Friday, December 12, 2014

My Loaf

If you are Mormon you've doubtless heard numerous accounts of Sisters feeling the influence of the Spirit to bring a loaf of bread to someone out of the blue. It always shows up just at the right time to prove that God loves and is aware of the recipient. These stories always bugged me because I have never had a prompting to deliver bread and have never had bread brought to me in a moment of need. Obviously I was doing something wrong.

Then there was this.

My workday had been rough. Too much to accomplish in a time frame that was nigh on ridiculous. It was usually a relief to walk through the doors of my home but that evening as I was assaulted with the mess that four kids make in their regular comings and goings I felt my tired start to ache.

Dirty bowls sat on the kitchen table with the remnants of hours old chicken Ramen in them. A tennis shoe that had been abandoned in the middle of failed bedazzling attempt was surrounded by a halo of pink glitter on the floor and nearby some lightly drooled on dog biscuits (which were doubtlessly involved in a vain attempt at teaching the skill of rolling over) littered the landscape.  On top of that I was informed by the natives that in addition to the already malfunctioning dishwasher that now the decades old refrigerator had decided to go on to greener pastures.

My hubby was off doing something for someone while fulfilling his church calling and I was feeling overwhelmed in the midst of the usually happy chaos. I began to mutter in frustration under my breath. I needed to get all that food out of the frig before it ruined. 

As I unloaded the perishables into a camping cooler my teenage son brought me my cell phone with a serious look on his face. “Mom, you've got a text you need to look at.”

I stopped arranging ice cubes around a large blue jar of mayonnaise and uprighted myself from my bent over position with a groan. I took the phone and saw that the text was from the number of a seriously ill friend. She had been in hospital for quite a while and had not been able to speak. I felt a brick drop into the bottom of my stomach. I swiped my finger across the text icon and slowly read the message  “Nancy went home to her Father today. We will see her in eternity.”

I stood in the middle of the kitchen too numb to do anything. My friend was gone. Her long battle with cancer was over. I could feel the air moving in and out of my lungs but nothing else seemed to move or make a sound. Time stopped.

After a moment I closed the lid on the cooler and told my concerned son that I just needed a minute. I walked back to my bedroom and closed the door where the sorrow and frustration of the day descended on me with a physical weight, I hunched over as I felt it try to press me into the ground.

Silent prayer flowed out of me in an almost involuntary way. "I'm glad she isn't suffering any more Father...I'm so sad... Bless her family..."

A talk I had recently listened to in my car on the way to work came to mind. It was by President Monson and was about a woman who had received a prompting by the Spirit to take bread to someone she barely knew. That random delivery had touched a young mother who was struggling with deep depression. It was a love note from God sent in an unmistakable way to disciple in need. 

I began to wonder why that hadn't ever happened to me? I had experienced moments of profound need and no one had ever showed up on my doorstep with fresh baked bread. Not to say that I had never received help, I had and in abundance, but never in this much talked about way. It seemed that every Relief Society lesson I had ever heard in the last decade had a similar story-line.

It seems selfish now but sitting on the edge of my bed with my husband unavailable, a houseful of problems to be solved, and the loss of my sweet friend coursing through me I needed a sign of God’s love and attention. I needed Him to notice me.

“Could you please send someone to me?” I prayed, but somehow knew nothing would happen. I knew that He could do something but it seemed in my experience the Lord wanted me to learn self-sufficiency. Crisis moments needed me to just buck up and be strong.

I waited a few minutes and no good sister rang the doorbell with baked goods in hand. "Deal with it Brenda." I said to myself.

At just that moment my 10 year old daughter quietly opened the door and came into the room. She stood in front of me and said “Mama, I know you are sad about Nancy and I wanted to give you a hug.” She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around my neck.

I couldn't stop the tears that flowed from my eyes. I should be strong and be taking care of her but as I wept on her shoulder I felt the unmistakable love of the Savior flow over me. He knew, He cared, and he had sent me my loaf not through an acquaintance but through a precious child. 

No random sister was needed for me to feel that tender mercy, what came instead was so much better than any physical nourishment. A little girl who loved me best had delivered a message of peace and comfort from the Savior strait to my heart.

