Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The greatest satisfaction

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday afternoon session from the April 1975 Conference.
I loved Elder Bruce R. McConkie's talk in this session of Conference. I'm always wanting to know more about temple covenants, and this treated some of them in great depth. The talk helped me understand the difference between the Law of Sacrifice and the Law of Consecration, which is something I've often wondered about. I knew they were connected, but Elder McConkie's explanation helped me sort it out:
Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth. 
The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.
Put even more simply, it seems like the Law of Sacrifice requires us to give up, where the Law of Consecration requires us to give. Sometimes they might overlap, like if we were asked to give up money so we could give it for the building up of temples. But other times they have different goals: we may give up a pet cause that is keeping our heart from God's work, for example, but in turn give our energy—that is, focus it, use it, stretch it—in the service of God. That way of thinking of things was clarifying to me.

Elder McConkie continues:
To gain celestial salvation we must be able to live these laws to the full if we are called upon to do so. Implicit in this is the reality that we must in fact live them to the extent we are called upon so to do. 
How, for instance, can we establish our ability to live the full law of consecration if we do not in fact pay an honest tithing? Or how can we prove our willingness to sacrifice all things, if need be, if we do not make the small sacrifices of time and toil, or of money and means, that we are now asked to make?
And I love his conclusion:
Every member of his church has this promise: That if he remains true and faithful—obeying, serving, consecrating, sacrificing, as required by the gospel—he shall be repaid in eternity a thousandfold and shall have eternal life. What more can we ask?
Once I had sacrifice and consecration on my mind, I noticed these same principles coming up in several of the other talks as well. One of my favorite sections was in Elder Hartman Rector, Jr.'s talk called The Roots of Mormonism. Let me back up: I've been thinking a lot lately about the relief and satisfaction that comes with completing a task or an assignment. Even on a small scale—finishing up a few items on my to-do list for the day, or at the end of a Cub Scout activity I was in charge of—I love the feeling of knowing I actually DID something. That may be because there are so many things I don't get the satisfaction of "completing" (laundry…cooking…teaching the children) but even then, I love being able to sink into a chair and say to myself, "Ah…DONE for now." And I think everyone feels that. Even my little two-year-old can't get enough of saying "I did it!" when he finishes something hard. (This goes with what I was talking about with Elder Hales last week, too!)

Because I love these types of feelings so much, I have always been drawn to the scripture where Paul says "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." It just fascinates me. How could he be so sure he had fought a good fight and finished his course? How did it feel to be able to say that, even knowing of his mistakes and imperfections? What a glorious feeling it must have been for him to know he could finally rest and be assured that he had done a good job, that God was pleased with his offering. I saw something similar in my Dad's face as he passed away. He was free, he was happy. He knew he had done what he could, and it was enough. As I watched him, I wanted so much to have that knowledge and relief for myself someday!

So, I knew just what Elder Rector meant when he said:
The glory of work cannot be overemphasized. The satisfaction of a difficult task successfully completed or accomplished is one of the greatest satisfactions that we know in this life.
It's true. The difficulty of the task only makes the completion of it that much more satisfying. Then (and I loved this), Elder Rector says
It seems we are eternally having to do that which we may not particularly want to do to bring to pass the purposes of God among his children on earth.The real secret of the success of the Lord’s program here on earth, or anywhere else for that matter, is sacrifice.
I just love the way the two things tie together: the fact that doing something hard, something we don't particularly WANT to do, in no way diminishes the satisfaction of having done it! That is—I suppose doing something unpleasant just for the sake of being unpleasant wouldn't bring much fulfillment—but both giving up and giving (sacrifice and consecration) hard things for the Lord's sake—for the sake of our covenants—makes our feelings of satisfaction even more all-encompassing once the task is done!

