27 July 2009

Magnifying Callings

How many times has this happened to you?

It's a Saturday night, and you're enjoying your evening. You're with excellent company doing exactly what you love to do. You haven't a care in the world and your day has been nothing but exciting, despite your sleep-deprived state. You're hours and miles away from the internet, and it feels good to be unplugged for once. You're with friends your age, and none of them are family. In a word, you're completely and totally relaxed.

DON'T DO IT!
Then the phone rings. It's the Relief Society president. She's sorry it's so short notice, but she wants to know if you can teach the lesson tomorrow. It's Lesson 37--Charity, the Pure Love of Christ...

Wait a second, you think to yourself, Why does that sound familiar? Lemme think a minute. OH YEAH! That's the lesson you were looking at in the manual two weeks ago and the Spirit told you to start preparing it. And again last week. And again right now. Dang.


"Sure! I would be more than glad to teach it."

You then realize that you just committed to preparing a lesson when you're six hours away from home, have no manual (in fact, you specifically remember that you left your manual at the church,) and the only reason you have the scriptures is because you keep a small quadruple combination in your purse pretty much at all times. (Yeah, did I mention that you're a dork?)

What do you do? Panic? Pray? Prepare frantically using a friend's blackberry to see the manual, scribbling what you want from it verbatim into your journal, along with lots of scriptures--to be assembled later? All of the above?

Well, maybe this doesn't happen to you. Maybe you're wise enough to heed the guidance and promptings of the Spirit so you aren't racing to do as much work as you can before the sun goes down and the Hill Cumorah Pageant starts. Maybe you've learned, as I seem to be learning, that building Zion is a full time job that never stops after a certain point in your spiritual development. Maybe you're right there with me, trying to give your all to see His kingdom shine in the eyes of His children.

Or maybe this is just a part of the process of becoming a wise virgin--drop by drop as you not only excel, but learn what NOT to do, and are blessed with the wisdom on how to make things right and do things better. Maybe that's the part of the story I missed--learning that to be chastised is just as important as succeeding in life.

But that's the great and glimmering gem that comes from insight through hindsight. At the time, I pretty much was alternating through self-denigration, sheer panic, and frantic scribbling of more notes and material than I was ever going to get through in one Relief Society lesson, but we're getting to that.

Eventually, I decided that I had made all the notes I would need in order to later assemble the lesson I was envisioning in my head. I decided to get back to enjoying the Pageant and being in Palmyra with great friends that definitely know how to come to your rescue when you need them most.

We had a great time. We left as soon as Pageant ended, laughed once more at the anti-Mormon protesters as we were leaving, and began the 356 mile journey back home. I had decided that my plan of attack would be to sleep in the car, finish my lesson upon returning home, get ready for church, attend the Single's ward, teach my lesson, go to my bishop's house with the rest of my ward like we do pretty much every Sunday, and NOT die of exhaustion in the process.

If I recall correctly, it was just after 6AM when we pulled up to my place. And with the addition of a two hour nap, what I planned for is essentially how everything played out.


 Which isn't to say that everything went smoothly. I didn't finish (not that I had a stopping place in mind, so I'm not sure how I was judging that), but I successfully printed what I had as I was running out the door and continued scribbling more notes and a few additional scriptures on my lesson plan through Sacrament Meeting. I found a REAL gem in 1 Peter 1 that I didn't actually get to because I ran out of time. But I did my best, there were no awkward gaps, and I still managed to run over my time--as usual. The quality of the lesson was my usual, meaning (I would hope) the best I have to offer.

And yet, it was the first time that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get comfortable up there. I usually find my groove and I enjoy every minute of being up in front of those I'm teaching, but that didn't happen. The fact that I took a detour in the middle of it really caught me off guard, and I was beginning to wonder if I hadn't had the Spirit from the word Go, I was so uncomfortable. And if I didn't have the spirit, how could I have possibly taught anyone anything about charity? I wanted so badly to do a good job, and I felt as if all I had done was expected too much of myself at the expense of everyone else's meeting.

Seeing as I was entirely too sleep deprived, my ability to trust my own spiritual perception was non-existent. So I did what I always do when I'm that far out of my mind.

I prayed. I asked for forgiveness in not heeding the voice of the Spirit weeks ago. I asked if my efforts had been sufficient, if I had properly honored the responsibility I bear in His name as a teacher of His precious children. What I asked, in my heart of hearts, is if I had disappointed Him.

