Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My kids are excited for "Superbowl" Conference

This weekend is a very special time for Latter-day Saints around the world. Known as “Conference Weekend,” members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend time during the weekend listening to the Lord’s chosen prophet, His 12 apostles, and other general authorities of the Church.

Conference happens twice a year, on the first weekend in April and the first weekend in October. This year "Conference Weekend" coincides with the celebration of Easter and I can think of no better way to spend it than listening to talks about the Savior, His life, love and example.

During conference the Lord's called and ordained leaders offer words of encouragement and counsel. Using the Spirit, scriptures, wisdom, personal stories, clarity, warmth and, even at times, humor they help lift us above the things of this world. Common topics include the Savior and His atoning sacrifice for us, how we can better keep the commandments, the need for repentance from weaknesses big and small, and how to remain hopeful in an increasingly darkening world.

While talking about the Lord’s plan for our salvation and happiness, they teach us about the sanctity of marriage and share ways we can build better, happier marriages. They offer parents hope and insight during the struggles of raising children. They talk of the importance of forgiving others, serving others, comforting others. You cannot listen to their talks without feeling the Savior’s love. Through that love you feel better about yourself and those around you. Suddenly life is easier, the way more clear, and Christ closer.

Despite the wonderful Spirit and eternal messages, though, teenagers and young children often struggle with listening to conference. For years we had to coax, encourage…at times require…that our children watch at least one session of conference over the weekend. Now all of our children eagerly gather in the room to watch and stay awake for almost all four sessions.

The difference?


My sister-in-law told us of something they did in their home. We tried it, and it worked. My children have named it “Superbowl Conference.”

Prior to each session we fill bowls with a variety of snacks. (We use different snacks at each session so they don’t get bored with the snacks.) I let the children label each bowl with a word they think we will hear during conference. They choose words such as repentance, Jesus, baptism, prayer and others. Then, during conference, if they want to take a snack they have to wait for the appropriate word.

It is fun to see everyone diving for a Holy Ghost chip or a scripture M&M. Some speakers will wipe out an entire supply of prayer grapes while others will send my family snacking through all the bowls. (Over the years we have learned to include healthy snacks as well, such as grapes, apple pieces, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, jerky, etc.)

Food really does help our family feast on the words of Christ!

The Church is also helping families with children keep them involved before, during and after conference. They have a new Web site filled with a variety of activities for all ages. There are coloring pages and games to print off and take with you. For fun at home there are also matching games on the computer, slideshows and videos, stories to listen to and ideas for things to make and do. If your children are Matt and Mandy fans they also have a section just for them.

The games are not just for conference but any time. Here is the link. Some of the games take a while to load, but they are a fun, entertaining ways to encourage them to listen and learn.

LDS Conference Games for Children

Thanks to modern technology, anyone can watch conference on television, by satellite, over the internet at (see link below), or get printed copies of the talks to read. If I counted right they can listen to conference in 67 different languages and get printed copies of it in just as many. Copies of past conference talks are also available and all of it is for free. For more information on the conference broadcasts, go to

LDS General Conference Page


Monday, March 22, 2010

Guillermo's cell phone

While in Peru in 2008, I met Guillermo—a young man with Down Syndrome--who visited with us like old friends. He showed us karate moves and told us of his talents and interests.

At one point during our visit a cell phone rang. Every American checked their pockets. Nope, it wasn’t any of their phones.

The call was for Guillermo. He had his own cell phone.

I was touched by the thought his parents had lovingly provided him with one so they could stay in touch as he grew and developed the freedom he needed. I was also amazed to find cell phones had become such a complete part of world society, even in a struggling country like Peru.

Have you ever thought about cell phones?

We spend a small fortune each month just for the privilege of carrying them around with us. If we forget them, we go back to the house to retrieve them.

Each night we carefully plug them in to make sure they are charged and ready to go the next day.

During the day we spend countless minutes--even hours--texting, calling and staying in touch with others. (Our monthly phone bill lets us know just how much time!)

And if we don’t want to be interrupted, we can turn off the phone simply by pushing a button.

