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:
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