Know-It-All

Grade 9. English class. The assignment? An essay on something we wanted to do with our lives. The mark? C.

I was a straight A student – how could *I* get a C???

With no small sense of indignation I approached the teacher and asked this very question. His response? “You didn’t use enough big words.”

“Well,” I thought, “I’ll show him!” That night after I got home from one of the many activities I was involved with, I sat down with my dad’s big ole dictionary. I looked up every word in my original essay, replaced it with a bigger word, and dropped the revised essay on the teacher’s desk the next morning.

My new mark? D.

With a sense of indignation rivaled by few, I approached the teacher and demanded to know why I had now received a D – after all, I had used *plenty* of big words this time, hadn’t I? Turns out he didn’t believe that I knew the meaning of all of them.

“Try me,” I said.

Word after word he gave me. Word after word I gave him the definition. Finally, he came to the word ‘repose’. “Oh, that one’s easy,” said I. “It’s what you do all day with your feet up on your desk when you’re supposed to be teaching us.”

I never knew a man’s face could turn so many different colours. But I did get my A after all.

Looking back, there were certainly better ways I could have handled the situation, especially now that I am a teacher that has experienced the joy and frustration of having know-it-alls in my own classes. But in my early teenage years, with a teacher who was using all the new-fangled teaching methods (such as group work!) and with my then-photographic memory that worked a lot better with book work, I felt a lot of frustration. I remember very clearly sitting down one week and memorizing my Grade 5 health book, and memorizing piano pieces came so easily that I often could play up to about a Grade 8 or 9 level without much practice at all.

There is, however, a difference between a know-it-all and an insufferable know-it-all.

My husband is a good example of this. He is a true polymath, a person of great and varied learning. But he doesn’t like to broadcast too much about that. While much of the Western world spends their free time watching television and sports and seeking general entertainment, he loves to study. Besides studying languages, some of his hobbies include astronomy, deciphering an ancient script, and mathematics. As in, linear algebra, LaPlace transformations, and other higher level math – he once approached the mathematics faculty at a local university with a problem he was having trouble with, only to discover that they couldn’t do it either! He writes magazine articles about history, politics, economics, and academic papers on semiology, little known languages, other subjects. He writes fantasy and science fiction novels for fun. There is not much that he doesn’t know something about. Our daily conversations often sound like a lecture hall or roundtable discussion, and are informative, interesting, and just what I love.

I was raised to always strive to do my best. I used to use the results as a standard against which I could measure others. But I don’t anymore. Now I always try to do my best because I want to be the best that I can be, regardless of what anyone else is doing. I was once told by a principal in a school that I worked at that I should try to be less enthusiastic because I was making the other teachers feel bad! But that’s not me – I love learning. I have taken courses at eight universities or colleges, studied at least ten languages, and am always looking for more skills that I can learn – in the past few years I have started painting, drawing, and knitting, for example, and I just started taking some classes in statistics and analysis in educational psychology. Indeed, in my faith we are encouraged to get as much education as we can.

I have had people tell me over the years that I was a know-it-all – and they meant an insufferable one. I know my grade 9 teacher probably thought so, and if I knew how to find him I would probably offer him an apology for the hard times I gave the poor man.

But, I am not a know-it-all any longer. I have incontrovertible proof – I only got 99.48% in my stats class.

(I didn’t say I wasn’t still insufferable!)

The Face of Grief

This was me five years ago.
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A lot has changed since then.

Four years ago I got married…
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and got a new-step-daughter.
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Three years ago, my daughter left.

By left, I mean that she left without a word. And except for one short email to tell me that she was nowhere near the massive flooding that was happening where we thought she was living, I haven’t heard from her since.

No explanation. No goodbye. Just gone.

It’s mind-boggling, really. Was I a perfect mother? Of course not. The only perfect person who ever walked the earth was Jesus Christ. But I am sure that I did nothing to warrant this loss, and that I did the best I could for her.

I gave her opportunities to develop her talents…

Oil painting

Oil painting

Flute in Concert Band

Flute in Concert Band

Saxophone

Saxophone

and interests.

War of 1812 Re-enactments at Stoney Creek

War of 1812 Re-enactments at Stoney Creek

Photography (Self-Portrait)

Photography (Self-Portrait)

Curling

Curling

Lord of the Rings Online: Aerieth the Elf (her) and Edrod the Dwarf (me)

Lord of the Rings Online: Aerieth the Elf (her) and Edrod the Dwarf (me)

I traveled with her all over Canada and the eastern United States…

Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories

Ontario

Ontario

Nunavut

Nunavut

went on a tour of Newfoundland…

Gander Bay

Gander Bay

Bonavista

Bonavista

Twillingate

Twillingate

and, with my parents, gave her a cruise as her high school graduation present.
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I encouraged her to have friends from all over, to care about her family, to savor special occasions….

My nephew's christening

My nephew’s christening

My parents' 40th anniversary

My parents’ 40th anniversary

Extended family

Extended family

Step-sisters

Step-sisters

Church camp with her best friend

Church camp with her best friend

Our wedding

Our wedding

My brother's wedding

My brother’s wedding

Boating with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and us

Boating with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and us

And yet, she’s gone.

But that is not all I lost on the day she left.

I lost my godmother, who is one of my aunts, as well as her husband, her two sons, their spouses, and three children. Some of them not only knew what she was planning, but along with her biological father, encouraged it, and helped her to do it in secret. Some of them say they didn’t know. I don’t know who to believe. And even if relations are ever restored, how does one learn to trust again in people who had a hand in such as this?

I lost the close rapport I had with some of my own extended family. Some because they didn’t and still don’t know what to say; others because they pretend she never existed; still others who blame me for her leaving.