Most of us don’t, though. We leave our cell phones on all day long. We send and receive calls, texts, photos, songs, videos and more. If our child at home takes those first steps while dad is at the office, he can still see that event thanks to the marvels of cell phone service.

Best of all, they are great for emergencies. If you break down or forget to bring your son’s shoes to a wrestling meet, just whip out the cell phone, punch a few buttons and help is on its way. (As long as you are in an area that has cell phone coverage.)

Cell phones are pretty cool.

Now, have you ever really thought about prayer?

Isn't it touching that our Heavenly Parents have provided us a way to stay in touch as we grow, develop and experience the freedom we need?

But He doesn't send us a monthly bill for the service. Prayer is free. You don’t have to spend any money to commune with God. If you leave the house in the morning and forget to pray, you don’t have to turn around, either. You can pray right where you are. And what if the whole world was as committed to carrying a prayer with them when they left their house in the morning as they are their cell phones!?

At night, what if we carefully made sure we were plugged into Heaven through personal prayer to recharge our souls so we would be ready for the next day?

Do we spend more time texting and chatting with friends during the day than we do with the Lord? Sadly, I think that answer for most of us is yes. But what if we changed that? What if we spent more time during the day thinking of God and communing with Him while we drove down the road or as we took a break from work?

And what if we never turned off our spiritual phone?

Think of all the texts, calls, messages, thoughts, impressions and spiritual moments He could send to you each day? See that beautiful flower or a child's smile? God sent it to you to tell you He loves you and is thinking of you.

And what if, every time we saw a beautiful flower or something wonderful, new or exciting happened to us during the day, we immediately thought to call God in a prayer of gratitude? Or what if we called in prayer just to visit or share with Him moments from our day?

We can even have Him on speed dial!

Best of all, we don’t need cell phone coverage to call for Divine help. We can call on Him anytime, anywhere and He will hear.

Prayer is pretty cool. Wouldn't it be neat if it became as much of a valued part of world society as cell phones?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Did Judah sin with Tamar?

"Hollywood doesn’t need a script, they just need the Bible," someone joked in Sunday School.

The entire class laughed. After all, we were going through the lesson of Joseph--who was sold into Egypt by his own brothers--and our 21st century Anglo-Saxon tour bus was taking some interesting side-trips into the lives of those siblings.

But to judge the people of the Bible by our own society is unfair…to them and us.

Take, for example, the story of Judah. Judah married a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were descended from Canaan, who was the son of Ham, Noah’s son. Remember, Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren…Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant” (Gen. 9:25-26) That was not just a statement but a divine promise and prophecy! Through Shem would come the blessed lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and eventually, Jesus.

So why did Judah marry a Canaanite? Jewish scripture records that Judah’s brothers were angry with Judah for influencing them to sell Joseph. "You told us to sell him. Had you told us to return him to our father we also would have listened to you." (Exodus Raba, 42,3)

So, Judah sought refuge with his friend, Hirah, in Adullam and--as the Jewish sages point out--the sale of Joseph resulted in the loss of two brothers not just one. And “Judah went down from his brothers and turned away towards an Adullamite man whose name was Hirah.” (Genesis 38:1) (Later King David would also flee to Adullam and hide from his own enemies in the protective hills and caves there.)

While there, Judah married the Canaanite woman. Maybe, after what he did to Joseph, he felt he had lost the right of fathering the promised line, we don’t know--but we do know this…the Lord grants forgiveness and you can’t run from the Lord. The story of Judah and Tamar is a story of forgiveness and returning to the Lord's path.

Still trying to avoid that divine path himself, Judah married his son to a righteous woman, Tamar. In fact, the Jews tell us she had been prophetically told she would be the one to fulfill the promise and bear great kings and leaders through Judah's family. She married into the correct family yet, with Canaanite blood flowing through their veins, Judah’s sons could not produce that blessed lineage!

After Er and Onan were taken out of the picture, Judah told Tamar to wait for his youngest son to grow old enough to marry her. But we know those prophesied kings and leaders could not come from Judah’s Canaanite sons, no matter how hard Judah tried to change or avoid that calling! The responsibility lay with Judah, himself!