So if during the stress that always seems to come with Christmas you find yourself overwhelmed and wondering if God notices know this, loaves come in many different ways. They may be in a sunset or a song or the arms of a child but they do come and the love they convey is filling to the soul. God knows you, hang in there, it will be alright in the end.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Always Remember

Researchers increasingly believe that will power is a limited resource and that resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll on us. Will power seems to be like a muscle that can increase in strength with proper use but with overuse can become fatigued. This theory makes sense as I well know that when a plate of fresh, soft, cinnamon crusted snicker doodles is placed in front of me it will take only a matter of minutes before I am overcome and inhale said plate of yumminess. The time it takes to indulge is even shorter if I have been eating vegetables all day.

With Mormonism and Christianity in general, there is a long laundry list of behaviors and items that require the use of will power. The Lord asks us to overcome our “natural man”. Our natural man seems to be the guy who lives in us who wants to party, carouse, and abuse everything in sight. He is like an out of control frat boy who is swinging from the chandelier, swigging a bottle of Absolute, and saying “how you doing?” to every cute thing that walks by. He thinks only of the here-and-now and how much fun he can have in this moment with no thought of the future. If it feels good let’s go, right now. Living a Christ-like life necessitates the ability to smack Bucky down and set our sites on the long term, the really eternal long term.

This fight against our natural man is tough and the casualties of the battle are all around us. Pornography addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, affairs, child abuse, overeating, gossip, unkindness, the list goes on and on. Pretty much everyone on planet earth is involved in the conflict and having different amounts of success. 

Since we know that God isn’t the type of Father who just shoves His children out the door with no protection, what has he given us to aid in this epic fight?

The last couple of years some interesting research has been done by evolutionary psychologists trying to understand why “mankind created religion?” Obviously, I disagree with their premise that man created religion but their findings are really amazing. 

Researchers ran a series of experiments that were similar to this: Test subjects were invited to unscramble a short sentence. Half of the people were given a neutral phrase such as “the train goes fast” and the other half we given a sentence with a subtle religious reminder. Words such as bible, divine, and spirit were used with that group. The subjects were then moved to another room where they were asked to drink as many paper cups full of an orange juice and vinegar mixture as they could. This mixture generally causes a gag reflex and is patently gross. 

What the researchers found was that across the board the group who had received the reminders of religion and God were able to drink at least twice as many cups of this disgusting stuff. It didn’t matter if the test subject was an atheist, agnostic, or deeply religious. Those who were reminded of God had more will power to complete an unpleasant task than those who didn’t. This test was completed on hundreds of people.

The conclusion drawn from this group of psychologists was that religion must have been developed so that man could promote self-control which is necessary for us to survive as a species. With all due respect that seems like a pretty complicated way to achieve that goal.

What I submit is that one of the many powerful gifts that a loving creator gave to his children is a deeply rooted psychological tool that helps us to do what he has asked. We all seem to have it even if we are unaware and so the call in the scriptures to “remember” becomes all that more poignant. It isn’t just an exercise in obedience, God is giving us the key to self-mastery if we will but do! 

This week during Sacrament Meeting my six year old was being unusually reverent. This anomaly allowed me to reflect a little on the words of the prayers that were being offered by my two older sons, who served as the Priests blessing the bread and water. (By the way that was a sweet and proud moment.) Both prayers use the language “always remember Him” that His spirit may be with us. Why is this so important that it is repeated in ritual every week and exhorted over and over again in the scriptures? It may be that there is an eternal law at work and that remembrance activates the process in our psyche that allows us to overcome the temptations in our life.

Elder Terence M. Vinson gave this short story in the last conference.
A young boy was trying to smooth out the dirt area behind his house so he could play there with his cars. There was a large rock obstructing his work. The boy pushed and pulled with all his might, but no matter how hard he tried, the rock wouldn’t budge. His father watched for a while, then came to his son and said, “You need to use all your strength to move a rock this large.” The boy responded, “I have used all my strength!” His father corrected him: “No you haven’t. You haven’t had my help yet!” They then bent down together and moved the rock easily.
Remembrance seems to be a way to activate this God-given gift and enlist His strength. Science is beginning to catch up to what prophets have known since the beginning.   

Helaman 5:12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

So when your natural man is beating you about the head with your favorite temptation you can remember by reading your scriptures, saying a prayer, singing a hymn, repeating a favorite psalm, attending the temple, keeping your covenants or whatever it is that helps you to think about Him. The Lord has given us all the tools we need to do what He asks, all we have to do is have faith and use them. And in those times when our natural man wins a round we can get up and try again. With the Lord's help that muscle of will power will get stronger and stronger until that bright day when we overcome all things.


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