Friday, September 12, 2014


I have decided to consolidate all of my blogs into one.

My new all-in-one blog is called We Live After the Manner of Happiness, and on it I will frequently write short and sweet posts about a variety of topics, including Self Education, Motherhood, Homeschooling, the Gospel, and Healthy Eating.

I may still post here on occasion, particularly if I have a longer post I wish to write, but I hope you'll follow me there, since my new format allows me to be far more consistent in my posting and more flexible in my topics.

See you there!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Semantics, Nuances, and Recontextualization

Matthew 5:48 says "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

What would happen if we took that scripture at face value? Personally, I think I'd throw my hands up and say, "That's it! No hope for me. I give up!"

Fortunately, this little scripture is a prime example of the mistakes people often make when trying to grasp the scriptures and religion in general. I have noticed that these mistakes most frequently are caused by our failure to understand three particular principles.

1.  Semantics: the study of the meanings of words and phrases in language
2.  Nuances: a very small difference in color, tone, meaning, etc.
3.  Recontextualization: to place (as a literary or artistic work) in a different contex

Every scripture has layers of meaning--not to mention the distinct possibility that any given scripture might contain more than one true interpretation.

Going back to the scripture above as a sort of case study, what is Christ really saying when He commands us to be perfect?

Lets look at the semantics first. If we were fluent in Greek, we could go back to the original text and discover worlds of meaning that are currently hidden to us. Sadly, it's all Greek to me. :) On the bright side, scholars have done a great deal of the legwork for us and provided their findings in the footnotes. (I thank Heavenly Father for the footnotes frequently; they are such a blessing to my personal study!)

In the footnote for verse 48, it says that the Greek word which was translated as "perfect" can also mean "complete, finished, fully developed." This is probably old news for most of you, but when I discovered this in the footnotes a few years back, it was monumental! There WAS hope for me! This verse had an entirely different message than I had been taking away previously.

To consider another possible nuance to the word "perfect," I have thought about what I do when I work on a piano piece. I perfect it. (Verb, not noun; emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first.) In other words, God commands me to be perfect and then sends me to earth where I work on perfecting myself. But even that is not quite right...

The subtext to this verse, which I believe to be the whole point, is a matter of context. Christ is teaching these things at the beginning of His ministry, but we would be remiss if we assumed for even a moment that He wasn't perfectly aware of His ultimate calling and purpose. He was here to atone for our sins, and everything He taught pointed and was inextricably linked to His final act of the Atonement.

It's far too easy to be sitting comfortably in our little homes, reading a handful of words and dismiss them out of hand for their lack of pertinence or immediate clarity. In this way we cheat ourselves of the blessings of enlightenment! When Christ commands us to be perfect, He does so with a perfect knowledge of our capacity to become perfect only in and through Him! THAT is what this verse is all about. It is in essence an invitation to recognize that we can't be perfect, (or whole or fully developed,) without His saving grace, and a call for us to know Him better that we might fully access the power of His Atonement through His saving ordinances.

This is just one of many little examples I keep in mind to help me remember that even when something does not make sense to my mortal mind, there IS meaning and purpose there. I live my faith by trusting God that I will eventually understand and leave the rest to Him.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Grape Cookies

What if I told you that I had a fabulous recipe for Grape Cookies?  Would you call me crazy? A genius? Would you be skeptical? Excited? Or would you know exactly what I'm talking about?

And what if I told you I was almost certain that you have had grape cookies lots of times and might even be your personal favorite?

I suspect you'd be confused at best.

Well, here's a link to some yummy grape cookies.

Oh, did I mention that the grapes are dried? And these cookies have oatmeal in them too?  That's right, I'm talking about Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that when you eat an oatmeal raisin cookie you are technically eating a cookie with grapes in it?  This is what is called a matter of perspective.  (Have you ever called them Grape Cookies?  Probably not, and that is a matter of semantics.)

