Entries in Deep Thoughts (45)

Monday
Dec292014

Svithe: Ring in the New

"Svithe" is a word coined by Th.  It means roughly "to tithe a seventh," and refers to the blog posts he puts up on Sundays.  I have used it in the past and do so now with all proper homage and deference.

In 1740, John Wesley started a new tradition in his young church. As an alternative to the usual drunken revelry that was (and is) New Year’s Eve, he held a special late evening service called “Watch-night” or “Covenant Renewal.” Worshipers would contemplate the past year, make confessions, give testimonies, and prayerfully formulate specific resolutions to keep their Christian covenants more fully. Watch-night is one of the sources of our modern-day New Year’s tradition. In late December, we think about the year that has past and the year that is to come. It’s a time of measuring and contemplation, and above all, resolution.

Judaism has a much older, if similar, tradition—but the order of events is a bit different. The faithful celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—which usually falls some time in September. It is said that the Book of Life is opened on Rosh Hashanah in order to judge the nations, and any people found lacking have the ten days until Yom Kippur to repent and make things right in their lives so that they can be “sealed up unto life.” Observant Jews fast and attend synagogue services on Yom Kippur, repenting and making restitution for wrongdoings in the past year and resolving to become better in the new year to come.

Many of us will at least consider making a resolution or two sometime this week. Maybe we want to lose weight or save money or learn a new language. There’s a reason that every gym in America has a membership boom every January.

Of course, many (if not most) New Year’s resolutions end up failing. I know lots of people who don’t even make resolutions anymore, because they seem to lose steam any time between mid-January and March. What’s the point of making a goal that’s doomed to fail, they ask.

It can be a discouraging prospect, but perhaps it’s helpful to compare resolutions to baseball. In the only true and living sport, a player’s batting average is a calculation of the number of hits divided by the number of times he comes up to bat. A season batting average of .300, or three hits for every ten at-bats, is considered excellent, and a season average of .400, or four hits for every ten at-bats, is a nearly unachievable statistic. So, whereas a thirty to forty percent is a miserably failing grade on, say, a chemistry final, in baseball, thirty to forty percent is outstanding. Apply baseball stats to your resolutions going forward, and maybe you’ll feel a little better about your success rate.

Of course, we can’t define success by intentions alone. Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells is famous for saying, “You are what your record says you are.” This can be a bleak doctrine, except for one thing. In real life, unlike in sports, repentance can change our record entirely. In Mosiah 26:30, the Lord promises “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” Further, he tells us in Doctrine & Covenants 58:42, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” This, to me, is one of the great miracles of the Gospel. Jesus, our Advocate with the Father, will literally no longer remember our mistakes once we fully and sincerely repent.

LDS composer Leroy Robertson based the text for a treble chorale in his masterpiece “The Book of Mormon Oratorio,” on 3 Nephi 12:47. “Old things are done away, all have become new, fulfilled in the coming of our Savior. The Father maketh his Son to rise and smileth down in favor.” The chorale is sung at the moment the resurrected Christ descends from heaven and shows Himself to the Nephites, but the scripture has a broader application than that specific instance. When we repent and allow the Savior into our lives and hearts, old things are done away. The Holy Spirit renews us; Christ’s covenant is fulfilled again each time we fully avail ourselves of His Atonement. “Old things are done away” when we forsake sin and apply the healing, atoning blood of Christ to our wounded souls—and all becomes new.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for a once-a-year transformative renewal. The Lord, in his wisdom and mercy, instituted the ordinance of the Sacrament, ideally to be celebrated on a weekly basis. In Doctrine & Covenants 59:9, the Lord instructs us: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” By doing so, we can have the tremendous privilege of having the Holy Ghost for our companion. As we mindfully partake of the Sacrament, offering up our broken hearts and contrite spirits, we will find renewal, and peace. The Holy Spirit will give us the strength and courage to keep the commitments we’ve made.

I read a fascinating book this week written by Marie Kondo, a successful Japanese decluttering expert who has a huge following in Tokyo. Her approach to home organization resonated with me, and I found it applicable to the way we should live the Gospel. Kondo’s key to success is simple. Instead of focusing on what you want to get rid of, she explains, focus on what brings you joy. She outlines a detailed plan for the resulting decluttering process that includes the following steps: taking a thorough inventory of your belongings in a given category; picking each one up and holding it in turn; and noticing whether that particular belonging sparks joy when you touch it and contemplate it.

