Monday, November 29, 2010

Gifts for the Savior

For years, Oprah has had her Angel Network, which she uses to benefit literally thousands of disadvantaged people around the world. Brad Pitt and wife give more money toward charity than almost any other Hollywood stars. And Bono, arguably the coolest rocker alive, has done more for dying Africans than almost anyone.

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

Forgiveness & Gratitude

Grudges are painfully easy to hold onto and are hard to let go. It’s not until you put down the burden and walk away that you realize just how heavy it was to begin with—and that the person you’ve been so angry with wasn’t being affected by the bitterness you clung to. A cloud descends, blocking out the spirit and making other things—like feeling genuine gratitude during the Thanksgiving season—almost impossible.

I remember all too well a difficult time in high school when a person wounded me deeply. It happened in the spring, and I felt the hurt—and the resulting anger—for the rest of the school year, all of the summer, and into the next school year. For a full six months, every time I thought about the person involved or saw them, even just passing by in the hall, I got a nauseating pit in my stomach. My heart raced, and I had a hard time breathing. I quickly looked away, clenching my books as I escaped down the hall.

Beyond noticing my dirty looks, the other person was likely unaffected by my visceral reaction, but the burden for me was constant. It was like proverbial drinking poison but hoping the other person gets sick. I spent half a year poisoning my spirit. I couldn’t go to school without a sinking pit in my middle. I could think of little else. Eventually, I knew that I couldn’t go on that way; something had to change.

One morning, through intense prayer and sheer willpower, I arrived in the school’s main hall, determined to do something different. When I saw the other person near a staircase, I forced myself to smile pleasantly and say hello.

The shock and confusion on their face was priceless.

But more than that, as I walked away, I felt as if heavy lead scales slipped off my body and clattered to the floor. My shoulders literally felt lighter. Instead of a pit in my stomach, it had butterflies. I took a deep breath. It felt good. My heart raced as it often did after a confrontation, but this time it was the pitter-patter of nerves, not the heavy drum beat of anger and resentment.

In the nearly two decades since that experience, I’ve faced situations far more complex and difficult to handle than a simple high-school peer issue. And if I’m paying attention, whenever I allow anger to take root, I can sense a change, starting on a physical level. My heart rate and breathing are altered. Muscles tensing up. A throbbing headache begins at the base of my neck.

But most importantly, the Spirit withdraws. I lose my compass, my connection with the Lord. I get depressed, anxious, unable to hear answers to prayers.

Learning to forgive has been a gradual lesson, one I’m still learning on a day-by-day basis. I have to continually remind myself not to drink the poison. Not to hurt myself.

Instead, we are taught to turn over the situation to the Lord, for He has borne our burdens already. Forgiving doesn’t excuse the actions of the other person. Instead, forgiveness is a gift that allows the Lord be the one to take care of it, to let us set down the burden, knowing that it’s in good hands.

For me, the most powerful way of letting things go is to find a quiet place, close my eyes, and—as silly as I may feel—verbalize my forgiveness. It’s important for me to hear my own voice saying the words. “I forgive [person] for [action].” The more specific I am, the better—even if I’m forgiving myself for not living up to the level I know I should.

As I forgive and let go of the anger or bitterness, a peace descends over my body almost immediately. The tension in my muscles and my stomach loosens, and I can breathe easier. Forgiveness is healing. I think it is no coincidence that most of the Savior’s physical healings were also accompanied by spiritual one: He stated that the person’s sins were forgiven, and then he healed their infirmity.

To be whole in every way, to feel gratitude and hope and faith—elements that should be our focus in November as well as the rest of the year—we must have the Spirit with us as a constant companion, and harboring anger makes that difficult.

The more I’ve learned about forgiveness, the more I see how critical it is for each of us in working out our salvation. No wonder the Lord commanded us to forgive “seventy times seven.”
I’m still very much a work in progress with this principle, but the more regularly I apply it, the lighter and more vibrant I feel. It’s easier for me to experience joy and peace, to feel the promptings of the Spirit, and to progress as a daughter of God.

