Night Before Nightgowns

We don't always give the kids new pajamas on Christmas Eve, but occasionally we do and this year I had a nightgown pattern I really wanted to try. I guess I "know how" to sew—my mom spent hours teaching me, and I took classes in both high school and college. I made dresses and quilts and button-up pajamas and even a denim jacket one time. But—this is the key—always with someone helping me! And though I have a sewing machine for hemming and basic mending and making things like rice bags, I really am not confident making things by myself! In fact, I had convinced myself I didn't really know how to sew at all—but, in a burst of ambition, I decided I might just TRY it this year.

And it turned out I liked doing it! It helped that I was making the same thing three different times, so I felt like I really got it by the third time. But I also remembered more than I thought I would, about overcasting seams and gathering ruffles and so forth. And even when I didn't understand the pattern at first, after actually holding up the pieces and thinking about it, I was able to figure out what to do! So I was quite proud of myself, and I especially LOVE these nightgowns. I ordered double-gauze fabric, which I have never sewn with before, but it is SO light and dreamy and soft!! And twirly! It is the same fabric those sweet soft baby swaddling blankets are made of—you know the ones. It practically floats off the ground as the girls are wearing it, and they feel like snuggly swaddled babies when you hug them. I did have to overcast all the seams (I don't have a serger) because the fabric is VERY loose and ravel-y (unravel-y?) but after that it sewed up just fine.

The pattern was actually made by a girl I know from high school, Katy Dill. She's amazing (and I love her kids' names). :) You can find the pattern here: The Night Before Nightgown. And I ordered my fabric here (online fabric stores are so great!).
We had our traditional Elf Olympics on Christmas Eve. Sam-ta assigned us all to design new toys (he gave us the names or functions; we made up the toys) for one of these activities. Here is Daisy's "Ballybimba."

This year's ornaments

This is the ornament Sam made for our ornament party this year. We go to this party with a bunch of awesome, creative people and everyone makes an ornament. It's so fun, and we love it, but since we have to give our ornaments away, I always feel like I have to take pictures so we have a record of all our work in SOME form at least!

I love Sam's fishy ornament. My favorite part is all the bubbles (you can't quite tell in the picture, but those are holes in the wood).

But then there would be no purpose

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday morning session from the October 1974 Conference.
Elder John H. Vandenberg reflects on his experience driving alone on a lovely, peaceful morning, and then hearing the news on the radio:
During the next several minutes the announcer commented, as I remember, on a burglary, a shooting, an accident, a hijacking, people being held hostage, and worry over the economic conditions. The news brought to my attention that the world could be full of peace, but that it was not. 
Naturally, one fond of peace wonders why this is so, recognizing that if there were no people on earth, all would be quiet and peaceful. But then there would be no purpose in the earth. We know that its purpose is to receive God’s children where they may dwell in mortality and prove themselves in the test against the forces of good and evil. In this process there will be strife as well as peace.
I love a quiet, peaceful home. I love stillness and silence and cleanliness. But…I have seven children. And I really needed this reminder, which sounded like this in my head:

If there were no people in your home, all would be quiet and peaceful. But then there would be no purpose in your home.

The noise, the arguing, the misunderstandings, the clutter. Certainly we fight it where we can. But it has a purpose. We are training bodies and spirits. We are proving ourselves. We are learning to find the peace underneath it all.

Other posts in this series:

Santa and the hat

That title sounds like it's going to precede a very exciting story, and it does. We got this Santa suit at a baby shower way back when Abe was a baby. It's not really the right size for Theodore anymore, but since all the boys have worn it, by golly I was going to try to put Theo in it too!

He didn't like it. Especially the hat.

So we spent a very entertaining fifteen minutes tormenting him with it.
Poor baby.
Note thumb going in, for comfort at such a difficult time.

Suffering and Christmas

For the past year, almost, I've been somewhat immersed (insofar as one CAN be partially immersed...which I guess one can't...) in studying and reading about World War II. We studied the First World War last year, so I was all primed for it, but while it's fascinating, I find much of it quite…difficult. I know that seems like a fairly self-centered perspective, when you consider that all these many harrowing things actually HAPPENED to people, while I'm merely reading about them. But nevertheless, it has been hard for me, and there have been many nights I've lain awake with a heavy heart, thinking about hardship and evil.

Here's a small sampling of the books I've been reading:

  • An account of Hitler's rise to power, and the way even ordinary people excused, then assisted, him.
  • The diary of a doctor in Hiroshima during August and September of 1945, just after the atom bomb was dropped. 
  • The autobiography of a woman who was stolen from her Yugoslavian parents as a nine-month-old baby and raised in Hitler's "lebensborn" program to raise up "racially pure" youth for the Third Reich.
  • The memoir of an American POW tortured by his Japanese captors. 
  • First person accounts by the soldiers who liberated concentration camps across Europe and found death and suffering beyond anything the world had imagined.
You can't read about this stuff and DENY the existence of evil, and there were plenty of people I encountered in these books who did lose their faith; who said, "I just couldn't believe in any kind of loving God after what I experienced." And honestly—usually, when some pseudo-intellectual atheist brings up the problem of evil, I'm flatly unimpressed. They reveal their own ignorance when, with the self-satisfaction of a magician producing the hidden card, they produce those tired old arguments as if they are brilliant or devastating.  "But why do bad things happen to good people? What about the SUFFERING of CHILDREN?? AHA!" They appear not to have even engaged with the constant stream of Christian philosophers that have struggled with, written on, and illuminated this very problem. In fact, you could say that the Problem of Evil is the central question Christianity attempts to answer!
But. I do acknowledge that Evil, when it comes so baldly and blatantly into our awareness, often forces a startling and troubling examination of belief. I don't pretend to have experienced anything remotely as faith-shaking as many victims of war and atrocity, but even for someone like me—perhaps especially for someone like me, so blessedly removed from the immediacy of most of life's horrors—reflecting on what depths humanity can sink to is a sobering and difficult exercise.

