Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Sacrament Meeting talk

OK, here's the talk I gave today. I was last after our Christmas program. I didn't have much time. I skipped everything before the **** about about 1/4 of the rest of it, skipping here and there. I'm really happy with how it went, though I have to admit I was a little annoyed at how little time I had even though the program was really nice. It was an interesting experience because of that; that's for sure.

Shanghai, China International Branch

Some of you may remember my husband, Robert Beckstrand, who spoke a few weeks ago. But just to review, we have 6 children ages 13 to 3, and we recently moved here from Mesa, AZ. Rob came in June and the rest of us came in August. Rob is from Nevada, and I'm from Phoenix, AZ. Rob served his mission in Japan with Sis Takeshige, and I served my mission in Argentina. Neither of us speaks Chinese, but we're getting along here pretty well so far, in part, due to the kindness of so many of you, particularly our neighbors the Lambs, the Lee’s and the Tao’s. Our family, like many of yours, has learned about working extra hard here just to meet our basic needs. One of my favorite things about the Savior is the opportunities he has offered us to work extra hard for an understanding of even the basic meaning behind His life, teachings, and atoning sacrifice.

The third chapter of the Gospel of John tells us about a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus has seen something Good in the Savior that he wants to understand better so he comes to the Savior and asks: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” The Savior’s response shows how anxious the Savior is for others to feel a nearness with God like himself, but how does He help Nicodemus do that? By giving him a puzzle, a puzzle that only makes sense when you take it out of the customary context that society has established as acceptable.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Why does the Savior give Nicodemus a puzzle to solve here? Furthermore, how can any of us, with all the trappings of mortality, understand that knowledge that is important for us to grow spiritually and have the companionship of our Father in Heaven? The Savior said,
 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

First off, we shouldn’t be surprised or bewildered about the mystery of the Spirit and those things not of this world. No matter who we are, we need to receive and believe the witness of others so that we can understand the Savior and the Salvation He offers us.

 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Nicodemus must have understood Him at least a little because he later defends the Savior to the Pharisees and also brings spices to his burial. That last verse, however, has been on my mind a lot in preparation for this Christmas Sacrament talk. God loves the world, and He really wants us to have everlasting life with Him. So He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. But He didn’t just give us a Savior. He gave us the puzzle of the birth of His Son. As I was chatting with some friends about this talk, one of them said, jokingly, “be sure and tell the part about Santa bringing his reindeer to the manger scene...most people would be perplexed if that was left out...” Today our challenge of finding our Savior in the midst of the materialism and other misleading traditions surrounding this holiday is no less challenging than it was for the Jews who were searching for their Messiah, their deliverer, who came in the form of a baby that depended entirely on others for even the most basic needs. And not only did He come as a baby but He was also conceived in a socially unacceptable way to a Very poor family in tumultuous times.

Mary is a great example of someone for whom the Savior’s birth was a puzzle. In Luke we read:
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
. . .

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

And what does she learn by submitting to the Lord and receiving that witness? What does the puzzle look like when she has a chance to figure things out a little?

Talking to her cousin Elizabeth who is also big and uncomfortable with her own puzzle, Mary speaks aloud the thoughts of her heart:
46 . . . My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1: 38-50)

For the Jews as a nation, however, this puzzle became an ongoing struggle for them. According to the Bible Dictionary, “many Jews . . . were looking only for a deliverer from the Roman power and for greater national prosperity; so when the Messiah came, the nation as a whole rejected him. Only the faithful were able to see in Jesus of Nazareth the true Suffering Servant of Isa. 53, as well as the true Prophet, Priest, and King of Israel.”

What did God send us when He sent His Son? He sent the world an opportunity not only to worship His Son but also an opportunity to serve a helpless Baby born to a family with very little worldly goods, social status or even societal acceptance.

In a talk by Elder Holland entitled, “Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come From A Store” he says, “One impression which has persisted with me recently is that this is a story—in profound paradox with our own times—that this is a story of intense poverty. I wonder if Luke did not have some special meaning when he wrote not “there was no room in the inn” but specifically that “there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7; italics added.) We cannot be certain, but it is my guess that money could talk in those days as well as in our own. I think if Joseph and Mary had been people of influence or means, they would have found lodging even at that busy time of year. I have wondered if the Inspired Version also was suggesting they did not know the “right people” in saying, “There was none to give room for them in the inns.” (JST, Luke 2:7.)

“Furthermore, “I wonder what emotions Joseph might have had as he cleared away the dung and debris. I wonder if he felt the sting of tears as he hurriedly tried to find the cleanest straw and hold the animals back. I wonder if he wondered: “Could there be a more unhealthy, a more disease-ridden, a more despicable circumstance in which a child could be born? Is this a place fit for a king? Should the mother of the Son of God be asked to enter the valley of the shadow of death in such a foul and unfamiliar place as this? Is it wrong to wish her some comfort? Is it right He should be born here?”

“At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen. Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.”

