Unlike Anything Else

boat2After reconciling himself to the actual ocean crossing and seeking ore to make tools, Nephi’s next step was to commence building the worthy vessel that would convey his entire family across the deep water to an entirely different life.  In moments of uncertainty it is nice to fall back on the familiar but Nephi’s way forward would be anything but familiar.  He says that as he began building the ship he did not build it “after the manner of men” but rather was instructed by the Lord on how it should be pieced together.  I think this part of the story strikes at the heart of the living that we all do each day.  When we realize that we are on the shores of an ocean  we’d like some sort of blueprint for the boat that will take us safely across foreign waters but often God asks us to trust Him as He helps us to build our own curious ship.  Like Nephi’s, your vessel may not look anything like ships you’ve see and you may not understand why certain things need be a part of it but oftentimes the wisdom of the form is revealed over time.   As Nephi’s boat took shape he was ridiculed by his brothers for the unfamiliar design of his ship.  In those moments where doubt was flung at him from many angles, he was invited to dive into deeper attunement with heaven and trust the revelation that he was receiving.  Those, my friends, are the formative moments, where we own our own architecture with God.  And the potential result of those brave moments, if we stick with the building, is a kind of soul-deep knowing that influences everything else we create with Him.

Take Action: If, in your occasions of forward progress, you have times where the deafening voices around you crowd out the whisperings of intuition and inspiration, take note and find a few quiet moments to re-align with Heaven and then tuck those moments of connection deep in your soul, stand tall and walk confidently forward knowing that you and God are building something that is strong and seaworthy to carry you purposefully across the oceans you face.

Overwhelming Ocean Crossings

ocean wave

There was a man named Nephi (pronounced Knee-Fye) who was working to take his family to a safe place where they could live peacefully and worship God.  He sought heaven’s guidance as he journeyed toward this place and God promised him that he would find it.  At one point, after wandering with both his immediate and extended family for quite some time he came to water.  Not just a small bit of water but an ocean.  Like many of us do when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to our forward progress, Nephi stops for a while, camping at the side of this ocean.  When Nephi comes to terms with the reality that an ocean crossing is in his future he does what faithful people do, he asks God to help him figure out how to make it happen.  He’s not a boater or shipbuilder, he hasn’t brought tools or sails or anything to make this job the least bit easier. But he is a believer and in this instance, like in any instance, that is enough.  He shows his willing (maybe resigned belief) in the next question he asks God which is “Where can I go to find ore to make tools?”  Note that he didn’t ask for a boat.  So often I ask God to deliver a boat to get me across the oceans I face.  But the more oceans I cross with His guidance the more I treasure the grace-full way He teaches me to build boats.  In my experience He is always willing to answer prayers for tools once we cultivate a willingness to build the boat.

Take Action: Are there any tools you need to get somewhere in your life?  Tools that will help you face a daunting obstacle?  Tools that will enable you to move out of a stuck place?   I know God loves us and wants to bless us.  With that in mind, identify what it is you need in order to make forward progress and then ask him to help you find the tools (people, resources, education, wisdom, experience) to make it happen.  Then look earnestly for those things and you will find them.

“His Hand is Stretched Out Still”

Yesterday I had the chance to go ice skating with Jessica.  Having only been a few times in her 7 years she’s still a bit unsteady on the ice.  She enthusiastically donned her skates and  I watched her stumble through the door to the rink and wait with anxious anticipation for the Zamboni to finish it’s job so she could begin skating.  Her initial enthusiasm quickly channeled itself into focused determination as she gripped the wall and unsteadily made her way slowly around the rink.  After a few minutes, I followed her out onto the ice, watching her strong little legs jerkily move along as she tried to master the feel of balancing her entire body on two very narrow blades and gliding on a very unforgiving surface.  When she was ready to leave the wall she took my hand and held tight, scooting one leg and then the other shuffling herself around the rink again and again.  After a while she began to let go at intervals.  Feeling increasing confidence in her steadiness, she would move a few feet from me, sometimes falling, sometimes skating and inevitably looking back to see if I was watching.  After a few laps of back and forth hand-holding, I began skating close to her holding my arm out.  I opened my hand and flexed my arm muscles so that my arm was strong and available to her.  I imagine watching me skate was pretty comical, partly stooped with one arm bent at the elbow.  It didn’t matter though, I wanted to serve as firm support for her when she needed it.  She grabbed on quite a bit but increasingly she could balance on her own.  A few times she skated farther from me and someone would come between us.  Other times she’d fall and look up at me with the tears that come from pain (knees+ice=hurt) and question why I wasn’t right next to her, why I’d left when she needed me.  I told her it was because she had skated on her own, she’d quickened her pace.  I thought about God, as I always do in my contemplative parenting moments, and how his support for us is the same.  He tells us his arm is extended, and that for all our faltering moments, His hand is stretched out still.  Just like I held my arm firm and steady, He offers his strength, support and solidarity as we learn new things, as we stumble, as we venture out and gain confidence in this thing called living.  And when we stumble and fall and look up blaming Him for His absence, he simply holds out His arm, helps us up and reminds us He’s never been far and that He’ll skate with us as long as we want Him there.  I love that about Him.

