Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Miracle and Gift of Birth

Kissing the Face of God,  Morgan Weistling
I am due to have a baby sometime this week and naturally have been thinking about pregnancy and this whole process of creating a new life. The more I think about it, the more unfathomable it is to me.

As far as I can tell, we human beings are unique on this earth in our ability to reason and create. Obviously animals can reason to a degree and can create some pretty spectacular things: spiderwebs, beaver dams, honey--I could go on forever. But animals seem limited to a degree in what they are able to create.

We, obviously, are limited too. I haven't seen a human being create a spider web the way a spider can (at least in a way that wasn't done digitally)--but the breadth and scope of what we are able to think and do seems to go beyond that of other animals. We paint, we sing, we write, we build, we find ways to recycle, we pull fuels out of the ground to power our world, we discover medicines to heal--we create. And all of this creation takes a lot of thinking, research, and lots of trial and error and lots of time and lots of work.

But nothing we have ever created so far has ever had the capacity to think and create (the way we can) on its own. As much as we like to be creeped out by movies that portray human inventions like computers and robots coming to life and taking on human-like capacities to reason and create (and as creepy as it is when Siri responds to you when you talk at your phone), it is something that is beyond our capacity. Except in our ability to reproduce.

And here is where it all goes beyond me. About 9 months ago, a life began to grow inside of me. At this very moment, I feel him moving around in me. In a few days, he will be outside of me, a living, breathing boy, who will be capable of thought, motion, reason and creation. How did it happen? It is the one creative process that I have been a part of that required almost no work or thought from me. Obviously, pregnant women experience nausea and sickness during their pregnancies. Some become very sick and are put on bed rest. So our bodies are working hard and their is certainly sacrifice involved (and you do have to push the baby out of you in the end--no denying that).

But their has been no mental exertion or creativity on my part in the building of this new life. I haven't had to spend hours or minutes of my day, willing my baby's hand to form, building my baby's heart and lungs and digestive system piece by piece. I haven't had to go through several rough drafts until I came to the right form or idea. It all just happens inside of me, with very little effort on my part. And the end result is something that will be able to think and create on its own.

In short, I am convinced that pregnancy and birth is divine. It is nothing short of miraculous. Nothing I have ever attempted to do on my own--with all the thought and work and time that I have put into things I have written, music I have performed, physical and mental exercises--has come close to creating what is created when a baby is born. It is a process that God allows us to be a part of. It is a gift He gives.

I am grateful today for the gift of my life. For the gift it is to be a part of creating life. And for the gift of the birth and life of God's son, Jesus Christ, who brings peace and joy to life.

Who hopes to better understand that spiritual re-birth that the scriptures so often speak of: Eph. 4:24 , 1 Jn. 4:7 Mosiah 27:25Alma 5:7–14, 26–28Mosiah 5:2Jer. 24:7

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sometimes breathing messes things up

I want to preface this post by saying I highly recommend breathing, whenever necessary.

There are times when breathing is better than at other times, though. For instance, breathing while also drinking never is a good idea, while breathing between drinks is just fine. Breathing while surrounded by noxious fumes is probably not good either. You get the idea. One instance when breathing can mess things up is during songs, particularly at moments where there is not a designated breath mark or break in the music. I noticed this last week as we sang "Silent Night" during Sacrament meeting at church. The first verse is as follows:

1. Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

If you look closely you'll see that there is not a comma or any other punctuation indicating a break after the line "all is bright." While our congregation was singing, there was a definite pause there so people could breathe. This really isn't a big deal, and doesn't personally make much difference to me, but it can change the meaning of the phrase. It makes it sound like all is calm and bright on that silent night. And that wasn't the case.

For example, one of the reasons that Jesus was born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth is because Joseph had to go and pay taxes by decree of Caesar Augustus, emperor of Rome (Luke 2). Did the Jews think all was calm and bright, being ruled over by a foreign power? Probably not. And I imagine there was suffering and unrest of all kinds and magnitude all over the world, as there is now.