If it does not, Kondo recommends thanking the item for however it has served us or whatever it has taught us—and we should be specific—and then let it go. To the trash, to the charity shop, wherever—just out of the house (which includes the basement and garage). Kondo promises that if we do this thoroughly and as quickly as possible, we’ll be left with only that which makes us happy or is useful to us in our lives going forward.

I only had an hour between finishing her book and dinner preparation time last Friday, so I decided to experiment with her technique on a relatively small job: my knitting cabinet. Over the years, I’ve acquired a fair amount of yarn, most of it for unspecified purposes—projects to knit “someday.” Living in Southern California, I’ve known for a while that I should probably find another home for some of the heavier wools that simply won’t be useful to me here—but I hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it.

On Friday, I took all the yarn out of the cabinet and held each skein individually. I found that some of the yarn I still wanted to keep; it still sparked the thrill of creation for me, and I could imagine beautiful, useful things to make with it. But I discovered I could easily part with two thirds of the stash. I’ve boxed it up and will send it to a fellow knitter in New York next week.

How does this apply to the Gospel? Too often, I think that we as members of the Church approach change with a Puritanical attitude. We look at our bad habit or poor choice or foolish behavior with disgust and shame. Regret, or “godly sorrow,” as it’s called in the scriptures, is part of the repentance process; shame is Satan’s counterfeit. Regret inspires honest, forthright change; godly sorrow recognizes the lessons learned from the mistakes made. But shame isolates and encourages us to hide. Shame brings both despair and a perverse desire to wallow in our past rather than learn from it and move on.

So, let’s not focus on what we want to discard; let’s focus on what we want to keep, and let the rest go. In 1992, Elder William Bradford gave a General Conference talk on uncluttering our spiritual lives. He cautioned against letting terrestrial pursuits take time away from celestial goals. Notice that he didn’t mention telestial pursuits, but instead reminded us that the good can often rob the best if we’re not careful. Do we make time for sincere, heartfelt prayer? Do we immerse ourselves in careful scripture study, or do we merely read a few verses in a hurried half sleep?

Do our personal relationships with the Lord and our families come before work, hobbies, or even Church callings? Both Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy and Elder Bradford’s talk remind me of my favorite quote by President Ezra Taft Benson: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities."

That’s a promise from a prophet of the Lord: when we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. That is the very definition of holding onto what sparks joy. And as we let go of the past, we can do so with gratitude for the lessons we’ve learned. When old mistakes resurface in our memory, we can mentally thank them for how they’ve shaped us into better people, and then refuse to obsess over them. How streamlined and serene could your spiritual life be if you followed this principle faithfully?

In the days to come, consider taking a page from John Wesley’s book. We have no Watch-night service, but a visit to the temple or a quiet hour with the scriptures and our journals can accomplish similar results.

One of my very favorite hymns is #215, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the words in 1850 to express his grief over the untimely death of a close friend. While listening to distant church bells swing wildly in the wind of a major storm, he outlined nearly every New Year’s resolution we might possibly make. Crawford Gates loved Tennyson’s poem so much that he set it to music. Gates used only the first, second, and last verses for the hymn, but the original poem is seven verses long. I find all seven to be a perfect meditation as I contemplate changes I want to make in my own life in the coming year:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

 

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

 

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more,

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

 

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

 

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

 

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

 

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

 

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

 

Thursday
Apr172014

Altered Perceptions


Escaping Criticism, Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

I've mentioned before that I have an anxiety/depressive disorder. I cope. A lot of the time, I'm fine. Most of the time, I can get through my days regardless. I'm very lucky.

But it's always there, like a scar that never really fades, and that once in a while swells up, gets ugly, and causes problems.

And maybe like attracts like, because I know a lot of people who struggle with mental illness in one form or another. Since you're reading this, you probably know someone who struggles, too. 

Which is why I'm thrilled to tell you about a new project I'm involved in. I was recently invited to contribute to Altered Perceptions, an anthology that SF giants Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson are organizing to benefit writers with mental illness in general and the über-awesome Robison Wells in particular. 

