A Shell Is Much More than a Shell

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Margaret WheelwrightWomen's Fireside Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

February 17, 2008
Margaret Wheelwright
BYU-Hawaii Women's Fireside

My dear sisters, Aloha!

As you probably are all aware, I am fairly new to Hawaii. My husband, President Wheelwright, and I moved here just over six months ago, and we love it! Our North Shore is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Like you, we can see the Lord's divine handiwork everywhere around us. His creations are breathtaking!

Some of the most spectacular of those creations are seashells. I'm sure you've all looked in awe and wonder at the intricacies of seashells just as I have. Their variety in shape, design, texture, pattern, and color is remarkable! Truly, the Lord is so generous, as he reveals in D&C 59:18,

"Yea, all things which come of the earth . . . are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart."

Sisters, allow me to show you some photographs of some of these little wonders and let's discuss them for a moment.

SLIDE 1 Fig Shell

The obvious place to begin a discussion of seashells is their appearance. Look at the incredibly delicate pattern and design of the thin, pear-shaped fig shell.1 It's absolutely beautiful!

SLIDE 2 Precious Wentletrap

This precious wentletrap is appropriately named, isn't it? The craftsmanship and creativity far surpasses any human creation, doesn't it?! Those prominent ribs running along the loosely sculptured coils are just breathtaking!

SLIDE 3 Turban Wentletrap

Don't you just love the gentle majesty of this turban wentletrap? This is an extremely rare shell found in the deep waters near the Galapagos Islands.

SLIDE 4 Sunburst Star Turban

Look at the detailed texture and amazing pattern of this sunburst star turban. Could anyone honestly look at a shell like this and not see that it bears witness of a Divine Creator?

It's little wonder that, through the ages, shells have been so valuable that they have been found buried alongside royalty in ancient tombs around the world. At times they've been used as currency, prized enough to quantify great wealth or be bartered for life's necessities. Even today, rare specimens, like these, can command amazingly high prices by serious collectors.

SLIDE 5 Senatorial Scallops

While not particularly rare, these senatorial scallops show just a fraction of the amazing range of colors found in seashells.

If we try to see beyond the beautiful appearance of these shells, we remember that these shells are actually so much more than just shells. These are homes for living creatures! And the mollusks that live within these artistic residences are even more amazing!

Interestingly, when the animal is living in its shell, the shell's coloring is far more vibrant and beautiful than once that mollusk dies and the shell is empty. So without going scuba diving, we can't even see the true beauty of shells!

SLIDE 6 Venus Comb Murex

Any serious collector would know immediately what sort of animal they would find inside this Venus comb murex, and it would be completely different than what would live inside those senatorial scallops or our lovely turban wentletrap. One of the important functions of a shell is to identify what lives within.

SLIDE 7 Lace Murex

A second important function is that of protection. If I were a fish, I'd think twice about biting into this prickly looking lace murex!

SLIDE 8 Scorpion Conch

And I'd turn around and swim the other direction instead of approaching a scorpion conch! Most shells have some protective design feature, whether it's their material's hardness, some clever camouflage coloring, or numerous spiky protrusions to deter predators. They have also been designed to survive their various environments. Some shellfish are created to withstand cold, polar temperatures while others are designed for warm, tropical waters. And most have to withstand stormy seas, at least sometimes.

SLIDE 9 Auger Shells

The third important element of a seashell's design is power, as illustrated by the shape of these appropriately-named auger shells. These fellows live in sandy areas where they can burrow easily in search of their favorite dinner: worms!

SLIDE 10 Abalone

And notice the holes along the gentle crest of the abalone. Those holes aren't there by accident; they are there for drainage of waste and water! Thanks to the helpful elements worked into their shells, mollusks can really take care of themselves. These are powerful little creatures!

