Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Must we inadvertently belittle women in trying to "fix" princesses?

2 yo was watching movies with Daddy this evening, and they watched a great movie where the princess rejected everyone's advice to stay home and sew and she reframed the problem using a more female approach to life and solved it without resorting to having to do things the vast majority women really can't do (physical fighting with greater strength than men, for example).

But then three details killed the story for me: 1. the dragon ended up being a baby who just needed a hug (because women can't face -real- danger and come out on top using women's innate skills and approaches to things?!).

2. The princess actually says, "Girls are as good as boys!" Just no. That reinforces the idea that boys are inherently superior and girls have to run to keep up. It's establishing more firmly the measuring stick being men. That drives me nuts! One of the biggest flaws of most media-reported feminism is that they've bought into the lie that for women to be successful, they have to out-men men. That's just wrong. We don't need to teach women to lean in or to raise their hands and speak up--we need to teach society to listen to them as they are.

and 3. All the men were idiots. if the only way for women to be wonderful is if men are all idiots, then we lose. We lose as women because men are not all idiots, so this is just reinforcing the idea that women are inferior to all but stupid men. We lose as society because we teach that men are all idiots. This is not real life and it's not a healthy way to look at humans.

We need more stories where competent women and competent men work together, and more stories where women face real danger and save the world using methods and approaches that are realistic for women and highlight valuable things about them (instead of just trying to make them stronger and braver and more violent than men).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Making a paracord bullwhip

Referring to the instructions on three different instructables, I'm making a paracord bullwhip.

Since there are multiple conflicting instructions, I'm taking notes here of what I actually did so if it works, I can remember, and if it doesn't, I know what not to do next time.

Making the core:
First, I cut a 75" length of paracord. I pulled out the guts and wrapped them up to use later. Two of the three instructables mentioned that 6 feet is a good length for a whip, and one mentioned that a filled paracord shrinks, so I cut a few inches extra.

Two of the three instructables suggested using something hard and metal for a handle, so I found something metal to shove into the paracord for a handle. I straightened a thin metal rod I found on the floor (the kids told me later it was a stray tent stake) so I had a thin 8 inch rod that fit into the paracord for a handle. I slid it in and melted the end around the top of the rod to seal the end and keep it in.

Then I stuck the other end around a pencil and melted it into a sort of "funnel" shape. This fit around the end of a baby bottle device intended to eliminate bubbles that looks like a funnel. So I taped it on and used that and another tent stake (like a ram rod) to shove copper-coated steel BBs into the paracord. The tent stake's bent top was also very useful for pulling the BBs down the length of cord. This took kind of a long time, but I filled the paracord with BBs to about 2 1/2 inches from the end and tied a knot. Two of the three instructables said to fill the paracord all the way, so that's what I went with.

Then I wrapped the entire whip core in a tight wrapping of black electrical tape. Two of the three suggested wrapping it with tape, so I did.

I like the look of a whip with a loop at the end, so we're going with that. Two of the three instructables used an 8-strand first belly weave, so we're going with that--especially since that's how you get the loop.

I also made the cracker, following the instructions on the "upcycled belts" link above.

That's how far I've gotten so far. Now I have to figure out how long to cut the strands for the first belly....


So, I measured the core and it's 60 inches on the spot now. I lost a lot of length stuffing the core. I knew it was going to shrink, but didn't realize I needed to cut it that much longer. My extra three inches was wholly inadequate. It needed a foot more. If I add a fall and cracker, it might end up 6 feet total still, though.

But looking at the calculations on the "upcycled belts" link above, this is just right for the core length, so I guess we're good?

Now to figure how long of cords I need to cut.  One site lists 2 cords at 16 ft, 1 at 14 and 1 at 10. The upcycled belts calculations gives me 1 at 15 ft, 1 at 10, 1 at 5 feet, but says this is a minimum starting point, and longer is better for controlling the taper later. The third link does a four-strand instead of an 8-strand belly weave, and I want the loop at the end, which requires an 8-strand weave, so the instructions for 4 are not helpful (although they might be more useful if the 8s prove to be too big for my tight core).  That link cuts two ten foot sections, folded in half to weave the belly. That instructable also doesn't have the first belly reach the length of the core, to aid in tapering with the second belly. Curious about the strength of that, ultimately.

Given how much length I lost in filling the paracord, I'd rather err on the side of too long rather than too short.


I cut two 16', one 14', and one 10' lengths of paracord, which I will fold in half to do an 8-strand weave.

But I'm not sure I have enough paracord to finish the overlay. I bought 150', but I maybe needed more than that.  Trying to figure the overlay lengths....

2 cords at 18 feet, 1 at 16'10", 1 at 15.5', 1 at 14.5', 1 at 13'3". Fold those in half and I have the 12-strand overlay. I have approximately 80 feet left. That's just about 80 feet. We'll see if what I have (in two colors) splits right.

Now to pause to get kids to bed and to find a YouTube tutorial on a four-strand round braiding.


I used this video to learn how to do a four-strand round braid.  It was a good choice because it was short, to the point, and actually taught me the basics of the whip-making braid. 

