Saturday, August 15, 2020

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

I recently found the notes from a panel presentation from 2010. This was for a BYU Women's Services conference exploring women and the challenges of navigating decision-making during the critical (and often stressful) young adult years.

For personal history purposes, I wanted to record this here, especially since my children are all currently living in the "decade of decision" [an Elder Hales phrase]. Truth be told, these principles are true for all of us, regardless of the phase of life we are in!

This conference was held in 2010. There were two different sessions and each session included four panelists. Panelists were chosen specifically to show the wide variety of ways a woman's life can unfold. It was an awesome conference and I loved working with BYU Women's Services to plan it. (Helping support female students at BYU was part of my charge as a member of the BYU Marriott School Undergraduate Management Advisory Board.)

The conference was entitled, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" Hat tip, of course, to Dr. Seuss.

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I have three points I would like to share, using this fun and quite insightful book from Dr. Seuss. [Isn't it awesome how many ways true principles can show up? Just shows how merciful God is to teach truth as often as He can, through as many people as He can.]
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.
I will take minor issue w/ Dr. Seuss a here. The truth is, we know what we know, but what we know is often insufficient to make all the significant life decisions we face. Fortunately...

We are not alone in making decisions

Elder Scott: "I know that each one of you faces overwhelming challenges [I will add decisions]. Sometimes they are so concentrated, so unrelenting, that you may feel they are beyond your capacity to control. [Have you ever felt the press of too. many. decisions. facing you all at once?]

Don’t face the world alone. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). (Richard G. Scott, Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy (2007), 248–49.)

There were many times in my college experience, either in making decisions about classes, my major, or dating relationships, that I realized how very little I knew about what I should do. I often felt this way and perhaps you can relate a little:
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And if you go in, should you turn left or right…or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up her mind.
I have a belief that the Lord can't direct us unless we are moving our feet. Sometimes I felt like I was walking blindly, and sometimes the dark, unmarked streets lasted longer than I would have hoped, but in the end, answers came when they needed to come.

Answers weren't always what I thought they were going to be. It took me what felt like forever to decide on a major. And the one major I had deliberately ruled out ended up being the focus I felt impressed to chose for my Master's Degree! When I took my “I've decided not to serve a mission, is that ok?” to the Lord, I got my answer, and my papers were in two weeks later! When I pleaded with God to let me marry the wonderful young man I dated after my mission...when he proposed, I could not say yes. (This actually happened a few times before the right time and person came along.)

When I thought about moving from NJ – a state w/ NO single's ward AT ALL – to a place w/ many singles, I felt to stay in New Jersey. I met my husband while living there. I met him at a time I didn't think I was ready for another relationship, but it just felt right to move forward. [I'd had many experiences with what a no felt like in my over 10 years of dating.] We had three children quickly, which was a surprise, but I realized later God's mercy and wisdom in this because of health problems that came shortly after our third was born.

You just never know the places you'll go! Let God help you figure out where you should be going. He can help you experience things that will be beyond what you could have planned for yourself, alone.

Speaking of the word alone, I have something to say about that. So does Dr. Seuss. Which leads to point #2.

You're going to feel scared sometimes, but “Don't worry, don't stew”
[W]hen you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go though the weather be foul.
On you will go though your enemies prowl.
On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.
I spent a good chunk of my young adult years single. It was not easy to be alone. But even after marriage and motherhood blessed my life, there still have been times when I have felt alone and overwhelmed by the challenges that have come my way. For example, chronic illness [now going on 18 years] altered my life significantly, and the accompanying heartache of not feeling right about having more children was something that took me years to come to peace with.

Have you ever considered that blessings and opportunities can also be sources of overwhelm? I'll never forget, for example, how terrified I was when I looked at that pregnancy test that confirmed that I would finally become a mother. [And while being a mother has stretched me beyond anything I have experienced, I cannot adequately express what being a mother means to me. For some, being a mother may be their greatest heartache. And for others, the heartache of not having children may never fully go away in this life. [See the link to the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast below. Julie Beck had something beautiful to say about that divine desire.]

