Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Wise Shall Shine

In this post:  The resurrection, Ten Virgins, and baby stars

The Kingdom of God will be inhabited by people whose souls shine like the sun.  (Matt 13:43)  Light is often associated with good and dark with evil.  Is this just poetic or will people really shine?

An angel speaking to Daniel in the Old Testament said, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the Earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”  (Dan 12:2-3)  I’m fascinated by the angel’s description of the next life.  A person who is sleeping in the dust of the Earth is dead.  When they awake, they are resurrected to a new life or to an everlasting contempt.  (Contempt is such a loaded word)  

Jesus used similar language when he said, “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:29)

I looked around and found another verse that puts the state of the wicked in another way.  This one is in Luke 13:28, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.”  I know the bitter disappointment of being rejected.  This verse seems to describe hell as state of being left out.  What I read into it, which maybe is only implied, is that the people thrust out are surprised by the outcome.

In another story, the one with the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-12) there are only five that hold their lamps with oil and all are surprised by the bridegroom.  There are five virgins that haven’t noticed that their lights are gone out.  The verse in Daniel uses the word “wise” which is what made me think of the virgins.  Are they holding their souls (little lights) in their hands?  And when they enter the kingdom of God, is it their souls that shine?

Image used with permission

Paul speaks of turning souls to the light in Acts 26:18.  “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”  He is preparing for the kingdom of God when he talks about the “inheritance.”  Paul hopes to turn souls but really we have to turn ourselves.

I guess I like to think of my soul as a light.  I hope it shines.  I think it probably flickers.  On good days my eyes sparkle and on bad days, they are dull and lifeless.  I hope to be like the wise virgins whose lamps have oil.  I never thought of those lamps as “baby stars.”  Maybe they are going to shine forever.  Pretty thought.

I’ve got a new video that goes into depth on John 5.  You can watch it here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On Real Motherhood

In this post:  the dance of motherhood and being good enough 
“Being a mother is like trying to hold a wolf by the ears,” Gram said. “If you have three or four –or more – chickabiddies, you’re dancing on a hot griddle all the time.” (Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons)  I think that holding the wolf took all my attention at first.  I know I was directionless for the first years of motherhood.  Keeping the chickies fed, diapered and bathed was a colossal task.  

My first two kids were easy babies.  They didnt throw tantrums, they slept at night, yet I struggled to keep up with them.  I did my best, but I was still stressed by the little things  toilet training, spilled milk, muddy shoes.  The first years were painful, because I was growing my mommy wings. 

And then after four kids, I started to relax.  The tasks shifted from exceptional to ordinary.  I began to hold the wolf and dance a little.  I stopped worrying so much.  I grew into, “a mother who doesn't worry so much about being bad or good but just recognizes that she's both, and neither. A mother who does her best, and for whom that is good enough, even if, in the end, her best turns out to be, simply, not bad.” (Ayelet Waldman)  I am certain that even what I do poorly is good enough.  I’ve seen my children be kind, thoughtful and polite.  I’ve seen them do better at things than I expected because I know what I didn’t teach them.  And each year I add a few steps to my dance.  I make a new goal, I add a new project, I reach a little higher.  And the more I reach, the less I do, which doesn’t make sense.  Here’s how Julie B Beck puts it.  

“Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all.  

Some people call me patient.  Its not patienceits just that the little stuff doesnt stress me out anymore.  Spilled milk?  wipe it.  Poopy underwear?  start a batch of laundry.  Muddy shoes?  mop.  I still get stressed but it is less frequently caused by kids.  Now Im stressed because I spend so much time on others that there isnt much “me" time.  Im getting better at taking time for me and letting other stuff slide.

I get tired.  I often don’t have the emotional capital to keep investing in my children all the way to bedtime.  It's a tricky dance that changes as they get older.  I try to be a good dancer but it turns out more like ‘not bad.’ 

Being pregnant changes everything.  When I’m pregnant I slow way down, eat more, sleep more and waddle more.  I have learned to simplify down to the bare essentials.  Usually, by the end, every normal routine has come to a complete standstill.  I’ve learned to accept this as normal, allow it and resume life when I feel ready.  

The shortest perspective you can have is the close-up view of life as the minutes tick by.  The longest perspective you can have includes eternity.  Its all about perspective.  The longer your perspective, the easier trials become.  As you look at your situation, think about creating the life you want.  Dream big.  What does it look like and feel like.  Break down your dreams into small incremental steps from 10 years to 5 years to 1 year to 6 months to this month.  This process helps make this month part of a bigger whole and this minute a vital part of your wildest dreams.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Why Asking is Healthy

In this post:  Healthy responses to a need, squatting in neediness, anxiety builds up, trusting God

My 6 year old daughter started to cry this morning.  
“Mom,” she said, “I couldn’t do my job yesterday because I don’t know how.”  
“What is your job?” I said.  
“Sweeping the kitchen.”  
“Sweeping the kitchen is fun because…uh…you get to sing while you do it.  Let me show you.”

