The day I became that crazy no-bathroom-for-you teacher.

I made a little kid cry the other day. I teach 1st grade, and while I think I’m decent at what I do I’m actually not the super-cute type of teacher. I rather always fancied myself teaching upper elementary or even jr. high and I haven’t quite pegged down the usual lower elementary personality traits. My point being, it’s not entirely unheard of me for to wind up with a crying kid. Their kids, they cry.

What I do feel bad about is why I made this little kid cry. A reason my deeper soul has made apparently meaningless claims about.

The stupid bathroom.

What is it with schools and young students using the bathroom? Google the subject and you will find pleas from parents and doctors for teachers to not be so rigid and anal about the matter. You will find teachers sharing their bathroom control strategies.

Really. Bathroom control strategies.

Now, in fairness, I don’t teach upper grades. I know little about this secret world of teenagers feigning to use the bathroom to such scales high degrees of classroom management must be slapped down upon these rebels.

I teach in a little world of early literacy and mathematics with to-the-point lessons where I really don’t care if someone needs to use the bathroom. While sneaking off to play isn’t completely off the table, the vast majority of my students upon requesting bathroom access need to use the bathroom, or need the walk to and from the bathroom.

Yet my school is weird about the whole situation. No, there is no official school policy on bathrooms, but the culture is one of bathroom control. It would seem all the other teachers have strict policies and procedures for using the bathroom. Paying classroom money. Using a token representing a strict quota of daily bathroom sojourns. It’s not that I’ve been told to stop letting kids go to the bathroom outside of recess in so many words… but the implication is there.

Do I believe using the bathroom at recess is a good idea? Oh, yes. I encourage it. I even ask, when we are nearing that recess time, if they can wait. It’s a good habit when used reasonably and responsibly. Ah, but how quickly does that reason and responsibility turn into anything but?

Without being told to not let my kids use the bathroom, I was told. The pressure fell and it fell hard.

And next thing I knew I had a crying kid in my classroom.

Of course I apologized and let her use the bathroom. She was a good kid for the most part, like most first graders. If she threw a rave in the bathroom, we would address that. But she didn’t. She left for the bathroom and returned a short time later. There was no evidence of chaos.

So why do we put such bizarre emphasis on controlling students’ bathroom habits, especially in elementary school to such a degree we’re exchanging cutesy bathroom patrol ritual ideas?

Mine? I have the hand sanitizer bottle. It is placed on desk and the kids can even sanitize their hands afterwards. I hate the culture of hand sanitizer, but it works for this purpose. There’s other simple methods. I even heard once of a teacher who just let the kids go…

In this data-obsessed world, does a bathroom break interfere with the flow of the lesson? Does it encourage a plight of sympathetic urination? Does it cause a headache when enough kids request to go in a certain timeframe?

I personally don’t think it’s worth the headache of attempting to control or worrying about it.

They’re little kids. They have small bladders. They have small attention spans where a jaunt down to the restroom may be precisely the break they need. If problems arise, address them as they go.

I saw myself become that crazy bathroom-obsessed teacher when I told a little kid she couldn’t go. I didn’t like that me.

I pledge to return to being a little more reasonable about the bathroom.

Relief Society Lesson: Gather Together All Things in Christ

Gather Together in One All Things in Christ

by Elder Bednar

 

We are at a time where it seems church changes are happening regularly. It’s a rather exciting sort of news feed, but it may also leave us wondering of what is important, what was important but no longer, and questions of just what we ought to be worrying about. We may have heard others frustrated with changes, or perhaps experienced those frustrations ourselves. This all leads to that greater question of just what is the purpose of all these changes. To take the thought even further, what is the purpose of all we do in the gospel?

Elder Bednar quotes the scripture Ephesians 1:10 “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him”. We have been given a modern dispensation where the fullness of the gospel is revealed. It’s a wondrous and exciting time where living prophets teach us, works of knowledge and inspiration are easily available, and in many ways this can greatly help us move on the work of our Heavenly Father.

