This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session from the April 1974 Conference.
I sometimes think I'm more aware than I ought to be of what's coming next. I was always a just-get-it-over-with sort of person, ever since I was a little girl choking down bottled apricots so I could get to the tastier parts of my dinner. I couldn't enjoy anything else until I knew the thing I didn't like was out of the way! Even now, I still almost always save my favorite bite for last. And if someone offers me good news and bad news, I'll take the bad news first every time.

It goes further. For years now, Friday has been my favorite day of the week, because that's the day there are the most days of weekend ahead to look forward to. In the same way, Spring is my favorite season, because you still have the delights of Summer and Fall ahead before Winter comes. And…it's embarrassing to admit this, because I LOVE the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It may be my favorite day of all! But no matter how I try to stop it, every year as I sit outside enjoying the warm, stretched-out dusk, there's a little voice in my head reminding me, "The days are only getting shorter from here

This tendency gets me in trouble. Sometimes when I save my favorite part of the meal for last…I'm already full by the time I get to it! And for years, my Spring-and-Friday preferences have given me a sort of dread of Autumns and Sundays, just out of the contrary feeling that those times are when all the good things start to come to an end. It's haunting me in child-raising as well, when I find myself already mourning the loss of what isn't even lost yet, and dwelling on how these are surely going to be the happiest years with my children and…they're slipping by, they're falling away, marching ever closer to their inevitable end.

I don't know exactly what my problem is. Maybe it really is just a hyper-awareness of what's to come; a compulsive looking-ahead; an inability to relax and enjoy what is NOW. Maybe an innate desire for the happy ending; a preference for dispensing with the bad things quickly and being done with them, the better to enjoy the good. And so I find myself living a paradox: wanting to get quickly through the dark and cloudy parts of life so I can feel the sunshine—but at the same time, when the sunshine comes, feeling like I can't really savor it until there are no clouds on the horizon—and there are always clouds on the horizon, in one direction or another!

It can drive a person crazy, this circular thinking, especially when you're not sure where the circle starts or ends. (I've written SO much on it—it's one of "my themes" for sure.) Am I waiting for something better or dreading something worse? Is summer anything more than the beginning of winter? Maybe I'd be happier living these child-heavy years backwards, so we could END with the darling, wriggling, tiny babies? But that very thought exposes an obvious flaw in my thinking, because while those few months with a new baby are wonderful…they aren't actually the BEST part of childhood. At least, they weren't until I'd already had a few kids and realized how fleeting they were. And so many things about them are HARD; things that get better as time goes on. There are good things about every stage—and I'm not just saying that to put a cheerful face on things. I think in many ways, I enjoy Abe and Seb now more than I ever have! So it's really not true to say that all the good times come at the beginning, and it's certainly not true that I enjoyed them more at the beginning! My enjoyment increases more and more with time, experience, and perspective.

Old age, as I hurtle toward it, promises more of the same. A lot of peace and improvement and confidence, accompanied by pain and uncertainty and new challenges. And if I feel like nothing can be good unless it's wholly good, unclouded by the next thing cycling around…well then, I'm not going to enjoy anything ever, because those years are ahead of me, coming faster and faster. The gradual breakdown of the body, and then death. (But then…a new birth. So there is good on the horizon even then.)

Anyway, I'm exasperated with myself, and I don't want to keep falling into these old patterns of thinking. One breakthrough has come just in the last year or so as I've been working on making the Sabbath "a delight." As I said before, I used to quite dread Sundays—not for themselves, but because they represented (what I saw as) the end of a happy weekend, and our family time together. Sure, there was a whole day to go till Monday, but I was anticipating so aggressively that my Sundays suffered too! It's a cultural construct as well, of course; isn't everyone supposed to hate Mondays? And then why not Sundays, preemptively?

But when President Nelson urged us to find ways to make the Sabbath a delight, I resolved to somehow change my attitude. I've been looking for ways to make Sunday different from every other day. I go to sleep on Saturday night telling myself, "Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will be a day for God." I wake up and say to myself, "Hooray, it's Sunday! Today I will rest and be at peace. Today I will be renewed for the week to come." I started to say this even before I quite believed it, and little by little, it has become true! It feels miraculous. And something else has happened: my Sundays have lengthened! They used to be over almost before I knew it, but now, somehow, they have room for all sorts of things—almost everything I need to do, and even more. I'm still working on improving my Sunday worship, but I've come far enough that I know how possible improvement is, and that gives me even more resolve.

