More piglets

When baby Ezekiel was only three weeks old, our friend Tillie the Pig had another litter of piglets! 17 of them! So we decided to make the drive out to Erda and have my midwife Cathy give Ziggy his three-week checkup at her house instead of mine. We loved enjoying a Fall day at her peaceful farm and holding the cute little squealing, squirming piggies (along with our own little Ziggy-pig, of course!).
Some pig!

Waiting anxiously for each rock

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the April 1977 Conference.
During this project we've read through several of these Welfare Sessions now, and it's hard to avoid a sense that they are all the same! Because the subject matter is so tightly focused, I guess, there is a lot of repetition and it's hard (for the speakers, apparently, and certainly for me!) to think of anything new to say! There are lots of practical matters addressed: how to set up the Bishop's Storehouses, what kinds of commodities wards can produce, etc. I assume many of these details have changed over the years. Then there are spiritual themes that come up repeatedly: work is ennobling, service and charity are essential, generosity blesses both givers and receivers…the same principles appear in these sessions again and again.

But although, through so much repetition, it would be easy to lose sight of the value of those principles, it's always the stories that remind me what church welfare is really about. Sister Barbara B. Smith told this one, which on the surface isn't even about welfare. It's about a husband and wife that went to buy landscaping rocks for their yard. The rocks were big and heavy, and they were collected at the top of a hill, and the husband started complaining about how much harder this would make everything. So, his wife said she would go up the hill and roll the rocks down to him.

The husband described how his wife started noticing things about each rock she chose. She seemed excited about the merits of each one, and she would describe them as she rolled the rocks down to her husband:
"Soon she called out, ‘Here comes the first rock. Here comes another one.’ Then she said, ‘Oh, this rock is a beauty. I hope this one won’t be too heavy for you to carry.’
“I said, ‘I’ll carry anything you roll down.’
“Then she said, ‘Look at this rock. It has real character. Here comes my favorite.’”
He said, “She actually had me waiting anxiously for each rock!” And then he said, “In this endeavor, as in many other of our projects together, she had given me not only the help I needed but a perspective that often eludes men.”
As I read this I thought about how the concept of "church welfare" sounds kind of boring and abstract and administrative. It sounds just about as boring as "going to pick up a bunch of rocks." :) But my kids love rocks! And as we've studied rocks together, we've experienced the same thing as the wife in the story above: once you start really looking at rocks—picking them up, examining them, turning them toward the light—they become beautiful! Every single time
When we're out collecting rocks, there are usually huge piles of them. From far away they all pretty much look the same. But after just a few minutes of careful looking, the kids have found favorites. And they've become attached. If they happen to drop a rock after "choosing" it, they'll look anxiously for it on the ground. They'll carefully check through our collection buckets to make sure their special rocks don't get left behind. And that's just how welfare, real welfare (or I guess not necessarily just official church welfare—but charity in any form) works. The scope of "helping all God's children" is huge and impersonal and daunting. But as we serve in our own little spheres, our own Relief Societies and neighborhoods, this is the real-est kind of reality there is! It's the place our religious ideals actually coalesce into something tangible. It's where we learn to show love to people we have no "obligation" to. It's where we get to know our neighbors and they become dear to us. It's where people come to feel, on more than an abstract level, that they are of worth to God. The people in my ward who have been bringing me dinner since the baby was born are doing it for ME, and for OUR FAMILY, not for abstract principles. And we—personally, specifically—are the ones who feel their love as we eat it. 
Every time recently that I've heard a story of someone who helped others after Hurricane Harvey, or read about relief efforts in Mexico City, it's the specifics that make me emotional. Same with the church membership reports: they read the statistics in Conference about how many new converts have joined, and it's mildly interesting, but every time I read a real person's conversion story, no matter how small, I feel determined to share the gospel more readily and be more fully converted myself. 

So this talk was a good reminder to me: If you find "church welfare" boring, it's probably because you're not participating in it. Because when you are part of a charitable cause—when you're connecting with real people, helping or being helped, giving and receiving love—there is no tedium and no indifference. The people we serve become beautiful and meaningful in our eyes, and we are anxious about the well-being of each one. As Elder J. Richard Clarke said in this same session: "These are not statistics, brothers and sisters; these are real people with real needs."

Other posts in this series:

Sibling love

Baby Ezekiel (I still haven't settled into what I really like to CALL him yet…none of the nicknames have risen to the top, and as often as not it's "Babykins" or "Little Muffin" or something equally undignified that comes out of my mouth)…is so very, very loved. It goes without saying that his siblings love to hold him and cuddle him. But what surprises me is how often he is soothed and cheered up by being carried around by his siblings! He'll be crying and fussing, and as soon as he's in someone's arms he'll settle down and start gazing around the room like a cute little black-eyed pea.


