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.