Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pietà: Holden's Sacrament Meeting Talk

                                Pietà: Holden's Sacrament Meeting Talk (4/30/2017)

This past month I had the opportunity to go Vatican City and see St. Peter’s Basilica. This was the capital of the Catholic faith and where St Peter is supposed to have been crucified. As you could imagine, the line reflected its importance. We waited for some time, wondering whether the Basilica was all it was cracked up to be.  The main reason we wanted to go into the basilica was to see Michelangelo’s Pietà. I had heard about this sculpture for a long time because it was one of my mom’s favorites, but to actual see it was completely different from hearing about it. As we entered the basilica we quickly found the statue. It was even more beautiful than I imagined. The Pietà depicts a youthful Mary cradling Jesus after he came down from the cross. It centers on Mary as she stares down at her son, whom she loved and raised through his childhood. Mary’s robes flowed around Jesus like cloth though it was solid stone. To see the anguish of Mary in this way helped me understand, in the smallest part, how devastating such an event could be to someone who raised and loved him. The beauty of the sculpture wasn’t its precision or smoothness but that it captures a person and who they are. It wasn’t a snapshot of an event but a snapshot of a person’s character. This got me thinking about Mary and I wanted to understand the context of the piece.  On the trip my Mom had the kids read a biographical account of Michelangelo. In the book it describes Michelangelo’s first piece he ever did, which was a marble relief of Mary and the Jesus as a child. The piece is known as Madonna of the Stairs.  What was so significant about the relief was that it didn’t focus on Jesus but instead, on Mary. It depicts Mary clutching Jesus to her breast with Jesus’ back to the audience. In the book it describes, “Could so important a task. . . have been forced on Mary without her knowledge and consent? Surely God must have loved Mary above all women on earth to choose her for this divine task? Must He have told her the plan, related every step of the way from Bethlehem to Calvary? And in his wisdom and mercy have allowed her the opportunity to reject it?” Michelangelo wanted to capture the decision of accepting to raise Jesus even though she probably knew where his life would leave. Of the little we know of Mary, we know she would keep “all these things, and [ponder] them in her heart” (Luke 2:19) and Simeon prophesied at Jesus’ naming that “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” when speaking of Jesus’ death. (Luke 2:35). It was this moment that Mary decided to accept his son’s mission and prepare him and trust in him and God. The Pietà was created when Michelangelo was twenty-three, six years after The Madonna of the Stairs. The word Pietà is an Italian word that means both religious duty, or piety, but can also mean compassion and mercy. The sculpture captures Mary’s understanding that the decision she made with a suckling Jesus, has now been completed. She had done what the God had asked of her and she gave up her Son to save all of mankind.
            Mary’s decision to give up her son, can be an example to us as to how we can accept him. This acceptance is our conversion to God’s plan for us. But, in order to understand what it means to be converted to the Lord, we must find the answer to two important questions. These questions were asked by Saul on his was to Damascus. As Saul was preparing to imprison many Christians for their beliefs, a light fell on him and from the light Saul heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul’s question to the “voice” was “who art thou, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) and the voice responded, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:5). It is in this moment that Saul realizes that he had been fighting against God and his people, but instead of begging forgiveness or being paralyzed with shock, he asks a question that would mark a turning point in his conversion “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” The two questions that would redefine Saul into Paul the apostle were about the Lord’s identity, what would He have us do after we learn of Him. For Mary, The Madonna of the Stairs captures her pondering who Jesus is and who he would become. She accepts that her Son “must be about [his] Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). She had to accept that Jesus would eventually have to leave her and fulfill his mission as the Messiah. Once she understands the gravity of her Son’s mission, she acts and has complete trust in him.
            It is Mary’s act of trust that helps Nephi with his understanding 600 years previous to Christ’s birth. As Nephi is trying to understand his father’s vision, he is caught into a vision and is shown the tree which his father saw. The Spirit asks him what does he desire. Nephi responds to know what the tree means. To help Nephi understand what the tree means, the Spirit shows him Nazareth, Jerusalem, and a number of cities. Then, Nephi is shown “A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” Their conversion continues as follows:
“Knowest thou the condescension of God?”
“I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things”
“Behold. . . the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.”
Here, Nephi see Mary holding Jesus in her arms as a child. The spirit asks “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” to which Nephi responds “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” What is interesting about this exchange is that Nephi didn’t know what the tree of life represented and in response he is, essentially, just shown Mary with Jesus. He didn’t see the Atonement, the Crucifixion, or Christ healing and teaching. By seeing Jehovah coming down to Earth through a virtuous mortal mother, he understands the love of God in a new way.  He begins to understand that God would make “flesh [Christ’s] tabernacle.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:4) Nephi begins to understand, through Mary’s motherhood of the Son of God, God’s love for his children. Shortly after Lehi’s death, Nephi gives the “Psalm of Nephi” where he cries out “O wretched man that I am!” (2 Nephi 4:17) Even though Nephi had done much in faith for the Lord, it takes his father’s death and the passage of the prophetical mantle to himself that he seems to understand the mercy of God. He says, “O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?” (2 Nephi 4: 26) “Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.” (2 Nephi 4:35). Nephi’s heart begins to turn as he sees and understands the Lord and is able to answer the question “who art thou, Lord?”
            For me, I began to see the answer to my own plea of “who art thou, Lord?” last year. I was preparing a lesson for the Priest’s quorum on building a relationship with our Heavenly Father but I was also going through a hard time myself and I felt alone. In preparation of the lesson I studied Enoch’s experience in Moses when he sees the Lord weeping. Enoch asks how can he weep seeing he is God and the Lord responds that he weeps over his children when they choose wrong and “hate their own blood.” This showed that God weeps for us but that one of God’s greatest sacrifices was letting us reject him so we can learn to accept him. When I gave the lesson, I felt the Spirit so strongly as it testified that God was willing to let himself suffer as he watches his children reject him so we can be happier. I got home and went to my room and began one of the most sincere prayers of my life in gratitude for God’s gift of choice. I barely begun the prayer when I began to cry. It felt like someone had their arm around me comforting me, weeping with me. My gratitude had never been fuller as I felt the love of God truly for the first time. That experience has served the basis of my faith so that I too, can say like Nephi “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
            But knowing God is only the first step. The second question we must ask is “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” This can become the harder of the two because we have to accept whatever we are given. Our faith and acceptance in Christ as our Savior only comes when we submit ourselves to his Will. As Christ said to his Apostle Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke: 22:32). Alma the younger, who had been converted after suffering the agonies of Hell for three days was able to feel the ecstasy of Heaven, but he didn’t stop there.  He tells his son Helaman, “Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” We too must be willing to “[labor] without ceasing” and “strengthen our brethren” so we can complete our conversion which turns to the salvation of others.  As Mary said when hearing her role to become the Mother of the Son of God she replies in total humility, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
Conversion is when we accept that Christ is our Savior, and as we understand it, we become more willing to do what he asks. We have to accept who he is and what he would have us do. Michelangelo’s Pietà shows the completion of Mary’s acceptance. She gave up her firstborn son and accepted him wholly. As Paul wrote, “we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17) Mary is an example to us of what it means to suffer with Christ, but this suffering isn’t the end. Paul continues, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18). Mary, as she cradles her son, had completed her mission with a love for her Son and love of God. We can have hope that God will help those he calls. We can remember that “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”
 I hope we can learn from Mary and Paul what we need to do to complete our own conversion. So that we can ask, and search the answers to, “Who art thou, Lord” and “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” As we learn to love our Lord, we will be comforted through the sacrifices needed of us and we will find joy in the work of the Lord. As Alma recalls about our the word, and work, of God, “it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” I know that our conversion is a steady and progressive process that requires study and action, but through our efforts we will be “glorified together” and find communion with God.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Volume XII, issue vi, June 2016