The anthology will consist of:

Ally Condie, Foreword

Dan Wells, Introduction

Annette Lyon, An unpublished chapter from her retelling of the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala

Brandon Mull, Deleted scenes from Beyonders 2
Brandon Sanderson, Five completely rewritten chapters from The Way of Kings, in which Kaladin makes the opposite choice of what he makes in the published novel
Bree Despain, An alternate ending to The Lost Saint and an alternate beginning to the Shadow Prince
Brodi Ashton, The first chapter from her YA novel about an alien who has to rescue the boy she loves
Claudia Gray, A deleted scene from A Thousand Pieces of You
Dan Wells, The original John Cleaver free write
Erin Bowman, A deleted scene from Taken
Howard Tayler, A creative non-fiction story about life with mental illness
J Scott Savage, Three original chapters that led to writing Farworld
Jennifer Moore, A deleted scene from Becoming Lady Lockwood
Jessica Day George, A deleted scene from Princess of Glass, in which the main character plays poker with a witch
Josi Kilpack, The original opening scene to Tres Leches Cupcake
Kiersten White, An original short story set in a dystopian world
Larry Correia, A deleted fight scene from Swords of Exodus
Lauren Oliver, Two deleted scenes from Pandemonium, plus a hilarious scene about the plotting process
Luisa Perkins (ME!) A short story called  “Seeing Red," a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"
Mary Robinette Kowal, A deleted scene from Valor and Vanity 
Nancy Allen, Bonus scene from Beauty and the Clockwork Beast
Robison Wells, An epilogue to the Feedback and Variant duology
Sandra Tayler, Creative non-fiction, “Married To Depression”
Sara Zarr, A story featuring characters from one of Sara’s previously published novels
Sarah Eden, “Farewells” for Longing For Hope and Hope Springs
Seanan McGuire, The original opening for Discount Armageddon
Shannon Hale, "Ravenous," a previously unpublished scifi short story
SJ Kincaid, The original first chapter of Vortex, before it was entirely rewritten

 

Do you notice any familiar names? Like, at least NINE New York Times bestsellers? And a bunch of Hugo winners, yeah? These are amazing, generous, talented people, and I'm over the moon at the opportunity to have my work included with theirs--especially in support of such an excellent cause. 

This anthology will be seriously GOOD. I can't wait to get my copy! The IndieGoGo fundraiser will go live next Monday, so look for more information coming soon!

Wednesday
Nov202013

Mormon Artist Interview

Eric W. Jepson, aka Theric, interviewed me for Mormon Artist, an online magazine. Pretty cool! Let me know what you think.

Thursday
Nov072013

Mommy Authors: Picture Day

Hey, I posted about Picture Day over on Mommy Authors. Leave me a comment here or there and let me know what you think!

Sunday
Oct202013

Svithe: Patience

Christ at the Column, Antanello da Messina, c. 1470

Thmazing Theric coined the term "svithe," and I borrowed it a while back. This post is adapted from words I spoke in church today.

I’ve had plenty of occasions to contemplate patience lately. I thought about patience as I sat in horrendous traffic on my way to the Temple last Wednesday. I thought about it as I scrubbed scorched milk out of a cooking pot for what felt like an hour. I thought about it as I waited to hear back from an editor that has had one of my manuscripts for months. And, when she finally got back to me with a negative response, I thought about patience as I contemplated the seeming lack of progress of my career.

These are garden-variety, everyday trials of patience, but I've have had opportunities to practice patience on a significantly grander scale. When we stood by helplessly twelve years ago as our tiny baby Tess struggled for breath and life in a NICU incubator; when Anne repeated her older sister’s five-week-premature arrival trick and added a collapsed lung to the mix, just for extra drama; and then, last March, as I sat in another hospital room and watched my father fade from this life.

Perhaps my first significant experience with patience as an adult occurred while I was on my mission to Montreal, Canada. I loved every day of my mission. I thrived on the daily intensive study of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I enjoyed the country and culture, and I found true, deep joy in serving and working with people who wanted to learn more about our church.

But one day, I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I was so sick that just walking across our tiny apartment to the bathroom or eating a meal would exhaust me, and I’d have to sleep for several hours to recover. After several visits to the doctor, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This was a relatively new disorder in 1989. The doctors in Canada tried a few experimental treatments with me, but nothing worked.

My mission president was a physician by training, and for some strange reason, many, many missionaries in our mission had already come down with CFS during the first two years of my mission president’s service. He called me in to see him, and told me that after much prayer and consideration, he’d decided that I’d have to go home. I begged him to change his mind. He was compassionate, but firm. He’d seen other missionaries stay in the field for months in my condition, only to have to be sent home in the end.

