Personal Highlights of General Conference October 2015

I just wanted to post about some of my favorite things from General Conference this last weekend.  I love Conference weekend, there’s not much that’s better than getting to snuggle up on the couch and listen to the prophet and apostles and church leaders.  I always come away reinvigorated, recommitted and excited to live the gospel.  I usually spend conference with my laptop on and tweeting the quotes that touch me at the time.  I feel like I process the talks differently as I’m searching for those little 140 character nuggets and it’s good to type them out and read them because it adds another sensory method.  But I wanted to write down some of the thoughts that I’d had that couldn’t fit in that 140 character limit.  So, here they are –

I especially loved the Saturday morning session.  I felt like the whole session focused on self-awareness and improvement.  I loved the talk by Elder Lawrence, “What lack I yet?”.  I thought it was a good reminder that regardless of who we are or how far we’ve come there are more things that we can be doing to improve ourselves.  The thought I tweeted during his talk was, “Are you brave enough to ask ‘What lack I yet?’.”  I think it’s a profound question and one that we should be asking often.  The Lord is aware of our shortcomings and is willing and anxious to help us overcome them.  I usually feel like I’m pretty aware of my shortcomings and have plenty to work on without needing the Lord to take me down a notch.  But perhaps it’s still better to ask the Lord so that He can direct me to the most important shortcoming for me to work on, or ways I should be tackling those shortcomings.  I also really liked Elder Cook’s talk about being “Shipshape and Bristol fashion”.  That analogy really stuck with me, that we might often think that we’ve got things under control, but we need to be ready to still be under control even when the conditions are less than ideal.  I thought that went with, what I felt was, the whole theme of that session.

I was mostly looking at my computer screen while President Monson was talking (listening to the talk of course, just taking notes) and I didn’t notice at first when he started to slump.  My first hint that something was going on was my mom saying something like, “oh man, President Monson looks like he’s going to fall over.”  I of course then looked up and watched in horror as he slowly sunk lower and lower on the podium.  Everyone of course was concerned but I thought there was a really powerful object lesson there.  I was impressed with how quickly at the end of his talk there were people at his side to help him back to his seat.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that the people who were helping him were his bodyguard, and President Uchtdorf.  It really has touched me to read the accounts of President Uchtdorf sitting at the edge of his seat and swooping in as quickly as possible to help President Monson.  To me it shows just what his attitude is towards our prophet.  Surely he would have known that there are ushers, bodyguards and other able bodied people who would rush to our prophet’s aid.  But I think it speaks to the close personal connection between those men that President Uchtdorf wouldn’t just sit back and let someone else take care of it, but that he was right there.  I think it’s a reminder that these men aren’t just some executives who are detached from each other and will let others do the work, but that they’re servants to the Lord, and are willing to serve one another too.  I also thought it was a great example of what it means to be a counselor – whether in the First presidency or the Beehive presidency it shows that you do whatever you can to support your president and be there for them.  I was really touched by that whole vignette that played out.

I latched on to the Ponderize concept that Elder Durrant introduced.  Judging from my Facebook newsfeed I’m not alone.  I think that was an easy one for many people to latch onto because it’s something that is a simple, measurable goal.  The basic concept was to pick a scripture each week and ponder on it and try to memorize it during the week.  For me, it ties into something I was told in my patriarchal blessing about memorizing important scriptures and studying them – this gave me a really solid way to do that.  It might not have been the most important takeaway, but it’s one that I can easily say “yes I’m doing this” and I think we all like that feeling of accomplishment from being able to check a box 🙂  I will admit though that I cringed a lot at his made up word on behalf of the translators that were trying to put this into another language and thinking “what on earth do I do with this word!?!?”  Especially as he went on to use that word 12 times, and turned it into a noun (ponderizer) and used the past tense (ponderized).  Seriously, there was probably a way to convey the concept without throwing the translators under the bus.   But that’s what you think about when you’ve worked as a technician and have a degree in Linguistics 😛  Eric and I are working on this challenge together.  We decided to start our list by using the scripture masteries that have been added to the seminary curriculum since we graduated 12 years ago.  This week our scripture is  2 Nephi 25:23,26.  I found a great poster from The Mormon Home and have put copies of the scripture in our shower, on our mirror, above Eric’s desk and on the bulletin board in our kitchen.  I really need to make it the wallpaper on my phone though or something like that though too.

