Safety is Not in Numbers

We are standing on the east end of Lake Wakatipu. The water shines a bright aqua blue in the light of Sabbath morning. Broom shrub spots the hillsides, splashing yellow across green slopes. It is springtime in New Zealand.

We find the sign. White with black print. Indicating church services in a chapel nestled at the bottom of a private driveway. The chapel is a house made of pearl-colored slat board. And it looks like someone is home.

My husband and I park on the main road, walk down the driveway, and crack the door. Sunbeams shoot across the carpet as we step into the small house. It’s a room with maybe 15 chairs, a podium without a mic, and a keyboard, stage right. The faces, a beautiful mix of color, are smiling at us. With no aversion in their eyes, they look directly at us, even though we are strangers. And it is obvious,  they are happy we’ve come.

We exchange names, where we hail from, and sit down on the plastic chairs. The branch president asks if anyone can play the piano. I raise my hand and take my place behind the keyboard.

It feels good to be there. Good to sing, to pray, to break bread with these Saints.

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They invite us to share lunch with them following the meetings, and as we eat, we learn that the Queenstown Branch has only seven active members, with a total of 27 baptized members on record. This particular Sunday visitors make up most of their tiny congregation.

During the announcements, a beautiful young Maori sister, with a handful of children on her lap, is released as Primary President and called as Relief Society President. Another Maori sister, seated behind me, is called as her counselor. She tells me she is the only active member in her family. Even her children don’t attend with her. But she feels great purpose in her new assignment; that she is meant to gather her friends and bring them with her.

The speakers for the meeting are visitors from Dunedin, a city south of Queenstown. This husband and wife have driven three and a half hours to be there. Both are native New Zealanders who joined the church as teenagers. The sister speaks about reading the scriptures every morning before we begin our day. It is one of the most powerful talks I have heard on scripture study.

Then her husband speaks, and with a clear and confident voice, he makes this statement of encouragement to the small branch:

“Safety is not in numbers,” he says. “It is in the Spirit.” Continue reading

2013 Whitney Roundup (and a plea for support for its founder)

Here at Segullah, we love the Whitney Awards. We love reading the books, learning about the authors, attending the Awards banquet, and, most importantly, engaging in spirited debates about the merits and detriments of each work. This year, Emily Milner headed up our group of readers, which also included Rosalyn Eves, Jessie Christensen, Sandra Jergensen, Heather Bergevin, and me. The awards will be handed out at the annual banquet, held this Saturday night in Layton, Utah. But we wanted to give you a sneak peek into our thoughts about the forty books we read.

First of all, we are delighted to see the quality of LDS fiction improving in the years we’ve been reading for the contest. Nearly all of the young adult novels are now published by national publishers, and those published by regional presses are showing more maturity in the writing, both in subject matter and style. There are five books nominated in each of eight categories. Readers can read a single category, all of the “adult” novels, or all of the youth fiction. Readers who read all 25 adult books can vote for Novel of the Year, and those who read all 15 youth books can vote for Best Novel in Youth Fiction. Any finalist that is an author’s first novel is eligible for Best Novel by a New Author

General: The competition this year came down to two strong works: Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster, which is very readable and moving with great characterization, and Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angel of Death, the most ambitious, literary and lyrical of the novels in the entire competition. Both stories are about married couples, separated too soon by death. All of our readers loved both novels, and we were evenly divided over which novel should claim the top spot. We were also very happy to see a stronger General category this year than in years past.

Historical: Both H.B. Moore’s Esther the Queen, the novelization of the story of Esther from the Old Testament, and Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage, about an estranged couple brought back together during their escape from the Mormon colonies in Mexico, are great novels– well written with great characters and compelling plots.

Romance: It’s rare that everyone in our group of readers agrees on a single novel to nab our top vote, but this year, we were unanimous in our adoration of Melanie Jacobson’s Second Chances, with the story of a producer who falls for the star of the Mormon Bachelor, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. The story is witty and wise, and made us all wish we were single again and could date Jacobson’s bachelor.

Mystery/Suspense: While we were unanimous in our vote in the romance category, we were hopelessly divided in the Mystery/Suspense category. Some of us really enjoyed Josi Kilpack’s Rocky Road, especially the longtime readers who have seen the evolution of  Sadie Hoffmiller’s character over the course of the ten (now eleven) novels in her culinary mystery series. Other readers fought hard for Heather B. Moore’s Finding Sheba, enjoying the complexity of the plot about uncovering the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. We also want to give a shout out to Traci Hunter Abramson, whose Deep Cover, about a CIA agent who falls for an FBI agent in her ward, demonstrates a lot of her growth as a writer and plays with the complexities of writing for a home audience.

Speculative: Jeffrey S. Savage’s Dark Memories was creepily reminiscent of a Stephen King novel, where the world is just a half-step away from the one in which we’re living. The story of revenge, more than thirty years after the fact, for the death of a young boy in a mine, kept us turning pages.  Many of us also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Echo in Time, the story of two sets of twins working with time travel, set four centuries in the future.