Elder Bednar also mentions a rope. During my time working  Scout Camp, I spent a lot of time with ropes and they became near and dear to me. We tied knots to serve all sorts of different purposes, generally with some degree of securing some item, be it a boat, a fence, or a person. Ropes are quite powerful and useful in that security. Ask anyone whose profession or hobby involves knots, and they will likely wax on about the important of a strong rope and good knot.

Rope Ladder, Mesh Ladder, Rope, Knot, Rope Mesh Ladder

But, what makes a rope? A rope is a collection of a whole lot of individual strands that work together to make that mighty rope for whatever your purpose.

So, consider all the changes and even all the long-term yet-to-change policies and procedures of the church. Do they exist independently for their own sakes entirely? What is their end goal?

Elder Bednar said “Interestingly, substances that may be quite unexceptional can be woven together and become exceptionally strong. Thus, effectively connecting and binding ordinary materials can produce an extraordinary tool….Much like the braided strands of a rope produce a powerful and durable tool, all of these interrelated actions are part of a unified effort to better align the focus, resources, and work of the Savior’s restored Church with its fundamental mission: to assist God in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His children. Please do not focus primarily upon the logistical aspects of what has been announced. We must not allow procedural details to obscure the overarching spiritual reasons these changes now are being made.”

Take a moment to consider all the ins and outs of living the gospel in this modern dispensation. What are some that stand out to you? Have a particular meaning to you? Are these merely foolish traditions or do they have a purpose in helping the gospel move forward to our salvation and exaltation?

Think of a checklist. Some people love checklists with the satisfaction of meeting a goal, of completing a great project or even something as mundane yet important as a day. Others despise the tediousness of them. Others, and their camp regarding checklists may not even matter, may even speak of them in certain contexts disparagingly, that a desired goal is best not met by such tasks that only exist to “check off a box.”

Consider a nice, strong rope, and then consider the worst to-do checklist you’ve seen. What is the difference? Then, especially for those of you who love checklists, compare that rope of little individual fibers with the best checklist you’ve done, the one that consists of important tasks great and small that all work toward a single purpose.

What do you think might happen if we become preoccupied with the changes, or perhaps even long-standing aspects of the church? Would it be possible if we approached the gospel in a merely a checklist fashion to eventually lose focus of the ultimate purposes of the gospel?

I want to share a change that I found particularly meaningful to me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I really do appreciate the two-hour church time. And it’s not necessarily about having “more time” on Sundays. I honestly felt, and still feel, that the church could have given us whatever schedule and I would have dutifully and happily accepted it. The movement toward a more home-centered gospel struck a cord with me. I have rubbed shoulders with people of other faiths who had shorter church services than us. Some who didn’t even attend any sort of actual church, but practiced their faith entirely within the home. And while I certainly feel there is a lot of benefit to the greater community of a church congregation, that feeling comes from my belief that such community is in its way an extension of the family. Anyway, those Christians who had less congregation church and more home church were always admired by me and I thought of them when the schedule changed. I liked that reminder that church is not something we go to on Sundays, but is something we ought to be living daily. I thought of those who had challenges with the schedule, listened to their thoughts, and still in the end came away with the hope that they would be able to meet such challenges. And, even though it is probably overstepping my bounds, I couldn’t help but wonder if the process of meeting such challenges would offer great blessings to themselves and their families, even if it was nothing more than greater communication and understanding between family members.

I’ve been in situations where for one reason or another, a gospel event had to be severely focused. To share another Scout Camp story, one Sunday morning we somehow found ourselves in the situation with way too many people planning to attend church down at the bottom of the mountain and not nearly enough cars. A phone call was made, and we wound up having a quick sacrament meeting ourselves. One way to look at this was that we managed to do what seemed most important, but I bring up this story as a reminder that we still cannot discount everything else just because of the importance of the sacrament. Even the sacrament itself is a way to bring us further along in the gospel.

Elder Bednar said “Our desire is that faith in the Father’s plan and in the Savior’s redeeming mission might increase in the earth and that God’s everlasting covenant might be established. Our only objectives are to facilitate continuing conversion to the Lord and to love more completely and serve more effectively our brothers and sisters.”

All that we do in the gospel ought to be with this mission in line.

