent days with her where she spoke broken words through gritted teeth, fighting to sit upright. Her once round body morphed into a skeleton with loose flesh and dry, scaly chemo hands. Thoughts escaped her like wind-blown dandelion fluff. Always within reach, but never close enough to grasp.

Toward the end, she spent as many days in the hospital as out of it, until finally, she came home to die. I went to visit her on one of those last days before hospice came; a day when she writhed in pain and clenched my hand and her sister’s hand, waiting for the searing in her nerves to stop. To hold her hand or rub her arm only caused more pain. Even to touch her hurt. Three of us had to help her to the bathroom, a ten second walk that stretched to ten minutes.

That was the worst day. But even then, she managed to smile when I said something funny.

I went back a few days later. Hospice had come, morphine was being administered, and a hospital bed occupied a corner of the family room. After the pain she’d been in the last time I’d seen her, I expected to see her in bed. Instead, she was sitting on the couch looking more alive than she’d been in weeks. Looking almost alive enough to cut through the air of waiting that hung heavy in the room. Waiting for someone to die is as painful as watching it.

She couldn’t talk. The level of morphine it took to keep her comfortable also kept her too high to communicate rationally. She waved me over and held out her small, frail hands. I don’t remember the color–orange or pink–but her fingernails were painted. Her fingernails were always painted.

I took her hands and she pulled herself up. I thought she wanted help somewhere, but instead she pulled me into her arms. I could feel every vertebrae in her back and there was no cushion left on her shoulders, but there was strength in that embrace.

And love.

And gratitude.

And every word her heart held that her mouth couldn’t say.

Let’s be honest, suffering and pain suck. No one wants it. Not for ourselves, and especially not for our loved ones. But what would life be without it?  What happens when we, as a people, decide life is only worthwhile if we can avoid suffering rather than learn from it.

I’m a firm believer in the value of paradoxes. Without pain, how do we know pleasure? Without evil, how can there be good? Without doubt, is there any need for faith?

And without suffering, how do we learn compassion?

How did Mother Theresa become Mother Theresa? How did she develop the kind of compassion it took for her to spend her life ministering to others? She surrounded herself with suffering. She didn’t sit in a church talking about what to do for the sick, the poor, the destitute, the dying. She surrounded herself with them.

We don’t  have to be Mother Theresa to learn compassion, and I’m not advocating for unnecessary suffering.  But I worry about the implications of making dignity the most important part of death. I worry about what lessons we miss learning if we’re not willing to see the journey to death all the way through–when we cut it short before it gets too hard. Determining a date to die is a lot easier than determining whether we’re finished doing all the good we may do.

If my aunt had cut her journey short–cut it off before she needed hospice or before she became a “burden” to her loved ones, I would have missed the greatest lessons she had to teach me. I can feel greater sympathy for this young woman and her family because I know what lies ahead for her and them. I haven’t suffered the physical pain, but I know the heartache. I’ve felt that. I still feel it. And I’m a better person because of it. But it took the hardest part of her journey to teach me those things.

My aunt’s death was long. It was painful. It broke my heart. But, oh, how grateful I am that I got to take that walk with her.

Dear New York Times

Guess who made headlines in the New York Times…

Me!

I mean, not me specifically, but Mormon women did. I happen to be one of those, so of course I had to read these articles published back to back last week. Missions signal a Growing Role for Mormon Women and this one Mormon Women Flood of Requests.

The problem with writing about a religion is that if you are a practitioner of a particular faith it’s hard to report without bias or to be seen as credible even at your most unbiased. On the other hand, if you’re an outsider to a religion you’re reporting on a culture you’re not a part of, using a language you don’t speak. Every religion has it’s own language, but Mormonism’s is particularly hard to understand because we use a lot of familiar terms but define them differently than other Christian faiths. (Hence the cry of “you’re not Christian” you just heard from some Christians who may stumble upon this little blog).

