Higher Than My Ways

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You might call it mustard colored, but I see my new journal as saffron, a beautiful shade of golden yellow. I bought it at the Time Out for Women Conference in Columbia this past weekend, and I’m reserving it to record thoughts and impressions that take me “higher.”

Let me explain. The conference theme was based on a verse from the Old Testament, Isaiah 55:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The moment I read “so are my ways higher than your ways” on the front of the journal, I recalled a chilly autumn afternoon as I sat beside my father’s bedside.

My family and I had come home for the weekend, and upon our arrival, I learned that my father had been hospitalized for an upper respiratory ailment, the same one that would take his life years later. As I walked into the room that afternoon, I could see that he was sleeping peacefully so I didn’t disturb him. This was back in the days before e-readers and iPhones so I was stuck with sitting there with my thoughts, none of them good. Having never seen my father so fragile and weak, I was distraught with worry and concern.

I picked up a Gideon Bible and began thumbing through it. Almost immediately I came across the verse from Isaiah. I read it again…and then again. “Hmm,” I thought. “This is so true. I don’t like it, but it’s true nonetheless. He’s God, and I’m just a mortal living down here on Earth.”

Since that Saturday afternoon in my father’s hospital room, I’ve quipped those phrases to almost any and everyone who is suffering and can make no sense of it. My precious daughter had a stillborn baby, and there I was with, “For as the heavens….” I don’t know whether that comforted her or not, but it was the only thing that made sense to me (us) at the time. More times that I can recount, I’ve thought, “The heavens and His ways are higher. You just don’t have the big picture, Jayne.”

But here’s what happened Saturday. The light came on and now I see that verse in a different and more enlightened way. I often tell people to “go for it,” to use their gifts, and now I can see how this scripture applies to positive aspects of our lives too. We can’t possibly know or see what He does, but we can be certain that His plans and thoughts are higher than ours.

When I was a younger person, I often heard the expression, “I know I’m somebody ’cause God don’t make no junk.” At the time, I thought it was catchy and cool, both because of the way the phrase was worded and because of the sentiment itself. This weekend’s conference echoed basically the same thing. You and I are somebody. Isaiah 43:1 says, “I have called thee by name; thou art mine.” We are His. He has plans for us and thoughts about us. We need to find out what they are and move forward in faith.

Here on Earth there is sickness, frailty, contention, distress, and aging. There are weeds and spiders and sour milk and cancer. Stress abounds and so do chaos, loss, tragedy, difficult people, and things that go bump in the night. Heaven is higher. That’s where He is with His thoughts, ways, and plans for us.

When heartache comes along (as it surely will), the knowledge that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours can be comforting. What’s equally awesome is knowing that the same thing is true for positive events. To reach “higher,” we might have to stretch a little, but that’s a post for another day.

How Do You Feel About Love These Days?

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How you feel about love these days? That’s my writing prompt for today, and it’s just what I needed to get my muse mojo going. After the sights and sounds of love that I experienced this week, the prompt is perfect. Every day for the past several days, I’ve been privileged to look into the faces of people dear to me and to hold my grandchildren close to my heart. I’m fascinated with Ethan’s blond hair and Olivia’s steadily increasing vocabulary. And the Maseda grands who live near Savannah? Each one is remarkable and well-loved.

It’s easy to love my grandchildren and their parents. In fact, I love all of my family, including the extended ones and the ones I don’t get to see often. My friends are dear to my heart too. I’ve studied several theories of friendship over the years, and I must admit that they all apply to my friendly relations. Some of us have been friends since we were preschoolers while others arrived more recently on the scene. Still, I love them all.

But what about those “other people,” the ones who are “different” from you and me? Aren’t we supposed to love them too? I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit lately too, largely because of Independence Day and the huge variety of people I’ve seen. Honestly, at the Myrtle Beach State Park this week, I’ve seen just about every shape, size, race, ethnicity, and race that there is. I’ve heard several different languages and sniffed numerous aromas emanating from the picnic tables and grills at the state park.

And how do I feel about it? I LOVE it! I love the diversity of people, customs, language, and traditions, and I love the USA. It’s a land choice above all other lands, and thankfully at some time in the past some of my ancestors made the decision to immigrate here. So did yours, unless you’re a Native American.