Think of the Pharisees, strictly following the letter of the law without proper understanding of just what the intent and purpose of the law was.

These days in education, a common practice we use in deciding what to teach is “unpacking the standard”. We take the educational standard, or the goal of what we want students to know, and start breaking it down. We can in the end get quite a few lessons from a single sentence standard. It occurred to me that instead of worrying about all the little fibers that make up a rope, it may be better to look at a whole rope, and then look at all the fibers that make up. We begin with knowing we want a nice strong rope—how will we get there? What do we need to make up that rope? Or, what is in that rope that makes it so very strong?

In his talk, Elder Bednar makes an excellent project of “unpacking” the 4th Article of Faith. Many of may be able to recite it by heart, a quick paragraph that nicely hits the main key ideas. “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” But we know that we can take each one of those and intricately study and ponder on their meaning… and yet they all lead back to that key idea of The Gospel and the importance of relying upon and trusting in our Savior.

Consider all that you do in the church and in the gospel. Do you do them without any thought of Jesus Christ or Heavenly Father? Likely not, or at least not all the time. If we have developed a testimony in those things, that testimony is very likely not just in those, but in our Savior and our Father in Heaven. That gospel is the focus of what we do.

A few more questions to ponder:

What blessings have you seen from either recent changes or long-standing components of the church?

What do you think is their end goal?

How can we help ourselves and each other from getting caught in single ideas?

How can all these individual things help us?

MLMs and the Desire for “Abundancy”

I’ll begin by being perfectly clear–I have nothing against financial success and wealth. If I found myself making oodles of cash, I would be pretty darn pleased. I daresay most people desire some form of financial security and what is the American Dream if not to create that sort of stability?

But Latter-Day Saint culture seems packed with multi-level marketing and, according to my Facebook groups, aimed particularly towards wives, often those who want nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom. For whatever reason related to this difficult economy, these women often want to be helping out with finances. I’m a working mom, I totally respect that. They want to be at home, or working outside the home isn’t financially logical, and money is still needed for basic bills or desired for making things easier or even just more luxurious. Once again, I respect that. There’s a reason we aren’t scrimping by in my grandmother’s basement but rather I’m working. Avoiding my grandmother’s basement isn’t the only reason I’m working, of course, but I understand the desire to not be living in such circumstances when you’re adults with a family.

I recently mused about those Facebook groups.  One of the regular posts was ways to earn money from home, and inevitably MLMs would pop up. A recent incident of memorability was such a request with a specific NO MLMs tag attached to it. The next day had an apology post from one of the group administrators complete with a note that every woman who had brought up her MLM anyway had been removed from the group.

People in MLMs LOVE MLMs. And despite not being immune from making purchases, I can’t help but be a little frightened of the zeal. Let’s be real: it can be flat-out freaky.

I don’t really want to talk about the figures and numbers and data of MLM success and failures. My question here is, why?

Why is there such a heavy focus and celebration of making so much money?

Once again, I do not intend to slam the rich. I do not intend to slam those who work high-paying careers. I do not intend to slam those who enjoy their money. But I also confess that as a school teacher living in a little house who clearly did not go for a high-paying career for whatever reason, such intense chasing of money is hard to understand.

With high-paying careers, you’re hopefully doing something you enjoy. Something that interests you, challenges you–and also happens to pay pretty decently. You like your career. Maybe you wouldn’t do it if the pay wasn’t worth it, but you are generally happy doing what you’re doing.

But the most I hear from MLMs is about the money. Dazzling phrases of Financial Freedom! Be Your Own Boss! Have All you Desire! Live Abundantly!

Since when did abundance fall into limited terms applying only to finance?

Suddenly an MLM goes from a fun side-hustle that may pay a few bills to meaning untold wealth. The message isn’t about the product, it’s about what the product will hopefully get you.

So a relative of mine made millions in an MLM. He had a beautiful home on a mountaintop. It was pretty cool. One day, some guys from the company came to take video of his house and property–for the purpose of using it to entice potential consultants. Who cares about the product? Do this and maybe you’ll become rich!

