Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pioneer Day-Osmond Concert

Last night Carl and I attended the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Pioneer Day concert that featured the Osmond family. As the evening wore on, I was touched by so much more than just the music. Oh, don’t misunderstand. The music from both the choir and the Osmonds was fantastic, but the example of the strength and importance of family far overshadowed the music.

There aren’t many singing groups that survive 50 years together. Egos get in the way. Petty differences become major conflicts. Selfishness, pride, fatigue all contribute to the demise of most groups. But this concert marked the end of a world wide tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Osmonds. It isn’t that they haven’t been confronted with any of those problems or others. They’ve had more than their share of adversity, but they’ve pulled together and helped each other through the bad times.

At the end of the concert, the performing siblings invited the two oldest Osmonds, the ones born with hearing impairments, to join them on stage and sign with the group. How difficult it must have been to be the oldest in such a talented family and not be able to participate. All the attention. All the excitement. All the fun and they couldn’t be fully part of it. What a trial! I couldn’t help but think of all the scriptural families in which younger siblings are blessed with something and how the older siblings become so jealous and revengeful that it breaks apart families–destroys lives. But the Osmonds have accepted the challenge, worked together, and conquered. But it hasn’t been just the trials of showbiz that have afflicted the family. Wayne suffered a brian tumor that was removed in 1997. One of Merrill’s sons was also born deaf. Donny suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder.

Then there is Alan who since the mid 1990s has suffered from multiple sclerosis. He doesn’t often perform, but despite the difficulty in doing so, he was there last night. Sometimes he used a cane to support himself, but more often he leaned on a brother which made the song they sang, “He Ain’t Heavy. He’s My Brother” all the more powerful.

Let’s not forget Marie. The media has had a field day with her depression and marital problems. But her brothers have been there for her and helped her through the ordeals.

As the wonderful evening ended and all nine of the Osmonds stretched across the stage with the orchestra and choir behind them, something deep within me began to rejoice. The metaphor was so beautiful. With the Church behind us and sticking together as a family in love and support of one another, we can all conquer.

[For those of you from out of town, evidently the show is going to be streamed from KBYU on Saturday night, July 26th and here is a link to an article about the event:,5143,700246198,00.html. It is worth seeing!]

picture: Tom Smart, Deseret News, July 26, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Maybe it’s because I enjoy words and language so much, but there is a little known story in the Bible that I love. It is found in Judges 12:1-6. It begins when the Gileadites fight a war against the Ammonites and win. But the Ephraimites, from the east side of the Jordan River, are upset that the Gileadites never invited them to be part of the war and so they invade Gileadite territory. The Gileadites win the war and then to make sure none of the invading army escapes they take control of the passage over the Jordan that would allow the Ephraimites to return home.

In an effort to escape, the Ephraimite men pretend to be Gileadites and attempt to cross the Jordan, but Gileadite soldiers stop everyone trying to cross and ask, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If the man answers no, the interrogator asks, “Then say Shibboleth.” This was a clever test because the Ephraimites could not pronounce the “sh” sound and would reply, “Sibboleth,” at which point they were discovered and executed. We are told that 42,000 men lost their lives because they could not say shibboleth.

I’ve pondered on this story a lot and imagined what must have gone on. After the first dozen or so men were given the verbal test, at least some of the other 41,986 would have known what the test was and passed along the warning. But why then did so many fail the test and die? If they knew they couldn’t pronounce the word when asked, why did they attempt to cross? Were they self deceived? Did they think they were saying shibboleth when they were really saying sibboleth? Did they just hope no one would notice they weren’t saying it right? If the person giving the warning couldn’t say the word, perhaps they got the message wrong and mislead the others. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the absence of one tiny letter caused their death.

In the early 1600s the word shibboleth came into the English language and means “a use of language regarded as distinctive of a particular group” or “a custom or usage regarded as distinguishing one group from another.” As I’ve pondered the story, I’ve realized it’s the detail in the application of the gospel in our lives that distinguishes us. I’ve learned that I need to watch that I’m not self deceived. I need to make sure I am following those who “pronounce” the gospel message correctly. I need to repent and not just hope that no one will notice that I’m doing something wrong. I need to make sure I “speak” the gospel language without missing a letter.

picture "Shibboleth" by iaakuza from:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Surviving Days of Darkness

I can't get off the subject of adversity. Every time I’ve turned around this past few weeks I’ve encountered someone who is suffering great trials. My heart aches for them and so during my personal scripture study and my get-ready-for-class scripture study I’ve been looking for teachings about adversity and how to cope with it.