Father, Where Art Thou

On Father's Day this year, as the kids were scarfing down the chocolate chip cookies that Eric had requested for his big day, Peter offered Eric a homemade gift. It consisted of carefully folded paper, decorative string, and precisely placed paper clips.

Peter grinned as Eric looked at it quizzically and explained, "It's art!"

See Better, Chuck

Unbeknownst to Eric and me, while we were lumbering along in our massive Suburban, Charlie chunked a large piece of Rice Krispie Treat on the floor in the back of the car.

As witness to his crime, Ethan told him, "Charlie, that was a bad choice."

Charlie looked completely nonplussed and shrugged, "No it wasn't. Mom didn't see it. Dad didn't see it. So it wasn't bad."

Ethan retorted, "Well. . . I saw it and I'm going to tell Mom and Dad."

Charlie was so shocked that he had no response.

The Tip of the Rexburg

Because of our heavy vacation plans in July, we signed the kids up for swimming lessons in June this year. Unfortunately for all of us (the swimming teacher included), we only have an outdoor pool for lessons and poor little Rexburg doesn't realize it's summer until mid-July. Our poor kids shivered their way through a series of freezing cold lessons with smiles on their blue lips. We were quite relieved when I didn't have to layer them in swimming suits, towels, jackets, and a good pep talk just so they could survive being cute little ice cubes every morning.