I confess I’ve actually perused sites like PinkTruth and such, or even just random MLM disaster stories on the interweb. I find them fascinating, like a car accident. So much of the talk given to these people involved vague promises of wealth!

And while wealth is probably very nice, why is this money side such a focus? Why is it all about the money? The big houses? The vacations?

To stay on the PinkTruth/Mary Kay angle, Mary Kay is a Christian sort of company. Yet I scratch my head at the focus on so much material wealth. Same goes for my own specific religion. How many of these moms in my Latter-Day Saint mom groups are looking for a way to bring in some fun money and how many of them are looking beyond the mark of caring for their children in the home towards lavish lifestyles? I already know several woman who still wound up having to put their kids in daycare in order to work many hours on their MLM businesses that were supposed to allow them to stay home. To go further on that thought, I already see a lot of desire for the finer things in life that go beyond simple wishing and toward what I would consider for myself unrighteous greed.

When I went looking for more information on MLMs, the supportive sites also failed to mention their actual businesses and only spoke of the potential millions to be made.

None of it was about the work. It was all about skipping over something someone may or may not enjoy and getting to the millions of dollars.

Why isn’t it about the joy of selling if you’re a salesman type with the income to make it worthwhile? Why is it just about the end result, like the MLM is a magic genie come to make all wishes come true?

Instead of living godly lives on whatever income your family has or can reasonable obtain and being happy in such lives, why must there be so much strife toward extreme wealth?

Relief Society Lesson: Our Campfire of Faith

Our Campfire of Faith by Elder Gerrit W. Gong

 

For five summers during and after college I worked at a Boy Scout camp. It became addicting, a major aspect of my life. I had a gaggle of friends from these summer camps and we developed out camp identity. I look back at that time as a camp counselor with fondness. There was so much to love. The program, our mountain campground, our friendships, our traditions, including campfires. Oh, what a part of our little camp culture were campfires. Sure, every camp around has their campfires, but until you’re working fire day after day and week after week you can’t possibly know what a big deal campfires are. We had programs we dubbed campfires (as there was usually a fire going). On weekends we would gather around campfires and sing. Yes, we had created our own giant bonfires. We regularly taught people how to build and maintain and care for campfires.

So when Brother Gong compared faith to a campfire, I immediately understood. Campfires encompassed or represented so much of our camp life. Why should not our faith and the experiences with it be so powerful? You may not have been in my nerdy camp experience, but imagine a campfire. What feelings does it bring to mind?

For me, it’s warmth, it’s community, it’s the feeling of something greater than myself. It’s safety and comfort. And yes, it’s strength.

In his talk, Elder Gong speaks of a time when he was invited by Elder Richard G. Scott to… paint. They used a model Scott’s painting “Campfire at Sunset”. Gong was interested in expanding his skill, doing something creative, a reasonable purpose for watercolor. One can take from this experience that Gong was inspired and wanted to grow in his talent and even celebrate the beautiful God-created world. Compare this with faith.

Gong describes faith and this painting experience as such As we painted, we talked about faith—how as we face the light and warmth of a campfire, we leave the darkness and uncertainty behind us—how on sometimes long, lonely nights, our campfire of faith can give hope and assurance. And the dawn does come. Our campfire of faith—our memories, experiences, and heritage of faith in God’s goodness and tender mercies in our life—has strengthened us through the night.

The metaphor of faith as a campfire is meaningful for me. It shows us the power, warmth, and brightness of faith. Whether our faith is a raging bonfire or nothing but warm embers, it gives forth that power. The campfire is a reserve, something that often maintains its power no where it is. It’s something we can build and care for, and in turn it gives us so much strength.

Gong describes five ways in which this reservoir of faith can help and encourage us through our lives.

The first is helping us in finding joy. It is easy to find joy when things are going right and following our ideals. It may not be so easy to find that joy and happiness when things are difficult.

Think of a time when things did not go your way… yet you survived. How did you manage to get through those hard times?

Gong says Our Savior knows our circumstances. As we exercise God-given agency and engage all our faculties in humility and faith, our Savior, Jesus Christ, can help us meet life’s challenges and joys…God’s love is stronger than the cords of death—temporal or spiritual. Our Savior’s Atonement is infinite and eternal. Each of us strays and falls short. We may, for a time, lose our way. God lovingly assures us, no matter where we are or what we have done, there is no point of no return. He waits ready to embrace us.

