Monday, December 21, 2015

Wants and Needs -- or how I do Christmas

Saturday night, I spent quite a bit of time wrapping presents for my family. I know everyone does Christmas differently (and, truth be told, sometimes I have felt conflicted about how I've chosen to approach it), but I come from a family where Christmas is a big deal -- fun food, lots of wrapping, lots of time unwrapping.

Lest you think I'm extravagant in my approach, my kids know that I will often hold onto something -- like a bag of socks or lip balm or mechanical pencils for school -- and wrap it up for Christmas. Many of the wrapped gifts are of this ilk, actually. This year, I'm wrapping things like batteries and scissors and other things we just have as part of our supplies around the house. A couple of years ago, they each got a toilet cleaning kit!

I'm a cheap skate by nature and nurture, so my kids get a lot of 'no's during the year. Christmas is a time where I want them to feel some yesses. As I see it, God cares about what we need, and sometimes He also gives us what we want. I like Christmas to feel like a microcosm of how God works -- caring about both our needs and our wants. Not every want will be filled, but they are heard and known.

Over the years. I've come to realize that there is rarely One Right Way to do things like Christmas. Family traditions vary and personal approaches vary and that's ok. As I get older, with extended family, I'm grateful that there is less focus on stuff and more focus on relationships. I hope over time our little family will also transition in that direction. But for now, I will enjoy the fact that I still have kids at home and get to experience some of the childlike wonder of Christmas presents with them.

How do you do Christmas?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Thoughts on the Christmas Story, Part 1

As part of my gift to my family this year, I wanted to capture some of the thoughts and insights that have come as I am re-reading and pondering the Christmas story. In particular, I want to share what I learn as I ponder different people and elements in the story.

Today, I will share some reflections from Matthew 1. Some of my reflections are more cerebral, some are more personal. (Bullets feel impersonal, but my time is limited, so please forgive the format.)


  • My first thought is one that my son shared a while back. He made a goal this year to read the Old Testament cover to cover (since that is what they are studying in Seminary). He will often share insights from his reading when I tuck him in and we do our scripture share for the night. (When they were little, I did most of the reading/sharing. Now that they are older, almost without exception, I ask them to share. And usually, that sharing happens at night, one-on-one, when I'm tucking them in.) Anyway, when he got through the "begatting" part of the Old Testament, he shared the simple yet profound thought that family records/genealogies matter to God. We see this again in Matthew 1. I also thought about how much Abraham and his lineage means to God. God's promises through the Abrahamic covenant center on the Savior, so it seems fitting to me that the New Testament -- the book of the New Covenant -- begins with a connection to Abraham. I also think that it is interesting that this genealogy is given for Joseph, even though he was not related to Jesus by blood. But that he was a "son of David" (v. 20) is obviously significant to this story.
  • The law of chastity mattered to Joseph. Mary and Joseph did not "come together" until after they were married. And he also "knew her not" until after Jesus was born (which, of course, is not a requirement for pregnancy but I just sense a respect toward Mary and this miracle in their lives). I hope it's not crass to use Joseph as a counter-example to our culture that declares that sex is a need and a right rather than a divinely-given responsibility and marital gift. I know far too many women who have been treated as chattel in their own marriages, and it breaks my heart more than I can say. I desire for my my children to know deep in their core that this is not God's way. I pray that my son will show great respect to girls and women now, and show the deepest respect his future wife. I want my girls to respect themselves enough to expect to be treated with dignity and respect by the boys they befriend and date and by the man they each choose to marry. I want them all to understand the power of the doctrine of chastity, not just in the don'ts before and after marriage, but also in understanding how the power of the law can be harnessed within marriage as the spirit of the law is understood and honored. Lastly, I will just say that I'm struck by the fact that chastity is only mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon. Both times, God is speaking about chastity in light of how men treat women sexually. I believe if women understood the spirit of the law, they would value modesty and sexual boundaries more than they often do.
  • He was a "just man" and obviously cared deeply for Mary. When he discovered that Mary was expecting a child, he wanted to avoid publicly shaming her. He intended to break off their engagement in private -- even though the law would have allowed for the public approach...or, better said, reproach. 
  • "While he thought on these things" -- I'd never noticed this phrase in v. 20 before this week. It's a pattern that we see so often in the scriptures: Pondering leads to revelation. 
  • "Fear not" (also from v. 20) is one of my favorite phrases from the Christmas story. It's the phrase that I'm desiring to put at the center of my life right now. I am prone to anxiety and worry. I love that among the first words uttered when angels first appeared to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds were the simple words "fear not." I have to believe that were God to send an angel to me, His message would be the same. I believe the message is the same for all of us. Fear is not from Him, and Jesus is the reason we can trust that message. "Fear not."
  • Imagine, still, the kind of faith it took for Joseph to marry Mary. I am moved nearly to tears at his willing obedience and utter trust in God. The public shaming from which he sought to protect Mary surely became a fixture in his life during this time. What courage, humility, and faith he obviously had. I wonder, too, if he held onto prophecies and his understanding of the promises of God through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as Mary did when she was given the news that she would be the mother of the Son of God, the promised Messiah (see Luke 1). 
  • I love the fact that Mary and Joseph each had their personal revelation to face this unusual and challenging situation. Mary didn't need to convince Joseph of the truth, nor did Joseph need to inform Mary of what was to be. I imagine, though, that the anchors that they had because of their personal experiences brought a combined anchor to their relationship as they fulfilled this stewardship for God and for all mankind. [Is our own need for anchors in our lives any less real? God will speak to each of us, too, in His way and time, to help us fulfill our stewardships and missions on earth. And He will give us power and protection to do so. This is a promise of temple ordinances and covenants.]
  • Joseph was given instruction about the naming of Jesus. I'd never noticed before that the prophecy, at least as quoted in v. 23, is that "they" would "call his name Immanuel." (And I find the translation of the name, "God with us" to be breathtaking. Even though Jesus is not now living on the earth, His very name testifies to the reality that He is with us. The great I Am = with all. 


