It seems to me that I have read the Book of Mormon at least a million times, maybe even more. Reading it daily for many years adds up! Of course this is a slight exaggeration but I have read it many times. I have read it enough to know what the next verse is going to say. I know what will happen in the storyline. Even though there are layers of understanding in the doctrine it teaches, I still know what doctrine is going to be taught. Because of such familiarity I find my mind sometimes drifting as I read, a real signal to me. Even though I really believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, I recognized I needed a fresh way of approaching it.
In the past I have usually read it from start to finish, but I have studied it topically. I have read it looking for themes. There have been many times I have read it to find answers to prayers, which always led me to my answer. But some of these approaches were a little stale for me this time round. Like I said, I have recognized a need for a fresh approach. A way to gather new insights and meaning from this sacred scripture.
Fortunately I found a way that has not only increased my love for the book but has brought new meaning and depth to my scripture study. It’s interesting to me that God knows my personality, what I find fun and fulfilling. One day as I was thinking about my lack luster approach to the scriptures I felt inspired to study it using an 1828 dictionary. I love words, the study of words and how understanding the nuances of words broadens their meaning. It is fun for me to make connections between words and new ideas. I just love words! And so I turned to the 1828 dictionary.
The 1828 dictionary reflects word usage at the time that Joseph Smith translated the book. Sometimes changes in word usage can make a difference in understanding. I actually have an 1828 dictionary, a very heavy 2 volume set, but I found an app for my phone which makes it so much easier to use. There are also websites with an 1828 dictionary. From what I read online, there are a lot of people who use the 1828 dictionary to help them understand the bible better. So whether I’m using my phone or computer, it’s very simple to do. Turns out that many words have different meanings in today’s usage.
To really be thorough I am looking up even common words, words I am already sure I know the meaning of. Often I am really surprised by new found meanings. Some of the words and their meanings have helped me to understand verses in a totally different way. I have been writing the new meaning above the word in my scriptures. Some words that have really surprised me I have written in a notebook.
I thought it would be fun to share a few of those words with you. Words that have changed my understanding of a verse or concept. One word that had a different meaning than I previously thought was partake. I had thought partake meant to eat something, but it means in the 1828 dictionary to have part of. So when Lehi partook of the fruit of the Tree of Life he wasn’t just eating it, he was given a part of it. He had a claim on it, an inheritance. He had a part of it. And because we know the tree represents the Love of God it gives new depth to the word. I love the imagery of that.
Another word that gave me new insight was the word graft. In reading the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees I found the new meaning of the word opened up my understanding. The 1828 dictionary defines graft as a small shoot inserted into another tree to support and nourish it. Wow, what a concept! The definition goes on to say these unite and become one tree but the graft determines the kind of fruit produced. Doesn’t that just give expanded understanding of Jacob 5? Especially the concept of becoming one tree and the fruit is determined by the graft. Powerful insights!
I really like the word succor. It doesn’t just mean to offer help or aid but it means to run to help, to hurry to relieve distress. So when Alma 7:12 describes Christ as taking on our infirmities so He will know how to succor us, it’s telling us that He will hurry to our aid in our distress. He wants not only to help us, but will hurry to do so. What comforting words!
The last word I want to share the meaning of is jealous. I have always had a hard time with the scripture verses that describe God as a jealous God. Being jealous is a negative trait, something that is not good. So if it’s negative how could God be jealous?
The 1828 dictionary defines jealous as worried that another is more loved than self. When I read this I thought of the greatest commandment which we have been given. We are told to love God with all of our hearts, might, minds and strength. We are to love our God completely. God knows that when we love Him fully we will choose to follow Him and keep the commandments. This commandment was not given for His benefit, but for our own. Because the commandments guide us back to our heavenly home, back to God. As I thought about it I realized the word jealous does fit. God is worried that we will love Satan or the world more than Him. That which we love we seek after. Because He loves us, He wants us to seek after Him. He wants us to return home to him.
These are only four definitions of the many words I have found new meanings to. Even though it is slow going I have loved studying the Book of Mormon this way. Really, I don’t have to hurry. Using the 1828 dictionary has increased my understanding and my testimony of the Book of Mormon. I eagerly look for added meaning and find myself pondering the scriptures more. What a blessing it is to have access to the 1828 dictionary. Even more so, what a blessing it is to have the Book of Mormon!
I have written before about my daughter Vanessa who has Down syndrome. She is a fun, spunky person who sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She rarely gets discouraged and is happy just to be alive. Vanessa bounces through life singing and dancing as she goes.
