Faithfully Failing

Picture credit: LDS Media Library
Picture credit: LDS Media Library

I’m once again stealing my mom’s spiritulectual property (yes, I am copyrighting that phrase), but about a year ago she shared an interpretation of a scripture story that I’d never considered before.  Not because it’s a story I’d never read before, in fact it’s probably one of the most frequently read scripture stories in the church.  Let’s talk about Nephi going and getting the brass plates. (If you want to quickly review the story this is Nephi Chapters 3-5) So let’s start from the beginning.  Lehi has fled into the wilderness from the people of Jerusalem who want to kill him for prophesying uncomfortable truths.  Then when he gets there he tells his four sons – Laman, Lemuel, Sam & Nephi – that they need to go back to Jerusalem to retrieve the scriptural records of their people.  Laman and Lemuel complain about it, but Nephi shows faith and says,

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

1 Nephi 3:7

Then the rest of the story goes that they all 4 return to Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel are whiny faithless crybabies, and Nephi gets the brass plates that contain their records all by himself.  Right? Wrong!  I’ve read this story so many times that when I read it that’s sorta how it goes in my head.  Nephi trusts in the Lord, and succeeds because he was obedient to the Lord’s commandments.  But I sort of skip through the meat of the story.

What happens is they return to Jerusalem and attempt to get the plates – and fail.  Not just fail a little bit, but fail pretty spectacularly.  Twice.  Let’s go through that part of the story and try to forget that we already know the ending, and walk through the steps.

First they send Laman in to talk to Laban about getting the plates and he is chased away and Laban threatens his life (1 Nephi 3:11-13).  Laman tends to get a pretty bad wrap, but my guess is that he knew going into this that Laban wasn’t likely to just hand over the plates willingly.  Despite that, and even with his reluctance to go in the first place, he puts his faith in the Lord and goes anyways.  Only to be rejected and almost lose his life over the matter.  Yeah, Laman doesn’t do all the greatest things in his life, but he shows some pretty strong faith in this matter.

When he comes back, they want to give up.  Instead, Nephi comes up with this cockamamie idea that they can go back to their old home and retrieve all the riches their father had accumulated and attempt to purchase the plates, even though Laban has already promised to kill them if they come back.  Already Laman and Lemuel could easily say, “Look, we did what the Lord commanded and it didn’t work.  We clearly didn’t have His protection and help in getting the plates so maybe this wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing after all.”  Please pause and pretend for a second that you don’t know the ending to the story and try to see it from their point of view.  If someone were to tell you about a situation they were going through that was similar you would probably feel justified telling them, “Hey, you gave it your best shot and that’s good enough.”  But no, they are again faithful and go along with Nephi’s plan in spite of adversity.

So off they go back to their house and gather together all of their precious worldly possessions to trade for these scriptural records.  Think for just a second of the trial that would be all by itself.  You’ve been driven from your home and now you’re going to go back and take all the valuable things you have and trade them just for a copy of the scriptures.  Clearly even Laman and Lemuel had a vision of just how precious those records were.  They gather all these things and go back to Laban with a decent proposition – all of our riches for the plates of brass.  Laban decides he likes the idea of the riches, but not of giving up the plates, so he sends his guards to kill the brothers so that he can keep their possessions without an exchange.  The brothers have to flee the city and barely escape with their lives.

Think for a second how Laman and Lemuel must be feeling at this point.  They’ve now given up all of their precious possessions and almost been killed in the attempt to get the brass plates.  Their adrenaline must be running at a serious high from that experience.  So they get back to being alone as brothers and start taking it out on Nephi.  Of course they shouldn’t harm their brother but imagine what they must have been thinking, “We told you this was a bad idea.  You risked all of our lives and sacrificed all of our possessions – for nothing.  If we hadn’t listened to you we would have been heading back to our father safe and sound with the possibility of getting those possessions back.  Now they’re gone forever and we could be dead thanks to you.”  If my little brother had talked me and my siblings into something like that and it had failed I’d be ticked to say the least.  I’m not one for physical violence (I’m the runt of our family, that would be a poor choice of problem resolving methods for me), but I can understand at least a little why they found a stick and started walloping on their brother who had put them into such a terrible situation.

