Tomato Soup Miracles

Several weeks back I was sitting in stake conference when one of the women speaking told a story about taking freezer meals to others. While listening I had the thought that I ought to make freezer meals for my ministering sisters and take it to them for the first day of school. For those of you not familiar with the ministering program – in our church pairs of women are given assignments to watch out for other women in the congregation. We call them ministering sisters and generally each woman in our church has a companion, two sisters she ministers to and two sisters assigned to minister to her. It’s a wonderful way to make sure that every one has someone looking out for their needs and caring for them on a personal level. This freezer meal idea was weird because I felt like I was supposed to do this for the sisters who minister to me and not the ones that I minister to. I tried to brush it off. I thought I was being too suggestible and trying to steal the speaker’s inspiration. Just because that is what this speaker had done didn’t mean it was what I needed to do.

As the meeting went on the thought kept coming back to me, but I kept pushing it off. I tried to think instead about how I could bless the lives of the sisters I minister to, but my mind kept coming up blank. Finally as the last speaker stood up he said that if we’d had any impressions during the meeting that we needed to act on them. His words cut through me. I knew then that I needed to do this so I filed it away.

School starting was still a week and a half off, but I felt like I needed to wait until the first day of school to take these meals. That was a little annoying since for our first day of school we were going to be packing to leave on a family vacation. Also, we homeschool so the first day of school is more of a working day for me than a break. I didn’t really think I had extra time that day. Besides, it was a freezer meal. By definition it shouldn’t matter what day I took it because the whole point was to put it in the freezer and pull it out whenever you needed it. Taking it sooner only meant that it could be helpful sooner as well as later – right? However as I tried to fit it into the week before I couldn’t seem to make it happen. So I ended up pushing it back to the first day of school anyways.

The other weird thing was that I felt distinctly like what I needed to take was Tomato Basil soup. That might not seem too weird, it’s a really yummy soup and not too difficult to make. However it is not something that I had a freezeable recipe for! I’ve made it a lot of times, but it’s not even a crock pot recipe. It’s a recipe that calls for sauteeing and boiling ingredients separately and then blending with a blender before serving. So it didn’t seem like it would be easy to convert for a one step, dump and cook freezer meal. Plus, it’s not the most filling soup it usually requires a sandwich or something to round it out as a meal. It didn’t seem like the greatest all-in-one kind of meal to bring as a freezer meal. I tried to think instead of another heartier recipe that I could easily freeze. I considered making my Chicken Tortilla soup which would have been super easy to put together as a freezer meal – and a much more hearty soup. But every time I thought of it there was an insistent thought that it needed to be Tomato Basil soup. I finally relented and picked up those ingredients.

Finally the first day of school came. It turned out I was able to get a lot of my trip preparations done in the days earlier. I also decided that our first day of school wasn’t going to be academic and we would wait until after our trip to kick off schooling. I surprisingly had time that day. Even still, I was only half convinced that I was actually going to follow through with this. I had promised my kids that we would go get smoothies that morning in honor of their friends starting school and felt like I had other things that needed to be done. However I woke up with the motivation so I told the kids they’d have to wait. In all honesty the whole endeavor seemed doomed. Who makes 8 batches of a recipe in a way they’ve never tested before to give to 5 other families?? But we got it done and in the freezer. I texted my ministering sisters as well as the sisters I minister to and let them know that I had a batch of soup for each of them. Then I headed out with my kiddos to get their first day of school smoothies – despite it being nearly noon.

That afternoon I got a text back from one of my ministering sisters and took her over some soup. I honestly felt so dumb taking over an untested recipe on a day when I was sure families probably had other plans. I almost apologetically handed over the soup feeling like I had done this more for my sake to get the feeling to go away than for hers. When my friend invited me in she told me that their fridge and freezer had gone out and they’d lost all of their cold food over the weekend. They had to wait until the end of the week to get their new fridge and she hadn’t known what she was going to do for dinner that night. The soup came just at the right time so she could have a home cooked meal for her family. I was especially touched to realize that if I had taken the meal the week before (which I’d thought would be more convenient for everyone) then she would have lost it along with the rest of her food. I guess Heavenly Father knew what he was talking about when he said to wait until the first day of school.

Later that afternoon I took a batch to each of the sisters I minister to. I hadn’t felt as compelled to bring them a freezer meal as I had for my own ministering sisters. But I felt like I was doing ministering wrong to take a freezer meal to my ministering sisters and not to the sisters I minister to. So as long as I was making soup they were going to get some too! It was a good excuse to see them and I’m guessing that it was helpful for them to have a meal in the freezer for when they needed it. I felt good about it, however they hadn’t had the same sort of extenuating circumstances that my ministering sister had and I realized that the prompting I had received was right as it was. I was intended to go to my ministering sisters with the soup.

In the evening I was able to take another batch to my other ministering sister. As I’d been preparing the soup I remembered that she’s a vegetarian. My tomato basil soup is one of my only recipes that – if I substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth – is vegetarian. I felt again that I had been guided in what I prepared. We talked for awhile and she told me she was excited to have a home cooked meal as she lives alone and doesn’t do a lot of cooking. I felt glad that I had followed the prompting to make something that she could eat at home that would make her happy. I felt happy to have been able to bless someone in a personal way.

I thought that was the end of the story and honestly I felt like it was more than enough to have been a part of these tiny tender mercies. How cool that the Lord knew what these women needed and had allowed me to take part in it. I finished packing and went on our trip to the Grand Canyon with a full heart.

Later that week I looked at my phone and saw that my second ministering sister had tagged me in a post on Instagram. Curious I signed in and saw that she’d posted that she had just come home from surgery. She posted a picture of the soup all prepared and talked about how having a meal that she could make at home was such a blessing that day so that she didn’t have to go out while she was recovering. You guys – I didn’t even know she was having surgery. But the Lord did. He knew she could really use having something warm and comforting to eat at home that day. He had put in my heart in advance the exact thing that needed to happen so that this woman would have what she needed when she came home.

I felt really humbled by how well the Lord knows us. He knows not only the things we are going through – but the things we *will* go through. He knew to give me enough lead time to psych myself up to make a freezer meal I didn’t know how to make. He knew to hold me off until after my friend’s freezer went out so that the soup wouldn’t go bad with the rest of her food. He knew that I needed to make a meal that was vegetarian. He knew that my ministering sister was going in to surgery and would need something she could eat after the fact. He KNOWS us, and He loves us. He has a plan that is greater for each of us and He is ready to use us to bless the lives of those around us in meaningful ways.

If Not a Mormon, Then What?

In October General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the name of our church. He asked us to use the proper name of the church when referring to ourselves as members as well as other entities associated with the church. There was a lot of surprise and backlash from this request, especially as it included re-branding several existing entities such as Mormon.org and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which had very established branding.

Personally, I was happy to hear the re-emphasis on the proper name of the church. I remembered President Hinckley giving a similar charge back in 1990. Even though I was only 5 years old at the time that call had stuck with me. I went back and looked up President Hinckley’s talk. I found this portion especially interesting –

Six months ago in our conference Elder Russell M. Nelson delivered an excellent address on the correct name of the Church. He quoted the words of the Lord Himself:
“Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115:4.)

