Continually Running as a River; Firm and Steadfast as a Valley

In the harsh desert climate where Lehi’s family travelled, rivers were seasonal and more often dry than otherwise, and as a result valleys were more often barren than green. After extensive days of travel through hot, dry lands, the travelers came upon a lush, green valley, fed by a rare stream of water that flowed year round. One can only imagine the relief and comfort this oasis of life gave the weary travelers. Lehi took advantage of the stark contrast between the barren desert and the thriving valley to give an object lesson to his sons, Laman and Lemuel.

“And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!
And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” –1 Nephi 2:9-10

As I considered these words, I was struck with the contrast in the two laments; Lehi wishes one son to move–continually flow into the fountain of righteousness–but the other, Lehi wishes to be immovable. How can we make sense of these contrary images?

One interpretation is that the river represents actions, whereas the valley represents principles. Our principles should be fixed and unassailable, while our deeds should be continuously flowing forth to join “all righteousness.” Such a combination brings peace and fulfillment in our lives.

Yet how easy it is in the world to accomplish just the opposite, to have our principles be fluid and our righteous deeds sporadic or non-existent. As the forbidding desert landscape Lehi’s family passed through, the nature of man tends toward spiritually arid conditions: our lesser natures prefer self-serving deeds to selfless ones, producing fountains of stagnant water that do not flow, do not impart life; our lesser natures default to the idea that principles are relative, unique and changeable by individual circumstance and personal preference, not “steadfast and immovable.”

Yet how refreshing it is to come upon a soul who has determined to be continually running, yet steadfast and immovable.

By the Hand of Mormon; By the Hand of Toni

I, Moroni by Walter Rane

New year, time to start a new reading of the Book of Mormon. Our Bishop has invited us to participate in a 100-day reading program, and encouraged us to approach the task as Clayton Christiansen did while he was at Oxford in 1975. His story was recounted by president Thomas Monson in November 2011 at a BYU address. (See full article HERE.) Christiansen had read the Bookof Mormon 7 times, but had never received a definite answer as to its truthfulness; he decided it was time to know. Despite his busy schedule, he set aside an hour each night to read and study the Book of Mormon.

[H]e began at 11 p.m. by kneeling in prayer by the chair by his little heater, and he prayed out loud. He told God how desperate he was to find out if this was a true book, and he told Him that if He would reveal to him that it was true, then he intended to dedicate his life to building this kingdom. And he told God that if it wasn’t true he needed to know that for certain, too, because then he would dedicate his life to finding out what was true.

Then Brother Christensen would sit in the chair and read. He began by reading the first page of the Book of Mormon, and when he got down to the bottom of the page, he stopped, and he thought about what he had read on that page, and he asked himself, “Could this have been written by a charlatan who was trying to deceive people, or was this really written by a prophet of God? And what did it mean for Clayton Christensen in his life? And then he put the book down and knelt in prayer and verbally asked God again, “Please tell me if this is a true book.” Then he would sit in the chair and pick up the book and turn the page and read another page, pause at the bottom, and do the same thing. He did this for an hour every night — night after night — in that cold, damp room at the Queen’s College in Oxford.

By the time Brother Christensen got to the chapters at the end of 2nd Nephi, one evening when he said his prayer and sat in his chair and opened the book, all of a sudden there came into that room a beautiful, warm, loving spirit that just surrounded him and permeated his soul, and enveloped him in a feeling of love that he had not imagined he could feel. He began to cry, and he didn’t want to stop crying because as he looked through his tears at the words in the Book of Mormon, he could see truth in those words that he never imagined he could comprehend before. He could see the glories of eternity and what God had in store for him as one of His sons. Brother Christensen said he didn’t want to stop crying. That spirit stayed with him for the whole hour, and then every evening as he prayed and sat with the Book of Mormon by the little heater in his room, that same spirit returned, and it changed his heart and his life forever.

So I decided that I would follow Christiansen’s example. I would pray before and after each reading session to know what the Lord wanted me to learn from my reading.