SLIDE 11 Nautilus

One of the most spectacularly powerful of all seashell designs can be seen in this chambered nautilus. The compartments you see in the top half of the photo of the cross-sectioned nautilus can be filled with gas and fluid which the mollusk then manipulates through a tube running through those little holes. By manipulating that gas and fluid, this clever creature can control its buoyancy, hovering at any depth or rising and sinking gently through the water in search of its next meal! Isn't that remarkable?!

Without a doubt, a shell is so much more than just a shell!

Well, sisters, these gorgeous seashells have some notable similarities to your gorgeous bodies.

A woman's appearance is often the first thing noticed about her, too. We come in an even more astonishing variety than the hundreds of thousands of species of mollusks that inhabit seashells, and we have all different body types, tall and short, sturdy and fragile, and everything in between. Our bodies have curves for a reason! They have been divinely crafted for mothering, from the width of our hips to the depths of our hearts. And remember what I told you about the coloring of seashells? How the living body inside them causes them to positively radiate those vibrant colors? Well, we are absolutely the same. As I look out at you, your heavenly spirits brightly shine through your eyes and your smiles, a great reminder that your shells are so much more than just shells.

Your body is the home of your spirit, and it performs those same three critical functions we spoke of with the seashells: Identity, protection, and power.

Each one of you is 100% unique, and your external appearance is one of the ways the rest of us can identify you and know who you are.

Your body also offers you incredible protection. Consider your skin. Not only is it a barrier to harmful pathogens, but it regulates temperatures, allows for feeling and sensations, and synthesizes certain vitamins, like Hawaii's favorite, vitamin D!

And what about the protection your nose offers? Our nasal passages are world-class dust filters! And the way your eyelids blink and coordinate with your tear ducts to keep your eyes guck-free? Every time you wipe the "sleep" from the corner of your eye, do you consider what an incredibly divine specimen you are?

Well, you are divine, and your body is incredibly powerful, both in its design and in its purpose. Our bodies are one of the main reasons we left our heavenly home and came to earth. Elder Melvin J. Ballard explained that

"We were charged . . . to take possession of [our] mortal tabernacle and make it our servant, and were to be master over it, to honor it and yet to subjugate it."2

Our bodies and our spirits are critically connected, and together, they combine to form our soul, which is what we're striving to get back to our Father in Heaven intact. The big test of mortality is for our spirit to tame our body, and then for the two of them to learn to work together. That's what our ultimate joy, the joy we'll experience as resurrected beings in the Celestial Kingdom, is really about. In D&C 93:33, we read:

"For man is spirit. The elements are eternal,

and spirit and element, inseparably connected,

receive a fullness of joy;

So, if our bodies are so important, such a crucial piece of this mortal experience, it's worth looking a little deeper into those three functions: identity, protection and power.

Over a century ago, the Naturalist movement began to recognize and discuss the divine correlation between an object's design and its purpose. This concept was particularly embraced in the field of architecture. Some of you have probably heard of the well-respected architect Louis Sullivan, a mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright. Sullivan coined a phrase that is still used frequently among designers of all disciplines: Form follows function. The idea behind this catchy alliteration is that the outward design of an object has everything to do with that object's purpose.

So I've wondered, as I've thought and pondered about tonight's fireside, does this principle, that form follows function, hold true if we consider our bodies as the form? Let's look at a few pictures of various women, and, for discussion's sake, we'll just consider their clothing and accessories to be an extension of their bodies.

First, we have a picture of a Catholic nun. Obviously, a nun's habit has everything to do with identifying who she is. There is no doubt about what her purpose and function are. Her appearance reminds herself and everyone who sees her what she is about.

Next, we have a businesswoman. Her appearance closely relates to her identity, as well. She could probably fulfill her responsibilities just as well in a t-shirt and jeans, but she chooses to wear a suit, like her male counterparts, in order to be recognized as a serious career woman.

Our next photo is of a mountaineer. Obviously, she understands the importance of protection, particularly protection from the elements.

And this construction worker, as well, understands about protection--protection from danger. She might not even be allowed on her job site without wearing her hard hat.

