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.

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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
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A million museums

We had so much fun going to a bunch of museums while we were in California! I'm posting about them here for Sam's benefit, since he was busy giving his workshop all day most of these days, meaning he didn't get to come with us! But somehow we managed to carry on without him. :) It was nice that Allison and her kids got to be with us at several of these places, so I didn't feel like I was managing everyone by myself—and the older children were mostly great helpers too.

This museum, called Pretend City, was so much fun for the little ones. There's a little grocery store, a restaurant, a theater, a bank, a police station, a library, and so forth, all with dress-ups and working parts and lots of toys. The little girls loved it. One of the "facilitators" in the grocery store told Daisy, "Wow, you're working so hard you should be a manager!" and after that, Daisy took her responsibilities even more seriously. She stayed there for the better part of an hour, checking people out and putting things away when people left them in their carts. "I'm the manager," I heard her telling everyone importantly.
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Corona del Mar Tide Pools

Going to the tide pools is always one of my favorite things to do. I love this beach where we usually go, and I like exploring around the rocky places, and finding tiny hermit crabs, and seeing the kids clamber around, and watching Sam try to decide if he should drop the crab he's trying to catch, or the baby he's holding. (He always chooses to save the baby, good man.)

And it was so beautiful outside the night that we went! The light was amazing. So that made everything even better.
Abe was the hero of the day, because he managed to catch not just one, but TWO real crabs (I know hermit crabs are real too...but I mean he caught two of the BIGGER crabs) so we could put them in our buckets and look at them! This is Sam's lifelong goal, and Abe brought it to fruition. Good job, Abe.
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Flower Fields in Carlsbad

The Flower Fields in Carlsbad (or, "The Flower Fields [Registered]", as the boys preferred to call them) have been on my list of things to see for a long time now, but you have to be there at the right time of year. And finally, we were! I love places like this. And the main flowers in the fields are ranunculus—one of my favorites. Sam and I used to call them "puffins" because they are just such a cute, frilly, puffy flower! I read that their name means "little frog," which seems odd. I would have said "little hedgehog," maybe, or "little puffer fish."
It's a really pretty drive down the coast to Carlsbad from Irvine. We stopped a couple times to look at the gorgeous views (with Teddy saying frantically the whole time from the back seat, "We don't get in the ocean! I love it! We don't go in the water!"). The wildflowers were still blooming at this time of year, and everything looked green.
They've made this place into "an attraction" of sorts (to justify their high prices...), with other garden areas, and a children's playground and so forth, besides the vast ranunculus fields. This was the Artist's Garden. So beautiful!
They had some pretty birds in this cage, including some baby doves that had JUST BARELY hatched (like within in the last hour). We could just barely see them emerging from their eggs and peeking out from underneath their mama. So tiny! And wet! And cute!
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Descanso Gardens

Whenever we go somewhere, I try to find wildflowers or botanical gardens we can visit. And of course Southern California has a million of them! We have a membership to Thanksgiving Point right now, so we get reciprocal admission to some other gardens and museums. I just looked up which ones would be free and chose from those! A couple places we went to balked at letting in all seven kids free (hmmph!) but still gave us discounts. Descanso Gardens was one of those. It's near Pasadena, where we also went to Kidspace Children's Museum.
I love these inviting, tree-lined pathways.
The kids' cousin Benjamin caught a turtle near this pond! Everyone loved petting it. It bit Teddy, of course (everything bites Teddy) but he didn't seem too upset about it.
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Willingness to share and understand

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session from the April 1976 Conference.
In several of my Family Science classes in college, we talked about methods of good communication, to the point that I got kind of oversaturated with it. And then I was in one class where the teacher said something like, "We're always trying to say if we could just communicate better in marriage, things would be better. Well, we don't need better communication—we need more charity! If we can truly develop Christlike love for our spouse, then our communication will just flow naturally out of that." When I heard that, I thought it was so insightful, and taken together with my growing distaste for all the catchphrases about "validation" and "mirroring empathy" etc., it stuck with me. And ever since then, every time I hear about "communication" I kind of think, "Hmmph, who needs it!"

But…there is a time for everything, and I keep finding that truths I need to hear have a way of working themselves back into my life when I need them. And Elder Marvin J. Ashton's talk Family Communications did just that. I liked so much of the advice he gave, and I thought a lot of it, far from being just social science jargon, was really useful doctrine with true spiritual application. Because the truth is, I'm not a great communicator. (Not great at charity, either, so I guess they're BOTH areas I can work on.) I do pretty well with writing if I have a long enough time to think and can use the delete key liberally, and I don't mind teaching or speaking in a controlled, well-prepared-for environment, but when it comes to surprising, messy, unexpected, emotional, real-world situations (so, er, practically all the time)—I flounder.

