What is truth?

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the April 1978 Conference.
Sam and I were talking this week about how sometimes, living in a world where we can access information so easily, we start to feel like we can know more than we really can know. We've gotten used to being able to use the internet to support our side of an argument, find out a name we've forgotten, learn some needed skill. And it's easy to start assuming everything can be learned that way.

But it can't, of course. Some truth only comes through the spirit, through connection with God, and through an investment of time and effort and self. Some truth is too big for us to fully comprehend. Some is only comprehensible as we purify ourselves to receive it.

And there is another danger, too, as we become aware of how truth and untruth are mingled in our world. If we see too much "fake news," we might go to the other extreme and start to doubt that one can discern between truth and error at all. Probably we are all more susceptible to misinformation than we like to think. We can all be fooled, especially when "evidence" mirrors what we want to believe anyway. But it is a mistake to conclude, as some world-weary sorts do, that because of this, truth is unknown and unknowable.

That's how I imagine Pilate as he talked with Jesus. Cynical, weary, and slightly smug—sure that he was wiser than those wild-eyed fanatics who would follow anyone charismatic enough to stand out in a crowd. And sure that to his slightly derisive question "What is truth?" there could not be a satisfactory answer. But, as this talk by Elder John H. Vandenberg reminded me, Pilate was wrong:
With the question “What is truth?” Pilate left Jesus standing alone, without granting Him the courtesy of reply. One wonders why. Such action leads one to believe that Pilate feared the truth, perhaps as others might fear it—not being willing to face up to it, not wishing to take upon themselves the discipline and responsibility demanded by truth. 
Jesus said, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Those who are “of the truth” are those who sincerely seek after it. All of mankind should be seekers after truth for it is the supreme essence of their lives.
Truth does exist, and we can find it. Not easily, always, and not without sacrifice—but truth is there for those who are humble and diligent enough to ask God for His help to reveal it.

Elder Vandenberg quotes Francis Bacon as saying that
…the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.
"The belief of truth…is the enjoying of it." I love that because it reminds me that my search for truth isn't some esoteric quest for arcane knowledge that no one will ever use. It's something that makes a difference. It's not just useful to find truth, it's essential—because whatever true principles I can learn and apply will transform my life into something better and more joyful than it could ever be without those truths in it. 

Truths like "Loving your enemies brings you closer to God" and "He who loseth his life shall find it" aren't the sort of truths I could easily discover myself. They aren't taught by our world, and they are in many ways counterintuitive to my nature. But by coming to Jesus Christ, the ultimate Truth, I can learn such things. And knowing them gives me the ability to choose happiness, whenever I want it!  I can't think of a better gift from God.

Other posts in this series:

Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows

This seems like a good time to revisit homemade marshmallows, because my heart has softened to them! As you may recall, the first couple times I made these I was unimpressed, and even after I found a recipe I liked, I was unsure if they were worth the effort. But as we've kept making them over the years (the children insist that it's a December tradition now), I've started liking them more and more. Last year we added vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract, and that was really good. (I always keep this on hand and I looooove it!)

And then this year it occurred to me that we could add a different flavor and make these into peppermint marshmallows. So we crushed up some candy canes to sprinkle on top, added peppermint extract, and had something amazing on our hands. These are awesome (and remember, I really had to be talked into liking marshmallows in the first place). We're on our third batch this month! If you have the pan all greased and ready before you start, and if you beat the egg whites as the sugar mixture is boiling, and crush your candy canes as the marshmallow mixture is being beaten in the mixer, you can have these made and ready to chill in a half hour, easily. Set them outside to cool for a few hours, and they will be ready to go in your hot chocolate after Family Home Evening. :) I can unequivocally state, finally, that these marshmallows are worth making!

Peppermint Marshmallows 
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

About 1 cup powdered sugar
5-6 crushed candy canes (put them into a ziploc bag and hit them with a mallet or rolling pin)

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
A few drops of red food coloring

Spray bottom and sides of a 9x13 cake pan with pan spray, and dust bottom and sides with some powdered sugar. Sprinkle half of crushed candy cane dust onto bottom of cake pan.

In bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold cold water, and let stand to soften.

In a heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, to 240°F, about 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour hot sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With stand mixer, beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes.

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Add these egg whites to the sugar mixture and beat until just combined. Add peppermint extract. Add a few drops of red food coloring to make the mixture a pale pink color.

Pour mixture into baking pan and sprinkle other half of candy cane dust over marshmallows. Sift 1/4 cup powdered sugar evenly over top. Chill, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours. (I usually just set the pan outside for a few hours.)
The marshmallows look so pretty in the pan!

