Sunday, September 25, 2016

Scars (a Sacrament Meeting talk)

[For those of you who are unfamiliar with the way Mormon church services work, a word of introduction. Latter-day Saint congregations do not have a pastor. There is a local leader known as a bishop who makes sure the congregation runs smoothly, but he doesn't give sermons every week. Instead, members of the congregation are asked to give talks on various topics. Recently I was asked to speak on the topic "Strengthened by the Atonement." Here's my talk from today.]

Today I'd like to talk to you about scars.

My guess is that if you're over six months old, you probably have some kind of scar. I have a small circular scar on my arm, where my pediatrician gave me the very last smallpox vaccination of his medical career. There are a few striped scars across my knuckles to remind me of the time I absent-mindedly leaned up against the red-hot grill of our family's kerosene heater. My brother Tim has a small crescent moon-shaped scar above his left eye, where a German shepherd bit him. And my husband has a scar on the back of his knee, where he impaled himself on a spear-tipped fence.

Most scars happen by accident, or as a result of necessary life experiences, as with my smallpox scar. Other physical scars are more problematic. That amazing tattoo you got at age 19 might not be quite as amazing when you're 45. Or you may wear long-sleeved shirts to deflect difficult questions about the marks you continue to bear from past traumatic experiences you would rather not discuss.

Then there are the scars no one else sees – the marks we wear on our hearts as the result of physical or mental illnesses, the scars left on our souls from wrongs done to us by others, the scars of remorse we bear from having done others harm.

Regardless of what manner of scar we bear, we tend to think of such marks or disfigurements as permanent and immutable. We may believe they are part of us and can never be wiped away. But as partakers of the restored Gospel, we should come to understand that this belief, no matter how deeply seated, how often reinforced, is an illusion. For we live with a hope and a promise that all scars, no matter their type or origin, will at some time be erased by the sacrificial tokens in the hands, feet and side of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

The Atonement – although it is a core tenet of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the central event around which the Plan of Salvation is based – is not as well understood as perhaps it should be. Because I don't claim to have any unusual knowledge of the subject, I have looked to the words and writings of others with greater insights into the Atonement – what it is, what it does, and what that means for us.

Beginning at Gethsemane and continuing with his crucifixion on Golgotha, Jesus Christ took upon himself the great task for which he was born into the world – the Atonement, the means by which mankind may be reconciled with God. We do not know precisely how the Lord took on this burden, but we do know some of what that burden entailed. Speaking of the Savior, Alma taught:

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me." (Alma 7:11-13)

Here, Alma partly defines the Atonement of Christ, and teaches us that the Atonement covers more than just suffering for sin. He tells us that Christ would suffer temptations, but also that he would take upon himself pains, sicknesses, infirmities, even death, in order to blot out all these things suffered in mortality so that he might deliver his people unto eternal life. Alma also says that Christ will know how to succor his people – "succor" being a word that means to bring aid and assistance in times of trouble or distress. And "his people" are any and all people who come to Christ seeking deliverance.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated, "[B]ecause of His Atonement, the Savior has the power to succor – to help – every mortal pain and affliction. Sometimes His power heals an infirmity, but the scriptures and our experiences teach that sometimes He succors or helps by giving us the strength or patience to endure our infirmities." ("Strengthened by the Atonement of Jesus Christ," October 2015 General Conference)

Enduring an infirmity, as Elder Oaks puts it, can be extremely difficult. [Here I made reference to two people I know, true disciples of Jesus Christ who have endured many years of ill health and debilitating pain.] Not only physical and mental imperfections, but feelings of doubt or deficiency are also covered by the Atonement of Christ. I have spoken to a number of people in the Church – some truly amazing people – who suffer from depression and discouragement because after having done their best, they feel they are still not good enough. If you ever feel this way, I hope you will consider the words and actions of the Savior. He knows what you are going through. His Atonement also applies to your feelings of discouragement. He does not expect you to do everything perfectly in mortality. All he asks of you is to come before the altar with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and this sacrifice will be counted worthy before him.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell – himself slowly succumbing to the ravages of cancer at the time – said, "While so striving daily, we will fall short. Hence the avoidance of discouragement is so vital. So where is the oft and much needed resilience to be found? Once again, in the glorious Atonement! Thereby we can know the lifting tide flowing from forgiveness." ("Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ," October 1997 General Conference) Or as my mother, a wise woman, puts it, "If we truly understood the power of the Atonement in our lives, we would be the most joyous people on the face of the earth."

