Returning with Honor

A little over 100 years ago, a farmer and former cavalry officer gathered together what money he had and boarded a steamliner in Genoa, Italy, destined for Ellis Island.  His ultimate goal was the San Francisco Bay Area, where he would join his brother working as a farm laborer.  Over the years that followed, he would earn enough by the sweat of his brow to send for his wife and child, and then to buy a parcel of land in the rich delta farmland in Stockton, California.  His version of the American dream was coming true.

Giuseppe Ghio (what an awesome name…it glistens with olive oil) was my great grandfather.  He planted deep roots in America, particularly in Stockton.   Another three generation of Ghios would be born there, ending with me.  His son, William (cool Italian names were abandoned pretty quickly), would continue to operate the family’s cherry orchard along with his brothers.

William passed away of a heart attack before he turned 40, leaving behind a wife and 10-year old son, Robert.  William’s death was a traumatic event for the entire family, still eliciting tears a half century later when anyone mentioned his name.  Something about the reaction of the local priest to the death, I never learned what, embittered young Robert against the Catholic church, a sour taste in his mouth that never would leave.  He was raised primarily by his uncles and would eventually sell his interest in the ranch to his father’s brothers and leave farming behind.

Robert was the first in his direct family line to get a college education, at Stockton’s University of the Pacific.  He would use that degree work his way towards a management position with a regional fruit cannery.  He would spend his entire professional life with the cannery, with a short interruption during which he tried to go into business for himself.  He eventually would be killed in a tragic accident at the cannery at the age of 61.  As with his own father, years later people would quietly say he was the best man they ever knew.

My dad shocked the family when he married a divorced woman with two children of her own.  It would create a divide between him and his family and further alienate him from the Catholic church.  But Dad was a stubborn guy, and he wasn’t about to be told by anyone how to live his life.   The strained relationship with his family would never completely heal, and he would never completely care.

Nine months later I showed up.  (By this time, the naming of children had become hopelessly wheels off, with me landing the moniker of “Robin.”  Dad excused it by saying that I was named after the pitcher, Robin Roberts…seriously, Dad, with all of the tough-guy baseball names out there, you had to go with “Robin?”  I was condemned to endless fights through elementary school).  By that time, Dad was pretty well severed from whatever culture and traditions that Giuseppe brought with him from Italy.  His wife was a Texan.  I was baptized a Lutheran.  Dad was on his way to forgetting Italian (except the swear words) and I would never progress beyond “menu Italian.”  About all that was left of his Italian culture was “figasa” (focaccia), the traditional bread that Dad baked for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  That much he passed down to me.  Besides that and a real affinity for “The Godfather,” you wouldn’t have known that I was Italian at all.

OK, the nose gave me away.  But you get my point.

When I was seven, Mormon missionaries knocked on our door.  My mother was home and had a hard time getting rid of them.  She asked them to come back that night, trusting that Dad would give them an unceremonious boot off of the doorstep.  To her surprise, Dad let the missionaries in that night.  His principle reason was that he remembered his own father saying nice things about Mormons once when he was a little boy.

Shortly thereafter, my family was baptized into the LDS Church, beginning a new cultural and religious tradition.  The next year my dad would baptize his mother and then me, when I had turned eight.  My brother would leave about a year later to serve a full-time mission for the Church, setting an example that I was determined to follow.  I did so a decade later.

When I came home, I married a Mexican-American girl (for the record, she was then and remains now COMPLETELY smokin’) who also joined the LDS Church.  We’ve had five daughters who each have been very dedicated to the gospel in their early years.

With all of those girls, one would assume that I might be the last Ghio to serve a mission (since the family name will die out with me).  But a curious thing happened when I was giving the “name and blessing” to my oldest daughter shortly after her birth.  As I held that sweet baby in my arms, I was surprised to hear myself announce that she would serve a mission.  No idea where that came from.  I had changed her diaper several times and was well-aware that she was a girl.  At that time very few young women served full-time missions for the Church.

Fast-forward 15 years when my oldest is sitting under the hands of the local Patriarch and is blessed again to serve a full-time mission.  A few more years, and she is at BYU, and suddenly is bit by the genealogy bug, in particular with a desire to search out her Italian ancestors.  Something drew her in that direction, but we thought nothing of it more than as a cool interest.  But she was frustrated by her inability to access and read Italian documents.

Then October 2012.  My oldest was coming close to getting engaged to be married, and I was quietly wondering what had happened to the impressions that both the Patriarch and I had received about her serving a mission (if you are going to blow a prophecy, however, at least you are keeping good company if the Patriarch does so, too).  Then in General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson announces that young women can serve missions at age 19 instead of 21.  My daughter, at 20, makes the decision there and then:  She was going to serve.

A month later, our family was gathered in Provo for Thanksgiving, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a mission call.  It arrived the day after Thanksgiving, and my sweet young warrior opened the envelope to learn her destination.

Rome.

I was stunned.  It took some time for it to sink in with me.

After a century, a Ghio was heading home.

And she was taking with her the most important thing that the family had acquired in America:  A testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  A new set of family traditions and a new religious culture.  A fifth-generation American and a fourth-generation Mormon.  She returns with honor.