Just for Kicks

Eve, Peter, and Marie also got to play soccer on some chilled and soggy fields this month. Because Peter and Marie are close in age, I snuck them onto the same team so that we'd only have a measly 4 games to attend each week.
 When I signed Eve up for soccer this year, I assumed that there would be an even number of girls and boys on her team. When we arrived at her first practice, however, she was the only female in attendance.

My normally feisty daughter surprised me when she looked at me with wide eyes and whispered, "Please don't make me do this."

 I gently nudged her onto the practice field and whispered back, "You'll be glad you did this. Trust me."

By her first game, I proudly watched as my girl tromped down the field with her typical Eve-like confidence and kept up with every single boy on her team. She didn't seem the least bit intimidated by any of them. That's my girl! By her second game, we discovered that there was another girl on her team that happens to be one of Eve's friends, but by then Eve didn't mind too much.

May the Force Be Matthew

It was our nephew, Matthew's birthday this month, and we always try and make him an extra special gift to celebrate. His newly discovered love for all things Star Wars combined with the fact that he's old enough to start building blanket forts gave us the idea to combine these two things that we adore. Once I got started on the personalized glittering sheets and started sewing the bag to hold his supplies, I couldn't stop myself from making some matching PJ's. (When you've got the crafty force with you, it's really hard to control sometimes.)
As proud as I obviously am of my contributions to the birthday boy, I'm even more elated about the cards our kids drew for their little padawan cousin. (For example, coming up with the phrase, "Happy SITH Birthday" for a cousin turning 6. How could I not do a Chewbacca roar of pride?)

Before assembling the items for Matthew's fort kit, our panel of seven very serious product testers helped me make sure that we had included all of the hooks and strings and blankets Matthew would need to build the perfect fort by creating their own ginormous fort. With Caleb at the helm, the kids constructed and reconstructed their blanket fort until it was sturdy enough to satisfy them.
They made it look so fun, that one by one all of us crept inside it and giggled and told stories. When Eric got home, he found the rest of us crammed lovingly inside the fort and he said, "Hey! I want to come inside too!" The kids really wanted all of us to sleep together in the fort, but we told them someone had to protect all of our valuables upstairs.
Our time in the fort really got us into the camping spirit, so despite the wind and threatening rain, we roasted hot dogs and did what we always refer to as "d'Evegnée camping." We could feel intermittent raindrops as we were eating, so we gobbled up the last of our smores right before we had to take cover inside.

One Crazy Summer

Holden caught the travel bug this month and spent three weeks in three different states. He went from an Orchestra competition at Disneyland to Boys' State in Boise to the National Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City. He'd come home late at night at the end of each week just in time to wave both hello and goodbye before washing his clothes so he could repack them and move onto the next big event.

At the National Debate Tournament, he was able to go further than any other Madison High Schooler has before in Lincoln Douglas, and he made it to the top 50 in the country. Needless to say, we got to tell him how proud we were of him in July when he finally woke up after catching up on all of his lost sleep.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Volume XII, issue v, May 2016

The Cinco-eth Cinco de Charlie

Five years ago, we welcomed our baby burrito to the family fiesta! Even though I happened to be the pinata that day, it was one of the happiest I've had.

My El Guapito and I decided to celebrate with a little photo shoot. Those blue eyes earn him way more cookies and hugs than they probably should, but can you blame this love-struck Mamacita? 

Charlie-isms of the Month

I was attempting to rush Prince Charles out the door so I could get to class, and he paused his overly-imaginative play and said, "Should I use Super Speed?"

I nodded enthusiastically, and my thoughtful blonde speed-demon asked, "What day is it?"

Knowing there was a Charlie-worthy punchline just ahead, I told him that it was Wednesday.

He said, "Oh. I can only use Super Speed on Thursdays and Saturdays."

* * * 

When Eric opened up Charlie's bedroom door, he awoke him with some melodious Daddy tune. Charlie sat up in his bed, frowned, and silently gave Eric a thumbs-down. 

Holden Goes to Prom

Holden's date is one of his closest friends, but apparently he didn't feel too comfortable getting too close. Her Mom and her Dad were posing the cheerful little couple and kept trying to get Holden to put his arm around their daughter or to make some sort of definable physical contact. At one point, her Dad pushed Holden's levitating hand onto his date's shoulder so it wasn't hovering two inches in the air. 

His date's own Mother invited Holden to place his hand around her waist, and you can see from the photo that his hand is actually not anywhere near her body--it is in a G-rated galaxy far, far away.

