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Obedience to Correct Principles: A Fathers Day Message

fathers-day-camo  I don’t like being told what to do. I tend to associate “obedience” with tyranny, authoritarianism, and force. I cringe at the phrase “Because I said so.”  There’s a good reason that “love, honor and obey” was removed from the bride’s wedding vows.

Yet there I was, asked to give a sermon about obedience on Fathers Day. Assigned, in fact. Either someone has a dark sense of irony, or I had something to learn. Thankfully, it was the latter.

When Joseph Smith was mayor of Nauvoo, then the largest city in Illinois and growing every day with an influx of diverse immigrants, a member of the state legislature asked him how he was able to govern such a large and diverse population. Smith thought for a moment and then responded simply,

“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

Steeped in libertarian philosophy and seemingly the antithesis of strict obedience, it is one of my favorite quotations.

One of my favorite scriptures has a similar theme: “Behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is a compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward” (D&C 58:26). Doesn’t this seem to suggest that strict obedience is a bad thing in God’s eyes—that it leads to lasting punishment rather than eternal reward?

One of the lessons I’ve learned as a professor of English literature is that words matter. Abstract concepts gradually transform with usage, so it’s especially important to understand their true, original meaning.

mary-washing-jesus-feetHere’s what I realized about the word obedience: it has the same root as obeisance. Now, obeisance isn’t a word we use very often anymore, but I know what it means. It’s a term associated with extreme respect, worship and adoration, often expressed through physical actions: a bow, a curtsy, a kiss on the hand. It is often accompanied by obedience, but the obedience follows as a natural consequence of love and respect. I think of Mary Magdalene kneeling at the Savior’s feet, washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. This was obeisance. Not a “do-what-I-tell-you” kind of obedience, but obedience to an inner voice whispering, “This is your Savior. Show your great adoration and respect.”

A Clearer Understanding of Obedience

 When asked how he governed Nauvoo, Smith didn’t say, “I let them do whatever they want.” He first taught them correct principles, and then they governed themselves. If I want my child to bake a cake, for example, it isn’t enough to send him into a kitchen filled with utensils and supplies. I need to provide some guidance on the proper combination of ingredients.

Did you know that a pound cake gets its name from its guiding principles? Originally cakes were made from a pound of sugar, a pound of flour, a pound of butter, and a pound of liquid, which included eggs, milk, and water. If a baker knew the guiding principles of cake baking, she could use her own judgment in selecting her sweetener, milled grain, spices, fruits and other flavors to make a variety of cakes. She could even substitute mayonnaise for the butter and eggs, as bakers did during World War II when eggs were scarce, because she understood the principle. You could say she disobeyed the rule of the recipe, but obeyed the principle of baking and governed herself to accomplish the founding goal– or “commandment”– of making a cake.

Obedience to God

I have learned through experience that the Lord is no tyrant. He is a loving, kind and concerned Heavenly Parent. So there must be more to this idea of obeying commandments than force, authoritarianism, or punishment. In the scriptures He explains His founding principles:

“Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him.

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (D & C 59:5-7; Matthew 22:35-39; Mark 12:39-31).

In other words, He commands us to Love. That’s His founding principle. If we truly love God, and truly love our neighbors, and feel gratitude in our hearts for the opportunity to do so, everything else is detail. And those details will fall into place, because we will have learned how to govern our own actions, with the right spirit and motivation. Obeying the commandments will no longer feel burdensome, because they will have become a natural part of who we are, filled with love.

That’s why He says, “It is not meet [appropriate] that I should command in all things.” If we have developed true obedience to the gospel—that is, obeisance—then we will naturally want to do the right thing. We won’t be forced to “clean our plates,” because every commandment will be delicious, desirable and nourishing, and administered in just the right amounts.

“Use Your Best Judgment”

When I was the director of the Center for Academic Excellence at Mercy College, I oversaw nearly 100 writing specialists who tutored nearly 1,000 students every semester. I could not possibly have “commanded in all things” for each of those tutoring sessions. Instead, I provided professional development training workshops twice a year, rather like a general conference of tutoring specialists. There we reviewed correct principles of good tutoring.

Often a tutor would raise her hand and ask, “What if…?” I would listen to the question and ask others how they might handle the situation. If the tutor persisted with another esoteric “What if….?” (What if the power goes out and the student has a cold and I can’t find my socks and the library is locked….) I would respond, “Use your best judgment.” These were professional writing specialists with graduate degrees and years of experience. It was not necessary to command them in all things. I had taught them correct principles, and they could govern themselves. They just needed the confidence that came from knowing that I trusted their judgment.

If we can do this at work, we can do this at home as well. I knew a father once who would often stop his children in their tracks and command them to do something completely unnecessary and insensible because, as he explained, “I’m teaching them to be obedient.” No. He was teaching them to be afraid. He was teaching them that sometimes his orders are capricious and don’t make sense. He was not teaching them correct principles that would guide their future actions. And he certainly was not teaching them obeisance, or respect. Rather, they learned to fear him and despise him.

The way to teach children to obey is with the principle of obeisance and respect, not punishment or tyranny. Discipline means “to teach,” not “to punish.” Using force was Satan’s plan.

fathers-day-lakeTeaching principles is harder than saying, “Because I said so,” but it’s the only method that really works. It begins by focusing on long-term principles rather than on the immediate situation, because sometimes long-term results require violating standard rules. Jesus taught this principle when he told the parable of the ox that got stuck in the mire on the Sabbath. The long-term principle was to be a good steward of the ox; the short-term rule was not to do labor on the Sabbath. Both are important, so it takes wise judgment and understanding of principles to choose the correct action.

Good parenting—and good leadership, for that matter– requires us to be good examples of the principles we want to instill, and being completely trustworthy. As children learn to trust our judgment, they will begin to develop better judgment themselves. And they will obey us—that is, respect us– because they will realize how much we love them and want the best for them.

chocolate-chip-cookiesWhen I first began making chocolate chip cookies, I used a recipe and adhered closely to it. Sometimes my cookies turned out great, but often they were flat, sticky, and unappealing. Gradually I learned the tricks that made me a better baker: Don’t melt the butter. Stir the ingredients by hand. Notice the humidity, and adjust the amount of flour. Use real chocolate and vanilla, not imitation. Now, I don’t even need a recipe—I can bake delicious, beautiful chocolate chip cookies without even thinking about it. Baking has become a part of who I am. And I often use that gift in service to others, because I enjoy it. It isn’t a burden or a duty any more.

Obeying the commandments—with true obeisance, not duty or resentment—is the way we learn to become like God. It’s also the way we learn to become better parents, employers, leaders, and friends.

