I'm always so very happy when the weather on Easter matches the subject matter! Rebirth, springtime, rejoicing—they CAN happen in the rain and snow, but how much better to have a sunshiney day! 

We didn't take pictures with our bunny like we have the last few years (more's the pity) but the girls did sleep in curlers, so they were extra bouncy and hoppy all day, and that's something, at least! And we did hunt for eggs at my mom's house. In all these many, many years since I was a little girl, we have never hidden plastic eggs with candy—or money—or prizes—in them: no, just plain old hard-boiled eggs (but colored, of course) and I like how that makes it all about the HIDING and FINDING—just for the sake of HIDING and FINDING. It's quite exciting enough as it is!

(Here are a couple other Easters of yesteryear: here and here)

No money value can be placed upon them

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session from the October 1975 Conference.
This session of Conference was a "Welfare Session," which was something they used to do, apparently. It was very interesting to hear so many talks in a row about the same subject! And, on a completely undoctrinal note, this session has the distinction of containing the most incomprehensible quote I've ever heard in General Conference. Surely there is some context I was missing, but…??? It's President Romney, quoting President Grant quoting HIS father:
I was told that my father, who was the superintendent of public works in early days … said, ‘I can pick out every man who is working by the day, and every one who is working by the job. I find men working by the day—by the day—by the day; and I find them working by the job, by the job, by the job, job, job—by the job, by the job, by the job, by the job.’ 
Now, we want our people…to work by the job and not by the day." 
Well! There it is. I hope that was enlightening to someone.

Mostly, though, this session reiterated again and again this fundamental gospel principle:
Our Heavenly Father loves us so completely that he has given us a commandment to work. This is one of the keys to eternal life. He knows that we will learn more, grow more, achieve more, serve more, and benefit more from a life of industry than from a life of ease. (Howard W. Hunter, "Prepare for Honorable Employment")
During the whole range of man’s existence there has never yet been any plan by which men may live righteously in idleness, and no such plan, it is my faith, will ever be devised.  (Marion G. Romney, "Welfare Services")
This has been repeated so many times by church leaders, it's obvious that it's part of our core doctrine. And it's not the sort of "poor people should know their place" sentiment that critics might accuse us of, because it applies to all of us. No matter our material circumstances, we see work as an ennobling principle and a privilege; something that builds us into the type of people God wants us to be. We work, and we encourage others to work, not as punishment, but as practice for Godhood.
It is right to care for the poor and the needy. It is wrong to give them something if they do not work for it to the extent of their ability… 
About 25 percent of those receiving help are not in a position to work, although perhaps even they could do something if priesthood leaders made creative and inspired efforts to find the service that could be done. The spiritual strength of God’s children is destroyed when the program is not followed as the Lord has outlined it. Our people need to work for what they receive. (H. Burke Peterson, "The Welfare Production-Distribution Department")
I can imagine someone protesting, like I always wanted to protest after doing mindless "busywork" worksheets at school, "But is work for work's sake really valuable? Are we all going to get rid of our washing machines and our other labor-saving devices, just to give ourselves more of this 'ennobling' work?" Obviously, that's not our position either. And I love the way the underlying principles balance that idea. We have never been a technophobic church. On the contrary, we embrace technologies as a chance to…do more work! And to do even better sorts of work:
We work so that we may have the necessities of life, conserving time and energy left over for service in the Lord’s work. (Howard W. Hunter, "Prepare for Honorable Employment")
I'm not sure if we can set up any definite hierarchies, but it seems like the main idea in all these talks was something like, "Working for what we receive is good. Working beyond our own needs, for the physical or spiritual benefit of others, is even better." And in fact, that is the whole goal:
Of fast offerings, President Kimball has said, “I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be more generous. Instead of the amount saved by our two or more meals of fasting, perhaps much more—seven times more [should be given]—when we are in a position to do it.” 
I like the echo here of Jesus' instructions to forgive "seventy times seven"—as more of a mindset than a number. Since the number seven usually denotes completion or perfection, both Jesus' and President Kimball's words here probably mean something like, "Give ALL you can. Give until your desires and love for your neighbors are completely and fully one with God's."

