Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

To fill the inner man with light

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1976 Conference.

Elder James E. Faust gave a great talk called "A Personal Relationship with the Savior" in this session, which I was excited to read because I've been thinking about that topic a lot. As I read, I noticed there were a lot of references to the "inner man" and our deeper selves. For example:
Having such a relationship can unchain the divinity within us, and nothing can make a greater difference in our lives as we come to know and understand our divine relationship with God. 
We should earnestly seek not just to know about the Master, but to strive, as He invited, to be one with Him (see John 17:21), to “be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” 
Peter counsels us to be “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet. 1:4.) The influence and teaching of the Messiah should have a transcendence over all other interests and concerns in our lives. We must constantly be reaching upward for the riches of eternity, for the kingdom of God is within us
Is there not a yearning to understand in your mind what is in your heart, a feeling which you cannot give utterance to because it is so unspeakably personal? The Master said that this quiet reality can “speak peace to your mind concerning the matter.”
That last quote really spoke to me: I am always yearning to understand in my mind what is in my heart! So often when I learn something new or significant, I have this feeling of reaching toward something so much more than I can grasp—and I can SENSE that it's important—but I just can't quite get it! It sort of helps to try to write about it (I often go through that process here on this blog), but then you have the problem of reducing this vast, multilayered feeling back into the two-dimensionality of words—and, much as I like words, I never feel like they quite do the job. So, that frustrates me.

In spite of relating to that yearning Elder Faust referenced, though, I found myself thinking that all this about the inner self was an odd thing to focus on in a talk about getting to know the Savior. After all, what does self have to do with Him? Shouldn't we be focusing less on our own feelings and on finding "the divinity within us" or the "kingdom of God within us" (in fact, if it hadn't been President Faust using those phrases, I would have scoffed at them immediately as being a bit too new-age-y and self-centered for my liking)—and instead be focusing outward, on getting to know Christ and serving others?

Well, yes. And of course President Faust gets to that. To those who want to know Christ better, he does prescribe prayer, and selfless service, and scripture study, and obedience. But I suddenly realized WHY the "inner man" stuff was necessary and relevant to the subject at hand. It is because of the "relationship" part of "a relationship with Christ." We have to give something to the relationship for it to be mutually fulfilling, and that something is within us. It is our "inner selves," also known as our "wills," I suppose. But I like the "inner man" designation because it implies not just our desires, but also our thoughts, our questions, our worries, our preferences, our curiosities, our interests, our enjoyments, our annoyances. All these aspects of us must begin that reach toward Christ. I think that's what President Faust meant by "we must constantly be reaching upward for the riches of eternity, for the kingdom of God is within us." Not that hackneyed "girl-power!" sort of pep talk you get from children's books or Disney movies or guidance counselors encouraging you to "be whatever you can dream of being!" This is something more corporeal—rooted in and growing out of the reality of who you actually are now. In all our weakness and smallness and pettiness and lack of vision—in our most embarrassingly inner of selves—a stretching upward toward Christ is the first step to knowing Him.

And I love that! Of course I have heard that Christ "knows us better than we know ourselves." But to think what that MEANS for us! Because I love the idea that He can take all those things I don't understand about myself—those things I keep doing even though I don't WANT to keep doing them, or those times I feel mean and snappish even though I have no real reason to, or those fears I haven't even quite articulated to myself—and start to teach me, in that "unspeakably personal" way, not only how to understand the things of God from afar—but also how to teach my bedraggled SELF to become part of those things of God.

And then, on top of that, to think that Jesus Christ can take those little snips and glimmers of understanding and transcendence I sometimes feel (but can rarely hold onto as long as I'd like), and tease them out into longer strands, and harden them into something that lasts—transform them from "bits of residual divinity within" to "aspects of goodness that actually make sense in context of who I am now"—well, that seems truly miraculous. But it is no less than what He promises us in the scriptures. Elder Faust uses this verse from the Doctrine and Covenants:
“If your eye be single to [His] glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.”
I've always loved that scripture, but here I love it for what it means for our relationship with the Savior. Jesus Christ can not only emanate His light outward from His perfect self, but he can also send it into our dark corners until those, too, shine with goodness! He can fill us with understanding: of His mysteries, of those vast truths of eternity we're reaching up and yearning for, yes. But He also brings a new and real understanding of ourselves, and of our otherwise-unknowable brothers and sisters. All we have to do is open up our "inner man" toward goodness, and let Christ shine in.

Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

There is the light

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the October 1976 Conference.
There were a couple different talks I kind of wanted to write about this week. But in the end I just can't pass up Elder John H. Groberg. I read The Other Side of Heaven when the movie came out years ago, and I've loved him ever since. He tells the best stories!