Tamar knew that, too.

Ancient marriages were not unions of couples but unions of family! If a husband died, another man from the same family was expected to complete any unfulfilled marriage promises made to the bride and her family--including the producing of heirs. (Later it was designated that an unwed brother would fulfill that calling but, at the time of Judah, any male in the family could accept the responsiblity.)

So the Lord made Judah a widower, hoping to nudge him toward providing the completion of marriage vows for Tamar and produce the promised heirs through the promised lineage. Still Judah tried to avoid the call and left the area.

His plan didn't work. (Our own plans, separate from the Lord's, rarely do.)

When Judah saw a veiled Tamar, not knowing her true identity and living beneath his own worth, he asked to sleep with her and promised to pay her a goat, giving her his signet, bracelets and staff as tokens of that promise. She, knowing her legal right and legal and divine claim on Judah, agreed and conceived.

Later, when Judah discovered that Tamar was pregnant, he grew furious. Afterall, he had not married her to his youngest son! Believing she had been unfaithful he sent for her, ordering her legal execution. (He had to send for her because he had still been avoiding her. We often do that. We avoid people when we try to avoid the Lord.)

When she arrived she spoke to Judah and showed him the signet, bracelets and staff. At that moment Judah realized two things: he was the legal father and Tamar did not sin! Despite the fact that Tamar had been veiled, no marriage laws had been broken. That is why he halted her execution and said “She hath been more righteous than I.”

As the patriarch of the family Judah was legally bound to provide the blessings of marriage to Tamar, either through his sons or himself. As the man of promised lineage, Judah, never his sons, was the one divinely established by the Lord to provide her with the promised heirs. And so it was that through their son, Pharez, came the prophesied royal lineage of King David and, later, the Messiah.

It is interesting to note that this event seemed to be an awakening for Judah. He understood he could no longer run from his responsibilities or his divine worth and he returned to his family. Still later, Judah offered himself as surety for Benjamin in order to save the entire family from famine. Judah, once cast out, now understood the importance of his family. Now, as a strong protector of that family, he stood forth to take the blame and face the consequences personally if anything happened to his younger brother.

So the story is about repentance and real change and restitution and it has lessons for us all.

Maybe Hollywood really does need the Bible.

To learn more about this story, see More on Tamar

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saving the World's Grumpiest Cockatiel

Twelve years ago our family welcomed a newly hatched cockatiel into our home. We were all excited to raise the hand-fed pet. We had visions of him sitting on our shoulders and being our feathered companion.

But the reality is very different. Crackers does not speak a word. He will ride on our shoulders and is finger trained, though he will most often bite those fingers. He does dance to certain songs but only if he is in the mood. Occasionally he falls out of bed in the middle of the night. (That means he falls off his perch then squawks in anger, flapping around on the bottom of the cage until someone comes and turns on the light so he can see to climb back up.) He also loves to taunt our poor dog who, obviously, has a lot of bird dog in his lineage and looks at us in confusion as if asking our permission to follow instinct and swallow the bird whole.

Despite all of our efforts to befriend Crackers and care for him, he has only bonded with one member of our family—my teenage son. As soon as that son walks by Crackers starts to whistle and sing until our son comes and holds him. The bird absolutely adores him.

The other night I moved down the dark hallway, intent on placing a backpack in the closet next to the bird’s cage. I knew where I was and felt I did not need the light; but a split second of counsel flashed in my mind. “Turn on the light so the bird is not startled.”

The thought did not make 'sense' to me. Afterall, I walk by his cage all the time in the dark. I ignored the counsel and walked into the dark room with a noisy backpack. Crackers, deep asleep on his perch, let out a squawk of fear and erupted into panic.

Hearing the chaotic flapping of wings and horrid screeching from the bird I turned on the light only to see the bird now stuck between the bars of the cage, his body halfway out of the cage, his wings twisted around and caught between the bars in a way that both amazed and shocked me. How did he manage that? He has never fit through the bars before.

Angered and scared, the bird fought to get free. I worried he would break a wing in his attempts and quickly moved to help him.

