Saturday, September 30, 2017

BOMT: Don't Leave Me Out of the Plan! I'm Opting In!

Alma 34

This is another chapter I encountered on my daily quest through the Topical Guide, my core curriculum on Christ. I read the prescribed verse in the topical guide (Alma 34:8 "He shall atone for the sins of the world"), scanned the surrounding verses for context, and was completely enthralled as though I were reading it all again through fresh eyes (even though I've probably read it a hundred times before.)  I found three instances of Chiasmus (Hebrew poetry form that repeats itself in reverse like an X, with the most crucial part of the message at its core); and I also discovered THE KEY to opting into (or out of) the great plan of happiness.  

Here we go:

Another stunning discovery in my quest for spiritual growth is how essential it is to turn a corner and repent of wrongdoings. Honestly, sometimes I forget about repentance. If I haven't done something seriously wrong, it kind of falls off my radar screen. But two scriptures in Alma 34 completely changed my perspective on this:

In verse 16 it says:

"...Mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.

Without faith unto repentance (the kind of faith that brings you to your knees and  brings about a change of heart) Mercy no longer has us in its grasp. The next line is even stronger and more clear: "only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."

In other words, No repentance = No plan.

That's right, the amazing plan that our Father in Heaven presented to us before we ever came to earth, the plan to bring us back home to him someday, glorified and exalted, the plan which prophets have called "The Great and Eternal Plan of Redemption," "The Great Plan of Happiness," "The Great Plan of Mercy," "The Plan of Restoration," "The Great Plan of Salvation,"...that's right—a plan so big and important and powerful and loving no single title even does it justice—that plan has no effect in our lives if we're not exercising faith and repenting. 

Why did I never notice that before? It's the key to everything. Believe. Repent. Or you're not even part of the plan.

Thank heaven in verse 31 there's some hope for those of us who are a little slow to catch on.

"...if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you."

That is so cool! Just when we thought it was too late and we are completely locked out of the plan...all we have to do is repent, and immediately the whole plan takes effect in our lives. We're back in! 

It's so simple. But so hard.

So of course as soon as I learn this concept, I'm given extra opportunities to repent. That's always the way it works, isn't it?

I offended a good friend. (And who knows how many others who didn't speak up?) I had a student confess a wrongdoing that made me feel guilty just by osmosis. I snapped at my husband. I got impatient with other drivers. I dropped balls. 

Here's what I learned. Repenting is hard. But it's easier than it is in our minds when we feel it looming on the horizon. And it's easier than procrastinating that hard conversation, that apology, that confession, the resolve to improve. It's definitely easier than carrying the weight and the burden of the errors and mistakes. And for sure it's better and easier than being ejected from the great plan of happiness. That would be horrible! 

So I'm opting in. I want to be part of the great eternal plan of mercy, redemption and love. I choose to exercise my faith. I choose to repent. I choose happiness.

QUESTION: How do you make repentance a part of your daily life?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

BOMT Am I A Prayer Slacker? or Will I Rip Open My Heart?

I have prayed every day of my life for as long as I can remember. I've kept a prayer journal (off and on) to record my answers, which have never failed to come, and have at times established a deep connection with God (other times more habitual, with sort of a bungee cord connection.) I have never thought of myself as a prayer slacker. And yet this list from Alma gives me pause.

Right now I have a two-year goal for exponential spiritual growth (to match, in part, the growth our son is experiencing on his mission.) I love the spiritual depth and power I experienced years ago as a missionary, and am longing to once again stretch myself spiritually. One step toward that goal is to deepen my prayers.