Take Action: Nourish your soul with a prayer today, gratefully acknowledge one blessing and ask to have the eyes to see His hand in your life.

Live your truth

Our relationship with truth is manifest in our daily decisions.  We can think, talk and read about truth but real power flows from the commitment to experience truth each day by choosing to let it guide us in our actions.

The more you live the truth that you have, the better you’ll understand it.

The more you understand the truth you live, the more you will search for other true things.

The more truth you seek, the better you will recognize how all truth is woven together.

The more truth you seek to collect and implement, the firmer your foundation for living and parenting.

Firm foundations lend themselves to lives of peace, growth and stability.

 

This I know. One year later.

Sunrise

A year ago I shared some thoughts with my local congregation and close friends and family after suffering the loss of a briefly held but long-cherished and promised pregnancy.  In my anguish and confusion, I testified of my faith in the love of God and of His patience with my growth and understanding.  In the throes of that grief, tinted with hope, we entered a year where our little family, my body and my spirit have been challenged in ways that have required more of us than I could’ve imagined.  Sustained by a beautiful tapestry of heavenly grace, personal strength and loving support, I can stand here today with a different kind of faith and knowing. There is something about being nearly undone that makes one realize where true sources of strength can be found.  I would like to testify of these true things.

I know that because I chose to follow the Savior in the pre-existence that He has blessed me with a body.  This body is mortal and is subject to all sorts of influences in mortality, some self-imposed and some beyond my control.  Cultivating attunement between my spirit and body has given me beautiful insight regarding my work on earth and the specific things I can learn and offer.  I know that Satan does not have a body and that many of the ways he tries to influence me have to do with the use and care of my body.  I believe if he can thwart, interrupt or distract me from my connection to my body or put my in a position of opposition to my body that He can disrupt a measure of my growth.  I know that whatever gifts I have been given or whatever talents I have cultivated can be used for good, unifying, growth-promoting things or for destructive purposes.  If Satan can offer the primary influence in my life, those gifts, talents and skills are put to use for his destructive and divisive purposes, whereas if I am constantly and humbly seeking to obediently follow the Savior, I am in a position to grow and my growth is multiplied exponentially, along with the peace that I have access to.  I can also serve as a resource to other souls who are seeking growth.

I know that the Savior Jesus Christ is the author of peace which passeth all understanding and that He offers us that peace in the very moments we sincerely chose to follow Him or at the very least hope to believe in Him regardless of where we have been in the moments before.  I know that through His atonement, the ashes that we either find ourselves in or create in our lives can be transformed into unimaginable strength and opportunities for growth. However, the ashes have to be recognized as such in order for the cleansing relief of the atonement to be truly felt.  I know that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price all have powerful and true insights regarding the atonement, the Savior and the ways to integrate those two things into our personal lives.  Through study of the scriptures and my efforts to see the hand of God here on earth, I know that Heavenly Father is mindful of me and each of you.  I know that there is incredible strength that can be derived from our collective faith and our unity.  Like one of my local leaders taught a few weeks ago, I know that the roots of our faith are intertwined and in the midst of fierce storms, the strength that we can draw from each other can literally be life-saving.  I reiterate that I know this.