Then of course the story ends in the way we expected it to from the beginning.  An angel comes and tells off Laman and Lemuel for their lack of faith, Nephi goes back and gets the plates by miraculous means and they return to their father victorious.  But I want to pause for a second and think more about the middle of the story.  Why can’t we skip all of the lives being threatened and the loss of property and just have Nephi go in, chop of Laban’s head and walk out with the plates in the first place?  Surely the Lord could have made that work out just fine, so why go through all that rigmarole? I think this is an excellent example of what Moroni teaches us in Ether 12:6,

And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

I would venture that these crazy trials didn’t come despite their faithfulness in following the commandments but almost because of their faithfulness.  They needed to know how valuable these records really were to them, and I’m sure they didn’t really realize just what they were willing to sacrifice for them until they’d actually done it.  The Lord doesn’t just provide everything for us, because by working for things we recognize the value of our blessings. It’s something I want to remember more as I face trials.  I know I’ve had times when I’ve thought, “I know what I felt like I was supposed to do, but it’s just not working out.  I’ve given it my best shot and maybe I should just give up and do something else.”  But just because something isn’t working out now, or you haven’t been miraculously been placed exactly where you thought you’d end up – that doesn’t mean things aren’t working out the way they should.  Remember what the Lord told the Prophet Joseph in Liberty Jail –

If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;

If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;

And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Doctrine & Covenants 122:5-8 (emphasis added)

Even, and perhaps especially, when things don’t seem to be working out the way we’d expected they would when we are faithful it is not an excuse to give up.  At those points the challenge to us is to strive even harder, strech even further and wait a little longer for the hand of God to be revealed.  I’ve heard it said, “it will all be right in the end, so if it isn’t all right, then it’s not the end.”  So if you’re going through trials and feel like you’re reaching the end of your rope, take courage.  He who knows the end from the beginning is watching over you and is there to aid you and guide you.  Righteous living does not ensure an easy course, but it will get you safely to your ultimate destination.

Family Home Evening Resources

Family Home Evening Resources

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I was asked to give a presentation at a Relief Society meeting about Family Home Evening to give some tips and tricks for making it meaningful and easy with young kids.  I thought I would share with you here what I shared with the sisters in my ward in case anyone from my ward didn’t get a chance to come to our activity, or if it would be helpful for other friends.  I know that I shared the experience in the first paragraph in this post too, but it was applicable here so I hope you’ll forgive the repeat.  The rest of the content should be new 🙂

Before this most recent General Conference I was struggling with feelings of inadequacy as a mother and I wrote down a few questions that I was hoping to have answered during the conference.  This is one of the questions I wrote – “How can I best use my time with the many demands placed thereon? Freelance work, housekeeping, motherhood, callings, education, blogging, reading, socializing children etc. How can I keep from being completely overwhelmed and truly accomplish things? Or do I need to simply embrace the chaos?” In the second talk of the conference Sister Linda S. Reeves shared this experience –

Some of you have heard me tell how overwhelmed my husband, Mel, and I felt as the parents of four young children. As we faced the challenges of parenting and keeping up with the demands of life, we were desperate for help. We prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer that came was clear: “It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.”

A friend recently cautioned, “When you ask the sisters to read the scriptures and pray more, it stresses them out. They already feel like they have too much to do.”

Brothers and sisters, because I know from my own experiences, and those of my husband, I must testify of the blessings of daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening. These are the very practices that help take away stress, give direction to our lives, and add protection to our homes. Then, if pornography or other challenges do strike our families, we can petition the Lord for help and expect great guidance from the Spirit, knowing that we have done what our Father has asked us to do.