Still, as I've pondered these things and struggled with them, my central feeling has been one of deep gratitude for our Savior. I want to grab those people who lost their faith by the hands and say, "Don't you realize? All this suffering and evil and sadness: THIS is humanity WITHOUT Christ! This is who we become when we turn our backs on God!" Sure, I know plenty of the atrocities of war involve someone who professes religion. But "this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away."

I'm not a philosopher, and I know for all my reading, I'm still ignorant in so many areas. And with such an enormous subject as evil and war, any statement is an oversimplification. But maybe there is just this: reading about all this suffering convinces me, more than ever, of the beauty of God's plan, and of the absolute need for a savior. In fact, I think the existence of a savior is very possibly the ONLY thing that makes sense of it all. The suffering, of course, does not disappear with knowledge of God. But it gains meaning: not only for all those troubled by it from afar as I am, but also, by many accounts, even for those experiencing it firsthand. 

For me, knowing about God's plan changes everything. Questions about "fairness" in this life suddenly disappear when I know that mortality is just one piece of a longer journey; that God is continually working for the salvation of His children and will always do so. To see that evil and the natural man exist in all of us—yes, it is frightening. We can become like animals, and worse. The laws of this world DO often favor the ruthless, the cruel, and the heartless. But through Christ's atonement, we can change our natures—and in this change lies our only hope. 

I've thought to myself several times this month, feeling my heart aching from something I've read, or even from some less-vast sadness I've encountered, "What does Christmas have to do with all this? Is all our happiness and joy in the season unseemly, next to the great suffering of so many of God's children?"

And every time, something whispers to me "NO. Christ's birth and life and death have everything to do with suffering, and everything to do with joy." And I've felt the wonder of this season like almost never before. Because without Him, the horrors of war, of hatred; the struggle for power; the gradual descent into chaos and destruction—that would be all we had to look forward to. But because of Him, it all makes sense. We can repent. We can change. We can learn to build and love and sacrifice, in our small ways. And we can hope for, someday, a world full of goodness and light.

Santa Lucia (times three)

I had lots of help making our lussekatter this year, and not one but THREE little Lucias to celebrate Santa Lucia day! It's really just supposed to be the eldest daughter, but naturally that doesn't meet with the approval of the other girls—and can you blame them? So we dug out some more white dresses and red ribbon, and all the girls paraded down the hall to serve the boys these delicious saffron buns. (Recipe is here, if you'd like to try them yourself!)

Half the fun is making the buns. You roll out little flat snakes, and then curl them up frontwards and backwards into spirals like contented little cats—thus their name lussekatter, "Lucia cats." The smell of saffron drifting through the house on a cold December morning is just one of the loveliest things. Almost as lovely as three little girls spilling pearl sugar* and cocoa on their white dresses and giggling as they try to keep their candle crowns straight on their heads.

Warm and then cold

We had such a warm, warm November! I kept thinking surely it would cool down, surely THIS would be the VERY last time we got to play outside in the beautiful mild air, but on it stretched, giving us chance after chance. Finally even I, Avoider of Yard Work, thought it must be some sort of sign, and I rashly ordered about 200 bulbs and decided to dig out a bunch of new flowerbeds while I still could! With snow in the forecast for two days hence, the kids and I madly dug and planted and trimmed, and just as it was looking like we'd bitten off more than we could chew, three wonderful teenage boys—friends of Abe's—came sauntering over asking, "How can we help?" I put them gratefully to work, and soon two more neighbors showed up with shovels and transplants, until I felt the world was quite full of goodness and love.

It was the coziest feeling in the world to look out at the snow, when it came, and know our work was done. My dad was fond of saying, "Can you sleep when the wind blows?" and—you know—for once, we could! 

But that was later. First, there was sunshine, and swinging, and wave after wave of falling leaves from trees you thought surely must be empty by now.

