More prepared than we realize

I love teachings about the premortal life—specifically things that reassure me that I have been prepared in advance for this life. I keep kind of a collection of quotes about it (I say "kind of" because I don't think I actually have all the quotes in one place—but I am always on the alert for them) because I find that doctrine so comforting, I like to turn it over and over in my mind when I'm feeling discouraged. (I also think it's something I have to really work to believe, which is why I can't just learn it once and forget about it.) So it was cool to read these words from President Nelson just this week. He said:
You were taught in the spirit world to prepare you for anything and everything you would encounter during this latter part of these latter days. That teaching endures within you!
Even though I said rather cynically to a friend that it would be helpful if I could remember ANY of that "preparation," because I certainly don't FEEL prepared, or even like I have ANY previous knowledge that is helping me with my current challenges—I really did love hearing this doctrine so specifically from our prophet. It seems like previously when I've encountered the idea, it's been vaguer, like "maybe we were even prepared for our specific challenges!"—but not saying we were for sure.

In 1985 Elder Maxwell gave a talk about Premortal Life (of course he did) and he pointed out some other implications of this doctrine. (See the original talk for citations to the quotes he uses in this passage.) He said:
Premortality is not a relaxing doctrine. For each of us, there are choices to be made, incessant and difficult chores to be done, ironies and adversities to be experienced, time to be well spent, talents and gifts to be well employed. Just because we were chosen “there and then,” surely does not mean we can be indifferent “here and now.” … 
In fact, adequacy in the first estate may merely have ensured a stern, second estate with more duties and no immunities! Additional tutoring and suffering appears to be the pattern for the Lord’s most apt pupils…Our existence, therefore, is a continuum matched by God’s stretching curriculum. 
This doctrine brings unarguable identity but also severe accountability to our lives. It uniquely underscores the actuality of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
It also reminds us that we do not have all of the data. There are many times when we must withhold judgment and trust God, even in the midst of “all these things.” …
Agreeing to enter this second estate, therefore, was like agreeing in advance to anesthetic—the anesthetic of forgetfulness. Doctors do not de-anesthetize a patient, in the midst of what was previously authorized, to ask him, again, if it should be continued. We agreed to come here and to undergo certain experiences under certain conditions.
Elder Orson Hyde said, “We have forgotten! … But our forgetfulness cannot alter the facts.”… Yet, on occasions, there are inklings. President Joseph F. Smith observed how “we often catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul, which lights up our whole being as with the glory of our former home.”…
There can be sudden surges of deja vu. A flash from the mirror of memory can beckon us forward to that far pavilion, filled with “everlasting splendours” and resurrected beings…
Thus, when we now say “I know,” that realization is rediscovery; we are actually saying “I know—again!”
The tone of Elder Maxwell here, with its message of accountability and trials, is a liiiiitle less encouraging to me than President Nelson's, but honestly both aspects work together to give me hope. I'm glad to think that Heavenly Father didn't send me down to earth completely unprepared for what was coming. I'm really glad to think that He didn't send my children down unprepared either! That helps me feel slightly less panicked about my numerous failures in my interactions with them. And of course, when I trust that I WAS prepared, in spite of not FEELING prepared, then it helps give me motivation to "withhold judgement and trust God" about the specific challenges I am facing. If He personally oversaw my previous preparation—then who am I (under that "anesthetic of forgetfulness" as I am) to challenge what HE thinks I am ready for?

After I wrote the previous paragraphs, I was practicing the piano—I'm re-learning Rhapsody in Blue, which I learned sixteen years ago in college—and I was thinking about how much easier it is to learn it the second time around. Certainly I can't still play it well. No one else would think I remembered anything from before. If I just sit down and try to play it through, it sounds as clumsy as if I'd never learned it. But as I practice, I can just tell it is coming more easily. My fingers already know the spans they have to reach. My ears know when there's one tiny note wrong in the harmony. The way the weight of my arms drops onto a chord—even the way my shoulders or wrists feel after playing a passage of music—I couldn't have remembered it, nor described it to you before starting the re-learning process, but now I find it familiar all the same. And after I've played a section through twenty times, it feels as natural as if I'd played it fifty. I wouldn't say the process is easy, but it's without a doubt easiER. As I was noticing this, I had the thought: "If I didn't remember the experience of learning this piece the first time, I wouldn't even realize how much easier of a time I'm having this second time through." And then, another thought with great force: "Such is your mortal experience."

I've been so frustrated with not FEELING like I'm prepared. And it's because I don't remember the preparation, and what good is preparation if you don't remember it? That's what I've thought till now. But the dramatic difference in re-learning this piano piece, versus learning it for the first time, makes me feel amazed at the possibility that my premortal preparation might be giving me similar benefits—and the only reason I don't notice them is that I've forgotten that first learning process. Maybe my heart and mind recognize familiar patterns, things I practiced for long ago, just as my ears and arms and fingers do in Rhapsody in Blue. Maybe my struggles are—well, at least lesser struggles—because I was more prepared for this life than I realize.

