Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lift Up Your Eyes And See!

In the Bible we read of how discouraged the Children of Israel became because life was difficult. Over and over they let this discouragement overtake them, and over and over the Lord tried to teach them they didn’t need to be discouraged. From our vantage point it is easy to see that their discouragement made their trek longer and harder. But they couldn’t see that. They only saw the events immediately facing them. On one of those numerous discouraged occasions (Numbers 21:4-9), the people claimed God was leading them to death and angrily complained about the food they had been given. In response, God showed them that things could be worse. He sent a plague of “fiery serpents” among the people. When bitten by a serpent, the people experienced high fevers and many died. This jolted the people into a realization of what they had done. Remembering God now, they asked Moses to pray for a solution. In answer to Moses’ prayer God instructed Moses to place a brass pole in the center of the camp with a brass fiery serpent on top of the pole. Moses did so and then told his people that if they were bitten, they should look to the pole and they would be healed.
This story is referred to four times in the Book of Mormon and each time we learn a little more about it. Nephi tells us that after the pole was erected many who were bitten would not look “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it” (1 Nephi 17:41) and therefore they died. Alma tells us that “few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them” (Alma 33:20). Another Nephi also retold this story and explained that the fiery serpent was a symbol of Christ (see Helaman 8:14-15) and that all who look upon Christ will live.
Discouragement is part of life. We all feel it from time to time and if we let it dwell in us, we like the Children of Israel will wander in life without obtaining our Promised Land. But if in times of discouragement we look to Christ, trusting, hoping, believing, patiently expecting the best, the discouragement will fade and we will feel ourselves lifted and healed. Christ’s power is not just enough to save us at the day of judgement. Christ’s power is enough to save us every day–if we, when "bitten" by the negative feelings of life, will just look to Him.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Our visit to Kirtland!

The John Johnson Home

This is the bedroom in the John Johnson home in Hyrum, Ohio, that most people believe Joseph Smith was dragged from in the middle of the night and tarred and feathered. Upstairs in this same home, 16 revelations were received including one of my favorite chapters of scripture, D&C 76. We were able to sit in the Revelation Room for a long time. An incredible peace filled the room and spread through me as I pondered all that had occurred in that room. The gospel was brought to us at such an enormous cost. Obviously Joseph and Emma paid a great price, but so many people whose names no one would recognize also sacrificed dearly for what they believed in. People, like the Johnsons, made room for the Smiths in their homes. Others gave their last dollars, or sacrificed family and friends. Walking in Kirtland brought the stories to life and helped me remember how very much I owe to these people. I hope I won't take all they did for granted.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kirtland, Ohio

I am writing from Kirtland, Ohio, where Carl and I have been learning more about our heritage. We had an incredible meeting in the Kirtland Temple Friday night and Saturday spent an afternoon in the John Johnson Family Home (Carl's fourth great grandfather) where Joseph Smith received 16 revelations that are now part of the D&C. Since we were the only tourists there (it is very cold and stormy!) we weren't rushed through and were able to sit in the Revelation Room and talk about the wondrous events that occurred there and to read from D&C 76 and to soak in the beautiful feeling that filled the room. We also went through the home where Eliza R. Snow and her brother Lorenzo Snow lived when in Kirtland. It is privately owned, but the owners are friends of Carl's cousins, John and Carol, with whom we are staying and they took us through the house. Again, an amazing experience. Today we are going to the Morley farm and to see the site where some of my family lived, Thomas Rice King and his wife Melinda Robison. We return home tomorrow. I'll write more about it then. All I can say now is that my heart is very full!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seeing and Telling It Like It Is!

I love starting my day by walking with a group of women that live around me. I love the exercise, but most of all I love learning from them. For example, most of these women own and love dogs. Often they bring their dogs along. Now, I’m not much of an animal lover. It isn’t that I don’t like animals or that I’m afraid of them. The problem is that I was raised by a mother who anytime I got near an animal shrieked, "Wash your hands. Don’t you know animals have germs." So I guess you can say I have an aversion to animals. At any rate as we walked I kept listening to these women complain about their dogs. The stories of dogs eating the family dinner, or dogs getting sick on the floor, or new puppies destroying furniture, or exorbitant fees from vets, or the time it takes to get the dog groomed, or dog accidents in the house, or dog hair on the carpet came up in various versions often. Every time I’d hear them talk I’d silently wonder if dogs were such a nuisance why they kept them around. I couldn’t figure it out.
Then one day a dog that had often walked with us died. Kathy, who belonged to the dog, was devastated. Part of her family had died. She cried and we comforted and grieved with her. As I observed the sorrow, I suddenly realized that there must be more to owning a dog than had been revealed to me in our morning conversations. So after a time, I expressed my observation that all I’d ever heard about the dogs was negative. Sharon countered quickly by saying that I just didn’t hear the good things. And all of them began to tell me everything they loved about their dogs. To be very honest, despite what Sharon said, that was the first time I’d heard the good things.
As I pondered on this experience I learned two things. One is that often in life we vent to friends and those around us about the negative things in our lives and forget to bring up the good. In this way we pass on some unintentional negative feelings. How many times do we complain about our children or a work situation or another person and leave our listener with the impression that what we are complaining about is totally terrible when we don’t really think that at all? We’re just venting or even just telling a story. The other thing I realized is that the dog lovers in the group heard the stories very differently than I did. When they heard a story of a dog eating the family’s dinner they detected a note of love in the voice that countered the negative part of the story because they were hearing the story from a different perspective. In short, I’ve learned to watch to make sure I express the positive as well as the negative and that I don’t leave a wrong impression. After all I wouldn’t want someone to not have children because all they heard from me was complaints about my kids or to not go on for higher education because I complained about the work load. I’ve also learned to listen for the tone that conveys the love even in the complaints. As I’ve done this, I’ve been surprised to discover how often it is there!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Patience, Please!

