A daily portion of love

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1977 Conference.
In Elder H. Burke Peterson's talk, he describes a new father talking about his new baby boy:
He expressed thanks for this, his first son. He then said in a rather perplexed way that since the little fellow didn’t seem to understand anything they said, he wished he knew just how to communicate with him. “All we can do,” said he, “is hold him, cuddle him, gently squeeze him, kiss him, and whisper thoughts of love in his ear.” 
With a brand-new baby in the house, I can relate to that. It is so easy to pour out love on this little baby boy. I feel like I'm feeding him constantly, but that also allows me (and reminds me!) to constantly be loving him: talking to him, watching his little face as he sleeps, hugging him, patting his back. How could he help but feel my constant stream of love? But what Elder Peterson said next made me feel a little guilty:
After the meeting I went up to the new father and said that in his testimony he had given us a success pattern for raising healthy children. I hoped he would never forget it; even as his children grew to maturity I hoped he would continue the practice.
Then Elder Peterson continues:
Among the tragedies we see around us every day are the countless children and adults who are literally starving because they are not being fed a daily portion of love. We have in our midst thousands who would give anything to hear the words and feel the warmth of this expression. We have all seen the lonely and discouraged who have never been told.
That phrase, "a daily portion of love," made me wonder if my other children are getting as constantly nourished by my love? With a new baby, you have to make time for it. You have to stop what you're doing to attend to his needs. But as Elder Peterson points out, we ALL need that daily nourishment! Our spouses. Our older children. And because, unlike babies, they don't have obvious and easy times built-in for receiving that love, I need to make a more conscious effort to make time to give it anyway!

This talk reminded me a lot of Elder S. Mark Palmer's address in the most recent Conference, "Then Jesus Beholding Him Loved Him." I re-read that one recently and was impressed by how necessary it is to love someone in order to influence them. Our children cannot truly learn from us until they feel loved by us! And the "daily portion" metaphor helped me understand that idea better, too: just like our physical bodies can't function well without daily nourishment, our spiritual selves need love in order to progress. This really made me resolve to do better at showing love to the older, less obviously "needy" members of our family. I do pretty well at making sure they're getting regular and nourishing meals every day. But this daily portion of love might be even more important!

Elder Peterson also advises that
One of the most effective secrets for happiness is contained in the fourth chapter of 1 John, verse 19. It is only eight words long--listen carefully: “We love him, because he first loved us.” This will cause a change to happen because it is right. Do you get the message? “He first loved us.” Your children will love you; your brothers and sisters will love you; your eternal companion will love you--because you first loved them.
 Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are constantly pouring out Their love for me. I certainly feel a "daily portion" of it—always when I take the time to seek it out, anyway, and often even when I don't! I want to do better at following their example in my own family, so that not only the squeezeable, snuggly little babies feel constantly nourished by my love, but everyone else does too!



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Announcing…


With fervent desire

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the April 1977 Conference.
You've probably seen this video of President Packer's parable, The Mediator. I've always liked it, but I haven't ever read the whole talk before. Here was my favorite part, which was not even part of the story, but a personal note about why he told it:
I have carried with me a great desire to bear testimony of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I have yearned to tell you in as simple terms as I can, what He did, and who He is.
Although I know how poor mere words can be, I know also that such feelings are often carried by the spirit, even without words.
At times I struggle under the burden of imperfections. Nevertheless, because I know that He lives, there is a supreme recurring happiness and joy. 
There is one place where I am particularly vulnerable—when I know that I have abused someone, or caused them hurt, or offended them. It is then I know what agony is. 
How sweet it is, on those occasions, to be reassured that He lives, and to have my witness reaffirmed. I want, with fervent desire, to show you how our burdens of disappointment, sin, and guilt can be laid before Him, and on His generous terms have each item on the account marked, “Paid in Full.”
I love this glimpse into the personal feelings of a man I have so looked up to. He felt inadequate and imperfect. He hated to hurt people—but he knew he DID sometimes hurt people, and this caused him great anguish. His testimony of Jesus Christ's atonement brought him actual comfort for his actual struggles. And he wanted, "with fervent desire," to share that comfort with everyone else! It gave me a different perspective on this talk, thinking about President Packer writing it with that personal goal in mind.

It also makes me wonder what things the general authorities who are preparing their talks for Conference right now want to tell us. What insights do they have a "fervent desire" for us to gain? I read an Ensign article today about another apostle who asked President Eyring for input on the 22nd draft of his talk for Conference. President Eyring says:
In general conference twice a year, we are blessed with the opportunity to hear the word of the Lord for us from His servants. That is a privilege beyond price. But the value of that opportunity depends on whether we receive the words under the influence of the same Spirit by which they were given to those servants… Just as they receive guidance from heaven, so must we. And that requires of us the same spiritual effort… 
The servants of God fast and pray to receive the message He has for them to give to those who need revelation and inspiration….To gain the great benefits available from hearing living prophets and apostles, we must pay the price ourselves of receiving revelation.
I know the General Authorities have the fervent desire to bring us closer to Christ. Do we have an equal desire to receive their wisdom?


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Are we ready for it?