Icefields Parkway

I read somewhere that the drive between Jasper and Banff National Parks on Icefields Parkway was one of the "top ten most beautiful drives in the world," or something like that. So I was really looking forward to it, and Sam has never met a geological feature he wasn't fascinated with, so I knew he would like it too. The children are pretty good at keeping themselves amused with sticker books and games and so forth, so it was just Ziggy I was worried about. And thankfully, he stayed mostly happy and content! It was a long day in the car (in an ideal world, we would not have come all the way from Edmonton and then from Jasper to Banff in a day, but instead camped in Jasper or something so we could take our time and stop at every overlook!)—but we were still SO glad we took this route. It really was one of the most beautiful places we have EVER been. Every turn brought some new panorama that seemed like the most perfect mountain scene an artist could dream up.

Every time there was a sunny spot by the road, we would see huge washes of wildflowers—often daisies, which was surprising because the daisies here in Utah are gone by mid-June. I guess the higher elevation lets them bloom later. They were so pretty! And so abundant! I finally decided I ought to stop trying to photograph them from the car, because they mostly just looked like white indistinguishable blurs in the grass, but we did stop in one place so Daisy could join her compatriots for a picture.
We stopped to eat our picnic lunch at a lovely little spot by a stream. There was so much fighting between the children as lunch began that Sam and I moved to a different table nearby, which we designated the "non-fighting table." Naturally, the children migrated one by one over to this second table and then continued their fighting there, but we banished the worst offenders back to the first table and enjoyed a relatively peaceful lunch. :)
Here is Ziggy enjoying a moment of solitude on his little toilet. This toilet was a lifesaver, as Zig is newly toilet-trained and bathrooms are scarce on this road! It was a relief not to have to worry about if he'd be able to wait long enough between stops.
The view from our picnic table was amazing!
Oh, these mountains. They seemed SO HIGH and SO STEEP. I had actually worried a little, before our trip, that since we have such great mountains in Utah, the Canadian Rockies wouldn't seem that special to us. But these were more impressive than any mountains we've ever seen! When we got home and looked up their heights, we were so surprised to find that these mountains really aren't that much higher than ours in Utah. Our Timpanogos is nearly as tall as several mountains in Jasper and Banff. But it feels much smaller, and I'm not exactly sure why. Sam said it might be because of the lack of foothills by these Canadian Rockies, meaning you can take in their full, uninterrupted height—whereas in Utah we can't get very close to our mountains without already being rather high up in the foothills. It might also be the steep drops and cliff faces that make these mountains seem so towering and precarious, rather than gently sloped as some of ours are. Or maybe it was just because the surroundings were different with more trees and more snow. But we felt like we were experiencing mountains as we had never experienced them before!
We made a quick stop to see Athabasca Falls, which was beautiful and powerful. I love waterfalls! However—I must admit—having just seen the dramatic plunging narrow falls of Maligne Canyon, I was a tiny bit less impressed by Athabasca Falls than I might otherwise have been. Still, it was a beautiful view and well worth the stop.

Jasper National Park

A couple years ago, I was talking to my friend Rachael and she said something about "Banff," and I thought she MUST be making that word up. It didn't seem like it could possibly be an actual place. But as I was doing research for this trip I found that it WAS an actual place! A famous national park, in fact. And Rachael also told me about Jasper, which is another national park right above Banff. She said they liked Jasper even better because it was a little smaller and less crowded. So I wanted to visit both if we could, but the rental house I found for the second half of our trip was nearer to Banff, so I wasn't sure we could make Jasper work.

Then I started looking at pictures of Jasper and of Icefields Parkway, which is a scenic highway between the two parks, and I really wanted to go there. But it would mean a lot of driving—extra driving on a trip that already had SO much driving. It would make what could be a five-hour drive to our rental house turn into a ten-hour drive instead. I thought the children might not appreciate that. However, after thinking and thinking and thinking about it, I decided we might not ever be up in that area again—and if we could just get going from Edmonton really early in the morning, maybe it would be doable. (I should clarify that I, personally, did not have to do all this driving. Sam, that man among men, did it all. All I had to do was sit there and sometimes navigate.)