Then I went to the "upcycling belts" instructable to learn how to start the whip with the loop. Once I got to the end of the pictures (where it says, "Follow these pictures carefully," I switched to the "paracord bullwhip" tutorial to learn how to braid the thing.

It was hard to get the handle to stay in the loop at first, but once I got about half-way down, it was fine. I'm not used to weaving lately, so my hands are stiff! I've found from other weaving projects that it's nice to keep binder clips (this is the brand I had on hand: around to clip the strands in place when I need to take a break. It keeps things from getting tangled. Some fingerweavers use clothes pins--I only use them for holding individual strands from getting tangled instead of holding the strands in order. The binder clips are nice because you have a half- to a full inch of flat space to clamp strands in place.  Very useful if you have kids and have to pick up and put down your project a thousand times.

I have read that it's helpful to clamp the end of the whip to a table to hold the tension. I'll probably use a c-clamp for that once I get enough length on this.

Once you get the hang of it, the weave is not difficult.

Later, after sleeping...

Weaving, weaving, weaving.... Using the loop on the top, I hung the whip from a nail so I could more easily control the tension and the project.

Now to figure out how and when to drop strands.  A quick google search got me to this, which is incredibly helpful.‘active-weight’-of-a-whip/


I dropped the first two strands at half way, and the second two half way down the remainder, following the instructions on "Paracord Bullwhip."  I'm going to follow the instructions on "upcycled belts" next to keep braiding until just past the end of the core and then stagger the cut-offs.

In dropping the strands, I found that I had to cut off 2 feet (one foot from each end) of the shortest strand, and 2 feet (one foot from each end) of the second-shortest strand. So I should have cut them 8' and 12' (instead of 10 and 14). That would probably have saved me from possibly having to buy more cord for the overlay.

I'm also planning to roll the belly as two of the links suggest.


Eh, I'm too lazy to sew anything right now. And since one other instructable suggested taping the whole thing and the other said tape the end, I tapered the cuts offs the way the "upcycling" instructions suggested, and taped them all together as tightly as I could. I cut off the melted ends first to make the whole thing tighter, but that meant I had to tape over the ends, so I did.

While I wished I had cut the shorter strands shorter, I wish I had cut the longer ones a foot longer on each end--so 2 feet longer each--to give me some wiggle room to weave beyond the end of the core. I reached just to the end of the core, but didn't really get to go beyond it but with tape.

Of course, we had to go outside and flick the thing to test it. Very satisfactory, if a little stiff. The link where the handle transitions to the thong is very weak, as the instructions all said it would be, so I am going to reinforce that next. Tape or lashing? Both? Probably tape because I'm lazy and I have tape on hand, but the filler strings from the paracord would lash nicely, too. 


So I ended up taking a single string from the core of the 10-foot paracord and using it to make a tight lashing, about 2 inches long, around the transition from handle to thong, as in one of the instructables, and then I used electrical tape to tape the handle and transition three times, as in another of the instructables. With the handle and the transition reinforced, I'm ready to cut the overlay.

Oh, and I had decided not to roll it until the end, but I ended up rolling it with my hands against a wall, and it did, indeed, make a difference. Smoothed out the whole thing as promised. If I did a proper job, it would probably be even better.

I also was working in the bathroom while Emmy bathed for part of the evening and discovered that a towel hook is a fabulous place to work. It holds the whip for me. And having a second towel hook just a foot from the first was perfect for hanging the scissors and tape on. So I made a few sketches of my ideal weaving wall, with places to measure, hooks for whip making and shelves for my hanging wall loom, and a measuring board. Some day, I'll have a craft/sewing room with a weaving wall in it, a sewing machine wall, and a quilting wall. I would be in seventh heaven. That would be an art studio for me, since fabric arts are my thing.

Anyway, I digress. Next step: cutting the cords for the overlay (and finding out if I need to buy more paracord....)

As a side note, when I straightened the tent stake, I didn't make it perfectly straight, and the warp in it has been emphasized rather than hidden by the weaving and taping process. So perhaps next time I'll cut the bend off the tent stake, or use a very long nail, or just be super careful about straightening the thing properly.


Doing some math about cutting. I made a chart of the recommendations from all three instructables.  For the belly I needed longer than the long recommendation but half way between the other two (if I had chosen the short ones, though, the taper would have been better, so there is that.) I like the approach of the "upcycled belts" author more, but he's doing a 16-strand weave, and I want to do 12. So I looked at how much paracord I should have left, and I should have about 63-64 feet of black and 40 feet of red. Since I don't want to buy more, I'm aiming to cut the overlay layers 22' (one red and one black), 17' (red), 15' (black), 14' (black), and 11' (black). That should leave me 2 feet for a fall, which is about a foot short, but will have to do. I suspect what will happen in real life is I will cut the 22' lengths, and then will use whatever is left of the red (probably will be 18 feet) for the second length. Then I will cut a 3' fall from black, and cut whatever is left of the black into about 15, about 13-14, and about 10-12' sections and use the whole thing up that way of the 150' I bought (100' black, 50' red).

Tomorrow, that is.

The next night...

