Monthly Archives: December 2014

Come To Bethlehem and See

Last Sunday we had our annual Christmas program at church. It was beautiful and uplifting from start to finish. At one point, the congregation joined in for Angels We Have Heard on High, and when we started verse 3, I was struck by the first line and couldn’t get past it:  Come to Bethlehem and SEE…

I had a flashback to my conversion to Christianity when my very first prayer, God, if you’re there, I need to know it…., was answered with a stunning outpouring of love. Suddenly, I could see: see that God was real, see that He loved me, and see that I should henceforth follow Him. My life has never been the same, and my focus shifted from:

  • How do I get this baby to sleep through the night?
  • What am I doing this weekend?
  • How do I pay my bills?


  • How can I be a more serene and loving mother?
  • How can I teach Kevin (and Billy and Roxanne) to read?
  • How do I stand approved before my Savior?

Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Well, this Christian journey has made all the difference in my life, taking me far from where I would certainly be today without it.

We start looking at baby Jesus in the manger at Christmas, but we can also look ahead to His full triumphal return in glory. Please enjoy the following pictures and scriptures as we turn our eyes to more fully see “Him whose birth the angels sing”:

Baby Jesus in a White Stone Manger Courtesy

“Little Lamb” (in a White Stone Manger)

And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. (Matthew 17:8)

For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)

Come to Bethlehem and see – see differently!

The Second Coming by Harry Anderson Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Second Coming by Harry Anderson
Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Coming Into Port

A further insight on my last post:  By letting my emotions flow freely, even through intense pain, they kept on flowing completely out of me, as long as I avoided the shoals of self-pity. The pain was gone more surely than any amount of stuffing it back into my subconscious could achieve. It felt like gliding into port and stepping on solid ground again.

Then I was prompted to reread Elizabeth Gilbert‘s famous book, Eat, Pray, Love. I just finished it this morning (actually in the middle of the night when I do a lot of my reading) and I was struck by several thoughts. First, I’m not nearly the emotional basket case she is, or at least I don’t live “as large” as she does.

Second, I was reminded of the vast array of spiritual practices in the world and how they bring multitudes to the throne of grace. I had explored many of them, back in my hippie days searching for God: Practicing stillness, auto suggestion, chanting. I remember hearing of an ancient Native American practice of sending depressed people to walk along the banks of a moving river until their own emotions came unstuck and could flow into healing pathways. I had walked along the banks of the Iowa River one summer wrestling with the growing conviction that I couldn’t stay in Iowa to raise my two children under the protective wing of my family; I would have to go to Utah and face those challenges alone where my higher spiritual path beckoned. The process worked, I tuned into the quiet flow of the natural world and God spoke to me through it.

Sometime later, I came across a religious cartoon, showing two movie theater marquees across the street from each other. The billing on one read ABOUT GOD with a long line of people stretching around the block, while the other read GOD with only a few patrons straggling in! I think many of us are afraid of actually experiencing God so we substitute listening to other mortals’ ideas of God, a lesser experience. But all true religion begins and ends with an actual connection with the divine. I propose that comes in many ways, not all of them filled with spiritual sunbeams and lollipops.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is an account of her journey out of a once vital marriage, through an ugly complicated divorce, devastating to her self-esteem and life path. She goes on a year-long quest to find answers and peace – first pleasure (eating in Italy), then purity (meditation and yoga in India), and finally a balance of the two in Indonesia where she actually finds it, along with real love.

At the end of the book she returns with her new-found mate to an island where she had retreated two years before just as she hit her lowest point. The first time, she spent 10 days in solitude and silence flushing out all “her sorrows and her shames,” letting them flow through and out of her. So this island acted like bookends punctuating the beginning and end of her odyssey. An inspiring read, even if it’s a little edgier than my comfort level. She ended up making a patchwork life now married to the lovely Brazilian man she found in Bali, where their lives take them all over the world, separately and together. Most importantly, it’s a much higher level of creative achievement and personal happiness for them both.

A third similarity: She was wrenched away from the comfort of her first marriage by her own insistent creative growth. A life force much bigger than her tossed her about until she came out the other side, all rearranged and new. And I’ve been a vagabond in my own life, never completely fitting into any one “port” – Midwestern schoolgirl, New England hippie, nor Utah Mormon – but with a bone-deep connection to all of them. Trying to synthesize these into something coherent has been more than tough. Under my own power, it’s been impossible. But the Lord has led me on an amazing creative and spiritual journey into a higher level of me-ness, not in a selfish way but in a growth way. Just as I described in one of my earliest posts, The Gems Within (ironically sparked by a television interview with Elizabeth Gilbert), the life force has pushed to live even more intensely through me, as it will in all of us, if we let it.

This morning a memory flashed through my mind: of me at age 17 or 18 standing on the footbridge by the University of Iowa Student Union at night watching a couple of otters cavorting on the bank of the Iowa River, silently and powerfully gliding beneath them. Their fur glistened in the darkness as they darted in and out of the water, their long, sleek bodies moving like quicksilver. I realized that if I would deepen my trust in the life force that wants to live through me, I could eventually be like them, moving in total harmony with the universe, in utter joy and abandon – but also doing good and being good.

That’s a homecoming I’ll gladly welcome, even after a terrifying storm. I hope you can also trust your “sorrows and shames” to the Master of us all to guide you into port.

