Saturday, December 31, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
When we were asked to speak last week, no topics were provided for us. I was tempted to recycle the talk I gave in our last ward just before we moved, but then as we were watching the Christmas devotional last Sunday, something President Uchtdorf said got my mind going, and I decided to follow those thoughts.
He spoke of the gifts that the wise man brought to the Christ child, and the gifts we offer to the Lord. He then spoke of the unfathomable gifts that the Savior offers us and said that this may be the most lopsided gift-giving in the entire universe.
As he spoke, I thought of the little drummer boy. Aside from O Holy Night, my favorite Christmas song has long been “The Little Drummer Boy”—perhaps because I tend to be prone to feelings of inadequacy or smallness, the story of a poor boy with nothing but a drum has always resonated with me. Here he is, brought before not just a king, but the King, told to bring his “finest gifts”, and he feels he has nothing to give that is fit for such a recipient. Yet he steps up and plays his best for the Christ child. And the baby smiles at him. What a marvelous thought. The Savior, who assisted in our creation and knows us intimately, is well aware of what gifts we have and which we don’t. He knows what we are capable of, and he knows better than anyone what we lack. All he asks is that we humbly and willingly offer whatever gifts we have, so long as we offer them with our whole heart.
As we celebrate the Savior’s birth and the marvelous gift of his life, what are the best gifts that we can offer in return for all that he has done for us? As I pondered that, I thought of a remark that was made by one of my loved ones recently. When asked who or what she would be and why if she could’ve been present at the Nativity, she answered that she would like to have been the star—to be a clear, guiding light, so that people could look up and know where they’re going, and that its somewhere good—to know that if they just followed this beautiful light, they would find joy.
I greatly admired the faith and wisdom inherent in that thought. As individuals who have covenanted to take upon us the name of Christ, to do as he would do, this is exactly the gift we should be offering our Savior: to share our testimonies and live as examples to shine his light for those who, wandering in the darkness, are seeking him. We ought to be beacons, shining the light of hope and truth to those who have not yet found him.
All too often, we hesitate to be that light for others. Sometimes that hesitation comes from fear or vanity: we’re afraid that we will be thought simple or foolish or a whole host of other unpleasant things, so refuse to open our mouths or make any bold moves--we hide our candle under a bushel, as it were. Often, that hesitation comes from a different kind of pride: because we know that we are imperfect vessels, we allow the adversary or our own doubts to convince us that we are wholly unworthy ones. We convince ourselves that we can’t possibly have any gifts worthy of the King of Kings and Lord or Lords, because we are poor souls with nothing but a little drum. But the fact is that, though the church has grown by leaps and bounds, less than one half of one percent of the individuals currently living on the earth are members of the church. There is far too much work to be done for us to indulge in self-pity.
At this time of year, as my kids start watching Christmas movies, I always notice how many of them are about belief, about growing cynical with age and losing one’s child-like faith. So many movies set during Christmas are about people wanting to believe in something good—to believe that there is such a thing as purity and selfless love. These movies often carry a theme of homesickness at Christmas, even when you’re home. Too many people are rather blamelessly unaware of the source of purity and selfless love and the resulting joy—they lack the knowledge that much of Christmastime homesickness is a longing for a home we can’t remember, but some part of us knows is there and wants to return to. They don’t understand that that the “spirit of Christmas”, the spirit that inspires them to serve, to give, to be more patient and kind and compassionate, is the spirit of Christ.
In times such as these, that knowledge is so important, because without that understanding, the difficulty of the circumstances that so many people are in causes them to lose their grip on that joy. They don’t entirely understand the source of it, so they aren’t sure how to find it when life gets difficult or messy. There are so many distractions, so many different voices in the world driving people in so many different directions. We ought to speak up more often and more confidently, be a little kinder, a little more thoughtful, a little more patient and giving so that through our testimonies and examples they might find that source of pure joy. We must tend to our testimonies through scripture study and prayer and service so that flame of faith will shine clearly to those who are still wandering in the darkness.
