Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Zion, when we have built it

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Many of us, in this General Conference Odyssey group, have talked about the sort of hybrid quality of Mormonism: the combination of idealism and practicality, spirit and body, that seems to be a hallmark of our religion. (In fact, I keep intending to talk about this more at some point, if I ever get my thoughts together.) The Welfare Sessions of Conference, especially, that I've read so far have these hybrid qualities in spades! The most high-minded doctrines, of premortal councils and agency and consecration, are spoken of practically in the same breath as the advice to "watch advertised specials in the grocery stores and pick up extra supplies of those items that are of exceptional value" while building up food storage. It might seem strange to a professional theologian, but it's utterly familiar to us.

So it was with a sense of familiarity and fondness, though the quote itself was new to me, that I read from President Marion G. Romney's talk these words that were spoken by President Brigham Young:
We will have to go to work and get the gold out of the mountains to lay down, if we ever walk in streets paved with gold. The angels that now walk in their golden streets … had to obtain that gold and put it there. When we have streets paved with gold, we will have placed it there ourselves. When we enjoy a Zion in its beauty and glory [which we’re looking forward to], it will be when we have built it.
Now if that doesn't sound like Brother Brigham talking to the Mormons, I don't know what does! And it reminded me of a principle I've apparently discovered before. Let me…ahem…quote myself (eight years ago!):
…even when we ARE making the right choice, the choice God wants us to make, we're still not "guaranteed" anything unless we work at it "with all our might." That's what makes the possibilities turn into realities. So maybe, if there's some vision we once thought we glimpsed, but it isn't becoming reality like we hoped it would, maybe the vision wasn't wrong or untrue—maybe we just still have more work to do on making it real. 
Which is really not that revolutionary of a concept, I guess. But I can see it at work in my own life. When I was making the decision to marry Sam, for example, I tried hard to follow all the counsel I'd heard in Marriage Prep. classes and so forth: make sure you choose someone that is your best friend, but don't get caught up too much in emotion; follow your heart, but also make sure you follow the spirit; there is no "one and only," but "just anyone" won't do either; don't expect a bolt of lightning, but expect that God will answer because it's so important—etc. It's already hard to recognize true revelation, I think, and in such a decision you feel so much worry about getting it RIGHT—at least this one thing, I must get right!
So, I tried to go about it correctly. I figured out what I wanted to do, and I prayed about it and tried to listen objectively, and I wanted so badly just to KNOW the future. And I didn't get a vision, exactly—but I got something which is hard to describe, but which I'm sure is not an uncommon feeling. Kind of an "envisioning," like I said before. In some ways maybe it was merely a hope or a daydream: "Won't it be such fun—think of how cute our little home together would be—what an adventure, our kids will be so adorable" etc. But then it was more than that: it was kind of a spiritual conviction that these things could be, and a glimpse of how they might be, and an overall feeling of: YES—if you choose this—it could be something wonderful, astonishing, miraculous.
Anyway, that was enough for me at the time, and now, already, those good things I "envisioned" have been realized in many areas. But not the way I might have thought; not in a gentle, passive way like I was a spectator watching a movie of my future gradually unfold and become my reality. More like this: that reality has come as I have wrestled with it, as I have done things I didn't want to do or didn't know how to do, or as I have made mistakes and then tried to repent of them. 
Just like the Lord didn't consecrate that spot of ground for the temple [see Doctrine and Covenants 124:44-45] until the saints had "labored on it with all their mights." And when they'd built up that monument to the Lord, using their hearts and wills and possessions and time, then he was able to show it back to them and say: "See? Just as I promised you—just as you envisioned it—but now, through your labor, even holier."
Later in his talk, President Romney quoted another early prophet, President Joseph F. Smith, who said:
To be Latter-day Saints men and women must be thinkers and workers. They must be men and women who weigh matters in their minds; men and women who consider carefully their course of life and the principles that they have espoused.
I love this summing-up of the "duality" of our religion (which, of course, we don't think is a duality at all, but merely parts that make up a truer whole): we are thinkers, yes. We "consider carefully" the doctrines of God and we stretch to understand more of them. We even humbly consider and re-consider things we already "have espoused" and think we're getting right! But, simultaneously—and it must be simultaneously, because to wait for full understanding would paralyze us for a lifetime—we WORK. We set about building the things we can build, though we do it incompletely and often without a full comprehension of how or why to do it at all. We begin the work of building families far, far before we are very good at building families. We get baptized and join the work of building God's kingdom when we are new, so new, to faith. And this is how God seems to want it. He wants us to think and work and work and think—getting better at both things as we go along—taking time for our Sabbaths, to rest and ponder—but never truly stopping our work, either.