What wonderful timing to discover this extensive list of how, where and what to pray for in Alma 34. Since I have no flocks or fields, I decided to reinterpret the list through a more contemporary lens. Here's my take on Alma's list:

  • Pray to be treated with kindness and generosity, ask to be forgiven. (And, as a corollary, pray to treat others the way you would want to be treated.)
  • Humble yourself(See yourself in relation to God, rather than comparing yourself to other people. Express gratitude. Acknowledge His role in your life.)
  • Continue to pray (When you think you're finished praying, pause, search your soul, and then keep going. Go deeper. Establish daily rhythms of prayer that you follow on a continual basis. Never take a break from this essential habit of connecting with God.)
  • Pray about work, pray at work and during work (for me as an artist and art teacher, this means to pray about the subjects I'm going to paint and for my work on those paintings, pray in my studio and pray in the very act of painting, pray before I teach and for those I teach.)
  • Pray at home, for your family, morning, mid-day and evening (and not just a recited blessing over the food at these times, but a heartfelt, meaningful prayer offered up in united faith, asking a blessing for each member of the family specific their needs.)
  • Pray for protection (This could refer to safety of course, but also to protection from wrongdoers who could take advantage of us in business, or protection from our own tendencies to underperform and live beneath our calling and privilege as children of God.)
  • Pray to resist temptation (Sometimes we know what are weaknesses are and can be actively watching out for them. Other times they catch us completely off guard—"Did I just say that?" "I can't believe I did that." Either way we need the strength to resist doing things we'll later regret. And suddenly I'm seeing a connection to resisting foods I'll later regret eating. That's a temptation too.)
  • Pray that our work will prosper (It's okay to ask not just that we'll do our best, but that it will achieve the desired results and recognition. It's okay to ask for abundance in our lives.)
  • Pray for increase (a raise? a bigger family? some improvement in our own ability or performance? It's okay to ask for what we have to increase.)
  • Pour out your soul in private, and in nature (I actually do this often. Walking (or sitting quietly and reflecting) in nature is one of my favorite ways to commune with God.)
  • Pray with a full heart, drawn out in continual prayer (Don't ever allow yourself to disconnect from the Source of all your love, light and blessings.)
When I think of praying with a full heart, I'm reminded of a favorite hymn in Spanish: Secreta Oración. In English I don't even like this hymn..."There is an Hour of Peace and Rest." The chorus "May my heart be turned to pray, Pray in secret day by day" is a bit repetitive and bland. But in Spanish the chorus Rendiré mi corazon en secreta oración translates as "I will rip open my heart in private prayer." And in the wonderful Spanish wards and branches where I served as a missionary, the people sing this with ánimo, with passion and energy and with their whole hearts. Such an inspiration. They sing as though they are counting on the gift of prayer to grant them a deep connection with the heavens, as the rest of the chorus promises. I think that's how we should approach prayer.

And then there's one more piece of advice on prayer Alma gives us, and it's a bit surprising.
  • Be excessively, unfailingly kind...or else. If we do all this praying, no matter how earnest, but then fail to take care of the poor and the sick and the troubled, then our prayers don't even count, have no effect. Without charity in our hearts, nothing else matters.
Okay, it's official. I'm a slacker. But I'm working on it and improving.

QUESTION: How do you make prayer a more vibrant part of your life?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

BOMT: Patterns of Praise

I was doing my morning scripture study going through the subheads on Christ in the Topical Guide. When I read these scriptures I typically scan the verses before and after for context. When I read 2 Nephi 9:7, in scanning for context I got completely sucked in and studied the whole chapter when I discovered a series of patterns where certain phrases were repeated over and over again. (This falls under ‘Single out Specifics’). The words Joy and Rejoice are words I typically single out and circle when I’m studying. The other patterns I had never really noticed before.

Regarding the Infinite Atonement: 
The merciful plan of the great Creator includes the Power of Resurrection (resurrection accomplished via priesthood power; Christ holds the keys) It also refers to this Power of Resurrection in 2 Nephi 10:25 and Jacob 4:11. 

Jacob's praise to the Lord when he witnesses and understands the plan: (I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings) — I’m interested in this because culturally we often don’t  offer up a lot of praise.  

(For more on the topic of praise within families, check out this post about teenage anger on my other blog, Divergent Pathways.)