As a mother I of course bawled through Elder Holland’s talk, “Behold Thy Mother”.  I feel like nothing has made me feel closer to the Savior than being a mother.  To think of the Savior loving me like I love my children – except perfectly, unlike my love for my children – is so overwhelming I can’t begin to describe it.  Especially knowing that Christ knows perfectly all of my faults and weaknesses, and *still* loves me as He does is beyond my comprehension.  It of course also made me think of my own mother and other mothers I’ve seen in their struggles with their children.  The whole talk was just such a beautiful tribute to the power of the Atonement and motherhood – it was beautiful.  I can’t say what he said any better, or really add to it in any way.  If you haven’t read/listened/watched that talk yet – you should do that right now.  I always look forward to Elder Holland’s talks, but I always start thinking that I’ve gotten myself too pumped up – that I need to simmer down, it can’t *always* be as good as I’ve built up his talks in my mind.  But, I was wrong – I can’t seem to get myself so pumped up for Elder Holland’s talks that the actual talk is a let down.  There’s something about the way he speaks that’s so direct, and simple yet expounds things that are so complex with such feeling – every time I feel like I leave with a well overflowing with revelation.  I love that each of the apostles has their own style of speaking and different ways of making their points, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Elder Holland’s talks weren’t generally favorites.

When the new apostles were called I will admit that I’d been hoping to add some ethnic diversity to the quorum.  Obviously I knew whoever was called was who was supposed to be called, but it would be nice if the leadership of our global church reflected a little more the diversity of that church.  However as I’ve watched these men in just the few short days, I can say that I know that their calling is of God.  As I’ve read about their backgrounds I can see that even though they look like 3 old white men from Utah, there is a diversity in their backgrounds and experiences which the Lord needed at this time.  I think there’s also something good about them being of a similar culture to the men they’ll be serving with as I think it will make it easier for them to communicate the needs that they observe in their different capacities without having to fight cultural barriers.  Obviously the spirit can break through all those things so I don’t think that’s a necessary thing, I just can see that it is probably easier to serve in that capacity if your English is already excellent etc.  Hopefully that doesn’t sound racist, I do still hope to see more and more of the church leadership coming from diverse backgrounds in the future, but I am also seeing how these men were the ones needed right now.  In particular I was interested to see that Elder Renlund’s wife was a working mom.  I think that there are a lot of moms within the church who work outside the home and I can understand how they might feel alienated.  I think that having an apostle whose wife chose a professional career will help those women to feel more represented and understood.

From the Women’s Session I loved President Uchtdorf’s talk “A Summer with Great Aunt Rose”.  I think one of the great things about it was that he really just told us a parable and left it to us to pull the message out for ourselves.  I think it was a story that we could all picture so clearly.  I liked the honesty of Great Aunt Rose in telling about the depression and the hard times, I think it showed that anyone could choose their attitude towards life regardless of their personal circumstances.  I liked the quote, “God didn’t design us to be sad. He created us to have joy!”  I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the negative parts of life, but remembering that the Lord wants us to be happy helps me to think on the positive side of life.

Ok, one last thing.  I really liked Sister Stephens’ talk and the story she told about the car seat battle she’d had with her granddaughter.  Oh how I can relate to trying to reason with strong willed children!  When she told of her granddaughter’s response of “Grandma, you want me to wear my seat belt because you love me!” I started to cry immediately.  I understand exactly that.  I remember the first time I realized that the commandments were given to us not just as some arbitrary test to prove our love to God, but that they were a manifestation of God’s love for us!  Just like I tell my kids to wear seat belts because I love them and don’t want them to get hurt – the Lord gives us commandments because he loves us and wants us to be safe from the dangers of bad choices we might make.  Just like the barriers in Elder Keetch’s talk kept the surfers from being eaten by sharks, the commandments are there to help us be happy and enjoy life – not to ruin it.

