Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Letter to My Son

My son is a missionary. I wrote to him this morning, and I included this experience I had while reading the scriptures this week in the Book of Mormon. So many life-lessons to take, even from the smallest phrases. I hope I can internalize this information I stumbled across--or which, more accurately, the Spirit impressed on my mind as I read.

This week I was reading in Alma where Alma and Amulek are teaching the poor people.
In chapters 32-33 Alma teaches about the seed and faith. Then he turns the time to Amulek for chapter 34.

What struck me is the beginning of the chapter. "...after Alma had spoken these words unto them, he sat down upon the ground, and Amulek arose and began to teach them."

For Amulek's part, Alma stepped back. He was the senior companion--way senior. He was the prophet, and Amulek was a newly reactivated member on extended splits/exchanges.

But Amulek gets to teach the most poignant part, about the Savior's atonement. And he does it beautifully. And about prayer and charity. It's so lovely. Some of my most motivating verses in all scripture.

I'm not really sending you this info because I think you need to know it. It's because I need to, but I thought you might be interested. As a missionary, sometimes it's time to stand up, while sometimes it's time to sit on the ground and let the other guy take the teaching lead. He might surprise you.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

New View

For my birthday this week, my husband and kids gave me a pair of binoculars.

A little backstory:

I grew up sleeping out under the stars on our back lawn of my parents' farm. I was familiar with the Milky Way, the Big Dipper, Orion. The regularity of the movement around Polaris. I loved it as a girl, and I missed it during times when I lived in cities like Tokyo and Washington and the light pollution kept me from seeing the sky.

Many years ago, a family friend handed me his binoculars one night while Gary and I were standing in his yard. He helped me aim them at Jupiter. There--with my own eyes--I could see Jupiter's moons! Not all of them--aren't there 30 or something?--but the Galilean moons, so four or so.

I have thought of that moment countless times.

Between the ages of 36 and 45 I ran six mornings a week. Had to quit due to a bum knee, and now I bike or lift weights instead. I miss it so much! Not the running. I never once got it about a runner's high. Pretty sure it's a myth.

No, the thing I miss dearly is the experience of watching the full moon set at 5:45 a.m. behind our mountain each month, seeing its phases' progress, and just letting my soul experience nature as the moon disappears behind the horizon.

I could still go watch it, but I don't. It's my own choice, I know this.

However... the binoculars!

My birthday was Thursday. The full moon was Friday, date night. We took the binoculars and went to the duck ponds at about 6:00 and waited as the sky on the dark horizon went from charcoal to light gray, to brilliant yellow-orange as the moon crested. (There are fires in a neighboring state changing the color of all sunsets and sunrises.)

But this time, I was watching through the binoculars. And it didn't look like I expected or had seen it look so many hundreds of times in the past. It's not easy to describe, but I did burst out with, "Gary! It's bumpy!" The craters and topography were clearly visible, and stunning. And it didn't seem round, at least definitely not a smooth surface anywhere.

The experience struck me. We traded turns with the binoculars, going back and forth, making comments as to our surprise and delight.

It was a spiritual experience. A lot of analogies could be drawn--like a closer look gives us a better understanding of people, or being in focus, or that kind of thing. But the thing I took from it was that God created something incredibly beautiful, and even MORE beautiful than I had previously known. And I had the blessing and opportunity to see it.

Then we turned our eyes to other places in the sky. Using a phone app, we located Mars, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and looked at all of them through the telescopic lenses.

I. Saw. Neptune.

I never once dreamed that would be something I could do. Maybe that's just not a very big deal to other people, but for me, it felt like this huge gift. A day I wouldn't forget.

The next night, we took our kids on a night hike after 5:15 sunset and before the 7:10 moonrise. We sat on top of a desert mesa. I couldn't imagine not sharing the experience with them. It was sweet and fun and exciting and amazing to see it together.

Jupiter set with the sun. This is the wrong time of year to see its moons, even with the binoculars. But maybe I'll be able to.

Whether it makes me feel like a tiny nothing, or like I'm a small part of something incredibly vast--I'm thankful for God's incredible creation and in awe at his mastery of all things large and small.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

It's Not How He Looks That Matters

I recently read an article with speculation about the appearance of Jesus Christ. It was based on studies of the average appearance of the men of His era, and the article suggested that if He was of average height and appearance, He would have had dark hair, fair-to-medium skin, a beard, and reached a height of 5'1".

For people of our day, that might be unimpressive. I know this, at least about the height, because that's exactly how tall I am.

However, Isaiah prophesied that the Savior would have "no beauty that man should desire Him," and "no form nor comeliness." (Isaiah 53:2) It fits the prophecy.

(However, none of this takes into account His glorified state, which came later.)

It was interesting, if unimportant.