A doctor's form has much to do with her function, too. Consider the power of that stethoscope. With its help, she can hear the tiniest, life-altering discrepancies in her patient's heart or lungs.

And finally, there's great power in this athlete, both her physical body and her accessories. She's obviously worked long hours to strengthen her arms to be able to hit a perfect forehand. And she's probably experimented to find which racquet gives her swing the most power.

So, if our theory holds true, that form follows function, and it appears that it does, then my question for each of you is this: Why do you wear what you wear?

I want you to take a moment and really think about that. Why do you wear what you wear?

I've tried to guess what the typical answers to that question might be:

"It's pretty."

"It's comfortable."

"It's fashionable."

"It's different."

"It's impressive."

"It's flattering."

None of these answers is WRONG, in and of itself, but I'd like to share with you an important secret to life that will help us in examining these answers, and it has to do with AGENCY.

Any time there is agency involved, as there is in the decision of what to wear, we should remember these two eternal truths:

1. We will be blessed by choosing to align our will with God's will.

2. Satan will tempt us to choose to align our will with his evil desires.

These truths create a spectrum, and our choices fall somewhere along it.

Let's look at those answers again and see where they fall on our Agency Spectrum.

First, "It's pretty." If what you mean by "it's pretty" is that it makes you feel as special as you truly are, then that's great. It could go over on the Lord's side of the spectrum. You are a daughter of God. He wants you to feel pretty. But, if what you actually mean is, it makes me feel like that slinky model who wore it in the catalog, then that's not so great, and it belongs somewhere toward the left. Don't fall for what President Hinckley called "every vile trick of the advertiser, every slick and seductive element that can be conjured up" in order to exploit sexuality into a marketable commodity.3 That is definitely one of Satan's evil desires.

How about, "It's comfortable?" Well, if being "comfortable" means that your clothing doesn't get in the way of your divine mission here on earth, then that's great. Put it on the right. But if what you really mean is that life is all about leisure and fun and there shouldn't be any restraints, well, then we should probably slide it over a bit. Satan would love us to believe that "Comfort is King" and "Well-Groomed is for Wimps."

What about, "It's fashionable?" Well, whose fashion, exactly are you following? Are you trying to look like a follower of Jesus Christ or a follower of Hollywood? Would a stranger be able to guess which you are? You can guess where each choice would go.

Now for: "It's different." Different from what? Different from whom? There are definitely those we'd like to be different from, but there are also those we'd like to be like. The trick is to know which is which. Ask yourself who you are trying to identify yourself with.

How about, "It's impressive." If you mean that your clothing leaves no doubt that you know who you are and you know what really matters, that really is impressive! Or do you actually mean that your clothing leaves no doubt that you feel a little bit better than everyone else? That's not impressive. That's just pride.

And, finally, "It's flattering." Do your clothes bring out the best in you? Or do they point out the best on you? There's a pretty big difference. Satan's interested in the way things look on the surface, but the Lord cares far more about the way they look inside.

What I want you to notice from that little exercise is that it's actually your call to determine why you REALLY wear what you wear. This is very much a matter of the heart – YOUR heart.

But if we consider the sum total of all of our answers which were over on the Lord's side, versus those that were on Satan's side, we start to see some patterns. Perhaps we're beginning to sense some of the Lord's favorite adjectives.

Quoting President Hinckley,

"Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine."4

Doesn't the Lord love things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy? The Lord's favorite adjectives are timeless and constant. They apply no matter where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, and what you are wearing.

Not so with Satan. According to Elder Ballard,

"Lucifer is waging a vicious war for the souls of young and old alike, and the casualty count is climbing. The standards of the world have shifted like the sands of a windblown desert."5

Satan's tactics, and his favorite words, change like the wind, depending on what's working at the moment. Currently, words like provocative, edgy, and, his favorite of all, sexy, are working extremely well for him. What despicable measures he has turned to! Satan is taking the most sacred human intimacy and DEFILING IT – twisting it into something commonplace, insignificant and manipulative. The ultimate power which is innate within each one of us, the power of procreation, he belittles and degrades. Sisters, please banish his favorite words, especially "sexy," from your thoughts and your vocabularies! They ARE NOT words that a "lovely daughter of God" uses or thinks.

