Blessings derived by the givers

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the October 1979 Conference.
Here is a principle stated multiple times in this Welfare Session of Conference, for example here:
Paradoxically, the most successful way to assist someone in need is by leading them into the service of others… 
It [is] when they [give] of themselves in the Lord’s way that their circumstances [begin] to improve.
and here:
Let us be ever mindful that the greatest blessing of the welfare system is derived by the givers.
What I've been pondering this week is how to take advantage of this principle in our family life.

As I've worried about certain of my children this week, I keep thinking that what they truly need are the blessings of service described above. They need those "blessings derived by the givers"! But how can I teach THEM that that's what they need?

Occasionally we do service projects together. The children have household jobs, of course, and I try to emphasize how those things are a way of serving the family. Their primary classes and youth groups also give them periodic chances to serve. But…I don't know if any of those things are teaching that explicit cause-and-effect relationship: When I serve, I am the one who benefits. When I need to improve my circumstances, that is when I should seek to improve someone else's!

I know the blessings are greatest when service is given freely and consciously. I know I should "teach correct principles" and then leave the rest to their own agency. So how can I help my children be "givers," not because they have to, but because they want to? I know it would help them with their own struggles, if only they could see that vision!

Other posts in this series:

We must first feel our way

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1979 Conference.
I've been having a lot of conversations, lessons, etc. about recognizing revelation (or following the Holy Spirit…however you want to describe it) lately. It was one of the themes I thought was most prominent in our most recent General Conference, too. And now here is Elder Richard G. Scott, almost forty years ago, with a pointedly relevant insight:
Doubt is spiritual poison that stunts eternal growth. We must first feel our way before we can see it with any clarity. We prove ourselves by making numerous correct decisions without being absolutely sure; then comes a greater knowledge and assurance, not before.
A lady in my ward told a funny story in Relief Society about how, years ago, she had felt a prompting to take some donuts and chocolate milk to the bishop's family. She left the treats on their porch, but unbeknownst to her, the family was in Hawaii that week, and so by the time they got home, what they found waiting for them was just…dried-up donuts and spoiled milk! The lady telling the story was laughing with us about how embarrassed she was, and how she had clearly not felt the "prompting" she thought she had felt to do that little good deed!

But then another lady told a story about how a neighbor had come to visit her at a time she was feeling really sad…and she had refused to even open the door and see the neighbor, but deep down she had still felt the reassurance that God knew her and was aware of her needs. And yet the neighbor likely went away feeling like she'd either misinterpreted or failed at following the spirit!

Another lady suggested that maybe those dried-up donuts and that spoiled milk made a more lasting and memorable reminder of a neighbor's care than the unspoiled treats would have…a story worth telling even years later.

I suppose we all have stories of "feeling our way" in following the spirit. There have been many, many times that I've acted on some impression, feeling slightly sheepish as I do so and even more sheepish afterwards, when it appears that what I did wasn't even helpful or necessary. And I know it's fine, and even inevitable, that we make mistakes as we attempt to follow the Spirit. I think it's good to laugh about it, and try again, and not get discouraged. But I'm also noticing how strong Elder Scott's statement is: "Doubt is spiritual poison that stunts eternal growth. We must first feel our way…"

I'm not saying I need to believe I'm infallible and my every stray thought is the Word of God (obviously)…but maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss my apparent revelation-following failures. Maybe I should trust that God really is able to communicate with me—and that there is always some purpose in the revelation I received, even if it isn't obvious. Maybe I should remember that caring is better than deciding not to try at all!

It's really important to me that I learn to "see with [spiritual] clarity." I want that gift so much! And Elder Scott says the only way to this clarity is to "first feel our way;" resisting doubt while still not being "absolutely sure." There's not some alternate path to spiritual clarity where we ARE always sure! The uncertainty is a necessary part of the process. That makes me resolve to try to be a little more comfortable with the "feeling my way" stage!

Other posts in this series:

Rolling waters

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the October 1979 Conference.
For some reason I have been thinking about the phrase "How long can rolling waters remain impure" from the Doctrine and Covenants. I keep wondering what it means. Two thoughts, in different talks, from this conference session seemed to approach the topic. First, Elder Bernard P. Brockbank on prayer:
All of us, like Enos, need to continually have our sins and weaknesses swept away through repentance, confession, and sincere prayer.
For some reason that wording—sins and weaknesses "continually swept away"—made me think of a fast-flowing stream, where the cleansing water won't allow sediment to settle, but carries it constantly away downstream.