And then there's our extraordinary idealism: our faith and belief that THIS PLAN WILL WORK. The Lord's plan will succeed! President Romney quoted this amazing statement by President Grant:
We must not contemplate ceasing our extraordinary efforts until want and suffering shall disappear from amongst us.
But not just monetary want and suffering, because of course, that is only part of the suffering people experience in life. The Lord's program of having his children care for each other goes even further:
The relief, encouragement, comfort, rehabilitation, homes supplied, companionships established, hope and peace inspired, and other charitable and benevolent services rendered through our social services program are incalculable. No money value can be placed upon them. (Marion G. Romney, "Welfare Services")
I'll end with President Kimball's closing statement of the conference, which I liked just because it seemed so unusually…feisty for a President of the Church! It made me want to shout "amen." I love belonging to a church that does so much good in the world, and encourages ME to do so much more good than I would ever think of doing on my own. Here's what he said:
And third, I would like to say I wish our enemies could have seen this program this morning and seen the wide variety of help and assistance and succor that could be given to the people of this world. And then I wish they could have listened to what President Romney has said, and all the other speakers. We are doing a great service; and it would please us if they would go and do likewise rather than criticize our efforts.
So…okay then! Let's go and do likewise!


These are not our tulips.
I've always secretly liked daffodils better than tulips (don't tell the tulips!), maybe because they come up first, and because they are YELLOW, but then every year as the daffodils are dying out and the tulips are coming up, I start to think I might reconsider. Last year the boys and I planted a ton of tulip bulbs by the trees in our front yard, and one of the happiest things is seeing bulbs you've planted coming up, isn't it? We all felt personally responsible for their progress. "I see three tulip shoots!", someone would call out every morning. "I see some buds!" "Two of the buds are opening!" We were like anxious mothers hovering over our babies.

And then finally they were all out! We were so proud. An April snowfall dampened our spirits slightly (it was so beautiful, though!)…
but soon enough it was melted and our little orange friends popped out again. Cheerful little things, aren't they? There are other colors in the backyard, but I like the orange best. (And we just feel sorry for those little pink misfits on the left…somehow they got mixed into the wrong bulb bag, I guess.)

The So Many Floppy Guys

Goldie's love of Floppy Guys persists. So you can imagine our excitement when we were driving on the freeway one day and saw SO MANY floppy guys up on a hill. Goldie wasn't in the car, but the rest of us were full of amazement. A whole army of floppy guys! A horde of floppy guys! (I could do better. A flotilla of floppy guys! A flapjack of floppy guys!) We couldn't stop then, of course (many Important Things to do), but the next day we packed up Goldie and drove down specially to investigate. We were holding our collective breath, of course, that the floppy guys would still BE there!
They were! Next to a Ferris wheel, which apparently was the whole attraction for some people, but not for US. We only had eyes for the floppy guys!
Goldie isn't scared of them anymore. She hugged one just to prove it. Teddy was scared, though. As you can imagine, the fifteen of them, fans on full-blast and looming down from the sky like swaying red demons, made an impression. Teddy started shrieking and wouldn't stop until Sebby took him back to the safety of the car, where he alternately whimpered "I wuv the floppy guys. I wuv them, Sebby," and "NO! NO! DON'T GO SEE FLOPPY GUYS! NO SEBBY, NO!" Poor conflicted child.
They are trying so hard to look friendly. And they are! So very, floppily, friendly.
It was probably the best day of Goldie's year. (And the worst of Teddy's?) And it was a good thing we went and looked at the so-many-floppy-guys when we did, because a few days later, they disappeared, as mysteriously as they had come. Sometimes Goldie will still ask after them. "I want to see the so-many-floppy-guys again!" she'll say. And I have to tell her, soberly (but truthfully, I think), "Goldie, you will probably never see so many floppy guys again in your entire life."

The joys of eternity, wrapped up in daily consecration

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session from the October 1975 Conference.
I realized something on Sunday during our Gospel Doctrine lesson about the Law of Consecration. Someone gave a comment about how it can be hard to fully give your time and talents to God if you are worrying about how your efforts compare (positively or negatively) to the efforts of others. Often we resent those who don't seem to be "doing their share," but worrying about "shares" is precisely what the Law of Consecration is meant to help us avoid! Then someone else gave another comment that our seasons in life affect our ability to contribute in various ways. We give different things—different snippets of time, different talents, different amounts—based on where we are in our lives. It's hard for us to accurately quantify even our OWN giving, let alone understand the often invisible sacrifices another person is making. So it is not only unkind, but unjustified, to assume that our view of who is "doing enough" is even correct!

