The cure for spiritual and emotional disease

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the April 1979 Conference.
Any time something terrible happens in the world, like it did last week with the school shooting in Florida, it seems like All The Opinions come out. Even someone like me who avoids "the news" can't help but be overwhelmed with articles, opinions, recriminations, etc. And obviously everyone is looking for some sort of answer to such evil. I've read articles on social aspects, psychological aspects, and legal aspects of such events—and (with the exception of a few ridiculous arguments accusing the "other side" of pure malice and idiocy) it seems like they all just reinforce the conclusion that there are no simple answers.

Or are there?

I couldn't help but think about this as I read President Kimball talking about fortifying our homes against evil:
We are constantly seeking ways to strengthen families and bless children, and that commitment will be continued and reinforced this year and in all the years to come.

The Church welcomes the concerns of others to achieve these beneficial ends through appropriate means. We again are reemphasizing, however, that the greatest blessing we can give our own children and that can be extended to all the children of the world will come through the simple processes of teaching and training them in the way of the Lord.

Home life, proper teaching in the home, parental guidance and leadership—these are the panacea for the ailments of the world and its children. They are the cure for spiritual and emotional diseases and the remedy for its problems. Parents should not leave the training of children to others.
I was struck by the fact that President Kimball doesn't say "love in the home is all we need." (Although I think he's just assuming love in the home as a given, and it's implied in "parental guidance and leadership.") And he also doesn't say that the parents need to be expert teachers or perfect examples. What he does say is that the greatest blessing we can give our children is to teach them simply, with a focus on Jesus Christ, and that we should take personal responsibility for this teaching.

Of course, I know we can't blame the choices of children solely on their parents. I know there are complicating factors…and yet…a prophet of God is saying this: "Home life, proper teaching in the home, parental guidance and leadership—these are the panacea for the ailments of the world and its children. They are the cure for spiritual and emotional diseases and the remedy for its problems."

Bowling Balls, Baby Houses, Noodle Trunks


Heavenly Mother and making a home

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Women's Session of the October 1978 Conference.
My favorite talk in this session was President Kimball's beautiful talk on "Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters." President Kimball is so interesting. Sometimes he seems so forthright and blunt! Other times, he's gentle and sensitive. Both sides come out in this talk.

There's one quote from this talk which I've heard multiple times (and have always loved), but there's more to the quote than I've usually seen. Here's the whole paragraph:
Each of you should be grateful to be a woman! Self-pity is always a sad thing to see and especially when there is no justification for it. [There's the forthright side! Haha.] To be a righteous woman is a glorious thing in any age. To be a righteous woman during the winding up scenes on this earth, before the second coming of our Savior, is an especially noble calling. The righteous woman’s strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times. She has been placed here to help to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home—which is society’s basic and most noble institution. Other institutions in society may falter and even fail, but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife.
The part of the talk that has been sticking with me most, though, is President Kimball's hint at some of the attributes of our Heavenly Mother. She was clearly on his mind, and he mentions Her explicitly here:
God is your father. He loves you. He and your mother in heaven value you beyond any measure.
Then President Kimball talks a lot about the traits women need to develop if they are to be guardians of the home:
We should be as concerned with the woman’s capacity to communicate as we are to have her sew and preserve food. Good women are articulate as well as affectionate. One skill or one attribute need not be developed at the expense of another. Symmetry in our spiritual development is much to be desired. …
Home is a place for all that is good and enlightening and true. It should provide a climate for constant growth and learning for all who live there—father, mother, and children. …
Much is said about the drudgery and the confinement of the woman’s role in the home. In the perspective of the gospel it is not so. There is divinity in each new life. There is challenge in creating the environment in which a child can grow and develop. There is partnership between the man and woman in building a family which can last throughout the eternities. 
I liked all of that, but here's the part I liked most:
The women of God in all ages have been able to reflect with awe upon the handiwork of God in the heavens without neglecting the practical skills needed not only to survive on this planet but to live an abundant life. There is more of a connection than many realize between the order and purpose of the universe and the order and harmony which exists in a happy and good family.
Did that strike you as it did me? Here President Kimball is, talking about how a woman can bless a home: by providing a climate for learning, fostering an environment ripe for growth and development, and making sure her children have a safe and happy place to become who they are meant to be. And then he compares our universe to such a home—a home that is orderly and purposeful and a wonderful climate for learning!

