Every little bit of him

Abe (my 15-year-old) and I have been doing something fun lately when we drive together: he plays me a song that he likes—he has varied tastes, so it could be Muse, or Imagine Dragons, or Beck, or Lemon Twigs, or Fitz and the Tantrums—and then I play him whatever song it reminds me of: maybe something by Fleetwood Mac, or Yes, or Boston, or Jethro Tull. It turns out I know a surprising amount of Classic Rock (surprising to me, I mean—it seems like I would have forgotten, but it comes back to me when I hear these new songs!) and, amazingly, I have yet to hear a single one of "Abe's" songs that doesn't remind me of one of "my" songs in some way or another!

[The really fun thing is how much, without my having really guided his music choices (besides playing classical music for him since he was a baby, which probably counts for something), our tastes overlap! We both find great satisfaction in introducing a previously-unknown song that the other one ends up really liking, but I also love it when he says, "okay, see if you like THIS—" and it turns out to be Journey, or Ben Folds Five, or Collective Soul, or something else I already know and like. A song by Rush started playing the other day, and Sam and I and Abe all said, "I love this song!" at the same time, which seemed like just the best thing ever.]
Anyway, having dipped a toe into the current musical waters, I've been surprised how much music repeats and recycles. I don't listen to the radio and the only reason I can even name any of those newer groups is that my kids tell me about them—but here they have been going along all these years, each in their turn, revisiting the old ground again and again: themes, melodies, basslines, lyrics. Admittedly, as I said, Abe's tastes and mine are similar so there's probably some selection bias. But still, the fact that nearly every new song I hear comes with an easily-thought-of older counterpart is a pretty impressive testament to the lack of true "originality" in the music world.

It's been kind of fun to find it in music, but in other areas, I often feel paralyzed by the inevitability of repetition! No matter how I wish to say something new (and somehow new=worthwhile in my mind), I can't!
And even though I've always known that this happens with writing (I remember Leslie Norris talking about how all literature falls into one of the Seven Great Themes) I still have to fight the urge to edit myself right into silence because everything I want to say has already been said by someone else. (Or because I, myself have already said it! Ha ha. It's funny in this context that I'm quoting one of my own previous blog posts on this same subject.) I have to remind myself that originality is not really the ultimate goal! There's a statement about that by C.S. Lewis:

The present pleasure

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the October 1977 Conference.
President Kimball brought up something I've thought a lot about, which is the fact that the gospel is not just for the purpose of securing some future happiness, but it's actually given to us to make our lives better right now! Lately I've noticed people making a point of saying that "living the gospel doesn't mean we'll never have hardships." It's probably because some accuse "the gospel culture" of misleading us on this point; of somehow duping members of the church into thinking that if we live a good life, everything will go perfectly. Some people even say their testimonies have been shaken upon discovering that life holds sorrow for even the righteous. I'm surprised if anyone actually was TOLD that righteousness would make their life free of trouble. That assumption, spoken or unspoken, hasn't been in any of these old Conference talks I've read. And I certainly was never taught that! But I can see the danger if it was taught, so I guess maybe it doesn't hurt to clarify the doctrine either way?

However! With all this correction and clarifying and reacting-against, I hope we don't lose the deeper truth that was there all along, whether well-expressed or not, and that is that living the gospel does make life better. President Uchtdorf said exactly that in this year's October Conference (2017):
I testify that when we embark upon or continue the incredible journey that leads to God, our lives will be better. 
This does not mean that our lives will be free from sorrow. We all know of faithful followers of Christ who suffer tragedy and injustice—Jesus Christ Himself suffered more than anyone. … 
No, following the Savior will not remove all of your trials. However, it will remove the barriers between you and the help your Heavenly Father wants to give you. God will be with you. He will direct your steps. He will walk beside you and even carry you when your need is greatest. 
You will experience the sublime fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, [and] faith.”
Anyway, back to President Kimball in 1977. He knew as well as anyone that living gospel principles doesn't ensure a uniformly blissful existence. So I appreciated his statement that
…in the recent past we have placed considerable emphasis on personal and family preparedness. I hope that each member of the Church is responding appropriately to this direction. I also hope that we are understanding and accentuating the positive and not the negative.
Then he went on to give examples of several aspects and principles of church welfare—things that to some people might seem boring or tedious or unexciting. Concepts like "provident living" and "food storage." And he talked about the positives of all these principles. He showed how a life dedicated to living all these principles can bring not merely the satisfaction of a duty done or an assignment completed (though I guess even that's a pretty good feeling)—but how such a life can also bring us actual, tangible, noticeable, day-to-day JOY.
We speak of literacy and education in terms of being prepared for a better occupation, but we cannot underestimate the present pleasure of our reading in the scriptures, Church magazines, and good books of every kind. We teach of emotional strength in terms of family prayer, kind words, and full communication, but we quickly learn how pleasant life can be when it is lived in a courteous and reinforcing atmosphere. 
In like manner we could refer to all the components of personal and family preparedness, not in relation to holocaust or disaster, but in cultivating a life-style that is on a day-to-day basis its own reward.

