Walking the Path

This weekend a friend and I went for a hike in southern Utah. Both a physical and spiritual experience, hiking has a restorative effect when I feel stuck or overwhelmed by my life. This weekend was no exception.

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The Kanarraville Falls hike just south of Cedar City, Utah (named for the lovely small town of Kanarraville that sits at the base of the canyon that leads to the falls) is one of those hikes that exemplifies what I love about southern Utah: red rock, trees that manage to flourish despite extreme heat and little water, slot canyons that rise up dramatically from the desert floor and provide shelter from the heat.

You hike back into the canyon over a red dirt road, at first crossing the river occasionally, and then hiking up the river for much of the second half of the trail, until you reach one of those hidden treasures: a waterfall–actually a series of them–flowing out of the desert.

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The hike is moderately difficult. A number of places made me glad I had a friend taller and stronger than I who could help me get up and over boulders and slick rock that would have been significantly more challenging without a partner. My friend usually walked a few steps ahead of me, and would occasionally point out where a particular rock was loose or more slippery than it looked. The metaphor there is pretty obvious. There are reasons we do things in pairs and groups in this life–there is not only strength in numbers but also greater ability to get everyone over the obstacles life holds for all of us. Sometimes you’re the capable one; sometimes you need someone to extend their hand to you and provide leverage you don’t have on your own.

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The really profound moment on this hike for me, though, came as we were headed back down the river after climbing up the falls and following the trail as far as we felt we could both safely go.

Hiking in a river is challenging for a number of reasons. The water is usually at least a bit cloudy, so you can’t see precisely where you’re stepping. You’re walking over uneven ground, which usually involves stones of various sizes, some of which are firmly settled, and some of which are loose–and you can’t always tell by looking. Your shoes and clothes weigh more than you’re used to because they’re wet, so you have to adjust your balance differently. The secret is to go slowly, taking one step at a time, testing your footing before you bring your weight forward and find the next step. While you need to look ahead occasionally to make sure you’re still following the right path, you need to focus primarily on the step right in front of you. Looking ahead too much is the quickest way to lose your footing and end up flat in the river, or worse, with a broken ankle or a twisted knee.

In the gospel we frequently talk about a principle of “line upon line, precept upon precept.” This is how the Lord teaches us, a little at a time, not everything at once. The principle certainly applies to how we learn the gospel, but I think it also has application for how we live daily, how we confront the things that challenge us the most.

I tend to get myself in trouble in life, in relationships, in my work by looking too far ahead, either trying to suss out the end of something that is causing me anxiety because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out or overwhelming myself because I can see no end to a heavy burden I feel like I’m going to be carrying forever. I trip myself up because I start looking far ahead instead of concentrating on just finding my footing for the part of the path that’s right in front of me.

We need to have goals that stretch us, dreams that are bigger than we are right now, hopes for an eternity we can’t really imagine from this moment in time. But we also need to focus on the part of the path in front of us well enough to move forward safely and steadily.

Maybe it’s because right now there is more than one thing in my life that feels like it’s out of reach or beyond my imagining–a happy relationship, a future after my parents are gone, a professional life that offers something different. I have been pleading with the Lord for patience, strength, the will to change, forgiveness for my weakness, some certainty as to the direction I should go or even what I should allow myself to hope for. And I feel like this hike brought me at least part of the answer, for now: Don’t try to see the ending from here; you’ll only trip yourself up. Just keep taking the next steps one at a time, and trust that continuing to walk the path will bring you to something beautiful.

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My Father’s Hands

It was a regular Fast Sunday. Baby blessings, recognizing children who had just been baptized, testimonies (also known as group therapy for some members, but I digress there).

As the meeting paused following the first baby blessing while Melchizedek priesthood holders from the next family assembled to form the priesthood circle, I looked down and noticed my father’s hands. They are what you might expect for an 83-year old whose life has been marked by a struggle to survive, to provide, to build a family that is bound by love and eternal covenants.

My father’s hands are scarred; his joints are swollen and twisted. His skin and fingernails are wrinkled and discolored. They bear evidence of pain, of overwork, of long hours in the sun and wind, hours crafting wood into pieces of art, years holding shovels and spades, pushing lawnmowers, climbing rocks, pitching tents, wielding paintbrushes, maneuvering pliers and wrenches. They are hands that have moved through the pages of scripture more times than I can count. That have been raised to sustain church leaders and accept assignments. They have delivered punishment and correction. They have comforted me. They are the hands that held me when I was only days old while he gave me a name and pled with the Lord to bless me with all the good things I came into mortality to find.

