what is a squiggle?

According to fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Hill, a squiggle is a beginning point, a small, wiggly line on a page with the potential to become something more--a brilliantly drawn fifth-grade picture!

A beginning point. A silly phrase from my preschooler, my teenager rolling his eyes, or my kindergartner deleting my entire 3rd chapter...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Mosiah 3:19

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."

Children find joy in the simplest tasks. My young toddler finds great pleasure in carrying the tied plastic bag containing his soiled diaper out to the trash. In fact, he screams if I try to do it without him. Taking out a dirty diaper isn't something anyone would normally see as exciting, but he tosses the bag into the garbage can and claps his hands, a grin lighting his face.

My days would be far less tedious if I could view all my unpleasant chores with my toddler's joy. What can I clap about when I'm faced with the sink full of dishes? Or the mound of laundry, which only gets bigger in the wintertime? What about sweeping, mopping and vacuuming the endless messes my children track around the house? How can I find joy in cleaning the toilet shared, among others, four boys with terrible aim?

As I go throughout this week, I think I'll try a little harder to see the joys in my daily life. Like gratitude for the food that fills those dirty dishes and the happiness I get from spending the dinner hour with my family. Gladness for the clothes that keep us warm when the weather turns cold. Remembering how much I love those children that bring the dirt and sticky messes with them. And overwhelming joy that those boys are no longer in diapers.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Ether 12:41

"And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen."

I love Ether 12 in its entirety. To me, it is the greatest discourse on faith that we have in the scriptures. But I love this final verse the most. It's almost as if Moroni is saying to us: Okay, I've shown you what faith can do, but until you know the Saviour as I do, it means nothing.

During this Christmas season, this scripture also reminds me of the phrase, "Wise men still seek him." President Monson offered inspired words on this subject in the December 1990 Ensign entitled, "The Search for Jesus."

Before the craziness of the holidays over take us, we should heed Moroni's plea and seek for the Saviour. As the primary song promises, "He will be found."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Jacob 6:12

"O be wise; what can I say more?"

The American Heritage College Dictionary defines wise as: Having the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; sagacious.

In proverbs, wisdom is described as being "better than rubies." And the person who obtains wisdom "loveth his own soul." The Lord tells his modern-day people to "seek not for riches but for wisdom."

So, reasonably, if we have wisdom, we are wise, and if we are wise, we have the ability to recognize truth and right.

Notice that Jacob does not tell us to have wisdom; he tells us to be wise, implying an action on our part. Obtaining wisdom is important, but it does us no good unless we use the wisdom we have gained to make correct choices and draw closer to our Heavenly Father.

I love that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be so simple: get the ability to judge those things that are true and right, and then use it. Jacob is right; what can he say more?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Scripture Sguiggle: 3 Nephi 14:7

"Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? All you have to do is ask, seek or knock and you get whatever it is that you need. All of the scriptures on prayer make it seem so easy. You have faith, you pray, you get an answer. Simple.

Not so simple. My husband and I have been praying for months for an answer to something we feel is very important, but an answer is not forthcoming. Sometimes we think we get an answer--then we start to question it. Is this coming from me because it's what I want? How do we know the answer comes from the Lord and not ourselves? How do we know Satan isn't planting ideas in our minds--he can be tricky like that?

I suppose that's why the Lord tells us that it is important to be like little children. Not like my toddler and preschooler who tear through the house like cyclones, but like my nine year old who was afraid she'd have to drop craft club because of her grades, so she fasted and prayed last fast Sunday that she could improve her grade. Guess what? She's still in the club.

As we get older, we learn a lot more about how the world works; we learn Santa doesn't really exist, magic is all about illusion, and unicorns are only a myth. These worldly truths make believing in the miracles of the Lord difficult sometimes. But the Lord has given us a more wondrous gift than we could ever have hoped to get from Santa Claus. The gift of his Son should mean far more to us than any earthly gift we've ever received. What could be more magical than the power of the priesthood in our lives? The priesthood can do so much more than pull a rabbit out of a hat--what about curing illnesses and healing hearts? And unicorns--maybe someday I'll be privileged to create a world where horned and winged horses play.

So, as my husband and I seek for an answer, maybe our solution is to become more childlike, and in doing so we will find the answer we need.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Matthew 5:44

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

My son, TG, started high school last year. Being born into my family, the boy can hardly escape being a nerd. We're all nerds. We like geeky stuff like Star Trek, backwards stuff like classic country music, and many of us are avid readers. My son is one of the worst, having mastered the art of walking and reading at the same time--with minimal crashing.

Although he has plenty of friends, he shared very few classes with them; he quickly became the victim of bullying in several of his classes. But TG is the type to keep his feelings to himself and we did not learn of his torment until halfway through the semester. The kids in his PE class frequently broke into his locker and stole his belongings. Each time, the teacher issued TG a new lock, but never pursued the problem. The kids called TG names and laughed at him when he answered questions in class.

When TG finally broke down and told us what was going on, we encouraged him to speak with the students, then with the teachers, and if that didn't work, to go to his guidance counsellor. He talked to his fellow students, but of course this did nothing. His teachers insisted that they could do nothing about something that they did not witness. So TG visited with his guidance counsellor, who then spoke to his teachers. For a short time, things improved.

After Christmas, TG's classes changed. Many of the bullies still shared some classes with him. But now, he merely endured. And as he did so, the worst of the bullies were kicked out of school one by one. The other kids that had gone along with the tormenting began to leave TG alone, some even got to know him and became his friends.

I knew that TG had taken the Savior's counsel to heart when, as a sophomore, he began tutoring some of the kids that had made his freshman year miserable.

I wish I could be more like TG. Usually I find myself wishing unpleasant things upon the people that make my life difficult. Help them? Pray for them? I have a long way to go.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: James 5:11

"Behold, we count them happy which endure..."

I've been thinking about my freshman daughter, Sami, who tried out for the volleyball team at the beginning of the year. On the Friday they were to find out who made the team, Sami and a two other girls were asked to come back on Monday for a final decision. Sami was pretty excited.
She'd started attending open gym over the summer, since she had never played volleyball before. She couldn't serve or bump, but being the diligent girl that she is, she kept practicing and was thrilled that she actually had a shot at the team.

When she came home from school that Monday, she struggled to hold back her tears as she explained that the number of positions available had been cut, so the coach asked her to be a manager. Sami had accepted the position. She hoped that she could still practice with the team and maybe improve enough to be a player as a sophomore. We all were hoping that if any players quit or were removed from the team throughout the season, that maybe she would get moved up to player.

Of course, as parents, my husband and I were thrilled to have our daughter exhibiting such strong character, and although we grumbled a bit about the times for practices and games, we gave her our full support.

A week or so went by and Sami seemed to be enjoying her job as manager. She talked nonstop when she came home about everything that happened in volleyball and school. Then the games started.

And I'm not talking about volleyball games. As players began to get kicked off the team for bad attitudes and failing grades, Sami's hopes for playing would climb, only to be dashed by her coach as she brought freshman players down from the JV and Varsity teams to play in games. During practices, the coach would sometimes throw Sami into a scrimmage and then compliment her on how well she played. Then the next game, she refused to listen to Sami's pleas for a chance to play.

We knew things were bad when Sami started talking about how much she wished she'd joined cross country instead. As good parents, we encouraged her to "endure to the end" and that when it was over she'd feel good about herself. She resolved not to let her coach get to her, despite being taking out of a scrimmage game for running off the court to kick a loose ball out of the way of another girl who was moving back to make a play and was about to trip over it.

Sami was doing okay until the uniform incident. She dealt stoically with her coaches hints about letting her play, and then refusal to do so. Every day she showed up to practice or games with a renewed determination to just do her best, even if only on the sidelines.

Then one day, a few days after Sami found out that the JV manager had been promoted to player, just before the first game started, the coach tossed Sami a uniform and walked away. If Sami's anything like me, her heart had to have been slamming around in excitement. She jumped from the bench and ran after her coach.

"What's this for?" she asked hopefully.

"I want you to hold it."

Hold it? The coach wanted her to hold a uniform? That was definitely the low point of freshman volleyball for Sam. She realized that her coach was just toying with her, and more than ever she wanted to emerge stronger for it. Sami kept going to practices, hoping everyday that her coach would at least let her play in the scrimmages and praying for the day she could play in a game.

The school's last game is on Sami's birthday. Yesterday, with just two practices to go, she mentioned to her coach that her birthday was the day of the last game.