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and ease onto cutting board. With a pizza cutter, cut marshmallow into roughly one-inch cubes. Sift remaining powdered sugar back into your now-empty baking pan, and roll the marshmallows through it, on all six sides, before shaking off the excess and packing them away.

Invitations I have refused

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the April 1978 Conference.
Remember when President Hinckley challenged everyone in the church to read the Book of Mormon before the end of that year? I didn't do it. I can't remember why. I think I had just recently finished the Book of Mormon and was reading the New Testament or something. Anyway, I thought, "This is intended more for people who haven't read it yet, or who weren't otherwise planning to. But I know I WILL read it again sometime, so I don't need to necessarily do it right now."

A few years ago, our Stake President challenged the youth (and whoever else wanted to) in the stake to memorize The Living Christ. Again I felt like I had a pretty good reason for not doing it: our family had just barely memorized the Proclamation on the Family and that seemed like enough to worry about! I had also just gotten called as Young Women's President, and I reasoned that while I could "support" the young women who wanted to join the memorization project (and many of them did), I just couldn't handle the thought of adding another thing to what I was already doing.

Both of these times, I knew that accepting the invitations would have had benefits. I said to myself, "I know I'd be blessed for doing it. But I still just don't want to."

But…I did feel sorry later, both those times, and many other times when I've opted out of an opportunity I could have taken. The Living Christ memorization project was a wonderful testimony-building experience for those that did it. They still talk about how it has affected them. And the read-the-Book-of-Mormon challenge was the same way. There have been service projects, Relief Society activities, even meetings of various sorts—after which, when I've heard others talk about their experiences, I've realized wistfully, "That was a missed opportunity. I should have done that."

There have been a few challenges from the prophets lately that I've really wanted to take up. President Nelson talked again about studying The Living Christ, and remembering my previous failure to do so, I have resolved to do it with the kids this time! But that challenge was issued in April and we still haven't gotten to it. We intend to! But…we haven't. Then there's the challenge to read all the scriptures about Jesus Christ in the Topical Guide (the one that President Nelson said made him a "changed man"). I'm working my way through those. And of course, there's President Monson's challenge (reiterated multiple times in the most recent conference) to read the Book of Mormon every single day! Our bishop also usually gives a family challenge of some sort every year too.

Well…that's a lot to do! But…

When President Nelson was talking about his scripture study, he said that although it's tempting for all of us to think, "I don't have time for this," that is not a "faith-promoted" response, and that instead we should commit to make time, and use what time we have to do the best we can. That's inspiring to me (since I can only imagine how busy HE is!). President Eyring is equally inspiring, with the way he obediently took up President Monson's Book of Mormon challenge even though he could have easily rationalized (like I did above) that the challenge was for "someone else."

I don't really know where I'm going with this. I don't necessarily think it is wrong to refuse some invitations. Or at least it's understandable. You really can't do everything! And I think weighing and choosing between good things in a realistic way is a skill we all need to develop. So I'm not sure how far to go with it. I do think we could reasonably assume that anytime we DO accept a challenge/invitation from a church leader, we will be blessed. But I don't know that the converse (anytime we DON'T accept one we will be sorry) is true. Maybe God just understands when we fall short, and blesses us for whatever we make an effort toward. Maybe just not doing something is its own punishment. But…I don't know. More and more as I get older, I want all the blessings! And I'm not sure how to reconcile that with my actual (limited) abilities.

With that lengthy introduction, I'll quote the conference talk that started me thinking about all this in the first place. It's a talk by then-Elder Howard W. Hunter. He tells a story about a fourth-string quarterback that never expected to play in a game. In the last game of the season, he took off his shoes on the sideline, and of course, that's when the other quarterback got hurt and the fourth-string guy got called in. There was no time to put his shoes on, so he just had to go in barefoot, with predictable results. Elder Hunter uses this as a metaphor to remind us that we always need to be prepared for gospel opportunities the Lord might have in store for us. He says:
I want to invite the young men in this audience tonight to keep their gospel shoes on, to believe in the opportunities that lie ahead… 
As surely as I know anything, I know you young men are needed and will be called on to help the kingdom in the years ahead. Indeed, we call upon you now. We need your company and your friendship and your service and your standards. Some of your assignments may seem small to you, but they are very important and they prepare you for greater service to come.…
Then Elder Hunter describes some of the good things President Kimball did in his youth (like reading the Bible from cover to cover—another thing I've never done and am trying to do, very very slowly). He concludes:
Though [President Kimball] may never have dreamed it would someday be his, all of his life he has been getting ready for the assignment he now has.
It made me wonder what things in my past have prepared me for what I am doing now, and more importantly, what assignments God may now be preparing ME for in the future? What if one of these invitations I think I'm too busy for is exactly what I need to prepare me for what's coming next?