And who did he just say was specially in charge of "enriching, protecting, and guarding the home"?

Women and mothers!

Maybe it's because I've been wishing to know more about Heavenly Mother's role in our lives. Or maybe it's because my thoughts already went this direction a few months ago. But to me, this whole passage seems to imply that Heavenly Mother—just like earthly mothers—has special charge over creating a purposeful, loving environment where Her children can constantly learn and develop. She apparently has a particular ability to combine the "handiwork of God in the heavens" with the more hands-on, down-to-earth ministry of creating "an abundant life" for her children. At least I think that's what this must mean! If we, as daughters, are meant to cultivate an ability to mix spiritual contemplation with practical action—then surely our Mother demonstrates that ability perfected! And if we, as daughters, are supposed to learn that the personal, practical, cyclical tasks of homemaking are not confining, but challenging and full of purpose—then surely our Mother loves to find purpose and joy in carrying out the "practical" and "personal" homemaking tasks in Her own sphere!

Obviously I don't know how, exactly, our Heavenly Mother makes our earthly home safe and happy and "a climate for constant growth and learning." Maybe Her ways are wholly different than my ways. But as an earthly mother, I try to embrace cycles; to create repetition and familiarity and tradition along with gradual growth. I try to bring in light, physically and spiritually. I try to foster kindness and attentiveness and connection between my children. And I try to see and find beauty in the smallest of details. So…maybe some of those things are what She does too, for us? Maybe what She is doing for us even now?

"There is more of a connection than many realize."


Other posts in this series:

MarilynHand New

Remember MarilynHand? You'll be pleased to see that I have updated it for even more accuracy. We have been studying advertising and graphic design for school, and we spent a few days learning about different typefaces, so clearly we all needed to make fonts out of our handwriting too. The kids really liked seeing their handwriting in typed form—I think it made them feel quite famous!

You can do this yourself at https://www.calligraphr.com/en/. I spent a long time fiddling with mine to get it to look better, but you can get pretty good results fairly quickly. You just download a template, write a letter in each box, scan and upload it back to the site, and then make size and baseline changes as necessary. And it's fun! And efficient! Just think how many thousands of "personal notes" I can mass-produce now! I'll never have to handwrite a thank-you note again! :)

Forty things I like about Sam

It's been awhile since I wrote about how much I like Sam! But not for lack of material.

  • I like how he makes sandwiches. With salt and olive oil as well as turkey and spinach, of course.
  • I like the way he skips rocks. ("It's more about choosing the right rock than about your technique.") 
  • I like how he never swears (not even when caught off guard).
  • I like the way he refers to baby noises as "creaking." "I heard Ziggy creaking in the other room."
  • I like the way he imitates a French accent.
  • I like the way he quotes old church movies. "This-here pump works just fine!"
  • I like the way he reads the Bible and the Book of Mormon (making charts and graphs out of the Hebrew parallelisms, and so forth).
  • I like how indignant he got about the fact that two crabs in a bucket do not, in fact, just keep pulling each other back in.
  • I like the way he tucks a baby under his arm and then just goes about his day
  • I like how he gets out of bed and fixes the sheet when I kick my feet around and make feeble, discontented noises about how wrong everything is.
  • I like how even with valiant effort, he can't get the pronunciations of EXtract and exTRACT straight (EX-tract is the noun version, ex-TRACT is the verb, in case you're wondering. Following the same pattern as address, eclipse, permit, conflict, and so forth).
  • I like the efficient, no-nonsense way he navigates DVD menus.
  • I like the multi-chocolate hot chocolate he makes.
  • I like the way he does pushups with children on his back.
  • I like how he grocery shops. Cheese counter first.
  • I like how he gets the mail (with a child holding each hand, and at least one other child yelling "I want to come with you TOOOO!" while hopping toward the front door trying to pull his or her shoes on).
  • I like the color of his eyes (brown).
  • I like the robust, brazen tone in which he'll suddenly break out with a phrase like "the cut of his jib."
  • I like how he eats tiny muffins in one bite and then looks guiltily around.
  • I like how he becomes impassioned about design principles.
  • I like how he asks me, in all seriousness, as if he really believes I will know, if he has taken his aspirin yet. (He has to take aspirin at every meal because of an allergy.)
  • I like the way he says "bless you, bobber" when a baby sneezes.
  • I like his phobia of sponges being left in the sink.
  • I like the eager way he talks about rockets/black holes/meteors/graphene.
  • I like the way he cooks crêpes—three pans at once! 
  • I like everything he draws for the kids during church.
  • I like the way how every so often he stops working to pet the bunny.
  • I like how on Wednesday evenings, he stops the car in the driveway, rolls the garbage cans into the garage, and then drives the rest of the way in with one of the kids on his lap.
  • I like how he says, "That doesn't need to be augered."
  • I like how easily and sincerely he asks people about themselves.
  • I like his homemade milkshakes.
  • I like the apologetic way he says "tweak."
  • I like the serious way he considers problems like which donut to eat first.
  • I like the way he always grumbles about how long the children take to come to the table for meals after we call them.
  • I like how much he likes clouds.
  • I like how hopefully and innocently he believed that once he bought a huge package of pens, he'd never have to hunt for a pen again.
  • I like how he can let his lower jaw go slack and go "bliggababliggababliggaba" while he wiggles his head.
  • I like how he's a patient driver—the worst thing that escapes his lips is a "Hey, that's bad!" at someone every now and then..
  • I like how he comes into the kitchen and says "What can I help with?" as soon as he walks in the door after work.
  • I like how horrified he is about bad kerning.