What can we do to solve this puzzle of our Savior’s birth in our own hearts? Share the joy of His love, worship him in our hearts and our actions, and serve Others just as the shepherds did, and the wise men, and Mary and Joseph, along with untold others.

In 3 Nephi the Savior says:  “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.  Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.  Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
  And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see.“ (3 Nephi 18: 24-25)

The shepherds and the wise men all were true to the light and understanding of the Savior’s birth and they came and felt and saw the joy of that great event.

The Gospels don’t include a record of the kind souls that might have helped this Holy family in the midst of their intense poverty. But I suspect that there were many who served the Savior and His family just as He later describes when talking of the final judgment. In Mathew 25:31-40 He says:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32  And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33  And he shall set the sheep on his aright hand, but the goats on the left.
34  Then shall the King say unto them on his aright hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35  For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?  or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  or naked, and clothed thee?
39  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

In these verses we learn that we should serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. From the story of the Savior’s birth we learn that we should also serve the helpless, the impoverished, and even those who have been rejected by the world.

God does a lot of things in puzzles that don’t make sense to the world. The birth of His Son is a wonderful puzzle that continues to challenge His children in every society and every culture. The challenges of understanding the way the Lord works are real. But that’s the point. So is the challenge of fitting ourselves for the kingdom of God. The challenges are is real and very personal. And when we overcome these challenges and solve these puzzles for ourselves, we qualify ourselves for the everlasting life that the Savior’s Mercy made possible. I testify that . . . In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Merry Christmas all!!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Yesterday morning when I found the courage to tell Rob to turn on the light as he left the bedroom so that I could read my Kindle PDF edition of the LDS General Conference report, I found this quote by Elder L. Tom Perry in his talk, Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear.
If you will respond to the invitation to share your beliefs and feelings about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, a spirit of love and a spirit of courage will be your constant companion.
The Spirit then helped me find a connection between my beliefs and feelings about the Truths of the Restored Gospel and my beliefs and feelings about Learning.

For almost two months now I have been pondering the idea of Learner Driven Education. Yesterday I found a free afternoon. The computer was free from kids doing distance studies. My emotions were free from whatever random hang ups and busyness. And I finally found the courage to start it! (It's a blog.) I hope to keep up enough worth while posts there that people find it a great resource. I have lots of ideas in my head, but regularly finding time and emotional space is going to be the clincher.

So now, hopefully you find my site as well! I’d love to hear what you think! And I hope you find it worth your while to check back often!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ongoing Floods

I just want to reiterate how invasive and insidious this flood of guilt is for me. However, I’m grateful for Truth, where ever I find it, that helps me avoid this flood of guilt. And I’m grateful for friends who share their joys, and the blessings that help them overcome their challenges.

Yesterday I had a wonderful time sharing The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Ketcham with two dear friends from church. We had a lovely discussion, but we also spent time sharing our experiences here in Shanghai, China. I love how, during this time just sharing with no burdensome agenda and no kids around, we can lift each other’s burdens without even trying to.

And yet, even in this safe environment, I almost got caught in a Flood of guilt again. We were discussing our preparations for the coming COLD here in Shanghai, and I found myself feeling guilty that I wasn’t working harder to prepare in the same way that my friends were. In the past this would have put cracks in my foundation. This time I caught myself, and it only scuffed my cement walls a bit (there is no dry wall in our home here in China, only cold loving cement).

I think that some of the guilt so many of us feel is an expectation from society that we should, indeed we must, avoid anything remotely not up to a certain standard, be it a standard of safety, of looks, or otherwise. My dear friend shared this song in a comment to another post below, and I wanted to share it here. As I’ve said in a previous post, our goal isn’t any earthly standard. The goal is to follow and be close to our Savior. This song beautifully reiterates that goal.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rain, Floods, and a Deliverance

It was raining this morning, raining a deluge of burdens upon my mind and heart and threatening a flood to wash away my proverbial home from its foundation. Large or small, the size of flood is irrelevant. The reality of emotional burdens is real and paralyzing in any size. Some of these I have referred to in other posts both recent and not. Today the burden focused largely on what our family lacked materially. In the past I have resisted praying for humility or a freedom from desiring treasures on Earth rather than treasures in Heaven or gratitude. Did I then over look the real source of my troubles?

In Sunday School we discussed 1st and 2nd Peter, and in this verse God spoke to me. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

Also in my heart, sits this thought from Ketcham's biography of Lincoln. "It can hardly be doubted that his mother's instruction was of more worth than all these put together. A woman who, under such limitations, had energy enough to teach her husband to read and write, was a rare character, and her influence could not be other than invaluable to the bright boy."

And once again, deliverance from a debilitating burden that poured down upon my head and threatened flooding.

Yeah for humility! Yeah for overcoming the lure of earthly riches! . . . Or was I just being ungrateful that such a burden weighed down so heavily upon me?