"We should do something special for you on your birthday," her coach told her.

"You could let me play!" Sami supplied.

Her coach laughed and walked away.

Sami told us that story last night with a shrug of her shoulders and a smile. Today I saw her carrying her knee pads out the door when she and her brother left for Early Morning Seminary.

Right now, Sami is my inspiration for enduing...and we count her happy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 121:38

"Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God."

I remember a Sunday School lesson a few years ago when I first learned about "pricks" (before that I always thought they were thorns). A prick is a sharp spear that people used to get animals moving. The stubborn animal would often kick back against it, and the tool would hurt them even more. I'd like to think I'm smarter than that, and that one poke would be enough for me, but maybe I'm wrong.

When I'm being particularly stubborn about something, refusing to admit I did something stupid or made a mistake, my husband always asks me "Is this about pulling out the bed?"

Okay, not my finest moment. I don't even know why I told him the story in the first place. I spent my first two semesters at BYU living in Deseret Towers. My roommate's sister lived nearby, so she often spent nights at her house, leaving me alone in our room. Such was the case on my first night in Provo. I went through my usual evening routine, and then eyed the narrow bed that looked more like a couch. I shrugged my shoulders and figured I could fit, so I climbed in and went to sleep.

Sometime during the night, my roommate returned. She was still sleeping when I got up, but her bed seemed bigger than mine. I left the room to take a shower, and when I came back, my roommate was up making her bed. I watched as she gave the bed a slight lift and pushed it back into its couch position. Ohhh so that's how it worked.

I think things would have been okay if she hadn't then turned to me and asked, "I saw you sleeping last night, didn't you know the beds pull out?"

But instead of saying, "No, I didn't" my stubborn streak kicked in and I said, "Of course. I just like it better not pulled out." And, as the scripture implies, this stubbornness only hurt me more than admitting my ignorance would have.

I spent the rest of my time in DT Towers sleeping on a bed that was NOT pulled out.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: 2 Nephi 10:23

"Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves--to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life."

This scripture struck me this morning. We've had a lot of negative things happening in our lives lately, and I was starting to feel like we're trapped in a hole with now way out. But when I read this scripture, I was comforted. I felt like the Lord was speaking directly to me: Brenda, cheer up your heart! You have good things in your life, too!

I thought about all of the things we are facing, and I realized that it isn't so much what happens to us in life, but how we respond to events. No matter what, we have the ability to choose between good and evil. This is a gift that God has given us, and NO ONE can take it away, although Satan tries to convince us that they can.

We can let the need to buy a new A/C unit frustrate us and make us angry, or we can accept it, find a way to make it work, and move on to new and more exciting trials. The choice is ours, and personally, I'd rather have a cheerful heart than an angry one.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

1 Nephi 16:1-2

"And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."

This verse came to mind yesterday as I was reading some negatvie comments regarding President Packer's talk given during conference. How right Nephi was--the wicked do take the truth hard, and are unwilling to accept it as God's word; instead they try to justify themselves and find fault with a prophet of God.

I suppose such negative remarks shouldn't bother me so much, but President Packer has always been my favorite speaker out of all of the general authorities, and I really enjoyed his directness and openness as he spoke about purity. My husband told me not to worry about it--the unwillingness of others to accept God's truths doesn't prevent me from accepting it, but I keep hoping that somehow the rest of the world will get it! But the people of God have always stood against the world, and it will ever be so.

I am glad we are led by men who are not afraid to speak the truth, despite the opposition of the world. I thought of President Packer and the other prophets who spoke to us during conference weekend when I read 2 Nephi 8:7 this morning:

"Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings."

Those inspired men who lead the church are these righteous people that the Lord is referring to. I'd like to be one of them, too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Amos 3:7

"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets"

I thought this scripture was appropriate, since Conference starts tomorrow. In the October general conference in 2005, Paul V. Johnson spoke on The Blessings of General Conference.
The following are quotes from his talk:

"In order for the messages of general conference to change our lives, we need to be willing to follow the counsel we hear."

"Every time we are obedient to the words of the prophets and apostles we reap blessings. We receive more blessings than we can understand at the time, and we continue to receive blessings long after our initial decision to be obedient."

"Decide now to make general conference a priority in your life. Decide to listen carefully and follow the teachings that are given. Listen to or read the talks more than once to better understand and follow the counsel. By doing these things, the gates of hell will not prevail against you, the powers of darkness will be dispersed from before you, and the heavens will shake for your good."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doctrine and Covenants 122:7

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."

This scripture has been on my mind the last week, since my husband totaled his car in a one-car accident. We are told to liken the scriptures to ourselves, and this scripture is one that has often brought me comfort. But it also raises questions. The one I find myself asking the most is "what am I supposed to learn from this?" and second to that is "haven't I learned it yet so that this trial can end?"

I can honestly say that the accident has given us experience--I now know the difference between collision and comprehensive coverage as well as "actual cash value." I know how close we came to having a "gap" between how much we still owed on the car and how much the insurance company was willing to pay. And I know how resilient the cement wall dividing the freeway can be.

But as far as this occurence being for our good...I just don't know. Maybe the car was about to demand some major repairs that we couldn't afford (not that we could really afford to run out and buy my husband a new car, but we managed to make it work). Perhaps things are as simple as my husband said, and we just needed a jolt to make sure he's completely awake before he leaves for work. We may never know the reason the accident happened.

I do know that I feel at peace with what happened when I remember that the Lord is in charge. He knows everything, and he knows what is best for me and my family. I am so relieved that He doesn't ask me to find my way through life with my limited knowledge as a guide, but that He is willing to show me the way. I would make a mess of things on my own!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1 Nephi 3:7

"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."

I've never really struggled with keeping the Sabbath day holy; for me that particular commandment has been easy. As soon as the prophets counseled us not to shop and do other activities on Sunday that would cause others to work, I made a conscious effort to see that my gas tank was filled on Saturday and that I had all of the items for meals and snacks for the coming Sabbath.

But this past Sunday, after already keeping the kids up late to celebrate my daughter's birthday, we discovered that our 16 month old was missing his pacifier. At first, we weren't too concerned--the little booger looses it all the time. So we checked the usual places: the garbage, the cabinets, the bathtub, etc, without any luck. Forty minutes ticked by and the pacifier refused to come out of its hiding place. By this time, our little toddler was getting cranky; he'd taken an abbreviated nap at church--maybe a third of his usual naptime.

My husband suggested that we try putting him down without it; now was a good time to break him of the habit. I started to agree when my optimistic teenager, who shares a room with her little brother, said, "I hope he doesn't wake up at all tonight."

So much for that idea. We kept looking, and I could tell my husband was starting to get frustrated. I had already seen my teenage son on his knees, praying for help finding the missing pacifier, so I decided to follow his example. I had 1 Nephi 3:7 in my head, and I thought that if the Lord could help Nephi obey his commandment to get the plates, then he could definitely help me keep the Sabbath holy (and not rush to the store to buy a new paci).

After my prayer and a little more searching, my husband announced, "I think the ox is in the mire." I didn't answer him. I knew he wanted to stop the search and go buy a new pacifier, but I didn't want to. We had to find the pacifier. Our other children sensed my urgency, and I noticed that some of them also said some prayers. I kept praying silently, telling the Lord how desperately I wanted to honor his day.

About this time, my husband's attitude changed. Instead of complaining about how long the search was taking and urging me to give in and go to the store, he started asking the kids where they had last seen the paci and where our son had played that day. "It's got to be in the girls' room," he concluded.

We'd looked there, multiple times. But we decided to search again. In a matter of minutes, my teenage daughter shouted, "I found it!" She picked up her little brother and poked it into his mouth; he clutched his blankie and leaned against her shoulder. I silently thanked the Lord for helping me to keep his commandment.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Matthew 6:8

"Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."

Sometimes the Lord knows what we need even before we know of the need. I read a story about this in the September Friend. But it remained a distant concept to me until I experienced it first hand. Last week as I was dropping off the last of the kids from my carpool, their mother came outside carrying a 10-pound bag of potatoes. She asked if I could use a bag, and I thought about the half bag of potatoes that I had at home that was sprouting leaves and the full bag that I planned to use to make the next day's dinner. "Sure, I could use a bag."

When I arrived home, I told my teenage son that I'd traded three of his siblings for a bag of potatoes and placed the bag on the counter. That was the last thought I gave those potatoes until the next day when I was busy throwing ingredients into the crockpot for dinner. Once a week I have to prepare dinner ahead of time in order for the meal to be ready for our family to eat together in the thirty minute period between finishing the carpool and leaving for scouts and activity days. A crockpot meal on this day is vital.