Nothing could have been more applicable to my situation than that was.  I felt so much comfort that I only needed to really worry about those three simple things in order to be doing what is most important as a mother.  Family prayer, family scripture study and family home evening.  Of course, family home evening can sometimes be a bigger struggle than it might sound so I was asked to share some resources with you on how to make it easier.  So, first of all –

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Smarty!

Family Home Evening was not instituted to stress you out. The point is to gather your family together and spend time together learning and loving one another.  Don’t make it harder than it needs to be!  Watch a Mormon Message together on YouTube, play a game, even just sit in the same room and let your kids do homework together.  Find what works for your family!

I want to walk you through really quickly a “typical” FHE in the Hansen household –

We gather the kids together.  Pull up a hymn on hymns.lds.org and sing along with it.  Pray.  Quick lesson picked from A Year of FHE. Another song. Prayer.  Oreos.  Bedtime.

Oreos are the most important part of our family home evening, the boys don’t recognize it’s FHE without Oreos.  That’s it.  Sometimes I’ll put together my own lesson or we might do something else, but we have short attention spans.  The only part of that whole equation that requires much effort (beyond wrangling the kids of course) is picking a lesson from A Year of FHE, but then I usually just print it out and read it.

I think the most important part of doing a lesson is picking something that really applies to your family’s current situation.  If you have a child struggling with obedience or tattling or something like that, then FHE is a great time to teach those principles.  But my mom warned me, don’t always pick just the things your kids are struggling with, or else they’ll just feel picked on and not want to come.  Lessons about the season (i.e. Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day) are great, or if you can include something that goes along with the month’s theme for primary it’s a good reinforcement.

So here are some of the resources that I really like for putting together a family home evening:

Church Website – The church has put together an awesome page that has links to the gospel art book, the Family Home Evening Resource book, videos, music and teaching helps.  It’s a great place to go to get started

Mormon Messages– When you want a super easy lesson I definitely recommend just picking a Mormon Message and playing that for your kids and calling it good.  They’ll hold their attention well and have fantastic messages.  Easy, peasy. Done.

A Year of FHE – This is my *favorite* FHE resource.  This lady put together FHE lessons and posted them to her blog every week for 3 years.  They are fantastic.  She has lessons on a lot of different topics.  Most weeks I will open up her blog and then scroll through the topics on the right side of the screen, pick one, print it and teach that.  She also has hymns selected to go with her lessons as well as a scripture.  The lessons are so well written out that you can generally just read what she’s written, show some pictures (if you want) and then bear your testimony where she indicates.  I can’t say enough about how much I love her website.

Chocolate on My Cranium – If your kids really do well with visuals I highly recommend this website for her flannel board stories.  She took all of the flannel board stories from the Friend and colored them in so that you can just print them out, cut out the pieces and tell an interactive story.  If you live nearby, my sweet sister-in-law put together a binder with all of these lessons printed out and ironed all of the characters onto felt so that we had easy FHE lessons for a year.  It was one of the best Christmas presents anyone has ever given me.  We’ve gone through all of those lessons now though so if anyone would like to borrow any of the lessons feel free to come by and borrow them!

Sugardoodle – We all love Sugardoodle.  They have so many cute ideas!  They’re getting ready to re-do their website in the next month, so I don’t know if this will remain how to get to their FHE lessons, but for now if you go to their home page, click on the “Other” tab there’s an option for “Family Home Evening Index”, and there are a ton of great FHE ideas there.

My FHEs – Of course I have to throw in my shameless plug for my own website. I’ve put together a few different FHEs when I had something that I really wanted to teach my kids but couldn’t find *quite* the right lesson out on the web.  I’ve been trying to post them to my website so that other people can use them too.  I have lessons about being a missionary, a general conference preparation lesson (we do this one twice a year just before conference), saying sorry, and even an Angry Birds lesson about teaching kids how to control their emotions (that one gets requested often).  I’ve tried to follow the “A Year of FHE” format and include an opening and closing hymn that goes with the lesson, an easy to follow lesson outline and a predefined spot to bear your testimony.  There aren’t a lot of them, but I love to see people use them!