Even though she’s a happy soul who is content with her life, there are things for her learn and improve in. One of the areas is being healthy. Because of the Down syndrome she would rather sit than be up and moving. It’s just easier for her. People with Down syndrome have lower muscle tone which makes it harder for them to do physical things. It doesn’t mean she can’t do them it just means she has to work a little harder at it. So exercising is not one of her favorite things. It’s not one of my favorite things either.
We have to be creative to get her to exercise. She takes dance classes which she loves, so that’s easy. She also has a dance app on her Nintendo, which is exercise and fun for her. We also often go for walks, and I used to have to drag her a long until I hit upon a Scavenger Walk. We make a list before leaving the house of things to look for, or sometimes we guess how many white cars we’ll see, or something similar. Before long, even though she hates walks she’s cheerfully counting cars or looking for birdhouses. She finds joy even in walks.
Vanessa also loves to eat! There are very few foods she doesn’t like. Of course this is good and bad. Good because she’ll try new foods and usually like them. Bad because we have to do portion control because she doesn’t know when to stop eating. We really try to emphasize being healthy and not weight. I do worry about her weight though.
Vanessa has learned to weigh herself, which she does nightly. That’s another thing about her-she tends to be OCD. Even If I tell her she doesn’t need to worry about weighing herself so often it doesn’t matter. She will do it every night. But the funny thing is that no matter what weight the digital scale indicates, she always says, “not bad!” in a gleeful voice. She knows the target number for her weight but whatever the number is, she is happy with it.
Every day she also asks me what we are having for dinner. Whatever I reply she always (and I really mean always) says, “my favorite!” Sometimes, I tell her it’s a new recipe that I have never made before, so it couldn’t be her favorite. It doesn’t matter, because now it’s her new favorite. These are just a few of the ways she exudes happiness. Some of the ways she finds the positive.
I have thought about her joyful approach to life. The way she is just happy with what she has and who she is. It really is very inspiring. I have heard that people with Down syndrome are often thought of as happy people. I wondered if this concept was really true, so I did a little research about it. What I found was truly remarkable.
One study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found that people with Down syndrome were generally happy people. In this study researchers asked 284 “…people with Down syndrome, ages 12 and older, about their self-perception so that their information could be shared with new and expectant parents of children with Down syndrome.” They found that, “Among those surveyed, nearly 99% of people with Down syndrome indicated that they were happy with their lives; 97% liked who they are; and 96% liked how they look.” (Skotko, B. G., Levine, S. P., & Goldstein, R. (2011). Self-perceptions from people with Down syndrome. American journal of medical genetics. Part A, 155A(10), 2360–2369. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.a.34235)
I debated about including the numbers from their study but the findings were so remarkable I decided share them. How often can 97% of a group of people say they are not only happy with their lives but happy with themselves and happy with how they look?
I think most of us would like to be able to say we are in that 97% group and we happy with our lives and our selves, and our looks. Unfortunately I think many of us try to measure up to some worldly standard and have many negative self thoughts. We beat ourselves up because we’re not size 6. We ignore the good about ourselves and focus on what isn’t. Often we judge our worth by the number on the scales. Maybe we have things to learn from those with Down syndrome. I know I do.
Just like Vanessa I would like to be able to find the fun in exercise, step on the scales and say “not bad,” and declare whatever I’m eating as my favorite! Mostly I would like to be able to do these things because it means I’ve learned to be happy with who I am. It means I recognize that really my weight and body shape has very little importance in the scheme of things. It means the my worth has nothing to do with a number on a scale.
Vanessa has taught me a lot over the years. In her cheery, joyful way she is also teaching me how to be happy.
I have been thinking about a story Russell M. Nelson told. He is the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He told a story in a video message about a time when he was on an airplane that developed engine problems. “We were halfway to our destination when the right engine suddenly exploded, spewing flaming fuel all over the right side of the plane. The plane was on fire careening to the earth in a spiral dive. I expected to die. Miraculously, the dive extinguished the fire. The pilot was able to restore power to the other engine and make a safe landing.” He continued talking about ways we can find peace in our lives but the part of the story that stood out to me was “miraculously, the dive extinguished the fire.” Sometimes it is in the careening, terrifying, out-of-control situation that we find the answer.
Lately I have been reading many of the writings of Neal A. Maxwell who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In writing about God and why things happen he said, “Sometimes He clearly directs; other times it seems He merely permits some things to happen. Therefore, we will not always understand the role of God’s hand, but we know enough of his heart and mind to be submissive. Thus when we are perplexed and stressed, explanatory help is not always immediately forthcoming, but compensatory help will be. Thus our process of cognition gives way to our personal submission, as we experience those moments when we learn to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ensign, November 1995).