A favorite Christmas song of mine is "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt." When I first sang this song in a ward choir, I fell in love with the following line, spoken as if from the mind of a shepherd who was invited to come see the Christ child.

"How should I not have known Isaiah would be there, his prophecies fulfilled?"

An important part of the Christmas story is that it's an example of how God works with His prophets and actually helps make things happen so that prophecies are fulfilled. The scriptures repeat the notion as found in vs. 22: "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet..." (v 22). This pattern will show up several more times throughout the Christmas story. 

It's no small thing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that there are prophets again on the earth. Should we expect anything less than God working with the continuing unfolding of the story of the plan of salvation -- of which the Christmas story is only a part -- by helping the words of prophets be fulfilled?

...More thoughts to come on that when I write about the Christmas story in the Book of Mormon. :)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday Morning Session Highlights

[this messy cut-and-paste post was done while I was dealing with a migraine so please forgive the lack of editing -- just another way for me to 'mark' what stood out to me.]

Pres. Uchtdorf:
I was disregarding truth I could rely on
Sometimes, the truth may just seem too straightforward, too plain, and too simple for us to fully appreciate its great value. So we set aside what we have experienced and know to be true in pursuit of more mysterious or complicated information. Hopefully we will learn that when we chase after shadows, we are pursuing matters that have little substance and value.
When it comes to spiritual truth, how can we know that we are on the right path?
One way is by asking the right questions—the kind that help us ponder our progress and evaluate how things are working for us. Questions like:
“Does my life have meaning?”
“Do I believe in God?”
“Do I believe that God knows and loves me?”
“Do I believe that God hears and answers my prayers?”
“Am I truly happy?”
“Are my efforts leading me to the highest spiritual goals and values in life?”
 refocus or realign our daily efforts with the divine plan of salvation.
First: are we making our discipleship too complicated?
This beautiful gospel is so simple a child can grasp it, yet so profound and complex that it will take a lifetime—even an eternity—of study and discovery to fully understand it.
But sometimes we take the beautiful lily of God’s truth and gild it with layer upon layer of man-made good ideas, programs, and expectations. Each one, by itself, might be helpful and appropriate for a certain time and circumstance, but when they are laid on top of each other, they can create a mountain of sediment that becomes so thick and heavy that we risk losing sight of that precious flower we once loved so dearly.