Maybe. But the message I heard in 1 Peter 1:7 wasn’t that I shouldn’t seek for earthly treasures. And the lesson I learned from Abraham Lincoln’s mother wasn’t that I should be humble in my trials. The message I heard, and once again and the message that gave me insight in order to truly understand and find liberating peace was that I didn’t have to seek earthly treasures. Furthermore, I didn’t need to feel guilty about it.

Life is hard in many ways for us right now, and the only riches I really need to be seeking are the ones from God. For that, I am truly grateful.

God bless each of you in your quests to overcome the Natural Man, and as you do,

may He

deliver you 

with Truth.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Life is slowly starting to feel a little normal and even a little doable here. We’re getting good at shopping, and piece by piece we’re making this house a home. However, sometimes the longing for stuff I left behind or other bits of home becomes a tangible and overwhelming ache.

On Sunday we had Branch Conference, and the District President, President Dyre gave the lesson. He started the class with a question, “Where is your home?” and followed up with “Where is your heart?” I didn’t dare answer because my heart immediately went to a storage unit in Cedar City, Utah. It certainly wasn’t at unit 88 of Ansheng Gardens in Shanghai, China, even though I spend a lot of time with my children there and even some time with my husband there. Through the course of the discussion, Pres. Dyre made the point that our home and our heart should be with our husbands. THAT I liked. THAT was something my heart could latch on to. THAT was something that could trump that ache in my heart for everything we’ve left behind.

Prayer answered, peace found, goal given.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Remembering, then Realigning

He taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men Mosiah 2 : 4

And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.  For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual Mosiah 2:41

Could I really ‘rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men’? Where is that ‘happy state’ when all I feel is a deep and incredible emotional ache not unlike and partly due to intense physical exhaustion brought on by a multitude of stresses? I had sought earnestly to keep the commandments. Why was my heart so empty? How could I fulfill my duties as a mother and a daughter of God when such a great pain in my heart swamped me at every turn? Knowing that the Lord loved me and wanted to help me with the pain, I pleaded for understanding. Then I remembered Paul.

Paul tells us that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galations 3:13). What is the curse of the law? Certainly “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Additionally, however, the law only has “a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image” and can never make us perfect (Hebrews 10:1). Reading that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” and that “love is the fulfilling of the law”, finally brought me peace (Romans 10:4 & 13:10).

My painful sense of quiet desperation had come on so subtly that I didn’t even understand what it was or where it was coming from until I sought for the peace promised me. Then, as I followed the Lord’s inspirations, I learned not only the solution to my pain, but also the source of that pain. The Law was all of the things I wanted to do, things that I wanted to do because of my desire to keep His commandments and serve His children. Christ and His love are the solutions to the curse of that law, and this Real Goal of seeking these gives us the ‘very image’ of things to come, despite and along with the realities of our daily challenges.

I’ve felt the peace confirming the truth of this personal inspiration and guidance. NOW I need to take stock of how my life and goals are aligned and then alter them accordingly. . . . Maybe sometime when I’m not quite so tired? (Kids, watch out for the lightening! It should be striking the house any minute. :} )

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Foul. No repetition. Three - Love and game."

As much as I love it here in China, life has been pretty hard at times. We've been here about a month now, and rebuilding our lives after leaving so much behind is taking a really long time. And yes, sometimes all the stuff that I had to leave behind still haunts me.

Writing always has been a great comfort to me because of the insights I gain. Now that I have more space mentally, emotionally, and physically, I hope to do more writing. The previous post, composed almost entirely of questions, reminds me of my college experience learning about the value of asking a lot of questions. Early in my college years I watched the movie Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead at BYU's International Cinema. Several times during the course of the movie, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern play a game of questions:

Guildenstern: Whose serve?
Rosencrantz: Err...
Guildenstern: Hesitation! Love... one.
Rosencrantz: Whose go?
Guildenstern: Why?
Rosencrantz: Why not?
Guildenstern: What for?
Rosencrantz: Foul! No synonyms! One... all.
Guildenstern: What in God's name is going on?
Rosencrantz: Foul! No rhetoric! Two... one.
Guildenstern: What does it all add up to?
Rosencrantz: Can't you guess?
Guildenstern: Were you addressing me?
Rosencrantz: Is there anyone else?
Guildenstern: Who?
Rosencrantz: How would I know?
Guildenstern: Why do you ask?
Rosencrantz: Are you serious?
Guildenstern: Was that rhetoric?
Rosencrantz: No.
Guildenstern: Statement! Two all. Game point.

