Leave the Noise

Every man or woman who goes to the temple in a spirit of sincerity and faith leaves the house of the Lord a better man or woman. There is need for constant improvement in all of our lives. There is need occasionally to leave the noise and the tumult of the world and step within the walls of a sacred house of God, there to feel His spirit in an environment of holiness and peace.
- Gordon B. Hinckley


Character Foils

I learned about character foils in an English Literature class in college, but it's come to mind over and over again the last few days as I've been reading the "war chapters"* of the Book of Mormon. (p.s. - can you believe Mormon knew about this umpteen hundred years ago? fascinating.)

A foil is a person who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight various features of the main character's personality: to throw the character of the protagonist into sharper relief. A foil usually has some important characteristics in common with the other character, such as, frequently, superficial traits or personal history.

One of the strongest foils in these chapters is Amalickiah v. Moroni. They're both (originally) Nephites, both have fairly equal education and military experience, both commanders of very large armies. Look how Mormon juxtaposes their characters in chapter 49.

The Lamanites decide to attack Ammonihah (because they'd had pretty good success there the last time) but when they see all the fortifications Moroni and his people have made, they chicken out. So they decide to go to Noah (previously the weakest point in the Nephi's defense system). They get all psyched up about it and their chief captains, a bit hastily, make an oath that they'll destroy the city. They're less excited when they get there. In fact, could basically sum up their experience in these few phrases: "how great was their disappoitntment" (v.4), "were astonished exceedingly" (v.5), "to their uttermost astonishment" (v.8), "to their astonishment" (v.14), "they were again disappointed" (v.17).

End of story - more than a thousand Lamanites, including all their chief captains, are slain, only 50 Nephites are wounded (though some quite gravely) and Amalickiah is furious.

"Amalickiah, who was a Nephite by birth (1) ... was exceedingly angry with his people (2), because he had not...subjected them to the yoke of bondage (3). Yea, he was exceedingly wroth and he did curse God (4), and also Moroni, swearing with an oath that he would drink his blood; [here comes the foil] and this because Moroni had kept the commandments of God in preparing for the safety of his people. [more direct comparison] And it came to pass, that on the other hand, the people of Nephi did thank the Lord their God, because of his matchless power in delivering them from the hands of their enemies" (v. 27-28).


1. Mormon reminds us that Amalickiah is also a Nephite
2/3. Amalickiah is angry with is people because he didn't get what he wanted (to bring the Nephites into bondage). Moroni was also angry with his people (several times). Remember why? Because they sought to overthrow the government and establish a king and refused to fight to preserve their freedoms (Alma 51:14, 17). See the difference?
4. Amalickiah curses God. Moroni and his people praise God and thank Him for their victories.

This is definitely not the only time Mormon uses a foil to highlight Moroni's character and the cause of justice. In chapter 46 Mormon contrasts Amalickiah's deceitful rise to the kingship of the Lamanites and Moroni's rising of the title of liberty. In chapter 48 he contrasts Amalickiah's inciting of the Lamanite army to anger against the Nephites with Moroni's spiritual and physical preparation of the people for war.

In fact, 48:7 is a direct contrast: "Now it came to pass that while Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God."


Chapter 54 introduces a new foil: Ammoron, Amalickiah's brother who succeeds him in the throne. He and Moroni negotiate the exchange of prisoners. It becomes obvious what each fights for. Moroni: "we will retain our cities and our lands; yea, and we will maitain our religion and the cause of our God" (v.10). Ammoron: "we will wage a war which shall be eternal, either to the subjecting the Nephites to our authority or to their eternal extinction."

Intense, right? There are many more examples. But get this: the term foil refers to the practice of putting dark, polished metal (a foil) underneath a gemstone to make it shine more brightly.

Considering that, it isn't any wonder Mormon chose to tell the story this way. Can you think of any other great character foils in the scriptures?

*War Chapters: Alma 43-63, p.313-368.
**photos via plainbookofmormon.com, sacredsymbolic.com, bookofmormonbattles.com


Deep Drinking

When I taught the Book of Mormon in seminary, I considered it imperative to help the youth want to read it. I wanted them to feel the way I did one summer on the ranch - it was literally an insatiable desire to read and soak up as much of the Book of Mormon as I could. I carried it with me everywhere and I read it while riding horse (ostensibly checking cattle and fence lines) and in the tractor (though my winrows of hay didn't turn out very straight), in the hay truck (my brother would get so mad because I was distracted and would miss his signals) and late at night (no wonder I had such a hard time getting up in the morning). But I honestly couldn't put it down.