We can all tap in to the benefit of this principle by remembering a single concept taught by Nephi with such simplicity: “I did frankly forgive them all that they had done” (1 Nephi 7:21).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Feasting on the Word

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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

10 Easy Ways Kids Can Go Green

Kids can’t buy energy-saving appliances, wrap their water heater in an insulating blanket, or change the furnace filters. So how can they too be part of the efforts to “go green”?

They can. Even small children can take steps to save resources; it's worth a try to incorporate some simple ways of teaching children to respect their world. Before you know it, these things will be simply part of your family’s lifestyle. Your children may well rise to the “green” challenge—and even pass off some Cub Scout or Activity Day requirements along the way.

#1: Light Up

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. The new bulbs cost more, so changing all of lights in your house at once can be intimidating. We've made the change gradually as the old bulbs burn out. It’s been worth it: the newer bulbs last four times longer than regular bulbs but use only a quarter of the energy. Let kids be part of the switch, both in buying them and putting them in the sockets (with parental supervision).

#2: Unplug

Take note of items that are routinely plugged when they aren't actually being used, like a televisions, phone chargers, or electronic games. (In our house, the shredder somehow manages to get turned on at the oddest times.)

If a plug is in a socket, it’s draining small amounts of energy even when appliance is turned off. Kids have a knack for noticing small things (and many outlets are closer to their eye level than adults’ anyway), so turn this one into a game: Who can find the most things to unplug every day? Obviously you’ll need some things to stay plugged in (the fridge, clocks, etc.), but you might be surprised at how many chords can be pulled out of the wall, saving nickels and dimes that really add up.

#3: Lights off

Remind kids that power is still being drained (and paid for) when they’ve left the room and left the light on (even if it's a new, energy-saving bulb!). Help kids make a habit of turning off lights as they walk through the house—even if they weren’t the one that turned a light on in the first place.

#4: Close that Door

A lot of energy is wasted through simple actions—or non-actions. Leaving an outside door open a crack lets cold air in during the winter that then has to be heated up again. In the summer, the reverse is true: hot air coming in must use additional energy to be cooled off.

Similarly, warm air inside the fridge ends up using more energy as it's cooled again to keep food fresh. Kids can learn to close the fridge and freezer doors quickly, not spending time deciding what to eat or keeping the door open while they pour a glass of milk.

#5: Turn off the Tap

Here's a fun one: show kids just how much water they waste when letting the faucet run doing something simple. Using a bowl, catch water from the tap while the kids brush their teeth. They may be surprised how much water is literally going down the drain during that short period. Teach them to turn off the tap. This includes taking shorter showers and not filling the bath to the rim.

#6: Recycle

If recycling is available in your area, participate as much as your family can, whether that’s dropping off newspapers and phone books at a collection bin or whether you have curbside recycling. Even a preschooler can learn which can the banana peel goes into and which one is for the empty, cardboard fruit-snacks box.

#7: Use It Up

A generation ago, people made a point of making things last. Today, we’re such a disposable society that it’s easy to throw something away and buy another one without much thought. Encourage your children to take care of their belongings so they’ll last longer.

This applies to all areas, from clothing (avoiding holes and other wear, not washing every item, like jeans, after every single wear—which saves detergent, water, and power) to school supplies (buying backpacks every other year, making sure all the pages in a notebook are used before getting a new one), not losing pencils or pens or constantly breaking crayons.

In addition, older children can learn to sew on buttons, patch holes, make shorts out of holey jeans, and otherwise make their clothing last longer.

#8: Donate

When children have outgrown clothes, toys, and other items, sort through them together. When you explain that those less fortunate can benefit from their old stuff, children are often amazingly generous with their belongings. Recycling goods results in less clutter and less waste in landfills.

#9: Buy Used

You’ll likely need to buy some new items for your children (shoes, socks, etc), but try visiting thrift shops periodically as well. Some thrift stores have a surprisingly good-quality selection at low prices. You spend less money, and your children get to recycle all at the same time.

One family promised their children brand new clothing if they couldn’t find anything they liked at their local Deseret Industries, but for a couple of years, the kids have opted to get their school clothes second-hand. They’re thrilled at the bigger variety because they're less likely to end up matching someone at school. They've also figured out that because the clothing costs so much less there, each child can get more items for the same money.

