Thursday, August 28, 2014

Truly Cleaning-- the Kitchen and My Life

After I put the kids to bed a few nights ago, I cleaned the kitchen while I waited for Miguel to finish his shift at the hospital. I spent quite a bit of time in the dark nursing and rocking Steven, so I guess my eyes had accustomed to it. There was one light on in the family room, but I didn't turn any on in the kitchen as I started cleaning. After I had wiped down the counters and scrubbed a few dishes, I realized I was trying to clean in the dark. So I turned on the light and, lo and behold, the counters and dishes I had just scrubbed were still stained.

They looked clean in the dark, but once I could see clearly the dirt and grime were obvious. This is actually not the first time this has happened, so apparently I have not learned my lesson yet. What I have learned though is that it's easier to be satisfied with the state of things in the dark. Sometimes Miguel and I will even joke, "Should we clean the kitchen, or just turn off the lights?" 

But I decided to turn on the lights and clean. And the more I cleaned, the more I noticed that needed to be clean. I scrubbed the counters and stepped back to appreciate how great they looked, but instead I wondered, "Where in the world did those spots on the walls come from?!" So I cleaned the walls and when I opened the cupboard to throw away the wipes I wondered, "How have I been living with this sticky mystery goo on my cupboards? And how have I never noticed it?" 

When I thought I was finally done cleaning, I washed my hands and then I stopped. "What is that behind the faucet?" 

I had never noticed any of those things until I started to really clean. They were small things and when I was focused on a pile of dishes in the sink or soup spilled on the stove I couldn't even see them. But once I took care of the big things, I noticed the small things, and they suddenly seemed like big things. And then I noticed more small things... It seemed like the lights just kept getting brighter and brighter, revealing more things that needed to be cleaned. But eventually, the kitchen was spotless and it felt great. 

This always reminds me of a New Testament class I took in college from Camille Fronk Olson. During one of the lessons she said something like this: "When you come into the light of Christ, your inadequacies and imperfections will be revealed. You can either turn back into the darkness and pretend you never saw the defect, or you can continue in the light and be cleansed by the Atoning blood of Jesus Christ." 

It is always easier to just turn off the lights. Seeing the dirt and grime in our lives is painful. But the dark can't heal us. It can't even really hide our imperfections. And it certainly can't soothe our souls. In the moment it may seem that darkness is more satisfying, but eventually the sun will rise and if we are not clean our imperfections will be revealed. 

Christ will come again. The earth will be filled with light. There are many in the world whose "works are in the dark" who ask, "Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?" (Isaiah 29:15) But when Christ comes again, there will be no place to hide any uncleanliness. 

There are few things more satisfying to me than a perfectly clean kitchen, sparkling in the light with all the dishes done, all the counters cleaned, the floor swept and mopped and not even any pans hidden in the oven. I feel fresh and confident when my kitchen looks like that. I hope I feel as spotless and unashamed as I stand before the Savior. I must come into His light, and continue in His light--as painful as it may be--until I am perfectly clean, until my life is gleaming like my kitchen (occasionally) is. 

"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24) 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Holding God's Hand on the Sabbath

Jane is a very clever 2 year old. One rule we have for Jane, as most parents, is that she has to be holding a hand when she's in he street. So, often when she walks into the street she clasps her hands together and says, "I hold my own hand."  Technically she is keeping the rule, but she's missing the whole purpose of it, and the protection that comes from keeping the rule in the way it was intended. 

When we approach the Sabbath day simply as a list of do's and don'ts, we're doing the same thing. There are things we should do on the Sabbath-- we should attend Church; take the sacrament; and spend time with family, studying scriptures, and in other spiritually uplifting activities-- and there are things we should not do-- we would avoid shopping, work, and recreation whenever possible. But it's so much more than that! When that's the essence of our Sabbath observance, we are technically keeping the commandment, but we're missing the whole purpose and the blessings and protection that come when we keep the commandment in the way it was intended. We are holding our own hands instead of holding God's. 

So what is the purpose of the Sabbath day? The Hebrew word 'Shabbat' means "to rest" or "to cease", in other words, to stop. The Lord told the early saints of our day when they were in the midst of persecution in Missouri, "Be still and know that I am God." I think he is telling us the same thing on the Sabbath. We must stop, be still, come to know him as our Father, and renew our relationship of love and trust.