The absence of a break after bright is significant to me because the phrase says "All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child." Around Jesus Christ all was calm, all was bright. And in a world as filled with turmoil as ever, we still find that all is calm and bright around Jesus Christ. When I draw near him, my world is calm and bright. Jesus proclaimed that He is the light of the world (John 8:12; 3 Nephi 9:18) and provider of peace (John 14:27; Mosiah 5:18).

"All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child."

A choir that knows when to breathe.
--Who is excited Christmas is only one week away!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We are His words. We are His Music.

A friend took me to see The Nutcracker last night and through the entire performance, I marveled at the skill and artistry of the dancers and musicians that brought Tchaikovsky's masterful music to life. He wrote the music over a century ago. But the notes on the page wouldn't be worth much to us if there weren't people who dedicated their time and focus to understanding the notes and striving to be able to play them perfectly. 

In case you haven't noticed, I read a lot. And in some of my reading, years ago, I came across this: “Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself. (Virginia Woolf, Moments of being)

Reading that left me cold. I can see what she is saying to a degree--about this human connection--about how just life itself and shared experience and creation can kind of remove the "creator" or "author" or "composer" out of the picture. It is easy to take away the individual and merely become part of the whole. And maybe I'm not entirely understanding what she is saying. But having read Shakespeare and having seen and experienced his plays, having listened to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and experienced and attempted to play their music, I simply cannot remove the creator out of the equation. They were the individuals who made a choice to live their lives and then pick up their pen or sit down at their piano and create. It is not that music and words just flowed out of them...they made a conscience choice and sat down or stood up and went to work. The results of their time and effort simply would not exist were it not for their individual life and exertion. And what they created is beautiful.

So, the way I would re-write her thought is like this: "The whole world is a work of art; we are works of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet are part of the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. There is a Shakespeare, there is a Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is a God; and we are His words. We are His music. "We are His work and His glory." (Moses 1:39)

I believe that wholeheartedly. Individuals matter. We matter. Our choices, our lives--they matter. And because we are the creations of a loving Heavenly Father, His words and His help matter to us. The way to achieve the greatest and lasting happiness is by returning to the One who knows and loves and understands us best. And He made this possible by sending Jesus Christ to the earth. In my darkest hours, I have wondered how any of this could really be true...I have doubted and complained and have wanted to no longer be responsible for my own choices. But in those darkest hours, I have felt and seen and experienced things that are not definable or even expressable--and defy human logic. God is real. Our choices do matter. We are His words and His music and He loves us. He loves you.

Who wishes she could express herself better....Speaking and writing succinctly have never been a strength of mine...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Foundation in Christ

I realize it has been quite some time since I have written a post, but, I promise, I have a good reason. After spending a week in New York, a weekend in Virginia, and Thanksgiving in Atlanta, we moved across the country to Texas. That’s right, we now live in the same state as my fellow blog authors and we are excited! Sadly, Texas is huge so we are still 6 hours from them.

The move to Texas went well and I am so grateful that it did. I’ve been thinking a lot about our frequent moving and the difficulties that can bring. About every 6 months we move, leaving familiar places, coworkers, friends, favorite restaurants, doctors, apartment or house, and neighbors. Getting moved into completely different surroundings so often can be disorienting, stressful, and challenging.

Somehow, amidst the difficulties, we love this lifestyle. Many people ask us when we will settle down or put down roots and I feel like we already have. We have settled our roots in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our strength and comfort comes from Christ. It is through Him that we are stable and feel peace even when everything around us changes. He heals our hearts as we say goodbye to our friends. He comforts us when we feel lonely.

There is a scripture in The Book of Mormon that talks about building foundations on Christ; Helaman 5:12;
“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwinds, yeah, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over  you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fail.”

My favorite part about this verse is the end. A foundation built on Christ cannot fail. I know this to be true. I have experienced it and seen it in others.

Who thinks Texas will be great.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Some More Christmas Music

I am going to do a bit of a cop-out here and just post a great video that I saw today. I waited too long to get started on this post, unfortunately. The posted video is a song to the tune of "Angels We Have Heard on High," but the lyrics are a song called "Angels From the Realms of Glory." It's also combined with the world's largest nativity scene, which is cool, but less impressive to me than the song is. Hopefully it brings the Christmas spirit to all who hear it.