Those comments started me thinking about how the Law of Consecration works on a small scale in a family. As parents, we bring these babies into our families, knowing they aren't going to "do their share." Quite the contrary, they are going to cause extra work and effort and worry and trouble for everyone else! They aren't going to be economically useful, they aren't going to be physically useful, and they MIGHT not even be emotionally enjoyable—at least not for a long time yet! But we bring them into our families anyway. And somehow, even though you can't explain why in "pros and cons" terms, they bring an increase of joy.

As our children grow, they continue to consume many more resources than they supply. But in a family, it doesn't matter, because we consecrate our lives to each other. We don't tally up each person's worth based on what he contributes. We realize that each person's ability to give is based on his age—his ability—his position—his understanding. As parents, we ask what we can of our children, but still end up filling in most of the gaps ourselves. The labor isn't distributed equally, but we have faith that our loved ones are worth the disparity. Of course we try to teach them well so that someday they WILL contribute to the world and to their own families in a meaningful way—but even if they don't—and even if they NEVER "pay off" all the trouble and heartache they caused us—we love them and we consider them a worthwhile investment, simply because they are OURS.

I realized that our roles in God's family, living His Law of Consecration, are not so different. In many ways we are ALL those largely-useless children; each doing what little he can, but clumsily and with a lot of mess. But as life goes on, some of us do learn to be genuinely helpful once in a while. It doesn't really make us that special. We are still children playing at the real work of God. But we might do enough to feel justified looking at others and thinking how much more we are doing than they are. And that's when God asks us to trust Him. We're giving our time and talents and possessions to Him. He will work out what's fair. He probably sees new members of the flock, those who seem to just take and take and never give back, like new babies. It doesn't matter to Him if those people are contributing "enough." He just wants them to be nourished and loved while they grow, for however long that takes. He wants them given space and small opportunities to work. He wants them, eventually, to contribute just as much as anyone else, but He has infinite patience while they get there. He sees all the good that their future selves WILL contribute—and knows it will all balance out in the end. What we give. What we are given. It will be enough.

That was a long introduction to set up why I loved the quotes I loved from this week's Conference Session. Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave a talk called "Love Takes Time," and talked about how expressing love means nothing without the accompanying actions:
Love demands action if it is to be continuing. Love is a process. Love is not a declaration. Love is not an announcement. Love is not a passing fancy. Love is not an expediency. Love is not a convenience.
He continues:
“If ye love me, keep my commandments” and “If ye love me feed my sheep” are God-given proclamations that should remind us we can often best show our love through the processes of feeding and keeping.

Feeding is the providing by love adequate nourishment for the entire man, physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. Keeping is a process of care, consideration, and kindness appropriately blended with discipline, example, and concern.
In that context, I thought about what it means to "love" our families and our neighbors. And I thought how a person living the Law of Consecration would simply, constantly, offer these gifts of feeding and keeping to everyone around her, without undue concern whether or not she was giving "enough" (or "too much"). She would, like the widow and her mite, just give what she had at that moment in time. It might be a lot, or it might be a little, but she would give whatever it was. She would feed people physically and spiritually. She would clothe them physically and spiritually. She would "keep" them physically and spiritually, by demonstrating a steady and constant concern for their welfare. She would, in short, consecrate her time and talents and all she had, for the continuous "building up" of those around her. It just hit me that THIS SUMS UP PARENTHOOD. And more broadly, THIS SUMS UP CHURCH MEMBERSHIP. The Law of Consecration isn't some distant goal. It's what we're doing (or maybe I should say "learning to do") right now, where we are. And it's the METHOD by which we (continuously) demonstrate our love for God and His family.