I lost a whole slew of people that were supposed to be friends, but had no kind words to say after she left.

But I have also gained some things as well.

I finally realized one of the reasons why the little girl I was so close to when I lived in Pond Inlet died – so helpful to us in life, she has also helped me in death by giving me a taste of that sense of loss long before I felt the loss of my daughter. Though she is not dead, her absence in our lives is felt every day.

I finally am able to pray as I should, something that was denied to me for many years as a result of my first marriage. After it ended, I would become physically ill whenever I prayed, and had resorted to cursory and perfunctory prayers much of the time. Now I can pray again – every day is a constant prayer that she is safe, making good choices, happy.

I finally have realized – or at least have some small inkling – of just what it means when the scriptures say that Heavenly Father lost a third of His children. Why should I exempt myself from what He has experienced?

I finally know that healing of all kinds comes through the Atonement of Christ. “The Savior’s atonement in the garden and on the cross is intimate as well as infinite. Infinite in that it spans the eternities. Intimate in that the Savior felt each person’s pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. Consequently, he knows how to carry our sorrows and relieve our burdens that we might be healed from within, made whole persons, and receive everlasting joy in his kingdom.”

I hope one day she will return to us. If she does, she will be welcomed with open arms, a prodigal daughter to a mother who misses her.

This was me five years ago.

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And this is me today.

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Church Service Missions

Altoona Pennsylvania Stake Conference, Nov 22, 2014

In the fall of 2012 I was teaching in northern Manitoba, Canada, about 750 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota. My husband and I had been married for two and a half years, and I had taken this position teaching in a remote Cree Indian community for something to do while we waited for immigration to allow me to come to the United States to live with him and my step-daughter. During those first years of our marriage we spent a lot of time on Skype – we turned on Skype when we got up in the morning, and turned it off when one of us fell asleep at night. With little else to do in the community I was living in, I was spending a lot of time online while we were Skyping. One night I was on LDS.org and was just sort of clicking my way through all sorts of links on there, when I stumbled across a page that talked about part-time church service missions. As I read, I got more and more excited. As a convert to the church in my mid-twenties with a nine-year old daughter, I didn’t have the opportunity to serve a mission, so I found this prospect intriguing. I, for one, always imagined that church service missionaries were retired older members, probably married, with no children at home, and looking for something worthwhile to do in their golden years. And that used to be the standard. But no longer! If you have as little as eight hours a week to spare, you can qualify to serve a church-service mission!

You, like me, may not realize just how many different kinds of church service missions there are. Some are full-time; some are part-time. Some require travel; some are at-home. They all fall under one of the areas found in the four-fold mission of the church – helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary efforts, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead. But one thing is clear…if there is something you love to do, there is probably a mission for it.

Do you like taking pictures? There’s a mission for that! Church-service photographers are sent a topic each week, spend a few hours taking pictures, then submit them to the church. These photos are then used by website developers, church magazine editors, the Mormon Newsroom, and other church departments to create and enhance content on the church’s more than 200 official websites.

Do you like looking at pictures that other people have taken? There’s a mission for that! While you are checking submitted photos to ensure they meet our standards, you also tag them so that when someone is looking for pictures to add to a website or article, they can quickly find them.

Do you like technology? There’s a mission for that! If you have tech skills, you could be developing apps and other tools for members, making online games for children, creating music apps, or offering technical support.

Do you like family history? There are missions for that! Indexing, research, data specialist, online support – these are just some ways that you could serve a family history mission.

Do you like helping people with their problems? There are missions for that! From Addiction Recovery to Bishops’ Storehouses to Mormon Helping Hands there is a way for you to serve. And if you have medical training, there are even humanitarian cruises where you spend five months on board a navy ship traveling from port to port giving medical attention to underprivileged areas of the world!

Do you like building or fixing things, talking to people, answering phones, working with youth, teaching, helping the missionaries, enhancing military relations, swimming, camping? There are missions for all of these things!

There are even at-home church service missions for youth and young adults who cannot serve a full-time regular mission!

So, after praying about it for several months and having several conversations with church employees about it, I submitted my mission papers and a few months later was called as an Operations Specialist for the LDS.org Response Team in the new church department called Communication Services. Now, that’s a mouthful!

But what do the thirty-five of us on the LDS.org Response Team really do? Well, you know the little Do You Have Feedback About This Page? link at the bottom of all the church web pages? I answer the feedback. I typically respond to 500 or more messages a month dealing with all sorts of topics. I answer a lot of Welfare, Calendar, Directory and Newsletter questions, and I also answer a lot of questions in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Bulgarian and Romanian – and no! I don’t speak all of those languages! Some of us are specialists in different areas. I, for example, am the Specialist for all the feedback for Study Notebook, whether it’s in the online Notes or the various Gospel Library apps. If you have trouble with highlights, tags, links, journals, bookmarks, notebooks or notes, more than likely I am the one who will respond!

Sometimes the Team is given special assignments. Anyone who is in Primary is probably aware of the Primary Resource Pages. These are thematic compilations of every related article, song, movie, game or other resource found on LDS.org that are suitable for children, and are a great help for Primary teachers and families looking for activities for lessons and family home evening. I was part of the group that accepted the request from the General Primary Presidency to find the resources for this resource.

Another special assignment that I was part of involved checking the materials available in other languages to be sure that the links worked and that all available translated documents were posted online.

And yet another special project that I am involved with is image tagging so that church departments can easily find images. A few weeks ago I sent an email to Young Men and Young Women leaders about this project and how the youth and other members can get involved. If you haven’t seen it yet, please ask me or your youth leaders about it. I strongly encourage you to help out with this worthwhile project!

President Monson said in 2013, “You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good” (Thomas S. Monson, LDS.org News and Events, June 24, 2013).

