Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Facing the Demon (and by this I do not mean my child)

In which our Lady makes an Heroic Crossing. 

              Last week, we took a trip to Denali National Park and Preserve.  It was a really fun trip.  We stayed at Teklanika campgrounds, which are located 30 miles inside the park.  This meant that we had the opportunity to actually drive our own car into Denali, which is a big deal because there are only 4 days out of the whole year when people are allowed to drive through the whole thing—and you have to draw out in a lottery to do it.  I will admit that I was apprehensive about the trip because I was already tired before we left.  Apparently, Eva was tired too, because she was quite the little demon on the trip—running toward trouble every time, ignoring her parent’s pleas and ploys alike, and generally just being plain rebellious.  It made things a little rough, and I’m sure that her grandfather, Clyde (Jon’s dad), was thoroughly sick of her high pitched screams by the end.  No, it was not the easiest camping trip ever, but it was worth it. 
              It was beautiful.  In Anchorage, the weather is very “pacific north-west,” meaning that it stays cool, is very green, and is often cloudy.  But sunny weather awaited us just 4 hours to the north.  In fact, it was so hot that my now-Alaskan senses couldn’t handle it.  The sun actually seemed to beat down on my poor head (western novella style), and I had to beg the use of Jon’s hat to cover my sun-sensitive ears.  Oh, I was hot.  It was like nothing I’ve experienced since moving to Alaska.  I alternated between wanting to bask in the sun and necessarily hiding in the sparse shade. 
              On our last evening there, we went on a short hike along the river near our camp site.  As the day would warm, the rivers rose and spread into new streams as more snow melted down.  Thus, our dry little nature walk turned into something a little more wet than we originally planned.  My father-in-law has a wandering spirit, and he immediately set out crossing random streams.  I followed, and then found myself brought up short by nothing more than a 2 foot wide span of shallow water.  As I looked down at the center rock I was supposed to step on to cross, my mind flipped back to that fateful day last August, and I felt a strange sense of vertigo.  Paranoid?  Who, me?  But Jon was there with me (with Eva on his back this time), and he held my hand as I crossed.  I made it with no seizures.  Obviously.  Anyway, six streamlets later, I was doing fine, though the biggest of them gave me some serious flashbacks.  The whole experience was very similar to the day I had my seizure and fell last fall, but in a sort of alternate reality kind of way.  Fortunately, all I can remember of my previous seizure/stream experience is the before moments of stepping onto that fateful boulder.  It’s mostly a psychological demon—a simple sense of dread.  It’s easy to get over the aftermath when you don’t remember any of it.  Who says losing your memory can’t be a good thing?