My second suggestion is: start where you are.
Sometimes we feel discouraged because we are not “more” of something—more spiritual, respected, intelligent, healthy, rich, friendly, or capable. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. God created us to grow and progress. But remember, our weaknesses can help us to be humble and turn us to Christ, who will “make weak things become strong.”4 Satan, on the other hand, uses our weaknesses to the point that we are discouraged from even trying.
I learned in my life that we don’t need to be “more” of anything to start to become the person God intended us to become.
God will take you as you are at this very moment and begin to work with you. All you need is a willing heart, a desire to believe, and trust in the Lord.

My dear brothers and sisters, if we look at ourselves only through our mortal eyes, we may not see ourselves as good enough. But our Heavenly Father sees us as who we truly are and who we can become. He sees us as His sons and daughters, as beings of eternal light with everlasting potential and with a divine destiny.9
The Savior’s sacrifice opened the door of salvation for all to return to God. His “grace is sufficient for all [who] humble themselves before [God].”10 His grace is the enabling power that allows access into God’s kingdoms of salvation. Because of His grace, we will all be resurrected and saved in a kingdom of glory.

“But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”1
If our lives are centered in Jesus Christ, He can successfully mold us into who we need to be in order to return to His and Heavenly Father’s presence in the celestial kingdom. The joy we experience in this life will be in direct proportion to how well our lives are centered on the teachings, example, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.”5 This doesn’t mean all things are good, but for the meek and faithful, things—both positive and negative—work together for good, and the timing is the Lord’s. We wait on Him, sometimes like Job in his suffering, knowing that God “maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.”6 A meek heart accepts the trial and the waiting for that time of healing and wholeness to come.

What is our heart condition today? Paradoxically, in order to have a healed and faithful heart, we must first allow it to break before the Lord. “Ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit,”7 the Lord declares. The result of sacrificing our heart, or our will, to the Lord is that we receive the spiritual guidance we need.
With a growing understanding of the Lord’s grace and mercy, we will find that our self-willed hearts begin to crack and break in gratitude. Then we reach for Him, yearning to yoke ourselves to the Only Begotten Son of God. In our brokenhearted reaching and yoking, we receive new hope and fresh guidance through the Holy Ghost.

So trusting my all to thy tender care,

 It has been called a “course of steady improvement.”2 As we travel along that strait and narrow path, the Spirit continually challenges us to be better and to climb higher. The Holy Ghost makes an ideal traveling companion. If we are humble and teachable, He will take us by the hand and lead us home.

However, we need to ask the Lord for directions along the way. We have to ask some difficult questions, like “What do I need to change?” “How can I improve?” “What weakness needs strengthening?”

The Holy Ghost doesn’t tell us to improve everything at once. If He did, we would become discouraged and give up. The Spirit works with us at our own speed, one step at a time, or as the Lord has taught, “line upon line, precept upon precept, … and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, … for unto him that receiveth I will give more.”6 For example, if the Holy Ghost has been prompting you to say “thank you” more often, and you respond to that prompting, then He may feel it’s time for you to move on to something more challenging—like learning to say, “I’m sorry; that was my fault.”

A perfect time to ask, “What lack I yet?” is when we take the sacrament. The Apostle Paul taught that this is a time for each of us to examine ourselves.7 In this reverent atmosphere, as our thoughts are turned heavenward, the Lord can gently tell us what we need to work on next.

If spiritual growth is not a priority in our lives, if we are not on a course of steady improvement, we will miss out on the important experiences that God wants to give us.

My dear brothers and sisters, life is not easy, nor was it meant to be. It is a time of testing and trial. Like the old ships in Bristol Harbor, there will be times when the tide goes out and it seems as if everything in this world keeping us afloat disappears. We may hit the bottom and even be tipped over on our sides. Amid such trials, I promise you that living and maintaining temple-worthy lives will hold together all that really matters. The sweet blessings of peace, happiness, and joy, along with the blessings of eternal life and celestial glory with our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, will be realized.

