Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

I just finished the Book of Mormon, one day early.

For the context of any readers I might possibly have who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ, back in early October, our prophet, President Nelson, challenged the women in our church to read the entire Book of Mormon before the end of the year. Less than three months to finish a 531 page book of dense scripture.

I'm nothing if not an upholder, so I knew once this expectation had been given me, from a prophet no less, I would meet it. But I also knew it wouldn't be easy for me. I did the math and calculated I would need to read between six and seven pages of scripture a day. I already struggled to read one page a day. Honestly, most days were a handful of verses. Factor in that this challenge was given in the middle of one of my most intense, most demanding semesters of my life, where I spent every available minute reading all my other assigned work, and I really didn't know how I was going to fit in extra reading time every day.

But now that it's over, now that I've done what felt impossible and like a serious burden in the beginning, I'd like to take a few moments and reflect on the experience.

Lesson 1: I Have Time for My Priorities

This is a lesson I keep learning over and over. My life is so busy, so very, very busy. I never have enough time to do all of the things I need to do, let alone want to do. During the semester, I never have enough time to clean the bathrooms, I never have enough time to watch TV, I never have enough time to get all the sleep I want. But I always have time for what is most important: reading to my children, making dinner every night, occasional date nights with my husband.

I have enough time for the things that are most important.

And this challenge was no different. Way back in early October, I did not know where I was going to find the time in every day to read seven pages of scriptures, but I knew it was important. I knew this was going to be a priority. And so I thought about where in my day I could do this. My morning routines are already so rushed, I didn't think I could add scripture reading there and still make it out the door on time (let's be honest, I was rarely making it out the door on time at the end there, always rushing into class frazzled and late). But I realized I have this pocket of time, about fifteen minutes or so, after we all get home from school but before I start dinner prep, where I usually allow myself a break. I get the kids set up with a snack and make a snack myself and just sit at the kitchen table scrolling my phone. I decided that if I read my scriptures during that snack time instead of scrolling my phone, I could probably fit it in there, so that's what I did.

It took some discipline on my part. After all, at that time of day (4 PM), I am exhausted and weary and not up for much mental exertion. Reaching for my scriptures instead of my phone took energy. And I will be quite honest that there were days I was so tired that my "reading" was pretty superficial, eyes glazing over words with not much meaning taken in. I even fell asleep a few times.

But it was a priority, and I made it happen every day, until it became natural and easy.

And so, during one of the busiest, most grueling semesters of my life, I found time every day to read seven pages of the Book of Mormon. It was time that I would've sworn before I did not have, but when I chose to make it a priority, when I looked long and hard at my schedule, there it was. Time for what was most important.

Lesson 2: Joseph Smith Did Not Write This Book

One of the hardest parts of pursing an advanced degree in the liberal arts is the fact that most of the people and texts I interact with on a daily basis are highly critical, if not downright hostile, toward religious belief. This was not my worst semester (by far) in terms of dealing with professors or other students or class discussions where faith has been ridiculed (oh, how different it is to attend schools that are not BYU), but there was still a constant undercurrent that occasionally rose to the surface.

There was the snarky comment at the conference I attended about scripture belonging to the "speculative fiction" genre.

There was the class discussion on fan fiction writing where a fellow student brought up the idea of scripture being like fan fiction (people being so obsessed with an imaginary world they write about it as if it were true).

That's just a small, small sampling of the many comments and ideas hostile to faith that I combat on a daily basis, but these two, made at this time where I was immersing myself in the Book of Mormon, found themselves rattling around in my brain as I came home to read every day.

What if the Book of Mormon was "written" by Joseph Smith, like some kind of Bible fan fic? What would that mean? That a twenty-something kid with a rather limited education was able, essentially on his own, to take some rather obscure verses in Jeremiah about the sacking of Jerusalem under king Zedekiah, and imagine not one, but two groups escaping at this time, send them over to America, and then construct 1,000 years of history for a complex civilization with incredible detail, and allow different writing styles for different prophets, and then throw in a complex structure of small plates and large plate abridgment? And then let's not forget about the Jaredites, and the level of complexity that adds! Could someone like Joseph Smith really have constructed this world? Imagined it this clearly? And, history aside, could he really have made up this doctrine? A kid who was not a theologian? With an eighth grade education?

It was actually my son, just a week ago or so, who asked me, "Mom, why isn't there an author listed on the title page of the Book of Mormon?"  And I shot the question back at him:

"Well, who would the author be? What name should be listed as the author?"

