Monday, August 12, 2013

we shall know, even as we are known

As I was going through our Church bag in search of the tiny notebook into which I scribbled Claire's blessing to record in the computer before the household tide comes in and washes things away, I found my other church notebook. I had written down a bunch of thoughts I had on the subject I spoke upon in church back in March.

It was an embarrassing talk. I went on for so long. I ended up going into preterm labor later that day and I blame my high emotions and for that. I am cringing just typing this, but that little fact might be interesting to you someday. The subject matter meant so much to me and I dove into it in that rediscovering the wheel way I have.

The topic was the question: How do we come to know Christ in our temporal lives? The bishopric member who introduced the subject to me told me that it was a question he really wanted to find an answer to. I am still pretty convinced I did not understand what he really wanted me to talk about, or what his question actually was, so I just went with what made sense to me. Which is, as always when it comes to the Gospel, the broadest and most basic principle of all.

Once again, before the tide pulls this out into the far reaches of my home, tantamount to throwing it away, I want to record the thoughts I had on the subject. I don't even want to look at the talk itself, it was so rambling and embarrassing. But I want my kids to have some sense someday about how this ordeal with Papa affected their mom, and to have some written testimony of my faith.

So often in the scriptures we find examples of people who ought to know better failing to recognize the Savior. The reaction of almost the entire population of the New Testament to Christ in light of all the prophesies and testifying ceremonies of the Old Testament is just one broad example. How is it that we can be ever learning, even about the Savior, and never come to a knowledge of the truth?

I think part of the answer is found in another question: "For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served and who is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?"

There are many ways to serve, but the fundamental essence of any service, of any good we do at all, is love.

"For God is love and they that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God." (1 John 4:16)

There is a reason that the great commandment is that we love God with all our heart might mind and strenght and that we love our neighbor as ourselves, since it is from that basic principle that every other commandment proceeds, or hangs, as Christ worded it.

And this is what life is. We are given a commandment to love, an example of how, and a little bit of time to practice, and families, little laboratories of love, to practice with.

Life may seem long, but we see increasingly how the time flows away from as at an astonishing rate. We have a limited number of days in this life in which to learn of Christ, to learn to love as He did. As brief as a lifetime can be, the seasons within it are even more ephemeral. We are only living with our parents for a short time, and then it is over. Our time as missionaries will come to an end and we are left with what we did during that phase. Our season as parents of very young children seems to stretch endlessly but suddenly it too is gone, and our kids, soon, also. Our time on earth with our spouses, siblings and parents is a gift, and one we are promised will be joyful if only we learn of Him, and love each other as He taught. But it is a gift we can waste and squander. So many people do.

I don't mean to sound too dismal. It is appropriate that ours is a Gospel of infinite hope. His arm is always stretched out to receive us in whatever lost path we are wandering. We also know that death is not the end and our relationships go on.

But I cannot help but also feel a warning that at least the quality of our lives, our opportunities, and the depths of our joys are diminished by not using the time we have to allow Christ to enlarge our hearts. To simply love, forgive, accept, let go.

We cannot love in this life as perfectly as He did and does. But the more we strive after his example of loving the closer we come to Him and the better we can feel Him and understand Him, for God is love. And I now think that this is what Paul meant when he wrote:

For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known.

We cannot fully know Christ now, in our imperfect mortal state, just as, and also because, we cannot love perfectly as He did. But someday, the Gospel promises us, Christ will change our hearts completely, if we let Him. And it is in that day, in some day we cannot now envision accurately, that the darkness will scatter, the glass clouding our sight will evaporate and we will love and know as He eternally has loved and known us, though we never quite understood it until that very moment.

Until that day comes, it is for us to live joyfully, and while there are many deep mysteries to ponder, the way to be joyful is clear: love. So many people wander away from the Gospel table in search of a more plausible storyline or to escape looming doubts about histories or mysteries or even to just find an easier pathway. But there is no getting away from true principles, and whatever else is or is not true, is or is not discoverable, the most important feature of living a good and happy and meaningful life inescapably will have been the degree to which we have loved the people around us the way Christ told us and taught us and showed us. It is all there really is, all there ever has been. It has always been so and yet we can spend a lifetime searching.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

the little things

last summer, Glen Echo Park, Md.