I didn’t know when I decided to serve an at-home part-time mission that I would be involved in any of the above activities. But there is no doubt that I have had opportunities to be an influence for good. Working with Study Notebook has led to the developers knowing what works and what doesn’t work, and in some small part this has resulted in changes being made to how it syncs with the apps for the over 2 000 000 current users. My work with the Primary Pages has benefited thousands of Primary teachers. I have had online discussions with hostile anti-Mormons who have written to me later and told me that they changed their minds about us and apologizing for things they said. I have brought several inactive members back to church. These are people I will never meet from places I will never go. I have sent countless golden contact referrals to the missionaries. And because I sometimes forget to remove my name tag after church activities, I have had the opportunity to heighten the church’s presence in my own community.

Since 1979, the Church-service missionary program has provided a growing and varied number of opportunities to serve. This important missionary workforce helps many Church departments and operations provide needed products and services, while at the same time, safe-guarding the integrity of tithing funds. Serving others brings great blessings to the tens of thousands of us who serve, to our families, and to the Church worldwide. I invite you to prayerfully consider joining me in hastening the work by serving a church service mission. It’s just an hour a day. You won’t regret it! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Forward with Faith…or The Plague of the 3 Ds

Note: This post was originally written as an adaptation to a talk (sermon) that I gave early this year.

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On New Year’s Eve my husband and I stood on our front porch at the stroke of midnight listening to the laughter and festivities taking place on our street. “Here’s to a better year,” he said. To which I replied, “Surely it can only get better from here?”

You see, this past year was marked by the three Ds that have plagued our marriage for all of its three and half years. Death, disease and disappointment seem to have been the hallmark of our marriage. Last month was no exception. Among the three deaths that affected me in December was one of my brightest students that I taught last year on the Cree Indian Reservation where I worked in northern Manitoba. Not technically diseases, but certainly health issues abounded. Between a bad fall, kidney stones, and a dog attack, things were not pleasant. And this Christmas we were supposed to spend the holidays with my family in Newfoundland, which I was dearly looking forward to, as was my three year old nephew whom I miss dreadfully.

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by the trials we endured in December, and in a way, we weren’t. Those of you who don’t know us very well could think that I was over-exaggerating when I said that our marriage has been plagued by those three Ds. It started the week before our marriage, actually, when a sewage flood in the apartment I was renting ruined nearly everything for the wedding, followed by the loss of 300 report card files that had to be redone, 12 hours of hair care, and a day in the hospital due to kidney stones.

Then we got married.

Since then I have lost my grandmother and other relatives, several friends, and many former students, most of them to suicide; I have had health issues with every major organ in my body; my step-daughter has had ongoing issues with her ears and other problems resulting from the illness of her mother and her subsequent moving halfway across the country; some of our relatives shunned us for a whole year because we asked them to watch a Christmas Devotional with us; my old van literally blew up in the driveway; my replacement vehicle was stolen and ended up costing about $10 000 in repairs over the course of the year as a result; my husband’s car was broken into when he met me in Montreal for our immigration interviews; due to immigration laws and issues, we were separated for three and a half years, not the nine to fourteen months we had expected; our oldest daughter ran away from home two years ago and hasn’t spoken to any of us since. And this is the shortened list.

When such things occur, it is human nature to wonder why these trials and tribulations happen. Why me? is a popular refrain amongst those suffering intense adversity. Perhaps the better question is: Why not me? Understanding why such things occur in our lives is a key step toward being able to move forward with faith.

W. N. Partridge in his book entitled ‘All These Things Gain Us Experience’ gives us five reasons why we have afflictions.

First, punishment is one reason that we have trials. Indeed, it is human nature to assume that our trials are punishment for some misdeed we have committed. But this is not always so. We turn to various means to attempt to make sense of what is happening to us.

Falling to our knees in prayer is one way we attempt to make sense of the things that are happening in our lives. Our cries of woe are further reinforced in our minds when we feel that our prayers for relief have gone unanswered. But Richard G. Scott teaches us that, “It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately…. When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.”

When we look to the scriptures for answers, we fall upon passages such as that of Lot’s wife, who through disobedience to God’s commandments was turned into a pillar of salt. But, as Partridge explains, “Lot’s wife…wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her…. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly…. To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now, to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances and have only dismal views of the future, and to miss the here and now and tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there and then and yesterday are some of the sins of Lot’s wife.”

Are we like Lot’s wife, holding on to the familiar yet discordant past in fear of what is to come? When we feel we are being punished for some misdeed, it is easy to wallow in self-pity and guilt, to maintain the status quo. As much as we do not like what is happening, some small part of us thinks that we must deserve to be punished, or that, as the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Moving forward is difficult in the best of times; moving forward with faith in times of trial, to exchange a known way of being that we can bear, regardless of how terrible the experience is, for perhaps an unknown trial that we cannot, is a frightening prospect.

But, we cannot remain stagnant and expect to grow as an individual, as a family, as a community, or as a nation. One of the purposes of punishment is to help us effect a change for the better in our lives, to be more obedient to the will of the Lord, to strive to better those around us through service. Lot and his daughters learned a hard lesson that day about the consequences of disobedience, just as the inhabitants of the earth did when they failed to listen to Noah‘s voice and the rains started to fall, and the Nephites who became slaves to the Lamanites after the martyrdom of Abinadi. They knew they had done wrong, as the scriptures record that “they did cry mightily to God…that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.”

So it is with us.  As we learn the lessons of obedience, we, too, can have our afflictions lessened as we go forward with faith.

