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.

Introduction to CSS

intro-to-css

This morning I’m giving a guest lecture at LDS Business College introducing CSS.  I wanted to post my slides here so the students could have easy access to them for their own review – Intro to CSS Slides.

If anyone is interested in learning CSS here are a couple of websites that I think are invaluable –

  • CSS Zen Garden – This site really shows the power and capabilities of CSS in designing websites
  • W3 Schools: CSS – This site is the most complete CSS resource.  It has a complete reference of CSS properties and values, tutorials, sandboxes and so much more.  This is where I go whenever I can’t remember exactly how to do what I need to with CSS – which despite over a decade of experience is often 🙂
  • CSS Box Model – This is specifically the page in W3 Schools that teaches about the CSS Box Model.
  • CSS Reset – This page discusses the need for and development of Eric Meyer’s CSS reset

Happy CSS learning!

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

Doing Hawaii Affordably

hawaii-2500-2
My husband and I just returned from a 5 day 4 night trip to Hawaii and let me tell you – it was awesome.  It was the first real vacation we’d taken since our honeymoon 8 1/2 years ago.  We’d done overnight local getaways maybe 3 times and gone to family reunions/weddings/holidays and back to my parents’ house but not really a vacation where we’ve picked a place to go and activities and all that.  I’m pretty cheap so I always seem to look and think “well, but that’s a lot of money and instead we could… pay off more of our mortgage, or put it towards finishing our basement, or put it away for savings.”  Now that we’ve finally done it I can definitely say – it was well worth the money!  We did our entire trip (airfare, lodging, rental car, dining, activities, souvenirs – everything) for under $2500!  I think we scored some pretty awesome deals, so I thought I ought to pass along how I did it so that hopefully someone else can take advantage of the deals too!  We also analyzed our trip and found some things we thought we could have done differently (without compromising the experience) to save even more.  I think we could have kept our budget right around $2000 if we’d really needed to and still had a wonderful time!  Anyways, let me break down for you our expenses and how we did it 🙂

Airfare – $773

We flew with Allegiant Airlines and the airfare started at $135/person each way.  We were already at my parents house in California so we flew LAX-HNL.  Allegiant is a bare bones kind of airline, but for the price we were ok with that.  For the fare you get to take your own self and a personal item on the plane – no carry-on bags, no checked baggage.  Obviously for a 5 day trip we’d be hard-pressed to stick to just our backpacks!  If you were really desperate I’m sure you could layer your outfits and find a laundromat or something, but I don’t think that’s really worth it – at least not to me!  Instead we shelled out another $35 each way to have one checked bag that we shared which worked out splendidly for us.  We didn’t fork out any extra money to ensure that our seats were together (we checked in together so our seats were assigned together for both flights) or upgrade for extra leg room or add on any other bells and whistles 🙂  Our goal was for the flight to get our bodies and our very limited baggage to Hawaii.  It ended up costing us $193/person each way once we averaged in the cost of our checked bag and all of the taxes and fees, which was still pretty awesome!  I should note though – the legroom is pretty atrocious in the non-upgraded seats.  I’m 5’2″ – so not exactly a giant.  The picture below is of the space from my legs to the seat in front of me from the flight out –

20160111_084753

No, I’m not kidding, and yes I really am only 5’2″.  You can adjust the way you’re sitting so that you’re angled differently to make it work with longer legs – but if you have reasonably long legs I’d probably recommend shelling out for the extra leg room.  The seats do not recline at all.  Just don’t expect this to be an extraordinarily comfortable part of your trip.  But, they did get me and my husband and our bags from LAX to HNL without us having to mortgage our home so I’m not complaining 🙂