This is consecration, on both ends. All that we have and are; all that we are not yet and do not yet have. Our time and our talents. Our thoughts and our deeds. Our rest and our work. All to one end: a people who build, and are built, like God.


Other posts in this series:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Alphabet Catch-up

For the sake of my poor sieve-like memory, and since I haven't updated this for a year, I feel duty-bound to give an Alphabet Weekend update. I wish to reiterate that there is NOT anything particularly clever about any of these ideas (frequently we were just choosing the easiest option at the last minute) but the kids DO love it so! We take weeks off at a time when we need to. It's the lowest-pressure situation possible while still making an attempt at Planned Family Togetherness! But we did at last finish the alphabet (it took us just about a year, which gives you an idea of how many weekends off there were).

J was for Juice (picnic with apple juice from the Red Barn in Santaquin)

K was for Korean food. The restaurant we went to must not have been that memorable, since I don't know what it was and we haven't been back.

L was for Little eagles. (Yeah…it's a stretch.) We went on a field trip with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to see nesting baby eagles. Awesome.

M was for Mother-Son date. (The daddy and daughters did something together too.) The boys and I (and their cousin who was staying with us) went to the Air Show up at Hill Air Force Base and then had pizza at Pioneer Park and walked around the Apple Store at City Creek (their favorite place). Such a great day.

N was for Nocturnal. We woke the kids up at 2 a.m. and went for breakfast at Denny's. The SOLE charm of this activity is its appeal to the children. The food was horrible (Next time we'll find an IHOP…I think they're slightly better…) and Sam and I were SO tired…but it's such a great memory! :) The kids talk about it all the time.

O was for O-shaped. We had donuts for breakfast, and bagel sandwiches for dinner, with an O-shaped bundt cake (Sebby Cake) for dessert.


P was for family Pictures. My mom had a friend that offered to take them for us. This was an activity mostly for MY sake, since it's not anyone ELSE's idea of a great time…

Q was for oQuirrh Lake. We went canoeing and it was fun.

R was for Rah-rah, rah-rah-rah (goooo Cougars). We watched the BYU football game and ate "R" foods. Homemade Ricotta, Rolls, Root beer, etc.

S was for Santaquin. Red Barn again. We always go in October. For the apple cider donuts!!!

T was for Track. We went to the BYU track and ran and played in the bleachers. We tried to find a high school track closer by, but they were all closed and locked. How rude.

U was for Unassembled. We bought a bunch of components from Cafe Rio (sides of meat, dressing, lettuce, tortillas etc.) and made our own burritos and tacos and salads. YUM. We liked this so much we did it again on Christmas Eve.

V was for Versus. We compared chicken sandwiches, fries, and frozen custard from different places. We just bought a couple things from each place and then brought them home and cut them up, and everyone tried them. I think the chicken sandwich and the fries from Astro Burger won (but there may have been disagreement on the fries. JCW's was in the running too, I think.) The frozen custard winner was Nielsen's, hands down.

W was for Whale of a Tale. Everyone had to tell an embellished story from his or her past. We guessed which parts were true.