A second reason that we are given afflictions is to help us remember our duty. Affliction is not limited to people of my faith. Indeed, anyone who believes in God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, have taken upon themselves certain duties when they become believers. When we became members of this Church, we took upon ourselves many duties – to obey the commandments, pray daily, read scriptures, bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, accept callings….the list goes on. Afflictions help us to remember those duties, for if we do not remember them, we begin to forget God, and Satan creeps into our lives.

This is what happened to Lehi and his family in Mosiah 1:17. “Therefore, as they were unfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were driven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore afflictions, to stir them up in the remembrance of their duty.” Lehi had been wandering for eight years in the desert, forgot God, and was afflicted. Not just afflicted, mind you, but SORE afflicted.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 121 we read of Joseph Smith’s pleas to Heavenly Father while in Liberty Jail: O God,  where art thou? In Section 122, we read the Lord’s response to those pleas, wherein He asks fifteen questions of Joseph, ending with the phrase, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee  experience, and shall be for thy good.”

When we have afflictions and honestly feel that we have not done anything to warrant such punishment, we should ask ourselves if we are remembering our duty to God. To move forward with faith through such trials, we must fulfill all of our responsibilities, magnify our callings, pay a full tithe and a generous fast offering, keep the Sabbath Day holy, obey the commandments, do our visiting and home teaching, support our leaders, fellowship with other members, follow the counsel of the prophets, and live up to our roles as parents. In the midst of affliction it is easy to let these things fall to the wayside. The harder path is to move forward with faith by striving to do each of these things more perfectly.

A third reason that we have afflictions is so that we can be an example for others. Seeing how others overcome afflictions in their lives can help us to move forward with faith when we are faced with our own afflictions. In Alma 17:11 the Lord says to the four sons of Mosiah as they are starting their fourteen year mission among the Lamanites that, “…ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me…” Can you imagine how those young men must have felt knowing that they were about to have fourteen years of afflictions? And yet, they moved forward with faith, because they had been promised that if they bore their afflictions they would have much success.

Oftimes we are not being afflicted because of wickedness or because we have forgotten God in our daily lives. Health problems, unemployment, family crisis, death, financial issues, natural disasters come to both the unrighteous and the righteous. When righteous individuals are afflicted in such ways, it is to show that even in the midst of trials those who know God can be examples of hope to those around them by going forward with faith.

Although not a member of our church, my husband’s Aunt Anne, who has been afflicted with a very painful condition her entire adult life, is a wonderful example for my family. Despite her condition, she is one of the brightest, most cheerful people you could ever meet. And when her only daughter and son-in-law asked her if they would consider moving closer to them, the first thing Aunt Anne did was to go to her knees in prayer, not once, but several times.  She received the answer that she and Uncle Hal needed to move to be near their only child. They immediately flew halfway across the country, chose a home site, contracted a builder, and put their home up for sale. The amazing thing about this, however, is not that she prayed and acted upon the response she received. The amazing thing is that her daughter lives in Oklahoma City. In fact, when the big tornado was sweeping through the community, cousin Amy’s home was in its direct path. She went to the safest part of their home and prayed fervently that her home would be spared and her husband would make it home safely. And…the tornado changed direction at the beginning of her street. Amy’s house sustained little damage – the worst was a section of fence that fell down. But less than a quarter of a mile away, complete destruction reigned. Whole neighbourhoods gone, with just foundations showing where homes once stood. And it was in the midst of this chaos that Aunt Anne and Uncle Hal decided to follow the Lord’s prompting to give up all they had worked their entire lives to build, to leave behind friends and activities and the very comfortable life they had made for themselves in their retirement, and to move forward with faith to begin again.

A fourth reason that we have afflictions is to prepare us for something that we need to learn.

When I was growing up I was an active member of my Protestant church. When I became pregnant at age eighteen, my entire family was devastated. My minister told me that if I did not get married, my child would be “a sin and an abomination.” I remember looking at her, and with a sinking heart, telling her that if that is what her church believed, then I could no longer be a member of that church. I spent the next several years raising my daughter, while going to university full-time, taking extra classes, and working anywhere between four to seven part-time jobs. My parents or brother would fly the 900 miles to the province I was living in to pick my daughter up during exam periods so that I could have time to study, but the rest of the time, I was largely on my own with her while at university.

It was during this time that I began my search for a church that I could believe in. I knew that I was not an atheist or agnostic – I knew that God exists. I read everything that I could find about every other religion I had ever heard about, talked to ecclesiastical leaders from any number of congregations, searched online. In every religion I found truths, but there was always something that told me that each one was not quite right for me.

One night I saw an ad for a free Book of Mormon on television, and gave the number a call. I spent six years reading, studying, talking to missionaries, and going to church before I was baptized. To make it clear how active I was in this Church before my baptism, I had one brother exclaim, “You’re not baptized? I thought you must have been born in the Church! Well, that explains why I could never figure out why you didn’t have a calling!”

My experiences as a pregnant teenager and unwed mother were very difficult to go through, but they prepared me to go forward with faith to find the true church, and as a result, my husband and step-daughter.

Finally, sometimes we are given trials to test our patience and faith. In Abraham 3:25 we are told that we should expect lots of trials and adversity. Christ says in that verse that “…we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” A modern-day definition of the word ‘prove’ means to determine quality through tests. But the archaic meaning of the word makes our purpose here on earth even clearer. It means to find out or learn something through experience. How do we gain that experience? Through trials and tribulations, adversity and afflictions.

After I joined the church, I, like many others I suppose, had this naive idea that things could only get better. I quickly found a suitable spouse, and after a short period of time, we were married in the temple. Since it took me six years to be baptized, I’m sure you can appreciate that I rarely do things on a whim, but rather study them out and choose the best option. Getting married was no different. On seven different occasions I prayed about it, and each time was prompted to pick up the nearest scriptures and open them at random. I picked up seven different scriptures – at home and in the temple, hard bound and soft bound, triples and quads, old and new – and each time I opened the scriptures, I found myself reading Doc. and Cov. 104:51, which reads, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation.” I figured, hey! this must be a sign, right? Seven different scriptures all telling me the same thing?