The main point of Elder Rector's talk is that the programs of the church are only effective because of the deep commitment in the hearts of those who carry them out. The programs by themselves are hollow, but with a committed, covenant people filling them, they become living and powerful vehicles that carry us toward God.
It is not the program, but people with a certain knowledge of God and their relationship to him burning in their hearts that bring about success in the activities of the kingdom. This is the strength and vitality of Mormonism.
I loved connecting that principle to the covenants we make in the temple, and to Elder McConkie's talk. It is not simply the giving up of time and energy that brings us joy and satisfaction. It is not the draining, unending work of parenthood or the demands of a challenging calling alone that will lead us to that feeling of "I did it!" It's the doing of those acts, the giving of those gifts, as purposeful and willing fulfillment of the covenants we have made, that allows us to know for ourselves that we can be happy with our work. It is our covenant relationship with God which gives us a standard we can reach toward, and ultimately, reach—and which brings us those feelings of deepest joy when we complete the work we know He has set before us.

I've run marathons and felt amazing relief and joy upon their completion. I've come home after a Young Women's activity or a Relief Society dinner and collapsed with utter thankfulness that it was a success. And of course, like most mothers, after the birth of each of my children, I have felt an almost indescribable joy and satisfaction that we did it, this child and me. We made it through pregnancy and labor and we have truly been delivered into a brand new world full of light. And those feelings, magnified a hundredfold, are what I imagine as the greatest reward, someday, if I can say what Paul said at the end of his race. "I have obeyed, I have served, I have sacrificed, I have consecrated all that I had. I have kept the faith." I can only imagine the feelings that will overcome us when the Savior Himself approves our work, and honors those covenants we cherished, now fulfilled.

Other posts in this series:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happenings in January

The big girls (big? Can't believe I am saying that) moved downstairs after Christmas. Sebastian built their bunk beds and the new dresser for their doll clothes. I was kind of sad to have them moving so far away from Sam's and my room, but it is definitely nice for everyone to spread out a bit, since we had all four little kids in one bedroom before!
Marigold misses her sisters and likes to "sleep over" with them whenever she can! And even when it's just the two of them in their room, Daisy and Junie still usually end up in the same bed. They are just too used to sleeping together, I guess!
Junie Snuggled in with Violet
Junie and Lavender (that's what she named the doll she got for Christmas)
Daisy and Rosie. My mom made the cute doll nightgowns with the scraps I had leftover from the girl nightgowns.
Stripes of sunshine (a welcome sight on these grey days!)
Biggest holding littlest. Littlest doesn't look very little anymore, does he?
More people holding people.
Junie and Nutmeg going off to work with Sam (it was "Draw a bunny" day in his Gesture Drawing class)
Malachi is astounded at this tall magnatiles tower
Teddy and Sam making pasta

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

In every day as we are asked to do it

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday morning session from the April 1975 Conference.
One of the most striking talks for me during this session was given by the man pictured above. He was a newly called General Authority. He describes how he had gotten a call from President Romney, asking if he and his wife would serve as mission presidents in London. Without too much hesitation, he accepted the call:
I will tell you this, something I learned long ago: It is a question of free agency…I was financially able, I was morally able, and I knew the law of consecration and what it meant; and I appreciated the opportunity.
But a few weeks later, he relates, another call from church headquarters came. This time it was President Kimball.
“Brother Hales, do you mind if we change your mission?” 
I had thought I was going to the London England Mission. But I figured someone else would have that call, and I said, “I will be glad to go to whatever place you send me.” 
He said, “Do you mind if we change it to Salt Lake City?” 
And I said, “No, that will be fine, President.” 
“Do you mind if it is little bit longer than three years?” 
“However long you want it, President.” 
“We would like a lifetime of service.”
It hit me as I read this, the magnitude of that request. All this man's plans for his career, his family, his retirement—everything in that moment had to be revised. And he talks about how he felt:
The past 20 years swept before me. I felt like the man who had fallen off a precipice…The call was clear. I had to let go of everything that I had known and what I had been striving for in my life to become an Assistant to the Twelve… 
With that, the prophet talked to my wife. We held each other in our arms and said nothing, and we knew that we had and that we would dedicate and consecrate our lives to that mission, whatever it might be.
He talks about how he was gaining now a new appreciation of the Law of Consecration:
I have learned from Joseph Fielding Smith, and have talked to young people, about the law of consecration. It is not one particular event; it is a lifetime, day by day, in which we all strive to do our best that we might live honorable lives, that we might live the best we can in the service of others… 
I will say this: It is not in death or in one event that we give our lives, but in every day as we are asked to do it.
I guess this story isn't so different from any of the dozens of others over the years. I've heard various apostles give their first addresses in Conference. They usually sound overwhelmed, surprised, and full of humility. I often think about what must have been going through their heads as they received their calls. But this story struck me harder, and it's because of the name I saw as I scrolled back up the page to see who was giving this talk.