#10: Take a Walk

Children love to be helpers and see what they do as making a visible difference. Take them on a walk around your community, bringing along gloves and garbage sacks, then pick up trash as you go.

Encourage children to keep their world clean and to save resources. You may well benefit financially, but “Going Green” is also a way of thinking we can all learn from as we take care of the home our Heavenly Father created for us.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Letter to the Almost Man in My Life

Dear Son,

You’re my firstborn, my only son, and the only brother your little sisters will ever know.

You entered my life when I was twenty-one—barely a woman myself. As I held you for the first time, I was equal parts terrified and excited to be a mother.

You were three and a half when I first had a glimpse of the man you might become one day. We sat in sacrament meeting as a family of four, with another baby coming soon. I was exhausted, discouraged, and sure that I was muffing up this motherhood thing—what was I thinking having a third child?

A woman gave a talk about her brother who had left the Church because he no longer believed in God. She repeatedly used her brother’s phrases describing his disbelief. I didn’t think my little Sunbeam was hearing anything of it, but you looked up from your crayon scribbles, leaned in to me, and said with a shake of your head, “Mom, we know there’s a God.”

“Yes, we do,” I said, and pressed my lips together as tears welled in my eyes.

Nearly three years ago, shortly before your ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood, you and I sat on the couch and went over some of the Faith in God goals to prepare you. We discussed what the priesthood is, what it can do, and why a man should be worthy to hold it. Suddenly, you got a somber look on your face, and you said, “This is a big thing I’m doing, isn’t it?”

It was. And is. But you’ve carried the duty well. During the time you were a deacon, I sat in awe watching you serve, at how seriously you take your responsibilities and your worthiness, your eagerness to do what is right whenever you can. You've been a teacher for nearly a year now, and have kept up your duties well. You strive to become a better person and to grow closer to the Spirit, even if that means going to do baptisms at the temple before school—and waking up at quarter to five in the morning to make it possible.

No one told you to. You just signed up when you had the opportunity.

A little over a year ago, you literally got close to being run over trying to serve. We were driving home on a snow-packed street, and Sister S was stuck in a snow bank one house over. A few young men were helping to push her out. In your eagerness to help, you threw the door open and nearly jumped out of the moving car. I had to call you back so the wheels wouldn’t roll over you. When it was safe to exit, you hurried to help. Five minutes later, you came into the house with rosy cheeks and a grin. You’d helped get Sister S on her way. That is the kind of man I always hoped my son would be.

But the one moment that made it clear to me the kind of man you already are—and the amazing person you will one day surely become—was over Christmas break a year and a half ago. We were visiting grandparents about an hour away from home. While you and Grandpa went to a game, we received word that your aunt was in the hospital for emergency surgery. You and Grandpa left the game to give her a blessing at a hospital in our home town. Then you stayed at our house overnight to avoid driving back on slippery roads so late.

The next day, Sunday, while packing up our things at Grandma’s house, I was unsure whether you’d taken a Christmas gift with you to the game with Grandpa or if I should keep looking for it. I called home to find out, and Grandpa answered. “I think he brought it here with him,” he said.

I asked to talk with you just to be sure.

“Oh, he’s not here right now,” Grandpa informed me. “He went to church.”

I stood there with the phone to my ear, not sure what I’d just heard. “He what?”

At the time, we had church at nine o’clock. Like most growing teenagers, if left to your own devices, you’d sleep until ten or eleven.

The ward knew our family was traveling that weekend. No one expected any of us to attend. But you were home, and you knew it was right to go if you could. Grandpa had no Sunday clothes with him, but you did. You got up, put on a white shirt and tie, and passed the sacrament with the other deacons. Then you sat alone in the back of the chapel.

You could have stayed home. Not a soul expected you to do anything different. No one in the ward would have known differently.

But you knew. And you knew God knew. So you lived up to your duty.

Thus far, you’ve been a dream of a son to raise. I just know that one day, you’ll be a dream of a husband and a great father. Your wife will know that no matter where the bar is, you’ll be a step or two above it—not because anyone will be watching and judging, although they probably will, but because that’s what you do. It’s who you are. You strive to reach your God-given potential, to fulfill your duty to best of your ability.

