Thursday, August 01, 2013

Gratitude

You know you are a dancer in your heart when you hear there's going to be a "salsa demonstration" at the monthly Relief Society meeting and you're shocked when you walk into the cultural hall (late, of course) and find yourself in the middle of a cooking class.

Seriously. I had to do a double take before I sat down.

It was a good class though. The sister who taught it made guacamole, and four different kinds of salsa. And my visiting teaching companion also brought guacamole and some salsa that she'd made. Magie, my visiting teaching companion, is from Mexico and the other sister is also well qualified to comment on authentic Mexican cuisine (though I don't know her very well so I'm not sure entirely where exactly she's from—that's what you get when you're in primary).

The dancing came after we'd finished sampling the salsas. Magie and her husband did that salsa demonstration and then taught everyone the basic steps of salsa dancing. I've never actually gone salsa dancing, so it was fun to learn. I was glad there was dancing because I had been feeling a little silly while sitting through that cooking class.

And I'm glad I had Benjamin there with me to be my partner. He had fun, too.

It's always fun to get together with these women. We have such a great ward; I love all the women from the still-in-high-school girls to the young mothers in my stage of life who sit on the floor with me to eat chips and salsa because Benjamin couldn't handle life any other way to the grandmas who volunteer to babysit my children so that Andrew and I can go to the temple (a sweet sister came right up to me and told me that she makes an excellent babysitter because her grandchildren live too far away to spoil and that she gets off work at 5:00 so I'd better keep her busy because her husband works out of state and she gets lonely (and she doesn't know this but she was a real answer to prayer because babysitting is something Andrew and I still haven't got figured out yet).

Today (and every day) I'm grateful to be a part of The Relief Society. This month's visiting teaching message is about recognizing our blessings and giving thanks for them. "It is easy for us to become mechanical in our prayers of gratitude, often repeating the same words but without the intent to give our thanks as a gift of the heart to God. We are to 'give thanks...in the Spirit' (D&C 46:32) so we can fell real gratitude for what God has given us," counsels President Eyring.


One way President Eyring suggests on how to recognize, remember, and show gratitude for our blessings is to keep a physical list in a journal. He quotes Spencer W. Kimball, who said, "Those who keep a book of remembrance are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives. Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity."

I love the idea that our book of remembrance should be (or could be) an inventory of blessings. I just love journaling. It's something I have a real testimony of. Like President Monson, I've found that my journals have "helped provide some specifics which I most likely would not otherwise be able to recount." He also urges us to "take an inventory of your life and look specifically for the blessings, large and small, you have received."

On a tangentially related note, President Monson's talk is called "Consider the Blessings," which made me think of "consider the lilies," which made me think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Consider the Lilies.



When we were in Florida I had forgotten to bring the girls' primary music, which they've been falling asleep to since January, and instead of downloading the songs I just put on the album that has this song on it (Andrew has it on his iPod) for the girls to listen to. The next day Rachel showed me the entry she'd made in her journal:
June 20
I love lilys so so much!! And they'r pretty!!!!
It was a simple entry, but it was so sweet. She's asked on several occasions for me to put on that song and I don't blame her because it's beautiful and so perfectly describes the gospel. I especially love the last verse:
Consider the sweet, tender children
Who must suffer on this earth.
The pains of all of them He carried
From the day of His birth.
He clothes the lilies of the field,
He feeds the lambs in His fold,
And He will heal those who trust Him,
And make their hearts as gold. 
Suffering is part of mortality—there is no way around it—but Christ truly does heal our hearts and souls and bodies, carries us through our trials, guides us and strengthens us. It's a beautiful process.

This past Sunday in Elders Quorum they discussed Relief Society (which was funny because in Primary we discussed how the priesthood can bless and strengthen our families).

Another quick tangent: Andrew and I began having couple scripture study when we got married but our couple study has morphed into family scripture study as we've added children to our home and as those children have grown big enough to actively participate in reading the scriptures. Suddenly we found that we'd tricked ourselves out of our couple study time and wanted to begin again but were having trouble working such a thing back into our schedule, so here's what we did: we instituted a "What Did You Learn?" segment in our nightly before-bed conversation.

Andrew's responsible for his personal scripture study. I'm responsible for mine. And then at the end of the day, before we pray together, we share with each other something that we learned in our study. It keeps us accountable for our personal scripture study while also drawing us closer together as a couple and to the Lord. Sometimes we talk for a long time about what we've learned. Sometimes we don't. But it's been enjoyable at any rate.

Anyway, it was during one of our recent "What Did You Learn?" segments that Andrew was sharing with me parts of that Elders Quorum lesson from last week. Admittedly, I've been neglecting to read those lessons on a regular basis (they need a make-up class for primary workers or something) but I did go read this lesson because I liked the parts Andrew told me about.

Here is (part) of what President Lorenzo Snow has to say about the Relief Society (from this article):
The Relief Society was organized...by the Prophet Joseph Smith, under the inspiration of the Lord.... Today it is recognized as one of the most powerful forces for good in the Church....
The mission of the Relief Society is to succor the distressed, to minister to the sick and feeble, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, and to bless all the sons and daughters of God. No institution was ever founded with a nobler aim. It basis is true charity, which is the pure love of Christ [see Moroni 7:47], and that spirit has been manifested in all the ministrations of the Society among the people. The Apostle James said that "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" [James 1:27].
The basis of the Relief Society is charity, the pure love of Christ. What better way to share that love than through serving others?