I had each of my students tape this quote in the front cover of their scriptures and we would refer to it often:

"I counsel you, my beloved brothers and sisters and friends everywhere, to make reading the Book of Mormon a few minutes each day a lifelong practice... Don't be content with what someone else tells you about what is in it. Drink deeply from the divine fountain itself."*

Doesn't that fit so appropriately into our theme? I love that Elder Romney joins the idea of "a few minutes each day" with "drinking deeply". I think that we can drink deeply in only a few minutes each day - especially since sometimes that's all we have. I think if we'll savor and remember and stretch the benefit of just those few minutes, we can make them into a day-long nourishing experience.

For example, a few weeks ago during a lesson about God's love for each of us, I was deeply touched by one woman's comment. I don't think it was so much what she said exactly (since I can't now remember what it was) as how I felt - at that precise moment, I really did feel that God loved me. I remembered that experience and that feeling several times a day for the next week or so and every time I did, I felt re-invigorated. Each time was a re-affirmation just as strong as the first; that feeling returned to re-confirm my testimony that yes, God does love me.

But then, one deep drink won't sustain us long; we have to constantly for more nourishment. "Drink deeply from the divine fountain itself."

* Marion G. Romney, Conference Report. Apr 1980, 91.


Theology of the Family

Our teacher in Relief Society asked today: why would we have a lesson about family between lessons about God the Father and Jesus Christ? Why indeed?

In a recent address*, Julie B. Beck explained the theology of the family:

"In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a theology of the family. It’s based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement... The Creation of the earth was the creation of an earth where a family could live. It was a creation of a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was not about a creation of a man and a woman who happened to have a family. It was intentional all along that Adam and Eve form an eternal family. It was part of the plan that these two be sealed and form an eternal family unit. That was the plan of happiness.

"The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Through the leadership of Eve and Adam, they chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to have a family, to have sons and daughters. They needed to grow in numbers and grow in experience. The Fall provided that for the family.

"The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness and the plan of salvation was a plan created for families. I don’t think very many of the rising generation understand that the main pillars of our theology are centered in the family."

This doctrine puts a new perspective on the fundamental principles of the gospel: since everything was designed to further the work of families, no wonder it's such an important principle to teach, and no wonder we are charged to protect it.

The plan is all about family.

*Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast • August 4, 2009



I love this photo from this month's Ensign.

My visiting teacher's new year's resolution is to have regular family home evening - even though her youngest is just a Sunbeam. I keep pestering her for ideas. This month her theme is "You are special" and she's keeping it simple. For example, one week they read Max Lucado's "You Are Special" and sang I Am A Child of God. I can do that, I thought (but haven't yet).

I do keep thinking that family night really should be very simple, that the First Presidency's direction includes this phrase: we "should make Monday evening a sacred time," and that sacred has some pretty powerful connotations.


Great & Noble Tasks

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but my chief duty is to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.
~Helen Keller


Every Good Thing

In our Stake Conference this weekend, Elder Holland (via broadcast) spoke of RESOLVE. "I don't want to talk about new year's resolutions. Because let's be honest - here we are the 17th of January and of the 6 resolutions you've made you've already broken 3 of them, seriously bruised 2 and are only barely hanging on to the last." Touché.

So, he spoke of the verb resolve - a commitment - and suggested we resolve to forgive. Yes, others - naturally. But more specifically and emphatically, he kept insisting that we forgive ourselves. "A negative view of yourself leads to a negative view of others and a negative view of life. You will be more willing and more able to see good in others if you can see the good in yourself." Again, touché.

"Every good thing you have ever done pleases Him. Every good thing about you and your character and your personality pleases Him." I tried to think of the good things about me and my character, but it was hard. Everything seemed to fall short of what I seemed to expect.

I turned to my husband for a little pity: "I can't think of anything good about me. What's good about me? I don't know that I'm a good anything." "You're falling right into the trap, you know," he said. "Instead of saying 'I'm a good mother' - which seems to be too big of a step for you, you need to think 'What am I doing to try to be a good mother.'"

And that made all the difference.
What I'm doing to try to be a good mother:
- I read an awful lot of Dr. Seuss books.
- I bathe him on a fairly regular basis.
- I make oatmeal for breakfast.
- I take him places and teach him things.
- I pray with/for him.
- I sing Happy Birthday over and over upon request.