Alright, I’ve gone on long enough.  Those were a few of my favorite moments from General Conference.  I’m excited to study the talks more in depth over the coming months.  What were your favorite parts of General Conference?

A Tribute to My Great Granddad – Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015

A Tribute to My Great Granddad – Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015
Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015
My Great Granddad – Thomas Lusitania Smith, 1918-2015

On Friday I received word that my great granddad had passed away.  At the age of 97 with his health failing his passing was met more with relief than shock.  He will be truly missed in this life, but we are glad to know that he’s no longer suffering the ills of old age and is being reunited with family on the other side of the veil.  Sadly, because my great grandparents live in Australia I will be unable to attend any sort of funeral services so I wanted to write a brief tribute here.

As you can imagine, my relationship with my great granddad was limited by the distances between our different continents.  However I was able to see him on our family’s three trips to Australia and he also made several trips to the states with my great grandmother and stayed with our family on a number of occasions.  It was always amazing to me to see that despite huge distances, you always have a special connection to your family that you can’t have with anyone else.  I always knew that my great grandparents loved me and were interested in what was going on with my life even though on a day-to-day basis our lives weren’t very connected.

My parents shared on Facebook some thoughts on my granddad’s passing and talked particularly about something that has always fascinated me about him.  In the 1950s Granddad listened to the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized a member of the church.  Because of that decision my grandma was raised in the church, and she in turn raised my mother in the church, and my mother raised me in the church.  The greatest blessings in my life have come from the church and in large part stem from a decision that was made about three decades before I was born.  I am reminded of the ripple effects of our choices – nothing we do is truly done in a vacuum.  Our choices affect not only ourselves, but those around us and generations after us.  I will be forever grateful for that one decision that he made all those years ago.

Later my granddad fell away from the church.  On one of his trips to the US he was sitting next to my dad during a sacrament meeting.  After singing “Hark All Ye Nations” granddad leaned over to my dad and told him, “We use to sing that song all the time back in England in the pubs…but, the words were all different… come to think of it, none of those words would ever be said in a church.”  It’s now a family joke whenever we sing that song in church that we’re all singing a drinking song.  My granddad left the church for 40 years.  That’s amazing to me, 40 years is more than my entire life span so far.  What’s amazing about it though, is that after 40 years – he came back.  You would think that after all that time his choices and attitudes towards the church must have been totally solidified and there was no way he’d come back.  Yet, when he was in his 80s he chose to return to the church and died after almost two decades of faithful membership.  One special memory I have is that he and my great grandmother were able to attend Eric’s and my wedding.  Traditionally the father of the bride and the father of the groom act as witnesses to the sealing.  However, as Eric’s dad is a sealer and was able to seal us we had an extra witness seat.  At the last minute my mom thought we should ask if granddad would like to be that witness.  I felt bad that we asked Eric’s brother at the last minute to concede that role (sorry!), but it was a really special thing that after all that time of being away from the church, here was my great granddad – all the way from Australia – assisting in one of the most sacred ordinances.  It was a very special thing to me that he could come and be such an integral part of that very special day.

As I reflect on this part of my granddad’s life one thing sticks out to me – it is never too late too change.  You are never too old.  You are never too stuck in your ways.  It is never too hard.  You may be 2 or 102 but you still have your agency to choose that tomorrow you will be different than you are today.  I think this is both thrilling and terrifying.  Tomorrow you could choose to eschew poor habits, create a new life, start on a better path.  Or tomorrow you could choose to leave behind all that is good and glorious in your life and make choices that will lead to misery.  No one is immune.  We should never look at someone and think, “oh, they’re too far gone, they’ll never turn their life around.”  Nor should we think, “well they’ve clearly got it all figured out and they don’t need any help from me.”  We all need each other, every day.  Let us choose each day to be a little better than the day before.  Let us look at others with more compassion for where they might be.  Let us never give up on anybody, ever.  You never know who that person might be tomorrow.

