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Advice & Commentary on Mormon Life
Inside This Issue:
Loud Laughter and Evil Speaking
Father's Day Talk | "Trust Me"
Letters to the Editor | Patience in All Things
Silly New Doctrines | The Chaple of My Youth
Why Do Hard Things? | Just a Vanilla Christmas
"Our" Epic Journey


Issue 15 / November 1997 Hatrack River Publications

Oh, husbands and fathers in Israel, you can do so much for the salvation and exaltation of your families. Your responsibilities are so important. Remember your sacred calling as a father in Israel - your most important calling in time and eternity - a calling from which you are never released.

-- Ezra Taft Benson


Loud Laughter and Evil Speaking

During the Christmas break my first year at BYU, I was unable to travel back home to Indiana for the holidays until right before Christmas Day. Being the gospel doctrine teacher for my BYU ward, I was asked to teach the Sunday before Christmas. It was to be a combined class for all the students who happened to still be on campus that day in our stake. I looked forward to the opportunity to teach such a potentially large crowd, because it would be a true test of my teaching abilities. I felt confident in my ability to keep the class interested in the lesson with humor and by the slightly different way that I look at things. I also liked to bring the message of the lesson into modern terms and current situations. If the Spirit is there, then we are all edified. I had been complimented many times in the past because of this style of teaching and was glad that I was able to reach the students and challenge them to think and learn in ways they hadn't before.

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On this particular Christmas Sunday, the meeting room I used was one of the large conference rooms where our ward normally held sacrament service. As it ended up, there were over two hundred students in attendance -- the room was filled to capacity. I thrilled at the opportunity.

The lesson was to be the final wrap-up and overview of the Book of Mormon for the year, which meant I could recall past lessons' highlights as well as use many of my humorous teaching techniques, jokes, and anecdotes that had worked best the past year. And this I did.

During the lesson, I didn't use a microphone because it was mounted on a podium and I liked to walk around using body language as well as the chalk board, thereby getting more personal with the audience. People have said that I am unable to talk without my hands, and it's probably true.

Finally the class was over. I felt that things had gone well. The audience laughed at the right spots; when I played the "devil's advocate" they responded; when I asked questions, hands were raised; testimonies were borne; and, most importantly, the Spirit was felt. I knew I had reached most everyone, because when I looked over the audience during the lesson I saw that even the people in the back row were paying attention. Everyone stayed awake and seemed genuinely interested.

My lesson was a success! I was exhilarated. I silently thanked my Father in Heaven for the opportunity and talent he had blessed me with and that things went better than I had expected.

In closing, I bore testimony of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Gospel and of our savior Jesus Christ. I then thanked the class and asked for a volunteer to say the closing prayer since one had not been previously assigned.

And then something interesting happened.

No sooner had I asked for the volunteer than a little hand shot into the air from the front side section of chairs. At the time I remember thinking it unusual. Normally, when volunteers for prayer are asked for, people hesitate and tend to look at the floor or somewhere else. Then eventually a few would volunteer. But I was glad for the eagerness and invited the young lady, who I did not know, up to the front. Once up front, she asked me if it would be okay if she used the microphone on the podium for the prayer. It again struck me as unusual, but I had no reason not to let her. I just smiled and motioned her to do as she pleased. What could go wrong?

Then as this young lady began to pray to our Father in Heaven, she begged his forgiveness for the entire class and especially for me having laughed at sacred things. She also asked if he would help us do better and repent of our light-mindedness. She then said a few other things in our behalf before closing her prayer, but I didn't hear any more. My mind was racing after the initial shock and disbelief. I stood there through the remainder of the prayer with my arms folded and eyes closed trying to think of what I had said in my lesson that was blasphemous, sacrilegious, or could be considered evil speaking, mocking, or considered laughing at sacred things. I could think of nothing. But, no matter what I thought, this young lady obviously felt I had said something mockingly or sacrilegiously.

More immediately, what was I do to about her and what she said when the prayer was over. I decided I would either forget about the whole thing or somehow question her privately, if possible, and apologize if necessary. I then began to think of the best way to handle this situation in front of the two hundred plus students who, because of the microphone, were clearly aware of what she had said and done.

And before I knew it, the prayer was over.

I didn't at first look at the audience but turned and smiled and frankly thanked the sister for offering the prayer. She looked ready for an attack when our eyes met and she took a step back away from me after her "amen" in a defensive manner making sure to keep the podium between her and me. I didn't take a step toward her, and immediately a small group of her friends rushed up to the front and encircled her. I then tried to act normal and collect my things. As I turned, I glanced at the audience. Every eye was glued on me, and the two hundred plus jaws were slack and gaping. I tried, unsuccessfully, to continue being casual and unruffled and finish collecting my things while at the same time watching for an opportunity to approach the young lady and confer with her.

Then as I was leaning over collecting my things, absorbed in my own thoughts, someone came up beside me and tapped me on the shoulder. I stood up to see the hand extended and a long line of students that filed down one of the side aisles all the way to the back of the room. They all wanted to shake my hand and thank me for the lesson. Most of them told me it was spiritual as well as entertaining, and that it was one of the best lessons they had had in a long time, as well as one of the few that they had ever stayed awake through. I was completely taken back by this and humbled. I wanted to cry.

I looked over at that young sister and her friends. Her friends seemed to be counseling her and she looked on the defensive. I felt sorry for her situation and wanted to go to her. Then one of her friends broke away and approached me. He apologize to me for her behavior and comments stating that she had some "problems" and that she was dealing with a lot of things at this time in her life. I thanked him and told him not to worry and that I had no hard feelings.

Eventually, we were asked to leave that room and head over to a nearby auditorium for sacrament service. I lingered talking to people and shaking hands. I felt a little vindicated by class members' reactions to me, but also wished that this young lady would have handled things in a better way by approaching me privately instead of publicly reprimanding everyone to the Lord in open prayer. But, still, had there been something in my lesson presentation that was questionable and deserving of some censure? I considered this as I left the now empty conference room and entered the full auditorium where sacrament meeting was to be held.

After finding a seat, I looked up at the stand and there to the side, obviously not a part of the program, sat the young lady who had said the prayer. She seemed out of place and looked a little uneasy. I remember thinking, "Oh, no. Now what?" But also thought that maybe instead of trying to justify herself, maybe she would publicly ask for an apology or for our forgiveness. That would be the proper way to handle her public display of earlier. I wondered how she would go about it and sat back to watch and braced myself for anything.

I could see by the audience reaction that they were all curious too, and I observed them talking amongst themselves and looking at her. Even the bishopric that was now there, and who had not been in my class, did not know what she was doing up on the stand, but did nothing.

Finally, before the meeting got too far under way, one of the girl's friends who had been in the circle that surrounded her earlier went to the podium during a pause in the proceedings. He introduced the girl by saying that she had something she wanted to say to everyone. The girl came hesitantly up to the microphone. She seemed very distraught and began crying. She asked if I were in the audience. I cautiously raised my hand. She then publicly asked my forgiveness and apologized for how she had handled the situation earlier and thanked me for my testimony. She seemed somewhat confused; then she bore part of her testimony and sat down.

