Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jesus is the Real Light of Christmas

As we were driving the other night, Jane kept looking out the window and saying, "I'm trying to find Jesus. I'm trying to find Jesus. There's Jesus!" Then she explained, "Jesus is another word for Christmas lights."

At first I felt like this was kind of sacrilegious, but I quickly realized that Jane was seeing the true purpose behind all of the decorations and festivities of Christmas--Jesus.
As Elder Bednar recently implored in the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, "May the beautiful lights of every holiday season remind us of Him who is the source of all light."

Everything about Christmas ought to be a reminder and representation of Christ. We talk about finding Christ in Christmas as if He is hidden somewhere amidst the gifts, lights, cards, goodies, trees, parties, and activities. And often He's not just hidden in these things, but completely lost.

I hope that this year we will truly celebrate CHRISTmas as we learn to see Him in all the things that were meant to remind us of Him.

Of course we can and ought to find Him as we read the Christmas story, display nativity sets, sing Christmas hymns, and improve our personal worship. But even beyond that we can find Him as learn to see the real representations of everything in Christmas.

Then like Jane we can say,

"Jesus is another word for Christmas lights which shine through dark nights and winter storms."
"Jesus is another word for Christmas trees which are always alive even when all else is dead, which point heavenward and give hope of the new life of spring."
"Jesus is another word for Santa Claus, a saint who cared for the poor and showed an example of true Christianity."
"Jesus is another word for Christmas parties, a true celebration of His life, His victory over death and all that He offers us because He lived and died and rose again."
"Jesus is another word for gifts, given selflessly out of love binding the hearts of giver and receiver."

I am so grateful for this season to celebrate Jesus Christ and what my life can be because of Him. And I'm grateful that Jane reminded me to find Christ in all the -mas of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I Don't Know. I'm Not That Goose.

It's geese migration time in Rochester (thank goodness!) and as we went for a family walk last Sunday, there were hundreds of geese flying over us. They were all flying southwest, except one. One goose was flying in the opposite direction of the migration.

I pointed this goose out to Jane and asked her, "Why do you think that goose is flying the other way?" I gave a few of my own guesses, "Maybe he forgot his lunch. Maybe he's going back for his family. Maybe he got lost." Then I asked Jane for her hypothesis, but she wouldn't play along. Instead she simply stated, "I don't know. I'm not that goose!"

With people as with geese, we can never truly understand why someone does something if we are not them. Even metaphorically walking a mile in another's shoes is not enough to truly understand a person. It may give some insight and empathy, and is certainly worthwhile, but without living an entire lifetime in someone else's mind and heart, we really cannot fully understand their motives and purposes.

But we don't need to.

It seemed silly and irrational that a goose was flying the "wrong" direction, but I'm sure he had a good reason for doing so. And knowing that is enough. I can just keep going in my direction and let him keep going in his, knowing we both have our reasons.

When I see others in life flying the "wrong" way, saying the "wrong" things, making the "wrong" choices, too often I think that by observing their actions I can also draw conclusions about their motives and their hearts. But I can't. And I don't need to.

We all have flawed motives and imperfect hearts, and there certainly are absolute rights and wrongs in the world. It is fine and even good to judge actions and stand firmly by eternal principles. For example, immorality is wrong. Abuse is wrong. Marriage between a man and woman is right. Prayer is right. And in those cases, I hope we will firmly show the right way and help others find it as well.

But in things that don't concern sin such as different ideas, different personalities, different parenting styles, different responses to challenges, different career choices, different priorities, or different hobbies, I hope we'll just let each other be different.

All things considered, I really believe that most people are doing the very best they can and even if they're doing things the "wrong" way, they have a good reason for doing so.

So, the next time I see someone flying the "wrong" way, I hope I can simply say, "I don't know why. I'm not that goose."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How Will They Know We Raised Our Hands?

As I put Jane to bed on Saturday after General Conference, we talked about how exciting it was to see three new Apostles called that day.

Jane always loves raising her hand for the sustaining vote, but usually we do that when a person is presented for a new calling in our ward at church. That day we watched General Conference from home and Jane was very concerned that no one saw us raise our hands. As I left her room she asked,

"Mom, how will they know that we raised our hands if we were just at our house?"

What an insightful question! I've been pondering it since.

How will the Prophet and Apostles know that I sustain them? 

