Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Brightest Generation

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just – yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them --- therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

An amazing young mother named Jessica bore her testimony in church today. Despite a desperately rocky childhood (seriously troubled parents, every kind of abuse, and years of foster care) this resilient woman has found the gospel of Jesus Christ and is raising her own family in it. Her conversion is remarkable, not only because she beat the statistics, but how she beat them.

As a little girl, she was given her own copy of the New Testament, which she read regularly without prompting or reinforcement while growing up. And she prayed…without example or instruction. As I visualized Jessica growing into a young woman, holding those scriptures for dear life… her face morphed into many young faces…

In teaching four years of Seminary, I had proven over and over to myself (through trial and error) that though teens enjoy Scripture Jeopardy and gumdrop Rameumptoms, they will eat gospel meat, even at 6:00 a.m. Yet with that experience shoring me up, I still felt intimidated when I stood in front of hundreds of teenagers one summer morning with nothing more than scriptures in hand.

I had been a presenter on the Church Education System’s Especially for Youth faculty for a few years at the time, so it wasn’t the size or age of the audience that worried me; it wasn’t that they’d given me the giant gymnasium instead of a lecture hall to present in; it wasn’t even that the schedule had landed this class right before lunch, when the adolescent stomach would rather feast on food than scripture. What worried me most was the subject itself: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is the actual class description from the printed EFY program:

“What is our greatest potential? Is it not to achieve godhood ourselves?” How wonderful that we know that the answer to President Kimball’s question is yes! But until the Plan of Redemption was presented to us in the pre-mortal life, we must have wondered how it was possible. This class is for the serious student of the gospel who is interested in exploring Father’s Plan of Happiness as we must have contemplated it preparatory to entering mortality. We can find our place in this world when we comprehend our beautiful beginnings and divine destination. Bring your scriptures.

Based on this preview (I had composed it more as a warning), I expected relative few to choose my class; after all, more popular and entertaining teachers were presenting the same hour. Ten minutes before start time, however, boys slouched and girls giggled through the gym doors - in droves – eventually filling every available chair.

Yiks! I thought. What a rambunctious crowd! Some of them look downright scary. Oh, WHY hadn’t I had put together a slide show or at least a personal anecdote or two - or a hundred?! Sweaty palms made my scriptures sticky.

Like the end credits of a disaster movie, the dozens of scripture references and prophet quotes I was about to discuss scrolled through my brain. I panicked that too many in a row would come across as dull and complicated, though I had definitely felt inspired when organizing them. The most earnest kids might stick it out, I thought. Maybe my best hope was to excuse the tag-alongs, the kids who would prefer a class on dating. I decided to offer an escape.

“Alright everyone,” I began, “You should know that this discussion is all doctrine – straight up. You will be expected to keep your scriptures open and to turn to every reference, and we will be trucking.”

I looked for discouraged expressions, but didn’t see any. In fact, I thought for a second that they all seemed to sit up a bit.

“There is a lot to cover,” I continued my disclaimer, “so we may go into your lunch hour some. If this doesn’t appeal to you, it’s perfectly alright to excuse yourself now and join another class. You won’t offend me in the least.”

That’ll do it, I thought; then braced myself for an outbreak of sidebar discussions and clanking metal chairs.

But nothing happened. No one stirred.

Whether it was genuine interest in the subject, peer pressure, too much trouble to move, or a wave of compassion for the lady shaking at the mic, I had no idea. There was nothing left to do but preach.

We did go over-time. We went several minutes over-time. No one left. No one even packed up early. They ALL kept their scriptures open and stayed intent. Afterward, they crowded around with questions and insights that were stunning.

I repented of having underestimated their spiritual intelligence, humbled by the Spirit which testified that these youth exceeded me - and my generation. It was clear - and many experiences since have reinforced the fact - that the class' success had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with serving the doctrine of Christ “straight up” to young latter-day minds, naturally inquisitive and basically brilliant.

Related Musings: Romance the Heart
and Come to Church

Muse with me: What evidence of spiritual talent do you see in the children and youth of the church today, including those in your own home?