The story he tells in this talk is not strikingly different from all the other stories he tells of the islands. (Treacherous seas, stormy waves, miraculous escape. Ha ha. They sound formulaic, but somehow every one is still so good!) Elder Groberg and some other missionaries had been helping a sick missionary, when they received a prompting from the Holy Ghost to take him to the hospital on a different island. Of course, it was dark and the weather was threatening, but trying to trust the Spirit, they set off into the open sea. To reach the other island's harbor, they had to pass through a reef with a very narrow opening. It was raining hard and as they approached the reef, the passengers were more and more terrified that they wouldn't be able to find the way through. It was supposed to be marked with a light, but no one could see anything through the storm. Elder Groberg tells what happened next:
Our eyes strained against the blackness, but we could not see the light. 
Some began to whimper, others to moan and cry, and one or two even to scream in hysteria. At the height of this panic, when many were pleading to turn to the left or to the right, when the tumultuous elements all but forced us to abandon life and hope, I looked at the captain—and there I saw the face of calmness, the ageless face of wisdom and experience, as his eyes penetrated the darkness ahead. Quietly his weather-roughened lips parted, and without moving his fixed gaze and just perceptibly shifting the wheel, he breathed those life-giving words, “Ko e Maama e” (“There is the light!”).
I could not see the light, but the captain could see it. And I knew he could see it. Those eyes long experienced in ocean travel were not fooled by the madness of the storm nor were they influenced by the pleadings of those of lesser experience to turn to the left or to the right. And so with one last great swell we were hurtled through the opening and into calmer waters.   
I have just been reading the parable of the watchmen on the tower in the Doctrine and Covenants, which of course has the same message: that we should trust those who can see further and more clearly than we can. But Elder Groberg's story seemed to make that point in a slightly different way. I think it's because the tower in the parable sets the watchman up higher than the rest of us. And often, that is how I think of the prophets: like they're up on towers that give them a better view than I could ever have from "down here" in the world of regular people. And I know, of course, that they're just men and they're fallible. But they do have that God-given authority and perspective and position that makes them special, too.

Anyway, so nothing in Elder Groberg's story contradicts any of that, but I liked how in the boat, there was no tower, no special position, no higher vantage point. The captain and the passengers were all in the boat and they would all drown together if it came to that. The only difference between the captain and the others was that the captain had "eyes to see." Because of his experiences, he had truly learned to see differently than the others. It reminded me of the story of Elisha seeing the chariots of fire, or the scripture about the blind that "will not see." And it made it seem like those kind of light-seeing eyes could be…developed. Even if you weren't on a tower or in some special position. Not that that diminishes the importance of prophets! Of course there are things they can see beyond our reach, that we just have to trust them about. But it did make me think that maybe, if I do keep following them and listening to their guidance for long enough, that my OWN eyes might gain some of that experience and be able to discern light through the darkness for myself, like that faithful captain could.

I liked the way Elder Groberg described the captain:
I felt at the time that he was more than himself—he was more than the sum total of all of his experience. In some marvelous way at that moment of desperate need, he drew upon a power and a strength from generations of faithful, seagoing people that only those who know Polynesians well can begin to understand. My admiration and love for him and all other faithful descendants of father Lehi knows no bounds.
And then he relates this to President Kimball, and I think it's a perfect description of President Monson as well:
In like manner, and with even deeper meaning, I thank the Lord for our great prophet-leader of today. In our moment of great need the Lord has provided one tested and molded and trained and instructed and clothed with divine authority, who in addition to the total of all his experience, which is great, draws upon the strength and power of not only generations of faithful leaders but also of angels and of gods. 
…When all about us are sinking in darkness and fear and despair, when destruction seems close and the raging fury of men and demons ensnares us in seemingly insoluble problems, listen as he calmly says, “There is the light. This is the way.” I testify that he will so guide us safely home if we will but listen and obey. 
I love the image of our prophet standing calmly at the helm of a ship, guiding us to safety. And I love the image of a light that is always standing there, real, but only visible to eyes that know how to find it. I want to be in that ship. But I also want to gain those kind of eyes, that can find the light even amid the storms, and that can take comfort from its presence and its assurance of safe harbors to come.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Afternoon Session of the October 1976 Conference.
Last week we were on vacation in Oregon, staying at a house by a bay. Every few hours the tide would come in or go out, and because of our position near the bay, the tidal changes were more dramatic than I've ever seen before. There was a peninsula that formed one side of the bay, and a low sandbar out near the bay's mouth. At low tide, the water would retreat on all sides, making the beach seem all sand and stretches of black rocks and tide pools, and the sandbar would become so far exposed that you could nearly walk across it to the peninsula. That stretch of sand blocked the ocean waves—not the water, but much of the motion of the water—from coming in to the bay at all. There would be gentle shifting ripples at the shore, but not those endless breaking white-topped waves.
At high tide, though, the sandbar disappeared and the waves swept in. The shoreline nearly disappeared and the water seemed to reach right up to the trees and cliffs. You could hear the difference even when the night was too dark to see the bay: that rhythm of crashing waves against the closer shores meant high tide had come back.