Sunday, May 22, 2011


In which our Heroine talks in Church.
 I know it seems like I’ve slacked off on my blogging/writing, but I have actually been writing quite a bit.  Two weeks ago I was asked to prepare a church talk.  And so, just to prove that I’m still working hard, I am going to put said church talk up on my blog as seen below:  If you are not the kind of person that doesn’t want to read an extra sermon or two in your spare time—and I don’t blame you—then skip it and come back another day for other blogging delights. 
Personal Revelation
Talk for Huffman Ward, May 22, 2011
Using as sources:
Personal Revelation: The Teachings and Examples of the Prophets; Elder Robert D. Hales
The Spirit of Revelation; David A. Bednar
Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise; President Boyd K. Packer
D&C 121
Pamphlet from Liberty Jail
                 I’ve been asked to speak on Personal Revelation.  Upon being asked, my first thought was, “Yes, I’d love to share my testimony about this subject!”  I don’t have a fear of public speaking, and the topic is pretty easy—as far as subject matter goes.  However, after reading the first couple of conference talks on personal revelation, it soon became clear to me that this would be valuable learning experience for me.  As I read about the ways to recognize the Spirit, I was humbled to realize how many times I have ignored such promptings.  Specific times were brought to my remembrance when I could have, and should have done better.  On the other hand, I also learned of times when my Heavenly Father has given me unfailing support through personal revelation.  I am truly grateful for the inspired priesthood leaders in our Ward who somehow knew that I needed to study this topic. 
Defining Revelation:
I have a strong testimony of what an amazing gift personal revelation is for each of us.  I am convinced that our Father in Heaven loves us and because of this, he would not cut us off from the heavens.  Daily, members of the church receive instruction, comfort, and direct communication from a merciful and loving Heavenly Father.  Ever since the Restoration—which as we know, began with a moment of personal revelation—we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been blessed with continuous church-wide revelation through our beloved prophets.  Since that time, we have been given the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, in addition to receiving inspired words from General Conference and from our beloved local church leaders on the Stake and Ward level.  I testify that these thoughtful Priesthood leaders are indeed linked in with the heavens and receive constant spiritual guidance on behalf of all of us.  We feel the fruits of this every time we experience the comfort and peace of the Holy Ghost in a church meeting, as well as in many other ways and venues.
We have been promised that the gift of revelation will never again be removed from the earth.  Because we know this to be true, and because we know of Heavenly Father’s love for us, we can be sure that the ways for personal revelation are open to us individually.  Each and every one of us are indeed blessed.
Elder Hales has described personal revelation as “the way we know for ourselves the most important truths of our existence: the living reality of God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ; the truthfulness of the restored gospel; and God’s purpose and direction for us.” 
Elder Bednar described it thus, “Revelation is communication from God to His children on the earth and one of the great blessings associated with the gift and constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The Holy Ghost is a revelator,” and “no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 132).  Elder Bednar continues: “The spirit of revelation is available to every person who receives by proper priesthood authority the saving ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost—and who is acting in faith to fulfill the priesthood injunction to “receive the Holy Ghost.”
That means that every Sunday as we take the Sacrament, we are reminded about this great gift.  Indeed, the words “that they may always have his Spirit to be with Them” tell us that we should be striving toward having the Holy Ghost as a constant companion in our lives and be in a position to receive personal revelation regularly. 
Recognizing and Receiving Promptings
So, how to we get ourselves in that critical position where we can recognize and receive promptings from the Holy Ghost? 
If we are seeking for personal revelation from God, then one of the first things we should consider is prayer.  It is simply said, “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”  Remember that we receive revelation only for ourselves or those under our direct stewardship. 
We must also be living as the Lord directs, working to be obedient to the commandments and the council of our church leaders as much as we possibly can.  We should be obedient in repenting of our sins and taking the sacrament on a regular basis. 
Revelation takes an element of faith.  After all, how can we ask for answers to our questions if we don’t believe that we’ll get them?  The answers to our prayers are revealed according to the Lord’s manner and according to His own schedule.  Sometimes the answers are really not what we expect, and it takes it element of faith to go and do whatever.  Additionally, waiting on revelation can take what is known as a “trial of our faith,” wherein we are tested before sacred truths are imparted.  The Lord must be sure that we are ready to listen.  He gives us experiences that will help us grow to understand his will.
We must be prepared to listen to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit.  This often takes a quiet moment of reflection, or even a piece of action as we strive to fulfill the parts of the Lord’s will that we already understand, whether that be reading the scriptures, serving our neighbors, or listening to church hymns.    
Personal revelation can come to us in many ways.  It can come in the form of testimony, through the mouth of a prophet, by comfort, by feelings of restraint or confirmation, or as pure thought when ideas come into the mind, or in dreams or visions.  Sometimes we are impelled into action by the Spirit.  We can experience any of these, though some will undoubtedly be familiar than others to certain people.  At other times the Lord may wish us to make decisions according to our own judgment, such as those day-to-day more non-consequential things of life. 
Regardless of the means by which the Lord communicates, we have been taught that “Assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive. …

“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

“Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation. …” (D&C 8:1–3.)

Revelation at Liberty Jail:
                There are numerous accounts of personal revelation in the scriptures, but my ultimate favorite is when Joseph Smith received comfort from the Father while in Liberty Jail.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Liberty Jail for the first time.  I thought it a little odd that church members would want to memorialize this site.  I also thought it odd to learn that it had the nickname of “the temple prison.”  The conditions in the jail were harsh, and the charges of treason fabricated.  They had been there for months during the cold winter.  Joseph Smith and his companions were freezing, and sickness was ever at hand.  They were in perpetual gloom as there was little light to see by.  Even worse was the knowledge that their families were being forced from Missouri at the time. 
The pamphlet I saved from my visit there reads “The Historic Jail is a sacred place to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… Liberty Jail was a place of painful refining for Joseph Smith and his companions.  As Joseph tried to pen words of consolation to the suffering saints, revelation and comfort were received.”            
This revelatory occurrence is recorded in D & C 121: 1-3; 7-8:
“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

