Sunday, December 28, 2008


I accidently left myself all of twenty minutes to get ready for my wedding on December 16, 1977. The Oversleeper begins his day in the move-it-or-lose-it mode and my best friend and I having been “moving” with hardly a breath ever since. We married very young, with foolishly little experience or education to prepare us for the stormy weather ahead: a firstborn with severe disabilities, multiple interstate moves, repeated periods of unemployment, numerous hospitalizations and surgeries, lost pregnancies, oppressive debt, business failures, loved ones who have left the church, sibling divorces, family deaths and, for the last ten years, a job which requires frequent, unpredictable, often extended separations. There is no way our union should have survived over three decades of such dramatic ups and downs, spurts and starts, rain and sun, collisions and repairs, trouble and peace, heart-rending losses and hard-won gains. Yet our exclusive club is tighter and more exclusive than ever.

And this triumph, I believe, can be credited to the principle of "Belonging".…

In the eternities before time, we loved our Father. Our greatest desire was to become like Him so that we could serve with Him. We agreed to give up our life in His immediate presence in order to have the opportunity to gain the knowledge necessary to Godhood and to prove ourselves to ourselves, our Father and the Universe. As a result of that choice, all humankind comes into this second estate with the innate desire to "belong". It is the driving force in all our psychological landscape. What we long for is a complete sense of belonging - ultimate security and acceptance. We find this in our mother's arms as infants, but search and ache for it all the rest of our lives. It is obviously the beating of our pre-mortal "heart" - the spiritual pain at being separated from our Father in Heaven. If this sacred aching is treated with understanding and tenderness by our families, we gain some comfort and peace and relative security in this life. On the other hand, if this longing is fueled by cruelty, neglect and betrayal by our families, the hunger can become so wretchedly acute that it either drives us to sin (pride and immorality) in desperate attempts to fill it, or to depression and hopelessness. As the Spirit has helped me to better comprehend this principle, and the fact that it operates in every human heart, I feel more charitable toward people in general.

I have thought a great deal too, about how this all relates to marriage. Marriage is clearly the greatest opportunity in this life to experience, at least in human relationships, a satisfaction of our ancient longing. It is the highest, most glorious order in the hierarchy of human relationships. Sensing its potential, everyone aspires to it, in one way or another. Of course, Satan has replicated the shallowest appearances of marriage, promoting the idea there are shortcuts to achieving this great thing that we desire above all things. So people indulge in immorality, living together, etc., and for a moment in time, they feel like they "belong". But what damage is done to the spiritual heart when they discover that it’s all a sham! In their hunger for emotional security - belonging - they find that their sacred trust was established on the very principles of insecurity. The heart cannot rest or plant itself. This is not the authentic human love they were desperate for because it does not replicate God's love which is constant, committed, consistent, merciful, long-suffering, patient, hopeful, ETERNAL.

Only marriage (ultimately a celestial marriage) which pays the price of patient preparation, self-discipline and irrevocable commitment to another person's happiness can come close to God's love and therefore to the sense that we are secure in our belonging. With that security we then have the emotional freedom to share authentic human love with others - most importantly, with our children. Of course, this is the great miracle and purpose behind the Atonement - to bring us into a "oneness" not only with our Heavenly Father, but with one another. As we allow the miracle of the Atonement to plant itself in our hearts, making it the centerpiece of all our relationships - particularly our marriages - our hearts balloon with the sense of belonging, security and acceptance. Our capacity to love is magnified so that we may lead others to identify their own Need and to The Source that can satisfy it.

Above all my blessings -- which are more numerous than can ever be counted -- I thank God for my marriage. Happy Anniversary honey. Here’s to 4,000 more.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Come to Church

Seven different members of the ward (congregation) called or emailed yesterday with the news: church has been canceled. An unusually severe snow storm has made travel too risky. As I marvel at the Narnian wonderland out our windows, my imagination is spurred, and I remember….

