“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.

A Tribute to My Great Granddad – Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015

Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015

My Great Granddad – Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015

On Friday I received word that my great granddad had passed away.  At the age of 97 with his health failing his passing was met more with relief than shock.  He will be truly missed in this life, but we are glad to know that he’s no longer suffering the ills of old age and is being reunited with family on the other side of the veil.  Sadly, because my great grandparents live in Australia I will be unable to attend any sort of funeral services so I wanted to write a brief tribute here.

As you can imagine, my relationship with my great granddad was limited by the distances between our different continents.  However I was able to see him on our family’s three trips to Australia and he also made several trips to the states with my great grandmother and stayed with our family on a number of occasions.  It was always amazing to me to see that despite huge distances, you always have a special connection to your family that you can’t have with anyone else.  I always knew that my great grandparents loved me and were interested in what was going on with my life even though on a day-to-day basis our lives weren’t very connected.

My parents shared on Facebook some thoughts on my granddad’s passing and talked particularly about something that has always fascinated me about him.  In the 1950s Granddad listened to the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized a member of the church.  Because of that decision my grandma was raised in the church, and she in turn raised my mother in the church, and my mother raised me in the church.  The greatest blessings in my life have come from the church and in large part stem from a decision that was made about three decades before I was born.  I am reminded of the ripple effects of our choices – nothing we do is truly done in a vacuum.  Our choices affect not only ourselves, but those around us and generations after us.  I will be forever grateful for that one decision that he made all those years ago.

Later my granddad fell away from the church.  On one of his trips to the US he was sitting next to my dad during a sacrament meeting.  After singing “Hark All Ye Nations” granddad leaned over to my dad and told him, “We use to sing that song all the time back in England in the pubs…but, the words were all different… come to think of it, none of those words would ever be said in a church.”  It’s now a family joke whenever we sing that song in church that we’re all singing a drinking song.  My granddad left the church for 40 years.  That’s amazing to me, 40 years is more than my entire life span so far.  What’s amazing about it though, is that after 40 years – he came back.  You would think that after all that time his choices and attitudes towards the church must have been totally solidified and there was no way he’d come back.  Yet, when he was in his 80s he chose to return to the church and died after almost two decades of faithful membership.  One special memory I have is that he and my great grandmother were able to attend Eric’s and my wedding.  Traditionally the father of the bride and the father of the groom act as witnesses to the sealing.  However, as Eric’s dad is a sealer and was able to seal us we had an extra witness seat.  At the last minute my mom thought we should ask if granddad would like to be that witness.  I felt bad that we asked Eric’s brother at the last minute to concede that role (sorry!), but it was a really special thing that after all that time of being away from the church, here was my great granddad – all the way from Australia – assisting in one of the most sacred ordinances.  It was a very special thing to me that he could come and be such an integral part of that very special day.

As I reflect on this part of my granddad’s life one thing sticks out to me – it is never too late too change.  You are never too old.  You are never too stuck in your ways.  It is never too hard.  You may be 2 or 102 but you still have your agency to choose that tomorrow you will be different than you are today.  I think this is both thrilling and terrifying.  Tomorrow you could choose to eschew poor habits, create a new life, start on a better path.  Or tomorrow you could choose to leave behind all that is good and glorious in your life and make choices that will lead to misery.  No one is immune.  We should never look at someone and think, “oh, they’re too far gone, they’ll never turn their life around.”  Nor should we think, “well they’ve clearly got it all figured out and they don’t need any help from me.”  We all need each other, every day.  Let us choose each day to be a little better than the day before.  Let us look at others with more compassion for where they might be.  Let us never give up on anybody, ever.  You never know who that person might be tomorrow.

Thank you Granddad to the example you were to me, for the love you have showed to my family and for the foundation you gave for my life.  I will be eternally grateful for all the good things that you made possible for my family.  God be with you until we meet again <3

Miracle Headache Cure!

If you’d seen this trick posted before and wondered if it would work, let me tell you – it does! Yesterday morning I woke up with auras in my vision.  At first I thought it was just my contacts readjusting and tried to give it awhile and just get ready.  As we were about to head out the door I realized that they’d gotten a LOT worse, and not better like I would have expected.  I finally recognized that I had the beginnings of a migraine. I’ve never actually had a migraine before but my mom has had them for years and so I knew the warning signs.  I took some headache medicine and hoped I could ward it off as I was supposed to be helping teach Sunday School for my 4 year old’s class in about an hour (not an ideal environment for a headache).