When I went back to my apartment that evening, I cried and prayed and cried some more. I was so angry; I couldn’t understand why the Lord would do this to me. I was a good missionary. I loved Christ and His good news, and I loved bearing testimony of both. I had become fluent in French and conversed easily. I kept all the mission rules. I worked hard and got along well with my companions. Didn’t the Lord need me? Why was He punishing me?

In the days before I left Montreal, I spent my waking hours in prayer and scripture study; that’s about all I had the strength to do. One day, I came across this verse in Doctrine & Covenants Section 5:

“Yea, for this cause I have said: Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.”

That verse cross-referenced to Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 15:

“In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.”

No, that’s right, Isaiah: I’d rather not.

But “in returning and rest shall ye be saved”: those words hit me like a thunderbolt. It seemed like they had been written just for me, and the Holy Ghost whispered their truth to me as I read and re-read them. Suddenly, I saw that my getting sick and going home was neither a random accident nor a punishment. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan for my mission and my life. I might not know the reasons why, but I realized that I could trust Him and obey gracefully.

For the next year, I slept 20 hours every day, and after that, got better very gradually. I learned both patience and humility as I relied on the Lord to guide me through something that I didn’t understand then and still don’t fully understand to this day, almost exactly 24 years later.

Brigham Young taught that when he didn’t understand something, he would pray “Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.” And then he’d keep praying for understanding. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 75) I try to do the same.

Likewise, patience cannot be separated from trust, faith, and hope. In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read,

“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Why are we always trying to direct our own paths, when the Lord can do it so much better? Our impatience is actually a lack of trust, faith, and humility; it implies that we know better than God does. When we remember to lean not unto our own understanding, we find the beginnings of patience.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” (Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience," 4/2010)

Oh, that’s hard for me. I have to endure well? When I’m in a trying situation—whether it’s something temporary, like a cranky child, a rude driver, or a broken dish; or something ongoing, like a chronic illness or a relationship that has turned toxic—sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do just to keep my mouth shut.

And that’s a good start. But it’s not enough to grit our teeth and push through; God asks us to work through our trials cheerfully, putting selfish desires aside and reaching out to help others in the midst of our own struggles.

But He does not leave us to that work alone. Speaking to his son Helaman, the prophet Alma counseled, “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 36:3)

Jesus Himself is our ultimate Example of patience in trials. He was patient with His disciples, with His family, and with the multitudes that constantly sought help from Him. He was patient with children and sinners and hypocrites. Then in the Garden of Gethsmane, He patiently bore the weight of every sin and every pain of each one of us, descending below all things (D&C 88:6) that He might raise us all up unto eternal life. At the end of his mortal life, He was humble and patient with those who persecuted and killed Him. No matter what happened, Christ submitted His will to that of His Father and endured to the end with perfect patience.

He calls to us to do the same, always promising His help and grace. He counseled the Prophet Joseph Smith in the revelation recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 101:38: “And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.”

In other words, if we first attain the proper perspective—a vision of what our mortal life is really about—we find that patience comes much more easily. When we seek the face of Christ by remembering Him throughout our days, our burdens become lighter. We’ll possess our souls—body and spirit—instead of letting circumstance control us. We’ll be living with agency, acting and not being acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:14)

Neal Maxwell echoed this, saying “Patience is a willingness…to watch the unfolding purposes of God with wonder and awe—rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance.” (Maxwell, “Patience,” 11/1979) I love that image. How often do I imprison myself in a cell of my own worry, irritation, and dissatisfaction? Unlocking the door to that cell is as simple as letting go and looking up. The use of patience, like the use of every heavenly virtue, magnifies our agency—which is exactly why we’re commanded to do so.

Though patience in trials is a significant challenge, and patience with those around us can be difficult at times, my biggest struggle in patience is with myself. I live with my significant weaknesses and frailties every hour of every day; I can’t ever escape them. And every time I falter—which is constantly—I’m tempted to get frustrated with myself. Shouldn’t I be better by now? Shouldn’t I have learned these lessons I keep repeating over and over?

But when I feel that temptation to frustration and despair, I try to remember my “personal” scriptures, those verses that opened my eyes and quieted my heart when I was full of anguish on my mission:

“In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength….” “Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.”