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.

Remembering Kayson – One Year Later

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

-Robert Browning Hamilton

I saw this poem today on my friend’s Facebook wall and felt compelled to share some thoughts I had.  Yesterday marks one year since sweet Kayson Shelton left this life.  In that time I feel like I have grown and changed so much and I wanted to share some of that experience here.

11059640_727313894045317_8277095925628015509_n

On June 6, 2014 I was at home with my family and we were getting ready to eat dinner.  My sister was over with her son and my brother was over too, we were just about ready to head up to the local swimming pool for a fun evening before a trip to California the next day.  Just as we were about to pray over the food Eric pulled me aside.  He told me he’d just received a text that the Shelton’s son had just passed away in an accident.  My first reaction was just “oh, how sad” without much feeling behind it – like this was something that had happened to someone far away that I didn’t know very well. I gathered the family for a blessing on the food and prepared to go on with our evening.  For whatever reason it takes me a little while to fully react to things like this.  As I stood there a minute longer while we were praying it really started to hit me what had happened, Kayson – the little boy who I’d seen just a week before, my son’s friend, my friend’s son – was gone.  Suddenly I started to cry, hopeless, helpless tears of sorrow.  I was imagining what Toni was going through, what she was explaining to her children.  I could see myself in her shoes trying to grapple with such a loss.  It was so overwhelming.

I went down the street to talk to my visiting teaching companion (Toni was one of the sisters we were assigned to watch over) and met a neighbor at the door.  I cried with our neighbor, and then cried some more with my companion. I went home, took Maeli upstairs with me and just cried and cried some more.  I walked into my closet and cried, I nursed Maeli and cried.  I sent Toni a text feeling so inadequate but needing to do *something*, and I cried some more.  I tried to think through what I could do but since the Sheltons were in another state I felt at a total loss.  So I put on my swim suit and cried.  I called my mom to tell her what had happened, and cried.  We drove up to the swimming pool and luckily Maeli had fallen asleep so I just sat with her on my chest, on a beach chair with my sunglasses on and cried.  We came back home and I started trying to pack for our own trip to California and cried some more.

A couple hours later, as the news had spread through the neighborhood and we’d gotten our boys to bed, I saw a gathering of neighbors at the Shelton’s house.  I didn’t know what they were doing or what I could do, but I had to be with them.  So I walked down the street and hugged my friends, and cried.  We saw Toni’s facebook post with her last picture of Kayson telling us that his last words in this life were “I love you” and we cried some more.  We sprang into action to find things that we could do for the Sheltons, but since it was late at night most of those plans would have to wait until morning.  We said goodnight to our friends and walked home.  I sat on our couch and put together a memorial website for Kayson and my head was throbbing from crying so much and there were no more tears left in me, but still I cried as I put pictures and memories of him together to share with the world.

The next day we packed to go to California.  I hated to be leaving during a time of crisis , but I knew there wasn’t much I could do there.  I did what I could to be part of the service projects before we left – I made a freezer meal, helped with care packages, fielded website inquiries, and cried some more – then we packed up the car and left.   I cried periodically the whole way to California.  Then we got there and I cried some more with my mom.  On Sunday I attended church in my parents ward and just sobbed violently for most of the meetings.  I received hugs and support from people who had known me since I was a young woman, and the families in my parents ward cried with me.

The next week was filled with media inquiries as the news caught wind of Kayson’s story.  I cried as I responded to emails.  I had put together an online fundraiser and was touched as I watched donations roll in from all over the world.  My phone was beeping incessantly and my mom commented on it.  I told her that I received an email every time someone made a donation.  I was so grateful for all those beeps and dings.  So much of my faith in humanity was built as I watched how people rallied around this family.  And I cried some more.  We came back for the funeral and cried and cried and cried.