I showed the squeaky clean photo to our Bishop at church the next Sunday to prove to him that his chastity lessons are certainly doing their job. 

Oh Captain, My Captain

My two Orvals have been on my mind--one a grandfather and one a son. Both masters of language and skilled debaters. Both introverts to the core. Both willing to look outward if it helps someone else. I look forward to the day my two Orvals meet so they can swap stories and revel in their kindred kinship. 

Since starting debate last year, Holden's dream has been to be the overall speech and debate captain for his senior year, but when it came down to it, he didn't even apply for the position because one of his good friends had applied. I kept needling him (in a kind, maternal way, of course) to apply for the position, but he refused. He applied to be the captain of just the debate team instead. 

Holden came home after the debate teams' end-of-the-year party looking downcast. They had announced who all of the debate and speech captains for next year would be and his sad face had me worried. 

He told me the dramatic tale about how they announced each of the captainships and someone else had been chose as the debate captain. I doubled his drama with my own gasp. I couldn't believe it.

He continued, "And then. . . they announced the overall Speech and Debate Captain and the coach said my name." He looked at me sheepishly as he realized that perhaps he had taken it a little too far for his poor Mother.

I smacked him a few times before I gave him several big hugs of congratulations. 

I'm sure his namesake is both empathetic and proud.

Thank You, Elizabeth Cady Stanton!

My pre-Mothers' Day gift today was better than a whole garden of flowers and rooms full of chocolates. My oldest boy just strutted home after his AP History test and gave me a bear hug and a thank you for "all those conversations" that helped him write his main essay which happened to be about the Women's Rights Movement between 1945-1974. Who knew that years of cozy, casual mother and son moments about the value of women would help him earn college credit?

(And PS: Did you know that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was also a proud mother of seven in addition to all of her amazing political and social success?)

Feeling Overprogrammed

The frenzy of finale festivities included everything from sewing French chemist's lab coats to turning a Batman costume inside out to double as an ensemble for a third of the 3 Blind Mice (I. . . am. . . Ratman).  We assembled Mexican outfits and patriotic costumes. We outfitted a raw egg for a 25 foot drop (which it survived, by the way. No Humpty Dumpty at our house this year). We made cakeballs that looked like Neptune (luckily we didn't have the planet Uranus [Oh my goodness! That is such an old, horrible joke, but it makes me laugh every time! I am such a bad person). There were recitals and AP tests and programs and we lived to see another school year end triumphantly. We survived both pageantry and the homework. And we are so grateful to welcome a summer full of simple learning and reading and practicing and celebrating. . . with no scheduled event-based performances. 

A Plethora of Potter Parties
I'm over the Lupin moon about this one. (This will illustrate why I can't sleep when my brain is buzzing while I'm planning parties. . . it's kind of a curse.) We've had more than one Harry Potter themed soirée this month, and this is what we had for dessert to celebrate Sybill Trelawney and the power of Chocolate Divination. The chocolate crystal ball revealed a heart for love, a chocolate gold coin for riches, a sour patch kid for children, a grim-looking animal cracker, or a gummy shark for. . . death by shark. (And the ice cream hidden inside didn't hurt their future happiness either.)

We had a celebration with some good friends because they had also finished Book 3 of the series with their kids this month, Caleb's birthday party, Eve's End of the Year Party, and several Family Home Evening groups from Eric's ward on campus this month, so we decided to make each and every one of them Harry Potter themed. The Platform 9 and 3/4 sign on our door has been up so often our Muggle neighbors probably think that we're a bit magically muddled!

Our Family Home Evening lessons with the BYU-Idaho students even had a Harry Potter theme. We decided to talk about our relationship with God and compared when Moses finds out he's a son of God to when Harry finds out he's a wizard.

I hadn't warned Marie I was going to ask her any questions in front of the students because I wanted her responses to be genuine and unrehearsed.

When I asked her how Harry felt when he found out he was a wizard, she gave her trademark thoughtful look and said, "Well. . . it was like Harry knew he was a wizard in his heart, but he couldn't quite believe it in his head. So he just had to get his heart to trust his head and believe."

There was a long pause before we could go on with the lesson. 

Luckily our dear friends, the Wilsons, love Harry Potter as much as we do and could celebrate The Prisoner of Azkaban with us!

Our own little Hedwig delivered the invitations. It can't possibly get any cuter than this. My heart will explode.
My Dumbledore was feeling guilty that he got home late the night of Eve's party, so I had just the right amount of leverage to make him dress up to greet our party guests ( I was so glad he was late!). 

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