Grandpa and ValerieI grew up with an abusive father, but I was blessed later in my life by a stepfather who was kind, generous, wise, and honest. He would have commanded me to obey his word, yet he earned my great respect and love through his actions and his example. I would have done anything for him, simply because I loved him, and I trusted that he would never ask me to do anything that wasn’t for my own good.

On this Fathers Day I hope that all of us will commit to living by principles rather than by rules, and by obeisance rather than obedience. The triumph of persuasion over force is the foundation of a civilized society–and of a happy home.

Jo Ann Skousen teaches English Literature at Chapman University and Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Read more about the obeisance of Mary Magdalene in the final chapter of her book Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ.

Learning to Love the “Other Mother”

ruth-and-naomi-usable The book of Ruth is almost like a fairy tale: through hard work and kindness, the servant girl marries the prince and lives happily ever after. But there is no wicked stepmother in this fairy tale; in fact, the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, has been a symbol of loyalty and love for centuries. Naomi’s friends said of Ruth, “Thy daughter-in-law, who loves you, is better to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). This was high praise indeed.

Naomi had lost almost everything in Moab; her husband had died, and then both of her sons had died too. But she had gained a daughter—a wonderful, generous, tender-hearted daughter (who is a lot like my own dear daughters-in-law). When Ruth’s first child was born, she placed him into Naomi’s arms as a symbol of Naomi’s lost sons. Naomi had once given her son to Ruth; now Ruth would share her son with Naomi. Such tender care is desired between all women brought together by their love for the same man, one as his mother and the other as his wife.

Ruth’s Lesson for Today: Two Women, One Man

Ruth’s profound example of love and loyalty sets a standard for all in-laws to follow. Yet the relationship between the woman who bears a son and the woman who marries him is often full of discord and misunderstanding. Seventy percent of women report having rocky relationships with their mothers-in-law or daughters-in-law. What causes this problem, and can it be fixed?

Elizabeth Graham observes in her book Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law, “A mother is naturally territorial when it comes to her family. A wife is just as territorial. Standing in the middle of these two overlapping territories is a man–the son of one and husband of the other. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the son to step out of the overlapping territory and fully into his wife’s territory–and the sooner he does this the better.”[i] While this is wise advice for the new couple, it leaves the mother standing alone in her now empty territory. Transitions can be difficult, and the transition from mother to mother-in-law is one of the most difficult to accept. It requires a woman to redefine her relationship with her own child. Is it any wonder that jealousy and competition sometimes flare?

Nevertheless, a comfortable relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can be established. First, recognize that each will have some difficulty getting used to her new position, so be gentle and kind with one another. Ruth knew that Naomi’s bitterness was temporary, so she was patient with her mother-in-law. Similarly, the wise mother will step back graciously and allow her son’s new wife to step into her new role. She will encourage and compliment her daughter-in-law and watch for cues that tell her what is working and what is not. A mother who treats her son’s wife with love and respect will earn her son’s love and appreciation as well.

At the same time, the sensitive daughter-in-law will make room in her life for her husband’s mother. Like Ruth, she will compliment her mother-in-law, ask for advice from time to time, and share happy experiences. A wise man will also participate in establishing boundaries that lead to lifelong harmony. He will love his mother, but he will gently let her know that he must “leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife” (Genesis 2:24). When a wife feels confident that her place in her husband’s heart is secure, she can make room in her own heart for his mother, and a loving relationship can flourish.

Even as we open our hearts and homes to each other, it’s still important to establish and respect appropriate boundaries.

  • Observe basic courtesies such as calling before visiting, or asking instead of just assuming that grandparents will babysit. Even though you’re family, treat each other the way you would a guest.
  • Avoid topics of conversation that might be sensitive or off limits, such as how money is earned or spent.
  • Respect family rules about what grandchildren are allowed to do, wear, eat or see.
  • Recognize that the new family might want to establish its own traditions, even on special occasions like holidays, and give them space.

Boundaries should not become barriers, however; as Robert Frost observed, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Make sure your fence has ample gates. Treat your child’s spouse as you treat your own, and embrace the spouse’s extended family as well. Avoid such hurtful comments as, “Now let’s have photos with just the real family.” I remember listening to a woman complain about how her son’s in-laws had ignored and mistreated him, so when her son and his wife came to visit, she took them shopping to buy new clothes for her son and refused to buy anything for her daughter-in-law. “Her parents don’t do anything for John, so why should I do anything for her?” she crowed triumphantly. I was horrified. This woman had an opportunity to model good behavior for her daughter-in-law, and instead she adopted the bad behavior that she abhorred. Always offer kindness, even when it hasn’t been extended to you.

Be quick to forgive, slow to take offense, and the first to apologize. Remember that words can often be misconstrued, so try to see the other person’s point of view, and don’t take offense when none was intended. I remember a time when my husband and I brought our four young children to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas. I didn’t want to be a burden, so we rented a car at the airport, stopped at the grocery store on our way from the airport so I could do the cooking, invited his mother to join us on outings throughout the week, and kept the children out of the way so they wouldn’t make a mess. One morning my mother-in-law said something about the cost of the hot water we were using for our showers, and I was hurt and offended. I had tried so hard to not be a burden, and here she was, complaining about the hot water! It was a terrible moment in our relationship, and we both ended up shouting and crying. Only later did I realize that my mother-in-law hadn’t been complaining about the hot water, she simply wanted to feel that she had been contributing to our visit. And all she could think of was the hot water–we hadn’t left her with much to do! I had come into her home and usurped her place as cook and entertainer. That was a terrible thing to do. We both meant well, yet in my zeal not to be a burden I had made her feel useless, and in her desire to feel useful she had made me feel like a burden. Such misunderstandings can lead to lifelong animosity if we take offense when none is intended. Always start with an assumption of love. Let your mother-in-law help with the laundry if she offers. She isn’t criticizing—she just wants to feel useful. And if you doa chore at your daughter-in-law, be sure to comment on how hard she works and how much you enjoy pampering her.

BA5ADC45-EA06-469B-A533-5E9070BEA439Words are powerful, so use them to heal and encourage, not to tear down or malign. Always ask yourself, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” Avoid gossip, especially about other family members, but share happy moments and family stories. Look for opportunities to praise and appreciate, and have fun together! Occasionally a mother-in-law will hear those most-welcomed words, “What would you do?” When that happens, Annie Chapman suggests in her book The Mother-in-Law Dance that a mother-in-law is well served by “keeping her advice brief and sweet…. And if they do not ask for help, then a mother-in-law would be wise to pray and ask God to send information and inspiration to them through some other source.”[ii]

Todd-Lindsay-Central-ParkAs Ruth and Naomi discovered, a good relationship between in-laws can bring lifelong joy and satisfaction. I am incredibly blessed in the fact that my sons chose well; like Ruth, my daughters-in-law are lighthearted, independent, witty, kind, and generous. It was easy to give my sons to these two women, because I knew they would share their husbands, and their children, with me. They make my heart glad and my life wonderful.

