Sunday, August 27, 2017

We Each Belong to and Are Needed in the Family of God

Do you ever find that teaching youth is unpredictable?  For a variety of reasons, I do.  Also, I always go into lesson preparation thinking I am going to teach them something, and most often come away being taught a lesson myself that I didn't know I was due to learn.  Today was no exception.

I have in the past also experienced, especially in Young Women, that lesson time is often sacrificed for announcements and singing of special hymns and get-to-know yous and birthday spotlights.  Today, my first time teaching as the new Beehive Advisor in our ward, was also no exception.

I have to note that the "special hymn" they are learning is "I Walk By Faith," which was a song that I learned as a youth. (How many of you are familiar with this song??)

This made me chuckle, because I know the song so well that I was probably the only one who didn't need a song sheet.  It made me cry too as the words rang true for me, especially lines like, "And some day when God has proven me, I'll see Him face to face, but just for here and now I walk by faith."  

How many times over the last 25 years have I had to walk by faith (especially in my 20's as I made so many important choices for my life!)?  The Lord has certainly proven me, beyond what I could have ever anticipated when I originally sang this song. 

And I know He is proving me still.  Although I haven't literally seen him face-to-face, I have certainly come to know him better through my own personal tests, and trials.  Thinking back on these hard moments, knowing that the Savior walked with me through them, made my eyes water even more. I also cried (and laughed) because those high notes are no easier to reach now than they were back when I sang it as a youth, in case you were wondering!

About the Lesson:

For the lesson, which I taught to the Beehives, we focused on The Family Proclamation

There was a lot to cover given that I was told they hadn't had all of the lessons for this month for some reason, also our time together seemed so short.

On the spot, I felt it was important to focus on these few things: 

1) The family is very important to God's eternal plan.

2) Learning & living according to the doctrine taught in the family proclamation can answer our questions and help us form a happier and eternal family.

3) No family is perfect, but we are all part of the family of God.  

4) It is our duty as daughters of God to reach out to and love ALL people regardless of their family circumstances or beliefs.  It is also our duty to learn from and support one another and empathize with others and their struggles and experiences.  We can and should do this while standing by the doctrine of family.

To help us think about this more, we read this quote from Sister Carole M. Stephens, "The Family Is of God.":

She says, "Elder Richard G. Scott explained that “we were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched.”5 That stretching comes in as many forms as there are individuals experiencing it. I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
"So right now some of you are thinking, “Well then, Sister Stephens, you just don’t understand!” And I answer that you may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,”6 who experienced all and understands all. And in addition, I have experienced all of the mortal tests that I just mentioned through the lens of a daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.
"Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
"When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”7—in part through us as we follow Him.
As daughters of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we then “act according to those sympathies which God has planted” in our hearts.8 Our sphere of influence isn’t limited to our own family members."
After discussing the first few ideas, we briefly played the Family Proclamation Trivial Pursuit Game (which you can find here).  It's something that I made up years ago, but I didn't even think about it until a blog reader asked me a question about it last night (so thank you, friend!)
Although, we really ran out of time to really play it, it was a good way to get the girls reading, talking about, and sharing with each other about the Family Proclamation, the ideas contained therein, and about their own families.  I think we'll probably play it again for an activity some time in the future.  
I reiterated again at the end of the lesson how important it is for us to love and include people of all different circumstances, family make-up, and background (in and outside of the church) and to go out of our way to help others feel loved, because everyone around us belongs to the family of God.  And how important it is for us all to know and understand and gain a testimony of the Family Proclamation, so we can use it to guide our decisions in life and teach it to others.

So that was it, not too eventful, but I just found it interesting that I was guided to teach showing love for others regardless of their family structure as the biggest point in the brief time that we had.  I think, from the looks on some of the girls faces, this message was comforting for some of them too.

More Thoughts on Inclusion

Speaking of inclusion in church, I haven't recently thought too much in depth about this or considered the plight of someone who might feel like they are on the outside.  If someone is on the fringe, I try to put my arm around them and pull them in, but I'm not sure I've always validated their particular concerns. Perhaps because it feels like someone always has a reason to feel left out.  However, I had a few experiences today that has called my attention to this.