My favorite quote from the entire talk was this:
True love is as eternal as life itself. Who is to say the joys of eternity are not wrapped up in continuous feeding, keeping, and caring? We need not weary in well-doing when we understand God’s purposes and his children.
You probably aren't surprised I'd like that, because it touches on one of my favorite themes: the connection of the mundane to the miraculous. And I can see how the work of a family—the small work of loving these exhausting, messy, unprofitable little babies—who will, as likely as not, grow into stubborn, exasperating, unprofitable adults—joins with and complements the big work of God. I can see how it is the actual way we show and make real our professed love of God. We do it by giving our all, consecrating our all—not just to "Him" in the abstract. But to HIS FAMILY. HIS CHILDREN. Those OTHER, exhausting, messy, unprofitable servants (of which we ourselves are some). It doesn't make sense or add up, really. Our Parents (and Older Brother) have done, and continue to do, all the real work. Our contributions are often weak, and unbalanced, and erratic. But when we engage in this "continuous feeding, keeping, and caring"—saying "I will give what I have" without worrying about how it will balance out—somehow, unaccountably, we gain the most transcendent joy.

Baby pigs and baby goats

My friend and midwife Cathy has a house out west, across the mountains from us. (If only we could dig a tunnel straight through so we could visit more easily!) We love to go out to her farm and visit her at any time, but this Spring she was being midwife to two goats and a pig, so we were especially excited to go see the babies!

We went a couple different times, and both times we had so much fun! We love eating a picnic out on Cathy's grass—warm Spring sun shining down—so much silence, with just the birds and the whistle of the train going by—and so much open space. It feels peaceful and restorative to be there, and to be with her. She is one of those people that just radiates peace and calm.

First we met the baby goats. There is a litter of three little boy goats (Thunder, Yoda, and Chili), and then another litter where only one of the three babies survived—the sweet little girl Lucky. I think Lucky is my favorite! But it's a very close thing.

Those infuriating, necessary, other people

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session from the October 1975 Conference.
Lately I think I've become a bit of a misanthrope. I was saying so to my mom the other day. She was talking about some good cause she had supported, and I said how she was a philanthropist (which, as you know, has the literal meaning of "Lover of Mankind"), and then I said, "I myself am more of a misanthropist. I've considered Mankind, and I don't think much of him!" Ha.

I guess on some levels that's not true—I do mostly assume people are going to be honest and friendly when I talk to them, and I get all choked up and teary when I read one of those happy little anecdotes where people return lost wallets or save hurt animals, or when I watch Mormon messages about people changing their lives because of the gospel. I do believe in all of that goodness in the world. But, as much as I try to avoid Facebook and the comments of any article, I also just can't help spending a good deal of time thinking how irrational and inconsistent and ignorant and petty and mean and, well, dumb, people can be.

I don't WANT to think of other people like that, though (see: avoiding Facebook and the comment sections), and when I'm at my best I realize that we're all dumb in our own little ways, and we all have our irrationalities, and we all need Jesus Christ. And if HE is the ultimate "philanthrope"—which he must be—shouldn't I aim for that mindset too?

Elder Robert D. Hales talked about this subject in the October 1975 General Conference. And it was clearly a talk I needed to hear, since I highlighted practically every paragraph. The talk is "We Can't Do It Alone," and his thesis sums the basic doctrine up nicely:
It is…God’s plan that we cannot return to his presence alone, without the help of someone else. … 
The many missions which we have in life cannot be embarked upon successfully without the help of others. Birth requires earthly parents. Our blessing as a child, our baptism, our receiving the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, our receiving membership in his church, ordination to the priesthood, going on a mission, being married, having children of our own, blessings during illness and times of need—all require the help of others. And all these are acts of love and service which require the help of others and the giving of help to others. 
…In preparing this message, it has become very clear to me that the true nature of the gospel plan is the interdependence we have upon one another in this life and the estate in which we now live.
So that's pretty clear, isn't it? It made me feel a bit sheepish about how often I forget how many other people have helped—not just helped, but been essential—in my becoming who I am. My parents brought me to earth and gave me a body. They and my brothers and friends and teachers shaped my childhood. Even the ideas and thoughts and opinions I now hold as my own have been influenced by my parents, the books I've read, the doctrine I've been taught, the insights I've received in conversation and discussion. Bishops and other ward members have served in countless callings for the benefit of ME, and my children. Temple workers make my temple worship possible. Ancient prophets wrote down the scriptures that I now treasure. Once you start thinking about it, you realize how pretty much every blessing you have comes through another person. And that's not even including Christ, who of course makes EVERY good thing possible.