When we come to the Savior asking for help, the Atonement covers the whole of our sin. When I was young I believed the way the Atonement worked was that we would have to do everything we could, and the power of the Atonement would then cover the rest, but I was wrong. As imperfect human beings, we cannot do anything to atone for our own sins other than to come to the Lord asking for help. At that point, the power of the Atonement covers EVERYTHING. Our responsibility then becomes to turn away from our past sins, ask for forgiveness, follow the Savior and keep his commandments.

There may be someone here currently thinking, "Well, that's all very well and good, but I've done some terrible things in my past. The people I've hurt can't forgive me, and I can't forgive myself. The Atonement cannot possibly apply to me."

All right, let's talk briefly about serious sins. In the Book of Mormon, the People of Ammon, after being converted to the Gospel, decided they would lay down their weapons and never fight their brethren again. As their king stated: "And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain – Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren." (Alma 24:11-12)

These were people who, in the words of their own king, "were the most lost of all mankind" and had committed "many murders." But they had great faith that the Atonement of Jesus Christ – a being who, at that time, had not yet even been born – would save them from all their sins, even the sin of murder, if they would only turn away from what they had done. Such was their faith in that salvation that they would not even take up their arms in self-defense, lest they should lose the precious gift they had obtained through the coming Atonement.

If the people of Ammon believed that the Atonement made it possible for them to repent of the sin of murder and to be right before God, should we not have that much more hope to be cleansed of the various sins which we may have committed? I think we should. Even the most serious of sins, although they may call for Church disciplinary processes, can also be repented of through the power of the Atonement.

As King Benjamin, who must have been a powerful speaker, gave his farewell address to his people, the influence of the Spirit made them keenly aware of their own fallen state. The Scripture states: "And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them." (Mosiah 4:2-3)

Elder Kim B. Clark of the Seventy states: "There is no sin, no guilt, no shame, no fear, no loneliness, no heartache, no loss, no depression, no sadness, no terror, no pain, no challenge, no weakness that Jesus has not experienced and overcome. He has all power over all things. If you turn to Christ and repent of your sins, He will forgive you and cleanse you and change your heart. This is the redeeming power of the Atonement. If you turn to Christ when you face challenges and need capacity beyond your own, He can strengthen you and magnify your capacity. This is the strengthening power of the Atonement. If we come unto Christ and are faithful to our covenants, Jesus will sanctify all of our mortal experience to our blessing both now and forever. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we may become more and more like Him – we may walk in the newness of life, His sons and daughters, clean, pure in heart, filled with the pure love of Christ, blessed with joy and happiness and peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come." ("The Redeeming and Strengthening Power of the Savior's Atonement," April 2016)

Brothers and sisters, I testify to you that as you not only believe in Christ, but also believe Christ and come to rely on the power of his Atonement, your hearts will truly be filled with the joy and peace the Lord's servants have promised. I promise there will come a day when all your scars, both outside and within, will be stripped away by the power of the Atonement. These things I leave with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Happy blogiversary! Plus an awesome Halloween giveaway!

N this day 10 years ago, I opened a Blogger account, chose a goofy blog name, doodled a Cheshire cat avatar on the back of a tithing donation slip, and immediately began to ponder, "Great. What to write, what to write... I know! I'll answer the question I've handily put into everyone's mind: what the heck's a laundry faerie?"

Over the last decade, Confessions of a Laundry Faerie has become my de facto home online; while I've been blogging in some form or other since the late '90s, this seems to be the place I've stuck to for the long haul. And as long as Blogger chooses not to turn out the lights on me, I'll probably go on another 10 years.

So, what gift do you give a blogger for a 10-year blogiversary? Tin? Aluminum? Diamonds? BZZZT WRONG. Answer: you don't! Instead I give something away to you, because that's the way we roll around here.

Halloween is coming, and I'm in the mood to make some handmade origami cards with a Halloween theme. If you'd like a chance to be gifted a set of faerie-made Halloween cards, send me a comment with your mailing address (fear not, comment moderation is on, so your address won't be published) and if I pick your info by random drawing, all manner of origami goodness shall be bestowed upon you!