Elisabeth's little one falls asleep with her Book of Mormon.

MORE: "Teaching True Doctrine" by President Henry D. Eyring

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hawaiian Magic

"It seems like such a simple thing, but how much time do we spend laughing with our spouses and enjoying their company? In our daily interactions, appropriate humor can defuse tense situations and counter negative reactions to some of the troubles of life. Laughter and a cheerful disposition can create a bond of friendship. They are medicine for the heart and lighten the troubled soul.” (Carin Lund, Ensign, August 2000)

You know how relatively little time Dale and I have together because of his business travels. So, it was a twist of irony that -- when he finally lined up a whole week at home earlier this month -- circumstances took ME away to Florida (Dream House), while HE stayed home with Ashley (Angel Talkin). I consoled myself musing about “compensatory blessings” (What You Don’t Have or Have Lost) and sure enough! he got a second week knocked off his regular itinerary! When I returned, we hit the road TOGETHER for Hannah's concert at BYU, Grant's 23rd birthday, and Easter.

What a glorious 12 hours in the car -- non-stop conversation. Come Monday morning however, I was in the Provo Regional Medical Center, diagnosed with shingles! The wonder of it is that as I sat for hours on the emergency room gurney, my honey, rather than huff frustration and disappointment, continued the conversation. Running now for 31 years (from far and near) this conversation is part practical, part pleasure, part daydream, part counsel, part observation, part opinion. We call it “Solving the World’s Problems.”

We also like to reminisce, as most couples do, or should. Not only does re-living shared-memory act like crazy glue on hearts, on that morning in the hospital (as it has so many tough times before) reminiscing gave us the right dose of perspective: the best possible prescription.

This is what we remembered…

Two days and nights in Salt Lake City; not exactly the exotic honeymoon a boy or girl dreams about, but with the pocketbooks and planners of university students, it was the best we could do. Our professors expected the new "Mr. & Mrs." back to campus in time for winter semester finals.

Our reminicing wasn't about those two days though. It was about five years and two babies later when the chance for a "real" honeymoon finally presented itself. For years we had dreamed...and in the weeks leading up to our great Hawaiian adventure, we ate, slept, and spoke of almost nothing else: visions of solitary strolls on the beach, hand in hand, timid waves glancing our bare feet. We would return a radiant brown, renewed by strange vistas, quiet nights, and lazy days.

On page one of our photo album we are framed by a sagging palm tree and a stop sign at the airport. Our get-a-way was not yet a postcard one, but we could smell it from there. That night we had dinner at an outdoor table on Waikiki Beach. The same breeze which ruffled our hair sent pink clouds chasing across an amber sky. Flaming torches lit our faces...which occasionally broke from concentrating on each other, to look out over the violet sea; sails and ships were silhouetted against a glorious sunset.

It was the beginning - and the end - of a dream come true.

The next day, we decided to snorkel off Hanauma Bay. Having a touch of stateside practicality still in hand, I lathered up with my #45 sunscreen. I was generous to every appendage except my head and (accidentally) a little triangle of peach just below my shoulder. Dale, on the other hand (a Californian by birth) thought nothing of absorbing ultra-violet rays in the raw. An experienced snorkeler, he "geared" us both up for our undersea exploration - BUT - despite the best flippers money could rent - I just couldn't overcome my fear of the deep. A couple of fainthearted attempts to navigate the reef left me smarting with lacerations where unforgiving corral had met unpracticed diver. Dale, of course, evaded similar injury. He moved with ease through the water; but that was the last time he moved with ease on our entire vacation.

Scorched from top to bottom, his inflamed skin progressed gradually from a concerning pink to an alarming red. The sun's effect on me was more immediate. The moment we got back in the car, I screamed with horror into the rear view mirror. What was that big, red balloon I used to call my face?! I had no eyes, no nose, no chin; just a bloated crimson sphere with a crop of curls on top.

Frightened, we hastened to the hotel and hobbled to our sanctuary. Blisters had begun to swell between our toes. Though they were the preferred foot-gear of the tropics, we were more accustomed to rubber boots than rubber thongs.