Back to love. Love is the most important emotion and force in the universe. It motivates us to action, soothes our wounds, binds us together, helps us grow, and sometimes breaks our hearts. Love is much more important than all the silver and gold in the world although everything, including love, goes a little more smoothly with money. I’d like a little silver and gold too. It’s just that for the essence of life, nothing can beat love.

There are several definitions of love, but the one I’m thinking of this morning has to do with what Christ said when delivering the second greatest commandment. In case you’re like me and need a little reminder of what that is and where to find it, look in Matthew 22:39: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” He didn’t say, “Try to love this person if you can.” He essentially commanded us to do it.

He didn’t say love the people of your tribe, family, race, social class, or political party ONLY.  It’s funny how things you learn as a child stick with you, and yesterday as I walked along the beach, I saw such a diversity of people that I kept hearing the refrain of “Red and yellow black and white, all are precious in His sight.” It’s hard to do sometimes. Those people talking with the funny accents as I waited for them to finish rinsing their feet and chairs and buckets weren’t feeling too much love from a sandy-coated, hot me.

What I’m getting at is that it’s easier to love people that you’re related or who are in your friendship circle. It’s harder to love those who speak a different language, worship a different god, or have a different complexion. At the same time, is it okay to pick and choose the commandments we follow?

Tell me what you think, my fellow Americans. I keep thinking of examples of love I’ve seen this week, enough for another blog post. Stay tuned. I’ll write that one tomorrow.

Love Letter on the Beach

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I took a quick beach walk before heading home Monday and an elderly man approached me with a smile, a folded piece of paper, and the words, “Here’s a love letter from your Heavenly Father.” A little surprised, I simply replied, “Thanks. I always like hearing from Him.” The exchange didn’t even take ten seconds. He went his way, and I went mine, and yet….

That’s what I put on Facebook early this morning as I was comparing my surroundings of today to those on Monday. Working on end-of-semester journals and portfolios in my little hideaway above the garage is just not quite as awe inspiring as “da beach.” Ah well, the sea and sand beckon, and I shall return soon.

In the meantime, let’s get back to the opening paragraph. A Facebook friend and writer whose work I admire said she wondered whether women passed out such letters to men who were walking alone on the beach. Truly, I got a good chuckle out of that one. The thought of it is preposterous (to me anyway). In no particular order, here are some reasons why I can’t see a woman, regardless of age, distributing religious literature to single men on the beach.

1. She wouldn’t be presumptuous enough. I might be overstating this, but generally speaking, women aren’t as anxious to solve all the problems of the world. Scholars who’ve written about gender differences in communication say that we womenfolk use language to forge relationships, to nurture, and to make things “all better.” Men, on the other hand, communicate to solve problems, offer solutions, and take care of business.
2. She’d be so happy to get a few moments of quiet solitude and reflection, a respite from cooking and cleaning that she wouldn’t want to spend it approaching strangers. Many (not all of course) men get up, get dressed, and head out the door. Women usually tidy up a bit, especially after preparing breakfast for the family or starting a load of laundry.
3. She’s probably at home ironing, washing the frying pan, or homeschooling the children. While this reason sounds a lot like the second one, it’s different. The second reason implies that the woman wants solitude so much that when she finally gets it, she doesn’t want to puncture it by approaching strangers. The third reason implies that a woman is too busy to stroll along distributing literature.
4. Women aren’t as well known for proselytizing. Yes, there are women ministers, missionaries, and spiritual leaders, but their roles are more restricted than those of their male counterparts.
5. She knows it wouldn’t be a good idea. Even on a public beach, there are sleazy folks.

Yes, my writer friend’s question gave me much pause for thought. I still don’t have the definitive answer of WHY. How about you? If you’re a woman reading this, would you approach a single man on the beach and give him a letter from his Heavenly Father? Why or why not? And to any and all, would you find it stranger to be given such a missive by a woman than by a man?