Trials will come upon us. I imagine that each of us in this room has had our times of trial, likely are going through a trial at this time. While it may be asking too much for us to be completely Pollyanna-esque in this regard, faith can help us remember that no matter how hard things are God has not forgotten us, that our Savior did have the Atonement for us. It is in this knowledge that we may be able to look beyond our trials to perhaps find other blessings and beauty in the world and other opportunities for us. How has your faith helped through times that were difficult?

The second way this helps is in our ability to minister. We can use the knowledge and faith we have to help and love others. You may have heard the metaphor of pouring from an empty cup—in this regard we may think of our cups as filled and ready to be poured out to others. Perhaps we may even feel inspired to minister, to seek out those we can serve. Has there ever been a time where someone who served you seemed to have inspiration with them?

Gong says Third, creative gospel joy and blessings come when we seek to love the Lord and others with all our hearts and souls. This is where I find that we truly find joy. We have our hearts changing and we are becoming more Christ-like. This will manifest in how we treat and love others. How might you go beyond yourselves to love others and serve God? What things can you do to grow in your talents and your faith?

Next, Fourth, our campfire of faith encourages us to establish regular patterns of righteous living that deepen faith and spirituality. Recently in my life I’ve been part of conversations discussing the importance of various aspects of righteous living. They have been interesting in their own right. What is culture? What is best for our own personal growth? What I find most important of Gong’s advice is putting into place regular patterns. What is the difference between half-heartedly making a change we don’t necessarily stick to and working in faith to live more righteously? We aren’t picking and choosing aspects of living we don’t feel strongly about but rather we are seeking truly changing our lives for the better. If you have made a long-term change in your life for the better, what blessings have you found?

Last, Fifth, as we keep the best of familiar patterns while seeking new and holier ways to love God and help us and others prepare to meet Him, our campfire of faith can encourage us to remember perfection is in Christ, not in ourselves or in the perfectionism of the world.

What does this mean to you?

For me, I feel that when I trust in my faith and have taken the time and devotion to build it, I better understand what matters in this world. We can aim to separate the comparatively smaller matters in our lives and the eternal significance of the gospel. We can work with greater strength at building our faith and testimonies.

Perhaps this may be a Primary sort of question, but what are we doing in our lives in order to grow our faith, to build and tend that campfire of faith? Is it something we put little care into and then forget? Or is this truly a fiery sort of faith, something that we build our lives around, something we turn to, something that defines our experience, something that is ultimately useful to us?

In conclusion, please remember that faith ought to matter. It is something we work on and in turn it is something that truly benefits us.

So I read an vaccine package insert…

I consider myself pro-vaccination. I believe in vaccines. No, I’ve not been specifically trained in deep medical science but I have taken a number of classes in college. I was not aware I “wasn’t supposed to vaccinate my kids” until a few years ago. Since everyone and anyone was calling me “crunchy” I decided I might as well look further into this community of people. Yes, by many proper accounts I fit the crunchy bill–cloth diapering, yoga, line drying clothing, dabbling in essential oils, herbal teas, composting, a desire for minimalism–I, unfortunately, vaccinated.

Curious, I looked into it. Was I doing wrong by not vaccinating?

Except… except I didn’t really like what I was reading. The vast majority of the information on Facebook and various blogs seemed suspect and even of the fear-mongering category. I knew what I knew about medical science from college, despite being far from an expert, and none of the bold claims seemed to fit.

Then there were the declarations to me to “do my homework”. What, pray tell, homework was I supposed to do? I wasn’t currently attending any advanced courses on vaccines, immunology, or biology. Heck, I wasn’t attending any courses. Oh, I was supposed to use the interweb.

Now, I do believe that the interweb, properly used by a knowledgeable hacker, can reveal all sorts of accurate information. I do know medical journals and studies can be accessed. I believe that yes indeed, someone smart and discerning enough, could likely do an excellent interweb-only research.

Yet how many of us are skilled to do that properly?