How brave of her. What a difficult thing to do. I turned to the girl I was sitting with and we both were thinking the same thing. The girl needed a hug, and I knew I was the only one who could do it effectively. I sought her out immediately after the meeting and spoke with her. She broke into tears again and I gave her a hug and let her know that all was forgiven and that there were no hard feelings on my part.

I occasionally bumped into this young woman during the next few years at BYU and she always greeted me warmly and would say with a positive attitude, "How's my favorite teacher?" I always returned her smile and greeting. But ever since then I have thought about my sense of humor and the things I sometimes say. The mouth is often quicker than the mind and this is often true in my case.

Many members of the Church have struggled with a definition of the spiritual counsel of not mocking sacred things, light-mindedness, and loud or excessive laughter. Many also agree that our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ have a sense of humor, and I have also rarely seen a Latter-day Saint who did not have one. Nor is there a general conference that goes by without a good joke or humorous anecdote given over the pulpit. Humor is an essential part of life, but where is the line drawn? When does a little laughter become excessive laughter?

For my part, however, I have noticed that when I stay up too late at night with my friends we all tend to get a little tired and punchy. Then everything seems funny or silly, and before you know it we are laughing at everything. I have to admit that occasionally we have gotten irreverent and said some things that probably should have been left unsaid. This, I feel, is one of the times when loud laughter and light-mindedness has gotten the better of us. After all, as they say, the Holy Ghost goes to bed early so we would be left to our own judgment, which is not always a good thing.

-- David Ullery


Father's Day Talk

Fathers Day -- this is a big subject to cover and the bishop didn't help by narrowing it down any. Actually, if you think about it, fatherhood is at the very beginning of the gospel plan. Remember the pre-mortal life? Remember that day we saw Heavenly Father and said, "Wow, I sure would like to be like Dad someday!" and Heavenly Father said, "To have what we have, you must do what we did" and proceeded to outline the plan of salvation -- also teaching by example that teaching by example is the only effective method of teaching. The entire plan of salvation is built on our dream to be like our parents.

Let's look at a scriptural example of what a dreamer is.

Remember Lehi? Have you ever pondered what motivated Lehi to pray as recorded in 1 Nephi? Yes, he heard the other prophets concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, but beyond that he had a personal motive, I believe. Listen to the scriptures:

"Wherefore it came to pass that my father Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea even with all his heart, in behalf of his people."

His people. His family.

I cannot prove this, but I believe that Lehi was most concerned for his family. I believe his thoughts might have been:

"With all my wealth, with all my position, with all I have been able to provide my kids -- a good Egyptian education, comfortable lifestyle, cable TV, new car, the latest style in grunge clothes, nice beach home on the Dead Sea -- with all of this, still I am losing two boys."

Even when children do wrong, we still love them and want to protect them, don't we? Doesn't Heavenly Father?

He was a concerned dad. Notice that this concern did not motivate Lehi to form a support group to discuss the situation. He did not just read positive motivational scrolls. He knew that if you are going down the wrong road, what good is it to travel it more efficiently or with a good attitude. You are still going down the wrong road.

No, Lehi knew that spiritual challenges require spiritual answers.

Lehi prayed. Lehi had a dream. Lehi caught the vision of the savior and his work. As with all dreams, this one had to be shared.

As with all dreamers, "And it came to pass that they did mock him because of the things which he testified of them . . . and when they heard these things they were angry with him . . ." (1 Nephi 1:19, 20)

Well, thought Lehi, at least I can save my family.

So, "Lehi left Jerusalem. Left his inheritance. Left his gold and his silver and his precious things and took nothing with him save it were his family and provisions . . ." (1 Nephi 2:4)

When we make decisions based on the Lord's direction here on earth, in the world, those that are of the world will never understand what you are doing.

Lehi was trading a good life for the best life. All dreamers must walk by faith. All non-dreamers observing this can't understand why things can't be better organized. Why didn't the Lord remind Lehi to stop by Laban's house on the way out of town to pick up the plates if they were so important. Surely he could best negotiate for the plates. Why send his sons back now to do the job?

Who's in charge of this operation anyway?

Or today, in our time we cry, "Who's running this ward anyway? Who's in charge here? Why can't we be more organized?" Walking by faith always looks messy, but we chose this plan when we had all the facts in the pre-mortal life. The neat, sanitized, structured plan was voted down, remember?

As a successful Midwest farmer once commented to his neighbor, "Zeb, you boys are sure making a mess of that fence over there. Why don't you go straighten them out?" Zeb looked at the mess and replied to his neighbor, "I ain't teaching them to mend fences, I'm teaching them to be men."

Lehi needed his family to buy into his dream for this move to be successful. "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also." This was a test. Two did not pass.

Two did not catch the vision.

They and their posterity died right there.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18)

Meanwhile back at the ranch . . .

Sariah was worried. Her babies weren't home. What had this crazy husband of hers done to her babies. "I've known this guy for 30 years. He's made some crazy decisions before. I hope he's right on this. Where are my babies?" Can you visualize her anguish? Sariah didn't have anybody to talk to. None of her friends were there. Easy for a man to go out into the world, his self-image is tied to what he does. Tougher for his wife to lose all her friends; who she is is validated in her relationships. Sariah was alone. Lehi knew she just needed someone to listen to her.

We Need Your Articles!
      Vigor is an open conversation among the Saints about the common problems, challenges, and opportunities that we face in ordinary Mormon life in our wards and stakes. Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something about how to make wards and stakes work together well.
      We'd like to hear from you. Activities that worked well; problems you faced and overcame; problems you're still facing and would like to have advice about; anecdotes about funny or wonderful things that happened in your ward; tips and tricks for handling common situations from basketball to ward dinners, from printed sacrament meeting programs to Sunday School lessons - just write it down and send it in! [See "How to Submit" box.]

Brethren, when I learned that I did not need to have an answer or a solution to every concern my wife brought up -- that all I had to do was listen and validate her feelings and offer to hep her -- well, that was the most liberating day of my life. We men want to solve all problems. Our wives just want us to listen, hold and console.

Lehi loved Sariah. Lehi listened to Sariah. He couldn't answer all her questions right then, but he could love her.

Nephi passed the test.

Sariah passed the test.

Now Lehi had dreamers to support him. This is important because dreamers get weary and need encouragement also. Remember when the bow broke? The scriptures say even Lehi complained on that one. Think about it: he had the faith to send his sons on a dangerous mission, but when it looked like there wasn't going to be any dinner Lehi loses it. Just like a man. Just like Sariah was just like a woman.

Just like today. At home late at night, my wife can hear a baby start to whimper in the farthest corner of the house. Me, if lights are turned on, kids throwing up, loud crying, etc., she has to tell me about it the next day because I don't hear a thing. But let a faucet drip or the air conditioner run too long and I'm up in a flash and can't understand why she can't hear it. We seem to be tuned to different things. Do you think that's why Heavenly Father ordained a husband and wife as the exaltation unit of progression. We need each other. We valued the differences before the marriage, why do we try to change what attracted us to them in the first place? Value the differences.