Thank you Granddad to the example you were to me, for the love you have showed to my family and for the foundation you gave for my life.  I will be eternally grateful for all the good things that you made possible for my family.  God be with you until we meet again <3

Miracle Headache Cure!

Miracle Headache Cure!

If you’d seen this trick posted before and wondered if it would work, let me tell you – it does! Yesterday morning I woke up with auras in my vision.  At first I thought it was just my contacts readjusting and tried to give it awhile and just get ready.  As we were about to head out the door I realized that they’d gotten a LOT worse, and not better like I would have expected.  I finally recognized that I had the beginnings of a migraine. I’ve never actually had a migraine before but my mom has had them for years and so I knew the warning signs.  I took some headache medicine and hoped I could ward it off as I was supposed to be helping teach Sunday School for my 4 year old’s class in about an hour (not an ideal environment for a headache).

I got to church and the light was hurting my eyes, my head was pounding and my stomach hurt.  The auras were worse and I just felt terrible. I ducked into a dark classroom during sacrament meeting hoping the medicine would kick in.  I sat there alone in the quiet in the dark as it slowly got worse – I was wearing my sunglasses in a room that was almost completely dark with the exception of a small window in the door, and the glare from my cell phone screen.  It was pretty bad.  After a half hour I gave up and finally texted my husband to take me home.

I remembered seeing this trick for headaches and looked up the picture to make sure I did it right.  The text I’d seen with the picture recommends frozen peas at the base of your skull with your hands sumberged in warm water.  I did exactly what it shows in the picture and started to have some relief, but I wasn’t comfortable in that position.  Really I wanted to try and sleep but obviously balancing on my bathroom counter wasn’t a great place to fall asleep. I decided since the principle was making your neck cold and feet warm I had Eric heat up our rice bag for my toes.  Then I laid on our bed with the peas under my neck and rice bag on my feet.  Thanks to our blackout curtains I was able to take a nap in the darkness with my extremities at different temperatures very comfortably.  Two hours later I woke up feeling almost completely better. I’m guessing the medicine helped too, but it hadn’t done anything for me until I had the ice pack and rice bag, and there was relief within minutes once I tried it.  That simple solution was nothing short of a miracle cure for me.

Anyways, I’ve tried a lot of different things from Pinterest and I’m always skeptical about how well they will work so I wanted to give this one my personal stamp of approval.  I highly recommend it for anyone who struggles with headaches.  Three cheers for Pinterest!

Happy Mother’s Day – to Women Without Children

Happy Mother’s Day – to Women Without Children

UnMother's Day

Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day I feel keenly aware of the women within my circle of friends for whom this day is a reminder of the imperfect situations they might find themselves in.  Whether they are unmarried, or struggling with infertility, or single parents, or feeling overwhelmed with too many children, or have wayward children, or children they gave up for adoption, or children who have passed on before them, or those who have lost their own mothers, or don’t have the relationship with their mother’s that they desire.  Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for many people.  About a year ago one of my friends who had struggled with infertility for a long time posted how she would go to Relief Society on Mother’s Day and then go home with the Mother’s Day treat and cry feeling like she’d been given something that she didn’t deserve. This broke my heart to read of how a wonderful day for so many which is a bitter reminder for others of a blessing which they have been denied.