So, I thought I bought 150 feet of paracord, 50 red and 100 black. So I did all the calculations for how much I needed based on that, and either I calculate badly, or I measure really badly, or I forgot something I used paracord for, or the measurements were wrong on the package, or something else went awry. Because when I went to cut it, I had 16 feet less black paracord than I should have. Seems like I'd remember cutting off and using 16 feet extra for something, and also that I couldn't be that off in my measurements, so I'm not sure what went wrong. 

When I got to WalMart to buy more tonight, I found there are two weights of paracord, and I might have accidentally bought heavyweight black and lightweight red, 50 yards of each. Except that would leave me far more than 16 feet short! clue what went wrong, but I bought 50 feet more of black paracord so I could cut the last 13.5 foot strand for the overlay and the 2.5 foot fall I need. 

So now the lengths are all cut and ready to start weaving the overlay. I have two 22' strands (1 red, 1 black), one 18' (red), one 15' (black), one 13.5' (black) and one 12' (black). That should allow me to weave a 12-strand weave with a more gradual taper than I did on the core. I have no idea if the core tapering different from the overlay will be a bad thing. I hope not. We shall see. I have to drop a lot more strands this time. I better go figure out how that is done, and also which instructables I want to use for starting, for weaving, and for dropping strands in this layer.

The next day...

I started the overlay weaving last night following the "paracord bullwhip" link instructions, and then put it away to sleep some after essentially one pass.

Weaving 12 strands is basically the same as 4 and 8, but it took my fingers a little while to get the hang of holding them all (years of experience braiding hair has been super helpful for finger muscle training, and also getting a grasp on plaiting in general). It's also a little trickier to tighten the weave properly, but once I figured it out, it was okay.

So it turned out that I did buy two different weights of paracord. It's not terrible weaving two weights, but a little odd for sure.

I was ready to start the taper long before the cords ended. The shortest cord was 36 inches too long.  It should have been a 9' cord for the steep-taper, loud-cracker whip mentioned in the tapering link. But probably a 7' cord (or even 6') for a more gradual taper.

My right hand falls asleep if I weave too long. That's lousy. So now that it's awake (from typing instead), back to weaving.


Now that I wove to the spot where I wanted to drop the second-shorted cord, I had to trim off 40 inches. So it should have been 10' even instead of 13.5'.  I really was trying to follow the advice to weave loose and then tighten, but I found if you weave quite loose and then shove it up and tighten, it makes a nicer, tighter weave. Also, weaving 10 strands looks nicest with an under 2, over 3 weave (I tried several options mentioned in the instructables, and that looks best).

Now to figure out what happens next. Do I weave past the bottom, or not? Next steps, next steps.

Oh, and the next shortest cord I only had to cut a foot off, so it could have been 14'.


The three longest cords were just the right length. When I got to the near end of the core, I dropped the next two shortest strands (one from each side) and made them the new core. I did a 4-stranded weave until I had 6 inches left of all the strands, and then I trimmed the core, but I should have left it long because you need it long for the fall knot. Oops!

I followed the instructions for the "paracord bullwhip" for finishing because I was finishing with paracord and not leather.

I skipped the decorative knots parts because I didn't want to do them. I attached the fall and the cracker, and now it's time to go crack the thing. And maybe get pictures. It looks like a whip, at any rate. I hope it works like a whip.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Did I just read that?

"'Girls can do unimaginable things:' Conference inspires Utah girls to pursue STEM careers" (

Sounds like someone needs to learn a little bit about connotation....


In more context: "Clara said if a boy told her math and science and engineering was just for boys, she would "get really mad." "Girls can do unimaginable things," she said, smiling."  

So girls doing math and science and engineering is so rare that it's never even been imagined? It's unimaginable?

Sad state girls are in these days if that's true.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Did I just read that?

KSL must have a new headline writer. They've had good headlines for a long time, and now they're good in an entirely different way.  (from home page and

"Hunter dies after tree falls on him while sleeping"

This is what you get when trees sleep. Sleepwalking (sleep falling?) trees can be dangerous. Stay away.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Did I just read that?

From home page today: "Fact check: Trump admin on opioids, international relief"

So the entire administration is on drugs and getting foreign aid to keep themselves afloat? (Like, maybe, from Russia?)

I wouldn't be surprised if they were all on opioids, actually....

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Did I just read that?

This one, from's home page today, was a doozy of grammatical vagueness:
"With days to live, hospital hosts wedding for father of the bride"

So the hospital is about to die, and the father of the bride is getting married....too? Instead?

I'm so confused.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Did I just read that?

From the Washington Post tonight: "Andrea Pujols, 26, who lives in Guaynabo, a suburb of the Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, spoke to The Washington Post on Tuesday night as she and her 55-year-old father, Edwin, raced to the airport to retrieve her mother, who was returning home from a trip to Pittsburgh ahead of the storm, having refused to let her family ride out Irma without her. The three will be holed up at home with Pujols’s grandmother and dog, Lady." (

So...her grandmother is a dog?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Did he just read that?

Someone forgot to teach this computer that "ph" says "ffff".

Friday, August 04, 2017

Pioneer Trek Women's Pull

My son was at Trek this week and I had a crisis over the pictures of the part of the trek called the Women's Pull. I've spent a lot of time thinking, researching, talking to people about it and I need to write down what I've learned so I don't forget.