O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! (v8)
O how great the goodness of our God (who prepareth a way for our escape)! (v10)
O how great the plan of our God! (v13)
O the greatness and the justice of our God!  (v17)
O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! (v19)
O how great the holiness of our God! (v20)

He also has great disdain for Satan and his followers. He sees how treacherous our mortal experience is: 

O the cunning plan of the evil one! (v28)
O the vainness and the frailties and the foolishness of men!  

He gives these warnings: 

Wo unto the rich (for because they are rich they despise the poor) (v30)
Wo unto the deaf that will not hear (v31)
Wo unto the blind (v32)
Wo unto the uncircumcised of heart (uncircumcised refers to covenant making, so this would mean those who avoid or devalue their covenants with Christ) (v33)
Wo unto the liar (v34)
Wo unto the murderer (who kill deliberately) (v35)
Wo unto those that worship idols (v36)
Wo unto all those who die in their sins  (v37)

Then he continues pleading with his brethren (members of the church) to return and remember: 

O my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness of transgressing. Remember to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually minded is life eternal.  (v39)

O my beloved brethren, give ear to my words. Remember the greatness of the Holy One of Israel. (v40)

O then my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. (v41)

O my beloved brethren, remember my words. (v44)

O my beloved brethren, turn away from your sins; shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast; come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation. (v45)

Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters...come buy wine and milk without money and without price. (v50)

Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice.  (v52)

He concludes with more rejoicing, praising the work of the Lord:

How great the covenants of the Lord, and how great his condescensions:…his greatness and his grace and mercy. (v53)

Here he whets their appetite for more, but is careful not to overwhelm them in a single session/chapter:

And now, my brethren, I would speak unto you more, but on the morrow I will declare unto you the remainder of my words.

I have to add that in reading some of these verses I was so moved by the spirit that I was completely overcome, I felt those feelings of joy and gratitude and awe and was choking back tears. Searching for patterns like this and really asking yourself what is happening, what is important here really opens you up to be taught by the spirit.

QUESTION: What has moved you recently from the scriptures?

Monday, January 4, 2016

40Q: #2 Mercy me!

I wrote this years ago, no idea exactly when, but forgot to press publish. So this isn't current, but absolutely still resonates.

Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering...?
It started as a simple search for mercy.  I remembered one of my favorite references, in Moroni—an oft-forgotten portion of Moroni's promise: "...Remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts." There, scribbled in the outside margin was a single reference: 2 Nephi 1.

I turned there and started reading. Suddenly memories of where we've been and how we've been delivered were flooding to me as I replaced the names and places with my own:

"And he spake concerning our rebellions, and the mercies of God in sparing our lives, that we were not swallowed up in that metropolis of greater Los Angeles. ...How merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Los Angeles. For I have seen the news reports, in which I know that the real estate bubble has burst, and had we remained in Los Angeles we should also have perished."

I continued throughout the entire chapter, likening it to myself wherever I could see a parallel, and verse after verse jumped out as significant. But it wasn't until I got to the last page that it humbled me to my core:

"Rebel no more against your [husband], whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Los Angeles, and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise;"..."He hath suffered much sorrow because of you...for behold you have accused him that he sought power and authority over you...but he hath sought your own eternal welfare."

Right before I studied my scriptures I had prayed for some inspiration regarding our marriage, and this was my answer: You are married to a good man. Heed his counsel. Stop murmuring.  I started out studying about the Lord's mercy and ended up gaining some insight into my own husband's longsuffering.  You never know what's going to pierce you when you embark on a journey like this.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BOMT: I Never Said It Would Be Easy

Often God's solutions to our problems involve giving us more work. God seems to eschew the life of ease. Consider this classic line from chapter 17: "and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished."

Recently I've been blessed with so many opportunities and at the same time burdened with too much to juggle, too many balls to keep in the air. I am terrified of dropping one of those balls. But the juggling has become pretty intense. I've been praying for direction.