So imagine my dismay when things rapidly went downhill. As in, we walked out of the temple, into the chapel, and things start to go wrong. The diamonds fell out of my wedding band. I spent most of the reception in the bathroom being violently ill. My new father-in-law kept referring to his son as the ‘gloom’ instead of the groom. Long story short, the marriage didn’t last long and my husband was eventually excommunicated.

Fast forward about a year and a half. I was living a scant five minutes from the temple, and I spent a lot of time there because I knew for certain that that was the one place that my ex would not be. I prayed day after day in the temple for an answer as to why these things had happened when I felt so sure that I was supposed to marry this guy.

One February day I was sitting in the chapel inside the temple, praying about this matter and pondering again on that scripture…”And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation”… when I heard as clear as a bell, a voice say to me, “What comes next?”

I had never thought to continue reading that verse. I picked up the nearest scriptures and read the following, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation, The covenants being broken through transgression, by covetousness and feigned words—  Therefore, you are dissolved as a united order with your brethren, that you are not bound only up to this hour unto them.” Well, I thought, that is pretty clear. The covenants had been broken, through transgression, covetousness, and lies, we were divorced or not bound to each other any longer, and he had been given the opportunity to seek salvation through repentance.

I was telling this story to my Stake President one day a few months later, and he, knowing everything that had happened in that marriage, commented, “I do not understand why you are still a member. I have known countless people who have left the church over far less than what you have experienced.” My reply? “Where else can I go? I believe the Book of Mormon is scripture. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet. I have a strong testimony in the sealing ordinances of our temples. There is no other place for me to go.”

My patience and faith were sorely tried during this time of my life, but I also know that the scriptures give us this promise: “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me….And I will…ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders…” (Mosiah 24:13-14). The only sure thing to do in times of hardship is to go forward with faith, believing that God will ease our burdens.

Here is the thing about afflictions – the difficulty of the trial depends upon the individual and the circumstances that cause the affliction. And what passes as an affliction for one person, could be a great blessing for another. Take, for example, a heavy rain after a season of drought. For the couple hosting a backyard barbeque, this rain is certainly not a blessing. But for the farmer, this same rain will save his crop and allow him to provide for his family. If we learn to approach our understanding of our trials by looking for the blessings found therein, we can move forward in faith.

Those 3 Ds of Death, Disease, and Disappointment that I mentioned had plagued our marriage? All blessings in disguise.

If I had not had the opportunity to care for my grandmother for several hours each day in the pain-filled months preceding her death, I would not have had the opportunity to bear to her my testimony. I would not have had the opportunity to have her say to me, “You know, perhaps that’s what I believe, too.”

If I had not had all those health issues, I doubt that our marriage would have lasted. For example, in our first year of marriage we expected that we would be able to spend about six weeks that summer together, and perhaps one or two other weeks throughout the year. As a result of my illnesses, we actually spent close to seven months together in that first year.

As Doctrine and Covenants  122:9 tells us, “…fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” This promise, given to Joseph as he lay languishing in Liberty Jail, holds true for us as well.  If we bear our afflictions well, we, too, can move forward with faith with the sure knowledge that God will be with us forever and ever.

Mad Healz

I am a denizen of Middle Earth. What I mean is, I love playing LOTRO, the massively multi-player online role-playing game set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth. My main character is Bellanoria Bontael, an Elven Champion who is the consummate warrior, unrelenting in battle, excelling at melee combat, able to absorb punishment with her heavy armour.

Or that’s what I am supposed to do, at least. Don’t get me wrong – I love Bella. Super, strong, swinging a sword…. but I do not spend all my time constantly worrying about my next armour upgrade or new weapon capabilities. Though I love playing this character, I am a mediocre champ at best. Truth be told, while I love my champ, I love my Rune-keeper even more.

I did not think I would like being a Rune-keeper. Rune-keepers are one of the two most sought after classes of character, along with Minstrels. They are healing classes, and every good battle needs good healers. The problem is…good healers are hard to come by. As I found out very quickly, I was not a good minstrel, not at all. As in…everyone died. Very quickly. No slow and painful deaths for *my* LOTRO friends! No-sir-ree! wham! bang! dead.

But, I am an awesome Rune-keeper. In Middle Earth slang, I have mad healz, man, mad healz. Whether I am fighting and healing at the same time, or just healing because there are so many heavy tanks whomping everything in sight, I rock at healz.

You know who else rocks at healz? Our priesthood.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Our priesthood, when held by worthy men with proper authority, also has the ability to heal when coupled with true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ on the part of the recipient. I am living proof of the truth of this claim.

In 2001 I was a new member of my church. I also developed severe kidney stones. After meeting with a urologist, it was determined that the stone was too large to pass naturally or to undergo lithotripsy, which at the time meant being immersed in a vat of water as sound waves pummel one’s kidneys until one’s entire back and sides – inside and out – are black and blue. It’s basically the equivalent of being kicked in the kidneys three thousand times. I was devastated as I learned that the only option was surgery. A friend suggested that I ask for a priesthood blessing, which I promptly did. However, my thoughts were , “Yeah, right. Like this is gonna work.” And guess what? Nothing happened, except for getting a phone call from the urologist to come for a pre-operative x-ray in two days as the procedure was going to be performed in three days. The x-ray showed that this huge boulder that was lodged in my kidney hadn’t gone anywhere.

