to Lydia and Eleanor, my forever daughters
I want to tell you a story. An ancient story.
Long ago, before you ever came to this earth, you existed as a bunch of little wild and bright intelligences. I imagine you in rainbow sparks amidst darkness. There’s an idea: you have always been and you will always be.
Our Father and Mother in heaven helped shape you from the wild, jumping intelligences that you were into a bouncing spirit body. We don’t really know how–everyone speculates–but you were formed into a gorgeous big spirit body that may look a lot like your glorious body now. Your bones and skin are young, but your spirit is ancient.
You lived with our Father and Mother in a big spirit world with a big spirit family full of all kinds of brothers and sisters. Jesus was our oldest brother and oh, how he loved you. And still does. And oh, how Father and Mother loved you. And still do. I was there with you, too. And Daddy. And oh, how we have always loved you and oh, how we always will.
You lived and explored in this heavenly place. Think of the most beautifulest place you can think of. I imagine all the greens. And all the blues. And all the rich browns and fuchsias and ruby purples. And gold, not like jewelry, but like wheat in the sun.
In our heavenly home, Father and Mother hosted grand parties and we can only speculate about the types of hors d’oeuvres and breads and cheeses and fruits and juices (let’s be honest, probably wines) and pickles for Eleanor and desserts–probably lemon cheesecake for Lydia and butterscotch pudding with cream and caramel and chocolate crumbles for me, and of course, cherry cake for all of us–that were created for these grand celebrations. And the music! Oh how we danced! You think you love music now? Oh, the music of our heavenly home! You better believe we danced then like we dance now to rock ‘n roll. Even our dancing and twirling and rhythm is ancient.
Sometimes Mother and Father called us in for some good ole family council. You were part of these exciting councils and debates to imagine and collaborate in the creation of an earth. That’s another idea: You have been creating for a long, long time.
Some of our brothers and sisters fought with each other at these councils. Kind of like how you two fight with each other. One of our brothers got really mad and angry and hateful. He wanted to make us all do things his way and only his way or else he threatened to leave. Father and especially Mother wouldn’t have that. So he left. I’m not sure what happened to him after that, to be honest. Some say a whole bunch of our brothers and sisters left with him. We were really sad and a little traumatized by the whole ordeal. Mother and Father too. The tragedy and glory of agency has always existed. It is a precious gift preserved throughout the eons. It is a gift you have even now, though at times you may forget.
Jesus with the help of our brothers and sisters, probably all of us, formed the world and from afar, it looked as lovely as a tulip. Together we rejoiced and called it good. Beautiful and glorious and wondrous and good! I sometimes wonder about the peony. If it was created just for me–it moves me like that. What was created for you? A white dandelion ready to blow? An acorn that fits just perfectly between your thumb and index finger? Or a maple seed shaped like your dancing elbow?
We created great big dinosaurs and whales and birds and even bugs–that was probably your idea, Eleanor–to roam the earth. And we watched them like we watch movies now: transfixed. Giraffes and buffalos and fish and snakes and wolves and apes evolved, and still we watched until: “Oh this is the best part!”
It was then that our parents chose brother Adam and sister Eve, like all of us, to come to this earth we had helped create, away from our heavenly home, to become more like Mother and Father. After all, that is what Father and Mother wanted for us and taught us to desire: “Go on, beloveds,” they said. “It’s time you go out on your own.” Their bodies and brains and powers were different from ours and the key to getting bodies and brains and powers like theirs was this glorious earth full of wild and lovely and scary creatures. Including trees with fruit.
“If you eat that fruit,” they said, “you can become like us. If you don’t, you can stay as you are. We love you as you are. Just know this: If you eat the fruit, if you choose bodies like ours, it will be really hard and scary, and sometimes very sad. You’ll learn what tears are. What blood is. What sweat and grinding teeth and loneliness and betrayal and disappointment and premenstrual dysphoric disorder are. You’ll learn to live in and tolerate cycles. To live in seasons of growth and change and exuberance and seasons of bitterness and resentment and grief. Through it all, you’ll learn to feel this godly thing called joy. You’ll learn what it’s like to breathe it and shout it and run with it.” The truth is, nothing else in all the universes our heavenly parents have created is like it. In fact, it’s something that can’t be given to you. You have to look for it and find it; reach for it and let it sprout in your fleshy hands.
“If you choose godly work,” they said, “We’ll send your brother Jesus to help you.”
And so, like our sister Eve and brother Adam, when you leapt to this earth, Lydia, and you bloomed in my belly and then into my arms, I cried at the otherworldly and old power of your spirit in such a tiny, tiny seven pound body. And Eleanor, I still remember sitting and holding you all alone in the hospital room, after Daddy left, after all the grandmas and grandpas left, and it was just me and you, girl. I felt your ancientness too.
