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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

Of all the wondrous events of Easter, of all the eternal scope of the purpose of Easter, of all the magnificence of the Atonement of Jesus Christ for all the sins of every person who has ever lived or who will ever live on the face of this earth, there are two small moments, both huge in portent, which have caused me long reflection this Easter season.

The first comes in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Christ is suffering the unimaginable agony of atoning for every sin ever committed, and he pleads with the Father to "remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (See Luke 22:42.) 

As a result, our loving Father in Heaven sent down an angel. This angel is portrayed in a wonderfully tender pose in the painting by the 19th Century Danish painter Carl Bloch:

Can you imagine this angel's reaction when he was assigned by the Father to go strengthen and comfort the Savior?  Can you imagine what a treasure that assignment would be?  I am pretty sure that if I was watching from heaven, I would have been just a little bit jealous of the angel who got to go down to earth and put his arms around the Savior, telling him, "You can do this." What love was shown for the Savior by our Father in Heaven, to send an angel to strengthen him and support him as he went through the most anguish anyone has ever experienced. 

That circle of support, however, shrank steadily through the events of the midnight trial and scourging, and the harrowing walk to Calgary, where more physical torture awaited the Redeemer of mankind.  The second moment that has stayed on my mind is that of Jesus on the cross, when most of his mortal friends have left, and he realizes that his Father has left him to his own devices.  "My God, my God, why hast THOU forsaken me?" Both the prophet Brigham Young and the apostle James Talmadge have said that our Father in Heaven had to turn away, had to go hide in some far corner of heaven, so as to keep from interrupting this last portion of the Atonement.  He had to hide, to allow Jesus to finish the job on his own, but the Father had also reached his limit - he was ready to end his son's suffering, but knew he needed to let the Atonement come to completion.

The Empty Tomb.  Artist unknown.
The glory of the resurrection is the reason for Easter.  The promise of living forever is given to all, and the promise of the quality of that immortality is offered to those who follow Jesus Christ's example and our Heavenly Father's commandments.  May we come to appreciate the love of our elder brother Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven, and choose to align our lives with the words of Jesus Christ and the will of the Father.  Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


When Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, the General Primary President, was here a few weeks ago, I had the great blessing of witnessing her interaction with some Tongan Primary children.  About 60 of them sang to her in both Tongan and English, and she left the podium to go down close to the children and spoke to them personally.

She spoke with a few children individually, asking for responses to questions or for volunteers to tell her something important they wanted her to know.  She asked the group some questions for the entire group to respond to, as well.  She asked the children, “Raise your hands to show me this – how many of you want to go back to live with your Heavenly Father?”  Of course, every single hand in the little Primary choir went up.

Then she asked, “How many of you want to go there alone?”  No hands.  The children just sat there.  Sister Wixom let the silence sink in for a few sentences, and then she turned to the adults in the room.  “It is our job to live so that we can go back to Heavenly Father WITH these children.”

Many years ago, I had a very cherished interchange with some young students who exacted a promise of me to continue to live my life in such a manner that I could help them.  Because of Sister Wixom’s visit, I had a second, with the Primary children in my little ward.

Sister Wixom taught the children how to say “I will stay on the path back to my Heavenly Father” in American Sign Language.  They practiced it many times with her, and she made points to the children and to the adults in the room each time they practiced it. So a few days later in Sunday Primary, most of the older children still remembered the signs, and we reviewed it together.

We practiced the signs, and we talked about how to stay on the path.  We talked about the importance of obeying the commandments, and staying true to our promises and covenants.  And at the close of our conversation, I looked at each child in the room, and asked, “Will you promise me today that you will stay true?  Will you stay on the path?”

“Yes,” came the chorus.
“Even when it’s hard?” I asked.
“Yes,” came an even firmer reply.
“Even when you’re sad, or you’re angry, or you’re feeling like no one loves you?”
“Yes, yes, yes.”

In return, I made a promise that I would remember their names in my prayers.  I told them that if it was possible, I would like to come back to Tonga in 15 years and find them being true to the gospel – serving missions, marrying in the temple, serving responsibly in callings, helping others find a testimony. 

I have two wonderful sons.  I am not yet a grandmother, but I have at least 50 souls to pray for every night - among them the much-loved students who exacted my promise those many years ago, and now, these precious Primary children.  If the Lord will allow me to keep my wits about me, these children will be in my prayers for many years to come.  And praying for them will be my best motivation to stay on the path, too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hobbiton, An Unexpected Pleasure

A Shire Hobbit home.  

I was brought to the top of the hill, where I could see the little homes dug into the hillsides.  I held my breath.  Yes, the colors were true, the gardens well-tended, the chimneys not yet smoking with the preparation of the evening meal.  I had to restrain myself from running headlong down the hill, calling out the names of friends I had never met.

No, running would never do.  Not in the Shire.  A woman of my years would be expected to retain her dignity and walk, so walk I did.  But as my eyes and ears searched every sight and sound, my heart raced.  I was not permitted to actually knock on the doors – I couldn’t even go through the gates to the tiny front gardens – but I peered as carefully as I could through the windows, looking for some movement within each home.

Bag End.
Alas, though we visitors were many that day, the village was empty.  Not a single light inside any home.  Even the one door that stood invitingly open – Bag End – seemed ready to fall shut at any moment.  NO HOBBITS HERE, a sign might well have said, even though it looked as though they had been here ten minutes before our group's arrival.

The woodcutter’s axe lay atop the chopping block, with firewood filling the wheelbarrow just next to it. The smithy’s tools lay on a worktable, but no fire burned in the forge.  The courting pond and bench felt lonely, with no young lovers there. The seesaws under the Party Tree were set up, but no children raced to jump on them.  Even the beehives sat abandoned, as evidenced by the game equipment stored next to them. The whole village seemed forsaken.

The Party Tree.
Or perhaps not.  Be still.  After a long moment, I thought I heard something.  I looked back up the hill, and heard it again - children laughing.  Smiling, I turned to continue my walk, with new eyes and ears.  Mothers cooing to their babes, fathers joking with each other, children picking wildflowers from the far side of the field fences, new-found friends of all ages sharing discoveries with each other.  Down on the field under the Party Tree, families and friends both played and rested together.  Through the windows and doors of the  little hobbit homes, through the ground up the chimneys and out of the grass percolated a sense of trust, of easy camaraderie, and every one of us on that hillside responded.  The little village was alive with sound, with purpose, and with kindness, as our group listened, chatted, and smiled with each other.

The water mill, complete with working wheel.

Down the hill again to the bridge by the water mill – trading cameras to take shots for each other, talking about our jobs, our families, our pleasure at sharing this place.  No wonder hobbits who left were considered odd – yes, it would be hard work (living off the land always is), but who would want to leave home when home provides you everything you need?

By the time we all reached the Green Dragon Inn, the Shire pub, we were completely at ease, and raising a glass (of ginger beer) to salute each other seemed perfectly natural.  And our entire group enjoyed each other’s company much more on our return bus trip.  What a model for connected, caring, social circles.  Both Tolkien and Jackson got this one right - no wonder it still resounds in my heart.