It doesn't solve anything to think of it that way, really. It doesn't make the allocation of time easier, or the weighing of different good options less confusing. But it makes me more determined than ever to just…try, I guess. To try to never refuse an invitation that might bless me. To try to at least approach these challenges with the faith and determination of President Nelson and President Eyring. So that when the hard and harder trials come my way, I can say to myself, "All my life I have been getting ready for this"—and dive in, unafraid.

Other posts in this series:

People and things I thought were worth taking pictures of

Some miscellaneous pictures, with no particular theme…except the theme of people being cute.
Bright eyes
Fish face
Daisy at the Activity Day Girls' "Richard Simmons Exercise Day" (not that she knows anything about the 80's, or Richard Simmons, but she was SO excited about it anyway)
Abe is a super driver
Teddy with his "bags on his feet" at the Cedar City Temple Open House. Or "Sitter Seedy Temple," as Goldie and Teddy kept calling it.
And the most exciting part of that temple trip—the shuttle bus!
Walking to church
Teddy being mad about his bunny coat, for some reason. He loves bunnies, which is why I'm not sure what his problem was here!
Sam drew this Auto Transport, transporting bunnies of course, for Teddy during church.
That led to Sebby drawing this dump truck dumping out bunnies…
And this garbage truck dumping out bunnies. 
I came back to check on Ziggy after he was napping and found him LIKE THIS! Having wiggled out of the neck of his suit. I don't know how he did it!?!
Piano duet with bunny
THIS is what Abe wore to his piano recital! Sunglasses and all. I must admit he pulled it all off with great panache (or is 'aplomb' the word I want?). He whipped out the sunglasses and put them on right before the blues piece he played. Smooth! If only he could have brought Nutmeg to the recital as well…

Prayer as faith-food

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the April 1978 Conference.
Elder George P. Lee had some remarkable stories in his talk—like how his older brothers tied him up and tried to make him drink wine and beer. (They sounded like Laman and Lemuel!) But here's the section that stuck out to me the most:
Your faith needs nourishment through prayers. Exercise the muscle of the faith until it is one of such strength that it will sustain you. Beloved youth, get on your knees. The Lord has a testimony just for you—one that fits your size and needs—but you have to ask for it.
Your faith needs nourishment through prayers. I keep thinking about that statement and why it might be true. How does praying (a faithful act) nourish faith, other than just being a way to exercise that faith? You would think faith would be nourished by fulfillment—like, if you had faith the sun would come up and then it DID come up, your faith would be nourished.

And actually, I think this principle IS related to that. I was thinking awhile ago about how if you don't ask for something, you can't have it granted to you. So, for example, suppose I get an unexpected check—a tax refund I'd forgotten about, or something—in the mail. That would be great, but not really a miracle. But suppose I had been asking God for help in paying my rent, and THEN the check arrived. In this case, it would seem much more like a miracle! So even if God was responsible for the blessing in both cases, in the first case I wouldn't really even recognize it as a blessing.

It could be something a lot smaller, too. Something really mundane, like seeing a hummingbird. If I haven't been praying for anything, IF I even notice it at all, I see it and think, "Huh, that's pretty. Dad loved hummingbirds." And it's just a thing that…happened. But if I've been praying, "Please help me know that my dad is aware of me from the spirit world. I miss him, so please help me somehow feel his love"—and THEN I see a hummingbird, I can now interpret and accept that sign for what it really is: a blessing and an answer to prayer.

Furthermore, as someone commented in our Sunday School class the other day, "If I pray for something and it's granted, that's wonderful. I know God answered my prayer and I feel his love because of it. If I pray for something and don't get it, that is also wonderful. That gives me a chance to exercise even stronger faith because it's faith in the face of apparent silence. This is an opportunity for even more spiritual growth." But the key is that neither of those scenarios can transpire if we don't pray in the first place!

Prayer helps clear our vision to see the blessings God is already giving us. Prayer helps blessings seem like blessings.

"But," I can hear someone protesting, "if I pray for enough things to happen, then everything will start to seem like a miracle!"


Other posts in this series:

Glory be to God for Dappled Things (Ziggy's birth story)

When I was in third or fourth grade, I had a recurring nightmare. The details varied, but the feel of the dream was always the same. I was outside at dusk. The light was violet and fading, and I was turning from side to side, trying to find something in the shadows. But I couldn't see. Everything was dim and out of focus. I would blink again and again, trying to open my eyes wider, trying to wipe away the blurriness, but no matter how frantic I became, my vision held only shadow and twilight.