I cannot imagine the overwhelming emotions Elder Rasband, Elder Stevenson, and Elder Renlund must be feeling--along with their wives and families--knowing that for the rest of their lives they are called to be special witnesses of Jesus Christ throughout the world, literally wearing out their lives in His service. What a marvelous, but heavy responsibility. 

So what can I do to sustain them? 

Sustain means: 
1. to strengthen or support 
2. cause to continue or be prolonged without interruption
3. bear the weight of an object without breaking or falling
4. uphold, affirm or confirm the validity of

  • How can my actions and attitudes give them physical, mental and spiritual support?
  • What can I do to help them continue their service, without interruptions or breaks for the rest of their lives?
  • How can I bear a small part of the weight of their service without breaking or falling?
  • What can I say, do, or be that will affirm the validity of their sacred call? 

Synonyms of "sustain" include: comfort, help, encourage, support, carry, cheer up, validate and uphold. 

How will they know that I raised my hand? How will they feel carried, validated, and encouraged by me?

My answer to Jane Saturday night was that we can pray for them, stand up for them, and be obedient to the things they tell us to do.

As I continued to ponder this question, I realized that the divine call of the Apostles is the testify of Jesus Christ and to bring people to Him. If I come unto Christ in word, deed, testimony and faithful service in the Church, they are successful.

It should be obvious to anyone who observes me in any situation that I sustain the Prophet and Apostles. The thoughts I post on social media, the clothes I wear, the activities I participate in, the things I say, the service I render and the person I am should all attest to the reality of my sustaining vote.

In ways that others will never see, it should be obvious to me that I truly sustain them. The sincerity of my prayers, the depth of my scripture study, the strength of my testimony, the scope of my humility and the sweetness of my relationship with the Savior should all be evidence that I meant it when I raised my hand.

In short, a true sustaining vote means living the gospel in every sense and every situation. For that will truly cheer, support and validate their work.

I hope the Prophet and Apostles will always know that I raised my hand because I'm committing my life to the cause for which they are wearing out theirs.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The View From the Lions' Den

My grandparents have a ranch in southern Utah where I've spent most of my childhood summers. During college, my brothers and I drove there almost monthly. As a result of our frequent trips, the trails we had hiked for so many years started to lose their excitement. We needed some new challenges, so we started climbing to the tops of the mountains surrounding the ranch's valley.

I will never forget the first time I reached a summit. We had climbed up the side and back of the mountain and could not see the valley below at all during our ascent. At one point, my brother and I scaled the side of the sandstone to reach the next ledge. He lost his footing, and I ducked right as a huge chunk of sandstone flew over my head and shattered below.

The path was unknown, dangerous at times, and exhausting. But eventually we made it. And as we made our way to the edge of the peak, the valley and canyons below came suddenly and breathtakingly into view.

I have never seen the Ranch from that angle before and it was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. Only the climb could bring this new perspective.

As I continue to battle some of my lions, I have found great comfort as I come to understand God's power inside the lions' den (as I explained in an earlier post) and the view from the other side.

On a particularly hard day, I remembered this song I'd heard at a women's conference last year. As I listened again to the lyrics I realized that what feels like an uphill battle is exactly that, and it's bring me up-hill.

And when I conquer the summit I will see a beautiful and breathtaking view of my life and of others' lives as well. I will see from a new perspective, one that never would have been possible without the climb. I will realize God's plan for my life is more magnificent than I ever could have imagined.

I know, because nature's summits and life's summits always have that effect.

Every fear, every doubt, all the pain I went through
Was the price that I paid to see this view
Now that I'm here I would never trade
The grace that I feel and the faith that I find
Through the bittersweet tears and the sleepless nights
I used to pray He'd take it all away
But instead it became
A beautiful heartbreak

I never dreamed my heart would make it
And I thought about turning around
But Heaven has shown me miracles
I never would have seen from the ground

King Darius signed a decree which altereth not. A stone was rolled in front of the lions' den and sealed that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. And yet, he was saved and he had an incredible experience in the process.

Sometimes the difficulties in our lives feel unalterable, like the fate is already sealed. But God has power over the unalterable, the unchangeable, the unfixable. Nothing is more final that death, and Christ proved He even has power over that.

Christ our Redeemer can redeem any broken heart, broken life, or broken situation. Nothing is unalterable in the face of His power. Eventually the summit will come into view and it will be worth every heart wrenching step of the climb.