One of the largest of these balls, The Living Room podcast, has actually been terms of listeners and building a community, and also in terms of work for us and cost for us to produce. When this opportunity originally came up, I asked the Lord if this was just "one more thing" or if it was an essential—something He really wanted and needed me to do. (Because otherwise it's a really taxing and expensive hobby!) The answer was so clear: "If I went to the trouble to part this red sea for you, you should walk across it." Wow. Okay.

When things rolled out of control last month, and so many items on my growing to-do list collided, my positive attitude waned. I asked again: Is this still something I should be doing? Or is it taking me away from more important tasks? I pleaded: Can The Living Room at least begin to pay for itself...because this is not sustainable in the long term.

Right around this time another opportunity arose...a paid writing assignment for a large online publication. Such an unexpected offer, and quite an honor. I prayed and fasted about this one too. I'm already writing quite a bit for The Living Room. I needed to know if this, too, was just "one more thing." The answer completely surprised me. I felt my heart expand to embrace it, my mind was flooded with ideas. So I added one more ball to my juggling act.

Nephi (2600 years ago) had an impossible-looking assignment from God: Build a boat. When his brothers complain about the work, doubt its results, and refuse to help, Nephi's rebuke is a great one for us all: "Murmur not, neither withhold your labor." Don't complain, Dive in! He had no idea how he was to accomplish it. But he allowed God to direct him every step of the way, and refused to doubt in his ability, with God on his side. Nephi actually had to make his own tools. (If I had to make my own computer I would have given up a long time ago!)

Just this morning it occurred to me: This was an answer to one of my earlier prayers. God didn't wave a magic wand and suddenly give The Living Room a million listeners and a steady stream of advertisers. Instead, He gave me more work. But this work will give me the exact amount of money I need to pay every month to keep The Living Room on the air. He has pointed me toward the tools and given me the means make it happen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

BOMT: Defusing and Deliverance

Mosiah 7

Here we see a perfect example of the facetious-but-often-true adage, "No good deed goes unpunished."

Sixteen men are permitted by King Mosiah to travel to the land of Lehi-Nephi to check up on a group of their brethren who headed there impetuously two generations ago and were never heard from since. Forty years they had waited and still cared. (It struck me immediately that the 40 years of waiting and the 40 days wandering in the wilderness are an obvious allusion to the children of Israel and their 40 years in the wilderness.)

But instead of the warm welcome they might have expected, they were taken and bound and cast into prison. After two days in jail they were taken before the king and commanded to speak:
"I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city..." Then he essentially says, the only reason I haven't had you killed yet is to find out what you're doing here.

But despite the mistreatment, the abuse, the imprisonment, the anger, and the death threats, Ammon shows us a truly masterful example of defusing anger: 
Ammon, as leader of the men who've been imprisoned, steps forward, bows before the king, and says, "O King, I am very thankful before God this day that I am yet alive, and am permitted to speak."

Step one: Shows Respect (bows before the king, addresses him with the respectful O and his title).
Step two: Expresses Gratitude (thanks the king abundantly and sincerely, and thanks the Lord as well).

Only then does he attempt any kind of bold statement: "I will endeavor to speak with boldness, for (and this is truly bold) I am assured that if ye had known me ye would not have suffered that I should have worn these bands."

Step three: Frames his point (which in this case is that the king has made a gross error by imprisoning Ammon and his men) by assuming the best, giving the benefit of the doubt (you wouldn't have done this if you'd known...). This is, to a lesser degree, what Christ was doing when he said of his captors and crucifiers, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Step four: Makes a connection (by identifying himself, his hometown, their common ancestry, a common friend, and a common purpose.)

Step five: Shows concern. "We have come up out of the land of Zarahemla to inquire concerning our brethren."

Step six: Reception. The king has instantly changed from a position of anger, suspicion and threat to being "exceedingly glad," referring to them as his brethren, rejoicing, and desiring that his people rejoice as well.

Step seven: Deliverance. "King Limhi commanded his guards they they should no more bind Ammon nor his brethren, but caused that they should...bring their brethren into the city [to] eat, and drink, and rest themselves..."