The next several months consisted of frequent periods of crying.  I would watch any Mormon Message and cry.  I would see my kids playing and think of Toni and cry.  I would be doing dishes and start crying.  Little kids are not supposed to die, that’s just not the way I felt this world is supposed to work.  Obviously I knew that little kids could die, but that happened on the news, to people far away from me.  Not to my neighbor.  Not to my friend.  Suddenly my own children were much more mortal than I could handle.  I found myself checking multiple times during the night that they were still breathing and not wanting to go to sleep lest I wake up and find one of them gone.  All I wanted to do was to snuggle up close with my family and never ever let them go.

Going through this experience I felt like there was a part of me that was broken that could never be fixed again.  It was too much, the pain was too big.  However, as the time went by I cried hourly for days, daily for several weeks, several times a week for a few months and then several times a month.  Slowly I found myself able to look at my children without a feeling of terror that they would slip away at any moment.  I still cry sometimes, but that soul wrenching pain that I felt has passed somewhat.  My overwhelming grief was able to be replaced by a tenderness in my soul that won’t go away, but it’s not broken anymore.  The tenderness is a good thing, it’s a new part of who I am, I’ve been re-made into a more kinder, more loving, more compassionate person.

I just felt the need to share this experience and reiterate my testimony of the atonement.  It is so very very real.  It can take the things that you think can never be fixed, never be made clean, never be healed, and somehow – it heals them.  Our Father in Heaven loves us, dearly.  He is there for us when we have reasons to cry, and he cries with us.  He sends others to help us in those times of despair, and we can be made whole again.  I truly am grateful for this opportunity that I’ve had to walk a mile with sorrow.  I have learned and grown in ways that I couldn’t have any other way.  It might not be an experience I would wish for, but it’s certainly one I will cherish.  I just want to say thank you to Toni and Scott for letting me be a small part of this experience, it has touched my life and changed me for the better, and I know it’s done the same for many others as well.

Temple Symbols

cover

Last June my mom shared with me a booklet she was putting together for their stake youth conference.  I thought it was awesome and asked if I could share it on my blog.  She sent me the files and it has sat in my inbox for nearly a year waiting for me to post it.  I decided it was finally time for me to get around to posting it.

The booklet was for the youth to be given to conduct a self-guided tour of the temple grounds.  The booklet points out some of the different symbols they would encounter.  My mom was asked to be careful not to give specific meanings for the symbols as symbols can have many layers of interpretation.  If you give someone a concrete “this is what this symbol means” it takes away their opportunity to discover the meaning for themselves and also might remove some of the incentive to try to work out other possible meanings.  So the booklet contains quotes, scriptures and questions which might help people find some interpretations for the symbols.  For me it was really helpful just to have some symbols pointed out as symbols.  For instance, I’d never thought of the fence as being anything more than a fence to even consider that it might have symbolic significance.

This booklet was made specifically for the Los Angeles Temple, but if you go to any temple you will find many of these symbols in other temples.  We tried to go through and make sure there were pictures and information so that if you are unable to go to the Los Angeles temple you can still learn from reading it.  I think anyone who is trying to get more out of the symbolism of the temple can gain some insight from reading this.

Most of the quotes are from General Authorities and can be found at LDS.org, but one article that is referenced a few times is Symbols in Sacred Architecture and Iconongraphy by Camilian Demetrescu from The Institute for Sacred Achitecture.  There are also a couple references from Studies in Biblical and Semitic Symbolism by Maurice H. Farbridge as well as Temples to Dot the Earth by Richard O. Cowan.  These are all excellent resources if you’re looking to deepen your understanding of the symbols found in the temple.

You are welcome to redistribute this provided you leave the credit on the back cover in tact.  I’m providing several different files to make distribution easy.  First I have the printable files.  The booklet was made to be half pages front and back.  We’ve worked out the pages in order so that you can print the file with the front sides and then the file with the back sides and have it be pretty straightforward.  I’ve also included a pdf with all of the pages in order so that you can easily read it on your computer (or print it whatever other fancy way you’d like).

We would love any feedback on the booklet.  Let us know what symbols you’d missed before or any insights that you’ve gained.  We hope this helps you draw closer to the Savior in your temple worship.