In real life, I had just gotten glasses, and I had said to my mom, breathlessly, as we walked out of the optometrist, "I can see the points on the stars!" It was the happiest thing in the world. And apparently, once I could see clearly, my subconscious had some issues with it ever having been otherwise. But I don't think that was all there was to that dream. You know that story about how Mozart's mom would get him out of bed by playing an incomplete scale on the piano, because it would bother him so much he would have to run downstairs to complete it? That's me. I like resolution. Not just in my eyesight, but in everything. I like the sort of books about which critics write, "Everything was tied up a little too neatly." I like to analyze things; to classify them and to understand them. It's not that everything must be literal: metaphors with multiple interpretations are okay; open-ended symbolism is okay—as long as I can cobble together some meaning out of it, I'm fine. But deliberate obscurity? Purposeful lack of resolution? It literally gives me nightmares.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me begin again.

It wasn't easy being pregnant with our eighth baby. I don't mean to be insensitive by saying that. I know that any pregnancy is a blessing; and a healthy, normal pregnancy even more so. I certainly didn't have any discomfort bad enough that I'd feel okay complaining to a pioneer ancestor about it. And I am lucky enough to really like many parts of being pregnant! So when I say it wasn't easy, I don't mean more or less than this: it was uneasy. I was uneasy. Not in a foreboding sort of way, but in an unresolved sort of way: I felt like I had unfinished business, and it nagged at me.

Well…pregnancy is unfinished business by definition, honestly. So what was different? I don't know if I can describe it, and I always feel hesitant to share too much about questions of family planning. It's so personal! And it doesn't belong to me alone. But lately I've been feeling that maybe too little is said, collectively, on the subject, and then people end up feeling like they're the only ones struggling to figure it out. So I will just say that the decision about if and when to have more children has never been simple for us—nor do I think it's meant to be, though maybe it is for some people. For me, it's been a time when preferences and duties and abilities, hopes and insecurities and expectations, become all tangled up in the long strands of eternity, and my clumsy mortal fingers seem incapable of loosening those knots. 

This time it was no different. We prayed and considered and waited and disagreed and questioned. I kept telling Heavenly Father that I truly would sacrifice whatever he required! I assured him that I was ready to obey whatever course he had in mind for us. All I asked was that I could please KNOW what that course was. I felt I could handle anything…except uncertainty. And then of course I would think of those lines from Lead Kindly Light: Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see/ the distant scene. One step enough for me. And somehow I feared deep down that that was the sacrifice God was going to require.

And that's exactly what transpired. Moments of clarity between long stretches of obscurity; whisperings, large and small—but no road map. No vision of what was to come. Nothing tangible to grasp except a hundred quiet assurances and a repeated message which was beyond words but sounded something like: Wait, and you'll see.
I really would have rather seen RIGHT NOW, but I held on to that assurance through the months, before and after I found out I was expecting. And life was full, as it always is, of schedules and deadlines and immediate concerns. I alternated between busy days not even remembering I was pregnant, and long, wakeful nights where I was full of questions and fears. As when I was pregnant with Theodore, I wished for more time to sit and ponder, maybe to get some glimpse of who this baby was, but it was so hard to slow down and actually do that! Light and shadow, the summer raced on.

The Anticipatory Arrangements of a Heavenly Mother

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the April 1978 Conference.
There were some really good talks this week. I wanted to write about Elder Ashton's awesome talk on avoiding contention. It was so good! And Elder McConkie had a great talk about the Restoration of the gospel too. But then I read Elder Neal A. Maxwell's talk about women, and I decided I had to write about that! I think I have heard some quotations from this talk before, but I discovered so many more parts I liked. I had practically the whole thing highlighted! Here's one part I loved:
Special spiritual sensitivity keeps the women of God hoping long after many others have ceased.…Like Mary, they ponder trustingly those puzzlements that disable others. 
I know sometimes when someone gives a talk praising women, some women feel uncomfortable or guilty because they don't match the glowing descriptions of womanhood in the talk. But I've always thought it was obvious that the traits described are an aggregation; of course no one has all these qualities or exhibits them all the time! This is an aspirational description of what women CAN be, as they develop the qualities they've inherited from Heavenly Mother. And I love reading about how to be like Her! This quality Elder Maxwell describes, of hope and trust and optimism in the face of apparently contradictory evidence, is one I want so much to develop. It's hard to do! But I like his reference to the scripture about Mary "keeping things and pondering them in her heart," because I relate to that so acutely! I have so many questions and worries and pains that have to stay inside my heart, but Mary apparently turned all those "puzzlements" over to God, and let Him calm her heart so she wouldn't be "disabled" by them. I can do that too.