This is a relatively small perspective difference, and it is about something of very little import. And yet it could cause a lot of confusion and possibly even a bit of contention when people aren't open to the differences we have in our points of view.

Now consider how great the perspective difference between us and our Heavenly Father.  He has the ultimate perspective--being all-knowing--while we have a comparatively pin-hole of a view.

If there are times when things seem confusing or strange or even frustrating, we need to remember that God has the perfect point of view and will sometimes, when we ask earnestly, share that perspective with us through the Holy Ghost. For the remainder of the time though, let us be patient and trusting in his ways and plan.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Feeling Rich and Being Grateful for Fleas

My daughter has a book from the library called George Washington's Mother.  It is an easy reader biography and it has a simple theme:  Washington's mother always felt poor.  She felt this way despite the fact that she was always plenty cared for by her children and relatives.  Part of the reason for this was that she was born fairly well-to-do and then married a rather rich man, but when he died she was left in a less prosperous position.  Regardless, it was her attitude that caused her to feel like she was "in want."

This got me thinking about my favorite kind of gratitude list:  Things That Make Me Feel Rich.  The fact is that when we have an attitude of gratitude as Pres. Monson teaches, we can feel rich no matter what our financial and material situation may be.  It's all about recognizing the richness of the blessings we receive.

So here are some things that make me feel rich:

My library card
A pantry full of food
Fresh fruit and veggies
Free online learning resources
My beautiful girls
Being pregnant
My comfy bed
Having a heated apartment
My hair
Homemade bread
Watching my daughters dance to music
The ability to choose what I will do with my day

This is my short list.  I could go on and on but many of my other items might require some explanation.  The point is to feel grateful for those things in your life which make you feel richly blessed.

One additional thought I had about gratitude as I was contemplating Thanksgiving coming up was how important it is for us to take the difficult things in our life and find those things associated with them that we can be thankful for -- the silver lining -- the blessing in the trial.

This concept is well illustrated in the book The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her sister are taken to a concentration camp where their beds and huts are infested with fleas.  Corrie, understandably, detests the fleas.  But in a prayer, her sister Betsie thanks God for the fleas because they keep the guards from entering their barracks which allows them greater freedom to do their work and to worship God.

I need to be better about thanking God for the "fleas" in my life.  I think this is a healthy exercise for everyone.

I'm grateful for Autumn and all the beautiful colors.  I normally struggle to appreciate it because it tends to feel so melancholy and even depressing at times, but I really am grateful for the changes in the temperature and the beauty of the season.  I'm even grateful for rainy days or sick days, because they allow me extra time to snuggle my girls at home and read.

I would share more, but many of these types of trials and blessings are just too private to share.  I hope you will take the time to consider for yourself what your "fleas" are and what blessings you receive because of them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Perspective's Child

Gratitude is a gift born of perspective.  It begets contentment and joy.  It is one of my favorite virtues.

I began this blog several years ago with a post about gratitude.  It's been on my mind again recently, especially as I have felt that it has been key to my happiness in the last couple months.  And considering that in a few days it will be November--the month for celebrating our blessings--perhaps this post is well timed.  :)

I believe that gratitude--deep, sincere, true gratitude--is a gift of the spirit.  We should be seeking for it.  Along with our continual prayers of thanks, we should be asking to recognize even more blessings and that we might feel even more genuine gratitude for that which we have.  I believe that God answers these prayers with increased clarity of perspective which in turn leads to humble, sincere gratitude.

We can and should do our part as we seek for greater gratitude by actively pursuing greater perspective.  This is done through intentional thinking and attention to reality.

To illustrate, I love my daughters, and I am always grateful for them.  But my normal gratitude paled in comparison when one night a year or so ago a dear sweet lady in my ward told me and a few others the story of losing her three-year-old daughter. I wish I could remember the details she related surrounding her death, but I believe it was some type of sudden illness and it took her very quickly.  At that time my oldest was three, and it was all too easy to imagine myself in this woman's shoes.  I had to hold back the sobs, though the tears fell freely.