But! Thankfully, Elder Ashton has some great counsel! He starts out with the stark statement that
Communications in the family will often be a sacrifice because we are expected to use our time, our means, our talent, and our patience to impart, share, and understand.
I like how he leads with that, because it reminds me that it doesn't really MATTER if communication is hard for us, or if it's inconvenient. We just…have to get good at it anyway. Elder Ashton goes on to develop this theme of sacrifice:
Be the kind of a family member who is willing to take time to be available. Develop the ability and self-discipline to think of other family members and their communication needs ahead of your own—a willingness to prepare for the moment—the sharing moment, the teaching moment. Shed the very appearance of preoccupation in self, and learn the skill of penetrating a family member’s shield of preoccupation. … 
Too early and too often we sow the seeds of “Can’t you see I’m busy? Don’t bother me now.” When we convey the attitude of “Go away, don’t bother me now,” family members are apt to go elsewhere or isolate themselves in silence. All family members on some occasion or other must be taken on their own terms so they will be willing to come, share, and ask. 
It takes personal sacrifice to communicate when conditions are right for the other person—during the meal preparation, after a date, a hurt, a victory, a disappointment, or when someone wants to share a confidence. One must be willing to forego personal convenience to invest time in establishing a firm foundation for family communication. When communication in the family seems to be bogging down, each individual should look to himself for the remedy.
I remember talking to a friend about how her teenagers always wanted to talk and talk and talk to her late at night, and she was just…so…tired—but she also knew that if this was the time they wanted to talk, this was the time she NEEDED to be willing to listen. Even through the tiredness. I have experienced this to some extent with all my kids, and I'm sure it will continue. The times to talk and listen are so rarely easy or without sacrifice! I love how Elder Ashton emphasizes the importance of communication "when conditions are right for the other person." Being willing to put down my book or my laptop—even when I've been doing things for other people all day and I just finally sat down to rest and I feel so entitled to this scarce precious time to myself!—even and especially then—my willingness proves that I really do want to nurture and improve my relationships. Being willing to let a little person "help me" cook dinner, even when I'm trying to go quickly and the baby is crying and I want nothing more than just to get it done—my ability to overlook the inconvenient timing shows, in a way almost nothing else can, my love for and commitment to that person who needs and wants me right then.

Elder Ashton also says,
How important it is to be willing to voice one’s thoughts and feelings…We must learn to communicate effectively not only by voice, but by tone, feeling, glances, mannerisms, and total personality… Silence isolates. Strained silent periods cause wonderment, hurt, and, most often, wrong conclusions.
God knows the full impact of continuing communication as he admonishes us to pray constantly. He, too, has promised to respond as we relate to him effectively.
This was a good reminder to me too. Sometimes I think I absorbed the lesson about "if you can't say something nice, just don't say anything at all" a little too well, because often when it's just too hard to figure out how to manage a complicated topic, or to bring up something uncomfortable, I just give up and retreat fully into silence on that subject. And I don't know—probably it's still better than fighting. And I do think it's good to know how to avoid certain subjects in social settings, and how to swallow your angry retorts about politics or whatever. But I do think the opposite extreme can be bad too, and if everyone keeps silent about things that are hard to say—we won't grow and learn from each other as much as we could. I think it's true in marriage as well as in larger social settings: some sharing of truth, even when hard and uncomfortable, is necessary for closeness. Some navigation of difficult territory must precede the discovery of new common ground. It takes bravery, but it's worth the effort.

And then sometimes, also, I just don't want to say something dumb. And when I'm thinking of it in my head before saying it, everything starts to sound dumb. So I self-edit myself into total silence, and that's silly too. As Elder Ashton says, "Silence isolates!" And that's never the ideal! I love how Elder Ashton brings communication with God into the discussion, because that's one place where I sometimes do this. "Oh, Heavenly Father doesn't want to hear me go on and on about how hard this is. I'm sure he's sick of me by now. And he already knows everything anyway, so what's the point in telling Him?" But I know that line of thinking is totally wrong. I have to trust that He DOES want to hear from me, even if I struggle for the right words. He DOES want me to articulate my worries and my hopes and my feelings, even if he already knows them. I know that because when I try to communicate and share myself—my deep, true self—with God, I always feel better afterwards. I feel heard and uplifted and loved, even in nothing in my circumstances has changed.