Adopting the kindness of Ruth can repair even a damaged relationship, so do kindly deeds, harbor kindly thoughts, express sincere appreciation, and seek the other’s happiness. You will find it returned to you a hundred-fold.

Jo Ann Skousen is the author of Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ. Autographed copies are available at http://www.matriarchsofthemessiah.com/buy-the-book/

Another Comforter: The Spirit of Truth

Palm SundayWe usually think the Easter story begins with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what has become known as Palm Sunday, because of the palm fronds His devoted followers strewed along the road in front of Him. But the Easter story actually begins a few days earlier, when Jesus returned to Jerusalem to raise His friend Lazarus from the dead and, more importantly, to strengthen the testimonies of His friends as He prepared to leave them.

Knowing that the Jewish leaders felt threatened by His growing popularity and wanted Him arrested for His unorthodox doctrine, Jesus had been avoiding the capital city and teaching in the communities in the surrounding countryside during the waning months of His ministry. When Mary and Martha sent word that Lazarus was deathly ill, Jesus’s disciples were relieved when He decided to wait. “The Jews of late sought to stone thee,” they reminded Him.

Nevertheless, Jesus determined to go. He knew the time for His great sacrifice had come. Soon His disciples would be serving and leading the Church by themselves, and they would have to rely on the Spirit to guide them. In Bethany He would perform a great miracle, raising Lazarus from the dead “to the intent that ye [His disciples] may believe” (John 11:15). He would also guide them to recognize the spirit of testimony that would sustain them after He left.

Jesus_at_the_home_of_Martha_and_Mary_usable-400When Jesus reached the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Mourners filled the home, comforting the women. Jesus remained in the shadows of the garden and sent for Martha, the sister who had concerned herself more with domestic duties during His earlier visits. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” she wailed in accusatory grief when she saw Him. The fact that she greeted Him with an anguished complaint indicates just how close they were.

Martha was concerned for her brother’s temporal life. “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection,” she said, but she wanted him now. Jesus was sympathetic to her grief, but He was more concerned for her eternal welfare. He sensed that she had uttered the correct words about the resurrection, but without true conviction of His role as her Savior.

Patiently He taught her one more time. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

With a jolt of spiritual recognition, Martha understood. “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the son of God, which should come into the world,” she declared.

TransfigurationThis simple yet powerful testimony echoes the words of Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God,” (Matthew 16:16) he proclaimed. Jesus  responded to Peter’s testimony by explaining, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

Personal revelation, the kind that Peter had just experienced, was the rock upon which Christ would build His church. Thousands of people had followed Jesus during His ministry, listening to His sermons, observing His miracles, and eating His simple feasts. But the time was now near when they would no longer see His physical face nor hear His physical voice. At the feast of the Last Supper He would promise, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”

Martha had received a personal revelation in almost the identical words as Peter’s, through the same Spirit of Truth. She too became a special witness of Christ and His mission as the Savior of the world.

mary-jesus-griefMoments later, when Martha’s sister Mary heard that Jesus was waiting in the garden, “she rose up hastily, and went out…[and] fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, ‘Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.”  This time Jesus did not ask His weeping friend to declare her witness. Apparently Mary had already experienced the testimony borne by the Spirit of Truth.

Suddenly Jesus was overcome by His own grief. The scripture tells us, “Jesus wept.” Jesus wept in empathy for Mary’s grief that Lazarus had died. He wept for the Jews who had heard His words but had rejected them. He wept because He knew that, in just a few short days, His earthly life would be finished. And He wept because He knew that these dear friends would be weeping again in grief as they watched His own torment and death.

But He would not leave them comfortless: Lazarus would be with them. And the Spirit of Truth would be too. That Spirit of Truth is available to each one of us as we seek confirmation of sacred truths and declare them openly as witnesses of Christ. May we each find comfort in that glorious truth: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live!”

READING GUIDE FOR EASTER WEEK

During Easter week it’s valuable to read through the Four Gospels and reflect on what the Savior did on each of His final days. He cleansed the temple, taught several important parables, prophesied of the Last Days, and spent treasured evenings in the home of his dearest friends. He prepared for the agony of Gethsemane, the scourging of the guards, and the crucifixion by celebrating the Passover with his Apostles and establishing the symbol of the sacrament that would represent His flesh and blood. The reading schedule below will help you prepare for Easter.

Saturday:
John 11:1—12:11

Palm Sunday:
Mark 11:1-11
Matthew 21: 1-17
Luke 19:29-40

Monday:
Mark 11:12-19
Matthew 21:18 – 22:46
Luke 19:41-48; 20
John 12:20-26 (John doesn’t give a clearly chronological account, so these are approximations)

Tuesday
Mark 11:20 – 13:37
Matthew 23:1-26:16
Luke 21
John 12:27-50

*Wednesday. Nothing is reported for Wednesday. Many people suggest that He spent Wednesday by Himself in prayer or with His family.

Thursday
Mark 14:12—15:47
Matthew 26:17—27:66
Luke 22-23
John 13-18

Easter morning:
Mark 16
Matthew 28
Luke 24
John 20 (my favorite chapter in the New Testament!)

*A careful reading suggests that everything we normally associate with Thursday actually occurred on Wednesday, and that Jesus actually spent two full nights in the tomb. If Passover occurred on Thursday that year, followed by the Sabbath, the women would have waited through two long nights, Passover plus the Sabbath, before they could anoint His body with burial ointments. This would fulfill the prophecy that He would spend three full days in the tomb.

Jo Ann Skousen is the author of Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, which offers a bold new look at the remarkable women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ through his mortal mother, Mary. The book is available on Amazon and Deseret Bookstores. Personalized autographed copies can be purchased at http://www.matriarchsofthemessiah.com/buy-the-book/

“My Christmas Miracle,” by Taylor Caldwell

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. But it can also be a time of sorrow, darkness, and unbearable loneliness. My favorite Christmas story was written by Taylor Caldwell. It captures, I think, the true message of Christmas. I hope it becomes your favorite too:

taylor-caldwell

MY CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

For many of us, one Christmas stands out from all the others, the one when the meaning of the day shone clearest.

Although I did not guess it, my own truest Christmas began on a rainy spring day in the bleakest year of my life. Recently divorced, I was in my 20’s, had no job, and was on my way downtown to go the rounds of the employment offices. I had no umbrella, for my old one had fallen apart, and I could not afford another one. I sat down in the streetcar, and there against the seat was a beautiful silk umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and flecks of bright enamel. I had never seen anything so lovely.

