Sunday, May 31, 2015

Seagulls Can Fly

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Once upon a time there was a Mormon seagull named Sam.  He was a studious seagull, engrossed with learning every detail of whatever new thing he came across in his day.  He was also very punctual... always on time.  He knew exactly how long it took to go from place to place in his town so he knew the exact moment to leave so that he would arrive someplace at the exact right time.

One Sunday morning, Sam was up early and reading his scriptures as all good Mormon seagulls do when he came across a certain passage that made him scratch his head.  He was sure he'd read it a thousand times before.  Maybe even more than a thousand.  But today it spoke something new to him and he was fascinated.  Flipping back and forth between Bible and Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants and Conference talks by modern day Church leaders he just had to learn everything there was to know about it.  His wife came out and nervously checked her watch before asking Sam if he was coming to Church.  He checked the time and, knowing precisely how much time he needed to get dressed and make it to the Church, he waved her on and dived back into his research.  He was sure he had time to finish up his morning's study and still make it to Church on time.

When he looked at his watch he saw that more than the few minutes he thought had passed were gone and he was going to be late for Church.  Unless...  Unless he went the other way by the cliffs.  There were two ways to get to the Church from Sam's house.  The safe way that almost everyone went that took 10 minutes.  And the route that went along the edges of the cliffs where dangerous winds blew in off the ocean and could send an unsuspecting seagull crashing to certain death on the beach far below.  If he went by the cliffs, he might just make it barely on time.

So Sam finished getting ready and set off.  He knew a little about wind from working on the bridges where breezes got strong on some afternoons and that convinced him that he'd be ok.  He kept reminding himself of this crossing the cliffs and then, suddenly, there was a massive gust.

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What was happening?  He couldn't feel solid ground.  And everything was spinning.  And he was falling at an alarming speed.  All Sam could think about was his family.  What are they going to do if I die?  How will they get by?  Deciding he was going to at least try to break the fall a bit and not die this way, he lifted his wings to the side.  And noticed he wasn't falling nearly so fast.  Then he decided maybe he could slow it just a bit more if he moved his wings up and down.  It worked!!!  Soon he noticed that not only had he stopped falling but he was starting to rise.  And so he moved his wings faster and made it back to the top of the cliffs where he continued on his way to Church.

Sam arrived just a few minutes late that Fast Sunday morning.  He sat down next to his wife just as the Bishop was making the announcement to turn time over for testimonies.  And he knew he had to share what he'd learned.  So he walked up to the pulpit and taking a deep breath, said "Brothers and Sisters... Seagulls can fly."  There was a collective gasp from the congregation and some snickers of disbelief so he said it again. "Seagulls can fly."  Then he related the tale of being blown over the cliffs and learning for himself that he could fly.  He challenged the other members to try... to extend their wings and move them up and down.  Everyone sat still nervously eyeing the bird next to them.  Finally a young bird off to one side put his wings out and started to move them.  And sure enough, he started to rise.  Everyone was amazed and soon a few more youngsters were flapping away.  Then some of the adults gave it try.  Soon the whole congregation was flying around the chapel excited about this new truth in their life.  And they flew down the halls to the rest of their meetings just as excited.

Then when Church was over... they walked home.

How many of us are like those seagulls?  We have these great and wonderful truths, things we are thankful for and happy to have in our lives... things we get all excited about at Church.  And then we walk out the door and do nothing with them.

Why do we walk when we are made to fly?

Story credit: As close as my memory comes to what was related by Doyle Embry on May 31, 2015.

A Visit to the Dog Park

There's a new dog park close to my house.  It's way more convenient than the one Derek and I had taken Thunder and Lightning to when they were about 6 months old... back before things went south.  My next door neighbor had told me about Coleman Camp Park and the dog park that had just been added and after getting some directions from her, me and the boys have made a couple of visits.  Here are some pictures:

Lightning saying it's the best Mommy/doggy date ever!

Inside the fenced Large Dog area looking toward the park's pavilion.

There's a splash fountain for water loving dogs to play in.
My guys act scared out of their minds when it comes on...
And there's tires to climb on and crawl through.
The way Jack and Gizmo go all commando under my bed, you'd
think they'd love this.  But you'd be wrong.  It got a couple of
sniffs and then was completely ignored.

Thunder thought drinking from the doggy drinking fountain was
the greatest thing in the history of ever.