Setting the bar

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood session from the October 1974 Conference.
In 2002 Elder M. Russell Ballard gave his talk about "raising the bar" on missionary service. There was a lot of discussion about it at the time, and because of all the emphasis on MORE worthiness, I think I subconsciously assumed that in the past, the standards had been pretty lax and ANY old person could go on a mission. But, while I'm sure that "raising the bar" was a necessary and good reminder, what I've now read of older talks shows that it was NOT a break from earlier tradition. High standards have always been expected of missionaries and of priesthood holders in general! Here are a few quotes I liked from this Priesthood Session:

Elder H Burke Peterson:

Brethren, our success in the priesthood depends on the pattern of our life. When we learn to be led by the Spirit, then the priesthood authority we have will become priesthood power, the power to change lives for the better, to cause miracles to happen in [people's] lives.
Elder N. Eldon Tanner:  
It is just not fair to anyone to send a young man into the mission field who is not qualified or worthy. He cannot get the spirit of his calling. And while he is in the mission field he is a burden to the mission president and a deterrent to the missionary work.… 
If a young man is guilty of transgression, let him know that you love him and that you are prepared to help in every way possible to get him back on the track.… 
A person who is guilty of a serious transgression cannot progress, and he is not happy while the guilt is upon him. Until he has confessed and repented he is in bondage.
President Spencer W. Kimball:
I remind you young men that regardless of your present age, you are building your life; it will be cheap and shoddy or it will be valuable and beautiful; it will be full of constructive activities or it can be destructive; it can be full of joy and happiness, or it can be full of misery.
I love being part of a church that expects such greatness of men and young men!

You can exert this divine power

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday afternoon session from the October 1974 Conference.
I really liked Elder Theodore M. Burton's talk, "Blessed are the peacemakers" from this session. He starts with a reminder of our divine heritage and our purpose on the earth, and then says: 
Can there be discord, hate, envy, and dissension in God’s presence? No! Such things make a hell and not a heaven. That is why we must learn to get rid of dissension, envy, hate, and discord in this life on earth. It is here we must learn how to turn our hearts to serve one another with love. Here we must learn how to live with one another in peace and harmony so that we can be prepared to live in the presence of that perfect God we claim to worship.
I love the reminder that this earth life is practice for Godhood (a theme I keep noticing!). Elder Burton continues:
God, who knows all things from the beginning, knew that in the last days Satan would exert every effort to destroy the work of God. The closer we approach the second coming of Jesus Christ, the greater will be Satan’s efforts. He will try to influence men as never before to destroy one another by dissension, opposition, selfishness, wars, riots, and destructions. If he can get people to quarrel with one another, they will inevitably destroy themselves.
God, who knows all things, knew from the very beginning that this would happen. It is for this reason that God reserved you and the holy priesthood against that time, so that you can exert this divine power to hold Satan in check. God reserved some of his choicest sons and daughters for this present day and age. These special children were to be leaders who would recognize the negative, self-destructive efforts of Satan and thwart them by the righteous use of divinely authorized priesthood power. That is the reason we need peacemakers today as never before.
I like a couple things about this passage. First, the clear implication that BOTH God's sons and daughters can use "divinely authorized priesthood power" to recognize and thwart the efforts of Satan. I assume he means specifically the power we are endowed with when we make covenants in the temple (which isn't always called priesthood power, but to echo Elder Oaks, "What other power can it be?"). And second, because the endowment is often an abstract concept to me, I love being shown some of the practical applications of that power. We can use it, very literally, to "hold Satan in check." To recognize evil, and overcome it! An amazing promise. Elder Burton goes on:
Since we live in a quarrelsome world, we face the dangers of that world. Unless we live very close to God and listen carefully to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, we will find dissension creeping into our own lives, into our homes, and into the Church. We must be alert at all times in our homes, in our daily work, in our private lives, and in our branches, wards, and stakes to see that this does not happen. 
Whenever you get red in the face, whenever you raise your voice, whenever you get “hot under the collar,” or angry, rebellious, or negative in spirit, then know that the Spirit of God is leaving you and the spirit of Satan is beginning to take over. At times we may feel justified in arguing or fighting for truth by contentious words and actions. Do not be deceived. Satan would rather have you contend for evil if he could, but he rejoices when we contend with one another even when we think we are doing it in the cause of righteousness. He knows and recognizes the self-destructive nature of contention under any guise.
This section reminds me of this series of articles on anger, which convinced me that all aspects of anger (even unexpressed ones) are sinful and can halt our progression. And that word "self-destructive" also stuck out to me, as a reminder that being angry truly does destroy chiefly the one who feels the anger. As Elder Burton says earlier, "If he can get people to quarrel with one another, they will inevitably destroy themselves"—just like refusing to forgive destroys the one who holds the grudge. The commandment to avoid contention is for our own benefit!

It's really hard not to feel angry when people belittle or misrepresent what I hold sacred. It's hard not to be angry with people who act superior or dismiss my views without even understanding them. And of course, it's hard not to be angry when life's little frustrations pile up and my children stretch my patience. Of course it's hard! BUT—I can do it. And more importantly, I MUST do it if I want to be like God. I love this reminder that along with giving us the difficult commandment to eliminate discord, anger, and dissension from our own hearts (regardless of what others do!), Heavenly Father has also given us the power to follow it. And that's through the endowment of priesthood power given to us, his children, in the temple. Keeping my covenants and exerting that divine power will allow me to have the Spirit of God, rather than the spirit of Satan, in my life.