Other Blogs

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Quick post to say that this blog appears to be my primary one, and I can’t change that (have dutifully followed instructions several times). I have three blogs, and this one is more about personal experiences and ponderings in the day-to-day life of a mother, grandmother, wife, teacher, sister, friend……..you get the picture. It’s a potpourri of many different topics, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then this is it. Since Mom’s Musings is the first blog I started, that’s probably why it’s still listed as my primary one regardless of my attempts to change its status.

My other two blogs might interest you too. Or rather, they might interest you MORE than the above mentioned one because they’re focused on specific topics. Gossip and Solitude (http://jaynebowers.wordpress.com/) is a weblog about my writing experiences and is an attempt to meld a website and blog together. Not only do I post about the fun, woes, rewards, hassles, disappointments, and triumphs of writing, but I also post book reviews.

The third blog, Beating a Path, is about teaching experiences. I’ve been teaching in the SC Technical Education system since 1975 (ouch…long time!), and this blogs includes ideas, suggestions, and stories. I’m still teaching part-time, mainly because I just can’t leave the magic of the classroom. Educational practices and trends continue to change, and for a number of years I’ve also taught online classes. The link to Beating a path is http://www.jpbowers.wordpress.com.

I hope you’ll check out the other two blogs, especially since I think a lot of people are directed to Mom’s Musings by accident…or rather because of a wordpress issue that I can’t figure out.

Happy Blogging!

Were You There?

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Quick post before gearing down for the night. All day I’ve been hearing a song in my mind. Has that ever happened to you?

A few years ago, one of my brothers burned a CD of his church’s Easter cantata. All of the selections were beautiful, but one in particular still haunts me. I don’t know the name of it, but the first couple of lines are, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?”

No, of course none of us were there, and yet that event is so real to the Christian world that “believers” can picture the sad scene. Truthfully, I can’t imagine anything more heartbreaking than a mother watching her beloved son die a long and tortured death while she stands helplessly by. From the scriptures we know who was there and who wasn’t. We know what Christ said to the thief on the cross and what He said to His Father before he died. We know what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we know about Judas’s betrayal. We also know that Peter denied knowing Him not once, but three times before the cock crowed. And we know of the Last Supper and of some of the conversation that took place.

We know what happened the next morning when Mary went to the tomb at sunrise. We know that “He is risen.” We know that when Mary attempted to touch Him, Christ said, “Touch me not for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” Bible scholars speculate on where He had been during that time, especially since he told the thief that that day they would dine together in Paradise.

I’m not trying to stir things up. I trying to emphasize that we know all of these things without aid of a smart phone, news correspondent, or computer. It’s amazing that events that took place over 2,000 years ago can be known with such accuracy without an iota of technology. Even non-Christians know of the Messiah, his life, death, and resurrection. Pretty amazing.

Feed the Lambs

IMG_3462If you read Saturday’s post, then you know that I spoke on becoming a more Christian Christian in church yesterday. As always, I had gathered more material than could possibly be covered in my allotted 15 minutes, but since I’m pretty good at condensing and paring down, I stayed within my time limit. Though a bit nervous, as I sat on the stand and looked at the faces of those in the congregation, a feeling of peace came over me, and I knew that things would be fine.  

Yesterday, I stayed close to Robert D. Hales’ address found in the November 2012 Ensign. To me, the overall theme of his address was “Feed My Sheep.” If you want to be a follower of Christ, then feed His sheep. While I gave a few examples of how to feed the lambs, this morning I remembered several examples of showing love, compassion, and caring among the the people I’m fortunate to know. With some modification, I’m lifting all of these from Eve’s Sisters http://tinyurl.com/agsyetr.

Here’s a scenario shared by Valerie. She and her husband and small child were shopping in Target when they saw a young couple with a baby. She sensed that they were struggling with deciding what to buy with their limited funds. How could they make the proverbial dollar stretch? Compassionate and caring, Valerie sent up a silent prayer to her Heavenly Father asking that He help this young couple.

She walked on by, and after a few seconds, her little girl asked, “Where’s Dad?” They turned around and spotted him. Wallet open, he was giving cash to the couple. A lump in her throat, Valerie thought of how she had prayed, but her husband had acted. I’m certainly not dissing Valerie, one of the most loving people I know. I used her example to illustrate that at any given time there are people around us who need our help. We just need to be more mindful.