Other posts in this series: 

Not a gospel of souvenirs

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1977 Conference.
I learned the French word "souviens" when I was thirteen. We went to Quebec and all the license plates said Je me souviens, which means I remember. "Like souvenir," my Mom explained. I liked that because I liked to remember things. And I still do. I like journals and pictures and scrapbooks and anything that helps me remember happy times! Every time I travel somewhere, and maybe this started with that trip to Quebec when I was 13, there's inevitably some point in time where I take a deep breath and try to absorb every sound, every smell, every detail of the experience, as I say to myself, "This is happening right now, but someday it will just be a moment in your memory." Those moments are my "souvenirs," and I do come back to them later, trying to transport myself to those places again. But no matter how hard I tried to memorize everything, the looking-back just isn't the same.

Of course there are plenty of good reasons to remember; to gather souvenirs of the past and reflect on times gone by. But there's danger in it, too. Looking toward the good times in the past with too much longing takes away our enjoyment of the present. Looking back at the bad times with too much regret stifles our hope for the future. I sometimes take the worst of both worlds and start regretting the passing away of good things before they're even over. I forget that, as Elder Holland says, "faith is always pointed toward the future."

True, there's lots of "remember, remember" in the scriptures. But it's never a "sit back and reminisce abut the good old days" kind of remembering—it's always accompanied by a call to action. Remember God's commandments so you can keep them. Remember God's goodness so you can thank Him for it. Remember your past confidence to get through your present doubt.

In this Conference session, Elder Charles A. Didier gave a talk that seems like it might be even more applicable now than it was forty years ago. He addressed his friend, a returned missionary who once had a strong testimony, but had then fallen away from the church. I was impressed by the love evident in Elder Didier's plea to him:
You have opened the gate to many. Why, why do you close it for yourself? May I put my foot in the door, as you once did in mine? Reach out your hand while there is still time, and let us tell you that we love you. Your bishop is waiting for you; your home teachers are caring for you; your missionary companions do not forget you; but more than that, we, we need you. Come as you are—our arms are open. We’re waiting for you. 
I think we probably all know someone we wish we could convey this same message to. Elder Didier tells his friend that change is possible in these powerful words:
…You should know that what you once were you can be again. May my testimony help you as yours did me some years ago. I know by the power of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of revelation. I know in my mind and in my heart that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer, and that we have a living prophet today…and that by following his directions and advice we can come closer to our Heavenly Father and repent of our sins. My prayer is that you may realize this again in your own life and make a new decision to be one of His disciples.
We can do this; all of us can! When we feel our testimony or energy waning, we can "make a new decision" to recommit to our discipleship.

My favorite part was this next part, though, because it's so full of hope, and such good advice for those who, like me, sometimes find themselves sifting sadly through mental souvenirs of the past, lamenting previous failures and sorrowing over what has been lost (forgetting that "nothing good is ever lost!). In fact, this is good advice to ANY of us tempted to feel like our best times might be behind us:
I hope that you will not mind if I have recalled some of the souvenirs of what you always referred to as the best time of your life. Why can’t it be the same way today? Why should the “best time” always refer to yesterday instead of tomorrow? The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a gospel made of souvenirs. It is a gospel presented to us so that we may live it today in order to know where we will be tomorrow.