Other posts in this series:

Service is abundance

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday morning session from the October 1974 Conference.
I've been thinking this week about how satisfying it is not just to serve, but to watch others be served—and to watch how others serve. It's all part of the glorious work. In my patriarchal blessing it says something like, "you will be blessed to see the workings of the Savior not only in your own life, but in the lives of those you associate with and love…Rejoice in your chance to see the tenderness with which He reaches out to them in their individual needs." When I first heard this, I don't think I realized fully what a blessing it would be—but over the years, as I have come to know of and even share in little bits of God's tender mercies to others, I think those things bring me as much joy as the tender mercies I myself receive! It's why I love to hear other peoples' stories of God's hand in their lives: I feel like in hearing them, I'M sharing in the blessing too—like the blessing is somehow going twice as far! Of course, because I'm human, sometimes I'm less gracious than I should be, and I have thoughts like, "Hey, I wish I could have had that kind of answer to prayer—" or, "I wish I had had that experience"—but I just keep realizing more and more that when God blesses someone—we ALL benefit. Or like the scriptures say, "That all may be profited thereby."

And then if we actually get to be the ones relaying God's blessings? That seems like it spreads the benefit around even MORE! It's an amazing feeling to serve. It's an amazing feeling to notice how much others AROUND you are quietly serving too—and to realize that this is happening usually without you ever knowing it. It reminds me of Elder Maxwell's words I wrote about a couple weeks ago: "…because random, individual goodness is not enough in the fight against evil."

Early in the week as I read the talks in this conference session, I marked a paragraph by Elder Marvin J. Ashton:
Though he, Jesus, were a Son busily engaged in his Father’s business, he was never too busy to assist a troubled mother, a sick man, a friend, a little child. These attitudes, these services were but outward evidence of inward greatness. As we too learn to serve as did he, we learn to live abundantly. A proper attitude helps us find God through service to his children.
In my notes I wrote the comment, "Interesting—to connect the idea of service with the abundant life." And I didn't really quite see how the two things went together.

But during the week I got to be part of a ward service project, and I had so many thoughts and feelings about being a small part in this big amazing thing. Feelings of multiplication, of coordination—of being insignificant and yet essential…of how parts make a whole and the whole is ALL of those parts, and yet also MORE than that. I don't know if any of those thoughts make sense, but to me the connection between service and abundance suddenly makes all the sense in the world. And I'm not sure I can explain exactly why, but it's caught up in all these things. How hearing about someone else's blessings blesses me. How BEING someone else's blessing, blesses me. How being blessed by someone else blesses me, obviously, and how seeing someone else in the act of blessing someone else (if you follow me)---that blesses me too! 

It's funny, because that paragraph makes it all sound a bit self-centered, all this "it all comes back to ME" business, but it's just a byproduct of the ABUNDANCE that comes out of service. There is SO much love, that everyone gets some—even the ones who don't deserve it because they didn't do very much, or even do ANYTHING! It's undeserved; of course it's undeserved! But that's the amazing thing about it. It's like Jesus feeding the five thousand. He blessed that food. Then it blessed the people that ate it. Then it blessed the apostles that got to hand it out. Then it blessed the people that just HEARD about it—even down to us—even 2000 years later! I think that's the picture that Elder Ashton's words gave me as I read them again today. It's like our service, blessed and multiplied by God, sends out a sort of penumbra of goodness that spreads outward on all sides. It's the very definition of abundance: Enough, and to spare. So much there's not room enough to receive it. My cup runneth over. I've read all those phrases in the scriptures, but it seems so clear suddenly that it's bigger than I ever supposed, because it's not just MY cup being filled. It's the cup of those who serve me, and those I serve, and those whom I am watching serve—and when all that abundance tries to fit in all those cups, it's even too big for THAT, so it spills out further. Of course Elder Ashton would say that as we serve like Jesus did, "we learn to live abundantly!" Because God's love is THAT endless. And we're tapping into it—and it can't be contained in anything as finite as our own small lives. It overflows.

Elder LeGrand Richards said in this same conference, 
If God started to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man and did not provide an opportunity to complete the program, he would be like the builder who starts to build and then is not able to finish.
And I think this is how we "complete the program." We serve obediently, though conscious of our own inadequacy. We, in that inadequacy, also accept service, leaving us humbled and grateful. We watch the miracles as others serve, leaving us amazed and inspired. And in response we feel an increasing desire to serve more, ourselves, and so the abundance grows ever greater. Because God WILL finish his work. He IS finishing it. He is letting US help finish it.

So just like my patriarchal blessing said, I DO rejoice in the chance I have to see God's love for others. It's wonderful. His mercies to others bring to mind, reinforce—and are part of—His mercy to me! And every time I'm anywhere in the vicinity of Christlike service—seeing it, hearing about it, doing it, receiving it—I find myself filled, again, to overflowing.

Other posts in this series:

Be and move and breathe and think

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday afternoon session from the October 1974 Conference.
I was thinking at church last week about the meagerness of my offerings—of attention, focus, and feeling—during the sacrament. Even when the children aren't doing anything terrible, they just constantly NEED something: soothing, straightening, picking up; a stern look here, a raised eyebrow there. The effort (though I know there is more I could do to be prepared) leaves almost nothing inside me for my own spiritual contemplation during those crucial moments. But I send up my short microbursts of prayers toward heaven anyway, between distractions, asking for forgiveness, and for capacity. I feel, while that ordinance is being administered, that there is sacredness nearby, and even if I can't quite touch it—I am at least drawn toward it!

