May 2006


Obviously I’m not going to tell you their real names.  I respect their privacy.  However, to understand the challenges this class faces you need to know a little bit about them.

Three of these girls have no contact with their father.  Two of these girls have no paternal prescence at all.  One of these girls has a step-father who seems less than supportive of the rest of her family’s involvment with the church.  As near as I can tell, none of the girls has a Sealed family. 

First is Anna, age 7.  Too young for the class but the other class available is the Sunbeams.  She used to refuse to read even the shortest verse but recently she volunteered and read her way through a good chunk.  I made sure to praise her.

Lynette is 8 and the bossiest little thing you’ve ever seen.  She loves new ideas and projects and always volunteers to give a prayer.

Sharice is 9.  We actually haven’t seen her in a while.  It seems she’s going to a different church now but I can’t find out if it’s a different church or just a different ward.

Natalie is 10 and struggling with a number of challenges.  She seems quiet and sensitive when she’s on her own and understands gospel principles easily.

Class time and issues: 

I had Natalie by herself again recently.  Fortunately I noticed the lack of the other girls in time to rethink my lesson.  Instead of retelling the scripture story myself, a tactic I had chosen before because of how varied the girls’ reading levels are, I selected out the most relevant verses (which were still a lot) and had her read them instead.  This made for a very quiet lesson but one in which I think she was more engaged.  I think I rather like having her one-on-one; I just wish I knew the class size in advance so I could really make the most of each situation.

I made an accidental discovery a few weeks ago.  The attention activity had had me make a ring out of paper.  Once it had served its purpose it ended up broken into pieces and I, deciding it wasn’t worth fighting the girls over, let them play with the pieces.  While there were still issues (like Natalie and Lynette bolting from the room to yell at the boys who kept banging on the wall our classrooms share) the girls were the quietest and most attentive I’ve seen them in a long time.  I am sorely tempted to teach them to knit.  I discovered in University that with my hands busy making a friendship bracelet it was easier to focus on what my professors were saying and it would be nice if the same principle applied to my Sunday School class.

That said though, I don’t have the materials and I can’t afford to buy them.  Oh, the things I would do for those girls if I had the money!  I want to make a sign for the room.  I want to get a nice picture of Jesus and a nice picture of the temple and hang them on the walls.  I want to make a window for each girl.  Not a real window but a nice picture of some place that makes them feel peaceful and happy.  A curtain for the window we do have would be nice.  It’s huge and looks into the hallway.  The girls are always getting distracted by someone walking by.  I’d also like some colored pencils or some such for making the class materials.  When I was Coordinator of the Kids’ Program at Nova, I always printed out the new flashcards, colored them in, glued them to card stock and laminated them (usually this meant covering them with clear packing tape) because I believe that students can sense the effort you’ve put into class.

I think I’ll ask the primary leader if we have a budget that can help.

I heard a lot about this book in the last year.  It seemed it was on many peoples' lips and keyboards.  I was reminded of it recently and since the Valiant Femmes and I have been getting close to the story of Jacob's children I thought I'd give it a try.  It would certainly make for interesting reading in the wake of Orson Scott Card's "Rachel and Leah."

I was a little nervous about reading "The Red Tent."  My previous experiences with biblical retellings other than Card's had been distressing and disappointing.  Even if the author doesn't accept the scripture stories as truth, why can't they write as if the characters did?  Feminist retellings were the worst, always portraying everything as designed specifically to crush the heroine.  Reading the back, I discovered that "Red Tent's" author had also written several books on Judaism, including a conversion guide for friends and family.  I hoped that a writer who was also a believer would do more a faithful job. (I mean that both ways.)

It was interesting to see where this book and Card's take did intersect– they both used the idea that Leah married Jacob first because Rachel was scared stiff of the wedding night and refused.  That's the only similiarity.

I had always thought that the Torah and the Old Testament were pretty much the same.  Either she was using a very, very different text or I was wrong.  It's not just that names are different– forgive me for my naivete but I had rather assumed that a practicing Jewish writer wouldn't do something strange, like portray Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah as Asherah worshipers.  For a book about one of the Patriarchs, there are a surprising number of gods invoked.  Worse still, to my mind, the god who should be most involved is barely present.  Jacob does wrestle with something that is assumed to be "El" to the point of dislocating his thigh but other key happenings, like the name change, are twisted.  In this tale, Jacob gives himself the name Isra'El to try to hide from the anger of the people of the country side when Simon and Levi slaughter the men of Shechem– a slaughter in which he was if not guilty at least complicit.

I like to think the best of people, or at least not assume the worst.  Why do so many biblical novelizations follow the assumption that the people of the scriptures were horribly flawed?  More puzzling still, why does this one, written by an apparently practicing Jew, follow the same pattern?  There are a total of four men in the entire book who are actually likable and honorable.  None of them are Jewish.

On the other hand, no one at all seems Jewish.  Not even Jacob.  On the whole it was a strange and disappointing book.

If you get the joke, then you and I were probably in high school at the same time.