The tides are such a strange combination of finite and infinite: each tide in itself is temporary and measured and you can so easily see to its approaching end—but the overall cycle is SO vast it's almost beyond comprehension. The tides never stop coming! Then there's the variation even within what appears so regular: the extra-low tides, the higher high tides, the storm surges or winds that create irregularity in the system.

I watched this continual shift from high to low tide with fascination all week, trying to decide what it reminded me of. On the one hand, I looked forward to the high tide. It was so dynamic and beautiful and interesting. Like that quote from Julius Caesar—"There is a tide in the affairs of men/ which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune./ Omitted, all the voyage of their life/ is bound in shallows and in miseries."—where the high tide is seen as opportunity, power, and the chance for growth, and the low tide is stagnation.

On the other hand, the low tide's calm waters and its moderating, protective sandbar seemed like THEY must be the positive symbols, providing shelter and safety and a respite from the constant battering of the waves. This is the way of seeing that gives us phrases like "safe harbor" and those lines I love from Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me: "As a mother stills her child, /Thou canst hush the ocean wild."

Anyway, it did make me think a lot about water and cycles and all the different things they can show us. And then I read Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin's talk, "Dikes versus Living Water," which was also about different sorts of water! His multiple water metaphors had me a bit confused at times, which is understandable…see above!—but his main point seemed to be that, while the forces of nature (floods, storms, tides, broken dikes) cause danger and can overwhelm us, the "living water" of the scriptures acts as a counteracting force that renews and stabilizes us.

He tells a story about a paraplegic man who attempted to swim the English channel, but ultimately had to give up from exhaustion:
"'…It was the last few miles that completely drained me. The tides defeated me!' the swimmer exclaimed. His strength ebbed away as he tried to cope with the formidable obstacles in his path.
Elder Wirthlin continues:
Life was made for struggle; and exaltation, success, and victory were never meant to be cheap or to come easily. The tides of life often challenge us. … 
Now let me make a suggestion that will enable us to maintain our spiritual strength and keep our testimonies vitally alive so that the trials, the storms, and the tides of life will not defeat us. This suggestion is that, above all, we should heed the words of Jesus to the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria when he said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14.) 
How could one’s strength ebb or falter when it may be so dependably and continuously nourished and restored?
Whether or not the coming of the high tide is a dangerous thing or an enabling thing or some combination of both—one thing I got from this talk is the seemingly-obvious truth that life ebbs and flows. There are times of calm, times of change, times that SEEM calm but are actually full of change underneath—but no matter whether one looks forward to the opportunities of the high tide or enjoys the tranquility of the low tide, we all need constant, individual, spiritual renewal to cope with the various demands of these cycles.

And that made me think about how God's love and dependability are constant, but they are constant like a spring or a flowing river—or like a tide cycle: constant in that they keep coming and keep giving us what we need, as we need it. Not constant in that they allow us to remain where and who we are! In fact, they almost force us to change and to confront change. And the words of the scriptures and the prophets work the same way. They are dynamic. Their meanings, to us, transform over time. We learn new things as we need them. The living waters roll forward, constantly renewed—and constantly renewing. But they are always, dependably, PRESENT, if we choose to drink from them.

Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

To accept them on Satan's terms

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Morning Session of the October 1976 Conference.
I can't stop thinking about this line from Howard W. Hunter's talk, "The Temptations of Christ":
The surest way to lose the blessings of time or eternity is to accept them on Satan’s terms.
It reminded me of this post about Satan's lies in the garden of Eden, and how God made truth out of them for the good of Adam and Eve.

It also reminded me of part of The Perilous Gard (great book—tells the Tam Lin story). At the end of the story, the faerie folk want their revenge on the brave girl who resisted their tricks and rescued her True Love from their kingdom under the earth. And the girl, though she has triumphed, is self-critical and unsure of herself. She thinks her True Love cannot possibly love her back. The faerie queen uses this uncertainty. She tells the girl she will give her a love potion. "If you will get him to drink this, he will begin to love you. Surely you will have time, before it fades, to make him yours forever." The girl knows the faerie queen cannot lie.

The trick is that the potion is simple berry juice. There is no spell. The man already loves the girl. Everyone can see this but the girl herself. And the revenge is that, once the girl believes in the spell, the free and real love of the man will appear a paltry and compelled thing; worthless. And thus the girl will create her own misery from nothing.