Today families need fathers that can dream. Remember when you were courting your wife? Your dream is what sold her on you. She wasn't terribly impressed with what you were, but she was vitally concerned about your future -- more importantly, how she fit into your future. I'm looking at you men now and it's obvious you painted a good picture. Most of us men have out-married our punt coverage.

If you painted that picture once, you can do it again. This is the romance your wife is looking for. Talk about your future together. Talk about your future with your kids. They need to see a dreamer. Remember, we teach by what we are.

Can I speak now concerning those who don't have a father and those men who do not have children. My dad was killed on my ninth birthday. I thank God there were men in the Baptist Church I grew up in that were willing to sacrifice their time to father me, to encourage me or knock me in the head as the situation dictated.

Have you ever wondered how Joseph felt holding Jesus? Dads, remember holding your child for the first time? Your wife could have extracted anything from you at that point if she only knew. Remember smelling their hair, their first steps? How did Joseph feel? This was not his son, but Heavenly Father expected Joseph to father Jesus in this earthly life.

Men, we have that responsibility today to mentor those youth that are not our own. Sometimes they will listen to us better than their own parents (especially age 15-20). That's why we meet together to strengthen one another. At some point, we will be on the receiving end of that help. Learn how to receive.

Those without dads, give thanks in all things and seek the Lord continually. Any other course impedes your progression and delights the evil one. Drifting into the blame game and trying to find the reason you're in this situation slides you ever closer to Satan's grasp. Remember that his plan removed all sorrow and pain, but that is not how Heavenly Father got where he is. And to reach our goal we need these experiences also.

This gospel will lift you up and preserve you. It will teach you those things you need to know for it has tutored me now these 20 years. Here there is peace.

Now as we conclude, hug your dad today. Dads love it even if they protest -- especially those kid hugs where your pants leg is slobbered on at the knee. If you can't hug or call your dad, remember him and remember him to your kids. We must turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children. My daughter wrote a report for class titled "My Grandfather: A Great Fighter."

"My grandfather is my hero. He was in the Vietnam War. Grandfather was a great person. He died in the Vietnam War. He was killed just after he had dropped off some supplies -- he got shot down. My dad's family was very sad from my grandfather's death. I never knew my grandfather personally, but what I do know about him, he was a great person. Grandfather has taught me that we should take care of our family. We should do things to protect our country, even though we know what the consequences are. My grandfather did what he could, and he was a good man. My grandfather is my hero, and I love him."

The binding power of the spirit of Elijah is a real and powerful force. May we fathers stand worthy of the honor and respect the office of fatherhood deserves, and may we all become the dreamers Heavenly Father wants us to be.

-- Ralph Cordell


"Trust Me"

I have four living children ages fifteen, fourteen, nine and six. I also have twin boys that both died in infancy (the first died when 15 days old, the second when three years old) and would be twelve this year. For some time (several years, in fact), my wife and I have debated whether we should have another child. I'd prayed about it, and really felt "complete." My wife, however, had been feeling the opposite, and even told me of a dream where she was holding twin baby girls. But she had been wrestling with head, neck, and back pains and worried about her capability to carry and care for another baby -- so we procrastinated. Procrastinated long enough, in fact, that we became comfortable with the family status quo, and I thought that our "no" decision was established. During this time she read D&C 9:11 which struck her as pertaining to our situation: "Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now." I took this to mean that "yes, you should've had another child a couple of years ago; it's okay that you didn't and that you are done."

Until last November.

My wife then said something (I wish I could remember exactly what it was) that made my mind click into a whole new gear, and caused me to reinterpret that scripture as "yes, we should've had another child a couple of years ago; it's okay that you didn't, but have one now. Get back with the program!" Suddenly, my whole being was awash in the realization that we really should have another baby! I'm not sure why I didn't realize this before -- perhaps my feelings of "comfort" were masking any inspiration, and maybe I didn't want to hear an answer I didn't particularly want at the time. Answers to our prayers seemed to come easier then -- all of our feelings about having another baby seemed to be confirmed.

However, doubts still nagged at the back of my mind: I'm getting older; I'm getting along really well (I think) with my teenagers (they're among my best friends, not just my children); and additional work requirements are making it harder to give my younger children the time they both need and deserve. How could I give another child time, love, and attention when I was struggling with my current youngest?

Then another event factored into further convincing me. I was studying the Atonement (or some aspect of it) for my priests' quorum lesson, and realized that here was a means to help me further increase my capabilities -- by drawing on the power of the Atonement or, in other words, drawing on Christ's "assets" in the covenant relationship that I'm in. The particular "asset" I felt I needed most at that time was love; I felt that I didn't have enough love to spread around any further. I prayed about this, and felt such a strong outpouring of love that made me realize that I have an infinite amount of it available via the Atonement. I can do it. There is enough love.

So, armed with all of this, we set about to make it happen -- and it seemed to happen quicker than any time we've worked at it before! (Was this a good "sign"?) My wife quickly became pregnant and due at the end of July.

Then one Wednesday, with only three weeks until the due date, everything changed. I had a phone-mail message from my wife where she sounded somewhat distraught and said that I should call right away. When I finally reached her she paused, and after a second she burst into tears and exclaimed, "The baby's dead!" I can't begin to describe the gush of agony, disbelief, and denial that started to rush in. She had gone to the doctor for a routine checkup that morning with no hint that anything was wrong. The doctor tried to pick up the baby's heartbeat with the audio monitor and couldn't. He then did an ultrasound scan and found that the heart wasn't beating. The fetus had died sometime during the previous few days.

The doctor, for some reason, didn't want us to come in until a day later to have labor and delivery induced. Why the wait? We were never really sure, but I think it turned out for the best. We had many visitors during the intervening day. The most beneficial for my wife was the stake Relief Society president, who had a stillborn child several years ago. She gave wonderful and sympathetic comfort, advice, and guidance as to what would happen in the next couple of days, both physically and emotionally. My wife had a really hard time coming to the realization that she still had to go through the whole labor/ delivery pain, engorged breasts, recovery, etc., and not have any "reward" at the end of the process.

The morning finally came and we went to the hospital shortly after 6:00 a.m. She cried a lot after hearing a newborn cry as we arrived. Labor was induced, and Jeanette was delivered at 3:38 p.m. I can't describe the feelings of grief I had when she slipped out of the birth canal, loose and lifeless, onto the bed. She looked beautiful, normal, and healthy. I hadn't realized it before, but there is a definite bonding between the father and the baby before it's born. Our other children may have only seen a "big tummy" on their mother and her getting less and less mobile and more and more uncomfortable, but my wife and I knew and felt the life growing. This was our child. We were excited for it. We wanted it. It was going to be special. Then to have her lay there on the bed -- lifeless, not screaming, not looking, not doing anything. It hurt. It hurt a lot. I cried. And cried.