That realization is humbling enough, but then Elder Hales gets right to it with some deeper insight. It isn't merely the benevolent figures in our lives, those who serve us, that are essential. It's just…other people. ANY other people! And this is why:
The “isolated self” shut off from the Light of Christ makes us become fallible—open to delusion. The balance and perspective which come from caring about others and allowing others to care for us form the essence of life itself. We need the inspired help of others to avoid deceiving ourselves.
I've been thinking about this passage all week. I sense the truth of it, but it's still slightly hard to accept. Elder Hales seems to be saying that our interactions with others—even the unpleasant, annoying, bumping-up-against-each-other sorts of interactions—are part of what will save us. That they will give us balance. That in isolation, even the most noble and well-intentioned of souls will begin to deceive itself! That it's the belonging to a group—this messy rubbing about together with the rest of humanity, bothering each other and being brought to see each others' faults in hideous close-up—that is the "essence of life itself." 

And lest you think maybe he's just using hyperbole there, he repeats himself:
…In this life we experience something we cannot do any other place. The life we had before and the life we will have hereafter will leave our bodies, spirits, and minds in a more perfect state. But we did not and will not have the opportunities to give of ourselves in the same way as we can in this life. What a simple truth of a gospel principle! As we suffer and serve in this life, we are fulfilling a very essential part of the gospel plan.
Next Elder Hales tells the story of the song "Believe me if all these endearing young charms." I sang this in a ward choir when I was a teenager, and I don't mind telling you that I found it one of the sappiest, smarmiest, most sentimental songs I'd ever heard. My friend Rachael and I used to make fun of it mercilessly. You can read the lyrics for yourself, if you've got the stomach. It's very flowery and Victorian and quite foreign to our modern sensibilities. However! The story behind it is actually quite sweet. The poet's wife had smallpox and was terribly scarred from it. She vowed never to leave her room or open the shutters. She didn't want anyone to see her ever again. So, her devoted husband wrote this poem to assure her that her scars didn't matter to him. It was her self, not her physical appearance, that he loved.

Okay, it's a nice sentiment, if a little trite. But Elder Hales put it in a different light for me when he said,
I would like at this time to thank my wife for opening up the shutters and letting in her light and her life and sharing it with me. I would not be here today without her love and companionship. 
When we are marred spiritually or physically, our first reaction is to withdraw into the dark shadows of depression, to blot out hope and joy—the light of life which comes from knowing we are living the commandments of our Father in heaven. This withdrawal will ultimately lead us to rebellion against those who would like to be our friends, those who can help us most, even our family. But worst of all, we finally reject ourselves.
When I thought of those smallpox scars as being a metaphor for all the ugliness within each of us—the selfishness, the doubt, the fear, the pettiness—I suddenly related to poor Mrs. Moore and her urge to shut out the light. It's so strange that feelings of loneliness or self-doubt should lead us to withdraw and become more alone! But that's exactly what they do. And though there is not really relief in that withdrawal, there's at least some sense of safety. It's so scary to allow others to see you as you really are! And yet—God asks us to do it! In our relationship with Him most of all, and then in our families and marriages as well. We show our own weaknesses even as we are entrusted with the weaknesses of others. And in doing this, we open the doors for a greater love and closeness than is possible in any other way.

It's not a sure or easy thing, though! Of course not. It's risky and messy. We hurt people's feelings and they hurt ours. But there's something God-like in even this, in this willingness to engage with the "unwashed masses" (and admit we are among their number). It reminds me of Elder Renlund's talk last week, that beautiful quote from Les Misérables: "Should the scabs of the sheep cause the shepherd to recoil?" The scabs are widespread and real. And they want curing. But this is not justification to "recoil in horror" from humanity. Rather, we are supposed to minister to others with compassion and love, as Christ did. Only then can our own "scabs" be healed.

