Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eyebrows up!

Tonight, after Family Home Evening, we were sitting in the living room visiting. Family Home Evening is a night each week that we set aside to spend time with our family. It’s sad that you have to schedule family nights but, in today’s society, it is necessary. During the evening we talk about family needs and plan schedules but we also discuss values and gospel principles. We teach our children standards and how to stay moral and focused when social pressure weighs on them. Hopefully they listen, learn, understand and apply the moral standards we try to teach.

But my words aren’t about Family Home Evening. They are about what happened after Family Home Evening. We were all sitting around visiting and joking, not ready to separate and go back to our different lives.

Two of my sons, including my oldest—who just returned from serving a mission for our church—started singing some funny song together. Then, the younger singing son said the song reminded him of Megan. We all started laughing.

Now, there are a lot of Megans in this world so, I guess, we all thought of a different Megan. A few moments later, when my son said something that better identified the exact Megan, I looked at him, startled, and said, “You mean Megan A.?”

As he prepared to answer, my returned missionary son said, “Don’t answer that. Her eyebrows are raised. When she raises her eyebrows you are supposed to give her the answer she wants to hear.”

Now, for all of you, I know I don't have to say anymore. You know that is funny because it is SO true. But then my returned missinary son continued; mimicking questions they’ve all heard from me. “You did what?” (He raised his eyebrows to punctuate the question.) “You want to go where?” (Another raise of his eyebrows.) “You were with who?” (He raised his eyebrows again.)

By this time I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t breathe.

“Mom,” he said. “I can see right through you…at least when your eyebrows are raised.”

Note to Self: Practice asking questions without raising your eyebrows!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Fall and the Enmity

I love teaching about the Fall. I love watching students’ eyes brighten with those “Aha!” moments as they understand the subtilties of the events.

Usually I have them explain the Fall to me, in their words, with their understanding. Without exception, everyone says something derogatory about Eve. “It was her fault,” “She was stupid,” and the list goes.

So I generally start by pointing out that Eve stood along side her husband, Adam, in greatness both on earth and in the pre-existence. God didn’t yoke a nag to a Thoroughbred to start mankind. He brought out the best He had and placed them on earth, together.

“Without question she was like unto her mighty husband, Adam, in intelligence and in devotion to righteousness, during both her first and second estates of existence.” (Bruce R. McConkie)

So, what happened?

The serpent appeared and ‘beguiled’ her. That means he used ‘artful deception’ to trick her. The term, artful deception is just perfect for what he did.

The scriptures tell us the serpent was more “subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” Today we look at subtle as being sly or crafty. However, the word comes from the Hebrew word ‘arum’ which also means prudent or wise. In other terms, the serpent was wise, smarter than all the other animals. And with intelligence comes respect. He was also highly respected.

Did we forget that the serpent has long been a symbol of healing and divine power? For that reason a serpent is found on our medical logo. The ancient Americans carved serpents into their temples to represent their God; and, in similitude of Christ, Moses lifted up a brass serpent to heal the children of Israel. So, it was not a mistake that Satan chose to involve the serpent in his plan.

When this wise, respected animal who symbolized healing and divine power, approached Eve, of course she paid attention. It wasn’t just that he was talking to her. It was everything about him and what he represented. He commanded respect and attention so, when he told Eve she wouldn’t die but “shall be as gods,” it made sense to her. Gods don’t die. If she became like the Gods how could she possibility die?

Thus, with artful deceit, Satan was able to beguile Eve and she eventually partook of the fruit. (The Book of Moses said the tree 'became' pleasant to the eye. That which we look at or dwell on eventually becomes enticing to us.)

Then, as the reality of her choice became evident to her, as she saw what would happen to her and her marriage because of her choice, Eve went to Adam.

The first and greater commandment given to Adam and Eve was to multiply and replenish the earth (Gen 1:28) “Adam had not yet fallen to the state of mortality, but Eve already had; and in such dissimilar conditions the two could not remain together…Adam deliberately and wisely decided to stand by the first and greater commandment.”

Marriage and family are worth every sacrifice! Eve knew that and went to Adam with her problem. Adam knew that and volunteered to endure the pain of the world beside her. They chose to stay together. For me, that is one of the most most powerful decisions made in the Garden of Eden.

Yet, after their epic decision to remain together, something changed inside of them. We know they didn't become mortal right away because the Lord chose not to allow them to die "as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son." (D&C 29:42)

The change, then, was something else.