The changing strategies strategy

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the October 1978 Conference.
It's been a long time now since I tried a new "chore system" or "reward system" or any sort of new household system. I guess I've gotten kind of jaded about it, to the point that I occasionally even (and I'm very sorry to admit this) utter a mirthless, barking laugh when I read about someone else instituting a new system. "We've only been doing this for a week," the breathless report always begins, "but already it's working so well..."

I guess I'm just at that dangerous place, having been a parent for 15+ years now, where I'm not really an expert on what works, but I know far too intimately what DOESN'T work and I have a weary, woeful sigh for the poor fools who think their "systems" are going to last more than a month or two.

But that's unfair. Because some things DO work, of course, and different things fill a need for different families…and most of all (and maybe I'm just barely becoming an experienced enough parent to realize this)—just because a "system" only works temporarily doesn't make it a failure or a waste of time!

That's a new thought, but it's been taking shape in my mind for awhile now. I used to see a changing system as a sort of "giving up:" I couldn't make that thing "stick" in our family life, so therefore I failed. One of the most obvious places I kept seeing this was in my personal scripture study. I used to read at night. Then I couldn't stay awake, so I changed to reading first thing in the morning. Then I had babies nursing all morning, so I changed to…forgetting to do it at all half the time. Then I started reading right after the kids left for school. Then we started homeschooling and I was back to trying to squeeze it in at random times. Then I tried to do it while nursing again, but that meant I couldn't write in my scripture journal anymore. So I tried to find time at night again. And so on, forever. And every time something stopped working, I felt this deep disappointment in myself for not being able to keep up such a basic, essential gospel habit!

It was so frustrating to me to find something that worked, and then life would change and it wouldn't work anymore!

But one day during a Relief Society lesson, something sparked this thought in my head: Changing strategies is itself a strategy.

I've been mulling it over ever since. And so here's the passage I noticed from Elder H. Burke Peterson's talk about preparedness
Individual needs will vary as does the circumstance of each of us. Personal situations change as years go by. We should constantly appraise our needs and update our direction and emphasis. Our eternal progression, in large measure, is determined by our ability to evaluate and strengthen each area of weakness. What is the need of one may not necessarily be satisfied in the same way for another.
The way he says that, it sounds like changing strategies is a good thing! And when I think about it: why not? Why should the same chore system that worked for preschoolers keep working for years and years until you have high school kids? (I mean, if it does—great! But why would I expect it to?) Why should our family home evening plan be able to work the same with three kids as with eight? Why should I read my scriptures at the same time and in the same way through my twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and so on? It's not only that my life is changing, but I'm changing too! I need different things. I can handle different things. So why would I feel bad about changing my schedules, systems, and methods to match those changing circumstances?

