Four Centuries Contest Discussion: “Ruby’s Gift”

[ 12 ] Comments

by James Goldberg

What has Mormon life looked like over the past two hundred years–and what will it look like over the next two hundred?

Everyday Mormon Writer’s “Four Centuries of Mormon Stories” contest features twelve very short stories depicting Latter-day Saints in the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd centuries. Mormonism has a dramatic history, an exciting present, and many talented writers of the future. Our contest brings all these elements together in an easy-to-access public venue for the first time–and at a time when world awareness of our community is running unusually high.

Yesterday, we kicked off the contest with Melissa Leilani Larson’s “Little Karl” and a discussion on the Association for Mormon Letters blog. Today, we published the second of the twelve finalists: “Ruby’s Gift” by Emily Debenham and invite readers to join a discussion here on Real Intent.

Feel free to comment on any aspect of the story, or to respond directly to any of the following discussion questions:

1) What are your initial reactions to the piece?

2) We believe in a gospel that is eternal and inhabit a church culture that is constantly changing. Most of the setting and details of this story are specific to the 19th century Mormon experience. How does it speak to Mormon experience today? What might this story look like in a contemporary setting?

3) Our common idea of miracles is that they feel serendipitous, joyful, and well…miraculous. This story features an uncomfortable miracle, which upsets those expectations. While different miracles come with different emotional experiences, how would you describe the emotional experience of a miracle? And how does this story work for you in capturing one girl’s experience of the miraculous?

New finalists will appear on every day except Sundays from now until October 27th. We hope you’ll join us for more discussions!

About James Goldberg

James Goldberg's family is Jewish on one side, Sikh on the other, and Mormon in the middle. Goldberg co-edits the Everyday Mormon Writer literary website, teaches composition and creative writing courses at BYU, and blogs at Mormon Midrashim. His debut novel, The Five Books of Jesus, was published in September 2012.

12 Responses to Four Centuries Contest Discussion: “Ruby’s Gift”

  1. Melody Burris says:

    I thought this story was beautiful. I loved the way it illustrates how the Lord can answer our prayers. My favorite line was “… she had always imagined miracles to be less uncomfortable.” Somehow this seems to be the case most of the time, or at least there is a period of being uncomfortable associated with the miracle if its not the miracle itself.
    Great job on an inspiring story that had good imagery.

  2. Mark Penny says:

    Wow. There’s a sensitive issue in there. Thank goodness families are getting the priority these days. I would not want to be the father, the mother or the kids in a situation like that.

    I like the honesty of the children in expressing doubt and disagreement. I also like the way the Spirit removes, or at least softens, the discomfort of the sacrifice–and how the children build their support for the mission call out of the Spirit’s support for a performance.

  3. Paul says:

    The description of the miracle’s being uncomfortable impressed me, too. We often assume miracles will provide resolution, which we hope will be comfortable. In this case, the small miracle of being able to play precedes the larger uncomfortable miracle of surviving without Father for his mission: God will protect them but may not make it easy on them.

    That wrapping of the larger truth in such a compact package is quite elegant.

    As for the setting, I was intrigued, as there are very few clues, except for the father’s call, of the timing of the story. Even today in my home, one might hear my daughter playing piano in one room while other children play elsewhere and mom works in the kitchen (except in my case, I’d surely be there helping!)

  4. Merrijane says:

    I loved this because I am quite susceptible to performance anxiety as well. Praying for help can get me through the piece, but it almost never takes away the fear. So this story was very real for me. One editorial note: in the post at Everyday Mormon Writer, Andrew says, “…I’m trying not to take this as a sign that god just doesn’t care.” Shouldn’t “god” be capitalized?

  5. Cheryl says:

    I have to admit that several times in my life, as a pianist and accompanist, I have had these types of miracles occur. Sometimes, it’ll be as simple as remembering a piece of music I wasn’t sure I could, and other times it’s not panicking when the sheet music blows onto the floor.

    I liked the honest reaction of the children when they learned of their father’s calling. I know it would be really difficult now to have something like that happen (3 years is a long time!), but it made me think: we expect to fulfill difficult assignments and callings without panic, too. The Stake President’s no-nonsense approach to both the father’s mission call as well as Ruby’s need to perform are familiar to me.

    And I liked it.

  6. jendoop says:

    My initial reaction is that I liked it, the way it explained how the gospel (via our service in the church) pushes us beyond what we think we are capable of. I believe this is part of God’s design for our development. We really have small hopes for ourselves, God’s are much greater but he is so patient with our little trembling fears.

    Miracles like the difficult one in the story are plentiful, which is why we don’t recognize them as such. Just before I read this story I talked to my former foster son’s adoptive mom (got that?), she is frustrated with how slow the adoption process is and issues with the other foster children in her home. It is intensive parenting for her, while dealing with the issues of a limping system. She is bogged down in the everyday details and it’s hard for her to see the miracle that God’s providing for her son through her service. In retrospect I see my small part in that miracle, but for her the difficulty of it obscures the beauty of the miracle of a child of God being saved from a life of neglect and abuse.

    Somehow we’ve come to expect that miracles are obvious divine manifestations without any human help. But if it’s true that God saves us after all we can do, doesn’t it make sense that he provides miracles after all we can do?

  7. Emily says:

    That was sweet. There’s a big spot in my heart for pioneer stories. I could feel her pain with the piano — not as profusely, but I relate. Interestingly, like the author, my name is Emily (obviously), but I also have daughters Sarah and Ruby.

  8. Emily says:

    A lovely little story. What will Ruby remember most about that experience as she grows? Will it become less uncomfortable for her? I liked Cheryl’s comments about being asked to do hard things and then just…doing them. The Lord qualifies the called.

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  10. Karen Austin says:

    I’m glad to see more pioneer stories with female protagonists–a teenager no less. There are so many good details that make this vivid, and the chararacters are presented as complex (and in such a small space). I once was the only person in RS who could translate the lesson into Spanish for our dear abuelas. (Five truly bilingual women all happened to be gone that day; I just had three college classes in Spanish under my belt.) So I relate to this story.

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