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.



Friday, February 28, 2014

The Roadrunner

I hit a roadrunner today...

...and that sucks because I love roadrunners, they remind me of my grandma. She loved to watch them at her home in Arizona as they zipped through the field that was adjacent to her little white home. With the smell of orange blossoms on the morning breeze she would sit on her porch and make note of their comings and goings, of the lizards they caught for breakfast, and of which couples were raising chicks that year. 

She was a lot like a roadrunner herself. Fast and sharp and yet somehow fragile, and so every time I see one I feel her nearby which is amazing, because I miss her with an ache that never really goes away.

Today as my little commuter raced down the winding country road towards work I was not thinking about grandma or roadrunners at all. I was deep in thought about something which I thought was of paramount import. The music was up and I was zooming (yes zooming, think the Jetson's car noise) and completely engrossed in my own ponderings. The outside world was merely something to be minimally observed just so that I could maneuver my way safely to my goal.

It was somewhere in the middle of this self-absorption that the lovely little roadrunner darted in front of my car. I was going too fast to even brake and watched in horror as it disappeared under my bumper. When I glanced out the rear view mirror all I saw was a cloud of brown and black feathers suspended in the air. 

“Oh! I’m so sorry.” I voiced to the universe, but it did no good. I had killed that beautiful creature simply by barreling along, I had a goal to reach and little roadrunner had simply gotten in the way.

The situation brought two ideas to my consciousness. The first was that no matter how sorry I felt about hitting the roadrunner there was absolutely nothing I could do to bring it back. I had not set out to injure him but nonetheless he was now fertilizing the landscape because of me. The second idea was just as upsetting, I wondered in the past how many other creatures I had run over on my way without realizing. 

The fact of the matter is that even with our best intentions we are going to harm others as we make our way through life. Sometimes this comes because of selfishness and other times because we are unaware of the impact we are having on people and the natural world around us. Unfortunately, that does not negate the fact that we are indeed doing harm.

This of course is why we need the atonement through which a loving and magnificent Savior paid the entire price for all of our selfishness and the unintentional harm we create. He didn't just pay part of it, He paid all of it and Him asking us to do things like repent, be kind, and improve ourselves has no effect whatsoever on that payment. We don't have the ability to make payment for the dumb things we do. So why then does He ask us to do anything at all?

Consider the following analogy given by Brad Wilcox in a speech at BYU in 2011.
"Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher...Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
 If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn't yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn't see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane."
This understanding leads to two scriptures that initially seem to be in opposition of one another.
Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest
Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. 
I always used to wonder how can the rest promised in Matthew equate with the Lord showing me my weaknesses? Being shown my weaknesses is one of my least favorite things on earth. Just another item to beat myself over the head with. Reason number 2042 on my list of why I'm not good enough; doesn't sound like rest to me.

Once we see that the Savior pointing out our weaknesses is not done to show how short we are falling on paying our debt but an act of love which will lead us to a better life the shame goes out of it. I can know that I am a worthwhile person with flaws who God loves and that He sees the endless potential I have. He does not want me to beat myself up, instead He wants me to humble myself and become a little more like Him with each realization of weakness and the course correction that results. That is part of the rest that is promised.

Just living with our sins and weaknesses is draining but being made aware and them and with His help improving on those weaknesses gives us peace. Even when it takes a really long time to overcome those things that hang us up, and even when we mess the same things up over and over again, we can know that we are doing what He has asked and there is rest for our souls in that knowledge. We will also find that as we try we build spiritual muscles and become more loving and humble. We find through experience that we can trust that at some point He really will make all our weaknesses into strengths.
With the roadrunner this morning I was shown a weakness, a weakness in which I rush though life without paying enough attention to those around me be they birds or people. My goals are worthwhile but not more important than the impact I am having as I move toward them. I was shown that I can be more aware, slow down, and try to tread more carefully on my path. I can save the next roadrunner, I can pay attention to my teenage son when he tells me about the latest video game, I can be more patient with my co-workers, I can stop and be a listening ear to a friend in need. And while there is a great possibility that I have not seen the last roadrunner or armadillo or skunk disappear beneath my bumper I can do better at avoiding that possibility and eventually, with the Lord's help become perfect in that, and that gives me rest.



Friday, February 14, 2014

A Very Special Day

Today is a very special day.

And while the 2% of the population who actually enjoy Valentine's Day with it's gag a maggot PDA's (public displays of affection), stale chocolates, and stuffed animals made in work camps in China, today I offer the recognition of something other than commercialism and people stroking their own vanity.

I offer an example of true love.

February the 14th just so happens to be the birthday of a woman. This is a woman I have been friends with for nearly 30 years. It makes my brain cramp trying to count back that far. We were friends through jelly shoes and Esprit bags, through Jr. High squabbles and bangs that made the great wall of China look petite. We were friends through bad dates and high school milestones, through broken hearts and broke wallets, through marriage and mission, over thousands of miles and kids galore. And now even as we approach the dreaded 4-0 her wisdom, wit, and love are one of the best things of my day.