And in his sweet, sweet innocence, he thought for a minute and then said, "Well, didn't God write all the scriptures?"

Yes. In a way, yes. I explained to him about how it was actually a long string of prophets who kept records and then those records were compiled and abridged, and so, technically, they are the authors of the Book of Mormon. But in the end, it is God's work entirely.

I know there are some places (like my university's library catalog) where Joseph Smith is listed as the author of the Book of Mormon. But what impressed me so much during the past three months of reading this book, so quickly and all together, was that there is no way Joseph Smith could have done this. No offense to my esteemed ancestor (four-greats grand uncle), but it is a stretch to believe that any person of his background and upbringing could create something like the Book of Mormon from scratch.

It is honestly easier for me to believe an angel sent from God showed him how to translate it than it is to believe he wrote it himself.

Lesson 3: There is Power in this Book

This is not the first time I've learned this lesson, because this is not the first time I've read this book.

I read the Book of Mormon for the first time when I was eight years old, in answer to another challenge given me at my baptism (if an authority figure gives me a challenge, I will meet it). It took me a year to read it. I understood very little of it. And when I finished it, I happily closed the book, content to move on to other more exciting books.

I don't remember exactly how long it took me to notice. Maybe it was a few months, probably a few years. But I began to realize that something was different. I remember reflecting on my year reading the Book of Mormon, and how happy I'd been that year, how I had been kinder to my siblings and gotten in fewer fights, how I'd felt more peace. I'm still impressed with myself, for being able to notice this at such a young age, but I did notice that since finishing the book and moving on, I'd been less happy, more quarrelsome, not as good a person.

At the age of twelve, I decided that I needed to return to regular scripture reading. But since I'd already done the Book of Mormon, I decided to branch out and try the other books of scripture. It took me through most of middle school, but I read the Bible cover to cover, then read the D&C and the Pearl of Great Price. And it was good. But it was not the same.

In eighth grade, I began reading the Book of Mormon again, for the second time. Again, it took me the better part of a year to finish it, and again, I didn't understand most of it. But the difference in my life was marked. I felt it. I felt it every day.

I finished on October 15th 2001, when I was in 9th grade. I recorded the date in my scriptures, because I wanted to mark the occasion. Now, after having read every book of scripture, I could say without doubt that there was something different about the Book of Mormon. There was power there, and I knew that I never wanted to go another day of my life without that power in it. So I decided that no matter what, I would read at least some piece of the Book of Mormon every day of my life.

Today I finished reading it for the 22nd time.

It's hard for me to say exactly how reading it this time influenced my life more than at other times, considering how long it's been since I've been without the influence of this book in my life. But here's what I can say about this three month period: I survived when I thought I wouldn't. I found time I didn't think I had. I had ideas and thoughts that led to papers that were very exciting to write. I was led to an incredibly serendipitous find in the special collections library which allowed me to frame one of my papers on original research. I was able to spend time with my children. I found the mental energy to play with them. I read to them every day. I made their dinners and breakfasts every day. For the most part, I did not yell at them. During the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the distinct thought: My life is busy, but it is full of deep, deep joy! If I miraculously won the lottery tomorrow, it wouldn't change a thing! This is the life I would choose! I would wake up and keep doing exactly what I'm doing now!

Now, that's not to say everything was perfect. I was definitely not getting enough sleep, my kids were sick far more often than was convenient, and my house was a complete disaster 99% of the time. But I was feeling deep joy, and deep peace, despite the chaos.

And I know I was feeling it because of the Book of Mormon.

So, I would like to take this time and space and place, to share my testimony of the Book of Mormon. My faith has not always been perfect. I have been deeply troubled by doubts before, and still battle with many doubts. There are doctrines and practices in my religion that are hard for me to accept.

But this I know: The Book of Mormon is true. I know this in a way that defies logic or reason. I know, I have felt, that if I were ever to deny the Book of Mormon, the very fibers of my being would revolt against me, for every part of me, my body, and my spirit, knows it to be true. There is power in that book. I have never known or felt anything as strongly as this.

If you would like a free copy of the Book of Mormon, you can request one by clicking this link.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Birthday Season

It’s that time of year. Time for putting up decorations, time for buying presents, time for planning parties, time for making cake!

Wait, did you think I was talking about Christmas?

Yes, there are Christmas preparations too.

But no. I’m talking about the decorations and the presents and the parties for my soon-to-be seven-year-old boy and two-year-old girl. With one born two days before Christmas and one born three days after, this is the season of birthdays for us.

