Tuesday, January 29, 2008

We ever pray for thee, our prophet dear

What a great man... Gordon B. Hinckley. I love his optimism, his hope, his candor, and his deep devotion and commitment to the cause. Particularly right now in my life, I love what he has to say about furthering education to build the kingdom. Here is a sweet slideshow depicting our dear prophet, whom I love. I will miss him, but I will try to emulate his teachings.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mixed Metaphors: Lost and Found Pearls of Great Price

The other night I wore a pair of simple pearl earrings. I haven't worn them in years, but there's just something about pearls that I find soothing. I love their creation--the idea of sand and distress and conflict producing something so clear and precious and smooth and valuable. I love their simplicity and their enduring classiness.

When I went to bed that night, I discovered that one of my earrings had fallen out. I thought I heard it fall on my oatmeal Berber carpet, but I couldn't find it anywhere. We all know that one earring is no good without its match, and I was a bit disgruntled... but what to do?

This morning as I rushed off to yoga, my eye caught a glimpse of my lost pearl earring under the corner of my bed. Suddenly I was reminded of a random but significant tender mercy:

As our dear Emmeline Wells says: "Nothing is irretrievably lost." I sometimes doubt that statement--I have several missing socks to prove my point. But some things are important and others aren't. I know I could easily replace my pearl earring with another pair that probably looks exactly the same, but there is just something about finding my lost pearl. I really believe and hope that in the grand scheme of things, that which is lost and of value can and will be found. It is known--its location, its worth, and its rescue. I believe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Read Your Eyes Out, or, Tender Mercies in School

It's going to be a crazy semester. I have to write a chapter of my dissertation (which means I need to magically know what my dissertation will be!), and I have to read a book a week for my American women's religious history readings. My 2oth-cen. readings class has 2 other MA students and we'll only meet once every two weeks. We all have to read two books for each meeting, but then I get to read two extra books because I'm a Ph.D. student. That means on those weeks, I'll have to read four books and then another book for my other class due the next day, not to mention the periodical writing assignments for my dissertation. Yikes.

I've already acknowledged that I won't be able to read everything. I'm all about being honest. I can't physically do it all. I've tried to work out a system where I read the first and last chapters, then the first and last paragraphs in the other chapters, then I read a couple of reviews on the books. That way I can generally get the main idea and methodology and critiques. It sounds like a good plan, right?!?

Unfortunately, one of the books for next week is a collection of essays by different people--not something you can just skim through for the main idea. However--and here is where the tender mercy comes in--the introduction is very thorough--covering the essential theme of the book and a very good summary of each essay and how they run together. Done and done. I'll take every one of these quick readings I can get.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Snow Plows at the Ready

This morning as I drove from the temple to school, there was a hint of rain in the air. Just a hint. The forecast called for a bit of slushy precipitation with snow further to the west and north. And sure enough, there were six or seven snow plows on the shoulder of the beltway, engines running, ready to meet the storm.

My first reaction was to laugh. I often mock the fright and fear of snow in the DC area. The threat can pull anything to a screeching halt, which can be somewhat disruptive.

But the more I thought about it, the more I loved those crazy snow plows. I loved that they were at the ready--anything to alleviate the headache of traffic on the beltway, even at 12:30 pm.

I believe in snow plows at the ready. I also believe in ministering angels, in dear friends, in kind words, in tender mercies. I believe that our paths are guided and that promises can be verified in every particular. I believe that our hearts are softened and that perspectives change and that love heals.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Inner Tree-Hugger

It started yesterday. Actually, it started last week when the signs were posted along the street, warning of no parking over the next few days. Then the big white Xs appeared on the trunk of an old tree on the corner. The end was imminent. Yesterday they chopped off the big limbs off the top, and this morning when I came home from the gym, the trunk was almost level with the ground.

I feel like I'm losing an old friend. Not that I've known this tree for very long--but it was very old (maybe it saw George Washington march through to Mt. Vernon?), and it was quite friendly. I love the way these old trees cover the streets of my neighborhood. Their leaves shade from the summer sun, produce brilliant color in the fall, and hold white slivers of snow in the winter.

A couple of months ago during a freak windstorm in the middle of the night, a very large branch broke off a tree directly across from our house, landing just in between two cars and causing a huge ruckus. The sound of the cops pounding on our neighbor's door, trying to arouse her from her sleep to tell her that her car had been hit, woke us up. The limb took up the whole width of the street; someone said it had been rotting for quite a while but the city wouldn't cut it down. I know, I know, these kinds of imminent dangers require careful preventative planning, but to cut down the whole tree? The corner feels so naked and bare now.