The surest way to lose the love of God is to tell ourselves we either don't need it or we don't deserve it. Not because the absolute existence of that love changes at all whether we believe in it or not. But it changes TO US. The very choice to disbelieve in that love blocks our ability to feel it properly.

The surest way to lose the blessings of eternity is to decide they aren't actually blessings at all.

Satan always lies, but he can't really change anything. It's our acceptance of his lies, our taking of them as our own truth, that is the true poison.

Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Zion, when we have built it

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Many of us, in this General Conference Odyssey group, have talked about the sort of hybrid quality of Mormonism: the combination of idealism and practicality, spirit and body, that seems to be a hallmark of our religion. (In fact, I keep intending to talk about this more at some point, if I ever get my thoughts together.) The Welfare Sessions of Conference, especially, that I've read so far have these hybrid qualities in spades! The most high-minded doctrines, of premortal councils and agency and consecration, are spoken of practically in the same breath as the advice to "watch advertised specials in the grocery stores and pick up extra supplies of those items that are of exceptional value" while building up food storage. It might seem strange to a professional theologian, but it's utterly familiar to us.

So it was with a sense of familiarity and fondness, though the quote itself was new to me, that I read from President Marion G. Romney's talk these words that were spoken by President Brigham Young:
We will have to go to work and get the gold out of the mountains to lay down, if we ever walk in streets paved with gold. The angels that now walk in their golden streets … had to obtain that gold and put it there. When we have streets paved with gold, we will have placed it there ourselves. When we enjoy a Zion in its beauty and glory [which we’re looking forward to], it will be when we have built it.
Now if that doesn't sound like Brother Brigham talking to the Mormons, I don't know what does! And it reminded me of a principle I've apparently discovered before. Let me…ahem…quote myself (eight years ago!):
…even when we ARE making the right choice, the choice God wants us to make, we're still not "guaranteed" anything unless we work at it "with all our might." That's what makes the possibilities turn into realities. So maybe, if there's some vision we once thought we glimpsed, but it isn't becoming reality like we hoped it would, maybe the vision wasn't wrong or untrue—maybe we just still have more work to do on making it real. 
Which is really not that revolutionary of a concept, I guess. But I can see it at work in my own life. When I was making the decision to marry Sam, for example, I tried hard to follow all the counsel I'd heard in Marriage Prep. classes and so forth: make sure you choose someone that is your best friend, but don't get caught up too much in emotion; follow your heart, but also make sure you follow the spirit; there is no "one and only," but "just anyone" won't do either; don't expect a bolt of lightning, but expect that God will answer because it's so important—etc. It's already hard to recognize true revelation, I think, and in such a decision you feel so much worry about getting it RIGHT—at least this one thing, I must get right!
So, I tried to go about it correctly. I figured out what I wanted to do, and I prayed about it and tried to listen objectively, and I wanted so badly just to KNOW the future. And I didn't get a vision, exactly—but I got something which is hard to describe, but which I'm sure is not an uncommon feeling. Kind of an "envisioning," like I said before. In some ways maybe it was merely a hope or a daydream: "Won't it be such fun—think of how cute our little home together would be—what an adventure, our kids will be so adorable" etc. But then it was more than that: it was kind of a spiritual conviction that these things could be, and a glimpse of how they might be, and an overall feeling of: YES—if you choose this—it could be something wonderful, astonishing, miraculous.
Anyway, that was enough for me at the time, and now, already, those good things I "envisioned" have been realized in many areas. But not the way I might have thought; not in a gentle, passive way like I was a spectator watching a movie of my future gradually unfold and become my reality. More like this: that reality has come as I have wrestled with it, as I have done things I didn't want to do or didn't know how to do, or as I have made mistakes and then tried to repent of them. 
Just like the Lord didn't consecrate that spot of ground for the temple [see Doctrine and Covenants 124:44-45] until the saints had "labored on it with all their mights." And when they'd built up that monument to the Lord, using their hearts and wills and possessions and time, then he was able to show it back to them and say: "See? Just as I promised you—just as you envisioned it—but now, through your labor, even holier."
Later in his talk, President Romney quoted another early prophet, President Joseph F. Smith, who said:
To be Latter-day Saints men and women must be thinkers and workers. They must be men and women who weigh matters in their minds; men and women who consider carefully their course of life and the principles that they have espoused.
I love this summing-up of the "duality" of our religion (which, of course, we don't think is a duality at all, but merely parts that make up a truer whole): we are thinkers, yes. We "consider carefully" the doctrines of God and we stretch to understand more of them. We even humbly consider and re-consider things we already "have espoused" and think we're getting right! But, simultaneously—and it must be simultaneously, because to wait for full understanding would paralyze us for a lifetime—we WORK. We set about building the things we can build, though we do it incompletely and often without a full comprehension of how or why to do it at all. We begin the work of building families far, far before we are very good at building families. We get baptized and join the work of building God's kingdom when we are new, so new, to faith. And this is how God seems to want it. He wants us to think and work and work and think—getting better at both things as we go along—taking time for our Sabbaths, to rest and ponder—but never truly stopping our work, either.