Rosencrantz: What's the matter with you today?
Guildenstern: When?
Rosencrantz: What?
Guildenstern: Are you deaf?
Rosencrantz: Am I dead?
Guildenstern: Yes or no?
Rosencrantz: Is there a choice?
Guildenstern: Is there a God?
Rosencrantz: Foul! No non sequiturs! Three... two, one game all.
Guildenstern: What's your name?
Rosencrantz: What's yours?
Guildenstern: You first.
Rosencrantz: Statement! One... love.
Guildenstern: What's your name when you're at home?
Rosencrantz: What's yours?
Guildenstern: When I'm at home?
Rosencrantz: Is it different at home?
Guildenstern: What home?
Rosencrantz: Haven't you got one?
Guildenstern: Why do you ask?
Rosencrantz: What are you driving at?
Guildenstern: What's your name?
Rosencrantz: Repetition! Two... love. Match point.
Guildenstern: Who do you think you are?
Rosencrantz: Rhetoric! Game and match!

Rosencrantz: Do you want to play questions?
Guildenstern: How do you play that?
Rosencrantz: You have to ask a question.
Guildenstern: Statement. One - Love.
Rosencrantz: Cheating.
Guildenstern: How?
Rosencrantz: I haven't started yet.
Guildenstern: Statement. Two - Love.
Rosencrantz: Are you counting that?
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: Are you counting that?
Guildenstern: Foul. No repetition. Three - Love and game.
Rosencrantz: I'm not going to play if you're going to be like that.

When was the last time you asked yourself lots of questions without hesitation, repetition, rhetoric, synonyms, or statements? Did it help you to unload some of your worries, stresses, and burdens?
You may be surprised at what you discover. (Statement. Game and match!)

Community vs Self-Reliance

Why do we have to work sooo hard to find ways to not need other people?

Why are we afraid of someone telling us they can't help us? Why are we afraid of asking the wrong person for help? Why are we afraid of not doing enough for ourselves?

Why are we afraid of helping someone with something they might be able to do themselves? Why are we afraid of someone asking for help with something they should do themselves? Why are we afraid of someone asking for something we can't help them with?

How do we know who needs help? How do we know how to help? How do we respond to people that we really can't help?

How will we conquer these fears and uncertainties?
By deciding that building a community of people who serve each other is more important than the possibility of damaging someone's self reliance?

By taking the time and thought, to ask the question.

Gliding in Chinese

I think that as part of the process of learning Chinese, I DO need to feel comfortable not speaking it and comfortable with my nonverbal forms of communication. I do, and I suspect that it's somehow similar to gliding on a two wheeler before confidently using the pedals. But I'm not sure how . . . Is it about learning to listen to the sounds? Or learning to hear more than the words?

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Little More Calvinism? Please?

Yesterday in Sunday School a Single Adult (“with out the Y” for Young) member of the Branch brought up some interesting thoughts. He prefaced his comment by claiming to be somewhat of a Calvinist (and yes, I could hear a collective ‘huh?’ from the rest of the class). He then proceeded to make the claim that a lot of our discussion of free agency served to dumb down our understanding of God and the role he plays in our lives. I’m not sure that this dear brother had a clear direction for his comment, but some part of me understood and his attempts to communicate those thoughts have given me fodder for contemplation today.  

Here’s some of what I’ve discovered and my process for getting there:

  • First: “What’s a Calvinist?”
According to “Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is a system of biblical interpretation that focuses on the supreme sovereignty of God, His majesty, His holiness, etc. It relates this to man's fallen, sinful nature. Because of the great chasm between God and man and because of man's sinfulness, God must predestine people into salvation...or none would be saved. Therefore, salvation is the work of God and we are the recipients of His gracious election.”

  • Ewww. That sounds like we’re taking the free agency and accountability completely out of things.
Maybe a person could take the reasoning that to that extreme. But just suppose we really are at the other extreme end of “we have the complete ability to choose the course for our lives”. Do we really believe that? Of course we don’t. No matter how hard we try and how many things we do right, sometimes things just don’t work out. And to a certain extent we are all still a product of our environment, up bringing, etc.

  • So what? Why do I care about this?
If we are only concerned about the choices we are currently making, then we in sometimes small and sometimes big ways negate the Divinity that we have developed in partnership with God, but we also miss the advantage of understanding how God uses a variety of influences, situations, and processes to help us grow.

  • Huh?
In another example from this Sunday, a sister in Relief Society was sharing a time when she was feeling particularly down about her husband’s travel schedule for work. While complaining to her husband (via Skype/internet) about how hard it was to have him gone, she told about realizing how she was being selfish. After all, she had her children with her, and he didn’t have anyone or anything but his work. Selfish? It sounded about right. Completely accurate? No. A classic example of dumbing down God and one’s self. It certainly works to help one move quickly away from a poor choice. But in order to keep making good choices, there has to be more depth.

  • Ummm, OK . . .
Another example is the almost cliché, “I will go and do the things the Lord hath commanded” of 1 Nephi 3:7. This phrase really makes for a great Obedience rallying cry. But this cry is empty without the phrase that follows it “for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Without it we will either succeed or fail, there is no room for mercy and personal growth.

  • So . . .
The moral of the story is: Be careful with simple answers and rallying cries. Be prayerful and seek to Know God, in all of his wonder and majesty, through your obedience and studying and pondering. Don’t take too much on your own shoulders; God plays a bigger role in things than we sometimes give Him credit for.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Very often I'm a hard nut to crack when it comes to humor. This, however, I love.