I have found that any lesson you give will only be as good as what you learned about your subject in the process. And when it comes to charity, I seem to have this really sophisticated (and probably wrong) expectation of what it means for me to be worthy of His forgiveness and love. Seeing as I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, I didn't exactly have a lot of time to work through my understanding of God's love. But now I see that this was the only way I was ever going to understand His answer.

Right after I said my prayer, I spoke to someone briefly. She left a simple message for me--that she had enjoyed my lesson, and that it had meant something to her. Then she was gone.

Charity... I put hours of hurried work into a lesson that one faithful sister was able to express to me in 30 seconds simply by saying thank you. She answered my prayer, and was nothing less than an angel to me when I needed one most. And it was through her that I began to understand the unadorned truth about charity--the heart of God's matter when it comes to His children.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that infinity could ever be that simple.

23 July 2009

The Hill Cumorah Pageant

So if you asked me to pick a favorite part of my Palmyra trip, it would be impossible for me to do because from start to finish, the experience was better than I could have asked for.

Samantha and two others from my single's ward made the trip up to Palmyra last Friday night. It didn't take long to see that the trip was going to be top notch because there's NO end to the fun you can have in an enclosed space with humorous company. High speeds don't hurt either, in my opinion.

We didn't arrive at the campsite until 1 in the morning, at which point we set up two tents--a 10 foot by 10 foot tent for the three females (affectionately referred to as "the harem") and the "baby tent" at its door for the guy who drove us. He protested against the name because he says he has a smaller tent, but you should have seen it. It was, in fact, a baby tent.





The next morning, we spent the day touring every site we could find--and even a few we couldn't (as was the case with the Martin Harris farmhouse.) We started with the Book of Mormon printing site. It was that one that really resonated with me the most for some reason. The reality of what happened there wasn't lost on me, and I could feel that the sister missionary's testimony was true. She mentioned that the process of printing the Book of Mormon (a rather long and detailed process) could be likened unto the growth of a testimony, and I had never thought of it like that before. It made a lot of sense to me though, and it's an analogy I'll probably hold onto for future reference/ use.




After the Grandin print shop, we went to the Smith farm. It was a beautiful day outside, which we commented on repeatedly. There was an elderly sister that passed us and pointed out that off to our left we could see the Palmyra temple.



She made a comment that it's easier to notice things like that when we aren't so busy talking to each other. As I think about how much more I could have taken away from the trip had I not been jabbering on so incessantly or so worried about taking pictures, I kind of wish I would have taken her advice to heart.

We didn't do any of the tours at the Sacred Grove or the Smith farm. As we walked through the Sacred Grove, we debated and speculated about where we thought it was. There are a series of circular paths, none of which make any particular spot stand out as the Site of the First Vision. I was a little disappointed about that. We did take a little detour off of one path which, in hindsight, seems to be pretty promising based on the artwork behind the Christus in the Hill Cumorah Visitor's Center--but I suppose I'll never know. At least, not in this life.

As we were leaving, we saw this. Note the front license plate.


We then made our way over to the Palmyra temple. As is my tradition, I took a ton of pictures. Considering it was the second temple I've been to in the past week, I decided I needed to get a map and start marking off the ones I get to see. I would love to have the means to someday see them all--but I would also love for them to continue to grow in number so as to make that pretty much impossible. The Palmyra temple is gorgeous in it's own right. I was only there briefly, but its beauty is hard to miss.





We then decided to go find Alvin Smith's grave. That required quite a bit more savviness than we actually possessed between the four of us, so we enlisted the help of Google. The directions did not improve. (For future reference, his grave is on the hill across the street from the Catholic church)

We managed to find the Martin Harris farm site by accident in the process of turning around to go find Alvin Smith's grave. We eventually did find it, left to go get some crayons to do grave rubbings, and returned. In the five minutes we were there, we accumulated a ridiculous number of mosquito bites. Needless to say, the grave of the Prophet's beloved older brother is well protected.

We returned to the LDS bookstore at my request, and I just had to take a picture of the anti-Mormon truck. (Waste your time on that website if you wish. The people that were there that day, from what I'm told, were hired actors that certainly wouldn't.)


I wonder how many starving children could have been fed with the money that was spent on that truck. One of the mysteries of the Kingdom, I suppose.