Regardless, the point I took from this article and the feelings I had after reading it, that it isn't how the Savior appeared. In spite of that, crowds thronged Him. Why? Because of how He made them feel. When we look to Him, rather than at Him, that's when we find Him.

He lifted, built, and taught. He accepted the socially unacceptable. He reached into hearts. He healed the untouchable. He loved without fear.

Reading about His incomparable life, I begin to feel a measure of that love. Through prayer, I feel it even more. By trying to change myself to follow--in some small way--the example of how He lived (by loving people around me), that love begins to take root. Through repentance, coming back to Him, asking for His pardon and help, that love and acceptance fills my heart and life.

As must be obvious to everyone, it isn't how He looked or looks. It's how He makes me and each of us feel as we look to Him.

He is love.

He invites us to receive His image in our countenances. I'm fairly sure we've seen Him and His love in someone's face somewhere, sometime. Someone who has emulated His love so long, he or she has become more beautiful for it.

Helping someone feel a portion of that love--shouldn't that be my goal every day? To make someone feel noticed, to remind them that they're loved?

This is a rambling set of thoughts. Noticed and loved. That's how I want to make people around me feel. I might not be a 5-star writer, a 10 on the beauty scale, or of impressive height or skill of any kind. But I hope people I meet feel noticed and loved.

That is all.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Theology of Suffering

Recently I discovered a discourse given over 20 years ago by a woman named Frances Bennion. Since the time I read it, I have pondered it daily. It has changed my outlook on suffering and the whole question of "why do bad things happen to good people?"

I started this blog, partly, with a mind to explore the topic of suffering, and how understanding the scriptures and the teachings of doctrine can help us through difficulty, as well as how we can have soft hearts for God to write His teachings upon them. (Hence, the Tables of the Heart moniker.)

Here is the link to the entire discourse. It is long. But it absolutely blew my mind, and I invite anyone who is suffering, has suffered, or anticipates future suffering to give it a look.

I'll include one quote (of many) that I found thought-provoking:

"One of my prayers to my Father is that my children will be healed of my ignorance and will not bear forever the difficulties caused by things I have mistakenly done or not done as a parent. As I think of the atonement of Christ, it seems to me that if our sins are to be forgiven, the results of them must be erased. If my mistakes are to be forgiven, other persons must be healed from any effects of them. In the same way, if other persons are to be released by the atonement, then we must be healed from their mistakes. I think that is an essential part of understanding God’s gift: He did not make a plan whereby we simply prove ourselves already right or wrong. Rather, we must make sense of the fact that who we are and who we become is not wholly dependent on where we are now, and on never having made a mistake. Christ’s atonement makes it possible for us to go through the meeting of reality, the falling, the hungering, the screaming, the crawling on the floor, the being disfigured and scarred for life psychologically or physically, and still survive and transcend it. If that were not true, then our whole universe would have no meaning."

Sunday, September 2, 2018

One Thing I Learned By Driving 6500 Miles in 7 Weeks

Between July 9 and September 1, I needed to drive over 6,500 miles. Honestly, that number could have been higher, but I opted to take a flight for one of the 2,000-mile roundtrip trips. So. Much. Traveling!

On all these trips, as you can imagine, innumerable road signs came into view. Yesterday, on another 800-mile drive, one jumped out at me.


This sign has many applications, beyond traffic. I can imagine my grandpa telling us it had political applications. (If you'd known my Grandpa Boyd, you'd understand.)

As a mom of five kids in decades where their decisions determine their destiny, I'm fervently praying my kids will KEEP RIGHT.

Life is a risk. Every day we have the chance to make choices. I have seen tiny errors in my life lead to need for massive correction. Attitudes need adjusting, I need humbling, etc. It's kind of hard to Keep Right sometimes, and if I didn't have the constant flow of daily scripture study, and weekly sacrament meetings, as well as the gentle (sometimes pointed) correction of the Holy Ghost, I'd be in even more dire straits.

But how? How can we do it? One way is to always remember our divine identity. I found this quote from Boyd K. Packer, another Boyd with a strong opinion on how we can KEEP RIGHT.

“You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!”4

If there's any other statement more powerfully effective in helping me KEEP RIGHT, I can't think of it. My identity as His child is the most important knowledge I have and the best incentive to strive, even when it's hard.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

To Live in a House By the Side of the Road and Be a Friend to Man

Two weeks ago I went to visit my parents, along with my three siblings, and we celebrated their 50th anniversary, just the six of us, together. It was a sweet, blessed time. Fifty years of trials and togetherness is a real accomplishment in these days of disposable commitments, and several people in recent days have told me they look to my parents in their age and their happiness together and see their love for one another as a shining example of "the way things can be." I couldn't agree more.