So I had the meat cooking on the stove, and I was ready to start chopping up the potatoes and toss them into the pot. First I grabbed the bag of growing potatoes and discarded them, and then I reached for the bag I had purchased when I bought groceries the week before. Because they were hidden in their grocery bag still, I hadn't noticed that the entire bag of potatoes had begun to rot, but I smelled them as soon as I picked up the bag. In disbelief, I searched the bag, certain that some of the potatoes were still salvageable. But I was wrong. Every potato was moldy.
At that moment I remembered that new 10-pound bag that sat happily on the counter. I said a prayer of thanks as I washed each firm, fresh potato and cut them into chunks. The Lord had known my need and had filled it, before I was even aware of it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon

Okay, so this isn't a new book, but it is a great resource that I discovered while doing research for a story idea. The author, John Sorenson, has some insightful ideas about where the Book of Mormon lands may have been located, and he provides compelling evidence. He offers the reader more than just a landscape by describing other aspects of life, such as animals, building materials, and food items and how they may have related to the Book of Mormon peoples. My personal study of the Book of Mormon has taken on a new dimension since I read Sorenson's book. I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


With school starting back up, I'm going to have to give my blog an overhaul. You'd think that with over half of the kids in school this year, I'd have more time to write and work on the things I want to do--not so! With the two youngest (and most demanding) still at home, I'll be playing referee continually until nap time (which, with any luck, will continue to be twice a day). So in between keeping my two boys from maiming each other and running the afternoon carpool, and getting some work in on my WIP, I will have limited time for blogging.

Translation: Stories are suspended for the school year. I will try to post book reviews on Tuesdays (when I find time to read--maybe while sitting in the carpool line), specific scripture references and how they relate to real life experiences on Friday, and spiritual boosts on Sunday.

In the meantime, if I am inspired by a story that manages to just flow from my mind like magic, I will include it. Or if anyone has a story that fits a scripture they would like to share, let me know.

All changes will take place starting Sunday (going camping tomorrow). We'll see how this goes.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 concluded

On Sunday morning, Jaleen and I gathered the children together in our small living room. She led them through a primary song and then our oldest son offered a prayer. When Jaleen turned the time over to me, I felt my stomach flutter with nervousness. I was quite sure this was one of the hardest I would ever have to do.

I cleared my throat and studied each of my nine kids before I began. My greatest desire when Jaleen and I were married was to give my kids a better life than we'd had growing up. Jaleen had often spoken of life in a large family where money was scarce, and I was determined that my children would never feel poor. Yet, this was what the Lord had asked of me, to share our situation with the entire family, to allow every member the chance to help our budget be successful.

Some of the younger kids began to fidget as I introduced the topic and started explaining what a budget was and what it meant to our family.

Six year old Cameron raised his hand. "Daddy, how can I help you and mom save money and pay for stuff when I don't have any money."

"That's a good question. Although most of you do not have your own money, there are still ways that you can help out. Cam, what are some of the things that you need that cost money?"

He laughed and wiggled his toes, two of which were peeking out of holes in his socks. "That's easy; shoes and socks!"

"Okay, so what could you do about shoes and socks?"

Cameron thought hard for a few minutes. "Mom always says to untie our shoes before we take them off and to not drag our feet. She says that makes shoes last longer."

I nodded and smiled. "That's right. Very good."

As we continued talking, our thirteen year old offered to start collecting aluminum cans to help pay for scout camp, and our teenage daughter promised to start saving her babysitting money for Girls' Camp and to help pay for her own clothes. Once the kids knew what we needed from them, they were eager to help us stick to our budget. All of them came up with ways they could help us.

We closed our family meeting with a song and prayer. Jaleen and I watched the children scatter in all directions as they finished getting ready for church. I finally felt at peace. Even though the process would still be hard and long, I knew that our family was united, and together we could accomplish our goals.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 continued

We started by setting up a budget. At first, it was easy; Jaleen filled the categories in based on what we had spent the previous few months and added in my paychecks. However, when everything was entered, the amount at the bottom of the page was a large, negative number.

"It's okay." Jaleen said. "Now's the part when we start eliminating the things that we don't really need. Once we've done that, we will hopefully have something left to start paying off some of the debt a little faster."

I said goodbye to my lunches out and new movies on DVD. Jaleen promised to consolidate her trips and carpool to activities when she could to conserve gas. By the time we finished the budget, we had cut back on numerous non essentials and had a plan for paying off the credit card.

"Okay, this is good." I told Jaleen.

She smiled. "Yeah, it's good. But remember, Brendan, a budget is no good if you don't follow it."

For the next four months we were amazing. We followed our budget, reviewing our spending each week to make sure we were on track. Slowly, the credit card balance began to come down. But in August all of the kids needed new clothes and supplies for school. My car had a blow out on the freeway, so I had to buy a new tire. We slipped back into our old habits. Feeling bad about the money we had spent, and knowing we had exceeded our budget, we avoided looking at it.

Before we knew it, December loomed before us. We had no money, and our credit card hovered dangerously close to the limit, again. Every time the kids started to talk about Christmas, Jaleen's eyes would mist over. I handled things in a more mature manner--yelling at the kids not to sing Christmas songs in November.

"We've got to do something." Jaleen whispered to me one night.

"I know. But what?"

"I don't know. Maybe we could fast and pray during the week and share what we've felt on Sunday."

"Okay," I agreed reluctantly. I had the feeling that I wasn't going to like what the Lord had to tell me.

(to be continued...)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 continued

A column on the left hand side of the screen listed our assets and debts. Two accounts were listed as assets: our bank account, labeled with our names and another account called "Future Family Fun." The first account was accompanied by a pitifully small balance, while the Future Family Fun account had a balance of zero.

I looked further down the column at our list of debts. The mortgage and the two car payments were listed first. Shouldn't their balances have gone down further than that already? Studying the numbers, I tried to remember what their balances had started out as. Finally, I shook my head and moved on to the next item--the credit card. We still hovered pretty close to the maximum on that one. Jaleen's been after me to help find a way for us to pay more than the minimum amount due. I figured it wasn't that important, as long as we were paying something.

Rubbing my eyes, I tackled the last category: Education Loans. I knew about the $6000; that loan was for my highly sought after degree in radio broadcasting--something that years later could barely even be called one of my hobbies. But three other loans were listed amounting to nearly $11,000. Several times I had gotten the notion in my head that I wanted to be a teacher, yet that couldn't explain these loans, could it? No, there's no way those few semesters did this.

I rose from the chair and opened the file cabinet near the computer table. For once I was grateful for Jaleen's uncontrollable need to organize everything; I quickly found the file for the student loans and pulled it out. The evidence against me was undeniable.

After I replaced the file and shut down the computer, I crawled back into bed. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I thought about what I had done. This tiny house, our inability to pay down the mortgage far enough to be able to sell it and move, was my fault. When my guilt had nearly overwhelmed me, I woke Jaleen and told her what I had discovered.

Her eyes were still droopy with sleep, but she touched my face with the back of her hand and smiled. "Brendan, we made all of those decisions together. Granted, they weren't the best choices we could have made, but they're over. We can't go back and change them; we'll just have to deal with them." Jaleen held my gaze with her own. "Stop worrying about fault--that doesn't matter."

"Okay." I said. "Tomorrow we start climbing out of this mess."

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 continued

The realization of what we had gotten into kept me up at night. Long after Jaleen drifted to sleep, I would lay, staring at the dark ceiling, and condemn myself for the choices I had made that now created a chain that bound our family in debt. It started with that $6000 and just continued from there. Another $300 for the dentist, put on the credit card. The kids needed new clothes for school--add $1000 more to the card. Christmas one year arrived on the heels of cut backs at work. We were desperate for presents for the kids. That December we nearly exceeded our credit limit.

A few times Jaleen sat me down and tried to discuss our finances. In fact, she was the one who arranged to refinance our mortgage, which cut our payments by nearly $100, as well as calling the mortgage company and getting a deferral on our payments the year I got sick and was out of work for nearly two months. But when she tried to tell me we needed to take a closer look at how we were spending our money, I didn't want to listen. I resisted her suggestion that I bring a lunch from home instead of grabbing something from a nearby restaurant, and when she hinted that I not buy every movie when it came out, I tuned her out.