While this hope is comforting, there is also hope inside the lions' den. Trials and blessings are not mutually exclusive, and as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently declared, "Also let us remember that through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still much in life to hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations and our afflictions!"

And so let us change our view from inside, and look forward to the view from on top.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why Didn't the Angel Just Take Him Out?

I read Jane the story of Daniel in the lions' den tonight. When we got to the part where the angel appears and shuts the lions' mouths she asked, "Why didn't the angel just take him out?"

Don't we all ask God that question sometimes?
"Why aren't you taking me out of this situation?"
"Why aren't you taking away this illness?"
"Why aren't you fixing this problem or this relationship?"
"Why aren't you answering my questions or taking away my doubts?"
... I KNOW YOU CAN! Isn't that faith? And isn't faith supposed to produce results?

So Jane presents a valid question. If Daniel was a man of great faith, and faith produces miracles, why didn't the angel just take him out of the lions' den? He could have.

Because if he did, Daniel would have missed the whole experience of being IN the lions' den but not being eaten.

He would have known God's power to deliver him FROM difficulty, but he wouldn't have experienced God's power to deliver him IN difficulty. That's a whole different level of power and requires a whole different level of faith.

There was not just a single lion in that den. There was a whole group of lions ready to rip Daniel apart, but his faith was sufficient and God's power was sufficient that none of them got a single bite. 

At times in our lives we feel like we've been thrown to lions, lots of them, all ready to eat us. But instead of spending our energy wondering why God isn't taking us out, we can step back and realize, "I'm not being eaten alive in here... even though I should be. Somehow I'm going to come out of this alive." Then look around and see God's angels who are holding back your lions. 

We just finished a grueling year of training in a new place with a newborn and a 2 year old with six months of winter and no family, wrapping up the year with a serious medical scare. There have been moments, sometimes months, when we've both felt like we were in the lions' jaws. But here we are, alive. And stronger. 

As I reflect on this year, I just stand in awe realizing, "We should have been eaten alive. But we weren't. Many marriages end during this year. But ours is stronger. We're fine. We're great." I have grown in ways I never thought possible. My faith is deeper, my foundation is stronger and my hope is brighter because of this year. I've grown as a wife, a mother and a daughter of God in ways I never could have otherwise. 

At times I've begged to just be taken out this. But look at what I would have missed! I would have missed the angels, on this side of the veil and the other, who have literally held back the lions' jaws. I would have missed a deeper relationship with God and I would have missed the person I've become. 

So take another look at your lions, and be grateful for them. When you experience deliverance IN the lions' den, suddenly your faith and trust rise to a whole new level, one that never would have been possible had you just been delivered FROM it. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Noticing vs. Comparing

When you have more than one kid, it's really easy to notice differences in their development and personality. For example,

  • Jane's teeth came one at a time, but Steven cut 5 teeth in one day. 
  • Steven can take about 10 steps with his walker at 10 months, but Jane was cruising down the halls at 7 months. 
  • Jane can be shy when she meets new people, but Steven loves to smile at everyone. 
  • Steven will eat anything, but Jane mostly likes candy. 
  • Jane has green eyes and Steven has blue eyes. 

These are differences, but that's it. There is no judgment or comparison attached to them. I never think, "Steven is a better eater, therefore I love him more." or "Jane walked earlier, therefore she is smarter." 

Jane loves playing this game with words or pictures too. She will say, "Mom, see the same and see the difference? They both have blue shoes but he has glasses and he doesn't have glasses." or "See the difference? Park. Parking lot." 

That's the difference. PERIOD. There is no "therefore a park is better than a parking lot" or "therefore the person with glasses is better because glasses are cool." 

Why is it so hard for me to do the same when I notice difference between myself and others? 

I think it is because I have never made the distinction before between noticing and comparing. I guess I didn't realize I could just notice a difference without deciding which was better. And so I've tried to not notice... which is obviously impossible in some cases. 

"Oh, I didn't notice you had bright pink hair" or "I didn't notice that your house is 20,000 square feet and has life size lions on the entrance gate" or "I didn't notice your accent." 

Of course we notice! But, there is nothing wrong with noticing. Differences are fun; it's what makes life exciting! But the danger comes when a comparison is attached to it. 