You’re not quite fifteen, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re a true man already in the ways that matter most.

Happy Father's Day.



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Learning to Celebrate ME on Mother's Day

As a young girl, I dreaded Mother’s Day.

At the time, I couldn’t have put why into words.

My mother was the sun and the moon to me. Yet each year on Mother’s Day, she sat in the chapel listening to talks about amazing, angel, perfect mothers. She inevitably teared up and was miserable.

I spent my time in Primary thinking of ways to make the rest of her day happy. Maybe on the way home from church, I could pick a pretty bouquet of wild flowers. I’d clean up all the dinner dishes. I’d draw her pretty pictures. That would do it, right?

Now that I’m a mother, I get it. My mom didn’t think she measured up to the mythical idea of the Ideal Mother—the mother that does not and has never existed. I’ve spent too many Mother’s Days thinking the same thing.

In his book All Moms Go to Heaven, Dean Hughes declares that instead of giving mothers flowers in sacrament meeting, we should give out solid chocolate statues of the mythical Ideal Mother so we can all bite her head off. When I read that, I wanted to fill a stadium with moms and cheer our lungs out. But while I understood the whole “Ideal Mother is a myth” thing in a logical sort of way, it took something else for me to understand it in my heart.

Several years ago for my birthday, my husband and I had plans to get a babysitter and go to a restaurant, maybe even catch a movie—a rare treat. Since the day landed on a Saturday, I planned to spend most of the day resting and having “me” time.

It didn’t turn out as planned.

My youngest, then age two, woke up with croup. The poor thing, usually so energetic, lay on the couch without moving, staring off into the distance. She wanted to be held, didn’t want to eat, and didn’t talk.

I took her to the doctor, where, due to a clerical mix-up, we waited for hours and were the last to leave the off-hours clinic. From there I brought her home, picked up my seven-year-old, and the two of us went to the store for a gift to take to a birthday party, where I dropped her off.

Then I raced to the grocery store for my baby's prescriptions so we could give them to her before her nap, which was already overdue. While waiting for them to be filled, I did last minute Christmas shopping for the kids. Finally, with medications in hand, I hurried home to my little girl, who looked worse than ever.

I gave her doses of three separate medications and tried to coax some food or fluid down. I changed a messy diaper, got the cool mist humidifier set up in her room, held her close, and finally got her down for a much-needed nap.

Clearly, date night wouldn’t be happening.

At the end of the day—after reading a Christmas story to the three older children and babying my sick little toddler who simply didn’t want to leave our bed—my husband and I settled down.

I collapsed on my pillow—wearing my new birthday pajamas—and my husband said, “Sorry your birthday wasn’t a very good one.”

But in a sudden moment of clarity, I knew he was wrong. As I reviewed the day, I realized that this birthday held more meaning to me than any other. Birthdays are usually a selfish twenty-four hour fun fest.

This one was different. I had moments when my little girl wanted no one but me because only I could make her feel better.

I took care of her in ways she didn’t fully understand, like giving her medicine and running the humidifier, but which made a difference nonetheless.

I spent time one-on-one with my oldest daughter, who thrives on individual attention. The time wasn’t long—maybe only half an hour—but we had fun walking through the store aisles hand in hand, choosing the perfect birthday present for her friend.

Even something as simple as shopping for stocking stuffers brought me joy as I selected items I knew would be meaningful for each of my four children.

For bedtime, I read special Christmas stories for my kids and tucked them into bed with hugs and kisses. Each of my children knew I loved them and cared for them unlike anyone else in the world.

After family prayer that night, they'd all given me huge hugs, nearly bowling me over. And I held onto them tight, knowing that they are my greatest treasures, and that in some way, I really was making a difference in their young lives.

So at the end of that ragged day, I had the realization that my life mattered—and that because I was born on that day many years ago, four little people were now benefiting from my life. My birth really was something to celebrate.

It wasn’t as if I was making huge waves in the world, creating social change or solving world hunger. But under my roof, under my watchful eye, my children had a mother who loved them dearly and who loved caring for them every day.