It was Elder Robert D. Hales! OUR Elder Hales. This Elder Hales:
And I just felt suddenly and with great emotion that HE DID IT! He didn't just talk about consecration. He didn't just say how he hoped he could serve with honor. HE DID IT! He has been doing it for the last forty-two years, longer than I've been alive. EVERY SINGLE DAY since that day he got the call and his whole life changed…he has been giving his life to the Lord. Just as he talked about doing, way back in 1975 when it was all fresh and scary and new to him.

And that young man pictured at the top of this post, the one I didn't even recognize, the one who talked about how his wife had to remind him to go Home Teaching and he wasn't super excited about it (that story's in the talk), the one who was a successful businessman with hopes and plans for the future, the one who had a seventeen-year-old son who said to him incredulously, “Dad, do you think, really, you will ever be like [the other General Authorities]?”—

THAT man became THIS man. Our Elder Hales, who speaks with a quiet and trembling voice, and has an oxygen hose to help him breathe. Who so clearly belongs in the Council of the Twelve, and gives eloquent, powerful talks about service and choices and the Holy Ghost. I've read lots of talks in this General Conference Odyssey by men I later heard for myself: President Benson, Elder Ashton, President Packer, and many others. I suppose all of these men had their first talks, their first calls, their first days on the job. They grew in their callings; they became different men as they served. But I felt like here, reading Elder Hales' first talk and realizing who he'd become, I was seeing this happen, sweeping before my eyes all at once. 

And Elder Hales reveals, right in his talk, HOW it happens. It's the Law of Consecration in action. It's giving our lives, "in every day as we are asked to do it."

You can see just by looking at the two pictures how many years and how many experiences Elder Hales has offered up to God. And when his son asks "Dad, do you think, really, you will ever be like them?"—I want to tell that newly-called Elder Hales, "You WILL! You ARE one of them! You've ALWAYS been one of them, to me!"

I don't know how it feels to be called to give your whole life to be an Apostle. But I do know how it feels to PROMISE to be willing to give all that God asks. And I just hope—each time I have to catch my breath, and re-think what I thought my future was, and head off tremblingly into a path I wouldn't have chosen for myself—I hope I can do it like Elder Hales. Giving my life willingly, every day as I am asked to do it.

Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We all suffer another loss

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday afternoon session from the April 1975 Conference.
In this session, Elder James E. Faust gave a powerful and forthright talk called "The Sanctity of Life." His main theme concerns abortion, but the church's position on assisted suicide seems relevant these days as well. Knowing that life, all life, is sacred and a gift from God is one of those illuminating truths that makes sense of many otherwise-confusing questions. I liked Elder Faust's comment that
Some justify abortions because the unborn may have been exposed to drugs or disease and may have birth defects. Where in all the world is the physically or mentally perfect man or woman? Is life not worth living unless it is free of handicaps? Experience in working with handicapped children would suggest that human nature frequently rises above its impediments and that in Shakespeare’s words, “They say best men are molded out of faults/ And, for the most, become much more the better/ For being a little bad” in the physical sense.
Our bodies and lives do not gain value relative to each other by meeting some societal standard of mental or physical perfection. They simply HAVE value, because they are lent breath by God.