Over time, I have come to realize that both the opportunities and the undesired challenges all can be tremendous blessings. If we embrace our journey, the hard and the great, we embrace the opportunity to continue to learn – not just through formal learning, but the life-changing learning that comes through personal experience, walking in faith, and experiencing triumph over trials. [If you want some excellent free therapy along these lines, I recommend searching for Craig Berthold's podcast. Actually, his daughter is the host of the podcast, called "The Full Cup."** Craig is a therapist, and this is her daughter's way of allowing her dad to share his professional insights [and personal faith journey] -- all about letting life's stuff all be turned to wisdom. Just as a note, his style is not, shall we say, General Conference-esque, but I can guarantee some transcendent moments if you let the principles he teaches distill. It's recommended to listen to the episodes in order. They build off each other. Craig's daughter, Rachel (also a therapist) is interviewed on a few episodes, and her insights are also awesome.]
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don't worry, don't stew.
Just go right along. You'll start happening too!
Fear and faith (and fear and contentment) cannot easily coexist. [Sometimes we feel fear even though we are fostering faith, but our brains can't really do both at once.] Watch for fear in your life – either when hard things happen, or when good things do! – and practice replacing that with faith, confidence, hope, and a continued effort to move forward. ["Faith is action, not prediction." I thought I needed to reference that quote I have on my mirror, but the post that prompted me writing that down only contains "faith is action." Apparently it was the setting of the story that prompted the mirror quote. Still, this story is a powerful example of letting go and walking by faith, so I'm sharing the link.]

My last point relates to another stanza from Dr. Seuss.

The "Great Balancing Act" [Dr. Jeff Hill (family friend and BYU professor) would reframe this as the quest for Life Harmony.]
So be sure when you step to step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.
Right now, most of you are trying to figure out how to balance all the demands on your time and attention, on your heart and your life. You are trying to balance prioirities between all we are taught that matters. Home, church, family, education, wholesome recreation – it all matters. [In truth, we are all always trying to figure this out. That never changes.] No one can figure out your formula for balance but you.* And the balance can change even from day to day. [My college roommate used to quip that we should just be sure we aren't repeatedly dropping the same ball. Obviously, it's more nuanced than that, and a lot more Spirit-led than that, but her thought helped me get more centered while I was stressing out about the dropped balls in my life.]

Through this BYU Women's Services conference [or by asking lots of people questions about their life stories] we hope you can see there are many ways your life can unfold.

Sister Beck said this in a Worldwide leadership broadcast in 2008, when talking about the balance of family and church service (and I think this can apply with any of the things we are talking about – balance of family, church, education, service, and personal development):
I would never want to say that it’s either...or. It has to be a...unity of what we commit to the Lord to help build His kingdom and what we’ve committed to build a family. They go together. It’s not one or the other.
[See also this article about a talk given by Sister Mary N. Cook about how education can help us help the Lord build His kingdom.]

Here are some related thoughts from Sister Tanner (from the same broadcast) that have stuck with me over the years:
"I remember [as a young adult] hearing [prophets and apostles] preach that we were to get married, to have children, and to get an education, sort of all simultaneously, as impossible as it sounds. And I think that maybe it does seem sort of impossible and that we have people who question and wonder about that. ...I believe that it requires of us great faith and great courage and often great sacrifice. I think [doing what is right, in accordance with God's plan and prophetic counsel] requires us to be in tune with the Lord to receive personal revelation..., and I think it requires a pure heart so that we are not judgmental of other people who are exercising their faith and having their own personal revelation."
Leave space for all that we are taught is important, and God will help you know how to balance it all through every stage of your life. And know without question that Christ will cover and consecreate the messiness of the process and the good desires of your hearts.

And, as Dr. Seuss says:

Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!


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*That can sometimes feel really lonely, but it's also awesome because, as therapist Craig Berthold discusses, if we take responsibility for our lives, we get to also take the wisdom from doing so.

**The symbolism of the podcast name is wonderful, but I wouldn't recommend searching on the podcast's name or you may spend the next week or so trying to telling your social media ad feed that you really aren't interested in all the bra shopping. It took me a while to figure out what on earth was going on in my Facebook feed. If you are wondering why on earth that happens, I recommend watching The Social Dilemma. And now you know that I've added some notes to this post, post-postdate. The original post was an unformatted mess. (Blogger is not my favorite, for the record.)