I like this quote. There are so many things that happen that are devastating. Some to the world at large, some to people I know personally and some to my family. Many of them make me want to cry, and when I am done crying to cry some more. There is so much sadness around. But I like the thought that we know enough of God’s heart and mind to trust Him even when we don’t understand what is happening in our world. I like the thought that when a solution doesn’t seem to be quickly coming that some other form of help will be there. In John 14: 18 we read, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He doesn’t say He will solve all of our problems, and He doesn’t say we won’t have problems. He says He will help us through them.
I haven’t written for quite a while-going on 10 months. In my last post I mentioned some family problems and I would like to say that those have cleared up but actually new ones have been added to them. Ripple effects from actions are being felt throughout my family. These are careening, terrifying, out-of-control situations in which I can see no solution, no hope for resolution, no fix. Things that make me want to move to some secluded island and pretend I don’t have any problems. But of course life doesn’t really work that way. And moving to an island doesn’t remove the problems, it just prevents me from working through them and possibly finding joy in the process. It also prevents me from learning to trust in God’s heart and mind.
In his book Not My Will, But Thine Neal A. Maxwell said, “Yet we surely understand enough to see a loving and redeeming God at work, striving to help us become as He is-a cause for our deep gratitude and joy, instead of despair and doubt, and for a willing submission to whatever He perceives will further that purpose” (p. 43). I recognize that I learn and grow through overcoming adversity more than with ease and comfort. A sword only becomes sharp by brushing against stone, not velvet! I know He is teaching me things that I need to learn. If I remember He loves me and will not leave me comfortless I am able to more humbly approach life, even problems.
If I have learned anything this last year I have learned that I have no control over what any one else does. I cannot control life or others, I can only control how I react. The scriptures teach us not to trust in the power of men but in the power of God. It was in the power of God that President Nelson trusted on that airplane. He felt peace as the plane spiraled to the earth. He reviewed his life and felt ready to meet God. He reacted with a quiet calm because he knew God’s heart and mind. The engine was on fire and the plane was spiraling to the earth but he knew God’s heart and mind. Isn’t that the answer?
So, when our lives are spiraling out-of-control and we are terrified we trust in God’s heart and mind. When there seems to be no hope of resolution, no fix we look for the ways he is helping us. When we are perplexed and stressed we search for the compensatory help that He sends. When solutions don’t seem to be coming fast enough or even at all, we see the hand of God in our lives helping us to become as He is. We recognize that it is the careening, terrifying out-or-control situations in which we learn the most and if we are still, we will feel His presence and know that He is God.
There has been a lot of turmoil and confusion in my life lately and I feel like I am hovering. Waiting for things to clear up, waiting for things to make sense. My son decided that he and his wife were not a good match and so they divorced. We love his wife and she is like a daughter to us and this has been devastating to our family. Since then he has met someone new, or maybe I should say has re-met someone and is getting married again. The young woman is someone he knew from several years ago and she is a nice person but I am struggling with letting go of my daughter-in-law and accepting someone new. Struggling with how do I love both of these young women without feeling disloyal to his first wife. Feelings go deep and I can’t just cut someone off and I really haven’t quite figured it out yet.
In also have a daughter who has deeply hurt some of my other children. We are no longer gathering as a whole family because some of my other children never want to see or interact with her again. Holidays are different. We don’t celebrate birthdays and vacation together anymore. It has been two years now and life has changed on a day to day basis, and I feel like my world has been turned upside down. My children don’t just drop by anymore in fear that she will be here too. I understand their deep pain, and it is justified but it doesn’t take away the consequences and the sorrow I feel.
As I have struggled to come to terms with the changes in our family I have felt a deep sadness and have found it hard to move forward. Like I said, I feel like I’m hovering, waiting for something to happen. I have continued to study my scriptures and say my prayers but at times they have been a little lack luster. I continue to do family history but I am really missing the strength I felt from temple attendance. Some days I feel like I am just going through the motions of life, caught up in our family problems. So what do I do?
Recently I read something that President Russell M. Nelson said about the Prophet Joseph Smith. In talking about translating the Book of Mormon, President Nelson said Joseph Smith did it in 60 days. A remarkable feat that was done in the midst of heavy persecution and strife. In addition, President Nelson said, “Joseph received all but three of the 138 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants by revelation, often in the face of extreme adversity and persecution.” As I thought about this statement I realized that because of the turmoil in his life Joseph could have been stymied. He could have felt like hovering through his days, waiting for things to change before moving forward and doing what was needful.