Here are my problems with the Women's Pull portion of trek:

1. It is often based on historical lies.

Many stakes are still using the Mormon Battalion and men called on missions as the reasons justifying making the women pull the handcarts alone. These are lies. The Mormon Battalion ended before any but Brigham Young's vanguard pioneer company left (of the official pioneer companies--there was one independent one that left in 1846, but ended up overwintering in Pueblo, CO, and didn't make it to Utah until after the Mormon Battalion was released).  That was ten years before any handcarts left. And, while many missionaries traveled home from their missions with the handcart companies, the handcart men were not called on missions from the handcart treks. The families were largely immigrants, still trying to get to Utah. They were not known by the leadership in Utah who were calling people on missions. I have found zero evidence of any family on a handcart trek being divided by missions.

Also, the women are usually forced to pull through a difficult, sandy, uphill track because "that's what the pioneers did." But we have documentary evidence from the women there that pulled alone showing that when they reached difficult, sandy spots, they went off the trail to pull on the harder ground around the sandy worn places because it was easier. Remember, these women were ON the treks because they were problem-solvers, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. They didn't do things the hard way when an easier way was clearly evident. We should not be telling people they did and therefore we must do it the hard way, too. Sometimes we have to, thanks to the rules of the landowners letting us use the land, but we shouldn't say the pioneers did when there is first-person evidence saying they didn't.

There are valid reasons to have the women pull alone. Many women pulled handcarts without adult men in their group. Overwhelmingly, the women who pulled alone planned it that way. Additionally, there were a decent number of women whose husbands died during the treks of the Willie and Martin companies, so that could be a reason (although there were also men whose wives died--so why not do a men's pull?).  Also, there was a great deal of "sprawl" on the actual treks, so a group could find itself facing a tough part with no help unless they waited for someone to catch up or for the company to notice they were missing and send rescuers.  I can't find any other valid reasons to stage a women's pull, though.

Why does this matter? Because if people have a highly emotional experience, they're likely to remember it. And a lot of people cite the women's pull as a time they learned a lot. If people have intense learning experiences and later find out they were centered around a narrative that was a lie, it can be faith-shaking or even faith-shattering. Plus the Holy Ghost can't testify of untruths. So why take the risks? Also, the church has put out a trek handbook that specifically says to not use the Mormon Battalion as justification for an optional women's pull. So we ought to follow the instructions.

2. We don't teach people to do right things by forcing them to do wrong things to see how it feels.

Often, for the women's pull, they purposely set the women up to have a very difficult time, and purposely line the men along the track to watch but forbid them to help. The most common thing I've heard about the women's pull is that the boys learned so much by being forbidden to help when they knew they should, and feeling so sad watching the women suffer and not helping.

I'm sure it's a powerful lesson. Just like having the boys rob a bank and take the consequences to know that robbing a bank is a bad idea.

There must be a better way of teaching them to notice when people are struggling and step in to help than by forcing them to do a wrong thing so they realize it's wrong.  We don't force people to do wrong in order to show them it's wrong.

3. It's not okay to teach people to stand by and watch people struggle or suffer without offering to help.

When we are participating in a simulation, we are practicing behaviors. That's why we do driving simulations in driver's ed. That's why we role play to teach kids behaviors we want them to have. The pioneer trek is a simulation.

When we line all the boys up and have the girls pull carts through a very hard part down the gauntlet of boys, what are they practicing? Watching people suffer and not helping. They are practicing telling themselves things like, "I can't help that person because it might offend them," and they're practicing wanting to help and seeing that it turns out okay without their help, so they don't really need to follow that urge to help.

I have been the one struggling and had people tell me they had the urge to help but figured I had it all together, or they'd seen me pull through before and figured I'd be okay. It was devastating. I had actually needed help.

We do not want to train our youth to suppress the urge to help. This is inexcusable. No matter how many words you use to justify it, or what you think you are teaching them, the thing they practiced and rehearsed doing was the wrong thing.

4. The risk of emotional manipulation is huge. 

The women's pull deliberately sets up a highly emotionally charged situation--that is fake--and then tries to use those strong emotions to teach a lesson. I have a serious concern about deliberately setting up a highly emotional situation and then telling the kids it was profoundly spiritual. Maybe it was for some people, but the risk is huge that as a result, kids will learn that huge emotional reactions are the Spirit, or that they aren't hearing the still small voice if it isn't big and loud. Remember, the scriptures state explicitly that the voice of God was not in the whirlwind. The voice of God is still and small but pierces to the center. When we are emotionally manipulating people by setting up situations that are inherently emotionally powerful as part of our lesson, we actually risk confusing people about the nature of God's voice and how to hear and obey Him, or even how to identify Him.

This is not to say people have powerful spiritual experiences doing the women's pull. Who am I to say what's going on in their hearts?  But it's awfully hard to distinguish between highly spiritual experiences and highly emotional experiences for most of us, and it's very risky to teach the youth that the voice of God is in the emotional whirlwind, when for many of us the emotional whirlwind has to blow away before we can hear the voice of God at all.