This is consecration, on both ends. All that we have and are; all that we are not yet and do not yet have. Our time and our talents. Our thoughts and our deeds. Our rest and our work. All to one end: a people who build, and are built, like God.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Alphabet Catch-up

For the sake of my poor sieve-like memory, and since I haven't updated this for a year, I feel duty-bound to give an Alphabet Weekend update. I wish to reiterate that there is NOT anything particularly clever about any of these ideas (frequently we were just choosing the easiest option at the last minute) but the kids DO love it so! We take weeks off at a time when we need to. It's the lowest-pressure situation possible while still making an attempt at Planned Family Togetherness! But we did at last finish the alphabet (it took us just about a year, which gives you an idea of how many weekends off there were).

J was for Juice (picnic with apple juice from the Red Barn in Santaquin)

K was for Korean food. The restaurant we went to must not have been that memorable, since I don't know what it was and we haven't been back.

L was for Little eagles. (Yeah…it's a stretch.) We went on a field trip with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to see nesting baby eagles. Awesome.

M was for Mother-Son date. (The daddy and daughters did something together too.) The boys and I (and their cousin who was staying with us) went to the Air Show up at Hill Air Force Base and then had pizza at Pioneer Park and walked around the Apple Store at City Creek (their favorite place). Such a great day.

N was for Nocturnal. We woke the kids up at 2 a.m. and went for breakfast at Denny's. The SOLE charm of this activity is its appeal to the children. The food was horrible (Next time we'll find an IHOP…I think they're slightly better…) and Sam and I were SO tired…but it's such a great memory! :) The kids talk about it all the time.

O was for O-shaped. We had donuts for breakfast, and bagel sandwiches for dinner, with an O-shaped bundt cake (Sebby Cake) for dessert.

P was for family Pictures. My mom had a friend that offered to take them for us. This was an activity mostly for MY sake, since it's not anyone ELSE's idea of a great time…

Q was for oQuirrh Lake. We went canoeing and it was fun.

R was for Rah-rah, rah-rah-rah (goooo Cougars). We watched the BYU football game and ate "R" foods. Homemade Ricotta, Rolls, Root beer, etc.

S was for Santaquin. Red Barn again. We always go in October. For the apple cider donuts!!!

T was for Track. We went to the BYU track and ran and played in the bleachers. We tried to find a high school track closer by, but they were all closed and locked. How rude.

U was for Unassembled. We bought a bunch of components from Cafe Rio (sides of meat, dressing, lettuce, tortillas etc.) and made our own burritos and tacos and salads. YUM. We liked this so much we did it again on Christmas Eve.

V was for Versus. We compared chicken sandwiches, fries, and frozen custard from different places. We just bought a couple things from each place and then brought them home and cut them up, and everyone tried them. I think the chicken sandwich and the fries from Astro Burger won (but there may have been disagreement on the fries. JCW's was in the running too, I think.) The frozen custard winner was Nielsen's, hands down.

W was for Whale of a Tale. Everyone had to tell an embellished story from his or her past. We guessed which parts were true.

X was for Xissors (what?). We cut out snowflakes and had hot chocolate.

Y was for Yoyo. Sam got yo-yos for everyone and taught them how to use them. Some had more success than others at this. (I'm terrible at yo-yo-ing!)

Z was for Zushi (??). We like sushi. Yum. By the way, I used to think every time anyone mentioned eating sushi they were trying to brag or be pretentious. It wasn't normal enough to me that I thought people just ATE it like any other food. But after we learned about sushi during our Japan Unit, and tried making our own, it finally sort of clicked in for me, what it was all about, and I started liking it (and the kids did too). And now it really is just one of those many foods we like. So…let that be a lesson to me, I guess?

And now we've started the alphabet over, so I might as well get us up to date:

A was for Argentinian food. I keep hoping one of these new food places we try will be just amazing. But failing that, "interesting" is good too. Many of these activities revolve around food, don't they? It shows our good taste.

B was for Birthday. Sam planned a "birthday party" even though it was no one's actual birthday. We had cake and a family present (a kite).

C was for Cute. Went to the "Puppy Barn" and saw baby bunnies and chicks at Thanksgiving Point. And then made teeny-tiny cute little cookies. (Guess who planned this one? Hee hee)

D was for Drawing. We played that picture-sentence game (my favorite game) for Family Home Evening.

