Sunday, October 01, 2006

“Great Peace Shall They Have . . . Nothing Shall Offend Them”

Psalms 119:165

I just finished listening to the Sunday morning session of Conference – President Hinckley’s talk. As he spoke, I was reminded of a question I’ve heard recently, as to whether or not President Hinckley is really a prophet of God if he can’t give more specific direction to those with specific challenges?
And if he really is a prophet, what's the point, if he can't give all the answers?

Before I go any further, let me explain why I’m writing this post. The questions were asked by someone for whom I have the greatest respect. So I want to point out that I’m not writing this in criticism of him for questioning. But rather, I know from my own experience that often, when I’ve learned something that I’ve needed to know – when I finally ‘got it’ – I’ve said, ‘why didn’t someone tell me?’ And then I remembered; someone did tell me, but I wasn’t ready to hear it then. So I know that sometimes you just have to be ready to hear. Everyone has to work in their own time and move at their own pace. I firmly believe that how long it takes isn’t as important as the direction we’re going in. And I respect this person for his efforts to go in the right direction, so I repeat, this isn’t meant in criticism, but rather to offer some ideas that might at some point be helpful. And if not that, then maybe I’m just fulfilling my own need to empty my head by expressing my thoughts!

I know, also, that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and that the person who can point out the forest is able to do so, not because he’s smarter, but because he happens to be standing outside of the forest, and therefore has a better opportunity to see it in perspective. But then, being on the outside, he’s less familiar with what the particular trees in that forest look like, so he might not really be in a position to be pointing things out to the person that is in there. So while the temptation is to say, ‘here, look at this – can’t you see?’ it seemed better to just put my thoughts on my blog, and let whomever wants to, read it, and take it however it fits for them – if at all.

Now that I’ve explained that, back to my thoughts: I noticed how the prophet started out by talking about people’s speculations about his age and health, the implication being that they might be wondering if he’s going to die anytime soon and someone else be called to his position. He made it clear that he has no idea what the Lord has in mind for him! This implied to me that even though he’s a Prophet of the Lord, apparently, that doesn’t mean that he is told everything.

It kind of reminded me of a friend who used to tell me that the Lord always blessed her financially, whenever she needed it. She said there were several times when she didn’t know where the money she needed was going to come from, but at the last minute, the Lord always provided what she needed. Then she said, grinning with feigned disappointment, that although it was always enough, there was never anything extra!

I thought of that comment in connection with the Prophet’s words. Apparently, the Lord gives him what is needed, but doesn't neccesarily tell him everything. And as to specific direction for specific problems, perhaps the Lord would rather handle that on an individual basis, conserving the Prophet’s time for what he needs to do to guide the church. At least, that’s the picture I was getting.

Isn’t that the way the Lord has always worked? The scriptures give lots of direction which we can apply to our own lives, but it’s our job to take that information and use our mental capacities to figure out how to apply it to our own lives, and then take it to the Lord for confirmation. And aren’t the words of the Prophet equal to scripture?

I think what really bothered me the most though, was that the questions regarding the Prophet were clouded in anger, and I wondered where it was coming from.

Maybe this person's real question should have been what – or who – am I really angry at?

From where I’m standing, I think he has some legitimate reasons to be angry – but I can’t help but wonder if he’s not been misdirecting that anger?

And I’m wondering if it’s ever possible to resolve misdirected anger.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Book Discoveries

It just occurred to me that since I was injured in May of 2005 (and unable to work and need to rest frequently), I’ve read about 40 books! Twenty-three of them were parts of three different series:
The Work and the Glory by Gerald Lund
The Mitford Series by Jan Karon
The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

In addition, I’ve discovered what I call ‘the Christian novel’ and found some fantastic authors! They're not connected to any particular denomination. The stories include characters who struggle to apply Christian principles to resolve the problems in their lives. But at the same time, these books all have intriguing plots that aren’t about ‘religion’. I liked them because they're interesting, uplifting, and well written. Just to give you an idea, some of them were 500 - 600 pages long, but the kind that you can't put down. I read several of them in just 2 or 3 days - and I don't consider myself a fast reader.

In case you’re interested, I’ve made a list of some of my favorites. (With only one exception, they are all of the category I just described.) My very favorites* are starred.

