The War in Heaven

This week we had a family home evening lesson about birthdays as we’re entering birthday season in our household (Eric’s birthday was yesterday, his dad’s birthday is on Friday, Sam’s birthday is on Monday and Daniel’s will be in April).  The lesson pointed out that part of having a birthday is that we’re celebrating the decision we made in the pre-existence to come to earth and get a body.  It made me think of something that I learned in one of my religion classes that made me think differently about the whole war in heaven.  One of my religion professors (I can’t remember which one any more, I think it was Brother Bott) pointed out to our class a couple things that I’d never thought of before.  One was that when we talk about the War in Heaven we often talk about Jesus’ plan vs Satan’s plan.  But my teacher pointed out that the plan that Jesus was promoting wasn’t His plan, it was Heavenly Father’s plan – Jesus was just promoting what Heavenly Father had asked us to do.  The other thing he pointed out is that when we were choosing sides in the War in Heaven, it wasn’t a vote.  Even if every single one of Heavenly Father’s children had chosen Satan’s plan we still wouldn’t have done that plan.  Because Satan’s plan couldn’t work.  The only way for us to get back to Heavenly Father’s presence was for us to come here to earth and make choices that would return us to live with Him again.  Choosing Satan’s plan would be like us saying – we should all get to become awesome Michael Phelps-esque swimmers, but we don’t want to have to practice or eat right or do any of those things, we just want to show up at the Olympics.  Even if we all voted that it was a good plan, none of us would arrive at the Olympics as amazing swimmers.  It’s a nice idea, but it wouldn’t work because we wouldn’t have put in the work to become those amazing swimmers.  It’s the same way with Satan’s plan.  He was saying, “We should all become like Heavenly Father, but we shouldn’t have to do the kinds of things He did to get to where he is, we should just all go, get bodies and that’s all we really need to be like Heavenly Father.”  It’s a nice idea, but it wouldn’t work.  We needed the experiences we would have here to learn and grow and become like Heavenly Father – we were missing a lot more than just bodies.

Somehow before that I’d always thought of it as a democracy.  The war was that we wanted it one way, they wanted it another way and we were fighting so that our plan would win.  But as we learned this I realized that Satan’s plan was no plan at all.  What we were fighting for was just for the opportunity to come here and get bodies and have this experience.  I’m sure that even if only one spirit had wanted this opportunity Heavenly Father would have provided it for them, but we were fighting for our brothers and sisters to come and do the same.  The war wasn’t to see who would get the most votes, it was to see who would stand up for the right and come to the earth.  Brother Bott also pointed out that in the scriptures it says that “a third part” of the hosts of heaven followed Satan, and not as we usually think of it 1/3 of the hosts of heaven.  He hypothesized that maybe rather than actually 33.3333% of the hosts of heaven it was that we were split into three factions – those who chose Heavenly Father’s plan, those who chose Satan’s plan, and those who were on the fence.  The war was for those who hadn’t made up their mind to get them to one side or the other.  An interesting thought.  I don’t know that it changes my concept of the war in heaven as much, but it is interesting to think that either way it wasn’t a vote of 2:1 that gave us the opportunity to come to this earth and gain bodies, but choosing the only side that could give us that opportunity.

You Are Not Alone

Last night I was reading in the Old Testament and came across a passage that I found very interesting. I was reading in 1 Kings about Elijah. After he performed his great miracle of having a wet sacrifice consumed by fire he by the Lord, he is left alone, fleeing from Queen Jezebel who desires his life. The following exchange happens between Elijah and the Lord. In verse 4 Elijah “… requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my lifeAfter all that has happened Elijah feels that he has done enough and is ready to call the game finished. Further along in verse 14 we gain some more insight as to why – “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” He says he has left all alone, that there aren’t any followers of the Lord left and there obviously is nothing left for him to do in the Kingdom of Israel. This seems reasonable, at this point what is left for him to do, he’s been standing up to the King and Queen of Israel who want him dead and no one else has been standing by his side. However in verse 18 the Lord tells him “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel”. What a difference between Elijah feeling like he’s the only one left and the Lord telling him that there are 7000 people in Israel who have been faithful followers of the Lord this whole time!

This passage impressed me. How often do we feel alone or abandoned, thinking maybe what we’re doing has no value or will never be enough? I think more than ever at these times we need to turn to the Lord and realize that we are not alone. Even if it seems we’re the only one fighting for the right, we need to realize that there are likely thousands of others who are quietly living out their own lives of devotion and that we are not alone.

The Miracle of the Cody Muffins

Today my brother Cody enters the Missionary Training Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to begin his two year mission preaching the gospel in Spanish to the people in the area of Morristown, New Jersey.  I am so proud of him.  In the picture above you’ll see over 80 muffins that I made in honor of my little brother receiving his mission call.  Ever since I can remember my brother has had the nickname “Cody Muffin”, so making muffins for his mission call opening party seemed appropriate.  I don’t know why we call him Cody muffin, but the name stuck.  He even has a song that goes along with this nickname.