E was for Each and Every. We got donuts, and each person got to pick out his or her OWN. (This is very unusual.) And we asked questions about everyone's favorite things.

F was for Framed Faces. We all had to draw or make some sort of portrait of someone else in the family. It was hilarious.

G was for Garden party. Daybeak has one of these things every year; there's a bouncy house and so forth. Fun.

H was for Hanabi (a sushi place we love). It was great. And practically deserted. Please don't go out of business, Hanabi!

I was for Indoor S'mores (since we didn't get out for our traditional campfire that weekend). We made s'mores bars, which are some of our favorites.

So! There we are. To be continued…maybe…a year from now! :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The key to a unified church is a unified soul

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Tuesday Afternoon Session from the April 1976 Conference.
I've been on the lookout for more insight about unity for…well…YEARS now. It's something I've thought about and struggled to understand for a long time, and here's why: it just seems too hard. Ha! It's not that I want everyone to be the same. There are some differences I really do appreciate and enjoy. But there just always seem to be so many fundamental, lonely, isolating unlikenesses that crop up, in ANY given group, really. Even in families and marriages. Even in churches and among groups that are trying, really trying, to love each other! And I can even embrace the ideas of tolerance and mutual respect and "disagreeing without being disagreeable"—great ways to get along, all of them—but none of those are truly UNITY…are they? None of those necessarily include the type of deep, soul-satisfying understanding and agreement you feel when you completely agree with someone on not just what to do, but how and why to do it.

I do have a couple things I keep coming back to. Number one, I've considered the idea that complete unity won't be possible until we're all a lot closer to perfect. That seems plausible, in which case maybe all we're trying to do here in mortality IS just to get along the best we can and try to love each other in spite of our inevitable dis-unities.

I've also considered the idea that my mortal mind just can't handle the contradiction of unity and uniqueness co-existing, but that on some spiritual/eternal level, it IS possible. I do believe that when we are "one heart and one mind" in some eventual heaven, we will still have things that make us ourselves. Gifts or talents or ideas or whatever. I know God doesn't want us all to be boring clones of each other. But HOW that will work…I'm not sure.

So, you can consider this quote from Elder Howard W. Hunter's talk one more piece in the ongoing Unity puzzle. I thought it was interesting how casually he stated it—saying "of course" this is the key…like it's obvious. Because this is not really something I'd thought of this way before:
Of course, the key to a unified church is a unified soul—one that is at peace with itself and not given to inner conflicts and tensions. So much in our world is calculated to destroy that personal peace through sins and temptations of a thousand kinds. We pray that the lives of the Saints will be lived in harmony with the ideal set before us by Jesus of Nazareth.
This surprised me. I would have thought that plenty of people have absolutely NO "inner conflicts and tensions"…which condition makes them SO confident in their own worldview, SO "at peace with themselves" and so sure they are right, that they CAN'T find unity with anyone else. But obviously, Elder Hunter has thought a lot about unity too (as I recall, it was one of his recurring themes as prophet) and this apparently casual statement has a lot of depth behind it.

One thing it suggests to me is that some of our disunity comes from internal conflict, even if we don't know it. That kind of goes along with my point #1 above, and it also reminds me of the concept of self-deception (which is a whole huge thing; this book by my former bishop talks about it and I still don't understand it fully, but it's powerful. Here's an overview of the idea, though)—where whenever we go against what our spirits know to be right, we find ourselves trying to blame others to hide our own internal flaws. If Elder Hunter says this too, I'm willing to believe that much of what I find myself really resisting and hating in other people has roots in things I need to change about myself—and as I make those changes, some of the rough edges I'm encountering in my interactions with others will likely disappear.

So when Elder Hunter says the potential for unity comes from a soul "at peace with itself," he doesn't mean that the soul is smugly complacent. I think he means that the soul is at rest, at peace, because it has voluntarily submitted to God's will. The owner of that soul knows where true happiness lies, in other words, and so is not constantly shifting and worrying, trying to justify himself and his sins. That leaves energy for putting others above self, and brings a sort of assurance that is very UNlike pride.

Another thing I see in this quote is the reminder that growing closer to Christ really does solve every problem. This is something I should have (and probably have) thought about anytime I think about unity. Even if I don't see HOW, I know that when I feel, and then in turn show, Christlike love, I will be one step closer to a true unity with the rest of His followers.