Again I learn a lesson from the Prophet Joseph. In spite of his difficulties, in spite of disloyalties and persecutions his focus was upon the work he was called to do. He moved forward with deep faith in our Savior Jesus Christ and His promises. I, too, have been given a work to do. It’s a small part and perhaps if I didn’t do it someone else would and the church would go on. But I wouldn’t go on and I wouldn’t grow and progress. Part of my work is to develop enough faith, and enough hope to stay focused on my Savior Jesus Christ, and to really believe He will keep His promises to me personally. I love the scripture found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:88, “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” I love these comforting words!
This scripture also reminds me of a talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland on the Ministry of Angels given in October 2008. He said, “I ask everyone within the sound of my voice to take heart, be filled with faith, and remember the Lord has said He “would fight [our] battles, [our] children’s battles, and [the battles of our] children’s children.” And what do we do to merit such a defense? We are to “search diligently, pray always, and be believing[. Then] all things shall work together for [our] good, if [we] walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted.” The latter days are not a time to fear and tremble. They are a time to be believing and remember our covenants.” These are powerful words to me because some days I do fear and tremble and wonder if my family will ever be whole again. He also says to take heart because some days it takes courage to have faith and hope. But even on the days when I deeply feel the turmoil, I have the promise that God will fight my battles if I am believing and remember my covenants.
I recently read the talk by President Nelson “Hear Him” from General Conference in April 2020. “I renew my plea for you to do whatever it takes to increase your spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation,” said President Nelson. “Doing so will help you know how to move ahead with your life, what to do during times of crisis, and how to discern and avoid the temptations and the deceptions of the adversary.” I had read the talk before but this time the words “Doing so will help you know how to move ahead with your life” really stood out to me. I keenly want to move forward with an eye to the future and not be bogged down in the present. I want to move forward in faith and hope. Like Joseph Smith, I want to rise above my circumstances.
In another part of the talk that resonated with me he said, “What will happen as you more intentionally hear, hearken, and heed what the Savior has said and what He is saying now through His prophets? I promise that you will be blessed with additional power to deal with temptation, struggles, and weakness. I promise miracles in your marriage, family relationships, and daily work. And I promise that your capacity to feel joy will increase even if turbulence increases in your life.” I need miracles in my family relationships right now, and I want to have joy even though there is turbulence in my life. Through His prophets my Savior is answering the question I asked above. He is telling me what I need to do.
One of the things I need to do is to discern how to Hear Him better speaking to me. He knows of the turmoil in my life, of my sadness. He wants my family to be happy too. I also learned that one of the ways to Hear Him is through the teachings of our prophets. I need to find His voice to me as I study the teachings of our prophets. As I read their words I need to pick something to work on, something to do better in. And I continue to do the basic things like study my scriptures and pray. President Nelson used the word “intentionally.” That means I know the purpose of my life and actions, and I live with intention. I remember my covenants and draw strength from them, and I remember that God will help me fight my battles. I strive to Hear Him better and I harness my faith and move forward with no more hovering. And even though I don’t see a solution to some of our family problems, I trust the God does and that He will help me.
In January 2017 my brother-in-law had a heart attack. Most of the men in my husband’s family and even many of the women have heart problems. Many have died young from heart attacks, and it seems they are genetically programmed for heart disease. My brother-in-law is a healthy man who works hard outdoors a lot, and yet he still had a heart attack. For me, this was a wakeup call. My husband is 10 years younger than his brother and already has a heart problem. Because of his genetic background, even though he is not over weight and is otherwise a healthy person, his heart doctor put him on statins.
I love to cook and I love things with butter and cream in them, and anything salty. Probably the majority of the food I made was high in fat and salt. In reality this kind of diet is not great for someone with heart disease. I knew I had to make immediate and drastic changes to our diet or my husband would be following in his brother’s footsteps in a few years.
The first thing I did was to buy a Mediterranean cookbook. I had heard for many years that the Mediterranean diet was the best. I read the book from cover to cover. Any food or spice unfamiliar to me I bought on Amazon. I recognized I needed the correct ingredients to do it properly. This began my love for cooking with whole grains and legumes. It was quite a learning curve for me because there were so many spices and techniques that were unknown to me. When I first started I would spend 3 hours fixing dinner, which was not only too long but it was also exhausting. Soon I learned little tricks to speed things up. Before long we were eating lots of whole grains, legumes and fresh vegetables, and very little meat. Not only were the recipes healthy but the food was delicious.