What we ought to be thinking about is this: What is Satan's REAL desire? We know he is evil, but what is he really after? It is simply this: That we become as miserable as he is. Sister Susan Tanner, the General Young Women's President, understands perfectly:

"The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. . . . Therefore he tries to do everything he can to get us to abuse or misuse this precious gift. He has filled the world with lies and deceptions about the body. He tempts many to defile this great gift of the body through unchastity, immodesty, self-indulgence, and addictions . . . He entices the world to regard the body merely as an object."6

Unfortunately, the media and Hollywood and Fifth Avenue play into his hand perfectly. The fashion industry is BIG money – every time a trend changes, people spend more, and the pricier the trend, the more they spend! Fifth Avenue is happy to keep pace with Hollywood constantly pushing the envelope, and the media is thrilled to bring it to us all LIVE!, by podcast, online, or through instant messaging. And the more we are exposed to this false idea of the human body, the more we are desensitized to it. The 18th-century poet, Alexander Pope, summed it up beautifully when he penned:

"Vice is a monster of such hideous mien

As to be hated needs but to be seen,

But seen too oft, familiar with its face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace."

"We first endure, then pity, then embrace." Is there a monstrous popular trend that you've embraced? Think back. What was the thing that, when you first saw it, you thought: "You've got to be kidding me!" Does that item, or something like it, now occupy a special place in your closet? Does it now seem "normal" or "fine" or even "fabulous" to you? Have you been double-crossed by desensitization?

It's crucial that we understand that Satan is particularly targeting us — WOMEN. Elder Richard G. Scott warns us that

"Satan has unleashed a seductive campaign to undermine the sanctity of womanhood, to deceive the daughters of God and divert them from their divine destiny. He well knows women are the compassionate, self-sacrificing, loving power that binds together the human family. He would focus their interests solely on their physical attributes and rob them of their exalting roles as wives and mothers."7

The more we understand the two ends of our Agency Spectrum, the more clearly we see the difference between how the Lord sees the functions of our bodies and how Satan sees them.

Satan would have us believe that we are nothing more than an object of lust, any man's plaything. Satan does not want us to remember our true identity. He wants us to think that we are just a beautiful-but-empty, washed-up-on-the-sand seashell. The Lord wants us to know that we are His daughters, and He knows and loves us. We have a divine purpose and mission in life! We are so much more than JUST a shell!

The Lord knows that the best protection we can possibly have is that of the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost can be our constant companion when we honor and respect the bodies we have been given. That's Satan's biggest worry! Satan would not shield us from evil but from good. He knows that the more we remove ourselves from the influence of the Spirit, by defiling sacred things, the better, because the Spirit's true protection is the ultimate danger to Satan.

And, as far as power is concerned? The Lord knows, and we know, that if we really understand who we are, and are worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, then our power is limitless, because "with God, nothing is impossible."8 Likewise, Satan knows that, unsure of who we are, and without the Spirit to guide and direct us, we will be left to our own devices, and eventually find ourselves in his power, robbed of our exaltation. Whose power are we interested in teaming up with? Whose power has the strength to withstand the stormy seas that we are bound to have to travel through at some point or other during our lives?

You know, our Agency Spectrum should really look more like this, showing that Satan's evil desires push us progressively downward, ultimately leaving us completely hopeless. As we read in Nephi, "the devil [cheats our] souls, and [leads] them away carefully down to hell."9 But the Lord's Divine Will lifts us higher and higher, ever increasing our purity so that we can eventually return to His presence. Remember,

"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day."10

So, Sisters, what can we do? How can we maintain our true identities? How can we protect and empower ourselves? The answer is actually pretty simple. It's what my dear friend, Sheri Dew, calls "Obedience for Dummies." The answer is MODESTY.