I still view certain parenting or housekeeping fads with a leery eye, but I'm going to try to be less cynical about them, and to realize that in my own family, as in others, some flexibility and adaptation is a good thing. For my own sanity, I can't stand too-frequent changes, and of course if something is working well, I'll stick with it. But I'm also realizing it's okay to plan for change. It's okay to get excited about a new system and then potentially fizzle out a bit—as long as we keep re-trying, renewing, and re-committing to the things that matter most.


Other posts in this series:

Caring is better

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1978 Conference.
When Sam and I were dating, I remember several conversations in which I tried to convince him that there was value in being a sports fan. He, thoughtful and wonderful person that he is, had decided after his mission that he would give up watching sports altogether, for the sake of his future wife. He had seen too many people using sports as an excuse to be angry or neglectful or rude, and he didn't want to be that kind of husband. But then he met me, and I loved football and basketball and volleyball, and wanted nothing more than for him to enjoy with me those things he'd so nobly given up! Poor well-meaning Sam.

Anyway, as I recall, part of my argument in favor of sports-watching was that there was something worthwhile in throwing your whole heart into cheering for a team you loved. When you decide to care about and be loyal to a specific team, it's true that there's the potential for much agony and heartbreak (looking at you, BYU Football) but that's what makes you feel so joyful when things go well!

Eventually Sam came around and became as wonderful a BYU fan as I could have wished for (without exhibiting any of those boorish tendencies he'd wanted so desperately to avoid), so that ended happily. But I confess, as time has gone on, I have lost a little of my own willingness to invest my heart and soul in BYU sports. I still care about the teams…somewhat. But I used to watch or listen to every game to the bitter end, win or lose. Now I find myself reluctant to even turn on the radio, sometimes, when I'm fearing a tough loss. It's just so hard to really, really hope for something…and then be disappointed!

I know it doesn't really matter, with sports, whether I care or not. Maybe I should take it as a sign of my maturity and growing perspective that I'm starting to be less invested in what happens? (Haha.) But the trouble is that I sometimes demonstrate that same sort of reluctance when it comes to matters of faith. When I'm not sure how something will or should work out in my life (or for someone that I care about), I'm sometimes hesitant to really throw myself into praying for it with all my heart. I'm afraid that if I care and hope too much for an outcome, I'll be too disappointed if it doesn't happen that way! I'm scared to even open myself up to that kind of struggle.

I found a rebuke for this kind of hesitancy in Elder John H. Groberg's talk, "Come Home, Felila." He always tells such great stories about his time in the Pacific Islands, and in this talk he told about a girl named Felila who was born with severe physical disabilities. Her family was willing to try anything to help her live. Friends and ward members helped arrange for her care in Salt Lake—a host family, qualified doctors, hospital care, and hundreds of other details. Everyone threw their whole hearts into trying to help. Elder Groberg himself followed several strong and urgent impressions to make calls, arrange passport papers, etc. so that everything would be ready for Felila's journey.

One day, after taking care of a few more details and seeing that all the preparations had miraculously fallen into place for Felila to depart the very next day, Elder Groberg felt an impression to go visit Felila's branch president. When he arrived, he got the startling news that little Felila had died that morning. And as you can imagine, he was devastated:
Gone? This morning? But all that work, all that time, all that fasting and praying and those strong feelings. Gone? No!… 
And I was left alone, or so it seemed. I moved slowly and heavily down that dusty trail. Why? Why? After all that work and that strong faith of so many and those impressions, why?
I can so relate to how he felt! When something like this happens, it makes you want to start questioning everything! Did I even really feel that prompting? Have I been mistaken all along? Have I been totally foolish to think my little worries and efforts even mattered?

But even as Elder Groberg had these feelings, the spirit overcame him. This is how he describes it:
It was as though one took me by the hand and led me to a high place and stood by me and said, “Look.” And I looked and beheld such beauty and magnificence as man cannot conceive. And I heard a voice, such a tender, compassionate voice—yet so unmistakably powerful—that all nature stood still and listened and obeyed. 
“Come home, Felila, my daughter. Come home to the care your loved ones have sought for you. I have heard their prayers and have known their fasting and love for you, and I answer, Come home, my daughter. You have finished your mission in life. Hearts have been softened; souls have been stretched; faith has been increased. Come home now, Felila.” 
He knew her! He knew her name. He knew all about her and about all those others. How perfect our Father’s love! He had heard the prayers. He had done what was best. He knew everything—which thing, though I believed, I never had supposed. In some marvelous way, which is beyond our mortal comprehension, he knows and understands all things. 
My questions as to why—as to justice and reasons—were all at that moment completely swept away. They were so irrelevant, my questioning so totally out of place, like one trying to dig the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon.
As I read this, I realized that I have had this same experience—though maybe in a smaller form—myself. It's not something I can easily convey the significance of. But it took place many years ago after I had an earnest conversation with my bishop about Jesus Christ's atonement. I remember saying to the bishop, "But how? How is it possible that Christ knows what it's like to sin, and hate yourself for it? I know He 'somehow' felt what we feel, but the truth is, He was still perfect! So how could he understand the pain of being so terrible and imperfect as I am?"