I began to study about different grains and their nutritional value. I learned about pairing them with certain kinds of vegetables and spices and fined tuned the recipes I was using. There was so much to learn and the more I learned the more I realized how God had made all of these wonderful, healthy foods available for us to eat. In many ways it was very exciting to learn about this! A side effect of learning something new is wanting to share that knowledge with others. I let the Relief Society leaders in my ward know that I was willing to teach a class on whole grains. I just had to let others in on this good news!
Last January the Relief Society Leaders of my ward took me up on my offer and had me teach a class about cooking with whole grains. I worked really hard to prepare for the class. To start with, I made a true and false test about different types of grains. That became my teaching platform as I answered the test questions. I also included a grain yielding chart from dry to cooked for each of the grains. There is a local store that sells bin items that includes a huge variety of grains. I visited the store and wrote down the different grains they sold and their prices. I also chose about 10 recipes that I had fine tuned and typed those. All of these things went into the packets I made for the class members.
I taught the class on a Thursday night and the Sunday before, I finally finished all of my preparations, except for actually making the recipes. I wanted the class members to taste the food to see that it was really good. As I typed the last of the papers for my packet I was feeling pretty good. I was excited to be done except for the food preparations, because this had consumed me for several weeks. I went to bed feeling satisfied.
That night, as I was sleeping, in the middle of a dream I had the words come strongly to my mind, “You forgot to type the nutrition sheets.” I remember thinking, “Oh, I did forget about those.” On Monday morning I awoke and the first thing I thought about was the reminder I had during my dream. It was a very distinctive reminder because it had nothing to do with my crazy dream. And I knew that God was reminding about something I had planned to do but then had totally forgotten about.
I immediately got up and went to work. I found all of the nutrition information I had planned on using about the various grains. It took the whole morning but I was able to get it done. The night I taught I had a table set up with each of the grain fact sheets and a dish of the specific grain next to it. Without this reminder I would have been missing a big part of the presentation. If I had remembered later, I would have been rushed to get it done. I was so glad for the timely reminder.
From this experience I was reminded that God is aware of us individually and He cares about the things we are doing. Even with all of the billions of people on this earth, He cares about the women of my ward. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be successful in the things we are doing, especially those things that bless the lives of others. Because He cares, He reminded me of something important. At least, something that was important to me.
When I was a teenager my mom once told me, “If it’s important to you, it’s important to our Father in Heaven.” I have always remembered this teaching. God loves each of us, and will guide and direct our paths, sometimes when we least expect it. Sometimes it will be a small thing like a reminder in a dream. Sometimes it will be something big and important, that is life altering. I was reminded from this experience that God is in the details of our lives!
At the beginning of this year I set a goal to attend the temple once a week. My temple attendance has always been spotty. When my kids were young it seemed I was always pregnant or nursing, and so it was difficult to go, and of course I was taking care of little kids. I also struggled with migraines and on my good days I had so much catching up to do that temple attendance was at the bottom of my list. I felt guilty about not going very often but I really was in survival mode in those days.
This year seemed to be the year for me to actively access the blessings of temple attendance. I wanted to attend once a week recognizing that some weeks it just wasn’t going to happen. Some weeks I would still be struggling with migraines, or traveling, or watching grandkids. But I knew that most weeks I could do this.
Even though I set this goal, some weeks I would forget about it, which is really a poor excuse for not going. I would realize, as I looked back over my week, I could have easily gone and decided I needed be more proactive about it. For me that meant scheduling it in my calendar at the beginning of the week. That solved the problem for me and it actually helped me be more organized about other things too.
By the end of January I was doing really well and getting to the temple most weeks. Since I do a lot of family history, I have a lot of family name cards to take with me to do the proxy work. One of the things I really like about the temple is that it displays God’s love for all of His children. When I go to the temple I am able to represent someone who is dead, who was unable in this life to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. That way the person I am representing has a chance to receive the necessary ordinance work. This tells me that God loves all of His children and gives everyone a chance to access the blessings of the temple.
One of the reasons I wanted to start going to the temple more is because President Russell M. Nelson promised us that we would receive additional strength and blessings by serving in the temple. He also said in October 2018, “Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater. I plead with you to take a prayerful look at how you spend your time. Invest time in your future and in that of your family. If you have reasonable access to a temple, I urge you to find a way to make an appointment regularly with the Lord—to be in His holy house—then keep that appointment with exactness and joy. I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples.” Since I deeply feel the need for some miracles in my life, I wanted to do as President Nelson asked.