Dog bone shaped bench.  The cutest thing for a dog park
or what?

Mostly they just galloped laps around the park.  We had it all to ourselves...  Lightning kept coming up to me with the silliest happy grin almost like he couldn't remember having so much fun before and then he'd take off again and run hard.  Jack was so worked up over the event that his back leg just shivered everytime he stood still for a moment.  And poor Gizmo whose short legs don't move so fast, wore out first from trying to keep up.  Even at home, I call him Pokey because it almost always takes him longer to get to the door to come in.

After about an hour they were all looking for shady spots to lay down in the grass so I gathered them up to go home and they crashed.  Nothing but snores for a couple of hours...  It was an awesome break!

We'll definitely be going back to this park often!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Prayer Beads?

A couple of weeks ago I went to a garage sale where an older gentleman was selling the last of his wife's jewelry as she had passed away a year or so ago and they had no children to take it.  I picked up a little packet of unusual beads for $1.  When I got home and unpackaged them for a closer look, they were part of a necklace or possibly a crucifix since there is a copper cross attached to the one end.  The strand is broken but there's a good number of beads and I've been pondering what to do with them ever since.

My first thought was some kind of art display for these oh-so-bare walls.  But how to accomplish that?  Then a friend suggested stringing them for a bookmark in my Bible.  I'm still uncertain if I want to do that but I do like the idea of being able to touch them because they have such a unique feel when you hold them in your hands that's both pleasant and disturbing.  I like the elements of irony and contrast and surprise in jewelry and decor.

Besides the cross, there are 8 of these skulls.  Each is approximately the size of my small fingernail and they are VERY primitively carved.  No two are the same and some barely resemble a skull while others look very much like one.  The material feels like polished bone or possibly ivory.  There's probably a simple way to tell the difference and I'll feel silly for questioning it once I find out...  The other beads are a little smaller than pony beads and either dark brown or black glass.

When I came to the cross, I was stumped.  Why would skulls be part of a religious item?  Turns out I was again woefully undereducated.  Skulls have a long history of symbolism in religious art as a reminder of the transitory nature of our life here on earth and the certainty of our physical death.  Very old paintings of saints such as Mary Magdalene, Jerome and St. Francis of Assisi often included a depiction of them meditating over a skull.  Some pictures of Jesus' crucifixion show a skull over the cross presumably as a reminder that He could not rise again and offer us resurrection and salvation without first experiencing death.  And more than a few religions have been known to keep a human skull on the premises for their members to use as an aid to meditation.  It seems a little macabre to me considering the squeaky-clean image of a very nice father-figure God most of modern Christianity holds but a Google search shows that skull prayer beads are pretty widely available today and appeal to a variety of faiths.

This description for a set of Buddhist mala beads was interesting:  "...Buddhists integrated Tibetan skull images into malas to represent the brevity of life and the restrictions of human understanding.  Skull-shaped mala beads help chanters [consider] the inevitability of fatality and the requirement of accepting lives filled with empathy."  (Source:

I find it fascinating when looking at world religions just how much we all have in common.  And this is another example... that our earthly life is short and, while we don't understand everything we are here to do, we are to be compassionate and helpful to others on this journey.

While the idea of using the beads in meditation is appealing, a Rosary is not part of my faith's tradition and it's not something that feels comfortable to me to introduce into my personal spirituality.  (I really know very little about Rosaries beyond they are an aid to repetitive prayer.  My most simple explanation is that each bead is like a place marker to keep you focused on the part of the prayer you are reciting.)  And I'm not really sure what to do with the cross as, again, that's not part of my faith. Mormons choose to focus on the ministry of the risen Christ and the promises of eternal life and see the cross as an instrument of death... a common method of executing criminals in that part of human history.  It's not pretty and pleasant to consider, and it shouldn't be... but could it possibly be more painful to bear than what He experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane when taking our sins caused blood to pour from his body like sweat?

So... if you had these beads, what would you do with them?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Difference Between Heaven and Hell

I've heard some version of this little story before but it's been a long time since I thought about it so it was a nice reminder at Church today...