To pass the time on board we brought our travel pillows and bluetooth headphones.  I love my headphones, Eric gave them to me for Christmas and they’re amazing!  They’re super lightweight and comfortable and the battery lasts for a long time.  Plus they have really good noise cancelling, they were the perfect thing for the trip!  We didn’t have a way to split the audio (I haven’t yet been able to find a bluetooth audio splitter) so Eric watched movies on his tablet and I listened to my book.  Before our trip I decided to get the book Honolulu by Alan Brennert to get me in the mood for going to Hawaii.  It turned out to be a fantastic choice!  The book is about a Korean picture bride (mail-order bride) who comes to Hawaii and her life there.  It gave me such an interesting perspective on the history of Oahu and how it became like it is today.  It was fascinating.  I wouldn’t recommend it for young readers as there are sexual references (nothing explicit, but things I wouldn’t be very comfortable with my teenager reading) , but I would definitely recommend it to any adult readers who want a great story while learning more about Hawaii.  I also downloaded Moloka’i by Alan Brennert but I didn’t get to reading it during our trip, but I’ve read that it’s supposed to be even better than Honolulu.  My dad recommended Hawaii by James Michner but I was looking specifically for an audiobook and Hawaii wasn’t available on Audible.  If you want a really cheap trip to Hawaii I’d recommend downloading one of these books and letting yourself escape winter for less than $10 😉

 

Lodging – $410

So we cheated a little bit on our hotel.  A few years back Eric was travelling a decent amount and racked up some Marriott Rewards points.  We cashed those in for half of our stay at the Marriott Courtyard in Waikiki and we paid for the other half.  The rooms were tiny.  There was enough room for a bed with some nightstands, a TV on top of the dresser/desk and a super tiny bathroom with a small shower and zero counter space.  Which was fine, it gave us what we needed.  There are hotel deals that would get you a room in Hawaii for a similar price to what we paid even without the rewards points.  If you wanted to try a different experience there were some interesting listings on AirBNB that were really cheap too 🙂

Transportation – $387

This is where I think a lot of our budget could have been significantly reduced.  We got a rental car with our flight tickets.  Combining what we paid online with what we paid when we picked up the car (all the fun taxes and fees) it cost us $241 for our 5 day rental – or a little over $48/day.  That part wasn’t too bad.  Neither was the $25 we paid in gas for the week.  What was killer was the parking fees!  It cost us $35/night to park at our hotel in Waikiki!  That would have cost us $140 in parking alone!!!  We ended up using the parking at our hotel for two nights and then finding another parking lot that was about a half mile away that let us park for $20/night that we used for the other two nights.  But even at $20/night that still would have been $80 extra just for parking!  Even the $110 that we ended up paying in parking was well beyond what we really wanted to be paying.  There’s two different ways that we could have really reduced our costs on this front –

  1. If you’re staying in Waikiki it’s easy to get free or very cheap shuttles to pretty much anywhere that you want to go (especially with the Go Oahu card that I’ll talk about later).   We definitely could have skipped getting a rental car and just used the shuttles to get everywhere.  That would have reduced this whole budget to less than $50, or even $0 depending on how much you were willing to walk and what shuttles you chose.  However, we did like having a car just to be able to have the freedom to go where we wanted to go and the cost was worth it to us.  What we would have probably done is…
  2. Book our hotel away from Waikiki.  When we were booking our room we thought it was important to be down in Waikiki so that we’d have access to all of the things – it seemed closer to all of the attractions and just generally where we thought we wanted to be.  Looking at the North Shore seemed like it would be SO far away.  What we didn’t take into account is that the island is *really* small.  Even in traffic to go as far as you’d want to go from end to end of the island would take maybe an hour and a half.  If you’re not going to Waikiki for the night life and shopping and super commercial side of things (which we definitely were not) I’d highly recommend staying somewhere else on the island.  We stayed that the Marriott Courtyard in Waikiki – if instead we’d stayed at the Courtyard in Laie our parking would have been $10/night or in other words it would have saved us $100!  It’s more peaceful on the North Shore too, and it was closer to our favorite attraction (more on that later).  This was by far the most important change that we would have made in our trip.12419380_10102361868533499_5838310320358589731_o

All things considered though, we were happy with how we did our transportation.  Especially since when we arrived at the rental car pick up they upgraded us from an economy car to a full size car for free!  So instead of having a little Kia Rio type car, we were driving around in a Dodge Charger. While I’m still happy with the Toyota Corolla we drive at home, it was definitely fun to have a powerful car with some bells and whistles for the week 🙂

Activities – $475

This is my biggest awesome find (other than the airfare).  From Costco I got a 4 Day Go Oahu card for my husband and myself.  You can book other lengths for the card directly from the Smart Destinations website (the provider of the Go Oahu card), or save a little money and get a 3 Day Go Oahu card from Groupon.  At the time the Costco deal was the cheapest, but as of this writing I think the Groupon deal is probably best.  Ok, so here’s the deal with the Go Oahu card – for the duration of your card you can get into all 34 of their attractions for free!  Plus, when you get a card that is at least 3 days in length you can go on one day to one of their premium attractions.