So I have a goal this year, as I wrote earlier, to do the same with Winter. To try not to dread it or hate it, but just accept it. To not look so anxiously or so frantically toward Spring that I miss what the quiet and stillness of Winter has to offer. I suppose I resolve this to some extent every year, but maybe this time it will take? I'd like to be at peace with how the natural world runs, in cycles: Winter always comes…but then, so does Spring! And after that, it must be admitted, Winter again! What are we to understand from such a set-up? Are we to be always looking for Spring? Or always keeping in mind that Winter is just around the corner? I often think of Benjamin Franklin's observation about the sun on George Washington's chair: was it a rising sun or a setting sun? That same question sums up so much of life!

And now it occurs to me, without really understanding fully, that there may be something beyond this back-and-forth mindset—something truer or deeper. Something that encompasses the whole cycle and finds joy in it. I'm not sure what heaven will be. Perhaps a permanent Spring, a permanent happy ending. But I can't think that's quite all of it, because "there must be opposition." Even when the victory is won and the celestial prize gained, there will be…Gods with their own children? Choosing evil, some of them? Choosing rebellion and alienation?

Yet even then, I have to think, the good must circle back. After the night, the day. Grace and mercy, light and truth. Those are God's realities. Those are God.

Clearly, my mindset is ill-adapted for these eternal truths. Still, I'm searching for what I can learn from cycles. "His course is one eternal round." I know they're important, because I'm seeing them everywhere! For example, from a talk by Elder S. Dilworth Young:
We can take comfort that the great events of the future have been prophesied in considerable detail, and that when they are fulfilled, the events of that fulfillment will occur as naturally and as surely as have those of the distant past. There will be scoffers and disbelievers in that day also, who will, up until the very moment of the appearance of the Son of Man, declare that the believers are fools for believing.
I feel such a sense of…hmm…place in God's plan as I read this. Prophets have always seen what was to come. There have always been skeptics, too, who are sure the prophets will be proved wrong. We are as much a part of that cycle as were those in Noah's day, or Lehi's, or Christ's! Just as blind. Just as susceptible to error. But just as much in God's hand, too, if we will stay there.

Then there's Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
The Preexistence is not some remote and mysterious place. All of us are but a few years removed from the Eternal Presence, from him whose children we are and in whose house we dwelt. All of us are separated by a thin veil only from the friends and fellow laborers with whom we served on the Lord’s errand before our eternal spirits took up their abodes in tabernacles of clay. 
True, a curtain has been drawn so we do not recall our associations there. But we do know that our Eternal Father has all power, all might, all dominion, and all truth and that he lives in the family unit. We do know that we are his children, created in his image, endowed with power and ability to become like him. We know he gave us our agency and ordained the laws by obedience to which we can obtain eternal life. We know we had friends and associates there. We know we were schooled and trained and taught in the most perfect educational system ever devised, and that by obedience to his eternal laws we developed infinite varieties and degrees of talents.
Again that sense of belonging! We were with God before. We will be with him again. Our talents and education span these eras in our existence. The circles stretch backward and forward, but we are continually in them, as is our Father. He has not left us alone.

And then Elder Franklin D. Richards shows how cycles shape even the most personal of narratives:
It should be recognized that testimonies can be acquired, testimonies can be kept, and testimonies can be lost…To those of you who feel that you have a firm testimony, remember: a testimony is never static; a testimony can be lost. To keep it alive, it must be fed. Continue to study, pray, attend church, and be involved. This will not only keep your testimony alive, but it will expand and become more meaningful in your life.
There's the familiar worrying reminder of cycles: sure, you have a testimony NOW, but is it waxing or waning? Must we always be worrying that things will change? But—here there is also a new insight added. Certainly the solidity of a testimony is real, Elder Richards says. So is its impermanence: but only if we forget it and let it dwindle. If we continually nourish it, it will become "a tree springing up into everlasting life"—and I find no suggestion of winter or old age in that description. Just "everlasting life." A living testimony, constantly fed, can endure forever! Is it an exception to the law of cycles? Or perhaps an expansion of it?