Other posts in this series: 

Costumes and Pumpkins

Halloween was weird this year. Abe and Seb are too old for trick-or-treating now, and Malachi went with some friends to the Cedar City Temple Open House, so it was just the girls and Teddy dressing up. The older boys took care of answering the door and giving out candy (and we have ZILLIONS of trick-or-treaters here…this neighborhood seems to be a sort of Halloween "destination" for some reason. Cars were lined up driving into the neighborhood and parking all along both sides of the streets. Crazy. I buy the huge Costco bags of candy and still always run out before the night is over), and Sam took the little ones out for a short little trick-or-treating time before I got home from taking Seb to choir, so I didn't really do…anything… Halloweenish! Which was fine.

We were out of town during the middle of October, and we didn't want to buy pumpkins before we left, so the kids and I went out to a local pumpkin patch just the day before Halloween. We zipped in and out of there in the shortest time we could, but there was still time for some pictures.
Everyone but Abe—who was loading our pumpkins in the car for us

Random Fallish pictures at the Nature Center

We went to the Nature Center to attend a talk about Owls. It was interesting and good, but mostly it was just nice to be outside in the warm October weather.
Ezekiel CANNOT GET ENOUGH of Abe! How does he keep his neck like that for long periods of time? It hurts my neck just to look at it. But he's always craning around to see things. I try to straighten out his head and he pops it right back into its unnatural position so he can keep looking at what he wants to look at.

We must continually look up

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the October 1977 Conference.
Last week I was in Germany with Sam while he was giving a workshop there. Ziggy and Malachi came with us too. We had such a great time, but because I was often on my own with a new baby and a 9-year-old—in a big city, riding public transit and trying to find my way around—not to mention it being a foreign country where I don't speak the language—I was offering up fervent prayers for help and protection many times a day! As we waited for a train one day, I prayed again that we'd get on the right train and make the right connection, and then I found myself adding sheepishly: "I know I've been asking for a help a lot lately, and I just barely asked this same thing yesterday, so I'm sorry to keep bothering you—I'll try to be more self-sufficient next time!" And several other times, too, I felt like I should apologize for praying over such small things. "I know it's not that big of a deal…sorry to bother you with it…and it's fine if you don't want to do it…" 

Later, as I thought about this, I wondered why I felt so apologetic. I suppose it was partly that I didn't want to seem ungrateful, like I only wanted God to DO things for me all the time. As Howard W. Hunter said
If prayer is only a spasmodic cry at the time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies.
Yes. I hate to think of doing that. I want to make sure I'm not using prayer as a magic talisman rather than as the door to a two-way relationship. And I always try to express gratitude when I pray.

But then President Hunter continues, and clarifies that the real problem with the "God as repairman" thinking is not that it calls on God too MUCH, but that it asks too LITTLE:
We should remember the Most High day and night—always—not only at times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help.
And I realized that another reason I felt apologetic is that I felt like it was too much, to need help SO constantly. I knew God would help me, but I felt hesitant to ask "too often," and these circumstances of being so alone and helpless and ignorant, in a place I knew so little, were making me feel like it WAS too often.

And THAT made me realize that I could do better at internalizing the command to "pray always." What does that commandment really mean to me, if I'm feeling, during times of heightened uncertainty, like I'm calling on God "too much?"

It just made me stop and ask myself how much I am really relying on God. I certainly would LIKE to have His help more. I need it. And I do always pray multiple times a day. So why do I feel like I'm overdoing it when I ask repeatedly for guidance and protection several days in a row? Maybe it has to do with the urgency of it. I really FELT my own helplessness, and knew I needed God with me right then!

But…shouldn't I always be calling on Him that much? Shouldn't I always be acknowledging my helplessness? I may get complacent and forget it, but aren't we always wanderers in a strange land? Shouldn't I be seeking guidance and help navigating my way through life even when things feel more comfortable and familiar and routine?

President Hunter says:
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” (Ps. 5:1–3.) 
Perhaps what this world needs, as much as anything, is to “look up” as the Psalmist said—to look up in our joys as well as our afflictions, in our abundance as well as in our need. We must continually look up and acknowledge God as the giver of every good thing and the source of our salvation.
What amazed me most about my frequent, and heartfelt, pleas for help last week is that they were all granted. So many things worked out perfectly. So many things that could have gone wrong—didn't. Of course we had a few missed trains, and moments of worry, and periods of disappointment or frustration. But underneath it all, every time in the multiple times I pleaded for Him, God was there. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed about wanting Him so often, but I needed Him too much to let that stop me from asking—and because I asked, He answered. His comfort came.