2How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

 3Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

7And then the answer: My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

8And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

The Lord stands ready to give us revelation.  All we have to do is put ourselves in a position to receive it.  Sometimes, He will even give us difficult experiences that will help to place us in these receptive places, as when Joseph Smith learned comfort from the Holy Ghost in Liberty Jail.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote, “It wasn’t until the prophet was physically confined that his mind was fully liberated… The double walls, four feet thick, kept Joseph and his companions in, but they could not keep the spirit and revelation out.” 
This inward Spiritual positioning often, but not always, requires a “trial of our faith.”  Certainly, the awful conditions of Liberty Jail provided this trial.  But in that moment of great physical darkness came truths of brilliance and clarity, enough that we now name that site as “the temple prison.” 
My Own Temple-Prison, Big and Small Moments:
This last Fall, while recovering from a serious surgery, I spent hours confined in bed, unable to move and in great pain.  I was on heavy medications that prevented me from thinking clearly as well.  From that and other recent problems, my physical and spiritual foundations had been rocked in every way and desperately I yearned for comfort and specific answers to my prayers.  I needed to know what Heavenly Father’s will was for me, and I needed the strength to do it.  After weeks of physical confinement and mental darkness, and what I can easily describe as a serious “trial of my faith,” I finally received answers to my spiritual dilemma.  In one great moment of personal revelation, I had whole sentences from my patriarchal blessing appear in mind.  From that day forward I was able to move on and I healed at a rapid pace.  Despite my drug-induced mental state, I will never forget that moment of clarity and comfort.  At the time, it was the greatest of all the gifts my Heavenly Father could bestow.
 This experience was flanked by other, less impressive, but no less profound bits of inspiration.  One Sunday Priesthood holders brought the sacrament to my home.  I experienced significant feelings of comfort and light for hours afterward, and inexpressible gratitude.  It is one of my favorite Sabbath day memories. 
When listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs over and over again while endlessly lying in bed, I heard the song All Things Bright and Beautiful, and learned that the Lord truly knew every cell in my body and had dominion over them all.  The song How Firm a Foundation taught me that the Lord would succor me “in every condition, in sickness and in health” even “as my days would demand.”  The song I Stand All Amazed reminded me that Jesus Christ had suffered everything I was going through and that he would give me grace through the enabling power of the atonement to get through my most difficult struggles.  I would lean on the revelatory knowledge of my Savior’s love for me for months as I regained my balance and the use of my whole body, struggled with exhaustion, discovered new memory problems, and as my clumsy hands relearned how to change my child’s diapers.
Later in D$C section 121, verses 26-28 it says, “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;
27Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the  fulness of their glory;

28A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld…”

Obviously, not all moments of spiritual revelation are the big Aha! moments.   Sometimes, it is easy to forget that revelation can come in a quiet, understated way.  We often hear stories of the big, flashy moments of insight, but most personal revelation is the quiet and simple kind.  It is the spiritual prompting received by a mother, reminding her to go pick up her kid from school, or for a father as he yearns to spend time with his family.  It’s the nudge telling you to call a friend, or the urgent feeling to get up and bear your testimony in church.  It can be the quiet comfort received after a prayer.  After Eva was born, I found myself sadly unprepared for motherhood in all ways but one: for a short time after her birth I was blessed with a listening stillness in my soul that allowed me to discern from the Spirit the ways to take care of my small baby.  Certainly the Father showed his love for me and my newly born child.  Those were moments of grace as I learned how to hold her from the best tutor imaginable.  
                One of the most important functions of personal revelation, and a reason why we MUST have it, is that it is the way by which we come to know of the truthfulness of Jesus Christ.  We gain our testimonies of his atonement.  From this crucial bit of knowledge we then come to understand the ways by which we and our loved ones can return home to our Heavenly Father.
                For Mika, who is leaving on his mission soon, just one paragraph: Thank you for being a dedicated home teacher to our family.  Because of your faithfulness and obedience in doing such a simple task, I have faith that the Lord will bless you with the important gift of personal revelation.  As you continue to practice your faith and bear your testimony as a missionary, you will come to learn Spiritual truths that will carry you through life.  It will be wonderful.  If you can dedicate yourself fully to this mission, then even your times of hardship will become temple-like moments when you can come to really know and love your Savior.   
My testimony is that revelation is real.  Personal revelation can sustain us through any trial, lead us in courage to do what is right, and greatly help us to understand the Lord’s will for us.  I’ve had a primary song running through my head the last few days.  It says: “When Jesus Christ was baptized / Down in the river Jordan / The Holy Ghost descended as gentle as a dove.”  I am grateful that we have the example of Jesus Christ, that we could be baptized and experience the gift of the Holy Ghost.  We are truly blessed.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jack of All Trades

 In which our Heroine falls in Love (again). 