I examined the handle and saw a name engraved among the golden scrolls. The usual procedure would have been to turn in the umbrella to the conductor, but on impulse I decided to take it with me and find the owner myself. I got off the streetcar in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to protect myself. Then I searched a telephone book for the name on the umbrella and found it. I called, and a lady answered.

Yes, she said in surprise, that was her umbrella which her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present. But, she added, it had been stolen from her locker at school (she was a teacher) more than a year before. She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to her small house. She took the umbrella, and her eyes filled with tears.

The teacher wanted to give me a reward, but — though $20 was all I had in the world – – her happiness at retrieving this special possession was such that to have accepted money would have spoiled something. We talked for a while, and I must have given her my address. I don’t remember.

The next six months were wretched. I was able to obtain only temporary employment here and there, for a small salary, though this was what they now call the Roaring Twenties. But I put aside 25 or 50 cents when I could afford it for my little girls Christmas presents. (It took me six months to save $8.) My last job ended the day before Christmas, my $30 rent was soon due, and I had $15 to my name — which Peggy and I would need for food. She was home from her convent boarding school and was excitedly looking forward to her gifts the next day, which I had already purchased. I had bought her a small tree, and we were going to decorate it that night.

The stormy air was full of the sound of Christmas merriment as I walked from the streetcar to my small apartment. Bells rang and children shouted in the bitter dusk of the evening, and windows were lighted and everyone was running and laughing. But there would be no Christmas for me, I knew, no gifts, no remembrance whatsoever. As I struggled through the snowdrifts, I just about reached the lowest point in my life. Unless a miracle happened I would be homeless in January, foodless, jobless. I had prayed steadily for weeks, and there had been no answer but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment. God and men had completely forgotten me. I felt old as death, and as lonely. What was to become of us?

I looked in my mailbox. There were only bills in it, a sheaf of them, and two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills. I went up three dusty flights of stairs, and I cried, shivering in my thin coat. But I made myself smile so I could greet my little daughter with a pretense of happiness. She opened the door for me and threw herself in my arms, screaming joyously and demanding that we decorate the tree immediately.

Peggy was not yet six years old, and had been alone all day while I worked. She had set our kitchen table for our evening meal, proudly, and put pans out and the three cans of food which would be our dinner. For some reason, when I looked at those pans and cans, I felt broken-hearted. We would have only hamburgers for our Christmas dinner tomorrow, and gelatin. I stood in the cold little kitchen, and misery overwhelmed me. For the first time in my life, I doubted the existence of God and His mercy, and the coldness in my heart was colder than ice.

The doorbell rang, and Peggy ran fleetly to answer it, calling that it must be Santa Claus. Then I heard a man talking heartily to her and went to the door. He was a delivery man, and his arms were full of big parcels, and he was laughing at my child’s frenzied joy and her dancing. This is a mistake, I said, but he read the name on the parcels, and they were for me. When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes. Peggy and I sat on the floor and opened them. A huge doll, three times the size of the one I had bought for her. Gloves. Candy. A beautiful leather purse. Incredible! I looked for the name of the sender. It was the teacher, the address simply California, where she had moved.

Our dinner that night was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I could only pray to myself, Thank You, Father. I forgot I had no money for the rent and only $15 in my purse and no job. My child and I ate and laughed together in happiness. Then we decorated the little tree and marveled at it. I put Peggy to bed and set up her gifts around the tree, and a sweet peace flooded me like a benediction. I had some hope again. I could even examine the sheaf of bills without cringing. Then I opened the two white envelopes. One contained a check for $30 from a company I had worked for briefly in the summer. It was, said a note, my Christmas bonus. My rent!

The other envelope was an offer of a permanent position with the government — to begin in two days after Christmas. I sat with the letter in my hand and the check on the table before me, and I think that was the most joyful moment of my life up to that time.

The church bells began to ring. I hurriedly looked at my child, who was sleeping blissfully, and ran down to the street. Everywhere people were walking to church to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. People smiled at me and I smiled back. The storm had stopped, the sky was pure and glittering with stars.

The Lord is born! Sang the bells to the crystal night and the laughing darkness. Someone began to sing, Come, all ye faithful!

I joined in and sang with the strangers all about me.

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all.

And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.

Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell (September 7, 1900 – August 30, 1985) was a prolific and best-selling American author.

The Truth about Santa

Kitra-and-santa I was baking cookies one winter afternoon when Valerie, my not-quite-9-year-old, came to me with a serious look on her face. “Mommy,” she began, “none of my friends believe in Santa Claus.” Then, with the fervent testimony of faith, she continued, “But WE believe in Santa, don’t we!”

Her earnest declaration stopped me cold. Santa had been a very special visitor to our house since Valerie was a baby. I regaled my children all season long with stories “only I knew” about the right jolly old elf. I had visited Santa at his workshop at the North Pole when I was only seven years old. My mother had his personal phone number and forwarded all her grandchildren’s special requests directly to him. He invited his reindeer into our house while he delivered our presents, where they chomped on the carrots we offered them, leaving unusual teeth marks on the carrot stubs and hoof prints on the floor. He wrote elaborate notes in his curious penmanship and used his own wrapping paper that was different from the paper we used for our family gifting. I would point out this eye-popping evidence to them on Christmas morning and bask in their joy. Yes, I had done a remarkable job of helping my children believe in Santa Claus. I had been quite the convincing prevaricator. Which is just a fancy word for liar.

Around this same time, Valerie had begun to notice that many of her friends’ families did not believe in God. They did not attend any church, and they did not pray at meal time or bedtime when she visited their homes. I had spent many private moments with her that year, expressing my belief in our Heavenly Father and pointing out the many evidences of His love and creativity. Despite what others did or did not believe, WE believed in God. Her declaration now was unbearably close to those special shared moments of faith.

So I did the unthinkable. Point blank, on a cold, sunny December while baking cookies for Santa, I told my sweet earnest daughter the truth about Santa. The truth about my lies.

She was, of course, devastated.

From that day forward, Santa’s position in our home changed. No longer would I point out the evidence of Santa’s personal visits to our home, or the charming story about their Aunt Kathe and myself being lost in the woods and then rescued by Santa himself, who flew us to his workshop at the North Pole before returning us safely home. There would still be Christmas stories and visits to mall Santas with pictures taken on his lap. We would still leave cookies out on Christmas Eve, and hang our stockings on the mantel with care. But I made sure I always did this with a wink, and never with a declaration of truth. I would not be caught lying about something so significant as faith again.