The “approved homework” seemed to come in the form of blogs, and blogs are as only as good as the writer. Oh, many claimed to have done more, actually looking at CDC reports and speaking to doctors, but the information still struck me as rather second-hand.

Some thoughts began to creep into my head:

  • Did So-n-So’s dad who worked in pharmaceuticals really interview each and every upper being of the company to confirm their children weren’t vaccinated? Did he confirm his findings by digging into their private medical files?
  • Did the 22-year-old mom with a degree in accounting really do thousands of hours of research on vaccines?
  • How much can I trust Girl who said her friend said that most immunologists don’t vaccinate? How did they verify this?
  • Why is the small fraction of doctors-who-don’t-vaccinate-their-families so much smaller than the fraction of doctors who do?
  • Why was it so darn easy to find refutations on every claim the anti-vaccine community tossed out but so hard to find refutations to those refutations?
  • How am I, an elementary teacher, more qualified to properly sift through this medical information than the guy who has done it for ten years professionally?

That last thought is what led me to the horrifying devil of the matter… I dared to put my trust in those I deemed wiser than me. But hey, this is where “doing my homework” led me.

But what about the other part of my homework? Reading the vaccine package insert? Well, our family doctor tends to hand us the insert upon every vaccination. Part of the office procedure, apparently. And I do like reading informative things, so I have been reading those inserts for the better part of six years.

Here is me reading a vaccine insert…

Oh, look, here’s the purpose of vaccine. Oh, instructions for the doctors and nurses… this is kind of boring but now I know how to mix a vaccine, I’m so educated. Now we have some dosage forms. Ooh, contraindications! That sounds important! Okay… looks like none of these apply to us so we’re good to go. Precautions! What do you mean I can’t let my toddler drive home? And now what’s next?

Good gravy, it’s lawyer stuff that makes the Happy Fun Ball look like indeed a good time. Government and company trying to cover their butts by listing everything under the sun.

 

I’m sorry, but I just can’t read the Adverse Reaction section with anything less than a grain of salt. Why?

Because, despite what people would have me believe, it’s nothing more than a list of everything that happened within six degrees of Kevin Bacon when someone may or may not have been on a drug trial.

That’s right. I don’t give it much thought because it is LAWYER STUFF. Most of those reactions have not been clinically confirmed. They are not gospel truth, and I would major most of them never happened to anyone.

So, no, I don’t know all that much, but higher education and those wiser than me helped me learn how to navigate a medical pamphlet.

 

Relief Society Lesson: Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ

Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ

By Elder D. Todd Christofferson

 

This Christmas season, we are often inspired to consider Jesus Christ with more intensity than we might at other times of the year. While I don’t want to put any dampers on this magical and spiritual time, we might take the opportunity to ask ourselves the question of how we might view and consider Christ at other times of the year. That I personally love those periods of renewed strength and devotion that holidays bring, what kind of devotion do we bring the rest of the year?

 

As a class, I would like to read a story of Elijah that accompanies this talk in 1 Kings 21: 18-39.

 

To summarize, during the reign of King Ahab, the people were rather wishy washy between who they would serve, Baal or the Lord. Elijah counseled an ox to be prepared for sacrifice and that Baal and the Lord be asked to light the fire for the burnt offering.

Elder Christofferson muses that in today’s world Elijah might have said thoughts such as

Either God, our Heavenly Father, exists, or He does not, but if He exists, worship Him.

Either Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the resurrected Redeemer of mankind, or He is not, but if He is, follow Him.

Either the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or it is not, but if it is, then “get nearer to God by [studying and] abiding by its precepts.”7

Either Joseph Smith saw and conversed with the Father and the Son that spring day of 1820, or he did not, but if he did, then follow the prophetic mantle, including the keys of sealing that I, Elijah, bestowed upon him.

I have heard said, and even have said so myself, the claim that as long as we are loving and try our best, the afterlife shouldn’t be too harsh on us no matter what gospel truth turns out to be. I think those of us who say this mean very well, but it has made me consider the question “Wait! While hopefully trying my best and trusting I’m right about my beliefs shouldn’t leave me too much in trouble, what does this say about my own personal faith? Do I really truly believe what I believe or am I just hoping for the best?”