Be Kind

bekind

The quote at the beginning of this post is something that’s been on my mind frequently over the past year – “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.  I’ve seen this quote in the past and thought, “sure, some people are fighting really hard battles, but there are people who really just have it easy.  Maybe more people than I think are facing something hard, but not literally everyone.”  However, over the past year I feel like I have gotten to know more of people’s challenges.  Just out of the people I know here are some of the struggles I’ve been privvy to in the last several months – cancer, death of a loved one, infertility, feelings of inadequacy, divorce, depression, loss of faith, separation from children, illness, difficult pregnancies, rebellious children, anxiety, job loss, money problems, unfulfilled dreams, loneliness, moving from home, fear, sleep deprivation, debt, and abuse.  That’s a weighty list, and for most of those trials I can name more than one person who has recently faced it.  Moreover, if I think carefully through people I know well I can come up with something each one of them is facing that is difficult, and I’m sure there are many more inner struggles that I am completely unaware of.

As I’ve contemplated this the reality of the quote finally registered and I have come to realize how true it is.  E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Yes, that person who cut you off in traffic.  Yes, your neighbor who seems to have it all together.  Yes, the friend who always has a smile on their face.  I don’t care how well you think you know the person or how easy you might think they have it, each person is fighting a hard battle in some aspect of their life, whether you know about it or not.  This realization has reminded me of a quote from a recent talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect.

Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not. (emphasis added)

I know there are people that seem to have things so easy, but as you get closer to them you will find there is something they are actively struggling with.   Trials are an integral part of our life here on earth. They are the experiences that help us grow, and everyone is growing in one way or another.  I wanted to share one of my own experiences that I think illustrates this.

Those of you who follow my husband’s blog may know that he mentioned a bout he had with depression.  If you know Eric that revelation was probably something that surprised you.  Eric is positive, driven and bright – not exactly a poster child for depression, and before he posted about it almost no one knew what he’d been going through.  However, he was feeling undervalued in his position at work.  It was demoralizing for him to have to prove and reprove his worth and to fight tooth and nail to keep his projects going every single day.  Understandably it got to him, and he started to escape his frustrations by spending a lot of his time playing computer games.  Just to have an arena where he could feel more successful.  Gradually, he sunk further and further into depression and even when he was home I saw less and less of him.  Despite my best attempts to try and help him, he withdrew into himself and I was at a loss for how I could help.

Meanwhile, even I misunderstood what he was dealing with.  I underestimated his struggles at work knowing that he loved what he’d been hired to do, and thinking that balanced out his frustrations.  However I was keenly aware of the changes in his behavior, though I tried to keep them between us.  Not understanding the real cause I attributed his depression to the wrong things.  Since what I observed was mostly him withdrawing from me I assumed I must have been the problem – that his life with me wasn’t what he’d hoped it would be and he preferred his computer as an escape from the poor choice he’d made to marry me.  I felt hurt, alone, and like I had no control to make things better.  I began to sink into a bit of a depression of my own.  Just like I misunderstood Eric’s struggles he misunderstood mine and we were both unable to help one another.

Eventually we were both able to work through these challenges and we’re stronger now for having gone through them.  But the point of that story is that here we were living in the same house, truly loving one another, and each suffering inwardly.  Somehow even with the love we had for one another, we missed what the other person was going through.  It amazes me that – even with the time we would spend together, as much as we would talk to one another and as much as we loved each other – we still missed the battles playing out right in front of our eyes.  After that experience I’ve come to realize just how easily other people’s challenges can be hidden from view while things seem fine on the surface.  Or how easily we can attribute someone’s actions to the wrong things.  I’ve learned to not assume I know what another person is experiencing and try to show compassion unconditionally.

Another thing I’ve come to realize is the need for compassion for people who struggle with something that might not seem major to me.  I’ve read a lot of blog posts about the things you shouldn’t complain about.  You shouldn’t complain about how hard your pregnancy is because there are people struggling with infertility.  You shouldn’t complain about infertility because there are people who long for marriage.  You shouldn’t complain about not being married because there are people stuck in an abusive relationships.  The examples I’ve seen go on and on.  To this kind of thinking I want to again quote President Dieter F. Uctdorf

When it comes to [judging others], please apply the following:

Stop it!