They started worrying about other lesser things…like clothing.

Nowhere in the scriptures did the Lord tell them they would get in trouble for being naked or wearing leaves, but they got so caught up in these lesser worldly concerns that they hid from God when He came calling.

Worldly choices do that to us. We can get so involved in them we hide from Him, we don’t accept His calls, and we don’t show up at church.

But God found them anyway. (You can’t hide from God.) And He asked them to explain their situation. Then He listened.

Of course, Adam spoke first and said, “The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.” (Moses 4:18)

Is he blaming her or merely stating fact? He’s stating fact. I know, because he also clearly states 'and I did eat.’. He is forthright in what he did.

Eve is then questioned and she answers the same way--with honest fact. “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” (Moses 4:19)

So God follows up by calling forward the serpent. Scriptures don’t record what the serpent said but they do tell us that God punished the original instigator first. (Parents would do well to follow this pattern when dealing with their children.)

From being the wisest and most respected of all creatures, the serpent was the first to fall…and he fell hard—to his belly, to live in and eat the dust “all the days of thy life,” cursed and hated above all other animals.

Then, God said something very interesting to the serpent. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

God promised to protect Eve and her children because she was worth protecting!

Today, we think of enmity has hatred and hostility. It comes from the Hebrew word 'eyah' which also means an active defense, especially in reference to times of war. An apt description.

In order to protect Eve from further attacks by Satan, God vowed to put a defense between Satan and the woman, between the followers of Satan and the children of man. In that verse He promised all of us protection from Satan. This protective defense would have power to bruise the head of the serpent--Satan, himself.

Scholars all say this enmity, this powerful defense that would protect Eve and her children, was Christ—and they are right. Christ held this pre-eminent position of Protector and Savior by virtue of the power he received from his Father. The Priesthood power.

The priesthood is that enmity, that wall of defense that God promised to erect between Satan and the children of men.

And this is what I love to point out...that 'Aha' moment....

Every man who holds the priesthood is part of this line of defense that was promised to the world in the Garden of Eden. And I firmly believe those men who hold the priesthood stepped forward in the Pre-existence and, in a small way similar to the Savior, said “here I am, send me. I will be part of that defense. Put me on the very front lines. I will stand between my wife and children, between all the children of men and the buffetings of Satan. I will hold that line strong.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

No Respecter of Persons.

Did anyone notice the quiet theme of the lesson “God Is No Respecter of Persons”? Maybe it was just me.

That Sunday morning I woke with music and lyrics rolling through my brain of a song my mind created. It was about speaking edifying words so, when studying the lesson later that morning (yes, I always read the Sunday School lesson every Sunday morning), the scripture that jumped out at me was Acts 10:28. That’s where Peter says, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (I also saw similar admonitions in Acts 10:15 and Acts 11:9.)

But the thought that kept rolling around in my mind was this…we should not call anyone common or unclean (a sinner). That is not for us to judge. We should not speak poorly of our spouses, our children, neighbors or strangers. We should not think they are just ‘average’ or common creatures but the best jewel the Lord could offer us.

“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:9-11)

So God didn’t send us serpents for children, or stones (or even couch potatoes) for spouses. He sent us jewels! The best He had. We just have to believe that and not refer to those around us as average, below average or, worse, sinners and unclean. We have to see the good in them. God does.

But how far does this admonition go to not call any man common or unclean?

Check out Jude 1:9. It’s one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible and very few people even know it’s there. “Yet Michael the archangel when contending with the devil…durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”

Wow! Here is Michael going the rounds with the devil but he so completely understood the importance of speaking edifying, kind words that he refused to bring a “railing accusation” against the devil. Rather, he left that judgment up to the Lord.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should hold hands with the devil. We do need to make personal judgments to avoid evil in our lives and to keep the commandments. We also need to teach, and reteach, correct principles to those in our charge; but we are not to do so with railing, negative words or pronouncements.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment we judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt. 7:2)

If you want kindness in the Day of Judgement, give it now...including to yourself! Don't bring railing, negative accusations against yourself for unclean things you have done. Don't think yourself common.

In that Sunday School lesson, the Gentiles received the gospel blessings when Peter was shown that powerful vision by the Lord. In that same lesson we learn the Jews lost blessings because they were too quick to judge themselves.