Although this was in the extreme (prison, bonds, death threat) we all encounter situations of anger, misunderstanding and even threatening accusations. But I fully believe that if we follow this pattern of defusing anger, our ideas will be better received. This is a pattern we can use with an angry co-worker, an obstinate or disobedient child...nearly any interpersonal confrontation:

1. Show Respect
2. Express Sincere Gratitude
3. Frame your message by assuming the best, giving the benefit of the doubt 
(I know you didn't mean to..., I'm sure you wouldn't have done x if you'd been aware of y)
4. Make a Connection, find common ground
5. Show Concern

The steps could be rearranged, in any order, as long as the bold message is sandwiched between the two relationship-building sections.

Of course, steps six and seven, Reception and Deliverance, are subject to the agency of the other party. But the immediate and dramatic turnaround of the king's position gives me great hope.

There's an interesting twist of fate, as the king confesses that they're in bondage to the Lamanites, and essentially asks Ammon and his men to help deliver them. In granting deliverance (i.e. forgiveness), they too are delivered (forgiven). There are many kinds of bondage we experience in the 21st century: debt, sin, addiction, depression, to name a few.

I love the promise of the closing verse:
"Turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BOMT: Strong like Unto Men

Sunday night at our family dinner, Jeff's brother David talked about a scripture-study technique his mission president assigned them -- rewriting scripture. Trust me, it's not as heretical as it sounds! They were assigned certain verses, then asked to digest them, personalize them, replace specifics with their own name, their own circumstances, and then write it all out in their own words -- essentially taking "Liken the scriptures unto us" to a whole new level. We asked David if this study process was effective, and he answered, "It was amazing."

Fast-forward to this morning. I awoke thinking about Relief Society -- specifically about some recent changes to the Relief Society meetings in our ward. Suddenly this week we've been asked to stop our "Good News Minute" (the dissenter in me wails, But how will the sisters bond, form connections?) and to also stop using 5 minutes for a "practice hymn," and not discuss any background or thought process behind the hymns (the dissenter and the musician in me are wailing in unison now, But if mothers aren't learning and loving the hymns, they won't use them in their homes. Family Home Evenings will suffer. Hymns invite the Spirit.) While we were visiting Pasadena a couple of weeks ago, a handful of sisters said some of the recent changes feel like they've taken the womanhood out of Relief Society -- (the motherhood, the sisterhood, the softness, the bonding) -- almost like they're turning it into priesthood. I was trying to process these ideas, not in a negative way -- just trying to wrap my mind around them. I wondered if a woman's role is being ramped up rather than diminished by these recent changes. I thought about Elder Packer and others stating that what we've done in the past will not be enough to save our families in the future. We need to be stronger.

Then this scripture came to my mind, repeatedly, insistently. It is a verse I read in the temple last week:
1 Ne. 17: 2
And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.
I thought about "wilderness" as an oft-used metaphor for moving outside our comfort zone, for trials and afflictions and stepping out into the unknown. I thought about the New Testament parable, milk before meat -- meat in this case being the deeper, heavier doctrines. And suddenly raw meat took on a whole new meaning. Those would be what Elder Maxwell called "the wintery doctrines" -- not the feel-good verses, but the difficult truths that are hard to hear, and harder to swallow. Suddenly, I felt like I had to rewrite this verse in my own words:
And we were so amazingly blessed during these fierce trials, that we were devouring deep doctrine and feasting on hard-to-swallow principles that we never would have been able to digest during any other time. Our women understood the meat of the gospel so well, they did nourish their children with milk on demand...always having plenty of solid principles at the ready, presented in a way children could understand. They were physically and spiritually strong, like unto the men--hard working, courageous, valiant. And they began to bear their trials and afflictions gracefully, without complaint.
That is my new perspective, and my new goal. Maybe the Lord needs a whole different kind of Relief Society to prepare this type of women. And I plan to be one of the strong ones.