September 12, 2015

An Old House and A Young Garden

Do you ever feel discouraged about your progress in becoming like Jesus Christ?  I certainly do, especially near the end of a long summer with four intense children at home all day.  As we get to know Jesus better, we see more clearly the gaps between His character and capabilities and our own.  Paul indicated the way to gain patience with our progress when he taught, “We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5).  Last month when I was feeling discouraged, the Lord through his Holy Spirit offered encouragement by reminding me of two things. 

First, I was reminded of the delight I feel to see a tired old house restored so its unique character can be appreciated again.  We are all like broken down houses.  We came to Earth all shiny and new with commendable characteristics and valuable gifts to share.  Then we were stained by sin, worn out by the storms of life, and broken in places by the imperfect people around us.  Our Savior Jesus Christ paid an immense price during His Atonement to gain the power to restore us, and He earnestly seeks to use that power.  Despite the heavy cost, He delights in the process of restoring us to our former glory.

The second encouraging thought that came to mind was my young garden.  I do not grow a lot of food; instead my garden is mostly ornamental.  It has been two years since we undertook a large landscaping project in the backyard, and there are some pretty spots but still a lot of bare ground.  I love to sit outside and imagine how the garden will look in five or ten years when the trees and other plants are more mature.  Even though there will be a lot of work between now and then, I look forward to the process of nurturing its growth.  We are all like young gardens.  The patches of goodness and beauty here and there in our current selves are just a small part of our infinite potential.  Our Savior never loses sight of that potential and finds much more joy from nurturing our growth than I receive from my nurturing my garden.  His Atonement provides plenty of grace to continue to support us throughout the long process of maturation. 

An old house and a young garden echo the changes that come to our hearts as Christ uses His Atonement to help us become one with Him and our Heavenly Father (John 17:21).  Jesus fixes the damage from our sins, the sins of others, and the perils of mortality; then He fills us with more and more of His attributes and strength.  He makes us whole again like an old house restored, and He makes us holy like a garden filled with growing beauty, light and life.  Our Savior delights in the completed goal ahead but also in the ongoing process.  If He sees goodness and finds joy in us now despite our sagging stairs, broken windows, barren patches and weedy corners, then we can feel optimistic about our progress, slow though it seems.  He can show us how to find joy in the journey because He finds joy in the journey.  With the encouragement of the Holy Spirit and steady streams of Christ’s grace, we can attend to the healing and growth of today with a bright hope in the righteousness to come.   

July 30, 2015

Family History Comes to Life

 Rather than try to distill inspiration and testimony into words (which is almost impossible anyway in the cacophony of four kids at home all day during summer break), in the past month I have been feverishly working on family history.  I feel a strong pull to learn more about my ancestors and to make that information more accessible to my children and other family members.  The two projects I have been working on are a family photo tree and a family history book.  

Thanks to photos sent from relatives and photo files on Family Search and, I have found pictures of all of my husband's and my ancestors back to our second-great-grandparents.  Although the tree is technically upside down, with children at the roots instead of the branches, this six-generation photo tree has been a great addition to our dining room decor.  Our whole family has begun to get to know and love these ancestors whose work and sacrifice have greatly blessed our lives.  We frequently bring up a story about an ancestor during dinner conversation, and then we all look at the photo tree to find him or her.  The photos are very effective in helping us feel like we're getting to know the person.  Even my three-year old loves to point out 'his Joseph,' a second-great-grandfather who shares two names and three initials with my son.
 My second family history project is a family history book with each ancestor's life described on one page with a photo.  I actually started this book a decade ago, but with the creation of the photo tree I have been motivated to write more pages so each person on the photo tree has a corresponding page in the book.  I condense the information from longer life histories down to one page to make it easier for my children and other relatives to get to know many of their ancestors.  In some cases there aren't any stories or other information available, so I point out details based on the dates in Family Search like how many of the person's children died young, how old the person was during the Civil War, or what shipboard conditions were like when they came to America.  Although I have not found much specific information about some of my Scottish ancestors, I have been fascinated to learn for the first time about the Highland Clearances and how they likely affected many of these ancestors who immigrated to Nova Scotia in the early 1800's.    
My three children who are old enough to read have all perused the sixty pages I have completed so far.  One daughter searched the book to find all the ancestors who loved riding horses after she spent a couple of days at horse camp.  We have all chuckled over the stories of our spitfire grannies like Mary Ann Voorhees Snow, who burnt her own house down so a mob wouldn't have the pleasure of doing it themselves.

I have spent hours preparing family photo trees and history books for my parents, siblings, and in-laws, and I am excited to share them with the relatives that are gathering in a few days for my grandmother's memorial service.  After spending so much time working on these projects, I feel even more strongly that my grandmother is still close to us after her death.  I can feel the comforting love and concern of many of our ancestors for my family and me.
Working on family history as the mother of young children has its ups and downs.  On one hand, I tend to get so involved with my dead relatives that I forget that my living family needs to eat.  I am grateful for the times my husband has supported my family history efforts by making dinner while I am busily typing on the computer.  On the other hand, I can't believe we have lived this long without knowing all of these ancestors.  I feel like a more complete person now that I am getting to know 'my people.'  It is delightful to see how eagerly my children delve into the stories and other information about our ancestors' lives now that they are easily accessible.  Their experiences and character are already lending strength to our family, and I expect the blessings will continue to flow for years to come.