That evening I felt prompted to ask for another priesthood blessing, and so I called the missionaries and my ecclesiastical leader to come over to my house again. This time I was more sincere and fervently prayed that I would not have to have surgery. During the blessing, Bro S said, “We pray that the necessary things will happen so that this too shall pass.” As he said those words, I felt a sharp pain shoot from the top of my head all the way to my toes. As soon as the blessing was over, I ran to the washroom, and quickly and effortlessly and, most importantly, painlessly, passed numerous shards of stone.

The next day, surgery day, I went to the place where the procedure was to be performed. I told the urologist that I didn’t think I needed the surgery anymore. He told me that was highly unlikely and sent me for more x-rays. About an hour later, the x-rays were repeated. And about a half hour after that, he called me into his office, where, with a strange look on his face, he told me that he had never seen anything like this, that in all of his years of practice he had never seen anyone pass a stone as large as mine was.

Fast forward to this year. I was walking my three dogs in the wee hours of a wet and windy Wednesday morning. As usual, I was holding the two little dogs in my right hand and the big 100 pounder in the left. He is so strong that I have to use a harness, much like a horse’s halter, when I walk him. We were approaching the main street of the town where we live, when a passing police car turned on its sirens. All of the dogs were frightened by the sudden sound and lights directly in front of us. The two little dogs ran one way, and the big guy lunged the other way. I heard a popping sound as he did so, but managed to make it back home.

With my arm still throbbing a couple of hours later, I went to see my doctor.  My swollen upper arm was already black and blue. Turned out that I had sprained my bicep, and was told that it would take about six weeks to heal properly, and that I shouldn’t do anything strenuous at all and try to use my arm as little as possible, and to come back to see her in two days. I burst into tears – I had just spent six weeks recovering from a trip in the sidewalk where I had ended up in a wheelchair, and was not looking forward to yet another lengthy recovery period. So, I asked for a blessing that evening.

Two days later I returned to the doctor, who looked at my arm. “Oh,” she said. “I guess I wrote down the wrong arm,” as she examined my left arm. “Nope,” I replied, “You’re looking at the right arm.” “But there’s no bruise!” “Nope.” “I don’t understand,” she said. But I did. The bruise was gone. The swelling was gone. The pain was gone. By Sunday morning I had full range of movement again.

There was only explanation: mad healz.

To learn more about this essential component of my faith, I invite you to read this article.

Sleeves Part 2

A while ago I posted that my faith had become so transparent on me that even a virtual stranger could tell that I am a Latter-day Saint. It turns out that I am not the only one.

Every Sunday my husband, step-daughter and I get ready for church. My husband always wears his black suit, white shirt and tie, and is usually carrying his backpack filled with lesson manuals, scriptures, and other assorted readings.

From the window across the street, our neighbor watches.

He appears to be a kind man. Eleven months ago I tripped in the sidewalk in front of our house, and sprained both insteps, an ankle, both big toes, and a little toe, and hurt my knee, elbow and both wrists. Three cars drove past me lying in the street, and bystanders stood around and did nothing… except for our neighbor, who came running and helped Steve to get me into the car so he could take me to the hospital.

He watches as he sees a local man whom my husband graduated with come to visit. Some weeks he is at our house every day; other weeks we barely see him. My husband’s old friend has had a hard life, but then what can one expect when life starts out with beer in one’s baby bottle? In any event, he is always grateful for the friendship that we extend to him.

He watches as he sees Thanksgiving Dinner for friends and family and twelve missionaries from our church at our house and Tuesday night trips to our church for activities and dog walking.

And he watches us return from church on Sundays.

And then one day a while back he laughingly commented to my husband, “You know, you look like a Mormon all dressed up in your suit! Haha! Just kidding, man, just kidding.”

Apparently my husband wears his religion on his sleeve as well.

What we do matters. We knew that our neighbor was watching. But we can never tell who else is doing so. As Latter-Day Saints, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must live our lives in such a way that others can tell that we are somehow different. We must live our lives so that others want what we have found.

Lovebirds

Yesterday I was walking my three dogs in the wee hours of the morning. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blurred greyish fluttering, and turned to see what had caught my attention. I watched in amazement as I saw for the first time ever the mating ritual of the common red robin. I watched in rapt fascination as the two joined beaks, touched their wings together, flew a couple of feet straight into the air, spiraled downwards, and repeated the whole sequence several times before the female lay on her back and was mounted by the male for a brief second, beaks still joined. According to Birdhouses101.com, “it is said to be a simple and short ritual that a person would be very lucky to observe it.”

Robins are not the only species of bird to have beautiful or complex mating rituals. Many bird species engage in elaborate visual and auditory displays – intricate dances, elaborate songs, spectacular flights – to woo prospective mates. (If you would like to see some examples, you may find this site and this site interesting.) While a few species, such as the hummingbird, tend to “love ’em and leave ’em”, it has been suggested that 90% of paired birds are monogamous, and that many species – including Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Pileated Woodpeckers, Barn Owls, Blue Jays, and yes, the lowly robin – form pair bonds that last for several seasons or until one dies.

Perhaps the most well known of these pair-bonding birds is the lovebird, a small African parrot that is social, affectionate and monogamous. Pairs spend long periods of time just sitting together, and develop long-term relationships with each other and their owners, enjoying a good snuggle and gentle handling. In return, they participate in preening rituals with their owners.

In some ways, people are like birds. We engage in these elaborate dating rituals designed to attract and impress. It was not so long ago that humans meant for these rituals to become a life-bond – ” ’til death do us part”. But now? 41% of first marriages end in divorce…as well as 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages. Instead of becoming a permanent bond between two people that unites two extended families into one, marriage has become just another disposable part of our instant-gratification world. With the average wedding now costing $30 000, one cannot help but wonder if the trend towards showier nuptials is a misguided attempt to openly declare that *this* marriage will be different, this marriage will last.