I got to church and the light was hurting my eyes, my head was pounding and my stomach hurt.  The auras were worse and I just felt terrible. I ducked into a dark classroom during sacrament meeting hoping the medicine would kick in.  I sat there alone in the quiet in the dark as it slowly got worse – I was wearing my sunglasses in a room that was almost completely dark with the exception of a small window in the door, and the glare from my cell phone screen.  It was pretty bad.  After a half hour I gave up and finally texted my husband to take me home.

I remembered seeing this trick for headaches and looked up the picture to make sure I did it right.  The text I’d seen with the picture recommends frozen peas at the base of your skull with your hands sumberged in warm water.  I did exactly what it shows in the picture and started to have some relief, but I wasn’t comfortable in that position.  Really I wanted to try and sleep but obviously balancing on my bathroom counter wasn’t a great place to fall asleep. I decided since the principle was making your neck cold and feet warm I had Eric heat up our rice bag for my toes.  Then I laid on our bed with the peas under my neck and rice bag on my feet.  Thanks to our blackout curtains I was able to take a nap in the darkness with my extremities at different temperatures very comfortably.  Two hours later I woke up feeling almost completely better. I’m guessing the medicine helped too, but it hadn’t done anything for me until I had the ice pack and rice bag, and there was relief within minutes once I tried it.  That simple solution was nothing short of a miracle cure for me.

Anyways, I’ve tried a lot of different things from Pinterest and I’m always skeptical about how well they will work so I wanted to give this one my personal stamp of approval.  I highly recommend it for anyone who struggles with headaches.  Three cheers for Pinterest!

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.

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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

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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.

Amish Friendship Bread

Amish Friendship Bread Banner

My neighbor brought me an Amish Friendship Bread start and I was able to make some for the first time!  I remember my mom making it once when I was little and I was excited to get to do it myself.  It was a fun thing to do, but when I went to deliver my starts to my friends I realized that my copy of the recipe was all dirty.  I didn’t want to photocopy it in that state, so I did the only logical thing and redesigned it to be cute and prepared it to post on my website 🙂  Hopefully this will save the next people from having to decide between photocopying a dirty recipe and having to recreate the document themselves.  You can get the printable copy here – Amish Friendship Bread Printable.

Also, if you’re like me and got to the last day and discovered that your instant pudding boxes are 3.9oz instead of the 5.1oz called for, I’ve done the math for you so that you can use the right proportion of the 3.9oz boxes.  Just combine 2 3.9oz boxes of pudding and remove a generous 1/3 cup of pudding mix and set aside.  The remainder is what will go with your bread.  If you would like to make pudding from that 1/3 cup of mix (because, pudding is delicious), just mix you 1/3 cup of pudding with 2/3 cup of milk and whisk for 2 minutes.

By the way, if you’re going to make this I HIGHLY recommend using Baking Pam.  I don’t usually splurge on ingredients, but my husband brought this home once after being sent to do the grocery shopping and I gave it a try.  It really is like magic for baking.  Everything I make with the Baking Pam just slides right out of the pan with no fuss whatsoever.  It is one splurge that I feel like is very worthwhile 🙂

Here’s a text copy of the recipe as well if you just want to see what this is all about.  Don’t be scared by the 240 hour prep time… the vast majority of that time is spent with a ziploc bag sitting on your counter!  If you want to print it though, use this version, it’s much prettier!