The Solar Eclipse

I don't want to put too much emphasis on how worried I was that something would Go Wrong with the eclipse (or, with our ability to see it, more accurately), because I did try to rein my worries in and think Coping Thoughts. Yes, this was something I'd been looking forward to for a long time, but it wasn't the MOST important thing EVER, and it was only two minutes out of a lifetime, and we could always look forward to 2045, after all! We would have a fun time being together as a family even if it was cloudy…or smoky…or there were apocalyptic crowds and gas shortages and so forth. I had reserved the rental house and ordered the eclipse glasses a year early (plus we had the ones my brother's family gave us for Christmas…) so everything was as ready as it could be and there was nothing else I could do! I told myself all of these things repeatedly, but I also lay awake worrying more than once in the months leading up to August. I was also somewhat concerned that I'd have the baby right during the eclipse and miss it that way.
We studied eclipses for school, making models and so forth, in the week before we left for Idaho. This scale model on a yardstick (with the moon and earth correctly sized and distanced from each other) was fun. You can see the small dot of shadow that the "moon" (at the top of the yardstick) casts on the "earth" (by Daisy's right hand). That dot of shadow is the spot where totality occurs! Where it sweeps across the earth you have the path of totality.

When we got to Idaho I felt some relief that we were actually THERE in the right vicinity, but we were staying an hour away from the path of totality, so we knew we'd still have to brave the roads on the morning of the eclipse. We went to Yellowstone and had a fun few days, but I tossed and turned all night Sunday night, dreaming vague and foreboding dreams. As it turned out, we had no problem. The traffic was slightly more dense than usual for a Monday morning, but there were very few delays. As we got to Rexburg I finally felt like I could relax! We were in the right place and the sky was clear and I wasn't in labor. Yay!

We loved Bear World last time we stayed in Island Park, so we decided to make that our eclipse-watching base. It was a perfect place in which to wait around, because there are fun little rides for the kids to go on over and over and over, and bathrooms close by, and cute baby bears to watch.
While we were studying eclipses for school we also made solar eclipse shirts. Aren't they cute? It's only because I ran across a picture of this shirt and said to myself, "Hey, I bet we could make those!" I just cut out circles of contact paper in varying sizes and stuck one on the front of each shirt. Then I gave the kids glow-in-the-dark fabric paint and brushes, and they painted scribbly lines and rays of paint on and around the contact paper circle. (You can't really mess this up!) After the paint dried, we took off the contact paper circles and it left these lovely likenesses of the sun's corona shining during totality. Lots of people asked where we got our shirts and the children were very pleased to say "We made them!"

A daily portion of love

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1977 Conference.
In Elder H. Burke Peterson's talk, he describes a new father talking about his new baby boy:
He expressed thanks for this, his first son. He then said in a rather perplexed way that since the little fellow didn’t seem to understand anything they said, he wished he knew just how to communicate with him. “All we can do,” said he, “is hold him, cuddle him, gently squeeze him, kiss him, and whisper thoughts of love in his ear.” 
With a brand-new baby in the house, I can relate to that. It is so easy to pour out love on this little baby boy. I feel like I'm feeding him constantly, but that also allows me (and reminds me!) to constantly be loving him: talking to him, watching his little face as he sleeps, hugging him, patting his back. How could he help but feel my constant stream of love? But what Elder Peterson said next made me feel a little guilty:
After the meeting I went up to the new father and said that in his testimony he had given us a success pattern for raising healthy children. I hoped he would never forget it; even as his children grew to maturity I hoped he would continue the practice.
Then Elder Peterson continues:
Among the tragedies we see around us every day are the countless children and adults who are literally starving because they are not being fed a daily portion of love. We have in our midst thousands who would give anything to hear the words and feel the warmth of this expression. We have all seen the lonely and discouraged who have never been told.
That phrase, "a daily portion of love," made me wonder if my other children are getting as constantly nourished by my love? With a new baby, you have to make time for it. You have to stop what you're doing to attend to his needs. But as Elder Peterson points out, we ALL need that daily nourishment! Our spouses. Our older children. And because, unlike babies, they don't have obvious and easy times built-in for receiving that love, I need to make a more conscious effort to make time to give it anyway!

This talk reminded me a lot of Elder S. Mark Palmer's address in the most recent Conference, "Then Jesus Beholding Him Loved Him." I re-read that one recently and was impressed by how necessary it is to love someone in order to influence them. Our children cannot truly learn from us until they feel loved by us! And the "daily portion" metaphor helped me understand that idea better, too: just like our physical bodies can't function well without daily nourishment, our spiritual selves need love in order to progress. This really made me resolve to do better at showing love to the older, less obviously "needy" members of our family. I do pretty well at making sure they're getting regular and nourishing meals every day. But this daily portion of love might be even more important!

