Sunday, January 25, 2015

"He was afterward an hungred..."

In Sunday School today, we were studying the temptations Jesus faced at the beginning of His mortal ministry. Specifically, we talked about what we can each learn from both what Satan did to try to bring Christ down and how Christ responded. Most of the things brought up were not new ideas to me. But, I was impressed by Matthew 4: 2-3:
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
There are lots of things to notice about the incident, but the thing that struck me was that the hunger was already there. Satan didn't cause the hunger. He just called attention to it and suggested that it become something to focus on and do something about. And he suggested that the best way to satisfy the hunger was by an inappropriate route.

And it struck me how often Satan does that. Most of us have things we want to do but know we shouldn't. And probably a fair amount of the time those inappropriate desires remain in the background of our minds. But sometimes Satan comes strolling along and says, "Hey, you really want to hit that guy, and if you had any spunk you would." [or whatever our particular thing is]. He brings those things to the forefront and suggests that they are urgent and we need to satisfy the desire. And usually throws in an "if thou be the Son of God" kind of taunt for good measure.

Somehow, recognizing the source of those feelings of "I've just gotta do this thing" helps me not give in. Helps me realize that, when the focus is lurching into inappropriate areas, I need to refocus my thoughts and desires - as Christ did by turning to scriptures to counter Satan. Not easy, but somehow easier when I remember that, if I'll put forth my best effort to refocus, I'll be enabled by the atoning power of Christ to put those things behind me. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Back Porch Memories

I was painting a boot bench this afternoon. The task requires no mental concentration, so my mind was free to wander. I was working in our sun room, overlooking the back deck, so I guess it was natural that the mind wandered to the back porch of my childhood. I was reminded of summer evenings as a child.

I grew up in the South. Summers were hot. The average home did not have the luxury of air conditioning. We'd work harder in the cool of the morning and tend to lag in the heat of the afternoon. Our house had a big screened back porch where we usually ate the evening meal to take advantage of any cooling breeze and to escape heat generated by supper preparations.

After supper and the evening cleaning of  the dishes and the kitchen and any other end of day tasks, it was not unusual for my parents, my brothers, and me to wander back out onto the porch. We'd sit in the porch chairs as the sun set and talk. I have such fond memories of those evenings. As the dark descended and the cool of night came, it seemed easy to talk about whatever was on anyone's mind. It was a peaceful time. Maybe the fact that it was getting dark and we couldn't see each other very well helped us open up and talk freely. We solved the world's problems on that back porch. And talked of our dreams and our worries. And just felt the joy of being part of a happy family.

Over time I have come to appreciate what a rare and wonderful thing it is to grow up in a happy family - with 2 parents who loved each other and their children; with my brothers who remain some of my very best friends. How incredibly blessed my life has been!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Guardian Angels

Here it is - almost Christmas and I didn't follow through with my plan to post each day this month with Christmasy thoughts. Oh well. I have had Christmasy thoughts -- just didn't get them recorded. Maybe another year.

Throughout my life, I've felt like I was in sort of a protective bubble. Yes, bad things have happened to me; I have had my share of struggles, disappointments, heartaches, etc. But all those things have always seemed a bit buffered. It has always been easy to see how difficult situations could have been much much worse.

A recent event illustrates what I mean. My husband and I were driving home from the LDS Temple near Washington DC on a recent Saturday afternoon. We were on highway 66 headed west at about 70mph. Suddenly, as they are wont to do in November and December, a deer appeared in the road from the median. I was not looking up and did not even see it. My husband, who was driving, did. Lest he cause an accident aside from possibly hitting the deer, he stayed in the lane and began to gradually slow. The deer was moving well and it looked like it would actually make it across the road OK. But, it was rainy. The road was wet. Deer hooves don't handle wet pavement terribly well. He slipped -- directly in front of our car. We hit him head-on at a good rate of speed. Needless to say, the deer did not survive the encounter. My level-headed husband kept control of the car and moved off to the shoulder. The truck behind us hit the deer again, but he had one of those monster pick-ups, and so basically went over it and drug it a bit, but did not sustain any damage. The front of our little Honda Fit was a mess. Not to bore you with details, we got a tow truck and eventually got a rental car and got home. The insurance company declared our car a total loss. As I was chatting with the claims person a day or 2 later, she asked how bad our injuries were. I told her we had no injuries - not even so much as a bruise from the seatbelts. She was amazed. She said, based on the state of the car, she expected we would have sustained injuries. We got a check from the insurance company for about 1/2 the price of replacing the car. It was a older car and had a lot of miles on it, so we weren't expecting much. Then we got our annual bonus from my husband's work -- which was enough to buy a new car. Hooray! We don't have to be a one-car family. It would have only been inconvenient to have only one car between us and we were prepared to deal with that, but now we don't need to.

Folks often ask, "Why me?" when bad things happen. Often I ask "Why me?" when it seems clear I and/or my loved ones have been spared to some degree. Yes, we lost our car and were delayed 4 hours in getting home that day. But, no other vehicles were involved, so we don't have that sort of thing weighing on us. We were not injured. And we were given the money to replace the car within 2 weeks of the accident. I'm no more deserving than the vast majority of the people I know. In many ways, I'm far worse than many many folks I know who have gone through devastating things. I often have a rotten attitude; I am not very patient with myself or others; I grumble about the things I am asked to do; I hate to move outside my comfort zone.... And yet, I have experienced many events in my life where it seems clear to me that "someone" was watching out for me and protecting me. I am clueless as to why, except that I know I am a loved daughter of an all powerful and loving divine father. And, I trust that He knows exactly what experiences I need - and don't need - in this life. And, apparently, there are still things He wants me to do and learn in life, so he's letting me hang around for a while. I am thankful for His protecting care - even though I don't understand the why of it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Isaiah 14

Isaiah seems an appropriate book to study during the Christmas season. Some of it is clearly about Christ. Some of it even causes me to burst into song (think Handel's Messiah). We are told that much of it is messianic. Sometimes I can see that; often I am just baffled.