I was interested that it was Elder Nelson who had originally inspired President Hinckley to give us that charge. Now that same Elder Nelson has the role of President of the church and he’s back saying, “Ok guys, I’ve said this before almost 30 years ago but let’s do this again. Maybe a little louder for those of you in the back?” Far from being something new, this is something he has been saying for literally decades.

All through my school years I was dogmatic about using the proper name of the church. The prophet had asked us to be careful about how we referred to ourselves and it was something that my family took very seriously. In fact all through my growing up years to call ourselves “Mormons” was akin to swearing in our household. All the way through college I don’t think I once called myself a Mormon without having first used the proper name of the church. I remember introducing myself to friends at school and stating my religion as “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and then if I got a look of confusion I might follow up with “Some people call us Mormons but we don’t really like to be called that.” Believe me, if you’ve had that whispered conversation in French class in the few minutes before the bell rings, while trying not to trip over the many words in the name of our church – it sticks with you 😛

So in 2010 I was a little dismayed to hear that the church was starting a new campaign introducing the website Mormon.org. I was confused that after all these years of really trying to eschew the nickname of Mormons that we were suddenly changing paths. I imagined President Hinckley rolling in his grave at the introduction of this new website.

At the same time, as a web professional I understood the value of taking ownership of the name and search term. Hopefully rather than someone running a google search for Mormons and finding sketchy websites run by detractors from our faith – they could come to our site and see for themselves what we believe. That to me made sense from an SEO standpoint. Ideally we would want people to call us by our proper name but you have to play the hand you’re dealt not the hand you want. There was a lot more “brand recognition” if you will for Mormon – and can you blame people? One word is a lot easier to remember than the whole string that titles our church. We still weren’t calling ourselves Mormons, just using the term as a way to help people find out more about us. That seemed justifiable to me.

If I was dismayed with the introduction of Mormon.org I felt almost betrayed a year later in 2011 with the introduction of the I’m a Mormon campaign. Again, I understood the motives of wanting to take ownership of the term. I liked that the people who worked with the church were saying “Look, there’s nothing bad about being associated with the church, let’s not allow others to take this term and use it as derogatory. It isn’t a derogatory thing to be associated with the church so let’s take this and be proud of it.” I really do think the motivations were pure and good and I think a lot of good came from that campaign. Despite my confusion at the change in course, I am proud of my faith. So I filled out a profile on Mormon.org, stuck an “I’m a Mormon” badge on my blog and proclaimed myself as a “Mormon” on my social media profiles. If this was what our church leaders had approved then I was all in.

Image result for i'm a mormon

After that I dropped the crusade of using the proper name of the church. I had done my part to use the proper name for so long, but if it wasn’t going to be taken seriously even at church headquarters then there didn’t seem to be a point in me taking it seriously either. To be honest, the word Mormon is a lot easier to use. From a brand perspective it’s easy to fit “I’m a Mormon” in a 160 character Twitter profile. To write “I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” takes 63 characters as opposed to 12 – leaving more room to make other statements about why someone would want to follow me. In conversation it’s easier to talk about our community as “Mormons” rather than “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. In a recent conversation a fellow member used the term Mormons about a dozen times and I didn’t stop her because I recognized the impracticality of adding over 100 words to what she was saying.

Then of course President Nelson reiterated his previous statements about the name of the church. I believe strongly that it was important that the name we took upon ourselves was Christ’s name – not Mormon’s name. I’ve been told in the past that I was not a Christian because Mormons are not Christians. Which bothered me deeply. It’s much more difficult to tell someone who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they are not a Christian than it is to think that “Mormons” are probably a weird cult that believes in totally out there things.

Logo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, I still struggled with the return to the doctrine. For 20 years I had personally worked very hard to not use the term Mormon and always use the full name of the church – and after all that even the people at church headquarters had given up. I know what a mouthful the name of the church is and how regardless of my willingness to say all of that I knew others – especially those who don’t share my faith – would not be so willing. I feared that this would be destined not to stick just as it hadn’t before.

As I pondered on this I composed in my head an open letter to President Nelson to express all that I’ve posted above and to ask him to inquire of the Lord for an approved nickname for church members. I totally agreed that we needed to eschew the use of the nickname Mormon to describe our people and that it was of utmost importance that the name we use was the name that we took upon ourselves at baptism – Jesus Christ. I knew that the correct term was that we are Christians, but that term is so broad and encompasses many different sects of Christianity – Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, Anglicans, Amish – it wasn’t a term we could claim that would show our differences. We share our belief in Christ with all of these, but each sect has important differences that distinguish us from one another. I wanted to find a short name that could explain who I was that still kept the focus on Christ.

I have a background in marketing so I decided to also take the challenge on myself. I figured it was wise to take a leaf out of the Brother of Jared’s book and present a possible solution, not just a problem 😉 I found it interesting to note that of the different denominations of Christianity, the only one whose nickname involved a direct reference to Christ is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I thought through it the best name I could come up with as an alternative for Mormon was Christian Restorationist or perhaps Latter-day Christian. The thing that sets us most apart from other Christians is our belief in the restoration of the priesthood keys, prophets, apostles and all of the things that were practiced in Christ’s church when he led it personally on the earth.

Peter gives Paul the priesthood by the laying on of hands.  Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

This is of course what is supposed to be conveyed in the name of our church – Latter-day Saints is supposed to refer to the fact that we are practicing the same religion as the early saints. We are little s saints meaning followers of Christ who have been sanctified through baptism – not big S Saints like those revered as being holy in the catholic church. Latter days refers to the fact that we are just doing this in a more modern time – a latter day from the original church. Unfortunately that gets a little lost on modern ears and saints has been co-opted so much by the Catholic church that to say that you’re a Latter-day Saint sounds presumptuous – as though we believe we are perfect on a level with their revered Saints. Although it should, the name no longer conveys necessary ties to Christ’s name without the rest of the church’s name.

My degree is in linguistics and I understand that languages change through time and meanings of words are not static. You have to express yourself in terms that are understood by the people receiving your communication. Linguistic success is achieved by conveying meaning, not by using the word you like. I was pretty pleased with this moniker of Christian Restorationist with the only problem being that there are other faiths (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists etc) that would also fall under that category, but I felt like it at least got closer to the mark. There would be the issue of adoption outside the church, but it was at least a name that was short enough that I thought it had a chance. But I continued to mull over options and mentally compose that letter.