Today a new bishopric was called in our ward. The new bishop had served as a counselor to my dad back in 2001. My dad had once observed that this man's daughters, he has five of them, were a decade younger than we were. Jessie pointed out that it was a decade ago that our dad was being called as the bishop and we were the college kids traipsing down the hall to his setting apart.

My dad no longer attends church meetings. This change took place suddenly. Two weeks ago he just didn't go. Maybe he will go again, but this Sunday Brigham and Matt administered the sacrament at my parents' house. Dad choked on the water.

I do not think it is bragging to note that many of my dad's finest qualities shone through during his service as a bishop, and so the reorganization of our ward has me thinking about some of his qualities that I would like to develop in myself and cultivate in my kids. Above all else, my dad was reliable. He did what he said he would do. Furthermore, he did what ought to be done. This kind of common sense competence is in surprisingly short supply, even among otherwise very respected and successful people. But my dad possessed it. I am not entirely sure how to develop this quality, but I thought there were some things I could do to otherwise follow his example.

1) Sending people notes of thanks or friendliness. He bought cards en mass at thrift stores--he was as cheap as he was a diligent pen pal to all.

2) Be on time to things. I am a terrible offender of punctuality, but I am going to make every effort to be better.

This list could go on forever but I won't be able to stick to a thousand goals, so these are my two for now. They are difficult enough for me as I seriously do not know the current price of a stamp.

Our new Bishop gave a nice talk and quoted a this scripture:
Wherefore be not weary in well doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind, and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.
I know that these verses are talking about missionary work and establishing the Church, but I think it is true more generally, too. We are all engaged in the great work of transforming ourselves. This is true whether we believe it or not, whether we try or not. We are forming who we are every day with all of our choices, and we can do so much to direct that formation in the very little daily decisions. My great work is turning myself, through the grace of the Lord, into His disciple, and of guiding my own little family in that same path. The overarching guiding principle is love, and the various instrumentalities are invariably small ones. It will be okay that I won't always do the right things in the right spirit, but if I can only just get into the habit of doing the right things, I hope to also create the habit of having the right spirit, and I can finally get these spiral situations to turn upwards instead of down. And my own Zion will simply be a state of grateful happiness of feelings the love of Christ. I will leave out all that business of eating the good of the land for Will's sake so as not to spoil the mood for him.

Monday, August 05, 2013

on finalities

Last night was the final time my dad will have slept in his bedroom. Brigham went over tonight and helped my mom move a guest bed downstairs. The steps have become a hazard we can no longer risk. So today he came down the steps for the last time.
Last time on the trampoline, April 2012

He has always been preoccupied, to put it lightly, with time in general and with "last times" specifically. A few years ago when they bought their car my dad remarked that it would be the last car he would ever buy. We rolled our eyes and assured ourselves that he was in great health and 65 was not really that old. It isn't, but I have awakened to the fact that such things are no guarantee.

A girl I went to high school with died on Thursday morning while delivering her second baby into the world. So unexpected, so shocking and unlikely that it seems that the universe should have to give her back under the logic that it is basically impossible for such a thing to happen in this day, in an American hospital. She left her house that morning full of anticipation at meeting her new long-awaited baby and she never met him and she never came back. Her last time had no hint of farewell in it.

I have wondered which is worse and I don't have a definite answer, but I can say that I think there is mercy in being able to knowingly say goodbye, have a little time to make peace, make things right, make some more happy memories, even if it is all done under the shadow of grief. I am grateful, though, that last fall when we took our big family trip to Las Vegas, organized by great-uncle Louie, we didn't know what the next few months held. We did the trip right and went to the Grand Canyon and soaked up all our minutes together in happiness and sunshine and we didn't have to do it cloaked in a sadness that it would be the last trip, counting down to the last days of conversations, of easy togetherness.
Zions National Park, October 2012, last family trip

I have been preoccupied with last times, too, especially as a mom. The last time that I would nurse each of my babies, the last diaper, the last of each of those little daily routines that kids seem they will be in forever and then gradually just are out of. It is such a sadness to focus on that side of things, the ending, the closing of a chapter in a stage of childhood. But with the last times I think about, the melancholy is short-lived because there is a new fun beginning just barely unfurling before us gleaming with all the possibility and experiences and memory-making in store.

These last times with Dad, though, don't open up into new rooms of light and possibility. Not that I have found. All I can really do is mark the days.
Our last family beach vacation, August 2012