I don't think this is easy doctrine. There is something difficult in hearing Elder Hales say this:
Those who are alone and lonely should not retreat to the sanctuary of their private thoughts and chambers. Such retreat will ultimately lead them into the darkening influence of the adversary, which leads to despondency, loneliness, frustration, and to thinking of themselves as worthless. 
…When you attempt to live life’s experiences alone, you are not being true to yourself, nor to your basic mission in life.  
I can imagine all the protests one might make. "But I'm wounded! I'm hurting! I need to care for myself; I need to focus inward! Other people hurt me and cause me stress and bring more heartache!" Or even the quieter arguments, "Why waste effort worrying what anyone else does or thinks? Shouldn't I learn to be self-reliant?" And of course, the courage to stand alone when necessary is an admirable thing. But I think this injunction not to retreat—not even to "the sanctuary of our private thoughts"!—is really interesting. Obviously we can disengage from argument or contention, and should. But NOT from interaction. NOT from service. NOT even from social discomfort, necessarily. These things, we should engage in, in as Christlike a manner as possible. Even if we don't really feel like it! (And I love the fact that families and wards basically…force us to do this.) As Elder Hales matter-of-factly concludes,
The disposition to ask assistance from others with confidence, and to grant it with kindness, should be part of our very nature. That we might understand this basic principle of the gospel, having love for and allowing ourselves to be loved by our fellowmen, is my prayer.
I don't think Elder Hales would begrudge anyone the chance to pull back and be alone now and then, or to focus inward and find strength there. Of course there are places where we feel only Jesus Christ can truly walk with us. But…that's temporary. And by and large…we need to be with others. Helping and being helped. Needing and being needed. Annoying and being annoyed, if it comes to that, I suppose. Because that's what being part of this family—God's family—is all about.

Other posts in this series:

Blankie Scraps

Theodore loves his blankie so much. It's always so funny to see what the babies decide to get attached to. Abe had White Bear. Seb had his monkey(s) Brownie. Malachi had his Birdie, Daisy has her blankie (versions I and II), Junie…has had several animals and blankets she likes, but I guess Oinker is her favorite. Goldie has Taggie. And Teddy has this soft little blankie.

It's not the sort of blankie I would have ever bought myself! It's a soft, expensive blue velvet-and-satin blanket that someone gave me at a shower when Abraham was just a baby. I used it for his baby blessing, and then put it away in my cedar chest because it was too nice for everyday use! Then I got it out on Seb and Ky's blessing days too, but when I went to put it away after using it for Teddy's blessing I thought, "What am I saving this for? I've used it four times in twelve years. What a waste!"…so I went ahead and put it in with Teddy in his crib.

And it became His Blankie. He carries it everywhere, and every night at bedtime a mad cry of "Has anyone seen Blankie? Where's Teddy's blankie?" can be heard throughout the house. Accompanied, when the blankie isn't quickly located, by sighs of frustration—because, of course, we know it could be literally ANYWHERE.
And of course, as any mother of a Blankie-lover can tell you, eventually he loved it literally to pieces. The velvet side ripped right down the middle, and then suddenly—I really don't know how this happened, but something about the velvet seemed to encourage it—there were Blankie Scraps. Everywhere!

This was the point at which my mom threw MY blankie out (I'm still not over it), but I just couldn't bear to do that! And each blankie scrap seemed just as precious to him as the whole blankie. I have thrown a few out. But only the very, very tiny ones.
I tried to get him a replacement blankie for Christmas (a smaller one—hoping it wouldn't be dragged around so much), but of course I couldn't find the same exact kind, and of course he KNEW it wasn't the same. Every time I try to give him the other blankie, he just says brusquely, "No, don't yike that one."

On the plus side, it does seem that any part of the blankie can substitute for the whole (yes, I know what you're thinking: just like the literary device of synecdoche!). If we can't find the main blankie, a blankie scrap will do. I keep them stashed around in strategic places like my purse and the car, just in case. Teddy calls them "bwankie-caps" and seems to have accepted their existence philosophically and without dismay. And it's really cute to hear him saying to Goldie in their room at night, "Mar-gold, can you find my bwankie-cap?"

Ideally, he likes to hold a blankie scrap tucked tightly in one hand, feeling the velvet with his fingers; with his thumb out for sucking. Then the main body of the blankie in his other hand, up near his face and under his nose. If no blankie scrap is available, he likes to feel the poor deteriorating ragged velvet edge of his blankie, but that's rapidly fraying all the way off, I'm afraid. And if the blankie proper isn't available, as I've said, a blankie scrap (even a tiny one!) will suffice.
He's such a funny little monkey! We love him! And his bwankie-caps!