Until another sunny December afternoon a dozen years later, when my youngest daughter, Hayley, then seven, was drawing pictures while I wrapped gifts in the family room. Hayley’s belief in Santa was strong, despite my winks to the contrary. It had developed naturally as she observed the season and felt the Christmas spirit. She had recognized the REAL Santa at a mall off the beaten track when she was just three years old, and insisted that I take her back to that nearly desolate mall each year. She had four consecutive photos with that same kindly old gentleman and his natural, curly beard to prove that he was real. Though I did nothing directly to encourage her belief, there was no question in her mind that Santa existed.

That particular afternoon I was wrapping gifts for a family in our congregation whose financial circumstances were meager. Our bishop had asked me to provide Christmas gifts for them, and I gladly accepted. In fact, I had spent several days in prayer and contemplation, asking for divine help to decide precisely which gifts I should select for this family of five. I had been guided to purchase some highly unusual items, including a lovely painting for their living room—totally impractical, and yet I knew that it was precisely what the mother of this family needed.

As I imagined the happiness of this sweet family when they opened their gifts, Hayley asked me a question from her drawing table. “How do you spell Kris Kringle?” She was drawing a picture of Santa, and wanted to title it. When I spelled K-R-I-S for her, she sighed in frustration. “Now I’ll have to start all over,” she said. I looked at her picture. Beneath the bearded gentleman were the letters “C-H-R-I-S.”

And there it was. On my seven-year-old daughter’s picture: The truth about Santa.

“No, no!” I told her. “Don’t start over! You spelled it exactly right. Santa’s name does start with CHRIS. Just add a T!”

How could I have missed it all those years? Of course we believed in Santa. We celebrated His birth every year.

The truth is, I am one of His elves. Every year He sends lists to His regional elf managers, including our own bishop and other ministers and leaders of charitable organizations. Every year these regional managers give assignments to the worldwide elf army. Every year, as a member of that elf army, I thoughtfully contemplate the prayers and wishes of good little (and not-so-little) boys and girls, often choosing gifts more carefully for those special children than I do for my own kids. And every year I come home from my secret deliveries filled with the spirit of Christmas and love.

The truth is, Jesus Christ has many names. We call Him Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. We call Him Emanuel (God with Us) because, like good parents, He is always there. We call Him the Good Shepherd because, like parents, He watches over His flock. We call Him the Lamb of God because, like parents, He willingly sacrificed for His children. And we call Him Santa (literally, “Saint,”) because, like parents, He loves to play games on His birthday.

I wish I had known this truth earlier. I would give anything to go back to that cold sunny December when Valerie was almost nine and add my own testimony to her fervent declaration, “WE believe in Santa, don’t we!”

“Of course we do,” I should have said. “And here is my secret: I’m one of his elves!”

Like Santa, God seems to enjoy a good surprise. Yes, He has to worry us sometimes, making us think we aren’t going to receive the relief or the opportunities we need, just as we often lead our children to believe they aren’t going to receive that special toy they want so desperately for Christmas. In fact, the better the gift, the more likely we are to make our children think it is impossible to have. Like Santa, God sometimes waits for just the right moment to bless us with a particular need or desire, even though it may mean allowing us to endure illness or worry or tribulation for a while—not just at Christmastime, but also in the dark hours throughout the year. I imagine He smiles gently to Himself with His knowledge of the greater gifts He has in store for us when the trial is over. And just as our children’s joy on Christmas morning is somehow greater for having worried that the gift would not arrive, our own joy when our trials end and the blessings are unveiled is all the sweeter for having passed through the trial itself.

As Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled…. In my father’s house are many mansions…. I go to prepare a place for you…If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it…. I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…. Because I live, ye shall live also.”

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What greater gift is there than this?

Jo Ann Skousen is the author of Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, which offers a bold new look at the Biblical women who are Jesus’ direct ancestors. Available at Amazon, or an autographed copy, go to http://www.matriarchsofthemessiah.com/buy-the-book/

Discussion Questions for Book Clubs

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Matriarchs of the Messiah has become a popular choice for Book Clubs. Here are some questions you might like to use to get the discussion started:

  1. According to the book, God’s definition of woman in Hebrew is ezer kenegdo, which means “noble and benevolent helper” and “equal yet opposite” to the man. How does this definition affect your understanding of the role and value of women? In what way is each woman in this book an ezer? Who are the ezers in your life?
  1. Each of these women is remembered for moments when she faced a difficult dilemma and used unusual and creative means to solve the problem. What difficult decisions have you faced in your lifetime? How did you resolve them?
  1. Although Eve is traditionally portrayed as a weak woman who brought sin into the world, this book presents her as a heroic figure in the Garden of Eden. What is your opinion of Eve?
  1. Sarah experienced many hardships during her lifetime. She left a luxurious home in Ur to live as a nomad, suffered the sorrow of barrenness until her old age, managed their flocks and manufacturing while the men were away at war, and struggled with envy when her husband’s second wife became pregnant. What have you learned from Sarah’s story about faith, obedience and enduring trials?
  1. Hagar is often overlooked as a mere bondwoman in the story of Abraham and Sarah, yet she and her descendants play an important role in the narrative story found in Genesis. God included her son Ishmael in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. What do you find most significant about Hagar?
  1. What do we learn about prayer, revelation, and priesthood blessings from the story of Rebekah and Isaac?
  1. Leah ‘s wedding night switch with her younger sister Rachel led to great heartache. Her husband resented her, her sister taunted her, and her children went astray. Nevertheless, she found peace and comfort by nurturing her relationship with the Lord, and that helped her heal the rift within her family. How can the story of Leah help us strengthen our modern-day relationships?
  1. How do Old Testament attitudes toward surrogacy and adoption compare with modern surrogacy, adoption and motherhood?
  1. Tamar is perhaps the most overlooked and misunderstood woman in the Bible. Reviled for the way she made Judah keep his promise to her, she is nevertheless a true ezer who rescued Judah from apostasy and set him back on the right path. What do you think of Skousen’s interpretation of this story?
  1. The Israelites were told to make no pacts with the local residents as they entered the promised land and not to leave anyone alive in their battles. Yet they rescued the harlot Rahab in Jericho and allowed her to marry into the Israelite tribe. What do we learn about faith and obedience from her story?
  1. Ruth is remembered for her loyalty and love for her mother-in-law, Naomi. What can you do to improve your relationships with extended family?
  1. Many of the women in Jesus’ direct ancestry were outsiders rather than Israelites. Does this surprise you? What does it suggest about the inclusiveness of the Savior?
  1. The story of Bathsheba is one of indiscretion, repentance, transformation and queenly exaltation. How can we avoid temptation, and what can we do to restore virtue that has been lost? Is it right to blame the woman when a man is tempted? What was the prophet Nathan’s attitude toward Bathsheba?
  1. Mary knew how to nurture her son when He was a baby, guide Him when He was a teenager, and let go when it was time for Him to perform His ministry. She was with Him at the Cross. Parents have the responsibility to guide their children in the correct paths but also to step back when their children reach adulthood. How can we better prepare children for the responsibilities and mission set before them? What is the role of parents of adult children?
  1. The book makes two surprising suggestions about Mary Magdalene: First, that she is the same Mary who is the sister of Martha, and second, that she represents all of us as the bride, or church, of Christ. Discuss your impressions of this interpretation.
  1. The book asserts that the story of the Bible “begins with a woman in a Garden who falls and ends with a woman in a Garden who is redeemed.” What do you think of this statement?
  1. How has this book changed your understanding of the women in the Bible and your appreciation for the role of women everywhere?