Particularly for those who are struggling with the challenge of not having yearned for children I wanted to share this thought.  When I first discovered my favorite blog, Women in the Scriptures, I went through and read a bunch of her blog posts at once, one of the first posts I read was this one about infertility.  I want to share one particular quote used in that post from Sheri Dew –

” …While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us…

…Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. declared, motherhood is “as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.” (Are We Not All Mothers, Ensign. Nov. 2001)

I loved this definition of motherhood.  When Eric and I were first married we lived in Wymount and it seemed like a majority of the women in our ward were mothers.  Our plan at the time was to wait to have children until Eric was done with school and I was working full time to support us while we got to that goal.  I felt excluded from the mom club – the circle of women who passed their days in the middle of the quad at the playground chatting.  I remember the first time my visiting teachers came to visit me with their toddlers and in the process of getting to know one another I of course told them that I was working full time.  While they didn’t say anything disparaging about that, I felt very much like they were looking at me with an air of, “Oh, you’re one of those working girls.” (please read that in your head with all the disdain of a 20’s era society woman to a factory woman)  At the time I felt like I had a hard time defining myself.  I’m the oldest of 5 children and my mom has called me the second mother in our home. I grew up carrying around babies, playing with kids, babysitting and loving being around children.  However in that season of my life I was without children – far away from my siblings and not yet having children of my own.  At the same time, I still felt the inherent mother-ness in me.  I had a hard time figuring out how to refer to myself as a married woman without children and would often try to call myself a single mother – which was ironic since I was completely the opposite – but I struggled to find the name for this state that I was in of not being a mother although travelling down that path.  I think I felt similarly displaced to those mothers who find themselves without a father to aid them which is why I would gravitate to that title.  The other title I would come up with was “childless mother” which also felt odd since it seems weird to call someone a mother who doesn’t have her own children.  I certainly struggled with my identity in the context of other women at the time.

In retrospect I think the title of “childless mother” is actually the right term.  Despite not having children, I was a mother.  I liked what Sister Dew stated about our motherhood as women beginning before we were born.  Motherhood is not dependent on 9 months of pregnancy, it is inherent in our calling as women.  Motherhood is the qualities of women that dispose us to teaching, building and growing not only children but the world around us.  You can fulfill that calling as a sister, daughter, aunt, friend, teacher, office worker, CEO, relief society president, yoga instructor or whatever role you find yourself in.  Just as a man is no less a priesthood holder for not being a bishop, women are no less mothers for not having children.  Motherhood is part of who you are.  I know that might not be much consolation to those who would like to discharge that calling in the most conventional way, especially when proffered by one who has been given that more conventional mother role.  However, I hope you know that whatever your contribution to motherhood is I honor you for what you are building and the love you show for those around you.

So take that cookie offered to you in Relief Society with pride, you are a mother.  Happy Mother’s Day, to all women, whatever circumstance you find yourself in.  You are a daughter of God, and we want to celebrate the divinity within you <3

What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas?

What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas?
Portrait by Gaye Frances Willard
Portrait by Gaye Frances Willard

When I was a little girl I remember every year being excited to sit on Santa’s lap, tell him what a good girl I’d been and ask for something special for Christmas.  I loved watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  My parents didn’t make a huge deal of Santa but he was still an integral part of our Christmas celebrations.  When I was in fourth grade my friends started to tell me that Santa Claus wasn’t real, that it was just my parents who bought the gifts.  In all honesty, I think I knew logically by then that was true, but it didn’t bother me too much.  I still loved the idea of Santa Claus and chose to keep believing anyways because he was part of the magic of my Christmases and I didn’t want to give it up.

Now, a full two decades later I find myself on the other side of the Santa Claus celebration.  Instead of believing in Santa Claus – I am Santa Claus for my three sweet children.  I love that part of Christmas where I now have the chance to prepare surprises for Christmas morning for which I will not take credit.  I love trying to find something that will make my kids eyes light up on Christmas morning and bring joy into their hearts.  Even though I want their Christmas to be Christ-centered, I feel like the tradition of Santa Claus can turn their minds, and mine to the Savior.

However, I have been troubled by the first question that my kids are asked this season by almost every adult they see at this time of the year, “What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas?”  Since I’ve already claimed that I really do love the tradition of Santa Claus so much, how can this bother me?  It’s an innocent question and it is fun to see the things that kids are excited about for Christmas morning.   But I feel like it places too much emphasis on the wrong part of Christmas for young minds.