My parents had never had much money, yet they still managed to always have a $20 bill to hand me when I wanted to take my girlfriend to the movies or needed to fill my gas tank. I remember hearing my father say to my mother once that if a check hadn't cleared the bank, then that money was still there for the using. He got really good at the balancing act--writing checks based on money that was destined for somewhere else, and managing to replace the funds before the checks cleared.

I tried my hand at my father's game early in my marriage. When Jaleen found that first overdraft notice in the mail, we had a good long argument. In the end, she kept the checkbook. More overdraft notices followed, not because I was trying to ruin our finances, but because along with being unable to finish what I start, I also have a terrible memory. I simply forgot to pay the bills, or deposit the check, or tell Jaleen that I spent $50 at Costco.

When we finally emerged from the dark ages and subscribed to high-speed Internet, Jaleen pretty much took over the money. She tracked everything using a computerized finance program and began to pay the bills online.

After she straightened everything out, checking our bank account daily for any of my "oops I forgot to tell you...." incidents, our situation didn't look so bad. As long as I knew we had some money in the bank, I figured we were fine and could afford whatever we wanted.

One night, as I stared into the darkness, wondering how I could get us out of our small house and into the home my family deserved, I decided to take a look at Jaleen's finance program. I crept out of bed and out to the living room where we kept the computer. The old machine took a few minutes to boot up, and then it slowly brought up the program I wanted.

What I saw made my stomach drop to my knees. I covered my open mouth in disbelief.

(to be continued...)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35

I'm not much of a finisher. Okay, to be honest, most things I start, whether it's learning to play the trumpet, designing a new piece of furniture, or writing a short story, usually end up collecting dust. I've actually really only finished one thing--and that thing turned out to be useless--nearly useless. It did manage to create $6000, of debt. And that was only the start.

When we moved into our house nearly twelve years ago, it was a mansion to us. Brand new with plush carpet, three spacious bedrooms, a separate living room and kitchen, and a storage area in the back. Our family of four actually struggled to fill up the entire house. But seven years later after Karissa, Janae and the twins joined the family, the mansion felt more like a sardine can.

We put the house on the market and began dreaming of our new, larger mansion. My wife, Jaleen, loved to wander through model homes, imagining our family inside, filling up the empty rooms. She was especially captivated by the closets in the master bedrooms.

"Do you see the size of this?" She asked me during one of our walk-throughs. "We could turn this closet into a nursery for the new baby."

"Yeah." I agreed. "And since we don't have a third car, that part of the garage would make a perfect work room."

So we dreamed. But the impossibility of it all didn't set in until one particular cheerful man calling about our home for sale shouted in my ear.

"Good luck selling it for that price!"

As I shared the less than motivating conversation with Jaleen, I realized we we're trapped.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35

"Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage."

I spoke to someone last week who lives by the philosophy that he'd rather die broke than leave millions without having any fun. That doesn't sound too bad, but he also said that he and his wife take vacations that they can't afford because a good vacation is important to their relationship. This couple is getting into debt for experiences that last, at most, a week and then fade into memories. And long after most of those memories are forgotten, they continue to pay for them.

Debt can truly wrap chains around a person, limiting their future choices and opportunities. I know the truth of this first hand. Several times in my life, what I've wanted, even needed, has been out of reach because of debt, but I've also felt the sweet relief that comes from eliminating debt and regaining my freedom.

Friday, July 2, 2010

More Scripture Maps

I'm posting three more examples of scripture maps. Have fun!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Scripture Study Tip: Scripture Mapping

Many years ago, in a Sunday School class, I learned a fun method that helps me to get more out of my scripture reading: scripture mapping. The concept is really very simple. First, find the main idea of the chapter(s) or verse(s) you've read; put this in the center of a blank piece of paper. From the main point, branch off with secondary information. Add pictures or symbols if this make things easier for you. This map can serve as a reminder later on of what the chapter or verse was about and help you better retain the information that you've read. The map I've included is one my husband did on Genesis Chapter 3 (he's far more creative than I am, so I thought I'd share his work, rather than mine!).

***As a side note, I will not be posting a new scripture squiggle until 7/13.***

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fictional Story 1 Nephi 2:15 Conclusion

Janessa didn't feel like going to church. Even though she had made her choice, and she knew that the true gospel was worth the sacrifice she had made, she didn't want to see the other young women whispering and giggling with each other while she sat alone. I'll just stay for Sacrament, and then I'll slip out. No one will miss me, and I can enjoy the weather out in the grass near the back parking lot until everything is over and still get a ride with Sister Kirk.

Her favorite part of the meeting was always during the passing of the sacrament, when the sacrament hymn continued to hum away in her mind, and she could feel the spirit wrap its arms around her. By the time the closing song ended and the closing prayer was said, Janessa's desire to continue to feel close to the Lord was almost enough to override her previous decision. But when Cara and Michelle walked past her, leaning together and talking in hushed voices, completely unaware that Janessa was even there, she chose to stick with her plan.

Janessa sat on the grass with her legs underneath her and pulled out her Book of Mormon. She flipped it open and began reading on the page it landed on. When her tears started to wet the pages, though, she closed the book and stared down at the grass. She didn't see Cara step out of the building, stop when she saw Janessa sitting in the grass, and then turn around and go back inside.

Wiping the tears from the cover of the book, Janessa sighed. Why did I have to accept this book from the Sisters when they came by that day? If I hadn't learned the truth, I wouldn't be here, friendless and lonely. Janessa reopened the book and again started to read. But I wouldn't know of my Savior's love for me, either.

She read for nearly an hour, completely engrossed in the story of Alma and Amulek. After reading about Alma healing Zeezrom, Janessa paused to stretch her back. As she was again picking up her book, Cara walked over and sat down about a foot away. She plucked at the grass and glanced at Janessa.

"I should've come over earlier, but you looked so sad, and I didn't know what to say." Cara said, studying the blades of grass she'd pulled from the ground. "Was it something one of us said?"

"No." Janessa replied. "Not intentionally, I guess. Well," she sighed, "my best friend decided not to be my friend anymore because I joined the Church, so I've been feeling a little lost around all of you who are already friends and don't seem to need me."

"Oh." Cara thought of Michelle, her own best friend, and felt grateful that she shared her beliefs. "Well, we do all know each other, but that's because we've been around each other so much--every Sunday, at Wednesday night activities, and at Girls' Camp and firesides." Cara paused. "We can't get to know you if you don't come to Young Womens."

Janessa didn't respond. She looked down at her hands, thinking of Iris and all of the fun they'd had over the years. She felt tears threatening again and squeezed her eyes shut. She nearly jumped when Cara gripped her hand.

"We want to get to know you, Janessa." Cara stood up and pulled Janessa to her feet, too. "Come on, Sister Canfield always finds a way to make food part of the lesson." She smiled.

Janessa shrugged. "Okay. I am feeling a little hungry."

Cara laughed.

I suppose life can go on without Iris. The spirit wrapped a warm blanket around Janessa as she hurried into the church building.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fictional Story: 1 Nephi 2:15 continued

A slight breeze lifted Janessa's braids from her neck as she stood on Iris's front porch. The weather was perfect for their usual back-together activities. Janessa licked her lips and swallowed her fear as she raised her hand to knock. Instead of the usual bubble of excitement she felt on the morning of Iris's return, Janessa felt her stomach twisting in nervous knots.

"Hello, Janessa!" Iris's mother greeted her with a smile. "Iris wasn't sure you'd be here today. She'll need a few minutes to get dressed; would you like to come in?"

Janessa shook her head. "It's a beautiful morning; I'll just wait out here."

Iris's mother disappeared back into the house, and Janessa sat down on the top of the porch steps. With each second that passed, she was certain that Iris was going to refuse to see her. She brushed at her denim capris and rested her elbows on her knees. After what seemed to be an eternity, the door behind Janessa creaked open, and Iris joined her on the stairs.

"Hey Nessa," she said quietly.

"Hey yourself."

Iris didn't look at Janessa; instead she stared off into the distance. "I told you not to come."

"I know." Janessa rubbed at her fingernails. "I just couldn't let years of friendship end with an email. I had to see you, to know that that's how you really felt."

Iris pursed her lips. "You've changed a lot, you know."

Janessa shook her head, her braids dancing around her ears. "You keep saying that, but I don't see it. I'm the same girl I've always been. I still love basketball, still want to go to NAU with you. Our plans are still the same."

"No, they're not the same! You don't get it. This new religion has changed you. And because of it, we can't be friends anymore--and that changes everything."