A man died and was greeted by Heaven's gate keeper who offered to show him both Heaven and Hell. The man agreed and was led into a room where there was a large round table with several pots of the most delicious soup he'd ever imagined.  At each place around the table a person was seated.  And each person had a large long-handled spoon strapped to their wrist.  Each person could dip up a spoonful of this delectable soup but they couldn't maneuver it to their lips because their arms were too short or the handle was too long or some combination of those problems.  So they sat there miserable and hungry and very much wanting the soup that was right in front of them.  When the man turned to his heavenly guide with a confused look, the guide said "This is Hell."

And then he led the man away to another room.  Walking in it was identical.  There was a big round table with several pots of that same delicious smelling soup and people seated all around the table with those long-handled spoons strapped to their wrists.  But these people were happy!  Each dipped up a spoonful of soup and turned to the person side of him (or her) and brought the spoon to their lips.  Everyone was well fed and enjoying the soup.  The guide explained, "This is Heaven."

Picture from:
The gist of the talk was that focus on self leads to misery and we create a heavenly environment by serving each other... that we get farther faster when carrying each other's burdens than if each person has to carry all of his own problems by himself.  Sometimes service doesn't have to be a grand gesture; it can be as simple as a friendly smile of welcome when you greet someone.

I think it's a great and valid point.  Service changes perspective. In my own life, I've seen it get my mind off my own problems and feeling sorry for myself because of them.  Years ago my Mom had a heart attack and was in the hospital for several days.  It was a bad one and things were not certain and at one point one of the doctors, a young man finishing his residency, urged me to pull life support right now and be done with it.  A visibly upset nurse advised me to wait until morning when the cardiologist came around.  I waited and things got back to what was our 'normal' at the time, but leaving the hospital that night I met another woman.  She was crying and wanted someone, anyone, to talk to.  I wasn't sure I wanted to be that person but not seeing much chance of a polite escape, I sat down with her and listened.  I'm glad I did.  Her husband had been shot in a street brawl.  And he woke up from surgery angrier than a hungry bear.  He wanted out to go seek revenge.  And he wanted out NOW.  And death to anyone who tried to stop him...  She signed the order for the hospital security to restrain him knowing the threat to kill her for doing it, when he did get out, was real.  Suddenly my problems didn't seem so terrible.  My perspective was changed.

In the Book of Mormon when King Mosiah has called his people together and he addresses the fairness, equity and spirituality of his reign as their leader, he exhorts them to be good to one another.  In part he says "And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.  And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!" (Mosiah 2:17,19)

That phrase "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" is a hallmark of my personal faith.  The best way I can say thank you for all that I enjoy, and ever hope to enjoy, is to share it with those around me.  Someday I'd love it if my gravestone could honestly be engraved with she went about doing good.

Now isn't that a powerful possibility?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Power of the Word

As I've said now and then, I sometimes substitute for the regular teacher in Sunday School or Relief Society (the women's auxiliary of the LDS Church).  Today was one of my days to have a captive audience!  Lesson material was drawn from an April 1986 General Conference address by Ezra Taft Benson, his first Conference as President of the Church.  He was addressing the Priesthood session but the concepts hold value for all of us still today.

He noted, "We live in a day of great challenge.  We live in that time of which the Lord spoke when he said, "peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion."  (D&C 1:35)  Those words were spoken 29 years ago.  Think about how much has changed in that time.  Both good and evil have grown stronger.  There's less "gray area."  President Benson continued, "...while many of our members are remaining faithful and strong, some are wavering.  Some are falling.  Some are fulfilling John's prophecy that in the war with Satan, some Saints would be overcome. (Rev. 13:7)

Besides John the Revelator, prophets such as Lehi and the Apostle Paul spoke about this same condition in our days.

Learn more about this picture and the artist, Dr. Steven L. Neal, here:
Lehi saw that many people would wander blindly in the mists of darkness, which symbolized the temptations of the devil.  He saw some fall away "in forbidden paths," others drown in the rivers of filthiness, and still others wander in "strange roads," (1 Nephi 12:17 and 8:28,32)  Paul described a time when such things as blasphemy, dishonesty, cruelty, unnatural affection, pride and pleasure seeking would abound. (2 Tim. 3:1-7)  Such grim predictions by prophets of old would be cause for great fear and discouragement if those same prophets had not, at the same time, offered the solution.  In their inspired counsel we can find the answer to the spiritual crises of our age.  Lehi wrote of an iron rod and when his older sons, Laman and Lemuel, asked what it meant, the answer was "It was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction."  (1 Nephi 15:23-24)  Not only will the word of God lead us to the fruit which is desirable above all others, but in the word of God and through it we can find the power to resist temptation, the power to thwart the work of Satan and his emissaries.

