One Miracle at a Time

Image courtesy of Pavel Tcholakov

The post I was going to publish today will have to wait. The news from General Conference was so unanticipated, especially to this out-of-the-loop lapsed Mormon woman who had entirely forgotten that Conference would be this weekend, that I woke up this morning with a peculiar gnaw in my belly, a feeling I thought I’d abandoned several years ago when I decided, for my emotional health, that I would pull my spiritual expression inward and stay away from the pew for a few years. By shutting out much of the noise of sacrament talks and the expectations of visible orthopraxy, I thought, I could get to the root of the searing tingle I felt in my tissues when the best that another well-meaning bishop could do in response to my doubt and grief was to let me cry in his office.

For the uninitiated: the Saturday afternoon session of the General Conference of the Church (one of six sessions) devotes a chunk of its time to administrative news. Many Mormons cannot attend the Saturday sessions, because of work or other obligations, so the real spiritual heft is saved, in large part, for the Sunday sessions. To be clear, by “administrative news,” I mean “bureaucratic arcana,” because the average attendee is unlikely to register incremental changes in the number of stakes across the world, or voice more than a mild “huh” over the fact that 120,528 “new children of record” were born in the Church in 2010. However, this Saturday came with a bombshell, as the Church announced that women, who were previously unable to serve missions before their 21st year, will be able to serve at 19. Young men, who have always been able to go at 19, often after completing a semester or two of college courses, will now be able to go at 18. It’s not perfect parity, but it’s a lot closer to it. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “When asked why church leaders didn’t equalize the length of mission service at two years — women will continue to go for 18 months — Holland said, jokingly, ‘one miracle at a time.’ He did note that officials had considered doing so but wanted to see how this change played out.”

One miracle is better than none, surely. And by all accounts, there has been much rejoicing throughout the Mormon world this weekend, by freshman women who don’t have to cool their heels for two more years, by fifth-grade girls who are just starting to question why dad can give blessings and mom can’t, and by the not-that-rare 22-year-old returned missionary who wishes, for the love of all that is holy, that there were more women on BYU’s campus who were his equals in both age and spiritual experience. Perhaps most importantly, there could be wide-ranging consequences in the daily operations of the church, as a flood of 20- and 21-year old women return home with a taste for the seriousness, purpose, and spiritual empowerment they learned to exercise on the mission. Will an increased capacity for church governance, directed by women, be the next miracle?

There’s already a vital debate going on as to whether this change is largely about recruitment (we have too few missionaries, and a lowered bar for half the population could, theoretically, double the numbers of active proselytizers) or philosophically progressive in nature. Administrative or ideological, the effects will, likely, be the same; the dismantling of an increasingly arbitrary-seeming distinction between male service and female service that can only be good for men and women both.

Think about it this way: if you had asked me, at the tender, cocksure age of 19, why it was that women had to wait to go on a mission, I would have claimed, probably loudly, that it was because the church considered my potential biological service as a female and a mother was more important than my intellectual or spiritual service as an individual, and while that would not have been the entire story, it was, effectively, how the world was for me at that time. Whether my Sunday School and seminary teachers were right or wrong in giving me that impression is hardly the point. My grasp on high-school level Second Wave feminism was, likewise, extremely tenuous, but even the 80s-era obsession with corporate success and power blazers could not make the “the world’s” version of femininity less appealing than the church’s.  What I saw was the truth as I was capable of receiving it, because teenagers are like lions: they are easily confused by a lot of moving black-and-white objects, which is why, supposedly, zebras look the way they do.


The first time I lost it in a bishop’s office, I was 21. I would be graduating from BYU soon, and though I had decided two or three years ago that I would not be going on a mission, every other big decision of my life felt imminent. I had to decide where to move, what jobs to look for, who to be friends with and how to be faithful and what to spend my money on and who to date, and, despite years of lessons on prayer and revelation, that I would be making every one of these decisions alone. I was blessed in health and opportunity and friends, but I had never once heard what has been described as everything from a still, small voice to a thunder that “breaketh the cedars.” Though I had not yet read Kimberly Johnson’s “Love-letter,” I would have felt its truth:

“Yours is the face scarcely imagined. Yours

the voice that seduces never heard,

yours the throat that frames my gardened


I had taken John 7:17 to heart (“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it shall be of God, or whether I speak of myself”), yet after years of study and callings and temple visits and the Word of Wisdom I was, like the truly bereft, still begging for any kind of sign. And what I asked my bishop on that day was whether the priesthood of a husband would be, forever, my best or only access to the wisdom and love of God. This kind man did not have an answer for me, but as long as I have a mind and heart to remember him, I will be grateful for his openness and his compassion, as he let silence fill the room, and from his side of the desk, cried with me.