I don't want to seem like I'm usually gliding easily through life without the need for God's help. I DO ask for and need help every day. But I'm not sure I'm "continually looking up" in the way I was last week, surrounded by unfamiliarity and keenly aware of my inadequacies. And if I'm not, I just wonder what blessings I'm missing out on? What power could I access? What things—what extra, extravagant, surely-THIS-must-be-asking-too-much sorts of things—would God be willing to grant me, if I swallowed my pride, looked up, and just asked him?

Other posts in this series:

Red Barn 2017

We go here every year! Eleven years running, and that just amazes me. I feel like I've said everything that can be said about it, and taken every picture that can possibly be taken, but that doesn't stop me…you can't argue with tradition!

We squeezed this visit in between so many other things, with a hastily-packed picnic of rolls and turkey for dinner, during an impossibly busy week. Every year I ask myself if it's worth the drive, but deep down I know it's just something that must be done. I like comparing the years and sizing everyone up as I look through the old pictures. Last year was SO hot. And this year we were so cold! And who knew, last year, we'd have a little Ziggy with us now? I thought I had taken hardly any pictures because it was so cold and dark and Zekey was fussing in the baby sling and my hands were cold. But then when I got to editing them there were millions, of course.

We bought (and ate) three dozen apple cider donuts, because that's the right thing to do.

Leaves and a baby

Although we did get out with my brother to ride the ski lift, I was feeling sad that I'd missed so much of Fall! After Ziggy was born, even though I know we could have done more sooner, and lots of people DO, I've been deliberately trying to slow down and not do much or go anywhere (because there are enough things we have to do whether I like it or not, and as I told Sam, once you go back to doing stuff after a baby, you can't ever UN-go back!). I know I was lucky to have a little flexibility with our schedule. And it's been nice. BUT, it also made me feel like I just missed all of September! I was in another world. And usually by this time of year we've been on lots of Sunday drives and picnics to enjoy the Fall weather, and I was missing that too (even though we had done some of it!)

Also it's just hard to get everyone together in the same place these days. And I'd kind of given up on the idea this year. But one day a few weeks ago, I was going to drive Seb to piano lesson and choir, and then I'd have a couple of hours of waiting around, so I decided to take Ziggy and go up the canyon just with him! 
As I was driving, I was asking myself why I like doing this so much. What does it matter if I have MORE pictures of pretty trees and pretty leaves and pretty scenery? I do this every year and I have tons of pictures. They're even in the same places a lot of the time! Do I really need or want more? 

And the lad be not with me

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1977 Conference.
In the Priesthood Session of this Conference, Elder Marion D. Hanks gave a talk to the men about the importance of being not only good fathers, but also good mentors to children who don’t have good father figures in their lives. As I read, I thought about how much I love the church leaders that teach my boys. Even though my boys DO have a good father, they get so much benefit from getting to know and learn from these other good people too!

When I was young, the bishop of my ward challenged all the adults to learn the names of all the children and youth in the ward. He put up pictures of every family (and their names) in the church to help people. I remember laughing at it a little with my friend. “Ha! WE don’t care if the adults know our names or not! What does it matter?”

But it’s funny. Even though I KNEW it was “just because” the bishop told them to, I couldn’t help but feel kind of important when people knew who I was. And I liked it. Old ladies (who were probably much younger than I realized! Ha ha) would say hello to me in the halls. They would ask my parents about me when I was gone. And they STILL ask her about me, even now! I don’t know if all of it stemmed from that specific push to get the adults knowing and caring about the youth, but it does seem like there’s something valuable, if unquantifiable, about those connections.

Even though I loved being Young Women's president several years ago, and I learned that the youth aren’t as intimidating as they first seem, now that I’m out of that calling I still tend to tell myself that the youth don’t WANT my attention; they’re way too cool for me. But—reading this talk and remembering my bishop's challenge made me think maybe I’m neglecting a chance to do something good. Even if it’s just learning all the kids' names and saying hi to them! Or saying something beyond “hi” when my kids' friends are over.