Grabbing Iris's face and forcing her to look at her, Janessa demanded, "Stop dodging the truth, Iris. I deserve to know what's really behind this. Give me the truth and I'll leave you alone."

Iris pushed Janessa's hands away and clenched her teeth. She stared hard at Janessa for a while before she finally answered. "People have seen you hanging out with girls that aren't good for our image. Like that girl that walks funny."

Janessa sighed. "Her name is Jeana, and she only walks like that because she was in an car accident when she was a toddler. She's really a very nice person; we have a lot in common. You'd probably get along really well with her."

"See what I mean?" Iris jumped up. "People like her are going to drag you down, and I won't let you take me with you."

"How does me talking to Jeana drag you down?"

"Shayla has noticed you hanging out with her, and with other losers, too."

Janessa leaned her head back and drew in a deep breath. "Since when do you care what Shayla thinks?"

Iris narrowed her eyes. "Marcus noticed, too."

Marcus. Janessa bit her lip. She and Iris had been dreaming about Marcus Long since they'd discovered boys in the fourth grade. "Well," she said slowly, "we're all children of God, and deserve to be treated with respect. If you and Marcus can't understand that, then I guess you're right. Maybe we shouldn't be friends anymore."

Iris took a step back, looking as if she'd been slapped. She recovered quickly, though. "Of course I'm right," she snapped.

Janessa slowly stood up. "I'm sorry it had to come to this." She started down the steps. Behind her, she heard Iris re-enter the house, slamming the door behind her. It's over.

to be continued...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fictional Story: 1 Nephi 2:15 continued

Her hands trembled as she opened the email. But as she started to read, Janessa gasped and brought one hand to her lips.

I want you to stop emailing me. Don't bother calling when I get back from my grandma's. I have no interest in your new religion. It's changing you into a person that I can't be friends with. I suppose I can't stop you from playing ball, but I promise you that I will not speak to you or even acknowledge you as long as you continue to go to your church and follow all of those silly new rules you have been given. If you do continue to bother me and attempt to be friends, I will make your life miserable.

Janessa sank back in the computer chair with tears streaming down her cheeks. Maybe she's just testing me. Or maybe Shayla somehow hacked into Iris's email. She wouldn't just write me off like this, would she?

As she wiped at her tears, Janessa heard her mother walk in behind her. "Is everything okay Nessa? Have you been crying?"

Janessa quickly exited her email. "Yeah, silly me. Iris sent me an email and told me about the kitten she found at her grandma's. I guess some neighbor dog got a hold of it and she thinks its going to die now."

"That's sad. Poor Iris. But a least you finally heard from her. That's a good sign, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess it is." Janessa stood up. "Well, I guess I'll go to bed now."

"Okay. Give me hugs." Janessa embraced her mom and allowed her to plant a kiss on her forehead.

As her mom started to leave the room, Janessa stopped her. "Mom, do you think I've changed since I started listening to the missionaries?"

Paula turned around. "Changed how?"

"I don't know." Janessa shrugged. "Changed so that I'm no longer fun or interesting."

Giving her daughter another hug, Paula replied. "No, Nessa. If anything about you has changed, it's the way you view yourself and the rest of the world. It's the consideration and love you've been showing to others, not that you weren't loving before, but now you have extended that love to everyone you come in contact with." Paula tapped Janessa's nose. "Get some rest. Doesn't Iris come home tomorrow?"


"The two of you usually spend the entire day together. I probably won't see you until dark! Good night, Love."

After her mom left, Janessa dropped onto her bed and buried her face in her hands. What am I going to do?

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fictional Story: 1 Nephi 2:15 continued

Things at the basketball court were better with Iris away visiting her grandmother. Shayla merely ignored Janessa, and the other girls were as friendly as they usually were. Although Janessa missed Iris, she was relieved that she didn't have to worry about making any choices between church and her best friend right away.

Her Sunday School lesson the previous week had encouraged her. Sister Kyle taught about Abraham and Isaac. Janessa was thrilled with the story; she loved how devoted Abraham was to the Lord in his willing obedience to all of His commandments. But the best part of the story was when the Lord told Abraham he didn't need to kill his son, and then He provided a ram for the sacrifice instead.

If I show Heavenly Father that I am willing to choose Him over Iris, maybe He won't make me actually make the choice.

Janessa dribbled the ball and rushed toward the basket as she thought about Abraham. She made her shot and felt the familiar thrill in her stomach as it swished through. Everything will be okay. It will be just like old times when Iris gets back. Cheered by her thoughts, Janessa settled into her game, enjoying the freedom of running back and forth on the court and the solid feel of the basketball in her hands.

When she returned home later, drenched in sweat, Janessa paused at the computer before jumping in the shower. She logged on to her e-mail and held her breath--still no messages from Iris. Janessa's shoulders slumped forward as the adrenaline from her workout seeped out of her. She climbed into the shower, wishing she could wash away her pain and disappointment along with the sweat and dirt.

A few hours later, Janessa sat in her living room with Brother and Sister Canfield. Sister Canfield was one of the advisers from church; she and her husband were there to teach Janessa the follow-up lessons. Janessa found it hard to concentrate as they tried to teach her about laws and ordinances of the gospel. She realized that her visitors were staring at her expectantly as if they had asked her a question and were awaiting her reply.

"I'm sorry; my mind seems to have wandered."

"Brother Canfield asked if you have any friends that you might want to share the gospel with." Sister Canfield said.

"Oh." Janessa swallowed. "I...I don't think so.

"What about the girl you were telling us about on Sunday? The one you invited to your baptism; what was her name? Irene?"

"Iris." She shook her head. "No."

Sister Canfield clasped her hands in her lap and studied Janessa for a few moments. "Janessa, I was about your age, sixteen or so, when I joined the church. A friend of mine, who later admitted she never thought I'd be interested, asked me to attend an activity with her. I agreed and had so much fun, I continued to attend. Eventually I started going to church, and then took the missionary lessons and was baptized." She paused. "I'm so grateful she took a chance on me."

Janessa again shook her head. "That's not Iris." She plucked at non-existent lint on her shirt. "Iris won't talk to me anymore." Her voice shook, but she resisted the tears that threatened. "Does the Lord really ask people to choose between His church and their friends?"

Moving to sit beside Janessa, Sister Canfield replied, "I'm afraid He sometimes does. But if it does happen, I know you'll find other friends. There are lots of wonderful girls in our ward."

"But Iris has known me forever. She knows all of my secrets and my weaknesses. We've been like sisters all these years. No one can ever know me the way she does."

"That's not true." Sister Canfield said quietly. "Heavenly Father knows you better than Iris knows you, better than you know yourself. Trust Him to know what's best for you as well."

After the Canfields left, Janessa decided to check the computer one last time before getting ready for bed. She gasped in excitement when she saw that Iris had sent her a message.

to be continued...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fictional Story: 1 Nephi 2:15 continued

Paula Jenkins, Janessa's mother, sat at their small kitchen table with her feet propped up on the chair next to her, her high-heel shoes discarded on the floor. She smiled tiredly at her daughter when she entered the house.

"Hey Nessa! How did everything go? I wish I could have been there for you."

Janessa plopped down on the chair across from her mom and rested her head and arms on the table. "The baptism was beautiful. I felt clean and wonderful, and warm." She sighed. "Afterwards wasn't so great." Janessa told her mother about Iris's absence and her reaction at the court.

Paula rubbed her hand across her eyes. "Don't judge Iris too harshly. This religion stuff is new to her; I doubt she really understands any of it--I know I don't get a lot of it."

"But shouldn't she support me in my choices? She supposed to be my best friend."

"She should," Paula nodded, "but Iris has to make her own choices." Paula looked at her daughter for a moment. "If it comes down to choosing between Iris and this new religion of yours, what will you do?"

Janessa studied the scratches on the tabletop. "I hope it doesn't come to that."

Paula patted Janessa's hand as she rose from her chair. "Me too, Nessa, but you need to think about what's really important to you. You and Iris have been friends for a long time." She bent down and retrieved her shoes. "I'm headed to bed. You have another big day tomorrow."

On Sunday, Janessa sat beside her mother on one of the short pews along the wall of the chapel. Even though her mother wore a skirt of some kind nearly everyday to work, she appeared uncomfortable and out of place. "Relax, Mom," Janessa whispered in her ear.

"Are you sure no bolts of lightening are going to come out of the ceiling?" Paula asked with a slight smile.

"Well, not entirely."