For the most part the co-writers of both these articles did a fairly good job of speaking our language, they got some things wrong. Usually that doesn’t bug me, but since their articles devolved from an interesting discussion about how the rise in women missionaries is changing the face of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, into a story about a small contingent among millions of Mormons who would like to see women ordained to the priesthood, I feel like a little interpretation is in order.  (To be clear, my interpretation = my interpretation and understanding of Church doctrine through years of study and prayer on this topic. It is in no way official).

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not being critical of the woman who are calling for ordination. I’m frustrated by the way their fight for what they see as greater power and authority diminishes the power and authority women already have. But while I don’t support their cause, I fully support them in their right to ask, even demand, what they see as a necessary step toward equality within the Church. My understanding of the priesthood doesn’t make me think they will be successful in their fight for ordination, but I empathize with their need to fight for it nonetheless. They are bringing to light changes that can, and should, be made so that men and women more fully realize the power in the priesthood as they use it together.

But back to the articles themselves and some problems with them. Let’s start with this quote:
To revise female roles in the church threatens what many see as the very foundations of the faith, which dictate that men are ordained as priests at the tender age of 18, taking the title “Elder,” while women, who can never progress beyond “Sister,” are considered holiest and most fulfilled as wives and mothers.

The “foundations of the faith” they’re referring to, I suppose, are our beliefs and practices regarding the Priesthood. To be clear, however, our faith and church has one foundation: Jesus Christ. That’s it. Everything we do goes back to our belief in His atonement and resurrection.

Of course, since Christ not only holds the Priesthood, but is the priesthood, it is an essential part of our foundation. Here’s where things get tricky, though. Our definition of priesthood may closely match that of Catholics and Protestants, but our inferred meaning does not, and neither does our application of the Priesthood. The Priesthood can never be a career path for either a Mormon woman or man. No eighteen year old boy ordained an elder can choose to serve in certain positions that may move him up the ranks to President some day. The purpose of the priesthood is simply to bless the lives of others. While only men within the Mormon church are ordained to administer the priesthood, it is through the priesthood that both men and women do as Christ did: bless the lives of others.

Boys are ordained priests at the age of 16, not 18, while they still hold only the Aaronic, or lower, priesthood. Their responsibilities are pretty limited but do include the authority to bless the sacrament each Sunday and perform baptisms if asked to do so. They must be ordained as Elders before participating in the highest temple rituals (we call them ordinances), but are only called Elder while serving missions or if they are called (askED to serve–this is different from askING to serve) in the Quorum of Seventy or as an Apostle.

Do there seem to be some inequities here? On the surface, yes. But you know who can enter the temple and officiate in the same ordinances as men without being ordained to the priesthood? Women. So are there inequities in that also? Not when you stop defining equality as sameness (2 + 2 and 3 +1 both equal the same thing even though they look different, right?).

In a church whose doctrines include those of eternal progression–meaning we continue to learn and grow forever–and agency–meaning we choose how much we learn and grow– the idea that women “can never progress beyond ‘Sister'” doesn’t really work. Our progress is neither dependent upon another person, nor upon any titles given. Our progress is only dependent upon ourselves and the choices we make. To progress in the Church does not mean moving up the ladder like it does in the business world. Since our clergy is a lay clergy and callings (positions we’re ASKED to fill) are often based more on inspiration than ability, a secular view of progress doesn’t fit the Mormon definition, whether it’s applied to women or men. There’s no ladder to climb in Christ’s church, nor should there be.

But for those who place importance in titles, there is another one women can be known by. I am currently serving as the Young Women President in my congregation. This means I am called to be the women’s leader over girls age 12-18 and, as such, I am referred to as President by my bishop (pastor of our congregation) and his two counselors, as are my female counterparts in the women’s and children’s organizations and my male counterpart in the young men’s organization. The young women themselves, however, call me Sister, just as the young men call my counterpart, Brother. The title of president is only important to me in that it sends the message to my young women that  my responsibility to them is equal to that of the Young Men President over the boys (this is a rare instance where  sameness does translate to equality).