I didn’t believe that God’s silence was entirely due to my gender: I knew many women who felt the presence of the Spirit in their lives, and who were significantly less bothered by the differences in men’s and women’s roles in the church. But it certainly seemed to be a factor. There was the fact that an ordained deacon, at 13, had a thoroughly different relationship and access to God than a woman 10 years his senior, and there was the fact that I seemed to have no access at all. I couldn’t have said then, and I’m not sure I can now, where the line between the institutional sanction of the priesthood left off and individual variance—foundational to the Mormon idea of personal revelation– began. Was this happening because I was a woman? Or because I was me?

I stuck it out four more years before I stood up from the pew one Sunday morning and walked to my car and drove 3 hours to sit on a log by a stream in the Shenandoah instead, because I knew I could not take the Sacrament one more time, feeling as I did that my commitment was being betrayed by a God who, visibly, doctrinally, and anecdotally, did not care as much about me as He did about the people who stood to testify of his work in their lives.

There is no reason to believe, of course, that my experience has been universal, or that my response has been the “right one.” There are many, in fact, who might say that my ambivalence and inactivity in the face of difficulty is proof that I am insufficiently faithful, or especially immature. It is entirely possible that they are correct.

Then again, whose vision is the baseline? Who could paint the more accurate portrait of reality?  We are like the lions–what each of us senses may not be the most accurate view, but it is, for all intents and purposes, the truth of the world. It is Nature; it is Is.

Holland’s choice of the word ‘miracle’ can’t have been purely in jest. Miracles are miracles because they interfere with what Is. Water to wine, dead to living, one version of the possible substituted, somehow, for another. And what Is, Is now greater, because the world expands as the definitions of the Real do. Truth flickers. The wonder is that we might have been wrong.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Doubting at Zion’s Gate
Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 3
  • Travis

    You’ve gotten rusty in the time you’ve been away. The statistical report (or “bureaucratic arcana,” as you call it) is only given during the annual (April) conference, not the semiannual (October) conference. And the announcement came Saturday morning, not Saturday afternoon.

    But those details aren’t really what this article is about. It’s about your experience as a Mormon woman, and I can no more dispute how that felt to you than you can dispute the reality of my testimony of Mormonism. I can say, however, that I am unaware of any way in which women have any less “access to God” than men because they do not hold the priesthood. It doesn’t affect your ability to pray, to receive answers, or to feel God’s love and direction. But because the priesthood is connected to the more visible, outward aspects of church governance (the “bureaucratic arcana,” if you will), there’s a fixation on it, as if the outward and publicly visible were necessary for the inward, personal, and spiritual.

    The Mormon vision of gender equality includes gender interdependence. By contrast, secular feminism seems to value gender independence–the attitude that women can do it all on their own; they don’t need men, because that implies subordination. In Mormonism, by contrast, the roles are split, keeping both genders dependent on the other. Mormon doctrine is unabashed in saying what is both obvious to any rational observer and very un-PC: Men and women are different. We’re just wired differently. Neither is better or worse than the other, but neither are we the same. Of course there is individual variation, but the two genders are characterized by their differences, and that is reflected in their roles in the church.

    I do agree, however, that we could benefit from a clear enunciation, perhaps in General Conference, of the rationale behind the allocation of those roles.

  • Margaret Blair Young

    Xarissa, this is a wonderful post–heartfelt, honest, and profound. I knew you as the Zebra Mormon, back when you were my student. It is such a joy to watch you progress and deepen. You are voicing what so many feel, including me. I never wanted to serve a mission, though two of my sisters served. In my growing up years, there was a stigma on “lady missionaries” (LMs). They were the ones who couldn’t find someone to marry them. We do move slowly. And yes, truth flickers.