It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin [or experience trials] differently than you.”

It’s easy to look at someone else’s trials and think how much more difficult our own challenges seem to us.  Of course, it could almost always be worse and we should always try to be grateful in our circumstances.  But putting someone else’s difficulties down because it doesn’t seem as hard as what you’re facing is ridiculous and helps no one.  I struggle with children who are not fantastic sleepers – not the biggest problem that anyone’s ever faced, but it’s one of mine.  I have heard people say things like, “you should just be grateful that you have children.”  They’re not wrong, and the truth is, I am grateful for my children and I don’t begrudge them the many sleepless nights.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that I am tired and sometimes I need someone to just give me a hug and tell me that I’m going to make it to bedtime.  Belittling my exhaustion because it could be something worse isn’t helpful.

Construing any person’s suffering as illegitimate doesn’t help people with seemingly worse trials, and it certainly doesn’t help the person in front of you.  We all need to be careful not to fall into the kind of thinking that says people only deserve our sympathy if their struggles weigh in greater than our own on some cosmic scale.  This is nonsense!  Do you think our Savior looks down on us and says, “Well, you’re only dealing with the trials of one single person.  I took on ALL the suffering of every person who has ever lived, you big baby.  Go whine to someone else.”? NO!  Christ took upon him all these things so that he could help us even in small things.  If He doesn’t put us down for struggling with small things then we certainly have no room to put down one another.  One of my favorite quotes comes from a talk given by Marvin J. Ashton back in 1992, he said,

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.

If we want to become like the Savior then we need to stop trying to judge other people’s actions based on what we think we know of them.  We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt that their struggles are real, whether they makes sense to us or not.  We need to let them manage their trials as best as they can and be there to support them in any way possible.  No matter how trivial their trials might seem to us.  Our judgement of their trials doesn’t matter, what matters is how we respond to them in their need.

I recently watched a beautiful example of someone who already does this.  As my readers know, my dear friend Toni lost her sweet son Kayson in the middle of last year.  Recently, I was sitting with her and another friend as our friend was expressing her frustration with parenting a difficult son.  Toni could have snapped back, “You should just be grateful that you still have him here, don’t you know what I would give to be going through those difficulties right now instead of the one I have?”  Instead I watched as she sat there and lovingly commiserated about the difficulties of parenting, offering advice and support.  Our friend said something about how trivial her trial was and Toni graciously responded that it didn’t matter how big the trial was, it was what she was struggling with and that made it legitimate.  Helping a friend didn’t increase her grief or do anything to belittle what she was going through.  It merely gave her an opportunity to show love for a friend, and you can’t show love for someone without feeling its glow yourself.  When we help lift other people’s burdens our own become lightened, not heavier.

Can we all commit to trying a little harder, to being a little kinder?  Recognize that we don’t know – and can’t know – all the things that another person is dealing with.  Let us find ways to lift each other up in our trials.  Let us stop comparing and trying to “one up” other’s troubles.  Let us be kind.

Walking With the Women in the New Testament

A couple years back a friend of mine posted a link to a blog post about modesty, particularly the author’s experience in the Middle East and wearing a hijab.  I was so impressed with the author’s perspective that I decided to poke around the blog a little more.  I read another post on spiritual promises and infertility which I immediately had to share with a friend struggling with that particular trial.  I read this post about the significance of wearing veils which blew my mind and gave me a lot to think about over my following trips to the temple.  I quickly became hooked and Eric got used to coming home to me being totally excited about some new insight that I’d gleaned from her blog.