Boat Safe on Shore Courtesy

Boat Safe on Shore

The Heart of Darkness

We’ve all heard of “the ugly cry,” right?  When some deeply repressed pain finally floats up, it usually takes us by complete surprise, and we blubber, bawl and wail!

I remember an obscure movie, The Pumpkin Eater, in which Ann Bancroft plays a 1950’s style housewife, self-sacrificing and taken for granted in the extreme by her husband and children. All looks good on the surface until one day she melts down in a department store, sinking to the floor in uncontrollable sobbing. While I think we’re usually much better now at recognizing our feelings, these moments come at one time or another.

I was horrified when my marriage of six years fell apart, mostly at the six years spent building a relationship and lifestyle that came to an abrupt and irrevocable end. I vowed not to take such a big life detour again, especially since it affected two adorable children even more than myself. While I’ve always wanted to remarry, psychological patterns from my childhood stood in the way of creating a healthy relationship, one with less chance of sudden implosion. All these years, the Lord has promised me the blessing of an eternal companion, so I’ve trudged my way through personal transformation while raising my darlings and navigating the work world. It was a slow process, requiring “sucking up” my feelings most of the time, but while I am getting closer, a lot of years have passed!

This last month I hit the wall, the dam broke, and I decided to just let those repressed, raw feelings flow and see where they took me. My two rules: I couldn’t sink into self-pity and I couldn’t take out my frustration on others.

As I wondered why I seemed to be stuck in spiritual and relationship limbo, I thought of a woman I worked with long ago. She was single and nearing age 40, but bitter and angry at life. In spite of our shared Christian beliefs, I failed to lift her faith. Sitting on the bus in downtown Salt Lake after work one December night, I saw her staring wistfully at a store window displaying a child’s doll house. I knew she was imagining the daughter she didn’t have playing with it, and I felt so bad for her. She’s never married and I’ve wondered why not. After all, she was worthy in every way to receive God’s blessing.

Years later, I found a possible answer in the LDS Bible Dictionary under Prayer:

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings. [emphasis added]

I realized that I could be too self-sacrificing and fail to more actively ask for my promised blessings. I saw that part of what held me back was an unwillingness to fully feel my own pain. Stuffing it isn’t faith, and it certainly isn’t courage. Perhaps it was better to face it, feel it, and then actively pray for greater inspiration and blessings.

No great revelation or change has yet appeared, but as I stay open and sometimes on the edge of tears, I also feel an unexplained increase in hope. There is a light glimmering in my dark place, I feel I’m on the right track, and how appropriate for the season in which we celebrate the light Christ brings to the world.

I hope that light richly blesses each of you this Christmastime!

A Candle in the Darkness Courtesy

A Candle in the Darkness

An Unfair Life?

Do you feel lucky, especially compared to other people? I mean in the sense of being fortunate.

Overall, the deficiencies of my life have cast a long shadow over very real and substantial blessings, in spite of my best efforts to be positive. I often have to work to rise above self-pity and then I don’t always succeed.

Recently, I visited in depth with a friend who acknowledges not having big problems: professionally successful, a happy family, good health, a satisfying church affiliation, and many friends. As we discussed issues of inner faith, I realized I had a blessing this friend, by his own admission, didn’t have: a living, one-on-one connection with God. And it has utterly transformed my life and view of the future.

Suddenly, I felt really lucky, and I realized I wouldn’t trade that precious relationship for a larger bank account nor even an intact, functional marriage. Can’t most of us see those gaping holes in our own lives? There certainly are people living what I call a “white-picket-fence lifestyle” and who would agree they’ve had very little adversity. But I think many more people could report very daunting challenges (dysfunctional family, divorce, health problems, struggling kids or no kids, financial reversals, etc.) which cast a big shadow over their happiness too.

So how do we regard these apparent inequities? Isn’t this blatantly unfair? Christianity gives us some answers:

  1. God doesn’t play favorites: Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34-5) So I have to believe that all will be tested, one way or another, and all will be blessed.
  2. There has to be a good reason behind all our circumstances, even if we can’t see what it is: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) About this point, I have to remind myself that my desires too often lean toward comfort and happiness, not growth nor service!
  3. When our focus is spiritual, the circumstances of life will eventually catch up, in this life or the next: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)
  4. Some adversity is a test, but all our losses will be made up in this life or the next. See the story of Job in the Old Testament – God allowed Satan to test his righteousness with terrible adversity, but afterwards God blessed Job: . . . the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. . . . So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. (Job 42:10, 12)
  5. God will heal our sorrows: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
  6. I’ll paraphrase one of my church leaders who explained differences this way: We are living in Act Two of a three-act play. We’ve lost our memory of premortal life (Act One) preparing to come here, nor can we see what will come after (Act Three) when all will be made up to us. We can’t truly understand our life’s path until we see the whole picture.

All these things comfort me, but nothing was quite so dramatic as this sudden paradigm shift. I really wouldn’t trade my education, my family heritage, and especially not my knowledge of God for the things I’m missing. And I know that if I stay on the path like Job, my latter end will be more than my beginning and that God will wipe away all tears.  May you find peace and thanksgiving in your life as well.

God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano Courtesy

God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano, 1515 AD