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the April 1977 Conference.
My interest was caught as I read President Spencer W. Kimball's talk "Our Great Potential," when he started talking about Priesthood Keys we don't yet have on the earth. He brought up resurrection, which is one of the only ones I could think of offhand, but he also mentioned the power to create spirits, the power to control the elements, and the power to manipulate and organize matter. He quoted a lot from Brigham Young and other early church leaders.

It was interesting because this is the sort of thing we don't talk a lot about in church…it seems more esoteric, I guess, or less relevant to our progression now. But President Kimball wasn't just speculating or wondering—he was coming to a specific point:
Can you realize even slightly how relatively little we know? As Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9.) 
We talk about the gospel in its fulness; yet we realize that a large part is still available to us as we prepare, as we perfect our lives, and as we become more like our God. Are we ready for it? In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of Abraham, who has already attained godhood. He has received many powers, undoubtedly, that we would like to have and will eventually get if we continue faithful and perfect our lives.
I was thinking about how it's sometimes hard to want to do much thinking about "perfection." For me, at least, it seems so far away that incremental thinking is easier: in other words, "well, ____ is too hard right now, but at least I can do ______." I guess this is probably okay (and I've read other talks that give great ideas about willingness to fail, and about changing bit by bit, line upon line). However, President Kimball's words combined with a story in another talk I read this week made me reconsider my reluctance to dwell on the "perfect" solution:
A few years ago a large American computer company decided to have some parts manufactured by a Japanese supplier as a trial project. The American company told the Japanese firm it would accept up to 2 percent defective products in the 10,000-piece order. Later, the shipment arrived with 100 percent of the order without defects. In a separate box was a note: “Sorry, we do not understand American company production practices. However, this box contains the 2 percent defective product you wanted. Sorry for the delay in producing, but these parts had to be made separately, which required changing our process in order to make the bad product. Hope this pleases you.” 
This was from a BYU Devotional talk I read by a professor in the Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Technology Department. He explained:
When we design a part we always determine a target dimension that is the desired value at which the part should be produced. Making the part to that value results in the “perfect” product. Because every process has variation and it is difficult to produce exactly to the target value each time, every part also comes with tolerance limits. These limits are the amount of deviation from the target we can tolerate and still expect the part to function at least reasonably well. If there is more deviation from target than the tolerance limit allows, the part will be rejected. However—and this point is critical—as soon as the part deviates from target, it is in error, and the farther a part deviates from the target, even if it is within the tolerance limit, the worse it performs. 
Some companies are concerned only with producing products within the tolerance limits, but wise companies constantly seek to produce on target. The differences between these companies in focus and attitude are quite significant, as are the results. The difference comes not because of the distance, which is often only a couple thousandths of an inch. It is the difference between an average company and an excellent company. For a company to move from the tolerance mind-set to the target mind-set requires an entirely different way of looking at targets, processes, tolerance limits, and improvement. It is a new way of thinking. 
Companies that desire to produce excellent products are not satisfied at producing just within tolerance. They strive, constantly and forever, to produce at target. And they believe it is possible. Average companies, or those that are known for average or poor quality, tend to focus on the tolerance limits because they believe being just within the limits is good enough.
He goes on to discuss the application:
Think of it this way. Imagine yourself on a line between the target value, or the mark of perfection, on one side and the tolerance limit on the other. We can ask ourselves, “Which way am I facing?” and “What do I take as my guide?” If the tolerance limit is my guide, then my tendency is to move as close to the limit as I can and, if at all possible, try to relax those limits to make more of my behaviors allowable. However, there is an even bigger problem with facing the tolerance limit. It is that my back is to the target. I am not looking toward the mark of perfection. Also, since I am facing the limit, if the limit moves, then I move with it and, therefore, accept more defective behavior. 
On the other hand, if I am facing the target, the mark of perfection, and constantly striving to reach that mark, then my back will be to the tolerance limits. If the limits move, they have no effect on me because my focus is not on the relaxing tolerance but on approaching the mark of perfection.
I know there is a place for incremental learning and approximation. It's what we all HAVE to do, because we're imperfect mortals! But from these talks, I'm thinking about how a focus on perfection—a willingness to look for it, and try for it—is not incompatible with incremental learning! As this professor said, the difference is not so much in the actual products (or in a person's case, the actual behaviors) but in the focus and mindset of looking toward the target! We somehow need to be willing to make Christlike perfection our goal and focus—and also ready to accept whatever discomfort that awareness may cause us!

I am sometimes afraid to think ahead to the eventual goals of godhood and perfection. I'm afraid of getting too discouraged or overwhelmed. I'm afraid of losing sight of the simpler things [Similarly, President Romney's talk in this session encouraged seeking the ultimate promise of the Holy Ghost and having your calling and election made sure, which is another thing I've heard can cause people to stumble if they get too focused on it. But perhaps I have gone too far in deciding not to think about it at all?] But as described in the BYU talk I quoted, focusing on "the target" is essential if I really want to improve. And "the target," is, of course, Jesus Christ. Studying His perfect life and seeking to be like Him may indeed be overwhelming, but it is the only way to become like Him!

So, I appreciated President Kimball's reminder that there are many, many great gifts and powers still to come in our progression, and that we should be pondering them and even actively seeking after them. And I appreciated President Romney's reminder that we can always be more urgently striving toward not just glimpses, but "the full light of Christ." I'm hoping to figure out a way to balance a reasonable awareness of my limitations, with a stronger focus on Christ and His perfection—and on the amazing things He can make possible for me!