Just outside the city walls of Jerusalem stands Golgatha. It is just a barren hill with no reminders of what happened there. The bottom of the hill, where the Savior's cross likely stood, is now the main bus station of the city of Jerusalem. It is loud and dirty and chaotic. The people rush about their lives without stopping to see what is right there in front of them. We live in a world where the Sabbath day is much like this bus station-- just another stop in all of the comings and goings of life with few reminders of the Savior's sacrifice. Most people busily hurry right past the Atonement of Christ, occasionally with a passing glance but usually nothing more. 
We must not rush past His cross. 
We must stop. The Sabbath is a sacred opportunity to kneel at His cross, offering our lives to Him for one day in remembrance of the sacrifice of His life for us. We must stop to worship Him, to allow the power of His Atonement to fill our lives, to commune with Him and renew our relationship with Him and then to go forward with Him as our partner. 

Elder L. Tom Perry, one of the modern-day Apostles, said "The pattern of our Sabbath day observance must always include worship. 
President Gordon B. Hinckley, a prophet of the latter-days, said, "The sacrament and the partaking of these emblems is the very heart of our sabbath worship." 
At another time he said, "Without sacrifice, there is no true worship of God." 
The word 'sacrifice' comes from a Latin root meaning "holy" or "to make holy". 
So it is clear that worship, sacrifice, the sacrament, and holiness are all connected. The Sabbath day is made holy by the Lord's sacrifice and it is kept holy by ours. 

What are we sacrificing? We are sacrificing our lives for one day-- our to-do lists, our appointments, our work, our recreation-- to set aside an entire day for the Lord. We are also commanded to offer as a sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit; we are to come humbly to be taught of the Lord how we can better worship him throughout the week. 

A proper sacrifice takes preparation. In ancient Israel the sacrifice was generally an animal sacrifice. They had to either raise or purchase this animal, and there was also an extensive cleansing or purification ritual before he sacrifice could be made. It takes physical and spiritual preparation for us as well. We need to make sure the shopping is done and errands are run. And we need to take time to spiritualy prepare to truly offer ourselves to the Lord and accept His will, to come to the altar of the sacrament table and offer ourselves to Him. 

When we honor the Sabbath in this way, there are great blessings that come to us. I approached these blessings in three different ways. 

First, I asked "What was Jesus doing on the Sabbath? What can he offer us?" As I read of Christ's life in the gospels I found accounts of healing at least five different people--including a man with a withered hand and a man who had been born blind. He plucked ears of corn to feed His disciples. He went to the synagogue to worship and He taught in the synagogue, on one occasion declaring Himself as the Son of God. 
If we are where Jesus is on the Sabbath, He will do the same for us. He will open our eyes, increase our capacities, feed us spiritually, and teach us who He really is. 

There are three events that we are commemorating or celebrating on the Sabbath day, each of which suggests additional blessings. 
First, the creation and the fact that God rested on the seventh day. Rest from our labors is a rejuvenating blessing. 
Second, the children of Israel being freed from bondage in Egypt. The fact that they could take an entire day to rest and worship the Lord instead of working all seven days like they had as slaves was a statement to the world: "We are free! We're not in bondage anymore!" As we honor the Sabbath we too will be freed, from the bondage of sin and the bondage we sometimes create for ourselves with our busy lives. 
Third, we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, which is the culmination of His Atoning sacrifice. This brings all the blessings of His Atonement as we properly commemorate His sacrifice. We receive His forgiveness and His power. 

Finally, I looked at specific blessings that are mentioned in the scriptures for those who honor the Sabbath day. 
In Doctrine and Covenants 59 we are promised that we will be kept unspotted from the world, pure and clean, worthy to stand in the presence of God. 
Again in Doctrine and Covenants 59 as well as in Leviticus 26, with slightly different language, we are told that the fullness of the earth will be ours. In a world where productivity is the measure of worth and time is money it may seem impossible to keep up if we set aside an entire day each week to separate ourselves from that world. But we are promised that fullness of the earth. We will not lose anything. In fact, we will gain everything! 
In Leviticus 26 we are also promised that He will walk among us. He will be our God and we will be His people. 

What beautiful blessings! But does it really make a difference? Is it futile to take an entire day to separate ourselves from the world just to go back into it the next six days?

Rene Daumal is a French mountain climber and I love how he answers questions like this. He says, "You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know." 

If we properly observe the Sabbath, it can be this kind of summit experience where we can examine the lower regions of our life, so when we go back we're different, we're elevated, a little better and a little more like Christ. 

As we properly prepare for the Sabbath, the Sabbath will prepare us for eternal life. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

In His Likeness

The purpose of all of God’s commandments is to make us like Jesus Christ. No other commandment may do that quite as effectively as the command to "multiply and replenish the earth". In our role as parents we enter a partnership with God in raising His children and we learn in a very real, and sometimes grueling, way how to "love one another as [He] has loved [us]". 