See? There are plenty of good things about my effort to be a good mother (even if I can't quite say unequivocally that I am a good mother, at least I can be pleased with my effort - and I think the Lord is too).

So that's the thing about forgiving myself - for me it's about letting go of the ridiculous expectations (and consequent figurative flogging when I fail to meet those perfectly) and think instead of all the good things about my efforts to get there. And keep at it.
photo via usgennet.org


Spencer W. Kimball - "I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns."*

*The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 135


War & Self-Reliance

Today I'm reading in Alma 43. I'm impressed that the great theme of Moroni's leadership is that he prepares the people. He gets them swords and weapons, armor and breastplates. He fires them up about the reasons they're going to war - wives, children, freedom, religion. He has them heap up mounds of earth and fortify their cities.

And, when the Lamanites come to attack, are afraid (because of the breastplates) and decide to try another tactic, he sends for the prophet's direction.

Moroni does everything in his power to make things happen. And when plans change, he goes to the Lord. This month's visiting teaching message on self-reliance comes to mind: "Everyone has a responsibility to try to avoid problems before they happen and to learn to overcome challenges when they occur."*

Moroni's the man.

* Julie B. Beck. "Becoming Self-Reliant,” Liahona, Jan 2010, 9


Infinite Power of Hope

An inspiring new Mormon Messages video from the Church's Youtube channel; President Uchtdorf testifies that hope in Jesus Christ has the power to give us peace amid adversity, as well as happiness now and in eternity. Sounds relevant, no?


What Defines Me

I came across a lovely, touching video today and wanted to share.

Rachel grew up in British Columbia (my home province in Canada) and did all kinds of neat things - including an active political career and a lovely family. She passed away July 2, 2009 of cancer. But in March 2009, she gave a talk to what was supposed to have been a small gathering of women from her church (she is not LDS) but turned into a presentation to over 600 women from the Vancouver area.

The title of her talk is "Death is not dying" and she talks about her unshakable faith in the Savior despite her impending death. She is inspiring. But what most touched me was her declaration: "Cancer does not define me. Neither does being a wife or a mother. All these things are part of who I am but they do not define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus."

This is a monumental change of perspective. What I do, what I am, who I serve are all important and certainly part of who I am, but what defines me is my relationship with the Savior. And all of a sudden Matt 16:25-26 has so much more meaning:

"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man a profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"


A Promise Kept

Yesterday, Today, and Forever
by David Marshall Habben II

“This artwork depicts the fulfillment of prophecies given through the Lord’s prophets. There are four prophets: Isaiah with his prophetic writings, Ezekiel with scrolls of scripture from two nations, Moroni humbly kneeling over the plates he diligently kept, and Joseph Smith retrieving the record and fulfilling a long-awaited promise.”

I love how this painting spans so many millenia of prophets and encapsulates so much hope and promise and expectation for our time and our generation.


Am I Of Worth?

Sometimes I wonder if what I do is good enough. If who I am is good enough. We must all struggle with these feelings of inadequacy from time to time and wonder where we stand in the Lord's eyes, how He really feels about us. An article I read in the Ensign* this summer changed my perspective and gives me hope.

It was written by a woman who was a healthy, active and involved young adult. Now, however, she struggles daily with a very painful chronic disease. She writes:

"I now experience constant pain and fatigue, and I have forgotten what it feels like to be healthy... some days I am not even able to get out of bed. There are times when I feel I have lost a significant part of my identity. How can I be of worth if I can’t even get out of bed?

As a youth I learned about individual worth. Now I’m really being tested as to the source of my worth. Is it based on my accomplishments, or is it based on the truth that I am a child of God? When faced with feelings of inadequacy, I seek guidance through conversing with my Heavenly Father as well as reading and pondering the scriptures.

I have often asked the Lord if I am still important. After much prayer and scripture study I have learned that Heavenly Father’s closeness helps me understand more fully who I really am. I have learned, and continue to learn each day, that my worth does not depend on my abilities but is founded in the fact that I am His child." (emphasis added)

I find comfort in this idea that my worth doesn't depend on what (or how much) I do but on who I am. The very simple and profound fact that I am a child of a loving Father makes me important. And if that's true, I really don't need to run faster than I have strength.

*Ensign, July 2009