--Who thinks Christmas music is simply the best. Ever. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mountains to Climb

At a Christmas gathering today, I had the privilege of talking to a woman who has had a difficult life. She wasn't bemoaning her life or complaining--I just wanted to know her story, and she was gracious enough to share it with me. She lives in very humble circumstances--it doesn't seem like anyone deserves to deal with the kind of things that have "gone wrong" in her life. She has spent most of her adult life taking care of other people, including her own child (who is now an adult) and who has extreme physical challenges and will never mature emotionally, intellectually, or socially. When I asked her how she does it, she simply said that every step she has taken, she has felt the Lord with her. She didn't elaborate on that statement--she just said it with simple assurance. And she said it despite the fact that her life only got harder and not easier. It made me a little nervous thinking about my own tomorrows--wondering what hard things are in store for me. I'm glad I don't know what they are yet. But her quiet confidence gives me confidence when I read scriptures like this:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

As I listened to her story, I thought of a video I watched a few days ago.

I believe that God loves His children and will take care of them, especially in the most difficult times. He has done this for me and I can say most certainly that I am a stronger person because of those difficult times. It doesn't make sense--but it does.

Who is sorry if this is kind of a "downer" post around Christmastime....I will do a happier one next time.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

His Hand is Stretched Out Still

I've really dropped the ball on posting the last few weeks. But here I am, back at it.

Isaiah 7-9 (and 2 Nephi 17-19) are chapters filled with prophecies of destruction that are going to fall on Jerusalem. It isn't pleasant reading. But in chapter 9 (or 19) a single phrase is repeated three times (2 Nephi 19:12, 17, 21):

For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

My interpretation of this is that despite the wrongdoings of the people, and God's displeasure with them because of those wrongdoings, His hand is still stretched out toward them. He still wants to help them and protect them, and He has put himself in a position to do so, but it can only happen when they reach back.

I've had many experiences where I was playing the role of the people of Jerusalem, and life was difficult. Sometimes I didn't understand why, but I usually knew that I was doing things wrong. The miracle is that whenever I turned toward God, and reached for Him, I did find His hand "stretched out still." It was always there, and as soon as I made the slightest move towards Him I felt His hand in my life.

Isaiah 9 and 2 Nephi 19 also contain another well-known passage of scripture, one that is particularly quoted or heard at this time of year (v. 6):

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

God extends His hand towards us by giving us His Son, Jesus Christ. It is because Christ paid for my sins that the hand is stretched out even when I am not reaching for it and "his anger is not turned away." It is because a child was born, "unto us a son is given."

For Unto Us a Child is Born--Handel's Messiah
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Good Tidings of Great Joy: The Birth of Jesus Christ--Mormon Channel
--Who loves all things Christmas, with the exception of the songs "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time," "Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart," and "The Christmas Shoes."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Making Room in Our Lives for Him

One of the lovely things left to me by my mother and father is a beautifully carved, wooden nativity. My family did quite a bit of traveling while I was growing up, and everywhere we went, my parents kept their eyes open for just the right pieces to add to the manger scene. Dad even found a branch of dried wood which he crafted into a gnarled tree for the shepherds to rest beside. The figures are small, but each piece is so delicately sculpted that you can read the expression on their faces.

The real heart of this nativity for me, however, is the stable itself. I remember as a child sitting in the carport watching my father build it, carefully fitting the crossbeams into place, chiseling the roofline, and sanding the base. It was truly a labor of love, and over time, it has come to represent something important and meaningful about the kind of person Dad was. Just as he physically made a place for that tiny wooden Baby, he always made room for the Savior in his own life.

My father was a man of many talents, a renaissance man. He loved music, art, literature, science, history, theater, opera, politics, gardening, traveling, architecture, and so much more. And he didn’t just want to know about them; he wanted to experience them. He had the voice of an angel. He wrote. He acted. He played the violin, the viola, the recorder, the guitar and the mandolin. He grew fruits and vegetables, beautiful flower gardens, and tiny bonsai. He traveled extensively and spoke French well, German a little, and even a bit of Farsi. He sketched. He served on community and university boards and committees. He had little patience when we, his children, complained of being bored. How could we be bored when there was always so much to see and do and learn?