Also, setting up emotional situations to try to force people to feel the way you want them to feel (sad, strong, excited, etc) may be effective, but it's also manipulation. Some people don't mind--they love being made to feel things, and it helps them remember. But some people hate being manipulated and feel very bitter and angry about it. Any time you are deliberately trying to create emotion, that's a manipulation and needs to be done cautiously (if at all) because it can turn people away from the lesson you are trying to teach, or even away from the gospel.

Emotional manipulation from someone in charge to prove a point potentially damages trust, and is not a tool that should be in a teacher's tool box as a matter of course, but it is often a huge part of people's trek experiences (burying flour babies, or being attacked by mobs, for example).

5. There is a huge risk of accidentally teaching that women really are weak and always need help.

My son came away from the women's pull saying, "They had it. They were fine. They didn't need our help." That's the right lesson. When the girls have to run a gauntlet of boys while doing something difficult, we are reinforcing to the boys that women are weak, even if they succeeded at the end. What they see is that women just need help. What they don't see is that men just need help, too. It reinforces the men are strong, women are weak narrative. The reality is men are strong and weak, and women are strong and weak.

I would be much more comfortable if everyone had to pull through that section short-handed, with too few people on the carts, even if we gender segregate them (historically, there were as many carts pulled by small groups of men as there were by small groups of women). That way everyone learns that they should help everyone else because they all felt how hard it was to go through a bad experience with no help. We learn to help by needing help, not by watching someone else need help and practicing not helping.

6. We should never make a spectacle of people who are struggling. People, in the midst of trials, are not object lessons.

Having women run a gauntlet of able-bodied people who are declining to help when they could use a hand is just cruel. Making them work hard is great. Making them work hard and struggle while people gawk is horrible. And in appropriate.  We recognize this in real life: we don't have women labor to give birth in front of an audience, we have people get help for poverty in private, we don't make people deal with the flu in front of the whole congregation while they sit and stare. I mean, who even thinks this is okay?

So, this all sounds like I think the activity should be cancelled permanently. I don't. As a designer-of-educational-experiences, though, I think it needs to be restructured and carefully designed to teach the good things people learn, to stick firmly with the truth, and to avoid the bad lessons that come from the structure of the activity and the habit people have of just doing what the previous people did. My own son didn't seem to have trouble with it, thanks to his perception that the girls weren't struggling at all to pull up the hill, and also his ability to laugh off the historical errors they introduced with the activity. But I really think you can influence more people for good if you design things that stick to truth so the Holy Ghost can testify of truth, and design things in a way that teach only good and light and right messages.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Three Dreams About Sin

Last week some time, I had three nightmares in a row, and I understood that they were about sin. Later, I thought I should share them with my family. Since my kids refer back to this blog like a family journal, I'm going to post each dream with the moral here so they can find them again if they need them.

Here were the three dreams and the messages from each:

1.  I dreamed I needed a shower, and I wanted desperately to get clean, but I had to undress to get clean. So I took my shirt off, but there was another shirt underneath. I pulled that off, but there was another. I pulled three off at once, but there were three more. The harder I tried to get undressed, the more shirts there were to take off. 

The moral: We cannot remove our own sins to clean ourselves. We have to use Jesus for that.

2. I dreamed that Mom was a vampire because she’d caught a vampire disease. Every once in a while, she would suddenly turn into a vampire and come after me, blood dripping from fangs. I chastised her once, and she stopped. But it happened again, so I invoked Jesus and admonished her to use Jesus, and she stopped. But it happened again, and I put my hand on her forehead to hold her off and invoked Jesus again. She stopped. 

The moral: We cannot impose Jesus on someone else and have them healed. We can use Jesus to protect ourselves from the effects of other people’s sins, but we cannot make Him cleanse others from their sins. That’s between them and him.

3 I dreamed I was trying to escape the crazy city with too many shirts on everyone and random vampire attacks. It was full and crowded and crazy and somewhat Escher-esque. I searched and found a glass door leading outside. My brother Jon was standing there with his daughter Eve, but he had no head. He opened the door for me, and I walked outside and only then I could see not only his head, but the beautiful gardens outside and that there were many people, going and coming and doing business. They were relaxed and happy (especially compared to the city where everyone was wearing too many shirts, and everything was crowded and nonsensical, and there were vampires).  Before I walked out, though, I couldn't see his head or hear anything he might have been saying. This was scary, but I knew it was Jon, even if I couldn't see his head, and I trusted Jon, and Eve stepped forward to take my hand and reassure me. After I joined him, then I could see his head, and also hear what he was saying to me. There were no vampires and nobody wearing too many shirts out there. It was fresh and clean and you could see the sky.

This last dream had two morals. 

The first moral (which follows the other two dreams' morals nicely): You don't fix sin or just work harder to stop or take it off while living in it, you get up and leave it behind. (I'm not sure how to elaborate on this, but it was a very clear message that it was a moral of this dream.)