You've probably heard tithing referred to as "fire insurance." Well, I'd like you to think of modesty as "car insurance." You've got to protect the vehicle that's going to get you home! Dressing immodestly is as dangerous to your salvation as driving without a seatbelt. We'll all be in an accident, sooner or later, whether it's our own fault or the guy's that we're sharing the road with. So, knowing that, why would you even start your car without your seatbelt buckled? Why would you risk driving without insurance? Why would you even leave your bedroom without being modestly dressed? You've got to protect the vehicle that's going to get you home!

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counsels us this way:

"For you to fully claim Heavenly Father's blessings and protection [and, I would add, His power], we ask you to stay true to the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not slavishly follow the whims of fads and fashions. . . . Modesty in appearance is always in fashion. Our standards are not socially negotiable."11

Modesty will keep us driving safely toward exaltation. Modesty puts us on the path of upwardly increasing our purity and progressing toward the presence of the Lord.

Now, to avoid any ambiguity or confusion, let's get specific about what Elder Holland means by "modesty in appearance." Like all God-given laws, there is the letter of the law (or the lesser law) and the spirit of the law (or the higher law). In other words, this is about the heart. So, to make it a little bit clearer, I've put together a simple collection of three games we can play to help us live not just the letter of the law of modesty, but the spirit of that law.

The first game is "Follow the Leader." This one's simple. You just follow the leader! Well, in Christ's church, we have some pretty clear-cut leaders, from our Prophet, to the General Authorities and General Auxiliary leaders, to our Bishopric and Relief Society Presidents. These leaders have something particular in common: They attend the temple regularly and wear the temple garment. Whether or not you have been to the temple yet, everyone can follow our leaders in terms of respecting the guidelines of the temple garment. In my own experience raising three daughters through those tough teenage years, this was the single most effective way of teaching them modesty. I simply asked them, when presented with a new clothing item, "Would you be able to wear garments with that?" If the answer was "no," they knew without any further discussion that they might as well return it to the store.

In case you are unfamiliar with the design of the garment, it has a modest scoop neckline, both in front and in back, simple capped sleeves, and goes to just above the kneecaps. And it covers everything in between! That is the standard of modesty, the letter of the law, if you will, for women of the church. That much is "Obedience for Dummies."

The second game requires us to think a little bit more, examine our hearts a little bit more. This game is "the Hokey Pokey," and it involves "shaking all about." Let's try it. As you were shaking, did your clothes shake separately from your body, or did they feel shrink-wrapped, with no free-flowing air between them and your skin? This game reminds us that our clothes should bear no resemblance whatsoever to a leotard or tights. "Too tight" is "too bad!" Sometimes, tightness can be a "spirit of the law" thing. What your roommate tells you looks "fine" might, in fact, be "too tight." Let me offer you one little suggestion on this matter: If you aren't sure if it's "too tight," it probably is.

The third and final game is an old Primary classic. Sing with me the song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." Well done! With this song, we really get to the spirit of the law of modesty. When you reached up to touch your head and shoulders, did you feel a draft around your waist? Did any skin show at all? If so, that's a problem. And when you bent over to touch your knees and toes, did your neighbor get an eyeful of "June bustin' out all over?" If so, that's a problem. Change your outfit and sing the song again!

Now, one very specific problem that, unfortunately, is not specifically addressed by these three games, is that of swimming suits. Obviously, you'd be hard pressed in 2008 to find a swimming suit that would allow for the wearing of the temple garment underneath. And a swimming suit, by necessity, should resemble a leotard. And it's hard to help but feel a draft when you're wearing nothing but a handful of Lycra. Swimming suits are definitely an issue, especially here in Hawaii. Without even mentioning the "B" word, I can hear some of you thinking, "Sister Wheelwright, there are two-piece suits that are even more modest than some one-piece suits!" Well, the fact that you know the difference proves that you are fully aware of what a modest swimming suit looks like and what it doesn't! A modest swimming suit should fully cover your stomach, whether it's a one-piece or a two-piece, whether you are jumping in the waves or lying on your towel. How the rest of the suit fits concerns the spirit of the law of modesty. If you prayerfully consider the matter, you will know in your heart if a certain suit is modest on you or not. It shouldn't be a problem.

