Thursday, January 24

Agency, Accountability, and Education

I was asked to speak to the Young Women / Young Men joint activity Tuesday night. There were about forty youth ages 12-18 attending and their leaders. Three of us spoke for 6-8 minutes. 

Our assignment was to speak about the For The Strength of Youth’s 18 standards.   
- Why keeping standards is so important
- What you have done to keep the standards
- A personal story about keeping a specific standard, and let them ask any questions if they have any. 

My single professional friend, Jenn Johnston, spoke about her experiences with the standards Work and Self Reliance which I sadly only got to catch the end of, then me on Agency, Accountability and Education. I was followed by our Cub Scout leader, Cody Strong, who spoke about Lehi's dream and how the people in the dream progressed toward the tree of life holding to the rod of iron until a mist of darkness surrounded them. As a young marine in training in California, with a weekend pass to LA, some of his buddies planned to go to a rave party. As this Logan UT boy asked what happens at these parties since he'd never heard of them before, he didn't feel right and decided not to join them. He felt that mist of darkness, the confusion that set in as he asked about the party. He counseled the youth to stand strong and hold on to the iron rod as their own mists of darkness cloud their path. The evening ended with a timed/rewarded activity where the youth were broken into four multi-age groups and had to identify how objects on a table could represent one of the 18 values and provide a scripture reference. The winning group got a big bag of good candies and everyone shared a table of desserts while socializing.

In my preparation, I felt directed to speak especially to this quote from For the Strength of Youth:
"Education is an important part of Heavenly Father's plan to help you become more like Him. He wants you to educate your mind and to develop your skills and talents, your power to act well in your responsibilities, and your capacity to appreciate life. The education you gain will be valuable to you during mortality and in the life to come."
I studied the standards for five days, pondered them, made notes to myself, and then wrote up my remarks the night before. I was a ball of nerves before standing before them and then said a prayer that I would be guided by the Holy Ghost to say what they needed to hear. And it went very well. Here is the jist of what I shared with them.

My visual aids:
Easton & GianMarco’s grade 3 / 4 LDS Identity presentation boards
Books I’m “reading” right now in book form, audio book cd case, iPod, and iPad

"I love to learn, it’s a craving I must feed daily. I feel stagnant and frustrated if I haven’t learned or thought about something new and challenging in a day. I am an audio book and podcast junkie who likes to journal in this phase of my life so my brain gets exercised. If I am able to sit and read, I’m typically asleep in a half hour unless it’s really fascinating. I typically have the following going on all at once -- a book or three by my bed, a cd audio book in the van, and at least one book on my ipod + podcasts. I have long felt that Education - learning how to learn and seeking out of the best books or information sources – is one of the ultimate gifts we give ourselves.

When I was at a standards night like this as a young woman, the youth were admonished to pursue an education. A widely sourced statistic struck a cord with me -- 9 out of 10 women will have to provide for themselves or their families at some point in their lifetime. It has proven true for me more than once. I was single longer than I expected, I worked full time while newly married and also once kids came along so Ryan could finish his master’s degree. And then when I had a 3 yr old and a 4 month old, Ryan was unexpectedly laid off and I had to go back to work full time for seven months. That was a rough challenge for our family because it was not the roles we had envisioned for ourselves as a young family. Ya just never know what lays ahead and education helps open doors of opportunity!

I was a B+ student, athlete and pianist growing up. I’m not the smartest or most talented, but I learned if I worked hard, I could keep up with the naturally gifted, be proud of my efforts, and enjoy the challenge and material. When I was a junior in high school, I decided to take on a very challenging AP course – American History. Mr. Fleischer gave Princeton exams to us and after surviving college, I can attest that this high school history class was as hard as my hardest advanced courses at BYU. We’d had 7 books which after pouring over, still didn’t have the answers to questions we had to write about. This was before the internet! I cried over that class it was so hard and out of my comfort zone.

But do you know what kept me going? On the first day of class, when that crusty old kodger of a teacher learned I was Mormon, he said, “Why are you here?! You’ll be barefoot and pregnant by the time you’re 19!” [audible gasp from the group! ha-ha-ha!] I recall I had replied, “Maybe, Maybe not, but it will be my choice.” And because of the home environment and standards I was learning and living, I did feel it was my choice. I fell in love with learning in this class. And the teacher's statement stuck with me.

I wanted to be married and have children, but was in no rush after high school. When it came time to go to college and I had the option to marry someone, I chose to pursue my education because he wasn't the right fit for me and I knew I wanted to experience being on my own and see what college had to offer. In the summer before my junior year of high school, I'd had the opportunity to attend a prospective student conference at a college in my state. I was grouped with ten other students and came to see they did not have the same values I did, much the complete opposite! The following week I attended EFY (Especially for Youth conference) at BYU with a dear friend. I was surrounded by youth who shared my values and was tutored by spiritual giants who exemplified how learning the gospel was exciting and fulfilling. The two camp experiences back to back provided me with a clear choice of where I wanted to go to college. I know I would have been just fine at the state college and had the benefit of CES institute programs and a singles ward, but I was so excited by the prospect of going to BYU and being surrounded by people with the same values while learning about the world through a gospel lense. At BYU I worked hard, fell in love with history, humanities, and world affairs because through these studies, I saw how God’s hand and His gift of agency to us can be seen in the events and experiences of every day life.

