Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tulips

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.)
There are lots of other tulips around the neighborhood too. One day Daisy and I were going on a walk while she was wearing her green-and-white dress-up dress, and she matched the scenery so well, we couldn't help but take some pictures!
One of our orangies. Pretty, isn't she?
Perhaps having heard of the success of our Spring tulip display, Thanksgiving Point gardens apparently decided to prepare a display of their own. :) We cleverly went there before the "official" start of their Tulip Festival, so as to avoid the crowds (and catch the last daffodils!). There were some flowers not yet blooming, but it was beautiful, of course! (We will try to go back in a few weeks to see the rest!)
I love these two daffodil varieties mixed. I don't want to GIVE UP the traditional all-yellow daffodil for these young upstarts, but I appreciate them in addition to it. :)
These hyacinths smelled heavenly. Now THIS is what I call a "hyacinth garden!"
Junie seems quite at her ease here.
Seb's favorite—red!
The girls got chilly, and I had but one sweater to give.
It didn't slow them significantly down.
Don't you wish YOU had a sister?
My favorite way to see tulips: with the sun glowing through.
Lovely swaths of color. Excellent work, Spring!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

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.
Lucky liked to be held.
Malachi really seemed to bond with her. She lay back in his arms as happy as could be.
Lucky and her mama.
The goats are so funny and bouncy. They BOUND instead of walking. And they hop up on everything!
Such a beautiful setting!
 Malachi, communing soul-to-soul
Malachi and Chili. Thunder wants to be held too!
All the goats really liked Malachi. There must be something Goaty about him. :)
They liked Daisy too!
Even Theodore had a try at holding Lucky. He was slightly nervous about the mama goat, but he loved the babies, once he got used to the idea of them gamboling around him. He was very serious about the responsibility of having one in his arms! And afterwards, he asked to look at this picture about a thousand times. He loves "Teddy holding the goatie!"
Teddy also quite liked the swingset.

On our second visit, we got to meet the one-week-old piggies! We had been SO excited about their upcoming birth. We met the mama, Tillie, and the daddy, Orion, last year when THEY were just babies! And Tillie looked SO big and uncomfortable and tired when she was pregnant, we were just happy for her when the babies were finally born. She had 14 little piglets, and 13 survived. As soon as we got into the barn we could hear them grunting and squeaking and trotting around.
But we still weren't prepared for how CUTE they were! So many little oinkers!
You can't really tell how tiny they are until you see them next to their mama!
So many different colors and patterns. We couldn't decide which ones we liked best. Some of us liked the all-pink piggy. Some liked the all-black one best. Some liked the very spotty one, and some liked the ones that just had a few spots like their mama.
This half-and-half pig was cute too!
This one is Batman. I can't decide if he's cuter standing up like this…
Or digging around on the ground with his little baby snout!
Junie, our pig-lover, was SO HAPPY to be there. You'll note she is wearing her piggy hat for the occasion.
The girls liked brushing Tillie's back while she nursed the piggies. Tillie liked it too. She sighed with contentment and smiled that happy pig-smile.
Tillie seemed to prefer to nurse the piglets lying down, but some of them tried to get in a few little nips while she was eating, too! :)
Some of the piggies SQUEALED and SHRIEKED when Cathy picked them up. That made Tillie nervous. But they soon calmed down.
Junie brought her little pig, Oinkie, to meet the piglets too. Here they are getting introduced to each other. I do think the all-pink one was my favorite.
They have such bright eyes and cute little faces! Tillie and Orion too. You can see the intelligence and gentleness in their eyes. Cathy told us that Orion took such good care of Tillie while she was having the babies. He was her midwife, helping her through the birth! (I don't have pictures of Orion, I guess. But he's half black and half pink. He was in a different part of the barn so he wouldn't accidentally step on all the little piggies running around! He's a very big pig.)
Cathy told us that each piglet has his particular nipple that he uses to nurse. Lucky there are the right number of nipples so every baby can have one! Sometimes there are more piglets than nipples, and that's a problem. (Maybe that's what happened to Wilbur in Charlotte's Web.) One of my favorite things is watching the piggies tumble all over each other when their mama lies down to nurse them. They grunt and squeak and scramble and step on top of each other in their rush for milk.
But then, after a few minutes, everyone gets sorted out, and they settle down in two neat little rows of pig. I love it! Like tidy little sausages…if you'll forgive the metaphor! :(
We loved meeting these little piglets and all the other animals! What fun!