The doctor did a quick visual examination and noticed that it looked like the umbilical cord had clotted in the middle causing nothing to flow to the fetus. It looked healthy from the placenta to the middle, but was then black from that point to the fetus. Later lab work would identify a kink in the umbilical cord had formed the block. Okay, we may now know "what" the cause was, but we still don't know the "why."

I felt the spirit strong throughout that day, and felt the presence of our twins and Jeanette near (I believe that Jeanette has a spirit and is a very real person that we will have again in the Resurrection). Not just those three, but many, many others. My mom, who died 15 years ago, was there. Other ancestors were there. The room was crowded. Packed. All for us. Such love. Such support. I'm grateful for what I felt.

We decided to have our children come to the hospital after Jeanette was cleaned up. We wanted them to see, know, and better understand that there was a real person growing in their mother, and that she is also a member of our family. They came to the hospital and it was a wonderful, special time. Everyone held her. Saw her. And realized.

That afternoon, in the hospital, I also under-went a time when I could feel rage building up inside of me, and knew that I had to be careful. It's no good to just vent rage -- who knows what the unlucky target would be. The feeling passed, and emptiness started to settle. I was glad that my wife was there with me and that I was there with her -- the pain and emptiness is easier to bear when you're holding someone you love.

Even though I wasn't too excited to face the questions, comments, and solemn faces at church the next Sunday, I decided I needed to set a better example for my children and go. (I insisted that my wife stay home and try to rest.) It was worth it -- I found that I needed the hugs more than I thought I did. The genuine love and concern that were expressed touched me. People had been praying for us, and it helped. Everyone expressed their sympathy according to their capabilities: some cried with me; one quiet, unassuming brother just gave a very firm handshake and a concerned look; one of the priests in my quorum gave me a strong hug.

Finally, after all the initial visits, funeral, family luncheon, etc, came the quiet, hard time. Someone mentioned to me how well I was holding up. I replied that it's easy to do when surrounded by support and love during the day, but they don't see me in the midnight, quiet, tearful hours. I mentioned to a few people that we need continuing support as the days and weeks wear on -- nothing big, but calls, visits once in a while, etc. I also felt my motivation for going to work, working in the house, etc., waning -- there just wasn't much desire there. Waves of depression flowed and ebbed over the next several weeks. It took an effort to force myself to still focus out.

Many people commented about our "strength" and how they admired us. I'm not sure I understand what they mean -- what else are we to do? The gospel gives such knowledge which leads to acceptance (if not understanding) of God's plan -- and even to joy after tribulation. Many people offered their views on God's involvement in our lives; some believed that everything that happened to us was according to his "plan," and others believed that he intervenes rarely, but allowed trials and "bad" things to happen to us. I really don't know where in this continuum of divine involvement our experience lies. What I do know is that God could have certainly prevented it -- so why didn't he? The age-old question of "Why did God let this happen to me" started to surface in my soul. I've already carried small caskets and dedicated grave sites for two of my children. Wasn't that enough? Aren't the parents supposed to die before their children? I plead in prayer for understanding, and began to hear faint echoes of King Benjamin exhorting his people to become as little children, submitting "to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father." I'm sure everyone that has children (or that has dealt with them) has faced the exclamation "You can't do that! That's not fair!" My response to my own children has typically been along the lines of "You may be right -- it's probably not fair. Life seldom is. I'm trying to be as fair as possible to the most people. Try to deal with it." So, when I suddenly realized that I was the child in this same exchange, I faintly heard a similar reply. After this, my prayers changed focus from "Why me?" to merely "Why?" I felt that my heart was starting to become more in tune, and more answers started to flow -- but not to questions that I was asking. In fact, I started to hear questions rather than answers. "Do you believe in me?" Yes. "Do you believe that I allowed this or caused it to happen out of malice or punishment?" No. "Do you believe that I understand your grief and pain?" Yes. "Do you believe that your whole family is important to me?" Yes. "Do you believe that I love you?" Oh, yes. "Trust me."

"Trust me." This is now where the issue has settled for me. I still don't know the answer to "Why?" but I now feel content to let the question lie. Someday I will know and understand "Why." I'm an engineer by tendency and profession -- I like to solve the "Why?" and "How?" questions, and unsolved issues tend to bother me. But I feel that the Lord has strengthened my heart and increased my patience to wait this question out. I also realized that, whether Jeanette's stillbirth was allowed or planned, my response is being evaluated: Will his faith remain? Will he become a better person for this trial? Will he become more compassionate for others in their trials? Will he love more?

After seeing how many people cared for us, prayed for us, and cried with us I realized that there's more for me to do. More service. More dedication. More love. More work. My growing desire is that I'm becoming what God wants me to become; that I'm becoming a useful tool for his purposes. But, that doesn't lessen the pain of being in the forge: being heated, hammered on, shaped, over and over.

I don't remember hurting this much after the twins died. Either time has erased the hurt, or knowing that they were probably going to die (they both had many life-threatening complica-tions) helped me brace and prepare for it. This was right out of the blue. So many hopes, dreams and plans evaporated. But I will keep the faith. I will "go the distance." I will accept what has happened, I will try to understand. I will love my family even more. And I will hurt inside and ache to hold a newborn for a very, very long time.

-- A Reader in Utah


Letters to the Editor

Your thoughts on the "little truth" on top of the "big lies" (Careers and the Church, Vigor #13) is a concept that I have been trying to teach to my children as "the pattern of Satan's deception," and one in which the world at large has adopted most readily in advertisement, government, and justification for power and control.

The other day I was working with my fifth grader on a word problem math assignment that was just an environmentalist plug wrapped around math word problems. I was startled at the amount of propaganda that was slowly being allowed in to our children's minds via this source and taught as the same truth as the math concepts that were wrapped within it. It boggles my mind when I think of the vigilance we must be prepared to do just to keep abreast of the constant bombardment of concepts and ideas that are trickled into our children's minds every hour of every day through school, TV, books and friends. Trying to balance this, without making your children feel that they have to live in isolation or look down on everyone that does not think just as they do or that they are living in the middle of a war zone is hard. I marvel at what my parents did. I grew up with my Dad in the Air Force and this meant a lot of moves and very little LDS contact with children my age. I remember most of the time feeling like a fish on display in a fish bowl circled around by hungry cats waiting for the right moment to take a nip here or a bite there out of my hide. With our most recent move out here to Kentucky, I have placed my children into the same type of fish bowl that I grew up in. They have lost a time of innocence that their friends back in Provo can still have. Yet the opportunity for growth in them, to establish what they feel is true and who they are, is great and good for life-building foundations. I just hope I am up to the task.

-- A Reader in Tennessee

I have a couple of friends who were asked to talk on how to raise civilized children. Their talk was much like the one in the recent issue of Vigor (Does Civilization Begin in Sacrament Meeting? Vigor #14). Their results had been the same.

Then they had more children. They discovered that some children are much more tractable than others.

I find with my child still at home that other parents marvel at my wife and I as incredible super parents. However, she has taken a great deal less effort than the others. She is inherently well behaved, mannerly, and quiet. Extremely self-contained. She would behave if surrounded by a baboon troop in Church.

