Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Monday, November 29, 2010
Then, well, then there are the rest of us. We live in our houses, scraping butter on our kids’ toast for breakfast, packing school lunches, hoping we didn’t forget anyone’s homework, and goodness, kids, would you please stop fighting?
When the dust clears each school morning, we sit on the couch, our hair a mess, and watch news reports of the rich and famous making real differences in the world.
Realistically, what kind of difference can I make? Can you make? Most of us aren’t swimming in loaded bank accounts. We don’t own three homes, have chauffeurs, or have a few million dollars to throw around to build an orphanage, a well for clean water, a new school for African children. What difference can my measly offering make?
As Christmas draws near, our hearts naturally turn to the Great Shepherd, to the One who gave us the Resurrection as the ultimate free gift, the One who gave us the opportunity to repent through the Atonement and thus gave us the possibility of returning to Him with the gift of Eternal Life. We celebrate those gifts as we celebrate His humble birth, often by giving gifts to one another.
Usually those gifts are of the worldly variety. They’re wrapped in shiny paper and topped with pretty bows, ready for the recipient to tear open and enjoy.
We all know that Christmas is more than that, and most of us strive to find a way to give in other ways. The problem is, too often it's easy to give up before we start, because we don't think we can do anything that matters. We aren’t as rich as Brad Pitt or Oprah. And we certainly aren’t as cool as Bono.
But that’s not the real problem. At times, I've forgotten that Christ wasn’t rich or cool or famous, either. He was a humble, poor servant.
Christ spent time with small children.
I can do that—I have four of my own who yearn for any additional time Mom will give them, especially when I’m running around like a crazed chicken without a head each December. Maybe one of my gifts this year will be to slow down and spend time with them. To hold them. Read to them more. Have a quiet evening playing card games. Talk with them more. Laugh with them.
Christ fed those who had no food.
I have food storage in my basement. It’s not fancy, and if I'm being honest, it's not up to the year supply (yet!), but we do have cans of tuna, soup, vegetables, beans, and many other items. We can spare some, especially for the less-fortunate during this tough economic climate. I can load up a box of food and take it to the food bank. Maybe even with my children.
For that matter, with what little money I do have, I can make a difference in places around the world by donating any amount, no matter how small, on my tithing slip to the Humanitarian Aid fund, the Perpetual Education Fund, or the Temple Patron Fund. Any money I donate will be used to benefit someone, somewhere, who needs it. I will make a difference.
Christ knew when it was time to stop worrying about the minutiae.
Housework, food and all the fancy fixings—all the party stuff we get caught up in during the holiday—are so easy to get pulled into, just like Mary did when Christ visited her and her sister. This December, maybe I’ll skip the vacuuming or sweeping or let the dishes lie in the sink a little longer than normal, and instead sit down with my Book of Mormon for a few extra minutes. That will be a gift to myself— partaking of “that good part,” as Martha did.
Christ knew that any time we serve another, it is the same as serving Him.
“Ye have done it unto me.” So when I’m shopping and everyone around me is tense, a kind smile, a polite word that diffuses tension . . . any of that is really a gift to my Savior. I can give genuine compliments to lift someone’s day. Instead of just thinking that my neighbor’s sweater is beautiful, I can say so to her. I can mail a card to a friend I’m thinking about, drop off a treat to the bishop’s home in acknowledgment of all he does and the sacrifices his family makes for the benefit of the ward. Make a phone call to someone who's been on my mind.
Even doing my visiting teaching—truly doing it by listening and being in tune with the Spirit to know if my sisters need something from me—is a gift to my Savior.
None of these gifts are wrapped in shiny paper or have big, impressive bows. None cost gobs of money. All the same, they impact lives. They can make a difference. They are gifts.
Somehow I think that iPods, DVDs, and fancy clothes aren’t the kinds of things our Savior would have in mind for the best way to celebrate his birth.
Simple gifts of service would be—anything that brings another person’s heart closer to Him. The Savior once asked something: “Feed my sheep.”
That will be my gift.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
In one of the final scenes of The Last Battle, the last book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, some dwarfs sit near Aslan, who provides a “glorious feast” for them. The dwarfs, however, firmly believe they’re in a stable. They see and taste only the kinds of things they imagine would be in a stable: hay, water from a donkey’s trough, raw cabbage leaves, a piece of turnip.