It’s interesting to me that he used the word “plead” in the above quote. One time I went through one of his talks and marked how many times he said plead, urge, exhort, encourage and invite. His word choices amazed me and I took more seriously what he was saying. I feel his sincerity and also his urgency to help us become better disciples of Jesus Christ. One of the ways to become a better disciple of Christ for me was to attend the temple once a week.
After two months of regular temple attendance I noticed something one day. I felt stronger spiritually. I felt like I was better able to resist temptations and better deal with some of my personal weaknesses. I just felt stronger. It wasn’t after any particular temple trip that I noticed this, and I didn’t have any great revelatory experiences, but I just felt stronger. It was like God was giving me a glimpse of the power of the temple, and I definitely felt like I was receiving the promised strength from temple attendance.
Someone recently asked me what I thought about the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t really have an answer for her because it seems my life hasn’t changed that much. I still do a lot of family history, I continue to play games with my daughter and help her with homework, I do housework and meals. I have a scripture project that I’m still working on. I definitely miss church and meeting with the good people of my ward, and going out to dinner or the movies. But when I really thought about it I realized what I really miss is temple attendance. I had set a goal and was actively pursuing it, and I was reaping the promised blessings. I was going even when sometimes it was difficult but I was doing it. Not only did I feel strengthened but I was achieving a goal, and that in and of itself was a good thing.
The restrictions from the virus won’t last forever. Someday we will be back to our every day lives and I will pick up my goal and again start attending the temple once a week. Life will get back to normal. This virus has presented me with the opportunity though to recognize and reflect upon the blessings I have received from my temple attendance. It has also given me the confirmation that President Nelson knows what he’s talking about. He really is a prophet of God! I hope to always remember these truths.
I am on a medication that is very expensive. Every year, in order to receive it at a discounted price, I have to phone the company and answer a few questions. During this call I also have to listen to a 10 minute scripted commentary about the drug. The young woman I was speaking with was enunciating very clearly her words, even though it was quite clear that English was not her first language. I could understand the individual words she was saying but I still had no idea what she was talking about. I think it was part legalese and part accent, but I only had occasional glimpses that made sense.
Reading Isaiah for me was a lot like this. I clearly knew what the individual words were but I still had no idea what they were saying or meaning. Occasionally something would make sense, but overall I was totally lost. Because of this, I dreaded reading or studying Isaiah, even though members of my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have long been admonished to study Isaiah. Even Christ tells the Nephites about the importance of Isaiah. In 3 Nephi 23:1 He said, “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” So it’s not just a suggestion but a commandment! And Christ tells us to be diligent and that Isaiah’s words are great. Clearly I was missing something.
Guilt is good sometimes, if it motivates change. I also had a desire to be obedient. So, I decided I would make another effort at studying Isaiah, at trying to make it comprehensible to me. I wanted to understand what it was truly saying and not just read the words. I had my scriptures and a study guide and so I began. It ended up taking me a year and several months, going from verse to verse, writing extensive notes next to each verse. It’s probably good I didn’t know how long it was going to take me because It might have been even more overwhelming.
Part way through I wondered why I was doing this because it was so taking so long and it was sometimes tedious. It also seemed like to a lot of gloom and doom to me. But, I kept at it. At one point I thought if I had written Isaiah I could have said the same things in about 5 chapters. It just seemed like there was so much death and destruction.
But every so often I would find something that truly was beautifully written, almost like poetry. But then it turns out that much of Isaiah is poetry, just not the kind I’m used to. I loved how he described the Savior in Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Prince of Peace.” These words are so beautiful they were set to music by Handel in his oratorio Messiah.
There were other things that stood out to me as beautiful too and I began to understand not just the cultural differences but also his ways of expression that differ greatly from our society’s way of thinking. I kept at it and slowly I began to understand it better.
I don’t know at what point I began to actually enjoy my studying. I don’t know when I changed my thinking from dread to pleasure, but I noticed that when I was reading something else written in the old testament I thought, “Isaiah would have said that so much prettier!” What a shock it was when I actually recognized what I was thinking.
Somehow I began to think of much of Isaiah as beautiful. Oh there’s still a lot of death and destruction, because a lot of Isaiah is also history and people often make very poor choices. But in between the gloom and doom there are also some beautiful passages where Isaiah is testifying of our Savior and His love for us. Passages where he tells us the blessings of keeping the commandments, where he teaches us about the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gathering of Israel. Beautiful words that testify that Jesus is the Messiah! No wonder Christ said “great are the words of Isaiah.”
Even though I have really only scratched the surface of studying Isaiah and I recognize I have so much more to learn from it. I can honestly say I no longer dread the thought of studying his great words. Instead, I treasure his promises like those found in Isaiah 54 where Christ promises peace, mercy and everlasting kindness to His followers. These beautiful words teach me of the Savior’s love and bring me peace and joy. These words teach me that if I am diligent, I can find beauty in the words of Isaiah.