Well, this post has been just the sort of thing I hate: a bunch of what-ifs and musings without any sort of conclusion, bringing up more questions than it answers. It's because I don't yet know how to draw these threads closed. But I will make one more attempt at closure with this quote, which I found via this encouraging post:
The answer is: everything is doomed, but the more interesting question is: “And then what?” And the surprising answer is, “Well, then they get un-doomed.” And what’s more: all the work put in before is not for naught:
The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh. 
So: it is good that you’ve noticed a downward slide in society. But that should not make you despair that it’s unrecoverable, or applies to every individual, and nor should it make you despair from seeing the far ending, because you haven’t looked far enough.
I love that. If we're seeing the bad-follows-good view, rather than the good-follows-bad view, we just "haven't looked far enough!" I don't know how it all works, but because I trust God, I think the cycles are meant to comfort us. It all depends on where you start and where you end—and didn't we start with God? Didn't we start with family and goodness and light? And God promises that we can end there, too, which suggests that cycles are meant to show us that good things always come around again. Light always prevails.

These verses below, maybe my favorite of any in the entire scriptures, seem to suggest that, like that living testimony Elder Richards hinted at, the cycle—someday—can change its nature. Certainly, eternal life is a type of cycle, but not the type we're used to, taking us from light to dark or youth to age:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new… 
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
Somehow, I think, in the end, God will transcend the cycles we know: the cycles of sin and pride and failure. The cycles that keep bringing us away from Him. Because when the whole of our cycles, when the beginnings AND the ends of our existence, are founded in an alpha-and-omega God, there WILL be both the eternal rest, the happy ending—and also the progression forward, the refusal to stagnate. I don't comprehend it, but I can almost feel it. And whether because the need for opposition has passed, or because we carry our own light forever with us, I think in that day, the darkness will never come again.

Other posts in this series:

Leaves, leaves, leaves (and a caterpillar)

It has been SO so beautiful outside and we can't just bear to miss it. We've gotten very efficient at throwing a picnic into the cooler (yogurt, spreadable swiss cheese, crackers, and juice—I always keep those things on hand—and hard-boiled eggs and muffins or brownies too, if we have a little bit of lead time), packing up our schoolwork, and running off to the mountains—whenever possible! There has also been lots of bits-and-pieces waiting time as we drive various kids to choir practice and piano lessons, for at least some of us to enjoy the leaves and the weather. It is wonderful and, every time, I wish it could last longer. I have a goal not to dread winter this year—to enjoy it and live in the moments as they come—but these golden days make it difficult not to feel greedy for more.
See? Hard at work.
We found a fuzzy caterpillar!

To arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session from the April 1974 Conference.
As I was reading President Monson's "The Paths Jesus Walked," I kept thinking fondly, "Oh, good old President Monson. This sounds so like something he would say!" And then after a few more paragraphs…"Wait a minute, this sounds exactly like something he would say." And then, "Hey…I'm sure this is something he DID say!" :) It gave me such a strange sense of deja-vu!

So I went back a few conferences to 2014 and thank goodness for my sanity, there it was: a talk by President Monson titled "Ponder the Path of Thy Feet." It even included the same key points: the importance of walking where Jesus walked. The paths of disappointment, temptation, and pain. The paths of obedience, service, and prayer. The two talks were, in essence, the same talk, given forty years apart!

After I realized how similar these talks were, I started thinking about the possible reasons for it. I'm sure some people would think it was evidence of laziness or tiredness or senility, but I obviously reject those answers. (And it seems kind of silly to be critical of someone repeating himself…every forty years! Ha!) Of course, there could have been purely practical reasons for the reprise. The apostles are so busy and have to speak SO often and to so many audiences, it makes sense that they occasionally repeat a talk or a portion of a talk. No reasonable person would expect otherwise! But, on another and maybe more likely level, the repetition also made me think about the idea of "channels" I wrote about earlier. I like the idea that there are certain things that President Monson returns to again and again. I've noticed it in other prophets too—kind of a theme or refrain that comes back repeatedly throughout their lives. I feel like I have these themes myself, on a smaller scale (at least I haven't noticed them stretching over decades…yet…but perhaps they will). When I was in high school I gave a talk on gratitude, and after that I felt like it was sort of "my own" subject or my life's theme for awhile. I almost felt like an expert on it, because my ears would perk up anytime I heard or read anything about it, and I was keeping gratitude journals and thinking a lot about what gratitude meant and how to have it. That faded after a time as I moved on to new questions and ponderings (and when I gave another talk on gratitude years later, I realized my understanding had matured and there was much MORE to understand; I wasn't as much of an expert as I'd thought!)—but I have felt many such personal "themes" since then. So it makes me happy to think of President Monson experiencing something similar. Finding his thoughts turning over and over to the path Jesus walked. And in his 1974 talk, we even get a clue as to WHY he may have had his thoughts pointed in that direction:
…President Lee inspired in all of us a desire to achieve perfection. He counseled us, “Keep the commandments of God. Follow the pathway of the Lord.” 
One day later, in a very sacred room on an upper floor of the Salt Lake Temple, his successor was chosen, sustained, and set apart to his sacred calling. Untiring in his labor, humble in his manner, inspiring in his testimony, President Spencer W. Kimball invited us to continue the course charted by President Lee. He spoke the same penetrating words, “Keep the commandments of God. Follow the pathway of the Lord. Walk in his footsteps.”
It's interesting to think of President Monson, a prophet himself, listening to another prophet with such careful attention. I can imagine him hearing President Lee talk about "the pathway of the Lord," and then when President Kimball used that same phrase, thinking, "Okay. It must be important. So I better figure out what, exactly, that might mean!" And then pondering and praying and thinking it over until he, too, felt "the pathway of the Lord" as one of his life themes.