All these “loves” could easily have consumed all of Dad’s time and energy, but at the heart of everything he did was my father’s love for his Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. He showed that love by serving freely in any church assignment he was given as well as by taking every opportunity to bless the lives of his family, friends, and neighbors on his own. He truly made “room in the inn” for the Savior every day of his life.

Who tries not to be bored. . 
.  .
You might enjoy this true story about a kind Frenchman who made room in his inn on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Beautiful Christmas Music and the Message of Christ

The Road to Bethlehem, Joseph Brickey
Good News! The annual Christmas devotional that our church broadcasts will start in one hour (7 pm central time). This is probably my favorite thing to watch during the Christmas season (Muppet's Christmas Carol is a close second).

The music is always incredible and the messages--well, they are messages about Jesus Christ and the Christmas season, spoken by living prophets. I hope watching and listening makes you feel as happy as it makes me.

Watch it here!

Who watched Muppet Christmas Carol two days ago--and it was just as delightful this time as the first time I watched it...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Peace and Calm

Two days ago, I had one of those days. You know what I'm talking about, right? My little sister, after having one of those days, said it felt like there were dementors all around her. And everything she tried to do or accomplish seemed to backfire. Yeah, that was my day two days ago. My little girl hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before and she had a bad cold and was very volatile. It was basically one mishap after another. Like when I unsuspectingly reached into the cupboard, and an entire shelf literally crashed down on me and a jar of molasses fell on my big toe. My toe was remarkably uninjured but the molasses jar broke into a million pieces--and I had molasses all over my kitchen floor. Meanwhile, my little girl had decided to climb onto the kitchen table and dance around. In retrospect, I am really glad that it was the molasses that fell on the ground and not my child. (I know this day doesn't sound impressively overwhelming...things could have been a lot worse. But I felt like things were a lot worse than they were...)

Anywho, I will stop complaining now. But I wanted to contrast the chaotic moments of that day and the extreme amount of effort it took for me to remain calm (which I was able to do most of the day), with an experience I had today when I felt completely and utterly free from stress, worry, frustration and was filled with complete calm. I had started to feel a bit frustrated with some of the things going on, so I turned on some Christmas music while I finished making dinner. I listened to some happy renditions of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Do You Hear What I Hear"--and they were good. But they didn't really help the negativity go away like I hoped. So then I found a song that I remember really loving a few years back while I was listening to our church's annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional. (You can find information about this year's Christmas Devotional that will be broadcast this Sunday, December 7th by clicking here.)

While I listened to this song, I was literally engulfed with peace. I have always been strongly affected by music, and today, listening to this song, all the negativity drained away and I felt complete peace. I hope you have the same experience:

I live for moments like these, because they show me the Lord's promises are real. What is Christmas, what is Christ really about?

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord [. . .] Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:10-12, 14)
"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you [. . .] Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:18, 27)

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)

"And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul." (Alma 38:8)

Christmas, the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about finding peace...even in the difficult and awful times. Even if it is 5 minutes of complete peace in the middle of a hectic day. I have felt that peace given to me in the most unexpected ways at the most unexpected times.

Here is an interesting tidbit: the solo instrument in that rendition of "What Child Is This" is a recorder. Who knew a recorder could sound that incredible? I sure didn't.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Psalm 37:5-7

When I write up a post for this blog, it usually has to do with whatever is on my mind at the time. Occasionally, if I have nothing on my mind (which happens too often, I'm sure), I'll refer back to things that have been important to me in the past. Today is a mix of the two, I guess. I've been thinking about it for most of this year, and was reminded about it again last night as I read in the Ensign, a monthly magazine that the Church puts out. Here is the link to the article I was reading, and below is the quote that set me to thinking again:

Often we understand the truth only in part, while the whole remains yet to be learned. And in the learning, we face the uncomfortable prospect of abandoning imperfect but heretofore comforting understandings.