We eventually made our way over to the Hill Cumorah. And let me tell you, it's a BIG hill. I won't lie, it winded me. But this statue of Moroni was impressive. I've never seen it or anything like it before.



We rejoined one of our friends at the bottom of the hill. We were sitting there comfortably and happily when I got a really FUN phone call.

"Hello... oh I'm just fine!... What's that?... You need me to teach tomorrow?... SURE!... I mean, I'm in Palmyra right now, but I should make it back in time to teach tomorrow... Great!... OK, enjoy your evening. Buh-bye."

Why did I do that? Because Heavenly Father told me two weeks ago that I was going to be teaching that lesson, and I couldn't bring myself to say no because of it. He had given me plenty of notice, and it was my fault I hadn't yet prepared.

The guy who came with us (affectionately nickname "Mom" by this point because of how prepared he was for our lack of being prepared) let me use the manual on his blackberry to start taking notes for my lesson.

Once I realized I was fighting a losing battle, I took a break and we made our way over to the Hill Cumorah Visitor's Center. They had some pretty cool stuff in there--like Sister SHAKESPEARE!

Yeah. That's pretty much made of awesome!

By the time we were ready to leave, it was time for dinner. I stole a salt potato from one of my friends who bought them. I thought they were tasty, but I don't think the one I had nearly as much salt as the rest of them because she kept saying they were too salty. So I'm thinking my judgment doesn't count for anything.

It was pretty much a waiting game after that. The Pageant wasn't going to start until it was dark. And cold. And Mom came through for us again by giving us a blanket. Go Mom!

Then, at last, it began! YAY!

My camera wasn't exactly equipped for what I was demanding of it. Mom's camera was AMAZING! Not that I can show you. But trust me. His pictures were great.

This one is probably my favorite that I took. I love Lehi's dream. And this scene is pretty much my favorite scene of it. I know something of the desire of having tasted of the fruit which is sweet above all that is sweet, and wanting desperately for my family to do the same.




It was a great experience. I'm glad I was able to go, and I highly recommend the experience to anyone. Unless you're an anti-with a big yellow truck, in which case I have something special for you.

If you're familiar with Demotivators (Despair.com), let's just say I made one.


(More on the drive home and my lesson later.)

17 July 2009

The Manhattan Temple

Yesterday Samantha and I went to the Manhattan temple. Because we are college students, this also involved going to two bookstores, a museum, and a Starbucks.

We headed towards the temple, the trek to which brought us to our first bookstore--a Borders where Sam purchased a book out of the bargain bin for a dollar.

We arrived earlier than the appointment time I was given when I called ahead to make sure we didn't need an appointment, which I was told by someone else the previous day. We met the security guard--really nice, big guy with a ponytail and sunglasses. He reminded me of one of my martial arts instructors--nice as could be, a gentle giant type, but you won't catch me crossing them wrong in an alley. I know better.

Seeing as we were early, we had to wait for the brethren to return from performing other ordinances. I can't say that I minded. I like having time to linger for as long as possible in the temple. We had scriptures to keep us company, and I spent quite some time with the Psalms (the end of 119 to about 127.) I couldn't have asked for a more appropriate set of psalms to help me. The Lord truly does hear the pleas of His children--especially in His holy house.




And I must say, His house in Manhattan is beautiful. If I'm not mistaken, that's the most marble I've ever seen inside a temple. I've only been to 3 baptisteries so far, so it's not like I have too much experience to speak from--but the feel it gave to the rooms I did see was very distinct. It felt wonderful beneath my sore feet, even if I was sopping wet. After being in the grimy, humid, fuming, sweaty, stinking streets of New York City, it felt inexpressibly refreshing to be in a place as clean, cool, and quiet as the temple--a pearl, if you will, in a smoke-filled room. And I had just been washed clean--for myself and on behalf of someone else. There's nothing like that feeling anywhere else in the world--especially not in a city.




I was never one for the hustle and bustle of a noisy city anyway, and it honestly felt like we were back to it way too soon. That's never an easy transition for me. The temple is the place where I feel most like myself, the only place where I feel like I'm ever enough, where all my efforts ever count for anything at all. It's the most comfortable place in the world to me, and I'm rejoice that He supports me until I can return again. Without that blessing, I can honestly say I would not be able to survive.