This past week we were honoured to prepared some meals for families in need—one family just welcomed a new baby, the other family's little guy is battling cancer. Both families are busy and exhausted.

We decided to make enchiladas because we knew it would be an easy recipe to make in bulk—we'd seen (and helped) Karen do it before. I made the sauce. Andrew fried the tortillas. I got everything assembled in the pans. Andrew shredded lettuce. I cut tomatoes. Andrew ran into Kroger on our way to deliver the meal to get sour cream (because we forgot to get some when we were out shopping).


In our "What Did You Learn?" segment, Andrew quoted from President Eyring's talk from last October's General Conference Relief Society Broadcast: "Caring for those in need takes a team, a loving and unified society."

"We're a good team," we agreed.

And then we talked some more about his talk because it's one that touched me so deeply, as I watched it standing in my living room and bouncing my fussy little preemie-born baby. I thought about the help we got, whether it was enough, whether it was too much, and whether I'd been grateful enough for the assistance I'd been given.

Now, I've always been terrible at thank-you notes but I don't think that necessarily paints me as an ingrate. I simply think it's a societal thing of varying degrees of importance to different people. I assure you that not every society in the world is as bent on getting out thank-you notes as ours is. Whether or not you have personalized stationary is not a factor on whether or not your heart is full of gratitude. I don't have personalized stationary and I often neglect to send out thank-you notes (though I do try my hardest to remember to thank people formally it simply doesn't always happen).

My cousin Elizabeth was having a hard time with this after she had her baby. I went up to visit her and she was stressing out because she a) was a first-time mother to a one-month infant, b) hadn't quite gotten the hang of nursing yet, and c) hadn't found the time to bake and deliver plates of cookies to everyone who'd brought in a meal for her. I told her that her first concern was normal, her second one we could work on, and her third concern was completely insane.

"Forget about delivering cookies," I instructed. "Focus on feeding that baby and learning how to be a mom. You can send out notes or emails to thank people for bringing you meals. What you need to do is later, when you're feeling better and are more up to the task of cooking,* take a meal to someone else. Trust me. No one expects you to deliver cookies right now."

We had six weeks worth of meals brought into us (not every day, but at least two meals per week for six weeks). Five weeks while we were in the NICU and one more week to carry me through the first week of being home with the tiniest infant I'd ever held—who was still hooked up to an apnea monitor and an oxygen tank—because I was seriously doubting my ability to keep that boy alive and because my girls conveniently got the stomach flu the week he came home. When the sister in charge of the "compassionate service committee" called to ask, "If things were going okay," I promptly broke down sobbing.

"Oh, things are not okay," she said, understanding what my tears meant perfectly even though I wasn't able to choke out a coherent phrase. I remember shoving the phone at Andrew, who wasn't quite as an emotional mess as me, so that he could talk to her for me. She quickly volunteered to find a couple more people to feed us while I got the hang of things a little better.

Aside from dealing with a premature baby and two kids with the stomach flu, I was also trying to get ready to move. There is no way I could ever have baked cookies to "repay" all the people who brought us meals, and they weren't looking to be repaid. They did it because they loved Christ. They did it because they loved me.

While I was making the enchiladas I thought to myself, "This is part of my penance for six weeks of postpartum meals." But then a line to a hymn floated through my mind and I quickly corrected myself: "Because I have been given much, I too must give. This is part of my gratitude for six weeks of postpartum meals." I suppose it's even more than that, though, because I didn't only do it out of an obligation to "repay" or even to show my gratitude. I did it, really, because I love the ladies I took meals to. And that's why the ladies who brought me meals did it.

I believe Heavenly Father orchestrates our lives with people to serve and people to be served by, people to love and people to love by. In that way, he teaches us about the love he has for us.

President Eyring says, "Caring for those in need takes a team, a loving and unified society. That is what the Lord is building among you. He loves you for any part you play. One evidence of His appreciation is that God allows you to feel increasing love for those you serve."

And that's why I love Relief Society, I think. Every single one of those sisters would be willing to drop everything and run to my side if I needed them to. There's a whole lot of love floating around when the Relief Society gets together no matter what we're doing.

7 comments:

  1. I love reading your blig but seemed to appreciate this one more deeply. Thanks! It's always good to be reminded of these things!

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  2. Ditto Julia. Thanks for this lovely reminder, Nancy.

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  3. Love this - I've had many of the same thoughts bouncing in my head over the past year... Thanks for putting it into such lovely words!

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  4. This was great! I love the couple, "What did you learn?" thing. I think we will try that.

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  5. Well said! And something that's been on my mind lately, so I appreciated your thoughts on it. Thank you.

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  6. Funny, I made s boat load of Sheppard's pie this past week. Dusty commented and asked if I was going to feed an army with it. I looked at the pans and around at the kids and contemplated if I had made too much. Instantly I knew I had made too much on purpose. I ended up giving a pan to a dear friend of mine who is also a single mom and had been ill lately. She's helped me out so much that it was a no-brainer where the extra supper was going. We can't always repay people the same way they help us but we can always give where and what we can.

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  7. Thank you for writing my next talk. I'll read it word for word, maybe even take a break and let everyone listen to MoTab, and the congregation will be slightly confused..."She has THREE kids??"

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