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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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