Elder Peterson also advises that
One of the most effective secrets for happiness is contained in the fourth chapter of 1 John, verse 19. It is only eight words long--listen carefully: “We love him, because he first loved us.” This will cause a change to happen because it is right. Do you get the message? “He first loved us.” Your children will love you; your brothers and sisters will love you; your eternal companion will love you--because you first loved them.
 Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are constantly pouring out Their love for me. I certainly feel a "daily portion" of it—always when I take the time to seek it out, anyway, and often even when I don't! I want to do better at following their example in my own family, so that not only the squeezeable, snuggly little babies feel constantly nourished by my love, but everyone else does too!

Other posts in this series:


Ezekiel Frost Nielson
Born Tuesday, 5 September 2017, 6:29 a.m.
8 lbs 14 oz.; 21" long


With fervent desire

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the April 1977 Conference.
You've probably seen this video of President Packer's parable, The Mediator. I've always liked it, but I haven't ever read the whole talk before. Here was my favorite part, which was not even part of the story, but a personal note about why he told it:
I have carried with me a great desire to bear testimony of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I have yearned to tell you in as simple terms as I can, what He did, and who He is.
Although I know how poor mere words can be, I know also that such feelings are often carried by the spirit, even without words.
At times I struggle under the burden of imperfections. Nevertheless, because I know that He lives, there is a supreme recurring happiness and joy. 
There is one place where I am particularly vulnerable—when I know that I have abused someone, or caused them hurt, or offended them. It is then I know what agony is. 
How sweet it is, on those occasions, to be reassured that He lives, and to have my witness reaffirmed. I want, with fervent desire, to show you how our burdens of disappointment, sin, and guilt can be laid before Him, and on His generous terms have each item on the account marked, “Paid in Full.”
I love this glimpse into the personal feelings of a man I have so looked up to. He felt inadequate and imperfect. He hated to hurt people—but he knew he DID sometimes hurt people, and this caused him great anguish. His testimony of Jesus Christ's atonement brought him actual comfort for his actual struggles. And he wanted, "with fervent desire," to share that comfort with everyone else! It gave me a different perspective on this talk, thinking about President Packer writing it with that personal goal in mind.

It also makes me wonder what things the general authorities who are preparing their talks for Conference right now want to tell us. What insights do they have a "fervent desire" for us to gain? I read an Ensign article today about another apostle who asked President Eyring for input on the 22nd draft of his talk for Conference. President Eyring says:
In general conference twice a year, we are blessed with the opportunity to hear the word of the Lord for us from His servants. That is a privilege beyond price. But the value of that opportunity depends on whether we receive the words under the influence of the same Spirit by which they were given to those servants… Just as they receive guidance from heaven, so must we. And that requires of us the same spiritual effort… 
The servants of God fast and pray to receive the message He has for them to give to those who need revelation and inspiration….To gain the great benefits available from hearing living prophets and apostles, we must pay the price ourselves of receiving revelation.
I know the General Authorities have the fervent desire to bring us closer to Christ. Do we have an equal desire to receive their wisdom?

Other posts in this series:

Are we ready for it?

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the April 1977 Conference.
My interest was caught as I read President Spencer W. Kimball's talk "Our Great Potential," when he started talking about Priesthood Keys we don't yet have on the earth. He brought up resurrection, which is one of the only ones I could think of offhand, but he also mentioned the power to create spirits, the power to control the elements, and the power to manipulate and organize matter. He quoted a lot from Brigham Young and other early church leaders.