As for the charge that women are “considered holiest and most fulfilled as wives and mothers,” consider this statement by President Harold B. Lee given in 1974 and quoted by President Howard W. Hunter twenty years later in General Priesthood Meeting which only men attend: “The most important of the Lord’s work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.” Did they mean Mormon men should have home-based businesses? That they should find careers they advance in within their homes? No.

Our theology teaches that families are eternal, God is, literally, our Heavenly Father, and we lived with him before coming to earth. Since God is giving mothers and fathers responsibility for His children and we will have to report back to Him about how we fulfilled this responsibility, is there anything more holy or more fulfilling (or frustrating) for a man or woman than marriage and children? I have never heard any Church leader ever say that a man will be more fulfilled by remaining single and pursuing worldly success rather than getting married and becoming a father.

See how reporters can miss all the context behind the syntax when they report on a culture they’re not part of in a language that sounds like their own but isn’t? I try to remember this every time I read about another religion.

Here’s another example, and it’s a biggie:

But when asked how they felt about women joining the priesthood, which would allow them to assume religious decision-making authority, Ms. Ensign and Ms. Scott shook their heads and let out nervous giggles. “I already have way too much responsibility,” Ms. Ensign said.


First of all, it’s Sister Ensign and Sister Scott. If you’re going to make a big deal about women only being able to hold one title in my church, you probably ought to use that one title. While I rarely call my fellow sisters, Sister, the female missionaries are always referred to as Sister. It is a title of respect that is the equivalent of Elder when referring to male missionaries. To give them a secular title like Ms. is to diminish the importance of the work they are doing for our church, which is what you’re article started out about.

Secondly, let me put some context behind this often misunderstood statement, “I already have too much responsibility.” And this one “I don’t want to go to any more meetings.” And all the other ways Mormon women say “I don’t want the Priesthood” that make me crazy because they are so easily misinterpreted as statements of submissiveness.

Do you know what women can do? Everything. Do you know what Mormon women actually do? EVERYTHING. Seriously. Look around. The Mormon woman you know is the one running the PTA, or the classroom, or the book fair or whatever else at your kid’s school. She’s the one you work with who also puts in a lot of unpaid time at her church. She’s the one who just signed the sheet that went around asking for volunteers for whatever it is. She’s the one bringing you dinner tonight. She’s the one you can count on to follow through when she says she’ll do something.

And do you know why?

Because she knows that what she does matters, even if it’s something small and unworthy of recognition. She knows that her power comes, not from someone ordaining her, but from her innate ability to influence the world for good.

Let me give you some examples of how we use that influence and how it works in conjunction with an ordained male’s responsibility to administer the Priesthood.

It starts with our belief in Adam and Eve and our understanding of who Eve was; an understanding that is increased as men and women officiate in temple ordinances. In our theology, Eve is not the weaker sex who gave into temptation and thus is to blame for the world of sin every person is born into. Rather, Eve is the women who thoughtfully partook of the fruit that allows all of mankind the blessing of mortal life. She made the decision to leave the Garden of Eden in order to have children, knowing she and they would face hardships, trials, and temptations, but also knowing we need these things to progress and live with God our Heavenly Father again. She used her influence to help Adam see that eating the fruit was not only necessary, but also part of God’s plan.

Original sin? We don’t have that in our doctrine (check out our Article of Faith #2). Which means we also don’t share a basic belief of other Christian faiths. A belief that scores of religious men have used for centuries to justify the mistreatment or subjugation of women.

Here’s a more personal example of how a woman’s power to influence is as important as an ordained man’s responsibility to administer. When I was fourteen I attended a special youth meeting that centered around the standards of morality the Church teaches. I sat next to a friend of my mom’s, Christine Funk, as the priesthood leader assigned the topic of chastity gave the infamous “a white rose touched turns brown” talk. He ended by recounting how when he got married he sent his wife’s former young women leader a dozen white roses to thank her for teaching his wife this very important lesson.