As I proceeded to read the Book of Mormon, my first answer came at quickly:

“And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.” –1 Nephi 1:16

I know that I need to write down things that I have seen in visions and in dreams, and things which I have (or should) speak unto my children. And so i will make a start here. It may be a very daunting task; I love the Book of Mormon and have had much inspiration concerning it. It would certainly take longer than 100 days to write it all. But, as Nephi, “i shall not make a full account.”

The Lord is My Shepherd

My grandmother, Elizabeth Weidner Martin Pompa, was born a hundred years ago—January 5, 1911, to Peter Weidner and Ann Auer in Cincinnati, Ohio. Elizabeth died December 13, 1980, while I was home from college on winter break; I had no real opportunity to know Grandma Pompa as an adult, but as a child, going to Grandma’s house was magic.

Her house in rural Norco, California, shared an acre-plus lot with another house. Between the two houses lie wonderland: a geodesic-domed, walk-in aviary housing exotic, colorful birds; a corral with several horses, a palomino and an appaloosa; and everywhere wandering Bantam chickens. Grandpa Pompa always seemed to be watching bull fights on their tiny black and white television set with rabbit-ear antennas. Grandma always seemed to be cooking: tamales and menudo from Grandpa’s Mexican heritage, and stuffed cabbage from her own German/Hungarian roots. She loved crafts; she loved to play Scrabble and Yahtzee at the linoleum kitchen table. It was a settled, predictable paradise for the child that was I.

Elizabeth’s Father, Peter Weidner, in His Shoe Shop

Years later when I delved into family history, I discovered how unsettled Elizabeth’s life had actually been. Her parents had emigrated west as flotsam of the Mormon gathering; a cousin by marriage, Johann Schweberger, had been one of the first Hungarian converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Johann founded the Royal Shoe Repairing Company in Salt Lake City in 1908, and recruited Elizabeth’s father to come west to work for him; in 1918, the family moved to operate a branch in Milford, Beaver County, Utah.  Milford was a rough, frontier town, even then. It had blossomed to support the boom of the nearby silver mine in Frisco, had later grown to accommodate nearby livestock ranches, and in time became a divisional station of the Utah Southern Railroad. In 1918, each of those industries still strove in the streets of the small town.  Whether due to an uncertain economy or some other lack, Grandma’s family was very poor: the parents and 14 children lived in cramped quarters behind the shoe store.

There is no record of Elizabeth’s life in Milford, but there are family whispers of incest and abuse. Elizabeth married Edward Harry Martin on April 20, 1929. He was the local mechanic and a confirmed alcoholic. Elizabeth was barely 18; Harry was 39 years old. One family story says that she seduced her best friends’ husband. Another says she was sold to him to pay a debt her father owed. Elizabeth gave birth five months after their wedding to a baby girl, and my mother the next year, and another girl the year after that.

Melquiades Pompa, Elizabeth’s Second Husband

Edward Harry Martin, Elizabeth’s first husband

After six years and five children, Elizabeth left Harry and took up with Melquiades Pompa, a Mexican national who worked for the railroad in Milford. His work took them back and forth to California, at which times she would leave her children with their father or Melquiades’ sister.  Eventually, custody of Elizabeth’s children was taken from her and given to Harry, as a court judgment deemed she had abandoned them.

When I knew my grandmother, the passions or demons that had driven her choices had abated. I knew that she cheated at Yahtzee; I knew that my mother struggled with feelings of abandonment. But when my mother passed on to me some of my grandmother’s treasures, I was delighted to find this lovely wall hanging. I believe the work says as much or more about her as what I have gleaned from dates and details I have researched.

Psalm 23, made by Elizabeth

This piece of lace is large—it measures 24 inches by 28 inches—and obviously represents hours of meticulous work: the carefully ordered grid; stitches counted to make solid pieces and open squares; the sum of which constitute a psalm, perhaps a prayer.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23).