This woman is the funniest person I know, she is smart, she is beautiful and she is  real. What you see is what you get. Her honesty is as hilarious as it is profound and there is never any pretending to be perfect. She gets overwhelmed at times with motherhood and wifehood and all the other hoods that good women are expected to bear but she keeps at it. She has a drive to raise good kids, and love her husband, be a good neighbor, and follow the footsteps of the Savior. She does this because her heart is gold and she genuinely loves her fellow man.

"True love blooms when we care more about another person that we care about ourselves." - Jeffrey R. Holland

So as you eat your pink cupcakes and read your love notes, or for those who subscribe to the Love Stinks! school of  thought and angrily boycott all the festivities I ask you to take a moment today and think about the people in your life who personify real love. The folks that make your life better for their service and goodness. Once you have figured out who they are then tell them what they mean to you. That way this day of luuuve can have a touch of something true and real. Something that we can look to for inspiration and happiness. The things that really make life worth living.

But for those sappy chums that can't stand leaving romance out; here is a picture of Mr. Darcy.

You're welcome.

Happy Birthday Wendy and thanks for being you.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mind Reader

Being married nearly 20 years does something to a relationship. It becomes like a favorite pair of worn tennis shoes. After thousands of miles run, rain storms, sweaty feet, and the occasional dog doo they are broken in and each shoe knows a lot about the other and how it deals with life. 

The same goes for Buns and I. We've been up, down, and to hell in a hand basket and so there is an intuitive knowledge about the other and their status, it just manifests itself in different ways. Buns has the divine capability to notice when my eye twitch is reaching critical mass from stress and clears the air space around me. Granted this may be a self defense mechanism but nonetheless it works to bring balance back to the system. For me it works a bit differently.

For instance, when I have ruthlessly declared a ban on junk food in an attempt to get our family to be more healthy something amazing happens. Buns will be in a grocery store 30 miles from my office. He will drop a box of Twinkies into his basket. The molecules from that box crash into the molecules of the cart and a ripple is sent out into the universe. Sitting at my desk all those miles away my inner voice, who oddly sounds like Ewan McGregor will say "I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of green beans suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened."

This ability translates to other things and as a result most of the time I believe I know what is going on without even being told. I can, in my own reality, read his mind a great deal of the time and because of this wrongly expect the same thing from him. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work so well.

A couple of months ago Buns had been doing some service work with the missionaries for a Sister in our branch. This service had required that he load a large quantity of his beloved power tools into the back of our SUV. Power tools are to Buns what cheese is to a quesadilla. They are a part of him, he cannot exist without them, they are his other children, and provide him answers to the great questions of the cosmos. 

Anyway, in his usual manly fashion of doing good and then not putting anything away the tools were still in the back of our conveyance on Sunday morning. The usual chaos of finding shoes, fixing hair, washing grubby faces and bemoaning the state of my teen sons white shirts was in full swing when Buns, looking quite dapper in his suit and tie walked out the door to go to early meetings. He of course took the other car.

One frantic hour later I herded my brood out the door and we raced off to church only 10 minutes late, a record I believe. On the way I could be heard grumbling under my breath about the load of tools clanging around the back every time we careened around a corner. 

Church was attended and as usual Buns had more business to see to after the meetings and so I once again headed the troops out the door for home by myself. In the foyer it was decided that we would give another member a ride home since she was on our way. This pleasant lady had a walker but no problem, our huge vehicle could certainly handle that.

Out in the parking lot as my children fought over the candy they had received in Primary and the sweet sister was maneuvered into the front seat, my oldest son and I tried vainly to wrestle the walker into the back of our transport. We moved power tools to one side and then another but no dice, the back hatch would not close. The twitch in my eye was nearing nuclear fission when I noticed the car my hubby had brought just a few parking stalls away. A light bulb went off in my head.

Oldest son and I unlocked the back of that car and unceremoniously dumped all the tools into the trunk. The walker was then neatly arranged in the back of our humble chariot and we were off without another thought. 

The following evening I stood in the kitchen bedecked in a Boise State apron cooking dinner when Buns walked through the door, he was pale and trembling. "Honey, what's the matter?" I asked. Just so you know Buns is not one for dramatics. I've seen him deal with death and severe pain rather nonchalantly so I knew something catastrophic had happened. He replied slowly, "Brenda my power tools have been stolen. I left them in the back of the Suburban and they are gone." 

I stood silent for a minute as the realization of what was going on dawned in my brain. Then I began to laugh uproariously. Buns looked at me in horrified disbelief and then relief as I breathlessly explained what I had done the day before. "Well then" said he "I had better go out and tell the officer what has happened." "I'm so sorry Buns! I just assumed you could read my mind like I read yours." I said wiping the tears from my eyes.  He looked at me with one raised eyebrow and stalked off towards the driveway to deliver the news.

Was there a lesson to be learned from all of this? I'm not sure. Maybe it is that husbands should put away their junk and it will save them a lot of heartache, calls to the police, and their wives a nervous tic. And wives, let's stop assuming our hubbies can read our minds, they can't. Communication is important and we should value what our husband values. If it is important to them we should respect that. And anyways you wouldn't want them in your head, they might find out Ewan McGregor is living in there.



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