Young Adult- Speculative: We all loved Kasie West’sPivot Point. Addie is able to see her two separate futures in alternating chapters in this book, and in the end she faces a difficult decision. Addie and her fellow characters in both the paranormal and normal worlds made the story come alive. We also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Friends and Traitors: Slayers 2, a book about dragon fighters, and a great example of how to make a sequel interesting and relevant for new readers.

Young Adult- General: Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s in Me wowed. The writing was beautiful, the historical setting was realistic, and the choices Judith faced were heartbreakingly real. By contrast, we also though that Lindsey Leavitt’s Going Vintage was delightfully fun, and she did a nice job of handling serious subjects with a light touch.

Middle Grade: Liesl Shurtliff’s RUMP was a totally delightful retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in which we learn to sympathize with the little guy and no longer make the mistake of siding entirely with that poor miller’s daughter. We also enjoyed The Runaway King, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s sequel to The False Prince, which won big last year.

Best Novel by a New Author: RUMP

Best Novel of the Year: Love Letters of the Angel of Death

Best Novel in Youth Fiction: All the Truth That’s in Me

When the Whitney Awards were established in 2007, it was largely accomplished through the hard work and love of Robison Wells and is brother Dan. Both brothers have gone on to win Whitney Awards, and their books are weird in all the best ways. Rob has worked tirelessly to build the field of Mormon letters, and now we have an opportunity to help him as he suffers from mental illness and crippling debt. Check out Altered Perceptions to find out how, and consider ordering the anthology whose proceeds will benefit him. It looks fantastic!

P.S. If you want to read reviews of the Whitney books, both Rosalyn and Shelah have blogged their reviews.

There Are Monsters in My Office

Specific things I avoid:

  1. Drying plastic containers by hand (they can drip dry)
  2. Bees (allergic)
  3. Shaving my legs (hellooo Autumn!)
  4. The two mailing boxes in my office

Oh, the boxes look innocent enough, all fluffy-cornered from the multiple moves I’ve dragged them through over the past six years, held together with packing tape and stubbornness. Those two boxes, though, (each no longer and higher than hand to elbow) are crammed to bursting with monsters. Monsters lurking in between the photos of my oldest son learning to ride a bike, monsters nibbling on the edges of the pictures of my youngest dancing in the backyard, monsters stuffed into every frame, every spare gasp of air, wrapped around every memory sleeping in the boxes. Memories have vicious teeth, and if I open those boxes I’m going to get mauled. Continue reading

Morning with All of Us Who Mourn

Growing up in Southern California denied me the experience of migrating through the intensities of all four seasons.  In Orange County, we had mild summers, few displays of fall foliage, a bit of rain and some fierce Santa Ana winds in the winter, and then a timid showing of springtime flowers.  I never really understood neither the cabin fever of winter nor the spring fever that follows.

Consequently, it took moving to climates further north to discover that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.   During the four years I lived in Wisconsin, I had a lot of trouble staying awake past 7 pm. I was moody and had very little energy from December through March.   I was overjoyed when spring came in April. (March is merely “mud month” in Wisconsin.)  April brought longer days, milder temperatures and an awakening earth that cheered my spirits.

I witnessed the most brilliant displays of spring during the four years I lived in Washington, DC.  The earth would explode with color: daffodils, tulips, forsythia pushed decaying leaves aside and brought me cheer.  They seemed as Lazarus, coming forth from their tombs to live again.   When the cherry trees were in full bloom, I would drive to the Tidal Basin and jog underneath their branches.  I felt jubilant with these floral fireworks above me.

Not until I had experienced the darkness of a deep winter followed by the color of a vibrant spring did I feel some measure of the joy promised by the Resurrection.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalms 30:5).

As we journey through mortality, we all have occasion to mourn.  Our mortality makes us vulnerable to sin and sickness, decay and death, weakness and weariness.  But in our mourning we can comfort each  other while we look with hope to the morning of the resurrection where we will be healed from the ravages of mortality. The sick will be made whole, the dead shall rise again, the weariness of this world will be laid aside for eternal joy.

Please enjoy this powerful Easter hymn performed by a choir of voices and a hand-bell choir and string orchestra. It also includes video of beautiful landscapes as well as video depicting Jesus during passion week. 

“He Is Risen” Mormon Tabernacle Choir

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

We live in a society of broken and struggling families, yet most don’t know how to talk to someone who has been through a divorce, abandonment or abuse by a parent and/or estrangement from a family member. While excruciating in their own right, the pain from these experiences is often escalated by well-meaning friends and family.

I shudder to think of things I may have said in the past– I remember hearing of people who couldn’t be in the same room as a family member and judging them harshly. I remember thinking, “Buck up. Grow up.” That was before I spent a year of my life sobbing on the floor in agony.

If you read nothing else, remember this: extend love; refrain from judgment.

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