My grandmother cannot tell me where she came from, the milieu she did not choose, a nexus that colored her choices and thrust her through much chaos and pain. Women of her day were offered few options and little opportunity; for Grandmother, lack of power could only add desperation to burdens already thrust upon her at too young an age.

But given a chance to choose, Grandmother chose this: a tribute to order, to faith, to godliness.  Her work, whispering from the dust, gives me a glimpse into her heart; it forms a bridge from she who inhabited wonderland that I knew as a child, to the woman who knew heartbreak as I do and passed on to me much of who I am.

For this, I thank you, Grandmother.

 

 

Watching with Christ

ENJOY “WATCH WITH ME,” AN ORIGINAL SONG BY TONI THOMAS AND DIANE TUIOFU.

In Greek and English, the verb “to watch” is derived from the word wake, literally meaning to stay awake. Whenever enemies abound, men have found it necessary for at least one person to remain awake, to watch, especially through the night when people are most vulnerable in their sleep. In our time, we tend to feel safe sleeping through the darkness. We are protected by locks and burglar alarms and trained police officers that patrol our streets.

And yet, Christ has commanded: “what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:37) As our world hurtles through the last and spiritually darkest hours that precede the millennial dawn, our very salvation depends upon our remaining awake, or as the case may be, that we wake up.

In Gulliver’s travels, when the shipwrecked Gulliver stumbled ashore onto the land of Lilliput, he promptly fell asleep. While he was sleeping, the six-inch tall Lilliputians found him and bound him fast with stakes and ropes such that when he awakened, he could not move. His chest was bound fast, his arms and legs and even his hair were fastened by hundreds of tiny ropes, mere threads in his grasp, yet sufficient when combined to hold him fast.

Satan knows that he, like the tiny Lilliputians against the giant Gulliver, is no match for an alert, covenant-empowered child of God. Satan knows that his best shot is to catch us while we are fast asleep. As Lehi warns:

“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. . . . Others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Ne. 28:21-22)

Satan’s wiles appear first as comely silken cords; it is only later when we are fettered by habit and consequences that we realize that they are “awful chains.” Some of these chains begin as a fear of what people will think; a fear of total commitment to the Lord; a fondness for possessions that allows them to possess us rather than vice versa; apathy or forgetfulness.

If unresolved these weaknesses lead to vice and betrayal both of ourselves and our Savior. We cannot be halfway into the Kingdom of God—it requires our whole commitment.

Four thousand five hundred years ago, the Brother of Jared heard the warning call of the prophets and gathered his family, friends and supplies and fled Babel, literally Babylon, and the tower they were building. They traveled into the wilderness, crossing rough, untraveled terrain and large bodies of water. At all times they were led by the Lord as He appeared to them in a cloud.

Finally, the Jaredites came to the great sea where they stopped on the seashore at a beautiful place they called Moriancumer. I imagine during that time life was good: they had peace, for they were alone, and they could fish and surf, get a tan and maybe even plant some crops.

I’m sure the Jaredites would have been content to stay there on the beach for the rest of their lives. In fact, during this time of respite, even the brother of Jared became complacent and forgot what he was about.

At the end of four years, the Lord appeared to the brother of Jared and chastised him for three hours for failing to call upon the Lord. God reminded him of his promises—The Lord had much more in store for them than the beach at Moriancumer offered; He had prepared half a world as an inheritance for them and their posterity.

Now, I know what it is like to live near the beach here in sunny San Diego. In these last days, I am concerned by how close I live to the beach, metaphorically speaking. I have successfully fled Babylon; by living the Gospel I have escaped many of the woes that plague our world today. My physical, and temporal needs have been met, and the spiritual ones tend to seem less pressing, less urgent.

And yet fleeing Babylon is only halfway; the other half of my journey is setting off for and obtaining the Promised Land. I have a work to do for the kingdom as well as the individual necessity of purifying, perfecting and sanctifying my life to make it fit for the presence of God. I can’t afford to remain asleep on the beach when I still have so far to go, so much to gain, knowing that such a great price has already been paid for my success.