Read more about the women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at amazon.com and selected bookstores. Autographed copies can be purchased through this website. Click on Contact Me to ask for details.

The Redeeming Power of Kindness

“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

These poignant words spoken by a daughter-in-law to her grieving mother-in-law have secured for Ruth a place in the scriptures as the model of love and loyalty. But there is much more to this wonderful story. In fact, the story of Ruth is the story of redemption—the redemption of an entire people.

When Ruth chose to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem after the death of her husband (Naomi’s son), she did so knowing that she would likely experience a lifetime of contempt and humiliation from the residents of her new home. That contempt was based on events that happened long before Ruth was born, stretching back to the very foundation of the Moabite people. Ruth’s ancestor Lot had chosen to “pitch his tent toward Sodom,” even though “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners exceedingly” (Genesis 13:12-13). When messengers from God warned him that Sodom was about to be destroyed, Lot escaped with his wife and daughters and raced for the hills. But his wife turned back for one last lingering look at the city she had called home and “became a pillar of salt” as she faced the destruction (Genesis 19:26). According to legend, Lot then found refuge in a cave where his daughters, thinking they were the only three people left on earth after the catastrophic destruction they had just witnessed, plied their father with wine and then seduced him in order to perpetuate the race. The child of one of his daughters was Moab, father of the Moabites (Genesis 19:30-38). Thus Ruth traced her lineage back to an incestuous relationship that was humiliating and shameful to their distant cousins in Bethlehem.

The story of Ruth’s Moabite ancestors continued with their treachery toward the Israelites as they entered Canaan after wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The Moabites refused to sell bread and water to them, which bolstered the anger and resentment between the two tribes and led to the Deuteronomic injunction against Israelites marrying Moabites (see Deuteronomy 23:4-5).

Nevertheless, Ruth chose to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem, where the expected sting of resentment was soothed by the healing balm of kindness expressed by every character in this story.[i] Naomi prayed that the Lord would “deal kindly” with her daughters-in-law because they had “dealt kindly” with her sons. Ruth sought grace as she went into the fields to glean, and she found that grace in the kindly gentleman Boaz, who was impressed by how considerately she had treated Naomi. Boaz continued to extend kindness to Ruth throughout the harvest season, causing Naomi to exclaim, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and the dead.”

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Boaz drew a connection between kindness and virtue when he said to Ruth, “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.” In fact, he said, “all the city…know that thou art a virtuous woman,” because of Ruth’s reputation for kindness. Again and again the word is used, wiping away sorrow, wiping away hurt, wiping away sin.

Kindness shares the same root as the word kindred, for genuine acts of kindness lead naturally to a familial bond. Through sincere charity, which is the pure love of Jesus Christ, we join the family of Christ. When the Creator said “Let us make man in our own image,” he meant much more than physical appearance; He endowed humans with the power to become like Him in every way. To be like him is to be compassionate, generous, sacrificial, and wise. As Carolyn Custis James suggests, “The call to bear God’s image is an invitation to know God deeply.”[ii] This is the most important step in the process of redemption. All have sinned, but all are invited to turn away from sin, take God’s hand, and step onto the right path. His promise never falters: “His hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 9:12). Through kindly acts we grow to love those whom we serve with a cheerful heart. Rebekah learned it. So did Leah. So did the Moabites and the Bethlehemites. So does everyone who bears the image of God.

When the kindly gentleman of Bethlehem redeemed the kind-hearted widow of Moab, an entire nation was redeemed. The Moabites had once refused bread and water to the Israelites, but three generations later they would succor the parents of King David of Israel and provide a safe haven for them (1 Samuel 22:3). Generations after that, Jesus Christ would offer Himself as a goel— a Hebrew word for “kinsman and redeemer”[iii]— who would give His own life as a ransom for all who have sinned. His body and his blood would become living bread and water that would not be withheld from the parched and thirsty lips; through them He would redeem all humankind from the Fall.

Truly “the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread” (Ruth 1:6). Through Ruth and Boaz, Moab would be reabsorbed into the larger family of the Israelites. Lot and his family would be redeemed and restored to their family line. Yes, Ruth was right when she said, “Thy God will be my God.” John MacArthur concludes, “Ruth is a fitting symbol of every believer, and even of the church itself—redeemed, brought into a position of great favor, endowed with riches and privilege, exalted to be the Redeemer’s own bride, and loved by Him with the profoundest affection….The extraordinary story of her redemption ought to make every true believer’s heart resonate with profound gladness and thanksgiving for the One who, likewise, has redeemed us from our sin.”[iv]

Read more about the women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, but Jo Ann Skousen. Available at amazon.com and selected bookstores.

[i] Frankiel 1994.

[ii] James 2005, 34.

[iii] MacArthur 2005, 80.

[iv] (MacArthur 2005, 85)

God’s Standard of Liberty–Can We Keep It?

franklin_caneAs the Constitutional Convention drew to a close, newly minted Americans waited anxiously outside Independence Hall to see what kind of government would emerge. Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded forcefully, “A republic—if you can keep it.”

“If you can keep it.” There’s the rub. We’ve managed to maintain our republic for 240 years, but it seems to stand on the brink of a new kind of monarchy, tainted with overbearing mandates and harboring no compunctions against invasions of individual liberty. It has ever been thus. The lure of power, pomp and largess has always stood in the shadows of monarchy, ready to trade a false promise of security and ease for hard-won liberty.

The Bible provides one of the most concise and accurate warnings ever written about the corrupting power of monarchy. In just nine short verses, the first book of Samuel describes what will happen when a king comes to power. I’ve thought about those verses a good deal during this Fourth of July, and indeed throughout this election season.

Here’s the biblical narrative: After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites finally crossed the River Jordan into the land that had been promised to their tribal founder, Abraham. In the wilderness they had been given Ten Commandments—coincidentally, the same number as the Constitution’s Bill of Right—and these rules, like the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta before it, protected life, liberty and property. Moses set up a system of judges to hear and adjudicate complaints, and Joshua continued the judicial system after Moses died. It worked well. But soon the Israelites started looking around them at the kingdoms that surrounded them. They were drawn to the regality of it, the pomp and pride.