I once slipped a few dollars and a note into an envelope and gave it to a student with instructions to have her eyebrows waxed, something she had indicated a desire to have done. She sent me an email saying no one had ever done anything like that for her before and that she sat in the car and cried when she read my note. That saddened me. Why hasn’t anyone done anything like that for this lovely young woman before? Why don’t I do things of this nature more often?

What we do doesn’t have to be of huge magnitude. If we all perform small acts of service in our own little spheres, I think Christ would be happy. Here are some things that crossed my mind this morning:

  • Lib is the consummate baker, and she regularly bakes her special lemon pound cakes and delivers them to people  to welcome them to the community.
  • My sister Ann, a math teacher, regularly tutors church members and family free of charge.
  • The mother of my daughter’s former obstetrician knits hats for newborns. 
  • Several women of my acquaintance keep a stash of all occasion cards that they send to people who might need a    little encouragement.

We’re all different and should do whatever we can without feeling guilty about what we can’t do. Can you send a card? Can you find the time to just sit and listen to one of your children, a parent, or a friend? Can you pay someone a compliment? I think it was Mark Twain who said he could live for two weeks on a good compliment. How hard is that to do??

Peace and Love

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One of the reasons that I love the LDS church so much is we have no paid ministry. We do it all ourselves, and most of the time, I think it gets done fairly well. At least I’d like to think so. An added benefit of this is that members get to grow and develop their talents.

Lots of people like to go to church, sit there, listen to a sermon, sing a few hymns, and be uplifted and edified. Hey, I like to do that myself! At the same time, I believe in the law of reciprocity, and I think we should both give and take. I recall a quote from a Relief Society lesson many years ago that followed some complaints of women proclaiming that they got nothing from Relief Society. I recall thinking that any woman who says she gets nothing from this fabulous organization must have some loose screws. The response from a church leader was more loving, however, and was in the form of a question like, “My dear sisters, what are you putting into Relief Society?”

So this Sunday I’m speaking in Sacrament, and it’s going to be an awesome talk. Not because I’m a good speaker but because my assigned topic is a great one and because I’m taking the heart of the talk from a recent General Conference address. How can I go wrong? The topic is how to be a more Christian Christian, a better follower of Christ.

One of my brothers frequently tells me of his trip to the Holy Land in the hope that one day I’ll go there. I won’t. It’s too far, too expensive, too dangerous, and from the reports I’ve read, too touristy. What I’ve told him is that I care more about walking How Jesus walked than about Where He walked. I want to be more compassionate, kind, patient, nonjudgmental, and service-oriented. I want to be more like the Good Samaritan and help people who are different from me. I know for a fact that our Creator loves people of all races, creeds, and social classes. He doesn’t care about the size of your bank account but about the size of your heart.

In preparing Sunday’s remarks, Christ’s words to “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep” keep coming to mind. I needed that reminder, and I’m wondering if Todd knew that when he nabbed me in the foyer last Sunday and gave me this assignment. Hmmm. I think he knew that we all need a reminder to feed His sheep. Sometimes those sheep might be the little children in our homes, and at other times, they could be our neighbors. I was thinking just yesterday of how often I had sheepishly (there’s that word again) skulked by the Salvation Army bell ringer outside of Wal Mart without putting even a dollar in the bucket. What’s wrong with me?? What would Christ have done?

I could go on and on. I just need to post this and get back to my talk preparation. Reading Elder Hale’s conference address inspires me to be a better follower of Christ at the same time that it makes me realize where and how I’ve fallen short. Just like you, I’m a work in progress. For today, I’m going to start practicing the Christ-like qualities mentioned my Elder Hale, Christian love and Christian caring. I’m going to throw in some peace and forgiveness too.

And P.S., If you want to learn more about becoming a more Christian Christian and feel the warmth of Christ-like love,  join us at the LDS chapel on Chestnut Ferry Road in Camden this Sunday at 11:00.

Lessons from the Onion Field

One of the nice things about having a personal blog is that I can write about anything that crosses my mind. Therefore, this is sort of a hodgepodge blog of topics ranging from exercise and health to family and faith…and a ton of stuff in-between. For instance, sometimes the blog becomes a travelogue, and other times I might decide to pontificate on politics.