The other idea comes from Elder Marvin J. Ashton's talk on change. He says:
There is nothing so unchanging, so inevitable as change itself. The things we see, touch, and feel are always changing. Relationships between friends, husband and wife, father and son, brother and sister are all dynamic, changing relationships. There is a constant that allows us to use change for our own good, and that constant is the revealed eternal truths of our Heavenly Father. 
We need not feel that we must forever be what we presently are. There is a tendency to think of change as the enemy. Many of us are suspect of change and will often fight and resist it before we have even discovered what the actual effects will be. When change is thought through carefully, it can produce the most rewarding and profound experiences in life. The changes we make must fit the Lord’s purposes and patterns.
Again, the emphasis on continual change made me think of a moving stream. I thought it was interesting that he highlighted relationships as an example of constant change, because I've been thinking about that too. I'm realizing that "standing still" in a relationship isn't really possible, because either we are changing, or the other person is changing, or both. I can't use the same types of discipline, motivation, or even communication with my children for very long before something changes and I need to re-evaluate. It can be frustrating and hard, but I guess that constant attention to and interaction with the details of our relationships is part of what helps them grow strong.

Elder Ashton also talks about how changes in church leadership, policies, and callings will give us chances to grow:
Our vision may be limited. Seldom are changes made that do not bring needed progress to a person or a situation. How often in retrospect have we thought, “I didn’t understand why that change was made in the program or why that person was given such a calling, but now I can see that it was just what was needed for the time.” 
During transitional times—and there are always transitional times in our Church—patience, love, and long-suffering are needed.
I see the "rolling waters" of change in my own life, and I feel apprehension about them. But I am trying to accept that this is part of God's plan. We need brisk, refreshing, continual cleansing (as individuals and as a church) to help keep impurities from accumulating. And the waters of change can play that role for us.

Other posts in this series:

Impossible unity

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1979 Conference.
In his talk "The Governing Ones," Elder William R. Bradford says:
The challenge of governing the family is to so love, teach, and motivate its members that their personal decisions will be to unite one with another in the common purpose of following God’s plan.
When I read this on one level, it seems pretty straightforward: we're supposed to "love, teach, and motivate" so that our children will want to follow God. But read more closely, it seems funnier (and truer): this is THE CHALLENGE of governing the family. It would be like if he said "The challenge of baking cookies is to create a cookie so delicious that every person will love it." Well…yes. That is the challenge, isn't it! And a pretty big challenge at that, with each person being so different and having different preferences and all.

So yes, as parents we really do want our family members to DECIDE for themselves to be unified and eager to follow God's plan. And I'm not saying it's not a good goal…just that it is indeed a very, very big challenge. And it involves a lot of uncertainty and a lot of trust that the things we can't do ourselves, God will bring to pass in His own way. I'm realizing that more and more. I want so much for our children to catch the vision. To see for themselves how much better it is to live in unity and love! And how much happier we would ALL be if we could constantly treat each other as God would want us to, and follow His commandments! But no matter how much I try to teach it, exemplify it, push toward it—I just can't force it. (Nor, I realize, would God want me to.) And sometimes our family (myself included) seems so far from catching that vision…it feels like we will never get there. I guess it's a good thing we have eternities to keep working on it.

It probably seems like I'm always going on and on about unity. I think it's like the unattainable girl that the nerdy boy in movies is always fantasizing about. I just imagine how great it would be to have the children looking out for each others' welfare instead of trying to torment each other. Or where they cared so much about their siblings that they were willing to give up their own wishes to make the others happy. Oh, occasionally I catch glimpses of things like that. But they are definitely not the norm! And I know they're young and it's okay. I've had a lot more years of practice than they have, and I'm still not able to live these principles as well as I want to! But that's part of what worries me. As I think about the future of our family, I know it's inevitable that some of us will choose paths that the others don't agree with! And some of those paths might even be objectively (in God's eyes) the wrong ones! And there's nothing I can do about it! And how can we be unified in "the common purpose of following God's plan" if that's the case?

I really don't know. But somehow we are still supposed to keep hoping and working for that ideal. In his talk during this same conference session, President Kimball said:
…our people in the kingdom will need to become even more different from the people of the world. We will be judged, as the Savior said on several occasions, by whether or not we love one another and treat one another accordingly and by whether or not we are of one heart and one mind. We cannot be the Lord’s if we are not one!
I guess, like a lot of things in the gospel, this unity is something that seems impossible, and IS impossible, by any rational standard. It's not something we can create. But it's an outgrowth of living the principles of the gospel—keeping our covenants, repenting, persisting—and the miracles God will unfold in our lives as we do so.

Other posts in this series:

Gobblers, Twirlers, Riders

I make about six loaves of bread every week (no, it doesn't last all week) using the no-knead bread method (and this oven). One time when it had just come out of the oven, I said I was tempted to just bite into the whole loaf, and Sam said I should, and I said, aghast, that I couldn't…but then I did. It was great! There is something so good about the texture of it when it's torn instead of sliced. I felt it should be documented.
For the last four babies or so, I don't think I have ever pumped even a drop of breast milk for them! I just haven't been away from them enough that I needed to. But I've been accompanying for the children's choir this year, and I have to pump so that Ziggy can have a bottle while I'm gone. The other kids really love to feed him and watch him happily gulp down the milk.
Sebastian makes the best games for the other children. This was his Airplane. He made tickets and an emergency exit plan, had everyone pack bags of things to entertain them on the journey, turned on the fan when it got too hot, and walked up and down the row serving drinks and snacks. It was probably just as good as a real plane (or better—more space!).
Can you believe Teddy is driving now? It seems like just yesterday that he was a baby!
Speaking of which, we had donuts for Ziggy's half-birthday. (Then we ate his. Yum.)