Ever since then, whether it’s a birthday or Mother’s Day, I make a conscious decision to make the day special.

Of course I am not even almost the mythical Ideal Mother. I usually have dirty dishes in the sink. More than once we’ve run out of clean underwear.

But I am worth the celebration. My children love me. I love them. I am their mother. I’m doing my very best to raise them in the Gospel.

And on Mother’s Day, I make a point to let my children celebrate that fact, finding happiness right along with me.

Only one rule: No tears allowed, unless they’re tears of joy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Book of Mormon Marathon

Our family visited grandparents the first weekend of January.

That's my excuse for not knowing about our bishop's "Book of Mormon Iron Man" earlier. By the time I learned that he'd challenged every ward member to read the entire Book of Mormon before spring general conference, I figured we'd lost too much daylight to make it happen.

Oh, maybe I could swing it as an adult if I buckled down and hurried. But my four kids (ranging in age from 7 - 14)? No way. Did I start my personal Book of Mormon Iron Man? Hate to say it, but, um, no.

Mid-February, my husband had an idea that was both shocking and totally amazing:

What if the family had a Book of Mormon read-a-thon over President's Day weekend?

My gut reaction was, Wow. Neat idea, followed quickly by a mental snort, Yeah, right, and finally, Hey, why not? We should totally try it!

So we did.

The kids jumped on board right away. The only person in the family who wouldn't read the entire 531 pages would be our first grader. She'd get to read the illustrated version and count that.

We sat around the dinner table and discussed what food to have around the house . . . because Mom wouldn't be stopping to cook regular meals . . . and fun snack food is, well, fun for something like this.

We went shopping for the big weekend. We bought a take-home pizza to bake for Sunday dinner. We cleared our schedules as best we could.

Friday night after dinner, we began. That would be just a brief taste of what was to come: about two hours of straight reading before bed.

The next day, Saturday, we started bright and early after an easy breakfast. You could find the six of us scattered throughout the house: my son draped across this couch, a daughter curled on a bed, my husband in his home office. All of us reading sacred scripture. A few scheduling things we couldn't clear got in the way of making a solid day of it, but we made good progress.

Sunday, aside from going to church, we did pretty much nothing but read. (I think the older kids might have even sneaked in some chapters during sacrament meeting). By the end of the day, we weren't quite as far as we needed to be, but we'd made a lot of progress.

Monday was the last day of our long weekend. All of us (except for the first grader, who was beating us with her illustrated version) had almost half of the book left.

Could we all finish in just one more day?

I don't know that most of us even bothered getting dressed; we read and read and read. But somewhere around 9:00 pm, everyone was DONE.

Cheering and celebration followed. The sense of accomplishment on each of my children's faces was priceless.

I personally learned a lot through the experience, finding connections and having themes jump out at me in a way they never had before, because I was reading the entire thing so quickly and could make the connection between what I read yesterday to what I was reading now.

We discussed the marathon with the entire family. My husband expressed a similar experience to mine: he noticed many things he hadn't before, largely because he covered so much material in such a short space.

The kids obtained a fantastic overview of the people and history of the Book of Mormon. One said that reading it so fast was almost like reading a novel; she finally "got" the story and understood often-quoted scriptures better because now she had a context they fit into.

Every Sunday between the marathon and general conference, the bishopric member conducting sacrament meeting reminded the ward where they should be in the Book of Mormon if they were to finish the "Iron Man" in time. Every week, my kids grinned because they were already done.