In my Book of Mormon class right now we are discussing the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites. Mormon tells us that the horrible three days of darkness, death, and destruction that signal the Savior’s crucifixion began on the fourth day of the first month of the year (3rd Nephi 8:5). Most of the time we read through these date verses fast and don’t pay much attention to the fact that at the end of chapter ten, Mormon tells us that he is now going to tell us the marvelous things that happened at the end of the 34th year. Then he describes the appearance of the Savior.

What this means is that from the time of the three days of darkness to the appearance of the Savior almost a year has gone by. The people endure what had to be a tremendously traumatic experience. They lost loved ones. They lost homes. They suffered broken bones, lacerations, burns, and all kinds of physical afflictions. They lost livestock and many other material goods so that at the end of the three days, they were confronted with the formidable task of rebuilding their cities and homes and healing themselves and their loved ones. When we stop to think about it, we realize that these people had every reason in the world to be bitter, depressed, and to just give up. Our expectations would be that their society would be overwhelmed with people suffering post-traumatic syndrome, depression, neurosis, or at the least hopelessness and self-pity.

But that’s not what we find. Instead Mormon tells us that at the end of the year the people were gathered at the temple and “were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place” (3 Nephi 11:1). "Great and marvelous" indicates that they had been busy rebuilding not wallowing in self pity! But more importantly, they aren’t gathered to complain or have a pity party about all the hard work and all they have endured or to gloat in their success. Instead they are “conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death” (3 Nephi 11:2). This is the clue that helps us understand their attitudes and what has gone on during this year. They have endured well because they have centered their lives and thoughts on Jesus Christ. Despite all the adversity (or maybe because of all the adversity!) they have grown stronger in their faith.

This leads me to ask the questions, “Did the great blessing of having the Savior physically appear to them occur because of the faithful and positive way they dealt with their adversity?”

A friend once said to me, “I’ve come to the point where I get excited when I experience adversity because I know that after the trial the Lord has a great blessing waiting for me.” Sometimes those trials last a lot longer than we want, but the blessings will come and as with the Nephites often those blessings are far beyond anything we ever expected.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Power of Standing Amazed

As you can tell if you’ve been reading these posts long, I’ve been thinking a lot about adversity lately. The other day I was studying the story of the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites in 3 Nephi and found something I’d never seen before. The metaphor in the story came to life for me.

Many scholars believe that the terrible destruction in the New World at the time of the Savior’s death was caused by a volcano eruption. An earthquake usually lasts a few seconds with residual tremors, but a volcano erupting can cause the earth to continue to tremble and shake for hours. Flowing lava could bury cities and clouds of ash could block out all light. No one knows for sure what caused the dark destruction, but it is informative to ponder the horrendous fear and trauma the survivors endured during those three days whatever the cause.

Many suffered the loss of loved ones. There was absolutely no light, not even a spark, for three days. Many people were hurt and calling out in pain. Children were terrified and crying. Hunger, pain, deprivation, frustration, terror, fear, and every other negative emotion gripped the people for three days, but then the glorious gift of the Savior’s voice speaking through the darkness broke the bonds of those negative feelings and there was silence in the land (3 Nephi 10:1). Mormon goes on to tell us; “So great was the astonishment of the people that they did cease lamenting and howling for the loss of their kindred which had been slain” (10:2).

What struck me is that their astonishment overrode all those negative feelings. They were still in the dark. They were still hungry and in pain. They still had lost loved ones. They still had every reason to fear the unknown that surrounded them, but their astonishment at hearing the voice of Jesus Christ silenced their fears.

Too often I forget all the Atonement has done for me. I cease to be astonished and when I cease to be astonished the fears and negative feelings of the world overtake me and I find myself overwhelmed with the dark, painful, fearful events of this world. But, as I remember to “stand all amazed” the negative things of life are swallowed up and silenced just as they was for the Nephites.