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Eclipse trip: the non-eclipse and non-Yellowstone part

We always become so fond of the rental houses we stay in. Teddy called this one our "Cabin House" and soon we were all calling it that. It was in a much less-wooded area of Island Park than the place we stayed last time, so it felt very different. This place had a wrap-around porch, with beautiful views of the sunset across the open meadows. We loved it.
One of the first thing the boys did upon arriving was to put up their hammocks. These were hung in many configurations over the few days we stayed here.
Triple-decker!

Eclipse Trip: "Yellowbone"

…(as Teddy referred to it)…is such an amazing place. We love it, but when we visited there last year, I figured we probably wouldn't be back for a long time, since there are SO many cool places I want to visit even just here in the Western U.S., that there just isn't time for repeats! Except…that most places we go end up being so great that we WANT to repeat them. Sigh. Anyway, sometime last August, I looked at the calendar and realized that the total solar eclipse was finally coming up (in a year)! I had been looking forward to it for years, having always vowed I would see a total eclipse someday, and once I did some research I learned that the Snake River Valley in Idaho was a great place to see it!

So, I made reservations right then for a rental house in Island Park, and with Yellowstone being so close, we were delighted to realize that we WOULD have time for a repeat visit in the few days before the eclipse! Hooray!

When the time finally came, we were happy to have my mom with us on the trip too, and in addition to her devising all sorts of clever games to play with the kids in the back seats (thus keeping the arguments/fighting in the van to about 50% less than usual), it was fun to have her along because she could remind us what Yellowstone was like when she last visited, which was when I was about 4 years old. AND she was another pair of hands for the little ones to hold (the most popular pair of hands, naturally) which made the hiking much easier!
Sebastian said, "I think the worst thing about having a big family is having to stop at the bathroom so often." Yes, there was a lot of that.
Teddy seemed like a whole different boy on this trip! He was hiking under his own power (mostly), he was commenting on things, he was pointing out geysers…he has truly become an actual person during this year! (And I had forgotten until reading about it here…or perhaps repressed the memories…about how he SCREAMED nonstop while being carried in the backpack last year! And he was so HEAVY!) This year he was pleasant and darling and liked everything, and it was so fun to watch him taking it all in! Sebastian especially liked showing and telling Teddy about all the things we were doing, and then they'd reminisce about them as we drove home at night.

Because we'd been here so recently, and because everyone was warning about crowds and madness due to the eclipse, I thought maybe we should just skip Old Faithful and that whole area. But Sam thought it wouldn't be that bad, and he was right! We tried to get there fairly early in the morning, which helped. And there were crowded areas, but mostly later in the day, and really no worse than the crowds in the prime of summer season (end of June) we encountered last year.

Baptism and Fire

That title sounds like I must be saying "Baptism BY fire," which I guess would also be a good post, but what I really mean is that we had Daisy's baptism, and then that evening we went up the canyon and had a campfire for Seb's birthday. It was such a fun and happy day. Full of good things! First, the baptism, of course. Daisy was so bright and happy and glowing all day long! It made me smile just to look at her. We did her hair in Danish braids just like I had at MY baptism!
I'd gotten this white dress for her a few months earlier, so in June when the daisies were blooming by the lake, we went and took some pictures by them (as is our custom every year).

We should see the face of the Lord

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the April 1977 Conference.
In Elder Loren C. Dunn's address "Did Not Our Heart Burn Within Us?", he tells the following story about John Murdock, a friend of Joseph Smith's:
For a time he lived in the home of Joseph Smith and relates this incident: “During the winter that I boarded with Brother Joseph … we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber. … In one of those meetings the Prophet told us, ‘If we would humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord.’ And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form; His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white: Whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never before felt to that degree.” (John Murdock, An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock, p. 26.)
Brother Murdock heard the prophet's words in a meeting. He believed them and followed them immediately. And they came true!

I know things don't happen this way all the time, so quickly and noticeably—and probably for good reason. But it seems important to believe that they can. Because there is something so true and simple and beautiful about this retelling, right down to the way the vision fades long before Brother Murdock is ready, but the impression of love remains. This is the result of hope and perhaps expectation: but it's an unassuming kind of expectation. The miracle and the humility are entwined.



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Summer things and funny things

Seb attending to customers at the carwash

Transfiguration

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the April 1977 Conference.
Elder David B. Haight opens his talk with an intriguing statement:
Shortly before the Savior’s betrayal…an event now known as the Transfiguration occurred, which I am sure was meant for our spiritual enlightenment as well as for those who were personal witnesses.
I find that intriguing because I haven't ever thought of this experience being for "our spiritual enlightenment." I've read about the Mount of Transfiguration, of course, but it always seemed like one of those extraordinary things that happened to Peter, James, and John because they were apostles, and needed to be eyewitnesses, and NOT something that would have much application to any…normal person. So, immediately I started wondering what the idea of "transfiguration" could possibly mean for ME, and all I could come up with was that maybe each temple experience could kind of approximate or foreshadow a more complete transfiguration. I've just been reading this article about how the whole point of the temple ceremony is to, literally, come into the presence of God. That journey happens symbolically, yes, but it is meant to be received in a very literal sense as well.