A few tips for doing your own Book of Mormon marathon:
  • Carve out a large chunk of time. Three days plus two hours on Friday was cutting it close. If we could have started even a couple of extra hours earlier (have an entire half day Friday), we wouldn't have been squeezed for time at the end.
  • Meals and snacks. It was amazing how much more we could get done when food was at our fingertips. Blood sugar drops, and sometimes all we needed just a bowl of grapes or a cookie to keep going.
  • Schedule a few breaks. Time them so you can get back to work, and decide in advance what you'll do during them. For example, one break on Saturday consisted of the family playing Dance, Dance Revolution together, which got our blood pumping, took our minds off tiny text, and was additional bonding time. Sunday we took a break to eat dinner (pizza baked in the oven). We ate that meal together and talked about our reading.
  • To help keep your mind from wandering, consider listening to the Book of Mormon while you read. This does take longer, because most people can read quite a bit faster than a book is read aloud, but it's a great way to keep your mind connected to what you're reading for hours and hours.
  • An additional benefit to listening and reading: Two family members said that this method helped them retain more as well. Hearing and reading simultaneously cemented the passages in their mind better than either alone.
  • Note that you can speed up the MP3 recording. At one point, we had some family members listening to it at nearly 2X speed. That sounds fast at first, but you get used to it. It's still quite a bit slower than you can read silently but speeding it up makes for a quicker read than the regular voice, and it's still understandable.
  • To make the event feel more like a family activity, do what we did: read 1 Nephi 1 and Moroni 10 aloud together, making sure every single person gets a chance to read a few verses. That let us officially start and end the Book of Mormon as a family.

Our Book of Mormon marathon was an amazing, bonding, and testimony-building experience for our entire family.

And get this:
The kids loved our Book of Mormon marathon so much that they want to make the marathon an annual event.

Just a sneaking suspicion, but I'm thinking we just landed on a new family tradition.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Real Message of Easter

I stood inside a huge cathedral in Jerusalem that, by a large number of Christians, is revered to be built over the burial place of the Savior of the world. The wing I stood in felt like a vast, empty cavern with arched ceilings. It was built of cold, gray stone. The light was dim, and the room felt cool, making goosebumps stand up on my arms.

Before me was what looked like a small, elaborate building, covered with gilded decorations. A low arch marked the opening, where a line of people waited for their turn to go inside and see the stone slab where so many believed the body of Jesus Christ had been placed after His death. A somber priest with a tall, black hat and robe and black beard to match, manned the traffic going into the shrine.

When my turn came, I quietly ducked under the low entryway and stepped inside the tiny room. In front of me, an elderly woman, fingers gnarled with age, knelt beside the stone slab. She wept as she prayed to the hunk of limestone, above which were hung icons representing Christ. She kissed her fingers and touched the tips to the tomb.

And I stood there, feeling . . . nothing.

I could not fault the woman for her genuine devotion, but I couldn’t feel the same thing. The light, the peace and warmth, I knew from the Spirit and from my experiences in the temple weren’t here. Instead, the tight space felt almost claustrophobic.

I left the small enclosure feeling heavy and dark, wanting to warm up in the bright summer sun waiting outside the doors.

It wasn’t until my visit a few days later to a different place dubbed “The Garden Tomb,” that I realized why I had felt so heavy and empty before. We walked along the meandering path that led to the tomb. Sunlight filtered through tree branches, casting dancing shadows across the beautifully landscaped grounds.

When we reached the carved-out cave, we were allowed to step inside. It had similar slabs for the dead as the other, gaudy, tomb had. This time, no one knelt or kissed the stone.

As before, I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of peace or confirmation that this was, in fact, the correct burial place of the Redeemer.

After everyone had taken their turn inside, we gathered in a semicircle nearby, and our tour guide pointed to a sign hanging on the door of the Garden Tomb: “He is not here: for he is risen” (Matthew 28:6)

And suddenly, I understood.

The strange sensation of heaviness had come before because the woman was praying to a place where her god didn't belong. He wasn't there.

Whether either of the tombs I visited is the “real” one doesn’t matter. The entire point of Christ’s life, death, and the Resurrection is that wherever His original tomb resides, it’s empty now.

This is the glorious message of Easter, of the Resurrection. This is the joy and the triumph.

He is not here: for He is risen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beyond the Wedding: What about the Marriage?

I planned for my wedding day with the utmost care to every detail. After all, like many young girls, I’d dreamt of that day for years. I was all of ten when I began designing my wedding dress—a gown my mother sewed with silk-covered buttons, a lace bodice, and a skirt Cinderella herself would have envied.

The cake was gorgeous, with shiny, ribbon-like bows of hard taffy encircling each layer. Even my husband-to-be approved of the cake, since it was chocolate inside (although convincing me to pick that flavor didn’t take much on his part). The deep red I chose as the main wedding color proved to be elegant next to the white of my gown and the black tuxedos.