A view of the Draper Utah Temple in the evening. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

That has been rolling around in my brain for several months. Then, a couple weeks back I was sitting in the temple and pondering on names. I was reminded of a post that a friend made on Facebook. She had been reading the Book of Mormon and had gotten to 4 Nephi and read about how after Christ’s visit to the Americas there were 200 years of incredible peace and prosperity among the people. She was bugged that we have over 500 pages of the Book of Mormon that discuss all of their wars and disputes, but only 24 verses that tell us about this time of amazing peace an prosperity. She pointed out that what she really wanted to be reading was all about how they did the peace and prosperity! Twenty-four measly verses wasn’t enough to teach us all that we needed to know about how to achieve that! Her words stuck with me and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. I decided to go back and re-read those 24 verses to see what I could glean out of them. Here were some of the verses that I read –

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

4 Nephi 1:15-17
Christ in the Land Bountiful, by Simon Dewey. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

It struck me that a major portion of what helped the people gain this amazing peace and prosperity was this idea that there was not “any manner of -ites”. They were able to have peace in the land because they allowed what united them – their faith in Christ – to be stronger than what divided them. I went on to read that not only was that what caused their peace, but it was a departure from that which led to their downfall. If you read on you see that the people divide into many different churches with each one focusing on one doctrine or another and ignoring those that didn’t suit them. From there they go from having 200 years of peace and prosperity to (spoiler alert) completely destroying the church and their civilization in the most gruesome ways within the next 200 years.

I pondered on this idea of “ites”. The thought came to me that isn’t this exactly what we do in modern times? Rather than uniting ourselves as followers of Christ under the name Christians, we divide ourselves into our many different denominations. We decide that our differences are more important than our similarities. I had been thinking that the Lord had called us to be a “peculiar people” as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we needed a name that reflected that. However when I went to look up that scripture I discovered that it wasn’t a calling given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it came from the book of Peter in the New Testament. We are peculiar for being Christians, and the name Christian IS what sets us apart.

Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

After reading all of this I no longer feel inclined to find a better nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Certainly I would gladly accept one to be able to distinguish ourselves culturally with linguistic efficiency. However, we have taken upon us the name of Christ – we are Christians. That’s enough. If that means that we are lumped in with all of the other denominations of Christianity – well isn’t that wonderful? I don’t believe Christ wants us dividing ourselves, he wants us united in living our faith as best as we can. Yes, your faith might be practiced differently than mine, but that can be as true between members of the same denomination as it is between denominations. If you believe in Christ and are working out your salvation with Him, then I want to stand with you. Whether you wear a cross or a CTR ring. Whether you listen to the pope or the prophet. Whether your baptism was performed with sprinkling or with immersion. I don’t care. We are followers of Christ and that’s the only name we need to take on ourselves.

So who am I? I am a Christian.

I believe in prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern.

I believe in the power of God given to us through the priesthood.

I believe in the scriptures as the word of God given to us to guide us.

I believe in temple ordinances and the power to bind families together forever.

The Resurrected Christ, by Wilson J. Ong Image Courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

But above all else – I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in His atonement to cleanse us from our sins. I believe in His resurrection and that through Him we can all live again. I believe that He is the way, the truth and the light and that all who come unto him can find peace and everlasting life.

I’m a Christian, and I am proud to share that name with anyone else who wants to it take upon themselves.

The Loaves & Fishes and a Review of Unplanned

Never have I been so excited to attend a movie that I so desperately did not want to see. That’s how I felt going into see Unplanned today. I felt that this movie was important to see, I want it to do well and I thought it should be something everyone should go see – but I knew it was not going to be a fun happy experience. In fact, when I asked my husband when he wanted to go see it with me his response was that he really didn’t want to go see it – and I couldn’t blame him. But I still felt like I needed to go see it. I already knew Abby’s story but I felt compelled to go and see it played out on the big screen for myself.

So when I got my 1yo down for his afternoon nap and realized that I could make it to the next showing – that’s what I did. I quickly packed as much chocolate into my purse as I could find (stupid trying to eat healthy meant there wasn’t as much stock as I would have liked), wore my knit shawl as a socially acceptable excuse to bring a blanket into the theater, and left my husband home with the kids. I knew if I hesitated I would talk myself out of going so I just went.

This was my first R-rated movie that I’ve ever seen unedited. While I totally believe that the MPAA only gave Unplanned an R rating in an attempt to tank it – I also think it was deserved. The movie is heavy, though not dark. As someone who does not deal well with blood – particularly medical blood – it was a really hard movie to watch, and there were definitely several times when I found myself hiding under my makeshift blanket while I ugly cried. However, nothing about the bloodiness or the subject matter was gratuitous. It was real, and it told a true story, without overdramatization. But should it be a movie that kids under 18 are seeing without at least parental knowledge? Probably not. At least, I don’t think I would want my kids seeing it without me, though I think there are many lesser rated films that I would be much more opposed to them seeing.

However, while the movie dealt with things that I wished that I didn’t have to know about – there was a great deal of hope as well. Even though I left with a headache from crying so much over much of the heartbreak and horror of the movie – I did not leave feeling sad, or helpless, or overly weighed down. Instead I honestly left feeling hopeful and inspired. Definitely still saddened, but that feeling wasn’t overwhelming because of the hope and light offered in the film.

Many times throughout my becoming more entrenched in the pro-life movement I have felt like there was no hope. Yes, abortion was a terrible evil, but what could I really do about it? It’s legal, it’s not like I could turn these people into the police. Public opinion, at least as portrayed in the media has always seemed so pro-choice. How can you protect babies whose own mothers won’t even protect them? I’m a stay at home mom with 4 kids – I don’t have a fancy law degree, I don’t have deep pockets to lobby politicians. Is there really anything I could do?

I’d heard of several organizations in my own quest to find a way to fight against abortion, and among them was 40 Days for Life. To be honest when I heard what they were about I felt like their whole mission was too hokey and not action oriented enough. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the organization – they sit outside abortion clinics and pray. Their object isn’t to engage or protest, just to pray. Praying is great and all, but if I was going to get involved I wanted to do something – I could pray from home.

In our Come Follow Me discussion last week we discussed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. I’ll give you a recap of the events. Jesus is teaching a multitude of five thousand men (plus women and children) and decides it’s time to feed everyone. The disciples look around and say “uhm, there are 5000+ people here, there’s no way we have that kind of food.” But Christ asks that they find whatever food is there. Finally a little boy comes forward with 5 loaves of bread, and two small fish. I can only imagine how I would feel bringing that kind of offering, “Oh, hey Lord, yeah I know you said you wanted to feed 5000 people but all I have is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – not even enough to feed 50 people really and you have 100x that here. But sure, take what I have, I’ll probably be hungry, but go ahead and see what you can make of it.” To be honest, I think I would have felt like an idiot offering that up. It’s probably why the only person who offered up anything was a young boy – he was the only one willing to offer what he had, regardless of how small it was. Then of course the Lord takes that laughably miniscule offering and not only feeds the multitude to satiation, but comes back with 12 baskets full of fragments – not only filling the boy, and the multitude but giving the boy back more than he even started with.

SPOILERS AHEAD. CONTINUE READING AT YOUR OWN RISK. (However, I don’t think the story is a surprise to most of the people seeing the movie so you can probably keep reading. I would just feel guilty not making the disclaimer 😉 )

As I watched Unplanned I was struck with the characters of Shawn and Marilisa. I’m sure they must have felt much like that young boy – “Well, here we are, praying outside of Planned Parenthood again. We’ve been doing this for 8 years and we watch as week after week more women come in and abort their babies. It doesn’t make any difference, but it’s what we have that we can offer up so we’ll keep doing it.” I’m sure the defeat of it all was absolutely crushing, and that they felt heartbroken that they were standing by and doing what seemed like virtually nothing.

