Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cycles

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:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

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!
While the others are hard at work, Goldie and I are usually just playing! :) I take so many pictures of her, you might be forgiven for thinking she's my favorite. (And you might be right…or perhaps it's just that she's easier to follow around than certain others I could name. And she's so SUNNY and fun to watch!)
She was actually rather concerned about all the leaves scattered on the rocks and the ground. She said she liked how "leavy" it was, but she kept fanatically brushing them off of things and saying "So many! So messy!" with a kind of borderline-hysterical laugh.
I LOVE this. Leaves on every flat surface, and some not-so-flat ones. Some soft, some crunchy. Every color.
Among the millions of leaves, she found a dirty old pretzel someone had dropped, naturally.
Daisy in her new "gingerbread" coat
I love how the colors shift from warm to cool when the clouds move.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

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:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sundance

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!
A seat full of monkeys!
And…a Goldie. Ta-da!
This is like when you watch Romeo and Juliet for the second time, and all the hopeful, joyful moments are tainted because you know what's to come, and it shadows everything. Ah, the innocence of youth! They look so happy! Little did Philip and Allison know what lay ahead! Minutes after this picture was taken, Allison would have to watch helplessly as her own beloved glove fell like lightning from heaven, down from Junie's heedless pocket in the seat ahead…down, down, down, to the ground below…never to be seen again!
THIS. This sums up Teddy's day perfectly. He had to wear this HAT, and then he kept being made to GO places and SIT places and WALK places. And, then at other times, being made to NOT go places and NOT walk places. How could anyone be expected to enjoy oneself under such circumstances? I ask you.
Ben, Daisy, Mom, Abe
Sebby, Goldie, Junie, Malachi
Don't be taken in by this scene of filial affection and obedience. Teddy was NOT pleased to walk alongside his daddy on the trail as a dutiful child ought. It lasted for but a short time before the tugging hand and arching back set in. We ended up carrying him most of the way, not that it made him much happier. Poor lamb.
The little friends again. You have Philip to thank for Daisy's double-jacket/hat/hood combo. He brought enough hats to hat the entire world. Luckily for us! I always underestimate how cold it will be on top of the mountain.
Goldie doing a little jazz-walk? One of those West Side Story sort of dances? 
Um…I don't know.
Now she looks like Mercutio.
…??…
Theo, somewhat happy.
Oh how I love those cheeks and eyelashes!
Lovely, golden, happy days, these are. Don't think I don't know it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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.
Philip kept hatting and coating and blanketing everyone, making sure they were warm. He is good that way. Although I do think his Utah hardiness may have diminished a bit after so many years of the Good Life in California. Anyway, Theo was very thoughtful about having this blanket around his shoulders. At least he didn't immediately screech and throw it off, the way he did when I tried to put his jacket around him!
This was my favorite section of trees. I love this color of aspens! When they are just going orange on top like they've been toasting under the broiler for a minute.
Daisy and Ben
Cool and foreboding cloud!
Goldie contemplates the cosmos.
A philosophical head-tilt.
Windblown Junie.
Teddy, saying "Fish! Fish in there!" and "Quack, quack, hi, bye, go away!" with great intensity and urgency at the ducks.
The lower half of Abe. And Teddy, feeling his tooth.
The upper half of Abe. Smiling.
Philip and Allison and two twins. And one interloper.
Both halves of Abe.
Shadow and sun. I love it when the clouds are moving fast and the light keeps changing!
These trees, for example, looked completely different in the shadow…
than they did in the sunlight. Beautiful both ways!
Simultaneous pictures being taken. Good old Daisy choosing me over Philip.
So, so brilliantly gold! How is this not everyone's favorite color?
The group.
When Goldie came over to get her food out of our picnic basket, she was speaking all in chirps and cheeps. I didn't know why and didn't particularly think anything of it, but later when I saw her off by herself, eating her lunch in this little "nest," all became clear. She was a baby bird, of course.
Gorgeously beautiful day. So glad to have seen this second stage of the leafy canyon!