My one piece of advice if you use the lessons that people post on their blogs is to just leave them a comment to say thank you for their time.  I know, at least that the lessons I put together, it usually takes me the better part of a day to complete them and it means a lot to me when someone will comment even a simple, “great lesson, thanks!”

I promise that if you make Family Home Evening a part of your family’s weekly routine you will see the blessings in your family.  It will help draw you closer together and strengthen you and your kids against the difficult trials that might come against you.

Why I Believe: God

Why I Believe: God
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Photo credit: Ryan Greenburg via Flickr

So I figured if I was going to do this series on what I believe, I should probably start with the very most basic of my beliefs – God exists.  Whenever I’m questioning the reasons for my beliefs, I start back at the very most basic.  If God doesn’t exist then the rest of my belief system falls apart pretty quickly, so it’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle to establish.  Strangely enough, one of the best explanations of why I believe in God comes from Trey Parker, one of the makers of South Park.  While his body of work doesn’t appeal to me, his philosophy on religion does,

Basically … out of all the ridiculous religion stories which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous—the silliest one I’ve ever heard is, ‘Yeah … there’s this big giant universe and it’s expanding, it’s all gonna collapse on itself and we’re all just here just ’cause … just ’cause’. That, to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever.

As dumb as that may sound, that’s a big part of my testimony.  To be honest, what would make the most sense to me is that nothing ever should have existed.  My mortal mind can’t comprehend that stuff has just always existed.  At some point there had to have been a beginning, an atom, a… something that started this whole thing.  Whenever I try to comprehend the fact that things even exist my mind starts short circuiting.  The most rational thing to me was that nothing, not even nothing, not even a vacuum to contain that nothingness, just nothing, should ever have existed in the whole history of ever.  There shouldn’t even be an ever for that nothingness to exist in.  I’ve heard once a philosophy that this whole earth, and life and stuff doesn’t exist, but it’s merely a dream of another being.  But, even in that philosophy, that other being exists.  No matter how you slice it or dice it, something somewhere exists and that whole concept to me is completely mind boggling.

So, as there is existence, some great force organized this existence and created it.  Whatever else you might want to say about that power, it is an awesome power, and I consider this organizing, creative power to be God.  I believe in the power and knowledge that comes through science, but not to the exclusion of God.  In nature we observe that most all systems lead towards entropy, but somehow despite this natural order we’re supposed to believe that without an outside organizing force things were organized?  That makes no sense to me whatsoever.  I believe in God as the great organizing force that put these things in motion and I can’t imagine that any being that put that much care into organizing and putting in motion the things that make up our world and universe doesn’t care for those that he has put there.  This to me is the essence of what God is, I believe He is a being with the power to organize and create our world, and the care for the people and creations he has put thereon.  I’ll discuss in a later post more of my specific beliefs of who God is, but I think that’s a good starting point for finding common ground.

For anyone who would like some more food for thought on the theory of evolution as taught commonly I’d recommend reading through the LDS Old Testament Student Manual Chapter 2 under Points to Ponder.  Although this is of course a theological publication it had a very interesting scientific discussion on evolution that I found quite fascinating.

Adventures in Motherhood

Adventures in Motherhood

Today was an interesting day and I just thought I needed to share it with you all.  Don’t think that there’s something profound to be had from this post – there isn’t.  Just a crazy day that needed to be documented.