So, what is this blog?  It’s called Women in the Scriptures and the premise is this – how many women would you guess are mentioned in scriptures?  Go ahead and take your guess, I’ll wait.  My original guess had been maybe as many as 50, if you looked really hard.  I’ve long been of the camp that women are not mentioned frequently enough in the scriptures, was that what you’d thought too?  Turns out, we were wrong.  Heather (the author of Women in the Scriptures) went through her scriptures and marked every time that a woman was mentioned in the scriptures.  The real answer? 556.  I was amazed when I read that, how did I not know that there were that many women in the scriptures??  I’ve been reading the scriptures my whole life and I’d never noticed many, could there be that many?

It opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on the scriptures.  Instead of reading the scriptures with a chip on my shoulder that there weren’t any women in them, I started looking for the women.  Suddenly the women were popping out of everywhere.  None of the scriptures were written by women, but they factor into the stories more often than you might realize.  All at once I saw mothers, sisters, aunts, maids, queens, prophetesses – how had I not seen them before?

A couple weeks ago Heather released a new book called – Walking With the Women in the New Testament, a book which focuses in depth on the stories of each of the women who are mentioned in the New Testament.  When she sent out a request for people to participate in a blog tour I jumped at the chance!  I knew this would be a book that I would need to share with all of you.

I was so excited when I received my copy in the mail.  After reading all the great insights  in her blog I knew it was going to be great.  But something about the book surprised me.  I brought the book with me one Friday afternoon to the church while I waited for Sam to go through his primary program practice.  I figured it would be a good time to sit and read through some of the book.  As I sat in the foyer with my book, my three-year old son came over and asked me to read it to him.  At first I sort of put him off, this wasn’t really a “kids” book, but he insisted.  So he plopped down on my lap and I let him point to a name in the table of contents.  I figured he would sit with me for a few sentences and then run off to go play in the nursery.

He chose “The Widow Who Gave Two Mites”.  We turned to that story and I gave him a simplified version of the story first and then started reading to him what was in the book.  I hadn’t wanted the book for the pictures (as you may have gathered from the wordiness of most of my posts – I’m a words person more than a pictures person) but the beautiful artwork convinced Danny that this book was for him too.  Instead of a “kids” book that might have given him a very superficial understanding of this story, he sat and listened to some pretty meaty insights about how Jesus brought his message to both men and women, and how we should give up all to serve Him, and that He sees and knows our needs even when we feel insignificant.  Wow.  I’ve read this story many times before and I’d always thought it was meaningful, but I had never gotten all of that out of it!  I sat in the foyer with tears in my eyes from just the experience of that one story.  But more importantly, Danny sat there and listened to it, and was eating it all up.  I expected that this book would give me some good insights but I hadn’t imagined that at such a young age it would be influencing my young son.  This truly isn’t a book about women just for women, it is a message about some of the sometimes overlooked players within the scriptures with a message for everyone.

I haven’t yet read all of the stories, but I have been thoroughly enjoying reading them one at a time and really savoring the deeper messages of stories that I’d never thought much of, or hadn’t even noticed.  I used to think that there should be more women in the scriptures so that I could learn from their stories as they would be more relatable to myself as a woman.  Now I’m thinking maybe there aren’t more because I haven’t learned what those that are there have to teach me!

So, if you’re getting ready for your Christmas shopping and not sure what to get for your mom, sister, daughter, grandma, aunt, wife, girlfriend… or your dad, brother, son, grandpa, uncle, husband or boyfriend, this would be a great gift for anyone.  What better gift at Christmas than the opportunity to delve deeper into the scriptures and learn lessons that will draw you closer to the Savior?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for reviewing it, but all opinions are my own. 

What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas?

When I was a little girl I remember every year being excited to sit on Santa’s lap, tell him what a good girl I’d been and ask for something special for Christmas.  I loved watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  My parents didn’t make a huge deal of Santa but he was still an integral part of our Christmas celebrations.  When I was in fourth grade my friends started to tell me that Santa Claus wasn’t real, that it was just my parents who bought the gifts.  In all honesty, I think I knew logically by then that was true, but it didn’t bother me too much.  I still loved the idea of Santa Claus and chose to keep believing anyways because he was part of the magic of my Christmases and I didn’t want to give it up.