Growing up, my whole family rarely attended church, but I personally longed for something more of community, instruction, and spirituality. When old enough to receive permission to walk the five blocks myself (about 8) I frequently did so, and my little girl’s heart rejoiced in the sense of belonging and purpose I found at church. There I learned doctrine. There I received ordinances and made covenants essential to my budding faith. There I accepted opportunities to serve, expanding my awareness of others and capacity for charity. There I found friendship among peers who strengthened my values and standards. And there, kind men and women of devotion nurtured my talents and character. My family at home continued to be central to my mental and physical development, but my ward family raised me to spiritual maturity.

My love for church activity never wavered, though as a young mother it was tested. With two babies (one of whom was severely disabled) church services strained me to the max. I usually returned from meetings wondering why I had gone in the first place. Since my husband had to temporarily work on Sundays at that time, my two arms and hands were all I had to calm my fussy infants. There was little chance of hearing sermons or class discussions, interacting with members, or serving in some capacity myself. I was wholly preoccupied with creating as little disturbance as possible. To complicate things even more, we had no car. Getting my little family to church involved a baby seat attached to a bicycle and a baby carrier attached to my chest. Parking the bike, removing the babies, and changing out of my pants and into a skirt at the chapel doors, must have been a sight for the members waiting inside.

One Sunday morning several weeks into this ritual, my tears mingled with the babies’ bath water, and I surrendered all ambition to attend services. Then, from the steeple of a little church in the center of our little town came the peeling of Sabbath bells. Their cheerful song called to me, raised my feeble spirit, and replaced weakness with resolve. The babies and I went to church.

Today I will miss sitting in church with my husband of thirty-one years and our grown children who are home visiting for Christmas. I would have looked down the pew and admired my beautiful family. I would have watched my son put his arm around bride of three months, and my youngest put her arm around her older sister. Together, we would have listened attentively to the speakers and sang the hymns with zest. We would have partook of ordinances and silently reviewed our spiritual progress. Studying scripture with our friends in class would have helped us commit to helping others during the week. Spirits and priorities renewed, we would have returned home glad and in love, looking forward to sitting in the chapel and the classroom next Sunday, just as we had for over two decades.

As I gaze out the window, I can see though, that the driveway and sidewalks forbid us from venturing past the front door. Taking church for granted is not possible today. Instead, my reflections cause me to analyze what it is we gain from going to church. Two particular qualities, obviously necessary to individual and familial progress, come to mind: Stability and Strength. These are found in consistent, meaningful church attendance. Beyond the winter forest that is my yard, all the world will be busy buying and selling on this Sabbath just before Christmas. I have a sudden urge to sing out to the whole world, like the bells which inspired me long ago: Gather your family and go to church!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Holy Men

I woke on Tuesday morning, December 2nd, and felt an almost instant prompting to go to the Church website. I fought it all through my morning gospel study and when I finally made it downstairs to head off for exercise, I could resist no more. I opened the website and there saw the headline that Elder Wirthlin had passed away. The flood of tears that followed surprised me, though I remember feeling just the same magnificent and holy sadness when Elder Maxwell, Elder Faust, and Pres. Hinckley passed away.

I just held my head in my hands and wept and wept and wept. The tears are still fresh on my cheeks.

The Council of the Twelve ARE true Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am so deeply, deeply grateful and beholden to these men who serve as our anchor to the truth (Eph. 4:11-13). The office has always been important, but becomes more and more relevant as the last days intensify with confusion on every hand.

A few years back, while living in Florida, where “Christian” radio is big, I remember hearing a talk show host interview a leading Christian theologian, minister, and author. He was describing a compatriot, of his same stature, who ministered in Europe. This European theologian and philosopher had come to the United States to study “American” Christianity. The most important question he had come to seek out, which no Christian leader had yet been able to answer was this: “Who are your holy men?” That is, who are the persons in your American movement that are truly revered as holy? -- the ones that people look to for infallible leadership because they have attained such a degree of uprightness and humility? This man being interviewed, the one telling the story, had to admit with some embarrassment that he knew of none such in America.

We know the “holy men”.

And as America, indeed, the entire world, reels in a leadership vacuum, we are prospering under their example and teachings and inspiration.

“Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior [we may add, through his Apostles]…strikes it all into insignificance….” (Oliver Cowdery, JSH appendix).