Most of the world is still familiar the story of a little baby lying in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. But too many people know too little about his life and why it mattered. President Hinckley once said, “There would be no Christmas if there had been no Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.” That’s what Isaiah meant when he said, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. . .” That’s why we celebrate. That’s why we give presents and make cookies and decorate trees. Because the Father gave his son, and the son gave his life.
Many times I’ve pondered the fact that one of the last acts of service the Savior gave, before the ultimate act of service of the Atonement, was to wash his apostles feet. This has always struck me as one of the most humble acts of his singularly humble life. He made lame men walk and blind men see. He healed lepers and raised the dead. These were all incredible acts of service. But what of this act of washing feet? It was not miraculous. There was no glory in this service. It was a dirty, probably most unpleasant job, and the only result was clean feet. But I’m sure hearts were cleansed, as well, as he, the greatest being who ever lived, kneeled at a basin and scrubbed the filthy feet of the men to whom he was teacher and master. If we serve with humble hearts, out of love for Him and those we serve, the Lord will sustain us. It may take a long time to see any results, but He will help us scrape away the dirt and mud and stains to cleanse that which has been dirtied by the world.
That was the Savior’s parting lesson to His apostles: if you would lead people, if you would teach them, if you want them to ever “get it”, you must serve them, humbly and selflessly. As Christmas approaches, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Have I been the friend that I ought to be? Have I given way to anger where prayerful compassion ought to hold sway? Have I given up where something more could be done?” When we are tempted to hide our candle under a bushel, we ought to remember how the Lord served us.
A few years ago, in a powerful address entitled, “And None Were With Him”, Elder Holland said, “I speak of those final moments. . .that concluding descent into paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries out in ultimate loneliness, ‘My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?’
“But Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. The trust He lived by told Him in spite of His feelings that divine compassion is never absent, that God is always faithful, that he never flees nor fails us. When the uttermost farthing had then been paid, when Christ’s determination to be faithful was as obvious as it was utterly invincible, finally and mercifully, it was ‘finished’. Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness and despair. With faith in a God He knew was there, He could say in triumph, ‘Father into thy hands I commend my spirit. . .May we stand by Jesus Christ ‘at all times and in all things and in all places that [we] may be in, even unto death’, for surely that is how He stood by us when it was unto death and when He had to stand entirely and utterly alone.”
No one, not even the most righteous and talented and blessed among us, will ever come close to repaying even a fraction of the gift we were all given. But if we can stand confidently and humbly and, like the little drummer boy, “play our best for him”, I do think he smiles at us—that he is pleased with our sincere service. “Unto us a son is given.” Without that, every other gift would be meaningless. With it, every faithful effort is sanctified. In the shadow of the ultimate gift, every other gift seems so small. But by faithful exercise of our agency, we very slowly work towards exaltation, and a chance to bless other lives with knowledge of gifts of eternal value. We each have to start somewhere, even if we’re too poor and inexperienced to offer anything but a pleasant beat on our little drum. He makes up the difference in whatever we lack.
That’s the gift we celebrate this time of year: a Savior, a Redeemer, who does for us that which we cannot do for ourselves, however valiantly we may try. Someone who steps in and pays the price to cleanse us of our sins, make us whole and carry our burdens that would sometimes be too heavy to bear alone. We all know individuals and families who are struggling and tired, and we may not be able to carry those burdens for them, but as our gift to them and to the Lord, we can try to be a guiding light to point them to he who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. . .in the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Truly those are glad tidings of great joy. The angel who announced the Savior’s birth declared, “Peace on earth, good will to men.” We must remember that peace on earth is found person by person, one by one. My Christmas prayer is that as we find peace in the Savior’s love and Atoning sacrifice, we will share that love with those who have not yet known it, that our Father might welcome all his children home.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Just before we left, Amanda asked Kylie if she could have a kiss. Kylie kissed her, and then let out a heavy sigh, and in a melancholy tone (while wearing her famous pouty face) she said, "I'm moving to Montana." Auntie Amanda comforted her by saying, "I know, sweetie, but I think next spring we're gonna come visit you." Immediately her face brightened up and she asked excitedly, "In Montana?!"