This year I have learned some new truths which led to the necessary abandonment of "imperfect but heretofore comforting understandings," understandings that have served me well for the most part, but ultimately were imperfect and therefore incapable of producing perfection in me. It was a hard lesson to learn, and I have at times felt like the rug has been pulled out from under me. The hardest thing of all has been to replace those imperfect understandings with perfect understandings. The aforementioned article listed five principles to help someone that is in my position:

1: God Knows Infinitely More Than We Do
2: God Shares Some of His Knowledge
3: We Can Trust God's Love
4: We Need to Seek Spiritual Affirmations
5: We May Need to Wait Upon the Lord

Each point is explained in further detail, but you can read that for yourself; I've already plagiarized most of the article.

These principles are clear and easy to understand. The difficulty lies in the doing, of course. Conceptually I can accept all these things as truth, but do I have the faith for my actions to reflect them as truth? Some more easily than others, to be sure. But knowing some are true helps me to believe that others are, which in turn helps lead me to correct actions.

--Who wishes there wasn't a Monday after holiday breaks

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Grateful For...

Sometimes on Thanksgiving, the thing I am most thankful for is the first Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry, Merry Christmas.

Who can't imagine what it would be like to have a baby in a stable...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving: The Five Fs

We will be going to my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and typically before we start the Thanksgiving Dinner we go around the table three times and each say one thing we're grateful for on each pass. Mine vary, of course, but on that particular day sometimes I think of the Fs in my life: Faith, Family, Friends, Football, and Food. (I think F has too much of a negative connotation, by the way. It's a very valuable letter.) I could go into detail about each one of these things and how they improve my life, but I won't; I will confine it to the first two, Faith and Family.

One definition of faith is "a system of religious belief." By this definition, I feel like the system of religious belief to which I ascribe is firmly fixed on Jesus Christ. My own personal system of religious belief is not as firmly fixed. I try my best to center my system of religious belief on Jesus Christ, and I am not perfect at it. Or even very good at it. But I try, and when I learn that I am off base, I make an effort to correct myself so that I am more centered on Jesus Christ. I can safely say that I know that all good things in my life have come because of Jesus Christ and my belief in Him as my Savior and Redeemer. And that all future good things will come from that same source.

One of the good things in my life, if not the best, is my family. Quick story: once when I was in middle school I was complaining to a teacher about something not being "fair." She responded that life isn't fair, to which I responded "I know, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?" (I was quoting a classic work, Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.) She then said something very profound: "It was unfair in your favor when you were born into the family that you were." She was right. My family is my biggest blessing, and one that it's easiest to be grateful for, because of my frequent interactions with them. When the preceding conversation took place, my family was my parents and siblings. Now it includes my in-laws (see previous post for how I feel about them); and my wife, Elin (see her post about gratitude and thanksgiving); and little girl Evelyn. Soon there will be another in that group. These people are perhaps the greatest evidence of God's love for me, individually. They inspire me to be better and help me to be more centered on Christ. Which, in turn, leads to more good things in my life.

--Who is in actuality grateful for friends, football, and food, too. They just would have made the post overlong.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"More Holiness Give Me" and Relationships...

Today during our church service, an 85-year old man (who still has a spectacular voice) sang a hymn called "More Holiness Give Me." (You can listen to a beautiful rendition of it here.--although I wish you could have heard the 85-year old man sing it...) The words of the song struck me to my core because I have felt especially flat these last couple weeks. I want to feel that "more" that the song describes. I want to feel that urgency.

I have realized more and more this last year that I am not investing enough in my relationship with God-- and that my faith in and relationship with Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus Christ, is directly related to what I am willing to invest in the relationship. I don't know why this hasn't occurred to me before now. As is true in other relationships, we have to open ourselves up and talk to the other person, we have to be willing to be quiet and listen to the other person, we have to be willing to help, we have to prove ourselves trustworthy, we have to admit when we are wrong and say we are sorry and be willing to make amends for the relationship to be strong and rewarding and mutually beneficial. And then time and experiences with those people is what then links me to them even more.

Those are the kinds of things I try to do in my family and with my friends (and don't always do very successfully...) because it is obvious that the people that I care most about and who care most about me are people who have put time and effort and care into knowing me--and they are people who have been in my life, doing these things for an extended period of time.