So here’s what that means in layman terms, at least as far as our trip.  So as we were planning our trip we knew there were two places we really wanted to visit – the Polynesian Cultural Center & Pearl Harbor.  Without our Go Oahu card it was going to cost us $177/person for those attractions.  Our Go Oahu card only cost us $167 through Costco.  Basically it saved us $10 and then allowed us to go to 32 other places for FREE!

If we had planned out our trip better we really would have taken advantage of that card much more and gone to do the Dole plantation tour, and the tour of Iolani palace, and used it to get free snorkeling gear, and gone out on a catamaran ride, and rented paddle boards or kayaks, and done the guided Diamondhead tour… but we didn’t, so we really just saved the $10.  But hey!  We saved $10!

12489334_10102361864162259_3633799704044756815_o

Our absolute favorite thing from the trip was, hands down, the Polynesian Cultural Center.  We were so glad that we used the Go Oahu card to get the Ali’i Luau package, which got us into a really great luau and the show in the evening.  When we were planning we’d looked at the package and saw that we could get in at 12:30pm and that we wouldn’t get done with the show until 9:30pm and thought that would be WAY too long to be there.  So we decided that we’d make our way over to the PCC slowly and ended up starting our day there around 2:30pm.  This was the biggest mistake of our trip!  We so wished that we’d had those extra couple hours to look around and have time to go to all of the different stations.  We didn’t want a lot more time than that, but those extra couple hours would have really let us see all that the PCC had to offer.  All of the people there were so friendly and helpful to show us around and give us suggestions of where to go.  The presentations were informative and entertaining.  The luau had delicious food and great entertainment.  The evening show was absolutely spectacular and touching and just phenomenal.  I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed it.  We did this on the first full day of our trip and it really got us into the island culture and feel right off the bat.  It was so wonderful and we’re so glad that we went.

12469352_10102364177970369_3266223169036236558_o

Pearl Harbor was wonderful too, but in a totally different way.  Whereas we wished we’d had more time at the PCC we sort of wish we’d split our time at Pearl Harbor up.  We got there around 11:30 and by the time we left at 5pm we were over the whole thing.  We started with the audio tour of the Arizona Memorial and the site itself.  This was awesome.  I felt like I learned so much and really got into what we were doing.  The audio tour really helped us to go through the site in a meaningful way and feel like we got a real flavor for the events of that day.  After that we went over to the USS Bowfin – a retired WWII submarine and took that audio tour.  Following that we went into the submarine museum with yet another audio tour… at this point we were getting a little bit audio toured out and we just skipped around the museum and looked at a few things that were most interesting to us.  Finally we went over to the aviation museum where we skipped the audio tour entirely and just walked around and looked at the airplanes.  We think that if we’d instead done a little bit of Pearl Harbor over a few different days we could have enjoyed all of the audio tours and really gotten a great educational experience, but at the end of the day we were mostly just dazed and ready to do anything else except listen to another audio tour!

Aside from our Go Oahu card we also bought a LivingSocial deal for Parasailing for $66 for a tandem parasail.  This was really fun, and gave us a different perspective of the island and was a fun experience overall!  We shelled out another $30 for the boat operators to take pictures for us, plus left them with a tip, so in all it ended up costing us $106.  It was fun, but I think if we’d found the Go Oahu card first we would have skipped this in favor of going to some of the other attractions on our Go Oahu card instead.  We definitely would have just brought our cell phones and asked someone on the boat to snap a few pictures instead of paying for the “professional” pictures since most of them ended up being out of focus anyways 🙁  But it was still a really cool experience and a pretty reasonable price.  We enjoyed our time out on the boat as well as in the air.

IMG_3222

We also hiked to the top of Diamondhead one of the mornings while we were there.  That was a fun experience and gave us some good exercise!  Definitely make sure that you are well hydrated beforehand!  When we arrived there were rescue crews bringing a man off the trail who had passed out on the hike.  The hike isn’t very technical and not terribly long, but it’s pretty steep in some places and it definitely left me pretty winded!  But it was totally worth the view from the top.