Danish Æbleskiver

My Danish Nana used to make these little æbleskiver on special occasions. Their name means "apple slices" (you say it something like "EB-le-ski-va") and I'm not sure why, since they don't usually have apples in them…but they're good with applesauce! Maybe they LOOK like little apples? I've thought of posting the recipe before, because they're SO good (and one of the cutest foods), but you have to make them with a special pan, and it seems like if you HAVE one of those pans you already have a recipe, and if you DON'T have one of those pans you aren't going to make them anyway. Or maybe you got a pan for your wedding like my friend Emily did, and gave it away because you thought you'd never use it!

But, maybe these will look SO good to you that you'll decide to buy yourself a pan. Or three. (We have three. It's the only way to keep up with the eaters around here.) If you have Danish heritage, isn't it kind of your duty

They aren't hard to make; it's a batter like pancakes or waffles. You beat the egg whites separately and then fold them in to keep the batter light. And Nana said you turn them with a knitting needle (but we just use skewers). Then you break them open and put lemon curd or Nutella or strawberry sauce inside, with whipped cream if you can stand how good it is, and close them up again and eat them, NOT in one bite (as I'm always telling my boys)—but maybe four. :) Other toppings you can try: applesauce, cinnamon, any kind of jam, syrup, or berries.


From the simple to the miraculous

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week we take a break from covering talks of the past so we can discuss the General Conference that just took place, the April 2017 Conference.
After General Conference is over, I usually go through my notes and try to make a list of the most important thoughts that came, and how I can act on them. It ends up in my phone's Notes app where I can (try to) refer to it occasionally, and remind myself of those things I'm trying to work on. But when the next Conference comes around, I always feel a little worried that it's too soon; that I haven't even finished working on the previous Conference's list, and now I'm going to have MORE goals and might not ever finish getting good at the old ones! I always worry that maybe I didn't do enough to change myself during that half-year.

So when President Nelson described how he felt after his in-depth study of Christ's life, I envied his certainty. "I am a different man," he said. Such a simple statement, but so miraculous! President Nelson, that already-good man, that always-inspiring leader—that even he can be transformed for the better! That sums up what I always WISH to feel when each new Conference comes around! I want to be able to say, "I am a different woman. I've taken to heart all the advice from last time, and now I'm stronger. Better. Ready for a new set of challenges to tackle."

Well. I will keep working on that. In the meantime, here are a few of the unsorted, unassimilated thoughts that have been sifting through my head about Conference.

• I mentioned President Nelson. He seems more serious, focused, powerful than ever before. (Not that he ever lacked those qualities. But they seem to have been magnified.) Appropriately, he talked about accessing God's power. I immediately thought, "This must be priesthood power: the same power we are endowed with in the temple." (To paraphrase Elder Oaks, "What other power can it be?" I talked about this more here.) But I think it's intriguing that what we're really "endowed with"—apparently—is not the power itself, but more like the CAPACITY for that power. Or a dormant form of that power, to be activated only when certain conditions are met. And that one of those conditions is a spiritual exertion or stretching upwards, measured (if I'm understanding this right) not by its actual REACH, but by our intensity in making it.

It sounds a lot like this quote from President Kimball:
"Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch…I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems."
And yet how do we achieve this intensity, how do we stand on our "tip toes"? I ran into a couple sources who interpreted President Kimball's quote as a justification of agitating for change within the church. They saw the "tip toes" as doing things that seemed to them dramatic and important: marching, protesting, "speaking out," "making themselves heard." But that's a misreading, I think. According to Elder Nelson, we "stretch upward" in doing some fairly non-impressive-looking things: in studying Christ in the scriptures. In quietly choosing to have faith. In following promptings to do what we might not ordinarily do. But—in doing these things with all our energy, focus "riveted on" the Savior, and "with the same intensity as a drowning man gasping for air." It's such a fascinating paradox: that the simple, basic, ordinary, almost "boring" things—done in that far-from-basic way—can transform us bit by bit and give us access to the most miraculous power imaginable.

• I used to find Elder Hales one of the less-interesting speakers. Now he is one of the ones for which, and from which, I feel the most love.