I have always felt like I belonged in church.  In The true Church.  I am not one who has ever questioned whether or not I belonged socially or culturally or doctrinally in the church, but I know people do.

Today, as I was introducing myself to the girls, I asked them to guess where I was from.  Their guess: Utah.  Nope, I said, I'm from Ohio.  I grew up just two hours from here.

Next, I asked them to guess where I went to college.  BYU, they answered.  Nope, I went to a school in Ohio called Miami University (which is also where Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers QB went...we now live in Pittsburgh).  

Then I showed them a picture of the temple I was married in.  Any guesses as to which temple it was?  They guessed the Salt Lake Temple.  It's the Washington, DC temple.

I don't fault them (mainly because I think most of their families are transplants from Utah), but it definitely took me by surprise that the girls could only fathom that I'd be from Utah...Utah all the way, no other guesses.

I am from Ohio.  I have lived in Pennsylvania for 12 years of my married life and all of my children were born here (they also found this shocking).  I consider myself from the East.  My temple has almost always been the DC Temple.  My career was mainly entered on the East Coast, and as I said before, I was educated here.

I started to seriously wonder why their only answers were Utah.  I started to feel very outside...outside of this group of girls anyway.  And I've never really felt that way before.

Later, I had an interaction online which spun wildly away from the main point of the discussion.  This person's point (in my perception) was that there is a homogeneous way to talk about a certain topic in the gospel and that it is basically the same the world over.  When I tried to explain that in my personal experience, I talk about it differently and my fellow ward members might speak differently/use different words and that was ok.  In our discussion, I felt totally dismissed.  I was probably wrong.  He was maybe technically correct.  Probably the whole Mormon world says it one way and only I say it so weirdly different.  But even so, I felt even more on the outside in a discussion of a point that was totally not important.

And being made to feel like an outsider for the second time in one day, it's just not what my fragile little, overly-emotional, pregnant heart needed today.

So, maybe this vague story means nothing to anyone reading this, and I know that other people have much more serious factors causing them to feel like they are on the outside looking in, but it made me think more seriously about trying to use my words to include people at church.  

For whatever reason, there are certainly many people who don't feel like they belong, don't feel like they are in the club, don't feel like their life matches the shiny, happy, outer coating that we might perceive is on display each week.  And while I want to think I have always tried to include others, these silly examples make me think I can do better, go even more out of my way to show that I love and accept others just as they are.  (I could probably also practice this more with my own children~)

This is certainly a strength I have witnessed in and admire about others in the church.

I'm hoping I can work harder starting now to make sure everyone feels like they least when they are around me.


  1. Thanks for returning to blogging more and sharing your insights-having lived in California and then returning to UTah as a college student, i can tell you there is definitely a difference in expectations, and culture but not basic beliefs. I am now a Utah Mormon having lived here 10 years as a child, then 39 years off and on as an adult...then add to that being divorced and there are many adjustments to be made to find belonging. I love how you focused on inclusion and not judging but just loving others who are different-we all need that. What a terrific YW's teacher you are and a mother teaching by example not to mention a gifted writer...

    1. Thanks as always for our encouraging comments, Lin!

  2. Thanks for sharing your tender feelings. The only time I've ever felt on the outside is when members are talking about being "inactive". I've NEVER been spiritually or physically inactive in the church. Often I feel like the brother of the Prodigal Son who doesn't get celebrated for his faithfulness. But that's okay, I've learned to live with it. Thank you for teaching true doctrine to the Young Women. There is a definite dearth of good teachers in the church. Your impact on those girls may not be immediately seen, but will be felt for their whole lives.

  3. For what it's worth I've always found you to be one of the most inclusive people I know. I'm inspired by how willing you are to open your arms and heart to so many that you encounter.

    1. Thank you so much, Abby! I've been missing our chats!