By Lynn Austin:
Candle in the Darkness* (civil war)
Wings of Refuge* (an archeological dig in Israel)

By Elizabeth Berg:
The Art of Mending* (family relationships)

By Liz Curtis Higgs:
Bookends (contemporary romance)
Mixed Signals (contemporary romance)
Thorn in My Heart*
(based on Biblical story of Jacob)
Fair is the Rose* (same as above)
Whence Came a Prince*
(same as above)
Grace in My Eyes* (sequel to above; based on Biblical story of Dinah)

By Francine Rivers:
Leota’s Garden* (family relationships)
The Scarlet Thread (saving a marriage)
Redeeming Love*
(story of a prostitute; based on Book of Hosea)

Monday, July 31, 2006

"Why Me, Lord?"

Come, My Little Angel, by Diane Noble, is a novella about a very faith-full and positive little girl growing up in a large, poor family. She writes a play and plans with her friends to produce it for the whole town (about 500 people). As if that weren’t a big enough endeavor for a 10 year old, she plans to sell tickets to her play to raise money for lumber so that their fathers can build a church for the small town. But her main motive through all of this is to bring back the joy she remembered seeing in her mother when she was younger – before the death of one of her siblings. Her mother had stopped singing and praying – and believing – when her prayers were not answered for her sick infant to live. Through this sad experience, she had not only lost all hope for life, but was determined to 'protect' her children from ever being hurt by teaching them to NOT believe!

This is a conversation between mother, Abigail, and her 10 year old daughter, Daisy. Daisy’s example of not letting go of her faith and dreams had been an example to her mother. But only when circumstances that Daisy couldn’t control, made her plans begin to seem hopeless, did Abigail really see the error of her faithless example. Now she wanted to correct her mistake and bring Daisy out of her depression by teaching her that all was not lost, even though things didn’t go as she had planned and worked for. Abigail continues to speak to her daughter, even though at first Daisy refuses to be comforted:

“And there’s something else I found about dreams and hope.”
Daisy leaned forward, a spark of interest showing in her eyes.
Abigail smiled. “It’s maybe the most important thing of all.”
“What is it?” Daisy finally asked.

“When those impossible dreams finally do come true, the hole in your heart carved by sorrow will cause you to fill with more joy than you can imagine.”

This really struck me when I read it, because it reminded me of something that I, myself, experienced - many years ago, through a situation too personal to share. Perhaps it’s a key to the answer to that age-old question regarding suffering: “Why me, Lord?”

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

“Oh No! My Life is Ruined!”

As a teenager, I once chose to do a paper on Sigmund Freud for a writing assignment. If I had to roll up into one sentence all that I had learned from my research, it was this – that my life was ruined because I had an unhappy family! (Keep in mind that most teens, at some point, think that they have terrible parents and are treated unfairly, anyway.) Unfortunately, as I grew older I was able to add enough things to the list of negative factors in my life, that I became convinced that my experiences had condemned me to be an unhappy and unlovable person. I would fight it with my knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but how could I possibly overturn it, considering my past?

As I matured, I began to understand how my attitude was setting me up to make the choices that would allow my ‘unhappy life’ to continue in that direction. But I also began to notice – through many little things, but especially through one major blessed situation, in particular – how positive things in the present could, indeed, make the past unimportant and of no consequence, in spite of Sigmund Freud’s assertions! I realized how hope and faith in God, though it could never change the past, could ‘lift’ one above the 'condemnation' of past experiences, to a higher level, where the present could be totally independent from what had happened in the past. On those occasions, it was like the past no longer had any power to influence the present - like it no longer mattered!

To add to my understanding, I recently read some novels which seemed to emphasize, through the lives of the characters (who had experienced some pretty negative things) how faith and forgiveness and steadfastness in trusting in the Lord could bring joy in the end, in spite of the ‘beginning’. Yes, it was fiction, but the principles that were illustrated were not! They seemed to trigger thinking on my part, which added to my more recent perspective about how the past might not necessarily have the power to influence the present.

I awoke this morning with this thought, which struck me more clearly than ever before:

THE PAST IS GONE, AND THEREFORE IS TOTALLY UNIMPORTANT, except to the extent that we allow it to influence the present.

This makes sense to me, even when held up against other principles. It explains how God can totally forgive us when we repent, no matter what terrible things we have done in the past, in spite of his warnings to never do those things. He gives us those warnings because he understands how what we do, can influence our future and the direction we take. It also explains why we should forgive ourselves. If we repent and change direction, then that voids that negative consequence of that action, because it no longer affects our present direction!