I sat through that talk convinced I was that brown wilted rose because I had kissed a boy when I was twelve. I had denied my future husband the privilege of sending any of my young women leaders a dozen white roses. Even worse, I had committed a grievous sin from which there was no return because I had kissed a boy on the lips on a dare. And since it was too late, what was the point of even living the standards being taught? What kind of man would want to marry me anyway?

I can’t tell you the hopelessness I felt before Chris leaned over and said to me, “I can’t believe he just said that. That does not take into account the Atonement or repentance.”

With those two sentences a woman who had no official “authority” over me changed the course of my life. She taught me correct doctrine by following a feeling  to say something she had no idea how much I needed to hear. Her influence had more power than the priesthood authority of Brother So and So who was fulfilling an administrative assignment in an earnest, though woefully misguided, way.

My husband has administered priesthood blessings to a number of my friends whose own husbands were either out of town when the need arose or were unworthy to do so because they’d chosen not to live up to the standards required to administer. (Meaning, just because they were ordained doesn’t mean they had the authority to use their priesthood office). On one occasion he went to my friend’s house to help our bishop give her and her children blessings of comfort during a very difficult time caused by the choices of her husband and their father. Within minutes he called me to come over and help. They were so distraught he had no idea what to do.

After my husband and our bishop gave the blessings, I held my friend and her children. I shared my feelings about Christ’s atonement and forgiveness while they, my husband, and my bishop listened. My words and my husband’s blessings couldn’t fix the problems caused by another husband and father’s poor choices, but they did bring comfort. Together we used the power of the priesthood to administer, to influence, to love and to bless the lives of others.

We’ve had other experiences like this where he has used his power to administer in conjunction with my power to influence and nurture to bless the lives of others. These opportunities have taught us the importance of not only fulfilling our separate responsibilities, but also working together to do so in order to more fully realize the power in the priesthood. If I were ordained to administer priesthood blessings, my friends would have asked me to lay my hands on their heads instead of my husband. But then how would he have served them? When would he have learned how indispensable husbands and fathers are without the opportunity to step in when other men couldn’t or wouldn’t live up to their responsibilities?

I could give you a hundred other examples of women using their influence to bless the lives of others without being ordained to do so. Like the first counselor in my Young Women presidency who is a vice president at an international company. She has used her power to influence for good both in the workplace and the church by changing people’s perceptions of childbirth from something to fear to something to embrace. She has used her pregnancy to teach our young women to see the connection between the agony and suffering women go through to give mortal life to God’s children and the agony and suffering Christ endured to provide eternal life to God’s children.

Or my young women who had the courage to report the disparaging and inappropriate remarks about women a popular teacher at their high school was making, leading to his dismissal. I can give you the examples of my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my friends, and my sisters who have had as great an influence in my life as any man ordained to the priesthood.

Women can do everything. That doesn’t mean they should.


So, Ms. Reporters, when you quote a Mormon woman saying she doesn’t “want the responsibility” of the Priesthood, this is the context behind it. It’s not that we don’t want it, it’s that we already have it. It just looks different from what you, or even Mormon women themselves, think it should.

If women want to use their influence to stand in a line for a meeting, no harm can come from that. They need to be heard. Women need to be heard. More importantly, they need to embrace their power and use it.

So while I won’t be standing in any lines, here’s how I will embrace my power and use my influence. I will fight to change outdated conversations about chastity so that no young women who doesn’t have a Chris Funk sitting next to her will feel worthless. I’ll fight to change conversations about modesty so the words “modest is hottest” are never used and reverence, love and respect for our bodies is emphasized. I’ll teach girls the need for education and careers along with the divinity of marriage and motherhood. I’ll do whatever it takes for women to recognize and be recognized for the miracles we perform every single day just by being women.

And if some day our living prophet receives a revelation that women should be ordained, I’ll step up and do what’s asked of me. Just please don’t call me to be the financial clerk. I watched my husband muddle his way through that calling for three and half years and. . .

 I really don’t want that responsibility.