So, my parents are in town because my mom woke up on Tuesday and decided that they should come to Utah from California that day.  That’s when most people plan their vacations right?  So, my mom was here when we woke up this morning.  After feeding the kids breakfast we started tackling some cleaning projects in my kitchen.  I finally removed some sticky tape from one of our cabinets, my mom cleaned out the bottom of our pantry and swept and mopped, my boys “helped” clean the windows (there was a lot more spraying of Windex than wiping it back off again) and Maeli happily rolled around the family room.  While we were engaged in these cleaning activities someone knocked on our front door.  I assumed it was one of my boys’ friends coming over to play, but instead I was pleasantly surprised to see a friend from Thousand Oaks!  We had been trying to arrange a time to get together for over a year, particularly as she had some clothes to pass along to Maeli, and every time we’d make a plan something would come up and we’d end up having to postpone.  This morning she finally decided to throw her two girls in the van and just bring the clothes up.  So nice of her!  And smart too, the best way to outsmart getting sick before a playdate is to go up unplanned so that the sickness doesn’t know to come 🙂  So of course we invited her and her girls in and let the kids play for awhile.  It was so fun to see her again, catch up a little bit and the kids had a blast.

When she left I decided it was probably time to get my kids dressed.  Yaknow, since it was 12:30pm (we have high standards in this household).  So I got the kids dressed, and fed them some lunch.  Then we headed out for the adventure we had planned for the afternoon – the new children’s museum!  Some of our best friends from our newly married/college days were in town and had found some time that we could get together!  They had suggested meeting up at the new children’s museum, which was great for us since we have a pass there anyways and so could get them in for half price and ourselves in for free (well, not really free, but a prepaid sunk cost 😉 ).  When we got there it was INSANE.  The line for admission was literallly out the door.  I knew that the museum has been packed since it opened but I think this was extra packed because of the holiday.  Our outing was really fun.  The boys loved all the cool exhibits and hopped from one to the next quite happily.  But, it was super crazy trying to keep track of four energetic boys in a loud, packed museum.

After the museum we hopped over to Adobe to give our friends a tour of the campus.  After the general loudness of the museum it was SO nice to have some time with them where we could hear ourselves think.  It was fun to show them the campus and give them a glimpse into Eric’s world there.  We enjoyed visiting with them some more and catching up on events of the past few years.  Hopefully we can coerce kindly convince them to move back to Utah to be near us again someday!

When the tour was finished our family headed over to the new food complex that has recently opened across the freeway from Adobe.  We were excited as we’d seen that a new Smashburger had been built and that’s one of our family’s favorite places to eat.  We have long waited for one to be nearby and we were thrilled to finally have one so close!  When we got there however we realized that we had a bit of a snag in our plans – Smashburger’s new location doesn’t open until much later this month!  So we decided instead to try out Cubby’s, just one door down.  We’d heard good things about it and thought we’d give it a shot.

While we were getting ready to order Eric noticed Sam wiggling uncomfortably.  He asked Sam if he needed to go potty, and of course the answer was yes.  We decided that I would take Sam to the bathroom while Eric waited in line.  When Danny saw that someone was going somewhere he immediately had to come too.  So off I went with two little boys and Maeli in the BabyBjorn to the bathroom.  When we got into the bathroom I found out that Sam really did need to go to the bathroom as he relieved himself of a decent volume of liquid.  Naturally, since we were in the bathroom, Danny decided he too needed to use the facilities.  I was hoping he just wanted to pee as well, but I had no such luck.  Now, my boys for some reason aren’t good at sitting on the toilet seat when they have solid waste to get rid of, and instead they have to squat on top of the toilet seat.  Which means that they have to remove their shoes and pants entirely.  In a public restroom.  Awesome.  Danny’s only just getting the hang of being potty trained so I couldn’t very well refuse to let him go… so off came his pants and boots, but luckily I was able to convince him to keep his socks on – at least a little layer between him and public bathroom germs, right?  As I took off his diaper (that he’d been wearing all day) it was totally dry!  That was a first for him to go that long so I was very proud of him.