I know that the strength, goodness and truth that I enjoy today in my life, my home, my chapel and our local temple was set in motion by a 14-year-old boy who was confused and wanted to communicate with Heaven.  I have been in the grove where he offered that first prayer, and I know that Joseph Smith was graced with a view of heaven, particularly of God the Father and His son Jesus Christ, that few people experience in this life.  I know that he received further revelation and that that revelation led to the re-establishment of a beautiful religion with Jesus Christ’s robust doctrine, merciful and insightful answers to mortality’s questions and a clear authority to teach from heaven.  I believe in the power and efficacy of that priesthood authority from Joseph Smith to our prophet Thomas S. Monson today.   I know that my local bishop is a man who receives revelation for our little group of believers here and I am profoundly grateful to be led by someone who seeks the guidance of the Spirit as much as he does.  I testify of the grace and mercy of a God who wants to continually reach out to His people to offer them glimpses of heaven in this life.  It is hard for me that these glimpses aren’t permanent but that they come and go and that there are times of wandering and confusion that naturally result from trying to access heaven from a fallen world but that doesn’t change the veracity of those true moments when we experience them.  These are things I know.  And while the path to this knowledge has been at times seemingly unbearable, I am so grateful for the knowing because that’s why I’m here.

Goodness not Guilt: “…if I had [time], I would give.”

All around it seems there are needs that beg to be acknowledged with at least a loving outreach.  During stretches where my own time is scarce, I am often left to stand by and watch a friend move with feeble knees, or see a sister inch forward under the weight of a suffocating burden.   My inclination is to reach out and respond to these sometimes silent petitions and it is natural for me to preface these thoughts with “I should call ……”  or “I need to…….”  Inevitably, as days wear on and my missed opportunity tally increases, I begin to feel the guilty weight of charity.  I don’t actually believe that it was ever intended to be this way but I am woefully familiar with the underbelly of this magnificent beast.  Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to change my phrasing to “I want to…” thus giving myself credit for the myriad good deeds that happen only in my mind :).  Instead of carrying around burdening guilt for an idea I never acted on, I try to remind myself of 1 thing:

My willingness and desire count for something.  Something substantial, and a generous spirit (even without actions to back it up) is acceptable to heaven.  King Benjamin, an exemplary leader in the Book of Mormon, was speaking to his people about the management of their resources.  In this particular verse, money was the object of his example.  He asked the people to maintain their generosity regardless of their ability to act on it.  “I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” I believe this idea applies to all of our resources, including time.  And expressing the thought this way feels like an acknowledgement, almost a prayer, of a desire to help.

The surprisingly beautiful thing is that in seemingly impossible situations, sometimes a way opens up and I am actually able to offer some small token of love or regard.  It may be different than the action I’d thought up but these seemingly miraculous opportunities seem like a little window to heaven, opened just for me and another.  They fill me with hope.   Hope that even a “desire” to lend myself to a situation or another soul can trigger enlightenment and enabling power.  Hope that my efforts, sometimes sluggish and sometimes spot on, are acceptable and appreciated.  Hope in occasionally finding that what heaven wants and what I want are the very same thing.  Hope that the Savior’s methods can be learned and understood.  And hope that maybe the fleeting times when I feel tethered to Deity for those few short moments or hours are, as my friend Anne Marie points out, a beautifully realistic goal for this mortal life.

Beginning to Build part V

Alma the younger had several sons, one of whom, Helaman would eventually lead the people.  Helaman’s life seems fairly well put-together.  As far as we know, he was pretty obedient and sincerely desired to seek goodness.   I find it interesting that Alma chooses, of his 3 sons, to give Helaman the most detailed description of the moments of the visit with that angel and his subsequent understanding and conversion.  It’s almost as if he’s telling him, “I am grateful you haven’t experienced a need quite as intense as mine, but please understand what the Savior is really offering each of us.  See His mercy and love and know how remarkably I have changed as a result of my encounter with the grace of Jesus Christ.  Share that.”

Helaman would have a son named Helaman Jr. who would courageously struggle though some ugly years with a people who were giving up their belief in the Savior.  Helman the younger spent his life seeking to remind the people and trying to teach his children about Him.   This Helaman’s sons, Nephi and Lehi lived amidst a people who had deteriorated to the point that they refused or struggled to identify and choose goodness.   The world they lived in was characterized by fear, violence and, at times, overwhelming evil.  As they fought to draw near to Christ in the midst of such a contrary environment, they looked to the teachings of their father.  In my daily struggles as well as my darkest and hardest moments, I can relate to the sincere need for these words Helaman wisely imparted to them:

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 on which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.  (Helaman 5:12).

He says cannot.  Cannot fall.  As in, no matter how slipshod our structures may seem to us, no matter how long it takes us to build them or how massive the storm that assaults them, if they are on that rock, they will not fall.   Do you believe that?  I have found myself, at times, desperately clinging to those words with every trace of strength I can muster.  The hope that promise offers is very real.