But then, after their long years of waiting. After their patience and persistence. Because they had faith, and showed kindness and “love unfeigned” towards Abby – a miracle happened. A miracle that I’m sure they never could have dreamed of. The clinic director who they had gone toe to toe with for so many years suddenly had a change of heart and not only leaves Planned Parenthood, but goes on to create an organization to help get abortion workers out of the industry. And the clinic they’ve been praying over for so many years closes for good.

I felt chastised for my faithlessness. Is not our God a God of miracles? Haven’t I seen those miracles in my own life? I was reminded of this scripture –

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

I have decided that I want to be more like the young man in the scriptures. I want to bring my 5 loaves to the Lord and see what he can make of my meager offering. Together perhaps our small offerings can bring forth something great.

If you haven’t seen Unplanned – go see it! Whether you’re ardently pro-life, more on the fence or even if you’re pro-choice – go see it. I’m not promising an enjoyable couple of hours. You will likely have your heart broken and handed back to you. But, you will leave with hope and a new perspective on the love that our God has for each of us. The story is not one of hopelessness, but of hope.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom AND Dad!

One of my parents’ engagement pictures in 1982. If they’d known then what the future had in store for them…

I know on Mother’s Day we’re supposed to really focus on just our mothers, however today I want to pay a quick tribute to both my mom AND dad. In addition to today being Mother’s Day, today my dad was released as the bishop of my family’s home ward. He has served in that calling for 6.5 years. Before that he was in the Stake Presidency, following the shortest stint as the bishop (only 9 months) of the same ward, and prior to that he was in the bishopric of our stake’s single’s ward. My dad has been in consecutive leadership callings in our stake for longer than my youngest brother (who turns 19 in August) has been alive. Before that my dad served in the bishopric in our ward in New York and other callings.

My mom has had many callings of her own – YW presidency, Primary presidency, Sunday school teacher, Early Morning Seminary Teacher to name a few – but through all of those callings she has also been supporting my dad in his. Many nights of not knowing if/when my dad would be home for dinner, helping those in the ward who were secretly struggling, getting 5 kids ready for church more or less on time on her own each week (a feat that I’m sure was infinitely easier once her oldest child left the house 😉 ), allowing other families’ needs to intrude on our own family time, and countless other small but significant sacrifices through the years. I know there have been times when the load seemed heavy and probably even too much to bear, but through it all both of my parents have been cheerfully – and sometimes tearfully – willing to sacrifice and serve.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with our faith, these callings represent many hours every week – including most of the day on Sunday – with absolutely zero pay, it is done on a completely volunteer basis. Although volunteer suggests that my dad would have gone to someone and requested these assignments – the opposite is true. For each of these callings someone else in our church leadership would have called my dad in to a meeting and asked him if he would be willing to do this regardless of what other plans my dad might have had at the time. He has continued to hold a full time job to support our family while giving up his nights, weekends and vacation time to serve those in their area willingly.

My mom has told me that the very best thing she could have done was to make that sacrifice to allow my dad to serve in these callings. She has told me that by supporting my dad in these callings she has in turn received a husband who is more compassionate, closer to the spirit and more fulfilled than had she selfishly kept him at home to help her with dressing kids for church and the other things that I know she would have appreciated his help with.  She’s told me how she’s heard other women tell their husbands that they couldn’t accept these callings that require so much time and effort because they needed the help at home.  She doesn’t belittle these concerns – she knows firsthand how legitimate they are – the sacrifices are indeed significant.  But she’s testified to me that while it’s been hard – she has gotten more in return for her sacrifice than she would have received any other way.

So, today I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to BOTH of my parents.  Thank you for teaching me the value of service and sacrifice.  Thank you for teaching me that there is no better way that I can bless the lives of my family than by serving the Lord.  I know that their service will not end here – soon enough they’ll find somewhere else to be made useful in serving and loving those around them.  They won’t be happy sitting still for long.  They know all too well that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God,” and I know they won’t be satisfied not having a way to use their time and talents to serve God.  That’s the best example I could have asked for, and I hope that I follow that example in my own live.  I love you Mom & Dad! 

Why I Believe – The Book of Mormon

why-i-believe-bom

I know, I’ve fallen way off the boat with my “Why I Believe” posts, I’ll fill in more someday.  I was asked to speak in church on Sunday about the Book of Mormon.  At first I thought I’d end up just reading what I wrote in this blog post… but as I wrote my talk this came out instead.  It turned out to be part of the series that I hadn’t gotten to writing yet.  I guess sometimes I just need a little encouragement – thanks Bishop!

Our bishop gave us Elder Holland’s talk “Safety for the Soul” for a topic.  I sort of feel like being given a talk from Elder Holland to speak on is like throwing down a gauntlet – here take this amazing talk and find something you can add to it, I dare you.  Seriously, Elder Holland’s talk is amazing and I would definitely invite you to stop reading my post and re-listen to his talk So a little known fact about me – although my career has been in computers I actually majored in Linguistics in college.  If you’re not familiar with what linguistics is – basically it’s the study of language – not any particular language but the study of the mechanics, building blocks, and psychology of language. So when I heard about this linguistic study that was done on the Book of Mormon I thought was intriguing.

So linguists have found that every person has a unique “wordprint” – basically a fingerprint of their particular writing style.  Every person has subconscious patterns of usage for non-contextual words – words like that and, the and, and and, to – they’re words that we use without really thinking and it’s nearly impossible to break those habits.  They’ve found that even people who are very conscientious about trying to imitate another person’s style still actually maintain their own wordprint.

The Book of Mormon presents an interesting case because it’s a book that has 100 individual speakers if it was translated and should therefore have 100 different wordprints.  So they took a sampling of texts from 24 Book of Mormon speakers and 9 texts from other speakers, including people like Joseph Smith who would be supposed alternate authors for the Book of Mormon.  Sure enough, they found unique wordprints for each of these different authors.  This is fascinating as it would be nearly impossible for a single person to really write in that many voices without their own wordprint bleeding through.

(Sidenote: there were some other fascinating discoveries in that study so if you have some time I’d highly recommend reading it)

After reading about this study I have been more attentive to seeing these stylistic differences between authors and it is interesting to me to see that each speaker in the Book of Mormon truly has their own unique style and personality similar to the modern Apostles in their conference talks. You start to get a feel for each of the individual Book of Mormon prophets as you separate out their writings and it’s fascinating to me to get to know them in this way.

I think this is such a blessing, even if you might not connect with what Nephi has to say, you might find that you really love the words of Alma or maybe King Benjamin.  I was thinking recently in a sacrament meeting what a blessing it is that we have a church where we get to hear different people speak each week and get a different perspective on the gospel rather than having a single pastor.  While I’m sure Bishop Peters could give us an excellent sermon every week I love that every person here has their own experiences with the gospel and different things that stick out to them and that we get to hear those perspectives.  I think this helps the gospel to be richer for all of us as we gain different insights through the eyes of different members of the ward each week.  It’s awesome that the Book of Mormon has this same plethora of perspectives to share with us rather than just one person’s interpretation of the gospel.