Danny started by peeing… but without great aim.  About half of the urine ended up in the toilet, and half went straight out in front of it onto the floor.  Great.  So while he continued his business I got some paper towels and tried to mop up the floor with my feet without disturbing Maeli.  He continued to produce some solid excrement as promised and I praised him and wiped his bum.  As I went to pull him off the toilet he slipped and his foot fell.  Into the toilet.  With his poop.  *shudder*  I pull him off and he is (understandably) extremely upset about this and starts crying loudly.  I remove his wet sock and his other sock (so much for that layer of protection), and dry off his foot with a paper towel.  I then re-clothe him and convince him to put his boots back on without his socks (don’t forget – all of this with Maeli in the BabyBjorn, and Sam giggling in the background).  We wash his hands and leave the bathroom – with Danny still upset about the ordeal.

We re-enter the restaurant and can’t find Eric anywhere inside. Just when I’m about ready to wonder if he heard Danny’s fit and thought he wanted nothing to do with us and left – I find him outside.  Our food comes and the wind starts blowing.  Dinner is a game of trying to eat our food and keeping the packages from flying away.  Eric eats his food quickly, helps me clean up as much as possible and then has to leave for a boy scout meeting that had started 15 minutes ago about 15 minutes away.  As he starts to leave Danny is upset that his dad is leaving to go anywhere without him.  He throws a huge fit, hides under the table, bonks his head on the table, tries to run into the parking lot and sits down to cry.  Oh, and he hasn’t eaten hardly any of his food yet.  Finally I promise him that if he will finish all of his food we will all go to scout roundtable with dad – yay.  So, slowly, I get him to finish off start eating his grilled cheese sandwich.  By the time he finishes, it’s 7:55pm.  And now Sam needs to go #2 too.  Ugh.

So, back to the bathroom we go.  Me, Sam, Danny & Maeli in the BabyBjorn – who’s starting to get a bit fussy because she’s hungry and tired.  Going back to the bathroom wouldn’t be so bad, except Sam is the slowest pooper of all time.  I spend the next 20 minutes in the bathroom, bouncing Maeli, and trying to distract Danny.  I have to tell him repeatedly not to turn of the one dim lightbulb in the bathroom, or turn off the water to the sink, or take paper towels out of the trash can, or touch the drain on the floor.  We sing “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree”, and play “where is your [fill in body part here]”, and count his fingers, and jump up and down.  Finally, Sam finishes his business.  As we walk out of the bathroom with our whole troop a lady waiting in line for the restroom says, “Wow, you’ve got your hands full.”  Lady, you don’t know the half of it. We leave the restaurant to go to roundtable.  Roundtable of course ended at 8pm and it’s now 8:15pm and Eric is now in a meeting with the Stake Young Men’s president that Danny definitely couldn’t attend, but a deal is a deal so I start driving towards the stake center.

Fortunately, before I get too far down the road Danny is fast asleep in the backseat and I am able to just go home.  (Confession: This is exactly what I was hoping would happen when I promised him that we would go to his dad’s meeting, but if he was awake I knew it was important that I followed through anyways.  Even if it meant that I needed to take a tired, cranky almost-6-month old to a church building while we waited outside a classroom for Eric to come out).  We get home and Danny doesn’t even flinch when I take off his pants and boots and tuck him in bed.  Sam goes through his bedtime routine quickly and is soon sleeping as well.  Shortly after Sam is out Maeli follows suit and goes to bed as well.

What. a. day.  It was a fun one and I’m so glad that I got the chance to catch up with some good friends and do some good things with my family.  But it was definitely a rough day there at the end.  That’s sorta the epitome of motherhood though I think.  It all comes together, the good, the bad and the ugly – but it’s all worth it.  Even though I certainly had some moments today where I was thinking, “What?!  WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!?!?” it’s all worth it, and we got through it.  I’m just grateful for the opportunity I have to be a mother and to have these wonderful, crazy adventures with these cute kids of mine.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Still, sometimes this is the very best view of all –

Sleeping Kids