Like so many brides with stars in their eyes, I was young and naïve. While my husband and I are now preparing to celebrate sixteen years since the day we knelt across the altar, I think back and wonder if we could have gotten a better start if we had prepared for our marriage as much as we prepared for the wedding—because while the wedding day is certainly important and memorable, it’s just the first day of the rest of a bride and groom’s journey together.

What really matters is the time and all eternity that follows. Any time two people join together to form a new unit, there will be some level of change, compromise, and even, at times, unease. If there is never any kind disagreement (not necessarily a fight, but if there’s never a difference of opinion, then one party is dominating the other, and that, too, is unhealthy).

When preparing for marriage, an engaged couple might do well to consider sitting down together and going over some basic questions regarding expectations. Use the list below as a jumping off point. Know that it’s not an exhaustive list, just a place to kick-start the process and give you ideas of the types of things that might be important to you and might need discussing.

Remember: what one person sees as the “obvious” or “normal” way of doing things maybe totally foreign to the other. You’re both coming from different worlds, both of which seem perfectly natural . . . to you.

One of you may assume that a certain spouse will take care of the finances, another childcare. That household duties will be split a certain way. That holiday traditions will go like this or be spent at specific in-laws’ houses, and so on. Meanwhile, the other person will have completely different ideas.

Discussing such issues before marriage will prevent many surprises and help both sides work out compromises beforehand, instead of ending up with argument and hurt feelings when expectations are suddenly dashed months—or even years—into the marriage. Granted, there will be surprises and compromise; you can’t anticipate every possible unknown going in. But trying to be prepared for the marriage as well as the wedding can help.


  • Who will be responsible for housework? Will it be split up? If so, how?
  • How will we budget? Who will pay the bills and balance the checkbook (or will we do them together)? When?
  • What is each of our philosophies about debt? Will either partner be bringing previous debt into the marriage? What do we think is okay to go into debt for? What is each of our strategies for paying off debt versus putting aside money into savings?
  • Will Mom stay home from work after we have children? What about after the children go to school? How involved will Dad be when he is home? (Define “involved” as best as you can. Does it mean changing diapers? Coaching soccer? Reading books? Singing lullabies?)
  • How often will we have “dates”? What will we do on them and how much will they cost?
  • What about travel as a couple? Travel as a family? How often? What kinds of trips and how expensive is okay? How do we pay for them?
  • What can we spend on gifts for one another for special occasions? Do some occasions warrant bigger gifts than others (birthdays and Christmas versus Valentines, for example)? What is our budget for each?
  • How many children will we have? How close together/far apart? Is this something we can negotiate?
  • How will we split the holidays between our families? Will we reach a point of having some holidays with just our family? How will we make that transition?
  • Where will we live? Are there places either of us refuse to live? Are there places one of us is eager to stay or move to?
  • What educational plans does each of us have? Does either of us want to get more education now or later? How will it be paid for? What are our goals?
  • How often will we plan to attend the temple? (This may largely depend on where you live.)
  • How important to us and how regularly will we have things like individual/personal/family scripture study and prayer? When we have older children, will we have early morning scripture study?
  • How will we discipline our children?
  • What are our expectations for our children? (Grades, Scouting, Young Women Recognition, employment, driver’s licenses, missions, college, extra-curricular, etc.

The list could go on and on, and some of the answers may even change over time as the marriage progresses. As engaged couples discuss these types of issues, not every point needs to be brought up in one sitting, and many questions may not have clear answers yet. That’s fine; at least the list can get you thinking about the topics and establish a pattern for communication. For that matter, discussing one at a time might be wise so you can really get into the other’s way of seeing things, try to understand them, and find ways to blend two worldviews into one new—united—life.

While I’d never tell a bride to ignore her bouquet, the bridesmaids’ dresses, or any other part of the big day, I’d also remind her that while yes, the day circled on the calendar is an end—it's just the end of her life walking the path alone.

But it also marks the beginning of a brand new journey—one she’ll take in tandem with her eternal companion.