That said, today’s post is about a revelation (that’s what I’m calling it) that I got in church Sunday. I had been pondering an issue that someone near and dear to me was having, and then suddenly the speaker said a few simple things that provided immediate insight. He began by talking about the importance of families, and then he shared some relevant stories from his childhood. It was a fabulous talk, filled with several references to scriptures, pertinent articles, and personal experiences.

Here’s one of the stories that I particularly liked, probably because of the underlying lesson. As a young child, he and his younger brother had the task of watering onions on a huge family farm. The onion planting was somewhat experimental, and the adult males on the scene, the speaker’s father and grandfather, had rigged up some newfangled way of making sure that the plants were watered. Unfortunately, the scheme didn’t work as well as planned, and watering became a hot, arduous, and dreaded task.

“You might wonder why we did it,” he said. The speaker then went on to say that he and his brothers and other siblings clearly understood their role as children and the adults’ roles as parents and grandparents. “As children, we knew we were to do what our parents told us to do, and although we didn’t always like it, we also knew that it was eventually going to be for our own good. It’s the same type of relationship that we have with God. We need to do what he tells us to do just like children need to do what their parents tell them to do.”

That’s when it hit me—the parallel between God’s instructions and those of earthly parents. He doesn’t tell us to do anything that will hurt us or cause sorrow, and neither will our biological parents. Well, quite honestly, some parents are pretty crummy in their role, but not the ones I’m thinking of at the moment. I know, just as we all do, some people who are great at following God’s commandments to keep the Sabbath holy and  refrain from killing other people, and yet they totally diss their parents and their instructions to come home on time, do their homework, clean their rooms, and a myriad of other things.

Doesn’t this seem a little paradoxical? It could be that I’m expecting too much from children to truly understand the parallels between the two parental sources, our Heavenly father and our earthly parents. In any case, I’ll leave the explaining part to the grown-ups. For now, I’ll just say that children need to be obedient to their parents and to God.

Confessions and Revelations

Confession: My friends and I aren’t perfect. Revelation: Neither are you!

A facebook post from my friend Connie has motivated me to say a few things that have been on my mind and in my heart lately. She and I attend the same church and see eye-to-eye on most (maybe all) things spiritual. She’s a “sister” who, like me, does her dead level best to be kind, honest, caring, giving, and all those other positive things that we’re supposed to do. We turn the other cheek, work on being nonjudgmental, love our families, attend most church meetings, pay our tithing, and even visit sick people in the hospital.

Connie and I often laugh and joke at where we’d be and what kind of lives we’d be living without what we refer to as “the gospel” in our lives. It’s only a skip and a hop to pondering the same thing about our friends and acquaintances who are apparently farther along the path of enlightenment than we are…or so it would seem from the outside looking in.

But are things always the way they seem? I know folks who darken the church doorway more frequently than I probably do, but they’re judgmental, unforgiving, and rumor mongering (always wanted to use that term). Others are pessimistic beyond belief although throughout the scriptures we’re told to be of good cheer. They worry incessantly about tomorrow despite the frequent Biblical instruction to have faith. Remember the tiny sparrow?

And then there are those who could spout off the 10 Commandments like nobody’s business, but they put possessions and “other gods” before God, take His name in vain, and/or treat their parents abysmally. And let’s don’t forget those who think keeping the Sabbath holy means going out to eat after church and sleeping the afternoon away. Don’t even bother responding to this by telling me that going out to eat as a family keeps unity going AND helps insure that those working in restaurants have jobs. (As an aside, I’ve been known to do all of the above.)

Here’s the difference between Connie and me and “those other people.” We KNOW that we aren’t perfect, and we don’t need anyone to tell us that or to remind us of the shoulds and should nots. We know them, and we’re trying to incorporate them into our lives as best as we can. All of us are in different spots in our spiritual progression.

Time to bring this to a close. Here’s what I know: LOVE is the word. As I write this, I can’t help but think of my former mother-in-law and the many acts of love and compassion that I’ve seen her perform. This afternoon, I’m thinking specifically of how she’d often leave church early to go home and put the finishing touches on a scrumptious meal for her family. Lots of mothers do that; I used to too (although my children might take issue with the scrumptious part).