Elder Ashton has several other recommendations for good communication, but these two ideas are what stuck out to me most: sharing thoughts and feelings is hard, but worth it. And listening to others'  thoughts and feelings is hard, but worth it. Communication is something God wants us to get good at—not as an end in itself, but because it will help us grow together and become one in our families and our marriages and our friendships. Because if "silence isolates"—then true, Godlike communication must do the opposite—it must unite, connect, include. And isn't that what we all want? To stop feeling alone? To be loved and included and made one with the people that matter to us?


Other posts in this series:
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Bunnyhenge

We took a Sunday walk at the place Philip and Allison call "Bunnyhenge" in Newport Beach. I love places like this—well, the bunnies, obviously, but I also just like walking around parks and open spaces in unfamiliar places. It feels like you're living an alternate life somehow. Even the air smells different.
The coveted "holding Philip's hand" spots were always full.
The "holding Daddy's hand" spot remains popular too, of course.
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Power to bless our families and homes

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Every time I write about one of the Priesthood Sessions, I feel like I go on and on about how women as well as men can use the power of the priesthood, through their endowment received in the temple. And I don't mean to OVERemphasize that. I think I just can't help reading the talks through the lens of "But what does this mean for ME?"—but I realize there may be talks that have better or more direct application to the kind of priesthood power men hold, and the authority they exercise, and I'm fine with that! I like the fact that our leaders tailor their messages to their audiences, and I know the primary audience for these talks were men! And I do find value in thinking of how these messages might apply to my sons, and how I can reinforce the concepts for their benefit.

Still, I just naturally keep coming back to the applications I can find here for my own circumstances, and those keep circling around how to learn to exercise my own God-given priesthood power. It's fascinating to think about this potent—but maybe latent—gift of God's power within me, just waiting for me to learn how to activate it! And maybe I already am using it more than I realize. But I'd like to learn to use it more deliberately or effectively!

So I was immediately interested when I read Elder H. Burke Peterson's statement that
All of us who hold the priesthood have the authority to act for the Lord, but the effectiveness of our authority—or if you please, the power that comes through that authority—depends on the pattern of our lives; it depends on our righteousness.
That makes sense (it echoes Doctrine and Covenants 121) but I loved it when he got even more specific:
May I suggest that many of us have lost sight of one of the most important reasons for our holding the priesthood. To be an effective teachers quorum president, elders quorum president, bishop, or counselor is important—we spend many hours in training these officers. To perform the vital priesthood ordinances is essential. But even more important than all these is the need to learn how to use the priesthood to bless our families and homes. 
If we live for it, ours can be a power given us from our Heavenly Father that will bring peace to a troubled household. Ours can be a power that will bless and comfort little children, that will bring sleep to tear-stained eyes in the wee hours of the morning. Ours can be the power that will bring happiness to a family home evening, the power to calm the unsettled nerves of a tired wife. Ours can be the power that will give direction to a confused and vulnerable teenager. Ours, the power to bless a daughter before she goes on her first date or before her temple marriage, or to bless a son before his departure for a mission or college. Ours, my young brethren, can be the power to stop evil thoughts of a group of boys gathered together in vulgar conversation. Ours can be the power to heal the sick and comfort the lonely. These are some of the important purposes of the priesthood. 
I love these detailed examples! Bringing sleep and comfort to wakeful children! Calming down a contentious Family Home Evening! Those are tangible, practical abilities any mother would LOVE to harness (and of course, it would be great if fathers could harness them too…and I love that Elder Peterson thought of them specifically in the context of fathers). I wanted to stop him in the middle of his talk and say, "Wait! Elaborate on this! HOW, exactly, do we access these powers?"

And the best answer I could find was from that first paragraph I quoted—that we access the power through righteousness. Elder Peterson did give a little more guidance:
He who has developed the power and uses it to do the things we have mentioned will honestly consider the righteous desires of his family, even though they may not be exactly the same as his. He will listen to those in his home with the same attention he would give a priesthood leader. He will listen—even to the smallest child. 
He will put his family’s welfare ahead of his own comfort. 
He will learn to control himself. He will not use a quick temper as an excuse—he will rise above it. It needn’t always be with him. 
He will understand that a soft answer turneth away wrath. His voice will never be heard in anger in his home; he will never punish in anger.
Those are all pretty solidly in the realm of "NEEDS WORK" for me, but it is a good motivation to think of all the benefits if I do improve in those areas! I need to remember that the effects of becoming more personally righteous are tangible—that they lead to real, actual power through which I can accomplish real, actual miracles in my family.