Fear for Free

Take that elf down from the shelf, friends, Christmas is over. I don’t have one of the little guys so I have to mark the end of the Season of Using a Naughty Overpriced Plastic Doll to Scare Kids into Behaving in a different way. Mainly by daily threatenings to return all gifts to Santa. (But since 2/3 of my children are no longer believers and 1/3 has a bad case of selective hearing, my threats are nothing more than idle if even heard).

Here’s a question for you Elfers out there though:

How does a naughty elf encourage good behavior?

I mean, I get that it’s fun to have him/her do silly things every night (actually this a lie because the thought of having to remember to do one more thing EVERY NIGHT in the month of December and then to have to make that one more thing a creative one, STRESSES. ME. OUT.), but how does that translate into outright fear of misbehavior?

Take for instance, this picture:

Shelf Elf
really, Pinterest?

 
Every morning this is the conversation I have with my children, “WILL YOU PLEASE PUT THE CAP BACK ON THE TOOTHPASTE SO IT DOESN’T GET ALL OVER THE COUNTER?? AND SQUEEZE FROM THE BOTTOM. SQUEEZE. FROM. THE. BOTTOM!!” How could this possibly help lower the toothpaste covered counter incidents in my home?  My heart is pounding just looking at this picture because, really, I don’t have enough kid-created messes to clean up, I’m going to make some of my own? Do you know when this would be cleaned up at my house? June. Maybe. If my ultimate goal is to scare my kids into never misusing toothpaste again, how could this possibly help?
 
 
Or here’s another Pinterest suggestion:
Funny & Creative Elf on the Shelf Ideas - much needed!!!
 
 
Have your elf steal from you. Because it’s not enough you paid $30 (if you got a deal)  for this creep, now he’s going to take your cash, charge up your credit card, AND teach your kids it’s okay. This is the guy Santa’s sent to keep an eye on them, right? So either Santa’s been snookered just like everyone else who’s bought into Elfie/Mr. Jingles/Harvey (or whatever pseudonym he’s using at your house) or Santa’s standard have seriously slipped.
 
 
Or how about this:
 
Cute website for elf ideas.
You want to know what my kids’ reaction to this would be? Not, “Mommy, mommy look how funny Elfie is!” or “Can I drink syrup through a straw too?” No, their reaction would be “Straws as a syrup delivery device? Why did I never think of this before? Who needs pancakes or waffles? Let’s cut out the middle man! Girl 2, you get the straws. Girl 3, you watch for Mom while Girl 2 and I drink our breakfast. If there’s any left, you can have some too.”
 
 
Call me dense or clueless or the meanest mom ever, but I just don’t get it. I mean, I’m not against fear. I’m pro-fear. Kids should be scared into being good. But how does a mirror defacing, purse invading, syrup sucking doll accomplish this? Especially when he’s kept in a box for eleven months out of the year.
 
Here’s how it’s always worked at my house (and the house I grew up in). The kids have a week after Christmas to get all their fighting and naughtiness out without too much retribution. Hopefully they’re distracted enough by all their new crap that things don’t get too out of control. But starting January 1st, Santa’s elves start watching again. But only Mom can see them. They’re always peeking in windows somewhere. And they’re are windows everywhere. Go ahead, think of somewhere without windows (okay, outside, but the elves are already out there). Dungeons, right? And let’s see a kid misbehave in one of those.
 
The elves are always watching. ALWAYS. And there’s more than one of them.
 
Fear can be free, my friends. Free. All you have to do when naughtiness is about to erupt is calmly say, “Oh, I think I just saw an elf peeking in the window.” Stops them in their tracks. Now the focus has gone from being bad to being outright scared of something they can’t see but can see them. Fear of the unknown, people, is the greatest fear of all.
 
Follow your statement by quietly signing a few of the creepier lines from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. “He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. SO BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE!”
 
Boom. Elves go from rosy cheeked pranksters to a cross between Edward Cullen and Chucky.
 
Happy New Year and You’re Welcome. 
 
WARNING! This method may not actually induce good behavior. Side effects include nightmares, fear of dark hallways, fear of being alone, fear of windows, desire for window coverings, and fear.