Friday, June 12, 2020

When the student is ready...

I'm reading a book called A Thomas Jefferson Education. This is a book I should have read nine years ago when my first child was going to enter the charter school from which my last child just graduated. But, as the saying goes, better late than never, right?

In fact, in some ways, I think that reading the book after watching the impact of a classical, mentor-led, Socratic-discussion-driven education on my children is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not just learning the philosophy of a classical education in theory. I've seen it in practice and now have context, which I hope can help the theory to stick. And even though I do have regrets about not understanding this perspective when my children were younger, the principles within are ones I can still benefit from in my own life and use as the next generation of our family begins to emerge.

During all the efforts to try to help people "get" the reality of racism, I'm seeing a lot of disheartening unkindness being shown, mostly white-to-white. I understand why this is happening; when you feel strongly about something and others don't pick up your torch and carry it forward, or even try to snuff it out, that can be extremely frustrating. And some are asking, "OK, how do I get someone to get it?" One person in a group I'm in asked this question. This person is a teacher. Some of what I am learning from the aforementioned book came to mind. And some thoughts I've been having about how I deal with my own passions and frustrations is influencing my writing a lot, too. I am often one of those people who just wants others to "get it" instead of taking lots of steps back to consider how God works with me and what true principles show up in so many places.

Here are two different comments I wrote, edited for blog use. I'm writing right now because some concepts are getting clearer for me and I want to remember them first for myself.

- - - -

As a teacher, when a student doesn't understand something, do you label that student as ignorant, blind, clueless, or crazy? If there is ignorance, start first with seeking to understand so that you can meet the person where she is. You can't teach if you don't know where a person is. And you can't teach if you box someone in or label them or call them names. (e.g., I'm seeing people say things like, "Let me guess. That's an ignorant white woman who said that, right?")

If white people are the people who need to learn about why racism is a problem, then people trying to influence them/us need to actually care about them/us too, and try to meet them/us where they/we are, not yell at them/us for not "getting it" yet or not "doing it right."

I am seeing a lot of unkind things being said on the internet right now. It's disheartening. If you believe you are on the higher road then LIFT people there. Elevate the conversation. Gently educate. Find out where people are and why they are sharing things like this. Look for the patterns in where people are and what this may be about. If there is ignorance, care and teach, rather than tear down and criticize.

I think it's important to remember that this kind of change is not going to happen in memes and likely not going to happen on social media. People need to know they are safe and cared for if they are going to be able to hear something really different from where they are. Think of a time when you had a change of mind or heart about something significant. Usually these things take a lot of time and many experiences and bumping up against trustworthy people talking in clear and accessible and kind ways to help make true ideas more accessible and having God do His wonderful work in His time and way. Is He guiding you to be an instrument to try to influence this person in particular? If so, what does He guide you to say? If it's just a generic person to you, maybe it's not worth the effort. Or maybe you can formulate your own gentle but clear post about why a meme like this concerns you and then let people who are ready for it find it and mull over it. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Students are what drive learning, not teachers. [That's something I have learned in reading A Thomas Jefferson Education.) Mentors make learning exciting and fulfilling, in a safe place where it's okay to make mistakes and explore ideas and to sometimes not have it all figured out yet.

And truth that is shared with light will resonate with people who are ready for it.

But I honestly think a lot of people are feeling more heat than light and so memes that frustrate anti-racists are going to seem to make sense of what they are feeling. It seems counterintuitive, but I think if there is any hope of influencing people, you have to start with an increase of love and everything else that Doctrine and Covenants 121 talks about. NO influence comes from exasperated frustration or condescending eye rolling. Easier said than done. It's the nature and disposition of almost all of us to go for force rather than gentle persuasion. And it doesn't work -- and likely produces the opposite effect. I'm seeing the reality of this sad but powerful truth in another critical situation in my life and it is sobering me, so I'm writing for myself not just to respond to you. I get so exasperated, but the more exasperation I show, the more I get less of what I hope for in terms of movement and progress and communication.

- - - -

As hard as it is to accept, I don't think we make people repent. People choose to repent. I think we have to respect agency and let God work in His time and way on people. God has never had any problem letting people make mistakes for generations (not that He doesn't CARE about it, but that His plan is centered on agency and that has a high cost, to be sure. But the price has already been paid! He clearly takes the long view on things). When the student is ready, the teacher (the Teacher) appears.