Soon enough, however, it was time to return to the world that makes such support necessary--the Test, the tasks at hand that seemed to surround me outside of my head for a change in the swarms of taxis, changing lights, and the babbling stream of strangers that treat the temple (and Him whose house it is) the same way they treat each other--with no regard that anyone was even there. Ignoring people seems to be a way of life in New York, which I find to be exhausting. Not only is it contrary to my nature, it takes a lot of energy to block out that much noise and movement. They don't make enough iPods for that from where I'm standing.

Thankfully, we saw the Museum of Biblical Art (their site is here) and we stopped in to see what that was. I was glad we did. It was really interesting to see the Christian devotion of the 16th century Netherlands preserved so carefully, and what we were able to learn because of it. The drawings were so detailed, and I saw things in them that surprised me--like the baptismal font, complete with the goats/ livestock that were bearing it upon their backs. One had the Table of Shewbread too. There was one Bible that had drawings of all the sacred artifacts of the tabernacle.

My favorite print of the day had to be the one of Jael with a hammer getting ready to put a tent stake through Sisera's head. I couldn't take a picture, but to see her anachronistically drawn in medieval getup with that docile look on her face (not unlike the one usually reserved for the Virgin Mary) with a giant hammer in her hand--it was so random as to almost be comical. Those old European loonies may have thought women were the devil (as clearly presented in their portrayals of Eve) but at least they knew a good story when they heard one.

They had a few other pieces in another room that had nothing to do with European woodcuts. Someone decided it was a good idea to take sacred texts and make things out of them. Hand shaped boxes, things like that. There were also pictures on the wall of dilapidated Bibles that were found after Hurricane Katrina. I found it to be VERY unsettling. There was a picture of a Bible held together by mere threads of its original binding, and I almost wanted to cry. Call me dramatic if you wish, but I cannot endure seeing such carnage on a book any more than if it were a real person.

We moved on, stopping briefly in a Starbucks to rest. We didn't buy anything. We had $2 of my parents' money left, and that isn't even enough money to pay someone to look at you in New York.

All in all, it was a really nice day. I'll remember it fondly in the few hours I have before I start getting ready to leave for Palmyra. More on that when I return.

I bear my testimony that the Lord lives, that if you search for Him you can find Him anywhere and everywhere--even in the Big Apple, where the sin may not be original but it's certainly enough to get you down. Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. In the name of Him that makes it possible, even Jesus Christ. AMEN

16 July 2009

Harmony, Pennsylvania

(Note: I wrote this last night, but our hotel internet decided it hated me so you can have it now. Enjoy!)

Dragged from the depths of unconsciousness all too soon by a text message I didn't even entirely understand but had something to do with my trip to Palmyra this weekend--that's how this day started. Which was pretty convenient for me because I needed to get up in time to get ready for my family's trip to New York City today. And hunting down all of my travel junk proved to be interesting because I'm still scattered all about from my trip to Harmony, PA.





The YSA conference in Scranton was great, but I have to tell you right now that I probably won't be talking much about my experiences at the Harmony church history sites. I imagine they get overlooked a lot, but the ground upon which I stood was some of the most hallowed ground I've ever visited.





The experience I had was sacred, and I'm grateful for the truth and insight I gained from having gone to those sites. I now see that there is SO much more to church history than pioneer trekking and martyrdoms. That which goes on living is the truest, resounding testament to the power of this work.

We were only back for a day before it was time to make the next trip. New York City!

I have quite a lofty goal of seeing as many temples as I can in one lifetime, so I decided to try to spend part of our two day trip in New York City at the Manhattan temple. It's on the agenda for tomorrow, and I couldn't be more excited. I called ahead and everything, and so far everything is going without a hitch. They're prepared to do baptisms and we can show up at any time. The subway runs really close to where the temple is. Aside from the whole Satan-trying-to-get-me-run-over-by-cars thing, it couldn't be easier

I know the General Authorities look down upon flip flops at the temple, but I haven't quite decided yet what I'm going to do about the fact that I'm going to be wearing sneakers tomorrow. I brought a pair of shoes I could take with me and change into, but now I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to fit them into my bag. I'm sure I'll figure it out. I get the sense that this is something I really need to do--perhaps in preparation for this weekend.

I'm happy to say that Palmyra did actually come through for a few of us, and well be leaving Friday--the day after I get back from New York City. I'm hoping to do as many church sites as possible while we're up there, but the one that sticks out to me in particular is the Sacred Grove.