Elder Faust quotes a physician, Dr. Henry G. Armitage, saying how tragic it is that any woman
can be deluded into the notion that she is a mere portress of unwanted luggage or be by blandishment seduced into believing that she has dominion over life not her own…An abortion is never commonplace, for the world holds no heartbreak like the death of innocence. Whenever and wherever it occurs, we all suffer another loss from that little which sustains us and holds us together (emphasis added).
As I reflected on this passage, I thought of a phrase that has sometimes puzzled me, found among other places in Doctrine and Covenants 88: 74-75:
And I give unto you, who are the first laborers in this last kingdom, a commandment that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves, and sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean; 
That I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation; that I may fulfil this promise, this great and last promise, which I have made unto you, when I will.
I've wondered before, if man is to be punished merely for "his own sins," how can he also be tainted with "the blood of this generation"? But that phrase quoted by Elder Faust—"we all suffer another loss from that little which sustains us and holds us together"—is a powerful one. Belief in the sanctity of life is a basic, fundamental need in a civilized society. It is a baseline for cooperation and kindness. Belief that another person is sacred and worthy of respect, merely because they exist and are a child of God, is the underlying truth that gives us the ability to care about those we disagree with, those that hate us, those unlike ourselves. Without a belief in that underlying truth, why should we accord respect to those of any body type, any skin color, any political belief, any age, any sex? If virtue or merit is to be assigned on the basis of which types of life WE think are most worth living—then we are on dangerous ground indeed.

And so it seems clear that any blow to a belief in the sanctity of life is, by definition, a communal blow. It hurts us all. It implicates us all. If one life matters less because of infirmity—then another may matter less because of "usefulness to society." If one life loses "value" because of disability—then another may lose value because of opinion. If I decide one life CAN matter less than any other, I am devaluing my own life as well. Any such thinking undermines Heavenly Father's plan, which is that we should not only respect each others' right to exist, but also go much further: we ought to bear one another's burdens, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort! And all of this must begin with, at minimum, an acknowledgement that humanity is collectively God's offspring and that ALL LIFE, because it is sacred to Him, should be sacred to us! If our generation forgets that fundamental truth, then that blood is on all of our hands, to be cleansed only by the atonement and our willingness to reorient our views to match God's. The belief that we are merely collections of cells, from which value can be taken or given at will, diminishes us and makes us, indeed, at our own choice, more like those collections of cells. God's plan invites us to rise up and become divine—but that is only possible when we acknowledge the divinity in everyone else as well.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It's like the Lamanites marking themselves with their own curse. It's a sort of downward spiral: we can't, of course, change our intrinsic worth. God values us whether or not we value ourselves. But since our value comes from that connection to God, if we choose on our side to break those ties to God and ignore our own or others' value, we consign ourselves to becoming exactly what we mistakenly said we were all along: merely organisms, acted upon by our surroundings, worth nothing beyond what others determine our value to be. Satan, in the end, no matter how many souls he claims, holds nothing of value—because in the very act of surrendering to his control, those souls have themselves chosen to deny their own worth. And certainly Satan finds none in us! Thank heavens Jesus Christ continues to reach after us, assuring us of our value and allowing us to regain it (or rather, to regain OUR KNOWLEDGE of it) as we apply His atonement in our lives!

I think the phrase Dr. Armitage used to describe a twisted view of motherhood, as "a mere portress of unwanted luggage," applies equally well to those who denigrate the sanctity of life (even our own lives) at any point during their existence. Do we ever see our children, born or unborn, as "unwanted luggage"? Do we see our imperfect bodies or our mental impediments as "unwanted luggage"? Do we wish to simply set those things aside so we can get on with the things that are easier and less burdensome? We probably all do, sometimes—but this is not God's way. He would have us trust him that our imperfect life, our failing body—our pain, our illness, our enemy, our difficult child or pregnancy or infertility or whatever this "unwanted luggage" is—is worth carrying anyway. And, indeed, worth carrying willingly—not like a porter who merely moves a bag from place to place, but like someone carrying her own dear bundle of possessions, holding them close. 

And then, God promises, at journey's end, we will find clutched in our hands not "unwanted baggage," but priceless treasure, hard-won and cherished.

When we ignore the sanctity of life, we all suffer another loss. We lose the truth of our own value to God.