  • julianne

    X, this is gorgeous. Thank you for being so brave to share. These leanings towards brooks over church pews are felt by everyone, me too lately in quite an acute way. In church a few weeks back in my ward in Oxford, UK, a wonderful talk was given where a young woman finally admitted over the pulpit “I come to church and feel imperfect. I feel out of place. I feel I don’t know anything.” To have someone admit doubt at Sacrament meeting is too few and far between. But we’ve talked about this before…. would that we all had more courage – or that we’d even be given the chance. (I haven’t been asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting for nearly 10 years. Does my adherence to what Eliot described as the ‘negative way’ to faith shine through so obviously?)

  • b_nu

    Girl goes inactive because God doesn’t give her everything she demands.
    Not really a unique story…

    • matt b

      I’m glad we have you here to share what Jesus would surely say, b_nu.

  • Dweezil

    I am asking this honestly: How in the world can any woman be a Mormon?

    I mean seriously, every man over the age of 12 is a priest, with full sacred authority. Every woman is …blah. That means a 12 year old boy has more church authority than an 80 year old grandmother of ten with 3 PhDs. Seriously?

    And what about plural marriage int he afterlife? I mean, seven wives for every man, and every man gets to rule his own planet. What do the women get? They get to be one of the man’s seven wives and give birth to his man “Spirit children.”

    I am sorry, but it does not take a radical feminist to see that the Mormon Church is not appropriate for women.

    I would love to hear why any of you women are Mormon. I am expecting that the real reason is family coercion or marriage.

  • Rockgod28

    I am a man who holds the priesthood of God.

    Am I complete or have “divine access” greater than a woman?


    In fact I am limited, finite, and insignificant is relation to certain powers every woman everywhere inherently has by birth. A man does not acquire anything by birth. Nothing. When a man comes into the world he is naked and alone. Alone I have no connection to the world, to God or anyone.

    Does that make me strong? Independent? Fierce? Powerful?

    No, it does not. A man alone can not spring forth life. I, as a man, am not the fountain upon which the generations of humanity flows from one generation to the next. I have no connection to the divine a literal separation from God in every way. Ancient and some modern writers and poets describe the human soul as half a person, half a being. That is not accurate.

    I am whole. I am happy I am a man. I do not want to be a woman, to give birth, I have no desire for that connection. There are men who want that connection, who change their gender to try grasp that spark of divinity we do not have. Or women who forsake it.

    While I am glad I am I man that means I will never have the blessings from God that he gives to women. Blessings I will never know or can even imagine.

    Why does it have to be the woman to be submissive to the man? Why can’t child birth be easy? Why does the Lord allow men to lead the Church, his Kingdom on Earth, when it is clear a woman could and more than likely do a better job than any man?

    Comparing and contrasting the Priesthood with the Relief Society shows the stark difference between the two. Compassion, kindness, organization, ego, humility, and selflessness are qualities woman show superiority to men every second of everyday in the Church if not the world. It is nearly a biological fact in science from many studies. So why?

    It is simple. It is because men are not and we are alone.

    So God gives the Priesthood, the power and authority to act in his Holy name, because men are inferior to women in these attributes?

    No. Men are not inferior.

    A child, the generations of the human family, requires two people or genders. A man and a woman. Together they create offspring. This is a fact, a truth, whether it is under the Covenant or not.

    Nurture is part of the divine nature of a woman, mother or not. A teacher far superior to any man who will shape a child, man or woman, for the rest of their life.

    What does a man have? We have seen in this modern culture of feminism and laws that the man has nothing. A man does not need to carry the child. A man does not nourish the child and is no longer required in a physical biological sense after inception. (Going for a nicer word.)

    In our modern society a woman does not need a man if she is sufficiently well off or has resources such as wealth. Day Care Centers, nannies, babysitters, and other services can provide if the mother has to work. What does the man have? A biological claim? He did not carry the child, give birth or suffer for the duration of pregnancy.

    So in a world without the Priesthood what does a man have to give?

    A prayer? A woman can pray just as good if not better than a man.

    I am touching on the most obvious and contrasting of situations. Yet there are central facts to men and women that are very acute within the Temple of the LDS faith.

    Eve, our glorious mother, was wise. She was the one that put us on the path by her desire for wisdom.


    King Soloman desired wisdom from any gift of God he was willing to give him. What did he do with that wisdom?