I also loved this next section of Elder Peterson's talk, where he mentions how important knowledge the priesthood is for EVERY member of the church, not just for the men. He doesn't state it straight out the way I have begun to understand it myself (i.e., that women who have received their temple endowments have priesthood power through those temple ordinances, although that power can take different forms and be accompanied by different authority and responsibility than the priesthood power men are given. But it is all the same power). But he seems to aiming in the same direction: toward the greater involvement of women with the priesthood, and the greater understanding—in both men and women's lives—of why and how God's power is important to us. He says:
The fact that mothers are one of the keys and secrets to the strength of the Aaronic Priesthood would lead me to believe that more time must be spent by priesthood leaders in training girls in proper priesthood principles, that future Aaronic Priesthood generations might be as blessed as were Helaman’s 2000 sons. 
It is evident that the brethren of the priesthood are spending a great deal of their time and effort in planning ways to affect the character and spirituality of the priesthood boys. This must continue. However, only a small fraction of this effort is put into the priesthood education and spiritual development of the girls. How can we expect in them as fine a product if we do not give them an increase in attention? Unless girls have had a model and know what priesthood qualities to look for in an eternal companion, the consequences may be that many families in generations to come will suffer because of wrong marriage choices. This need not be if priesthood brethren will be the appropriate models and give more earnest understanding and energy to the training of the girls.
If I get called to teach the Young Women again, I think I will try to give this a much greater emphasis than I have before. And I will definitely try to teach it to my daughters! I haven't ever felt resentful of men holding the priesthood, but I have had times where I kind of tuned out talks or lessons on the priesthood because I thought it wasn't applicable to me. Now I realize I can use this knowledge just as much as the men can—and in just as practical of ways!

I can't think of many things that would be MORE beneficial to my current circumstances than the power to bless my family and my home beyond what my own capabilities would permit. Since I often feel how inadequate I am to the tasks that need to be done there, it is infinitely hopeful to think that my own limitations need not permanently limit me OR my family! Power in the priesthood: what an amazing gift!


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A day at the beach

I suppose all beach pictures are the same, in a way. You have the water and the sand, and that lovely gradient where they meet. You have the bright sky and the white foam against which are captured the various silhouettes of the Typical Beach-Goer: the Sand Digger, the Wave-Leaper (and his counterpart, the Wave-Flee-er), the Brave Toe-Dipper, and so forth. I guess I've taken thousands of variations on these pictures over the years, and appeared in my share of them as a child. But to me, they aren't all the same. Or maybe more accurately: their very sameness makes me realize how quickly things change. And how fast the years go in and out and wash away: as fleeting as those waves edging up the shoreline.

Well. Those are solemn thoughts for what was, in fact, a very typical day at the beach: as typical as a beach day CAN be for sea-thirsty, land-locked desert-dwellers like us, anyway. We were there visiting my brother's family while Sam did a workshop in Irvine, but that was still to come. Today, there was sand in all the hair and all the noses and all the ears. There was sand in the crackers and grapes and cheese. There were sunburned noses and babies in hats. There were gentlemanly arms around shoulders, and unladylike squeals of terror. And it was all perfect.
We rode the car ferry across to the peninsula. It was so cool!
A seal was walking around on the sand.
Daisy and Ben in their now-familiar boogie board pose.
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Little universes in the Savior's care

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session from the April 1976 Conference.
It was hard to decide which talk to write about this week because this session contained a talk I've always liked: Boyd K. Packer's "Spiritual Crocodiles." This talk is the classic Elder Packer talk in my mind, and in my head I can hear practically every word of it, spoken in his serious, gravelly voice. I think it was made into a seminary movie, or else he told the same story later, because I wasn't born yet to hear this particular talk when he gave it! And there were parts of it that were new to me. Such a great story: a crocodile big enough to bite a man in two, hidden in the puddle of an elephant track! It's so scary and memorable. And a great message with it.