What I wish is that I could maintain two channels simultaneously: the spiritual and the temporal; the elevated and the practical. I wish I could reach out and touch heaven in the very moment I am switching someone's shoes to the correct feet or whispering "Stop biting each other." But usually there's at least a moment of disconnect, a noticeable switching of gears, before I can get my mind focused on the eternal again.

I was thinking about that as I read this from Elder Bruce R. McConkie's talk:

There is nothing in this world that compares in any way in importance with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation, and if we will walk and live and be and move and breathe and think the gospel and its cause, always and everlastingly, then we can have peace and joy and happiness in this life and we can go on to eternal glory in the life to come.
That's what I want to do, but it seems so hard when the demands of mortality are so constant! Some days I am barely able to keep everyone's different schedules and needs and questions in my head--let alone have any room for pondering and communion throughout the day. I do try to find time for that, when things are quiet or when I am alone. But to keep that spiritual attentiveness DURING the chaos--to live and move and breathe the gospel, as Elder McConkie says--well, I'd like to learn how.

So I thought this was a useful thought, in the talk by Elder Delbert L. Stapley:

Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves, though the thought must precede the action. Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful, commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice.
I have noticed that there are times when I have an easier time "switching on" my spiritual side. Sometimes I'm better able to see the higher purpose in what I'm doing, and to feel a spiritual gratitude for it. At those times, I don't know that I'd say I'm actually simultaneously keeping practicality and eternity in my mind—but maybe, like two cords twisted tightly together to make a rope, the two parts of me are at least cohesive, working together. Or at least I'm toggling back and forth quickly and with less effort. And some of this, I think, has indeed come through practice with "the commonplace routine of life." As I practice laundry or speaking softly or making dinner with five different people talking to me, it takes less of my mental effort, and I have a bit more to spare for gratitude and love.

Maybe the inverse is true as well: as I practice responding with patience or seeing the good in my situation, I won't feel like it takes the whole of my focus and energy to do so! And I guess I also just have to have faith that with persistent daily effort, even more cohesion will come, and at some point that constant engagement with the gospel—the being, moving, breathing, and thinking that Elder McConkie talks about—will be within reach.

Other posts in this series:


The satisfaction and dignity of work

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday morning session from the October 1974 Conference.
We're on to October 1974! In this session, Elder Loren C. Dunn gave a great talk on parenting, full of powerful ideas about love and leadership and perseverance, like this one: 
The principle of love can overcome many parental mistakes in the raising of their children. But love should not be confused with lack of conviction.
I bet my Child-Development-expert mother loved this talk when she heard it. It's all good, but the section on work especially got me thinking. Elder Dunn referenced (but didn't specifically cite): 
evidence to support that at least in the United States the problems of stress and tension might be linked to a gradually decreasing average number of hours worked by the labor force. The suggestion is that free time, not work, might be a major cause of stress and tension in individuals.
That in itself is interesting. I don't know how well specific studies have measured this, but it's what I think every time I hear people advocating the idea of a "Universal Basic Income" and talking grandly about all the great and hypothetical things people, freed from the drudgery of earning a living, would then have the leisure to create: the sonnets! The symphonies! The artistic yearnings, now finally unleashed! Sure, it sounds nice, and I guess we've all benefitted from the gradual diminishment of "drudgery" over the years. But even beyond the political arguments, this idea leaves out the essential point that work can be ennobling: a divine characteristic, and a divine gift.

Elder Dunn continues,
Certainly in every home all family members can be given responsibilities that will fall within their ability to accomplish and, at the same time, teach them the satisfaction and dignity of work.
I suppose every parent struggles to require the right balance of work and leisure for their children. In a big family like ours, there really isn't any choice but to have the kids do a lot of work—the household can't function any other way! But getting children to work is, of of course, its own sort of work, and I sometimes feel exhausted with trying to manage it all. It's so easy to want to avoid the whining or complaining or sulking, and just do things myself! I do tell myself that this will be for everyone's good, and it will pay off in good habits and discipline later (and I've already seen many benefits as we go along)—but Elder Dunn's reminder here comes at it from a slightly different angle, emphasizing the satisfaction and dignity that come to all of us, including children, as we work! I sometimes forget about this, but I have seen it, and I know it's real. Giving our children meaningful work is giving them the chance for satisfaction and dignity! When one of my sons completes a difficult task—especially a job that stretched his abilities, but where he can see that the family truly NEEDED him—I can almost see him expanding and blossoming before my eyes. He feels important. He feels capable. He feels needed. And he IS needed! The projects that I tend to put off because I dread them, and I dread making other people do them, are exactly the sorts of things that give us all great satisfaction once we finally dive in!

The kids and I worked for hours in the yard this week, and when the weather turned, I found one of my sons gazing out the window thoughtfully. I asked what he was thinking about, and he said (practically glowing), "I'm just so HAPPY we did all that work out there, and now it can snow!" Honestly, I doubt he had given the yard a second thought this entire year—but now because of his work there, he felt ownership of it in a new and personal way. And I need to remember that this personal growth, this inner satisfaction and the confidence that comes from being useful—whether or not the initial nudge toward that usefulness is greeted with acquiescence and cheer—may be exactly what a reluctant child needs to be drawn out of himself and find joy. This is certainly the case for ME when Heavenly Father requires hard things of me!