Also, I think nothing motivates people to *consider* change more than love. Consider Doctrine and Covenants 121. I thought of that last night when I was commenting somewhere else but tonite I pulled out the text and read it again. Wow. Yeah, I think if there is any hope of influencing people toward true repentance -- the kind led by God, not by us -- these are the principles we have to live by. Exasperation and frustration or even deep concern about what is *wrong* (e.g., generational patterns being perpetuated) likely just gets the opposite result.

The Serenity Prayer reminds us that we take the sinful world as it is, like Jesus did, and try to do OUR own surrender process, personally, with God, trusting in the promise of a better world. Surrendering includes, I think, surrendering other people's stuff and letting that be God's to handle.

This is not saying we live lives of inaction, but rather of inspiration. I think most of the time, when we want to "help" someone else repent, that is *our* will in action, because we are trying to wrest a certain outcome out of another. But we have no idea where someone else actually is in their process (either that, or what we are observing can give us information about where they actually are, and so we need to respect that if it is not where we wish they were). God's way is that we can't force someone to be where they are not. I mean, I hardly know where *I* am in my process and what my right next steps should be. How on earth can I know what someone else's life should look like? 🙂

[Not that I don't get stuck in thinking I know what others should do, because I do. As I have said elsewhere, I am writing in large measure because I really want these principles to stick in my cells and synapses more. It's just so easy to have so many opinions about what others should do, but really, is that any of my business?]

Have you ever read Byron Katie? She has some interesting thoughts about this that at first kind of messed with my head, but to boil it down (as I understand it), her whole point is that if someone "should" be doing something, they already *would* be doing it. When we get wrapped up in thinking about what someone "should" be doing, we are taking on an all-knowing role that we don't have knowledge to do. And when we play that role, we make our own lives miserable, tend to treat others poorly, and have less ability to be clear about what our own right next steps should be.

Her thoughts also align with 12-step ideas like "You are right where you need to be" and "Everything is on schedule." Well, if that is true for me and my messy process, that has to be true for others, too, because God is no respecter of persons. He isn't going to give *me* space and time (thanks to Jesus, He does!) to figure things out (even though sometimes I'm SO SLOW in my process and progress) ...but then validate me if expect someone to just respond to the snap of my finger when I think they should change (which I can be prone to do).

This is hard doctrine, but I think it's true and in the end makes life easier, lighter, more peaceful. And if we are more peaceful, then we have more of a possibility to have influence because peace itself is a powerful force...it channels something beyond ourselves, even God..."without compulsory means."

I think when we have knowledge of truth (or our best approximation of it), we first act on it simply to act in integrity to our own conscience. We may also decide to share what we feel and believe, but then we surrender the outcomes. Agency is the most important gift we have been given in this life, and to practice respecting it for others I think is one of the greatest tests of life. (Cells? Synapses of mine? Are you listening?....)

That idea of me wanting to retrain my brain more toward these principles reminds me of a quote I found in my journal last night. When I went to look it up just now, I didn't remember that it channeled the Serenity Prayer so closely, but I shouldn't be surprised because this message is hitting me in multiple ways right now. This is from Wayne Dyer (from a webinar I listened to a while back, so there are a couple of layers of witnesses to this idea): "Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be." And here's another: "direct [my] thoughts away from [the one doing harm] and toward the actions [I] must take now to be more empowered.] [don't know the source...I wrote the quote in my journal without the source. Alas.]

Next right thing. Just do the next right thing for YOU and let others figure out their next right things. [Cells? Synapses? I'm talking to you again!] This is all so much easier said than done. So counterintuitive, even. But agian, I do believe it is truth. Because when the student is ready, the True Teacher appears. He may appear through us or through another, but it is not on us to make people to get truth. We simply share what we know and step back and let people do what they will and let God work His wonders with individuals as they are ready for whatever right next things they are seeking to or need to learn. His timetable is the driver, though, not ours.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Musings on 1 Nephi 1-8



I'm participating in a 90-day BoM challenge and thought I'd post some of the thoughts I've been sharing in the Facebook group I've joined for this challenge. I'm adding some other thoughts that are coming as I'm copying and pasting, and as such, am realizing that I could spend days on just clusters of verses...so these are just a few of the thoughts that have come and/or that I want to record from past reading experiences.