My parents will be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary this year. My mother’s parents were married for more than 50 years before my grandfather died. And elderly friends of mine were married for 63 years before they died within nine months of each other. None of those marriages were marked by extravagant shows of wealth. But they *were* marked by a constant nourishment, a frequent sitting together and snuggling, and a commitment to each other. My father met my mother on the night that his father was buried. My grandparents grew up as friends. And my elderly friends? Well, their story deserves a little more room….

I hope I remember all the details. It’s been a few years since she told me this story as I stayed with her while her husband was having surgery. It seems that one day he awoke and decided it was time for him to get married. So he went to his town square, where he sat all day and watched as everyone walked by. At the end of the day he decided that he did not want to marry anyone from his town, and the next morning rode his bike to another town nearby, where he again sat in the town square. As he watched the people go by, one girl caught his eye. He approached her, introduced himself, and said, “I am going to marry you.” She said, “Oh, you think so? Well, we’ll see about that!” And a couple of weeks later they were married.

This was not unusual. The current leader of my church first saw his wife while he was attending a dance with another girl, commented to her that *there* was the girl he was going to marry, and he did.

Each of these couples were/are committed to each other. The scriptures say, “Thou shalt love thy [spouse] with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto [him or] her and none else” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). They do not say, “Thou shalt love thy spouse 50% and s/he will love you 50% and that makes 100%.” Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition – it’s 100/100.

A lasting marriage takes being 100% committed to each other. It doesn’t take being the most beautiful or the most showy. It takes gentleness, companionship, affection.

Don’t be a hummingbird. Be a robin. Be a lovebird.

 

The Frugal Cook

I was in a carpool a short while ago when the topic of groceries arose. The high cost of food was the source of the expressed angst, and so my fellow travelers were nothing short of amazed when I told them that I fed three people and three dogs and contributed significant amounts to our long-term pantry on $300 to $400 per month – without coupons. And…that I only shop once a month, with the exception of milk and dog food. (With two Shih Tzu’s and a monster 100 pound Shepherd/Lab/Wolf mix, there just is not room to store a month’s worth of pet food in my tiny kitchen!)

I don’t do what many experts in the subject tell us is the best way to cut food costs – that is, to make a menu and only shop for those items. Sure, it keeps your costs down, but I find that this causes people to get stuck in a rut, eating the same things week after week, and having little variety in their diet. I much prefer shopping for what is on sale and creating my monthly menu from what is on hand. This provides us with an extremely varied menu, and my family looks forward with anticipation to each meal. (I am not the only person who feels this way – check out the Shoestring Granny!)

Another factor is that I am a vegetarian. I find that it is possible to eat far more cheaply when one is not reliant on the meat portion of the meal as the basis for menu planning. We focus on vegetables and grains, legumes and a little dairy, eggs and fruit. And we eat well. Very well! We’re talking Cheesy Tomato Soup, homemade Cinnamon Buns, Roasted Veggies and Beans with Cranberry Stuffing, 6 course Indian meals, Coconut Curry (the best thing I have ever eaten!), Eggplant Enchiladas that are to die for…. And all for less than a dollar a serving. It can be done!

At a friend’s suggestion, I am going to start posting my recipes on here. Check back often to find the latest!

Someone in your family works hard for the money….Keep more of it for yourself by becoming a Frugal Cook!

Safe

Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with a child with autism. I was standing in a hallway with this little boy as dozens of children changed classrooms and many adults were walking by and talking – which can be very upsetting to someone with sensory issues. As we stood against the wall, I stepped in front of him to shield him from much of the chaos. “I’m trapped!” he exclaimed. “You’re not trapped – you’re safe,” I replied in a soft voice. He sat on the floor in front of me, smiled angelically, and said with a contented sigh, “Oh. I’m safe.”

It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to be able to spend time with someone with autism, and it brought back many fond memories of my dream job which I held for three years while living in Ontario….

K, who could tell you the make and model of car of everyone he ever met.

S, who came to me reading and writing at a Kindergarten level, and after two years with me went on to high school, and finished with an A average.

V, who had a memory linked to dates – he could tell you exactly what happened on any date you gave him, even years after the fact.

O, who had the sweetest smile and the most joyous countenance.

T, who could multiply four-digit by four-digit numbers in his head.

And many other students who brought laughter and learning to my every day. During those years, there was never a day when I did not want to go to work. Some days were hard – very hard – as people with autism can often have anxieties that result in unusual or dangerous behaviour, but there was never a day that I did not want to be there.

For many, people with autism and other disorders are seen as being different, strange, weird. Parents and other members of the autism community continually struggle to fight these stereotypes, even sometimes amongst themselves. Different organizations accuse each other of being prejudiced or biased one way or another. Even the New York Times has published articles on the stigma of autism.

But none of that mattered to me. In LDS theology, we believe that people with such disabilities proved themselves before they came to this earth, and therefore will abide in celestial glory. Their purpose here is not so much to better themselves, although that is a goal for all people, but to help us become more patient, more kind, more understanding, more like Christ.

How privileged I was to be able to work with celestial beings every day!

As Latter-Day Saints, we have a lot of expectations placed upon us. Our common beliefs suggest to us how to eat, what to wear, how to spend our time, what kinds of employment we should have….the list goes on. Non-members frequently ask, “How can you live with all these rules?” And the answer is…they keep us safe. Just as I shielded that little boy from the chaos of the hallway, our standards and teachings shield us from the chaos of the world – providing safety from pornography, obscenity, addiction, divorce, bankruptcy, etc…. Far from limiting us, these teachings free us from many of the worries of our modern society, and allow us to focus on what matters most – our faith and our families.