And of course, as prophet, if HIS thoughts keep going there, it's pretty certain OUR thoughts could benefit from going there too, which I suppose is another reason he may have felt impressed to give a variation on this talk again. It also made me think of the many times in the scriptures when the rising generation fails to grasp something that their fathers and mothers understood. I was just reading about a book called God Has No Grandchildren, which sums up the point nicely. We each have to form our own relationship with God, and learn for ourselves that we are His children. My parents may have heard this talk the first time around. It may have inspired them and motivated them. But none of that does ME any good, unless I too hear and learn those truths. And in this case, President Monson kindly repeated them for us, just to emphasize that they are as relevant for us now as they were forty years ago.

The talks weren't exactly the same, though. President Monson used different illustrations throughout. And I was happy that I read the old one as well as the recent one, because there were a few little phrases from the 1974 talk that caught my attention (probably partly because they fit with some of my own current "themes"---ha ha!). One was this:
[God] commands, and to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship; and they shall learn in their own experience who he is.
I love this, because it reminds me that God, to each of us, is just what each of us needs Him to be! That sounds a little like making God in our OWN image, but that's not what I mean. Of course we can try to correct misconceptions and prejudices of our own, to learn the truth of who God is. But I just mean that he leads and teaches us exactly according to our abilities and needs. I've been talking with a friend about this a lot as we try to puzzle through being good parents to our own kids, and we've just noticed how much variation there is in what our own children need. Some of them need more motivation, some need a little less prodding—and it can change from month to month with the same child. It requires so much stretching to meet all those needs! It feels strange sometimes to have to give of yourself in such varied ways as a parent, and you always worry if you are being fair! But this paragraph struck a chord with me, especially those words "they shall learn in their own experience who he is"—because who God is changes with who WE are! Not ultimately, of course. He is all-encompassing; everything just and merciful and good all at once. But who He is TO US changes even from year to year, as we need and seek and learn different things. It makes me excited for someday, when I will be able to see and grasp ALL that God is—but I like knowing that, until then, He knows how to reveal Himself to me as the perfect Father; the exact type of Father I need Him to be at that moment in time and space.

My other favorite moment from the 1974 talk was this:
The passage of time has not altered the capacity of the Redeemer to change men’s lives. As he said to the dead Lazarus, so he says to you and me: “… come forth.” (John 11:43.) Come forth from the despair of doubt. Come forth from the sorrow of sin. Come forth from the death of disbelief. Come forth to a newness of life. Come forth.
I love this so much! It never occurred to me to see the raising of Lazarus as anything but a symbol of our own eventual resurrection, but President Monson expands the symbolism so much further! This is one of my favorite stories anyway, with the "Jesus wept" verse to remind us how Jesus weeps with us in times of sorrow, even with his larger perspective on what joy will follow. And combined with this idea that "Come forth" is a command for all of us, it means even more! It also reminds me of President Nelson's talk in this October's conference. God comes to us, even in our dark places. He weeps with us in love and compassion, but He doesn't want us to stay there in the dark, weeping. He wants us to come forth! He wants us feel joy. Jesus wants us to, with Lazarus, step out of the darkness, trailing the tatters of our fears and sins and failures. He wants us to come toward His voice, leave the tomb, and rise, with Him, into the light! It's such a beautiful symbol!