Aren't blogiversaries nifty? I think so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do I dare disturb the universe?

you're young right now -- say, in your teens or early twenties -- I'm going to make both a guess and a prediction about you.

First, my guess: you probably think that people from any generation older than yours are hopelessly, embarrassingly biased or prejudiced in some way, and their unthinking comments regularly make you cringe.

I know this feeling well. My paternal grandma was an old-fashioned overt racist. Thanks to my mother's stern warnings, Grandma wasn't allowed to use the N-word in our presence, though I'm sure she did it regularly when we weren't around. She'd pass a mixed-race couple holding hands in public and start muttering angrily about how "they think they're so smart, getting right in our faces with it," or she'd see a couple of little boys joyously bouncing on an old mattress in the front yard and talk about how "those people" were bringing neighborhood property values down with their dirty ways, their lack of discipline. Grandma wasn't particularly cruel by nature; her racist behavior had much to do with the time and place in which she was raised, where nearly everyone had a reflexive belief in white superiority.

That brings me to my prediction: in 20 years or so, some of the things you think, believe or say right now -- things you probably don't even think about -- will be considered unacceptably biased or prejudiced to generations younger than you.

Don't think it won't happen. It will.

(When I was a teenager, I didn't think I lived in a time of prejudice. But I grew up in the '80s, when people casually joked about AIDS, when it was possible to use a pejorative like "faggot" in casual conversation and not be called out by anyone, when my brothers routinely played a ball game called "Smear the Queer," and -- this is the part of my teenhood of which I'm most ashamed -- when I nearly drove a close friend to suicide by coldly rejecting him after he gathered all his courage and came out to me. You tell me if things have changed since then.)

My parents taught me to be different from my grandma. I was raised to believe that when it came to people, content of character, not color of skin, was key. I didn't think I was racist, because I wasn't like the people I knew who openly hated people of other races.

But racism is different now.

It's not about open hatred or the use of the N-word, although those elements still exist in our culture. It's not about assuming the superiority of one race over another, or about futilely trying to separate races into apartheid societies. Instead, it's about being able to separate oneself in a more subtle and pernicious way.

It's about watching the news or seeing a trending topic about yet another person getting shot by the police, brutally manhandled to the point of death, or otherwise mistreated and abused by people in authority, and letting pass the subliminal whisper of a thought: "Thank heavens that doesn't affect me." It's about opting to change the channel or click on something more cheerful and pleasant, and not having to lie awake thinking about it all night, not replaying the footage over and over in one's mind, not having to live with the gnawing thought: "That could have been my child/parent/sweetheart/relative/friend/co-worker."

That's racism now. It's taking the path of least resistance when bad things happen to people who don't look or live like you. It's choosing to remain as separated from the plight of one's fellow citizens as one might be from the plight of total strangers in a faraway land one has never seen. It's deciding to tsk instead of act. It's passively choosing not to right the wrongs that exist in a nation that, despite the soaring principles of its founding documents, does not consistently offer equal freedoms, equal access, equality of opportunity, or equality under the law to all its citizens.

And under this definition, despite the things I was taught, sometimes I am a racist. Because it's so much easier. It's easier not to have to engage against injustices that don't directly affect me. I've never had to worry about a police officer shoving a loaded gun in my face, never had to worry about being pulled over for a burned-out headlight because I've only ever received a friendly warning and been sent on my way, never been wrestled to the ground and dragged out of the room because I was sassy to a teacher; it's hard for me even to imagine what it's like to experience these things. It's easier not to imagine, to turn away, to change the subject. Disturbing the universe isn't the proper life work of an introvert, anyway. (Unless it is.)

Here's the thing, though. It may be easier to do nothing in the short run, but I don't think I can stand idly by and watch as others struggle with systemic unfairness, for the most selfish of reasons: because I love my country. Not in the sense of "my country, right or wrong," but in the sense that my country was designed to be good, and I want it to be good. If things continue as they are now -- if one set of Americans has its rights and privileges safeguarded, while another set routinely has those same rights trampled on -- then sooner or later the people of the trampled rights will finally get fed up. If there are enough people who reach that boiling point, they will turn and overthrow the people and organizations that have failed to vouchsafe their rights for so long. And then there will no longer even be the hope of a nation with liberty and justice for all -- nothing but tangled, broken ruins that were once a city on a hill.