“A man is but a beast,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says, “as he lives from day to day, eating and drinking, breathing and sleeping. It is only when he raises himself, and concerns himself with the immortal spirit within him, that he becomes in very truth a man. Bethink ye how sad a thing it would be that the blood of the Redeemer should be spilled to no purpose?” (The White Company, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1962, pp. 58­59).

When our Redeemer entered the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew in one sense what was expected of Him, having agreed before the earth was created to be the One to bear the imperfections of a fallen world. However, as a Man with a body of flesh and bones, when faced with the awfulness of the task before Him, He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy,” (Mark 14:33) Mark tells us. Christ was surprised at the reality of the suffering that began to descend upon Him, and He became afraid that he would “shrink” (D&C 19:18) or draw back from the work that only he could do.

A Photengraving of Carl Bloch's image of Christ in gethsemane

Christ in Gethsemane

In His deep anguish, Christ reached out to the three men closest to Him, Peter, James and John, saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death” (Matthew 26:38). Who could resist such a heart cry from a beloved friend? Christ bade them watch and pray, be with Him in His hour of extremity. He Himself went in alone unto the grove of olive trees, and fell on His face. He plead, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” That is to say, Father, everything is possible to Thee. If there be any other way, any other options, please let Me not have to do this. And yet Christ also said, “Thy will be done.”

After sometime Christ returned to where He had left His disciples and they were asleep. They could not watch with Him in that fateful hour.

Christ describes the suffering He bore:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.” (D&C 19:18)

He took upon himself all the sin, all the injustice, every pain, every sorrow, every illness, every ugly or ungodly thing that this and all worlds have suffered. In one great and Godly act of love, he bridged the gap that separates where we are from where God is and wants us to be.

At some point during that night of agony, an angel came to strengthen Christ. I don’t know who that angel was, but I would like for it to have been me. In that moment of ultimate love and suffering, I would have wished in some small part to show my gratitude by comforting the Savior, by expressing my love, by weeping with Him. I’m painfully aware however, that most likely, had I been on the scene, I would have been asleep in the shadows, with the other disciples. Despite my best intentions to step up to the work God has given me, I am often weak, inadequate, and he must continually prod me, and wake me up.

Peter, James, and John went on to do a mighty work for the Lord. Perhaps there is hope for me, also.

 

The Courage of Eve

When Adam was introduced to the Garden of Eden, he was shown all the animals and gave them each a name. In doing so, two things became readily apparent: every animal had a partner but he did not, and in fact, none of these animals were suitable—or meet—to be his helper. Thus Eve was created as his help meet and he named her Chavva— which means in Hebrew, “giver of life.”

Eve was also given the title, “Mother of all Living” (Genesis 3:20) even though she would not and could not have children until after the Fall. This implies that her role of nurturing and fostering life was more than just a physical reproductive ability to have children. She was the mother of ALL living—flowers and trees, beasts and even Adam. These were her domain to beautify, promote, encourage, and foster. There is both sweet and terrible irony in this title. Despite being the mother of all living, through her actions she introduced mortality and eventually death to all living. Yet also, through her choice, she made it possible for all to come to the earth, prove our allegiance, and then enjoy immortality and even Eternal Life.

She traded up for all of us.

The action of partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge is considered a transgression rather than a sin for good reason. Adam and Eve were in no way prepared to comprehend the subtlety or deception that Satan employed. They knew the penalty for disobedience was death—but what was that? They had never seen death. They had never known falsehood. When Satan presented himself to them his arguments were taken at face value. And with his cunning, Satan knew just which argument to use.

After having no success with Adam, Satan approached the innocent Eve with a promise certain to win her cooperation: “Then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” ( Moses 4:11).

Eve knew God. They had walked and talked together in the Garden. She knew that God is wise and loving; He is power and beauty and wisdom and all that is good. The desire to be like Heavenly Father and Jesus drove her to partake of the fruit. And so she did and coaxed Adam into partaking also.