Being a parent is complicated. I feel like I am always questioning myself. "Should I be feeding Steven on a schedule?" "Should I let Jane eat this?" "Should I try harder to hang on to her nap?" It is good to take time to question and reflect on what I am doing as a parent and the effect it is having on my children. But the most important question I could ask, and the one I should be asking every day is this: "Am I parenting in a way that is making me more like the Savior?"

I took art classes all through high school. I am a very amateur artist. I never created a masterpiece. But I was able to produce a few paintings that I’m not totally embarrassed to display. The secret is that I had a reference. I do not have the ability or the vision to create something new, so my goal was to make my paintings look exactly like something else-- usually a photograph. I would always have my reference right in front of me and I would constantly compare my painting to the reference, making sure I had the angles and colors and shadows correct. I was always asking myself, “Am I mixing my paint in the right way to make it look like the reference? Do I have the right brush to make it look like the reference?” Usually I didn't, but I had an excellent teacher who would help me compare the painting to the photograph to figure out how it was off and how I could fix it. Eventually, I had something I was pleased with.

If you hold the photograph and my painting side by side, it is obvious that one is a very amateur version of the other, but it is also clear that it is in its likeness. One day I will stand side by side with the Savior at the judgement day. I hope that, although I am a very imperfect version, it will be clear that I have lived my life is His likeness. I must keep him always in my mind and constantly compare my life to Him, making sure I am serving, loving and teaching as He would. The Holy Ghost is a wonderful teacher who will help me see how I am off and how I can change my life to be like Christ. I must keep asking myself "Am I living in a way that I look, act, and feel more like my reference, my Savior?” As I do so, I hope, as it says in 1 John 3, "when he shall appear, [I] shall be like Him".

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Endure to the End

I have read too many parenting books as I try to figure out the best way to raise our children. I have an 'end' in mind-- I want them to be faithful disciples of Christ who are kind, humble, trustworthy, hard-working, polite, and happy; and along the way I'd like them to be good sleepers, good eaters, good listeners, and good friends. In all of my parenting book perusals I am trying to figure out what my rules and discipline and interactions with my children should be to help bring them to that end. There are some things Miguel and I are doing that we are confident will establish good habits and spirituality, but there are a lot of other things that we just think, "Sure hope this works!" 

Heavenly Father also has an 'end' in mind for us as His children-- "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29), to "be...perfect" (Matt 5:48). His commandments, correction and interactions with us are perfectly designed to bring us to that end. There is no question whether or not it will work; we can have absolute confidence that if we stay the course, no matter the cost, we will be made perfect. That is what the Lord is commanding us to do when He tells us we must "endure to the end" (the end f becoming like Christ) to be saved. 

I love how C.S. Lewis explains this concept: 
I find a good many people have been bothered by what I said... about Our Lord’s words, ‘Be ye perfect’…. I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’ 

 Let me explain. When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell.     Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists...Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of or which is obviously spoiling daily life. Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.     That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect— until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’"

Despite the unfathomable suffering it cost the Savior, He endured to the end-- the end that we might be made perfect. He asks us to endure to that same end, and He will walk that path with us until we are brought home, whole and perfect. I expressed this thought less eloquently than C.S. Lewis in a poem I wrote a few years ago:

What You Can Be
To fisherman on Galilee
The Savior of mankind did speak
He called to them “Come follow me
And see what you with me can be
Cast your nets and boats aside
And on this path with me abide
You much first come and learn of me
Then follow all that you have seen.
The cost is high, the journey far
To make you more than now you are.
But someday you will be complete
As you kneel worthy at my feet.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

We Must Kneel to be Filled

The kids and I met some friends at the zoo yesterday. (People here use the term "zoo" pretty generously. It is a small nature reserve with animals native to Minnesota-- owls, eagles, hawks, bears, cougars, wolves, hedgehogs, porcupines, buffalo.. you get the idea. Not monkeys and giraffes and elephants like you were thinking when I said we went to the zoo, but it's a great place!)

Our first stop was the goats. It was lunch time for the goats and Jane was excited (and kind of scared) to feed them! There was a group of kids (not the goat kind, the human kind) feeding one of the other goats, so Jane tried to feed the one closer to us. But he didn't even pay attention to her! The goat with the kids was standing on his back legs and reaching up to eat the hay the they were feeding to him, one piece at a time. The goat by us was down on his knees eating from a large bucket of hay, paying no attention to the piece we were trying to entice him with. He already had everything he needed. 

The goat with the kids seemed to be having way more fun; it was exciting to jump up to eat the hay. But I realized he would never be full if he ate his meals like this.  Only the goat who was kneeling was getting all of the nourishment he needed. 