I worked many jobs during summer breaks and held a job while going to school. I was able to pay for almost all of my own college education. I did not find Ryan until I was 25 and was seriously wondering if I would ever find someone. I am so grateful for the opportunities I had to support myself that came from taking my education seriously. Before I graduated from college, I sought out an internship/job associated with promoting our values at the UN. But I graduated without a job or internship lined up and felt deflated as I returned home to regroup and earn some money while examining my options. Then in a whirlwind, I was offered my dream internship in New York City at the United Nations with National Right to Life's lobbyist, Jeanne Head, who spearheaded efforts with others in the pro-life / pro-family caucus. And I had a week to get there. I literally showed up at the UN on the first day of the UN Conference on the Status of Women 2000. I was wholly unprepared and never before had I been hated on site for my standards and beliefs! But this was a fascinating tutelage at the feet of great lobbyists and diplomats of many faiths working together to affect change at the international level for good against skilled, well funded, and crafty opposition. 

That internship turned into a job in Washington DC helping produce, distribute, and discuss educational, legislative, political, and election related materials all over the US and internationally to support the status of women, children and families. I got to see up close how groups can affect change in keeping with our values at the international, national, state and local community levels. It was such a challenge and I worked with wonderful people of other faiths I hold as dear as family. I worked full or part time there until moving here to Germany.

Right now, here is how I feed my craving for learning as a stay-at-home mother of young children:
  • ·       Bedtime / sit down reading books – “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Bushman; “And They Were Not Ashamed” by Laura M. Brotherson; scriptures – studying/teaching from the Doctrine & Covenants and church history this year; course manual for Teaching the Gospel class Ryan and I are attending in our ward. 
  •      Audiobook in van – “The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Conversations with the Dalai Lama” by Victor Chan. Since there’s no bookmarking function on the cd player, I have to share with the kids. I listen to one disc and then the kids get to pick a disc from among the classic youth literature or Focus on the Family’s “Adventures in Odyssey” program cds I find at the library or reserve online for pickup, good ol’ Scripture Scouts, or fun song cds.
  •      iPod / iPad – “The God Who Weeps” by Terryl & Fiona Givens; “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo; and “George Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow. I either strap this to my arm while buzzing around the house or put it in my kitchen’s speaker cradle while doing dishes or preparing food.
  •      Podcasts – Mormon Channel’s Past Impressions, Conversations, Teaching The Gospel, CES firesides, General Conference; F.A.I.R (The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research –, Mormon Stories, and Mormon Matters.
  •     I attend church each week with the desire to learn and feel the Holy Ghost bear witness to me of truths that will enrich my life and to renew my covenants with God by taking the sacrament. 
  •      A handful of women's blogs that I find enlightening and edifying.     

No wonder my house is never entirely ship-shape, right?! But the past six months have given me many opportunities to share what I learn from all these sources, my faith in God and His Plan of Happiness. Back in October, I was able to coordinate and do a class presentation with my son Easton and an Italian LDS family about our LDS identity. I’ve also been open and able to sharing our beliefs and standards with a handful of different friends in conversations, by email, on facebook, and through my blog. I’ve even had the courage to invite some friends to church and four have joined our family at Sacrament meeting and the other two hour blocks. I was so proud of you youth in our ward for the Primary program, the talks given in Sacrament meeting, and the honorable way the sacrament was passed by the young men. These opportunities to share our beliefs, standards and practices are not my normal MO but came about because I love to share what I am learning about! My recreational “reading” and study of the gospel has reinforced for me why the standards I live by mean so much to me.

Living the standards I learned as a youth, when all is said and done, makes me happy with myself, gives me peace about my choices, and makes me feel powerful in my life.

Back in November as I was pondering my Book of Mormon lesson for our 10-11 yr old young ladies in Primary, I was struck by the word “command.” It’s in the scriptures a lot and the standards for youth often feel like “the new commandments” sometimes. My dictionary confirmed, the word often denotes a power structure, authority, and domination. But when I read that word in the scriptures, my heart felt something else. I don’t think of the Lord and my leaders trying to wield power over me. My Heavenly Father has a plan of happiness, a plan of Salvation for me – to save me from myself, how I exercise my agency. I believe the dictionaries listed synonyms for “command” are truly, more accurately His way -- to invite, to instruct, to direct, to persuade.

In the pamphlet, under Agency & Accountability, it says, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct your life is one of God’s greatest gifts to you.” And “Righteous choices lead to happiness.” That is why I chose and still choose to live these standards. I simply like to be happy! When first asked to speak tonight, I sought out the promises given for living each of the standards. I wanted know what I get out of living these standards and if it had proven true in my life. The promises are there and have been true in my life. Power. Ability. Confidence. Guidance by the Holy Ghost. Peace. Fun. Yes, fun is one of the promises! Look it up!

When I choose not to live these standards, it’s like I’m adding heavy rocks to my life’s backpack. Why add barriers and burdens to returning to my Heavenly Parents?

President Ezra Taft Benson said,“Some of the greatest battles you will face will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.”

President Eyring said, “Conversion is what you do about what you know and believe."

I want to enter heaven standing tall and proud of what I’ve done with the time I was given here: my family, the friends I’ve chosen to spend time with, the media I’ve consumed, the words I’ve spoken, the kindesses shared, the service given . . . The right and power to direct your life is truly one of God’s greatest gifts to you. And an education is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, a true source of Joy."