As further supportive evidence of the truth of this statement, consider this: Think of the worst thing you ever did, or the worst experience you ever had. How does it make you feel? Now think of the best experience you have ever had. How does that make you feel? Can you focus on both thoughts at the same time? Can you see that it’s really not what happened in the past that makes you feel good or bad, but rather, it’s your thoughts of those things? You can even think of that worst experience, and view it from the point of what you learned from it; what positive thing came out of it, and it will change the feeling you get. Modern psychology tends to focus more on these things, rather than accept as it once did, Freud’s earlier, more negative conclusions. Freud made significant contributions to psychological thought, but he was not the end all, be all that I, as a 13 year old girl, had been influenced to think he was!

It is my (more mature) opinion that God is God because he is the “most intelligent of them all” (see Abraham3:19). Man is capable of making great scientific discoveries, but as time goes on, we make more discoveries that slightly alter the perspective of what we’ve already learned. I believe all that God tells us - and tells us to do - is based on eternal truths that, if we studied every aspect of scientific law in the universe, we would eventually come to understand. In the meantime, I’m becoming more and more convinced that just following his commandments, whether or not we understand them – regardless of current scientific opinion – will save us a lot of unhappiness.

Freud was right – the family you grow up in does have a lot of influence on your happiness. But it’s not the determining factor, because forgiveness (of ourselves and of others), repentance, and trust in God, ultimately works with that factor to alter its consequence, according to our faith and obedience – or lack thereof.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Are Rules Only for Children?

Yes? . . . no? . . . maybe so?

I’ve realized lately the extreme extent to which I’ve become a victim of the rules! But not even just of rules, in general, so much as I’ve become a victim of my ‘own rules’! I’ve taken regulations that were meant to be guidelines, and exalted them to the level that they sometimes replace the principles which they were meant to support! (Hm-m-m? Sounds familiar. Anyone read the New Testament lately?)

I think that, as a child, I must have sometime vowed, “I’ll never break the rules”! Well, yes, that could be admirable, but then again, it can be taken to a ridiculous extent. As an adult, I should have grown past the childish rules as I developed the power of discernment. For example, I’m sure I was once told to never go in the street. Well, now as an adult, I use my own judgment in discerning whether or not it’s okay to ‘go in the street’, and no longer take that as a set-in-stone rule, as it is for a child. But in too many other things, I apparently never matured, perhaps unconsciously refusing to take the responsibility, and therefore remaining a child in those things.

In thinking about the idea that maybe I get too caught up in the “rules” and overlook the real issues, I recalled that some of the most Christ-like people I know are NOT strict rule observers! They’re not exactly disrespectful of law and order; just that they seem to not spend so much time worrying about following protocol, as I sometimes do.

I thought about how we teach children simple rules for their protection and guidance, because they’re not equipped to understand the reasoning that would help them to live merely by common sense and self-discipline. Similarly, I recalled Moses and the Ten Commandments and the forty years in the desert, and how we’re told that the Israelites weren’t ready for higher laws, so they had to live by simple rules and everything had to be spelled out for them. I even remember the days when if you taught a Sunday School class, the manual would almost tell you every word to say. Now the manuals talk about basic principles, refer you to scriptures, and tell you to pray about which of the stories, examples, scriptures, etc., to use to best meet the needs of your class, in teaching that specific principle.

Along the same line, I remember a Music Theory teacher I had in high school. He responded to questions about all the exceptions to the rules of music composition, by agreeing that there are, indeed, many exceptions to the rules that he was making us learn. But then he explained, “You have to know all the rules before you can know which ones you can break.” I always thought that was good advice to be applied to life in general. (But then I forgot to apply it.)

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that this gives us license to break rules. But I am starting to see that maybe I need to back off a little and remember that, generally speaking, the ‘rules’ are given for guidelines. When the Savior was asked which were the most important commandments, he didn’t go into a long lecture listing myriads of rules. He focused on the two most important principles, and trusted people to make their own decisions based on those principles. He even explained that if those commandments were kept, there wouldn’t be a need for all the others (because if you lived within the spirit of that law, you would automatically make good choices, without having to have everything spelled out for you!) During his ministry, he was often criticized by the Pharisees for ‘breaking the rules’, to which he often pointed out what amounted to the need to use common sense and recognize priorities. He put things into perspective.