We need to appreciate that while a good approach and program is important to having children behave, that even with both parents paying attention and making a sincere effort, some children will not behave well in a punitive situation prior to being 4 to 5 years of age. (I'm not sure how else to describe many sacrament meetings other than punitive when the person sitting through them is two and a half years of age or younger).


Patience in All Things
(Excerpt from Sacrament Meeting Talk)

Patience is something I'm really struggling with. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). People have said to me, "The Lord must have known you could handle that. I could never handle that." Well, I used to say the same thing. When I was sixteen, I first heard of a woman in my ward who had CFS. I didn't know much about it then, but I thought, "Wow -- that's terrible. I could never, ever handle that. Good thing I will never get anything like that." I was a cross-country runner at the time. I crave physical exercise -- hiking, biking, kayaking. And I crave the wonders and peculiar peace of nature -- mountain tops, forests, rivers, places untouched, far from civilization, and physically challenging to get to.

And here I am. Sometimes it is a great effort to take a shower, or climb a set of stairs. I struggle to know what to do with my life when I can do so little. And sometimes I feel lost by the Lord. Is there a plan for my happiness? What is the next step? I'm always asking myself, "What did I do wrong? What am I doing wrong?"

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Sometimes we are not doing anything wrong, we just need to be patient.

Unseen Burdens. Often the worst problems are the inner ones that are not seen. We each have inner hurts, problems, struggles, that no one else knows about.

My mother once wrote in a letter, "I read about people who live by the spirit, and I think, 'When do I start that level of plain living?' The things I worry about blow up in my soul until I lose control of logic and want to roll over and say, 'Go ahead and eat up, wolves.'"

The Lord can comfort us and ease our burdens. "And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. (Mosiah 24:14)

Doesn't that sound wonderful? Elder Scott said, in the October 1995 conference, "Please learn that as you wrestle with a challenge and feel sadness because of it, you can simultaneously have peace and rejoicing."

What Is Deliverance? Many of the Israelites at the time of Christ missed the mark in looking for a Messiah. They were looking for a savior who would free them from the Romans and bring about their temporal salvation. They taught, "The messiah will come in his flaming chariot and defeat our enemies." Instead he came on a donkey and suffered for their sins. They thought the savior would deliver them from their trials and tribulations. Christ's idea was different. He could deliver our souls from eternal separation from God and give us the chance to become like him.

We do not fully understand what this means. But Christ does. It is not something we can do easily. We need to learn and grow -- line upon line, precept on precept. Patience is one of the important steps towards godliness. We will be learning it all our lives. There is a saying "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." I think it is also true that patience is next to Godliness.

Patience goes hand in hand with trust in the Lord. To have patience we must trust Heavenly Father, that he knows what he is doing, that he is aware of our pain, struggles, that he will deliver us in his own time. He sees the bigger picture.

While attending BYU, I would often seek solace in the mountains. In the Provo valley, all of my school, social, and work problems seemed to blow up until they were all I could see. I was down in the midst of them. Since I didn't have a car, I would ride my bike to the foot of the mountains and climb straight up. Or hike up a canyon. When I was in the mountains looking down on the valley, I could get a better perspective on life. I remembered that there was more to life than my valley problems. I needed to get out of the midst of them to see more clearly and find peace.

And I noticed a phenomenon, of sorts. From the valley the mountains often looked hazy and unclear. But when I was up among the moun-tains, they appeared crystal clear, and looking down over the valley I could see a think layer of pollution hanging yellow over it. And I realized that the mountains had always been clear. They had only appeared hazy from the valley because of the covering of pollution over the valley. I had to look through the pollution to see the mountains. Really it was the valley that was hazy.

With my CFS, I often feel like I am walking through sludge. I get stuck in valleys where I am looking at life through a haze of pollution. These are the times that take the most patience.

In the midst of problems we do not see clearly. If possible, it helps to find somewhere to go, or something to do, to get out of the midst of our everyday problems once in a while.

One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Nephi 2:25 -- "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy." This is so true. But there's another part that wasn't written. Man is that he might learn patience.

I want to hurry up and learn the patience I need from this trial so that I can be well, but that is because I am impatient.

To those who think, like I once thought, that the Lord knew I could handle CFS, I say, "No, you've got it all wrong. The Lord knew I couldn't handle it, but that I needed to be able to."

We can't expect to live without trials. It's the whole idea of salvation. The Jews thought the Savior would bring temporal salvation. Christ will not deliver us in the sense that he will take away all our trials. He wants us to learn the lessons of salvation.

Christ suffered all things that he might know how to succor his people. Sometimes, I believe, we go through hard things so that we will know how to succor others later down the road. Perhaps that was part of his message of comfort to Joseph Smith in D&C 122:7-9.

The Lord loves us. He's trying to guide us to salvation. It is hard for me to see the big picture. During the most trying times, I have to rely on past light and understanding, and hope for a beacon in the future.

-- Lesli Summers


Silly New Doctrines

Every now and then someone finds a way to read a brief passage of scripture in a way that is clearly contrary to its plain and precious meaning. But the "insight" gained by twisting the scripture is so pleasing that it spreads quickly and becomes folk doctrine that is devilishly hard to uproot.

"Love Yourself." Think what happened during the last two decades to Jesus' plain answer to a plain question. What is the greatest commandment? To love the Lord with all your heart, might, mind, and strength; and the second is like the first: To love your neighbor as yourself. The message that you must lose your life to find it, that to be greatest you must be servant of all, is repeated again and again in the teachings of Jesus. Yet somehow the plain and simple words of Jesus were twisted into the folk doctrine that we must "love ourselves first."

It is hard to imagine anything that could cause Satan more delight than to hear the people entrusted with the gospel of Christ solemnly teaching each other the opposite of that gospel. And as we struggle to get rid of this false and flattering teaching ("Just think, Jesus wants you to look out for number one!"), new twists on scripture crop up to distract us from the simple truths of the gospel.

"Healing Atonement." The latest one I've heard comes from at least one religion professor at BYU, who is apparently teaching his students that Christ's atonement doesn't just apply to resurrection or to repentance and forgiveness of sins -- no, it also is the source of healings.

Here's the passage of scripture that is being twisted: "And he [Christ] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." (Alma 7:11)

Alma is prophesying here of Christ's mortal life, and the next verse makes it clear that when Christ takes upon him the "pains and sicknesses of his people," along with our other "afflictions and temptations," it is so that he can feel compassion for mortal beings: "And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:12) In short, along with his mission of conquering death and sin, the Son of God takes flesh upon him so that he will understand our mortal experience.

Somehow, though, this is being twisted into a doctrine never officially taught in the Church, that physical healings also come from the atonement of Christ.

Of course, this "doctrine" is not as pernicious as the "love yourself first" doctrine. This idea of a "healing atonement" is mostly a distraction -- somebody has to waste time explaining it in religion classes, and students have to waste time learning it, and it makes no practical difference whatsoever.

Who Gets Healed? Or does it? Here's the problem: The atonement is infinite and universal. Those who repent and are baptized receive its blessings. But if healings come through the atonement, then are we to conclude that those who are not healed must have failed to repent or lacked in faith?