But then I read Elder Maxwell's talk from the same session, and I felt like I HAD to write about it too. I have gone through various phases of feeling toward Elder Maxwell. When I was young, I knew that everyone in my family liked his talks, so I liked them too. I always noticed his alliteration and his quoteable turns of phrase, and I thought they were kind of cool and fun to listen for. But as I got older, I somehow started being kind of annoyed with his style. I would think, "Why doesn't he just say things straight out? Why does he have to make everything all flowery? It's too much!" I wondered if he was just trying to show off his skill with words. (I'm sorry I ever thought that, Elder Maxwell!) And then after that, I felt for awhile like he was just too deep for me to understand. He seemed so solemn as he went through his cancer, I felt intimidated by his suffering and his knowledge.

And now…I am rediscovering Elder Maxwell all over again. Who knows, maybe I'm finally ready to hear some of the things I didn't understand before. But the more I read of him, the more I find he is one of my absolute favorites—now not simply for his facility with words, but for the deeper insights those words convey. I'm finding that, far from showing off or trying to showcase a big vocabulary, his carefully put-together phrases actually show a remarkable economy. He finds efficient ways to say things that then become memorable for their very brevity and compactness. He captures vast concepts with very few words, but those words are so well-chosen, and his images so striking, that the concepts shine through more brightly the longer you consider them.

Anyway, for me, this talk titled "Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King" is the best talk on Jesus Christ I have ever read. I feel like I want to memorize it just so I can have these beautiful phrases on my tongue anytime I want them. And again, it's not just the superficial eloquence of the words, but the depth of the concepts that strikes me. Somehow Elder Maxwell manages to weave together bits and pieces of facts that I suppose I've always kind of known about the Savior, and bind them together into a picture of Christ that brings His goodness and His character into sharper focus than any portrait I've seen. Elder Maxwell's words show a love and gratitude toward Christ that I feel too, but by their very specificity and perceptiveness, his words lifted my gratitude to a new, higher place than I have been able to achieve on my own, and I wanted to echo every sentence with "Yes! Yes! That too! Though I hadn't even realized it before, I'm grateful for that too!"

Really, every word I write about this talk is wasting the time you could be reading it for yourself (which is why I've linked to it about twenty times now), since my clumsy descriptions can't capture the power I felt in the talk itself. Probably some of that power can only be conveyed by the Spirit working in your own heart! And I feel like I had a particular need for some of these insights. But just to give you a sampling, here are a few of the sections I loved most. They're even better in context!
[Jesus Christ] helped to prepare this planet for us and led—not pushed—us from our premortal post. I thank him for the untold things he did, across the ages of that first estate, to prepare perfectly for his unique role—while I was doing so very much less. I thank him, further, for not deserting those of us who are slow or stragglers. 
Me too!
…I testify that Jesus was, in fact, actually proffered the kingdoms of this world by Satan. I thank him for declining this specious offer since all eternity would have been shaken, for Jesus’ grip on himself was also mankind’s hold on the future.
…I testify that in eloquent example he partook voluntarily of the bitter cup in the awful, but for him avoidable, atonement; we must, therefore, drink from our tiny cups. I thank him for likewise not interceding on our behalf, even when we pray in faith and reasonable righteousness, for that which would not be right for us
Yes! Such a great thing to be thankful for, don't you think? Of COURSE I don't want God to give me something that won't be right for me. But I never even thought to be thankful for it before! Then there's this:
…I thank him for helping me, even forgiving me, when I fall short, when I testify of things known but which are beyond the border of my behavior, and for helping me to advance that border, bit by bit. His relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs.
This describes so perfectly the struggle to DO what I know I SHOULD do. Even when I manage to get my desires somewhat in line with God's will, I find so many things just beyond the "border of my behavior." And I feel so discouraged about it sometimes. But yes—that is one of the amazing things about the repentance Jesus Christ made possible—that that border DOES advance. Slowly, bit by bit, I find I can do more. It's miraculous! And it's only because of the Savior.

And maybe my favorite part:
I testify that [Christ] and the Father are serious about stretching our souls in this second estate. I thank him for truly teaching us about our personal possibilities and for divinely demonstrating directions—not just pointing. 
I testify that just as he has helped to carefully construct this second estate for all mankind, he also has helped to carefully construct each of our little universes of experience.
Jesus Christ has "carefully constructed" our little universes of experience! I love that so much! It's so hopeful! I know some people feel disturbed about the idea that God might be party to the most difficult or terrible experiences of their lives, and I can't comment on or explain to what extent he allows things to happen to us, versus intending them to happen, and so forth. I don't really WANT to get into that debate, but I will say: for ME, the idea that the Savior has constructed—carefully constructed—each little component of my "little universe," specifically for the purpose of "stretching my soul," is a wonderful doctrine. I rejoice in it. I have sometimes doubted it, but each time it is reaffirmed to me, I feel anew the beauty of it. God cares about my experiences! He shapes them! He is shaping me! And he has built my entire "little universe" under the wings of His love. I love the clarity with which Elder Maxwell teaches that concept. (And I gain confidence in the truth of it as I hear it taught by multiple witnesses—here is another one I've written about.)