Naughty or Nice
In church the Sunday before Christmas, my daughter who has Down syndrome, was asked by a man if Santa was going to visit her. She excitedly said yes, and then the man asked her if she had been “nice.” She immediately got what he was referring to and said, “I’ve been nice, but he’s been naughty,” pointing to her dad. We all burst out laughing because what she said was very unexpected and it was actually funny. She has a good sense of humor.
Because of things like this, Down syndrome in some ways is puzzling to me. There are some things my daughter’s not good at and probably never will be. She can do basic math but even that’s iffy. She reads really well but her comprehension is not great. I don’t know how many times she called 911 and the police came to our home. No matter how many times we told her to not do that, she kept doing it. We finally got rid of our land line in order to prevent it.
She will wear clothes that are dirty and then put them back in her drawers. In the mornings before school, I have to look her over to make sure she’s not wearing something dirty. The only time she will wear socks is if we are going bowling, so her feet and shoes are usually stinky. She’s not allowed to take her shoes off in the car!
Normal Human Things
Even as I write these things I know they are all small things, even petty things. They are also normal human being things. Things that even other people without disabilities might do or struggle with.
She’s also got some great abilities though. She’s got a great sense of humor, as evidenced by the story above. Often she says things that are really funny, and she knows she’s being funny. I can see the sly look on her face when she’s saying something funny. She’s great at board games and gets the strategy for many games, and she loves card games. Yet she struggles with jigsaw puzzles. I keep showing her how the jigsaw puzzles work and she keeps trying and is getting better but I doubt she will ever be able to do one by herself.
Something else she’s really good at is cleaning. She cleans her room and bathroom every Saturday. She has jobs that she does every day after school, and she actually does well with them. My daughter sets the table nightly, and helps clean up after dinner, usually putting the left over food into smaller containers. Frequently she helps me with some yard work, and lots of other projects I have. She has fractured skills. Like I said, Down syndrome is somewhat puzzling to me.
She Can Tell Time
She can tell time and wears an analog watch. Usually she gets herself up in the morning at the right time without using an alarm clock. I’m not sure how she does that but she rarely oversleeps. I have other family members who can only tell time on a digital clock, so it really is amazing to me that she has this ability.
She tunes into people and their emotions and is emotional responsive. If someone is sad or hurting in some way, she is immediately by his or her side giving them hugs or just sitting with them and maybe holding that person’s hand.
She’s also spiritually sensitive. Sometimes in meetings she tells me she can feel the Holy Ghost. She reads her scriptures nightly, even though she has little comprehension of what she’s reading. It’s remarkable that she always says her prayers because most people with intellectual disabilities are very literal. She prays to a Being she cannot see and yet she prays, and she knows her Heavenly Father loves her. This is a young woman of great faith.
I’m Not Blind to Her Disabilities
She is so limited in some ways and so advanced in other ways. She has her talents and skills, and she has things she’s not good at, and probably never will be. I’m not blind to her disabilities but maybe really, she is just more like an average person than seems apparent, since all people have things they’re good at and things they’re not good at. Maybe she’s just a person who has her quirks and ways of doing things, like most other people.
I know there are people who are often puzzled by the things I do or don’t do, or even can’t do. So, really I probably shouldn’t be puzzled by some aspects of Down syndrome. I just need to look at it differently. Really, she’s just another person in my life that I sometimes get frustrated with, I’m happy to be with or even perplexed by. She is someone I love and admire. She is my daughter.
Lately I have been thinking about one of my favorite scripture stories. It is the story of Martha and Mary found in Luke 10:38-42. It’s really only a few verses but it’s a story that teaches much. The story starts with Martha receiving Christ into her home. She is busy getting food and her home ready to receive such a beloved guest. Her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of the Savior. It’s interesting to read,”Mary, which also sat at Jesus feet,” because it implies that Martha often is found there too. But this day, each is showing love in her own, but different way. Martha is fussing about making sure everything is perfect and Mary is spending time with Christ.
Then Martha asks Christ to intervene. She is unhappy that she is doing all the work while Mary gets to relax and just enjoy visiting, and she wants Christ to do something about it. Christ’s answer to her reflects several things. He recognizes Martha’s hard work and careful manner and thus He accepts her devoted service to Him. He also tells her that how Mary is serving Him is good: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary’s devotion and display of love are clearly accepted by Christ.