She learned to sweep today and she taught me something.  If she had asked for help yesterday, she wouldn’t have felt sad enough to cry today.

Asking is a healthy response to a need or want.  Murmuring is a toxic response to a need or want.  

The Children of Israel were expert murmurers. “And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.” (Num 17:12)  They were squatting in a state of neediness instead of building the reality they needed or wanted.

Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet, showed us a healthy response to unmet needs.  “Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions.” (1 Ne 18:16)  He both looked to God and expressed gratitude.

Sometimes we need peace and it is the one thing we don’t have in life.  If we ask God for peace in a specific form and He offers us peace in another form, we still don’t have what we want —but we have what we need for now.  If we don’t ask, the resentment or anxiety builds up.  We cry.  Maybe we don’t cry today or tomorrow.  Maybe we hold it in, but eventually the stress comes out of our mouth.  How often does it come out in a complaint?

Murmurers are people who don’t ask, they complain.  

Asking the right question can be as important as asking.  There are children who rigidly ask for one thing over and over whether or not it’s good for them.  Like candy.  If I gave my kids candy every time they asked for food, they would not be healthy.  I offer them food in another form.

In the book of James it says, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”  (James 4:3)  Surely God knows when his children ask for things that would not be healthy for them.  He would not be God if he unwisely gave us everything we asked for.  We have to trust him.  As we ask, we don’t squat in neediness, but we look for ways to build the reality we need.  God often guides us to build rather than coming down and building for us.

Beaver courtesy Papapishu

There’s a great little story to illustrate asking the right question in the book, The Phantom Tollbooth.
“‘Why did you know that if a beaver two feet long with a tail a foot and a half long can build a dam twelve feet high and six feet wide in two days, all you would need to build a Boulder Dam is a beaver sixty-eight feet long with a fifty-one-foot tail?’
“‘Where would you find a beaver that big?’ grumbled the Humbug as his pencil point snapped.  
“‘I’m sure I don’t know.’ he replied, ‘but if you did, you’d certainly know what to do with him.
“‘That’s absurd,’ objected Milo, whose head was spinning from all the numbers and questions.
“‘That may be true,’ he acknowledged, ‘but it’s completely accurate, and as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong?  If you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself.’” (Phantom Tollbooth p. 175)

If the question is wrong, it doesn’t matter if we have the right answer.  But even the wrong question is better than no question.  By asking, we are starting to use our brains.  We are starting to think.  Creativity gets going and we find we have multiple possibilities each of which might work.  

Some questions won’t get resolved in this life.  Many people have a list of questions to ask God when they get back home.  Even without “the answer” God can give us peace in another form and we can practice trusting him.  Our ability to trust him makes it possible for him to guide us to the right question.

Challenge:  Today stop and listen to a complaint and turn it into the right question.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Gates of Heaven

In this post:  death, the resurrection, Christ's redemption

My grandma just died.  I will never hear her laugh again in this life.  It makes me sad to think of all the things I would like to tell her and now she's gone.

Many prophets have foretold a day when all shall see the salvation of the Lord.  The dead will become immortal and they will be brought to stand before the bar of God.

Isaiah wrote a hymn about the resurrection, the process whereby souls become immortal, in Isaiah 26.  He called for the gates of heaven to open.  He spoke of the peace ordained for those in whose hearts the Lord has worked.  He said the Earth shall "cast out the dead" and they shall "arise."

My artwork depicting the Gates of Heaven spoken of in Isaiah

I have hope that in the resurrection I will see my grandma again clothed in immortality.  The grave has no sting because the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.

Christ is the only one who offers eternal life to us.  His great personal sacrifice paid for our sins, mistakes and pain.  He broke the bands of death and hell.  We are redeemed.  We must depart from our sins and com to him for mercy to accept that redemption.  We must give up our fleshly lusts and desires.  We have to follow him to green pastures and still waters.  As we spend time in righteousness our character changes and we become closer to what he wants us to be.

My spirituality makes the loss of my grandmother bearable because I have hope in the literal resurrection.  These beliefs also motivate me to depart from sin and follow Christ's teachings.  

I echo Isaiah who said, "O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name and to the remembrance of thee.  With my soul I have desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early." (Isaiah 26:8-9)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mending a Rift with Family

I wrote recently about how a rift with God affects spirituality.  In this post I’d like to address how rifts with family members affect spirituality.

Image Courtesy:  American Gateways

In my own extended family rifts have formed over people leaving the family religion, finances when living arrangements were shared, a divorce which affected children negatively, finances when one member needed help, an addiction, and marital discord to mention a few. 