Oh, how useful! Another way to heap shame and guilt upon those who are already suffering! Weren't you healed? Aha! You must be sinful! Your crippled baby hasn't been made whole? Well, it's got to be your fault (or the baby's?), since the universal atonement applies to physical infirmities as well as sins, and thus only by unworthiness could healing be denied!

Such nonsense. The scriptures tell us plainly that to some is given the gift to heal, and to others is given the gift to be healed. Healing is a gift of the Spirit, through the power of faith, often by the blessing of the priesthood. Physical healing is completely separate from and unlike the atonement for sin and the resurrection of the dead. It follows different rules. It is not universal.

In fact, death always comes through physical "infirmity." If the universal atonement included physical healing of all such infirmities, then the righteous would never die of any illness or injury. Joseph Smith's bullet wounds should have been healed as he fell from the window. Brigham Young's health should have been restored no matter which organ began to fail. All the prophets since the atonement should still be alive.

Disorderly Inspiration? There are scriptures that are hard to understand, but Alma 7:11-12 is not one of them. So how does such silliness arise? The fact that this new "doctrine" was found in a passage of scripture that had been read by millions of Saints, including prophets, seers, and revelators, for more than sixteen decades suggests several possible conclusions:

(1) All those people who missed this interpretation are really dim-witted;

(2) the Lord, despite his claims about orderliness in his house, has chosen to give inspiration concerning an astonishing new doctrine about the atonement to someone other than one of the prophets; or

(3) this "insight" was simply a misreading of the scripture, and not correct doctrine.

One would hope that most Latter-day Saints would at least consider the third possibility before beginning to teach newfound scriptural interpretations (especially when their words carry the implied authority that comes from being a religion teacher at a Church university). And even if the same idea can be found (as what idea cannot?) somewhere in the Journal of Discourses, there is a reason why most of those old speeches have not been gathered up and bound in with the standard works: They are not authoritative, but rather are speculative.

There's nothing wrong with wondering or speculating about religious ideas. At least I hope not -- I do it myself. But my writings are labeled as fiction or opinion, and I have no claim to special authority. Those who really do have authority -- those sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators -- are extraordinarily careful in the things they say, making sure they do not speak in such a way as to confuse the Saints or contradict true doctrine.

They concentrate on the simple doctrines that save souls. Let us strive to do likewise.

-- Orson Scott Card


The Chapel of My Youth

There are two buildings in Schenectady, New York, that still mean something to me -- after ten years of being away. They are my house on Wendell Avenue and my chapel on Seminole and Cherokee. Only one of them is still standing. Last week the ward building where I attended church for the first seventeen years of my life burned to the ground.

It was surprising to me how devastated I felt when I heard the news. It was almost as if a real person had died rather than a building that I haven't thought about, let alone been in, for years. But when I considered the fact that I'd never be able to see or enter into it again, a flood of memories came back of the experiences I had there.

  • I remember accidentally pulling my mom's wig off during sacrament meeting.

  • I remember our blind teacher Miss Peacock when I was a little girl and how I would sit high up in the wide window sill during her lessons.

  • I remember Miss Polly, the aged southern belle who taught Sunbeams for 20 years and kept a picture of every one of her past and present students in her house. She gave me a pearl poodle pin for my third birthday.

  • I used to come early to sacrament meeting with mom since she was in the choir. When I was little, I would play in the nursery and the one or two other friends that were with me and I would play in the huge toy box which was a full six feet high and six feet across. It had four separate compartments in it and if we dumped all the toys out, we could fit in one and shut the door. I felt so safe in my small box. Yet it was neat to share it with someone who was just one box down. It was mostly dark but little beams of light would shine through the cracks around the edges. I suppose my toy box burned to the ground too.

  • Because I wanted to remember my baptism, Arla and I thought we ought to do something dramatic. So while we sat on the front pew of the chapel, we concentrated hard, searing the moment into our minds. We were supposed to be nervous, after all. We were about to get the Holy Ghost. Would we feel different afterward?

    But I stopped being goofy when my dad and President Selin and Brother Nielsen and Bishop Garbe put their hands on my head. I closed my eyes and listened.

  • I wish just one more time I could walk up to the stage, turn around, slide my hand up behind me and lift myself up backwards to sit and watch the basketball team play.

  • In this chapel I learned about repentance and guilt and trust. When Erik and I snuck out of MIA with another couple one Wednesday evening, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Erik was going to kiss me. Though Erik was under a delusion to the contrary (for which I can't claim innocence), this would be my first kiss.

We thought we had been sly. We thought no one would notice. But when Laurie and I were huddled in our secret hideout in the baptismal changing room later that night, we got a knock on the door. The bishop wanted to see us.

We were panicked but remained cool . . . until we walked in his office and saw Joe and Erik there. Then the bishop (Erik's dad no less) went around the room asking each person if we had snuck out together that evening.

He asked Erik. He asked Joe. He asked Laurie. I was shocked that they each denied it. How could I lie? That was one area that I really had covered. I prided myself on my honesty. I really didn't think I would be capable of looking into my bishop's kind, blue eyes and prevaricating.

But as my fear came to a head and I knew I was next, he let us go. He apologized and let us go.

Laurie and I didn't speak to Joe and Erik when we got out of his office. We didn't even speak to each other. It became an unspoken thing. If we didn't discuss it, maybe we could erase it from happening.

But the next Sunday, we got called in to the bishop's office again. I thought I had felt bad on Wednesday, but this was much worse. I was certain we'd been caught and then we'd be in even deeper for having lied. My only comfort was that mine was a sin of omission.

To my shock and horror, the bishop had not caught us. On the contrary, he had bought us Dunkin' Donuts to apologize for jumping to conclusions about us the week before. Was this a vicious game? I eyed him suspiciously while trying to keep a placid grin on my face. Was he toying with us? Was this some kind of demented guilt trip? I couldn't get an angle on the bishop. He seemed on the level.

After I ate the donut in his presence, I went into the restroom and threw it up.

I thought I would die. For weeks I was tormented at every turn. For one thing, I felt like Erik and I had acted inappropriately (my, that's a nice, objective, vague and slippery way of putting it). This whole mess had started by me giving someone a false impression. I had led Erik to believe that I was somehow experienced and by so doing I had trapped myself into having to act that way. Then lies and deceptions made my hole deeper and deeper until I could no longer see the light of day.

I walked out of MIA again. As I walked down the hall I couldn't feel my arms or legs. I didn't let my mind think of where I was going. I put myself on auto pilot so that I couldn't rationally override my decision.

When I knocked on his door I half expected no answer. But he answered and opened and listened and comforted. My bishop could have done so many things. He could have gotten mad (he had every right). He could have laughed (because looking back, I was making an awfully big deal of things). He could have lectured. He could have given me a dirty look.

But he loved me. He gave me a taste of what it has since felt like to cast my burdens upon the Lord and instead of chastisement, to feel unconditional love in return. I can see his office. I can feel the leather of the chair. But the place no longer exists anywhere but in my mind.