X was for Xissors (what?). We cut out snowflakes and had hot chocolate.

Y was for Yoyo. Sam got yo-yos for everyone and taught them how to use them. Some had more success than others at this. (I'm terrible at yo-yo-ing!)

Z was for Zushi (??). We like sushi. Yum. By the way, I used to think every time anyone mentioned eating sushi they were trying to brag or be pretentious. It wasn't normal enough to me that I thought people just ATE it like any other food. But after we learned about sushi during our Japan Unit, and tried making our own, it finally sort of clicked in for me, what it was all about, and I started liking it (and the kids did too). And now it really is just one of those many foods we like. So…let that be a lesson to me, I guess?


And now we've started the alphabet over, so I might as well get us up to date:

A was for Argentinian food. I keep hoping one of these new food places we try will be just amazing. But failing that, "interesting" is good too. Many of these activities revolve around food, don't they? It shows our good taste.

B was for Birthday. Sam planned a "birthday party" even though it was no one's actual birthday. We had cake and a family present (a kite).

C was for Cute. Went to the "Puppy Barn" and saw baby bunnies and chicks at Thanksgiving Point. And then made teeny-tiny cute little cookies. (Guess who planned this one? Hee hee)

D was for Drawing. We played that picture-sentence game (my favorite game) for Family Home Evening.

E was for Each and Every. We got donuts, and each person got to pick out his or her OWN. (This is very unusual.) And we asked questions about everyone's favorite things.

F was for Framed Faces. We all had to draw or make some sort of portrait of someone else in the family. It was hilarious.

G was for Garden party. Daybeak has one of these things every year; there's a bouncy house and so forth. Fun.

H was for Hanabi (a sushi place we love). It was great. And practically deserted. Please don't go out of business, Hanabi!

I was for Indoor S'mores (since we didn't get out for our traditional campfire that weekend). We made s'mores bars, which are some of our favorites.

So! There we are. To be continued…maybe…a year from now! :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The key to a unified church is a unified soul

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Tuesday Afternoon Session from the April 1976 Conference.
I've been on the lookout for more insight about unity for…well…YEARS now. It's something I've thought about and struggled to understand for a long time, and here's why: it just seems too hard. Ha! It's not that I want everyone to be the same. There are some differences I really do appreciate and enjoy. But there just always seem to be so many fundamental, lonely, isolating unlikenesses that crop up, in ANY given group, really. Even in families and marriages. Even in churches and among groups that are trying, really trying, to love each other! And I can even embrace the ideas of tolerance and mutual respect and "disagreeing without being disagreeable"—great ways to get along, all of them—but none of those are truly UNITY…are they? None of those necessarily include the type of deep, soul-satisfying understanding and agreement you feel when you completely agree with someone on not just what to do, but how and why to do it.

I do have a couple things I keep coming back to. Number one, I've considered the idea that complete unity won't be possible until we're all a lot closer to perfect. That seems plausible, in which case maybe all we're trying to do here in mortality IS just to get along the best we can and try to love each other in spite of our inevitable dis-unities.

I've also considered the idea that my mortal mind just can't handle the contradiction of unity and uniqueness co-existing, but that on some spiritual/eternal level, it IS possible. I do believe that when we are "one heart and one mind" in some eventual heaven, we will still have things that make us ourselves. Gifts or talents or ideas or whatever. I know God doesn't want us all to be boring clones of each other. But HOW that will work…I'm not sure.

So, you can consider this quote from Elder Howard W. Hunter's talk one more piece in the ongoing Unity puzzle. I thought it was interesting how casually he stated it—saying "of course" this is the key…like it's obvious. Because this is not really something I'd thought of this way before:
Of course, the key to a unified church is a unified soul—one that is at peace with itself and not given to inner conflicts and tensions. So much in our world is calculated to destroy that personal peace through sins and temptations of a thousand kinds. We pray that the lives of the Saints will be lived in harmony with the ideal set before us by Jesus of Nazareth.
This surprised me. I would have thought that plenty of people have absolutely NO "inner conflicts and tensions"…which condition makes them SO confident in their own worldview, SO "at peace with themselves" and so sure they are right, that they CAN'T find unity with anyone else. But obviously, Elder Hunter has thought a lot about unity too (as I recall, it was one of his recurring themes as prophet) and this apparently casual statement has a lot of depth behind it.