Tomorrow, my daughter leaves the MTC and boards a plane for Rome.  Ghios on both sides of the veil have anticipated this for a long time.  I feel blessed to be able to see our family come full-circle and to have been able to play some part in the process.

And I am glad that my wife and I gave her a cool Italian name.

Serve honorably, Francesca.

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Women Praying in General Conference: Why It Doesn’t Matter (Much)

To be honest, I never noticed that women hadn’t prayed in LDS General Conference.  I guess that is in part due to my lack of ovaries.  In part, however, it’s the result of seeing women speak in General Conference all of my life.  I just assumed they prayed in them as well.  That, and I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to any prayers in conference, other than to their running time.

Besides, I close my eyes during prayer.  How am I supposed to know who is giving it?  (And don’t tell me I should have noticed from the low voices…heaven only knows what hormone therapy is doing to the middle-aged woman these days).

So I was a little surprised at the hoopla prior to Conference over why women haven’t been asked to pray at a session.  Seemed like a fair question to me, and it appears that the First Presidency agreed, since two of the people offering prayers this past weekend were definitely of the female persuasion.  LDS feminists everywhere were fist-bumping each other and putting another notch in their pantsuits.

I just don’t understand why.

There are all kinds of reasons that this is not a big deal.

First, as I already mentioned, women have been speaking in conference forever (usually with the same annoying vocal patterns–soft spoken, hard-Rs, overly sincere–but that is the subject for another day).  Those talks get printed up and circulated just like General Authority talks, in about a bajillion languages, and they can be used for lessons just like any other Conference talk.  To me, talking in Conference is a much more impressive gig than praying.  You get your picture in the Ensign and everything.

Think about it:  What is the last General Conference prayer you really remember?  If you aren’t trying to grab some snacks in the kitchen during opening prayer, or dashing to the bathroom during closing prayer, about the only reaction they elicit is “Amen” or “Geez, that went on forever.”  (For the record, of the two fem-prayers offered this weekend, one was masterfully short; the other was long enough to count as the opening prayer for October Conference).  No one shows up the  next week at Sacrament meeting and stops their buddies in the foyer to say:  “Did you hear the Saturday afternoon closing prayer?  That dude knocked it out of the park!”

It just seems goofy to see this as some major victory for women.  It is, however, a minor victory for common sense.  It reminds (or should remind) all of us that it is insufficient in the Church to justify anything with the lame excuse of “That’s how we’ve always done it.” I imagined the issue being discussed among the First Presidency and the Twelve:

“Did you hear that women want to pray in General Conference.”

“Why?  That’s a no-win assignment.”

“Regardless, they really want to.”

“Have we ever done that before?”

“Beats me, I’m usually getting snacks during the prayers.”

“Well, we probably haven’t, since they are complaining about it.  I mean, we could look it up, but…”

“Too much work.  We’ll take their word for it.  Why haven’t we let them pray?”

“Don’t look at me.  Wasn’t my call.”

“Me, either.  I’m supposed to be in charge of spicing up the audit report.  By the way, President Monson, how do you feel about dancing bears?”

“We’re drifting here.  Does anyone know why we don’t do this?”

“Well, didn’t Brigham Young say something about women praying in Church on the Moon, or am I getting this confused?”

“Seriously?  We have no idea why we’re doing this?”

“Well, I mean…it just hasn’t been done.  We’d need a revelation or something, right?  Maybe a proclamation?  Official Declaration?  A really good letter to the Bishops?”

“No, I think that’s only the case if you had a revelation saying you couldn’t do it first.  Then you would need a revelation to go the other way.”

“Well, what if we did it?”

“What do you mean ‘did it?'”

“You know.  Just do it.  Let a sister pray.  Heck, we could let two of them pray.”

“For all I care, they can give all of the prayers.  The 70s drone on too long, and I can’t understand a word from some of them.  Why did we ever let Hispanics have the Priesthood?”

“They’ve always had the Priesthood.  In a way, they kind of wrote the book on it.”

“Book?  Oh, THAT book.  Good point.  Lehi and whatnot.”

“So, do we let them pray?”

“As long as they bring cookies.”

“We can’t ask them to bring cookies.  That’s sexist!”

“Brownies?”

“No!  No baked goods.  They would get to pray for free!”

“Fine, but don’t blame me when we run out of snacks.”

“Let’s put it to a vote.  All in favor of women praying in Conference, signify by shrugging.”

I’m certain it was something very close to that.  But the point is,  in a living Church we have to have sufficient flexibility on non-doctrinal matters to consider the reasonableness of doing things that we might not have done before.  The traditions of the Church are just that:  Traditions.  When somebody raises their hand and asks, “Well, sure we’ve always done it that way, but does it make sense?” our response should not be to assume apostasy, but to consider whether there might be a better way of doing things.  Something that will make people feel more included, more comfortable?

Praying in General Conference is not a big deal.  Not letting someone pray because we just traditionally haven’t is.  The First Presidency set a good example for all of us by listening to a valid concern, not bristling at it as if it were a challenge to authority, and making a small change that made a lot of women in the Church feel better.

Nothing wrong with that.