And if last year was any indication, this season promises to be a mad-house every year for the next decade or so. Because when your kid has a birthday around Christmas, it just isn’t fair, and you’ve got to do everything in your power to make it special. You’ve got to fight to have a birthday party (maybe not with friends, because everyone is traveling or busy with family, but the cousins are even more fun, right?), and you’ve got to make sure the wrapping paper isn’t the same one Santa uses, and you’ve got to get balloons and streamers that are NOT red and green. And you’ve got to make cake.

Lots of cake.

Cake for Birthday #1, cake for Birthday #2, and cake for the joint party the following weekend.

And you have to make all this cake even though no one will eat it. Because who wants birthday cake when there are plates of cookies (molasses and mint chocolate and snickerdoodles) and gingerbread houses covered in candy and peppermint bark and stocking treats and let’s not forget Christmas dinner pie!

But even though no one will eat the birthday cake, you will still make birthday cake. Because cake is what is served at every other birthday in every other month of the year, and gosh darn it, your children are going to have as normal a birthday as possible!

And during this crazy week, you will live in the kitchen. You will make two special birthday breakfasts plus Christmas brunch. You will make two special birthday dinners, plus the traditional Christmas Eve smorgasbord, and possibly (the years you’re hosting) all of Christmas dinner. And of course, you will make cake. Which means by the time the joint birthday party rolls around, you will wonder if anyone else will notice if all you serve is leftovers (and cake!).

When you wrap the presents, even though you only have three children, you will make five piles. And you will alternate between feeling guilty about how small each pile is considering this is the one time of the year that two of your children get any presents at all, and feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the sudden accumulation of so much stuff! Not to mention the cost of it all!

But in the quiet moments, the few snatched between all the present wrapping and decorating and cake-making, when you have a moment to reflect, you will feel that this whiplash between singing Christmas carols and singing Happy Birthday is actually… kind of perfect.

Because what is Christmas, after all, except the biggest birthday party of them all?

It is birthday season.

And what are birthdays for, except to celebrate the incredible blessing of life? We celebrate birthdays not only to remember the day we were born (most of us can’t remember that anyway), but to celebrate the life we’ve lived since being born.

The year my son was born was one of the most sacred and holy Christmas seasons I’ve ever had. I held my newborn babe and thought of the other one, born so many thousands of years ago.

But my son is not a baby anymore. Every year brings a new number, longer limbs, a bigger vocabulary. He wants bikes and books and LEGOS and a Star Wars birthday party, this growing boy of mine. And as he grows, I can’t help but think of a growing Savior. He was not a Babe every year either. He turned one, and then two, and even seven years old. What was he like as a seven-year-old? What games did he play? What songs did he sing? What would he have wanted for his birthday at seven?

The reason we celebrate birthdays is not just that we were born. We celebrate birthdays to celebrate the life behind and ahead of us.

The reason we celebrate Christmas is not because a baby was born in a lowly stable. The reason we celebrate Christmas is because that baby grew up, year after year, and did remarkable things with his life.

And so on the 23rd, I will celebrate my son, honor his remarkable life, and shower him with as much love and affection as I can. And on the 28th, I will celebrate my daughter, and look forward to all the amazing life she has yet to live.

And on the 25th, I will celebrate my Lord. I will honor His remarkable life. I will consider what it is I can give Him that would please Him most.

For it is birthday season, and that is how we celebrate birthdays.

That, and with cake!

Every other year or so, I tend to write a Christmas essay (this season makes me reflective, for obvious reasons), usually about my birth experiences. You can read my other ones here and here.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Books I Read in November

Well, we're barreling right along toward Christmas now, but I've just unburied myself from the avalanche that is the end of the semester, and now I'm back and ready to talk about reading for fun!

But really, that was one of the more exhausting semesters I've ever had. I loved my classes, but for some reason they all seemed to require so much more work than classes I've had before (more papers, longer papers, more reading, longer reading). And teaching/grading is always exhausting. It was a great semester for me as far as interesting research/writing, but I'm burned out in every way imaginable. I need this winter break so I can start feeling like a normal human functioning on more than survival mode. So grateful to be back here now!