          I have a new love.  I know I’ve already exhausted the topic, but I am quite ardent about my little seedlings.  In a recent conversation with my mother, I was documenting my various successes as novice gardener.  I was astonished to hear her claim no love for planting seedlings.  Now, I can clearly remember her making a very successful go at corn and carrot seedlings in our garden, but I can’t recall much more about the small plants.  Nevertheless, I nearly dropped the phone at her casual pronouncement.  Not like seedlings?  What’s not to love?
          Thus far in my short gardening career, I can find no greater joy than in buying cheap seed packets (or procuring them for free from family and neighbors), planting them carefully, and then nurturing them along.  Each seedling is a fragile little thing, and I’ll admit that there is great disappointment when they sometimes fail, but to see even one thrive is immensely satisfying.  Something in my chest goes all gloppy and mushy when I spot a new sprout.  I can’t wait to see them grow, grow, grow.  There is a possibility that seeing a mature plant produce fruit will be even better—and if so, then I can’t wait!
          I think I’ve missed my calling in life.  I’ve officially announced to Jon that moving to a place with flat land and ample sunlight would be acceptable—especially if he provides me with a humongous greenhouse.  (Wouldn’t it be great to do this all year long?)  His answer was typical.  It went something like this, “Sounds good… I’ll look into it.” I’m pretty certain that he filed my imaginary huge greenhouse next door to my large art studio, complete with pottery wheel and kiln, which is located somewhere near my personal publishing house, my dairy house (so I can make expensive cheeses at home—no busty dairy maids included), the museum dedicated to my favorite artists and named after yours truly, where I will engage in curatorial ecstasies, oh—and my consummate future collection of the odd instrument, to be played at pending “creativity soirees,” (basically, a big, well-catered party based solely on my favorite themes, which may occasionally change from time to time).  Am I really asking for so much?

Friday, May 13, 2011

How to Build an Ugly Greenhouse

In which our Heroine waxes Eloquent on Greenhouse Structures. 

There are a gazillion good instruction sets out there on the internet for those who want to build a real greenhouse.  I really suggest you go find one of those sites instead of reading this blog post.  But if you’re in the market for a temporary, under $25 kind of structure, this is the way to do it.  Mind, it’s not pretty, and strong winds will tear the sucker apart, but hopefully you’ll get a few seedlings out of the deal.  Besides, who wants this ugly thing sitting in their teensy back yard all summer?
1.       Buy some PVC pipe and some clear plastic stuff.  Do try to plan your structure out beforehand.  Otherwise, you’ll be building it in the middle of the plumbing isle at Home Depot with your toddler in tow. 
2.       When at the checkout, make sure the high-school-aged employee has actually scanned ALL the items—especially when discussing the enthralling subject of PVC-built geodesic domes.  Otherwise, your nagging conscience will force you to pay this unlikely store a second visit in the same day.  (Seriously, though, that kid deserves a raise for his awesomeness of conversation.  No harm done anyway, because the customer service lady was so shocked at my honesty that she gave me the whole caboodle for free!)  And my conscience is clear.
3.       Build the PVC part.  It’s almost as fun as legos.  You will know how to do this if your mom was cool enough to have put PVC lengths and joints in your toy box as a child.
4.       If needed, tape your two pieces of plastic stuff together.  If you are smart enough to plan in a doorway (tent old-school style), then don’t tape 6 feet at the end.  Oops. 
5.       Draw the plastic over the top of the PVC framework.  Don’t be afraid to use random junk leftover from the previous owners of your house to weigh down the plastic.
6.       Put some old cardboard down on the floor so weeds don’t take over completely.
7.       Stick your little seedlings, and etc…, inside.
Ah, the life and times of the newbie gardener.  After a bad spell with half of my seedlings “damping off,” I have since replanted.  Some of the better seedlings have made it into larger transplanting containers as well.  My mother-in-law hacked off a section of her rhubarb root ball, which is now planted in a not-so-great place in my back yard—but hey, it’s rhubarb—it can handle it.  I have infiltrated the neighboring Methodist Church’s parking lot to destroy an offending bush before it tried to rip up the remainder of my pathetic fence.  I now have a little, ugly greenhouse which allows my Alaskan backyard to feel about 90 degrees Fahrenheit in a 4 by 5 foot space, even though it is actually only 60 degrees outside.  Also you’ll see my new flagstone area to the left of Ugly Greenhouse No. 1 in the photo.  All items for the flagstone thingy were found objects—and thusly were free, minus back-breaking labor.  Incidentally, I may leave the unsightly mess of PVC and plastic up all summer and even into the fall so my late-planted vegetables have a shot of making it.  I will string Christmas lights into the structure when extra heat is needed.  Knowing Alaska, this may happen as early as August.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Digging in the Hot Sun