I don't know why he's in this box,
The very twirliest possible dress,
A bunny dressed up in clothes,
Cold winter sun-haloes,
and Whee!

On nursing and "long enough"

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1979 Conference.
Sometimes when I'm nursing Ziggy, he will start to latch on and suck at the nipple, and then he will suddenly pull his head back and look at me accusingly and start to cry. So I sit him up and burp him, or I try him on the other side, or I bounce him for a minute and then see if he will try again. Usually that works, but every once in awhile he just repeats the pattern again and again: sucking for a second, stopping, pulling off, crying. And I know exactly what the problem is! My milk hasn't let down yet, so he is sucking and not getting anything, and that makes him so sad that he cries and pulls off, and then of course there is no stimulation to TELL my milk to let down, and the cycle continues.

I know many mothers have harder problems with nursing. It's not too bad for us. If Ziggy really gets inconsolable and won't even try to nurse anymore, I can usually just use the breast pump for a couple minutes until the milk lets down, and then put Ziggy back on to finish nursing. BUT—during the periods where he is trying, and giving up, and trying, and giving up, and I'm frantically trying to relax (yes, I know it's a contradiction—ha ha) and visualize waterfalls and fountains of milk—I just feel so frustrated! Because it all seems so unnecessary, and I just want to MAKE Ziggy understand that if he would just keep AT it, just keep nursing and sucking, for just another minute or two, the milk is right there! It's so close, and so good for him, and there's as much of it as he could ever want—but he just needs to keep TRYING! And it will come! The milk will always come!

One time late at night when this was happening, and I was so frustrated and flustered by Ziggy's screaming, and trying to keep him quiet so he wouldn't wake up everyone else—I whispered to him, "Oh, don't you know that you are just inches away from being completely full and happy?! But you just have to make an effort! The tiniest effort!" And then I started laughing at myself because I was trying to reason with a baby, but at the same time I felt an overpowering feeling that Heavenly Father wanted to say the same thing—to me!

I had been feeling kind of discouraged lately, like the heavens were a little bit closed off, and I wasn't feeling the light and revelation I had been hoping for. And I was slightly grumpy about it, because I had been trying to put in all the effort I could—pondering, and praying, and reading the scriptures—and I felt like I really should have gotten an answer or at least—something—by now!

And then I thought of Ziggy rearing back his head and howling because he didn't taste any milk. And how useless and counterproductive it was for him to howl, when he could have just…kept nursing for another minute, and the milk would have come! And I realized I was Ziggy in this situation! And why was I howling instead of just nursing? God wanted me to have all the spiritual nourishment I needed—but it wouldn't come until I was willing to be persistent enough to work for it!

In the October 1979 General Conference, President Boyd K. Packer said,
Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer. What could be wrong? 
It may be that you are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember, you cannot force spiritual things.
"It may be that you have not done the right things long enough." How long is long enough? Well…only God knows that.

One more story: my husband Sam has a friend who left the church many years ago. Once this friend was talking to Sam and telling him about one night when, in great anguish of soul, he called desperately on God. The friend described his feelings of loneliness and acute need, and then he told Sam, "I prayed and prayed, but I felt nothing from God. And that's when I knew there was no God—or if there was one, and he would ignore me when I needed him that much, he wasn't much of a God anyway."

I felt so bad about that story when I heard it. I thought, "Well, why DIDN'T God answer? This friend needed Him! He was reaching out! How could Heavenly Father not reach back?" And of course, I still don't know all the reasons. People and situations are so complicated. Maybe it would have been too much all at once for this friend, to have a witness from God, if he didn't intend to really act on it. Or maybe there WAS a whispering from God, but he ignored it and later decided it hadn't happened at all. Or maybe something else entirely. Who knows!

But as I've gained more experience with revelation myself, I've seen SO many times that my answers and my comfort didn't come right when I expected or wanted it! It's almost more the rule than the exception! Yet at the same time—I feel like my testimony that God is always there for me is stronger than ever! I think it's because looking back, I see that my answers and my comfort and my blessings were always so close! And they were going to come! And they did come! They came as soon as I put in a little more effort and a little more faith. They came when I persisted a little past where I thought I could. And when they came, they came so abundantly that they were unmistakeable!