"How encouraging. So what happens now?"

Janessa explained how the meeting would go, when the elders would confirm her a member of the church, and what would follow.

"No preacher shouting fire and brimstone?"

"No, Mom."

As the meeting progressed, Janessa glanced frequently at her mother, hoping she was feeling some of the spirit that Janessa was. When she sat back down beside her after her confirmation, Janessa thought she saw wetness at the corners of her mother's eyes, but she couldn't be sure.

Paula was quiet as Janessa walked with her to the car after the meeting ended. "That was a nice meeting," she finally said as she climbed in and started the engine.

"It was. I wish you could stay for the rest of church."

"Sorry. You know I have to get to work. I'll see you tonight."

Janessa watched her mother drive away and again felt some of her joy melt. Iris was supposed to come with me today. I really wanted to take her to Young Women's and introduce her to some of the girls. Her mind drifted back to her mother's words the night before. Please don't make me choose between You and Iris.

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ficitonal Story: 1 Nephi 2:15 continued

Janessa swallowed hard, uncertain how to respond to Iris's open hostility. The other girls on the court watched to see what would happen. "I thought you were coming." Janessa said quietly.

"Obviously not," Iris replied with a shrug.

"You promised."

"I promised so you'd leave me alone about it. I'm not into that religious junk, and I don't need some preacher or whatever telling me how to live."

The two girls stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Iris looked away.

"So are you playing or are you too clean now to play ball with us?"

Janessa smiled and shook her head. "I'm playing!"

"Good. The other team could use some help."

Ignoring the shocked stares of the other girls, Janessa jogged onto the court, stretching her arms as she did. We always play on the same team. What is up with her? Janessa did a few quick lunges, watching Iris out of the corner of her eye. She saw Shayla walk over to her and whisper something in her ear. They both laughed. Shayla's quick to move in on my best friend.

When daylight finally yielded to the pressing shadows, Janessa slowly walked home. She was grateful for the sweat that dripped onto her face and masked her tears. Shayla and Iris's laughter drifted back to her from somewhere further down the road.

I don't understand. Janessa wiped at her tears and tried to figure out what she had done wrong. All through basketball, Iris and Shayla had bullied and teased her, pushing her down when they could find an excuse to do so. We've stood by each other through just about everything--chicken pox, second grade and that awful Mr. Greysen, Iris's widespread psoriasis, even mom's surgery. Why is she doing this now?

As she approached her house, Janessa saw the porch light on and her mother's small car in the driveway. She cheered up the slightest bit. Mom can make things better.

to be continued...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fictional Story: 1 Nephi 2:15

Janessa sat stiffly on the metal chair, mentally reminding herself to sit like a lady. The white cotton dress she wore was beautiful but extremely uncomfortable. Give me a t-shirt and basketball shorts any day. But, despite her discomfort, Janessa felt her heart flutter with excitement as she listened to Sister Morton talk about the importance of her upcoming baptism.

As the sister missionary finished speaking and motioned for Janessa to come forward, Janessa gave the back of the room one last quick glance. Where is she? She promised she'd be here. Then Sister Morton escorted her to the entry of the baptismal font and Janessa found herself entering the warm, clear water. She moved hesitantly down the steps to stand beside Elder Innman who helped her position her hands for the ordinance.

The elder's voice was as comforting as the water. Janessa listened to him utter the baptismal prayer and then held her breath as he gently pushed her below the surface and pulled her back up. She smiled as she brushed the water from her face; her entire body tingled with goosebumps, but she wasn't cold. Sister Morton beckoned to her from the stairs, holding a fluffy white towel.

"Come along Janessa. Sister Pedersen will keep everyone occupied while you dry off and get dressed."

Janessa pressed the towel to her face. "I've never felt so good in my life. I want this feeling to last forever." She hurried to the dressing room where she changed into a pleated pale green skirt and a white blouse. Only a small improvement from the dress. She squeezed her head-full of small braids as dry as she could get them and then returned to her seat. Although she was greeted with smiles, disappointment tugged at her heart when she glanced at the back of the room. Iris, where are you? You've never gone back on a promise before.

The program ended by singing Janessa's favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Art" and Elder Carver offered the benediction. Janessa's new Young Women's leader greeted her with a hug and handed her a bag of goodies.

"Be sure to bring the bag to class tomorrow. We always give a prize when the girls remember their bags."

Everyone in the room congratulated her and she was pulled into more embraces than she could count. As soon as she arrived home, Janessa yanked off her clothes and dressed in something more comfortable. She didn't bother calling Iris; she knew where to find her. Grabbing her basketball, Janessa jogged down to the park where she found Iris and their other friends already on the court, their clothes wet with exertion.

"Iris! Iris!" Janessa called.

Iris snapped a pass to another girl, and watched as the other girl dribbled up to the net and took her shot. Only after the ball soared through the net did she turn to face Janessa.


to be continued...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: 1 Nephi 2:15

"And my father dwelt in a tent."

Okay, I have to admit that I really chose this scripture because I spent last week at Girls' Camp. The scripture has been on my mind, though, and I have been pondering the different things we can learn from it. The verse becomes more powerful when we read it in context with verse 4:

"And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness."

So it doesn't sound like Lehi, or his family, was used to roughing it. They had a house as well as riches and precious things--likely luxury items--that they left behind. Yet in Nephi's simple observation, we see that Lehi was willing to give all of that up to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. Which leads me to ask: what am I willing to give up for the Lord? Could I leave behind my house and the comforts it yields? What about money--I don't have much, but would I be willing to part with what I have? Or my precious things--computers, cars, cell phones, ovens, electricity? Or maybe the Lord has things of a different nature in mind. Maybe my time--time I spend with my family or relaxing by myself?

The only way to find out what sacrifice the Lord requires of us is to ask Him. And when we receive the answer, we need to remember that the Lord will not ask us to give him more than we are able to give.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Jarom 1:11-12

"Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.
And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance."

As I read these verses, I thought about our recent Stake Conference. During the Saturday night adult session, I listened as our leaders and fellow members of the stake taught us principles of the Gospel that were definitely not new. Not a conference goes by that we do not hear from some member of our mission presidency about missionary work and our part in it. Obviously what has been said about General Conference applies at the stake level--"It seems that the Lord recognizes the necessity of repetition in impressing upon the minds of the people any message he has to give. Our Savior, in his teaching, would repeat, time and time again, in different language the same idea, apparently to fasten it irrevocably upon the minds and hearts of his hearers." (Teachings of Heber J. Grant)

We have to be receptive to the spirit in order for our hearts to be pricked in the manner Jarom spoke about. Again, at our Saturday session, I felt the spirit as those assigned speakers shared their messages with us. But on Sunday, amid countless trips to the bathroom with my 1, 3, and 5 year olds, I found it difficult to feel even a part of the messages that were given. My mind was occupied with other matters and my heart was unable to be pricked to remembrance.

I hope to try harder to be receptive to the spirit so that I can be reminded of what is important, that I may be "continually stirr[ed] up unto repentance."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fictional Story: Alma 61:13

Continued from Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 98: 9-10

Ethem absently placed a piece of stale flatbread into his mouth as he watched the old man's shaky hands tap an image out of the stone. The shape of a jaguar's head emerged when the man carefully blew the chiseled dust away. He studied his work for a moment and then raised his obsidian tool and hammer and resumed his tapping.

"Andibmer, your work is the finest in the kingdom." Ethem said, moving closer to the old man and offering him the last few bites of his bread.

"You've known no life but imprisonment since the day of your birth, Ethem. You have nothing to compare my work to." Andibmer accepted the bread and sat down against the wall of the prison workroom.

"No," Ethem pressed on, "but King Riplakish himself seeks you out to carve and chisel the precious ornaments for his towers and buildings. Isn't that proof enough?"

Andibmer snorted. "All that proves is that I'm the most talented prisoner he can compel to do his work for him. Riplakish wouldn't recognize anything of true value if it dropped from the sky and landed in his gluttonous lap."

Ethem sat beside the old man. "Riplakish has ruled in Moron for over forty years, taxing the people to fund his buildings, his towers, and his throne, not to mention all of the prisons to hold those who could not or would not pay his taxes." He rubbed his thumbnail with his finger. "How many of those years have you spent here, Andibmer?"

The old man crumbled the last bit of bread and let it fall to the dirt floor. "Forty-one years and seven months." He turned to face Ethem, the slightest trace of tears sparkled in the corner of his eyes. "I was thirty-two, in my last year of apprentice to a stone carver, betrothed to the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. My master lacked the money to pay Riplakish's outrageous tax, so he paid with me instead."