One thing it suggests to me is that some of our disunity comes from internal conflict, even if we don't know it. That kind of goes along with my point #1 above, and it also reminds me of the concept of self-deception (which is a whole huge thing; this book by my former bishop talks about it and I still don't understand it fully, but it's powerful. Here's an overview of the idea, though)—where whenever we go against what our spirits know to be right, we find ourselves trying to blame others to hide our own internal flaws. If Elder Hunter says this too, I'm willing to believe that much of what I find myself really resisting and hating in other people has roots in things I need to change about myself—and as I make those changes, some of the rough edges I'm encountering in my interactions with others will likely disappear.

So when Elder Hunter says the potential for unity comes from a soul "at peace with itself," he doesn't mean that the soul is smugly complacent. I think he means that the soul is at rest, at peace, because it has voluntarily submitted to God's will. The owner of that soul knows where true happiness lies, in other words, and so is not constantly shifting and worrying, trying to justify himself and his sins. That leaves energy for putting others above self, and brings a sort of assurance that is very UNlike pride.

Another thing I see in this quote is the reminder that growing closer to Christ really does solve every problem. This is something I should have (and probably have) thought about anytime I think about unity. Even if I don't see HOW, I know that when I feel, and then in turn show, Christlike love, I will be one step closer to a true unity with the rest of His followers.

Here's one more unity-related thought I had, sparked by this quote from a different talk:
Each age has satisfaction which can be known only by experience. You must be born again and again in order to know the full course of human happiness.
It occurred to me that part of what makes me feel alone and dis-unified sometimes, is that I've just had different experiences than other people! Either I can't understand them, or I feel they can't understand me. But as I get older, I realize my experiences AREN'T as unique as I once thought. And I DO start to understand things that used to baffle me about others, because I've tasted some of those things myself. So…maybe part of being unified is just living a long time and having a lot of experiences to compare between. After eternities…maybe I will have seen and done so many things that I will have practically lived whole other lives. I will understand other people because I've BEEN "other people." Of course, again, Jesus Christ is the best example of that perfect empathy. But maybe as I'm "born again and again" I will start to becoming attuned to it as well.

Other posts in this series:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Catching up: Spring

This was a snowy day in May. It was pretty and sparkly in the morning, and then melted by afternoon. This does seem to happen every year.
Daisy and Ky with the posters they made for their choir concert. I love both of their pictures so much.
At that same concert. Teddy was very attentive, waiting anxiously for the right time to start clapping.
I took the kids to see "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and they (especially these two girls) loved it so much!
This was my favorite—Daisy and Junie standing in line for the bathroom :)
Our "framed faces" art exhibit. One of our alphabet weekends.
Goldie's birthday! Happy excited face.
Cute Teddy, pre-haircut
Girls wearing our yellow church clothes. Plus an interloper.
Sunday walk by the lake
(Junie's taking a picture of me with HER camera)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

There will seem to be sacrifice

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Tuesday Morning Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Sometimes I wonder about the whole concept of "sacrifice." If I recall what I learned in Seminary correctly, it means giving up something you want, for something you want MORE. So, if you do something you don't really want to do—if you sacrifice—for God, then it shows your love for him. 

But then, when our overarching goal IS to please God, we come to WANT to do things for him. So then sometimes people say things like, "It isn't even a sacrifice. It's a pleasure to give my time to the Lord." Or, "It's not really a sacrifice to pay tithing, because the blessings I get back are so great." And that seems, in some ways, even better than saying "this was hard to give up but I did it anyway."