Now, you must understand that Crackers tolerates me because I feed and water him. Tonight, though, he was not in a tolerant mood. When I placed my hands around his tiny body to carefully fold back his wings and release them he turned his head and bit my finger hard enough to draw blood. He had never done that before and I knew there was only one person he wanted--only one he would relax for--and that was my son.

My son came upstairs and, with the help of his father, freed the cockatiel with only a few ruffled feathers. Then my son spent the next hour and a half petting and calming the bird before returning him to his cage.

The success of my son in freeing Crackers made sense to me. What surprised me was the split second of counsel and inspiration the Lord gave me before it all happened. He told me what to do because He wanted to protect the world’s grumpiest cockatiel!

It has made me reflect on the comment made the Savior. When speaking of captive sparrows he said, “Not one of them is forgotten before God…Fear not, therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7, also Matt. 10:29-31).

If God would send a moment of inspiration to prevent undue stress to an ornery cockatiel, it is because sending inspiration and giving revelation is what He does! He wants to protect and guide us in all aspects of our lives, even with the smallest of things.

I wonder how many times He does actually inspire us and we don't listen, or we choose to ignore it because it is so small? If we don't respond to His small counsels, why would He want to trust us with the bigger inspirations?

The night Crackers got stuck I chose to ignore His seemingly "small" inspiration and continued working in the dark. It didn't turn out very well.

I have decided there is a lesson in that, too.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sarah and Hagar

What happened between Sarah and Hagar? Were they a couple of jealous, fickle, manipulative women who wound up being married to the same man?

No. Abraham wasn't stupid.

Let us remember that they were both righteous women who did whatever the Lord requested. And Abraham was blessed by their presence in his life.

So who was Sarah? The Jews hold up Sarah as a woman worthy of Abraham. The Midrash says she was a blonde beauty and her intelligence, wisdom, compassion and gentle spirit amazed all who knew her. Additional records tell us she was spiritual, devoted to God and her husband, and full of truth—preaching the gospel to the women while Abraham taught the men.

Isaiah, Peter and Paul all hold up Sarah as an example of a righteous, faithful woman. (See Isaiah 51:1-3, Heb. 11:11 and 1 Pter 3:5-6.) Even the Lord tells Abraham to "hearken" unto the voice of his wife when making a difficult decision (Gen. 21:12).

And who was Hagar? Many records tells us that Hagar was not just any slave given to Sarah by the Pharaoh but, rather, his very daughter. Hagar was true royalty--a princess in the eyes of the world. Some accounts state that the Pharaoh gave Sarah his daughter so Hagar could learn the doctrines which Abraham and Sarah knew and taught.

Think about that for a moment. Sarah knew of divine birth. Hagar knew of royal birth.

So, an earthly princess appears on the scene. She goes from palaces to pasturelands...and she does it remarkably well. In fact, the Lord said Hagar helped fulfill "among other things, the promises" (D&C 132:34).

Hagar served as Sarah’s handmaid for ten years before Sarah made the decision to give her to Abraham as a maid-wife. Law stated a covenant wife could do that—she could give her maid to her husband for the purposes of childbearing. So, that is what Sarah did.

Now, we can be sure Sarah had more than one servant. So why did she select Hagar? Because she deeply and truly loved Hagar.

Think about that for a moment. You certainly wouldn't send your enemy into your husband's bed. If asked to make that difficult decision you would send the woman you loved and trusted with all your heart!

Earthly law saw Hagar as a maid-wife. Hagar could not receive a legal inheritance nor stand in equal position with the covenant wife. As a maid-wife, Hagar would always be a maid first, a wife second. Her children would also be of a lower status in the eyes of the law. Yet Hagar--who was still learning the gospel--must have thought the eternal promises made to Abraham would now be hers...shifting from Sarah to Hagar so that she would be the 'covenant' wife.

But eternal families require more than just conceiving and delivering a child and Sarah, Abraham, and the Lord knew that. Hagar had just been legally wed, not eternally sealed to Abraham.

Sometimes the truth hurts. It can feel like someone has dealt "hardly" with us, which is how Hagar felt. But you can never run from the truth, even if you don't like it. It will find you and the Lord did find Hagar in the wilderness.