The noun patient as in “the doctor’s patient,” and the adjective patient as in “she is a patient woman” are related words. They both come ultimately from the Latin verb pati which means to suffer. The noun indicates a person that suffers from illness or affliction, the adjective refers to a person that suffers without complaint. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary describes the adjective patience as suffering “with a calm, unruffled temper; endurance without murmuring or fretfulness.”
In the Church we often talk about coming to earth to be tried and tested. If you are like me, when I hear about trial and testing I usually think about my faith being tested. But in Mosiah 23:21 we learn that the Lord also tries our patience, and throughout scripture the prophets urge us to be patient people. For example, in his great speech to the people of Gideon, Alma instructed them to be “full of patience” (Alma 7:23).
When I first started pondering this the thought crossed my mind that faith is a lot easier than patience, but then I realized that you cannot separate the two. Faith is a personal response of trust, loyalty and obedience to Jesus Christ, and patience is an integral ingredient of trust, loyalty and obedience. In mortality the unexpected constantly thwarts our best intentions. The unknown haunts us. Mistakes happen. Our very best efforts fall far short of what is needed. But faith is knowing that Jesus Christ will make it all right, and patience is not complaining while we wait for Him to do so.
Patience doesn’t come naturally to me. I think one of the reasons it doesn’t is because patience is an element of time, and my spirit isn’t accustomed to this mortal element called time. By the same token, that’s probably one of the main reasons I was sent here to experience time–so I could learn patience. In the past, I’ve thought patience meant biting my tongue to keep from complaining. Now I realize that patience is trusting in Jesus Christ enough that I don’t think the negative thoughts. Which takes me back to faith–a response of trust, loyalty and obedience. You just can’t separate the two!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

"Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"

My favorite hymn is the classic “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Several versions exist, but all of them include the strange phrase “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” In the Mack Wilberg version that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings, the second verse begins like this;
“Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home."
Understanding Ebenezer deepened my love for this hymn. The story is found in the Old Testament and begins during one of the many times the Israelites forgot God. Going into battle against the Philistines, the Israelites suffered a terrible defeat, but rather than repent they sent men to fetch the Ark of the Covenant thinking that if they had the throne of God in their midst they would be invincible. Once the Ark was with them, the Israelites confidently marched into battle, but the Philistines slaughtered 30,000 Israelite soldiers, sent the rest running, and stole the sacred Ark.
Triumphantly the Philistines carried the Ark to Ashdod and placed it in the house of their pagan god, Dagon. The next morning the people of Ashdod awoke to find the image of Dagon fallen on its face. Undaunted they stood the image back up, only to return the following morning to find it not only fallen again, but the head and both the hands broken off so that only the stump of the god was left. This alone stabbed fear into the hearts of the Philistines, but in addition the Lord cursed the people with sore plagues. Understanding that the stolen Ark was the cause of their problems the city fathers moved the ark to Gath and the people of Gath suffered until they moved it to Ekron and the people of Ekron suffered until finally it was determined to give the Ark back to the Israelites.
Still it was many years before the Israelites heeded the voice of Samuel the prophet and repented. In that repentant state the soldiers of Israel fasted, asked Samuel to pray for them, and offered sacrificial offerings before once more going against the oppressive Philistines. This time they were victorious.
To celebrate the great victory God had given them, Samuel erected a stone in the land and called it Ebenezer which means “Stone of Help.” So when the song says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer” it means that I now raise my own monument in recognition of all God has done for me.
For us, that monument isn’t usually a stone or anything tangible. Instead it is something that shows our gratitude–singing of a hymn, offering a prayer, bearing a testimony, serving others, or humbly accepting God’s will. In short, raising our own Ebenezer is recognition that we are changing and growing because God is helping us to do so.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008 is Here!

It’s New Year’s Resolution time! Happy! Happy! Happy New Year! After all these years of making and breaking New Year’s resolutions, I’ve resolved there should only be two resolutions. (1) Follow the Spirit. (2) Enjoy doing it!
I was raised by a very goal oriented father. He read every Positive-Mental-Attitude and Choose-Your-Own-Destiny book out there and then he would leave them on my bed for me to read. They shaped my character, but I’ve come to realize that often my own goals get in the way of what the Lord is trying to do for me. When I let go of what (I think) I want, it is much easier to listen to the Spirit and to let the Spirit guide me.
The next goal is to enjoy what comes. Happiness is a choice. I choose to enjoy the cold or to hate it. I choose to enjoy the task at hand or to dread it. It’s a lot more fun to enjoy! So I’m simplifying this year! Only two goals. I think perhaps that’s the secret the Nephite’s understood that allowed them to live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Ne 5:27).