Ethem shook his head and laid his hand on the man's bony shoulder. "Too many similar stories can be found in all of Riplakish's prison's throughout Moron. He has afflicted the people, both within and without the prisons." He took a deep breath. "The time has come to throw off the burdens Riplakish has cast upon us and drive him and his family from the land."

Andibmer offered his young companion a grim smile. "And who will reign in his stead? Someone else seeking power and glory?"

"No. We will govern ourselves, never again to let someone with only his own interests in mind have power over us to afflict us as he has."

"Grand views, Ethem. Very grand." Andibmer rose from the ground, his joints creaking and popping as he did. "I hope all goes as you plan, that freedom and righteousness may be restored to the land." He grabbed his tools and returned to his stone carving.

Ethem gently grabbed the man's arm. "Your freedom shall be restored as well, Andibmer. You will have your life back!"

Andibmer slowly shook his head. "Look at me, Ethem. I am old. I have lived my life; it cannot be restored to me. All that might have been, must remain as might have been."


"No, no, Ethem. Do not sorrow for me. I regained my freedom many years ago."

"How is that possible when you have resided here for so long?"

"Riplakish indeed stole everything from me when he placed me in this prison so many years ago. Although he could deny me my earthly possessions, even keep me from marrying and fathering children, Riplakish could not keep me from having faith in the Lord, from trusting that someday He would free me."

Ethem's face was drawn with confusion. "But the Lord has not freed you!"

"Ah but he has. He freed me the day he showed me how much I still had."

"Like what?"

"My life."

"But in prison!"

"Food to eat, people to talk to and befriend me."

"But in prison," Ethem repeated.

"I got to spend my entire life doing what I loved best, coaxing pictures from plain stone, creating beauty where before was only potential."

"But at what cost?" Ethem shook his head.

"Someday you'll understand. Remember me for this, Ethem, that I lived in peace with the lot I was given. No one can say I yielded to the circumstances forced upon me. Although I am Riplakish's subject, a member of his kingdom, I am not subject to Riplakish for my happiness and joy--that I found through the Lord.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Alma 61:13

"But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us."

Pahoran is referring to very literal enemies who are trying to take over the government and destroy the freedom of the people. Together Captain Moroni and Pahoran are able to withstand the king-men and restore the government to the chief judge. The Lord, and His power, was with them, allowing them to be delivered from their enemies.

In applying this scripture to our own lives, we should remember that our enemies don't always come in the form of people that hate us. Enemies, in gospel terms, are things that try to pull us away from the Iron Rod and lead us down the wrong path. We should also look closely at the word "subject." If someone were suffering from a debilitating illness, something that threatened their faith so that every day was a struggle to keep going onward and remember the eternal purposes of life, that illness could qualify as an enemy. This particular enemy also counts as a trial, something the Lord has given this person to help build their faith and testimony. In this case, not allowing ourselves to become subject to our enemies takes on a little bit of a different meaning.

Here it doesn't mean that we won't experience trials, but that we shouldn't allow ourselves to be ruled by them. The person who yields to the enemy of illness allows himself to become bitter and resentful that he has to suffer rather than seeking the Lord's will and allowing himself to grow from the experience. The same thing applies to the enemies known as death, pain, sorrow, etc. When we face each of these, or any other "enemies," we should remember Pahoran's counsel to Moroni and "put our trust in [the Lord], and he will deliver us." Keep in mind, of course, that the deliverance is on the Lord's timetable and not ours.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 98:9-10

King Riplakish ran his hand over the polished gold ornamenting the back the marble throne. The tails of two dragons intertwined at the center, and their bodies stretched out to form the arms of the chair, with their angry mouths opening for a mighty roar. The throne's legs were those of dragons as well, with sharp claws scratching into the floor beneath them. The seat was far enough off the ground that the King required a stool to reach it.

Riplakish nodded in satisfaction. "Very fine work," he said as the artist of the chair rubbed it a final time with a soft cloth. "It is a throne worthy of my office." He waved his hand at the thin, stooped man who twisted the cloth nervously in his hands. "Return him to the prison until I have further need of him."

"But, you promised me that if I built you this throne, more beautiful than that of the ancient kings, that you would grant me my freedom!" The man's voice was as thin and raspy as his frame.

Riplakish tapped his finger against his lips as he considered the man's plea. "No, Andibmer, I cannot risk losing your skills. The east tower is nearly complete and will require a master's touch." The king paused. "However, I will move you to the Inner Prison and I will see that you receive of the first-foods. Take him away."

Andibmer fought against the two men who pulled him out of the room. "One day," he shouted at Riplakish, "you will die for the wickedness you've brought upon this people."

"Wickedness?" Riplakish adjusted his feathered headdress and tossed his silken cloak over one shoulder. "I have restored this people to greatness, brought back the beauty and glory of this land that was lost when the poisonous serpents invaded the land and drove us southward. Without me, Moron would be a mere shadow, a pathetic reflection of what it once was, not the glorious kingdom it is today."

"Your father restored the land; he built up a broken and suffering people and reminded them of the many blessings the Lord had shown our father Jared and his brother. He brought our people back to God, and in so doing, restored our glory."

Riplakish struck Andibmer across the face with the back of his hand. His polished silver ring tore the skin on the prisoner's cheek. "Enough! Return him to the prison at once."

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 98:9-10

"Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

"Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil."

When the wicked rule the people mourn. This is true on so many levels. Of course we have seen numerous instances in government, both modern and ancient, where the people have suffered when someone with unrighteous desires has power in the government. The people of ancient Israel suffered terribly when they were ruled by wicked kings, as did the Nephites. In modern times, leaders such as Saddam Hussein have oppressed their people as they have sought for their own gratification. But wicked rulers can create mourning in smaller settings. Look at all of the problems the wicked governors of business have caused. Corrupt businessmen hurt their employees and often the economy as well. Fathers and husbands who do not rule their homes in righteousness hurt their wives and children spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Whenever wicked men and women are given even the tiniest bit of power, those who come under that power suffer.

Our responsibility to seek for honest and wise men, and to uphold them when we do find them, is an extremely important one. For as Mosiah cautioned, "if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgements of God will come upon you." (see Mosiah 29:27)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fictional Story: 1 Nephi 9:5-6

Nothing could be more hideous than my blue minivan. Okay, so something could be, but it had to be really bad. I stood on the side of the interstate and glared at the ugly hulk of blue that had embarrassed me by suddenly decelerating and then obstinately refused to start up again. My toddler sat in his car seat behind the driver's seat watching the cars speed by. I kicked at the passenger tire and muttered under my breath, "Stupid van."

At least I'd had the foresight to leave early for my OB appointment. When my mom arrived to rescue my son and I, I still had time to get to the doctor's. I drove my mom's new Pontiac Vibe to the appointment, enjoying the new smell, the cleanliness of the interior and the smooth sparkle of the flawless silver paint. It reminded me of my dream van--the van I'd been privileged to own for a mere fourteen months. That minivan had also been silver, with double sliding doors I could control with the touch of a button, an awesome radio system that let my kids listen to their music, while I enjoyed my own. Everyday that I drove my van, I discovered some new, wonderful trait that it possessed. Until my husband totaled it and the insurance company refused to cover it because he was unlicensed.

And now I was stuck driving the ghetto van, as my brothers liked to call it, because they were the lucky ones who got to work on it every time it broke down--which was often. Against my will I had learned such wonderful terms as distributor cap, power steering box, ignition box, and oxygen sensor; I could locate most of them and replace some of them. I suppose I might have been able to handle the van's continual problems if I had been the only person to suffer the consequences, but far too often I had one or more of my kids in the car, and I hated to see them sitting on the side of the road, imagining all the fun they were missing at their grandparents' house while we waited for someone to fix the van. And I couldn't stand to see their hot, sweaty faces as we drove around in the Phoenix heat with only minimal air flow in the front, and no rear A/C--not to mention the fact that the power windows refused to open.

Why would the Lord make us suffer so? What purpose was there to us being stuck with such a terrible vehicle? I had prayed often for the Lord to help us get a newer vehicle, something clean and reliable. Now, on my way to the doctor, I wondered again why my prayers went unanswered. Baby number six was due to join the family in a few weeks; how could I subject our new family member to the trauma of riding in the ghetto van?