And that led me to another thought. In the very next talk of this session, Elder Neal A. Maxwell talked about how good people still need the church:
"…because random, individual goodness is not enough in the fight against evil."
Even though I certainly appreciate random, individual goodness, and I DO believe in the ability of the small, mundane things to truly change the world, I loved the way Elder Maxwell put this. It's not actually a contradiction of the principle that individuals matter. It's a statement about WHY God put individuals together in families, and about why we need organized religion. No matter how hard we work, our work only takes on meaning when it is contributing to something bigger than ourselves. We have to care about others. We have to depend on others.  We can't reach our potential by ourselves, communing with nature or meditating to reach nirvana. We have to willingly join God's work of saving souls, because THAT is the work that brings ultimate dignity and ultimate satisfaction. That is the only work that makes us like God.

Other posts in this series:

Random Thoughts

• Teddy thinks Daisy and Junie are the same person, and calls them both "Saisy." Incidentally, the "face recognition" feature on my phone ALSO thinks they are the same person.

• On the other hand, the face recognition feature on my phone thinks Teddy is about five different persons. 
• Goldie and Teddy were particularly cute playing with Goldie's Floppy Guy one day. Teddy was very much in awe of him, calling him "GUY" with great emphasis.

Hot Springs

When we hiked to the hot springs in Diamond Fork Canyon last year, we thought it was one of the most beautiful hikes we'd ever been on, and we really wanted to go back with Sam sometime! When my brother was in town we thought about going with him, but circumstances prevented it, and after several weeks went by without another chance, I thought we'd probably just have to skip it this year. It was November and I was afraid, because it was so golden and perfect in our memories, that we'd be disappointed anyway.

But I kept thinking about it and the good weather kept stretching on and on, and finally there was a free day ahead. It wasn't perfect because Sam couldn't get away from his work—but he COULD keep Theodore home with him—and the idea of doing the hike withOUT a baby pack and withOUT a fearless, toddling, slippery fish to worry about in the water…greatly increased the attractiveness of the idea.

Even that morning I started to talk myself out of it because it was so very chilly (I really do so like to stay home…where it's cozy) but the kids were already excited and I knew I'd be sorry if we didn't go, so off we went.
As we drove into the canyon I was still worrying that we'd be too cold. Almost all the leaves had fallen, and the trees looked grey and lifeless in the shade. But when we reached the trailhead there was sunshine peeking over the canyon walls, so that was encouraging. I had had everyone wear sandals, since the hike isn't very steep and I thought we'd be happy to have sandals in the water and not deal with wet socks afterward. But…I think some of the children's feet did get cold, so I guess next time we'll maybe bring water shoes or sandals in our backpacks, and hike in shoes? It was fine, though.
Even though most of the leaves were dead and brown, they looked so pretty with the sun shining through them!
Most of the trail was in the shade after that first sunny bit, but there were lots of beautiful textures to look at, and a surprising amount of color: mosses and lichens and even just the vibrance of the groundcover and the bushes.
It was pretty cold (sparkling frost on the leaves)!

To develop Gods

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session from the April 1974 Conference.
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:6)
I've been thinking about this…prophecy? commandment? from the Book of Exodus since I read it last week. "A kingdom of priests." It must have sounded so extravagant and incredible to the Israelites, who had their "bounds set" so that they couldn't even set one foot on the very border of the Holy Mountain where Moses ascended to see God! Who only guessed at God's presence beneath the "thick cloud." Who remained outside the holy of holies, waiting for the priest to intercede on their behalf.

With that on my mind, I was struck by two comments from this conference session which seemed connected to the idea of "a kingdom of priests":
Godliness in man goes undeveloped without the words of God and his program. (Elder Bernard P. Brockbank
The mark of real conversion is endurance. (Elder Hartman Rector, Jr.)
Here's how I think they connect: in these last days, God's words in Exodus are fulfilled. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed a "kingdom of priests." Our access to the powers of the priesthood is unprecedented. Literally ANY MEMBER has a chance enter God's temple and participate in priesthood ordinances, gain priesthood power, and exercise priesthood authority. The inner sanctum, amazingly, is open to all!

But what is the aim of priesthood, in the end? To be a priest is to be an apprentice in God's house—a god-in-training. And the only condition for entrance is that the apprentice follow "the words of God and His program"—that is, that he complete the course of training his master has set out. If we are to develop Godlike characteristics, we must participate in Godlike work. There is no other way.

And so two things are required: obedience, and time. The apprentice must continue in the training program until the master certifies him an apprentice no longer. Thus, "the mark of real conversion is endurance." We are ready to move on from Priesthood to Godhood when the master says we are ready. No sooner.

The ancient Israelites were not "a kingdom of priests." They had their "bounds set" by their own unwillingness to obey with patience. And in the latter days, Jesus Christ used that same phrase to describe the limits on traitors, false brethren, robbers, enemies, murderers, billowing surges, fierce winds, darkness, and even "the very jaws of hell": their bounds are set.

