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.

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.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

BOMT: How can I forget?

1 Nephi 7

First of all, I find it completely amusing that Laman and Lemuel threw a fit about having to go back for the brass plates, but we hear not a single complaint when they're commanded to go back to get themselves wives! :)

Of course, once they get their wives (who rapidly consent, because their hearts were already prepared by the Lord) and journey back through the wilderness, the murmuring and full-scale rebellion begins again. How very tiresome this must have been for the faithful few!

The part that totally stood out for me in this chapter are the words FORGET and REMEMBER.
Nephi is incredulous that his older brothers have slipped back into their old attitudes and behavior after so many blessings and miracles. He states three separate examples:
  1. How is that ye have forgotten that ye have seen an angel of the Lord?
  2. Yea, and how is that ye have forgotten what great things the Lord has done for us...?
  3. Yea, and how is that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will?
Nephi expertly turns a corner, reminding them (and us) that the limitless things God can do for his children (according to his will) are contingent on our faith. He then adds a charge, a rallying cry:
The Lord is able to do all things...for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him. Wherefore, let us be faithful to him! (punctuation changed for emphasis.)
Then he adds a promise:
And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise; (always a metaphor for the celestial kingdom) and ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled...for all things which the Lord hath spoken...must be fulfilled.
Such confidence in the Lord and his ways!
For behold, the aSpirit of the Lord bceaseth soon to strive with [us].
I don't want the spirit to give up on me, but I see myself in all of the forgetting categories Nephi listed:

  1. Although not the same as the one Nephi and his brothers saw, I literally saw an angel when I held my stillborn daughter. In fact, that experience brought me closer to the Lord than ever before, deepened my understanding of the atonement, and strengthened my charity. Now I read 1 Nephi 7 and wonder, how can I have seen an angel and still forget to be kind, patient, forgiving?
  2. Despite the miraculous ways I've been rescued, delivered, blessed, forgiven and healed, sometimes I forget what great things the Lord has done for me, and become ungrateful. A few years ago I received a priesthood blessing which said, in essence, "You ARE being blessed. You need to stop and look at what the Lord has done for you and express gratitude every day, every hour, every minute for the blessings you receive."
  3. I'm also still guilty of trying to do heroic things with my puny mortal strength, forgetting to rely on and trust in the strength and power of God. I read chapter 7 and say to myself, "how is that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things?"
However, tonight there was progress. After pondering these ideas, I did remember to be more patient, kind, and forgiving. I paused to be grateful. (Not every minute. But maybe every few hours.) And when I felt myself becoming overwhelmed, sliding toward a crash-and-burn mentality, I reminded myself to trust in the Lord and received an instant supply of peace, an assurance that things would work out in his care.

At the end of the chapter we see Nephi pleading with them to remember his words, we see anger and resentment, we see their problems escalating...until they are utterly humbled and remorseful, and forgiven. Then and only then are they able to progress on their journey. And this time, they remember to be grateful.

Friday, August 20, 2010

BOMT: Conserving Space

1 Nephi 6 is what inspired the name for this blog, Feasting on Small Plates. It's yet another lesson on the basics—what's most important, how to declutter our lives. (A perfect reminder as we helped Josh pack his things for college, and did some packing and unpacking ourselves.)

Nephi instructs us:
"I desire the room that I may write the things of God."

As bloggers, we know how precious time and space are, and have seen thousands clogging the airwaves with meaningless drivel. I love Nephi's bold declaration, and blanket desire, to write "the things of God."

In making choices regarding physical space, we can employ the same philosophy: "I desire the room...for the things of God." Where travel is concerned, I have a tiny military Book of Mormon which I keep in the pocket of the suitcase I always use. Even in day-to-day goings, I'm so glad I have the scriptures and the hymns on my iPhone. I, too, desire the space for the things of God. (You can imagine the heartache when I saw that Josh was taking three Gameboys, yet choosing to leave his scriptures home.)

Nephi tells us his top priority is to "persuade men to come unto God...and be saved." That is certainly my top priority as a mother as well—although it's so easily eclipsed by cooking and cleaning and carpools, it becomes difficult to keep in mind as my primary focus. Today I'm choosing to remember that my top priority is to persuade my children to turn to God...over and over and over again...with the ultimate hope that we'll all be saved.

Nephi tells us he chooses for his small space not the things that please the world, but "the things that are pleasing to God." While he is speaking about writing, we can easily apply this to the "things" in our homes, on our to-do-lists, in our lives. My friend K says "We don't own our things; our things own us." And there is something so liberating about paring down to the things that matter most.

Lastly, Nephi instructs all who occupy space on his plates not to include anything that's not of worth. I have a similar goal in my writing: Meaningful Content. With a nod to the previous verse, I'm not writing to please the bloggers of the world. I'm drawing a different sort of readership, as I focus primarily on the things of God in my stories: faith, testimony, motherhood, trials, more faith, and answered prayers. Even miracles. My pace on Divergent Pathways is sporadic at best. I have never felt any sort of pressure to write every day; only when I feel like I have something significant to say. Lately, I literally write only when I'm prompted to write. Most of my recent posts there have been given to me. My fingers become merely an instrument of recording what my spirit receives.

Monday, August 16, 2010

BOMT: That Changes Everything

1 Nephi 4:6-5:9

Yesterday (while waiting in the temple chapel) I discovered two AHA! moments in consecutive chapters. My mother used to say (in response to a very whiny "I KNOOOWW" from a younger me): "No learning has taken place until behavior has changed." I just realized the reverse is also true: No behavior can change until learning has taken place.