I don’t cry often, but I could not stop myself as it struck me how my father’s hands have been shaped by his work to shape me into the person I have become, a woman who can stand on her own, bear her own testimony, do her own work, and go forward on her own way with a solid foundation behind her.

In General Conference two Sundays ago, Elder Christofferson bore witness that we believe in fathers. I have to bear my own witness that I too believe in fathers. I was blessed with a father who gave his entire life to that responsibility. We often talk about the role of mothers in shaping their children—and my mother deserves her own recognition for all the sacrifices she has made for us—but we don’t as often give due to our fathers, especially when it comes to how they shape their daughters. I believe in my father, and it is in large part because of him that I also believe in and trust my Heavenly Father. I know not everyone was raised by my father, but I also know that my Heavenly Father loves every one of His children as much as my Dad loves me, even more.

Read Elder Christofferson’s talk on fathers.

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Taking the Atonement and Resurrection for Granted

Mormons tend to get up in arms when people say we aren’t Christian. After all, it’s in our real name: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yet, on Easter this year–the day that should be more important to us than any other day of the year–I experienced something in not one but two Sacrament Meetings that disturbed and frustrated me so much that it almost ruined my whole experience of Easter.

None of the speakers in either meeting spoke directly about the atonement, crucifixion, or resurrection.

They all delivered fine messages that would have been wonderful on any other Sabbath Day. But on Easter, they were sadly devoid of any real attention to what the Savior suffered, the burden He shouldered for us, or what an amazing thing it is that he conquered Death so that, for each of us, death is not the end but merely a stepping stone to the next phase of an eternal existence.

If I were attending those meetings as someone who is not a member of the church–and there was at least one such person in attendance that I knew personally–I would have thought to myself, these people don’t really understand what it means to be Christian.

And I had to ask myself, why do we as members of His church take for granted the most important aspects of the gospel. The atonement and resurrection are not just aspects of the gospel; they are the gospel. Without them, there is nothing else: no eternal families, no salvation, no potential for the Celestial kingdom. As Joseph Smith said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” How can we, then, as people who profess to follow and worship Him, show such little gratitude for the terrible, incomprehensible price He paid so that we might enjoy the blessings of faith, repentance, baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and all other blessings that flow from His great sacrifice?

Is it because we assume that we’ve talked about it so much that we need to find something else to talk about on Easter? If so, then we need to think again. Because the other thing I noticed about the messages in both Sacrament Meetings was that they were all focused on us–our trials, our suffering, our choices, our mortal experiences. I think we need to start focusing less on ourselves and more on the Savior. We could actually take a cue or two from the rest of the Christian world, who start their celebration of Easter in February, with Lent, who talk about Christ’s fasting, his miracles, his suffering in Gethsemane, his scourging and humiliation and long walk to Golgotha, the agony of his final hours, the mercy of his forgiveness of those who nailed him to the cross, his concern for his mother, his appearance as the Resurrected Lord, the glory of his final victory. Aside from a few brief closing remarks by the Bishop in one ward, we heard about none of those things yesterday. I am saddened and angered–forgive me, Father, for the contention in my heart over this–that there was no real devotion to the Savior’s sacrifice on the one day that everything should be about Him, not us.

So, just in case anyone is unsure of what I believe about Christ, let me take this opportunity to share my testimony–that He lives; that He suffered unfathomable agonies so that I would not have to suffer them through my own poor choices, sins, and personal weaknesses; that He suffered in Gethsemane and then again on the cross; that he voluntarily gave up His life to overcome Death for all of us; that he was buried in the garden tomb; that he rose again, a perfect holy being with the power to save us all; that I am completely dependent on His grace for my life and salvation; that all I can do of myself cannot save myself without the sanctifying power of His atonement; that He was, is, and ever shall be the Son of God and the Eternal Father of the souls of mankind whom He ransomed with His Blood; that He is the pure Lamb of God; and that through Him, and only Him, we have the opportunity to repent of our sins, receive healing from the wounds of mortality, be made clean so that we can live with Him and our Heavenly Father once again, and somehow, sometime in the eternities, become creators of worlds of our own.

I am grateful beyond my ability to express for His sacrifice and Resurrection, but I know that I am still not grateful enough, and that I do not comprehend enough what it took to save my soul from sin. Thank you, my Savior, for loving someone as lowly as I am enough to suffer and die for me.