So, do I dare disturb the universe? Or do I find out instead what horrors happen if I don't?

Although I don't know a clear way forward from here -- it's surprising how much of adulthood involves stumbling through the dark, however hopefully -- I know I must act to safeguard the rights of all my fellow citizens, to re-teach myself to respond to wrongs instead of ignoring them. Because I want my niece's future children to grow up in a society that's become better, kinder, more honest champions of the things we claim to believe in as Americans.

More to the point, I want there to still be an America for them to grow up in.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Looking for cheap, good recipes!

ISS V has been delivered to her new college apartment and reasonably set up with food and other necessities. She doesn't know any of her roomies this year, so I hope she and they manage to get along well. In the brief time I was in Utah I also got to visit my mom, who is currently undergoing various forms of dialysis to find one that works best for her. My sisters have worked incredibly hard this summer making sure she stays as healthy as possible, and my hat is off to both of them -- home dialysis is not easy at all, and they've been doing a bang-up job of it.

In semi-related news, as you may have heard elsewhere, we're in debt. Not hugely so, but enough that I'd like to make sure it goes away as quickly as possible. To that end, I'll be bringing in more money by looking for work in earnest starting next week, but I'm also going to pore over the budget and find ways to keep some more of our outbound cash. One way to do that is to cook from scratch more often. And while I will be looking over our considerable stash of recipes and cooking based on what's on sale this week, I'm also always looking for more ways to vary our diet. So I'd like to ask you, my 3.5 readers: got any cheap, reasonably healthy, tasty recipes for us to try? Thanks in advance!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Here it goes again

Mom's back in the hospital today. Dialysis hasn't been going well and she's retaining water, had coma-level blood sugars, low heartbeat and crazy blood pressure that's been going very high and very low. Her doctors are trying to figure it all out right now. Please pray for her.

ETA (8/13/16): Mom called me this morning from the hospital. She sounds in better spirits today, although she admits that when she first went in the ambulance she wasn't sure that she would make it. If I understand it correctly, the best theory is that she's been retaining water from the peritoneal dialysis she's been undergoing, plus the night before all this happened she had low blood sugar and took insulin on top of that. When she first got to the hospital, her blood glucose was in the 20s somewhere (for comparison's sake, it's supposed to be around 100). One of her doctors thinks she should go home today, and another insists she should go home tomorrow, so I guess they'll go out in the corridors and solve their differences the ancient medical way (LIGHTSABER BATTLE!).

So this went down. Really. I swear.

ETA (8/14/16): Mom called me this afternoon to let me know she was home again. I don't know if she's out of the woods, but at least she's healthy enough to be out of the hospital!

Monday, August 01, 2016

Busy, busy, busy!

Yes, like the notorious magician Professor Hinkle in the animated Frosty the Snowman special of yesteryear, we are going to be "busy, busy, busy" this month. At some point or other, we've got to pull off all of the following:
  • find and purchase a car for Miss V DONE! (WOOT WOOT CM'S DAD!)
  • find Miss V an apartment in another state DONE
  • make sure the deposit and rent are paid on said apartment DONE
  • get a rental car DONE
  • pack all of Miss V's stuff into the rental car DONE
  • move all that stuff, plus Miss V, three states away for college DONE
  • unpack all that stuff into aforementioned apartment DONE
  • visit the fam DONE
  • drive home solo DONE! whew.
This isn't taking into consideration all the other standard-issue stuff that happens every month (doctor appointments, dentist appointments, home/visiting teaching, general errands, Epic Late-Night Grocery Runs, etc.), so it looks like we'll all have our hands full. Wheee.

So, long story short(er), if you start wondering why I'm not making many updates on the blog this month, wonder no more.
I'm just seeing what I can pull out of this hat.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Well, that's over.

Looks like the Republican Party has officially gone off the rails. So I'm voting straight-ticket Libertarian this year, and cordially invite those of you with a similar bent to do likewise.

That, or you could just write in Obi-wan Kenobi for president. After all, he is our only hope.

I've got a T-shirt with this on it. Best political shirt ever.