One of the effects I’ve observed is that no one wants to talk about the situation because of the conflict that arises.  Some families avoid arguing.  Others argue in colorful outbursts.  I agree with Troy Dunn who said, “time heals almost no wounds.  What heals a wound is good treatment.  That doesn’t come from sitting there, waiting.”

In my own life I have seen how wounds that don’t get aired out fester.  It is hiding the truth about our soul wounds that impedes our growth.  I like how the hymn states it, 

Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can't see.

In a Deseret News article Charles Randall Paul was quoted as saying, “Take turns talking not about the problem, but ‘how I got to where I am’ with respect to each other or the issue.  A boy who left his mother’s church should not talk about his religious beliefs, but how he reached them.  The honesty and emotion of sharing usually crumble part of the wall separating people.  The potential for healing is in sharing and feeling listened to, confided in, trusted.”  I liked this quote because it identifies the “right question” to ask when seeking to resolve conflict.

Arguments are over the theology, the finances or the details.  I don’t think it is productive to argue about anything.  It is important to hear how another person viewed the events.  Often the same event is viewed differently by people who experienced it together.

Recently I had a mending conversation with a family member.  I learned that without our families we wouldn’t know our imperfections (or what needs to be fixed).  It is tempting to me to try to find peace by isolating myself from others.  While there is potential for happiness in solitude, I believe that the greatest happiness we will ever know will be in our family relationships.

Spirituality is harder in a climate of conflict.  We turn to God in conflict for comfort and guidance.  We often can’t feel peace during these times and spirituality helps.  Some of us turn to numbing agents like drugs and alcohol.  The peace we need is the warm reassurance that everything will be all right in the end.  God can give us that.  As we resolve conflicts we gain confidence that a happy ending is possible.  

Spirituality is a tool for solving problems.  The more we use the tool, the better we get at using it.   I think that spirituality is a healthy way to address life’s problems.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Vision Questing

Few people set goals and then hold themselves accountable to those goals.  I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’m pretty lenient with myself.  I let myself slide because it’s easier than taking the high road.

If few people set goals for their lives then fewer people ask God what their goals should be.  In Isaiah, it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”  If my ideas are good, they are probably miles away from God’s idea of the direction I should take for my life.

In a class I took, the mentor talked about goals as the vision I have for my life.  She shared with us a quote from the book Grandfather by Tom Brown Jr, “A man not living his vision is living death.”  If it's “my vision” then it represents “my goals.”  But if it’s a vision from God it’s always a “call to action.”  And running from a call is like Jonah and the whale.  The call doesn’t go away, the called one does.

A “call to action” or “vision” is a special kind of goal because it comes from the mind of God.  Let’s talk about people who have received a call.

Abraham received a call in Genesis 12, “Get thee out of they country and from thy kindred and from thy father’s house unto a land that I will show thee…”  His submission showed that he was open to receiving further knowledge from the mind of God.

Moses and the Burning Bush (Angel not shown)

Moses records his call in Exodus 3.  He went into the wilderness and an angel appeared to him in a burning bush.  When God called, Moses said, “Here am I.”  And after hearing the mind of God, Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh…?”  He questioned his qualifications and God basically said, “I will go with you.”

Stalking Wolf received his call in the wilderness too.  From the book Grandfather, I quote again, “He told Grandfather that the vision and the spirit had guided him toward a path he must take.  To follow his vision he must first spend ten winters training to become a scout, one of the most powerful positions in the tribe.  He must then abandon this path for another ten winters and seek the path of a shaman and healer.  And finally, Coyote told him, he would have to leave his people and wander alone for sixty more winters, seeking vision and knowledge, until his vision was reality.”  p.11

A vision quest is not a thing for the ancients only.  A vision quest can be done by anyone who desires to receive a call and is prepared to accept it.  It requires the use of all your sensing abilities — observing, feeling, reasoning, listening and submitting to the mind of God.

So I was in the wilderness this past month and I left my kids in the care of my husband and went on a vision quest.  I wandered into the wilderness and and I asked God to help me understand what He wants me to do.  For some, this takes hours of pondering and prayer.  I was limited to two hours.  I received my vision in the last five minutes of the two hours and it was only part of the mind of God.  Like Abraham, God said *essentially* “I will show thee” the land, but for now, know that I have been preparing you for a great work.  I was blessed and strengthened by receiving this “vision” and I consider the thoughts God gave me to be sacred.

I encourage you to consider the possibility that God has a mission for you to fulfill on this Earth and that you can receive a “vision” of it if you prepare and ask in a place that is conducive to feeling and listening.  To read more about vision questing, check out this article at School of Lost Borders entitled, What is a Vision Quest and Why do one?