The dictionary says that astonishment means “to strike with sudden and usually great wonder or surprise.” Great wonder that He would die for me. Surprise that He has rescued me. The voice of the Spirit whispers the message, and I am astonished!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Musings on Miracles

Yesterday my daughter and I were talking about the stories we were raised on–you know the stories we Mormons tell in YW and Sunday School and Seminary. She said she wished that all the stories in the YW manual hadn’t ended “happily ever after.” You know what I’m talking about. A person has only enough money to pay their tithing or the rent and they choose to pay their tithing and miraculously the rent money appears. Those stories are real. I know they happen. I’ve been the recipient of those kinds of miracles. But I also know that sometimes you choose to pay tithing instead of rent and nothing miraculous happens. Or does it?

As I look back on life and the myriad of experiences I’ve had there were more “rent money missing” events than there were “rent money appearing” events. But even in the “rent money missing” events micro miracles occurred that enabled us to endure and/or manage.

I remember praying fervently and with all the faith I had that my husband wouldn’t be drafted during Viet Nam and leave me alone with two young children. I pleaded with the Lord and did everything I could possibly do, but he got drafted anyway. It was tough. We suffered. We were separated for six months. His salary was cut substantially making our tithing, house and car payments, utilities and food more than his income. But somehow each month we made it through. We still don’t know how. There was never an unexpected check. There was never someone who out of the blue gave us money. But we paid our tithing. Paid the other bills, and no one foreclosed on us. Monthly we worried and fretted, but monthly we survived. It’s not a miracle we can tell a story about because we don’t know how it happened.

As Mariah and I talked yesterday, I thought about the many miraculous stories I’ve heard in Church. I don’t doubt a one of them, but I agree with her that sometimes we need to tell stories about the times grand miracles didn’t save the day. Sometimes we need to hear that the only thing that happened is that the person managed to hang on despite the tragedy. But we need to realize that, too, is a miracle.

Often the only miracle the Lord sends is the Spirit whispering softly, “It’s going to be all right. I'm with you.” That’s why it is so important to be still and listen even in times of adversity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Great Are the Words of Isaiah

I love Isaiah. He speaks to something deep within me that reaches into every fiber of my being. One reason I learn so much from him is that he speaks in metaphors and symbols that sink deep into my heart and then open and expand like a dry sponge submerged in water. What I mean by that is that initially I learn something wonderful from his writings, but as I ponder what I have learned it unfolds more meaning and continues to teach me.

One of those passages that has “fueled” my life is Isaiah 49:15-16. It is a passage I heard often growing up and liked. It goes like this, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”

I remember discussing this verse in a classroom setting when I was younger and the teacher explaining that this first verse had reference to a woman’s motherly instincts. He explained that mother’s have strong natural feelings for their children and that often they give their own lives to protect a child. He then compared those motherly instincts to the love the Lord has for us. While I liked the passage, I remember thinking that not all mothers have those feelings and wondered how that could be explained. There are numerous reports of women who have babies and abandon them or even worse they kill their own infants.

A few years later, I had my first child and became a nursing mother. On the first night that she slept through the night, I awakened shortly after what had been her feeding time with horrible pain throbbing through me. As I tossed and turned waiting for her to wake and relieve the pressure, I thought of Isaiah’s words and realized how inadequate my instructor’s explanation had been. He had never nursed a child and didn’t know that the key word in the verse is “sucking.” Isaiah spoke of a nursing child, and it is absolutely impossible for a nursing mother to forget her child. The pain is too intense. It can’t happen. And yet the Lord says, “Maybe a nursing mother could forget, but I can’t.” And then He goes on to reference the Atonement as he explains that He has graven us in His hands.

Think about the many times in a day you look at your hands. (Better still make a small circle on each of your hands and for just one day every time you glance at that circle think about the Atonement.) That is what the Savior is telling us. He can’t forget us because we are constantly before Him. Not only that, our “walls” or the obstacles we daily face are also constantly before Him. It is not that He won’t forget us. He can’t.

When I am tempted to think I am just an insignificant drop in the sea of humanity and that God couldn’t possibly be thinking about me, I recite Isaiah 49:15-16 and remember that I am graven in His hands. He knows me.