Now, a full two decades later I find myself on the other side of the Santa Claus celebration.  Instead of believing in Santa Claus – I am Santa Claus for my three sweet children.  I love that part of Christmas where I now have the chance to prepare surprises for Christmas morning for which I will not take credit.  I love trying to find something that will make my kids eyes light up on Christmas morning and bring joy into their hearts.  Even though I want their Christmas to be Christ-centered, I feel like the tradition of Santa Claus can turn their minds, and mine to the Savior.

However, I have been troubled by the first question that my kids are asked this season by almost every adult they see at this time of the year, “What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas?”  Since I’ve already claimed that I really do love the tradition of Santa Claus so much, how can this bother me?  It’s an innocent question and it is fun to see the things that kids are excited about for Christmas morning.   But I feel like it places too much emphasis on the wrong part of Christmas for young minds.

Earlier this week a friend posted this article by Jen Hatmaker called The Christmas Conundrum.  In it she describes her experience as a pre-teenager being totally disillusioned by finding out that the presents she received on Christmas morning weren’t what she expected, and how it ruined her whole Christmas.  She goes on to say how sad it is that her Christmas was completely defined by material things with no actual thought of the real meaning of the season – the birth of Christ.

I don’t think we’ll be going to her extreme of cutting out Santa from Christmas entirely, but I do want to help my kids from a young age be more aware of the real meaning of Christmas, rather than the consumerism aspects.  While I like knowing what my kids want for Christmas I’ve never had them sit down and make Christmas lists, or badgered them for what they want most.  We’ve gone to visit Santa Claus (although with very little success getting our boys to sit on his lap so far) and we’ll talk a little about things they might like, but I really try to focus on other parts of Christmas.  I try to find ways to read Christmas stories with them, or sing songs, or serve others, rather than expending too much of their energy on what they want to get from Christmas.  In addition to taking the focus away from Christ, I think focusing on what you’re hoping to get sets kids up for disappointment.  If you have high hopes of getting the 5 things on your Christmas list and you only get 4 of them then you’ll be sad.  But if your focus is on other things than yourself then anything you get is just a sweet surprise.  I would like to suggest some alternate questions that we could pose to young children that would help bring the focus back to our Savior and less on Santa Claus.

  1. What are you going to give this year for Christmas? I will never forget listening to this inspired talk by President Monson back in 1995 called Christmas Gifts, Christmas Blessings which he gave at the Christmas Devotional that year.  He suggested rather than asking what someone got for Christmas we should ask what they gave for Christmas.  Quite often we put a lot of thought into what we’re giving different people for Christmas and it’s much more exciting to focus on how we’re hoping to make someone else’s life brighter.  I think if we try to ask this question to kids it will help them to want to do things for other people and be a little more selfless rather than selfish.
  2. Do you love the Christmas music at this time of year?  What song is your favorite? Yes, you might still get answers that are more about presents and snow and jingle bells, but the music at Christmas time is inspiring to the soul.  There is a joy in that music that helps bring in the spirit of the season better than almost anything else.  You can even take that chance as an opportunity to share your favorite Christmas song too, maybe one that bears a small testimony of the Savior.
  3. Who are you spending Christmas with? I’ve heard people say before that the meaning of Christmas isn’t to be with family, but I think that’s baloney.  Our Savior died so that we can be with our families forever, so what more fitting way to celebrate His birth than by spending time strengthening those family relationships?  Children will get excited at the thought of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, or even just having a day or two extra at home with their mom or dad off work.
  4. What is your favorite part of Christmas? I’m sure many children will respond with an answer of Santa Claus or presents, but it opens the door for you to include your favorite part of Christmas too.  Whether that’s serving others, or the love people show at this time of year, or Christmas music.  Even if their initial answer isn’t part of the real meaning of Christmas I think it’s a good way to at least suggest to their minds that there’s more to this season than just presents under a tree or in a stocking.
  5. Does your family have any Christmas traditions that you love?  When I was growing up my family had the tradition that on Christmas Eve we would all get a new pair of Christmas pajamas that we would wear to bed that night and then we’d stay in them all day on Christmas.  For whatever reason that always seemed like such a treat to me when I was younger, and that day spent at home, with my family, in our PJs is still one of my favorite memories of Christmas time.