The bishop, wisely, said, "I don't know. Why don't you ask Him?"

So I went home and, very halting and confusedly, asked Him. "Lord, how is it done? How do you understand such things?" And the answer I got was almost amusing in its simplicity: "It doesn't matter how. I just do."

Now, when you are confused and discouraged about something, it doesn't seem like that sort of answer—"It doesn't matter how or why!"—would be at all helpful! And probably just telling someone about it isn't helpful. But for me, as for Elder Groberg, the actual experience of receiving that answer was satisfying. It was comforting. And it was enlightening. For those few moments, I really did glimpse how unimportant such a question was. God loves me and has everything well in hand! What else do I really need to know?

In his talk, Elder Groberg goes on to describe something else important about these kinds of experiences: the fact that, even though we don't understand them fully, they still matter. The fact that they are confusing doesn't make them useless. Elder Groberg says:
Some say, “But it has been years. We have fasted and prayed so long and so hard. What does the Lord expect?” 
There may be many answers. I give only one. That is: He expects more, and it will be for your eternal benefit and blessing. That I know. As we begin to comprehend eternity, we gain a whole new catalog of values. …
Do not be discouraged; do not attempt to counsel the Lord. He determines, not you. He knows hearts and souls and needs. He measures intents and knows spirits. 
Caring is all-important—the intensity, the duration, the amount, the quality, the extent. For in God’s wisdom, caring creates faith.
I feel like it's so important for me to remember this. "Caring is all-important." To throw ourselves into fasting and prayer, to allow ourselves to hope and invest and ache for an outcome—and all the while knowing there's a possibility we will, in the end, be disappointed in our hopes—and being open to that too—all this is a valuable and necessary part of learning to trust God.

I'm not sure how to do this, fully, and I don't think I'm very good at doing it. A sort of fatalistic indifference is easier. Giving up is easier. Pre-emptive dismissal of hope is easier. But caring is better. And God will bless and comfort those who, through confusion, through disappointment after disappointment, keep caring and hoping and trusting Him.


Other posts in this series:

The observer becomes a worshiper

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the October 1978 Conference.
From Elder N. Eldon Tanner's talk, but he's actually quoting Elder James E. Talmage:
As man proceeds to the closer examination of things he finds that by study and scientific investigation these proofs are multiplied many fold. He may learn of the laws by which the earth and its associated worlds are governed in their orbits; by which satellites are held subordinate to planets, and planets to suns; he may behold the marvels of vegetable and animal anatomy, and the surpassing mechanism of his own body; and with such appeals to his reason increasing at every step, his wonder as to who ordained all this gives place to adoration for the Creator whose presence and power are thus so forcefully proclaimed; and the observer becomes a worshiper.
The first thing that came to mind when reading this is this scene from Without a Clue ("He sees, but he does not observe!"), but that was followed by a couple of thoughts:

1. If we observe the wonders of this world and the universe, and do not naturally progress to adoration and worship of our Father who created those things, we are missing the point.

And 2., a corollary: when we aren't full of wonder and gratitude, we are not clear-sighted observers.


Other posts in this series:

Skeeeny

Ziggy wasn't tiny when he was born, but he's tiny now. This seems to be a stage all our babies go through, and it's always tedious when people cite their babies' percentiles, so I won't, but I will say I'm glad to have had the same pediatrician for ten years now, because he knows our pattern and doesn't get alarmed. And nor do I…though sometimes when I start to lift Zigs up by one of his little hot-dog arms I have a sudden fear it's going to break right off! And Sam and I have been known to shake our heads at him and mutter darkly, "Tooooo skeeeny!" (which must be a quote from something, but half-forgotten movie quotes layered on years of private jokes layered on years of misquoting and bastardization, both inadvertent and…vertent…has left me somewhat uncertain of my ground).