Several weeks ago when Katelyn McLeod spoke in Sacrament Meeting she said, "Conversion is a choice you make every day not something you get to decide once and then move along with your life."  At the time I saw it as a great comfort and contrast to a troubling sentence that had stuck with me from a blog post I'd read sometime earlier.  That blog, and I've forgotten both the author's and blog's name now, was written by an active LDS woman and in that particular post she was talking about current church events and some sadly high profile excommunications.  Overall the post was well done and positive, except the last sentence... She said that "leaving the Church was not beyond the realm of possibility in [her] future."  That bothered me.  And it made me sad.  It also caused me to reflect on my own commitment to the gospel and what I'm doing about keeping it strong. I resolved to focus more on the basics: church attendance, prayer and scripture study.

Spending quality time in the scriptures is the answer to the great challenge of our time.  The word of God, as found in the scriptures, in the words of living prophets, and in personal revelation, has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.

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President Benson referred to an earlier meeting giving instruction to Stake Presidents and Regional Representatives in 1982. At that meeting, Boyd K. Packer said "Buildings and budgets, and reports and programs and procedures are very important.  But, by themselves, they do not carry that essential spiritual nourishment and will not accomplish what the Lord has given us to do.  The right things, those with true spiritual nourishment, are centered in the scriptures."  And it's true, none of those activities can be ignored and laid aside, but they are not the most important thing you can do.  In recent years, time and again we have counseled you that certain activities bring greater spiritual returns than others.  As early as 1970, President Harold B. Lee told the Regional Representatives: "We are convinced that our members are hungry for the gospel, undiluted, with its abundant truths and insights.  There are those who have seemed to forget that the most powerful weapons the Lord has given us against all that is evil are His own declarations, the plain simple doctrines of salvation as found in the scriptures."

Each of us must, at some point in our lives, discover the scriptures for ourselves -- and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.  We filter what we are reading by the sum of our experiences and since we are living and experiencing every day, each time we read a scripture we have the potential to see it in a new way because we now understand differently.  "The Lord is not trifling with us when he gives us these things, for 'unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required. (Luke 12:48)  Access to these things means responsibility for them. We must study the scriptures according to the Lord's commandment and we must them govern our lives. (3 Nephi 23:1-5)

During our last Stake Conference, Elder Kopischke spent a great deal of time talking about how Councils work.  He was specifically talking about Ward Councils but noted that the principals apply to Stake Councils, General Councils and even Family Councils.  He instructed our leadership to consider what is the best for an individual over what is in the interests of the auxiliary organizations of the Church.  When we care for the people, the auxiliary needs will be better met than when we put them first.  That same idea also applies to us as individuals.

If YOU do this:                                                  The whole Ward benefits with:
Immerse yourself in the scriptures                     Increased activity levels
Search them diligently                                       Testimonies will increase
Feast on the words of Christ                              Commitment will be strengthened
Learn the doctrine                                              Families will be fortified
Master the principles                                         Personal revelation will flow

Bend your efforts and your activities to stimulating meaningful scripture study!

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and they keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."  (Book of Mormon, Introduction)  To get nearer to God... Isn't that what we all want?

We want it individually and collectively.

In the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew, during the Savior's great discourse on the Mount of Olives, He promises "And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived."  (JST Matthew 1:37)  Sisters, when we pick up the scriptures we hold a treasure in our hands.  Do we treat them as a treasure?  They are filled with guidance for our lives...

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."  (Psalms 119:105)

Nephi promises that feasting upon the words of Christ "will tell you all things what ye should do."  (2 Nephi 32:3)

They are also there to pull us back when we go astray.

"Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil."  (Helaman 3:29)

Success in righteousness, the power to avoid deception and resist temptation, guidance in our daily lives, healing of the soul -- these are but a few of the promises the Lord has given to those who will come to His word.  The word of the Lord is a valuable gift, and we must not treat it lightly... but treasure it.  Spend time in the scriptures.  Learn to hear God's voice for yourself.  Immerse yourself in a relationship with Him.

What a treasure!

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  (Matthew 6:21)