I'm not blaming Sam's friend, necessarily, for feeling abandoned when he cried out in his despair, and it seemed God was silent. While that is happening, it's so hard! I don't want to minimize that hardness. But I just wish he hadn't given up quite so soon. Because maybe he was like poor little Ziggy, sitting there and crying for milk; and all the while, it was two inches away, in abundance, just waiting for him—if he would persist a little longer in trying for it!

Other posts in this series:

Paris: More landmarks and a bunny

The 30 minutes we spent near Sacré-Cœur was probably the most Spring-like half hour of our entire visit. The sun was out! And there were blossoms blossoming! It was lovely.
You get to ride a little funicular railway to the top of the hill. Guess who that was a hit with?

Paris: the famous places

My favorite view of the Eiffel Tower is this one, down the Champ de Mars. We got there near sunset one evening when the sun had actually emerged for awhile! It was still cold, but the light on the bare trees was just lovely.
Of course we couldn't stop taking pictures. The shape of the Eiffel Tower is so graceful, and I love the way the sunlight hits it sideways!
Of course, Daisy had begged us to bring Tiny Eiffel Tower along with us, and how could we refuse? We are beginning to make a habit of this monument-matching. In fact, we had packed Tiny Arc de Triomphe too!

Saint-Malo and Dinan

The morning of our day trip out to Bretagne (when we visited Mont Saint-Michel) began in the coastal town of St. Malo.
We were really happy to get to ride the TGV, France's high-speed train, which made the trip a lot shorter! Seb has loved the TGV (from afar) for many years now. And let's just take a moment to be grateful for the fact that the trains were running and no one was on strike! I was fully expecting to run into some sort of strike while we were in France, and we didn't (but I heard from a friend that right now, the train workers ARE on strike—for the next three months! So we wouldn't have been able to take the TGV at all, and we wouldn't have made it to Mont Saint-Michel! *shudder*), so hooray for that!
Seb pointed out landmarks of interest to Ziggy
But Zig preferred to do THIS for most of the time (when he wasn't nursing).

Mont Saint-Michel

I think I have always wanted to visit Mont Saint-Michel. But I'm not sure why or how I even know about it. Maybe I had seen a movie filmed there? (I thought it might have been Twelfth Night, but it doesn't seem to be.) Or maybe my brother had been there? There's a St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall too, which adds to the confusion, but—at any rate—I've been dreaming about going to Mont Saint-Michel for years now.

The trouble was, I was afraid it was too far from Paris. I read that we could ride the TGV (which Sebastian had always been dying to do anyway—especially since Malachi got to ride the ICE!) instead of taking a lengthy coach tour, but then it looked like we'd have to catch a bus or another regional train and that sounded like more complication than I dared attempt with a baby. Finally when I was ready to give up on it, I found this little tour company that would pick us up from the train station and drive us around in a minivan! That didn't sound too daunting, so I signed us up. And I was excited that the tour included two other towns in Bretagne that I hadn't heard of, but that looked really cool when I looked them up: Dinan and St. Malo. (The post about those towns is here.)

We drove toward Mont Saint-Michel on the back roads, and it was so peaceful and serene, I couldn't believe it when our guide told us that this was the third biggest tourist attraction in France, after the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. 
It was a greyish and misty day. In the morning it had even been snowy, quite rare for this part of France, and when we got out of the shuttle bus that drives you across the bridge (private cars can't drive across), it was SO COLD. I think it might be the coldest I have EVER BEEN. I guess I should qualify that because I have been colder when I have to stay out in the cold for a long time (like in Moscow) or when I've been cold and wet…and this was better, because as soon as we were off the bridge and on the island itself, the wind wasn't so bitter, and the buildings blocked the cold air. But for those few minutes as we walked, I thought I might freeze into a big block of ice and they'd have to break Ziggy off of me with a pick-ax.
There used to be a causeway out the island and you could only cross at low tide. But now they've built a bridge (and a dam, which is somehow filtering out silt so it won't accumulate on the island and make it sink...our guide explained it to us but I'm not sure I grasped the details. Although Seb seemed to get everything she was saying, so I can't blame her English!). It's nice not to have to plan your visit around the tides! Although I would have liked to stay overnight in the area so I could watch the water go in and out. (I find myself very fascinated with tides since staying at this house, and the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel is an especially spectacular place to see them!)

In which we go to Paris, I scold my readers, and Ziggy is not froid

A couple years ago, Sam got invited to do a workshop in Paris, and he said, "I can't do that unless my wife can come too." (Wasn't that good of him?) I couldn't come that year, but much to our delight, the people remembered him and asked him again, and this year we thought we could manage it!