Despite being new to gospel understanding, Hagar was righteous and worthy enough to receive a visit from an angel—not once, but twice. In the first visit the angel told her to return and submit to Sarah—not Abraham. Why? So she could learn, from another woman, what she needed to know to be a righteous and virtuous wife in the eyes of the Lord--one worthy of receiving promised blessings from the Lord. Then the angel told her of those promises and Hagar knew He held great blessings in store for her, too.

So Hagar did as the Lord requested. She returned and learned how to submit to righteousness. And righteousness always involves loves. Sarah, we know, was a compassionate, righteous and loving woman. So was Hagar. Josephus also tells us that when Ishmael was born Sarah loved him as her own. She raised Ishmael and educated him and, even when Sarah later gave birth to Isaac, her love for Ishmael was “not inferior to that of her own son.”

So why did Sarah cast out Hagar and Ishmael after Isaac was weaned? Was she truly upset because a 13-year-old, that records tell us she loved equally to her own son, was making inappropriate comments?

Please, give the woman more credit that that. Sarah had lived 100 years. She knew the weakness of teenage words.

Many scholars believe that Sarah released Hagar and her son precisely because she loved them. She granted them the only thing she could by law: their freedom. Sarah could not leave Hagar and Ishmael an inheritance—the law forbid it. Hagar, the woman she loved enough to share with her husband, and Ishmael--the son she loved equal to her own son--were slaves. She did not want them to live that way or die that way, so she gave them their freedom.

Jewish accounts tell us that was not the end of their relationship. Abraham and Sarah watched over Ishmael and Hagar, and Hagar remained true to her vows. Later, Jewish records tell us Hagar changed her name to Keturah and this time, as a free woman, became a full and equal wife to Abraham, becoming the mother of a multitude through the only man she ever married. We see the name change as symbolizing her acceptance of the gospel and entrance into the Abrahamic Covenant.

These two women, Hagar and Sarah, were chosen by God to become the mothers of multitudes. They were not perfect--that we know. But we must also know that they were not jealous, controlling, manipulative women. They learned to love and respect the other and do what the Lord asked of them.

They were not rivals. They were sisters.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Scriptures from the heart

Walking down the hall at Church yesterday I noticed a brown, leather-bound Book of Mormon lying facedown on a shelf. Immediately I stopped my trek, took a step back to view the face-down book and said out loud, “that looks like my old Book of Mormon.”

By old, I mean really old…the one I took on my mission 27 years ago.

I picked up the book, turned it over and, sure enough, there was my missionary name embossed on the cover: Terri L. Christensen. (See photo in blog.)

Now this isn’t a story about an amazing discovery of a favorite set of scriptures that had been lost for decades miraculously showing up on a shelf in a church building several moves and years later (although I know that has happened to people).

Nope. My missionary scriptures had not been lost and sought for years. In fact, I didn’t even know they were at church. I thought they were safely at home, sitting in my office.

Nonetheless, as I lifted that very special book and saw my name on the cover I felt chills envelope me and tears come to my eyes. Why?

Because the amazing part of the story is this: I knew my scriptures. Walking by that shelf, seeing only the back cover of an old Book of Mormon, I instantly recognized it as the back cover of my Book of Mormon. I knew every mark, every flaw, every scuff and faded rub on that book; and when I saw only the back cover on a shelf (while focused on keeping track of my youngest child), I instantly stopped in recognition. I could not walk by it with out retrieving my scriptures and taking the book home with me, where it belongs.

Even though that old missionary Book of Mormon has been 'released' from daily service for years, and I use a different set of well-worn scriptures, that precious book was still part of my heart and I knew it in a heartbeat.

Brothers and Sisters, do you know your scriptures so well that they call to you from a passing shelf? Can you identify them because they have well-worn pages and you have placed every sign of wear on them, or do you have to check the name on the cover?

If you have to check the name on the cover I suggest you open those sacred books even more until your name and your heart are engraved on the inside and on every one of those pages. Then you will come to understand the sacred union, and joy, I felt yesterday as I lifted my old scriptures from a shelf.