Friday, November 20, 2015

A Nasty Case of Fiery Serpents

As I blew the dust off my long neglected blog this morning I found this piece I had written a couple of years ago and never published. It was during a time I was struggling and made an uncomfortable discovery about my attitude. With all that has been going on the last few weeks it was good for me to read again and remember...


Do you have these Church-goer symptoms?

Irritated by people who cry in every testimony meeting?

Annoyed that every talk in Sacrament meeting is about missionary work?

Peeved that you have a calling you don't like?

Overwhelmed by the amount of "good works" everyone asks you to do?

Feeling snarky when someone comments that "they love everyone".

Perturbed that we are studying the same old stuff in every class?

Bothered by the non-stop disagreements among the members on social media?

If you answered yes to two or more of these symptoms you may be suffering from FSS, commonly known as Fiery Serpent Syndrome.

Over the last few months this intrepid blogger found herself in an ever increasing spiritual funk. 

There were multiple factors contributing to the situation. A release from a beloved teaching calling, the ever increasing debate about equality of women in the church and gay marriage, a  heavy load of family, church, work, and school responsibilities, and the herculean amount of energy required to get everything done had turned my usual cheery disposition to one of thunderclouds. 

My frustration began to focus not on the Gospel itself but on some of the mundane cultural attitudes and practices that go on in the Church.

While I love and am completely enthralled and excited about the Gospel and the truths contained therein, many aspects of the culture that exist around the outside of it were making my eyeballs want to fall out of my head. Blech. "Why does everything have to be so homogeneous?" I wondered. To the same way most everyone starts a talk to the utterly predictable way classes proceed and the comments made in them it was all the "same as it ever was". 

Church on Sunday was starting to feel like an exercise in patience. The same old lessons presented in the same way. The same sister boo-hooing about the same topics. Where was the excitement? Where was the spiritual lift? Why was everything so boring? Why couldn't we learn about the deep things of the Spirit instead of reconstituting the same worn subjects. 

And then there was social media. Ugh. Every time the leadership reiterated their stance on unpopular social issues the tirades and hand wringing began. The jump to conclusions without fully investigating the facts, the outright criticism of those who remained faithful. 

As weeks went on I could feel the soft corners of my heart begin to turn stony. The joy and love I used to feel on Sundays was replaced by critical thoughts and frustration. I went through the motions but I did not want to be there and it was everyone else's fault, or so I believed.

Stake conference rolled around and I found myself begrudgingly going to the Sunday morning session. "Don't tell me" I thought rolling my eyes, "missionary work again..."

Then, the Temple President got up to speak and his chosen scripture passage about the children of Israel as they wandered in the desert hit my whining soul with needed dose of reality.
Numbers 21:4-6 
"And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died."
I had taught this passage in several stints of Sunday lessons but apparently never understood. The people following Moses were having a hard time. It wasn't very fun wandering in the desert. They were hot and tired and frustrated. It was hard work and even though they were miraculously being fed manna every day they were tired of not having any variety. They were to the point that they "loathed" the divine gift they were being given.

Lightning struck. "Holy cats, they are me... I am them" was all that kept going through my head.

Just like the people in that verse I had fallen into the all too human trap of ingratitude. Once that set in I had been bitten by a the serpent of criticism and pride and the result was that my spirit was filling with venom. I could feel it taking over but what was the cure?
"Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."
Anyone who has been to Sunday school knows the brass serpent in those verses is a representation of Christ. But I already loved the Lord so where was I to look? The answer came in the same talk as a quote from a latter-day Moses.

"Consider the response of President Spencer W. Kimball when someone once asked him, 'What do you do if you find yourself caught in a boring sacrament meeting?' President Kimball thought a moment, then replied, 'I don’t know; I’ve never been in one.' With his long years of Church experience, President Kimball had undoubtedly been to many meetings where people had read their talks, spoken in a monotone, or given travelogues instead of teaching doctrine. But most likely, President Kimball was teaching that he did not go to sacrament meeting to be entertained; he went to worship the Lord, renew his covenants, and be taught from on high. If he attended with an open heart, a desire to be 'nourished by the good word of God' (Moroni 6:4), and a prayer—rather than judgment—for the speakers, the Spirit would teach him what he needed to do to be a more effective and faithful disciple."

With all my years of study I had somehow forgotten one of the most basic and important things in the universe. It is that truth and joy are gained by communing with the Spirit, end of story. Exciting sermons and dynamic teachers are fun. Folks being civil, fair, and objective on social media is nice. A life with no challenges sounds great. But the joy, fortitude, truth, perseverance, and other incredible blessings God gives us always come from exercising faith and communing with the Spirit. 

That communion will happen any time and in any place if we are in tune and have our ears open. Even my seven year old knows this but somehow as my complaining, impatience, and self pity piled up I had forgotten. I was having too much fun being miserable to remember.

And how to commune? It's simple:
  1. Be obedient. Be where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing.  
  2. Ask for it. Pray to have that connection. Ask for the light of Heaven to shine through whomever is teaching and that it enters your heart.
  3. Get over yourself. This is most important. Thy will, not mine be done.
  4. Be grateful. Give thanks for all the incredible blessings and knowledge God gives you. It is the antidote for a stony heart.  
I'm happy to report that after my Stake Conference wake up call I followed those steps and have recovered from my bought of FFS. Now instead of grouchily criticizing everyone and everything (and unfairly at that) I can feel the Spirit speaking to me again on Sundays and every other day of the week. The messages are getting through and even though it takes concerted effort to continue to keep the lines open my attitude in general has vastly improved. 

All it took was a prescription of "look and live" and in the process I learned something I hope to never forget. The lesson was how easy it is to start that slide towards inactivity even when you have a firm testimony, and most importantly that if you do start down that road there is always One who reaches out in mercy to bring you back if you will just humble yourself enough to take His hand. 

Boy am I grateful for that.  



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.



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