Here's one more unity-related thought I had, sparked by this quote from a different talk:
Each age has satisfaction which can be known only by experience. You must be born again and again in order to know the full course of human happiness.
It occurred to me that part of what makes me feel alone and dis-unified sometimes, is that I've just had different experiences than other people! Either I can't understand them, or I feel they can't understand me. But as I get older, I realize my experiences AREN'T as unique as I once thought. And I DO start to understand things that used to baffle me about others, because I've tasted some of those things myself. So…maybe part of being unified is just living a long time and having a lot of experiences to compare between. After eternities…maybe I will have seen and done so many things that I will have practically lived whole other lives. I will understand other people because I've BEEN "other people." Of course, again, Jesus Christ is the best example of that perfect empathy. But maybe as I'm "born again and again" I will start to becoming attuned to it as well.

Other posts in this series:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Catching up: Spring

This was a snowy day in May. It was pretty and sparkly in the morning, and then melted by afternoon. This does seem to happen every year.
Daisy and Ky with the posters they made for their choir concert. I love both of their pictures so much.
At that same concert. Teddy was very attentive, waiting anxiously for the right time to start clapping.
I took the kids to see "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and they (especially these two girls) loved it so much!
This was my favorite—Daisy and Junie standing in line for the bathroom :)
Our "framed faces" art exhibit. One of our alphabet weekends.
Goldie's birthday! Happy excited face.
Cute Teddy, pre-haircut
Girls wearing our yellow church clothes. Plus an interloper.
Sunday walk by the lake
(Junie's taking a picture of me with HER camera)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

There will seem to be sacrifice

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Tuesday Morning Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Sometimes I wonder about the whole concept of "sacrifice." If I recall what I learned in Seminary correctly, it means giving up something you want, for something you want MORE. So, if you do something you don't really want to do—if you sacrifice—for God, then it shows your love for him. 

But then, when our overarching goal IS to please God, we come to WANT to do things for him. So then sometimes people say things like, "It isn't even a sacrifice. It's a pleasure to give my time to the Lord." Or, "It's not really a sacrifice to pay tithing, because the blessings I get back are so great." And that seems, in some ways, even better than saying "this was hard to give up but I did it anyway."

So, obviously it is a good thing to sacrifice for God (even imperfectly), but as we progress, I wonder: should the whole idea of sacrifice eventually give way to "it's not a sacrifice, because I want to do this and I'm happy to do it for God"? But if we don't FEEL a pang of difficulty, giving something up for God, then how will we even know we are giving up enough, or giving up something valuable enough, to demonstrate our true commitment? Is the best thing always to "give till it hurts"? I don't know. Maybe there isn't ever a person that truly feels NO pang of sacrifice. Maybe things like losing loved ones to death are always a sacrifice even when we are fully trying to submit our wills to God's.

Hmm. Well, it doesn't exactly answer that question, but my favorite quote this week came from Elder Joseph Anderson's talk called "The Matter of Personal Testimony." He quotes President David O. McKay who said:
"A testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most sacred, the most precious gift in our lives, obtained only by adherence to the principles of the gospel, not by following the paths of the world.
…Sometimes there are obstacles; there is persecution; there is self-denial; there will be tears because you are coming constantly in contact with these enticements, with these worldly ideals, and you have to overcome them; and, for the moment, there will seem to be sacrifice, but it is only temporary. The Lord never forsakes those who seek him. It may not come just the way you think, but it will come. The Lord will certainly fulfill his promise to you.”
I guess it resolves the question without really addressing it. President McKay basically says, "some things SEEM like sacrifices. But the eventual rewards will demonstrate how worth it they are." So maybe it is more TRUE, in an eternal sense, to say "Nothing is truly a sacrifice, because you're always getting the best end of the deal—gifts from the Savior worth more than your 'sacrifice' could ever add up to." And when we can manage to see things that way—good. I assume that perspective, because of its gratitude and optimism, brings blessings.

But at the same time, since we are all imperfect, we must all deny ourselves some things we think we want, and those—to us—seem to be sacrifices. So we all understand the concept of sacrifice too. And if we are in that state of feeling like we don't want to give something up, but we are willing to give it up, then that brings blessings too. "The Lord never forsakes those who seek Him"—whether we are seeking Him because that's a thing we want MORE than all the other things we also want—or because that has come to be the ONLY thing we want—either way, "the Lord will certainly fulfill his promises" to us.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

To know Him

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Several years ago as I was preparing to teach a lesson on the Godhead to the Young Women, I suddenly wondered, "How do we come to know Jesus Christ?" I knew that Christ should play a central role in our lives; that His atoning sacrifice made repentance possible. And I knew the statement that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

But HOW to know Him? I felt that I was getting to know the Father by talking with Him in prayer. I felt that I was getting to know the Holy Ghost by learning to recognize His presence and follow His promptings. But where did my interaction with Jesus Christ occur? When and how should I come to know Him?