Yup, it cracked my nut. ;)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kindle Journal ~ 8/20/11

Here's a peak into my mental health today. I share it not in seeking for help. I share it only to give others a picture of what my life is like right now.

Whew! Order and space and function!
  • I have a clock with hands that gives order to my time and not just a phone with digits that gives me input. 
  • I have a laundry room in a bathroom instead of a bathroom with a washing machine in it.
  • I have laundry drying on racks instead of clothes hanging around drying.
  • I have a kitchen rug at the sink instead of a towel in front of the sink.
  • I have towels hanging on hooks and repaired racks instead of towels and broken towel racks lying around the bathrooms.
  • I have cans instead of piles waiting to be taken to the kitchen trash.
  • I have scriptures in a central location and a TV that`s less so.
Hmmmm, chaos and opportunities for more order, Faith, and effectiveness . . .
  • I still have piles of books and school supplies and Sunday clothes that need a place to call home.
  • I have appliances with no English or Romanized characters or means for interpreting and understanding how to use them other than trial and error.
  • I am almost completely illiterate and incapable of communicating with anyone outside of my home. I do not even know where to start in making a plan for improvement.
  • I have no reliable, independent means of transportation other than my feet.
  • I have a generous, giving, and happy heart with those outside my home. I have a guilt clouded, impatient heart with my children.
  • I spend a lot of time thinking about what my kids are doing and not enough time thinking about what they are becoming.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Little Something to Ponder Concerning Seasons

Seasons and Community fascinate me. Here's an interesting take:
Hi Readers! Stan Cox, author of the new book, “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer),” wrote a great oped for The Washington Post last summer about what life would be like if we still sweltered. As a person who is always freezing, I LOVE the idea of an un-airconditioned world, not just because it would allow me to peel off several (dozen) cardigans, but also because I believe in what Cox preaches: That when we HAVE to go outside for relief, we gain a lot more than a cool breeze. We regain the whole idea of neighborhood. And we regain a season! As he writes in his oped:
Saying goodbye to A.C. means saying hello to the world. With more people spending more time outdoors — particularly in the late afternoon and evening, when temperatures fall more quickly outside than they do inside — neighborhoods see a boom in spontaneous summertime socializing.

Rather than cowering alone in chilly home-entertainment rooms, neighbors get to know one another. Because there are more people outside, streets in high-crime areas become safer. As a result of all this, a strange thing happens: Deaths from heat decline. Elderly people no longer die alone inside sweltering apartments, too afraid to venture outside for help and too isolated to be noticed. Instead, people look out for one another during heat waves, checking in on their most vulnerable neighbors.
Children — and others — take to bikes and scooters, because of the cooling effect of air movement. Calls for more summer school and even year-round school cease. Our kids don’t need more time inside, everyone agrees; they need the shady playgrounds and water sprinklers that spring up in every neighborhood.
Okay — he sounds a little hokey. But only because we’ve become so divorced from the idea that we can stand a little discomfort that we dismiss the idea that we really COULD be happier while sweatier.

I’m not sure how to bring this revolution about, since we already live without a.c. in my house and it’s not like anyone seems eager to follow our lead. (Or visit in July.)  But it’s something to think about, while our teeth chatter next to the A.C. vent. — Lenore

A Sabbath Day Witness

Reading Elder Perry’s talk in the April 2011 General Conference has inspired me to record a few thoughts of my own regarding the Sabbath Day. I am grateful to parents who taught me as a youth so that as an adult I could reap the benefits of a deep-rooted ritual. Today my heart rejoices at the opportunity for regeneration I get each Sabbath. It’s my regularly scheduled break from world so that I may purge my heart of the unnecessary worldly cares.

Elder Perry says: As we consider the pattern of the Sabbath and the sacrament in our own lives, there appear to be three things the Lord requires of us:
first, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world;

I love being intentional about everything I do on Sunday. I love dressing up for church and all day dressing at least a little better than I do during the week. I know the Lord loves me even if I don’t, but I love drawing closer to Him through what I wear. I love avoiding certain programs, music, and activities so that I may remain as unspotted, as possible, from the world on the Sabbath. I love a day to set aside the cares and interests of the world so that I may focus on the cares and interests of another.
second, to go to the house of prayer and offer up our sacraments;

On Sunday I go to church, and I cleanse my heart and soul by offering up my sacraments unto the Lord. The sacred music, the company of Saints, the talks & classes, and opportunities to serve all help to purify and reconnect my heart with His. Even juggling 6 kids into reverence during a 70 min long meeting serves to deepen my humility and bring my heart closer to His.

and third, to rest from our labors.

I love having a day where I don’t go to the store. Yes, sometimes the ox is in the proverbial mire, and in which case I take care of needs as they arise. But I love doing what I can so that others can rest from their labors as well. And mostly I love having a day where I keep things as simple as possible so that the Lord can really be the focus of my day as much as possible.