This week as I've had President Monson's recurring "Path" theme on my mind, I keep thinking of a line from T.S. Eliot (which I've probably quoted before, and a lot less than forty years ago, too!):
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
I think of President Monson, starting on the path of discipleship so long ago, and staying on that path so faithfully. He has probably pondered every principle of the gospel, written sermons on every aspect of the doctrine of Christ, heard counsel on every facet of God's plan. And yet, he hasn't become bored or complacent or weary. He cares about these truths as if they were new to him. He stays continually amazed (as President Uchtdorf reminded us we ALL should be) at God's goodness, and continually inspired by Christ's example. He gave this same talk after forty years of thinking about Jesus' path—and it still meant something to him. And it should mean something to us, even if it doesn't seem new or surprising! Because as we patiently tread those same furrows he spoke of—the disappointments, the temptations, the pain—we are not actually going in circles. We are moving upward. We are moving forward. And we are gaining a little more knowledge and light with each step, so that someday, we WILL arrive where we started: in the presence of God. And because of our experiences in mortality, we truly will know and appreciate that place fully for the first time!

Other posts in this series:


I really oughtn't to listen to old recordings of my children singing with their choir while I edit pictures; it makes me far too sentimental. Little Abe! And his little angelic voice, now only a memory underneath his newly-deep tones. But let's be honest: I'm sentimental anyway. Anything that requires me to think about the rushing passage of time sends me off into that half-sweet, half-sad aching reverie, where I start getting teary-eyed thinking about how someday all those little dirty fingerprints will be gone from my walls and doors, never to return…and then I hear screaming and crashing from what is supposed to be a room full of sleeping children, and realize that those dirty little fingers are in the act of creating MORE mischief at that very moment…and the mood passes.

But it comes back with a vengeance when I realize how long we've been riding the ski lift at Sundance with my brother's family in the Fall, and how we've all grown and changed since we started! Well. I can't dwell on it too long, or I fall apart. Anyway, here is the record of it, so I can cry again next year! :)
A tree full of birdies!

Silver Lake, part The Second

These trips to Silver Lake were just a few weeks apart, and it's so fun to compare the colors! I could go here every day in Fall and never tire of it. And if you add in a visit with my brother Philip and his family…well…it is pretty much perfect.
A little snow had fallen since we last came! You can see it up on the high peaks. And it was chillier.

A little cloudier.


Insect hunters at Silver Lake

We like to head up into the canyons as often we can in the Fall—I get this sort of desperation when the weather is nice, like maybe this will be literally the LAST CHANCE WE EVER GET to enjoy it. Often we take our lunch and do our schoolwork outside as well. We try to get to all the canyons at some point, but I'm always up for multiple visits to Silver Lake, and do you know why? Because you can push a stroller the whole way around the lake! :) This particular day we were hunting for insects. And we found lots of them! Dragonflies and butterflies especially. Maybe they are feeling that autumnal desperation too.
Oh, Seb and Malachi. Thank you for those expressions. And that's Daisy's "big kid" look. I know because she told me. "This is how I look when I feel like one of the big kids."
Teddy, pleased to be let out of the stroller temporarily. Very temporarily.
Marigold stepped off this rock and fell immediately onto her face. She had a scabby lip for days, poor dear!

An art developed through practice

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Afternoon Session from the April 1974 Conference.
I spent a long time deliberating which talk to write about from this session. There were a lot of good ones! But the one I thought about longest, and kept coming back to, was Elder H. Burke Peterson's "Mother, Catch the Vision of Your Call." I was (and am) a little hesitant to write about this talk, because I'm not sure how to take all of it. Some of his charges sound old-fashioned and I KNOW they would be leapt upon with great indignation by many women today, probably accompanied by head-shaking about the "pervasive sexism" of past generations. I'm actually inclined to defend him, because read more carefully, the talk really does contain a lot of nuance and understanding of different situations. He allows for exceptional circumstances and acknowledges difficult tradeoffs, as well as encouraging mothers to give themselves ample time for personal development. This is no inflexible sexist tirade! But because his phrases sound foreign to modern ears, there's a bit of a language barrier.

Anyway, I'm never completely sure, reading these old talks, which things were specific charges for their time, which things still hold true even though they are said differently now, which things should be allowed to fade into the past, and so forth. But I do believe that there is always wisdom and truth to be found as we search for it in the words of the prophets. And I know I'm more likely to find that truth if I read with an open mind and don't get defensive! So I'm trying to do that.