-- A Reader in Utah


Why Do Hard Things?

Sometimes inspiration can come in unlikely contexts and relate to unlikely topics.

While preparing a sacrament meeting talk recently on the (let's face it, rather dry) subject of fasting, I was suddenly reminded of a Rolling Stone interview I had read several years ago. The subject of the interview was a radical Catholic priest named Matthew Fox who regularly gets himself into trouble with his superiors and obviously relishes his outlaw status.

Most of what he said wasn't terribly memorable. But I distinctly remember that he referred to celibacy as a kind of fasting. I was struck by his attitude -- for him, remaining celibate was a spiritual endeavor and an ongoing process.

Another perspective on fasting came from a recent radio interview with Sister Wendy Beckett, a Carmelite nun who has been hosting a PBS miniseries on art history. Sister Wendy had mentioned that the series was not her idea at all, and that in fact she much preferred to spend her time alone in study and prayer.

Her interviewer was clearly puzzled, and kept posing questions designed to get at Sister Wendy's reasons for being so deeply involved in a project that was distasteful to her. The response that finally stopped all the questions was, I believe, more or less off-the-cuff, and yet it struck me with the power of scripture -- strongly enough that I think I can remember it verbatim: she said, "Several years of doing that which you would rather not do can be very purifying when you are a selfish person. And I am a very selfish person."

Why do we fast? For a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that we're selfish people and we know it. Self-denial is not our purpose in life; on the contrary, our goal is to become converted, changed, so that our will fits our Father's perfectly, at which point we can indulge ourselves completely. But in the meantime we can benefit greatly from the purifying effects of doing that which we would rather not do simply because it is asked of us in righteousness.

Although we do, and should, fast for less stark reasons than that one, I think that it can be sufficient in their absence.

-- Rick Anderson


Just a Vanilla Christmas

I once had a bishop who could have starred in his own musical production of "Bishop on the Roof." He wasso steeped in tradition that if our ward had served quail medallions at the ward dinner back in 1953, our ward was always going to serve quail medallions at the ward dinner. Period. No discussion. Without ever knowing it, that bishop taught me a lesson I still remember: There's a fine line between a tradition and a rut.

Although I consistently try to buck tradition in my own life, I didn't realize I was making ruts of my own until I was given a stunning demonstration that human beings could give friends and neighbors something besides paper plates of cookies at Christmastime. About twenty years ago, a friend gave Clark and me the biggest glass pig we'd ever laid eyes on. The snout alone was at least five inches in diameter, and the whole pig was roughly three feet long and nearly two feet high. Our friend had carefully filled that pig with the contents of so many boxes of specialty crackers that he probably would have had to take out a home equity loan to pay for them, except that he was living in an apartment at the time. To this day, I've never seen a finer culinary gift.

Not that Clark and I haven't tried. When we developed our prize-losing recipe for bottled fruit bread, one year we gave jars of that for Christmas presents. Then we discovered frozen berries, and we started giving out bottles of freezer jam -- raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, in succeeding years.

We gave away jam until we moved to Virginia and lost our berry supplier. Then, fearing we couldn't top the jam, we threw in the towel and gave away caramel corn. It was a fine recipe, but half the people in the ward gave us caramel corn that year. We clearly had to find something else to do.

About the time I was looking for new ideas, I was sustained as Relief Society Homemaking Leader for Life. Suddenly I had stewardship over scores of women who wanted to create homemade food items for Christmas presents. The first year we made bottles of hot chocolate mix (just add water!). The next year we got a little more ambitious and layered colorful beans and spices in decorative jars, creating homemade soup mixes. The third year we bottled rice pilaf mix with dried apricots and golden raisins, decorating the bottle with metallic gold fabric and ribbon and big foil stars. The result was such a thing of beauty that I couldn't bear to eat it. The mason jar is still sitting on our china cabinet, where the housekeeper faithfully dusts it every week.

I didn't have the heart to try to top the rice pilaf, so the next year I let the women in our ward fend for themselves. It was just as well: We couldn't give something we'd made in homemaking meeting to other women in the ward. After all, anybody who wanted rice pilaf mix with apricots and golden raisins already had a kitchen full of it by the time Christmas arrived. Once again, Clark and I were on our own.

In 1995, we made our own mustard. It was fine mustard, sinus-clearing mustard. It took five minutes to make, and we're still getting compliments on it. But when an older lady in the ward looked at the mustard and sniffed, "What am I going to do with this? All I eat is TV dinners," I realized the time had come to make something everybody could use. I found a recipe for vanilla extract to use for Christmas of '96, and the search was over.

I'm a label-reader. We label-readers assume that everyone else in the world is a label- reader. It was my guess that every female on Planet Earth knew that there are two ingredients in pure vanilla extract -- vanilla beans and alcohol. Furthermore, I naively assumed that those same female human beings had deduced that the alcohol in vanilla extract is not rubbing alcohol. If it were, none of us would be label-readers because all of us would be dead.

So much for making assumptions!

I thought my only problem was a logistical one. I had no idea whether it would be better to drive out of the area to visit the liquor store and risk having a ward member see me skulking to my car with a brown paper bag, or go to one inside our ward boundary and brazen it out. I asked a friend what she'd do, but we never got that far. Her jaw dropped, and she gasped, "I didn't know there was liquor in vanilla. We're not supposed to drink alcohol." End of conversation.

One by one, I polled a few confidantes who are also fair cooks. None of them had made the alcohol connection. One of them even remarked that she had never understood why her alcoholic sister couldn't use uncooked vanilla. Now she knew.

I debated finding some other gift to give, but I'd already sunk too much money into vanilla to give it up. The little bottles were a dollar apiece. The ribbon and tags were expensive, too. The killer was the vanilla itself. It was only after I bought the bottles and the ribbon and the tags that I realized I'd need two vanilla beans per cup of liquid, and a pair of vanilla beans was about $3.29. Clearly, abandon-ment of this project was not an option.

But finding the liquor wasn't that easy. I had no idea that liquor stores in Virginia don't sell the hard stuff, and the government stores don't advertise in the phone book. I checked newspaper ads and drove to the neighborhood strip malls without success. Finally I had to ask the only person I know who drinks, and she was happy to give directions to the nearest package liquor store. It was an odd question for Clark and me to ask when we were making our monthly home teaching visit, however, and I was a little chagrined when I did it.

Since package stores in Virginia are run by the state, they have a monopoly on what they're going to sell. I needed rotgut brandy, but I wound up with French stuff. It was about three times more expensive than I hoped it would be, but at least I survived the shopping expedition. My only prior knowledge of liquor stores had come from the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries," which has taught me that everyone who walks into a liquor store is going to see at least one fellow customer in a ski mask.

Even though I was now making the fancy French vanilla instead of the lowly American kind, the whole process took about five minutes. I spent considerably longer wondering how to dispose of the liquor bottles, because I didn't want the housekeeper to see them.