Elder Haight continues to describe what happened in the New Testament transfiguration experience, and it's interesting that he focuses first on what Jesus was seeing and feeling (I've always thought of it mostly from Peter, James, and John's perspective):
Perhaps Jesus felt not only a sense of the heavenly calm which that solitary opportunity for communion with His Father would bring, but even more, a sense that He would be supported in the coming hour by ministrations not of this earth. He was to be illuminated with a light which needed no aid from the sun or the moon or the stars. He went up to prepare for His coming death.
And then the benefits for the apostles:
He took His three apostles with Him in the belief that they, after having seen His glory—the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father—might be fortified, that their faith might be strengthened to prepare them for the insults and humiliating events which were to follow.
Both of those descriptions fit into the idea of what we could receive from a meaningful temple experience. Calm, communion with the father, a sense of angelic support. Illumination and preparation. Fortification against trials. I've felt all of these blessings at various times in the temple, and it makes me think maybe I have been "transfigured" by those experiences—just a little, not anything like the apostles seeing Jesus' glory in person, of course, but still—these things have changed me in not-insignificant ways. Perhaps permanently? If I let them?

I feel like I still have a lot more pondering to do before really understanding what Elder Haight was driving at by choosing this topic and saying it should enlighten all of us. But here's one more thought I had: occasionally I've read criticism about how the current LDS church leaders don't "see God" and have constant manifestations and visions, etc. like the early church leaders did. I have no such worries and think other people have addressed this misconception well. But I couldn't help but think about this question as I read Elder Haight's talk. He doesn't say anything about it explicitly. He is humble and unassuming in his tone, which is consistent with how I always think of him. But the structure of his talk made me think there was something in his topic that came from a very personal place. He starts his talk with a testimony of President Kimball:
He to whom you have just listened, Spencer Woolley Kimball, is God’s prophet to all the world. Not only are the heavens not sealed, as many suppose, but a living prophet is here admonishing and counseling and is available to all who will listen. He is God’s anointed for all mankind to follow.
Then he describes, in detail, the transfiguration of Christ and his apostles in the New Testament. And then he draws a direct line from that miraculous event to the miraculous vision Joseph Smith had of Jesus Christ in the Kirtland Temple. Last, he returns to the latter-day apostles:
Those keys—the same that were delivered to Peter, James, and John on the mountain—authorize us to carry the gospel to all nations and declare the power, glory, and majesty of our Lord Jesus Christ and that the day of His coming is near.
I don't know if Elder Haight (or President Kimball, for that matter) had had his own literal "transfiguration" experience, and I don't think it really matters, but I just felt from his words that he knew what he was talking about. Transfiguration, and the accompanying blessings that come from a personal encounter with God, were not abstract concepts to him. They were real. They were relevant. And they had application to the rest of the church as well.

Elder Haight ends with this:
We invite people everywhere to inquire further into this divine message which we have to offer to all mankind.
This talk makes me want to do just that!


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Wildflower Hike 2017

Last year when I was waking everyone up to leave for our favorite late-summer hike in Albion Basin, the girls were the only ones I could persuade to get out of bed and go with me. And then this year, they were convinced that going with "just the girls" was our special tradition and it must be done that way again! So, although some of the boys would have been willing, we stuck with "tradition" and had a great girls-only hike! It's probably for the best, because the girls are MUCH more desirous of having their pictures taken with every little flower and every new view than the boys are! And, as we all know, taking those pictures is just what I LIKE to do. 
It was so nice and COOL up here early in the morning! The girls were shivering, but I just loved it.

Love in the everyday

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the October 1976 Conference.
I've been thinking lately about the practical ways in which Relief Society helps me learn to care for other people. It happens so simply and with such little fanfare that it's easy to feel like you aren't really doing anything. Usually just a sign-up sheet goes around, and you sign up on it. Or, someone calls and says, "Can you help with this?" and you say, "Sure." And it's probably always true that we could do MORE, and BETTER. But still, I love having constant reminders and chances to decide to do something for someone else—rather than staying always caught up in my own routines and worries.

When I was growing up, there was a lady in my church congregation that had Multiple Sclerosis. The Relief Society brought meals to her family—twice a week, maybe?—for YEARS. Ten or fifteen years at least. I helped my mom bring meals in, so many many times. It seemed such a normal part of our dinner routine. And all the ladies in the ward shared that work. It wasn't VERY much trouble for anyone in particular. Now, I know meals don't solve every problem in the world. But it seems so good and right that for all those years and years, her Relief Society sisters did act like sisters—taking care of family members they loved. Even when I was just a little girl, I recognized that that was how things should be!

There have been ongoing needs in other wards I've been in over the years, too. I was looking at a sign-up sheet recently for one of our Relief Society sisters and Daisy was asking me, "How long is the ward going to keep doing this?" And I loved that I could say, with confidence, "As long as she needs us! Forever, if necessary!" If it were just ME—that would feel pretty daunting. But when it's all of us together trying to help, it just feels good. Again—it's not everything. We're not curing her. We're not taking away all her troubles. But it's such a privilege to be doing something that shares in God's love even a little. And that IS the word that comes to mind: privilege. I am honored to be part of an organization that encourages me to do such things as a matter of course! I loved being able to say to Daisy, "This is Relief Society! This is your role as a woman. This is just what women do."