My Gospel Definitions Part 1

Since Mona's Musings will include so many references to gospel terminology, the language of the prophets, I thought I'd begin with the list of "Gospel Definitions" I have discovered or landed upon throughout my studies. I love each one and a happy soul when I ponder their magnificence, intelligence, clarity and simplicity.

Consecration = the willingness to give, set apart, or devote everything we have on earth to God’s cause.

Covenant = Promise made by man to God: commitment to use sacred knowledge to the blessing of self and others; the key to perfection of character.

Evil = Satan acting upon our flesh, which influence, if followed, results in loss of reasoning power and limitation of options.

Faith = the process of reaching beyond our knowledge. The more knowledge we possess, the farther we can reach. Absolute conformity + absolute action = absolute confidence.

Good = God acting upon our spirits, which influence, if followed, results in greater reasoning power and wider range of options.

Humility = a soul convinced of its worth to God.

Gospel = the laws of progress by which mankind may obtain a fullness of joy.

Holy = consistent, pure behavior in perfect harmony with God’s will.

Joy = unity with other intelligences in truth.

Justification = the immediate result of being forgiven and the end result of specific repentance, including freedom from guilt and change of heart - being forgiven from sin.

Love = the medium through which value is conveyed.

Patience = reconciling with the fact that God operates on a different plane: that time is measured only unto man.

Pride = a soul trying to prove its worth.

Sacrifice = the willingness to surrender self-interest for the betterment of another or for a cause.

Salvation = freedom from pain.

Sanctification = the long-term process of being made holy and having a change of nature; purified from the effects of sin (and the Fall).

Testimony = Enthusiasm for Jesus which comes from knowing and living His gospel truths. “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3)

Zion = establishing the ideals of Jesus!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Keep Believing

Our family has been listening to the music of "With Mine Own Hand" for a long, long time. First it was just humming a melody, then it was plunked on a piano, then it was filled out on a piano (a million times), then we added our own voices, then we added test-actor voices, and eventually we heard it orchestrated with MIDI (computer-generated instruments.)

We heard the score with real instruments and real actors for the first time only weeks before the 2007 workshop production. But the quest for the best possible representation of the score was not over. The real With Mine Own Hand; the music that as creators we had been hearing in our heads for many, many years, was yet to be played, was yet to be sung...

This is the story I have been asked to tell; it is the story behind the making of the CD of “With Mine Own Hand: The Musical Account of Nephi”. It is a story that begins with BELIEVING: first, in the Lord and the Book of Mormon, second, in ourselves and our family, and thirdly in a whole lot of other people.

Of course, we knew something about audio and recording work, ever since college days. We actually have a small studio in our home which we dub “Voices in the Shed”, since the sound booth is where the yard tools used to be before we padded up the walls. We employed our home-based equipment and engineering skills to make test recordings for the orchestrator to work from. That project, just piano and test voices, took the entire summer of 2006.

The next twelve months were spent orchestrating and refining the score for performance. First, David Zabriskie of Sandy, Utah, the musical genius behind the “Nauvoo Pageant”, “Light of the World”, and “Savior of the World” did the copy work for Becky Alexander’s score; that means he transferred all of Becky's handwritten notation into a computer-generated piano-vocal score. Dale too got involved with that copy-work, learning first-hand how exacting the process really is.

Next, Jay Richards, of Logan, Utah, a musical theater composer himself, began to arrange the new piano-vocal score into full orchestrated pieces. It is one of the miracles associated with the project that Jay had six weeks to accomplish this titanic creative task: twenty-eight pieces of music to be interpreted and arranged for all those instruments in the orchestra. Since we were going into production at the end of that same six weeks, there would be no time for rewrites; we needed perfection and we needed it now. Without question, and to our thrill and delight, he nailed it. Churning out two and three pieces a week, Jay captured the magic of the score and the magnificence of the story through his orchestral arrangements.