It was a close thing for awhile—as my mom was in a bike accident and fractured her skull the week before we were to leave! (What kind of person leaves someone with a fractured skull to take care of four children??! I felt like a monster. But if you know my mom, you know she is almost superhuman. And she insisted she would be okay! Also, she has the most wonderful Relief Society, and they helped with meals and driving.) My big boys stayed home alone (under the watchful eye of more Relief Society sisters, bless them) and Sebastian and Ziggy came with us to Paris! So that's everyone accounted for. I think.
Ziggy was angelic on the plane ride to Paris. We had a direct flight, which was awesome, and it was at night, so he slept sweetly in his bassinet and cooed at people when he wasn't sleeping. We will keep our minds firmly fixed upon the wonder of that first flight whenever we are tempted to recall the flight home, about which the less said the better. (The nightmares may end. In time.)

Already acquainted

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the October 1979 Conference.
President Kimball talked a lot about keeping a journal. I don't remember this personally, but I remember it second-hand because my mom really took that counsel to heart and taught it to her children. Every Sunday night she used to sit down with me and I would dictate to her about the events of the week. (I remember this, though I must have been very young, since it was before I could write.) I would save play tickets and napkins from wedding receptions and glue them into my journal too.

I kept up on my journal pretty faithfully until I was a teenager, and even then I had spurts of writing and catching up. But as soon as I got old enough to look back with embarrassment on my past self, I lost some enthusiasm for journal-writing. I thought a lot about the purpose of it. Why would I care later to read about these boring mundane events? And as for my posterity—writing for an imaginary audience of my posterity made my writing either impossibly stilted or drearily self-conscious. (I've talked about this before.) So it's been a struggle for me over the years, especially through some hard times I really didn't WANT to remember or record. Still, I've tried to find other ways to follow the prophets' (I know many besides President Kimball have spoken of it) counsel—things like this blog, family scrapbooks, letters to family members. And so I don't imagine anyone will find my life ill-documented…

But as I've gotten older, my heart has turned toward my ancestors more and more. I'm so interested in them: who they were and what they have to do with me. And I feel, sometimes, the lack of not knowing more. I have a friend who is very connected to her family history. She knows many stories of her ancestors. Certainly my mom tried to teach us about our ancestors too, and I do know some of those stories. But I don't feel I know THEM, the PEOPLE, the way my friend knows hers. We've been talking this week about how you can request the patriarchal blessings of your ancestors online now, and I've requested my dad's and my grandpa's, just to see what I can learn. But I'm not sure how else to come to know them. The small things I do know are often more puzzling than enlightening. Or I'm filling in so many blanks, I'm afraid I've got the big picture totally wrong. I don't know how to understand my ancestors in the context of the world they lived in—a world I know so little of. 

None of that is really answered in this quote by President Kimball, but it struck me as a blessing I would like for myself:
On a number of occasions I have encouraged the Saints to keep personal journals and family records. I renew that admonition. We may think there is little of interest or importance in what we personally say or do—but it is remarkable how many of our families, as we pass on down the line, are interested in all that we do and all that we say. Each of us is important to those who are near and dear to us—and as our posterity read of our life’s experiences, they, too, will come to know and love us. And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted.
As I read this, I thought of what Elder Renlund said last week in Conference: that "when God directs us to do one thing, He often has many purposes in mind." And I'm not sure how this will be fulfilled. It seems like somehow doing family history and temple work (even if we don't find personal histories to read?) will advance that day when we and our ancestors will "come to know and love" each other. And maybe there are other commandments with that "many purpose" effect as well. Keeping a journal (however we manage that) might be one of them. I'm not sure how that will lead to more closeness with my family members who have already died. And I really can't envision my "posterity" wanting to know about ME at any point (though I'm willing to trust President Kimball that they will care). But somehow, it comforts me to know that God does want this for us. He has put us in families for a reason. And somehow, through His power, we are promised that we will get "acquainted" as generations of families on both sides of the veil—and even be able to love each other. It sounds nice.

Other posts in this series:

Easter this year

It was a different sort of Easter this year. Although wonderful! We didn't dye eggs because it seemed too hard to fit in, with our church's General Conference on Saturday and Sunday. (Conference was just the best! As it always is!) We didn't go to my mom's house like we sometimes do. And the Easter Bunny visited a few days after Easter, so that was surprising...but it all turned out quite nicely, in the end.
I have this cute bunny wreath that I love. (Just wait till you see the bunny wreath I am planning to make…for next year. It will be furry.)

Full of power and abundantly satisfying

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week we take a break from past Conferences to cover the General Conference that just took place last weekend, the April 2018 Conference.
When we were in Paris recently, I was thinking about this blog post (the metaphor of the stained glass window) and its relation to faith. The post talks about how stained glass windows are nothing very special from the outside of the church, but become breathtaking and beautiful from the inside, with the sun streaming in. Similarly, our faith is at its most beautiful from "the inside"—that is, when it is deeply and personally felt. To an outsider, religion may appear to be an unexciting part of some people's lives, no more notable any other interest or hobby. But from the inside, it is breathtaking and transformative when the sun shines in.