“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)

Edifying words and judgements bring blessings. Harsh words and judgements--even to ourselves--can cause us to lose blessings.

Do you remember what the Lord told the children of Israel after their acts of wickedness and rejection of the Lord caused them to be carried away into Babylonian captivity? “I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jer. 29:11)

To the Lord, we are not common. We are His children, sons and daughters of God. He is no respeter of persons; He is a respecter of potential. It doesn’t get any better than that.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Missionaries and Moms

Yesterday was Mother's Day and, on that day, my son made his final call home from the mission field. He will be home in two months. I can't believe how fast the time has gone.

During our conversation I asked my son if he had any dinner appointments for Mother's Day. He said no.

He was transferred into this area only recently and he said they have a large ward and an empty dinner calendar all the time. No one feeds the missionaries in the ward. In his last area, the missionaries were often double-booked for dinners. Here they will go all week without a single invite from the members for anything...dinners, appointments. This ward just does not have a connection with their missionaries.

Well, I reacted as any mother would. I asked for the Relief Society President's name and number and said I would call and get things taken care of!! We laughed together and then he said no dinner appointment just meant he could visit with me longer.

Despite his laughter, my son is struggling to adjust to his last area. He loved the area he had been serving in and the work there kept four missionaries busy all the time. Now he is trying to stay focused on finishing strong in a ward where missionary work is being neglected by the members. Sadly, there are many wards like that across the church. Is your ward one of them?

Whenever missionaries have been in our area, I have regularly invited them for dinner...not because we could afford it easily but because I am a mother. I feel it is my duty to take care of these young missionaries in the same way I would want my sons cared for on their missions. Apparently other mothers do not feel the same way.

As a result of yesterday's phone call, here is part of an e-mail I sent to my son this morning:

As you mentioned your area, I had a couple of impressions come to me and maybe you've already had them. When you are younger in life, it is easy to think that decisions are made to "punish" you. I remember elders thinking they were being sent to certain areas or certain zones or linked up with certain companions because they were being punished by the mission president and that the mission president didn't like them. At times it was easy to think maybe the elders were right.

However, as I've gotten older I realize that adults do not make decisions based on what would be worst for someone. It is just the opposite. Adults look at a situation and they think...what would be the BEST decision here. I am sure the mission president looked at the area and he, too, thought, what would be the BEST decision here. Who would be the best missionary to send there? What does that area need to help the members start to click with the missionaries and get the work started? He sent you there because you were the BEST choice.

As for the empty dinner calendars...there is only one reason ward members do not invite missionaries to dinner...the missionaries. If your ward has not been inviting previous missionaries to dinner you will need to continue to work on earning their trust and friendship. It can take several months for a ward to change their attitude toward the missionaries if they've had some bad experiences in the past.

Most of the priesthood (those who have served missions at least) understand that all missionaries are imperfect. They tend to accept new missionaries faster than the women, so work with the brethren. Get involved in Young Men's and with the elders, etc.

Unfortunately, most women in the church have NOT served missions and they tend to expect the missionaries to walk on water all the time. When they notice a missionary is really just a young man who still gets mud on his shoes and splashes water on occasion, they can get very upset and turn away from the missionaries...kind of like what happened with your companion and the blessing situation before you arrived; or even with you and the mission leader's wife earlier in your mission.

Yes, as Paul advised young Timothy...who was suffering similar problems..."Let no man despise thy youth but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity...Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by the laying on of the hands...Meditate upon these things and give thyself wholly to them." (1 Tim 4:12-14)

"Them" could mean your talents and the Lord, but it could also mean the people in your area. Give yourself wholly to them for these last two months. Use your gifts and special talents to bless them and the work. The mission president did not send you there to punish you or forget about you for the last two months of your mission. He sent you there to change hearts and attitudes toward the missionary work, starting first with the members of that ward. He sent you there because he looked over his mission and knew that this decision was BEST. They need YOU whether they recognize that or not.

So, MEMBERS--I'm talking to you now--as you work with missionaries in your area remember they were sent to your area because they were the BEST for you. Remember, too, most of those missionaries are still in their teens. All have sacrificed tremendously to be in your area. They are supposed to learn and grow and be guided and helped by members on their missions. They aren't supposed to be perfect anymore than you are.

Still don't think the missionaries are 'worth' your effort? Notice the other teenagers around you and what they are doing right out of high school. Now look at those missionaries serving in your area. They don't even compare.

