Monday, September 29, 2014

We Love Cousins

I don't have many memories of growing up with cousins, so I am so excited to live reasonably close to my older brother and sister and their children. They are always so sweet to my children. But there is a special cuteness with cousins your own age. So when my younger brother said he would be in Virginia visiting my parents for a couple of weeks I allowed myself to be talked into making the trip down to see him and his children. His oldest daughter is just five weeks younger than Wee Boy and his younger daughter is 6 months younger than Cheeks.

Wee Boy and cousin E could spend all day, if we let them, throwing rocks into the lake in my parent's backyard. It was beyond adorable to see them out there finding rocks, sticks, acorns or even dirt clods to throw into the water. They may have gotten a little wet and dirty in the process but what's childhood without mud?

Cheeks and cousin P while not quite as mobile and dirty were just as enthralled at each other. Anytime cousin P was awake, Cheeks would be over staring into her face completely oblivious to any sense of personal space. Thankfully Cousin P didn't seem to mind and thankfully Cheeks was mostly gentle with her cousin.

My original plan was to drive down Wednesday and come home on Saturday but the children were having so much fun playing together and eating themselves silly with fruit snacks that I again allowed myself to be talked into staying through the weekend and leaving Monday instead. Matthew was sad about the extension but the kids could have spent another week together I am sure. Oh how we LOVE cousins.



Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Book of Mormon - or at least my take on it.

I was recently asked to speak in church about how I've made the Book of Mormon part of my life. For weeks I had a chance to ponder on the subject and the result was the following stories and themes. They may not be what you have taken away from this most special of books, but it is mine and I thought it worthy of sharing on this public site for anyone who may be interested or even just for my future posterity. So here goes.

The first comes from the Book of Ether and is the story of the Jaredites crossing the ocean to the promised land. The Jaredites prepare themselves for their journey. They go where they are directed but stop short of reaching the promised land because, I am sure they were tired or maybe they just thought that the seashore they had reached must be what the Lord had intended as their promised land not realizing that he had much better plans in store. And then they are instructed to build barges that are tight like unto a dish. Five times in one verse we are told that their barge is tight like unto a dish. Later in the chapter, the Jaredites are told that the Lord is keenly aware of their journey and is even orchestrating the trip so that they will be successful. And then a few chapters after that we finally get to their journey. We read of furious winds, being buried in the depths of the sea because of the mountainous waves. We read of great and terrible tempests but we also read that no water could hurt them because they were tight like unto a dish. And we read that when they were tossed and buried by those mountainous waves they would pray and the Lord would again bring them up to the surface. We also read that not only did the water not hurt them but neither did any monsters of the sea. And all the while they had light for their almost one-year journey in their completely enclosed vessels. Finally we read that once they set foot in the promised land they didn’t shed tears of joy to be out of the cursed tight like unto a dish boats but for the multitude of tender mercies they experienced in their journey.

Oh how I love this story. What a beautiful metaphor for life is contained in a few short chapters. First, we must prepare ourselves – most importantly our testimonies – so that we will be tight like unto a dish, or in other words that the influence of the adversary will have no way to get into our lives and that our testimonies are filled with the light of Christ. Second, life is hard. There are storms and mountainous waves that force us under the water. There are veritable sea monsters that seem overwhelming to us and threaten to destroy our testimonies. But as long as we pray, the Lord will bring us out on top again. He doesn’t get rid of the waves, or the storms, or even the monsters, but he won’t let them hurt us if our testimonies are tight and filled with light. And finally, at the end of the journey, whether it be a small portion of our life, or at the end of our mortal journey, we will be able to shed tears of joy for the multitude of tender mercies the Lord so benevolently gave us. Because after all, the journey and everything we went through was carefully orchestrated by Him. Oh how I love this story and how perfectly relevant it is to our lives now and what we are going through, no matter what that might be.

The second story comes from the last 15 or so chapters of the book of Alma – also known as the war chapters. Now how could all these war chapters be relevant to us? With all the options Mormon had to include in his limited space, why so many chapters regarding war? What do we learn from these chapters.