Notice Nephi's struggle.
10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
The Lord has, as promised, "prepared a way" by placing a drunk and passed-out Laban in his path so he can acquire the plates. Now the Spirit has instructed him to do something contrary to his prior learning: Slay him. Nephi struggles to reconcile this with his belief system. He's been asked to do something too difficult even for Nephi. As he tries to reason it out in his own mind, the Spirit tells him again,
And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property
You can just hear the wheels churning in Nephi's mind...Well, he DID try to kill us...and he IS a bad guy...and he DID steal all our stuff...but he still cannot wrap his mind around the idea of actually killing another human being. Finally with the third impression, the Spirit adds a new concept, a new piece of information that changes everything:
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
Suddenly, with that new piece of information, everything falls into place. It's like the missing link that connects everything else in Nephi's thought process. "And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered..."
  • We'll prosper if we keep the commandments
  • We can't keep the commandments if we don't know what they are
  • The commandments are engraved on the plates
  • The Lord put Laban here in this condition specifically so I can get the plates
And then Nephi is able to obey.

* * * * *

The second one occurs with Sariah and Lehi in the very next chapter.

Sariah starts out with this total crash-and-burn mentality, what can be an automatic place for woman to go to emotionally. (I was relieved that I am not alone in this.)
1 My mother, Sariah...truly had mourned because of us.
2 For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.
3 And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father.
Notice it doesn't say murmured...this wasn't under her breath or half-uttered. This was full-on complaining. She criticized Lehi, she mourned over their lost sons, she resented leaving their homeland, and was sure they were going to die out there in the wilderness. (Crash and burn.)

The way Lehi responds to this is a marvel in diffusing anger and hurt feelings:
4 And it had come to pass that my father spake unto her, saying: I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.
5 But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness.
6 And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem, to obtain the record of the Jews.
Lehi begins by agreeing with her (I am a visionary man) and then goes on to tell her what a blessing it is that he's a visionary man. He doesn't get defensive, angry, nor does he put her down. He just gently tries to turn the conversation around.

Nephi points out three "manners of language" used. The first is Sariah's language of complaint. The second is Lehi's language of comfort. And the third is the language of testimony. It comes after Sariah's AHA, when the boys return.
7 And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted.
8 And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them. And after this manner of language did she speak.
9 And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.
Lehi's response combined with their sons' return changed everything for Sariah. That one explanation and one answered prayer made everything fall into place for her. Now she knew Lehi was guided by the Lord, knew their mission to the wilderness was necessary, knew her sons were protected by the hand of God. She instantly moved from grumbling to grateful and (as far as I can tell) never looked back. I hope I can pay attention to opportunities for similar paradigm shifts in my own life. Sariah could have continued to complain, could have remained angry with Lehi, could have made all of their lives miserable out there in the wilderness, but instead she chose to speak and act out of testimony, allowing that new perspective to reshape her heart.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

BOMT: The Basics

1 Nephi 1, 2, and 3

Last night Josh gave a presentation to the Webelos on wilderness survival for their Outdoorsman badge. Listening to him recount his adventures reminded me of how basic our real needs truly are. He went for two whole months without owning so much as a spoon. He actually had to carve his own spoon so he'd have something to eat with. His only possessions (besides the clothes on his back) were a cup, some rope, a tarp, and a sleeping bag. He built his fires using a bow drill (amazing method that Mythbusters said was impossible.) After he taught the boys how to stretch a rope between two trees and build a shelter we all applauded.

Hearing him speak led me ponder and study further about what our most basic needs are, and what the real basics were for Lehi's journey. Here's what I learned:
And it came to pass that ahe departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.
All he needed at first were his family, some food (peanut butter, tortillas, granola) and supplies (a cup), some shelter (which I now know can be as simple as a tarp and a rope--and a good sleeping bag)!
15 And my father dwelt in a atent. 6 And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a avalley by the side of a briver of water.
I talked about the sacredness of this portable shelter earlier. Now I'm focusing again on the cord and the tarp -- a very basic shelter. He tells us here that we also need water.
Then Lehi is commanded in another dream to go back for the plates:
3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a agenealogy of my forefathers, and they are bengraven upon plates of brass.
4 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.
Our most basic need after our physical life-support is our spiritual life-support.
2:7 And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God. (temple worship, gratitude, prayer)
3:3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass. (scriptures, family history)
3:4 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.
Having an altar was so important, Lehi stopped and built on on their third day in the wilderness. Having the scriptures and family history available was so important they were sent all the way back to retrieve them and cart them into the wilderness. I think I need to make our family history more portable somehow. (I'm glad that at the very least I can access my blog from any remote spot.) In verse 20 it speaks quite a bit about preservation, and in verse 24 it shows they were willing to sacrifice all their earthly possession in order to acquire both sets of records. We see Lehi and his family regard this treasure like the Pearl of Great Price it truly is.

In verses 10-22 of 1 Nephi 5 (when they deliver the plates to Lehi) we learn more about what those plates contained, and what made them so important to Lehi and his family. In addition to a need for the scriptures and genealogy, Nephi adds:

18 That these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed.
19 Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed.
20 And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.
21 And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.
22 Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.
So we can safely add to our list of "the basics" — what we truly need on our journey — items of eternal worth and worldwide significance; items that help us teach our children the gospel are indeed "wise to carry with us."

--And to think that now I can access the scriptures anywhere -- including my phone!