And, of course, Elder Perry says it so well:
Let us remember the blessings and opportunities that are ours as we attend sacrament meeting each week in our wards and branches. Let us prepare and conduct ourselves on the Sabbath in a manner that will call down the blessings promised us upon ourselves and our families. I bear my special witness that the greatest joy we receive in this life is in following the Savior. May we keep His commandments by keeping His sacred day holy is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sunrise

This isn't a usual habit of mine, but I thought I would share excerpts from my journal this week:

What an amazing week! It started with a fun celebration with my sisters and parents. They helped me purchase some great new shorts and then we shared a lovely lunch together. Nathan’s baseball games started this week and Rob planned a surprise party for me on Monday night after the first one. I really enjoyed sharing with the friends that came. Anne had her Honor Band Concert on Tuesday—a really fun and enjoyable event. Wednesday the family dropped everything to help Rob with his landscaping jobs that day. His usual assistant was sick, and we dove in with our manual labor to help him. I’m still sore, ;-) but it was just what I needed to help me overcome my stresses. That evening was Rob’s Skype interview with Laurent LA (and another baseball game for Nathan).

We have been praying quite a bit for assurance in the decisions we are making. When Rob called me at the game to say the interview had gone well and that he had the job, it really was like the sunrise (as one GC speaker described today), so peaceful, so beautiful, and so much more amazing, even mind-stretchingly so, than I had ever anticipated. The dawn had been slowly approaching for some time, and now I no longer deny the joy of this new day.

Saturday we enjoyed Conference and began the process of sorting our possessions. Oh, and we began studying Mandarin. I deeply hope that we can stay unified and loving with each other through this adventure. Tonight, we had a great evening with Mom and Dad sharing our new adventure to China along with dinner. It was SO awesome to feel the spirit as we shared the story of how we decided to take this position. I will never forget the comments that Dad made, particularly when he told us his feelings that we were doing the right thing. I know it will be hard for them and us, but we’re one very important step closer now that they know. Now I really hope that I can sleep well tonight. Love—Verena

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy . . .

I just didn't ever want to loose this. So here it is (again, for my Facebook friends):

Happy . . . well I'm not Irish and I'm not big on holidays much . . . so happy laughing at anything that makes you laugh! I hope you enjoyed this little bit of what makes me laugh.

Monday, March 14, 2011

the wagging tail at the end . . .

A dear friend of mine, Teresa Wesley, shared this at church a few weeks ago.
BTW, Teresa is from the South, so make sure you read this with the appropriate accent. ;]

If you know us, you know that the Wesleys love animals. We’ve had lots of them. Right now we have a little Chihuahua and a big, giant Great Dane named Mya. Mya loves everyone. She loves people and she loves animals and loves to lick. Her tail wags so much when she meets new people or animals the back of her body moves and when she sees you her tail wags and wags, but Mya is huge.

I was taking Mya for a walk and had her on a leash. Our neighbor’s little white fluffy dog came running out and Mya was wagging her tail. The little dog took one look at Mya and started screaming and screaming. Mya had never even touched the little dog. Our neighbor came running out and picked up the dog and apologized and the little dog was still screaming in the neighbor’s arms and Mya was wagging her tail.

The still small voice came to me and told me how often I’ve been like that screaming little dog. I just see the big, scary dog and don’t see the wagging tail at the end.

I love to think that the Lord, the great Master Teacher, is still teaching us with parables from every day life. It's fun to put a little perspective and humor into life's craziness too.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Competence is Catching!

Competence is Catching!

Hi Readers — Here’s a brilliant idea that came in response to the previous couple of posts about how our kids can become more responsible when we back off a little. This mom not only liberated her OWN kids from too much help (however kindly proffered), she liberated a whole classroom! — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I always hated when my kids wanted to dress themselves — not because I was dying to do it, but because I would have to defend myself against the “bad mommy” accusation from the other preschool parents. My guys like wearing stripes and plaid or really odd color combinations.
One day I decided I had had enough. I made up “I dressed myself today!” stickers and rewarded my little guys for doing it on their own.  Pretty soon, all the little preschoolers wanted stickers too, so everyone began to dress themselves as well.  I stopped being embarrassed by the independence of my children and began to embrace it.  It can be hard to be the mom who doesn’t do it all for the kids, parents feel peer pressure too! — Sarah
The idea of “I did it myself!” stickers is incredibly powerful. Think of all the situations they could be used in, and how the idea of celebrating kiddie competence could catch on! — L 

Why am I re-posting this here? Other than that I LOVE Lenore Skenazy and her blog (and not just her really cool last name)?? Because I just love this idea that ANY time we want to give advice to ANY one, we should consider first why we're giving it and second whether it's really wanted or needed. Why is that so important? Because if someone figures something out on their own, especially something really difficult, they are empowered from within to face even greater challenges.