Sometimes I forget that. I forget that these are the things that it takes to build a relationship. And for some reason, sometimes I think that I don't have to do those kinds of things to have a relationship with God. It is like I assume He will just take care of things for me and He loves me and understands me perfectly, and that is enough. I convince myself that I love and understand Him "enough" and don't put much work into my side of the relationship. But how does that make sense?

In what is referred to as the Intercessory prayer (John 17:3), the Savior, Jesus Christ, prays to the Father in our behalf--all of us. One of the things He says is:

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." 

He doesn't say that eternal life (which we believe is life with God- life after death where we get to be with our families and keep progressing and becoming more and more like Him) is God knowing and loving us (which He always does)--eternal life is us coming to know God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And coming to know anything or anyone requires effort, work, and time.

God has given us the tools to come to know Him. To develop a real relationship with Him. He has spoken throughout the ages and His words have been recorded by prophets in what we now refer to as scriptures. He has spoken truth and love to the hearts of men and women throughout the ages through the Spirit and their words are recorded in inspired literature, journals, and speeches. He speaks now to His prophet, President Monson, and He will speak now to us through the Spirit. He and the Savior have promised this over and over and over again.

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:"  Matthew 7:7, 3 Nephi 27:29

This is the promise--but I have to do my part by investing in the relationship. By asking and seeking and studying and trying to know Him more and more.

One last thought that I found applied specifically to me:

"True, the Lord has said, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” (D&C 4:7.) But He also declared, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.” (D&C 9:7.)
It is evident that He intends that we do our part. But what, specifically, are we to do? No one would expect to receive a result from physical law without obeying it. Spiritual law is the same. As much as we want help, we must expect to follow the spiritual law that controls that help. Spiritual law is not mysterious. It is something that we can understand. The scriptures define it in significant detail." Elder Richard G. Scott, "Obtaining Help From the Lord" 
This week, my challenge to myself is to put the amount of time and effort into coming to know my Heavenly Father and the Savior that will enable me to feel and understand their strength and help and love--that will enable me to be more holy. 
Who is simultaneously still trying to work on being grateful in every circumstance. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Prayer, Scriptures, and Service

Last night I saw a quote from a talk given by President Henry B. Eyring, a prophet and apostle who is in the First Presidency of the Church. The quote was striking to me because it is something that I have been thinking about lately in regards to my own actions:

We can and must go often and carefully to the word of God. If we become casual in our study of the scriptures, we will become casual in our prayers.
We may not cease to pray, but our prayers will become more repetitive, more mechanical, lacking real intent. Our hearts cannot be drawn out to a God we do not know, and the scriptures and the words of living prophets help us know Him. As we know Him better, we love Him more.
At times I feel like my prayers don't make it past the ceiling of my apartment, like they just bounce back to me. I've wondered why that is, and I think a lot of it has to do with the above quote. And there are other times when I feel like my prayers are not "lacking real intent" but still don't seem effective. What then? Another quote from the same talk:
We must also serve Him to love Him. Joseph Smith did that, finally surrendering life itself in His service. Joseph prayed with the intent to obey. That obedience always includes service to others. Service in God’s work allows us to feel a part of what He feels and come to know Him.
“For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” As our love for Him increases, so will our desire to approach the Father in prayer.
Serving Him can be done in a variety of ways, but a succinct explanation is simply obeying His commandments. So when I find that my prayers are stuck in the same room as me, I know where to look for a solution to that problem: scripture study and service. And this time of year is great for both, as the holidays are here and thoughts are turned more to Christ.
--Who is so thankful that Thanksgiving is nearly here!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