For years it seemed to me that Christ was saying Mary’s way of showing love was better. I read it as Mary had chosen the better part, better than Martha. Then one day I noticed it said she had chosen the good part, not the better part. It didn’t say that Mary’s way was better. There was no comparison happening. Both ways were acceptable. Both ways were good. They were just different.
The problem was when Martha wanted Christ to tell Mary to help her. It was as if she was saying her way was better, she was judging. She didn’t recognize Mary’s efforts at demonstrating her love for Christ. Another problem was that she didn’t address Mary directly. So, not only was she judging, she also wasn’t taking responsibility for the herself or the situation. She was wanting someone else to solve the problem when she was quite capable of doing it. There are so many subtle elements to this story, and so many things I relate to.
I think one of the reasons I like this story is because I am sometimes Martha and sometimes Mary. When I’m Martha I’m often fussing around trying to make sure everything is perfect, usually with good intentions. I am showing my love through my food and service. But sometimes I’m also thinking my way of doing something is better. Unfortunately, sometimes I judge others and their ways as inferior. It’s subtle and I don’t always recognize that’s what I’m doing, but it is what I am doing when I criticize someone else’s efforts, even if it’s just in my thoughts.
I can be Martha when I think my way of studying the scriptures is better, or how I discipline my children, or how I fulfill my calling. Any time I think my way of doing something is better than someone else I am being Martha. Sometimes I don’t want to deal with problems and I hope someone will fix things for me even though I’m quite capable of it. Just wave a magic wand so I can have my way.
In some ways I’m not painting a very pretty picture of Martha, which would not be accurate. This is only one side of her and the scriptures show her to be a faithful disciple. She was devoted to Christ, a woman of great faith. Martha wasn’t perfect but followed her Savior with complete trust. She was a worker and served others, and we need people like that. Where would we be without the doers of the world?
Sometimes though, I am also Mary, and my priorities are people I love. I concentrate on what’s important and try to keep it simple. My focus is on the Savior and I make Him my priority. I try harder to live with purpose and intention. But dinner does need to be fixed, and laundry done and children need to be tended. People need to show up at their jobs and lawns need to be mowed. As nice as it might be, I cannot spend all of my time studying the scriptures or reading conference talks.
Perhaps I am painting another inaccurate picture. The scriptures show Mary to be just as devoted to her Savior as Martha was, and undoubtedly she was a worker too. It seems Martha was used to Mary working alongside her in the kitchen and was upset when she wasn’t helping. Mary’s way of showing love and devotion was just different from Martha’s, each good and acceptable.
Ideally I would be a little bit of Martha and a little bit of Mary, or maybe Martha in some circumstances and Mary in others. Perhaps that is one of the lessons from this story. For me to serve and show love in my way and also let others do the same without judging. To recognize that Christ doesn’t compare me with anyone else. For me to also be just as devoted to my Savior as these two women were.
I grew up without a lot of family around. We didn’t live near any extended family and I didn’t have a sense of aunts and uncles, or cousins. I knew what they were and the genetic ties but they had little meaning to me. I had grandparents but I didn’t see them often. They lived far away and were not very involved in our lives. There had also been several marriages and divorces, and the new husbands were my “grandpa.” I remember being about 17 when one day I did some thinking about it and figured out who my real grandpa was.
Since I have married I have a better understanding of extended family relationships and their importance. When we were actually planning our wedding, my husband wanted to have his aunts and uncles at the ceremony. He grew up with them very involved in his life. He knew all of his cousins and there were dozens of them. His extended family gathered often and they even had family reunions. I knew about family reunions but had never been to one before.
Since space was limited at our wedding, and I didn’t have a good understanding of family connections, aunts and uncles were unimportant to me. So, we didn’t have them come to the ceremony. Now that I am an aunt I see it differently. I love my nieces and nephews and feel a connection to them. I love going to their weddings and family gatherings. I rejoice with them at the births of their children and other life events.
If I had it to do over again I would have found a way to have my husband’s aunts and uncles at our ceremony. I see the importance of family and family connections now. I see the value of having aunts and uncles involved in our lives.
I also like the titles of aunt and uncle, or grandma and grandpa, and I like these titles to be included with the person’s name. Titles tell us how we are connected to each other. They recognize that we are family. Titles give us a sense of belonging. They help you to know that your relationship is special and that love is there.
Recently one of my daughters referred to me by my first name with her child. I told her to include Grandma with my name. I explained to her why I think titles are important. It’s because I want my grandchildren to know I am not just another person in their lives. I want my grandchildren to know how we are connected, that we are family, that we belong together. I want my grandchildren to know that our relationship is special and that I love them.