Every person you meet will have a different take on the gospel.  One of my best friends in college once put together a notebook for me that she filled with some of her very favorite quotes.  It was one of the sweetest gifts that someone has given me.  But when I got it I noticed something interesting – the quotes that spoke to her didn’t speak to me in the same way.  She had selected a lot of quotes that were lovely – they talked about things like you’re loved and beautiful and special – which is great.  However the quotes that I tend to take note of are really bold quotes – “the standard of truth has been erected, no unhallowed hand shall stop the work” type quotes.  Even though this was one of my very best friends the things that spoke to her and the things that spoke to me were very different. When you read through the Book of Mormon you find so many different styles and messages.  Just like it would be hard for Elder Holland to write an Elder Scott talk, I have a hard time believing that one person was able to come up with so many different spins on the gospel and craft such a detailed work.

Another interesting note is the geography of the Book of Mormon.  A few years back my mom read a book called Mormon’s Map which focused entirely on the geographical clues of the Book of Mormon.  As you read the Book of Mormon there are lots of references to different places and how people travelled between the places etc.  In making up a story it’s difficult to keep all the different places in the same places on a map consistently – honestly I’m very directionally challenged and I have a hard time keeping straight where real places are, let alone fictitious places.  My parents joked when I started driving that they couldn’t send me to drive up to BYU on my own because they’d get a call from me saying, “Mom, why are all these people speaking French?  I don’t remember having to cross the border to Canada to get to Utah?”  They were only halfway joking, I’m really that bad with directions.

Anyways, if you read the Book of Mormon and find all of the contextual clues for distances and locations you can actually plot out all of the locations on a map with some accuracy and it stays consistent.  So if from Zarahemla to Bountiful is a day’s journey for a Nephite, it stays that distance through other comparisons. If Sidon is east of Zarahemla it stays east throughout the entire book.  When they use the terms up and down to refer to elevation then the one city stays up and the other city stays down.

This sort of consistency would be nearly impossible to do consistently unless the places actually exist and in writing you don’t have to remember an invention but you’re just referencing where things are.  It’s natural to say something like “I went down to Provo” or “up to Salt Lake” because we know where those places are.  But if you were working off of places that you weren’t familiar with or were invented you would probably be less inclined to use those sorts of terms and would instead say something more like “I went to Bora Bora” which would still sound natural but you wouldn’t have to think through the details.

My mom decided after reading this book to try doing the study for herself – she found that there were SO many geographical tidbits woven into the story that she tried to keep up with them in a Google Document but found she couldn’t keep up through the whole book.  To have that many little details AND keep them consistent is pretty remarkable.

Elder Bednar shared an experience in a religion symposium at BYU Idaho.  He told about how as part of his work as a business professor he wrote books.  One particular book that he wrote was written with the help of a colleague.  He and his colleague were both highly educated and put tons of research into the book.  It was 650 pages long and between the two of them took 2 years to write.  He said this about that experience –

“With eight years of university training, with two years of very dedicated work, with an editorial staff, with personal computers, with spell checkers and thesauruses on-line, with the Internet and the other resources that are so readily available, when I picked up the book that I had written and opened it up, I still found mistakes….

Brothers and sisters, you could take a team of the brightest people on the earth, as large a team as you might want, with all of the support staff, all of the computer technology, and all of the assistance that you can imagine, and such a team could not produce one page of a Book of Mormon.”

I haven’t done any writing in my time that could anywhere near rival writing a book, however I love writing in my blog.  I know that for every post that I write I write it, and then I go through and I rewrite it a dozen times before I’m happy enough with it to publish it.  I consider my personal experience with writing to be just a glimpse of what it would take to write a book like the Book of Mormon.  Then consider Emma Smith’s personal testimony of the Book of Mormon

“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”

To keep all the details of a book as complex as the Book of Mormon straight in your head, as well as to be able to remember exactly where you left off in telling it aloud would be impossible.  To do all that without having to go back and revise things is a pretty strong testimony of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  As you read the Book of Mormon and notice all of the intricacies of the text and consider the ways it fits in with the Bible and other styles and histories – it’s pretty remarkable.  In April conference of 1996 Elder Dallin H. Oaks said –

“Overarching the Prophet Joseph’s entire ministry were his comparative youth, his superficial formal education, and his incredibly rapid acquisition of knowledge and maturity. He was 14 at the First Vision and 17 at the first visit from the angel Moroni. He was 21 when he received the golden plates and just 23 when he finished translating the Book of Mormon (in less than 60 working days).”

I’ve tried at times to really reason through the Book of Mormon and see if I can come up with any theory that adequately explains it – and even with vast conspiracies or anything else I’ve come up with – the only answer that makes sense is that Joseph Smith received the book in the manner he says he did.  As Joseph himself said of the book, it is the keystone of our religion.  If The Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and every other aspect of the gospel falls into line as being true.  If it’s not true, then nothing else in the gospel holds up and the entire work crumbles.

Elder George Q. Cannon said of the Book of Mormon, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”  I love this quote because it accurately describes how I feel about the Book of Mormon too.  I don’t know how to explain a book that claims to be of divine origin, a book that contains so much truth and changes lives for the better – without it actually being of that divine origin.

It’s similar to how I feel about those who say Jesus was just a good wise man, but not the Son of God.  You cannot accept Christ’s ministry without accepting his divinity.  If He was not indeed the very Son of God, then he was a deranged and very confused man for saying so and neither good nor wise, but evil for trying to deceive people. If the Book of Mormon is a good book then it has to be of good origins.

As Christ himself said both to the Israelites and the Nephites, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth for evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18)

What fruits has living by the Book of Mormon brought forth in your life?  Have you tried the experiment on the word?  Have you tried Alma’s challenge of “mourning with those that mourn” and “comforting those who stand in need of comfort”?  Have you stood up in seemingly impossible situations like the Sons of Helaman and found yourself protected?  Have you prayed to the Lord for direction in your life like the Brother of Jared and received an answer?  What results have you seen from living by the teachings in the Book of Mormon?  The wisdom of the Book of Mormon is not simply philosophies of men wrapped up in stories and fables.  The Book of Mormon is true, and it came forth the way Joseph claimed.  The result of living by its teachings is peace, direction and light, and results like that can only come from truth.

I want to share this excerpt from Elder Holland’s talk.  He shared the scripture that Hyrum Smith marked from the Book of Mormon as the last thing he read to his brother Joseph before their martyrdom.  Then followed up with this declaration –

“As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.”

Seriously, passages like that are why we love Elder Holland. 🙂 I like Elder Holland’s note that this is “one of a thousand elements of [his] own testimony.”  The research and studies and reasonings that I’ve shared with you are not my testimony of the Book of Mormon, they are simply small facets of my testimony.  In order to have a testimony you can’t stake your whole belief on one small aspect of the gospel, you have to dive in so that you have a thousand different pieces that make your faith immovable.