Immediately afterwards, Adam and Eve were filled with shame—for the first time they felt naked and not knowing else to do, they took fig leaves and fashioned them into a covering. This might hide their sense of physical exposure and shame, but they soon found when the Lord arrived that it was no real remedy.

Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, away from all the abundance they had known and the presence of God that they had enjoyed. A flaming sword was placed to block their return. Then they received curses of sorrow. Eve’s sentence was pronounced:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Moses 4:22).

But God would not forsake them in the lone and dreary world. Before sending them off, He made them clothes—not the flimsy fig leaves that they had come up with, but garments that would really cover their nakedness.

We may guess that the animal chosen for this purpose may very well have been a lamb; we may presume that it was a domestic animal, as was later required in the Law of Moses for sacrifices.  And this event must have had a powerful impact upon Eve. I imagine that throughout her life, whenever they made sacrifices, she would always reflect back on that day, on that first sacrifice. I imagine that she might feel like this:

Today we made sacrifice, a lamb–white wool and soft, like clouds billowing over hills the sun burned hot.

I ached when I saw crimson stain the wool, the blood of life poured out, the body quivering then stilled. I wept tears that remembered a first time, a first shedding of lamb’s blood.

We were children then, not knowing what we’d done, partaking of forbidden fruit. No longer to walk with God in the cool of the Garden; His voice would not reach our ears; our eyes would be blind to His presence.

Children, we thought our hands could fashion a remedy of leaves to hide our shame, to cover our nakedness and make the thing undone.

Then the lamb was led forth from Eden, I knew not why; the crimson flow of blood that met the blade I could not fathom. But the stillness as of sleep, the silence and the stillness would not cease; thus I learned of death.

When the lambskin was worked into a garment; then I learned the price of my transgression. For my sin to be redeemed, for my shame to be covered, required the sacrifice of life, of blood.

And God himself, my Friend, He had who walked and laughed and sang with me in the Garden—He would pay the price.

Despite these traumatic events, I am in awe that Eve would have the courage and wisdom to carry on, and even to say, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

Solstice*

Came Joseph’s son into the winter’s night
When earth had turned its furthest from the light;
When darkness had o’ercrept the bounds of day

Into men’s souls. But coals of yesterday
Still glow, as Lucy stirs them to stay warm.
She wraps her son in wool and love—no harm
Shall him befall. No harm, not for awhile.

There’s time enough to coo and grab and smile
And make first faltering steps, then walk upright.
To take infant delight in ways that might
To those less wise, more learned, futile seem:

To grasp the shafts of sun that freely stream
In ribbons through the leaves and light the dust.
To clutch fistfuls of light with perfect trust.
Although to kill that light his life was shed,

The fire rekindled in men’s hearts shall spread
And turn the world once more unto the Son.
For Brother Joseph’s work shall not be done
Until that perfect summer’s day of light.

*Joseph Smith was born December 23, 1805, at the time of the winter solstice; he was martyred June 27, 1844, at the time of the summer solstice.

The Parable of the Dollar Bill

I was walking along one day, when I thought I heard a voice. It was just a tiny voice. I looked around, and looked some more, but couldn’t see anyone, or where the voice might be coming from. Then I heard it again. As I listened closely, I discovered that the voice was coming from my wallet.

“Ooh, don’t touch me, you’re old and faded and wrinkled,” and “Stay away from me—you smell like garlic.”

Well, you won’t believe this, but inside my wallet were three one dollar bills. One was old and wrinkled, one seemed just ordinary (although I had bought pizza for lunch, so it’s possible that it smelled of garlic), and the third one was fresh and crisp, straight from the bank vault. The new one was the one making noise. It was evident that the new dollar bill did not approve of its company.

But I had to laugh! It was so silly.

A dollar is a dollar is a dollar. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or new, wrinkled and torn, clean or garlic scented. A dollar is still a dollar. And what is a dollar anyway? It’s just a piece of paper. And as a piece of paper, it’s not worth much. It has writing all over it, so you can’t use it for a letter. And you can’t burn it, either—too many chemicals. Plus, if you’re at the beach and you spill your root beer, a dollar bill won’t help because it’s not absorbent.