Amish Friendship Bread
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 2 loaves
Ingredients
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 5.1oz box instant vanilla pudding, other flavors can be used but not sugar free
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Optional: add nuts, raisins, chocolate chips etc.
Instructions
  1. Day 1: Receive the bread start. Do nothing.
  2. Day 2: Knead the bag
  3. Day 3: Knead the bag
  4. Day 4: Knead the bag
  5. Day 5: Knead the bag
  6. Day 6: Mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, & 1 cup sugar in a bowl. Add to bag. Knead to combine.
  7. Day 7: Knead the bag
  8. Day 8: Knead the bag
  9. Day 9: Knead the bag
  10. Day 10:Combine in a large bowl—batter from the bag, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour & 1 cup sugar. Combine well and put 1 cup of starter in 4 gallon sized bags. Keep one for yourself. Give this recipe and 1 starter bag to 3 friends
  11. To Make the Bread: Mix 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar together, set aside.
  12. Spray 2 smaller bread pans with cooking spray.
  13. Sprinkle the pans with cinnamon and sugar mixture.
  14. Pour batter into pans.
  15. Bake at 325°F for 45-60 minutes.
  16. Let stand for 10 minutes before removing from pans.

Amish Friendship Bread printable recipe here.

Happy Mother’s Day – to Women Without Children

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Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day I feel keenly aware of the women within my circle of friends for whom this day is a reminder of the imperfect situations they might find themselves in.  Whether they are unmarried, or struggling with infertility, or single parents, or feeling overwhelmed with too many children, or have wayward children, or children they gave up for adoption, or children who have passed on before them, or those who have lost their own mothers, or don’t have the relationship with their mother’s that they desire.  Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for many people.  About a year ago one of my friends who had struggled with infertility for a long time posted how she would go to Relief Society on Mother’s Day and then go home with the Mother’s Day treat and cry feeling like she’d been given something that she didn’t deserve. This broke my heart to read of how a wonderful day for so many which is a bitter reminder for others of a blessing which they have been denied.

Particularly for those who are struggling with the challenge of not having yearned for children I wanted to share this thought.  When I first discovered my favorite blog, Women in the Scriptures, I went through and read a bunch of her blog posts at once, one of the first posts I read was this one about infertility.  I want to share one particular quote used in that post from Sheri Dew –

” …While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us…

…Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. declared, motherhood is “as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.” (Are We Not All Mothers, Ensign. Nov. 2001)

I loved this definition of motherhood.  When Eric and I were first married we lived in Wymount and it seemed like a majority of the women in our ward were mothers.  Our plan at the time was to wait to have children until Eric was done with school and I was working full time to support us while we got to that goal.  I felt excluded from the mom club – the circle of women who passed their days in the middle of the quad at the playground chatting.  I remember the first time my visiting teachers came to visit me with their toddlers and in the process of getting to know one another I of course told them that I was working full time.  While they didn’t say anything disparaging about that, I felt very much like they were looking at me with an air of, “Oh, you’re one of those working girls.” (please read that in your head with all the disdain of a 20’s era society woman to a factory woman)  At the time I felt like I had a hard time defining myself.  I’m the oldest of 5 children and my mom has called me the second mother in our home. I grew up carrying around babies, playing with kids, babysitting and loving being around children.  However in that season of my life I was without children – far away from my siblings and not yet having children of my own.  At the same time, I still felt the inherent mother-ness in me.  I had a hard time figuring out how to refer to myself as a married woman without children and would often try to call myself a single mother – which was ironic since I was completely the opposite – but I struggled to find the name for this state that I was in of not being a mother although travelling down that path.  I think I felt similarly displaced to those mothers who find themselves without a father to aid them which is why I would gravitate to that title.  The other title I would come up with was “childless mother” which also felt odd since it seems weird to call someone a mother who doesn’t have her own children.  I certainly struggled with my identity in the context of other women at the time.

In retrospect I think the title of “childless mother” is actually the right term.  Despite not having children, I was a mother.  I liked what Sister Dew stated about our motherhood as women beginning before we were born.  Motherhood is not dependent on 9 months of pregnancy, it is inherent in our calling as women.  Motherhood is the qualities of women that dispose us to teaching, building and growing not only children but the world around us.  You can fulfill that calling as a sister, daughter, aunt, friend, teacher, office worker, CEO, relief society president, yoga instructor or whatever role you find yourself in.  Just as a man is no less a priesthood holder for not being a bishop, women are no less mothers for not having children.  Motherhood is part of who you are.  I know that might not be much consolation to those who would like to discharge that calling in the most conventional way, especially when proffered by one who has been given that more conventional mother role.  However, I hope you know that whatever your contribution to motherhood is I honor you for what you are building and the love you show for those around you.