The second moral (I'll try to explain; this makes perfect sense to me simply from the imagery, but it's hard to verbalize): We cannot always see how the prophets/faithful members of the church are thinking--their thoughts don’t always seem to make sense, or even appear to be there at all (thus Jon’s missing head), but we have to step into their world first before we can understand (vs what most people want: to understand both viewpoints and then choose). For example, if we are caught in a social/intellectual world where women seem entitled to the priesthood or Joseph Smith is a jerk, any other ways of thinking make no sense--especially since everyone standing around us, whose heads we see and whose voices we hear and understand, agrees (darn echo chambers!). To understand how other people could possibly accept the "other" way (women not needing the priesthood, etc), you have to leave behind the wrong ideas first, even without understanding what to replace them with, and move toward the right ideas even if you can't see or hear them at all at first. After you step through the door, then you can see their heads and that they aren’t brainless, stupid ideas. But until you leave behind the other ideas and walk away from them, you can't see the heads of the people outside, or that there are lots of them out there (meaning, of course, that their ideas don't make sense and you can't even really "hear" what they're saying, even if you process and can repeat the words back.)

So. Three dreams about sin. You can't take it off yourself (you need Jesus), you can't take it off other people (they need Jesus but you can't force the issue on them), and you just have to leave it behind (rather than living in it and expecting things to change). Also, people following the prophets sometimes seem to have no head, but if you go toward them, you can see and understand. But you can't see or understand if you hang back (even if it's because headless people rightfully seem quite scary).

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


Caleb (15 yo) was one of the stars in the school play tonight, and he sang a beautiful solo as Mufasa (in The Lion King). It was amazing. His voice was just gorgeous. His teachers both told me it moved them to tears.

I was so impressed.

When we came home, Emmeline was asleep and everyone was tired. I left her in her car seat while I unloaded my arm of stuff we'd taken to the show. When I came back out, the star of the show, just off from being praised to the moon for a gorgeous solo in a fantastic performance, had come back out to the car and was very gently untangling his baby sister from her car seat, trying to bring her in the house without waking her. Without being asked. And despite being exhausted.

What everyone else saw tonight was a great actor and singer in the making. What I saw was a great man in the making.

The best stuff happens off stage, away from the limelights, in the dark when nobody is looking.

Monday, May 01, 2017

The "Weakness" Scripture

I'm pretty sure some people are questioning my interpretation of the Weakness Scripture in Ether that I discussed in my talk, so I'm going to explain it a little more here.

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness."

Traditionally, this has been viewed as a scripture about finding and rooting out individual weaknesses in your personality or soul.

I got a blessing one year that said, "Notice, that scripture doesn't say weaknesses? It says weakness." 

That hit me hard. I had been spending a lot of time focusing on the reality that I have specific weaknesses, and they hold me back, and fretting about how to fix that. And I was using that scripture as a justification for my misplaced focus. Doesn't Ether say we have to find our weaknesses and turn them into strengths?

NO.  That verse in Ether does not say that.

And if we use it to mean that, we are forcing into scripture an unhealthy (and unscriptural, and potentially prideful) focus on ourselves. Focusing on us, whether to celebrate our own strengths or to bemoan our own weaknesses, is Pride. And pride is a sin in both the Fake Glory form and the Fake Humility form.

The reality is that we don't actually have the perspective to find and eliminate our own weaknesses. And focusing on our weaknesses is not psychologically healthy. It is depressing and discouraging, and ultimately worthless because focusing on them actually reinforces them instead of eliminating them.  It's an unproductive and unhealthy focus on me me me.

At least, it was for me.

Of course when we realize we have bad habits, we should work to eliminate those. And when we have sins we should repent. And if we have handicaps or mental illnesses that make righteousness more difficult, we should seek treatment. But weaknesses in our makeup are much harder to address (and often impossible) and focusing on them isn't helpful. Working with and around our weaknesses is often necessary.

But if you read the actual words in that scripture, and not the social constructs we've place around it, it's not talking about a propensity to tell things a little rosier than they actually are, or an inability to remember names, or bad fashion sense. It is talking about our inherent state of being weak, especially compared to God. 

Searching for weaknesses in your soul and trying to root them out is a me-focused activity. Coming before God with a fuller understanding that, actually, you can't do it yourself (succeed at life, overcome your afflictions, change your heart, etc) is the reality of humility. Humility is not putting yourself down. It's putting yourself in your proper place in relation to God (and, in the process, other people). 

Here is it again:
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness."

Recognizing our weakness requires us to come to God because we don't have the perspective to see that actually, in reality, we're powerless. (We like to think that we're strong. Our society teaches us to think that we're strong, and to be strong, and to focus on our strengths, etc.) Recognizing our inherent and absolute weakness requires understanding and perspective shared from Him. If we were powerful, we would not rely on God. We wouldn't need to trust and believe Him (not just believe in Him, but believe Him). We wouldn't be motivated to get, cling to, and practice faith, hope, and charity.

According to this verse, weakness is not something we are supposed to find and get rid of. Weakness is a blessing that God gave us so that we would do the things that are required to get back to Him, and to let Him help us, and to rely on Jesus.