In the scriptures, we have a glorious feast provided for us. Do we see and taste little more than damp hay and turnips?
We’ve been commanded to “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3), but often we see that commandment as a chore. It’s one more—boring—thing on our never-ending to-do list, perhaps even a burden.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The beginning of a new school year provides a change in pace for the entire family, so it's a great time to also change up how you’ve been reading the scriptures.
Pick one of the ideas below to make your personal scripture reading fresh and new. You’ll feast on more than fancy steak or salmon; and you’ll find gratitude for new treasures found in your very own summer scriptural feast.
Forget Chapter Breaks
The scriptures weren’t originally transcribed with formal verses and chapters. We often forget that, but chapter-by-chapter is usually how we read. While verse and chapter breaks are convenient, sometimes they can get in the way of understanding. One year I read the Book of Mormon differently: each day, I read two pages. After turning a page, I finished the verse or sentence I was on and stopped. When I came to a chapter break mid-page, I kept going, often skipping the chapter headings (which weren't originally part of the scripture text but added for the "new" edition in 1979).
This method brought the events and storyline of the Book of Mormon into sharper focus. I was more aware of how events and feelings connected to one another, doctrine and events that had previously been mentally separated for me by a big chapter break. I found new insights and understanding.
Study a Word or Theme
I learned this one from my mother. Select a doctrine or topic you want to learn more about. Start underlining words relating to it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how often the theme comes up, in what ways, and how much you learn about it while you’re looking for it. It'll continue to show up later (perhaps even years later), after you've already marked up your scriptures.
During a BYU religion class, my teacher got me fascinated with how the scriptures are filled with covenants, temples, and teachings about them. I took that as my topic. With a green marking pen, I underlined every word that, to me, related to covenants or temples. The list began with the obvious covenant, oath, promise, temple, and priesthood. Soon more words jumped out at me, like house, mountain, anoint, tabernacle, ordinance, and cleanse. I paid closer attention to times the Lord makes promises, marking moments when He made promises to his people or when others promised things to the Lord or to one another. I marked key words such as if . . . shall, I raise my hand, witness, etc.
I'd watched Mom study her scriptures in similar ways with long lists of words. The longer I personally went on this journey, the more words relating to the temple that I found to mark. Seventeen years (and several times through the scriptures) later, I’m still finding new words to add, and I’m continually learning more about this important topic.
Granted, you don’t need to commit to one theme for a decade or two, but picking one or two words to focus on for even a month or more can provide you with a deeper knowledge than you would have had otherwise.
A Footnote Journey
A single footnote can take a single study session to a new level—and into every standard work. Find an interesting word and look up all the references to it. Then look up the references in those verses, and so on. Eventually, you’ll circle back to the same verse you started with, and by that time, you’ll have a greater understanding of the topic.
Once when reading the account in 3 Nephi where the people hear the Father’s voice and it “pierces” them to the very center, I looked up the footnotes by “pierce.” The scripture trail led me to instances where people are impacted powerfully by the Spirit.
I noticed that whenever the people were righteous, the word used was pierce or something similar, indicating that the message went straight to the center of their hearts. But when the wicked felt the Spirit strongly, more painful, violent words associated with it, such as being “cut to the heart” (for example, Mosiah 13:7). In both types of cases, the Spirit is doing the same thing—reaching the heart. But the recipient experienced something different. While the righteous feel the Spirit to their core, the wicked may feel wounded and hurt, for as Nephi said, the wicked “take the truth to be hard” (1 Nephi 16:2). Without reading all of those instances back-to-back in a twenty-minute period, I never would have had that insight.
Mark Those Footnotes
As I mentioned (and explained how to do) in THIS POST, marking the footnotes in the "new" 1979 version of the King James Bible is well worth the time and effort. As I read my scriptures with relevant footnotes already marked for me, I'll catch alternate meanings of words, Joseph Smith Translations that are critical to understanding the text, and more. Read that post for more.
It’s time to partake and be filled with the glorious feast of the scriptures. Don’t let them be merely turnips and dirty water that you nibble on while making a face. Instead, fill up on the delicacies and fine wine found within the pages sitting on your night stand.