12513483_10102363003014989_2792160950871446701_o

Food – $250

I’m sure we could have eaten for cheaper, but we ate *really* well while we were in Hawaii so we were ok with the cost.  Feel free to skip the rest of this section if you don’t want the play-by-play of our meals in Hawaii, but if you’re looking for recommendations of great places to eat – read on 🙂

The first thing we did on our trip though was a rookie mistake – we forgot to pack ourselves a lunch for the plane at home.  When we got to the airport we got a couple of sandwiches, 2 lemonades and a bag of chips… for $36!!  When we got on the plane we found out that we could have gotten a reasonable snack pack for $5 each.  Lesson learned: Even if you forget to pack a lunch, it’s cheaper to eat on the plane than to pay airport “convenience” premiums!

sunrise

When we got to the island we repented of our mistakes.  To save a little bit we started our trip by going to the ABC Store (kind of a high end 7-11) and picked up some blueberry bread, cut pineapple and mango juice for our first breakfast.  It might not have ended up saving us that much over just going to a restaurant, but since we were able to take that breakfast to the beach and watch the sunrise the first morning – totally worth it.  We then went to Walmart and picked up some breakfast foods for the rest of our stay (sweet rolls, bananas) and some snacks (granola bars, chex mix, beef jerky, gum) and a flat of 30 water bottles with some crystal light.  Those were great purchases that really helped us keep some of our costs down on our trip.  Especially the water bottles – they cost us $5 and meant that we had water to take into all of our attractions, we used them in restaurants and just generally to keep ourselves hydrated – for $0.17 per bottle!  We had quite a few left in the end that we left in our rental car – hopefully they got redistributed and not just thrown away!

Aside from our provisions we ate at some really awesome places.  Our first night we went to a place called Aloha Table.  I got a really delicious fried fish dish and Eric had a steak.  We also got an appetizer of edamame that we could have skipped, but we were so hungry by the time we got there that we didn’t think we wanted to wait for our main dishes – they came out only a couple minutes after we got our appetizer 😛  It cost us nearly $60, but it was an awesome first meal on the island.  SO delicious!  The presentation was good too 🙂

859083_10102360277861219_4799769718561784482_o

The next day we went out in search of the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a food truck – it stays in the same place all the time.  It was $12/plate – cash only!  It was really good, although I personally enjoyed the rice more than the shrimp.  Eric and I both got the shrimp scampi.  The weird thing is that they cook the shrimp with the shell still on.  Removing the shell was a messy process, but the sad part was once you did… you’d removed the garlic and olive oil that they’d cooked the shrimp in too.  It was good shrimp, but it seemed kind of silly to go to the effort of making a scampi just to remove the flavored parts before eating it.

12493644_10102361870474609_6491732421141353515_o

That night we ate at the PCC Luau which was awesome as I’d already said.  All the more awesome because we wrapped that cost up in our Go Oahu card 😉  The next day after our Diamondhead hike we went to Pioneer Saloon at the recommendation of the Zomato app (this is where we got most of our food recommendations for the rest of the trip).  It was Eric’s very favorite meal of the whole trip!  When we went in the menu was massive and a little overwhelming!  We decided to go with the recommendations from the reviews on Zomato and we both got a ramen burger with everything (we were hungry after hiking Diamondhead!)  They cost us $9/each but they were well worth it!  The burgers were made with ramen noodles that had been cooked and then fried together to form a patty.  Then on top they had a fried egg, avocado, sprouts, sauteed onions and mushrooms, lettuce and tomato.  Oh, and the teriyaki patty too 🙂  It was SO delicious, and it really hit the spot after our hike.  There were certainly cheaper things on the menu but we were very happy with that experience.

12525197_10102362786014859_6094754574929879148_o

That night after our parasailing adventure we used Zomato again to find a Japanese noodle shop called Goma Tei Ramen.  I got the Chicken Tan Tan Noodles and Eric got the Curry Noodles and we got some gyoza (potstickers) to split.  We definitely did NOT need the potstickers to round out the meal – although they were very delicious.  The bowls that they brought were huge!  Eric definitely made the better choice in getting the curry noodles – his soup was really delicious.  Mine was a little lackluster.  I don’t think they flavored the chicken before putting it in the soup so it wasn’t great chicken.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.  Eric mentioned afterwards that I probably should have added some soy sauce to it which hadn’t occurred to me at the time.  It was a fun culinary experience and it ran us another $40.