But still our prayers went seemingly unheeded. Baby number six arrived, and we had to redo the entire front end of the van after a tire nearly slipped off. We bought battery powered fans and did our best to cope with the summer's tortuous temperatures. We Gorilla Glued the leak in the A/C unit, and replaced the power steering gaskets. And still I prayed for a newer vehicle.

I began to panic as the arrival of baby number seven neared. Although I had resigned myself to the ugly blue van, and even was able to recognize what a blessing it was to have any vehicle at all, the van only had room for eight passengers. When the baby came, we would be one seat short.

Finally, three months before my due date, the awaited miracle arrived. I found myself driving home in a nearly new, twelve-passenger van. I marveled at its new smell, its cleanliness, and the flawless shining white paint. And I spent days trying to convince myself that it was really mine. What wise purpose had the Lord had in mind as he had me wait all those years for what I wanted and needed?

Never have I cared for a vehicle as I care for the van. And from all of the selfless service people rendered to me when my car was broken, I have learned to share, to give back. I fill up those seats as often as I can.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: 1 Nephi 9:5-6

"Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen."

It may have seemed a little strange to Nephi to have the Lord ask him to make a second record on a different set of plates when he had already kept a full record of his people. But he had learned to trust the Lord because He "knoweth all things from the beginning," and if the Lord said the second record was necessary, Nephi did not doubt Him. Nephi did not live to see the Lord's purpose accomplished, but we can be sure he later learned what that purpose was and was grateful that he had chosen to be obedient.

We are often asked to do things that don't make much sense. Instead of doubting the Lord, though, we should do our best to obey Him. Someday we may see the purpose behind the task, or the purpose may, as in Nephi's case, come after we have left this life. No matter which it may be, we can be sure that the Lord has a reason for asking us to do things, to suffer things, to endure, and our lives and the lives of others will be blessed for our obedience.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fictional Story: Proverbs 15:4

Izabelle dropped her french fry onto her tray and covered her ears to block out the punch line of a dirty joke someone at her table was sharing with the group. She sighed as she retrieved her fry and stabbed it into a pool of ketchup. A woman a few seats away let out a string of profanity and everyone laughed. Izabelle abandoned her fry in its red bath and dumped her tray at the garbage.

The knots in her stomach remained as she left the break room and returned to work. If I only had to endure the language at lunch, I might survive. But I hear it out on the dock while I'm working, too. No one seems to respect the fact that I don't participate. With a shake of her head, she pushed her cart over to where she left off and began counting boxes of laundry soap on the first pallet. She enjoyed a brief fifteen minutes of peace until the unloader returned. The young man climbed onto his forklift and drove it into the trailer. On his first try he managed to poke a box of laundry soap with one of his forks. Cussing, inevitably followed.

Izabelle frowned and tried to block it out. That's it! I'm buying earplugs. She continued counting boxes of detergent and moved on to pallets of diapers, cringing every time a foul word disturbed the air. As she finished up her third pallet of diapers, the new girl Marcy approached her.

"Can you help me?" Marcy asked. "I pushed something I shouldn't have on this darn scanner and now it just beeps at me when I scan a barcode."

Izabelle took the scanner and began pushing buttons. While she messed with it, her unloader came over to tell her the trailer was empty and to give her the last of the paperwork. "I just have to clean up the..." The unloader swallowed and gave Marcy a sidelong glance. "Uh, I have to finish sweeping the spilled soap, so they can bring in another trailer."

"Okay." Izabelle studied the unloader for a minute as he walked away, certain that he'd been about to use an expletive until he looked at Marcy. She pushed a few more buttons on the scanner and then handed it back. "It should work now. Watch out for that yellow button on the left; it likes to mess everything up."

Over the next week, Izabelle observed how the other employees acted when Marcy was present. Everyone seemed to make a conscious effort to clean up their language, and if something did slip, they immediately apologized. Izabelle found that she wanted to be around Marcy as much as possible, so that she could be free of the bad language, too.

"Can you answer a question?" Izabelle asked Marcy one day when they were alone on the dock.

"Sure." Marcy smiled.

"Neither one of us uses profanity or tells off-colored jokes, so why is it that when you're around everyone keeps their language clean, but if it's just me, they talk vulgar and dirty?"

"Well, the first few days everyone spoke pretty much the way you say the do around you, but I told them that I didn't like it and asked if they would please not talk that way. By the end of my first week, everyone's language had improved."

"You asked them?" Izabelle mused. "I didn't even think of that. I figured that as long as I didn't participate they'd realize that I didn't like the way the talked."

Marcy patted Izabelle's arm. "Most often, people take silence to mean acceptance. If we don't voice our opinions, others will assume we share theirs." Marcy glanced at her watch. "It's just about break time; let's go let your opinion be known."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Proverbs 15:4

"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit."

How very true this is! As long as we are not desensitized to swearing and foul language, we find ourselves turned away by its use. When I hear someone speaking in vulgar tongue, I want to be as far from them as I can possibly get--hopefully out of earshot. But I am drawn to those who use clean and uplifting language. Their words feed my soul and help me to feel closer to the Lord.

President Hinckley counselled "To each of you I say, be clean in your language. There is so much of filthy, sleazy talk these days. Failure to express yourself in language that is clean marks you as one whose vocabulary is extremely limited." (Ensign May 2007)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fictional Story: Alma 60:23

"I just can't figure it out. How many tries is it supposed to take to quit smoking?" Nathaniel asked his son Preston.

Preston shifted uncomfortably on the couch, and combed his fingers through his hair. "There's no set number. You just keep trying until it works."

Nathaniel shook his head. A few locks of dark brown hair streaked with gray fell over his forehead. "I don't know." He sighed. "Maybe I'm just too old and set in my ways."

"Old? You're a walking time-bomb, Dad. If you don't quit, you're likely to die of a heart attack. You'll just have to prove that you can teach old dogs new tricks." Preston bit his lip. "I've got to get going; I'll look some stuff up on the Internet for you. Maybe I'll find something that will help you out."

"Thanks, Prez. I appreciate all the help and support you provide." Nathaniel escorted his son to the door and watched him drive away.

As soon as he rounded the corner, Preston opened his glove box and pulled out his stash of Marlboros. He felt the tension began to seep out of his body as soon as he placed the cigarette between his lips, even though he had yet to light it. He flicked the lighter and drew the flame into the cigarette; after several puffs, he held the cigarette between his first two fingers and let it dangle out the window.

Guilt engulfed him. His father thought he had quit smoking years ago, and now he was looking for help with his own addiction. You won't be able to help him until you conquer your own problem. Preston shoved the thought aside. He's older, and his heart is bad. He needs to quit or he could die. I'm still young--I have plenty of time to quit. I'm just not ready. He sucked in another lungful of tobacco and blew the smoke out slowly.

When he arrived home, Preston sat at his computer, staring at the black screen. After nearly ten minutes he finally reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a thick file folder. The folder held every bit of information he had ever found on quitting smoking. He had it all--nicotine patches, gum, hypnosis, prescription drugs, quitting support groups and websites, hot lines, and testimonials. When I'm ready, I'll know exactly how to do it. Preston flipped through some of the pages until he found some information he thought might help his dad. Then he sent his father an e-mail. The stress of his hypocrisy forced him to light up again.

Preston walked to the backyard and retrieved his hidden pack from the tool box in the shed. He was grateful that his wife, Loren, who also believed he'd quit smoking, had an appointment, so he could smoke in the comfort of his backyard instead of finding a reason to drive somewhere. Flipping the lid back, Preston counted his remaining cigarettes. Five? Now I'll have to figure out how to get some more, soon. His brow furrowed when he noticed a folded piece of paper tucked inside the carton.

He pulled it out and read in his wife's handwriting, although she'd tried to disguise it: Alma 60:23 Cleanse the inner vessel. Apparently I haven't been as sly as I thought. But if she knew, why didn't she confront me and toss out the cigarettes like she did before? Preston started to remove a cigarette from the carton, but then stopped. He replaced the carton in its hiding place and returned to the house. When he found his scriptures, he looked up the scripture from the note.

He read the verse and then went back and started at the beginning of the chapter. As he read about Moroni's struggles against the Lamanite army and the lack of support and supplies from the government, Preston began to see that he could not provide support for his father as long as he was held prisoner by his own addiction. He also saw that, although Pahoran could not fight off the king-men on his own, when he and Moroni joined together, they were able to defeat them.

Preston called his wife, knowing she wouldn't answer because of her meeting. "I'm ready to cleanse the inner vessel," he told her voice mail. Then he called his father.