So, obviously it is a good thing to sacrifice for God (even imperfectly), but as we progress, I wonder: should the whole idea of sacrifice eventually give way to "it's not a sacrifice, because I want to do this and I'm happy to do it for God"? But if we don't FEEL a pang of difficulty, giving something up for God, then how will we even know we are giving up enough, or giving up something valuable enough, to demonstrate our true commitment? Is the best thing always to "give till it hurts"? I don't know. Maybe there isn't ever a person that truly feels NO pang of sacrifice. Maybe things like losing loved ones to death are always a sacrifice even when we are fully trying to submit our wills to God's.

Hmm. Well, it doesn't exactly answer that question, but my favorite quote this week came from Elder Joseph Anderson's talk called "The Matter of Personal Testimony." He quotes President David O. McKay who said:
"A testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most sacred, the most precious gift in our lives, obtained only by adherence to the principles of the gospel, not by following the paths of the world.
…Sometimes there are obstacles; there is persecution; there is self-denial; there will be tears because you are coming constantly in contact with these enticements, with these worldly ideals, and you have to overcome them; and, for the moment, there will seem to be sacrifice, but it is only temporary. The Lord never forsakes those who seek him. It may not come just the way you think, but it will come. The Lord will certainly fulfill his promise to you.”
I guess it resolves the question without really addressing it. President McKay basically says, "some things SEEM like sacrifices. But the eventual rewards will demonstrate how worth it they are." So maybe it is more TRUE, in an eternal sense, to say "Nothing is truly a sacrifice, because you're always getting the best end of the deal—gifts from the Savior worth more than your 'sacrifice' could ever add up to." And when we can manage to see things that way—good. I assume that perspective, because of its gratitude and optimism, brings blessings.

But at the same time, since we are all imperfect, we must all deny ourselves some things we think we want, and those—to us—seem to be sacrifices. So we all understand the concept of sacrifice too. And if we are in that state of feeling like we don't want to give something up, but we are willing to give it up, then that brings blessings too. "The Lord never forsakes those who seek Him"—whether we are seeking Him because that's a thing we want MORE than all the other things we also want—or because that has come to be the ONLY thing we want—either way, "the Lord will certainly fulfill his promises" to us.

Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

To know Him

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Several years ago as I was preparing to teach a lesson on the Godhead to the Young Women, I suddenly wondered, "How do we come to know Jesus Christ?" I knew that Christ should play a central role in our lives; that His atoning sacrifice made repentance possible. And I knew the statement that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

But HOW to know Him? I felt that I was getting to know the Father by talking with Him in prayer. I felt that I was getting to know the Holy Ghost by learning to recognize His presence and follow His promptings. But where did my interaction with Jesus Christ occur? When and how should I come to know Him?

I started looking up talks about the subject, and almost immediately I discovered, to my horrified surprise, that the subject was "controversial."1 I didn't want controversy! I didn't want to take sides or criticize people or sort out some complex doctrinal problem—I just wanted to know how I should follow the commandment to "know Jesus Christ"! But sorting through the different viewpoints wore me out. So, in confusion, I just kind of…gave up on the whole idea!