You both learned of tears and blood and hunger and loss the minute you were born. So I taught you stories of our brother Jesus and our Father and Mother, old stories written down by our silly, yet diligent older brothers, and remembered and passed down by our silly, yet diligent older sisters. Yes, it was they who wrote down and passed down these stories, sometimes revising it, changing it, all the while trying to preserve this blessed, treasured truth: we are children of Gods with a brother Jesus who came to this earth with us to wipe away our tears and kiss our bloody foreheads and hum in our ears in the dark. To tell us this time here is blessed time. Make the most of it.
You see, we love because we are loved. We wonder and marvel because we were wondrously and marvelously made. I tell you this story so you too can believe you are forever loved and wondrous and marvelous.
And so we’re all here now trying to do god work. I’m still learning what that is or why it’s so dang hard to figure out and do sometimes. Sometimes I think I know, but then sometimes I don’t. The truth is, I don’t even know if this story is true, but I believe it because it sparks something in me and I keep coming back to it. There’s something true about me and you being divinely created and us being divine creators. I don’t believe that belief is foolish or naive. I think, as Circe says, it’s the relentless divinity making headway.
Here’s what I think god work is and you tell me what you think about it. I think god work is listening, creating, working, loving, surviving, adoring, passioning, beautifying, tendering, exploring, experimenting, hoping, helping, healing, learning, discovering, apologizing, forgiving, reconciling, wondering, choosing, persevering. I think it means becoming kind, diligent, wise, patient, triumphant all while being in a body that gets sick, tired, loony, droopy, poopy, poisony, angry, prickly, hormoney, and bruisey. Sometimes people will tell you what god work is, but you have to learn what that is for yourself. You see, we all do. We’re all Eves and Adams here. You have to look at the concept of god work like our Mother looks at a fruit seed. What does it produce? Often it takes time to see the fruits. What is good and godlike is sometimes really clear and obvious like the first spring daffodil; but sometimes it’s not. Our heavenly parents knew this. We’re born with a little bit of knowing, but not all. Sometimes discovering what’s godlike is like spotting a blooming crocus in autumn. Wait and watch, little ones, and be delighted by the surprise.
Our brother Joseph Smith helped me write this story. And so did our sister Eliza R. Snow. She was married to Joseph along with 33+ other wives, and I don’t feel like secretly sharing a husband with a lot of other wives is a godlike thing. Hence, the whole discovery of what is godlike can get messy and requires a lot of diligence and sorting. I’m quite tired lately. But god work can be tiring.
You know who else helped me write this story? Our brothers Abraham and Moses. And Mary I and II, and James, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, that unnamed woman at the well, the others on the road, the ones always spotted at Jesus’ side. Our brothers Nephi and Jacob, Charles Darwin and John Milton and Dostoevsky and Brian Doyle and Steven Peck and Daniel Kahneman and Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Chaim Potok and Terryl Givens, and our sisters Rosalind Franklin and Marilynne Robinson and Maya Angelou and Christina Pinkola Estes and Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Elaine Pagels and Brene Brown and Beverly Campbell and Maxine Hanks and Joanna Brooks and Gina Colvin and all the poets have added bits and pieces to this story I am telling you. And there are many more storytellers, including your grandmas and grandpas and your aunties and uncles, and your momma’s favorite friends and mentors that have helped me write this story by the lives they have lived and the stories they have told. I’ve only heard and read some stories, but I still have space for hundreds of books in our bookshelves that I had made simply to store them, ten of which are on my nightstand now. I still have many more brothers and sisters to meet who have yet to tell me their inherited and discovered stories.
I have added to this story too, sometimes editing it or revising it after what is whispered to me when I’m out walking in the mountains, or near a river amidst trees, or in between dreams and memories and prayers and pregnancies, or amidst scrolls in our shared family tree. Sometimes I discover more of this story while watching you, little ones. Suddenly I’ll feel this divine light enter my chest that tells me how I feel about you is how our Mother and Father feel about all of us. Those moments add to this story too.
Much of our life here–the god work of still living and still working and still grieving and still rejoicing–involves discovering your story. A lot of your time here will be discovering where you come from, who you are, and whose you are. This discovery will come from your adventures, your scrapes and your screams; from exploring books and dreams and cities and mountains; from reading histories and listening to stories; private and community prayers and songs; conversations in person or online with those both kind and cruel to you. Sometimes the discovery will take you off guard. Like a thought in the kitchen, or on your way to take out the trash. Other times it will come more forcefully, expectedly, like while you’re holding the hand of a dying neighbor. Remember our sweet Jill? Sometimes I still feel her like I sometimes feel your great-great grandma Mummi or your great grandpas Steve and Dale, even though they’re all gone from this earth.
I am still searching, but I am giving you a draft. It’s a different draft than the one I wrote at four or five years old, your ages now, or the one I wrote at twelve, or just last year. Go ahead, take it and add to it or revise it until it sparks with truth and burns in your bellies. You are and always have been a part of this story; you help create it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.