Sometimes kindness to someone who is struggling is just sharing the questions and understanding that there are no answers to our struggles at present, no matter what we do or say. Sometimes companionship in just enjoying the life we've been given at present is the best answer.

During our struggles, the Lord has surely blessed us with friends such as these, for which we are truly grateful. God bless you!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Sacrifice"--Today's talk in 76th Ward Sacrament Meeting

What a wonderful experience it was to write this talk this week. The timing was perfect for me and our family. Still, I wondered if there wasn't some way I could get out of actually reading it for everyone. But I had never really understood the power of sharing something like this with people who have been at your side through so many struggles and trials, never judging, always loving and praising and stepping in when they saw a need. If Rob and I ever pull ourselves out of this crazy financial mess it will be in large part because of our wonderful, wonderful Ward Family, in the truest sense of the word. So, enjoy!
The Primary children may remember a Sharing Time that Sis Gardner gave a short time ago. Do you remember that she taught us about how the Primary songs teach us the Plan of Salvation? One of the songs she used was “I Lived in Heaven”. Picture Sis Casey leading you in singing this song as I read it:

I lived in heaven a long time ago, it is true;
Lived there and loved there with people I know. So did you.
Then Heav’nly Father presented a beautiful plan,
All about earth and eternal salvation for man.

Father said he needed someone who had enough love
To give his life so we all could return there above.
There was another who sought for the honor divine.
Jesus said, “Father, send me, and the glory be thine.”

Jesus was chosen, and as the Messiah he came,
Conquering evil and death through his glorious name,
Giving us hope of a wonderful life yet to be-
Home in that heaven where Father is waiting for me.

So, our Savior is the central part of that plan. And what does the song say that the Father wanted him to do? He wanted him to give his life for us. So he said he would. And in the process, he also conquered evil and death through his great Sacrifice. Our Father’s plan is so simple and yet so amazingly and profoundly personal. What is one of the keys that makes it so personal for each and everyone of his billions and billions and billions of children? Sacrifice. The sacrifice of our Savior and the sacrifices that each of us make help to build up the Father’s kingdom on earth that help make the Father’s plan personal and real for each of us and they make us “worthy to live in the presence of God”.[a]

But when God presented His plan, many of God’s children didn’t like the idea of sacrifice. Apparently, it was too risky to give each of us agency and personal responsibility in the important task of salvation. And these concerns were strong enough that we fought a war over the plan that would bring us happiness, Sacrifice is a concept that was difficult to understand then and remains so today. Consequently, I am deeply grateful that our Father in Heaven speaks to each of us “in his own tongue, and in his own language”[b] to help us understand what His prophets have said about it. Our fear and misunderstanding of Sacrifice reminds me of Grover’s story, The Monster at the End of this Book. Through the language and pictures of this children’s story, we see Grover struggle every step of the way through the entire book for fear of the monster there, only to find that the monster was merely . . . himself. I think it’s a natural instinct to cringe inside when we think of making Sacrifices. Sacrifice is uncomfortable and messy just like the war in Heaven and just like Grover who made a big mess trying to keep us from getting to the end of his book.

According to the Gospel Principles manual, “Sacrifice means giving to the Lord whatever He requires of our time, our earthly possessions, and our energies to further His work.”[c] And it also means battling within ourselves to think less of Earthly goals and comforts and more about Eternal ones. The Savior commanded, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness”.[d] The Gospel Principles manual also suggests that “Our it's not JUST over coming the natural man. it's also being a part of something BIGGERedit it's not JUST over coming the natural man. it's also being a part of something BIGGERedit willingness to sacrifice is an indication of our devotion to God.”

Before the Savior’s Atonement, God used sacrifices to help His people understand the role of Sacrifice in the atonement. With Abraham God used the language of burnt offerings to help him understand Sacrifice. Waiting until he had everything ready to sacrifice his son and the knife in his hand, God then sent an angel to say, “Abraham … lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for fearing God over physical survival . . .edit fearing God over physical survival . . .edit now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”[e] Other Sacrifices then included sin and trespass offerings and also peace offerings. According to the Bible Dictionary, “The fundamental idea of the sin and trespass offerings was atonement, expiation. They implied that there was a sin, or some uncleanness akin to a sin, that needed atoning for before fellowship with Jehovah could be obtained. . . . Peace offerings, as the name indicates, presupposed that the sacrificer was at peace with God; they were offered for the further realization and enjoyment of that peace.”Ì