Beginning to Build part IV

A few weeks back I wrote about the parable of the wise man and the foolish man and the idea that we can do some recreating if we realize that our relationship with the Savior needs some shoring up.  We visited the lives of a few individuals who made changes in the way they viewed heaven and themselves.  There are a few more stories that I want to follow that share this theme.

We left off with Alma,  who would go on to have a son, also named Alma, who would stray from the teachings of His father and the Savior.  This man Alma the Younger, actively sought to destroy the beliefs of others.  As his father, and I’m sure countless others, pray for this soul, an angel visits him and tells him that it’s ok if he wants to destroy himself but the damage he is doing to others must stop.  At this point, after being made fully aware of the effect his misguided teachings on himself and others, Alma the Younger has to come to terms with mercy in a serious way.   In just a few moments, he realizes he has positioned himself quite far from Heaven.  One of the consequences of that is forgetting what the love of God feels like.  In those moments, Alma the younger realizes his own connection to God and in the same moment he realizes how far he has been from perpetuating love and goodness.  He knows he has hurt people.  He knows he has divided souls from heaven and the reality of that thought, as he is in the presence of a heavenly messenger, is almost more than he can bear.   He describes being wracked with torment as these realizations settle around him.  I imagine they’ve been swimming around somewhere in his consciousness but when the angel comes to him, truth breaks the surface with incredible force.   In the midst of this agony, a complete understanding of all his wrongdoing, all his failures, all of his shortcomings, he remembers his father teaching him that there is hope, always hope.  At that point he sincerely realizes his need and desire for grace and then comes a crucial choice.  He would later testify that a simple desire to believe in Jesus Christ is enough to invite the balm of grace into our lives.  I think it’s a relatively easy concept to grasp on a conceptual level.  He offers grace, we believe it, we receive it.  However, it’s so very hard to believe when one is in the throes of anguish or pain or sin.   In that moment, Alma could’ve said “No, not me.  My weaknesses, my sins, they are too great.  He doesn’t want me anymore.”  I think that’s really where we need faith to come to bat for us.  Our faith is what reminds us “Yes, even me, He even loves me” in the moments when it’s almost impossible to believe.   I think especially in our culture right now, it is Herculean to admit defeat, to show weakness, to bring anything less than perfect to the table and believe that Christ will accept it, just glad to see us.  But I believe He does and I am quite sure that He is glad to see us.  We have the testimonies of people like Alma and Paul to remind us of the poignancy of that thought.  I believe they are so intent on sharing His goodness because they don’t want anyone left in that awful, miserable place of believing they’re beyond grace.  But the very nature of that place is that it is lonely and when we’re there, we do believe He’s disappointed, angry and has gladly forgotten us.  We feel buried in our wrongdoings to the point that we sincerely believe there is no longer a way out.  But Alma the younger, who could relate to all of those feelings, came to that moment in the presence of an angel and he says once he grasped onto that thought, even just the thought, of the Savior and feebly reached out for His grace, there could be nothing so great as his joy at the mercy and forgiveness he was offered.   Can you imagine that contrast?

We can all relate to that on some level right?  Honestly finding ourselves in a moment, day, year or lifetime when we have been less than what we’d want or like to be?  Sometimes the realization of this is dramatic and pronounced like Alma or Paul.  Sometimes it’s more subtle and comes over time.  Regardless, can you relate to coming to terms with an overwhelming need for help?  And then receiving help in a personal and poignant way?  This man, Alma the younger, would go on to rebuild a life full of compassion, mercy and beautiful teachings about Jesus Christ.  He spent the rest of his life sharing his glimpse of heaven with people.  He offered his experience, testimony and understanding to anyone who would benefit from it.  I wonder if one of the primary tenets of his message was forgiveness and repentance because he understood the power inherent in that kind of change and he also understood the mountain of challenges that come when one undertakes such a change of heart, mind and life.  At the foundation of his words, he held dear his own intimate understanding of just how much the Savior loves us.   And he knew, past any glimmer of doubt, that that love extends to all of us, not just those who are currently seeking Him.