Anyway, we love every skeeeny little inch of him, ribs and elf-ears and tummy-wrinkles and all. Any hopes I had about him not looking bald have been dashed, as the fuzzy brown hairs he started with have…not fallen out, but just sort of been dispersed out over his head, like galaxies racing away from each other in an expanding universe. But did I mention his eyes are still brown?? It's unprecedented, and while I don't quite dare declare it a done deal, I'm still hopeful he'll be the one that gets Sam's eyes, after seven other green-eyed babies that match me.
He really is such a charming little man, when he's in the mood for talking. He used to smile and coo at everyone he met, but now he's starting to eye other people when they talk to him, with a calculating look on his face, so I'm hoping it's not the lead-in to a clingy stage. I do so like a friendly baby.

Whatever he does, though, he's got us all won over. I especially like him bare! Darling little babykins.

The prayers of the saints

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1978 Conference.
I was listening to President Monson's funeral last week and I was impressed by something his daughter, Sister Dibb, said in her talk. It was a very quick statement before the real substance of her talk, as she thanked some of the people who had cared for President Monson over the years. Then she said:
Finally I would like to thank you, the membership of the church. Your fifty-four years of daily prayers, offered as my father served as an apostle and then as the president of the church, have made a difference.
 That was it. She didn't elaborate on how those prayers made a difference, or how she knew that they did. She just said they did. Fifty-four years of prayers for President Monson! I was imagining those prayers piling up over the years until they made a huge mountain of blessings for President Monson and his wife to lean on whenever they needed help.

And I guess I liked that because it felt personal to me. I never met President Monson. I didn't get to serve with him. Over the years I grew to love him so much, but he never knew anything about ME! Still, when Sister Dibb thanked the members for their prayers, I suddenly felt like I was part of his life—because I DID pray for President Monson. Not every day, but on hundreds of days. Mostly it was a routine part of my prayer, but I often felt more intensity in my love for him right before and after General Conference. There was one morning a few years ago I felt a strong and specific impression to pray for President Monson right then. It was unexpected, but I did it, and then I spent the next few days wondering what was going on with him. I kept thinking I'd hear that he was in the hospital or something, but I never did hear anything, so I still don't know why. Anyway—the point is, of those "fifty-four years of daily prayers," some of them—lots of them—were mine. I was one of the people who (I hope) added to his mountain of blessings! And according to Sister Dibb, those prayers, my prayers, "made a difference" in the life of a prophet.

That made me wonder again about the collective power of prayer. I know it's not as simple as "the more people praying, the more power a prayer has!"—because surely many powerful prayers are prayed alone. And individual faith obviously plays an important role. But there is something important about praying for each other, and joining together in prayer. And I wish I knew more about what it was!

President Kimball, in his talk in the October 1978 Priesthood Session, reinforced this idea. I was struck by the plain appeal in his words as he asked the church to pray that the chance for missionary work would spread into every country:
If we are to fulfill the responsibility given to us by the Lord on the Mount of Olives to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, then we will need to open the doors to these nations. 
I'm hoping that every [person] listening to me this night will make it a solemn practice in regular life to pray constantly for this great blessing to bless the brethren who are making a special effort to reach the leaders of these nations and to convince them that we have only good for their people. We will make them good citizens, we will make them good souls, and we will make them happy and joyous.… 
I hope that…the father and the mother and the children in their turns will offer prayers which will be centered around this very important element—that the doors of the nations might be opened to us…
In China we have nine-hundred million people. Yesterday about fifty Chinese Saints came in to see me.…I asked all of those Chinese people who were here at conference, “Will you guarantee that in all your home evenings and in all your family prayers and in all your public prayers you will mention this to the Lord? Now, I know he can do it without our help; but I think he would want to know that we were interested in it and that we would appreciate it greatly.” 
So I’m hoping that, beginning now, the prayers of the Saints will be greatly increased from what they have been in the past, that we will never think of praying except we pray for the Lord to establish his program and make it possible that we can carry the gospel to his people as he has commanded. It is my deep interest and great prayer to you that this will be accomplished.
President Kimball sounds so humble and hopeful as he as makes this request for help. It almost feels to me like he was struggling under a great burden related to missionary work—wondering how he could fulfill his responsibility for such a huge task. And then he realized that his fellowservants in the church could share the responsibility, so he asked them to pray with him to that end.