The pleasing word of God that we share today shows us the need for continuous repentance in our lives so we can keep the influence of the Holy Ghost for as long as possible.
Having the companionship of the Spirit will make us better people. “It will whisper peace and joy to [our] souls, … it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from [our] hearts; and [our] whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God” (see Teachings: Joseph Smith, 98).
With the influence of the Holy Ghost, we will not be offended, nor will we offend others; we will feel happier, and our minds will be cleaner. Our love for others will increase. We will be more willing to forgive and spread happiness to those around us.
We will feel grateful to see how others progress, and we will seek the good in others.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October 2015 Conference Highlights -- Women's Session

I came to conference with very specific needs this time around. I wanted a place where I could simply cut and paste the things that I felt I needed to hear; it's too much to try to write in my journal by hand. Now that the text is out (AMAZING that they have a less-than-two-day turnaround), I'm taking advantage of the opportunity to process the messages that my spirit so desperately needs. I'm capturing the things that stand out to me, that flow to me...even as other messages may be important, too. I need to practice filtering so that I don't get overwhelmed, and so that I engage thte 

"Discovering the Divinity Within"
"the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." [and still does]
"[I] c[a]me into this world “trailing clouds of glory.”2  [I still do]
I am "a beloved spirit ... daughter of heavenly parents”
I have "a divine nature and destiny."
I am here on earth "to nurture and discover the seeds of divine nature that are within" me.
To know why I am here is key to my life. 
"The divine nature within each one of us is refined and magnified by the effort we make to draw nearer to our Father and His Son."
"Our divine nature has nothing to do with our personal accomplishments, the status we achieve, the number of marathons we run, or our popularity and self-esteem. Our divine nature comes from God."
"We are able to take our validation vertically from Him, not horizontally from the world around us."

“One of the sweetest messages the Spirit will relay is how the Lord feels about you.”6
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “God sent you here to prepare for a future greater than anything you can imagine.”9 That future, a day at a time, comes alive when you do more than just exist; it comes alive when you live your life to fill the measure of your creation."

“Don’t give up. … Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. … It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”10 

"Because you are His child, He knows who you can become. He knows your fears and your dreams. He relishes your potential. He waits for you to come to Him in prayer."

"Partaking of the sacrament each week breathes hope into the divinity within us, and we remember our Savior, Jesus Christ." + Cheryl Esplin [thanks to a SL Tribune Article -- I didn't remember this part of the talk at all. How did I not?] 
"One Sunday after her self-evaluation, she began to feel gloomy and pessimistic. She could see that she was making the same errors over and over again, week to week. But then she had a distinct impression that she was neglecting a big part of the Atonement—Christ’s enabling power. She was forgetting all the times the Savior helped her be who she needed to be and serve beyond her own capacity.With this in mind, she reflected again on the previous week. She said: “A feeling of joy broke through my melancholy as I noted that He had given me many opportunities and abilities. I noted with gratitude the ability I had to recognize my child’s need when it wasn’t obvious. I noted that on a day when I felt I could not pack in one more thing to do, I was able to offer strengthening words to a friend. I had shown patience in a circumstance that usually elicited the opposite from me.”
She concluded: “As I thanked God for the Savior’s enabling power in my life, I felt so much more optimistic toward the repentance process I was working through and I looked to the next week with renewed hope.” 
Worthy of Our Promised Blessings
"Our bodies are sacred gifts from our Heavenly Father." [This year I've been trying to appreciate my body more. I have a long way to go there.]
"we will be exceedingly blessed if we exercise faith and patience and go to our Heavenly Father, the source of all truth, with our concerns." 
 “For the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.”4
Understandably, many have expressed that our Father’s promised blessings are just “way too far away,” particularly when our lives are overflowing with challenges. But Amulek taught that “this life is the time … to prepare to meet God.”8 It is not the time to receive all of our blessings. [but this needs to also be combined with Pres. Uchtdorf's talk about how we can find joy now--by choosing to live a meaningful life...these two thing combined made a complete message for me...I needed both to be reminded that this life won't necessarily give us all that we hope and dream for, and yet, I can use my agency to focus on what I CAN do (borrowing from Elder Stevenson's talk, which also reflected an almost word-for-word impression that came to me over the weekend].

"President Packer explained, “‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right.”9 However, a vision of our Father’s incredible promised blessings must be the central focus before our eyes every day—as well as an awareness “of the multitude of his tender mercies”10 that we experience on a daily basis."