This is more for my own record-keeping and personal study process than anything else....

1 Nephi 1

I love 1 Nephi 1:20. It's one of my fave scriptures. When Pres. Hinckley challenged us to read the BoM several years ago, this was one of the themes I studied. Nephi says that he set out to show that the tender mercy, power, and deliverance of God are real. I wanted to see if/how he did that. WOW. This isn't just a theme for Nephi. It's a theme for the whole book. I think this is such a great scripture to begin a new year. I shared this with my kids for our scripture study tonite and challenged them to write tender mercy moments in their journals. I think the more we seek to see and acknowledge and express gratitude and record tender mercies, the more we are blessed with eyes to see. (Also, I think this theme is like a bookend for the BoM -- Moroni's promise encourages us to ponder how merciful the Lord has been. This is key to being in tune with the Spirit.)

I think gratitude will be one of my words for the year. I'm so susceptible to the drama and trauma of mortality, in the news, in social media, etc. I love the power of technology, but I have to guard my spirit and mind against the way the adversary can trap me in a sort of doom-and-gloom mentality. (This comes with anxiety and depression and OCD, too, so there's that.)

I'm reading a book right now that is really touching me and inspiring me in this direction.

1 Nephi 2

"Blessed art thou" -- I have seen this pattern in the BoM -- someone prays, concerned about someone else, and God focuses first on His relationship with that person. (For example, see the story of Alma in Mosiah 26 and the other Nephi in Helaman 1. This is not only evidence of how personal God is, but also shows how to have healthy relationships with others. We can easily be weighed down when others are flailing in their faith. What I see in these scriptural patterns is that God invites individuals to focus first on their relationship with God, to be centered in Him. Others' choices don't affect my relationship with God (or don't have to, or shouldn't). I can find peace if I am at peace with God. And while God hears our prayers on behalf of others, He also doesn't violate agency. This is something I hadn't really understood or seen until I was doing personal study years ago on personal boundaries. And then I realized that God helps reinforce healthy boundaries by keeping each of our relationships with Him so very individual. It's amazing, really, because He can love us all, love us each where we are. He can guide us each where we are. He can validate our personal journeys even in context of our relationships with others. But He does that for everyone, for anyone who will ask. I have seen this. Even when someone has caused me pain, I can see how He works with them as lovingly and perfectly as He does with me. When I realize this mercy and how personal it is, it helps me respect others' agency and respect their personal process more wholeheartedly.

I also love the verse about how Laman and Lemuel murmur because they didn't understand God and His dealings. On the other hand, Nephi was focused on God's mercy and love. Gratitude can impact our lens and how we see life. (There it is again! Gratitude!)

One more share that came to mind as I was reading back over some of this chapter in the temple. I had S. Michael Wilcox as a BoM instructor in college and he taught us how to look at words, phrases, and verses and really study them. A few years back, I did this with the word 'tent.' It was an amazing experience and I thought I'd share again here. I'm noticing now as I look at the pattern that there is more I could study in the Old Testament (which, of course, makes sense). I love seeing how the Old Testament is so evident in the Book of Mormon. So is the New Testament. The Book of Mormon is not only Another Testament, it's a book that bridges the Old and the New.

1 Nephi 3

Laman and Lemuel are convinced, for a time, with words, but their hearts aren't in it. They are full of the fear of man, prone to murmuring as their go-to response. The contrast with how Nephi testifies of God's power in later chapters is so important. More thoughts below, including on how I think Laban and Lemuel reflect part of all of us as mortals. The natural man is an enemy to God, and we each have our natural-man responses to hard things.

1 Nephi 4

I love how Nephi calls upon the stories of the children of Israel to strengthen and confirm his faith and trust in God. As mentioned below, this pattern of noticing and trusting in the mercy and deliverance of God as evidenced in the scriptures is a key to us having strength, not murmuring, and being blessed to have the revelation we need to get through life.

The story of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt is one of my all-time favorite stories as well, so there's that....