And I think it worked! Though this talk was given before I was born, I remember my parents praying for this blessing, in almost these very words. I remember it being prayed in church, and I remember praying it myself, not knowing it had been specifically asked for by a prophet. It seems so powerful to me, now looking back, to think of the church being united in praying that faithful prayer, and doing it at the prophet's specific request. The prophet was "interested" in missionary work, deeply so! And once he shared his request with the members of the church, they became interested too! Spreading the gospel through the world became their common goal. And they showed the Lord what mattered to them through their prayers.

As I've been thinking of how happy I felt to think that my prayers had been part, even the tiniest of parts, of blessing President Monson and his family over the years, it makes me want to look for more chances to pray with other people in a common cause. Even knowing that one other person is joining with me in prayer for something makes me feel happy inside, adding kind of a quiet assurance or a feeling of fellowship as I pray. I feel grateful for both that other person and for our common goal. It's slightly different than the feeling of just praying for something on my own, and I like it.

I still don't know exactly what purpose prayer serves. I don't know if or how it changes what God would have willed anyway. But I do know that the more earnest my prayers become, the more they bring a feeling of comfort to me. And I know that when I join myself to other people in prayer—whether by praying for someone by name and with specific thoughts of that person in mind—or by asking a friend to pray with me about something for which we have a common hope—or by praying for something or someone I know that many other Latter-day Saints will be praying for too—I feel closer both to God and to the rest of His children. And that is a feeling I love to have.

P.S. Speaking of prayer—at President Monson's funeral, Elder Holland gave the closing prayer, and it was amazing! It wasn't long, but it was like one of his talks—powerful and motivating. It is a perfect example of how spiritual and uniting a collective prayer can feel. I almost wanted to shout my "amen" afterwards. You should listen to it (and the rest of the funeral too)!


Other posts in this series:

Not the ease of finished things

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1978 Conference.
I've been thinking a lot about change lately. Of course life is full of upheaval anyway with a new baby (and although it's been four months now—he still feels SO new!). It always takes me a long time to find my feet. But there's been a lot of change going on even just in the past few weeks. The new year. President Monson's death, and the upcoming changes in church leadership. A change in our ward Relief Society presidency. My uncle's sudden and unexpected death in a small plane crash. A new calling for me. And the curriculum changes for Priesthood and Relief Society. It feels like a lot to take in all at once, and I've been feeling a little adrift as I try to understand what corresponding changes I should be making in my own life, so that I can keep progressing as things change around me.

So I felt a spark of recognition as I read the conference talks for October 1978 and noticed how many changes were happening in the church at that time too. The Revelation on the Priesthood was presented for sustaining vote. James E. Faust accepted his call as an apostle. And some of the talks explained changes to Genealogy programs in the church. It was interesting, in an idle-curiosity sort of way, to see the differences. Some of them seemed pretty specific and not very, I don't know, spiritual in nature. Almost—though I know temporal things can have spiritual implications—but almost bureaucratic in nature. Things like, 
Beginning July 1979, the Church will accept newly prepared pedigree charts and family group record forms from family organizations, rather than from individuals.
Or 
Ancestral organizations exist only for the coordination of genealogical activity, which includes family histories. Once this function has been accomplished the ancestral family organization might well be dissolved, or at least reduced in importance, in favor of the immediate and grandparent organizations.
Most of the genealogy changes seem kind of nitpicky, given the increase of computer technology and the policy changes that we now know were soon to come. And even the revelation on the priesthood looks different in hindsight. It seems so right, so obvious, so inevitable. It's easy, looking back, to feel a little smug and think, "Wow, these people had no idea what was coming for the church. They had no idea what these changes were preparing them for."

And then I think of these changes that have been pricking so constantly at my mind and heart these last few weeks. None of them, for me, are enormous. With President Monson's death, and even to some extent with my uncle's, I'm not so close that I'm overwhelmed with the force of it. I'm not having to rethink my faith or my whole place in God's plan because of the changes to curriculum or leadership in the ward or my own responsibilities. But these changes are enough to make my thoughts and wonderings a little more serious, a little more real. Enough to make me feel a little uneasy and off-balance; to make me wish for a little firmer grip on my relationship with God. And I realize that I, too, like the church members listening to that October 1978 General Conference for the first time, have no idea what is coming next.