That's how I feel during Conference (or, during the parts where I'm able to listen, anyway…): like the sun is streaming in. I feel the spirit testifying of Jesus Christ, of His prophet, of my own need for improvement, and of the hope that I CAN improve. This time, I was amazed at the sheer number of talks testifying TO ME of several things I've been trying to learn more about.

I'm not going to talk about all the big announcements (plenty of time for that when we've had time to absorb it all a little better!). But I just want to highlight some of the moments that spoke most to my heart. Since I heard this talk, I always go into conference asking "What lack I yet?" For me, collectively, each of these moments added up to a powerful and unified witness of what I need to be focusing on and how I can grow closer to God.

• First, and maybe most memorable, was how I felt during the Solemn Assembly. I have rarely ever felt the Spirit so intensely in such an "everyday" setting (sitting in our family room with kids and toys scattered everywhere). I felt like the roof of the house had been blown off and there was a direct beam of pure Spirit flowing in from heaven. I felt like it would knock me over with its brightness. To me it was an amazing witness that President Nelson is indeed God's prophet on the earth.

Elder Andersen described his feelings during the Solemn Assembly by saying "The Spirit of the Lord was full of power, and abundantly satisfying." That was a good (although inadequate) expression of what I felt, too. I'm grateful that I didn't have to be in the actual Conference Center to feel it.

Elder Eyring said the Spirit brought "a feeling of light and quiet assurance." 

Elder Ballard said that "to experience the joy and warmth of the Spirit," unblocked by worldly filters, is the power of the Sabbath! (I'm quoting these from memory and may have the wording wrong.) What I understood from that is that though the Sabbath is often described as having a renewing or "restful" effect on us, that blessing comes not through conventional means (in other words, it's not because we are having what seems to us like a "restful day" with less work and less responsibility)—but through miraculous means. When we dedicate the Sabbath day to Him, the Lord blesses us (miraculously) with a taste of what the Spirit could feel like all the time—if the cares and concerns of the world weren't always crowding it out. 

• Elder Renlund said that when God asks us to do one thing, He often has many purposes in mind. We might not know what all those purposes are until we faithfully do that thing. 

• Elder Taylor said "God sanctifies our most difficult days."

• Elder Wilson said we should expect daily guidance from the Spirit, and that God is eager to guide us. We are always just one prayer away from receiving that guidance again. Elder Wilson answered an objection I've heard before ("Isn't it slothful to expect God to command us in all things?") by saying that we are only slothful if we expect others to get revelation for us. When we seek to receive revelation for our own lives (as often as we wish!) we are "counseling with the Lord in all our doings"—just as He has asked us to!

• Reinforcing that, President Nelson said (quoting Lorenzo Snow) that it is our right to have manifestations of the Spirit every day. He said that God is SO WILLING to reveal his mind and will! And there is SO MUCH MORE that Heavenly Father wants us to know!

I want to know it! All of it! And I hope that I can say later, as President Nelson challenged, that this Easter Sunday was a defining moment in my journey to hear the Spirit more frequently and clearly! From the tastes I've had, I know that being filled with that spirit truly is a transformative experience: "full of power and abundantly satisfying."

Other posts in this series:


This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the April 1979 Conference.

Just two little pieces of thoughts today. This session of Conference was all about organizational changes to the Welfare program—primarily introducing new councils and leaders to oversee different aspects of the program. I admit that I found the details of it all a little boring: who would report to who and about what, levels of administration from bishops upwards, etc. But there was some information about councils that I thought was interesting, especially when I thought about the current structure of councils that we use in the church (and the new emphasis on Relief Society and Priesthood councils, too).

President N. Eldon Tanner quoted a scripture from Ephesians which he said applied specifically to councils:
“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15–16; italics added).
He said that councils are like the fittings and joints that make the body of the church work. I liked that, and have been trying to think of ways that it's true (they have a fixed point they come out from, but they have great reach and flexibility around that point; they allow large areas to be moved with only small changes relative to the force applied)(If I, ah, knew more about anatomy, I'd probably be better at this).

Also I keep thinking about something from a talk in the previous session I covered, Elder Packer's. Here's what he said:
…Therefore, what had shaken my faith, one day was transformed into an anchor to hold it steady.
It sounds like a variation on "weakness becoming strength," but to me it seems even more powerful. He implies that even things that shake our faith—which would be things like perceived weaknesses of the church/Book of Mormon, faults of leaders, changes in how the church does things, and so forth—if we grow from them and remain faithful through them—can eventually become sources of strength.

I'm not sure of all the implications of this. But it's interesting to me. The specific example Elder Packer gave was about the Three Witnesses leaving the church, and how that used to bother him so much, but later he saw it as an evidence that their unchanged testimonies of the Book of Mormon were that much more credible. I've seen similar examples with things in the Book of Mormon that used to seem laughably incorrect, but have later been shown to be more accurate than anyone could expect of a book made up by a farm boy in the 1800s.