There were a few insights that made particular impressions on me from this talk. One was not really even a direct quote, but more of an implication. Elder Peterson says:
Remember, a loving Father in heaven sent some of his own for you to care for…Children are not a gift to us, but a precious loan, a priceless loan to be returned—returned more valuable than when we received them, understanding more, better prepared to return to him who lent them to us. The charge is ours to increase their worth.
I know, of course, that our children truly belong to God, but his phrasing here recalls the parable of the talents, and I had never thought of that parable in the context of families. It's interesting to think that we are seeking to increase the "value" of our children by teaching them, guiding them, and giving them the tools to become faithful servants of God. It's not a perfect metaphor because our children, naturally, have their own agency and abilities which determine how they will progress. But I still like the idea that I can be part of that magnification process, helping one talent become two and two become ten as my children grow up under my care. I like the idea of returning them to their true Father "better than I found them"—not because I necessarily did anything to them, but because I created an environment in which they could flourish and be "added unto."

Another section I liked was when Elder Peterson reminded:
You learn to do by doing, you learn to be by being…motherhood is an art to be developed through practice. This art isn’t easy to learn, but learn you can because as you strive, the Lord will bless you with growth, patience, wider understanding, and loving warmth for your family’s special needs.
Sam and I have had many discussions about what "talent" actually means. People will say to me when I play the piano, or to him about his art, "You are so talented!" and we both tend to think, "What? Talented? This isn't talent, it's hard work!" I suppose there might be innate tendencies to enjoy certain activities, but neither Sam nor I were child prodigies, nor showed particularly amazing gifts in our chosen areas of study. We both know people who are much more innately "talented" in the sense that ability has come quickly and easily to them. But we have both spent countless hours developing our abilities and trying to become better at what we love, so we tend to think that the "talent" part is overrated—that anyone willing to work hard can become proficient, if not brilliant, at their chosen art.

But, we have also wondered—maybe that desire to keep working at something until you excel IS a sort of talent? And so I like Elder Peterson's phrase "an ART to be DEVELOPED." Wouldn't the usual phrase be "a SKILL to be developed"? But the term "an art" suggests more to me than "a skill." "An art" seems like it has room for creativity, passion, variation. And then to pair it with the idea that it takes hard work and practice; it's not just a "gift." I love that. Both factors come into play: the art and the hard work. The gift, and the using of it. Certainly I believe that motherhood is an innate role and gift of women—but not in the sense that it just comes naturally to all of us. Instead, I think the "gift" is that women all have the potential to become true, godlike mothers—as we work at it! I think, in motherhood as in many other things, love and facility comes as proficiency increases.

That's not to say that one can only enjoy motherhood when one gets good at it! Thank goodness, because then none of us would ever dare have children. But I do think we might tend to overlook the hard work that goes into developing our abilities in that area, for example when we assume mothers we admire are just "more cut out for mothering" than we are. Or when we feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the demands placed upon us. I tend to feel like if I'm not good at it by NOW, when will I EVER be? But yet, I AM growing in this calling of motherhood. Some things that used to be hard are now…less hard. Others are downright easy. Others are still completely baffling, but that's what I mean: they shift. And why not decide to buckle down and just PRACTICE some aspect of motherhood, the way I'd tackle a difficult piano piece? And why not celebrate the fact that this development is already happening as I face my daily challenges? And why not give myself the spiritual benefit of treating the calling of motherhood as more "art" than drudgery?

As Elder Peterson says, "you learn to be by being," and I'm grateful that through these years of being a stay-at-home mother, I've been able to put significant time and energy—maybe MOST of my time and energy—into trying out various family routines, changing and perfecting schedules, finding new ways of teaching and working together, and so forth. I still have a long way to go before I will feel truly "proficient" at motherhood (and perhaps that time will never come), but I do at least feel comfortable here, which seemed like an almost unreachable goal when I first become a mother! None of the routines themselves last forever, since life and its rhythms are always changing, but the art and skill of managing those rhythms in our home has been a great blessing to me. It's a hopeful thought that I could even elevate motherhood to the level of an ART—in the next life, if not in this one—as I develop my gifts and keep practicing!