I went to high school in Southern California, where obviously Latter-day Saints are not the majority.  One day I was talking to one of my friends about some aspect of the gospel (I couldn’t even tell you what it was now) and afterwards I was thinking about what I’d just told her and I thought, “are you telling her things that are really true, or are you just mindlessly repeating things that other people have told you are true?”  The thought gave me serious pause.  I take my integrity very seriously – I didn’t want to be spouting off things that I didn’t know were true.   Almost immediately I realized – of course it is true.  I’d read the Book of Mormon, gone to church, studied the gospel and tried to live it – I could see how much happiness, peace, direction, and joy the gospel gave me and those who lived it, and how much of the opposite came from not living it.  I had tried the ‘experiment upon the word’ and I could see that it brings forth good fruit.

Like Elder Holland these are some of the thousand elements of my testimony – I know that the Book of Mormon is true.  Beyond academic analysis I know the Book is true because I’ve read it, I’ve tried to live it.  I’ve asked, as it says at the end of the book, if the words were true, and I have felt that witness for myself.  I know that as Joseph Smith said we “can get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.”  As I live the things I’ve learned in the Book of Mormon my life is enriched and I’m better for it.  The blessings of the gospel are not coincidental.  If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon and taken Mormon’s challenge yet – then do it.  Start today and get through the book.  The testimony and strength that you will gain from it will be priceless to you.

If you’re struggling with your testimony I would encourage you to go back to the Book of Mormon – re-read it.  Pick one thing that you want to add as a part of your testimony and study that.  As your testimony of the Book of Mormon is strengthened your testimony of other parts of the gospel will be strengthened.  Even if you don’t get the answers to the questions that you might be directly seeking, as you understand the gospel better as a whole you can let your worries wait until you’re able to get the answers you’re looking for.  for.  When I’ve had questions I’ve stopped and taken a step back and looked at the big picture of the gospel rather than focusing on whatever thing might be troubling me.  As I’ve started from an overall position that our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to be happy, and re-examine the plan of salvation and work my way down to the problem I generally find that things fall into place.  And if they don’t, I at least feel like I’m starting on solid ground and I can be patient and wait for those things to fall in place.

I bear testimony that Joseph Smith is a true prophet that the Lord sent to open this last dispensation and that through him the Book of Mormon has been delivered to us.  I know the Book of Mormon is true.  Take the challenge today, read the book and let it bless your life.

Why is Sunday the Sabbath?

Awesome Wonder by Greg Olsen

Awesome Wonder by Greg Olsen. Prints for sale at www.gregolsen.com.

Recently I was thinking about the Sabbath and trying to figure out why it is that we observe the Sabbath on Sunday in Christendom rather than on Saturday like the Jews. I’ve always been taught that we have the Sabbath because on the 7th day God rested from his labors of creating the world and so we take that same 7th day to rest from our labors. However, that doesn’t explain why our Sabbath is on a different day than the Jews’ – our religious traditions come from the same source so ostensibly 7 days from the beginning of creation should be reckoned the same in either faith. In America we don’t even pretend that Sunday was the 7th day and it is on our calendars as the first day of the week rather than the last.  I’ve often wondered why we couldn’t just agree as a global community that the Sabbath is either Saturday or Sunday and everyone could observe the same day worldwide and make it easier to live together.  It seemed like an arbitrary distinction to me anyways – so long as we were observing one day out of seven did it really matter which of those days it was?

I was pondering this while taking the sacrament a few weeks back and realized that what I’d been told about why Sunday is the Sabbath all my life was wrong. On Sunday we’re not resting to recognize the 7th day of creation when the Lord rested – clearly that happened on Saturday and the Jews continue that tradition to this day.  There must have been a completely different reason for this and I wanted to share my opinion on what that reason is.

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the disciples prepared for the Passover feast that week.  Passover was on Thursday and was observed in what we now refer to as the Last Supper.  Judas was excused from the celebration and went to find the men to whom he could betray our Savior.  Meanwhile Christ went with a few of his apostles to Gethsemane to suffer for the pains and sins of the world.  Just after that the guards came and arrested Jesus on accounts of treason.  He was beaten and questioned all that night and into the following morning.  On Friday, Pilate asked the Jews if they would have him release Barabbas or Jesus to them.  The Jews sentenced Jesus to crucifixion on Calvary and he was taken there and nailed to a cross to die.  In the afternoon the Jews were anxious for the men being crucified to die quickly so they could attend to the bodies before their Sabbath began. Their Sabbath began at sundown on Friday and would be observed through sundown on Saturday.  Attending to corpses on the Sabbath would be a violation of the Law of Moses.  So the soldiers broke the legs of the other two men so they could no longer hold up their weight with their legs and they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies more quickly (truly this was a barbaric way to be killed).  When the soldiers came to Jesus they found him already dead.  His disciples were given his body so they could hastily attend to his body before the Sabbath commenced.  Not to give a full and proper burial but at least to wrap the body and lay it in a tomb until they could attend to it after the Sabbath had finished.   On Saturday, the Sabbath, while they were surely mourning greatly for the loss of our Lord, the disciples focused on their worship and day of rest as they always had. It was the last time that day would mark the most remarkable event in the history of the world as the completion of the creation.

The following day – Sunday – it was no longer the Sabbath and so the disciples were able to return to the tomb to finish the burial they hadn’t been able to make on Friday.  They arrived at the tomb and found it empty – the Lord had risen.  This marked an occasion that surpassed the immensity of the reverence that they had for the creation.  I don’t know when the change was made, whether that day or many years later, but at some point the Christians must have realized that this was so momentous that it was worthy of changing the very foundations of our calendar structure.  No longer did they stop to worship their Lord simply for the blessing of the creation of the world, but they stopped to worship for his sacrifice and the miracle of his redemption.  We stop to remember the price that was paid for our sins, and that through Christ we can live again.

Sunday is the not the last day, it is the first day.  It is the first day of new life.  It marks the day when our Savior forsook the tomb and rose so that we could live again.  We don’t simply rest from our labors on Sunday, we stop and remember our Lord and all that He has done for us.  Of course, part of our Sabbath is still to be a day of rest – to set ourselves aside from the cares of the world and focus on higher things.  Surely there is nothing wrong with remembering the rest of our Lord after finishing the creation and to feel gratitude for all that we’ve been given.  But commemorating the creation is not why our Sabbath is on Sunday.  OnI  Sunday we remember the Son of God, and that like the sun He is risen, and has marked the path for us to rise again.

#HisDay

Hope on the Horizon by Greg Olsen. Prints for sale at www.gregolsen.com.

Hope on the Horizon by Greg Olsen. Prints for sale at www.gregolsen.com.

The Easter Miracle

On Thursday I saw on Facebook that the 18 month old son of one of my friends had been found face down in her dad’s pool unresponsive.  He had climbed out through a doggy door unnoticed.  Over the next 36 hours I followed closely on Facebook as updates were posted – he was moved to a children’s ICU and the doctors tried everything they could to help little George survive.  During that time his parents posted expressions of their faith with the hashtag #PrayingForEasterMiracle – they knew if it was the Lord’s will that their son could be spared.  Hundreds of people from around the globe were praying for that Easter Miracle for this very deserving family.  Sadly, this was not to be and George slipped into the eternities on Friday night.  Since George’s passing the family has posted an update that two Easter miracles did occur as a result of this tragedy – two of George’s heart valves were able to be transplanted into other children, giving them a new chance at life.

