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.
I grew up in California and we had early morning church classes called seminary to attend. I am not an early morning person and rarely attended the classes. Since I didn’t go very often I didn’t graduate from seminary. Not only that but I was so busy with classes and life while in college, I didn’t make reading my scriptures and studying the gospel the priority it should have been. I did have religion classes and did the course work but it wasn’t a whole-hearted effort. Then of course I found out what busy really was as a mother with lots of children. I rarely found time to read and study the scriptures unless I had a class to teach at church. Unfortunately I didn’t really start studying the scriptures and the gospel until I was in my early 40’s. I still had lots of children to care for and migraines to deal with so what made the difference? I had a dear friend who loved the scriptures. She loved to study the words of the prophets and ponder on the meanings of them. She thoroughly enjoyed exploring the scriptures and the doctrines of the gospel, and she took great joy in them! She demonstrated a zest and love for the gospel and I wanted to have the same love and feelings for the scriptures that she did. I wanted to be able to apply the teaching of the scriptures to my life too. I wanted to have the scriptural knowledge that she had. She inspired me and so I began a journey into gospel learning that has greatly blessed and influenced my life for good. In the last 20 years, as I have studied the scriptures and the words of the prophets, my knowledge and gospel confidence has increased greatly. As I have applied the teachings of the gospel in my life I have been greatly enriched. Her example influenced me and created a yearning in my heart to truly love the scriptures.
Recently there have been changes in church procedures announced. We now have before us in the church a refocus on home centered gospel teaching, supported by teaching in classes at church. Lately during church classes I have listened to many women express their concerns about being able to adequately teach their children the gospel in their homes. They feel pressure to help their children learn the scriptures and gospel doctrines, and help them acquire testimonies. Even though I no longer have young children in my home I remember the same feelings and the urgency I felt at helping my children to know the scriptures. Because of that we made sure we did family scriptures and prayer nightly, and Family Home Evening weekly. We always had the mechanics of it in place but sometimes I treated it as an ordeal to get through rather than a joyful thing. I spent too much time trying to endure the process of reading the scriptures with my children rather than just enjoying the time learning together. Now I can see that if I had transmitted my love for the scriptures and gospel learning as a joyful blessing instead of an ordeal that perhaps my children would have sensed my love for the scriptures and wanted that same love for them in their lives. Treating scripture time as an opportunity and joyful thing would have taught just as much as the actual reading of them. It would have taught that scriptures are a thing to be treasured and that reading them brings joy into your lives. If I had any advice for parents who are concerned about the refocus on home centered learning it would be to love the scriptures yourself and just enjoy the learning and teaching time with your family. Your children will see the blessings in your life from scripture study and gospel learning and want the same blessings in their lives, even though it may not be until they are a little older.
I think of my friend and her influence on me and how I wanted the same experiences she had, I wanted to love the scriptures like she did. Her example changed my life forever.
I have decided to do just one posting a week instead of two. Sometimes I scramble to find something I think people will be interested in reading. Obviously I don’t know as much as I thought I did! This will also free me up to work more on my family history which has taken a backseat to the blog since I started writing it a little over a year ago. When I was younger family history seemed a mystery to me, and expensive. I didn’t understand the process of finding information and knowing for sure it was the right information. It was also expensive to send away for records and there was a lot of wait time. My church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, places a lot of value and emphasis on family, both living and dead. We believe that all need to hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ and that those who have died without the opportunity to hear about the gospel are taught it in the next world after they die. Since they weren’t able to receive saving ordinances while they were alive we perform the ordinances for them as proxies. They have the choice to accept the teachings or not, but we do family history to find family members who need to have their work done giving them the opportunity. While in the past it was difficult to do family history, now it’s very easy. Almost everything is available online and I have yet to need to send away for a record. Since my family is second generation members of my church there’s a lot to be found and I have found many people in which I can have their ordinance work done. I can spend hours and hours doing it, which is interesting to me because I never thought I would like doing it. Sometimes I find so much information that I have to force myself to pull away and go to bed or eat or do necessary tasks of life. One of the things I like about it is finding personal information about a relative. The person becomes real to me and I feel connected to them, and it’s interesting to see patterns in families that are carried out in subsequent generations. I have had many spiritual experiences with family history, sometimes feeling like I have been guided to find certain information which had been so elusive. Recently I have been blessed to find information about my great-grandfather who came to this country from Bulgaria in 1913. Bulgarian records are hard to come by and we now have information that dates back to 1730, but it’s all in Bulgarian which is Cyrillic writing! Studying this information and trying to translate it will take a lot of time. Somehow I feel driven to do it and so now I will have more time by only posting once a week. So, change is good and so is family history.