Earlier this week a friend posted this article by Jen Hatmaker called The Christmas Conundrum.  In it she describes her experience as a pre-teenager being totally disillusioned by finding out that the presents she received on Christmas morning weren’t what she expected, and how it ruined her whole Christmas.  She goes on to say how sad it is that her Christmas was completely defined by material things with no actual thought of the real meaning of the season – the birth of Christ.

I don’t think we’ll be going to her extreme of cutting out Santa from Christmas entirely, but I do want to help my kids from a young age be more aware of the real meaning of Christmas, rather than the consumerism aspects.  While I like knowing what my kids want for Christmas I’ve never had them sit down and make Christmas lists, or badgered them for what they want most.  We’ve gone to visit Santa Claus (although with very little success getting our boys to sit on his lap so far) and we’ll talk a little about things they might like, but I really try to focus on other parts of Christmas.  I try to find ways to read Christmas stories with them, or sing songs, or serve others, rather than expending too much of their energy on what they want to get from Christmas.  In addition to taking the focus away from Christ, I think focusing on what you’re hoping to get sets kids up for disappointment.  If you have high hopes of getting the 5 things on your Christmas list and you only get 4 of them then you’ll be sad.  But if your focus is on other things than yourself then anything you get is just a sweet surprise.  I would like to suggest some alternate questions that we could pose to young children that would help bring the focus back to our Savior and less on Santa Claus.

  1. What are you going to give this year for Christmas? I will never forget listening to this inspired talk by President Monson back in 1995 called Christmas Gifts, Christmas Blessings which he gave at the Christmas Devotional that year.  He suggested rather than asking what someone got for Christmas we should ask what they gave for Christmas.  Quite often we put a lot of thought into what we’re giving different people for Christmas and it’s much more exciting to focus on how we’re hoping to make someone else’s life brighter.  I think if we try to ask this question to kids it will help them to want to do things for other people and be a little more selfless rather than selfish.
  2. Do you love the Christmas music at this time of year?  What song is your favorite? Yes, you might still get answers that are more about presents and snow and jingle bells, but the music at Christmas time is inspiring to the soul.  There is a joy in that music that helps bring in the spirit of the season better than almost anything else.  You can even take that chance as an opportunity to share your favorite Christmas song too, maybe one that bears a small testimony of the Savior.
  3. Who are you spending Christmas with? I’ve heard people say before that the meaning of Christmas isn’t to be with family, but I think that’s baloney.  Our Savior died so that we can be with our families forever, so what more fitting way to celebrate His birth than by spending time strengthening those family relationships?  Children will get excited at the thought of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, or even just having a day or two extra at home with their mom or dad off work.
  4. What is your favorite part of Christmas? I’m sure many children will respond with an answer of Santa Claus or presents, but it opens the door for you to include your favorite part of Christmas too.  Whether that’s serving others, or the love people show at this time of year, or Christmas music.  Even if their initial answer isn’t part of the real meaning of Christmas I think it’s a good way to at least suggest to their minds that there’s more to this season than just presents under a tree or in a stocking.
  5. Does your family have any Christmas traditions that you love?  When I was growing up my family had the tradition that on Christmas Eve we would all get a new pair of Christmas pajamas that we would wear to bed that night and then we’d stay in them all day on Christmas.  For whatever reason that always seemed like such a treat to me when I was younger, and that day spent at home, with my family, in our PJs is still one of my favorite memories of Christmas time.

It takes a little creativity, but I think we can find ways to help our kids turn their focus from Santa to Christ.  I’ll try to post some more traditions and suggestions to help your family’s Christmas be more Christ-centered this year.  But for now I’ll leave you with this one challenge – as you try to engage the kids you see in talks about Christmas, will you try to find ways to bring their focus away from Santa and towards our Savior?


What other questions could we be asking our kids instead of Santa questions?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!  Leave them in the comments below 🙂