Here's another trait I want to gain:
So often our sisters comfort others when their own needs are greater than those being comforted. That quality is like the generosity of Jesus on the cross. Empathy during agony is a portion of divinity!
It's so easy to excuse myself from being nice or patient because things are hard, or I'm tired, or I'm preoccupied. But I KNOW it's not right to. Remembering the Savior's "empathy during agony" is such a great way to jolt myself out of any self-pity, and to inspire me to serve others especially during times when I'm having the most difficulties.

Another great quote, said with characteristic Maxwellian forthrightness:
I thank the Father that His Only Begotten Son did not say in defiant protest at Calvary, “My body is my own!” I stand in admiration of women today who resist the fashion of abortion, by refusing to make the sacred womb a tomb!
I can't stop thinking about that.

But this last section was maybe my favorite, especially because of the Thanksgiving holiday this week.
Finally, remember: When we return to our real home, it will be with the “mutual approbation” of those who reign in the “royal courts on high.” There we will find beauty such as mortal “eye hath not seen”; we will hear sounds of surpassing music which mortal “ear hath not heard.” Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother?
I'm definitely not as skilled of a hostess as my mom or grandmother, but I love trying to make things nice in our home: setting the table beautifully, cooking extra good food, making the house feel clean and bright and light. I love it especially at this time of year. So this comparison just made me long to…I don't know…to always belong in this role, to share it forever with the great sisterhood of womankind. And to do it perfectly someday. I just love to think of Heavenly Mother bustling around making preparations like every woman does at Thanksgiving or Christmas; making a place that is lovely and beautiful and comforting, in joyful anticipation of Her family returning home.

Such a beautiful thought. I can't wait to see Her again!

Other posts in this series:

Every little bit of him

Abe (my 15-year-old) and I have been doing something fun lately when we drive together: he plays me a song that he likes—he has varied tastes, so it could be Muse, or Imagine Dragons, or Beck, or Lemon Twigs, or Fitz and the Tantrums—and then I play him whatever song it reminds me of: maybe something by Fleetwood Mac, or Yes, or Boston, or Jethro Tull. It turns out I know a surprising amount of Classic Rock (surprising to me, I mean—it seems like I would have forgotten, but it comes back to me when I hear these new songs!) and, amazingly, I have yet to hear a single one of "Abe's" songs that doesn't remind me of one of "my" songs in some way or another!

[The really fun thing is how much, without my having really guided his music choices (besides playing classical music for him since he was a baby, which probably counts for something), our tastes overlap! We both find great satisfaction in introducing a previously-unknown song that the other one ends up really liking, but I also love it when he says, "okay, see if you like THIS—" and it turns out to be Journey, or Ben Folds Five, or Collective Soul, or something else I already know and like. A song by Rush started playing the other day, and Sam and I and Abe all said, "I love this song!" at the same time, which seemed like just the best thing ever.]
Anyway, having dipped a toe into the current musical waters, I've been surprised how much music repeats and recycles. I don't listen to the radio and the only reason I can even name any of those newer groups is that my kids tell me about them—but here they have been going along all these years, each in their turn, revisiting the old ground again and again: themes, melodies, basslines, lyrics. Admittedly, as I said, Abe's tastes and mine are similar so there's probably some selection bias. But still, the fact that nearly every new song I hear comes with an easily-thought-of older counterpart is a pretty impressive testament to the lack of true "originality" in the music world.

It's been kind of fun to find it in music, but in other areas, I often feel paralyzed by the inevitability of repetition! No matter how I wish to say something new (and somehow new=worthwhile in my mind), I can't!
And even though I've always known that this happens with writing (I remember Leslie Norris talking about how all literature falls into one of the Seven Great Themes) I still have to fight the urge to edit myself right into silence because everything I want to say has already been said by someone else. (Or because I, myself have already said it! Ha ha. It's funny in this context that I'm quoting one of my own previous blog posts on this same subject.) I have to remind myself that originality is not really the ultimate goal! There's a statement about that by C.S. Lewis:

The present pleasure

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the October 1977 Conference.
President Kimball brought up something I've thought a lot about, which is the fact that the gospel is not just for the purpose of securing some future happiness, but it's actually given to us to make our lives better right now! Lately I've noticed people making a point of saying that "living the gospel doesn't mean we'll never have hardships." It's probably because some accuse "the gospel culture" of misleading us on this point; of somehow duping members of the church into thinking that if we live a good life, everything will go perfectly. Some people even say their testimonies have been shaken upon discovering that life holds sorrow for even the righteous. I'm surprised if anyone actually was TOLD that righteousness would make their life free of trouble. That assumption, spoken or unspoken, hasn't been in any of these old Conference talks I've read. And I certainly was never taught that! But I can see the danger if it was taught, so I guess maybe it doesn't hurt to clarify the doctrine either way?