In our church, on the first Sunday of each month, we fast for 24 hours from food. There are two main reasons for fasting. One is that the money we would have spent on the meals is given to the church to help those in need, and we are encouraged to be very generous with our donation. Another reason for fasting is to learn to have our spirits in control over our bodies, because going without food for 24 hours can be very difficult. Since I have migraines I have had difficulty in fasting. When I don’t eat I get migraines, sometimes very severe ones, which can last for days. They not only affect me but also my family. I tried eating lightly to still obey the essence of the fast but I still got migraines. One time a friend told me that she got headaches too from not eating but found that when she started and ended her fast with a prayer she did fine. So I tried that and got a huge migraine. Obviously what works for one person does not always work for another person. I struggled for many years with how to fast and be obedient to the principle. I felt like I was missing out on the blessings that come from obedience, even though I felt good that we were at least doing the donation part. One day a friend suggested there are many things I could fast from besides food, which hadn’t occurred to me before. I started thinking about this and decided I could fast from technology-no games on my phone or iPad, no reading newspapers on my laptop, no TV and no radio programs. I decided I could still do family history and my journal on my laptop, because they were not entertainment based. Basically nothing that is entertainment oriented involving technology. I have been doing this for many years now and believe it or not, it’s very difficult to do. It’s amazing how hard it is to not get my iPad out and play a game, or to watch a TV program. In some ways it helps me realize how much time I actually spend playing games. Because it is hard to do it is actually a fast and something that my spirit has to be in charge of. I have to remind myself what I hope to gain from fasting, which in part is to show my love for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I would like to say that it has gotten easier over the years but it hasn’t. Every Fast Sunday I still struggle with the no technology fast but I think that’s what makes it a true fast. If it was easy it wouldn’t really be a fast. I do believe that when I make an honest effort to be obedient to a principle, especially when it’s hard, the Lord blesses me for my efforts. As I learn to master myself I gain greater strength to help me in other areas of my life. Fasting is another example of a commandment that is really designed to bless those who follow it.
A friend of mine told me about a Family Home Evening lesson she did. To prepare for it she inventoried her chest freezer and made a list of hard to find items. Then she put other food items on top of those food items on her list. For the lesson she handed out the list of things and had her kids go look for them in the freezer. They found a couple of the easy ones but couldn’t find most of the items. Now she knew they were there so she told them to go look again. They came back still only finding a few of the items on the list, partly because they didn’t really want to find them. Together they went and found everything on the list. She compared this to searching for answers to gospel questions. She told them that some questions are easily answered while others take perseverance and a lot of digging to find the answers and sometimes help is needed from someone with a lot of gospel experience. Just like digging for hard to find food items in a freezer we have to more than casually look for answers to our gospel questions and we need to really want to find the answers. For most of the questions we have, we are able to find the answers with a little effort. Some questions though take a lot of effort, pondering and prayer. They may take years or even a life time to find the answers and some may only be answered in the next life. But I have found that when I find answers to my questions it strengthens my faith that the harder to find answers are there and to keep searching for them, and to accept that for some I may have to wait until the next world to receive my answers. I have also found that when I have to work really hard for an answer that I value it more, I really appreciate the answer and sometimes I even treasure it. In some ways I think this is part of the plan. Our Heavenly Father knows that as we look for answers our faith grows and our knowledge increases and not always just in the arena of the questions we have. He also knows that when we have to work hard for something, we value it more. I know the answers are there if we faithfully persevere and look for them.
Many years ago I read the biography of Camilla Kimball, the wife of Spencer W. Kimball who was the President and Prophet of the LDS church. My favorite part of the book is when it describes a date that Camilla went on to a dance with a boy she didn’t want to be with. She made an excuse, went to the bathroom and climbed out of the bathroom window and left the dance and the boy. I loved that story because it was such a normal teenage thing to do and it left me feeling that if she could do something so normal and turn out so great that there was hope for me. She went on to bless the lives of many people and do a lot of good in the world despite being very human. Sometimes when I see people who appear to always have been perfect it’s hard to relate to them. But when I see people who have weaknesses and who have made mistakes in their lives and they are doing great things, it gives me hope that I too can do better and be better. My husband’s current calling at church is the Stake Clerk. He gets to work closely with the Stake Presidency and I have gotten to know them a little better than other Stake Presidencies. They are good men but in interacting with them it’s very easy to see that they are also just ordinary men who desire to serve the Lord and do their best. They are willing to give of their time and efforts to serve others but because they are normal they also make mistakes, have their own weaknesses and are not perfect. Sometimes people look at church leaders and complain because they make mistakes and have weaknesses and decide the church can’t possibly be true because of it. I think it’s amazing that God can take ordinary, fallible people and use them anyway to further His work here on the earth, despite their weaknesses. It gives me hope that even with all of my problems and weaknesses, He can use an ordinary person like me to do a little good in the world too.