But for his priests? His apprentices? There are no boundaries to keep them away from God! "Hold on thy way," the Lord promises, "and the priesthood shall remain with thee…for God shall be with you forever and ever."

Our bounds are not set, unless we set them. "Hold on thy way." Keep practicing. Our choice to serve as priests (and, obviously, priestesses) in God's kingdom means that, provided we obey and endure in the program set before us, we are assured of a successful graduation from our apprenticeship.

God's program, followed faithfully, inevitably produces Gods.

Other posts in this series:

Girls doing what they do

Eating cookies.
Making cookies.
Licking spoons.

Carefully constructed for you

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session from the April 1974 Conference.
In this session, I loved Elder L. Tom Perry's talk—his first talk as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He talks about how overwhelmed and inadequate he feels—and it was a strange feeling for me to read that, having only ever known him as the forthright, fearless senior apostle he became!

Elder Perry describes how he had learned about the apostles as a boy, and memorized their names, and how it was such a startling thought to realize that now, children and church members would be learning about HIM! He sounded so humble and normal that I could almost imagine how he felt—how I would feel, trying to live up to such a calling.

Elder Perry said:
As I thought and searched, I realized there is a theme to my life which is worthy of being repeated and I think would be of value to those young children in your homes. It is this: He was reared in a home in which his parents loved and appreciated the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He goes on, and this is the part that really stood out to me:
We were dressed in our home each morning, not only with hats and raincoats and boots to protect us from physical storm, but even more carefully our parents dressed us each day in the armor of God. As we would kneel in family prayer and listen to our father, a bearer of the priesthood, pour out his soul to the Lord for the protection of his family against the fiery darts of the wicked, one more layer was added to our shield of faith. While our shield was being made strong, theirs was always available, for they were available and we knew it. 
What a protection it was to travel through the journey of life knowing that a shield of faith is being carefully constructed for you by loving parents from our first moments on earth.
I think what struck me about this was the idea that a "shield of faith" can protect our children beginning with their very first moments on earth! I am used to thinking about faith and testimony as something that must be developed for oneself, like the oil that the five wise virgins could not share. And of course, yes, someone can't live under another person's shield forever—but apparently a child CAN be safe there for a time! It just suddenly seemed so obvious to me that this is what parenthood IS, or should be! A time when parents can use our own faith and trust in God to shield our children until they have time to form their own faith! A safe place where even when one person's faith is weak or faltering—the collective faith of the family arches over and protects the home.

I think I like it because it seems so comforting. I'm all too aware that parents don't control their children, that children make their own choices and build their own faith. I can't force my children to BE anything, nor should I want to—but I can control my OWN faith. My OWN faith will form the "carefully constructed" beginning of my children's faith! And if I put the work into keeping my faith strong, Elder Perry implies that it will continue to shield my family as well—not completely insulate them, not hem them in, but just…shield them from the worst of Satan's darts. Even—perhaps especially—when their own shields are weak or incomplete! It's encouraging to think that my own actions could have that effect, and humbling to think of how the "shields" of those who love me may have also sheltered me when my own faith has faltered.

Elder Perry shares a story of how his parents' faith and prayers protected him as a young adult, and says:
I know by personal experience the value of having noble parents to build around their children a protective shield of faith of our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ. I give you my witness that it works. Should not every child of God be given that opportunity in their lives[?]
Of course they should! In fact, that may be the main purpose of families! And even though not every child has such a gift from their parents, as I thought about this question more, I realized that, on a larger scale, this "protective shield" condition could describe what the entire stretch of mortality is for ALL of us! Of course, we have the veil of forgetfulness to force us to exercise our own faith, and we are supposed to be developing our own spiritual strength away from the safety of our Father's house—but…in a way…mortality is still a safe place, perhaps the safest place, for us to build up our own faith. It is a "space granted," a proving ground "carefully constructed" for us, where eternal consequences are mercifully delayed, and where our mistakes and failures are softened by the mercy of Christ's atonement. We are safe to fail and repent and fail again, because we live under the shield of Christ's ultimate faith in our Father, and His ultimate love for us! What a happy thought!

Other posts in this series:


I just love seeing all the creative, darling, themed Halloween costumes some mothers and kids and families come up with, and I'm always so pleased when somebody comes to my door in something really astounding. But, having never lifted a finger to make a Halloween costume in my life (well…maybe one finger…we made this Rubik's Cube, and I crocheted a Goldilocks wig once), I can also vouch for the benefits of the less-labor-intensive approach. "Find something in the costume box," I say unconcernedly as Halloween approaches, and that's that! Thanks to years of…my MOM's work, we have plenty of furry animals (the very BEST kind of Halloween costume) to choose from. 
Daisy was a bunny, with her doll Rosie, for part of the day on Halloween. She changed her mind about costumes about three times. This is the bunny suit I wore on Halloween when I was five or six. Still going strong.

Red Barn 2016

It just wouldn't feel like October without going to the Red Barn in Santaquin. (Last year's visit, and links to previous years—TEN years total, if you can believe it!!—here.) I don't know exactly what it is that keeps drawing us back. The pumpkin selection has seemed particularly poor lately, and there are so many other pumpkin patches now, closer, and probably just as fun, but somehow…this is just THE ONE for us. Tradition!