Life is so difficult if we focus on our weaknesses and failures. But life becomes so beautiful when we accept our weakness and let God make that a strength--not eliminate it, but use it to help us succeed at the things that matter to Him (making us more like Him, bringing us back to Him). Our inability to do it on our own becomes a strength when we learn to rely on Jesus and use the Priesthood to get through life. Because of agency, we have to let Him help us. We have to let Him heal us. We have to invite Him in. Recognizing and embracing the reality that we are weak helps us do that. It opens the door to many wonderful blessings, and to an amazing relationship with Jesus and our Father in Heaven. So many, many doors are opened (the windows of heaven, even) if we can recognize our weakness.

And we miss that if we are too busy finding our flaws and busying ourselves making lists about how to fix them. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Perseverance despite adversity

It was my turn to speak in church this week. Here are the notes from the talk I gave, plus the bits that I didn't share because I ran out of time, and the references for both quotes and scriptures I shared. I fleshed out the notes (because I never can read a talk; I always speak from notes) so they make sense, but this is NOT every word I said, and there are words here I didn't say.

Perseverance despite adversity, talk for April 30, 2017 for Mountain View Ward, Longmont Stake

Right at this moment, we are surrounded by people suffering from adversity.
Loss, poverty, betrayal, mental illness, the burdens of caregiving, family structures that are not what you planned for, death of dreams, physical and emotional pains of all kinds. This room is full of suffering, some of it is of the “I had a bad week” variety and some intensely, soul-crushingly, faith-shatteringly difficult.

No details or I’ll cry, but my family has been suffering wave upon wave of adversity, without almost any rest, for 13 years now. I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the years about persevering despite adversity.

For one thing, it helps to understand why we need adversity.

Why adversity? There’s not just one reason

  1. God loves us. He wants us to have the tools we need to succeed at life, and we get those through adversity.
D& C 95: 1: “Whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you—”

2. Protection
Caleb as a baby was always trying to fling himself backward for fun. When I stopped him from hitting his head on a pew at church, he was furious and thought I was persecuting him. But what was adversity to him was protection from my perspective. God does this for us. And we sometimes get mad.

But it’s like vaccination. Vaccination is mean. But it’s less mean than measles, or letting kids go deaf from mumps. We do mean things to kids like make them go to bed, or vaccination, because we’re protecting them from worse things. Adversity does this for us, too.

3. Learning
Elder Christofferson said he learned more than he could have otherwise.
In the article “Recognizing God’s Hand in our Daily Blessings,” Elder Christofferson talks about the good that came from an extended period of adversity for him. He says, after recounting an extended period of suffering, “Though I suffered then, I am grateful now that there was not a quick solution to my problem. The fact that I was forced to turn to God for help almost daily over an extended period of years taught me how to truly pray and get answers to prayer and taught me in a practical way to have faith in God. I came to know my Savior and my Heavenly Father in a way and to a degree that might not have happened otherwise or that might have taken me much longer.” Adversity teaches us.

4. Becoming.
That’s the point of life. Adversity lets God form us into something new and beautiful if we submit--and that’s what we came for. Like caterpillars to butterflies, we are meant to grow and change into something beautiful if we let God do that. Gems must be polished and shaped, gold must be refined and the impurities burned from it. Nobody likes to be ground down, but that's what polishes us.

5. Getting to where we really want to be
Winds and storms of Jaredites blew them to the promised land. They couldn’t steer.
Ether 6: 8, 10-12: “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind...And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water. And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water. And they did land upon the shore of the promised land.” So it is with us. The things that we try to escape and avoid are sometimes the things that are driving us to where we actually want to be.

I asked Tim just the other day, “How often do we cry and fight against the very thing that will lead us where we want to be? We fight the process that gives us what we actually want because we don’t like the path to get there?

How do we persevere well?

1. Know that you will get through
I learned on my mission that the choice is to get through or die. Since dying isn’t our prerogative, we obviously are going to get through. The question is how well.

2 . Know your limits and work with them instead of fighting them.
We all have limited spoons, and when life gets difficult, you do less. When persevering through adversity, don’t waste your spoons. Use them wisely and carefully. This is why people in the midst of trauma or poverty have messy houses--they are using up all their spoons on other things. Use your spoons wisely.

Elder Uchtdorf, in the talk “Of Things that Matter Most,”  said: “What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road. Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.”

We are weak and powerless, but that is okay because God is not.
Ether 12: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (additional thoughts on the "weakness" scripture are elaborated here: Notice this doesn't say weaknesses. It says weakness. We are actually weak. We actually do not have the power to succeed. We are not strong enough.
People always say, “You won’t be given anything you can’t handle.” Forget that. It’s wrong. You absolutely will be given things you can’t handle. You will be crushed to death and your heart shattered. And that is the very point because then Jesus can make us into a new person. Remember that WE are His work. We are God’s work. You really can’t do it, but that’s okay because God can and He wants to help us with His power. He can’t infringe on our agency. He can’t force us to accept His power and His help, but he Lets us use his power if we ask.
Our weakness in the face of adversity is actually strength IF we use it to turn us to God. The power is His. And He wants to share His power with us, but not under our conditions. Under His conditions. He is there. He does love us. He will help us. We just have to hold on and keep focused on him, even when we can’t keep putting one foot in front of the other. We are God's work, so He will help us.
We are supposed to use God’s power to solve our problems. This is using the priesthood. Sisters can do this, too. We don’t have the ordination, but we can pray and get revelation and have access to God’s power to solve our problems.
My mom used to tell me that God won’t always help us keep our heads above water, but it’s okay because He can make it so we can breathe under water.

