The prayers of the saints

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1978 Conference.
I was listening to President Monson's funeral last week and I was impressed by something his daughter, Sister Dibb, said in her talk. It was a very quick statement before the real substance of her talk, as she thanked some of the people who had cared for President Monson over the years. Then she said:
Finally I would like to thank you, the membership of the church. Your fifty-four years of daily prayers, offered as my father served as an apostle and then as the president of the church, have made a difference.
 That was it. She didn't elaborate on how those prayers made a difference, or how she knew that they did. She just said they did. Fifty-four years of prayers for President Monson! I was imagining those prayers piling up over the years until they made a huge mountain of blessings for President Monson and his wife to lean on whenever they needed help.

And I guess I liked that because it felt personal to me. I never met President Monson. I didn't get to serve with him. Over the years I grew to love him so much, but he never knew anything about ME! Still, when Sister Dibb thanked the members for their prayers, I suddenly felt like I was part of his life—because I DID pray for President Monson. Not every day, but on hundreds of days. Mostly it was a routine part of my prayer, but I often felt more intensity in my love for him right before and after General Conference. There was one morning a few years ago I felt a strong and specific impression to pray for President Monson right then. It was unexpected, but I did it, and then I spent the next few days wondering what was going on with him. I kept thinking I'd hear that he was in the hospital or something, but I never did hear anything, so I still don't know why. Anyway—the point is, of those "fifty-four years of daily prayers," some of them—lots of them—were mine. I was one of the people who (I hope) added to his mountain of blessings! And according to Sister Dibb, those prayers, my prayers, "made a difference" in the life of a prophet.

That made me wonder again about the collective power of prayer. I know it's not as simple as "the more people praying, the more power a prayer has!"—because surely many powerful prayers are prayed alone. And individual faith obviously plays an important role. But there is something important about praying for each other, and joining together in prayer. And I wish I knew more about what it was!

President Kimball, in his talk in the October 1978 Priesthood Session, reinforced this idea. I was struck by the plain appeal in his words as he asked the church to pray that the chance for missionary work would spread into every country:
If we are to fulfill the responsibility given to us by the Lord on the Mount of Olives to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, then we will need to open the doors to these nations. 
I'm hoping that every [person] listening to me this night will make it a solemn practice in regular life to pray constantly for this great blessing to bless the brethren who are making a special effort to reach the leaders of these nations and to convince them that we have only good for their people. We will make them good citizens, we will make them good souls, and we will make them happy and joyous.… 
I hope that…the father and the mother and the children in their turns will offer prayers which will be centered around this very important element—that the doors of the nations might be opened to us…
In China we have nine-hundred million people. Yesterday about fifty Chinese Saints came in to see me.…I asked all of those Chinese people who were here at conference, “Will you guarantee that in all your home evenings and in all your family prayers and in all your public prayers you will mention this to the Lord? Now, I know he can do it without our help; but I think he would want to know that we were interested in it and that we would appreciate it greatly.” 
So I’m hoping that, beginning now, the prayers of the Saints will be greatly increased from what they have been in the past, that we will never think of praying except we pray for the Lord to establish his program and make it possible that we can carry the gospel to his people as he has commanded. It is my deep interest and great prayer to you that this will be accomplished.
President Kimball sounds so humble and hopeful as he as makes this request for help. It almost feels to me like he was struggling under a great burden related to missionary work—wondering how he could fulfill his responsibility for such a huge task. And then he realized that his fellowservants in the church could share the responsibility, so he asked them to pray with him to that end.

And I think it worked! Though this talk was given before I was born, I remember my parents praying for this blessing, in almost these very words. I remember it being prayed in church, and I remember praying it myself, not knowing it had been specifically asked for by a prophet. It seems so powerful to me, now looking back, to think of the church being united in praying that faithful prayer, and doing it at the prophet's specific request. The prophet was "interested" in missionary work, deeply so! And once he shared his request with the members of the church, they became interested too! Spreading the gospel through the world became their common goal. And they showed the Lord what mattered to them through their prayers.

As I've been thinking of how happy I felt to think that my prayers had been part, even the tiniest of parts, of blessing President Monson and his family over the years, it makes me want to look for more chances to pray with other people in a common cause. Even knowing that one other person is joining with me in prayer for something makes me feel happy inside, adding kind of a quiet assurance or a feeling of fellowship as I pray. I feel grateful for both that other person and for our common goal. It's slightly different than the feeling of just praying for something on my own, and I like it.