Depending on my mood, these comparisons can easily swing either way. For example,
"She had all of her kids without an epidural, therefore she is so much tougher than I am and probably has a stronger bond with her babies!"
"She had all of her kids without an epidural, therefore she's crazy. She doesn't appreciate modern medicine and was probably way too tired after labor to even bond with her babies." 

Both of those conclusions are ridiculous and have nothing to do with reality, but when I see things as a comparison, I come out the winner or the loser. I either build my self esteem in an unhealthy way or I destroy my self esteem in an unhealthy way. 

I need to learn from Jane and learn from the way I see my kids. 
  • She only feeds her kids organic food. PERIOD. 
  • They send their kids to private school. PERIOD. 
  • They homeschool their kids. PERIOD. 
  • She doesn't use facebook. PERIOD. 
  • She's tall and thin. PERIOD. 
  • They have twelve children. PERIOD. 
  • She sells cute crafts on the side, is a great cook and volunteers in the community. PERIOD. 
None of these things have anything to do with me, the way I look or the way I do things. I'm trying to do what is right for me and my family and I can just assume everyone else is doing the same without having to prove that my way is right or feel bad that it's not. 

I can notice and appreciate differences without having any "therefore..." statement attached to it. Don't you think that's the way God sees us? He loves us and our differences. PERIOD. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just Be a Mom

A few days ago I had just finished switching a load of laundry and I was listening to a voice mail from my dad and kind of ignoring Jane. She pulled on my leg and said, "Don't talk on the phone. Just be a mom!"

The phrase, "Just be a mom" has been ringing through my mind since then. In one simple phrase she captured my most important role in time or eternity. And yet, how often I allow other things distract me from truly being a mom.

Last weekend this powerful reminder came from a prophet of God as he spoke of the importance of marriage and family, "many things are good, many are important, but only a few are essential."

Being present with my children, teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ, and loving and serving my husband are essential. Clean laundry is important, ironed laundry is good, but only a few things are essential.

It's okay, and even necessary, to have other interests, hobbies and activities outside of motherhood. But, those things should never detract from what is essential.

Last night Jane put me to the test.

I was making dinner in the kitchen and she was playing with a stuffed animal on the couch in the living room when this conversation began.

Jane: "So Mom, what are you up to?"
Me: "I'm making dinner."
Jane: "Oh. Then what will your second job be?"
Me: "I'll probably wash the dishes."
Jane: "Oh, okay. Then can your next job be to laugh with me on the couch?"

How could I pass up such an offer?!

The dishes are still in the sink, but they don't mind being neglected. I'll get to them and nothing was lost.

But had I chosen the dishes instead, as I too often do, Jane would mind being neglected and the moment would gone forever.

Only a few things are essential.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pray Always

I have often wondered at the Lord's command to "Pray Always." I don't think He literally wants us to spend every second of every day in prayer. That would be impossible, really. So what does He mean?

I taught a lesson on prayer in church a few weeks ago and in the midst of preparing, I talked to a few old friends who wanted to know about my kids. In describing Steven I caught myself saying, "He is always eating."

Well, he's not actually eating every second of every day. But it is still correct grammatically to say he is always eating. It is something that characterizes him. It is something he enjoys, that he does every chance he gets. He is excited and anxious to eat. He never passes up an opportunity to eat. And he will eat anything at any time.

He eats all-ways. Any time. Any place. Any food. With anyone.

Here's a little sample of his excitement. Every single bite looks like this:

There are many insightful ways to interpret this commandment, but I think this is a powerful idea of what the Lord may have meant when He asked us to "Pray Always." How would my life be different if I were always praying?

I hope prayer will be something that comes to characterize me. And I hope I can have the same kind of excitement to commune with my Father in Heaven that Steven has to eat, for truly kneeling at His feet is a spiritual feast.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Flirting with Sin

Jane is a master negotiator and justifier, with phrases like, "Can I please have just one?" "Do you want one and I can have one too?" "I'm not eating it, Mom. I'm just holding it." "I'm not touching them; I'm just looking at them." "I'm not climbing on the counter, just one knee is one it." "I'll just be really careful."

A few weeks ago she really outdid herself. I told her she'd had enough raisins and she needed to put them away. This is the conversation that ensued:

Jane: "Can I have just one more?"
Me: "No, Jane. You've had enough."
Jane: "Can I just have one bite?"
Me: "No, Jane. You've had enough."
Jane: "Can I just chew on it?"