First we learn that the purity of our lives, homes and families is not an accidental happening. We learn that a fortified city aka fortified home, fortified testimony is very hard to conquer. But we also learn that this fortification takes a lot of work and must be started before the adversary is trying to knock us down. And we learn that we can’t let up our guard or think we have won the war because we have won a battle. Those fortifications that come from reading the scriptures, attending church, praying and living the most Christlike lives we can, must ever be present if we are to come off conqueror. And we know that when we side with God, we always win and we win big.

Second we learn that fighting the adversary via use of stratagem is not a bad thing. We are not a pacifist religion, especially when it comes to fighting for what we believe in. We can’t sit idly by while the world tries to tell us what to believe, what to prize or with what to fill our time. We have to be actively seeking for what is virtuous and lovely and at the same time filling the world with light and truth.

Lastly we learn that our greatest chance for success in coming out of all of this alive is to remember what our mothers have taught us and to keep the commandments with exactness. If we can do that then life may hurt us, it may even wound us deeply, but it won’t kill us.

 Finally, you can’t talk about the Book of Mormon without talking about Christ. Some form of the Lord’s name is mentioned an average of 1.7 verses in the Book of Mormon using one hundred different names, such as Lord, Holy One, or the Eternal Judge. He is the central figure of the Book of Mormon. In total He is referenced in some form almost 4,000 times. But aside from being an interesting side note how does it make this book essential and relevant for us?

Joseph Smith told the saints that “The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

 If our goal is to become like God and perfect ourselves or even make our lives better, what better way than to use a book that talks of and rejoices in Christ more so than any other book? And what do we learn of the Savior from the Book of Mormon? I apologize that this list might not be your list but here are a few items that came to my mind as I was pondering this subject.

The Savior keeps His promises. The Book of Mormon is filled with promises and threatening’s that if you keep His commandments you will be blessed, if you don’t you’ll be cursed. But not only do you have the words but you have their fulfillment time and time again. In addition, there are countless prophecies, some direct quotes from Biblical prophets, that ALL come true. Not just some of them, but every single prophecy has been fulfilled, and we can infer from those fulfillments that future prophecies and promises will just as assuredly happen. The Savior keeps His promises.

The Savior is no respecter of persons. In the Book of Mormon, there are two general groups, the Nephites and the Lamanites. And while the Nephites are most often grouped with the good and the Lamanites with the bad, the Lord doesn’t just help the Nephites nor does He just curse the Lamanites. Again he keeps His promises to help those who love him and curse those who hate Him. But not only that, He gives the same lessons, almost verbatim to the Nephites and Lamanites when he comes to visit after His resurrection as He did to those in Jerusalem during his earthly ministry. And He promised to continue spreading His message to yet more of His flock. Why? Because He is no respecter of persons.

The Savior is intimately aware of us and is actively working on helping us be successful in this life. One of my most favorite verses in the Book of Mormon comes from Mormon 5:23 – Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? I love this image of my little world being held in the hands of someone infinitely wiser, kinder, and more powerful than I am. I was searching for my scripture and mistakingly fed hands of the Lord into the search engine instead of hands of God and what came up is meaningful enough to share. Based on my search I learned that that we can be preserved, brought, delivered, strengthened, directed, prospered and conversely destroyed by the hand of the Lord. What a beautiful reminder over and over again as we study this great book that the Lord loves us, is cheering for us, and is working tirelessly for our good.

The Savior will come again. This world has a finite life as does all the evil in it. The Savior will come again and every knee shall bow and tongue confess that He is the Christ. So we can fall away from the Tree of Life out of shame because the world mocks us or we can invite others to come taste of the fruit that is most precious and desirable of any other fruit. We can study the Book of Mormon and live lives worthy of Christ so that He will count us as His own when he comes again.

The Book of Mormon truly is the keystone of our religion. It was always meant to be the most relevant in our day. But it won’t be relevant until we have it written as it were in our hearts. To know its stories so well that when those mountainous waves and monsters of the sea come, we already know to pray because that’s what the Jaredites did and the people of Alma, and the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. And we know that whatever we are going through, whether it be sin, illness, job-loss, or we are just trying to be a better missionary, parent, sibling, or neighbor we know we can find our answers in this most precious of books.

Let me leave you with two quotes by former prophets and apostles of the Lord.

Ezra Taft Benson –It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life”, and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.

Marion G. Romney – I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity – the pure love of Christ – will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness.

Thanks for your time.