Little kids and church are rough. Kids want to play and not sit still and parents want to listen to the speakers and often these things don’t mix, which can be very frustrating for everyone. Over time I found a few things that were helpful to make Sundays in church a little more pleasant. One of the things was to have a bag of quiet, small toys that they could only play with at church. By not allowing them to play with the church toys any other time it kept their interest in the toy, it wasn’t the same thing they got to play with every day. I also had a bag of Sunday toys that I would rotate every few weeks so they wouldn’t get bored with the same toys to play with every Sunday. I also found the Friend magazines had fun stories or activities to do for some of my kids who were a little older, and since a new one came every month it was easy to rotate them. At one point my kids were fighting over the crayons to use with the Friend so we went to just pencils for a while. When I let them have crayons again they did much better but if it ever became an issue I gathered up the crayons and brought out the pencils, which weren’t nearly as much fun. If my kids acted out I would take them out to the foyer but they had to sit on my lap. I didn’t allow them to run around. I would remind them of this while we were still siting on the bench by telling them they could sit on the bench and look at the Friend or play with the toys, or they could sit in the foyer on my lap without any freedom or things to do. Usually they chose freedom on the bench to having to sit on my lap in the foyer. Of course sometimes they were so worked up that I had to take them out but I kept them on my lap until they calmed down and then gave them the choice to continue to sit there or go back to freedom on the bench. Most of the time they chose to go back into the meeting. These simple things usually worked but sometimes nothing worked and I wondered why I even went to church some Sundays just to be out in the halls or foyer. As my kids got older I realized that it was just a short time in their lives that this occurred and that establishing the pattern of going to church, partaking of the Sacrament and showing reverence or love for our Heavenly Father far out weighed the hassles and problems of younger kids in church. It showed my kids that despite the frustrations that church was the place to be on Sundays.
When my children were younger they would usually listen to General Conference but they didn’t read the Ensign or New Era conference issues and study the talks. One of the things I found helpful to bring the talks to them was to type up quotes and post them in my kitchen. As I would read the talks I would mark quotes or ideas I thought would be good to post. Every week, sometimes even longer if I didn’t have my life together (frequently) or if there was a quote I particularly liked, I would flip through the conference issue and find the things I marked and choose another quote. I typed and printed it and then posted it in the kitchen, and since I had already marked the quotes, this only took a few minutes. At one point I realized there were so many good quotes that I started doing two and put them in different areas of the kitchen. When one of my daughters was a teenager she told me that she really liked having those quotes posted and she read them frequently, it helped her in her life, and that she even tried to memorize them. I also hoped that it positively influenced some of my children who were struggling, and it was a way of preaching without preaching. The funny thing is that I think I benefited the most from the quotes. I would read and reread them as I worked in the kitchen and the words sank deeply into my heart and I was able to ponder on them. I frequently thought about how I could implement the ideas and thoughts into my life, and some of the promises I clung to and still do. This has been an easy and simple way to bring conference to my family.
We have been good at doing Family Home Evening but sometimes it was a real scramble to come up with something meaningful for the lesson on the little time we seemed to have. What finally made it easier was the Friend magazine, which we found to be a great resource. For each story there was always a scripture that went with it. We would read the scripture out loud and then the story, and then we would read the scripture again and ask how it related to the story and then ask how the story/scripture related to our family. A simple formula that worked well for us because it often seemed so hectic with little kids and big kids, after school activities, homework, and dinner and everything else that always needed to be done. This was my go-to lesson plan when we didn’t have something specific that we wanted to talk about, and it often generated good conversations. We also found the activities, articles on children in other countries, apostles and prophets were things my children liked to hear about, and even my older kids liked hearing a story read out loud. This would last about 15 minutes and then, on a good evening, we even had time to play a game or do something fun with those who wanted to, which was usually the younger kids because really, we were lucky to get the older kids to sit there with for 15 minutes with us to begin with.
Many years ago I lived in a ward with a family where the wife died from cancer leaving a young family for her husband to care for. The father asked to have visiting teachers assigned to him to teach him how to cook, clean, shop, do little girls’ hair and a whole host of things that he needed to learn in order to serve his family. The process worked well and after a few months he was able to do what he needed to do independently. I’m impressed that he recognized that he needed to learn some things, knew he could turn to the good women of his ward and was humble enough to ask for help. Visiting Teaching has blessed my life in many ways just like it did for this man and his family, and for some reason I have always liked Visiting Teaching. Even when I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to be a Visiting Teacher and yes, I know that’s a little odd but I have always felt drawn to it. I like the one on one connection, I like getting to know other women in a more personal way. I like discussing gospel principles and having time to go into more depth with the topic, and I have noticed that I leave feeling the Spirit more and it lingers with me for the day. I like having women for whom I feel a responsibility to care for, to pray for and to think about their needs and ways I can serve them. I have been inspired by the women I visit with, have learned from them and have felt their strength as they go through hard times with faith. Whenever I have met women in the various wards I have lived in who I didn’t particularly like, either I ended up being their Visiting Teacher or they were mine and it didn’t take long before I realized how wrong I had been in my judgement. Because of this I have learned to be less judgmental and to give people the benefit of the doubt more, and to realize I’m not seeing the whole person in the limited setting of a few hours at church. I have not always had women who were easy to visit and even then I learned more about the struggles of mental health or being less active and serving when it wasn’t easy. And just as I have been blessed by being a Visiting Teacher I have been blessed by having Visiting Teachers who have listened to me, taught me more about the gospel of Jesus Christ and been my friends. The new focus now is ministering-really focusing on the needs of the women I visit. What an inspired program! Recently I was working in a ward service project involving the cleaning up of yards of people in our neighborhood. While I was raking up weeds, one of the home owners came out and upon seeing many women working alongside the men commented “it seems that women can be ministers too.” I sincerely replied “they always have been.”