I started looking up talks about the subject, and almost immediately I discovered, to my horrified surprise, that the subject was "controversial."1 I didn't want controversy! I didn't want to take sides or criticize people or sort out some complex doctrinal problem—I just wanted to know how I should follow the commandment to "know Jesus Christ"! But sorting through the different viewpoints wore me out. So, in confusion, I just kind of…gave up on the whole idea!

Recently, after hearing President Nelson's talk in the April 2017 conference about drawing the power of Jesus Christ into our lives, I've been thinking again that "knowing Christ" is something I should be trying to do. But I still struggle with figuring out HOW to do it! President Nelson specifically advised us to read the words of Christ in the scriptures, and to study The Living Christ, and I'm trying to start doing that. Then, this week, I ran across two relevant phrases in the April 1976 General Conference. The first (from this talk) was just a forceful reminder not to give up on the attempt to know Christ:
To know God the Father and his Beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, is life eternal. Do men truly know them—their attributes, characteristics, and powers? Surely such knowledge can be had: otherwise, our Savior would not have made this statement. 
To me, that says that my discouragement in the whole idea a few years ago was premature. This IS a worthy and possible effort. It will just take time.
And the second phrase (from this talk) stood out to me so powerfully that it's almost funny—because it doesn't SEEM like a new idea. It probably seems completely obvious to everyone reading this. But it astounded me.
Do you know him who was called Jesus?…To know him is to keep his commandments
I know, it's so simple! But I can't stop thinking about it. Sometimes the "what would Jesus do?" test just seems so inadequate, because I lack confidence about what He actually WOULD do in so many situations! There are so many things I don't understand about how God does things! And I know his ways are not our ways and some of it is beyond our comprehension. But how much of that will be resolved as I just…keep His commandments? Maybe in those moments of doing what He has told me to do, some of His reasoning will become clear to me as well, and I will begin to understand Him.

It doesn't solve the whole difficulty of how to follow Christ in every single situation. But there are plenty, even a majority, of situations where I DO know exactly what the commandments are and how I should be acting. And it's encouraging to think that every time I follow through and OBEY those things I know, I will be coming to know Christ a little better. Maybe gaining insight into how and why He does what He does! And thus preparing myself to be a better Christian even in the situations that now seem baffling to me—because I WILL know "what Jesus would do."

"To know him is to keep his commandments." "Surely such knowledge can be had"!

1 And having looked into it more, I don't even really want to dignify the whole thing as a "controversy." I honestly think it was all sort of a problem with semantics…and context…and it's been blown out of proportion by people who WANT to find arguments and dramatic situations within the church. But, I realize now I've brought it up, I should at least explain what I'm talking about. Basically, the idea of a "personal relationship with Christ" had been talked about by a lot of people, including in this talk at BYU (which you can still find at lds.org), and then Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave a talk which seemed really (maybe unduly) critical of that idea—except that I think he was actually responding not to the whole idea of "a relationship with Christ," but to some specific concerns he had about ways people were taking it too far. This post and this short item do a good job of explaining it, I think. And talks like this one, given after Elder McConkie's, show that there is nothing wrong with the idea as such.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Botts' Dots, and other random California things

We were quite excited to find so many Botts' Dots in California. You know we keep up on these sorts of things. (Although this news was a bit disturbing!) Sebby found half of a broken Botts' Dot in a parking lot and kept it as a souvenir. Wonderful boy.
Bougainvillea! (Goodness, that's hard to spell.)
Monarch caterpillars in Philip and Allison's yard
Since Sam had one paid for, we stayed with him at a hotel for two nights. The kids always love that.
We flew kites one windy day. Philip did quite a bit of doctoring to get them working. But then they stayed up for a long time!
Malachi with some guy's Lamborghini that was parked by a playground we were playing at. The car owner saw Ky eyeing it and volunteered to take this picture for him. Who ARE all these kind Lamborghini owners?? I would never have expected it.
These orange balloons made Junie's birthday the best ever. And Allison made a dinner full of her favorite orange-colored foods, too. So great.
Birthday lemon bars!
One of many parks we played and picnicked at
Cozy Teddy in the pack-n-play
Adam and Daniel in their tiger and leopard suits
We had a fun Saturday evening at Irvine Regional Park. 
Goldie, being a monster.
Teddy spent most of his time running up and down this hill.
There were wild parrots flying around and screeching!
This gulley was a nice wild place to explore. The twins were quite worried about potential owls.
Teddy time-out. Poor, poor little man.
This was a pretty wetland area we walked by on Sunday evening.
We saw several little bunnies hopping around! I wanted to get closer to this one, so I talked to him and told him I was a friend of Nutmeg, King of the Bunnies. He seemed impressed.
So he let me get right up close to him, and we walked together for a while! I'd get about this close, and then he'd hop forward and wait for me to catch up, and then hop a few feet ahead again. It was a pleasant little bunny walk!