There is a simple solution to any problem you may turn up, though, by playing these three games as you get dressed each day, or by prayerfully considering if something is modest or not: Don't wear it. Don't buy it! Get rid of it! Is wearing that offending article of clothing worth pushing you down that Agency Spectrum, away from God's Divine Will? I don't think so. And don't rationalize that it's too hot and humid here in Hawaii. As one Brazilian sister said, "Modesty is not about the climate. It's about the heart,"12 as this absolutely beautiful heart cockle seashell reminds us.

Here at BYU-Hawaii, we are "all about the heart." We are all about that progressing upward in increasing purity. I dare say, THAT IS WHY YOU CHOSE TO COME HERE. Each one of you has signed the Honor Code, in which you clearly pledged and promised to live by the Lord's standards, including His standards of modesty. It would be irresponsible of you and undisciplined of us not to require that you live by that Honor Code and its standards of dress. To help you remember what that code actually says, I've had these bookmarks printed up for each of you to take tonight. Please read them and use them as a reminder of what is important to you. Sisters, we can all "stand a little taller,"13 as our dear President Hinckley so often counseled us.

The blessings are clear. "Your spirit knows what it is like to live in celestial realms. You can never be truly happy in an uncelestial environment. You know too much."14

And the choice is clear. "The Lord has given us His standards of worthiness. He has not done it to keep us away from Him but to draw us to Him. Keeping the commandments makes all the difference in this life and in the next. To be worthy of the celestial kingdom and the joy that is there, we must keep the commandments!"15

I'll conclude with a powerful scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work."16

There are many "servants of Satan" that are upholding his work of destroying the sanctity of womanhood and the divinity of our bodies. Pray for the strength and courage to use your agency wisely and align your will with God's will. Pray for the strength to go home and look through your closets. I know you have the courage to throw out anything in those closets that is immodest. You are so much more than just a shell. You are a precious daughter of God!

My dear Sisters, I know that this is the message that the Lord wanted me to give to you tonight. I know how much He loves you and wants you to return to Him. I know that your identity as a daughter of God will protect you and empower you to return to Him one day. These are all connected. The Lord's favorite adjectives truly are timeless — virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy. I pray that we all keep our outward identity consistent with our inward feelings, and that the Spirit will confirm to you personally tonight that this message is for you. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

End Notes

1. All shell photographs: Cleave, Andrew. Seashells: A Portrait of the Animal World. Smithmark Publishers, 1996. Photographs by James H. Carmichael, Jr.

2. Melvin J. Ballard, "The Struggle for the Soul," Tambuli, Sep 1984, 30. From Classic Discourses, delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, May 5, 1928.

3. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Our Responsibility to Our Young Women," Ensign, Sep 1988, 8.

4. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Words of the Prophet: Daughters of the Almighty," New Era, Nov 2003, 4.

5. M. Russell Ballard, "Like a Flame Unquenchable," Ensign, May 1999, 85.

6. Susan W. Tanner, "The Sanctity of the Body," Ensign, Nov 2005, 13-15.

7. Richard G. Scott, "The Sanctity of Womanhood," Ensign, May 2000, 36.

8. Luke 1:37.

9. 2 Nephi 28:21.

10. D&C 50:24.

11. Jeffrey R. Holland, "To Young Women," Ensign, Nov 2005, 28.

12. Susan W. Tanner, "Daughters of Heavenly Father," Ensign, May 2007, 106-9.

13. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Closing Remarks," Ensign, May 2007, 105.

14. Larry Gibbons, "Wherefore, Settle This in Your Hearts," Ensign, Nov 2006, 102-4.

15.Henry B. Eyring, First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan 2003, 13. 3.

16. D&C 10:5.