The crisis began when Samuel was judge in Israel, but his sons were found unfit to succeed him. They had “turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.” But instead of simply replacing the corrupt judges with honest judges, as had happened a generation earlier when Judge Eli’s sons proved unfit, the people said to Samuel, “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” They wanted to be like everyone else.

An advantage of the regime of the judges had been that it was non-centralized, and more concerned with fairness and simple means of self-protection than with power or glory. Judging was, in fact, hard work. Monarchy, as God explained through Samuel, is a much more costly affair:

First, he said the king “will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.” In other words, he will conscript an army.

Next, “he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of chariots.”We could call this bureaucracy, fascism or slavery, but forced labor by any other name is still as bleak.

Then “he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.” Ever an equal-opportunity enslaver, the king will conscript the daughters too—not unlike our own Senate, which recently voted to require women as well as men to register for the draft in the interest of “fairness to women.”

In addition, the king “will take the tenth of your seed” [an income tax] “and of your menservants, and your maidservants, and …your asses…and sheep [a wealth tax].”

And here’s the kicker about consequences: God concluded by saying, “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8: 10-18).

Notice the reason God gives for leaving the people to suffer when they inevitably cry out for help: “the king which ye shall have chosen.” God respects choice, and he insists on accountability. Why do bad things happen? Because so many people make bad choices.

It is interesting that this warning did no good. “Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations [a kind of globalism],” the people said. The fact that ideas and choices have consequences can be unpleasant to consider. Much easier to follow one’s desires and find someone to help them–or to blame– later.

God was willing to help Samuel select a good man to become their king. Saul was a humble man who responded to the call by saying, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?” (1 Samuel 9:21). On the day of his coronation Saul was found “hiding among the stuff,” so overwhelmed was he by the thought of becoming king.

Nevertheless, as Lord Acton observed, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Soon King Saul became reckless, paranoid and churlish. God then selected another young man to become Saul’s successor—David, the youngest son of the shepherd Jesse. After David volunteered to face the giant Philistine Goliath and successfully killed him, the Israelites shouted, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” From that moment Saul viewed David as a threat and usurper, and vowed to kill him. One of the costs of centralized power is the grim desire to get and keep it.

David and Goliath's head

David was at first as pure and humble as Saul had been. He had been anointed to become Saul’s successor, but he was content to serve his king and wait patiently for the day it would happen. He tried mightily to convince Saul that he was not a threat. One day when he stumbled upon the murderous, scheming Saul sleeping in a cave, he cut off the skirt of Saul’s cloak to show that he had been close enough to Saul to have stabbed him in his sleep, but did not. He reasoned with Saul, saying,  “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee; but mine hand shall not be upon thee.” He vowed never to harm the king. Such was the honor and character of young David.

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When Saul died in battle, David did become king, and the corrupting power of monarchy began to change him, just as God had predicted. Soon the once-humble shepherd boy conscripted armies and demanded food and supplies. When a “churlish” local landowner, Nabal, refused to give David;s army food and wine, David flew into a rage and threatened to kill all of Nabal’s servants and their families. Only the quick thinking of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, prevented the slaughter as she reminded David of how such a vile act would affect his reputation as king. Abigail’s wise argument brought David to his senses, and he thanked her. “Blessed be thy advice, …which hast kept me from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand” (I Samuel 25).

David and Abigail

But David’s humility was short-lived. Soon he was standing on his palace balcony, filled with lust as he watched a woman, Bathsheba, bathing. With the power given to a king, he sent for her, slept with her, and when she became pregnant he arranged for her husband Uriah’s death by sending him to the battlefront and ordering his captain to leave him unprotected. This is what happens, often, when a man gets unchecked power; his sense of entitlement overpowers his sense of rightness. David would struggle for the rest of his life with the demands of war, and civil war with people who craved his power. He also struggled, often unsuccessfully, with his own impulses.  Power did not corrupt David absolutely, however, and he struggled throughout his adult life to escape its withering grasp.

david and bathsheba

As we celebrate the 240th year of our nation’s independence, we have reason to be proud. The founders began a process of separation from monarchy that would provide an example for other nations around the world. Our Constitution became a model for other nations that would throw off the power of monarchy and turn monarchs into figureheads. The founders were not able to make all wrongs right—there were other civil rights still to be won. But they blazed a trail to freedom that others would follow in their own time.

Yet we must ever be vigilante against the corruption of power. The description of monarchy provided in 1 Samuel 8: 10-18 is still timely today, and it can describe presidents and dictators as well as kings. Indeed, many of us would be delighted if taxes stood only at the biblical 10%!

And there is another feature of those verses in 1 Samuel that should be emphasized. They picture God granting the people a choice. He warns of the natural consequences of certain actions, but then allows us to choose which path we will take. When bad choices are made, the existence of choice provides a path back. Let us hope that we, too, can find a path back to the liberties vouchsafed by our founding documents, as well as the respect for the rights of others encompassed within the Ten Commandments.

To learn more about David, Abigail and Bathsheba, read Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen, Chapman University.

Valiant Women for Today

Nana-and-the-cutes“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16)

The Bible is a story of families torn apart by jealousy, bitterness and sorrow, and brought together again through the healing power of forgiveness and devotion. It is a story of sibling rivalry, but also a story of siblings who made amends. We see examples throughout the Bible: As a boy, Ishmael teased and disrespected little Isaac, but as a man he remained close to Father Abraham, gave his daughter to his nephew Esau in marriage, and stood beside Isaac at the burial of their father. When Jacob used a cunning plot to secure the birthright blessing from Isaac, Esau vowed to kill him. Yet twenty years later, Esau embraced Jacob with a brother’s welcome. Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, was so hated and resented by his older brothers that they sold him into slavery. Nevertheless, more than twenty years later, Joseph rescued those same treacherous brothers from famine and restored the love that should always exist among siblings.

Women stand firmly at the center of these stories, using their feminine strengths to encourage, support, plot and guide.

There is no single blueprint for womanhood or for motherhood. Each woman is an individual, motivated by her own hopes and talents, weaknesses and responsibilities. And each is an ezer, endowed by her Creator in the Garden of Eden with the innate power to become a rescuer and savior within her community. M. Russell Ballard wisely observed, “There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman.”[1] This is true of women not only in their relationships as wives to their husbands and mothers to their children, but also as teachers to their students, neighbors to their friends, and leaders to their constituents.

Jesus is the Messiah and the King, yet He chose the tender mother-child relationship to demonstrate His devotion to His disciples. In Isaiah we read, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16). First Isaiah acknowledges the absurdity that a nursing mother could forget her baby, and then he reminds us that Christ bears the imprints of His love within the nail prints of His sacrifice. He cannot forget us. We are part of Him.