Elder Christofferson speaks of a continuum which we can draw here. The continuum goes between Social Motivation and Christlike Commitment. Now, I suppose there’s nothing horrible about doing good for socially motivated reasons—after all, the work and the good gets done and we can even chalk it up to that light of Christ we believe is in all people. But I think of that line from Gordon B. Hinkley of Good, Better, Best. Social motivation to do what’s right may have good results, but does not a stronger commitment to Christ encompass that and a whole lot more?

The people under King Ahab had a tendency to waver. Many claimed a decent belief in the God of Israel, but also clearly had few qualms about dallying in the worship of Baal. Whatever and whoever was handy at the time.

But when push came to shove, or rather when it came time to call upon someone to light the fires for sacrifice, was that polite social adherence to Baal enough?

I imagine that from day to day, year to year, we all find ourselves on different places along that spectrum, sometimes leaning more toward Social Motivation than working on our testimonies of the gospel of Christ. And while we can claim that this and that good came out of social motivation, which side of this continuum will certainly do more for us and for our world? Which will, so to speak, light the fire?

In the story of Elijah and the sacrifice, what led the people to finally and truly recognize the Lord and His Power? It was that dramatic action of the fire being lit and consuming everything. We often speak of faith and we realize how important it is to recognize the miracles of faith will not happen necessarily on our timelines. But sometimes some of us take it to mean faith is faith and that nothing will ever come of it because faith is the hope of things not seen.

So I ask for your consideration, how many of you have seen miracles great or small from your faith and testimony? Have you found your faith and testimony growing when you work on them? Can you deny small things that others have experienced? Can we really say a devotion of Christ is really for naught?

The people of Israel were not told to eschew Baal and have faith in the Lord for no reason. They were given quite the testimony-building experience. Maybe we won’t have anything so dramatic, but I hope and pray that when we truly turn toward our Heavenly Father and our Savior  we will find our own hearts changing.

Elder Christofferson says To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate one’s heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of many influences in a person’s life but the defining focus of his or her life and character.

I think about this quote and look at this continuum. Is our devotion just one of many of our lovable personality traits or is an overlying definition that inspires all that we do?

Now, the hard truth for many of us is that we have experienced times when we are farther, much father from the Christlike Devotion side of things than we may like, or maybe we are at points where we don’t even care. Trials of faith are real. The realities and injustice of our fallen mortal world harm us and those we love. At those times we wonder why it is so easy for someone to speak of how wonderful faith and testimony are.

I have a few questions for you to either answer or even just consider privately.

What do you do when you or someone you love is struggling with a testimony?

How might you respond if a prayer goes unanswered or not answer the way you hoped?

How might your strengthen yourself and others?

How do you know when you have approached Christlike Commitment?

What do our lives look and feel like when we are working on our Christlike Commitment?

How can we react and strengthen ourselves and others when trials happen?

What supports are out there for us to use?

Elder Christofferson speaks of three personal examples he was privy to:

Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed, Christlike commitment to the will of God on the other. Somewhere along that continuum, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our heart and takes possession of our soul. It may not happen in an instant, but we should all be moving toward that blessed state.

It is challenging but vital to remain firm and steadfast when we find ourselves being refined “in the furnace of affliction,” something that comes soon or late to all of us in mortality. Without God, these dark experiences tend to despondency, despair, and even bitterness. With God, comfort replaces pain, peace replaces turmoil, and hope replaces sorrow. Remaining firm in the faith of Christ will bring His sustaining grace and support. He will convert trial into blessing and, in Isaiah’s words, “give … beauty for ashes.”

May I mention three examples of which I have personal knowledge:

There is a woman who suffers with a debilitating, chronic illness that persists despite medical attention, priesthood blessings, and fasting and prayers. Nevertheless, her faith in the power of prayer and the reality of God’s love for her is undiminished. She presses ahead day by day (and sometimes hour by hour) serving as called in the Church and, together with her husband, looking after her young family, smiling as much as she can. Her compassion for others runs deep, refined by her own suffering, and she often loses herself in ministering to others. She continues steadfast, and people feel happy being around her.