Inside our room even bed sheets were painful to the touch. We were burning up. What could be more soothing than a cool swim? Diving out the window to sizzle in the hotel pool provided a few minutes of relief...but, as we began to pucker up like sun-dried tomatoes, we headed back . Toweling off, Dale suddenly knew he was in trouble. An ominous sting began to creep up his shins, his already irritated pores now infected with chlorine! The sting blossomed into a full-body itch, and the rest of the long night was spent trying to purge his enraged epidermis. Countless runs to the drug store proved ineffective. We were beyond desperation -- nothing would stop that itch. Of course by now, the fire had spread to Dale's brain and my island-lover had become a mad-man. His only salve and salvation, at last, was to sit in the bathroom, beside a scalding shower, steam and sweat working their magic.

In the morning we learned that our welcome to paradise was not yet over. Dale had a rocketing fever and throbbing pain inside both ears. An expensive trip to the doctor confirmed our own diagnosis: infection caused by entrapped water. Sensitive to the touch and yowling in agony, all we could do for the next several days was to administer medicine every two hours and watch all-night reruns of "Hawaii Five-O".

When we finally braved the world of the living (on our last day of "vacation"), we moved with the speed and agility of injured skiers in full body casts. Somehow we managed to taste fresh Dole pineapple, cry a little at Pearl Harbor, and sit very still in the canoes of the Polynesian Culture Center.

As we waved Hawaii good-bye from the clouds, we knew that the “next time” we would give ourselves at least three weeks: the first for exposing ourselves to the hostile Hawaiian environment, the second for recovery, and the third...well, we never really did have that Honolulu honeymoon. the time we get around to going back...T-shirts for grandchildren and viewing Hanauma Bay from a tour bus will be all the romance we'll need.

Oh. And a lot of wonderful conversation.

Muse with me:
How have you seen enjoyable conversation strengthen your marriage or other's marriages? Though there's not a Hawaiian Vacation drawing for commentors on this one -- how about dinner for two? On May 17th, I'll draw for a $30 gift certificate to the favorite chain restaurant of a lucky fellow Muser and their honey.

Talented Musers and a Winner!

You make me feel like singing and dancing! Kudos to follower friends who mused on The Kids Have Got Talent and Romance the Heart! I made a list with all your names and numbered them (two for those who commented both weeks.) With witnesses looking over my shoulder (who have the same last name as I do) I then entered the numbers into the True Random Number Generator and pop! up came the number 35, which correlated to SERENE!

Take the kiddos out for ice cream Serene – which do you like best? Cold Stone?...Baskin and Robbins?…or MY personal favorite – McDonalds! (Did you know McCones are always 3 points?!) Just kidding - splurge!

P.S. Sorry this is late...I was in the hospital on the afore-appointed date for the "drawing"!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dream House

The neighborhood was a typical Florida neighborhood – streets winding through hundreds of houses that all looked a lot alike, at least when they were built. After thirty or forty years, a parade of owners had come and gone, leaving their imprints on each house. Most of the streets looked like the current occupants didn’t have time, money, or sympathy for their aging residences.

We followed the faded curb-numbers until we pulled into the driveway of one of the most dilapidated homes of all. My heart sank. If my son and his kiddo were going to move into their first house, I had hoped for better…even just a little better. My boy had a more open mind (and tighter checkbook) that I had obviously, because he jumped out of the car with enthusiasm, eager to snoop. I waited with Biscuit.

After making the rounds, trudging through the weedy, grassless yard, peeking in the dirty windows, he reported: “Well, it’s kind of eclectic, but I think it’ll work!”

I bit my tongue for the entire ten seconds it took to back out of the driveway.

“You are such a man.”


“Men are buyers. They want to buy the first thing they see. I am a woman, a professional shopper, and I think we should keep looking. Drive down that street.”

He mumbled a protest, but mom won. We had made only a couple of lefts and rights when suddenly – the whole world changed…(well, maybe not the whole world – but at least that neighborhood)…white picket fences, trees and flowers, bright paint, cars resting on tires not blocks – it was a dream!

“There! There!” I shouted. “Look at that one!”