So, even if an elder shows up a bit muddy, a bit wet, or even very green...

...if you don't like his hairstyle, his tie, his gospel knowledge, or his personality...

...always remember he has made a choice and a sacrifice to serve God. He gave up something to be there. You can give up something to help him.

Remember, also, that God's ordained leaders--from apostles to mission presidents--have been guided by the Lord to send him to your area, your ward, your doorstep. Do not close the door on him. Do not reject the Lord in that way.

And always treat him as you would want some other mother treating your missionary son.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Starting back to school at 49

As if working 50 to 60 hours a week and raising six children wasn’t enough on my plate, I added a helping of full-time school this spring. By the time my graduatation date finally rolls around this time, I will have crossed over the 50-year mark. I could even be a grandmother.

When my hubby graduated from college before me, he moved our family to rural Montana. At that time, the closest university was in another state and it did not have a secondary education program. Online classes were rare, expensive and not in courses I needed to finish my degree. With no other options available, I did what many young mothers do…I chose my family over my education.

Some years later, our family moved to within 30 minutes of a university. When my youngest entered school full-time I realized I was finally in a position to finish the degree I had started so many years earlier.

That excited thought was rapidly displaced by a long list of doubts, fears and despairs. Isn't that the way Satan loves to work--knock down your enthusiasm with naysaying? He doesn't even give you much chance to get a breath. The moment you think something would be cool, he's there telling you it's hopeless.

Well, here's what he told me.

I was too old to start now. Goodness, our first-born son was in college! He wouldn’t want to share text books with Mom!

(Actually, he was attending BYU and I would be going to a different school, so saving on text books was out of the question--though I am considering the idea with our second son!)

Okay, so I countered that attack because I wasn't really concerned with what my son or the younger college students would think. I had once been a younger college student with older students sprinkled into classes around me and I didn’t mind them--as long as they didn’t ask too many ‘old’ or dated questions and hold the class up too much with their reminiscing.

No one will hire're too old. Okay, he did bump me back good on that one. Afterall, what chance did I have of being hired as a first-time teacher at age 50? That's almost retirement age! Why go through the expense and effort of school if it isn’t going to get me the job you want?

I think God countered on that fear. I literally found myself in several unplanned conversations with principals and superintendents—some I knew—some I did not. Each time, I believe those unexpected encounters were arranged by the Lord. So, I took advantage of them. I expressed my "old age" concern to them and asked their opinions. Each one readily answered that, grades being equal, they would hire a first-time teacher at my age with life experiences and real confidence over a fresh-out-of-college teacher with no life experiences and no confidence or, worse, cockiness or bravado. Their enthusiasm and support made me feel like I could finish my degree and then actually enter the world of teaching even if I was starting out in my 50s.

You won't be able to make school work Again, I was not worried about the academics portion. I’ve always been blessed with a sharp mind. However, I did find myself listening to this worry about making school fit with an already full and demanding life. Prayer and my patriarchal blessing helped me conquer this concern.

They won't accept your previous credits This fear may sound silly to some but I had been in my junior year when we moved away from educational opportunities. Would I have to start over? While waiting to hear back from several schools I took this agonizing fear to the Lord and received a very powerful answer. Even if no credits were accepted and I found myself starting completely over, this was what He wanted me to do. Case closed.

Making a move like this is dumb in this economy While many students work full-time and go to school full-time, my job was 50-60 hours a week with quite a bit of travel. I tried doing both for a while but it wasn’t working. Finally, my husband and I discussed financial options were I to quit my job. How could we make it work? I crunched numbers and lost sleep. What would going back to school do to my family financially? What if I had to quit my job to do it?

Still unsure, I asked for and received two priesthood blessings…one from my husband and another, a month later, from my brother when I visited with family in a distant state. Both blessings said the exact same thing. The Lord wanted me to pursue my education and the finances we needed would come. In answer to those blessings, my job did not want me to quit and they took great steps to accommodate me by letting me go part-time.

Yes, we have to tighten our financial belt at a time when the economy is a disaster and prices are rapidly rising, but we have the promise from the Lord that this is right and we will be fine. I can’t tell you how much peace that brings. I don’t have to make my decisions based on the price at the pump or the grocery store or watch the financial markets with fear. I know what the Lord wants me to do and what He has promised and that makes all the difference in the world.