Nonetheless, we all love to have lots of dollar bills in our pockets. Because a dollar is more than just bad paper. It says on it “Good for all debts, public and private,” and it is signed by the Secretary of the Treasury. The words and the signature constitute a promise by the United States government, that when a dollar bill is presented at a store or bank or pizza parlor, it will be worth a dollar’s worth of stuff.

In order to make sure that they can keep that promise, the government has such places as Fort Knox, full of gold, ready to back up their word. Everybody knows that and so you can take a dollar bill anywhere in the world and the people there will know what it is worth and trust its value.

But aren’t we like the foolish dollar bill? Don’t we tend to rank and rate ourselves and others by external qualities? But really, a child of God is a child of God—isn’t it just silly to think otherwise?

Like the dollar bill, in and of ourselves, we are not good for much. Merely a handful of dust.

Moses knew. He had grown up as a prince in the royal court of Pharaoh. The Egyptian civilization had flourished for thousands of years and had obtained the pinnacle of power, wealth, and learning. If anyone wanted to compare personal quality and worth, certainly Moses had the advantage. Nonetheless, after beholding the power and glory of God, Moses realized that “Man is nothing.” The things he had known before that seemed so worthwhile and amazing were nothing, “which thing [he] had never supposed” (Moses 1:10).

King Benjamin, likewise, admonishes us:

“I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness.”

Satan loves to remind us that we are nothing, but he forgets the other half—remembering the greatness of God, and that we must not do.

For, just as the dollar bill has its guarantee and Fort Knox to back it up, we have God’s promise that He will share everything that He has with us. Worlds without end, power and glory—that kind of adds up. Moreover, Heavenly Father swore an oath to seal that promise and gave His Son to make that promise possible.

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him (D&C 18:10).

Our worth is great in the eyes of God. The miracle that makes life worth living, that makes life sweet and gives us hope for all eternity, is that God loves us. Each of us! We were created in His image; we bear His name. Doesn’t every other measure of worth pale in significance to that?

Nonetheless, times come when we feel inadequate and heaven seems distant. At those times it is so tempting to find a landmark—some tangible reference point to prove to ourselves that we are still in the running. Our human instinct drives us to look around and define ourselves as a function of those around us, either lesser or greater.

Such valuations are counterfeit and doomed to fail, for they are based upon changeable metrics. I believe they may also constitute a sin, for every time we compare ourselves to others, we are devaluing at least two children of God; we are rejecting the real worth that God has given us and them, for something small and inglorious.

Trying to secure some portion of worth on our own is futile; for we have nothing real and lasting to back up a self-imagined worth. On the other hand, realizing our true worth is very liberating and enabling.

So often we think that the question life asks us is, “What are you worth?” The fact of the matter is, our worth is absolutely guaranteed by our Heavenly Father. We cannot increase or diminish our value in His eyes, any more than a dollar bill can somehow become worth more or less than 100 cents. The real question that life demands of each of us is:

What will you do with that tremendous worth that God has placed in you?

Well, you can take a dollar bill and buy a chocolate bar and eat it and it’s gone. (Except for the permanent reminder on your hips.) Or you can buy a book—with only a dollar, you’ll have to check the last-gasp sale rack at Barnes & Noble—and learn something that you will own forever.

Or you can buy enough rice to feed a hungry child in Africa for a day and gain “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:20).

In the same way, we must take the gift of time, talent, and abundance that the Lord has given us in this life, and figure out how to spend it.

Will we choose to live our lives in a self-serving way?

Will we seek pleasure? Our own comfort? Our own glory?

Or will we live the life that God asks, serving, developing our talents, perfecting our weaknesses?

It is hard to give up the habit of seeking a sense of worth by comparing ourselves with others.  But we must, for there are really only two people that we may righteously compare ourselves to. 1) The Savior—He is our exemplar, and comparing ourselves with Him shows us what we need to work on. 2) The person I or you used to be—this is how we see how far we have come.