I was reading Isaiah 14 this morning. I cannot claim that I understand all that is meant by this particular chapter, but I did get one little insight into how Isaiah could have been speaking of the atoning role of Christ in it. In the first several verses, Isaiah is talking about an oppressor and how Israel is going to be freed from said oppressor. It suddenly dawned on me as I was reading that my biggest oppressor is sin. It drags me down and holds me down.  When I think of the oppressor as sin (or Satan, if you will) and the atonement as the tool to free me of that oppressor, some of the verses in this chapter become beautifully symbolic. Starting in verse one and randomly skipping about through to verse 7:
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob and will yet choose Israel and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them.... and they shall rule over their oppressors.... The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.... The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.... The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing....
 That last bit points so beautifully to the song of the angels announcing the birth of Christ: peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Decorating

I love Christmas decorations. I like the lights,the nativity sets, the candles, the tree and all the traditional items we have put out each year for many years as well as an occasional new item. But I think I tend to not decorate the way most folks do. Rather than getting everything out and assembled on one day, I like to put things out a bit at a time over the course of the month. I like to have the house gradually take on its festive Christmas appearance. It seems to fit well with the happy anticipation that goes with Christmas.

As I was looking over things and planning out my decorating approach in a new home, I thought of another place and time when there were people anticipating Christ's birth. But their anticipation was mingled with worry and fear. From 3 Nephi 1:
...there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled.... And they began to rejoice over their brethren saying.... your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.... And the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass. But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain....
For me, the anticipation of Christmas is a happy and positive anticipation. How I admire the faith and fortitude of those folks who, in spite of fear and worry, hoped on and watched on. In the midst of it all, they held on to their faith. Not an easy thing to do during life's dark times. But far and away the best way to go through those times.

So, as I gradually decorate my house in happy anticipation, I will think of them and their watching and waiting and strive to bolster my own faith that God keeps all of his promises -- even the ones others don't believe in and the ones that seem impossible to my limited vision.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thoughts on the approaching Christmas season

Thanksgiving is past. December begins tomorrow along with the annual preparations for Christmas. For some, especially those with children at home, it is a hectic and stressful season. Too much money is spent; too much focus is put on wishing for things; folks jostle and push to get that popular item while it is still available and still on sale. And good things happen too. Lights are strung; trees are decorated; cookies are baked and shared; friendly greetings are shared; families, friends, and neighbors gather; favorite carols are sung; hearts are softened towards those in need.

With all the hurrying and buying and giving and helping and doing, we don't always keep in mind the birth in a stable that started it all.

In an effort to keep my mind focused on Christ this Christmas season, I thought I might try to post something Christmasy each day leading up to December 25.

So, to start, here is a poem I ran across in an old General Conference talk that isn't about Christmas, but touched me and seems appropriate to the season. A title was not given, but the author is Joseph Auslander:

World, O world, of muddled men ,
Seek the Peace of God again:
In the humble faith that kneels,
In the hallowed Word that heals;
In the courage of a tree,
In the rock's integrity;
In the hill that holds the sky,
The star you pull your heart up by;
In the laughter of a child,
Altogether undefiled;
In the hope that answers doubt,
Love that drives the darkness out....
Frantic, frightened, foolish men,
Take God by the hand again.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sunshine!

For 20 years our little family lived in the shadow of Lake Erie. Hence, our falls and winters tended to be overcast pretty much all the time. Recently my husband and I moved to southwest Virginia. Our home has many windows and I delight in having the sunshine pour in, especially this time of year. Lifts the spirits and brightens my day.

BUT, I also have noticed that the morning sun, in addition to brightening the home, makes surfaces that I was sure were clean suddenly look dusty and little bits of things that I was sure were not on the floor when we went to bed show glaringly. Depending on my mood and schedule on any given day, I either shrug and move on or set to work dusting and sweeping to get the surfaces truly clean.

As I was cleaning our "clean" breakfast table the other day, it dawned on me that the morning sun is another instance of how God uses nature to teach gospel principles, if we will only notice. Just as the sun shows small imperfections in my housekeeping, so too can the Holy Ghost show me those imperfections in myself. And I can choose to pay attention and take action, or shrug it off (I've done both from time to time).

And, just as I lived in the shadow of Lake Erie for 20 years, I lived the first 21 years of my life in the shadow of incomplete understanding of life's purpose and my relationship to God. When the full gospel message came to me in my 22nd year of life, it was much like moving to this light-filled house. I was both delighted with the light and more aware of my failings. And that's OK. The light feels good enough that I am willing to be shown my failings and grateful for both the opportunity to try to overcome said failings and the assurance that I am not alone in that effort. I wouldn't want to go back to the shadow, even though at first blush it seems to be a more comfortable place. I'd rather live in the sun and continue to try to improve. It feels soooo much better!