God's Happiness and Creation

"Let me first pose a question: What do you suppose is the greatest kind of happiness possible? For me, the answer to this question is, God’s happiness.
This leads to another question: What is our Heavenly Father’s happiness?
This may be impossible to answer because His ways are not our ways. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than [our] ways, and [His] thoughts [higher] than [our] thoughts.” 1
Though we cannot understand “the meaning of all things,” we do “know that [God] loveth his children” 2 because He has said, “Behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” 3
Heavenly Father is able to accomplish these two great goals—the immortality and eternal life of man—because He is a God of creation and compassion. Creating and being compassionate are two objectives that contribute to our Heavenly Father’s perfect happiness. Creating and being compassionate are two activities that we as His spirit children can and should emulate."
"Happiness, Your Heritage," President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I spent much of last weekend making Christmas stockings. (One of our daughters went out to her storage closet the other day and discovered that everything they had stored there—including their Christmas decorations--had been ruined by a leak in the apartment above them.) Part of me felt a little guilty for spending so much time on them when there were other “more important” things waiting to be done. At the same time, I loved what I was doing —finding a pattern, matching fabrics, choosing decorative stitches, thinking of ways to make them unique while keeping a unified theme, and, finally, putting them together.

There is something satisfying, fulfilling, and joyful about the process of creating. I love this beautiful insight into our innate desire to create by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

(who is heading to the kitchen to try a new recipe for pumpkin gnocchi)

Monday, November 17, 2014


In a weekly family email, my Mom shared a quote from Elder Orson Pratt, an apostle in the early days of the Church:

We may take up the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants [Doctrine and Covenants], and commit them to memory—at least the subject matter therein, and we may suppose that we understand the doctrine of salvation, and conclude from our diligent study that we have become altogether acquainted with the prophecies and revelations; and yet, after all these things, without the gift of revelation directly to ourselves, or the gift of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to rest upon us as speakers and hearers, we cannot expect to be materially benefited.

There is a verse in the Book of Mormon that tells us how we should be studying the scriptures:

Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

I think the link between these two statements is in the applicability of the scriptures in my own life. I think I have done pretty well at reading the scriptures (not to the point of having them memorized) and being 'acquainted with the prophecies and revelations,' but I don't think I have always successfully applied the doctrines taught in the scriptures to my own life. And I think that is because I wasn't 'feasting' on the words, and therefore was limiting the ability of the Holy Ghost to testify to the truth of what I was reading. As a result, I wasn't as 'materially benefited' as I could have been, and my spiritual development has been impeded. The principle is applicable to many things we do in life.

Developing a Love for the Scriptures

-Who is grateful for the cool, even chilly, weather

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prone to Wander

Is it as difficult for you to do things that you know are good for you as it is for me sometimes? I've been thinking about this a lot lately and trying to figure out what it is in us that makes us resist doing healthy, happy, uplifting things even though we know they will makes us healthier, happier, and just better. I know it differs from person to person. Some people love eating vegetables and are happy to shun fatty, sugary, over-processed foods. Some people love running. Some people hate taking out the trash. Some people hate doing dishes. Some people love learning new things, reading educational books. Some people love practicing the piano. Others don't love these things at all.

Me, well there is a lot that I know I should be doing--that I know is good for me. Some of it I may have been born enjoying. Some of it is easier to do now because I've made a habit of it. Some of it, I still have a hard time making myself do it every day, even though I feel so good after I've done it. It is frustrating.

So a few months ago, I made up a motto for myself and this is it: "Do the things you know are good for you, even when you don't feel like doing them." It may seem silly, but I literally say this to myself out loud sometimes when I am staring at a plateful of vegetables or looking at the floor that needs to be vacuumed (that is a weird word) or when I find myself wanting to pass by someone who needs help carrying their groceries in from their car instead of helping them. And I find myself saying this to myself at night when I feel tired and would rather get in bed than say a prayer--or when I would rather pick up a fluffy book before I have read in the scriptures that day.

And this phrase has helped me. I still hate that I resist things that are good for me though. I came across a scripture in Jeremiah the other day that really hit home with me.

"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2:13

I am a visual learner so I really like the image in this verse--the idea that not only do we too often forget and neglect the "fountain of living waters", Jesus Christ, who knows exactly what is difficult for us--who knows exactly how we feel--who knows exactly how to help and strengthen and heal us--

but in place of Him, the only water that really refreshes, cleanses, and fills, we make for ourselves and our lives, broken cisterns (pits or wells that were used to hold water) that won't even hold the water or the sustenance and joy that we thought they would give us. I feel this sometimes at the end of a day, when I have neglected to do the things that would have brought me true satisfaction and joy and replaced them with whatever sounded good in the moment--fluffy books, idleness, a movie or two.  Those days feel empty to me at their end. It reminds me of these verses in the Book of Mormon:

Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?
So, yes, those are my ramblings for the day. Let me just say that I have hope yet that I can be better at doing the things that I know are good for me. And things like taking care of our bodies, helping others, studying the life and teachings and gospel of Jesus Christ, developing a relationship with Heavenly Father--these are the things that fill me up and make me happy. But oh how I am "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love."-which are part of the text from the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Take a listen....