Watch this beautiful video about our Savior’s atonement and resurrection:

http://easter.mormon.org/

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Look for the Light

Everyone who is trying to follow the Savior’s example can benefit from what Karen Walrond teaches here about how to look at–and think about–other people, especially those who we believe are different from us:

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I Will Show You Your Weakness

In the Book of Mormon (Ether 12:27 to be exact), one of the promises Christ makes to those who follow Him is that, if they will come unto Him, He will show them their weakness.

This promise is extended as a gift; it follows on the heels (literally the previous verse) of a promise that His grace is sufficient to protect those who follow him.

To be clear, I love His promise to show us our weakness. I think it is one of the most beautiful indicators in scripture of what it means to have a relationship with the Savior…that he will know us and understand us completely. There will be no hidden agendas, no turning away from our weakness, but rather an embracing of it so that–and this is the key part–He can help us overcome it.

And there’s the rub. I’ve been pondering this promise a lot lately because I’m in one of those phases where my weaknesses are confronting me head on, and it isn’t fun. It’s actually quite painful.

Not to overshare, but to give you some insight into why I’ve been pondering this, last week I did something less than strictly honest. I had forgotten to complete a critical HR-related task at work. Instead of doing what I should have done in the first place, going to the head of HR and letting him know the situation and seeking his help in fixing it, I attempted to cover it up. My intentions were at least 50% good: my failure to complete the task had the potential to disadvantage one of the people I manage, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. But, I also wanted to keep my bosses from discovering that I had dropped the ball.

As you can probably guess, my efforts backfired on me, and I ended up having to confess what I had done anyway, only it ended up exploding into something much worse than it would have been had I taken the honest route in the first place. (Why do these cautionary tales about honesty always seem to point that out? Anyway…)

All the above would have been bad enough, but here’s the part that really breaks my heart: until everything blew up, it hadn’t really occurred to me that what I was doing was at its core dishonest. I was so intent on “fixing” the problem that I didn’t step back and consider whether my method of fixing it lacked integrity. I was so blind to my own behavior and motivations that I actually prayed for help with the steps I was taking to try to cover up the problem. (I can’t tell you how hard it was to make myself write that sentence and confess that part of it.)

Only after the fact did it occur to me how dangerously close I was to mocking God, and how egregiously inappropriate those prayers were. Even then, it still took some real soul-searching on my knees to bring my priorities into alignment, aka, being more concerned about what the Lord thought of me than what might happen after my employer discovered what I had done.

In the end, my employer was gracious and merciful. He decided to focus on the good 50% of my intentions rather than the selfish 50%. I know that the Lord has been merciful with me too. The person that’s having the hardest time being merciful with me is me. The harsh glare of the truth that we are not the people we like to believe we are is uncomfortable, to say the least.

And that’s why I’ve been pondering what it means that this promise of the Lord–to show us our weakness–is meant as a gift, not a warning.  Because honestly confronting your weaknesses–not just acknowledging you have them, but confronting them with sincere intent to change them–is an extremely painful process.

I know that on one level, the Lord sees this as a gift to us because we must see our weaknesses before we can overcome them, and we must overcome them if we are to reach our eternal potential. But I have come to believe there’s more to it than that. I don’t fully understand it, but in some sense the effect our weaknesses have on us is worse than just dragging us back from our eternal potential.  Our weaknesses make us vulnerable–duh!–and the Lord is trying to help us see where we can do something to become less vulnerable.

I was reminded of the chapters in the book of Alma when Captain Moroni is preparing the people for war, and he systematically goes through the country, strengthening all of the weak cities until the entire nation becomes as fortified as he can make it; in the midst of all that preparing for war, there is this beautiful description: “And there never was a happier time among all the people of Nephi.”  Making our weak places strong makes us happier now, in our current mortal state; it makes us less vulnerable to the pain that can come from so many different places in this world.  I believe that’s one of the key reasons that the Lord prefaces his promise to show us our weakness with the words, “my grace is sufficient for the meek, that [those who mock God] shall take no advantage of your weakness.”

These are connections I’ve never made before; maybe I’m just slow.  Making them doesn’t make the past two weeks any less excruciatingly awful.  But making them does give me hope that confronting the weakness in me that led me to make the choices I did–pride, fear of consequences, a desire to appear better than I am–might ensure that I don’t have to endure this type of situation again, at least not one of my own making.