I still don't know exactly what purpose prayer serves. I don't know if or how it changes what God would have willed anyway. But I do know that the more earnest my prayers become, the more they bring a feeling of comfort to me. And I know that when I join myself to other people in prayer—whether by praying for someone by name and with specific thoughts of that person in mind—or by asking a friend to pray with me about something for which we have a common hope—or by praying for something or someone I know that many other Latter-day Saints will be praying for too—I feel closer both to God and to the rest of His children. And that is a feeling I love to have.

P.S. Speaking of prayer—at President Monson's funeral, Elder Holland gave the closing prayer, and it was amazing! It wasn't long, but it was like one of his talks—powerful and motivating. It is a perfect example of how spiritual and uniting a collective prayer can feel. I almost wanted to shout my "amen" afterwards. You should listen to it (and the rest of the funeral too)!

Other posts in this series:

Not the ease of finished things

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1978 Conference.
I've been thinking a lot about change lately. Of course life is full of upheaval anyway with a new baby (and although it's been four months now—he still feels SO new!). It always takes me a long time to find my feet. But there's been a lot of change going on even just in the past few weeks. The new year. President Monson's death, and the upcoming changes in church leadership. A change in our ward Relief Society presidency. My uncle's sudden and unexpected death in a small plane crash. A new calling for me. And the curriculum changes for Priesthood and Relief Society. It feels like a lot to take in all at once, and I've been feeling a little adrift as I try to understand what corresponding changes I should be making in my own life, so that I can keep progressing as things change around me.

So I felt a spark of recognition as I read the conference talks for October 1978 and noticed how many changes were happening in the church at that time too. The Revelation on the Priesthood was presented for sustaining vote. James E. Faust accepted his call as an apostle. And some of the talks explained changes to Genealogy programs in the church. It was interesting, in an idle-curiosity sort of way, to see the differences. Some of them seemed pretty specific and not very, I don't know, spiritual in nature. Almost—though I know temporal things can have spiritual implications—but almost bureaucratic in nature. Things like, 
Beginning July 1979, the Church will accept newly prepared pedigree charts and family group record forms from family organizations, rather than from individuals.
Ancestral organizations exist only for the coordination of genealogical activity, which includes family histories. Once this function has been accomplished the ancestral family organization might well be dissolved, or at least reduced in importance, in favor of the immediate and grandparent organizations.
Most of the genealogy changes seem kind of nitpicky, given the increase of computer technology and the policy changes that we now know were soon to come. And even the revelation on the priesthood looks different in hindsight. It seems so right, so obvious, so inevitable. It's easy, looking back, to feel a little smug and think, "Wow, these people had no idea what was coming for the church. They had no idea what these changes were preparing them for."

And then I think of these changes that have been pricking so constantly at my mind and heart these last few weeks. None of them, for me, are enormous. With President Monson's death, and even to some extent with my uncle's, I'm not so close that I'm overwhelmed with the force of it. I'm not having to rethink my faith or my whole place in God's plan because of the changes to curriculum or leadership in the ward or my own responsibilities. But these changes are enough to make my thoughts and wonderings a little more serious, a little more real. Enough to make me feel a little uneasy and off-balance; to make me wish for a little firmer grip on my relationship with God. And I realize that I, too, like the church members listening to that October 1978 General Conference for the first time, have no idea what is coming next.

I always feel alarmed when I sense that someone's going to overdramatize or sensationalize something spiritual. I'm not predicting sudden catastrophe or the Second Coming or anything like that. But I'm just thinking about how the church keeps rolling slowly on. And changes are announced and they are often so small and incremental and reasonable that they might seem unimportant. But somehow they always come right at the perfect time to prepare us for what's coming, before we even know that anything IS coming! And the same thing happens in our own lives! Somewhere in the church are two men that have not yet been called to be apostles. Maybe they have no idea such a calling is in their future. But they will soon find out, and when they do, they will look back and realize all the things that have happened, all the pieces that have been prepared, all the experiences that have unfolded, to lead perfectly and with exact divine intent—to exactly where they are now.