It may have been a one-story, flat-roofed, cinder-block house, but to me it looked like a million bucks. Biscuit’s dad made the same assessment.

“I can’t afford it Mom.”

“You don’t know that! Let’s just stop. Stop! Stop!”

We stopped.

Moving tentatively around the house perimeter, like a Kmart regular at Macy’s, my son came back with that look Professional Shoppers know too well: the “there-is-no-way---but-I want-there-to-be-a-way-so- bad” look.

He let me call the number on the sign in the window.

Imagine his surprise…the thrill us professional shoppers know too well…the electricity that fills the universe when you turn over the price tag and see numbers YOU CAN COMPREHEND! It was exactly in his price range with extras and pluses out the ying-yang. We were home.

That was just last week, but the memories of drooling over home ownership are as fresh as the paint in Biscuit’s new bedroom. The way it turned out, our family had three babies before we had a nest, and they were all flying away before we moved into our “dream” house. It’s okay. The home I really want is still being built on the ultimate “Street of Dreams”.

Has anyone else ever thought about this? I like to imagine what my celestial mansion will be like. Will it be on a mountain top? Or come with an ocean view? Will there be a waterfall or a lagoon beside a tropical rain forest??? I have come to the conclusion that it will be whatever I want it to be. And right now, that’s WAY beyond my experience, let alone my price range. Musing on it makes me happy though and keeps me motivated. Eternal rewards do that. (1 Cor. 2:9)

In the same breath however, I must admit that divine promises have occasionally lost their punch, but only when I forget the reality of infinity, when the here-and-now usurps my imagination. And when that happens, I -- like my boy on his house hunt -- am more willing to accept the unacceptable. I come way too close to “settling” for much less than is actually available to me.

Elder George Q. Cannon: “I think it is of great importance to us as a people to know what we shall do. Are we content to aim for telestial glory? I never heard a prayer offered, especially in the family circle in which the family does not beseech God to give them celestial glory…celestial glory is our aim…All that I am on this earth for is to get celestial glory.”

When I think of my children and grandchildren gathered on a celestial Sabbath; when I visualize Ashley at a truly GRAND piano of celestial make, finally able to play the magnificent concertos she’s composed all her silent life; when I close my eyes to feel the arms of my beloved mother-in-law around me again, or picture the scene when Dale and I face each other on Resurrection Morning then bow together to kiss the feet of the Savior; I am more valiant, more committed, more courageous, more brilliant, more capable, more loving, more glorious than I EVER am as my fallen, natural, mortal-thinking self.

For me, it is vital to have hope, to point and align and rivet myself on the goal of eternal life, this in spite of my imperfections. Though building a celestial mansion is a process; a lengthy process that extends beyond death, the Savior is with me every mile. I sense Him directing me down one path and then the next, asking only that I go with him all the way to the end. He knows that my Celestial Mansion waits there - sitting on a hill, surrounded by crystal clear, forested lakes, overlooking endless fields of wild flowers.

Related Musings: "Wish List"
and"The Flying Dream"

Muse with me: Which of the images comes closest to your idea of the Celestial Kingdom? What are your dreams for your Dream House?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

We Love Those We Know

“Hold hands.” My little ones trailed behind me out of the chapel - right in the middle of a session. (This was before we could watch Conference on BYU-TV at home.) Everyone assumed we were heading for a potty break, but we went straight to the cultural hall. Even though row upon row of metal folding chairs sat empty during Saturday sessions, the audio from the satellite broadcast was still fed into the big room. Organ, choir, and prayers reverberated off the high ceiling and wooden gymnasium floor. The volume and resonance were perfect for the game we were about to play.

“Okay. Who’s THAT?” I whispered, positioning my kiddos at center court.

They concentrated on the deep voice coming from the speakers and filling the hall. (Attendance at all four sessions of conference had been a tradition for as long as they could remember and this game was a highlight, so they getting pretty good at it.)

Elder Scott!” Their little feet left the ground as they recognized the lulling, deliberate style of Richard G. Scott.

“Good job! Oh wait! He’s done! Now, who’s THAT?” I challenged.

This one was too easy. President Hinckley!” they chimed together.