So, yes, I love the gift that comes from allowing the Lord to show us our weakness.  It’s not an easy gift to accept, but I love it all the same.

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Seriously

A friend of mine read through my admittedly scanty collection of blog posts and said that I really needed to do more to explain what “single,” “Mormon,” and “female” have to do with each other, especially since I’m not using this blog as an extended personals ad.

Today is Valentine’s Day, which seems like an appropriate day to start answering her question–and to return to the blog since I have been away from it for far too long. If you know anything about my religion, you know that marriage is a good of the first order. Being united as a family for time and all eternity is not only a laudable goal, it is crucial to life beyond this brief mortal experience. It is both the great promise and the fundamental design of what we call the Plan of Salvation. So, being single at 42–soon to be 43–was not part of the plan growing up. I was always going to get married and have children…only I didn’t.

Now, like everyone, my life is a mixed bag. There is a lot about being single that gives me great joy, just as I am sure there would be a lot about being married that would give me great joy. The opposite is also true. There is a lot about being single that gives me great sorrow–and I have seen enough of marriage to know that it’s not all smiles and sunshine. So, this isn’t about whether being single is good or bad; it’s more about the fact that it just is. It’s the circumstance of my life for the time being, so I’d better deal with it.

And that’s what I’ve been doing since I was about 27 and it started to really hit me that my life might not go according to plan: I began grappling in earnest with the question, “If I’m not going to be a wife and mother, what am I going to be?” What’s a girl to do with herself?

Over the years, the answer to that question has continued to evolve, but the shortest and most obvious answer is, “Be the best person you can, regardless of whether you get married now or ever.”

It’s not that simple, of course. It never is, for anyone, married, single, widowed, divorced. We’re all trying to figure out how our lives fit into a universe that is constantly sending us off in directions we didn’t expect. So, I continue to grapple with the question because the stakes of the answer keep changing as my life does. When I was 27, the answer wasn’t nearly so serious because there was still a lot of time in which I could get married and have children. Now, in my early 40s, there’s still a lot of time in which I could get married, but not so much time to have children. Maybe none, at least not here in this mortality.

I’m really okay with that. I’m sad about it, but I’m determined not to allow it to render my life meaningless (as some of my less-informed fellow saints might inaccurately believe). One way I look at it, being single gives me added impetus to examine how I’m living my life in the context of the gospel since I don’t have easy answers to “Who am I supposed to be?” One of the most important things I’ve learned in the process is that no one really has an easy answer to that question, even if they think they do. The best we can do is live with as much intention as possible, whatever our circumstances.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day. I used to dread this day and be somewhat bitter about it. But I have come to appreciate that we have a day–even if it’s mostly an extended advertisement for the greeting card/chocolate/floral/jewelry industries–where we celebrate love. Love takes a lot of forms, and I have many of them in my life, even if right now romantic love isn’t one of them. For a world that seems more hate-filled every day, I can embrace a day when saying “I love you”–to someone, anyone–is almost mandatory.

Next time, we’ll focus on the “female” part…

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I am an Ingrate

Participating in the #BeThankfulChallenge this month (post one thing you’re thankful for on Facebook/Twitter every day from November 1 – Thanksgiving Day) proved a couple of things to me.

  • First, I find it much more difficult to be grateful–and positive about my life–than I would have hoped.  Some days, it was a struggle for me to come up with one…single…thing that I felt grateful for.  Okay, I could have taken the easy way out and said something like, “Today I am thankful for chocolate” (which is always true).  But when I tried to come up with something really specific to the day at hand, I often had to think very hard.
  • Second, item the first says much more about me than it says about my life.  I have so much to be grateful for, daily, that it should be a struggle to narrow it down.  But I’ve realized that I tend to notice the stuff I’m not grateful for, the stuff that irritates me or hurts me or makes me sad, much more than I pay attention to the things I’m grateful for.

I want to change this about myself.  So I’m going to work on being more grateful for everything and less focused on what I lack and what didn’t go the way I hoped it would.  I will try to remember the counsel President Monson gave in his recent talk on gratitude: “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”

It is unbecoming for someone who has been blessed as much as I have to feel somehow as if I have been deprived or disadvantaged.  Do I have challenges? Yes.  Do I have bad days?  Yes.  But in the balance, the good of my life far outweighs the bad.  I hope it will become easier for me to remember that, and to notice it in the details more often.

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