It takes a little creativity, but I think we can find ways to help our kids turn their focus from Santa to Christ.  I’ll try to post some more traditions and suggestions to help your family’s Christmas be more Christ-centered this year.  But for now I’ll leave you with this one challenge – as you try to engage the kids you see in talks about Christmas, will you try to find ways to bring their focus away from Santa and towards our Savior?


What other questions could we be asking our kids instead of Santa questions?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!  Leave them in the comments below 🙂

#HappyBirthdayKayson

10275340_10204145903667057_4723156078347662482_o

Most of you will remember a little over 4 months ago when I posted about the death of our neighbor’s little boy Kayson.  Tomorrow (Tuesday, October 14, 2014) would have been his 3rd birthday.  In commemoration of his birthday his family is asking that anyone who can do some act of service for someone else.  It doesn’t have to be anything big – make a freezer meal for someone, help someone asking for money, go pick up some trash at a park – just something to make the world a brighter place in memory of a child who was full of light.

If you do something I’d love for you to post it on your social media or in the comments below.  Post it with the hashtag #HappyBirthdayKayson.  At the end of the week I will try to gather all the comments, tweets, Instagrams, and Facebook posts that I can get at and compile them for the Sheltons.  Even if you don’t want to post what you did, you could just post “Served for Kayson #HappyBirthdayKayson”  If you don’t feel comfortable even doing that, you can also email me and I’d be happy to include what you did anonymously.

Happy Birthday Kayson!  Thank you for the two and a half years that you shared with us on this earth.  We love and miss you, but you are not forgotten <3

Following Spiritual Promptings

I know I’ve promised to post about my testimony on Fast Sundays, but this post has been rattling around in my head and my heart for the past couple weeks and I needed to write it first.  So while this post will still share a portion of my testimony and explain a little bit of “Why I Believe”, it’s more of a theological pondering than a testimony.  If you’re really itching for a testimony post you can read Part 1 and Part 2 of that series at those links.  I’ll try to resume those posts with next Fast Sunday… unless I have something else I’m itching to write about 😉

Whenever I watch General Conference the stories that touch me most are always those about the small spiritual promptings that someone received and followed that shows in a small and personal way that Heavenly Father is aware of each of us.  One of my favorite recent stories of such a prompting came from President Monson’s talk during the Relief Society General Broadcast this past October.  He told the story of a sister who had lost a lot of hope.  She had expressed to a friend that the only thing that sounded good to her was homemade bread.  The next day, an acquaintance – that barely knew this woman and was completely unaware of her struggles – drove across town with such a loaf of bread and quietly dropped it off without any idea why she was doing so.  To me these small personal experiences are the greatest testament of Heavenly Father’s love for each of us individually.

Recently I had just such an experience which I wanted to share.  A little over two months ago I was outside on a Sunday evening with my little boy Danny.  We were getting ready to go inside and I was trying to gather up all of his bikes and scooters which he had left scattered around the neighborhood.  As we were looking around we found that his prized possession – a bike that looks like a dirt bike – had been commandeered by one of his friends.

Danny on his "dirtbike" one Sunday morning before church.  I told him he could ride his bike so long as he was pretending to be a missionary, that makes it a legitimate Sunday activity, right?

Danny on his “dirt bike” on another Sunday morning before church. I told him he could ride his bike so long as he was pretending to be a missionary. That makes it a legitimate Sunday activity, right?

I knew Danny would be upset about not having his bike.  While it didn’t really bother me that this kid was riding Danny’s bike I also didn’t feel bad at all going to ask for it back.  As we reached the end of the driveway though I had a distinct impression to just leave it be.  At the time I interpreted the impression as, “They’re only young for so long, see how happy it’s making him?  Just let it go and distract Danny with something else.”  I decided to go with that feeling and Danny was somehow easily distracted despite his adamance a moment before that we go retrieve this bike.  Danny is not usually easily swayed so this was a little bit odd but we went on with our evening.  At some point the bike was returned and all was well.