However, as I’ve been watching this I’ve been struck with the thought that the Easter miracle that they are participating in right now is THE Easter Miracle.  The miracle of Christ’s resurrection, that because of His sacrifice for all of us He has paved the way so that we can all live again.

The miracle that because this family is sealed they will be together forever.

The miracle that through this darkest of times the Lord will help get them through.

The miracle that because of Christ this is not the end for little George.

He lives.  Christ lives today and George lives today.  As much as we had hoped and prayed that George would be able to continue with his family, and as real and agonizing as the grief of his passing is, we can say with the angels – “He is not here, for he is risen.”  George is with people who love him, he is free from pain, and he is happy.  He will be missed dearly on this side of the veil until he can be reunited with his family again – but they WILL be reunited.

Christ lives, and because He lives we can all live again.  Hallelujah.

If anyone would like to contribute to help the Matthews family at this time a GoFundMe account has been set up and you can donate by clicking here.

Provo City Center Temple – Turning Destruction to Magnificence

provotemple3

Yesterday morning my family was able to go to the Provo City Center Temple Open House. After LDS temples are constructed but before they are dedicated for regular use they have open houses when people of any age or faith can have the opportunity to tour the temple and get a view of what happens inside.

My family at the temple open house - thanks kids for not making normal faces for the camera... that was really my hope.

My family at the temple open house – thanks kids for not making normal faces for the camera… that was really my hope.

Before we went I told my boys a little bit about the history of this temple.  The Provo City Center Temple was built using the exterior of the Old Provo Tabernacle which had been built a century ago by the early saints on the area.  The tabernacle had been used for many years for large church functions in the area – including a couple of General Conferences.  The building held a special place in my heart as I had attended several functions there during my time at BYU.  I remember going to a few choir concerts and stake conferences, but my most memorable experience was when I was engaged to Eric and we attended a stake conference where President Uchtdorf and his wife Harriet were the keynote speakers.  I don’t remember his exact message but I do remember the feeling of standing nearby as he exited and having the distinct feeling – “This man is an apostle of the Lord.”

On December 17, 2010 the building caught fire after some theater lights were stored incorrectly and when powered on created too much heat in a speaker box, which eventually set fire to the building.  I remember waking up on December 18th and being so sad to see that this beautiful building had been destroyed.  

The inside of the Provo Tabernacle after the fire - Picture courtesy of Provo Insider

The inside of the Provo Tabernacle after the fire – Picture courtesy of Provo Insider

Then in October Conference 2011 President Thomas S. Monson announced that the decision had been made to rebuild the Provo Tabernacle, but this time as a second temple for the city of Provo.  I will never forget the wave of emotion that hit me when he made that announcement.  I couldn’t stop crying for joy for at least 10 minutes, and considering the announcement over the next few weeks would bring me to tears again.  It’s been really cool to watch the progress as it’s been re-built.

As we went through the temple the thing that most struck me was the juxtaposition of the two events.  On December 18th as we looked at the tragedy and the ruins of this once beautiful building there was great mourning and loss.  What a horrible thing to have happen.  But then to see how from that great tragedy they were able to create such a beautiful new building – while still retaining many of the qualities of the old building.  The new temple is magnificent, and it was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to tour it – to see the beautiful stained glass, and furnishings and artwork.  The whole place is simply breathtaking.

As I pondered on this I thought about the way the Lord works with us in our own lives.  So many times as we’re going through trials it seems like the end of the world.  We feel like we’re being completely destroyed in a way that will never be made right again.  But somehow, on the other side, the Lord has takes that destruction to create something new and better than we could have even imagined.  He takes parts of us that we think are good and rebuilds them into something great.  It’s so hard to trust the Lord when it feels like our whole world is burning, but if we have faith and trust in him, He can make us too into something magnificent.

Provo City Temple, Image courtesy of LDS.org

Provo City Temple, Image courtesy of LDS.org

“Canst Thou Linger Still in Error’s Gloomy Ways?”

Yesterday in sacrament meeting we sang a hymn that I’ve always loved but for whatever reason today it really hit me in a different way. We sang “Israel, Israel, God is Calling”.  If you’re not familiar with it you can watch this YouTube clip of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing it, and I’ve included the lyrics below.

Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.

Israel, Israel, God is speaking.
Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!
Now a glorious morn is breaking
For the people of his choice.
Come to Zion, come to Zion,
And within her walls rejoice.

Israel, angels are descending
From celestial worlds on high,
And to man their pow’r extending,
That the Saints may homeward fly.
Come to Zion, come to Zion,
For your coming Lord is nigh.

Israel! Israel! Canst thou linger
Still in error’s gloomy ways?
Mark how judgment’s pointing finger
Justifies no vain delays.
Come to Zion, come to Zion!
Zion’s walls shall ring with praise.

For whatever reason when I’ve heard this in the past I’ve heard the words as a rebuke.  Sort of an “oh you terrible sinners, get out of Babylon and come to Zion.”  Today however there were different words that struck me and the song took on an entirely different meaning.  Listen to the words of the song- “God is calling thee from lands of woe“.  God doesn’t want us to live in “lands of woe” he wants us to have peace.  “Israel! Israel!  Canst thou linger, still in error’s gloomy ways?”  How silly does it sound to reject peace and joy in favor of “lands of woe” and “error’s gloomy ways”.  We know that “wickedness never was happiness”, and it’s true.  When we neglect the paths of righteousness our lives are no longer filled with joy – they become woeful and gloomy.  When God is calling he’s not calling us home to punish us for having done wrong things.  He’s calling us home to get us out of bad situations.  He wants what’s best for us and He is calling us for our happiness.  I think sometimes we have this punishment mentality that God wants us to suffer for our sins.  But that’s not true, God wants us to overcome our weaknesses and have joy!

But listen to what we’re promised if we “come to Zion” – “Zion’s walls shall ring with praise.”  It doesn’t say – “and once you get here, whoo boy are you going to get it!”  God loves you, He loves you right now no matter where you’re at, no matter what you’re doing.  He loves YOU.  He wants you to come home, to be where you can have Zion’s walls ring with praise!  Christ doesn’t want you to suffer for your sins, that’s the whole point of the Atonement, He paid for your sins and He wants you to come, be made clean, and partake in the joy of righteous living.  “Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!… Come to Zion and within her walls rejoice!”  Everything about this song speaks of leaving behind sadness for joy.  This is what the gospel is about, this is the gospel of JOY not the gospel of being punished.  The commandments are a blessing, and when we live them we are blessed not just for living them but in the living of them!

I love the picture at the top of this post.  I believe the artist intended it to be a picture of Christ reaching out to Peter as he has gone under the water from his lack of faith.  I think though that all of us are like Peter – under the waters of this world.  Christ is reaching out to us to pull us back above the surface.  Won’t you take His hand rather than sitting and drowning?  Won’t you come to Zion and rejoice?