So along with my resolve to turn more frequently to the Savior, maybe I need to also follow more closely his example and advice. I need to pay attention to the rules, but at the same time, I need to focus on eventually learning to live by the principles, rather than by the ‘letter of the law’. Maybe it’s time I grew up a little more. ‘When I was a child . . . I understood as a child . . . , but when I became [an adult]’ – maybe it’s time to take the risk of making my own decisions, based on the principles. It all kind of reminds me of that saying that there are three levels of obedience: doing things out of fear, doing things out of duty, and doing things out of love! Same idea – we progress as we mature in our understanding.

Yes, I still believe in ‘following the rules’. It’s just that I’m becoming conscious of the fact that if rules can be defined as guidelines, then the need to follow them should be determined by how badly I want to go to the place to which they’re ‘guiding’ me. For example, if I want to get good grades, I need to study and do the work. If I want a clean house, I have to make my bed, vacuum, and clean the toilet on a regular basis. You get the picture.

The confusion – and the stress – arises when I realize that some of the many things that I ‘want’, have conflicting rules – or maybe it’s more often just that they all add up to be too big a set of rules to be humanly possible to deal with! Then I have to prioritize, and drop some of the rules associated with the less important or less urgent goals.

Sometimes I may even need to break a rule, in order to obey the more important commandments. After all, isn’t that what our father, Adam, did when he was informed by Eve that she had eaten of the Forbidden Fruit?

Friday, January 27, 2006

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Love is an act of endless forgiveness"
I just read this, and thought it worthy of being shared.
It's from Jan Karon's Light from Heaven, the final book in her Mitford Series.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Beautiful Hawaii

I had such a nice afternoon! It was pouring rain – enough that my back yard nearly flooded! But I still kept the appointment I had made for transportation to Ko’Olina (Beach Resort) to walk in the sand (to strengthen my recently injured leg muscles), hoping that the sky would clear.

It had started to clear, but poured again just as my ride came, influencing me to take a jacket, in addition to the sweatshirt I’d already put in my bag! But by the time I got there, it had stopped, so I took off my shoes, put my bag and shoes on a lounge chair out on the sand, and proceeded to walk in the sand, dipping my feet in the ocean water every now and then.

I was feeling pretty tired after about 25 minutes, so I decided to rest awhile and read my book. It was so sunny, I had already had to put my sun glasses on to be able to walk. Sitting on the beach, reading, the sun was glaring into my face, and I was getting quite hot! So, though I really wanted to walk more, I followed the prompting to rinse my feet in the shower, put my shoes back on, and head for a shady place to read. No sooner had I done so than it started to rain hard enough that I had to get out my umbrella before I reached the building.

First, I looked around in the little gift shop (with no intention to buy), but as had often happened before in this particular shop, I found a few little things that I really wanted, both for myself and for gifts, that were really reasonable. I bought myself an orange and a banana, for which I'd been hungry. I also found a mouse pad (for which I’ve been looking for about two years). It was in yellow, orange, and green – a beautiful painting of a bird of paradise – just what I’d wanted, so I treated myself (something I don't often do).

After eating my orange, I went upstairs (I was at the beautiful Ko’Olina timeshare apartments) and read in the open air foyer, lounging on a rattan chaise lounge with huge fabric cushions, until my ride arrived to take me home. It was just cool enough that I’d put on my sweatshirt, and was feeling quite cozy. Sitting up there, where I could see the ocean and all the lovely surroundings, with the ocean breeze blowing gently on me as I read, was heavenly. I kept stopping my reading just to marvel at it – and to fight off the urge to feel guilty for being there when, had it not been for my injury, I should have been at work! The only thing missing was someone to share it with.

‘Wish you could have been there! (Ooh! Can you just feel that ocean breeze? Look at the ocean! It’s so beautiful here! . . . Thank you Father, for allowing me to live here!)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Move Over, Columbus!

No discovery ever made by any explorer, will ever have as much impact on us as the ones we make ourselves.