3. Turn to Jesus
Carest thou not that we perish?
Mark 4: 37-40: “And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” This is an important question. How is it that I have no faith? Does he care? Yes. I ask this often when I am struggling because that it what it feels like: Don't you care that I'm going to lose my house? Don't you care that we have no shoes? Don't you care that I hurt all over? And His answer in the scripture reminds me to work to choose faith instead.

Elder Holland--credit for trying, but ask Jesus for help
In “Tomorrow the Lord will do Wonders Among You,” Elder Holland said, “Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.”7 He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek.”

What is the secret to persevering through adversity? He gave it to us right here: The Savior is there to help you keep going. Truly you might reach places in your life where you cannot go another step, where things actually are too hard, and you are actually not capable of persevering. And that's okay because Jesus can help. And will help.

Let Jesus carry your burdens. Lay them down at His feet. This is sometimes perplexing, but it works.

4. Choose faith.
Take the time to build a relationship with God and Jesus and then exercise faith. CHOOSE faith. Trust. Focus on Jesus. Do what He asks. Cry out for Mercy. Faith is not believing God exists. It’s trusting Him and believing him and choosing actively to rely on Him.

Faith says, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that God could save us from the fiery furnace, but if not--if He doesn't-- we still believe in Him and trust Him. Because sometimes He doesn't. Often He doesn't. And that's okay.

But what if you can’t feel it and can’t find it? What if things are just so hard that faith is out of reach?
Nephi and Lehi in prison, and Aminadab saying praying until you can believe. Helaman 5: 40-43: “And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us? And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed. And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.” This work. I know it works. It worked for me and it will work for you. Sometimes I feel like they did, that this cloud of darkness is overshadowing me and I can't get out and I can't see and it's scary and paralyzing. Once I felt like that, I and found this verse and it works to do what the Lamanites did.

5. Prepare ahead
When we had a really traumatic time, I was prompted almost a year ahead to prepare, and I did. Extensive physical preparations, and they were helpful, but when it came right down to it, in the end I wished I had studied the scriptures more. Why? Because when things go badly, we get mad at God for making us suffer, and push Him away, and that is pushing away the very thing that can help us out of the troubles, or through them. I wished I had studied the scriptures more so that I would have had the relationship with God that would give me access to the strength of God to rely on instead of being angry at him.

6. Communicate with God--pray and listen
Ask God to teach you how to pray
Elder Nelson said, in “The Price of Priesthood Power,” “We need to pray from our hearts. Polite recitations of past and upcoming activities, punctuated with some requests for blessings, cannot constitute the kind of communing with God that brings enduring power. Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you.”
Changed my life to take his advice. I highly, highly recommend it. Ask God to teach you how to pray, and pay attention to what you experience in the next little while. It was profound for me.

Don’t predetermine how the answers and help will come, or you might not see it.

Elder Christofferson again: “There were times when I had exhausted all my resources, when I had nowhere and no one to turn to for help to meet the exigency before me. With no other recourse, more than once I fell down before my Heavenly Father, begging in tears for His help. And He did help. Sometimes it was nothing more than a sense of peace, a feeling of assurance that things would work out. I might not see how or what the path would be, but He gave me to know that, directly or indirectly, He would open a way. Circumstances might change, a new and helpful idea might come to mind, some unanticipated income or other resource might appear at just the right time. Somehow there was a resolution.”

Praying for patience works better than praying for release. Just because you can’t see the path doesn’t mean there isn’t a path.

7. Look for the good--not pollyanna, but look for God and look for the help He sends (not always easy to see).
Look for the love every day because it’s there. This was life changing for me. It’s sometimes perplexing, and sometimes you have to pray to see it, but God does show us love every day. We just have to be watching for it. And express gratitude. Gratitude helps us fit in our place in the universe, and helps us use our faith, and helps us persevere when things get awful. There is always something to be grateful for, even if it is just that you don’t have that other guy’s trials, too.

Sometimes this is perplexing, when you pray for a job and get a pair of shoes, but it’s there. Sometimes it’s very, very hard to see, but pray for it and look for it. There is evidence every day of God’s love. Find it.

Jesus suffered adversity so severe he begged that He could not have to go through, just like we do, and God withdrew--he was distant, like He sometimes is from us, when our prayers don't seem to go anywhere--but He sent an Angel. And He sends angels for us and asks us to be angels for others. Look for them. Be them.

8. Consider the covenants.
Everything in the church points to the temple, but everything in the temple points us back to our homes, to help us make good choices that will move us closer to God.  So think about those covenants. They are there to help us make the kinds of choices that help us persevere through adversity.
By considering the covenants, we can learn things we need to know to help us persevere. For example, let’s consider baptism.

Trust God. This is the point of baptism. We let him bring us to death (under the water) and let Him pull us out a new person. You WILL be tested more than you can bear. You will be crushed and broken by life. And Jesus will bring you through and make all things turn out for your good if you love God and let him. Submit and be molded

D&C 121: 7-8: "My son, peace be unto thy soul. Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high."