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