She has no idea what bounty awaits her in the form or aunts and uncles and cousins, but she's gonna miss her best friend "auntie Manda" anyway. I'm grateful my children are so well loved.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Today, one of my friends hosted a playdate so that we could spend some time with our wonderful mommy friends. I couldn't think too much about leaving this wonderful group of women or I'd just get sick, so I tried to focus on the fact that I'll be near my sisters again. As I gave hugs and said goodbye, I could tell I would be missed as much as I would miss them--it was a wonderfully miserable feeling. Every time the car turned as it was leaving the driveway, all the kids in it would yell "Bye Kylie!!" again. Finally, she said, "Mommy, they keep saying bye to me!" I told her, "I know, Kylie, that's because we're going to Montana and they're staying in California and we won't see them again for a long time. We're not sure when we'll see them again." Suddenly, her eyes got very big, and in a pathetically sad little voice she said, "But we will miss them!" I responded that we certainly would, and she burst into tears. "But Mommy we will miss them!!" Apparently, what moving meant hadn't sunk in for our littlest one til yesterday. It was a pretty sad moment.
But it all made me feel so grateful once again for having been in this particular place at this particular point in time. Sometimes the Lord helps something special to happen--and even if you know that's the case, the "something special" isn't always what you think it is. For a time, however brief, he brought all these families together, and in many respects we felt like a big family. We relied heavily on each other, and were intertwined the way enmeshed families are, sometimes seeing each other 6 or 7 days a week. We learned to see and cherish one another's strengths and be patient with each other's weaknesses. I think we all learned a little better how and why to see those around us as brothers and sisters, fellow children of a divine Father. We welcomed new family members together--both babies and converts--and helped each other to teach and nurture them while struggling with our own shortcomings. We've learned more Christlike love through the way we have loved and been loved by each other. What lesson could be more important than that?
The Lord gathers his people and he scatters his people. Both are difficult for different reasons, both have their blessings, as well, and I don't pretend to understand all his reasons for doing either. I'm simply grateful to have been a small part of this gathering, to better understand the line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". This Thanksgiving as I enjoy dinner with my whole, big, wonderful family, I will also think of my many wonderful friends in California, and truly be filled up with gratitude for the abundance with which the Lord has blessed me.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Monterey (and the fact that I never got to take the kids to the aquarium)
Sacramento (the train museum, Old Town, etc)
the smell of fresh oranges
the giant trees
In N Out
dual immersion schooling (such mixed feelings there)
all the orchards--almonds, olives, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, walnuts, pistachios, etc.
that first smell and sight of ocean driving over 41 or 168
that I decided to help myself make this adjustment, I have to remember all the things I definitely will NOT miss, like:
the dairy smell
fall that barely arrives at all, and usually not until November
the blasted heat
the winter fog
over-intrusive bureaucracy everywhere
pathetically failing school
personal state income tax
ridiculously expensive vehicle registration fees
listening to people peel out of Fast Strip all hours of the day and night
politics (granted, this may be a short-term relief, since small towns can be like this anywhere, but I'm grateful for the break)
There are a lot of other things that could go on these lists, but its a start.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
We were asked to speak this last Sunday, as what the Bishop referred to, somewhat hilariously, as a "parting shot". Following is the text of my talk.
We were asked to speak this last Sunday, as what the Bishop referred to, somewhat hilariously, as a "parting shot". Following is the text of my talk.
When Brother Cregor asked us to speak, he extended the wonderful blessing and burden of choosing our own topics. We’ve been preparing to move, and I’ve had such conflicting emotions about this decision, and have had so much to get done and been reflecting so often on our time here in Lindsay, its been difficult to get my mind to slow down enough to focus on anything.