• I have thought a lot about the phrase from Elder Renlund's talk in April 2015, about the missionary who was impatient with his incompetent companion and then was chastised with the thought of God saying to him, "You know…compared to me, the two of you aren’t all that different." It's a good thing for me to remember, and it has humbled me many times when I've been frustrated with someone. But Elder Eyring said something in Women's Session that was kind of the mirror image to that thought. He quoted Moroni's hope that "when [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure," and then said:
This is the goal that your Father in Heaven has for you, His precious daughters. It may seem to you like a distant goal, but from His perspective, you’re not that far away. So He visits you with His Spirit to comfort you, encourage you, and inspire you to keep going.
I love that. From God's perspective, it's true, none of us even come close to His perfection. But also…because his patience is infinite and his view of time is all-encompassing…we aren't that far away.

• Also in Women's Session: I think Sister Linda K. Burton's interpretation of the phrase "certain women" is the best and most surprising illumination of a previously unremarkable scriptural phrase I've ever heard. (Elder S. Mark Palmer's singling out of "And Jesus, beholding him, loved him" might come in second.)

• It seemed like there were SO many talks about inviting the Holy Ghost and about gaining spiritual power! Much more to ponder here, but I did at least get the very obvious message that those two things are related. Inseparable, even.

• I liked it when Elder Christofferson said something like, "Our own children are our closest neighbors."

• Elder Renlund is so soft-spoken that I underestimated him at first. But all three of these "new" apostles—he, Elder Rasband, and Elder Stevenson—are amazing. I love them more each time they speak.

• I loved (and was a little surprised at the strength and certainty of!) Elder Rasband's counsel to always act on the first prompting from the Holy Ghost. I guess I've heard that before, but never stated so firmly. He didn't appear to have any qualms about just saying to DO it—no qualifiers about "if you're really sure," no softening words like "if possible" or "after you've made certain it's from God." He quoted some other prophet as saying that if you follow that very first prompting, you'll be right "nine times out of ten." Those are good odds. Very comforting, in fact. Especially if you consider that (even in that one time out of ten we may be mistaken) God sees our prompt response as an indication that we VALUE and DESIRE more of His spirit.

This seems to me a pretty definitive piece of counsel, one I would do well to follow more closely.

Elder Renlund reminds me of Elder Christofferson in always having some great literary references. How did I not remember those beautiful passages about "should the shepherd recoil from the scabs of his sheep" from Les Misérables? The idea that mercy and compassion are what draw people toward us; that mercy and compassion are the things that motivate people to change, is one I haven't absorbed deeply enough. I was very struck by it. I sense that there are many applications of this principle to parenting, which I still need to discover.

• So many good talks by men from the Quorums of the Seventy, too. I especially liked it when Elder Mark A. Bragg talked about the heliotropic effect (one of the most fascinating occurrences in nature, I think) and how we can gain light by simply speaking more and thinking more of Christ. He said something like, "Putting on the armor of light [also] means that we will see Christ more in those around us." I immediately thought of the lines by Gerard Manley Hopkins that are my favorite expression of this thought:
…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 
I often think that if I could only get myself to see like this all the time—to move through life taking literally and at face value the statement "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me"—I would be immeasurably happier. And Elder Bragg's talk explains why: because not only would I be emulating Christ, seeing others that way, but I would also be sort of making my OWN environment a Christ-filled one, without really changing a thing. I would be, in effect, ensuring that I was surrounded with light regardless of how anyone else acted—because I would both NOTICE what light there was, and ADD to what there wasn't. I don't know if I understand that fully yet. But I think it sounds wonderful.

• I also liked Elder L. Whitney Clayton's fresh look at the story of Jesus turning the water into wine. Why had I never thought of Mary's role in that story? Now that it's been pointed out to me, I love her even more for her quiet certainty that Jesus will always make things right. As Elder Clayton said, she committed herself completely, without having an understanding of why or when or how it would all work out; she accepted and trusted Jesus' actions in advance and without condition. That's amazing to me, and inspiring. I want to approach my areas of uncertainty with that same unconditional trust, so that I too can be transformed.

And as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that maybe that was the underlying theme of the whole conference, for me. "Simple habits of belief lead to miraculous results." A message I truly needed to hear.

Other posts in this series:
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