Before going to Pearl Harbor on Thursday we stopped at Liliha Bakery at the recommendation of a local friend.  We got an onion pastry (sort of a savory croissant-ish thing?), a pizza roll and a malasada.  The pastries were good, nothing to write home about but good.  The malasada was unique but really sweet – we each ate a little bit and saved the rest for later.  We were told that the better malasadas are at Leonard’s Bakery, but we didn’t get a chance to track those down. We probably should have brought a little more food because we were really hungry at the end of going to Pearl Harbor, but our timing was weird – we stopped at the bakery at about 10:45 after already eating breakfast.  We weren’t quite hungry for lunch but we wanted to be ready for Pearl Harbor.  I think we could have bought a decent lunch there and then kept it in our car to eat after doing the tour and we would have probably been more happy overall.

After Pearl Harbor we went back to our trusty Zomato app and headed over to Dirty Lickin’s Chicken for some chicken wings.  We each got some breaded chicken strips and rice – and once again the rice was my favorite part 🙂  We got their combo meal which boasted corn and a salad – the corn was literally just cold canned corn and the salad was lettuce and ranch dressing.  The chicken itself was good, but kind of dry.  Our meal cost another $24.50, and while it was filling… it wasn’t necessarily our favorite spot.

shavedice

One thing I’d been told we absolutely had to do was go and get Hawaiian shaved ice.  We’d been given a recommended location but by the time we got there on Thursday it was closed.  So on Friday morning we searched out the nearby Waiola Shave Ice and for $4.50 we got this yummy treat.  It was really good, although we were eating it at a weird time of day for ice cream.  Before hopping on our flight back home we stopped at L&L Hawaiian.  Eric got the chicken katsu and I got the fried shrimp plate.  We got the regular sized plates and holy cow!  It was a TON of food!  We thought we’d get a reasonable amount but it was WAY more than we’d anticipated.  We each ate about half of our meal, and then we went over to the Walgreens and bought some sandwich baggies that we packaged the rest of the meal into for our flight home.  It wasn’t what we were planning on eating on our flight home but it worked out surprisingly well.  We even bagged up our rice and we were able to eat it straight out of the bag on the plane pretty easily, and the chicken and shrimp were surprisingly good.  Since we had been struggling to find a place to pick up a sandwich or something similar for our flight home, this was a super happy mistake to have had that leftover food and that it packed up so much better than we’d hoped!

Ok, I promise, that’s the end of my food travelogue 🙂

Souvenirs – $143.48

This is obviously is another place where we could have saved a decent amount of money.  I’m being a little generous in the term “souvenirs”.  In this case “souvenirs” also means – hairspray, hair gel, hair clips and sunscreen that we could have brought from home but forgot.  It also includes that I brought just one pair of shorts for Eric which he got dirty in the first hour of our first morning and we couldn’t wash them out in the sink.  Rather than being stuck in jeans for the whole trip we bought him a new pair of shorts, as well as a belt since we left his at my parents’ house.  We found leis for our kids at the ABC store for $1 and shell leis there for $1.50 each – so we bought one of each for each of our 3 kids.  We bought a little hair clip for Maeli with a hawaiian flower and some shark tooth necklaces for the boys.  We also bought some pineapple crunch chocolate for my brother and his girlfriend since they helped us plan the trip (she’s native Hawaiian, so she gave us some good recommendations 😉 ).  Finally for my parents we got them some chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a puzzle – we got the Maui one even though that’s not where we went because it looked more fun than the Waikiki puzzle or the Polynesian Cultural Center puzzle.  We also sent postcards to our kids, which they got a real kick out of.  Our actual souvenirs really cost closer to $50, but I didn’t know where else to categorize our other sundry purchases and since they mostly came home with us, they get to be souvenirs.

Conclusion

So that’s it!  That’s how we had a wonderful vacation for 5 days in Hawaii for under $2500.  When we got back the fitness tracker on my Pebble gave me a notification that said, “Do you feel really good?  You’ve been sleeping really well this week.  Keep up the good work!”  I thought, “No kidding I’ve been sleeping well this week – I’ve spent a week without my kids!  Don’t get used to this!”  It was a wonderful week, but it was really good to get back home to our kids 🙂  I hope that someone is able to use this information to plan their own affordable trip to Hawaii – or at least give you some good ideas of places to go!  Let me know in the comments if you go and what places and deals you liked!  Aloha!