    He threw it away for pleasure and strange women. Why? Because he was a man. He traded a gift of God for carnal desires, for power, and vanity. He was a king, he had many wives and women as well as blessed with wisdom from God. Yet he threw it all away.

    There is only one way for the Priesthood of God to work. One. Without that one way a man has nothing. The moment a man abuses that power and authority the powers of heaven withdraw. While the man is physically stronger, shouts with a loud voice or exercises unrighteous dominion that man has no power in the priesthood while he proclaims his authority.

    The Priesthood is a test and a trial for men. It is a burden that beings at 12 years of age until death. It is forged, refined, stressed, and sometimes even broken then reforged again according to the will and pleasure of God.

    When a man places his hands upon the head of a sick child, even his child, is he sufficiently humble as well as worthy, does he have faith, is it the will of God that he is speaking, will he grant the words to be true?

    I can testify that I know God does.

    My daughter, whom I love, has been sick more than once. I have been able to give her a father’s blessing. I testify that she has been healed immediately more than once. It was not me. I did not heal her. It was God. God healed her by the power and authority of Jesus Christ. Not me or because I am a man.

    I used what God has given me to the best of my ability.

    I am not superior to my wife. I am not better than her because I have the Priesthood. I need her. I need her so much. The Church needs her. Why?

    She is not a scripture scholar or very submissive to me. In fact I would call her the opposite. She calls me out a lot to do my duty. My duty to her, to our daughter and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. However we are in agreement in this which is that we both of us are submissive to the Lord. When the local leader calls, we answer. When we have the opportunity to serve we do. It is that simple. Serve the Lord.

    After Eve partook of the fruit and would be cast out of the Garden of Eden she gave the fruit to Adam. He was divided. He was loyal to God and his commandments. God gave him a commandment not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God made it very plain that if he ate he would surely die for God forbidden him to do so. Eve in Moses pointed out if they did not eat they would have never known joy or had children. God also commanded Adam to remain with Eve, to cleave unto his wife and none else. He left his father’s house and was driven out.

    Yet there was a quality within Adam that was still there to be redeemed. Even though Adam disobeyed, he was still obedient to remain with Eve out of love. He stood before God and confessed why he ate the forbidden fruit. Again demonstrating the quality God, after the transgression, wanted to redeem. So it was simple. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve as a condition to receive the Savior. By entering this covenant, all of us by birth enter this covenant for God to provide a Savior for us if we choose Him. We choose him by the same quality that God saw in Adam and Eve that he wants us to have too.

    Loyalty to God.

    Elder Holland made that case very clear this conference that I have renewed my zeal and strength of will to do what he did council to do.

    Jesus died. He was resurrected. What did Peter do? He went fishing. Elder Holland and Jesus through the power of the Holy Ghost taught a very simple lesson in John 21.


    That is the gift of God I desire for myself above wisdom, knowledge, and power.

    Unlike wisdom or knowledge or power, loyalty can not be given as a gift. It is the only thing we have to give to God by our agency, our gift to give Him. It is our sacrifice to bend our will to His. It is what Christ did when he suffered for our sins and was forsaken by God on the cross. He was the Son of God, he had the power to call down angels, fire, or any other number of means to save himself before the world that he was a God, not a man alone. He had the Priesthood, the same Priesthood that shaped very world he was being crucified on. It wasn’t humility that caused him to die. It wasn’t love for us alone he sacrificed his life as an infinite atonement that kept him on that cross as his life was slipping through his fingers like sand. It was Loyalty to his Father in Heaven even as everything he built was taken away.

    He truly was forsaken. All the work his Father commanded him to do was undone or would be undone by death, his death. He suffered greater pain than any will ever know. His friends scattered at his arrest. His best friend denied he ever knew him after travelling together for three years witnessing miracles not just by Jesus, but by his own faith. His mother watching him die being powerless to save him. His Father withdrawing from him bringing everything to my original point.

    As a man Jesus was alone and literally separated from God. All the power in the Universe and that power he directed inward out of loyalty giving up his life after everything seemed to be lost.

    I resolve myself to be Loyal to God. It is not easy. It is hard. The Prophets and Apostles have said repeatedly, especially today have said, the life of a Mormon, a Latter-Day Saint is not easy, in fact it is hard. Jesus told Peter he would die because of his love for him. To be killed just like he was.