I always feel alarmed when I sense that someone's going to overdramatize or sensationalize something spiritual. I'm not predicting sudden catastrophe or the Second Coming or anything like that. But I'm just thinking about how the church keeps rolling slowly on. And changes are announced and they are often so small and incremental and reasonable that they might seem unimportant. But somehow they always come right at the perfect time to prepare us for what's coming, before we even know that anything IS coming! And the same thing happens in our own lives! Somewhere in the church are two men that have not yet been called to be apostles. Maybe they have no idea such a calling is in their future. But they will soon find out, and when they do, they will look back and realize all the things that have happened, all the pieces that have been prepared, all the experiences that have unfolded, to lead perfectly and with exact divine intent—to exactly where they are now.

I talked about this same concept, of our sometimes-unknowing preparation for what's to come, in this recent post. So I guess it's already been on my mind. But my feeling that this is happening to me right now is getting stronger all the time. [I feel like Bill Murray's brother in The Man Who Knew Too Little when he realizes that he's NOT just role-playing for the "Theater of Life." "It's real. It's SO REAL!"] I don't know if that's why I feel a little more nervous about the future lately. I don't really want to think that something important is coming, something God needs to "prepare me" for. There's a large of part of me that would much rather be contentedly stagnant. But I came upon this quote today that I loved. Appropriately (since the change in his, er, mortality status is one of the changes that's making me feel a bit off-balance these days), it's from President Monson in 1988:
God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged and the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of finished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.
It's simultaneously terrifying and comforting to think of this, for me. Terrifying because of the reasons I discussed above: change scares me, and I don't think I'm particularly good at it. It alarms me to think of myself, my own life, as one of those unfinished works that still needs to be bridged and tamed and built. And yet when I remember that it's all a joint project with God, I do feel comforted, because I know he won't let me totally bungle it. He's taking me through it bit by bit, giving me harder challenges as needed. And yes, introducing changes into the system, as needed. And if He's preparing me for some hard thing to come—well, so what? At least He's preparing me! He's preparing all of us. So when "the challenge of raw materials" seems a bit much, I'm going to try to remember this concept: that change is necessary. Even good. "That man might know the joys and glories of creation."


Other posts in this series:

Recent Eves

…Christmas and New Year's Eves, to be precise. We loved having Christmas Eve on a Sunday, but it did make things go a little differently! We had our Butterscotch Roll Party on the 23rd instead, and it was wonderful, as always—but extra wild, this year! I made my usual 21 dozen rolls, and we didn't have a single one left at the end! It's the happiest feeling of exhaustion at the end of it all. But then on Christmas Eve itself, it was quiet and calm and we could just relax! Church was wonderful. The Elf Olympics was a success (meaning it didn't end in tears and arguments about who was cheating at the Sock Game). We even managed our usual Café Rio taco night, by buying the food the day before, and reheating it Sunday evening.
I succeeded in catching 5/8ths of the family to get a picture before they changed out of their Sunday clothes! Not bad. They're the cutest 5/8ths, anyway :)
And I also managed to preserve on film the saddest moment in the world, so that's…something.
Our rainbow tree, lit and unlit
It was so snowy and quiet and magical when Sam and I went to bed that night. Just what you want Christmas Eve to be.
This year, in a moment of brilliance, I decided to do New Year's Eve pajamas for the kids instead of Christmas Eve pajamas. I had some fabric I wanted to make nightgowns out of for the girls, but there was just so much to get done before Christmas, I didn't think I could manage it! So I waited, and made them in the quiet week between Christmas and New Year's, and it was great. (The boys just got plain old store pajamas.) I used the same nightgown pattern I used last year, and I even remembered mostly how to make it! I left off the ruffles this year, although they were darling, because the girls always tuck their feet under their nightgowns when they're sitting somewhere, and they ripped through the ruffle seams a million times last year. So…tea length nightgowns it is!
And garbage truck pajamas, of course.
Our New Year's Day feast. Yum!

Bears, People, Hay


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