But I guess the whole idea of pruning is painful but true. Kendall reminded me of Hugh B. Brown's story, The Gardener and the Currant Bush:

In the early dawn, a young gardener was pruning his trees and shrubs. He had one choice currant bush which had gone too much to wood. He feared therefore that it would produce little, if any, fruit.

Accordingly, he trimmed and pruned the bush and cut it back. In fact, when he had finished, there was little left but stumps and roots.

Tenderly he considered what was left. It looked so sad and deeply hurt. On every stump there seemed to be a tear where the pruning knife had cut away the growth of early spring. The poor bush seemed to speak to him, and he thought he heard it say:

"Oh, how could you be so cruel to me; you who claim to be my friend, who planted me and cared for me when I was young, and nurtured and encouraged me to grow? Could you not see that I was rapidly responding to your care? I was nearly half as large as the trees across the fence, and might soon have become like one of them. But now you've cut my branches back; the green, attractive leaves are gone, and I am in disgrace among my fellows."

The young gardener looked at the weeping bush and heard its plea with sympathetic understanding. His voice was full of kindness as he said, "Do not cry; what I have done to you was necessary that you might be a prize currant bush in my garden. You were not intended to give shade or shelter by your branches. My purpose when I planted you was that you should bear fruit. When I want currants, a tree, regardless of its size, cannot supply the need.

"No, my little currant bush, if I had allowed you to continue to grow as you had started, all your strength would have gone to wood; your roots would not have gained a firm hold, and the purpose for which I brought you into my garden would have been defeated. Your place would have been taken by another, for you would have been barren. You must not weep; all this will be for your good; and some day, when you see more clearly, when you are richly laden with luscious fruit, you will thank me and say, `Surely, he was a wise and loving gardener. He knew the purpose of my being, and I thank him now for what I then thought was cruelty.'"

Some years later, this young gardener was in a foreign land, and he himself was growing. He was proud of his position and ambitious for the future.

One day an unexpected vacancy entitled him to promotion. The goal to which he had aspired was now almost within his grasp, and he was proud of the rapid growth which he was making.

But for some reason unknown to him, another was appointed in his stead, and he was asked to take another post relatively unimportant and which, under the circumstances, caused his friends to feel that he had failed.

The young man staggered to his tent and knelt beside his cot and wept. He knew now that he could never hope to have what he had thought so desirable. He cried to God and said, "Oh, how could you be so cruel to me? You who claim to be my friend—you who brought me here and nurtured and encouraged me to grow. Could you not see that I was almost equal to the other men whom I have so long admired? But now I have been cut down. I am in disgrace among my fellows. Oh, how could you do this to me?"

He was humiliated and chagrined and a drop of bitterness was in his heart, when he seemed to hear an echo from the past. Where had he heard those words before? They seemed familiar. Memory whispered:

"I'm the gardener here."

He caught his breath. Ah, that was it—the currant bush! But why should that long-forgotten incident come to him in the midst of his hour of tragedy? And memory answered with words which he himself had spoken:

"Do not cry. . .what I have done to you was necessary. . .you were not intended for what you sought to be,. . .if I had allowed you to continue. . .you would have failed in the purpose for which I planted you and my plans for you would have been defeated. You must not weep; some day when you are richly laden with experience you will say, `He was a wise gardener. He knew the purpose of my earth life. . . . I thank him now for what I thought was cruel.'"

His own words were the medium by which his prayer was answered. There was no bitterness in his heart as he humbly spoke again to God and said, "I know you now. You are the gardener, and I the currant bush. Help me, dear God, to endure the pruning, and to grow as you would have me grow; to take my allotted place in life and ever more to say, `Thy will not mine be done.'

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

January Thaw

That's right, friends, we are now experiencing the January Thaw. This morning Jessica and I ran outside in shorts and t-shirts. I sat outside on the back patio working this afternoon, soaking in the 70-degree sun. It's that moment after the holidays and before the months of frozen bitterness ahead that makes me really grateful for the present. My crocuses are poking their stems up through the ground and I'm already planning for pool time. I know, I know--I have ample opportunity to wear sweaters and coats and boots and scarves, to suck the cold air into my lungs and allow it to invigorate my bloodstream, to peep through the frost on my windshield while I wait for my defrost to kick in, to cuddle under blankets, to inhale hot chocolate, to proudly defend myself against the cold, all of which I can do and of which I have lots of experience. It's just nice, now, to curl up for a brief moment in the sun and save up.