I wondered which goat I am more like as I approach my spiritual nourishment. Do the pathetic pieces of hay in the world entice me to get off my knees and seek nourishment in more exciting ways, but ways that will never fill me? Or do I ignore everything else, get down on my knees and feast from the fullness my Heavenly care-giver has provided for me, realizing that in Him and through Him I already have everything I need?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

To Be Born Again

Two months after Jane was born, a dear friend of ours was baptized and I was asked to speak at her baptism. As I pondered what I would say about the ordinance of baptism, I kept thinking of the scripture in John 3:5 "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" Having recently given birth myself, I was in a position that the Lord could open my heart to some of the lesson Christ is trying to teach us here about what this ordinance means to Him and what it means to us. Here are 8 lessons I learned from Jane that I think He is trying to teach us.

1. We are absolutely pure and innocent after baptism. Could the Lord explain to us any more clearly that are sins truly are washed away and we are absolutely clean, than to compare us to a newborn baby? 

2. It is a not a small, casual thing to be baptized. The cost of our purity is the Lord's Atonement. He described His experience like this, "which suffering caused myself even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain and shrink and would that I might not drink the bitter cup." Those are some of the same feelings experienced during labor and birth. Just as giving physical birth requires great sacrifice and pain, giving spiritual birth requires the ultimate sacrifice and the pain of the Atonement. But why do mother's go through birth? Because they love their children. Because it is so worth it. The Lord loves us and we are so worth it to Him.  

3. The Lord feels great joy when we are baptized. I had been caring for, nourishing, and creating a bond with Jane for 9 months, but the first time I saw, touched, and held her was incredible. The emotion I felt in that moment is impossible to describe, like I was overflowing. I was so excited to have her. I don't know that I've ever felt more intense joy in my life. Likewise, the Lord nourishes and strengthens his children and prepares them for baptism. He looks forward to that day with anticipation. When we are born again, in Him, He is as happy to have us as a new mother holding her child for the first time. What a powerful image to describe his joy. 

4. We take Christ's name, and all that entails. Jane took our name and she is a part of our family. Being a Teixeira carries with it a great legacy as well as responsibilities and blessings. Taking Christ's name makes us part of His family which carries great responsibility, but it also makes us heirs to all that He has. 

5. The Lord is proud of our development. I am excited about everything that Jane does. She does not have to be perfect for me to be proud of her. I'm not waiting for her to cure cancer or land on the moon before I have joy in her development. I'm happy every time she holds up her head or smiles or holds her rattle. A new convert may feel like they are not doing things worthwhile compared to other seasoned members of the Church, but the Lord is so proud of every new development. 

6. The Lord will never leave us alone. I always know where Jane is and what she is doing, even when she cannot see me or doesn't know that I am watching her. I would never, ever leave her alone. The Lord is even more aware of us. "I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left, my spirit will be in your heart and mine angels round about to bear you up."

7. We are dependent on Him, and He will provide everything we need. As I was nursing Jane, she was absolutely dependent on me, and I was giving her everything she needs. If she told me "I can do this on my own now. I don't need you", she would have died. Telling the Lord that is just as silly and we will die spiritually. We need His nourishment everyday. He gives himself to us as a mother gives herself to her child. 

8. I don't want Jane to stay like this forever. I want her to grow and develop and experience the joys of life. I imagine her a few years from now in her pre-school class telling her teacher, "Someday I'm going to be a Mommy too!" Her teacher would never say, "That's impossible! You can't read. You can't spell your name. You can't tie your shoes. You can't reach the stove or use a vacuum. You can't drive a car. You don't have any money. And you're not married! You could never be a mommy." Even though all of those things are true right now her teacher would never say that because she can see Jane's future. She will grow up and learn all of those things and earn money and get married and someday she will be a mom. And that is exactly what I want for her. That is exactly what I'm training her to be. Because I love her and I want her to experience all the joy that I have. That is what loving parents want for their kids. 
We have a loving Heavenly Father and even though it may seem impossible now that we could ever be like Him, He sees our future. He knows our potential. And that is exactly what He is training us to be. That's what loving parents want for their children, and we are His children. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Learning to be a Mother

There is nothing more exciting, wonderful, sacred, scary and overwhelming than holding your baby in your arms for the first time, hearing that precious little cry and realizing you have become a mother.

I love being a Mom, and I am learning so much from my kids; my incredible husband; lots and lots of prayer; and other wonderful mothers who I have been blessed to be associated with, born to, or adopted by through marriage. This blog is simply a place for me to record and remember the lessons I'm learning along the way. If you'd like to join in our journey, welcome aboard!