I even went online and got us tickets to go on a little boat ride to see Spirit Island, which is an island in Lake Maligne in Jasper that you can't get to any other way besides by boat. (Which was very optimistic of me, actually, since the tickets were for a specific time and it all depended on us getting on the road at 5 a.m. and not having any mishaps on the way.)
Well…we DID get on the road on time. Somehow. Everything was misty and foggy, especially near all the little ponds and lakes that are everywhere up there. Then after awhile, everything just looked like this:
Boreal Forest as far as you could see in any direction! It was really beautiful. SO MANY TREES, but not like it is on the East Coast or in Montreal.
And there were wildflowers—millions of them, everywhere there was a sunny stretch of grass beside the road. I kept trying to take pictures but they were too tiny to show up.
After all that flat forested land, it was really striking when we came to a little hill and we could see the Canadian Rockies and Jasper way off in the distance. Those steep cliffs!
Some of these pictures don't look very good because I was taking them through our awful, insect-encrusted car windows. But they give the general idea. After we got into Jasper we headed straight for Maligne Lake. There were several other lakes on the way, all beautiful!
This is Maligne Lake. It's really long and thin, nestled between rows of mountains.

Faith and trust spread over time

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1985 Conference.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell's talk on being "Willing to Submit" was really good, although as usual it left me with a million questions. He'll say something like this:
The submissive soul will be led aright, enduring some things well while being anxiously engaged in setting other things right—all the time discerning the difference.
and I just want to grab him by the shoulders and say, "But HOW? HOW are we ever supposed to discern the difference??"

But, there were also lots of profound thoughts in the talk that I think I CAN begin to understand. Recently I've been thinking a bit about faith spread over time, partly because of this thought-provoking post, and partly because of a conversation Sam and I had. Sam was talking about how miracles in our lives only seem rare because we experience them linearly (?) through time. But if we were to look at our lives like God probably does—from outside of time, seeing everything at once—we would see a clear, bright line of God's goodness and mercy and miracles—a line which never stops. Events that seem discrete or disjointed from our perspective, would be revealed as truly all part of one arc.

So I was interested when Elder Maxwell said:
Just as the capacity to defer gratification is a sign of real maturity, likewise the willingness to wait for deferred explanation is a sign of real faith and of trust spread over time.

I so often think, "I would be happy to follow God in this way if I could only understand WHY!" Or, "I would gladly submit to God's will if I could just see WHAT it is!" But I am coming to see that a major component of many trials is their very inexplicability. Not that they can't BE explained, I guess, but just that they AREN'T explained. Yet. So I like the idea that our faith and trust in God must be "spread over time"—just as His answers and explanations are! God gives us "line upon line," and our faith must advance in the same manner. For some reason it's better for us that way.

Edmonton and some dear people

Rachael and I have been friends so long, we don't even remember becoming friends. It's just something that has always been, like the sun rising every morning, or spring coming after winter. In first grade we were excused together during learning-to-read time to do "independent projects" (we were already strong readers, and our teachers always trusted us…though I remember making slippers out of stapled-together paper towels for one of our "projects," which I'm not sure is quite what they had in mind). In sixth grade we were cast as best friends in the class play, at which everyone rolled their eyes and said "of course!" In high school people used our names interchangeably or just called us both "Rachael-n-Marilyn." In college we majored in music, played recitals together (she on violin, me on piano) and lived together in her grandpa's house. And then…she met a nice Canadian boy and married him, and I married Sam, and suddenly we had to face the idea of being apart.

Thank heavens email was just starting to be mainstream, and we saw each other most summers as she came to Utah to visit her parents, picking up right where we'd left off every time we managed to snatch an hour or two together. Once when Abraham was very young, Sam and I drove up to visit Rachael and James in Raymond, Alberta, and it was dreamy. But for the most part Rach and I built our lives and our homes in separate places and had to be content with catching up every now and then. But there's always a little Rachael-shaped hole in my life. So a couple summers ago when we got to hang out at my house with our kids…AND our kids totally hit it off even though they are way past the time where you can just tell them to play together because they're the same ages…it made me so happy. And then when I asked the kids if there was anywhere particular they wanted to go for our family vacation this summer, and they said, "Canada! To visit the Spencers!"—I was even happier.
The scenery all looked like this, from the Canadian border nearly to Edmonton. Lots of beautiful yellow canola fields.
Rachael's family had moved farther north, way up to Edmonton, since we'd visited all those years ago. 16 hours sounds so much more intimidating than 12! But it really wasn't too bad, getting up there. We drove 13 hours to Calgary, stayed in a hotel overnight, and then it was only 3-4 more on to Edmonton. We were there by lunchtime of the second day. We met Rachael's family at Elk Island National Park, which is a beautiful area 30 minutes from their house. Rach had made the best picnic lunch for us.
Our kids picked up right where they'd left off, chattering and laughing and playing volleyball and frisbee and that game where you throw poles at posts. There was a little ranger station where you could borrow a net for scooping things out of the lake, and then pour them into little trays to look at them. The kids LOVED it. They caught tiny fish and lots of little bugs and some LEECHES, which I've never seen before. They were horrifying. They could squinch themselves up into balls and then s-t-r-e-t-c-h themselves out as long as earthworms. *Shudder*.
We stayed in a rental house in Edmonton so as to not COMPLETELY overwhelm the Spencers. And it was a cute little house (furnished in 100% IKEA, if I'm not mistaken…) But we didn't end up spending much time there. We were at Rachael's house from morning till night every day. She and James were the best hosts! Rachael had all kinds of fun ideas of things for us to do, but in the end, all the kids wanted to do was hang out together, playing board games, or swinging in the hammocks in the backyard. And Rachael and I just wanted to cook together, adapting recipes just like old times, and talk about everything in the world. So we kept it low-key and it was PERFECT that way. 