Here’s what set her apart from me and the other mothers. Before any family members partook of the Sunday feast, she fixed a plate of goodies for a “shut-in” neighbor and sent it over by one of her sons. Did she leave church early? Yes. Did anyone at church have anything to say about it? Yes. Did she show love? Yes. Did you?

Here’s my goal as found in Micah 6:8. I rediscovered this scripture after reading Same Kind of Different as Me.  “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Sisterly Thoughts

Sometimes people look at me a little curiously when they discover that I’m LDS. And no, it’s not my imagination. I’m a pretty intuitive person and can pick up vibes, both positive and negative. That’s a topic for another day, however. This evening I just want to share a little something about one of the major reasons that I love this church so much.

Are you ready? It’s my sisters. Truly, no matter where I am or what I’m doing or who I’m with, when I see a “sister,” I feel an immediate connection. I know that she knows and believes the same things that I do and that we speak the same language. I don’t have the time to go on and on about this today so I’m going to mention only one person, Lisa C, and her influence on my life. I chose the above picture becaue she’s artistic and likes to ride horses.

I don’t want to embarrass her, but she needs to know that these three incidents made a deep impression on me, on my soul.

When my grandson Seth was born last July, I had the privilege of being there when he made his entrance into the world. In fact, the doctor and I were the first ones to see him. Right away, I could see that he wasn’t the rosy color that I thought he would be. He didn’t seem to be moving very much either and appeared to be kind of flaccid.

My amateur impressions were correct, and right away the doctor signaled for the neonatal specialists to come in. If I recall correctly, three nurses came in and began working on the little fellow. What did I do? I stood looking at him, trying hard not to cry. My beautiful daughter kept asking, “What’s wrong? Why isn’t he crying? Is he breathing, Mama?”

“He’s fine,” I said. “Just fine.”

I began talking to him as gently and soothingly as possible. Although I can’t remember the exact words, I probably said some things like, “Hey, Sweet Boy. Do you hear me talking to you? This is Grandmama. How do you like being in this big old world so far? Huh? Come on now. Open your eyes so I can see them.”

I pretty much repeated the same ramblings over and over as the nurse competently cleared his lungs and throat. And then a miracle occurred. Seth opened his eyes and looked right into mine. Yes, I know babies don’t have 20/20 vision for several months and that he didn’t know me from the television hanging on the wall, but still….He looked at me for several seconds as I continued speaking in low, calming tones.

Months later, I told Lisa C about his birth and remarked that I liked thinking that I was the first person he saw when he opened his eyes and that he sensed my love for him. Without blinking an eye and with complete sincerity, she said, “You communicated spirit to spirit.” And you know what? We did. We absolutely did.

Here’s the second incident. One day in Relief Society, the women’s organization in our church, Lisa told a story about her daughter going to school. I can’t remember all the details, but it was probably one of the first days that her child went to middle school. Like every pre-teen in  America, her daughter was a wee bit nervous about the situation.

There are a number of ways that a parent can handle a child’s apprehension about new things, but here’s what Lisa C did. She reminded her daughter that she was the daughter of a Heavenly Father who loved her very much and that she was a princess, the daughter of a king. That might sound corny to people who aren’t LDS, but I love that way of thinking. Lisa, her daughter, my daughters, and you and I are also of divine origin.

Okay, here’s the last scenario. Months ago, one of Lisa C’s young sons (I think he was 11 at the time) was speaking in Sacrament meeting, and he said how grateful he was for his mom. Here’s a paraphrase: “Moms are the ones who keep everything together. If it weren’t for them, we’d probably all be floating out in space somewhere.” He said this with the cutest smile ever, and I thought, “Wow, what a tribute!” If a child can stand in front of a congregation and say something like that, then the mother is doing something right!

There are probably some errors in the above paragraphs because I’m in a hurry to get to the grocery store (story of a woman’s life), but I wanted to share these thoughts about one of my sisters. Anyone with an open heart and mind can understand a little bit more clearly about why I love the LDS faith so much. It’s because of Lisa C and women all over the world who are just like her, women who speak my language.