As funny as this is, it's a dangerous mortal mentality. As humans, we're really good at getting as close to the edge as possible (or even completely over the edge except for one little toe) and convincing ourselves that we're still in safe territory. We're not actually eating the raisins, we're just chewing on them!

I love this quote from George Albert Smith, a latter-day Apostle of Jesus Christ:

"There is a division line well defined that separates the Lord’s territory from Lucifer’s. If we live on the Lord’s side of the line Lucifer cannot come there to influence us, but if we cross the line into his territory we are in his power. By keeping the commandments of the Lord we are safe on His side of the line, but if we disobey His teachings we voluntarily cross into the zone of temptation and invite the destruction that is ever present there. Knowing this, how anxious we should always be to live on the Lord’s side of the line.

How anxious we should always be to live on the Lord's side of the line! Complete obedience is a powerful thing. 

On that note, here is a wonderful video from Jeffrey R. Holland who can say things much better than I can. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Just Because You Don't Understand Doesn't Mean I Don't Understand

In Isaiah, the Lord tells us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts...for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so thoughts than your thoughts."

This concept is easy to understand when we are the ones thinking at a higher level, but it is almost impossible for us to fathom when we are the ones whose thoughts are lower.

Perhaps these two examples can help us get a better idea of God's level of thinking, and thus trust Him more fully, as we consider ourselves as His children and as His students.

As a Child

Jane put on her tutu and spun for at least 20 minutes yesterday. She kept saying, "Mom, I'm pretending to be a ballerina. I'm spinning around, spinning around, spinning around..." Then she fell and said, "Whoa. Now that house is spinning around!" 

I tried to explain to her why it looks like the house is spinning, but she insisted, "No, Mom. The house is spinning!" Obviously the house was not actually spinning, but in her perspective, it was. 

She is also living in the "Why?" phase of life, or more often, "But why?" 

I can explain in simple terms why she can't eat chocolate for dinner, why she can't hit Steven, and why she can't use a sharp knife. It is harder for me to articulate why everyone used to be a baby or why I let the nurse hurt her when she gets a shot. 

I stumble as I try explain these things on a toddler level. The answer is obvious to me, but it is just beyond her comprehension and the thought that always comes to mind is, "Just because you don't understand doesn't mean I don't understand!" 

As a Student

I used to teach high school math. Whenever I explained a difficult concept, a student would exclaim, "Mrs. Teixeira, this doesn't make sense!" 

I would remind them, "Actually, it does make sense. It just doesn't make sense to you. Yet.

Those two clarifications are important. All truth cannot be judged on our capacity to understand it. But eventually, in this life or in the eternities, we will understand. 

Perhaps we can keep this in mind when there are trials in our lives that seem unfair, gospel principles we don't understand, situations that seem impossible to remedy and unanswered questions trying our faith. 

Often we ask God, "Why is this happening to me?" or tell Him, "This is too hard. I can't do this." or lose our faith and don't talk to Him at all. Perhaps instead we can remember that His thoughts are higher than ours and we can say, "This doesn't make sense to me. Yet. But just because I don't understand doesn't mean you don't understand and I'm just going to have to trust you on this one."

And then do it. Truly trust Him. He really does understand. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Burden is Light

Matthew 11:28-30 has always been a favorite scripture, but I've always wondered about the last word: my [Christ's] burden is light. I believe Christ can make our burdens light, but His burden seems awfully heavy. 

As Jane and I were vacuuming together a few weeks ago, we finished the rooms downstairs and needed to bring the vacuum upstairs. Jane volunteered to carry the vacuum, but as soon as she tried to pick it up she declared, "It's too heavy." Then she looked at me and said, "Let's do it together!" As I carried the majority of the weight and Jane held the side of the vacuum she said, "There we go. Now it's not heavy." Instantly I heard in my mind, "My burden is light." 

Of course the weight of the vacuum didn't change, but Jane was right--it wasn't heavy anymore. It wasn't heavy for me and so when we did it together it wasn't heavy for either of us. 

There is not a standard of heaviness or a predetermined weight that is "heavy", it is simply a matter of comparison: the weight compared to our capacity, strength or love. If the weight is greater than our capacity, it is heavy. If our capacity is greater than the weight, it is light. 

Jesus has infinite capacity, infinite strength and infinite love. Because of this, my heavy burdens are not heavy to Him. And when we carry them together, I too can say, "There we go. Now it's not heavy."