"I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly Father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally." [But I DO believe our suffering here matters to God as well. How else can the Atonement help us in our suffering if we don't acknowledge it honestly before Him? To me it's not a binary. What we suffer here cannot compare to the glory hereafter (Paul says as much) but what we suffer here does matter to God, and He wants to succor us...see also Elder Oaks' talk.]

How to Serve a Righteous Cause

"The Savior taught, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”1"
"each of us is “precious in [His] sight.”2 He loves us. We are daughters of God. We are sisters in Zion. We have a divine nature, and we each have a glorious work to do."

"we may discover our individual and eternal worth by acting in accordance with our divine purpose in mortality. Tonight, this beautiful and remarkable choir sang words that teach our purpose. Through test and trial, even through fear and in the midst of despair, we have valiant hearts. We are resolved to do our part. We are here to serve a righteous cause.3 Sisters, in this cause we are all valued. We are all needed."

"The prophet Mormon boldly declared, “For we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness,..." [the adversary  has been at work on me as of late, so I cut off that scripture just there for a reason]

Before we were born, we accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan “by which [we] could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience ..." [sometimes I fight this plan. Mortality can be so hard.]

In the work of salvation, there is no room for comparison, criticism, or condemnation.

“Sometimes I wonder if the sisters in the early history of the Church didn’t, like us, put their heads on their pillows at night and pray, ‘Whatever tomorrow brings, will Thou help me through it?’” [one day at a time!]

[Lots on virtue in both of these talks. That's a topic for another day...have some thoughts on that.]

A Summer with Great Aunt Rose (I want  a copy of that painting he shared!!)

(Most talks I can do either listening or reading. But this talk is a MUST-listen, imo.)

" I invite you to listen with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost will help you to find the message for you in this parable." [I cannot express how much I loved this simple line from Pres. Uchtdorf's talk. To invite the process of personal revelation is so helpful for me, because my brain wants to latch onto the words in fear and a spirit of duty, rather than to be still and listen to what God wants to say to me. It sounds so silly to need permission to trust personal revelation in this process of conference, but I need it.]

“Dear Eva, do you really think that my life is perfect?” Aunt Rose sat with Eva on the overstuffed sofa. “There was a time when I was so discouraged I didn’t want to go on.”
“You?” Eva asked.
Aunt Rose nodded. “There were so many things I wished for in my life.” As she spoke, a sadness entered her voice that Eva had never heard before. “Most of them never happened. It was one heartbreak after another. One day I realized that it would never be the way I had hoped for. That was a depressing day. I was ready to give up and be miserable.”
“So what did you do?”
“Nothing for a time. I was just angry. I was an absolute monster to be around.” Then she laughed a little, but it was not her usual big, room-filling laugh. “‘It’s not fair’ was the song I sang over and over in my head. But eventually I discovered something that turned my whole life around.”
“What was it?”
“Faith,” Aunt Rose smiled. “I discovered faith. And faith led to hope. And faith and hope gave me confidence that one day everything would make sense, that because of the Savior, all the wrongs would be made right.
“‘God … will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. [That eternal day does sound like something to aim for, doesn't it?]
“‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’”4
Great-Aunt Rose looked at Eva. Her smile was wide as she whispered, with a slight quiver in her voice, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard?”
Eva furrowed her brow. “But wait a minute,” she said. “Are you saying that being happy means just looking forward to happiness in the future? Is all our happiness in eternity? Can’t some of it happen now?”
“Oh, of course it can!” Aunt Rose exclaimed. “Dear child, now is part of eternity. It doesn’t only begin after we die! Faith and hope will open your eyes to the happiness that is placed before you.
“I know a poem that says, ‘Forever—is composed of Nows.’6 I didn’t want my forever to be composed of dark and fearful ‘Nows.’ And I didn’t want to live in the gloom of a bunker, gritting my teeth, closing my eyes, and resentfully enduring to the bitter end. Faith gave me the hope I needed to live joyfully now!”
“So what did you do then?” Eva asked.
“I exercised faith in God’s promises by filling my life with meaningful things. 

 I pray that faith will fortify every footstep along your way; that hope will open your eyes to the glories Heavenly Father has in store for you; and that love for God and all His children will fill your hearts. As an Apostle of the Lord, I leave this as my testimony and blessing in the name of Jesus Christ,