    He did not ask Peter to die, he told him the consequences of loving Him as he would feed his sheep and lambs. Peter even thought about it since he asked about John who would tarry until Jesus returns. The Savior invited one last time to him. Come, follow me.

    Peter did.

    Was it the Priesthood that made these men superior, better or more important than women?

    No. It was not in anyway. Mary brought into the world the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, and raised him to become the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel by patience, diligence, and most importantly love. She nurtured the one that would save us all. The trust and faith of God in Mary to do this causes us to respect and honor her as the mother of the Son of God. She is the connection to us.

    Joseph, Mary’s husband, exemplified my point. Through Mary biologically Jesus was born, not him. What did Joseph have? Nothing. He was alone with no connection literally to the divine. Jesus was not his son by birth.

    We know however that Joseph submitted to the will of God. He was visited by angels. He protected his family and taught Jesus to be a man.

    We know through the scriptures by the character of Jesus what his father taught him as he grew in favor and wisdom with God and man. Jesus had a deep respect for women. He taught the woman at the well and revealed to her that he was the Messiah directly. He taught directly Mary and Martha his doctrine. He rose Lazarus from the dead because they asked him to. He healed women as well as men.

    Have you noticed that the women Jesus healed were in pain? The woman with an issue of blood. The woman whose son had died. The woman caught in adultery. Plus many other examples of women Jesus interacted with and Jesus first miracle was for who? His mother, a woman.

    The first people to witness the resurrection of Jesus were women who saw angels and the risen Lord to go and testify to the men he was alive. The first to proclaim the good news were women.

    I am sure you see a pattern by now.

    So what? This is all in the scriptures, what does this matter at all?

    It matters because we are accountable to God for our lives. We are temples or tabernacles of God. He houses his precious spirits, his children, inside of ourselves. How we behave, think and act matters to him.

    Are you ready to face this life in the service of the cause of the Gospel like Peter?

    Life is unfair, people are cruel, there is tragedy and suffering all around us everyday. Can we overcome our fears, our sense of justice, and our own will to the will of God? Even when it feels impossible?

    How do we do it?

    Endure. To the end. Not just endure, but endure the unfairness, the cruelty, the tragedy and suffering joyfully. I know right. How can you feel joy in suffering, in agony of spirit or during tragedy? I have been there too. I looked up at the heavens and demanded assurance. I mercifully got none in my spirit of rebellion. A sign, something to tell me everything was going to be ok.

    The answer was by lack of signs, by no confirmations or manifestations that everything was not ok. I was not serving, I was not helping the kingdom, I was in rebellion, and thought I needed something to show me the way. Again the answer was nothing.

    I see now after serving, helping the kingdom of God, humility and faith everything I was looking for in what felt like my lowest point. I have gained so much and I have still so much to do to be worthy of my talents as I share them and live a joyful life in this world.

    The Parable of the Talents. I was the man with the one talent. I buried it. Not my ability, but my talents were buried in my heart. I did not nurture them, grow them, or develop them in anyway. I let them sit. I wasted a lot of time by doing so. Now I am not. The master has not come back to settle my account. I dug up my Talent (testimony) and I am putting it to work.

    How? Because I am converted to the Lord. That is how. Or in other words I am Loyal and put my trust in Him to endure joyfully this life I have been blessed with here in this world.

    May God bless you and the others who read here too. There is work to do, the Lord’s work.

    It is time to get started before Jesus Christ returns.

  • Kiwi57


    If you are really “asking this honestly,” then I for one hope that you are open to having your beloved stereotypes displaced by a few facts.

    It is not the case that “every man over the age of 12 is a priest, with full sacred authority.” The authority is gained incrementally over time, as young men learn the importance of service. Twelve-year-old boys are ordained as deacons, which means they get to pass the Sacrament to the members of the congregation. I can just imagine what a “radical feminist” would be saying about that if the roles were reversed: “Humph! Just see how little they value women! They’re teaching the girls to be waitresses!!!” A service-oriented community is not a good place for anyone whose outlook is based upon envy, regardless of their gender.

    But as for your hypothetical overqualified octogenarian, I fail to see how academic elitism is really superior to “sexism” in any meaningful way.

    And your notion of “plural marriage in the afterlife” bears no resemblance to any LDS doctrine I am aware of.