This ongoing war within our hearts to seek God and also to help others follow God’s plan is still messy business . . . messy and also dirty. At the Scout Jamboree this past summer, some of you got to hear from someone who knows a lot about dirt. Mike Rowe’s thoughts that we should replace the goal of “Safety First” with “Safety Third” have enlightened this eternal struggle for me. He says, Ì “’Safety First’ discourages personal responsibility. Is it reasonable to assume that someone would hire you to work in a hazardous environment, and then tell you that nothing is more important to them than your personal safety? Of course not. Difficult and dangerous jobs are accomplished by people who are willing to assume risk – and the assumption of that risk must come before anything else.  . . . . From what I’ve seen, the key to personal safety is personal accountability and it seems to me the most genuine way to foster that in a grown-up employee is to tell them the truth. If Safety were really first, companies would pay their employees to be safe. Of course, they don’t. They pay them to work, and to assume risk. Saying “Safety Third” reminds me of that simple fact. And that keeps my [TV] crew and me more focused, and hopefully, more safe. As always, thanks for watching. And for cryin’ out loud, be careful! Mike”[f]

Life is dirty and messy and risky, but we accepted that part of the plan because we knew that personal responsibility was the only way we could progress and become more like our Father in Heaven. Moreover, no one sacrificed more than our Father when He sent His Son to put his own safety third and atone for our sins. We, in turn, are then free not only to struggle but also to faithfully and confidently overcome our own challenges. As our own family continues to face financial struggles, I have realized that “Choosing the best activities sometimes means choosing the best hard activities too.”[g] Since Rob lost his job, Rob and I have spent a huge amount of time considering our Choices. While unemployed and underemployed, one seems to encounter, for the most part, an overwhelming array of Hard choices and not so many good, better, or best ones.

Using the words of Dallin H Oaks’ talk in the October 2007 General Conference entitled, “Good, Better, Best”, I’ve edited a few words to reflect this idea of choosing the best Hard activities.
“Just because something is good hard is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good hard things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good hard, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.”
He then recounted the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, explaining that the Savior taught us in this passage that “learning the gospel from the Master Teacher was more ‘needful.’” With my edits, Elder Oaks goes on to say,
“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good hard. Other choices are better, and still others are best simply more needful.”

During one experience on Elder Groberg’s mission the choice before them was to wait for the wind to pick up or row to their teaching appointment. By choosing to row, Elder Groberg still had to make the Hard choice of leaving behind their chances of using wind to take them to their destination. In this case the more Needful choice was to leave the sailboat behind. Sacrifice, in and of itself is not reason enough to make a Hard choice the right one. Saul discovered, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken [to the commandments of the Lord] than the fat of rams.”[h] Consequently, Elder Groberg discovered that, “We should always pray for help, but we should always listen for inspiration and impressions to proceed in ways different from those we may have thought of”[i] even if those choices aren’t the Hard ones we expected to be more Needful.

Our family’s biggest challenge of late has been correctly understanding which Hard thing the Lord wants us. Choosing something out of our comfort zone financially or physically is only one type of Hard thing we can choose right now. Another might simply be to “let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.”[j] Or, even more difficult sometimes is the challenge to be confident under pressure. Elder Holland explains, “There are cautions and considerations to make, but once there has been genuine illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts. … Face your doubts. Master your fears. ‘Cast not away therefore your confidence.’ Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.”[k]

I’m grateful for this opportunity to sacrifice and make God’s Will real in my life, to choose having Faith in Him and His inspirations over doubting, even in the face of mounting pressures. I’m grateful for the questions these sacrifices put in my heart such as: What’s going to happen next week? Can I be  content that it will be in accordance with God’s will? Am I satisfied that Rob and I are fulfilling the callings and commandments that He has given us so that we are worthy of the Lord’s guidance and protection? The Savior posed a really great question himself: “If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”[l]

Peace during times of Sacrifice comes when we ‘ask not amiss’ and these questions lead us to answers given minute by minute, hour by hour. The principle of sacrifice, then, is not the solution to our problems, but the means to the solutions of our problems. Then eventually, that kind of sacrifice makes us into what Paul calls, “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God”[m]. Rudyard Kipling wrote a wonderful poem about the results of this kind of living, entitled simply, “IF”:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son![n]

I bear testimony of the power of sacrifice in making us fit for the Kingdom of God and of God’s love that requires those sacrifices from us. Thomas S Monson is the Lord’s mouthpiece on the earth and Joseph Smith was the Lord’s instrument to usher in the Last Dispensation. The Book of Mormon is the fruits of those labors. This is the Lord’s Church and His prophets will direct us through these perilous times as we work and sacrifice to prepare ourselves and the Earth for the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In His name, Amen.

[a] Gospel Principles, Chapter 26
[b] D&C 90:11
[d] Matthew 6:33
[e] Genesis 22:1–14
[g] Personal Journal, Jan 22, 1011.

[h] Hales, Robert D. “Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life.” General Conference, October 2010.

[i] John H. Groberg, “The Lord’s Wind,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 28.
[j] D&C 101:16
[k] Name withheld, "Did I Still Love Him?", Ensign, Feb. 2011, 33–35 (written, incidentally, by the best friend of a home schooling friend of mine, though I told her not to tell me her name since it’s ‘withheld’ ;)
[l] Matthew 6:30
[m] Romans 12:1
[n] My thanks to Max Eddington for posting the music video of the music he wrote and sang using the text of this poem on Facebook this week.