She was calm--peaceful even.  Granted, this experience happened over twenty, perhaps thirty, years ago.  But still, her serenity in telling the story was remarkable and left a lasting impression on me.

I vowed that night to never take my time with my children for granted again.

I have.  I'm not perfect.  But a brief passing thought about that night and that woman's story is enough to remind me of how truly deeply grateful I am for my beautiful girls.

I try to remind myself every morning how blessed I am to have this day. Time is my most precious resource to spend and use wisely or waste as I will. I am grateful every day for having a body that works right, if not always flawlessly. I am grateful for my husband and the love that we share. I'm grateful for his partnership and support.  I'm grateful for our beautiful apartment and truly wonderful ward.

Any time I can sense that I am not valueing a certain blessing as I ought, I take a silent moment to consider some of the possibilities, the alternatives that so many experience.

When I feel sick and tired of being pregnant, I try to remind myself how few times I'm going to experience this miracle happening in my body. I try to remember how many people, many close friends even, who long to conceive but can't. Or women who have endured miscarriages and still births--sometimes many!  Would they be complaining about little baby kicks keeping them up all night?

Anytime you find yourself lacking the appropriate "attitude of gratitude" you can imagine losing that blessing tomorrow, or someone less lucky than you listening in on your thoughts, or perhaps what the bare minimum of existence is and you will realize how above and beyond we live.  Truly ours are lives of abundance.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dual Nature of the Atonement: Part 2

I would like to talk about another facet of the Atonement which is dual in nature about which I have recently learned:  There are both unconditional and conditional parts of the Atonement.  Unconditionally, everyone will be saved from the fall of Adam.  Everyone is brought back into the presence of God to be judged.  Everyone will be resurrected and everyone will enjoy immortality.  There IS a conditional part of the Atonement, though, which must be either accepted or rejected. 

Before I continue, let me be clear:  the Atonement without a doubt IS a gift given through the grace of God.  It is a gift that is freely given, and we in no way deserve or earn it.

That bears repeating:  Salvation is a gift given through the grace of Christ.

BUT there is no such thing as passive acceptance of that gift.  We can either actively receive the gift or else we are, by default, rejecting it.  For Christ to force His gift upon us would be entirely against His nature.*  He offers it; we accept or reject it.

The power of the Atonement is available and accessible to all, but, just like electrical power, we must choose to flip the switch.  In turning on my light in my room, I would be mistaken to imply or assume that somehow I was the source of the power that was producing the light.  But I cannot expect to enjoy the light without putting forth the effort to flip the switch, in other words accepting the power that is available and waiting.

Christ has revealed that we accept the power of the Atonement into our lives by obeying the laws and ordinances of His gospel; specifically faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

Christ makes it clear that only through faith in Him can we be saved.  My understanding of faith is that, like love, it is a verb not a feeling.  If we truly love someone, we show it through words, actions, gifts, efforts, affections, and time.  To quote Shakespeare, "They do not love that do not show their love."  I know that this principle extends to faith.  To have faith is to act in faith.

The actions that faith naturally lead to are the subsequent laws and ordinances of repentance and baptism.  When we really believe in Christ and that He is able to save us, we can't help but desire to purify ourselves from those things that are preventing us from enjoying His full blessings.  Thus, we repent, feeling sorrow for our sins and a desire to change and be better.  The ordinance of baptism, then, is our way of signifying to Christ--witnessing to Him--of our total commitment to honor and obey Him, to follow His example, to represent Him, and to serve Him.

When we have become clean through repentance and accepted the power of the Atonement to cleanse our lives through baptism, God bestows upon us the gift of the Holy Ghost by the ordinance of the laying on of hands.  The Holy Ghost becomes our aid as we complete the final step of enduring to the end, which is, in essence, the repetition and sustaining of the first four steps until the end of our lives.  We continually humble ourselves, renewing and building our faith in Christ, repenting daily for our sins and shortcomings, renewing our covenants weekly through the ordinance of the sacrament, keeping ourselves worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, allowing it to work on us and through us as we bring glory to God through our progression.