A mother knows how completely in tune one person can be with another. I have a distinct memory of putting my firstborn baby into her crib one night and thinking, “She will be hungry in about three hours.” Such a small thing, yet it struck me in that moment that I was no longer a separate individual; I would always be connected to this child and acutely aware of her needs. As more children came into our home, my capacity to be constantly aware of them expanded. It was an invisible line connecting our spirits. I felt it with each birth. Perhaps it stems from the need to communicate soul to soul rather than with words in the first months and years of a child’s life. Fathers and mothers alike are willing to lay down their lives for their children, but “a mother, whose antennae are acutely attuned to her child, picks up signals that pass undetected by others.”[2] A mother is privileged to have that constant awareness, if she nurtures it. The connection is both spiritual and physical. We ache when we are away from our babies. The longer they are away from us, the more we ache. They are engraved in our stretch marks and in our hearts, just as we are engraved in the palms of Christ’s hands. Even when we stray, as we often do, “His anger is not turned away, but his hand is outstretched still” (Isaiah 9:8-12). A mother knows that feeling.

Jesus’s grandmothers knew that feeling too—as mothers, and as daughters. Like most of us, they experienced hardship, sacrifice, sorrow, and even sin, but by reaching for His outstretched hand, they also found great joy and spiritual peace. Their experiences and backgrounds were diverse, yet they have much in common with today’s women—and men, too—as we face obstacles, seek guidance, and make choices. From Sarah, for example, we learn that making the correct choice does not necessarily lead to an easier life. Giving Hagar to her husband as his second wife presented a heavy emotional burden that was almost too much for her to bear, even though it was the right thing to do. Her example of faith and obedience is exemplary. Sarah’s story shows us that it is normal and understandable to grieve for the path not taken, even when the Spirit has confirmed the correct path to take.

Similarly, Leah suffered the heartbreak of strained family relationships. The early years of her marriage were difficult, and the rivalry with her sister Rachel was bitter. Many of her children went astray. But as she nurtured her relationship with the Lord, the rift with her sister was mended, her children returned to the fold, and her marriage was strengthened. In the end, Jacob asked to be buried by Leah’s side. Her story gives hope to women today who are struggling with family problems.

Rebekah is often criticized for “tricking” her husband into giving the birthright blessing to her favorite son, Jacob, yet the messages of three separate but nearly identical revelations—one given to Rebekah, one to Isaac, and one to Jacob—confirmed that the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob was the correct one. Rebekah’s “trick” was an act of kindness as she gently guided her husband to make the right decision without telling him what to do. She respected and supported him in his role as the prophet, but she participated in their marriage as his partner.

Men and women today also face the dilemma of broken promises and lack of trust, especially in romantic relationships. Tamar demonstrated courage and persistence in the face of a broken promise, while rescuing the man who would become the founder of the tribe of Judah from his own lost way. Similarly, Rahab was a single woman walking a worldly path in a worldly city, but by trusting the Israelite men, she married into the tribe and became a noble and virtuous wife and mother. Bathsheba also shows that there is a way back for men and women who experience sexual sin. We don’t know whether she was seduced by David or was his willing partner. But we do know how she responded after the transgression: she mourned, she married the father of her child, and she built a strong relationship with him—so strong that she became his counselor and advisor as his queen. Through repentance she became a righteous mother whose son was known for his great wisdom.

Eve’s story, too, is relevant to modern women. She lived a peaceful, carefree life with her husband in the Garden of Eden. Adding children would change her lifestyle completely. Leaving the Garden would bring pain, toil and heartache. But it would also bring unspeakable joy. More than any other generation, modern women can relate to Eve’s quandary. Pharmaceutical birth control methods are so effective that women must actively choose when to give up the relative ease of couplehood to pursue pregnancy and children. Eve’s story acknowledges the risks and sacrifices inherent in choosing to become mothers, even as she led the way into mortality and parenthood.

In short,  Readers will find profound guidance by following the example of these valiant women in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Endowed by their Creator with feminine strengths, they had the audacity to change the world.

Excerpted from Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at Costco, Amazon, and selected bookstores.

[1] Ballard, M. Russell. “Mothers and Daughters.” Ensign. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2010. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/mothers-and-daughters?lang=eng.

[2] James 2005, 174.

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I couldn’t believe how little I knew about the women in the lineage of Jesus Christ until I read this book. I always had a rather shallow understanding about them as either virtuous or wicked. But what I learned is that all of them wanted to be good daughters of God. Some were able to hold fast to their values, and some struggled with temptations and distractions. But they ALL were forgiven and loved, and became valiant in their faith.

These stories are about real women. Jo Ann Skousen has brought them to life, as if they were our neighbors; their families and our families share amazing kinship with each other. In reading this book, their struggles become very familiar, thanks to Jo Ann’s fascinating approach to describing the details of their lives. I found myself relating to what they were going through with the problems in my own life, and those of my mother and sisters. The essential issues in life seem never to change, and when you live in these women’s circumstances, and learn how they overcame obstacles, you will comprehend answers to your own problems. Every one of these women’s stories left me with a feeling of great hope, and certainty that there is a loving God and Savior wanting to help us reach the great goal of returning to our heavenly surroundings.

I believe that men and women everywhere will love these women, since they will grow to know them as they would any friend today. There is so much to appreciate about them: their gentle spirits, clever social skills, loyalty to their families, bravery against tormentors, and great strength in all aspects of living. These women are wonderful examples of how to be valiant in these modern times. I repeat: The essential issues in life seem never to change. I love this book!

5.0 out of 5 stars

Reading Matriarchs of the Messiah was eye popping. Stories and lessons came into focus with the prose. The analysis of these women, their motivations, their ambitions, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their skills as ezerim kenegdo provided so many ‘aha’ moments it was almost embarrassing…. Whether it was because it enhanced my rudimentary understanding of the topic and my natural inclination to love learning, or because it spoke to my inherent love for the Savior….I’m not sure. But, I LOVED IT.”

5.0 out of 5 stars

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. It was a very interesting combination of scholarship and storytelling. Ms. Skousen clearly has deep knowledge of the subject and, I’d warrant, much practice in sharing it for spiritual illumination and to impart moral lessons.

I loved how she tied the old “stories,” re-imagined and reinterpreted, to modern life (with a feminist twist). The voice of the Sunday school teacher came through loud and clear. But this voice held relevance not just for children; but for grownups as well. I “heard” that one can (and ought to) have agency even if of lower status; that one is not powerless, even if others (males, masters) have more power. And, she resurrected the rep of some maligned women!

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I was thrilled and inspired by this book. it was well researched and finely crafted. subject not often approached but certainly needed.

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