I feel like this is one of those talks I could read over and over, and a different set of phrases will strike me and enlighten me every time. It makes me long for the sort of relationship with and insight into the Savior that Elder Maxwell so clearly possessed, and it makes me want to deepen and broaden my understanding of all I owe to Jesus Christ, so that I, too, can expand my gratitude to Him.

Other posts in this series:
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Ballet Class

The girls always like to pretend they're ballerinas, but they haven't ever been in a ballet class before. I took ballet for a little while when I was young, long enough to start to love it (or maybe I already did), but not long enough to gain any sort of proficiency. I don't think I ever was destined to become any good, and by junior high I was more interested in (and suited for!) distance running anyway, but I have never lost that interest in and love for watching ballet, at least! Someday in my resurrected body I'm going to become good at it myself. :)

Anyway, I didn't know if we'd be able to ever figure out a ballet class for the girls that would be close by and inexpensive and low-commitment enough to be worth the trouble (I try to be very vigilant against filling our schedule with too many extras!)—but the stars aligned and a darling college student was teaching an 8-week class in between semesters, so Daisy and Junie got to be in it! And Goldie—poor dear little Goldie dressed up in her leotard and ballet slippers every single week, and went with us to the class and sat patiently on the side of the room and watched every move the girls made. She never complained, but she just sat quietly with wide eyes, wishing she was among the dancers. Poor lamb. I probably should have just signed her up too! Maybe another time.
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A practical God

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Sometimes the part of a Conference Session I like most is the part that surprises me. This time, it was just one sentence. Elder Mark E. Peterson gave a talk about Family History and quoted Peter discussing the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world. Then he said:
Would Jesus have preached to them if they could not hear and understand? Would he have preached faith and repentance if they were not able to believe and repent? Is not the Savior practical and realistic?
The way Elder Petersen stated it, it seemed like a rhetorical question; like he assumed everyone would answer "yes." But it didn't strike me as an obvious point at all. I have heard many words describing the Savior. Compassionate, transcendent, all-knowing, and so forth. And, if pressed, I would of course concede that the Savior must not be IMpractical or UNrealistic…but "practical and realistic" just isn't a part of His character I've often considered!

I don't know if other religions would agree with that description, either. I think a lot of people like to play up the mystical, unknowable part of God's character. Or else they want to treat Him as a sort of platitude-dispensing sage that tells people pleasant things about love and acceptance. But…practical? It seems like it might almost be damning Him with faint praise.

And yet as I considered it, it struck me as a most comforting doctrine, God's realism and practicality. It's sort of like how you always feel better in the Lord of the Rings books when Gandalf is around. Because of course Gandalf has thought of everything! And he isn't going to be taken by surprise or caught off-guard. He's planned it all out, and if everyone would just stop being stubborn and listen to him, everything would work out fine! And yes, I know God is more than just a shrewd businessman or a wise wizard. I certainly appreciate His mysteries and His miracles. I know His ways are not our ways, and of course His methods may not always seem practical or realistic TO US. But yet…it makes sense. Who would be MORE practical than a God who knows exactly what we need? He has not only made a plan for our happiness, but he is going to bring to pass that plan by the most effective methods possible!

If God is practical and realistic, that means He knows (and cares about) what works! He's competent. He doesn't waste time. He doesn't waste resources.

That might sound cold and impersonal to some people. And I don't mean to downplay God's compassionate side. As I said, I know that what might seem "a waste" to us would not be so to Him. But it's vastly calming, I think, to consider what a "practical" God means to me.

Would He "preach faith and repentance" to us if he did not think us capable of faith and repentance?
Would He send me any hard experience that wasn't calculated to give me the very best chance of improvement?
Would He ask me to follow a path that leads to anything but a successful (successful in HIS eyes, of course) outcome?

Of course not! Because he's practical! He's realistic! And having considered every possible option…and anticipated every possible contingency…THIS is the plan He settled on for me. And if I just place my will in God's capable hands—it's going to work.

Other posts in this series:
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