We moved here 5 ½ years ago, when Keilana was not quite 2 and Dylan was only 6 weeks old, and nearly all of the time that has passed for us here has been tremendously intense, in every possible way: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There’s been a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of fun and a lot of hard stuff, but just A LOT. So often I have found myself thinking, “When is this going to slow down? What am I supposed to be learning here?” Having my mind race and my spirit agitated so that I can’t focus has been a common challenge for me during the time that we lived here, as we faced many, usually unexpected, challenges.
As I thought about that, two experiences I had with different nephews came to mind. Many years ago, my brother and his very young wife were living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he was stationed with the army. Both of them were living away from their families for the first time, when they welcomed their oldest son, Jeriah Daij, into the world. He was small, only 5.5 pounds, but healthy and beautiful. A day later, as they were checking out of the hospital to head home, their tiny baby began to seize violently in his mother’s arms. After rushing the baby across town to a private hospital where he could receive specialized care, his frightened young parents were told that he had spinal meningitis and that a baby as young as he was had almost no internal defenses developed to help fight the infection. It was highly unlikely that he would live, but if he did, he would probably be deaf, paralyzed, and mentally challenged, among a whole host of other maladies. This past summer, that baby turned 11. He is smart and healthy and strong—in fact, a few weeks before his 11th birthday, he completed a grueling hike, with his dad, uncle and older cousins, that has been known to sometimes get the better of grown men. There is nothing today to indicate that he was ever sick.
As most of you know, we faced a tragedy in our family a few years ago. Seared into my memory is a warm, sunny Friday afternoon where in five minutes time the whole world seemed to turn sideways as my sister-in-law told me over the phone that Conner, her beautiful, sweet young toddler, has toppled into a small backyard pool and drowned and was in the hospital. Eleven hours after I received her phone call, I received a second one from my mother-in-law at the hospital telling me that Conner had slipped away.
I reflected on these incidents and thought, “I could spend my whole life asking, ‘Why?’ Why is Jeriah a happy, healthy 11-year-old, but we had to say good bye to Conner?” Both boys were given Priesthood blessings, were prayed for by large, loving families. I could spend my whole life asking, “What lesson are we supposed to learn here? What could we have done differently?”
Many individuals and families do torture themselves with such questions: “We had FHE, we said our prayers, we were diligent in our callings, so why have our children gone astray? I have been a good and faithful friend, who has tried hard to be kind and patient, why has my trust been broken? I have been a devoted and caring spouse, why has our family fallen apart? I have been a hard worker, diligent and wise in trying to provide adequately for my family, so why can’t I find work? And so often, the question that follows these is “What am I supposed to be learning?” In many respects, this is a very valid question to ask, but often we ask it as we look for that little treasure of knowledge that will magically release us from this or that trial, because now we’ve learned what we needed to learn and we can move on. While we should always be actively seeking to know what the Lord would have us learn, that simply isn’t how life works.
I’ve come to understand that often the lesson we need to learn is to simply be still and know that He is God—that he is over all, and he has his reasons. This doesn’t mean that we sit around and wait for the Lord to run our lives. Always there is much to be done, and we can and ought to be anxiously engaged, as the Lord has instructed. But our souls should be still. As a wonderful hymn says, “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side/With patience bear your cross of grief or pain/ Leave to thy God to order and provide/In every change, he faithful will remain/Be still my soul/ Thy best, thy heavenly friend/ Thru thorny ways/leads to a joyful end”. Thru all the trials and troubles and busyness of life, we must learn to discipline our souls to be still, to be at peace, “In every change, he faithful will remain”. Everything in life is temporary. Mortal life itself is temporary, and often wildly unpredictable. He only is constant and unchanging. He never leaves us alone, and ultimately he is over all—we must learn to trust more completely and more readily in that, and so be at peace.