Beholding His Glory

Moses, a man who had a storied relationship with God, was once offered a view of His work and His glory.  Until recently, whenever God has shown someone a vision of His creations and all of His works, I’ve imagined it as some sort of humbling history lesson which progressed in marginally boring fashion.  As in, Heavenly Father saying “Look at all the things I’ve created, look at all these people, and these people, and these people.”   Click, click, click.  And then whoever is experiencing the vision usually says “Wow, that’s profound, I realize I’m actually quite small and maybe even nothing compared to everything you’ve ever made.”  But what if they’re talking about more than that?  What if those moments of heavenly perspective, had by Moses, Nephi, and others, illustrated not just our existence but our connections to each other?  What if they had the chance to glimpse the way the Savior can help us weave our free-wheeling selves back to Him by loving and helping each other?  What if what they saw were the moments we live that we humbly say “I had no part in making that come about,” the times when we are part of  an experience that simply could not originate with us?  Those are the moments when I reel back with awe, praise,  and completely unforced humility at the grandeur before me, similar to what they describe.  Can you imagine witnessing all of those moments throughout all time?  I love the idea that His work is to help us help each other back to Him.  All it takes is willing participants.

Beginning to Build part III

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Helaman shares some insight about his experience building on the rock and his words are later quoted by his sons.  If you’re familiar with the Book of Mormon, you know that Helaman comes from a long line of people who had solid experiences with rebuilding relationships with Christ.  If you’re not familiar with these folks, no worries.   I want to share a few beautiful stories of people who had misunderstood the Savior or people who had rejected Him altogether, and were reminded of the opportunity that we all have to change and rebuild.

A man named Alma (the great-great-grandfather of Helaman) served as a priest for a rather selfish and misguided king named Noah.  Alma heard the testimony of a believer named Abinadi and something inside him felt the truth in Abinadi’s words.  Maybe he couldn’t exactly articulate it but he realized he had quite a bit to learn about the Savior and he decided to seek Him.  Alma left the service of the king and sought to know the Savior in the ways this man Abinadi had described Him.  Unfortunately, by this time, Abinadi had been killed so Alma had to seek inspiration from heaven as he thought about Abinadi’s words. One of Abinadi’s chief complaints about these priests in particular was that they had been giving the people a very wrong impression of the Savior’s teachings and compassion (sound familiar?).   As Alma begins to glean understanding and share some of his new thoughts and impressions about the Savior with other people,  he gets varying responses but there are quite a few people who are interested in the doctrine Alma is learning.  When he teaches the people, his focus is on repentance (changing and learning about obedience firsthand from our choices) and redemption (belief in our ability to merge with the Savior’s proffered grace), and faith (belief that He can and wants to help) on the Lord (Mosiah 18:7).  When Alma begins to create a culture of goodness about him using the Savior’s principles  his focus is on compassion.  Alma’s ability to convey his thoughts and feelings about the Savior is profound to me because once he tore down so many of his preconceived ideas, he started teaching people one of the most simple and powerful principles by which Heaven operates:

“And it came to pass that he said unto them; Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life-

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8-10)

The principle is loving each other, the action is baptism which is choosing to make a commitment with God to honor that heavenly principle of compassion and work on obeying it.  As a blessing for those who want to serve as witnesses of Him (walking reminders that He and His love are real), God offers an extra measure of His presence in their lives.  In this instance, it was His spirit.  No one forced them there.  There was no compulsion, there was no strong-arming.  It was simply an invitation.  Alma had realized that by loving others, He was blessed with an added measure of the Spirit.  God is no respecter of persons, so Alma was offering that opportunity to anyone else who wanted to approach Heaven.  There were inevitably doctrinal questions, as people began this new life with curiosity, about how compassion is extended to so many people and how to cultivate it.  And there were answers that came but at the core of a disciple’s life, then or now, I believe that compassion is what one will find.  And I imagine Alma had to accept the Savior’s compassion for himself in order to articulate it for those around him.  Alma simply taught the people to love each other the best that they could and they found joy in doing so.  Amidst all the doctrine he was picking up and all the revelation he was receiving, I think he was able to focus himself and others on this most important aspect of the Savior’s teachings (Matt 22:40) because he had painstakingly rebuilt every bit of his knowledge about Jesus Christ as he thought about Abinadi’s words and received personal revelation from God through the Spirit to help him understand how to move closer to heaven.

The reasons we may have to rebuild are varied.   Choices, either our own or other people’s, may reveal to us some weakness in our foundation.  Circumstances beyond our control may bring a need to rebuild to our awareness.  Ultimately, I’m not even so sure it matters why we need to rebuild because in the end, I think the only important thing is that we make the attempt because along the way, all the things we feel and learn about compassion and understanding as a result of our efforts to rebuild on the Rock bear divine similarity.