Other posts in this series:

Spirals and salt

We loved our visit to the Spiral Jetty so much last year, I wasn't sure we should go again, for fear it wouldn't live up to our memories of it! But, we also DID want to go there again, and my brother and his family were going to stop there on their way down from Idaho, so it seemed worth it to at least see them. Sam couldn't go with us, and I was a little nervous about driving clear out there with the kids by myself, but I figured as long as we started home before dark I would probably be okay. (Oh! And Sam took Teddy with him to his meetings, so I didn't have to worry about a grumpy baby falling into the water and scraping his hands on the salt and so forth all day, so that was VERY helpful.)

We needn't have worried, because again, we had a great time! It was a much warmer day than last time, so we enjoyed just being outside! We brought our rain boots with socks—and extra pairs—this year (since wet feet inside boots were the cause of much discomfort last year), but I'm also thinking water shoes would be a good option, since the boots inevitably get water in them. 

Last year the Salt Lake was SO pink, it was like being on another planet! I was a little disappointed to see that it was much less pink this year. But it had its own more peaceful beauty on this calm day. Less foam, fewer waves, and just a pale pink cast to the grey-blue water, with the sun shining down through. Still a bleak, barren landscape. Still otherworldly. Just…a different other world. :)
On the way there we stopped at the Golden Spike historic site, as one must when heading out that direction, and were so pleased to see the two replica steam engines driving up to meet each other just as we arrived! Last time we went, we only got to see them in the engine shed, so we were happy to see them actually working! I thought they stopped sending out the locomotives after Labor Day, so this was a pleasant surprise.
These guys had to reenact the historic handshake again, naturally.
Then it was on to the jetty! Of course, the boys set off to conquer the hill immediately. See them way up there at the top?
And the girls and I headed out to the jetty, and then on past it to the shore of the lake.

Guardsman Pass Leaves

This is one of my favorite drives, especially when I get to do it without a vanful (spell check is telling me that isn't a real quantity, but I assure you it IS) of children! Sam and I left the little darlings home and drove this by ourselves in the small car, and it was so, so lovely. Uninterrupted conversation and beautiful scenery; what more could one ask for?
It was one of those cloudy/sunny days where the light is constantly changing. I loved that because it made certain sections of the mountain practically leap out at you with their vibrance as the sun passed over the colors!
A glimpse of higher aspens
The sun at this angle made the atmospheric perspective quite pronounced, with a haze muting the colors on faraway ridges. But it also made the light come through the closer leaves and set them glowing against the dark background, so I couldn't complain.


Let that day be today

This is a fun week for the General Conference Odyssey because we get to come back to our own time for a week! I haven't had as much time to digest the talks and their messages (we don't even have transcripts yet, so I'm working from my very imperfect notes), and as always after Conference, I'm overwhelmed with the volume and depth of information to absorb. But here are a few thoughts from this most recent meeting, the October 2016 General Conference!
When I was in High School Seminary, one of my teachers gave us the challenge of preparing for General Conference by thinking of and writing down three questions we were wondering about. He promised us that at some point during Conference, our questions would be answered. I remember thinking how amazing such a claim was, and how miraculous it would be if each person could truly get an answer to an individual question in such a general setting! And yet—that's exactly what happened. My questions, simple as they were, were answered.

Since that time, I have only occasionally used the "come with a question" technique for Conference. A few times I've come with a question and NOT felt I found the answer, but I've never felt too bad about it: I've attributed it to my lack of attention or knowledge, or perhaps to God's intention to make me wait and seek longer for understanding. And then, sometimes I haven't felt like I HAD any significant questions, sometimes I've just been too busy to think of anything, and other times my worries and questions have been so vague and overwhelming that I don't feel like they are distillable into words. (I did once have a significant experience with this last situation, which maybe I'll write about some other time.) I love Conference, but I think over the years I also lost a little confidence in "coming with a question."

This October, since I have been in a sort of state of constant questions about various issues for a few months now, it felt like a natural time to try again to pray and seek guidance specifically on these things during Conference. I made a list of several things I'd been thinking about, ranging in seriousness from vague curiosity to anxious fretting, and tried to go into Conference with the appropriate balance of confidence that they would be answered, and equanimity if they weren't.

As I said, I'm still sorting through the doctrine in the talks, and the feelings I felt while listening, but I was surprised how many "question-relevant" insights went through my head—even during seemingly-unrelated talks! I think that's one thing I underestimated in my previous "come with a question" experiences. I would notice that there was no talk specifically addressing my topic of concern, and think, "Oh no, no one answered my question!" But I may not have been taking into account the spiritual promptings that could come during other talks, or the insight that would come later as previously-unnoticed sections stuck out to me.