However! With all this correction and clarifying and reacting-against, I hope we don't lose the deeper truth that was there all along, whether well-expressed or not, and that is that living the gospel does make life better. President Uchtdorf said exactly that in this year's October Conference (2017):
I testify that when we embark upon or continue the incredible journey that leads to God, our lives will be better. 
This does not mean that our lives will be free from sorrow. We all know of faithful followers of Christ who suffer tragedy and injustice—Jesus Christ Himself suffered more than anyone. … 
No, following the Savior will not remove all of your trials. However, it will remove the barriers between you and the help your Heavenly Father wants to give you. God will be with you. He will direct your steps. He will walk beside you and even carry you when your need is greatest. 
You will experience the sublime fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, [and] faith.”
Anyway, back to President Kimball in 1977. He knew as well as anyone that living gospel principles doesn't ensure a uniformly blissful existence. So I appreciated his statement that
…in the recent past we have placed considerable emphasis on personal and family preparedness. I hope that each member of the Church is responding appropriately to this direction. I also hope that we are understanding and accentuating the positive and not the negative.
Then he went on to give examples of several aspects and principles of church welfare—things that to some people might seem boring or tedious or unexciting. Concepts like "provident living" and "food storage." And he talked about the positives of all these principles. He showed how a life dedicated to living all these principles can bring not merely the satisfaction of a duty done or an assignment completed (though I guess even that's a pretty good feeling)—but how such a life can also bring us actual, tangible, noticeable, day-to-day JOY.
We speak of literacy and education in terms of being prepared for a better occupation, but we cannot underestimate the present pleasure of our reading in the scriptures, Church magazines, and good books of every kind. We teach of emotional strength in terms of family prayer, kind words, and full communication, but we quickly learn how pleasant life can be when it is lived in a courteous and reinforcing atmosphere. 
In like manner we could refer to all the components of personal and family preparedness, not in relation to holocaust or disaster, but in cultivating a life-style that is on a day-to-day basis its own reward.

Other posts in this series: 

Not a gospel of souvenirs

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1977 Conference.
I learned the French word "souviens" when I was thirteen. We went to Quebec and all the license plates said Je me souviens, which means I remember. "Like souvenir," my Mom explained. I liked that because I liked to remember things. And I still do. I like journals and pictures and scrapbooks and anything that helps me remember happy times! Every time I travel somewhere, and maybe this started with that trip to Quebec when I was 13, there's inevitably some point in time where I take a deep breath and try to absorb every sound, every smell, every detail of the experience, as I say to myself, "This is happening right now, but someday it will just be a moment in your memory." Those moments are my "souvenirs," and I do come back to them later, trying to transport myself to those places again. But no matter how hard I tried to memorize everything, the looking-back just isn't the same.

Of course there are plenty of good reasons to remember; to gather souvenirs of the past and reflect on times gone by. But there's danger in it, too. Looking toward the good times in the past with too much longing takes away our enjoyment of the present. Looking back at the bad times with too much regret stifles our hope for the future. I sometimes take the worst of both worlds and start regretting the passing away of good things before they're even over. I forget that, as Elder Holland says, "faith is always pointed toward the future."

True, there's lots of "remember, remember" in the scriptures. But it's never a "sit back and reminisce abut the good old days" kind of remembering—it's always accompanied by a call to action. Remember God's commandments so you can keep them. Remember God's goodness so you can thank Him for it. Remember your past confidence to get through your present doubt.

In this Conference session, Elder Charles A. Didier gave a talk that seems like it might be even more applicable now than it was forty years ago. He addressed his friend, a returned missionary who once had a strong testimony, but had then fallen away from the church. I was impressed by the love evident in Elder Didier's plea to him:
You have opened the gate to many. Why, why do you close it for yourself? May I put my foot in the door, as you once did in mine? Reach out your hand while there is still time, and let us tell you that we love you. Your bishop is waiting for you; your home teachers are caring for you; your missionary companions do not forget you; but more than that, we, we need you. Come as you are—our arms are open. We’re waiting for you. 
I think we probably all know someone we wish we could convey this same message to. Elder Didier tells his friend that change is possible in these powerful words:
…You should know that what you once were you can be again. May my testimony help you as yours did me some years ago. I know by the power of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of revelation. I know in my mind and in my heart that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer, and that we have a living prophet today…and that by following his directions and advice we can come closer to our Heavenly Father and repent of our sins. My prayer is that you may realize this again in your own life and make a new decision to be one of His disciples.
We can do this; all of us can! When we feel our testimony or energy waning, we can "make a new decision" to recommit to our discipleship.