Image courtesy of the LDS Missionaries Facebook page

Hiking Through Life’s Trials

Maeli hikeThis past Tuesday I went on a hike with our ward’s Cub Scout Pack.  One of my current callings is as Cub Scout Committee Chair and Eric serves as our ward’s Cubmaster, so even though we don’t have any cub scouts in our family yet we are very involved with the organization.  Every year we’re supposed to organize a hike, which we’d intended to do back in May, however our original hike got rained out so we postponed it until this past week.  Luckily where we live we are close to lots of great hiking trails so it wasn’t too hard to come up with a great hike.

Tuesday turned out to be a very busy day for me because there was a field trip organized at the Discovery Gateway Museum for homeschooling families which I wanted to attend with my kids.  We ended up going from there straight to In ‘N Out for dinner, then to Walmart to pick up a snack for the cub scouts, and then immediately to the trail head to meet up with the scouts.  I hadn’t definitively decided if I was going to brave taking my 3 kids on the hike or just wave the scouts off.  We ended up having plenty of adult leaders show up but the kids were excited about going on the hike so we decided to at least start out and I knew that I could head back at any time if it became too much for them.

Unfortunately because I hadn’t made it back home and hadn’t fully planned to take my kids on this hike I hadn’t brought our hiking backpack with us. So I was stuck carrying my 19 month old Maeli on my hip – extra awesome since my back has been acting up a little lately.  We quickly fell behind but I wasn’t too concerned.  As we started out I put her down and she would walk some of the way, but then she’d stop every few feet and find a rock and say, “Oh, this is a rock!  Oh, this is a rock!”  Hiking is pretty slow going when you get excited about every little pebble on the trail.  Normally I’d indulge this excitement, but since we were hiking with a larger group, and we were cutting it close on time to get the hike finished before dark anyways, I couldn’t let her stop to look at all of the rocks and carried her along the way.

On the way up to the falls I did pretty well carrying her.  Then one of my friends took over and carried her for a little while and then she was handed off to Eric who carried her the remainder of the way to the falls.  After we rested at the falls and had our snack we started down a different trail to get home.  I took Maeli back so that Eric could lead the cub scouts and we quickly fell behind again.  After being carried for so long Maeli started insisting that she would walk all by herself.  She would say “Oh, this is a walk!” and did a pretty good job hiking on her own for her age.  She did better on the way back about not stopping to comment on each individual rock, but 19 month olds do not walk exceedingly fast.  I tried to carry her but every time I picked her up she would flail around like a fish out of water and say “whoa! whoa! whoa! whoa!” until I would put her down.  She fell down on the trail a lot.  But she refused to be carried by me, or by any of the other adults.  She did let me pick her up whenever a bicyclist came down the trail and I would take advantage of those opportunities to walk with her as quickly as I could and get her as far as possible before she started flailing again.  I really wanted to just carry her and get us back to the trail head before it became dark but our progress was slower with her fighting me than it was just letting her walk so we went slowly on.

Maeli rubbing her knees on the trail.

Maeli stopping on the trail to rub her poor banged up little knees. She would stop like this every so often, but adamantly refused to let me pick her up.

Unfortunately because we weren’t taking the same trail back as we’d taken out, and we’d fallen behind, there were a few times when I was concerned that we might get lost.  I am exceptionally good at getting lost, even if I really stop and try to think things through I just seem to have a talent for picking exactly the wrong direction.  Luckily I had my cell phone and I was able to call Eric at one of the junctures and ask him to clarify which trail I was supposed to be taking.  At another point I was able to ask a bicyclist going the opposite direction if he had seen the group as he’d come down the trail and he was able to confirm that he had.  The trail head was right next to the Draper Utah Temple, and as I turned around a corner I was able to see the temple and knew that even if I hadn’t picked exactly the right trail, I was at least heading in the right direction.  As we got a little further down the trail I heard some of the other leaders calling my name and they waited until we caught up to them so that we weren’t alone on the trail and they continued with us for most of the rest of the hike.  We did make it back to the trail head just before it was fully dark and I really enjoyed the chance to be out in nature and enjoying Heavenly Father’s creations with my children.

While we were hiking I thought of some analogies that I could draw from the experience.  The most interesting one to me was watching Maeli on the hike.  She was doing something that clearly she was not qualified for.  I didn’t bring her on a 3 mile hike because I thought that a 19 month old should be able to do that on her own.  I brought her with the intention that I would help her along the way, and that she would be given ample assistance by me and the other adults.  At first she accepted that help for the most part and we were able to get her through what was the easier part of the journey.  Then she refused assistance for most of the more difficult part of the journey.  Instead she would fall and sit and rub her banged up knees while we were standing there willing and wanting to help her get through the hike without too much more pain and suffering.  Because she was going so slowly we all fell behind and barely made it back before it would have been too late.

As I watched this it made me think about all of us here on earth.  Sometimes we are faced with challenges that are enormous – far outside our capacity to do it on our own.  Our Heavenly Father puts those challenges before us, but he also puts a support system around us to help us through it.  How often do we refuse the assistance of others because “Oh, this is a walk!” or as we might say “No, I need to do this on my own.  This is my challenge and I will do it myself.”  I wonder if the Lord looks at us and says, “You ninny!  I didn’t want you to do it on your own.  You don’t need you to do it on your own… that’s why I put all that support system around you!”  He doesn’t intend for us to get through this life on our own, he wants us to do it with the help of our family, friends, church leaders, co-workers, neighbors, random people on the street.  Why do we insist on doing things ourselves while our family and friends stand by wanting to help us, but instead force them to watch us as we fall down and bang up our knees and sit there and cry?  There is no shame in getting help from other people.  You don’t get points docked in some cosmic final exam for taking hands that are outstretched to you.  In fact, I think one of the great objectives on that test is to see if we will work together with others.  Plus, it’s good for them if they can help you to get off the trail to where you’ll be able to work towards your next goal instead of keeping them back on the trail with you.  Our friends and family will no more abandon us in the trials of our life than I would have left Maeli there on the trail to get back on her own.  If you’re going through hard times, please accept help from those who are reaching out to you.  The important thing is to get to the end of the trail and then be able to help others – don’t get caught up in thinking you ought to do it alone, you were never meant to do it alone.

The other thing that made me think was all of the different ways we were able to receive guidance to know that we were on the right trail.  I think when we are looking for direction in our life we can do a lot of the same things.  I was able to use my cell phone to get guidance – and we can seek inspiration through prayer.  I was able to ask a bicyclist on the same trail for his knowledge – we can counsel with who are passing through life with us for their help.  My friends called for me and waited for me – we can lean on the support of friends and family that are watching out for us.  My friends set another example for me .  We should also try to be like those leaders and watch for those who may have fallen behind or could be lost.  We are our brother’s keeper and we will be responsible for having done all we could to help them along the path – who do you need to call out to and help bring them safely home?  Most importantly, we need to be sure our focus is always on the temple.  If at the checkpoints in your life you can see that your journey is bringing you closer to Christ then you know you’re on the right path.  Keep going and keep working towards it and the light of Christ will guide you home.