Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Small and Simple Things

Lovely, isn't it?  I spent a year on this cross stitch, which hangs in my son's room now.  People often look over my shoulder when they see me stitching and tell me "I could never do that!  It's far too difficult and complex!"  Can you tie a knot, follow directions and thread a needle?  Then I assure you, you can do it.  All it takes is one stitch at a time.

Life is like that.  It isn't the big things that make a difference.  It's all the little things.  I know two people, both wanting to be friends with the other, but one has learned from sad experience that if she gives too much to the other his pride would take over and he will only take her for granted.  For his part, he has repeatedly stated his intention to make it up to her somehow by doing something grand and marvelous to even the relationship and make up for all the disappointments he has leveled on her.  So here they are, plodding through years of not talking much and the distance between them growing ever wider.  Performing one act of superb quality wouldn't have much effect now.  She would only think he was doing so in order to gratify his overarching pride.  What would have an effect would be his picking up the phone, dialing her number and saying hello.  Their relationship would change radically.  And if he did it repeatedly they could both have the friendship they claim to want. 

When we see massive achievements we want, remember that we usually don't accomplish anything in one great leap.  It takes step after step, and moment after moment.  We accomplish great things here a little and there a little.  I remember when I was working on one particularly difficult cross stitch I mentioned to a friend that my goal was to complete two threads a night, which took about three hours.  She scoffed at the idea of two threads making much of a difference.  If we are looking for an immediate finish line, it might seem discouraging.   But continue and at long last you find you've created a masterpiece. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mormonism: An Intellectual Faith

I often hear people mock religion and those who practice it, saying "you don't think for yourself.  Your beliefs are irrational, foolish, outdated, and absurd.  You operate only on blind faith."  I have known many people who parrot these same insulting remarks at myself and Mormonism.  But whatever fault a person may find with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, unthinking, blind faith is not an accusation that holds water.

Our history begins with a young boy named Joseph Smith who, after two years of searching out as many different religions as he could find, knelt in a grove of trees and prayed to know for himself which was the true church of God and thus which he should join.  From that moment until now, a constant, undying theme in our religion has been the passionate journey and experience of finding the truth for oneself.  We do not baptize infants.  We wait until a child is at least eight years old before he or she even has the opportunity to accept baptism.  Why?  Because it is supposed to be the child's own decision, independent of anyone else.  As parents, we are not supposed to force our children to join if they do not wish to do so.  An adult seeking to join the church cannot do so in the waters of baptism unless they know for themselves and voluntarily submit to living certain standards of moral behavior.  A member of the church is not allowed in the temple unless that person has a personal testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ, independent of any other person.  Does that sound like a religion of blind followers? 

I enjoy reading various literature written by church leaders and something they often repeat is the necessity of learning all we can in this lifetime.  That includes secular knowledge of every kind.  I am presently reading a book by an apostle named Elder Dallin H. Oaks who, before he received his present calling, was a legal professional, university professor, president of a university, and a judge in the state of Utah.  I recently finished a book by another apostle who was yet another university president before his calling to the apostleship.  The other church leaders have been scientists, medical doctors, pilots and the like. 

I appreciate how succinctly one apostle, Elder David A. Bednar, explained this quest for knowledge and its relationship to faith.  In a world of self satisfied naysayers he quietly points out that there are two ways to learn.  We learn with the mind and with the heart.  Both are necessary in finding truth, and each carries its place in heightening intelligence.  We often think that learning is only about the brain, but learning equally with the heart gives us a broadened perspective that we cannot attain in any other way.  What makes this religion so comfortable in promoting learning of every kind and in every way?  Well, I suggest you read The Book of Mormon with both an open mind and an open heart, and find out for yourself. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why God Lets Us Suffer

We live in difficult and perilous times.  I know that most of us have had a solid share of suffering, and I certainly have had my own trials in life.  I feel drawn today to address the idea of why God lets us suffer.  I think often we carry the misconception that God allows suffering because He is mean, angry, hates us, doesn't care, or that we have done something wrong.  My friends, that isn't the case. 

Some years ago I was traveling through some profoundly severe trials and doing everything I could to align my behavior with the commandments of the Lord.  I remember crying out in desperate prayer "I have been straight arrow all my life and am doing everything I can to follow Thee!  What else do I have to do to make this anguish go away?"  I will never forget the quiet answer I immediately received.  It was "Michelle, the point is not for you to be out of pain."  Immediately I stopped and considered this very new idea.  There was a greater point somewhere, and this pain was necessary to fulfill it.  I relaxed and let the pain wash over me, through me and fill me completely.  I wasn't fighting it anymore and I wasn't holding on to my own will.  I have seen miraculous things transpire because of this trial and subsequent troubles as well.  And every time life breaks my heart I brace myself and remember that there is a point to whatever the Lord has me suffer.

Most of the trials we have carry two purposes, an immediate one and an eternal one.  The immediate one is generally to harrow up our souls in order to allow greater light inside.  It may also have other purposes, like inducing us to say, do, and act in ways the Lord needs so that others may learn.  The eternal ones are the sculpting of our spirits and characters. 

One of the most poignant moments in suffering is when we feel that God has abandoned us.  I used to hate this feeling.  Now it makes me grin.  When we feel that emptiness inside and feel that His spirit has turned its back on us, I promise you that He is very conscious of you and of me and He allows us to feel that for a reason.  When that feeling overtakes me I look heavenward with a smile and think "I know Thou art still there.  Thou art just letting me feel this way for some reason or other, but Thou wilt be back soon enough." 

My friends, stay the course.  When life gets you down, stay the course.  When the jaws of hell stretch wide ready to receive you, stay the course.  The pain is not what ultimately matters. What ultimately matters is what we do with the trials we are given.    

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fallen Leaves and Bleeding Hands

Otherwise entitled "What happens when your washer breaks upon an Arizonan January." 

My washing machine has decided to take a vacation, apparently.  Now, the typical human being might call up the nearest laundry joint and sit for a few hours reading a magazine whilst their clothes clean themselves.  I've never been the typical kind of person.  I have a sink, water, soap and two hands.  Enough said. 

And right at the same time, it is February in Arizona, and we all know what that means.  Actually, most people have no idea what that means but when you have an orchard of 49 trees and the leaves in Arizona like to trickle their way off their branches sometime in January, you begin to get the idea that it is manual labor time. 

I appreciate all the sympathetic groans I'm hearing from my very kind readers, but not to worry.  I actually enjoy the change.  I have never been one to walk away from this kind of an adventure and as I have been raking leaves and wringing clothes it has been a wonderful opportunity to commune with the past.  I'm a pioneer crossing the plains, wringing out shirt after shirt.  My mind travels back to my ancestry in Mexico who had so little but did so much with it.  The main thing they had was endurance.  At least I don't have to go to the well to pump the water to wash the clothes.  It lends you the opportunity to prioritize in those quiet, clothes scrubbing moments.  Did I really have to go all over town on errand after meaningless errand?  Not really.  Did I really have to go to that one place that I thought was so very important?  No.  Did I have to check facebook every five seconds?  Please, no. Life becomes much less stressful and far simpler when your focus is rinsing suds out of denim jeans.  The denim is what cuts into your hands and makes them bleed a little.  No problem.  How much more did so many others have to go through in their lifetime?  How much calmer were they because their life revolved around faith and labor rather than the constant, empty, technological blithering that so often commands most of our time today?  I'm going to enjoy this moment while it lasts.  And it won't last long because the repair guy is scheduled for Thursday.