A man who grew up in the Church, served as a full-time missionary, and married a lovely woman was surprised when some of his siblings began speaking critically of the Church and the Prophet Joseph Smith. After a time they left the Church and tried to persuade him to follow. As often happens in such cases, they bombarded him with essays, podcasts, and videos produced by critics, most of whom were themselves disaffected former members of the Church. His siblings mocked his faith, telling him he was gullible and misled. He didn’t have answers for all their assertions, and his faith began to waver under the relentless opposition. He wondered if he should stop attending church. He talked with his wife. He talked with people he trusted. He prayed. As he meditated in this troubled state of mind, he recalled occasions when he had felt the Holy Spirit and had received a witness of truth by the Spirit. He concluded, “If I am honest with myself, I must admit that the Spirit has touched me more than once and the testimony of the Spirit is real.” He has a renewed sense of happiness and peace that is shared by his wife and children.

A husband and wife who have consistently and happily followed the counsel of the Brethren in their lives were grieved by the difficulty they experienced in having children. They expended substantial funds working with competent medical professionals, and, after a time, they were blessed with a son. Tragically, however, after only about a year, the baby was the victim of an accident that was no one’s fault but that left him semicomatose, with significant brain damage. He has received the best of care, but doctors cannot predict how things will unfold going forward. The child this couple worked and prayed so hard to bring into the world has in a sense been taken away, and they don’t know if he will be returned to them. They struggle now to care for their baby’s critical needs while meeting their other responsibilities. In this supremely difficult moment, they have turned to the Lord. They rely on the “daily bread” they receive from Him. They are aided by compassionate friends and family and strengthened by priesthood blessings. They have drawn closer to one another, their union perhaps now deeper and more complete than might otherwise have been possible.

We don’t know how our lives will go, or the lives of others. We have likely very little knowledge of each other’s experiences and faith and doubts. What we do have is the opportunity and support to make the time to consider where we are in growing in our devotion to Christ, working as best we can to be firm and steadfast in our faith.

My house doesn’t have Christmas lights this year

The other day the husband and I were commenting about the weather and I mentioned it might be the time to put up the Christmas lights. He replied “Yeah, I’m not going to do that.”

And… I didn’t care.

I think I just might have the skills to pull out the ol’ ladder and climb on the roof myself. I think if I attempted this my husband would indeed come to the rescue of myself and the lights.

But when he said he wouldn’t be hanging up lights, I didn’t miss it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the look of a home with well-done Christmas light. It’s classic, it’s cozy, it’s the spirit of Christmas. I daresay lights at this time of year are one of my favorite things about the holidays. But I’ve also driven down the street and in the sadness state of judgement, recoiled in disgust at some really bad Christmas lights display. It’s not that they’re overtly tacky, but that maybe they should have shelled out a few bucks to have a professional hang the lights. Which isn’t a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

We have one of those projector thingies somewhere in the garage. It’s cool, but the projectors can also run a bit tacky and due to the nature of our front yard I’ll have extension cord all over the place for the milk guy to trip on.

While I do love Christmas lights and maybe I’ll hire someone to make them look super good next year, I don’t care this year.

I like to imagine myself aiming for more minimalist. Do I really  need a showy bunch of lights? If I were to take the minimalist thing quite literally, what about the crappy bunch of cords I have no idea what to discreetly do with?

What did people do before the advent of Christmas lights? How many people actually put candles out there? Yet Christmas heartwarming memories often drift back to romance of yesteryear without electricity.

I thought to my Halloween/fall decorations. I love fall. My decorations were some ears of jewel-colored Indian corn I had grown myself, pumpkins, and the cornstalks that grew the Indian corn. I thought it looked great. Simple, but clearly fall.

Why can’t I do the same for Christmas without blinding the neighbors with Christmas lights?

Wreaths always look great. I have already asked around for local live wreaths that I can toss in the compost on the 26th. I have tied festive bows to the lamp post.

And I like it. It’s cheery. I hope the wreath will make it cheerier. Not busy by any means, but something sweet, simple, and a tribute to the holidays.