In the end, these comparisons are all that will matter, and they will matter forever.

 

A Sonnet by Michelangelo

Christ on the Cross by Michelangelo

 

The course of my life has already reached,

Across a stormy sea and in a fragile ship,

The common port, where we must give

An account of our every evil act or good deed.

 

The impassioned fantasy, which made

Art an idol and Lord over me,

Was, I now realize, full of error,

Like all else that men desire against their will.

 

What will become of my amorous thoughts, once so vain and gay,

Now that I draw near to my double death?

Of one death I am certain, and the other threatens me.

 

There is no painting nor sculpture now which quiets

The soul turned toward that divine Love

Which on the cross opened to take us in Its arms.

The Renaissance Reader, ed. by Bondanella & Musa published by Meridian

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

I had a visiting teacher, once, who was always there for me. If I had a sudden need arise, I could call her and no matter if she had a cake in the oven, was still in her pajamas, or had had an exhausting day, she would drop anything and come. She was an amazing woman. And I knew that she loved me far beyond her calling to serve me as a visiting teacher.

I’m not that good. But I do know that the best way to show our love for God is to show love to each other. The Lord counts on us to be there for each other when He cannot personally, physically, be there to strengthen, comfort, and satisfy our needs.

At the Last Supper, Jesus plead: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.…Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:33-34). In His absence, He gave his disciples each other.

Likewise, the Lord cares so deeply about us that He gave us each a Visiting Teacher (or two) to meet our needs. It is a marvelous plan created by a wise and loving Heavenly Father, that allows for both personal growth and succor during times of need. This plan is foiled, however when we either fail to serve or fail to accept service.

Do we know what the needs are of those we visit teach? Do we do our best to meet them? Or are we too busy, too distracted, or oblivious to their needs? Are the sisters you visit at church each Sunday? If not, do you know why?

On the other hand, how often do our needs go unmet because of pride? Do we choose to carry burdens alone that could be shared? Do we feel lonely, isolated, or discouraged? Does not God weep to see us struggle, our lack provided for yet refused?

We each have very busy, complex lives. Sometimes it may seem we barely have enough time or energy to take care of our own problems. But the choice to serve is just that—a choice. By obediently serving we unleash the power of God “to prepare a way… that [we] may accomplish the thing which he commandeth [us]” (1 Nephi 3:7). And having served, our own burdens will be lightened.

There, go find someone to love.

Obedience and Faith

“If we desire more faith, we must be more obedient…. Desire, hope, and belief are forms of faith, but faith as a principle of power comes from a consistent pattern of obedient behavior and attitudes” (Kevin W. Pearson, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 2009, 38–40).

Reading the scriptures, prayer, bearing testimony–these are methods of increasing faith that I’ve heard recommended. But this is a first. I have ever supposed that increased faith would answer in increased obedience, not vice versa.

But there is such wisdom and clarity–and possibility–in Elder Pearson’s words: faith comes from obedience. Faith is one of those elusive qualities that are difficult to snare and even more difficult to ascertain that you’ve acquired it, but obedience sits right there in front of you, attended to or ignored. It’s hard to push in the direction of faith, but being more obedient, more consistent in attitude and practices, more responsive to personal impressions and direction from leaders is discernible, finite, and quantifiable.

I want to have greater faith. I want to move mountains and cure ailments. I want to be stalwart, not wimpy, and bold, not tepid in my witness and habits of faith. And most certainly, I want to know mysteries.

“But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life” (D&C 63:23). And, remember, when Nephi saw his father’s vision of the Tree of Life, he saw the rod of iron and understood it to be “the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life” (1 Nephi 11:25).

Tree of Life/Living Waters/Mysteries of the Kingdom/Love of God–it seems these are interchangeable and can be obtained by grasping the word of God and following where it leads. Obedience, in a word.

Worth getting out of bed a bit early to leave time for scripture study and prayer?

Worth magnifying a calling or giving up a Sabbath for?

I think so.