And of course it isn't only women. Here's what Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone said about priesthood quorums in his talk in the Welfare Session of Conference:
There is a holy brotherhood in a good quorum that draws the members together with bands stronger than steel. The quorum is a brotherhood of charity wherein the “pure love of Christ” prevails. When this “charity” pervades all that is done, then every member has a Christlike interest in every other member. Quorum members feel the weight of the burden which is carried by their unemployed brother as though they themselves were unemployed. They are motivated to action.
It sounds kind of lofty at first. Intimidating. How can any quorum possibly ensure that charity "pervades all that is done"? People are so different…and they annoy and misunderstand each other…and it's hard to have charity all the time in families, let alone in a ward full of random neighbors! But yet in the Relief Society, I have in fact experienced what he's talking about: times where I actually "feel the weight of the burden" of someone in the ward I have grown to care about. I may not be wholly "one" with that person in opinion or personality type, but their sufferings or joys resonate in my own soul when I hear of them. It seems improbable, but I've felt it and it's real!

Sometimes I feel bad that I don't do more to be like "real sisters" with the people in my ward. I know if I knew them better, I would be able to serve them better. I know people won't trust their deepest needs and feelings with just anyone. But it seems so daunting to try and forge those true bonds when there's so little time or opportunity for me to do it! Still…I'm realizing how much good can be done, how much charity can be learned, even when conditions are less than completely ideal. An awkward or self-conscious word of comfort can still be comforting. A superficial conversation in the hall after which you think, "That was dumb; why did I say that?" is still the beginning of a relationship. A freezer meal for someone that you only remember at the last minute, and you wish you didn't have to do it tonight, but you do it anyway because you signed up, is still a way of reaching out. And if you keep taking those small little opportunities year after year, the "sisterhood" part has a way of surprising you when you least expect it. Your neighbor's husband dies and though you've never shared a heart-to-heart conversation before, you hug her and cry with her and feel your heart stretching toward her again and again even later when you pray. Or you walk into the church gym and see ladies decorating the tables with balloons and stringing up lights and all of a sudden you just feel like bursting with love for these strangers you didn't even know the names of ten years ago. Or you watch a new teacher's hands shake with nervousness as she starts her lesson and you find yourself praying that she will realize you don't even care what she says in her lesson, because you already love her anyway. Whenever this happens to me I'm overcome with amazement: Lord, how is it done? And every time I ask it, the answer is so simple: it happens bit by bit as I keep doing what I'm asked by God to do.

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To be home again

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1976 Conference.
I love President Hinckley. I just love him! His talk in this session was characteristically straightforward, compassionate, and optimistic. I kept getting tears in my eyes as I read it, for no real reason except that I kept feeling, "This is true! This is so true!" In the talk, he speaks lovingly to those who have left the church, but I felt like there was so much hope for anyone in his words—hope that when we feel a little distant, like we've drifted or wavered a bit or just have lost a little of our spiritual energy—we can always come back to where we belong.

President Hinckley says:
And so I repeat, do not let pride stand in your way. The way of the gospel is a simple way. Some of the requirements may appear to you as elementary and unnecessary. Do not spurn them. Humble yourselves and walk in obedience. I promise that the results that follow will be marvelous to behold and satisfying to experience.
My mother-in-law and I were talking about this yesterday. The teacher asked in her church class, "Have any of you experienced miracles by doing the simple things like praying and reading your scriptures?" My mother-in-law thought, "No, not really." Then she considered further. She has prayed and read her scriptures nearly every day since high school. Who knows which, of all her many blessings in that time, can be attributed to those good habits? As we were talking, I felt confirmation of this in my heart: that many good things, "marvelous and satisfying" things, in my life have come (without my realizing it) from my attention to these small requirements.

Then President Hinckley invites us:
Try it. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. Come back, my friends. There is more of peace to be found in the Church than you have known in a long while. There are many whose friendship you will come to enjoy. There is reading to be done, instruction to be received, discussions in which to participate that will stretch your minds and feed your spirits. 
The quiet longings of your heart will be fulfilled. The emptiness you have known for so long will be replaced with a fulness of joy.
Again, I felt the truth of this confirmed as I read it. It's so easy to take "going to church" for granted. It doesn't seem to give spectacular results every week. But as President Hinckley reminds us, there is so much it provides, quietly! Friendship. Things to read, things to learn, interesting discussions. Yes! It gives all of this to me. Of course there are bigger things as well from time to time, miraculous things—but I can't discount the value of the small ones. There would be so much emptiness without them! When I think of how much goodness they bring into my life, I wonder why I ever let myself get casual about those things!

President Hinckley told the story of a friend from his mission. This man had drifted away from the church over the years, and when he ran into President Hinckley he opened up to him about how much he missed the gospel in his life:
There were tears in the eyes of this strong man as he spoke of the Church of which he had once been so effective a part, and then told of the long, empty years that had followed. He dwelt upon them as a man speaks of nightmares. When he had described those wasted years, we talked of his returning. He thought it would be difficult, that it would be embarrassing, but he agreed to try. 
I had a letter from him not long ago. He said, “I’m back. I’m back, and how wonderful it feels to be home again.”
Although I haven't left the church (and I hope I never will), I can relate to this wonderful feeling of coming "home again." The goodness of the gospel really is "home" to me. Every time I recommit to my calling, or try harder to pray sincerely, or refocus on being grateful, or increase my efforts to love and serve others, or determine to better keep my covenants—I feel it. The distance closes and my strength is renewed and I think, "THIS is how things should be. I want to feel like this always!"