I believe it was in December of last year, though it may have been a bit earlier, when I was called out of Nursery and into Primary.  Called away from the world of toddlers, toys and snack-time (which was the perfect time to teach the lesson because then they were sitting still with their mouths full!) and into the world of… tweens.

Personally, I intensely dislike this new concept of "tweens."  Lord knows we don't need to give kids another reason to angst and cop an attitude.  On the other hand, the oldest girl in my class is 10 and she could pass for 15 without making you blink.  What do you do about kids like that?  This poor little girl is getting hit on by guys.  You can't simply pretend she's too young to understand; she needs to be able to able to handle herself and recognize inappropriate behaviour.  She isn't truly a child nor truly a teen.

The first month or so was great.  I was given the Valiant Girls class (hereon referred to as "Valiant Femmes" because personally, I think the name rocks).  The girls seemed eager to please and I was eager to be the fun, cool teacher.  Then they got comfortable with me and let their true faces show.

I began considering bringing duct-tape and rope to class.  Most of them have very, robust shall we say, personalities.  One of the youngest also has the biggest mouth, which I can assure you that the older girls do not appreciate.  It's been about six months and I think they are beginning to get the idea that I'm the teacher and they don't need to continutally "police" each other.

It's been a challenge teaching them.  More of a challenge than I expected.  Twice I've had very clear and nerve-wracking dreams about my old job and I know I can lay them to the door of the Valiant Femmes.  In one dream I was struggling to remember how to prepare for a Kids' Class.  The bell rang to begin and I was nowehere near ready!  I dug frantically through a box of materials and babbled away at the child, hoping that neither she nor her mother would notice my difficulties.  Then I turned around and discovered that, despite the fact that my school only offered one-on-one Kids' Class, two more children had arrived!  It doesn't take a degree or even revelation from God to figure that one out.  Really, how does one manage when the activities and questions you had planned for four must be presented to one?  It's SO much easier to expand than it is to contract but that's what I had to do last week and I really feel I failed.  Class was wonderfully quiet and easy but it was also just a long question-and-answer session.  I'm sure she was bored and I'm not sure how many of her answers were her just saying what she thought I wanted to hear.

I was excited when I heard that the Beta version of the new LDS.org would include helps for teaching lessons.  I was rather disappointed when I found that it was just an on-line version of the manual.  There's a stake primary teacher's conference/training seminar that they're doing on the 10th and I'm really, really looking forward to that.  In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing other people's Sunday School experiences.  It doesn't matter what age you taught, I'd just like to exchange trials, troubles, jokes, and hints.

     It is very easy to get the sense that romantic love is the be-all and end-all of existance.  It is, in our society, a reason to get married as well as a reason to get divorced.  In our TV, movies, and songs… everywhere we are surrounded by love.  Alanis Morissettet's latest is a paen to love:

You see everything, you see every part
You see all my light and you love my dark
You dig everything of which I'm ashamed
There's not anything to which you can't relate
And you're still here.

That doesn't sound romantic to me.  It sounds unconditional.  However, romantic love has been moving (probably since the Victorian age) to overshadow unconditional love as the pinnacle.  I felt but never really understood the drive for Same Sex Marriage until I realized how much weight, how much empahsis we put on romantic love.  Listen again to Ms. Morissette's song and you think "Wow, how wonderful that he can love her like that.  I want to be loved like that."  The SSM proponents would have you go on to think "How can I deny someone else their right to find that kind of love, no matter where they find it?"

The truth is, no one is being denied anything.  Some may turn their backs on it; others admitedly struggle with conflicting emotions and needs but nothing has changed.  God and Christ are still there, offering love to all who will come to them.  To expect a human to be able to bear the kinds of burdens we have and to always lift us up is to put an unconscionable strain on them.  They are, after all, exactly as human as we are.  They have their own problems which make it hard or sometimes even impossible for them to help us.  Only God and Jesus can truly love us unconditionally. I love my husband and he is a joy and a strength to me but if something were to happen to him, through God's aid I would be able to take comfort and continue with life.  Nothing could ever help me if I were to lose God.

I have, in effect, experienced this myself.  I have occasionally, in these last two years since the wedding, slacked off on my prayers and scripture reading.  Each time ended in a spiral of depression and self-loathing that nothing my earnest, thoughtful, helpful husband could do or say would affect.  I could understand the things he said, I would want to believe them but I just couldn't.  I would feel stuck, useless, worthless and worst of all, completely unable to be positive.  Any action he suggested would be met with detailed reasons of why I couldn't.  I always ended up having a meltdown.  Then I would remember to pray.  I would read my scriptures again.  I'm no great scripture studier– I tend to read a chapter right before bed– but even that much makes a world of difference.

That world of difference is there waiting for everyone.  God is there through prophets, prayer and the scriptures and He offers us His great, eternal and unconditional love.  Through His love not only can we be redeemed but we can learn to love like He does!  His is the kind of love that not only warms but ennobles.  His love is truly the greatest love of all and He denies Himself to no one who searches for Him with an open heart.

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