His beloved tone of voice represented ALL of the general authorities somehow. The way Gordon B. Hinckley pronounced the word “grreaaat” had always impressed me; I automatically hear it to this day when I read that particular word in scripture, as in “grreaaat and terrible” or “greaaat and spacious…”

I wanted my children to love his voice (and all the Brethren) with the same intensity I did. The belief in the divine inspiration of their calling sparked to life in my youth...

My family was on the grounds of Temple Square during one of our visits with Utah relatives, when suddenly, I felt my mother rush up from behind me, grab me by the shoulders, and propel me with alarming urgency towards the Tabernacle. An old man was moving away from an open door there and people were gathering around him. With a degree of determination and boldness uncharacteristic of my mother, she shoved our way through the crowd until I was standing at his feet. I had no idea what had just happened or why.

He looked down at me. His gentle eyes never left mine as my mother panted, “President Tanner, THIS is my daughter, Ramona.” It was certain that I had never heard that kind of awe and pride in her voice.

I was so young, I don’t remember then if he said anything. I don’t remember if I said anything. What I remember most, and still can’t totally explain, is how important it was to my mother.

We were not active in the church as a family. I had never seen or heard of President N. Eldon Tanner. There were four other children in our family standing nearby. Why she singled me out and hustled me into that opportunity -- just so completely unlike her to be aggressive or assertive in any situation – baffled me for years. Sifting again and again through the details, I find it stirring that she presented me – not herself – to this Apostle of the Lord. He never heard her name or shook her hand.

Years later, my father was cooking a meal for a party of stake leaders and visiting authorities in-between sessions of stake conference. Everyone knew my dad would not be attending the meetings himself, but he was agreeable to lending his experience in the kitchen for church functions. Someone (probably me) came up with the idea of the Beehive class acting as servers at the sit-down affair.

In our look-alike aprons of yellow gingham, my best friend Becky and I assigned ourselves to the “head” table. Sometime during the course of our labors, President Ezra Taft Benson noticed my name tag. He took me by the hand and surprised everyone as he began to sing the old ballad:

Ramona, when day is done I hear you call -
Ramona, I see you by the waterfall...

My dad came out of the kitchen for the first time that day - and watched. It was certain I had never seen that kind of awe and pride in his face.

I don’t remember now if President Benson sang the whole song, or only a few lines. I don’t remember if I blushed or giggled. What I remember most is how important it was to my father. Why he stood in that doorway and made no move to insert himself into the situation – just so completely unlike him to remain in the background in any situation - has baffled me for years. Sifting through the details, I am touched that he allowed me – not himself – to receive attention from the prophet of the Lord.


The name of “Neal A. Anderson” was read over the Conference Center pulpit yesterday. Thirteen years ago he gave an address called “Teaching Our Children to Love the Prophets”. In it he describes how a group of deacons could list every player and position on the Atlanta Braves but when asked the names of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, were completely stumped. He counteracts the assertion that their message is more important than their names with the point that if our children do not know their names "they most likely will not know their messages either...

“Our family has mostly lived in the eastern part of the United States. On the weekend of general conference, we would spend Saturday and Sunday at the stake center viewing the conference by satellite transmission. Sometimes, as our children were asked to dress in their Sunday clothes on Saturday morning, spirits were less than enthusiastic. Few other young children of the stake went to the stake center on Saturday to view general conference. Yet it is when children are young that parents must be innovative in helping them develop good habits regarding conference participation. As our children are given opportunities to observe and learn the role of these special witnesses, they will receive a spiritual confirmation of the sacred calling of their Church leaders, and they will feel a deeper love for and interest in these leaders and their message.”

It is especially interesting that in this address, Elder Anderson recalls standing with his parents in a long line, awaiting the chance to shake an apostle’s hand. “I have never forgotten the feelings I had," he says, "as I met the Lord’s servants.” I also treasure those feelings, but even more impressive to me as a child, was the the impact of those occasions on my PARENTS.

Muse with me: What experiences and feelings do you recall as a child that have affected your testimony of the prophets today? How have you shared that testimony with the little people and youth in your life?