I'm so grateful that Heavenly Father allows us to do this again and again, as often we're willing. It's one of the best feelings we can have, and I can only imagine how much greater it will be if we stay faithful and eventually we get to say it to Heavenly Father and Jesus for real. "I'm back. I'm back, and how wonderful it feels to be home again!"


Other posts in this series:

A restless, anxious feeling

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the October 1976 Conference.
Water from the failed Teton Dam rushes over the Broadway Bridge in Idaho Falls. For three days residents sandbagged the banks as the volume of water continued to increase. “The whole bridge was vibrating. As I dashed out onto the bridge I took a handful of photographs and left, taking less than a minute,” said photographer Robert Bower.  Robert Bower Courtesy of the Idaho Falls Post-Register; original here
President N. Eldon Tanner gave a talk called "The Purpose of Conferences," and it was a little unusual because he mostly just quoted what other general authorities had said in various recent Area Conferences. (And there was another talk in this session that consisted almost entirely of quoted statements from the apostle Paul! So…that was interesting too.) 

The part of the talk I liked best was President Tanner, quoting Elder Packer. (And now I will quote them both, making three of us in all. This is starting to remind me of how everyone always starts the Joseph Smith/"Book of Mormon most correct book" quote with the phrase "I told the brethren." Why? We're already extracting only the applicable words for this quote. So why not just: "Joseph Smith said, 'The Book of Mormon is the most correct book' etc etc.? But no, it's always "Joseph Smith said, 'I told the brethren that...'")

Ahem. So…Elder Packer, as quoted, had been talking about the Teton Dam disaster. I have heard President Eyring talk about this before too, but I've never known much more about it except that the dam broke. I looked it up and found some articles about it, and it was really interesting to learn about. It is terrifying to think of that deadly wall of water rushing down to all the unsuspecting communities below! And according to Elder Packer's account, it was really miraculous that so few people died:
But what happened to the people that Saturday morning? There was a miracle! There were several deaths, but only six of them by drowning. How could such terrible destruction take place with such a little loss of life? 
The answer: they were warned. A number of them had been subjected to a restless, anxious feeling that morning, and so responded instantly when the warning came. They heeded the warning. Latter-day Saints pay attention to warnings.
President Tanner then summarizes:
Elder Packer stated that by scientific calculations 5,300 lives might have been lost, but there were so few. And it was not a case of going upstairs onto the roof. The houses were completely washed away, and most of the people had miles to go to reach high ground. They were saved because they heeded a warning and then warned their neighbors. 
…That is how they were saved. Everyone, when warned, raised the voice of warning to his family and to his neighbors. … Do you think they were casual about it? That is not the way it happened. The warnings were shouted and screamed. Horns were honked. Every means was used to sound the warning. ‘Come out of the valley. A flood is coming!'
Then comes the application:
Elder Packer concluded his account in these words: 
“It is Saturday morning in the Lord’s scheme of things, and we go complacently about our work, concerned with the ordinary cares of life. But many of us carry a restless, anxious feeling. And in these conferences we have heard the prophet and the apostles raising a voice of warning. ‘Come out of the valley,’ they are saying. ‘Come to higher ground. Come away from the flood of mischief, and evil, and spiritual disaster.’ And I repeat, it behooves every man who has been warned, to warn his neighbor.”
I've been reading Clayton Christensen's book The Power of Everyday Missionaries, which is the best treatment of member missionary work I've ever read anywhere (you should definitely read it! I love it!)—so missionary work has been on my mind a lot lately. And when I read these words from Elder Packer, I felt so arrested by them. "A restless, anxious feeling"—yes. I do have that. You could call it guilt, I guess, for not being better at missionary work (though that book makes it all seem much more achievable!), but it's also just a worry that I'm going to miss some opportunity to help someone who needs me—because I'm too caught up in my own life and my own worries. Can you imagine if you were running for safety from that dam breach, and you realized no one had told your neighbors? That they were sitting there unaware of the floodwaters coming toward them, and you could have helped them and didn't? It fills me with horror!

Maybe that seems like a negative way to think of it—since usually we talk about "sharing the good news" rather than "sounding the warning voice" (it sounds so much nicer!)—but to me, it really brings home the reality that this is important. Like Elder Packer says, it's not something to be "casual" about. People are drowning, already! And the gospel can save them! How pathetic of me to avoid saying anything that might help, just because I might say it badly or it might seem intrusive or weird.



Other posts in this series:

At Cape Lookout

I'll tell you a story, but I warn you it doesn't reflect very well on me. It was one of those internal storms that came and went before I really did anything about it outwardly, which I guess was good, because in retrospect it became obvious that my internal reactions were silly. But it's still kind of embarrassing when I think about it. However—this is the type of thing it is good for me to remember. (And also, this place sounds like it needs to be in the title of a Hardy Boys book. Caper at Cape Lookout!)