I have no idea what to expect from it. Considering some of the things I've experienced lately, I can't say I anticipate it being--shall we say, innocuous? And I'm really hoping it won't be. I really hope that I won't just walk through it like it's any other wood, but that what happened there will go through me in some way. Some way meaningful, powerful, and lasting. It has been my blessing to enjoy such manifestations of the Spirit before, and I can only hope and pray that I'll be blessed again with whatever my Father in Heaven deems fit for me to receive.

07 July 2009

The Apostle Peter

Artist: Liz Lemon Swindle
I have a lot of favorite figures from the scriptures because of what their stories have come to mean to me. Some of my choicest blessings have come from seeing that I am not alone in the challenges I face. And while I could literally spend hours talking about more than a few people from the scriptures--Abraham, Moses, Job, Alma, and Ammon, I want to spend some time reflecting on someone I've had a soft spot for in my heart as of late.

I came across a talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland titled The Lengthening Shadow of Peter when I was looking for something completely different a few days ago. I've read it a few times through, and it has given me a much-needed change of perspective about quite a few things in my life.

Elder Holland begins be recanting Spencer W. Kimball's reaction to someone who decided to be critical of Peter. That anyone could  be critical of Peter was rather surprising to me, I'll admit. Apparently there was a minister that took it upon himself to condemn Peter for denying Christ three times. It never occurred to me that Peter could be blamed for such a thing, and with Elder Holland's most recent General Conference talk about the Savior, we can't be certain of what exactly was taking place in those final moments of the Savior's life in regards to His apostles. But it just goes to show you that no matter how hard you try for no matter how long, someone will still manage to find fault with you. If it happened to Christ and to Peter, I shouldn't be surprised when it happens to me.

What stood out to me after that was the image of Peter that Elder Holland describes. A man full of
charity that is not content to tell his brothers and sisters to be healed, but lifts them from the ground and walks beside them towards a new life. A powerful teacher of thousands, an impressive learner who was prepared quickly to the tasks ahead of him, who did not stop to question "Can I actually do this?" because there simply wasn't time. A man that thirsted after and thrived to become a true disciple of Christ, and could envision nothing less for his life. So much so, he wept bitterly at the thought that he had failed in offering the fullest sacrifice of his heart.

The weight of Peter's tears has resonated with me deeply, and because I know something of their weight I feel as if I've made a new friend in the scriptures. Someone I cannot wait to see again, should I be counted worthy and blessed to be among the righteous who will rise to such great heights in the last day. A man of great personal integrity and leadership with whom I feel much kinship because of all that I've faced, and hope to continue to face in the name of my God, for it is an honor indeed to be called to suffer in the name of Jesus Christ.


You'll recall that I excitedly shared that I might be attending the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, New York a few posts back. To my disappointment, and even a bitter frustration, I discovered that there were no arrangements to be made that could possibly get me to Palmyra. Having prayed about that trip, I figured that I wouldn't face opposition for such a righteous desire. What could be better than wanting to go to the Sacred Grove and strengthen my witness of the most important revelation of modern Christendom? What could be better than to be in the only place I know of (outside of the temple) where Heavenly Father and His Son have stood together on the earth?

It's only just now that I have understood my answer to that plea.

I've been given an opportunity to attend a YSA conference in Scranton, Pennsylvania that will involve a trip to Harmony and the Priesthood restoration site. When I still had my eyes single to that journey to Palmyra, I wasn't willing to consider the Scranton conference as an alternative.

But understanding, even in a small portion, what I now do about having the Priesthood, and the men who brought it to the earth again, I can honestly say that I've been humbled and count myself as blessed to share in this experience that has been prepared for me.

Peter would have argued that his worth was nothing in comparison with Christ, and that's why he is Cephas, Petros, the rock upon whom Christ's church was built. I have much to learn from his example, and I pray that I might someday be even half the disciple he was.

03 July 2009

Simple Reminders

Part what I've been striving to understand this summer is the reality and power of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. I've seen again and again how He has taken my most threadbare efforts and woven them into a great tapestry of being, helping me to be secure and warm in the truth of His gospel.




I found a talk recently called Jesus Christ--Our Master and More by Elder Russell M. Nelson. Even though I've heard it before, I decided to sit down and actually take notes on what Elder Nelson had to say about Christ. In it, he talks about the titles and responsibilities of Christ that helps me to understand more of what my role as a Christian is.

I would encourage everyone reading this post to take the time to read and listen to His talk. The spirit of truth that Elder Nelson bears is sweet indeed.

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