Another problem I've struggled with repeatedly is that of discerning which, exactly, are the spiritual promptings I'm feeling, and which are not. During the past few years, however, I've made a commitment to, when in doubt, err on the side of believing that God IS speaking to me and intervening in my life. I decided that the sin of NOT acknowledging His blessings and revelation was a greater risk than the possible sin of OVERestimating His involvement. And, in fact, one of the talks (Elder Rasband's) addressed that very thing when he said something like, "Never forget, question or ignore personal sacred experiences." I'm trying to follow that counsel even though my natural inclination is often to assume that I'm not deserving or important enough to receive direct divine help.

Perhaps the most meaningful line in Conference to me was K. Brett Nattress' mother's promise to her difficult boy that "I will not lose you," and Elder Nattress' assertion that "the gospel is about one little boy who might claim he's not listening." Along the same lines, I loved Lynn G. Robbins' speculation that perhaps when Christ opened the "mouths of babes" in the Book of Mormon, it was actually the eyes and ears of the parents that were opened, to see who their children really were. These were all insights I needed and desired to have.

Two other talks that I loved were President Uchtdorf's and President Nelson's twin sermons on Amazement and Joy. This was one of the themes running through Conference for me (which must mean it's something I particularly need to hear: I've also written about it recently here and here), and I found elements of it in President Eyring's talk on gratitude for the Sabbath Day, Elder Cook's talk on avoiding stumbling blocks, Elder Ballard's direction to focus on the blessings of being a church member, Elder Davies' talk on seeking profound experiences of worship, and Elder Cornish's reassurance that "we are good enough."

Basically, the common thread running through all these talks seemed to be that amazement, joy, gratitude, closeness to God, and transcendent spiritual experiences are there for us constantly, if we desire and seek them! It's the same idea I was reaching toward when I wrote this, and I feel its truth even more now. Usually when people say something is "realistic," they mean it includes all the drudgery and dirtiness and sadness of life. But hearing these talks, I felt like that kind of "realism" is the true illusion. When we live the kind of lives President Nelson and President Uchtdorf described, where we are constantly noticing and thanking God for His goodness, we break through the illusion Satan has set for us, and see the glorious reality that God has seen all along.

And, to anticipate an argument, I don't think there is anything in this view that disparages a person who currently feels immersed in the evils or hardships around him. People seem sensitive about having "their realities" acknowledged these days, and it's an understandable impulse. We don't like to have our very personal worries and struggles dismissed as mere imagination! But for me, it's actually helpful to have my worldview challenged a bit. In the book of Revelation, one of the recurring symbols is smoke pouring forth from a bottomless pit, and the smoke fills the air and darkens the sun. So yes, to those feeling their way through the smoke of sin and pain and disappointment, the darkness is "real," in a way. But it's local. It's not universally, fundamentally Real the way the sun is. That sun is there no matter what is happening below as the smoke ebbs and billows and flows. And yet those inside the smoke might vehemently defend "their reality" that there IS no sun, no clear air, only darkness and heaviness.

It seemed like what President Nelson and President Uchtdorf were trying to do with their talks was to wave away the smoke a bit, or lift us above the obscuring smoky clouds (for an airplane's view—I bet President Uchtdorf wishes he'd thought of that, ha ha) so we can see the actual, universal reality of God's goodness and our blessings. The Savior's atonement makes good news of everything: of beauty, because through Him it can be lasting; of ugliness, because through Him it is temporary; of happy families, because through Him they are eternal; of broken families, because through Him they can be healed—of sin, because through Him we can repent; of trial, because through Him we can grow from it; of political turmoil, because through Him we can learn the principles that bring peace; of hatred, because through Him it can be changed to love. I felt, listening to these apostles talk, that there is really nothing about which we can reasonably make the case for despair!

And I particularly loved how both President Uchtdorf and President Nelson ended with almost identical stirring calls to immediate action! This commandment to be grateful and see through eyes of joy and amazement isn't one that needs to be eased into (though I'm sure it's something that can get easier and more automatic with time). We can start doing it whenever we choose! Why not now? Elder Nelson said something like, "Joy is a gift that comes from intentionally living a righteous life. Every day can be 'a day of joy and gladness'!" And Elder Uchtdorf, similarly, said, "The day will come when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess the glory of God. For us, let that day be today!"

Other posts in this series:
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