12487263_10102361535421059_8878543335100527959_o

“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

Personal Highlights of General Conference October 2015

I just wanted to post about some of my favorite things from General Conference this last weekend.  I love Conference weekend, there’s not much that’s better than getting to snuggle up on the couch and listen to the prophet and apostles and church leaders.  I always come away reinvigorated, recommitted and excited to live the gospel.  I usually spend conference with my laptop on and tweeting the quotes that touch me at the time.  I feel like I process the talks differently as I’m searching for those little 140 character nuggets and it’s good to type them out and read them because it adds another sensory method.  But I wanted to write down some of the thoughts that I’d had that couldn’t fit in that 140 character limit.  So, here they are –

I especially loved the Saturday morning session.  I felt like the whole session focused on self-awareness and improvement.  I loved the talk by Elder Lawrence, “What lack I yet?”.  I thought it was a good reminder that regardless of who we are or how far we’ve come there are more things that we can be doing to improve ourselves.  The thought I tweeted during his talk was, “Are you brave enough to ask ‘What lack I yet?’.”  I think it’s a profound question and one that we should be asking often.  The Lord is aware of our shortcomings and is willing and anxious to help us overcome them.  I usually feel like I’m pretty aware of my shortcomings and have plenty to work on without needing the Lord to take me down a notch.  But perhaps it’s still better to ask the Lord so that He can direct me to the most important shortcoming for me to work on, or ways I should be tackling those shortcomings.  I also really liked Elder Cook’s talk about being “Shipshape and Bristol fashion”.  That analogy really stuck with me, that we might often think that we’ve got things under control, but we need to be ready to still be under control even when the conditions are less than ideal.  I thought that went with, what I felt was, the whole theme of that session.

I was mostly looking at my computer screen while President Monson was talking (listening to the talk of course, just taking notes) and I didn’t notice at first when he started to slump.  My first hint that something was going on was my mom saying something like, “oh man, President Monson looks like he’s going to fall over.”  I of course then looked up and watched in horror as he slowly sunk lower and lower on the podium.  Everyone of course was concerned but I thought there was a really powerful object lesson there.  I was impressed with how quickly at the end of his talk there were people at his side to help him back to his seat.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that the people who were helping him were his bodyguard, and President Uchtdorf.  It really has touched me to read the accounts of President Uchtdorf sitting at the edge of his seat and swooping in as quickly as possible to help President Monson.  To me it shows just what his attitude is towards our prophet.  Surely he would have known that there are ushers, bodyguards and other able bodied people who would rush to our prophet’s aid.  But I think it speaks to the close personal connection between those men that President Uchtdorf wouldn’t just sit back and let someone else take care of it, but that he was right there.  I think it’s a reminder that these men aren’t just some executives who are detached from each other and will let others do the work, but that they’re servants to the Lord, and are willing to serve one another too.  I also thought it was a great example of what it means to be a counselor – whether in the First presidency or the Beehive presidency it shows that you do whatever you can to support your president and be there for them.  I was really touched by that whole vignette that played out.

I latched on to the Ponderize concept that Elder Durrant introduced.  Judging from my Facebook newsfeed I’m not alone.  I think that was an easy one for many people to latch onto because it’s something that is a simple, measurable goal.  The basic concept was to pick a scripture each week and ponder on it and try to memorize it during the week.  For me, it ties into something I was told in my patriarchal blessing about memorizing important scriptures and studying them – this gave me a really solid way to do that.  It might not have been the most important takeaway, but it’s one that I can easily say “yes I’m doing this” and I think we all like that feeling of accomplishment from being able to check a box 🙂  I will admit though that I cringed a lot at his made up word on behalf of the translators that were trying to put this into another language and thinking “what on earth do I do with this word!?!?”  Especially as he went on to use that word 12 times, and turned it into a noun (ponderizer) and used the past tense (ponderized).  Seriously, there was probably a way to convey the concept without throwing the translators under the bus.   But that’s what you think about when you’ve worked as a technician and have a degree in Linguistics 😛  Eric and I are working on this challenge together.  We decided to start our list by using the scripture masteries that have been added to the seminary curriculum since we graduated 12 years ago.  This week our scripture is  2 Nephi 25:23,26.  I found a great poster from The Mormon Home and have put copies of the scripture in our shower, on our mirror, above Eric’s desk and on the bulletin board in our kitchen.  I really need to make it the wallpaper on my phone though or something like that though too.