Anyway, my November reading post is one of the many things that got put off in the midst of end-of-term paper writing. I'm sure most of you neither noticed nor cared, but I love writing those posts so much for the reflection time they give me about my pleasure reading. So, this is for me, even if none of you care. I only got around to six books in November (now, six books is actually a pretty good number for me, it's just down from the whopping 10 or so I read in October), because one of them was beastly long (and I only read half of it). But anyway, here they are:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

This one was a assigned reading, but I read it once before in high school (for fun back then...). Anyway, I can't really say I recommend this one, let alone like it, but it is still fascinating in so many ways. First off, Flaubert is just an incredible writer. This is a translation, and the amazing writing still shines through (oh, if only my French were good enough to read it in the original!). Second, I'm always fascinated by the negative portrayal of pleasure reading in this novel, and how Madame Bovary can never find happiness in life because real life doesn't measure up to the romantic books she reads. It feels like Flaubert is blaming the books, but honestly, I blame Madame Bovary. For some reason, all the men in my class found her a fascinating and attractive character (phrases like, "I would date her if she were a real person" were used in class), but I can't stand the woman. She annoys me beyond what is reasonable to be annoyed by a fictional character, and I'm sooooo frustrated by her life choices. Anyway, this makes for a fantastic English class/book club read (lots to discuss!), but does not make for a happy read.

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov,

Third in the series, and my favorite up to this point, though I had to stop after this one because my library doesn't have the next book in the series available on audio (I could write a whole post about my library's spotty and disappointing audio book offerings, ugh!), so we'll see if I continue with the series. After all my complaining about the lack of female characters in the first book, here Asimov comes up with a rather delightful and precocious teenage girl who steals the show. And this whole mind-reading thing has really taken the series into a much more interesting place plot-wise. If you like science-fiction, I really do recommend this series.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Perhaps not my favorite of the series, but good enough that I will keep along with it (I can't believe I've read six of these!). The murder investigation in this one was a little uncompelling to me (the opening of an old investigation was far more interesting, but also split the plot up), but I learned a lot of interesting stuff about Quebec and Canadian history which I enjoyed, and as always, the food descriptions were insanely mouthwatering. These books make such great winter reads, too, because Canada just sounds so darn cold all the time.

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

I finally got around to reading this long anticipated sequel to My Lady Jane (which I loved so much)! And, I have complicated thoughts. First, I think I really, really would've loved this one if I didn't love the original Jane Eyre  so much. If I could just disassociate this story from that one, if this could just be its own stand-alone historical fantasy fiction, I would've really loved it. The ghost element was a lot of fun, their humor was characteristically delightful, and there was so much to like. Unfortunately, they kept reminding me that this was riff on  Jane Eyre by actually quoting lines from the original, which just made their own writing look pale and juvenile in comparison. I think the ways they tried to rewrite the story and redeem Mr. Rochester were interesting, but in order to make Rochester palatable they basically had to break him up with Jane, which I don't necessarily disagree with, because I don't like Rochester in the original, but then it wasn't Jane's love story... and it just meant Jane wasn't the character I loved from the original, so that was hard for me. But if you haven't read the original, or don't care about, and just enjoy fun and light historical fantasy fiction, this one is worth the read.

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

How I do enjoy a good Heyer novel! This was her first (apparently written when she was 17, or something ridiculous like that), and given that, I find it remarkably good. It's not her best novel, and a lot of the criticism comes from it being so darn cliche. And yes, when it comes to the stereotypical melodrama, I think Heyer manages to tick off every single cliche in the book. But she does it with such flair! The villain is sooo villainous, the hero so dashedly charming and deserving, the heroine so beautiful and in distress... it is all just delicious fun. I could absolutely see the influence of The Scarlet Pimpernel in this one.  I devoured this one, loved every minute of it.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Okay, this was a quixotic pick for me (did you see what I did there?), but after reading Madame Bovary (Flaubert was heavily influenced by Don Quixote) and thinking about the way this story has influenced attitudes on books and the power of reading, and thinking it might relate tangentially to the topic I wanted to write my paper about, and seeing it was available on audio (when so many other things I want to read are not), I decided to listen to it for fun. Okay, I recommend no one do this, unless, like me, you are pursuing an advance degree in literature. This may have been wildly popular in it's day, and it may be very influential, and have a lot of great characters and funny moments, but as a whole it does not translate well to the modern day. It is long and tedious. I barely made it through Part 1, and decided to just stop there when I realized that Part 2 was written more than a decade later and only after fans asked for more. I'm glad I read it, I did end up using it in my paper, but if you're interested, just do yourself a favor and stick to the musical version or some other modern adaptation. Don't suffer through the early seventeenth century prose and meandering plot lines.

I started Don Quixote in mid November, and it took me the rest of the month to finish it, so that's all for my pleasure reading last month. December has been off to a slow start (thanks to all the time spent writing said papers), but now that I'm on break I'm hoping things pick up a bit. Holiday time means reading for fun time, am I right?