Who is feeling like she needs a taste of Christmas and wishes the rain would magically turn to snow.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reverently and Meekly Now

The music we use in Church meetings, which we refer to as hymns, is a significant and important part of our worship services. The hymn book we use has a preface from the leadership of the Church explaining this importance:

Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.

Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.

In addition to blessing us as Church and family members, the hymns can greatly benefit us as individuals. Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.

One of my favorite hymns is called "Reverently and Meekly Now." I like it for a couple of reasons, one being that the lyrics are from the perspective of Jesus Christ, so it is like listening to the Savior speak to me. I have included all the text below. Another reason I like it is because it is like listening to the Savior tell me what He has done for me. Look at the last line of each verse. It is very personal. If I was speaking directly with Jesus Christ, these are the things He would tell me.

1. Rev'rently and meekly now,
Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.

2. In this bread now blest for thee,
Emblem of my body see;
In this water or this wine,
Emblem of my blood divine.
Oh, remember what was done
That the sinner might be won.
On the cross of Calvary
I have suffered death for thee.

3. Bid thine heart all strife to cease;
With thy brethren be at peace.
Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be
E'en forgiven now by me.
In the solemn faith of prayer
Cast upon me all thy care,
And my Spirit's grace shall be
Like a fountain unto thee.

4. At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

Text: Joseph L. Townsend, 1849-1942
Music: Ebenezer Beesley, 1840-1906

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Live in Thanksgiving Daily

Ten Lepers, by James Christensen
"This painting is about gratitude, about recognizing the gifts of the Savior in our lives on a daily basis," Christensen explains. "I think we too often fail to realize the blessings that He gives us and, even in our excitement to take advantage of our good fortune, we forget to acknowledge the source of all good things in our lives."

I have had some glum days recently and have been trying to figure out how to pick myself out of the gloom. I don't even have a reason right now to feel sad! Things are going well. So since we are now officially headed towards the "holiday season," the "most wonderful time of the year", I decided to try to cultivate a little more gratitude in my life and see if that will take the gloom right out of me. As I have been reading and learning about gratitude, two things specifically have stuck out to me. The first is this:

Recognizing blessings from Heavenly Father in our life and then thanking Him for them brings more blessings and miracles into our life.

The prophet, Thomas S. Monson, mentions this principle as he tells the story of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes (Matthew 15:13-28) in this talk.

“And [Jesus] commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
“And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
Notice that the Savior gave thanks for what they had—and a miracle followed: “And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.”
That, to me, is a beautiful thing. The more we recognize and give thanks, the more we find we have to be thankful for in our lives. And the more miracles we see.
The second principle of gratitude that keeps appearing as I study what it really means to "live in thanksgiving daily" (Alma 34:38) is that gratitude makes you glorious. It fills your life and you, yourself, with light and love--and it's contagious. (see D&C 78:19, Alma 26, this, and this)

The best visual example of this idea of gratitude making us glorious is the way George Bailey looks and acts in the last few minutes of the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Sure, he is a bit frenzied in the way he expresses his gratitude--but boy is he full of life and light and just watching him makes me happier.

Whose experiment to live in thanksgiving daily and get out of the gloom began 2 days ago. I have had one glorious day and one not so great day. These things take practice, right?
"The grateful man sees so much in the world to be thankful for, and with him the good outweighs the evil. Love overpowers jealousy, and light drives darkness out of his life. Pride destroys our gratitude and sets up selfishness in its place. How much happier we are in the presence of a grateful and loving soul, and how careful we should be to cultivate, through the medium of a prayerful life, a thankful attitude toward God and man!" President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th Edition