As a mother I of course bawled through Elder Holland’s talk, “Behold Thy Mother”.  I feel like nothing has made me feel closer to the Savior than being a mother.  To think of the Savior loving me like I love my children – except perfectly, unlike my love for my children – is so overwhelming I can’t begin to describe it.  Especially knowing that Christ knows perfectly all of my faults and weaknesses, and *still* loves me as He does is beyond my comprehension.  It of course also made me think of my own mother and other mothers I’ve seen in their struggles with their children.  The whole talk was just such a beautiful tribute to the power of the Atonement and motherhood – it was beautiful.  I can’t say what he said any better, or really add to it in any way.  If you haven’t read/listened/watched that talk yet – you should do that right now.  I always look forward to Elder Holland’s talks, but I always start thinking that I’ve gotten myself too pumped up – that I need to simmer down, it can’t *always* be as good as I’ve built up his talks in my mind.  But, I was wrong – I can’t seem to get myself so pumped up for Elder Holland’s talks that the actual talk is a let down.  There’s something about the way he speaks that’s so direct, and simple yet expounds things that are so complex with such feeling – every time I feel like I leave with a well overflowing with revelation.  I love that each of the apostles has their own style of speaking and different ways of making their points, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Elder Holland’s talks weren’t generally favorites.

When the new apostles were called I will admit that I’d been hoping to add some ethnic diversity to the quorum.  Obviously I knew whoever was called was who was supposed to be called, but it would be nice if the leadership of our global church reflected a little more the diversity of that church.  However as I’ve watched these men in just the few short days, I can say that I know that their calling is of God.  As I’ve read about their backgrounds I can see that even though they look like 3 old white men from Utah, there is a diversity in their backgrounds and experiences which the Lord needed at this time.  I think there’s also something good about them being of a similar culture to the men they’ll be serving with as I think it will make it easier for them to communicate the needs that they observe in their different capacities without having to fight cultural barriers.  Obviously the spirit can break through all those things so I don’t think that’s a necessary thing, I just can see that it is probably easier to serve in that capacity if your English is already excellent etc.  Hopefully that doesn’t sound racist, I do still hope to see more and more of the church leadership coming from diverse backgrounds in the future, but I am also seeing how these men were the ones needed right now.  In particular I was interested to see that Elder Renlund’s wife was a working mom.  I think that there are a lot of moms within the church who work outside the home and I can understand how they might feel alienated.  I think that having an apostle whose wife chose a professional career will help those women to feel more represented and understood.

From the Women’s Session I loved President Uchtdorf’s talk “A Summer with Great Aunt Rose”.  I think one of the great things about it was that he really just told us a parable and left it to us to pull the message out for ourselves.  I think it was a story that we could all picture so clearly.  I liked the honesty of Great Aunt Rose in telling about the depression and the hard times, I think it showed that anyone could choose their attitude towards life regardless of their personal circumstances.  I liked the quote, “God didn’t design us to be sad. He created us to have joy!”  I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the negative parts of life, but remembering that the Lord wants us to be happy helps me to think on the positive side of life.

Ok, one last thing.  I really liked Sister Stephens’ talk and the story she told about the car seat battle she’d had with her granddaughter.  Oh how I can relate to trying to reason with strong willed children!  When she told of her granddaughter’s response of “Grandma, you want me to wear my seat belt because you love me!” I started to cry immediately.  I understand exactly that.  I remember the first time I realized that the commandments were given to us not just as some arbitrary test to prove our love to God, but that they were a manifestation of God’s love for us!  Just like I tell my kids to wear seat belts because I love them and don’t want them to get hurt – the Lord gives us commandments because he loves us and wants us to be safe from the dangers of bad choices we might make.  Just like the barriers in Elder Keetch’s talk kept the surfers from being eaten by sharks, the commandments are there to help us be happy and enjoy life – not to ruin it.

Alright, I’ve gone on long enough.  Those were a few of my favorite moments from General Conference.  I’m excited to study the talks more in depth over the coming months.  What were your favorite parts of General Conference?

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.