Sometimes it just takes a little child to remind us. We’re safe.

My Body is Not a Graveyard

We Latter-Day Saints call The Word of Wisdom ‘A Principle with Promise’. From a theological view, it is simply ‘just’ another covenant much like those found throughout the Old Testament – agreements between God and Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ are a few of the ones that come to mind. Who, for example, can forget the image of rainbow signifying God’s promise to never again flood the earth? A covenant is an if-then scenario whereby if man fulfills his promises, God must fulfill His as well. And so, those of us who choose to follow this Principle expect that God will keep His covenant with us.

In a nutshell, the Word of Wisdom is pretty simple to understand – eat good food and avoid addictive substances. If we do that, we are promised that we will be healthy. That’s really it in a nutshell.

So, what’s so hard about following that, you might ask? Well, The Word of Wisdom is a funny thing. Truly. I know of no any other commandment that we have been given that leaves so much up to each individual to determine for him or herself. We are taught that our understanding of the Gospel is built line upon line, precept by precept, and therefore, a careful examination of the scriptures regarding the Word of Wisdom can lead to further understanding of this wonderful promise.

The Word of Wisdom is divided into three parts. The first proscribes the use of use of alcohol, tobacco, and hot drinks. The second prescribes certain foods as being for the use of man and animals. The third relates the blessings that will come to those who follow these dietary laws.

If one reads the Word of Wisdom literally, it clearly states that we should avoid wine, strong drink, tobacco, and hot drinks. We should consume herbs, flesh sparingly in winter or famine, grain, and fruit of the vine in ground or above ground. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But when we look at each part of it, there is so much that we have to interpret for ourselves.

Avoiding alcohol and tobacco are probably the least contentious, and I would guess that most Latter-Day Saints have no issue with agreeing that we have been told to avoid these two things. Yet, there are LDS who interpret “strong drink” as being *any* alcoholic beverage, while others say it only applies to distilled spirits.

We have been told by prophets that “hot drinks” means specifically tea and coffee. This is actually a hotly debated topic in LDS circles, as some believe it means any tea and any coffee, some believe it is because of the caffeine found in those drinks and therefore do not drink any caffeinated beverages, and some believe it means one should not drink any *hot* drinks. Personally, I don’t drink any caffeinated beverages, as President Hinckley said in a television interview once that he did not drink any caffeinated soda. That was good enough for me. But, in 2004 there were temples where cola products were sold in the vending machines in the cafeteria – I don’t know if they still do or not. Note that it doesn’t say anything in the Word of Wisdom about avoiding illegal drugs… But again, most LDS would tell you that we are supposed to avoid them as well.

These items are what most Latter-Day Saints tend to focus on – the “nots” in the Word of Wisdom, if you will. But there is a whole set of “do’s” that we are supposed to follow as well, sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Verses”. Sure, most LDS recognize that we should eat healthy food, but if we were to follow the Word of Wisdom strictly we might change our eating habits even more.

Herbs are not only good for you, but they are easy to grow and can help combat disease when used judiciously. They also flavour our food, and can lessen our reliance on salt and pepper as seasonings. When the Word of Wisdom was introduced, salt was not a common staple, and pepper was rare. Herbs, on the other hand, could be gathered from the wild, and many could be easily grown in home gardens.

It’s the final three that I personally find most interesting. I developed a severe health issue a few years ago and it seemed like no matter what I did or how many doctors I saw, it just kept getting worse. My patriarchal blessing cautioned me to follow the Word of Wisdom strictly, and I *thought* I had been doing so… Until I reread these “forgotten verses” which state “flesh sparingly except in winter or famine, grain and fruit of the vine in ground or above ground”. In part because eating flesh literally made me ill, and in part because of what I had read, I became a vegetarian. And anyone who is LDS who reads this will know what I mean when I say that being a vegetarian in this Church is very difficult. Every meal, every potluck, every event seems to be focused around food… And most of it revolves around the meat! If it is not a main dish, like chicken wings or meatballs, it’s in the casseroles, and we LDS love our casseroles! Some LDS eat meat because they like meat and the scriptures say that animals are here for our use; others interpret the bit about winter as a statement against food spoilage and since we now have refrigeration it doesn’t matter; and surprisingly there are others like me who do not eat meat because it’s not winter and we’re not in famine, besides for health reasons. There is even an LDS vegetarian group at BYU!

As I studied, pondered, and prayed about the matter, some things came to my mind:

  • I have pets. I love my pets. I’ve even had pet rabbits. Why would I treat some animals almost as toddlers and think nothing of killing and eating others?
  • The Scriptures tell us that animals are here for our use. Animals can be used as companions, work animals, to provide fertilizer, for dairy and eggs and wool without having to die to do so.
  • Factory farming promotes inhumane practices.
  • People in general are disconnected from their food supply.

As a result, I decided that I would no longer eat any flesh, that I would work towards being able to provide my own dairy products and eggs for my own use, and until then, that I would limit my consumption of mass-produced dairy and eggs. I have since discovered that several LDS prophets and apostles were also vegetarian, as were many of the early Saints.

Bottom line? Like I said first, the Word of Wisdom is left wide open to personal interpretation in many regards. And the funny thing is that anyone who followed any of the above interpretations can honestly and truthfully reply during a temple recommend interview that they do indeed follow the Word of Wisdom.

As such, they have access to the promises found within this scripture:  health in their navel and marrow to their bones;wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint; and that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.

But for me, following the counsel I have been given to follow the Word of Wisdom ‘strictly’, I will not eat flesh. As the young daughter of a friend of mine declared to her friends when they were giving her grief over her choice to be vegetarian like her parents, “My body is not a graveyard.”