My favorite part was this next part, though, because it's so full of hope, and such good advice for those who, like me, sometimes find themselves sifting sadly through mental souvenirs of the past, lamenting previous failures and sorrowing over what has been lost (forgetting that "nothing good is ever lost!). In fact, this is good advice to ANY of us tempted to feel like our best times might be behind us:
I hope that you will not mind if I have recalled some of the souvenirs of what you always referred to as the best time of your life. Why can’t it be the same way today? Why should the “best time” always refer to yesterday instead of tomorrow? The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a gospel made of souvenirs. It is a gospel presented to us so that we may live it today in order to know where we will be tomorrow.

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Costumes and Pumpkins

Halloween was weird this year. Abe and Seb are too old for trick-or-treating now, and Malachi went with some friends to the Cedar City Temple Open House, so it was just the girls and Teddy dressing up. The older boys took care of answering the door and giving out candy (and we have ZILLIONS of trick-or-treaters here…this neighborhood seems to be a sort of Halloween "destination" for some reason. Cars were lined up driving into the neighborhood and parking all along both sides of the streets. Crazy. I buy the huge Costco bags of candy and still always run out before the night is over), and Sam took the little ones out for a short little trick-or-treating time before I got home from taking Seb to choir, so I didn't really do…anything… Halloweenish! Which was fine.

We were out of town during the middle of October, and we didn't want to buy pumpkins before we left, so the kids and I went out to a local pumpkin patch just the day before Halloween. We zipped in and out of there in the shortest time we could, but there was still time for some pictures.
Everyone but Abe—who was loading our pumpkins in the car for us

Random Fallish pictures at the Nature Center

We went to the Nature Center to attend a talk about Owls. It was interesting and good, but mostly it was just nice to be outside in the warm October weather.
Ezekiel CANNOT GET ENOUGH of Abe! How does he keep his neck like that for long periods of time? It hurts my neck just to look at it. But he's always craning around to see things. I try to straighten out his head and he pops it right back into its unnatural position so he can keep looking at what he wants to look at.

We must continually look up

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the October 1977 Conference.
Last week I was in Germany with Sam while he was giving a workshop there. Ziggy and Malachi came with us too. We had such a great time, but because I was often on my own with a new baby and a 9-year-old—in a big city, riding public transit and trying to find my way around—not to mention it being a foreign country where I don't speak the language—I was offering up fervent prayers for help and protection many times a day! As we waited for a train one day, I prayed again that we'd get on the right train and make the right connection, and then I found myself adding sheepishly: "I know I've been asking for a help a lot lately, and I just barely asked this same thing yesterday, so I'm sorry to keep bothering you—I'll try to be more self-sufficient next time!" And several other times, too, I felt like I should apologize for praying over such small things. "I know it's not that big of a deal…sorry to bother you with it…and it's fine if you don't want to do it…" 

Later, as I thought about this, I wondered why I felt so apologetic. I suppose it was partly that I didn't want to seem ungrateful, like I only wanted God to DO things for me all the time. As Howard W. Hunter said
If prayer is only a spasmodic cry at the time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies.
Yes. I hate to think of doing that. I want to make sure I'm not using prayer as a magic talisman rather than as the door to a two-way relationship. And I always try to express gratitude when I pray.

But then President Hunter continues, and clarifies that the real problem with the "God as repairman" thinking is not that it calls on God too MUCH, but that it asks too LITTLE:
We should remember the Most High day and night—always—not only at times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help.
And I realized that another reason I felt apologetic is that I felt like it was too much, to need help SO constantly. I knew God would help me, but I felt hesitant to ask "too often," and these circumstances of being so alone and helpless and ignorant, in a place I knew so little, were making me feel like it WAS too often.

And THAT made me realize that I could do better at internalizing the command to "pray always." What does that commandment really mean to me, if I'm feeling, during times of heightened uncertainty, like I'm calling on God "too much?"

It just made me stop and ask myself how much I am really relying on God. I certainly would LIKE to have His help more. I need it. And I do always pray multiple times a day. So why do I feel like I'm overdoing it when I ask repeatedly for guidance and protection several days in a row? Maybe it has to do with the urgency of it. I really FELT my own helplessness, and knew I needed God with me right then!

But…shouldn't I always be calling on Him that much? Shouldn't I always be acknowledging my helplessness? I may get complacent and forget it, but aren't we always wanderers in a strange land? Shouldn't I be seeking guidance and help navigating my way through life even when things feel more comfortable and familiar and routine?

President Hunter says:
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” (Ps. 5:1–3.) 
Perhaps what this world needs, as much as anything, is to “look up” as the Psalmist said—to look up in our joys as well as our afflictions, in our abundance as well as in our need. We must continually look up and acknowledge God as the giver of every good thing and the source of our salvation.
What amazed me most about my frequent, and heartfelt, pleas for help last week is that they were all granted. So many things worked out perfectly. So many things that could have gone wrong—didn't. Of course we had a few missed trains, and moments of worry, and periods of disappointment or frustration. But underneath it all, every time in the multiple times I pleaded for Him, God was there. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed about wanting Him so often, but I needed Him too much to let that stop me from asking—and because I asked, He answered. His comfort came.