The thing that seems most interesting is that this is a spiritual pattern of sorts. On a small level, often the church activities I dread the most are the ones I'm happiest I went to, afterwards. But beyond that, the very trials that are hardest for us can cause the most growth. The specific challenges we have are also our chances to best empathize with and love others. And of course, Ether says ALL our weakness can be changed through Christ to strength. I wonder why this is the pattern?

And it does seem to tie in with the "joints" after all—in that these delicate, flexible, complicated systems of our bodies, which have so many moving parts and are so easily sprained and damaged and unhinged, are also the things that make us able to maneuver with grace through a world full of obstacles. It is easy for things to go wrong or take an unexpected turn, in a council where everyone speaks up and there are many differing opinions. But apparently, this is also our best chance to gain the decisiveness and unity through which Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost direct their power.

Other posts in this series:

When we are hungry ourselves

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1979 Conference.
I made a goal many years ago to really try to apply every lesson in the scriptures to myself rather than to all the other people I thought could benefit from it. :) I still can't help thinking, "Oh, but if so-and-so only knew this, she wouldn't always be saying such-and-such!" sometimes—but I do think it has been good for me to see over the years that there are many bracing rallying cries (most of them?) which are really only effective when they come from within one's self. They aren't the sorts of things you can (with any degree of politeness/success) tell others to do, but they can still provide great personal comfort and/or improvement!

Because I have to be awakened to a need for improvement before I can speak to myself sternly and bracingly, however, I often have to rely on the words of a modern prophet, saying something that seems slightly overbold or severe. That was the feeling I got with this talk by Elder Marvin J. Ashton. I first thought, "Hmm, I wonder if this sounded too blunt or offended anyone." Then I thought, "I can think of lots of people who could use this advice." Then I thought, "I could really use this advice." Here it is:
It is unproductive for those who should be anxiously engaged in seeking the abundant life to nurse personal hurts. We are all God’s children. If we love Him, we will feed His sheep wherever they may be found, without regard as to our own personal plight or situation. Often we can best feed others when we are hungry ourselves or not completely comfortable in the fold that we presently occupy. Very often those who are hungry, helpless, and cold can best be rescued by those who have been through the same exposures. Marking time or stalling should not be indulged in by the weak, weary, uncertain, and unrecognized. Instead, there is a healing power as we use our energy in action, in service, and in lifting others. 
The more I read it, the more I like it (and the more sheepish I feel about all the "personal hurts" I've felt sorry for myself over, through the years). It's so straightforward, and not quite the sort of advice you expect when you're hurting: "Oh, dear, are you feeling bad? Like you don't fit in? Like you need someone to feed you spiritually? Well—Ha! GOOD! All that stuff will help you as you get over it and get on with helping someone else!"

(I also kind of like this for its departure from the conventional "You have to take care of yourself and fill your own bucket before you can take care of others!" wisdom. Of course that is true, in its own way, and in some aspects of testimony, I'm sure you do have to "put on your oxygen mask first"—but—maybe there is a different or more complex meaning to that than I have sometimes thought. And maybe "filling your own bucket" can sometimes happen simultaneously, AS you are serving others??)

Elder Ashton goes on in this same vein, neatly dismissing any impulse we might have to think that all this hunger and discomfort (our own and that of others) is unfair or shows God's neglect. He says:
Whether the works of God are manifest in healings or in the exhibition of courage and acceptance by those challenged must be left to the ultimate wisdom of Him who comprehendeth all things. 
He makes it sound so simple. You got healed? That was God's work. You just had to accept NOT being healed? That was His work too, showing you how strong you could be.

And then he ends with this (by which I wrote "Bracing! Very bracing!" in my notes, ha ha):
Yielding to the pains of tragedy and grief deters self-development and takes away the opportunity for triumph over trying obstacles. …Letting fears inhibit progress is but another evidence of one’s unwillingness to try because of the fear of failure. …It is a happy day when we come to know that with God’s help nothing is impossible for us.
So, I'm going to add this talk to my personal list of things to rouse myself with (along with imagined conversations with pioneer ancestors, and President Hinckley's "Forget yourself and go to work!") when I'm being whiny and feeling self-pitying. "It is unproductive for those who should be anxiously engaged in seeking the abundant life to nurse personal hurts…Often we can best feed others when we are hungry ourselves."

These powers transform his personal world

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the April 1979 Conference.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how it's better to care and invest yourself in belief, even when that investment seems risky. One of the talks this week seemed to follow up on that idea. It was Elder James M. Paramore speaking about the principle of commitment:
Once commitment is understood as a binding principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a committed person is able to call on heavenly powers and healings. Like the waters behind the mighty dam, these powers transform his personal world.
I thought the dam analogy was interesting. The water behind a dam isn't useful for power until it is allowed to flow through the dam in a controlled and directed way. The smaller and more focused the outlet, the higher the pressure of the water through that outlet. And water that builds up with no outlet eventually just causes destruction. So, does commitment to the cause of God act as a channel for the powers of heaven? And how might that, as a practical matter, work?