Following the workshop performance in Vancouver, Washington (which took the entire summer of 2007) we wondered what could be next. It wasn’t long before the opportunity to produce the show at Brigham Young University during Campus Education Week was offered us. We knew that transporting a show from out-of-state, that is, from the Pacific Northwest (which is our home base) to Provo, Utah, would require minimizing the number of bodies involved, and that meant recording the orchestra. It only followed that we might as well go a step further and record the cast as well. The vocals would not be used in the live performance, as would the recorded orchestra, but the 2008 cast would be featured in the recorded CD version of “With Mine Own Hand.

A steady stream of opportunities, decisions and revelations led us to the top of our Mt. Everest. Jay Richards, an accomplished studio producer in the Utah musical community, acted as our guide. He recruited musicians from Orchestra on Temple Square, BYU School of Music faculty, and Utah Symphony Orchestra.

The players came rolling in (the bass and tympani literally rolled in) over the ice and snow on the morning of Feb. 13, 2008. By the sheer number and variety of instrumentalists at one time, we were breaking new ground at Salt Lake City’s Counterpoint Studios. Recording Engineer Michael Greene sectioned the musicians into five different spaces or adjacent rooms, which actually proved an advantage in mixing since he could separate, or control, the volume of the different instrumental groups for a better blend on the final track. For instance, the percussionists set up their paraphernalia in one room, harpists hid behind another door, while the horns were separated from the strings and woodwind by a glass wall. Becky, with headphones on, sat at the keyboard in the control booth itself.

Everyone had a clear view of Dale, who would be conducting this dream orchestra. They were definitely Utah’s best of the best. He knew it, and they knew it. Not that they needed much direction; these professionals could, at first sight, at first read-through, play a piece to near perfection, both interpretively and technically.

As impressed as were were with both the musicians and the music they made, they, interestingly, were just as impressed with us; not only with the work itself, but with our determination to make this project happen, to see it through: “tenacity” they called it. I know too, that they felt amused, if not charmed, by our enthusiasm. Grant and Hannah, who also sing on the CD, were with us in the booth doing scratch vocals. And of course, Becky, the composer, sat on the piano bench. Maybe the four of us should have behaved more aloof, more professionally, but with the music soaring about us in its full glory at last, we just couldn’t help our yelps of glee.

With the recording of the orchestration complete, it was time to add the vocalists at Super Digital Studios in Portland, Oregon. Over the course of an intense week, each performer took his turn in the booth, pounding out his part, relentlessly critiqued and tweaked by yours truly; yet each one came out smiling like the fisherman who’d just nabbed the biggest catch of his life.

Now engineer Michael and producer Jay -- back at Counterpoint -- mixed, that is combined and balanced, the orchestra and vocals. This meant days and days of repetition: every note, every instrument, every sound analyzed and worked over. Once that was accomplished, our Portland engineer, Erik, took over and “mastered” the entire recording (something like polishing a clean car).

Dale and I of course were intently involved each step of the way, lording over the process, protecting and perfecting every drop of the dream. Grant was right beside us and Hannah held us all up. With the finishing touches going on in the studio, Grant busied himself with cover artwork and liner notes so that all of the ingredients came out of the oven in July 2008. Audiences in Portland and Provo could actually take home CD’s from “With Mine Own Hand” that same summer, a very unusual offering from a brand new musical.

So guess what we’re doing this summer? Yes, we are back in the studio, the ole’ studio, (our fourth summer at this) adding all of Nephi’s narration and other dialogue to the CD. Don't worry, we’re not going to recall the originals (…hey! maybe they’ll be worth something on Ebay someday…I’m just sayin’…) but we are producing a “new and improved” version which will allow the listener to follow Nephi’s account from “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…” all the way to the “Promised Land”, through music and spoken word.

Stay tuned…what a funny thing to say. We’ve been “tuned” in to this dream for nearly two decades. It’s exhausted and frightened and intimidated me to no end, but the big picture keeps getting bigger, and there is no changing the channel now.

I think you will find that everything I have written can be characterized by two words that are worth musing over for a long time to come....


Related Musings: Wish List
and Dream House

Muse with me: What dreams have you realized or hope to realize one day? (Don't give up! This dream of mine took 20 years and counting!)