Making vanilla is more a function of time than it is of effort, however. The concoction has to steep for three months, being shaken every week to mix the ingredients. The first week I shook the bottles I learned that two of the corks apparently didn't understand the "cork" concept, and they had made such a weak seal that I ended up with liquor all over my clothes. Clark came home five minutes later, and I waited for him to wonder if I'd started drinking my own Christmas present. He said not a word. Apparently his lifelong church membership has stood him in good stead: he can't even recognize the smell of liquor.

The vanilla was mixed on December 1. The bottles were given at Christmas, and were greeted with an assortment of oohs and aahs. It was only at delivery time that one person understood what he was being given in his pretty blue bottle. When Clark gave some vanilla to the stake patriarch, Patriarch Jenkins said, "Now what's in this stuff? It's just vanilla beans and booze, isn't it?" Clearly the man is inspired.

When the three-month gestation period ended, I opened a bottle of vanilla with great anticipation. Alas, what was inside the bottle was booze -- strange-smelling booze, to be sure, but booze nonetheless. There I stood, sniffing a bottle of liquid condemnation, and I was more than a little embarrassed to think that so many of my friends were probably doing the same thing. I consoled myself by thinking that at least the bottles were pretty. We'd gotten lots of compliments on them.

But my pessimism was premature. When I opened the same bottle in June, the aroma that met my nostrils was a pure vanilla smell. The experiment had indeed been a success -- it had just taken a few months longer for the vanilla to gestate than the cookbook had advertised. I could now cook with impunity. I hadn't risked my eternal salvation in vain.

Despite the success of the experiment, I have to wonder if any of our friends actually used my home-made vanilla. What I'd bet is that most of them poured the gift down the sink, preferring to use the vanilla that was already in their kitchens -- vanilla that was just as toxic, but which at least had the advantage of coming from a food-processing plant rather than a liquor store.

If I'd realized how many spiritual ramifications there were in giving away a simple bottle of vanilla, I would have made homemade cat food. Next year I'm doing something less threatening for Christmas gifts. I have a spiffy-looking recipe for cranberry vinegar, and to the best of my knowledge I won't have to jeopardize my temple recommend to buy the ingredients.

-- Kathryn H. Kidd


"Our" Epic Journey

They left everything they owned in the hands of their enemies and set forth into the wilderness, fearful of enemies, unsure of what nature would do to them, but drawn onward by their hope of reaching a land of promise, where their children could grow in safety and faith.

Now, many years later, their journey is remembered by millions, some of them the children of their children's children, but more of them converts or the children of converts, who have taken their story upon them as their inheritance, not through blood, but through faith.

I speak, of course, of the journey of Father Lehi and his little party, recorded by his son Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

Oh, you thought ... but ... oh my! Those words could apply to the trek of the pioneers across the American prairie, couldn't they? But surely you don't think I'd write yet another homage to the pioneers, now that the sesquicentennial celebration is over?

Remembering

In a letter to the editor of Time following their article on the pioneer sesquicentennial, one reader commented (as best I recall), "Why don't those Mormons stop obsessing on the past and get on with the future?" I had to laugh -- I wonder what this impatient soul thinks of the Jews! After all, we only make a big deal about the Mormon pioneers every five decades, while Jews have celebrated the Exodus from Egypt every year for dozens of centuries!

But it's not just non-Mormons who were a bit annoyed by our sesquicentennial. I heard comments (never in the foyer; these were parking-lot sentiments) from more than a few Saints who were weary of those members who took possession of the sesquicentennial, reminding everyone on every possible occasion that they were descended from this or that pioneer -- five points for an ancestor in the original company, three points for an 1847 pioneer, two points for a leader, but ten points for one who died during the journey, and fifteen points for an ancestor in the Martin and Willey companies.

In a Church committed to genealogy, it is only to be expected that we are aware of our ancestors, and that we feel love for and pride in them just as we do with our children and grandchildren.

But we also need to remember that, as far as I know, every single pioneer who crossed the plains before the coming of the railroad has since died. I have my share of pioneer ancestors (in fact, I think my score is up around fifty -- without a single Martin and Willey ancestor to beef up the total), but I can't think of any way that these ancestors will save me, except insofar as I follow the example of their courage, faith, obedience, and tenacity.

And that example is equally available to Saints who don't have a single pioneer ancestor.

Who Is "We"?

When we join a community, we take upon ourselves the history of that community as if it were our own. It is not meaningless for Mormons today to speak of when "we" were driven out of Missouri, or when "we" made the desert blossom as the rose -- even though "we" now have many wards and stakes in Missouri and "we" have added our share of thorns to the desert rose.

We gain the right to say "we" of the actions of the pioneers because we have been baptized into the church to which they consecrated their lives. And if a blood descendant of pioneers leaves the Church, he loses the right to say "we" of what was done by Saints in decades past, for he is no longer part of that people.

When Saints in Ukraine built a wagon and paraded it through the streets of the ancient cities of their land, they were acting out the truth: They were indeed of the same people who made that trek in the 1840s and 50s and 60s. In Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia, Europe, the heirs of the pioneers could be seen in faithful men and women of every race and language. All were equally entitled to speak of what "we" did in our epic journey.

After all, there are a lot of treks and journeys in the history of the Lord's people. Sometimes the journeys were to escape destruction; sometimes they were to receive a promised inheritance. Come to think of it, they usually seemed to be both!

What Brigham Young did in 1847, Lehi also did, and so did Jared and his brother. So did Moses, first on his solitary road to the burning bush and then with the children of Israel murmuring behind him; and so did the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Chaldea. Noah's voyage, the trek of Alma's church, Ammon's rescue of Limhi's people: The pattern is followed again and again.

We take upon ourselves all these stories. For every descendant of Mormon pioneers, the Church now has a member who is descended from Father Lehi; yet the Book of Mormon belongs to all of us, and all of us are commonly called by the name of that book. Every testament is a travelogue.

No One Journeys Alone

We all take a journey from the world to the promised land. And every time we make that trek, it feels like uncharted territory, for the world is full of maps to guide our lives, but none shows the land where we want to go.

So our accounts and memories of the journeys of God's people are the only guide we have. They lead us from lands that soon will lie in ruins, cities that will be empty, fields that will belong to the weeds; they carry us through desolation, fearful places where we seem to have no friends; but at last we find our-selves in a place that we can make into a home for ourselves and our children, a joyful place to live and labor.

One lesson in particular is worth remembering: These journeys were always taken by groups. Even Moses, having fled Egypt alone, was married to Zipporah before he made it to the burning bush. Had Brigham Young reached Salt Lake City by himself, who would remember him? Father Lehi brought along even his rebellious sons, and if Moses had left behind the unwilling and the complaining, a small boat would have sufficed for the crossing of the Jordan into the Canaan.

We make our trek together, helping the weak, encouraging the laggard, and following those who better know the way. And when we succeed in the journey, those who later follow us are all our children, no matter what the pedigree charts might show.

To join the Church and live the gospel is to be adopted into a great family. Our names are added to the names already in the book. In our lives the books of Judah and the books of Joseph become one story. If we truly live by one we will live by all of them.

-- Orson Scott Card

 
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