I also am deeply touched by Nephi's wrestle with the Lord. The thought I have had here is that those who are the exception to God's rules and laws simply don't want to be. But it took three times with the Spirit bonking Nephi over the head, plus a lot of studying it out in his mind, before Nephi would essentially break the law that he knew God had given.

President Benson talked about this years ago:
“Whatever God requires is right,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, p. 256)—and so Nephi slew Laban. And God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Had Abraham loved Isaac more than God, would he have consented? As the Lord indicates in the Doctrine and Covenants, both Abraham and Isaac now sit as gods (see D&C 132:37). They were willing to offer or to be offered up as God required. They have a deeper love and respect for each other because both were willing to put God first.
(See also the full quote from Joseph Smith)

I wish I could find the talk, but years ago, I think it was Elder Holland (before he was an apostle, I believe) who talked about how this story is one we come to so early in the Book of Mormon. Lest I misquote, I won't say anything more but I agree with the notion, as far as it is remembered correctly. :)

But I think we should all fear and tremble in the face of these stories, too. Why did Nephi and Abraham have the faith to do what they believed God commanded them to do? Because they knew His voice. They KNEW what the Spirit felt like. They had enough experience to know revelation.

Do we? Do I?

1 Nephi 5

Maybe it's because the older I get, the more of my human weakness I see and feel frustrated with (I suppose I thought that by age 40 I'd have things pretty figured out. Ahem.) So I find a sort of comfort in the fact that Sariah struggled. These people were human. It took her a while to trust. And sometimes that is just where we are. Lehi didn't berate her; he just testified of what he knew was true.

But Sariah gets her answers in her own time and way, and then as far as I can understand the text, they both, as husband and wife, offer sacrifices (note how Nephi's voice shifts from first- to third-person in vs. 8).

I think there is another message here, too. If you have family members or friends who struggle, don't give up hope. Just as God says elsewhere, if they seek God, He will respond. This is all about agency. (This shows up in a powerful way in Enos, as well as in scriptures mentioned above when talking about boundaries and agency.)

1 Nephi 6

I love the threads that appear in chapters 6, 9, and 19. Nephi makes his purpose so clear, and makes it clear that it is not HIS purpose, but God's. God is the author. Nephi was the instrument.

1 Nephi 7

I sometimes think we look at Laman and Lemuel as the 'they' -- people we'd never be like. I think this story contrasting Nephi (one of my heroes) and Laman and Lemuel is really more a story about each and all of us. This chapter reveals some of the things we mortals can do. We forget what we have seen. Sometimes we don't hearken to the Lord, either because of pride or sometimes just because we're mortal and weak and trying to figure it out. We get angry when people speak truth or cut to our cores somehow. We murmur rather than gratefully noticing and remembering and watching for tender mercies. We think that other forces are more powerful than God...we forget that the Lord is able to do all things. I know at least I forget. My fears and worries can sometimes make me more like L&L than Nephi. I actually feel compassion for them, and soberness so that I can be aware of my own fallenness and weakness. (see also Helaman 12)

1 Nephi 8

I love the two words "fell down." That is one of the differences the text mentions about those who actually stay at the tree, and those who are drawn away. Given the fact that these words show up elsewhere in the scriptures, I take this to mean that they fell down in worship of the Savior. The tree represents Him after all. It's fun to do a word search and see where else those two words appear. Some of the verses I have written in my scriptures include the following:
  • 3 Nephi 11:12, 17
  • Ether 3:6
  • Ezek. 1:28
  • 1 Ne. 11:24
  • Ezek. 3:23
  • Ezek. 46:4
  • Matt. 2:11
  • Just found Luke 5:8 as well
I've also been thinking about false accusation and how hard it can be to not absorb the words of people who mock -- either religiously or personally (bullying, etc.). v. 33 has such a simple solution: "we heeded them not" and vs. 34 explains the danger of not having such a guard up: "For as many as heeded them had fallen away." I think this is true both in terms of our faith and also just in terms of discerning who may not be voices to listen to in our own lives. I've often been too prone to being 'open to feedback' of those who had no concern for me or my well-being. I've discovered that this can send me into mists as much (if not more than) religious mocking can. It's taken years to learn this, but I'm getting better

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.)

Joseph:

  • 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. 


Prophets:

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.