We did go to the West Edmonton Mall water park one day (for 7 hours…we have NEVER lasted at a swimming pool that long before, because whoever the current baby is always gets cold, but this was indoors and Zig stayed happy the whole time! And the other kids had the time of their LIVES) but the rest of the time we just hung out, walked to parks, went to church, played with Mae-Mae the hedgehog, and cooked enough to feed armies. William and Ryrie (Rachael's oldest boys…twins) set Abe up with a girl they knew and the three of them went out on a triple-date (Abe's first!). James made the best sourdough bread for us, and he and Sam made amazing pizza in the outdoor pizza oven. Ziggy learned everyone's name and rattled off animal sounds for the Spencer boys just like a performing seal.
The children floated homemade boats under a bridge and through the canal pipes, and we only lost one (boat, not child).
We saw the HUGE Edmonton bunnies, which in spite of being enormous still managed to look like rocks when they sat still. But seriously! They were as big as dogs! Rach says they turn white in the winter.
We celebrated Seb's birthday.
Ziggy was DOTED ON by all. Perhaps even a little spoiled. :)
We went to Rachael's cute library.
Rach has a bunny on her mailbox!

I really didn't even take that many pictures (argh! Why didn't I get one of all of us together?!) but it was heavenly. Just heavenly. All the kids wanted to stay longer, and if I hadn't known that Rachael's family had Regular Life to get back to, we could have so happily stayed for weeks and weeks. Everyone gets along so well, it's like magic. James is the nicest person in the world and the best husband I could imagine to take care of Rachael. I'm so, so happy that she and he got married and had such darling, smart, friendly. polite, fun kids. But—how I wish, wish, wish they lived closer! I was feeling very bleak and sad and teary as we drove away on the last day at 5 a.m., heading toward Jasper National Park. It was so hard to say goodbye.
But the morning was beautiful and misty. 
And we had so much beautiful scenery ahead of us! So it was okay.

And now I'm going to skip ahead to the END of our trip (don't worry, I will of course fill in with more posts later, hee hee) when we were driving home, by way of another dear friend's house! She lives up in Coeur d'Alene Idaho, which is on the way to precisely NOWHERE (every time we drive north I check), but which miraculously lined up with one of the routes home from Golden B.C., where our second rental house was.
It was a beautiful drive from Golden to Coeur d'Alene. Even prettier than the Helena-to-Calgary way.

I was super excited to see Jessica (I met her when I was on Study Abroad to London, and we became even closer when she transferred from Ricks to BYU) and amazed that it has been TEN YEARS since we last got together. Jess and Seth fed us a delicious dinner and found places for ALL of us to sleep, and we stayed up till 2 a.m. laughing and talking while the kids played Clue. I wished we'd had another week together!

Jessica's oldest daughter Lydia was starting college at BYU in a couple weeks, and we got to take her with us part of the way down to Provo! That was really fun. Lydia is darling!
Teddy and Megan became instant friends. Why can't all these wonderful people live next door to us?!?
Daisy was pretty excited that one of Jessica's kids had a matching pillow pet! (Coincidentally, so did one of Rachael's kids. Apparently we only stay with people who have penguin pillow pets. And who have husbands who teach institute. And who are bishops.)
The view from Jessica's deck. Amazing.
We did SO MUCH DRIVING on this trip. It wasn't just the 32 hours up and back. There was 5 hours over to Jasper, and 6 or 7 between Jasper and Banff, and then lots of back-and-forthing in Banff and 6 more hours from Golden to Coeur d'Alene and 11 more to get home. So maybe 56 hours or more total? And the kids were good. Amazingly good, especially Ziggy. He sat watching the road for hours at a time and pointing out every…single…truck. He was mostly sweet and adorable. But…the home stretch was rough. We were soooo close to home. And first he threw up, and then a few hours later he just LOST IT. Crying and screaming and inconsolable. But then Seb stepped in. He was a STAR. He read Ziggy a million books and gently talked him into happiness again, like magic. Oh we were all so grateful. And we did make it home eventually. And we were so thankful to be there (even if we were feeling a little sad that our grand adventure was at an end).
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