In which our Heroine searches for her Verve. 

I woke up tired today and stayed that way.  I thought I was done with this nonsense.  I haven’t had a hard day like this since February (when I was battling a terrible cold while traveling through four western states).  Today, even my nap didn’t refresh.  It is so demoralizing to wake up twice within the same day and feel so very weary each time.  I found myself facing a whole day of zombie-dom.  What to do, what to do?
The idiotic part of my brain decided that the best thing would be to go dig things up in the back yard for a few hours under the pretense that the bright sun would jolt the exhaustion right out of me.  The digging part was probably a bad idea, but it is nice to feel like I’ve scored a little against a few hundred of the little chickweed seedlings, which are actually thriving much better than my future vegetable garden, by the way.  I managed to find some flagstones hidden beneath a thin layer of chickweed and I determined to dig them out and slide them on top of the verdant chickweed.  Small progress—it may take me a week to finish this particular job.  I did have some good fun shearing back my lilac bushes with my new titanium-tipped (or something) shears.  Man, those things can really slice.  There’s nothing like wielding a bit of dangerous equipment for putting the verve right back into a person.    

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Berry, Berry, Quite Contrary

In which our Lady reports on how Her Garden does Grow. 

Proverbially speaking, wheat berries are quite the nut to crack.  After four, or is it five(?) days soaking, my jar was finally ready to use last night.  Here is my process: I soaked the berries in water for four days, rinsed 2-3 times daily, until there were quarter inch sprouts.  I have done two things with them. I have added thoroughly soaked wheat berries into my second mix of bread dough.  I also just made up a wheat berry cooked cereal for Eva and me today.  It was, of course, mixed with the obligatory yummy stuff all toddlers require: apple slices, brown sugar, some butter, and milk.  It was quite tasty for an (almost) impromptu meal.  To report on the first batch of freshly baked bread, tried from Cari’s recipe (see last post and post comments):  It was awesome.  I really enjoyed it—so much that I almost ate the whole thing on my own. 
My little seedlings are coming along quite well.  The Siberian tomatoes that I’ve been waiting to plant for the last three months are… difficult to seed.  I can now see why my much wiser older brother Todd insisted that I plant the Oregon Spring variety.  Those suckers sprouted right up without a hitch—now we’ll just have to see if they produce.  The lettuce and herbs are also ridiculously easy so far.  Also, my mother-in-law has given me two new houseplants.  (Never say the elder generations haven’t done anything for you).  And I have 4 little starts for houseplants coming right along.  I’m beginning to really like growing things, if only because using seeds and plant starts is an incredibly thrifty way spend a little creative energy with the end result of making my house, and  by extension my life, into a friendlier and healthier environment. 
On the subject of my home: I have friends who are always searching for ways to make their lives more fulfilling or exciting.  They search for more prestigious and well-paying jobs, shop for better clothes, etc…  They spend a lot of time filling their lives with many things, from entertainment to excess clutter.  I sometimes feel that they question my lifestyle choices as a stay-at-home mother who drifts through life baking bread and starting seedlings.  But I will say this: I am content with my little garden.  Cancer really shows you what is important.  My religion, the focus on my marriage, child, and home—along with a little creative outlet—make me happy.  It doesn’t take much besides, health, stability, and love.  May my future be filled with the simplicity of greenery and the deliciousness of artisan bread.