I talked about this same concept, of our sometimes-unknowing preparation for what's to come, in this recent post. So I guess it's already been on my mind. But my feeling that this is happening to me right now is getting stronger all the time. [I feel like Bill Murray's brother in The Man Who Knew Too Little when he realizes that he's NOT just role-playing for the "Theater of Life." "It's real. It's SO REAL!"] I don't know if that's why I feel a little more nervous about the future lately. I don't really want to think that something important is coming, something God needs to "prepare me" for. There's a large of part of me that would much rather be contentedly stagnant. But I came upon this quote today that I loved. Appropriately (since the change in his, er, mortality status is one of the changes that's making me feel a bit off-balance these days), it's from President Monson in 1988:
God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged and the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of finished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.
It's simultaneously terrifying and comforting to think of this, for me. Terrifying because of the reasons I discussed above: change scares me, and I don't think I'm particularly good at it. It alarms me to think of myself, my own life, as one of those unfinished works that still needs to be bridged and tamed and built. And yet when I remember that it's all a joint project with God, I do feel comforted, because I know he won't let me totally bungle it. He's taking me through it bit by bit, giving me harder challenges as needed. And yes, introducing changes into the system, as needed. And if He's preparing me for some hard thing to come—well, so what? At least He's preparing me! He's preparing all of us. So when "the challenge of raw materials" seems a bit much, I'm going to try to remember this concept: that change is necessary. Even good. "That man might know the joys and glories of creation."

Other posts in this series:

Recent Eves

…Christmas and New Year's Eves, to be precise. We loved having Christmas Eve on a Sunday, but it did make things go a little differently! We had our Butterscotch Roll Party on the 23rd instead, and it was wonderful, as always—but extra wild, this year! I made my usual 21 dozen rolls, and we didn't have a single one left at the end! It's the happiest feeling of exhaustion at the end of it all. But then on Christmas Eve itself, it was quiet and calm and we could just relax! Church was wonderful. The Elf Olympics was a success (meaning it didn't end in tears and arguments about who was cheating at the Sock Game). We even managed our usual Café Rio taco night, by buying the food the day before, and reheating it Sunday evening.
I succeeded in catching 5/8ths of the family to get a picture before they changed out of their Sunday clothes! Not bad. They're the cutest 5/8ths, anyway :)
And I also managed to preserve on film the saddest moment in the world, so that's…something.
Our rainbow tree, lit and unlit
It was so snowy and quiet and magical when Sam and I went to bed that night. Just what you want Christmas Eve to be.
This year, in a moment of brilliance, I decided to do New Year's Eve pajamas for the kids instead of Christmas Eve pajamas. I had some fabric I wanted to make nightgowns out of for the girls, but there was just so much to get done before Christmas, I didn't think I could manage it! So I waited, and made them in the quiet week between Christmas and New Year's, and it was great. (The boys just got plain old store pajamas.) I used the same nightgown pattern I used last year, and I even remembered mostly how to make it! I left off the ruffles this year, although they were darling, because the girls always tuck their feet under their nightgowns when they're sitting somewhere, and they ripped through the ruffle seams a million times last year. So…tea length nightgowns it is!
And garbage truck pajamas, of course.
Our New Year's Day feast. Yum!

Bears, People, Hay

Tiny Owls, and Santa faces in two media

Here are the customary pictures of Sam's and my ornaments for the party this year, which pictures I always take to ease the pain of having to part with the ornaments themselves!

I have always wanted to crochet something really, really tiny, and I found the pattern for these owls here. It was hard to make, which is why I made three of them…I got a little better each time. (Still not as good as the pictures in the pattern, though!) I think the one on the left (the third one I made) looked the most owlish of the bunch…the others seem more like maybe…hawks? or falcons?

One part that was hard was just attaching the tiny beads for eyes, and getting them in the right spot—it's hard to find a place to secure the thread without it showing in such a tiny head, and then the slightest variation in their placement can totally change the expression and aspect of the bird. It was also hard doing the stitching for the feathers above the eyes (to make them look angry, like owls do), for the same reasons.
Well, anyway, it was a learning experience and perhaps next time I will do better. I have a cute tiny elf pattern I'd like to try!
Malachi loved these tiny owls, so he got the one I didn't give away.
And here is the wonderful wooden Santa that Sam carved, which was wildly popular at the party, as his creations always are, and rightly so. I am always very sad to see them go, and I always hope that he will make some for ME as well. Which he has sometimes done (see my favorite ornament ever, here).
And lastly, here is one more Santa whom we DID get to keep! Thank goodness. I love him so much! Abe wore this Santa suit when he was a baby, too, and I still think it's the cutest thing ever. (Especially with a happy baby in it.)
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