We were driving around on the Oregon Coast looking for things to do. We stopped at Cape Lookout State Park, which is a beautiful stretch of forest right along the edge of the bay where we were staying. There are hiking trails and overlooks, and it's the sort of amazing scenery that goes against everything I'm used to. In my mind, forests are only in "the mountains," and there they are full of conifers, or possibly aspens, and some underbrush, but not much else. So these Oregon forests, sweeping fernily down as they do right to the cliff- and ocean-edges, seem like they defy nature! I LOVE them.
Okay, so far so good, but the trouble was that I had not brought my hiking shoes on this little outing. And the reason for THAT was that a month or so earlier, I had fallen off the most pathetic little step to the garage while lifting Teddy up—or rather, I had stepped where there was no step, and somehow bent my foot all the way forward so I landed on top of it, and that had torn some ligaments. It hurt so much those first few days that whenever I was alone I would start crying—not solely because it hurt, but because I was just so scared that I would never get better—and all the while, I KNEW I was being unreasonable but I just couldn't stop myself! (That becomes a theme in this story, I'm afraid.)

A profound and inseparable connection

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1976 Conference.
We read the Priesthood Session this week, and one of the talks was Elder Boyd K. Packer's "A Message to Young Men." The text of the talk wasn't on the church website, but the video was, so I watched it instead of reading it. I don't know why they decided not to publish the text, but I did read somewhere that the talk was "widely mocked" and had generated controversy (of course) and I decided I didn't want to write about it because I hate getting caught up in that sort of thing. (And now here I am [sigh] so here's one article if you're interested.)

But when I went to write this post I couldn't seem to think about anything else. (Why does that always happen?) So here are my thoughts. Elder Packer is speaking to the young men about chastity and masturbation and homosexual behavior and other "sensitive" topics. I don't know if it would have been embarrassing to the young men listening. It didn't seem so to me, but I know sex education has gotten more extensive in the years since then. I do know it was pretty easy for me to listen and pick out which things he was saying would make people now complain about how "old-fashioned" and "unenlightened" the brethren were back then. But it was also easy for me to detect the love and concern and anxiousness to teach truth with which Elder Packer was saying those things.

I guess we're pretty smug, these days, regarding what we know about human sexuality. Most of us compare our own views favorably with the "repression" and "shame" we ascribe to earlier times. I've read plenty of people even within the church talking about this, and lamenting how far "church culture" still has to go in that area. And I'm sure there is good that has come from our relative openness and increased education. But I also thought, listening to this talk full of "old-fashioned" wording and "old-fashioned" reticence, that we (and by "we" I mean "modern thought, even some Mormon modern thought," I guess) know a lot less than we think we do. Because there is a spirit-body connection that is still not fully understood, even by the "latest research" of which we're so proud. But it is very real:
People often nurture the fantasy that sex can mean whatever we want it to. This fantasy involves an unrealistic and strange sort of mind-body split, a kind of dualism. People mistakenly believe that the mind, the sovereign will, is in complete control. The body is just a tool, a sort of appendage, detached from the mind. So, if the mind decides that sex means nothing, the body must obey. If the mind decides that it wants sex to be violent and domineering today, but warm and tender tomorrow, the body must just obey. 
But the mind and the body do not work that way. There is no such mind-body split. Rather, the medical and psychological sciences are increasingly demonstrating that there is a profound and inseparable connection between mind and body. And the body—not just the mind—is obviously involved in sexual encounters. The body has its own laws and its own logic; the body has its own wisdom, and it operates on its own terms. The human body must obey the laws of biology, of neuroscience, and of human psychology. And when we push against these, the body will inevitably push back.
That quote is from Aaron Kheriaty, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Program in Medical Ethics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine (and not a Mormon, as far as I know). He wrote that in 2015. But it echoes Elder Packer's insistence in 1976 that there are real consequences to what we do with our bodies and with the sexual feelings that go with them:
This physical power will influence you emotionally and spiritually as well. It begins to shape and fit you to look, and feel, and to be what you need to be as a father. Ambition, courage, physical and emotional and spiritual strength become part of you because you are a man. … This power of creation affects your life several years before you should express it fully. You must always guard the power…You must wait until the time of your marriage to use it.
Elder Packer also talked about the real, measurable effects of fasting, which is another thing derided in some circles these days as woefully inadequate and outdated as a "cure" for anything. And yes, addictions and other trials may not be banished forever simply because we fast and pray about them. But Elder Packer didn't say they would be. He just pointed out that intentional, righteous self-denial—a purposeful tying-together of the physical and the spiritual—can bring power:
At times of special temptation skip a meal or two. We call that fasting, you know. It has a powerful effect upon you physically. It diverts some of that physical energy to more ordinary needs. It tempers desire and reduces the temptation. Fasting will help you greatly. 
Again, it turns out this idea is not some old-fashioned invention of Elder Packer's. Here's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about something as simple as physically making the sign of the cross:
“I’ve found that following Luther’s instruction to ‘make the sign of the cross’ at our morning and evening prayers is…most useful,” [Bonhoeffer] said in one letter. “There is something objective about it…”
The Christian writer who quoted Bonhoeffer above comments further on why this is:
To begin with, signing oneself is more than mere symbolism. It is, as Bonhoeffer said, “objective.” There is something tangible and actual about tracing the points of the cross over one’s body. It goes back to something covered in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Christians, the senior demon informs the junior, “can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers, for they constantly forget . . . that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
What we do physically affects us spiritually. Whether it’s lowering our gaze, raising our hands, bending our knee, or crossing ourselves, physical actions have a qualitative, spiritual effect.
Making the sign of the cross is something which we Latter-day Saints might find foreign, but I was thinking about how it is not unlike many of our physical covenant actions such as raising our hands to sustain someone, taking the sacrament, and other ritual actions we perform in the temple. And, of course, fasting! Our physical actions, both simple and complex, sexual and non-sexual, really DO affect our spirits!

