I can’t remember when I first heard about Fresh Courage Take, but can remember when I first knew that I would read it. It was earlier this summer, sitting beside a Provo splash-pad with one of the contributors, Ashley Mae, listening to her talk about renaming her faith crisis, and watching our children play. Ashley’s is such a clear, thoughtful voice. I suspected (correctly) that if it was included, the book would be clear and thoughtful, too.
She is joined by eleven other authors–eleven other women–who wrote down their truths and handed them to us, bravely, vulnerably, and strongly. Each one tells the smallest (slash biggest) part of what it means for her to be a Mormon women, as well as some of the courageous choices she has made in claiming ownership of her actions, beliefs, and story.
As we might expect from a group of twelve women, those stories and truths do not always look the same, and sometimes look quite different. This is as it should be. This is the strength of the book.
The first woman wrote a short personal and not-personal history of education and work opportunities for Mormon women.
The second wrote about nurturing, and having gratitude for one’s mind.
The third wrote about consciously choosing to be what she termed a “career mother.”
The fourth wrote about losing herself in motherhood, and then finding herself again, by setting 101 small, big, possible, stretching goals.
The fifth wrote about ‘owning her spiritual progress’ as a single woman in a very marriage oriented church.
The sixth didn’t know it at the time, but wrote an updated version of “Patti Perfect.” Which is to say, she wrote a tribute to the “ideal” Mormon woman, and then smashed the pedestal.
The seventh wrote about the pain of infertility, and the peace that came when she realized she could choose not to have children.
The eighth is the reason I read the book. She wrote about turquoise, and strangers, and truly loving those who are homosexual, and leaning to the side of faith, if only by one percentage point.
The ninth wrote briefly about being a black convert in a mostly white church, but then wrote more about being a newly divorced woman and single mother, in a mostly married church.
The tenth wrote about coming to peace with motherhood, in part through feminist readings and writings.
The eleventh broke me open. She wrote about being wounded, by tiny and big moments. There were Young Womens lessons teaching her to be acted upon (not to act), and a hunger for a divine Mother, that could not be filled. Ultimately, there was also a partner, who could understand her, and have empathy with and for her.
The twelfth wrote about wanting women to be valued simply because they are women, and not because they are, or might be mothers one day. She also wrote about not particularly wanting to be a mother, until she did. And then, about actually being pregnant, and letting herself feel the things that she felt, without thinking she was a “bad woman.”
Reading these truths next to each other reminded me of a line from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game: “I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” While some of the stories resonated more closely with my own, I felt a mixture of charity and gratitude for each woman.
I also read large swaths out loud to someone who does not quite identify as a feminist, and he loved it! (as I read the whole book to myself, and loved it, too!) I believe that the spectrum of experiences lets Fresh Courage Take reach gently across borders.
One of the surest places it does this, is on the question of motherhood. I came into my Mormon feminism almost entirely through my mission and subsequent introduction to Heavenly Mother, so was initially a bit surprised by how many chapters centered on this question, but soon realized I shouldn’t be. Many young women who grow up in the church are taught that the dual pinnacles of their life will be when they become a wife and mother. It can feel extremely difficult and isolating when that’s not wanted, not possible, or not fulfilling.
It made me feel even more grateful for the women who told their truths, for my friend, Ashley, who inspired me to read them, and for the editor, Jamie Zvirden, who facilitated their telling. Oh, that we could each gather eleven friends around us, and write our stories. Oh, that we could all read every collection.
If you’ve read this book, what stories and truths were particularly meaningful?
What story and truth would you tell?