I don't want to seem like I'm usually gliding easily through life without the need for God's help. I DO ask for and need help every day. But I'm not sure I'm "continually looking up" in the way I was last week, surrounded by unfamiliarity and keenly aware of my inadequacies. And if I'm not, I just wonder what blessings I'm missing out on? What power could I access? What things—what extra, extravagant, surely-THIS-must-be-asking-too-much sorts of things—would God be willing to grant me, if I swallowed my pride, looked up, and just asked him?

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Red Barn 2017

We go here every year! Eleven years running, and that just amazes me. I feel like I've said everything that can be said about it, and taken every picture that can possibly be taken, but that doesn't stop me…you can't argue with tradition!

We squeezed this visit in between so many other things, with a hastily-packed picnic of rolls and turkey for dinner, during an impossibly busy week. Every year I ask myself if it's worth the drive, but deep down I know it's just something that must be done. I like comparing the years and sizing everyone up as I look through the old pictures. Last year was SO hot. And this year we were so cold! And who knew, last year, we'd have a little Ziggy with us now? I thought I had taken hardly any pictures because it was so cold and dark and Zekey was fussing in the baby sling and my hands were cold. But then when I got to editing them there were millions, of course.

We bought (and ate) three dozen apple cider donuts, because that's the right thing to do.


Leaves and a baby

Although we did get out with my brother to ride the ski lift, I was feeling sad that I'd missed so much of Fall! After Ziggy was born, even though I know we could have done more sooner, and lots of people DO, I've been deliberately trying to slow down and not do much or go anywhere (because there are enough things we have to do whether I like it or not, and as I told Sam, once you go back to doing stuff after a baby, you can't ever UN-go back!). I know I was lucky to have a little flexibility with our schedule. And it's been nice. BUT, it also made me feel like I just missed all of September! I was in another world. And usually by this time of year we've been on lots of Sunday drives and picnics to enjoy the Fall weather, and I was missing that too (even though we had done some of it!)

Also it's just hard to get everyone together in the same place these days. And I'd kind of given up on the idea this year. But one day a few weeks ago, I was going to drive Seb to piano lesson and choir, and then I'd have a couple of hours of waiting around, so I decided to take Ziggy and go up the canyon just with him! 
As I was driving, I was asking myself why I like doing this so much. What does it matter if I have MORE pictures of pretty trees and pretty leaves and pretty scenery? I do this every year and I have tons of pictures. They're even in the same places a lot of the time! Do I really need or want more? 

And the lad be not with me

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1977 Conference.
In the Priesthood Session of this Conference, Elder Marion D. Hanks gave a talk to the men about the importance of being not only good fathers, but also good mentors to children who don’t have good father figures in their lives. As I read, I thought about how much I love the church leaders that teach my boys. Even though my boys DO have a good father, they get so much benefit from getting to know and learn from these other good people too!

When I was young, the bishop of my ward challenged all the adults to learn the names of all the children and youth in the ward. He put up pictures of every family (and their names) in the church to help people. I remember laughing at it a little with my friend. “Ha! WE don’t care if the adults know our names or not! What does it matter?”

But it’s funny. Even though I KNEW it was “just because” the bishop told them to, I couldn’t help but feel kind of important when people knew who I was. And I liked it. Old ladies (who were probably much younger than I realized! Ha ha) would say hello to me in the halls. They would ask my parents about me when I was gone. And they STILL ask her about me, even now! I don’t know if all of it stemmed from that specific push to get the adults knowing and caring about the youth, but it does seem like there’s something valuable, if unquantifiable, about those connections.

Even though I loved being Young Women's president several years ago, and I learned that the youth aren’t as intimidating as they first seem, now that I’m out of that calling I still tend to tell myself that the youth don’t WANT my attention; they’re way too cool for me. But—reading this talk and remembering my bishop's challenge made me think maybe I’m neglecting a chance to do something good. Even if it’s just learning all the kids' names and saying hi to them! Or saying something beyond “hi” when my kids' friends are over.

Elder Hanks says,
“…How wonderful it is to have someone who has lived a little longer and learned to love, to reach out and help us, and then help us help others.”
Then my favorite part, because I’ve never read this verse with this context:
In the scriptures is a magnificent sermon in a single line…: “For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?”
Our Father wants us to bring as many of His children back to Him as possible. Maybe we should all feel that kind of responsibility—an unwillingness to return to our Father without helping those around us get back too!

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