I came away from listening to Elder Packer's talk feeling a sort of amazement about the many truths God makes available to us, if we will only accept them. Of course there are many things where our language and our understandings evolve over time, and that's how it should be. But there's also so much about modern thought that lets us down. I sometimes feel so discouraged about how inevitably and subtly the ideas of the world influence me in ways I'm not even aware of. But while we must each swim in the currents of our times, Heavenly Father doesn't leave us to flounder helplessly in them. He provides channels of truth and safety (or maps? or guides? or boats? Ha, this metaphor is beginning to falter…) and if we bravely stay within those—even when they seem counterintuitive or awkward or unenlightened—they will help us find happiness. Because no matter how much people insist that our sexual behaviors are our own business and "consent" or "lack of shame" is the only thing that matters, the fact is that God's ways of thinking about and using His creative power are the only ways that ultimately bring joy. And we knew that, through prophets, before any psychiatric research backed it up. From the same article above, here is Dr. Kheriaty's conclusion:
Before making decisions about our sexual behaviors, we need to ask ourselves some questions about what we want to be doing to our brain and our body—what kind of neural tracks and networks do we want to be reinforcing through these behaviors? Do we want to be fusing sex and love? Sex and security? Sex and attachment or commitment? Sex and fidelity? Sex and trust? Sex and unselfishness? Or do we want to be fusing in our brain and in our experiences sex and violence? Sex and dominance? Sex and submission? Sex and control? We shape our brain by our choices. And we develop increasingly automatic and ingrained habits by our repeated choices. But the initial choice of which path we embark upon is up to us. 
There is so much we (or I) don't understand about our physical bodies: why, exactly, they are necessary for exaltation; how they relate to our spirits; how they relate to God's perfected-but-also-somehow-real-and-tangible body of "flesh and bone." But we do know that they matter. What we do with them matters—and, as that quote above points out, we can choose, not everything about our bodies, but a significant portion of how they will develop and respond to our spirits. And most of all, we know that these physical bodies are the instruments through which many significant spiritual blessings and powers come. Mormons, of ALL people, know this through our doctrines and our temple ordinances. And how can we reach greater understanding unless we trust the revelations given to our prophets about how we should treat these sacred, "objective" and physical conduits?


Other posts in this series:

Regarding Clams

I've been feeling a bit self-conscious writing this post, because it occurs to me that maybe everyone (except me) already KNOWS about clams? Perhaps even finds them (and their habit of squirting jets of water at unsuspecting passers-by) boring?? Is this like someone marveling that milk actually comes from cows? If so…we will now excuse you to go read something more stimulating. But I was SO happy about this whole…clam…thing…that even now, I can hardly contain myself!
Let me begin at the beginning. One day the tide was very very low, with a huge swath of beach exposed. We saw lots of people out wandering around in the tide pool areas and wondered what they were all doing, so the boys went down to the beach to see. Then Seb came back all excited saying, "There are holes in the sand, and when you walk by, water comes squirting out of them!" And without even having to think about it, I said immediately, "It must be clams!" I felt instinctively that I must have read a thousand books talking about people watching for the sprays of water and digging for clams on beaches. I don't know WHY on earth I would have remembered, or for that matter, why I would have read so extensively about clamming in the first place, but I felt if I knew one thing in this life, it was that sprays of water from holes in the sand mean clams!

The house by the bay

We've never been on a trip with anyone before (except, I guess, staying at my brother's house in California lots of times) so we were excited to see what it was like staying in this house with Sam's parents. And it was great! It was fun to go places together. It was fun to split up and then come back later and report on our different adventures. And it was fun in the down time, to just be sitting there reading near each other and talking if we wanted to. The kids loved having Grandma and Grandpa to talk to and play games with whenever they wanted! And we loved having a date night with them one night while Abe and Seb babysat at the rental house. 

It really was a great house. The stairs up to it were formidable, but that's part of what made the house so great: it was up so high that the views from the windows were amazing! And I LOVED (as I mentioned here) watching the tide go in and out of the bay! I was kind of sad every time I had to step away from the window to do something else besides watch the ocean. And I loved the balcony. Like every other woman on the planet, I don't sleep well when I'm pregnant, but I loved getting up in the midnight hours and going out into the dark cool air and listening to the ocean waves, and catching glimpses of moonlight reflected in the water. It was so calming! I kept telling myself to remember how lovely it was, because soon it would be just a memory. (And now it is!)
You can see the row of houses of which ours was one—we were in the tallest one you can make out in this picture, up against the trees.
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