Actually, I know exactly why we keep coming: it's the donuts. The apple cider donuts. They just can't be replicated, and we would brave any inconvenience to get them. They were particularly good this year, as we snatched them up while they were still warm. YUM! And there's also the cider, and the plain apples. We love those too. But these donuts!
Usually our visits here make me reflect on how much everyone has changed during the year. Somehow this year, it seemed less…dramatic. The three little girls don't seem SO different. I remember saying last year, "Just think, next year Teddy will be running all over the place!" And he WAS, but he still just seems so…babyish.

Boys Need Men

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session from the April 1974 Conference.

This week we read the Priesthood Session of Conference, and since I have three boys just at, or coming up on, Aaronic Priesthood age, I thought about them a lot while I was reading. (I also have a baby boy, but thinking about HIM as a priesthood holder is just too much of a leap for my imagination right now.)

One of my favorite talks was "Boys Need Men" by Elder Marion D. Hanks. I loved this section:
Boys need men to learn from, men to be with who understand their need for activities that are challenging and socially and spiritually constructive and that stretch them and give them a chance to learn manly skills, men to love and who love them, men who are models of what a man ought to be…
If the Lord’s program is effectively operating, literally no boy in the whole Church should be without the blessing of choice men in his life, and every boy will, in fact, have several good men actively concerned for his well-being.
I thought of all the good men that have taught my boys in church or in Scouts, and I just felt overwhelmed with gratitude that this model is being followed, and that it's working! It seems so perfectly set up. Boys need men—but the Lord knew that not all boys would HAVE good men to follow. And so within the inspired priesthood organization, there are constant opportunities for the men to influence each other (and especially the boys!) for good. Even if each man only manages to find time to fill ONE of his stewardships very well at any given time, the collective strength of the priesthood has a chance to reach every boy through Home Teacher, Home Teaching companion, Sunday School teacher, Quorum Advisor, Scoutmaster, Bishop, Bishop's counselor, Young Men's President, Young Men's counselors—not to mention those men who simply befriend their young priesthood brethren without having a specific calling to do so.

I'm in awe of how neatly "the Lord's program" works. For a boy with an upright, involved, righteous father, the influence of other men is perhaps less critical, but in that case the boy and his father can work together in their priesthood quorum to do true good for the other people around them. And for a boy without a male family role model, the priesthood order gives him a family, gives him fathers and brothers who can strengthen him and point him towards Christ.
I don't suppose a lot of good is said about groups of men these days. People seem to think that "locker room talk" and boasting and crudeness is not only typical, but inevitable. But I can't even put the men I know in the same universe as that sort of thing. They are so much better than that, or they CAN be. And in the groups of Priesthood holders I'm associated with, they ARE. I was in a classroom with a bunch of 14-year-old boys recently as my son was being ordained to the office of Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. I know these boys. They are just boys. I see them tipping back in their chairs and elbowing each other and snickering with their friends as they walk to the bus stop. I see them sitting with their heads bent over their knees during sacrament meeting, looking sullen or sleepy or bored. And yet when the teacher asked me to bear my testimony in that classroom, I was immediately overcome with my feelings of love for the Priesthood of God, which these boys bear, in my life. It was almost funny to stand up in front of them with their floppy hair and their too-short pants and their tipped-back chairs and feel such awe and gratitude, but I did! To me they suddenly looked like the "royal army" we are always singing about, full of strength and light. I felt so amazed that even these adolescent boys can have a confidence and a goodness that come from their association with the Priesthood. I felt so thankful for the good choices they have made and will make, and for the good men that guide them, and for the chance my own sons have to be influenced by that great fraternal order—rather than the kind of fraternities the rest of world thinks are "the only thing men and boys are capable of."

There were several other sections of Elder Hanks' talk I liked, but one that stuck out especially was this:
Boys need more than a promise and more than a name; they need to be permitted to test their strength, to use their abilities, to use their priesthood.
I had just been listening to President Uchtdorf's most recent talk about Alma and Amulek, where he encourages us to "find our Amuleks" and give them a chance to rise up from their current situations, to stretch themselves and become the great leaders God knows they can be. And this quote made me feel a similar urgency to seek opportunities for my boys to contribute to the work of the Lord. I do want them to be able to use their abilities and use their priesthood to serve others, and I think I could do more to think of situations where this could happen! Sometimes it's hard to face the thought of doing one more thing as a family, but I feel like serving others together, and maybe especially involving my older boys in the planning and carrying out of that service, would be a really worthwhile thing in helping them grow into their priesthood capabilities. I'm mulling over some ideas. We've used this website before to find service projects that families can do together, and there's a specific section geared to things that youth under 18 can do to volunteer! And I think I also shouldn't overlook the little, basic things that boys are always getting asked to do anyway—shoveling snow and babysitting and so forth. Even when there has been initial resistance, I can always see the pride and confidence in my boys when they have completed a job that they know was truly useful and truly needed (and I love the advice given in this post, especially #7 and #8!) so I'm going to try to search out more of those!

I'm so glad I have good boys in my life, and even more, a good husband who sets the bar high for them! And it's the gospel and the Priesthood that makes it all possible. What a blessing!

Other posts in this series:
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