Without Christ's grace and Atonement, it wouldn't matter how hard I tried, how diligently I went through the motions of faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end, or any other good and essential works.  The power would not be there to save; I do not have it within myself to any extent.  If there is no electricity running through the wires in my wall, I can turn on and off the light-switch all I want.  Still nothing will happen.

But the power is there!  Christ did perform the Atonement and He does offer it as a free gift to all.  The good news is that we can receive His power into our lives if we so choose!  It is available and waiting.  Are we willing to act in faith?

*[This brought to mind the fact that our resurrection and immortality ARE in a way forced upon us.  It is difficult to imagine anyone NOT wanting to be resurrected, but upon further thought there actually are plenty of people I can think of who might prefer to just become extinct both body and spirit rather than face God on judgement day.  So, perhaps that part of the plan is just a requirement which will be seen as a glorious blessing to the righteous and an awful punishment to the wicked, but either way must occur because of the laws of God.]

Dual Nature of the Atonement: Part 1

The gospel of Christ is a gospel of progression.  Gospel means good news and the good news is, at it's heart, all about Christ's Atonement.  The Atonement is infinitely complex and there is still much I don't understand.  But one thing that I have learned with surety about the Atonement is that it has a dual nature.  First, the Atonement pays the price for our sins.  Second, it enables us to be more than we are.

The best way to imagine this is that each individual has their own personal bank account.  When we are born on earth, our account starts out at zero.  As we come to the age of accountability and begin to commit sin, (as we all inevitably will,) the sins must be paid for.  Therefore withdrawals must be made and we become deeply in debt.  Unfortunately, we have no power to make deposits into our account.  On our own, our only recourse is debtor's prison.  But Christ, through the power of His Atonement, can and will step in as our Mediator and pay off our debts.  As wonderful as that is, if this were the end of the story--if this were the full extent of the Atonement's purpose and power--our best hope would be to simply break even and end where we began.  This would mean no hope for progression, and instead at best maintaining the status quo.

I'm extremely grateful that this isn't all there is to tell, because the next part is what gives me even greater hope and motivation for my future.  Christ, in His infinite goodness, doesn't want us to only "break even" or end right where we began.  He wants to do more than just save us; He desires to exalt us!  He not only has it in his power to pay our debts, but also to fill our account to overflowing.  All this is possible through the enabling power of the Atonement.

To bring it out of the abstract and symbolic into something more concrete:  On any given day, as I accept the gift of the Atonement in my life, in addition to being forgiven for the many mistakes I make and sins I commit, the Lord can and will enable me to accomplish His work in a way that simply would not be possible with my own power.  He often does so through gifts of the Spirit.  He can bless me with greater faith, hope, charity, contentment, gratitude, diligence, strength, endurance, insight, peace, and joy.  I have felt this enabling power again and again in my own life.  We can recognize it easily because we will feel Christ's power working through us as we strive to live as He would have us live and listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.  At those times, I know that I am an instrument in His hands and can take none of the credit for the good that He is accomplishing through me and helping me to achieve.

Pride is the only caveat.  Pride sets us back.  All too soon and too easily we slip into believing that we are somehow greater than we are, assuming that we have accomplished these things through our own power.  The moment we make this mistake the power leaves us, and we are left to recognize our own insignificance in the face of our struggling along without God's help.  When this happens, we are humbled and begin again to acknowledge our entire reliance upon Christ and His Atonement.

On the other hand, if we can successfully humble ourselves and stay humble, Christ can accomplish a marvelous work in and through us.  He can literally transform us and make us great in righteousness and goodness, and He can bless the lives of countless others as we follow His will.  Through the enabling power of His Atonement, He can and will help us to progress until we are exalted like Him.  This is the beauty of the gospel and the plan of happiness: Eternal Progression.