Other posts in this series:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Golden lady

Here's Goldie holding forth on various subjects while wearing the gold dress she got for Christmas. (I do love that little emphatic finger.) After my girls played with my friend Beth's dress-up box non-stop when we were visiting awhile ago, I thought we better have some dress-ups of our own! And Goldie wears them daily. She's such a cute little lady! She likes to say, "I'm…what's the one who's 16?" 
"You mean Liesl?" 
"Yes, I'm Liesl."

I love her.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snow on snow on snow

We went to the Ice Castle in Midway during our Christmas Break, and it was as beautiful as ever. We had gone and loved it three years ago (and tell me, WHO do you suppose this teeny elf-baby is? It's GOLDIE, if you please!), though I admit I wasn't sure we could be just as amazed by it again. But happily…we were!
On the drive up, Teddy was doing this face, which is what he does when he finds himself suddenly the center of attention and doesn't know quite whether to be shy or silly. I was quite pleased to get it on camera.
And when we arrived, we were in the middle of a snowstorm. The snow just…what does snow do? Not POURED down, but…puffed down? Wafted down? That sounds too gentle for what it was: relentless and thick and enveloping. There were times when we could hardly see! Luckily we were dressed warmly (those of us who were dressed by ME, anyway…and those who weren't, have only themselves to blame!) and it really did make everything seem so foreign and magical, like we had been transported into some Norse fairy tale.
Everything was white, white. Sometimes you could hardly tell the difference between the ice and the sky.

A little tunnel for little people
Teddy was not the steadiest.
It was quite fun feeling the snow pile up on our heads and cling to our eyelashes.
King Svam and his baby. 

The one bad thing was that we had forgotten mittens for Teddy, and of course he wouldn't put his hands in his pockets, so his fingers kept getting redder and puffier and colder. Then Sam would try to warm up Teddy's chubby little hands in HIS big hands, and instead of accepting with heartfelt murmurs of gratitude, Teddy would growl and pull them free so they could get all cold and red again. Finally, I tried putting my gloves on Teddy instead, and then he was happier.
I mean…he was like this. Whatever that is.
I think it was happier. Because he stopped complaining so much.
Yes. Definitely happier.
One of my favorite things about going here is taking pictures of all the ice formations: they are so organic and abstract! Like being in a cave. And the light defines them differently from every angle, it seems. Abe had fun taking pictures too, this time.
There was an ice slide this year, and the kids waited in line to go on it. It looked fun (but cold!).
I liked how Goldie just kept her hands in her pockets the entire way down.
Junie was pleased with her own bravery.
Goldie kept her hands in her pockets the whole time we were there, in fact. Ever since she discovered the whole pocket 'thing' she has been a big fan. Smart girl.
Several people.
People, closer. Look how Goldie is standing aloof. Can you see her face?
Here it is.
Oh, the poor little lamb! I never did get out of her what was wrong. She had cheered up again in a minute, but clearly some grave injustice had been visited upon her.
This was another slide, a cool little double-tunnel made of ice blocks. No line for this one, so the kids rode it lots of times.

Daisy found an icicle-piece.
The sky had brightened a bit earlier, but as it got closer to dusk, the ice and the snow and the sky all started to fade together again. I loved seeing the ice in the sunlight a few years ago, because the light came through it in such cool ways, but there was something I loved about the pale, tone-on-tone effect from the falling snow and diffused twilight. It felt so peaceful and muffled and calm.
At night the ice is lit from within, which creates its own cool effect. The lights change colors slowly.
I like the white light best, because it's so…icy.
I loved the way little puffs of new snow sat on top of all the columns and curtains of ice.
I liked the way the lights here hinted at some sort of glowing cavern beyond. Like I've always imagined "In the Hall of the Mountain King."
Eek! And suddenly they're the fires of hell. I don't like the red light as much. :)
The snow was SO thick and pretty as we walked out to our car. I haven't been actually out IN a snowstorm for a long time and I liked it! Knowing that we'd soon be in the warm car, of course. :)
Such a beautiful winter evening and a beautiful place to go!