Recently, after hearing President Nelson's talk in the April 2017 conference about drawing the power of Jesus Christ into our lives, I've been thinking again that "knowing Christ" is something I should be trying to do. But I still struggle with figuring out HOW to do it! President Nelson specifically advised us to read the words of Christ in the scriptures, and to study The Living Christ, and I'm trying to start doing that. Then, this week, I ran across two relevant phrases in the April 1976 General Conference. The first (from this talk) was just a forceful reminder not to give up on the attempt to know Christ:
To know God the Father and his Beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, is life eternal. Do men truly know them—their attributes, characteristics, and powers? Surely such knowledge can be had: otherwise, our Savior would not have made this statement. 
To me, that says that my discouragement in the whole idea a few years ago was premature. This IS a worthy and possible effort. It will just take time.
And the second phrase (from this talk) stood out to me so powerfully that it's almost funny—because it doesn't SEEM like a new idea. It probably seems completely obvious to everyone reading this. But it astounded me.
Do you know him who was called Jesus?…To know him is to keep his commandments
I know, it's so simple! But I can't stop thinking about it. Sometimes the "what would Jesus do?" test just seems so inadequate, because I lack confidence about what He actually WOULD do in so many situations! There are so many things I don't understand about how God does things! And I know his ways are not our ways and some of it is beyond our comprehension. But how much of that will be resolved as I just…keep His commandments? Maybe in those moments of doing what He has told me to do, some of His reasoning will become clear to me as well, and I will begin to understand Him.

It doesn't solve the whole difficulty of how to follow Christ in every single situation. But there are plenty, even a majority, of situations where I DO know exactly what the commandments are and how I should be acting. And it's encouraging to think that every time I follow through and OBEY those things I know, I will be coming to know Christ a little better. Maybe gaining insight into how and why He does what He does! And thus preparing myself to be a better Christian even in the situations that now seem baffling to me—because I WILL know "what Jesus would do."

"To know him is to keep his commandments." "Surely such knowledge can be had"!



1 And having looked into it more, I don't even really want to dignify the whole thing as a "controversy." I honestly think it was all sort of a problem with semantics…and context…and it's been blown out of proportion by people who WANT to find arguments and dramatic situations within the church. But, I realize now I've brought it up, I should at least explain what I'm talking about. Basically, the idea of a "personal relationship with Christ" had been talked about by a lot of people, including in this talk at BYU (which you can still find at lds.org), and then Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave a talk which seemed really (maybe unduly) critical of that idea—except that I think he was actually responding not to the whole idea of "a relationship with Christ," but to some specific concerns he had about ways people were taking it too far. This post and this short item do a good job of explaining it, I think. And talks like this one, given after Elder McConkie's, show that there is nothing wrong with the idea as such.

Other posts in this series:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Botts' Dots, and other random California things

We were quite excited to find so many Botts' Dots in California. You know we keep up on these sorts of things. (Although this news was a bit disturbing!) Sebby found half of a broken Botts' Dot in a parking lot and kept it as a souvenir. Wonderful boy.
Bougainvillea! (Goodness, that's hard to spell.)
Monarch caterpillars in Philip and Allison's yard
Since Sam had one paid for, we stayed with him at a hotel for two nights. The kids always love that.
We flew kites one windy day. Philip did quite a bit of doctoring to get them working. But then they stayed up for a long time!
Malachi with some guy's Lamborghini that was parked by a playground we were playing at. The car owner saw Ky eyeing it and volunteered to take this picture for him. Who ARE all these kind Lamborghini owners?? I would never have expected it.
These orange balloons made Junie's birthday the best ever. And Allison made a dinner full of her favorite orange-colored foods, too. So great.
Birthday lemon bars!
One of many parks we played and picnicked at
Cozy Teddy in the pack-n-play
Adam and Daniel in their tiger and leopard suits
We had a fun Saturday evening at Irvine Regional Park. 
Goldie, being a monster.
Teddy spent most of his time running up and down this hill.
There were wild parrots flying around and screeching!
This gulley was a nice wild place to explore. The twins were quite worried about potential owls.
Teddy time-out. Poor, poor little man.
This was a pretty wetland area we walked by on Sunday evening.
We saw several little bunnies hopping around! I wanted to get closer to this one, so I talked to him and told him I was a friend of Nutmeg, King of the Bunnies. He seemed impressed.
So he let me get right up close to him, and we walked together for a while! I'd get about this close, and then he'd hop forward and wait for me to catch up, and then hop a few feet ahead again. It was a pleasant little bunny walk!