Maybe this is why I'm convinced that

we all need to give each other some space

even if it’s only so we can make our own mistakes. How else will we have the room to make our own discoveries.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Revealing Conversation

I recently had a conversation with a friend, wherein dating and marriage came up. (Women talk about these things.) And as is my habit, I often dwell on a conversation, after the fact, going over it in my mind, elaborating in an effort to make myself more clear. On this occasion, in my mind I was explaining to this friend why it would not be logical for me to consider marrying someone not of my faith. The point I was trying to make was simply that it can be hard for people with different lifestyles to live together. I was using, for an example, the few months she and I had shared an apartment when she had recently finished her doctorate, I was just finishing up my master's, and we were both in the process of each looking for a house to buy.

She’s a great person with high standards, but not a member of my faith. Nevertheless, she’s very tolerant of what she might consider my religious ‘quirks’. Of course, most of them didn’t affect her personally, other than the ‘house rules' - most of which she lived anyway, but it still affected her environment.

In my mind, I was reminding her of that time, and of how after only about 4 months (though she tried not to show it) I could tell she was about to go crazy with all the little things that she wouldn’t have had to put up with if she had been in her own house. Then in this imaginary explanation, I listed some of those things: no alcohol, tobacco, R-rated videos, or swearing in the house. Then there were things like prayers before meals, no Sunday shopping, hiking, swimming etc., visits from missionaries, visiting teachers, home teachers, priesthood blessings, eight hours of general conference on TV, the latest ‘Mormon culture’ videos, pictures of the Savior and the Temple on the wall, talk about Mormon doctrine, Mormon culture . . .

And then in my little imaginary conversation, I stopped short!

Even now, as I write this, I’m having a hard time seeing my computer screen because my eyes are getting teary. Nowhere on the list was there mention of talk about the Savior! Yes, his picture was on the wall. Mention of him would have come up during a missionary visit, a priesthood blessing, or maybe reading the scriptures out loud with another person. But other than that, how often did I even mention the Savior?

Why? Is it because, for some of us, once we establish our beliefs, we take things for granted (“Now that’s done – we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”)? Is it because we make rules to help us follow the more important rules, then forget why the rules were made in the first place?

For me, I think a lot of it is that I have a really hard time talking about personal things. Actually, I have a really hard time, sometimes, even feeling personal things, much less making those things public. (Writing is easier, because it’s safer – I have the chance to go back and reword things, trying to make myself clear so I’m not misunderstood.) So maybe I distance myself by using formalities. I would have made a great Pharisee (remember the religious party that was so wound up in following the letter of the law that most of them didn't even recognize the Savior when he came to them).

Maybe there’s some logic and even some healthy reasoning in all of those things – to some extent. But more so, I think, I’ve let it all get out of balance to the extent that I’ve come dangerously close to missing some of the most important things in Life – and some of the opportunities to share those things with others.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rules of Life

I’ve been thinking, and I’ve decided that one of the first rules of life should be:

  • Break your problems down into little pieces, then handle the pieces one at a time

Of course, the next rule would have to be to prioritize the pieces, so that you’d know which ones to handle first. But even if you made some mistakes there, at least you’d be getting started. Which is more than I do sometimes when I let something overwhelm me, don’t know how to handle it, and just moan about it!

Why didn’t someone tell me this rule? That page must have been missing from my book . . .

A Nickel for a Robe – What a Buy!

Many years ago, I happened to go to a library book sale where books were selling for five cents each. I don’t remember if I bought anything else, but I did come home with a copy of Lloyd C. Douglas’ book, The Robe. It sat around, untouched, for several months until a time when I happened to be down with the flu, and therefore had time to read it.

I have never read a novel that has affected my life more. Having just finished reading it again, it has again had a profound impact on me.

The story line revolves around the Roman Tribune who was put in charge of the crucifixion of the Savior, and how that affected his life. My feeling when I first read the book was, that while I had always believed in the Savior, I had only seen him from a great distance. Reading the novel, I felt, helped me to see him up close, as it were, and to come to know him better.

I would strongly recommend the book to anyone who likes to read a good novel, or anyone who has an interest in the history, philosophy, or government of that time period. Through the various discussions of the characters, these are all contrasted with the teachings of a man named Jesus.

The book is very well done. If there is anything I would criticize, it might be the 'romance' slant of the story, which seems to be a bit Hollywood-ish. But that's only a small part of the book and doesn’t detract from the spirit that is conveyed by the story. The book left me with renewed inspiration to put less emphasis on 'religion' and more on simply living as Jesus taught.