It was interesting because this is the sort of thing we don't talk a lot about in church…it seems more esoteric, I guess, or less relevant to our progression now. But President Kimball wasn't just speculating or wondering—he was coming to a specific point:
Can you realize even slightly how relatively little we know? As Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9.) 
We talk about the gospel in its fulness; yet we realize that a large part is still available to us as we prepare, as we perfect our lives, and as we become more like our God. Are we ready for it? In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of Abraham, who has already attained godhood. He has received many powers, undoubtedly, that we would like to have and will eventually get if we continue faithful and perfect our lives.
I was thinking about how it's sometimes hard to want to do much thinking about "perfection." For me, at least, it seems so far away that incremental thinking is easier: in other words, "well, ____ is too hard right now, but at least I can do ______." I guess this is probably okay (and I've read other talks that give great ideas about willingness to fail, and about changing bit by bit, line upon line). However, President Kimball's words combined with a story in another talk I read this week made me reconsider my reluctance to dwell on the "perfect" solution:
A few years ago a large American computer company decided to have some parts manufactured by a Japanese supplier as a trial project. The American company told the Japanese firm it would accept up to 2 percent defective products in the 10,000-piece order. Later, the shipment arrived with 100 percent of the order without defects. In a separate box was a note: “Sorry, we do not understand American company production practices. However, this box contains the 2 percent defective product you wanted. Sorry for the delay in producing, but these parts had to be made separately, which required changing our process in order to make the bad product. Hope this pleases you.” 
This was from a BYU Devotional talk I read by a professor in the Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Technology Department. He explained:
When we design a part we always determine a target dimension that is the desired value at which the part should be produced. Making the part to that value results in the “perfect” product. Because every process has variation and it is difficult to produce exactly to the target value each time, every part also comes with tolerance limits. These limits are the amount of deviation from the target we can tolerate and still expect the part to function at least reasonably well. If there is more deviation from target than the tolerance limit allows, the part will be rejected. However—and this point is critical—as soon as the part deviates from target, it is in error, and the farther a part deviates from the target, even if it is within the tolerance limit, the worse it performs. 
Some companies are concerned only with producing products within the tolerance limits, but wise companies constantly seek to produce on target. The differences between these companies in focus and attitude are quite significant, as are the results. The difference comes not because of the distance, which is often only a couple thousandths of an inch. It is the difference between an average company and an excellent company. For a company to move from the tolerance mind-set to the target mind-set requires an entirely different way of looking at targets, processes, tolerance limits, and improvement. It is a new way of thinking. 
Companies that desire to produce excellent products are not satisfied at producing just within tolerance. They strive, constantly and forever, to produce at target. And they believe it is possible. Average companies, or those that are known for average or poor quality, tend to focus on the tolerance limits because they believe being just within the limits is good enough.
He goes on to discuss the application:
Think of it this way. Imagine yourself on a line between the target value, or the mark of perfection, on one side and the tolerance limit on the other. We can ask ourselves, “Which way am I facing?” and “What do I take as my guide?” If the tolerance limit is my guide, then my tendency is to move as close to the limit as I can and, if at all possible, try to relax those limits to make more of my behaviors allowable. However, there is an even bigger problem with facing the tolerance limit. It is that my back is to the target. I am not looking toward the mark of perfection. Also, since I am facing the limit, if the limit moves, then I move with it and, therefore, accept more defective behavior. 
On the other hand, if I am facing the target, the mark of perfection, and constantly striving to reach that mark, then my back will be to the tolerance limits. If the limits move, they have no effect on me because my focus is not on the relaxing tolerance but on approaching the mark of perfection.
I know there is a place for incremental learning and approximation. It's what we all HAVE to do, because we're imperfect mortals! But from these talks, I'm thinking about how a focus on perfection—a willingness to look for it, and try for it—is not incompatible with incremental learning! As this professor said, the difference is not so much in the actual products (or in a person's case, the actual behaviors) but in the focus and mindset of looking toward the target! We somehow need to be willing to make Christlike perfection our goal and focus—and also ready to accept whatever discomfort that awareness may cause us!

I am sometimes afraid to think ahead to the eventual goals of godhood and perfection. I'm afraid of getting too discouraged or overwhelmed. I'm afraid of losing sight of the simpler things [Similarly, President Romney's talk in this session encouraged seeking the ultimate promise of the Holy Ghost and having your calling and election made sure, which is another thing I've heard can cause people to stumble if they get too focused on it. But perhaps I have gone too far in deciding not to think about it at all?] But as described in the BYU talk I quoted, focusing on "the target" is essential if I really want to improve. And "the target," is, of course, Jesus Christ. Studying His perfect life and seeking to be like Him may indeed be overwhelming, but it is the only way to become like Him!

So, I appreciated President Kimball's reminder that there are many, many great gifts and powers still to come in our progression, and that we should be pondering them and even actively seeking after them. And I appreciated President Romney's reminder that we can always be more urgently striving toward not just glimpses, but "the full light of Christ." I'm hoping to figure out a way to balance a reasonable awareness of my limitations, with a stronger focus on Christ and His perfection—and on the amazing things He can make possible for me!

Other posts in this series:

Eclipse trip: the non-eclipse and non-Yellowstone part

We always become so fond of the rental houses we stay in. Teddy called this one our "Cabin House" and soon we were all calling it that. It was in a much less-wooded area of Island Park than the place we stayed last time, so it felt very different. This place had a wrap-around porch, with beautiful views of the sunset across the open meadows. We loved it.
One of the first thing the boys did upon arriving was to put up their hammocks. These were hung in many configurations over the few days we stayed here.

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