When the apostles were tossed about by the waves of the sea, they were afraid they would drown as the Lord slept. They went to their Master and asked, “Carest thou not that we perish?” The Lord was more mindful of their circumstances than they had realized, as he spoke those quiet, powerful words, “Peace, be still”—perhaps as much a loving rebuke to his apostles as to the powerful sea. Why should they fear when the Lord was with them? Yet, too often we do the same thing, finding ourselves rocked by the storms of life, we forget that we have the Lord as our companion, and don’t think to ask for his help until we turn to him in a panic and practically shout, “Why are you letting my drown?” We forget that if we exercise faith in him, he can calm any storm. He is always aware of the challenges we face and is ready to help us, if only we remember that he’s there and have the humility to seek him.
Yet we must also strive to have the kind of faith displayed by Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego as they faced King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. They declared that they were not afraid because they knew that the Lord had the power to deliver them from the flames, “but if not”—if they perished in the furnace--they would remain faithful to the Lord. We too must trust in the Lord, that he has the power to deliver us from any fire, but that if he doesn’t, he has a wise purpose for letting us struggle, and we ultimately will come off conquerors through him that loved us. So much in life is beyond our control. It is not, however, beyond his control.
“In the world ye shall have tribulation,” he said, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Our sorrows, our pains and our troubles are temporary. Through the Atonement, he will make everything right in the end. Sometimes we get relief and see a little more of the big picture in this life, but sometimes we don’t. We have to remember that that’s OK, because we know that even the end of this life is not the end. The Atonement is infinite and eternal. The Plan of Salvation shows to us a Father above who is more patient, more merciful, and more loving than most people would ever dare to guess. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to become like Him. Its just that getting there is an awful lot of hard work, and in the mean time we can’t control the agency of others, and the Lord will certainly not usurp the agency of his other children for our convenience. We must trust in the Lord, and trust in the covenants we have made with him. He will honor all that he has promised us if we will but strive to be faithful to him.
Instead of asking “why?” we should more often ask, “what?” “What blessings has the Lord given me to help me weather this storm?” In my case, it has been true over and over again the last few years that one of the most valuable blessings the Lord has provided for me is marvelous friends. CS Lewis once wrote, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” I believe that God knew the challenges we would face, and knew we would need help and so he armed us with faithful, loving friends. The Lord instructs us to “Let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” I am humbled by the extent to which so many in this ward have shone the light of Christ into my life.
Christ-like friends not only help us weather life’s storms, they help us to do so cheerfully and to be a better person for it. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who walked a very stormy path, often spoke of how he valued the love and support of his friends. He once wrote, ” “How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not; and whose knees are confirmed and do not falter, while they wait upon the Lord. . .They shall not want a friend while I live; my heart shall love those, and my hands shall toil for those, who love and toil for me, and shall ever be found faithful to my friends.”
I am so sad to leave, because I won’t have the opportunity to begin to repay so much of the Christ-like charity that has been extended to me and to my family. When we came here, I never imagined that it would be so hard to leave. Though five years is a small measure of time, the things that we have learned during our years here have had a huge influence on my eternal perspective and I am certain we have made more than a few friends who will have had an eternal impact on us.
The Lord commands us to be perfect. When I was a teenager, my father once told me that an alternate translation of the Hebrew word for “perfect” is “complete” or “whole”. I thought about that as I remembered my first night in Lindsay 5 ½ years ago. We stopped at Save Mart on the way home to grab something to eat because we were living in a tiny rental house out in the country and didn’t have a refrigerator yet and all our stuff was still in boxes and I didn’t know anyone and the whole place was new to me and I was sitting in the car in the rain listening to my baby cry and I thought, “What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here!” I was a tumult of emotions inside—at that moment, I lacked so very much, I was so terribly incomplete. But as I put my faith in the Lord, I quickly found that over and over again, usually through the actions of caring friends, I heard the Lord quietly whisper, “Peace, be still.” The Lord helped me move a little closer to being whole by providing friends who are strong where I am weak.