Cody Muffin (sung to the tune of the Indiana Jones theme song)

Cody muffin, Cody boy

Cody muffin, Cody muf-fin boy

Cody muffin, Cody boy

Cody muffin, the muffin, the muffin of boy

Yes, we’re very creative lyricists in my family 😛  As he was playing basketball in high school this nickname spread as they called him “The Muffin Man” and we’d joke about “Do you know the Muffin Man?”  But the nickname itself isn’t what I wanted to write about.  As I was making several dozen muffins for my brother I realized that me baking muffins for Cody is nothing short of a miracle and I wanted to share with you the miracle of the Cody muffins.

When my mom was pregnant with Cody she started having severe pain in her stomach when she was about 6 months along.  She went to her doctor a few times and the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her so he sent her home saying “Well Mrs. Anderson, pregnancy can cause pain sometimes.”  This rather ticked my mom off as this was her fourth pregnancy; she pretty well knew that pregnancy could cause pain, and that this particular pain was NOT normal.  Finally the doctors figured out that she had a kidney stone, and not just your regular run-of-the-mill kidney stone, but a stone that was about 1cm in diameter.  In terms of kidney stones that was a veritable boulder.  She couldn’t pass it normally and they couldn’t do anything about it surgically until after the baby was born.  So she was stuck for the last three months of her pregnancy with this extreme pain that they couldn’t do anything about.  They put her on codeine and bed rest for the last few months of her pregnancy.  We joke that Cody is so named for the codeine that made it so our mom could continue her pregnancy without dying in pain, but my parents insist they had liked the name before my mom was given the drug.  During that time my family was so blessed by our friends and neighbors who helped take care of us.  I remember there was one lady who would come over and make me a lunch to take to school every day.  I don’t actually remember if she came over every day or what but she would always make me a ham sandwich.  To this day I still don’t care for ham sandwiches and I attribute that dislike to an overabundance of ham sandwiches at that time.  But I now realize more clearly what a simple but incredible act of service that was for her to make my lunch every day so my mom could take care of herself at this time.

Finally on 19 December 1993, Cody Allen Anderson was born, 3 weeks before his due date.  He had some difficulties at first so he was placed in the NICU until he was strong enough to come home.  After coming home my mom could tell that Cody had difficulties she hadn’t seen with her other children.  He would break out in hives and had a very difficult time breathing.  The doctor put him on Nutramagen, a special hypo-allergenic formula that was very expensive but kept Cody from having these reactions.  My mom knew he had allergies, but the conventional wisdom at the time was that people didn’t develop allergies until they were at least 2 or 3 years old, so my mom couldn’t even get a referral to an allergist from Cody’s doctor.  When they finally did get him in Cody was diagnosed with some severe allergies and asthma.  There were three things that Cody absolutely could not eat or he would need to be hospitalized almost immediately – eggs, milk and peanuts.  His airways would close up and he would go into anaphylactic shock.  My mom started having to carry around an epi-pen in case of any severe reactions and even though it was only the mid-90s, my parents were early adopters of cell phones so that they could be reached any time in case Cody had a reaction to something.  Cody was also more mildly allergic to a wide variety of other things – wheat, rice, soy, corn, grass, dust, mold… you name it.  In other people they would have considered these to be substantial allergies, but compared to his trifecta of anaphylactic allergies these were almost disregarded.  Feeding Cody was a very difficult task because so many basic things were off limits.  He ended up most of the time eating things that he *was* allergic to, but not as severely as the major allergies because there was so much off limits that it was hard to find something that worked.

A good example of Cody’s allergies – for his first birthday my mom realized that she wouldn’t be able to make him a birthday cake.  So instead of cake she opted to make him some red Jell-o.  However if you look at the pictures of Cody’s first birthday you’ll notice he has dark circles around his eyes and some hives.  We found out that day that Cody was allergic to Red 40, a common dye in many foods.

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As the years went on we got used to living with Cody’s food allergies.  We became experts at reading food labels and knowing that dextrose meant that there was milk inside (this was before the advent of common allergens being listed out separately and clearly at the bottom of the labels).  One of our favorite Cody allergy stories happened when Cody was 4.  My mom found him walking around eating a peanut butter chocolate chip granola bar, an obvious choice for something Cody could NOT have (remember anaphylaxis for peanuts and milk?).  She told him to hand it over, that he couldn’t eat it, and Cody told her “Don’t worry mom, Zach checked the ingredients!”  Zach, of course, was Cody’s best friend, who was at the time 3 and obviously had no reading capabilities and certainly was not a qualified choice for an ingredient checker.

Of course, being limited in what he could eat was difficult on his little growing body.  Despite having great athletic talents Cody wasn’t growing and developing as quickly or healthily as we’d have liked.  He was cheerful and a delight to be around, but he constantly had Benadryl in his system making him tired and not as capable as he would have liked.

