Beginning to Build part II

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to even think about, let alone begin rebuilding after investing so much in our original endeavors.  And it can be intimidating to begin construction next to someone else when we’ve so recently experienced such a loss.  I think this is especially true as we’re all trying to work out the exact dimensions of the Rock and encourage each other along.  But this life seems to be about the commitment to re-build.  Each time our structure falters or part of it fails because it ended up on more sand than rock, we have choices to make.  No one is making us rebuild.  We are all just learning how to build and trying to find the surest place to do it.  When we make mistakes, do we pretend the foundational weakness is an illusion?  Do we berate ourselves for our initial site selection?  Or do we simply learn and re-build on a surer foundation?  It seems important to remind ourselves of the value of failure here because once we realize what doesn’t hold up we have the opportunity to know, not just believe, but know, what does.   At that critical juncture, the Savior offers us the assurance that there is, indeed a solid place to settle our vulnerable selves.  If we continue our sincere efforts to seek Him we will find Him.  Will we salvage the pieces of our previous dwellings and seek to find refuge on that Rock?

I believe that the Savior visited other people of the House of Israel after His ascension to heaven.  He repeatedly spoke to the Jews about the other sheep in His fold (Matt 15:24, John 10:16).  I think He was referring to the lineage of the Jacob (Israel), His chosen people.  The descendants of Jacob’s 12 sons were scattered during Jerusalem’s long sometimes disobedient and battered history.   This is something that was prophesied beginning with Moses (Deut. 4:27Ezek 6:8, Hosea 9:17, etc),  and I believe the Savior references those lost folks when he is speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem.  I believe that the Book of Mormon contains testimonies and histories of some of those descendants of Israel, many from Joseph’s lineage who ended up across the ocean.  These people maintained some of the records of the Jews and were able to keep a record of their own as they continued to seek Christ.  Many of their stories have correlates in the Holy Land and the Book of Mormon documents some beautiful teachings and experiences that help me understand the Savior better.  When Jesus Christ said He needed to visit those other sheep, I believe He went to His chosen people all over the world.  I am grateful for the record I have of His visit to these descendants of Israel in the Americas.  After visiting with the people for several days, He institutes the sacrament with the disciples He has asked to be leaders and then he shares these thoughts with them:

And when the disciples had done this [partaken of bread and water symbolizing the promise to remember the Savior], Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.

And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me.  And if ye do always remember me, ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.

And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things.  And if ye shall always do these things, blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.

But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them. (3 Nephi 18:10-13, emphasis added)

The Savior shares this familiar counsel with the people after a day of healing the sick, after praying with and for the people and blessing each of their children.  These events are recorded in the previous chapter, 3 Nephi 17, which offers some of the most touching scenes I’ve ever encountered about the Savior.  It was after those interactions that the people said this:

And after this manner do they bear record: They eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;

And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.  (3 Nephi 17:16-18)

It was after this experience that He asked the people to simply remember Him.  Remember how He had cared for Him.  Remember how they had felt in His presence, after there could be no doubt of His love and after they had felt so abundantly of His spirit.  Doubtless they were wondering how on earth to carry that goodness with them into their lives after He was gone.  He told them they had but to remember Him and seek Him to be blessed with His spirit and have a portion of that presence back with them.  There would be other counsel and other steps that would help them draw ever nearer to Him but that was and always has been His foundational instruction.

So many years, commandments and scriptural interpretations later, I sometimes have a hard time conjuring up a simply loving and compassionate Christ.  When He asks me to remember Him, I often assume that He is only offering disappointed condescension and sympathetic pity for my poor mortal self, continually mired in shortcomings.  But in reality I think the records we have from people who have truly known Him point to something different.  He’s laying out sincerity, love, understanding and compassion.  That’s the place where He’s inviting all of us to participate in the process of building something amazing.


Always Never

When we were first married, I would aggravate RJ to no end with my educational background in marriage and family.  On more occasions than not, he would graciously stop arguing long enough for me to play defense and referee and inform him about the proper ways to conduct a marital discussion.  One of the things that I always blew the whistle on was the use of the words “always” and “never.”  I was not going to stand idly by and have myself accused of doing something off-putting with that kind of consistency because there are very few instances when I can muster it purposefully.  After a number of years, I learned to change my tactics and ask “Are you sure I do that ALL the time?  When was the last time?” or “Could we please just discuss this current interaction?” instead of stopping him mid-sentence to call a foul on his word choice.   And now, with the space between those types of discussions becoming greater and greater,  I think this good man has patiently learned to live with my recurring shortcomings.  Most of the time.  The point is, those are words that I generally avoid when describing traits or interactions because, at least for me, it’s usually disappointing or unrealistic to expect that kind of steadiness from myself or mortality and her occupants.

However, when it comes to Heaven’s employment of the words “always” and “never,” I tend to grasp onto them with intense devotion because I desperately appreciate being able to count on some spiritual steadiness in my ever-shifting life.  Paul’s closing lines about charity give me pause every time I read them.  He says this “…charity never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there by knowledge, it shall vanish away. ”

And then, from another man in a book of scripture I love dearly:  “Wherefore my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth.  Wherefore cleave unto charity which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail-but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”  My favorite thing this book of scripture are the people who testify of the Savior.  Their individuality is striking and I appreciate their words, which complement the unique voices in the Old and New Testament, as people who enjoyed relationships with Jesus Christ.  Moroni wrote those last words and he was a man who lived to witness the self-destruction of an entire society of people.  He watched his peers either die in a winner-take-all battle or dwindle in spirit and he shares his perspective on charity after witnessing all of this.  His was the gracious gift to become closely and personally acquainted with the Savior in the midst of a sometimes horrific life.  Like many people who come to charity after from harshness, he has striking ideas to share about how to love and be loved.   His words echo Paul’s as they both bring to light the endurance that charity engenders.  In the dark and sometimes shameful places of my life this promise, that charity would see me through, was the only candle I could make it and it has yet to fail me.