So take that cookie offered to you in Relief Society with pride, you are a mother.  Happy Mother’s Day, to all women, whatever circumstance you find yourself in.  You are a daughter of God, and we want to celebrate the divinity within you <3

Dinner Chore Chart

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For those of you who know me personally this will not come as much of a shock, but here’s my confession for today – I am a terrible housekeeper.  I really do try to keep up with the house but it just doesn’t happen.  I am not someone who enjoys cleaning and trying to keep a house clean that still has three young children in it seems like a near impossible task.  However, I am trying.

My biggest pet peeve is keeping my kitchen clean.  It seems like the most critical room in the house to keep clean but three times a day everything’s being pulled out and despite my best efforts I am rarely on top of it.  The dishes are my greatest nemesis and it’s hard to keep everyone in the kitchen and helping me until the work is done.  So I’ve finally come up with a solution – meet the dinner time chore chart!

It’s really pretty basic, I’ve come up with 5 chores and each person in our  family will be assigned one chore for the week which we will change on Monday nights as part of our Family Home Evening and night time privileges will not be granted until that chore is done.  Anyways, I spent some time creating a cute chart and I wanted to share it with anyone who would like to use it.

All of the artwork came from Susan Fitch and you can find the original files for free on her site here and she graciously agreed to let me share these job charts with my readers using her artwork. You should check out her blog and Etsy shop, she has a lot of great things.  The background papers came from Shabby Princess’ free kit Celebrating.  The fonts are Pea Sweet Caroline and Pea Cookie’s Doodles from Kevin & Amanda’s Fonts for Peas.

Ok, so I have two different files that I’m providing here and you’ll have to decide which one you want.  The simple one is just a PDF which you can print out and write your family member names on the tags and be done.  However, I hate my handwriting, so I’m also providing the original Publisher files so you can customize the tags if you’d like.  To customize the tags you’ll just need to go to the tags pages and change the names to the names of your family members.  For mine I wanted pictures of the family members (since some of my kids are still pre-reading) so there are tags that have blank pictures on them but are formatted nicely.  To swap those out for pictures of your own family members all you have to do is right click on the picture, then find the picture you want to use from your computer.  The new picture will be dropped in to the same formatted space.  To re-center the picture I’ve found that I need to de-select the picture and then re-select it (I don’t know why, I just know that’s what happens) then under the Picture Tools->Format tab select Crop and you can now re-size and move the picture around within the frame.  But don’t worry, there are also simple picture-less tags that I’ve included so you can just fill them in.  You will need to make sure that you have the two fonts that I specified above installed on your computer to have the same result on your computer.  If anyone really really wants I could fill in the tags for you and send you a pdf of just the chart you want and your family’s names and pictures if you want to email me the names and pictures that you want.  You can email me through my contact page and I could provide that for a small fee – but I’d encourage you to be brave!  It’s not too hard!  You can do it!  (Assuming of course that you have a computer that can run Microsoft Publisher, and has it installed)

To create my final chore chart I printed the pages out on regular printer paper and then laminated it.  If you don’t own a laminator I’ve really liked the Purple Cows Hot & Cold Laminator that I have.  I got mine for pretty inexpensive from Costco and I think they have them there pretty regularly, but I’ve found that I can get the laminating pouches for a good deal from Amazon.  One trick I learned early on is that you have to be sure to cut out the little pieces you want to laminate (in this case the name tags) before laminating and then laminate them with enough space around the edges to not break the seal of the lamination.  I then used a bunch of these little sticky magnets on the back of the chore chart and on the back of each name tag.  The magnets aren’t super strong so I put two on each of the name tags and six on the back of the chore chart itself.  For now it’s hanging on my refrigerator but I’m planning on getting one of these magnetic boards from Ikea and hang it on my wall… as soon as I can get the kids in order to go (hahahahahah, yeah right).

Anyways, here are the two files.  Let me know if you like them and get any use out of them in your home!  It always makes me happy when someone finds the resources I post useful 🙂  And of course, don’t steal them and sell them or pass them off as your own.  That’s just not cool guys.  I hope this helps you get your kitchen routine more in order too!

Dinner chore charts – PDF version

Dinner chore charts – Publisher version