I probably wouldn’t have thought of that experience ever again except for what happened next.  The little boy who was riding Danny’s bike, was Kayson Shelton.  That evening on Danny’s bike was the last time I saw that sweet kid in this life.  The last thing I can remember doing for him personally was an act of kindness.  An insignifiant and small one, but in a moment where I was planning to do otherwise.  I can only imagine how I would feel now if I had instead  gone over and said, “Hey bud, that’s Danny’s bike, would you mind letting him have it back?” rather than just letting him enjoy it for a bit longer.  It wouldn’t have been wrong of me, and it wasn’t like I would have been at all mean to him.  However, I’m so grateful that the last thing I can remember doing for him was something that made him happy.

In retrospect I don’t think the impression was really that “they’re only young for so long”, but really it was a warning to me that Kayson only had so much time left on this earth.  It’s hard to explain how I can reinterpret that impression, but it’s not like it came in printed memo format.  It was more than just a feeling but less than a complete coherent thought.  Impressions like that require some interpretation by me so I can make sense of them in my conscious stream of thought.  At the time, the idea that this little rambunctious, bright two and a half year old would be gone less than a week later was completely unthinkable – it still is.  So even though that was the thought I had, I wouldn’t let myself think something so outlandish and interpreted it in terms that made more sense to me at the time.

I can think of another time in my life when I had a similar experience with a spiritual impression.  In August 2006 I had just flown into Utah from a trip with my family in Australia.  I’d been travelling for over 24 hours, and was tired but decided to go visit some friends.  While I was there my friends’ roommate went out of his way to talk to me and really showed an interest in being nice to me, despite my friends being preoccupied with other things.   I’d been told in the course of meeting him that he had a girlfriend, but while we were talking I had the distinct impression, “I am going to marry this man.”  At the time, that impression made no sense – I barely knew him, he had a girlfriend, I had someone else I was interested in pursuing… it just didn’t compute.  So I brushed the feeling off.  I reinterpreted that impression and said to myself, “What you mean is you want to marry someone like him.  Someone who will go out of their way to make others around them feel comfortable. Seriously Brittny, you need to go home and get some sleep.”  Four months later, we were engaged, and six months after that I did in fact marry Eric.  Seven years and three kids later – that crazy impression doesn’t seem so crazy after all.

1929141_512198268579_4779_n

As I’ve thought about these experiences I’ve wondered what would have happened in my life if I were to have listened more closely to the Spirit?  When I was in college I found that I would frequently have the impression before leaving for class to grab a couple extra pens.  Every single time I had that impression, whether I followed it or not, I would find someone during the day who for one reason or another needed those extra pens.  I started to try to be more quick to follow those impressions so I could be prepared to be (a very very small) blessing to someone else during the day.

I think now, what if I had been more true to these larger, more dramatic impressions like I tried to be with those small pen impressions?  What if instead of downplaying my thought about Kayson I had taken it at face value.  Could I have given his mom a warning?  Or maybe just told her to take a lot of pictures or to hug him a little bit closer?  I’m not saying that I necessarily should have given such warnings, but if I had been more receptive to the Spirit, could I have done more?  In a similar vein, what if I had taken my impression about Eric seriously?  What if, I had decided right then to stop wasting any energy on the young man I thought I was interested in and focused that energy on Eric instead?

Obviously, playing the “what if” game for things that happened in the past is useful for no one and things seem to have worked out anyways.  I don’t think I did things wrong in the past, but I’m playing the “what if” game with my future.  What if I try to live closer to the spirit today, could I be a greater instrument in the hands of the Lord?  What if I trust the promptings I receive instead of reinterpreting them, could I gain more insight to help in the lives of my children?  I want to strive to be the kind of person who listens to and acts upon the impressions I’m given, rather than letting them pass me by.