When Cody turned 8 he was baptized, as most children in our church are.  After the baptism our dad had the privilege of laying his hands on Cody’s head to confirm him a member of the church and give him the gift of the Holy Ghost.  At this time it’s also customary for the person performing the confirmation to give a blessing to the person who has just been baptized.  As my dad was giving this blessing he suddenly stopped speaking.  He had a really long pause and we all started furtively looking around the room wondering what was going on.  Then, my dad started crying and we were really wondering what was happening.  Then he pronounced in his blessing that the allergies that had plagued his body for so long would no longer affect him the way they had.  There was a collective jaw drop and a sort of stunned moment for everyone there.  Typically blessings of this magnitude are not part of a confirmation, usually more general knowing the love of our father in heaven, being a good example to siblings, maintaining righteousness etc.  Not that those aren’t awesome blessings as well, but they don’t have the same sort of effect.  Everyone in that room knew about Cody’s allergies, heck, pretty much anyone who had ever met Cody knew about his allergies and it was an incredible thing for him to have been blessed with.

After the baptism day we all went home and pondered this declaration of healing.  It’s something we all knew and believed was possible, but not something we were expecting to witness that day.  Ironically, before the baptism I remember my parents discussing how they weren’t sure how prepared Cody was for baptism.  He’s not a super deep kind of guy, and that started from when he was pretty young.  What you get from Cody is pretty much all surface level.  Which isn’t a bad thing, I think what you get right there at the surface is pretty awesome, but he’s not one to go and sit and ponder on the things of the universe.  My parents weren’t totally sure that he’d done the sort of thinking about this choice as they thought it would merit.

The next day was a fast Sunday and we agreed as a family that we would fast to figure out the meaning of this great blessing.  The blessing hadn’t been that he was completely healed of his allergies but that they wouldn’t affect him as they had.  So we all fasted the next day.  We decided that what we would fast for was that if what the blessing meant was that he really could eat just whatever he wanted that he would have a desire to eat the foods.  That might sound silly, a kid who has been refused these things all his life and we’re asking that if he *wants* to eat them that’s an answer?  But you have to understand, these foods could have killed him the day before.  Only a week or so previously he had accidentally touched some ranch dressing at a class party and despite having the dressing washed right off he had hives breaking out all up and down his body.  The idea of eating something like that was incredibly frightening.  It would be like wanting to eat ice cream laced with cynide.

At the end of the day as we were breaking our fast Cody came up to my mom with a container of yogurt and asked my mom if he could eat it.  She asked him if he wanted to, which he said yes to and so she let him eat it.  I’d like to say that we all had perfect faith at that point and didn’t think too much of it, but the truth is that we all took mental note of where the epi-pen was, calculated how much Benadryl he would need and considered whether or not we should just hop in the car right away to go to the hospital.  But as we watched him with great trepidation… nothing happened.  We watched for the hives that we knew so well to break out – nothing.  We listened for his asthmatic breathing to get really bad – it didn’t.  We looked for any sign that we were wrong to have believed that this could happen – and we came up empty.  Cody truly had been healed in a way that can be described as nothing short of miraculous.

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Later Cody told my parents that as he was under the water being baptized he’d had the thought that if baptism could wash away his sins then it could wash away this trial from him as well.  We also found out that his sweet best friend Zach had been praying every night that Cody could get better from his allergies.  Oh the faith of little children!

The few weeks following Cody’s baptism were nothing short of a celebration for those who knew what had happened.  That night we attended a baptism for a young woman who had recently converted to our faith.  Afterwards they had the traditional open house with different refreshments.  The mother of the young woman noted to a family friend afterwards, “There was a little boy there who looked so happy, you’d think he’d never had a cookie before in his life!”  Little did that mom know at the time, he really hadn’t had a cookie before in his life.  Different friends called dibs on taking Cody out for different firsts.  His first cheeseburger, his first ice cream, his first time eating scrambled eggs.  His descriptions for the different foods were mind blowing, things that we take so much for granted were a whole new world for him.  It was an incredible experience.

In the years that have followed we’ve come to better understand why Cody was blessed that his allergies wouldn’t affect him the way they had rather than that he was completely healed.  While the foods that were so toxic to him before have diminished, there are still a very few things that can cause him the same distress as before, mainly almonds and walnuts.  He still has some minor asthma and is allergic to cats, but comparatively this is NOTHING when viewed in light of what his problems once were.

So the miracle of the Cody muffins?  A few months ago I had the privilege of making muffins for Cody – with eggs, milk, flour and all kinds of things that once would have killed him – and he was able to eat them.  When Cody was younger the prospect of him going on a mission was pretty grim.  The chances of him ingesting something lethal and not getting the care he needed in time by the time he was 19 were extremely high.  But beyond that, how could someone with the difficulties he had go and spend most of his time outdoors among dust, pollens and molds while going door to door to preach the gospel?  How could he leave an environment where a very controlled diet kept him alive to go eat at the homes of different members eating whatever might come his way?  The little 8 year old Cody would have been disqualified from serving a traditional mission based on his health.  I cannot express what a great miracle I was blessed to witness and how grateful we are as a family for it.  I’m so grateful for and proud of my little brother – his faith, his personality and his commitment to serve.  We’ll certainly miss him, but he’s going to be a great missionary.

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