I can think of one example: I feel like whenever I pray for specific direction about how to help specific people, the spirit is able to answer me more clearly than when I pray for more generalized charity. Maybe my commitment to, or investment in, a particular action allows me to more easily access heavenly power?

More speculation: maybe this is part of the power of fasting with a purpose? Committing to one purpose for the duration of the fast—one focus for my prayerful thoughts, one concern toward which my heart reaches—seems like a way of focusing and "pressurizing" spiritual power. It also seems applicable to the Law of Consecration. If I commit my whole soul—time, talents, and everything else—to the cause of Christ, it makes sense that my effort channeled through that one outlet would be much more powerful than the same amount of effort spread out between various "worthy causes."

I was even thinking about commitment in relation to this General Conference Odyssey project. When I started participating, I knew I wouldn't have something amazing to say every week, but I felt like I could be committed to learning just one thing from each session, and sharing that thing. Every week I start to be afraid I won't be able to manage it. But maybe because I'm channeling my commitment so narrowly, I find that the spirit nearly always has enough power to bring something to my mind. (Maybe I need a similar goal for my scripture study!)

Ultimately, it seems like we need to not only be committed, broadly, to the gospel of Christ—but we also need to be committed within that work to specific tasks we face. Each time we accept a calling or seek to bless others, our commitment in that area unlocks power that is proportional to our singlemindedness. Elder Paramore gives an example:
Many long to become part of the assembly of the blessed. Many times they cry out in the night for help, not knowing where to turn, how to begin. Their eternal spirits seek help. As social beings we need each other. The commitment to reach out to them is a binding invitation from the Savior. When this is done in love, we may help redeem them. It is infinitely more than just confessing Jesus Christ—it is doing what needs to be done.
This makes me think that need to jump into following the spirit with both feet (regardless of whether or not I'm "sure" about the prompting, or whether or not my action is subsequently appreciated by others, as I talked about last week) is another application of this principle. If I'm half-hearted or unsure in the way I act on possible spiritual promptings, then even if they're true promptings, my power to do good will be lessened. I have to be a "committed person"—opening that one door fully, and letting the water flow through unrestrained—if I want God's powers to actually "transform my personal world."

Frequently, a second effort

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the April 1979 Conference.
This quote is sort of a second witness, I guess, to the one I wrote about last week. It's from President Thomas S. Monson's talk (he was Elder Monson then, of course):
[We must cultivate] a willingness to labor. [The work of the gospel] is difficult. It will tax your energies. It will strain your capacity. It will demand your best effort—frequently, a second effort.
In our Relief Society council meeting this week, someone asked about how we could avoid getting discouraged when our efforts to serve others seemed to be unwanted or ineffective. And I don't really know the answer to that (except "try not to get discouraged!"—which isn't very helpful). But I think one thing that helps ME with the inevitable discouragement is to have frequent reminders of these twin truths—that the work of mortality won't be easy for me, but that it will be good for me. "Hard is good," as a more recent conference talk put it.

So we put in our best effort; we give what we think is enough. And then…we give another effort. And each time, we grow a little more.

Ice, and a flight

We squeezed in a trip to Midway during a very busy week in January, to see the Ice Castle there. We have been to one of these a few times before and loved it, but it was fun and different to be there at night this time. They weren't even open during the day because it had been so warm!
It was a really pretty drive up the canyon. I wish we had been able to see the ice castle a little earlier, when the light was like this.
I'm always so happy to wear my furry hat I got in Russia. And I like carrying a little papoose in my coat, too.
Cute peekers!

Around this same time, Sebastian got to go on a plane flight. We had gotten it for him (a Groupon deal) for his birthday, and finally got around to redeeming it. We made the appointment for early January.
It seemed like the worst possible timing, because just before New Year's, my uncle's plane (a small one like these in the picture) had just been lost in a terrible and unexpected crash. They had been searching for him for a couple weeks before finding the wreckage of the plane in the Great Salt Lake. I just couldn't stand to think about Seb going up in a small plane after that. I knew that was irrational and he would almost certainly be fine, but I just felt so nervous—and then I would wonder if I was nervous because I SHOULD be nervous for some reason—ugh.

Anyway, we had paid, and it seemed unfair not to let him go just because of my uncle's accident. But I couldn't bear to go watch, so Sam took him and Malachi to the appointment. (I had to stay home while the plumber came to fix our garbage disposal, which I wasn't super excited about either—but at least it got done!)
They got to help push the plane out into place
They had a great time, and made it back safely, thankfully! I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Sam texted me that they were on their way home!
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