While I was home, my dad introduced me to a poem called "The House By the Side of the Road."  My dad was telling a story about a neighbor of his, Bishop Cleve Bodily, who had come to my younger sister's rescue one day when her truck caught on fire on the way to high school in front of Bishop Bodily's house. He came running out with a fire extinguisher to help my sister and helped her get the problem under control. My sister then caught a ride to school in a passing car. But Bishop Bodily wasn't through helping. By the end of the school day, he had replaced the hose (it was really a radiator problem, not an actual fire, as it appeared). He then brought the truck to the school for her and left the keys in the office.

My dad said, "I shared this poem with the people of Bishop Bodily's ward because I knew this was the type of man he was."

As I heard the poem, I realized, this is the type of man my dad was--always. Moreover, it's the type of person, at my core, that I long to be, even though I'm weak and self-absorbed, and often too "busy" to be aware of the needs of people around me. At least I know what I long to be.

Last weekend, we went to a wedding reception for the daughter of some friends who I think embody this poem. Do you have someone you know who is like this? Whose self-effacing service blesses all who meet them?

"He was a friend to man, and lived
In a house by the side of the road."
-- Homer

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man. -

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man. -

I see from my house by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice.
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone. -

Let me live in my house by the side of the road-
It's here the race of men go by.
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I;
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

What if we were all like this? Noticing others' needs? How much more of a connected, blessed state of being! Think of the Savior, whose life was spent in being good, and in touching the lives with whom he interacted. All who met Him were touched and blessed and uplifted.

I heard my uncle say once, "We all have a sphere of influence. The older I get I realize how small mine is, but how vital my role is within that sphere." If we're on the house by the side of the road, ready to receive those who pass our way, we're ready to embrace others into our sphere, even if it's for a short time.

I hope I can be your friend if you're passing by my house.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Misunderstood Sam Situation

I've started over reading the Book of Mormon again. My usual pattern is to read a chapter a day, and read through it and then start over. In this way, I've read it dozens of times in my life and love its insights and the strength it gives me every day.

The other interesting thing I'm sure most who love scripture have experienced is that in each read-through, I notice something a little different. Something jumps out at me I hadn't caught before. 

This time, it was something Nephi's brother Sam did--or didn't do. He didn't pray. But it's not why you might initially think.

In chapter 2 of 1 Nephi, Lehi teaches his sons. Basically, he's lecturing his two oldest sons, and they're on what they must think is an extended camping trip outside the walls of Jerusalem. The lecture ends, and Laman and Lemuel just complain. 

Nephi, though, realizes he wants to believe his father, so he prays that his heart will be softened. Then, the Holy Ghost tells Nephi that the words Lehi has taught are true. The Lord softens Nephi's heart so he can believe--and not rebel, like Laman and Lemuel did.

It's great to see Nephi's faith. It's also good to note that Nephi, too, had an initial struggle with believing the words of his father, the prophet. In a way, he's like the broken man who comes to Christ and says, "I believe, Lord, help thou mine unbelief."

There are a lot of lessons for me to take from this.

However, the thing that jumped out at me this time is Nephi's conversation with Sam in verse 17. Right after Nephi's spiritual experience, he goes to his confidante, his older brother Sam, and:

17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.

Sam doesn't require a big, earth-shattering experience in order to believe. He simply hears his younger brother's testimony, and he believes. He doesn't pray to have his heart softened because his heart is already there, ready to receive truth and testimony. (Although, it's not impossible that he'd already had his own spiritual manifestation during his father's teaching and Nephi simply doesn't record it.)

Actually, this happens several times in the Book of Mormon. During their time in the cave when the angel comes, and other times when Nephi needs backup, Sam is Nephi's ally. This grows and grows throughout their lives, and even continues in the Promised Land.

Lehi notes this, and in his final blessing of his sons before his death, he says to Sam in 2 Nephi chapter 4, 

11 And after he had made an end of speaking unto them, he spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days.

You hear about Nephites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, Zoramites, Jacobites, and Josephites in certain spots throughout the history that Mormon records, but there's never a mention of Samites. Instead, his posterity is, as Lehi said, numbered with that of the chosen prophet, Nephi. He aligns himself so completely with the prophet, and with God, that (from what I surmise) he refuses personal recognition.

Time and again, I have heard people teaching the Book of Mormon and saying that Sam was the wishy-washy one, or that he was "just there." However, I want to dispel that rumor.

In his defense, I want to point out that he was humble, faithful, and believing. That he had a heart so soft he could simply believe. The tables of his heart were fleshy, not stony, and the Word could easily be written there.

Another thing: he didn't need to be out front. He wanted to be true and obedient, and he must have wanted the same for his posterity enough that he taught them not to bring him up--that they belonged to the prophet, they belonged to God.

I haven't read anything scholarly on this, I'm just saying my own take on the noble and (in my opinion) misunderstood character of Sam. 

Also, there's a good chance the world might be a better place if more of us were more concerned about obedience than recognition.