Elder Hanks says,
“…How wonderful it is to have someone who has lived a little longer and learned to love, to reach out and help us, and then help us help others.”
Then my favorite part, because I’ve never read this verse with this context:
In the scriptures is a magnificent sermon in a single line…: “For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?”
Our Father wants us to bring as many of His children back to Him as possible. Maybe we should all feel that kind of responsibility—an unwillingness to return to our Father without helping those around us get back too!

Other posts in this series:

Remember how much we love those we love

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1977 Conference.
I really liked Elder Paul H. Dunn's talk from this session, "We Have Been There All the Time." It was on the sentimental side…but that fits my mood these days. His title comes from the idea that if we, like children on a long car trip, are constantly asking, "Are we there yet?" "How long will it take?" about our life's journey, we will miss out on the simple moments that we should be enjoying along the way. He talks especially about the need to appreciate our family members for who they are, and to enjoy them in spite of everyday annoyances. I liked the introspective questions here:
Why do those sudden moments of clarity, when we realize how precious our loved ones are, come so rarely? How do we let ourselves get caught up in faultfinding, digging, or scolding at those who are nearest our hearts? Is it ever worth it? As C. S. Lewis once advised, “Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelettes.”
With a new baby in my arms all the time, I'm constantly thinking about how fast time is passing, and how fleeting the years really are, so I was nodding along in agreement with everything Elder Dunn was saying. And I was thinking about how often, even as I'm panicking because baby Ziggy is growing and changing so fast, I'm forgetting that all the other concurrent stages are passing too, for good or ill.

I saw the following graphic in an article this week (there's some bad language at that link, sorry), and in my current mental state it just about put me over the edge. Here's what the article says about the graphic:
I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood. 
Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.
When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life. If I lay out the total days I’ll ever spend with each of my parents—assuming I’m as lucky as can be—this becomes starkly clear:
 

Red shows the days already spent. Grey is the days left. Isn't that terrifying?? And it made me feel so strange to think that with my own kids, once they move out of the house, our meaningful time together will not just be partly over—it will be mostly over. Probably like 90% over, even if we are lucky enough to live fairly close to each other, even if we are lucky enough to live long healthy lives. And of course, we know that the end could come much sooner than that for any of us. Really sobering to think about. Am I taking advantage of this time with the people I love?

Elder Dunn says,
Yes, even amidst our meetings and our commitments we need to really see: to see the way his eyes wrinkle when he laughs, see the tilt of her head as the light catches her hair, remember his dash of humor. Maybe when things get in the saddle and ride us, we need to step back for a moment of clarity. We need to remember why we are doing all of this—remember how much we love those we love.
Then he continues,
Concern yourself first with individuals, with relationships, with loved ones. What else really matters? Don’t imagine yourself, regardless of who you are, busier than the Lord, who puts souls first above everything else.
I wish I could have a flashing neon sign constantly reminding me of this. Or maybe a beeping alarm that delivers a mild electric shock every time I forget it (ha ha). Because I'm constantly forgetting it! But I need to somehow remember, as Elder Dunn says, WHY I am here on this earth, in this family. I need to find that clarity that shows things as they really are, points me back to Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ, and reminds me just how fiercely and constantly I should be loving those I love.

Other posts in this series:

Squaw Peak leaves

It's been several years since I drove the road up to the Squaw Peak overlook, but Sam and I found ourselves with a semi-free afternoon and only the younger kids at home, so we decided to take the drive! The canyon was packed with people (all looking at the Fall leaves, I suppose—and taking family pictures!), but it didn't diminish the glory of the leaves! They were at their prime, and for some reason the trees ALL seemed to be "peaking" at once. Usually it seems like some of the trees are lovely and colored, and some are already dead and brown, and some are not-quite-at-their-best red yet, and some are not even changing colors at all. But this year everything was uniformly (well, not really uniformly—there was so much variation in color and intensity!—but all of it beautiful) bright and amazing. We couldn't stop exclaiming over it!
I walked down this little wooded path and, other than when I got stung or bitten on the bottom of my foot by some tiny insect, causing me to wake half-mad with itchiness for the next several nights, I felt like I was walking through a cathedral! Color and light everywhere.

Triptychs


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