The Land of Promise (A Sunday School Lesson)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

These are my notes and outline of a Sunday School lesson I taught on 2/2/20. I was assigned chapters in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 16-22, which covers the story of Lehi's family in the wilderness, Nephi's broken bow, Nephi building a ship, and Lehi's family arriving in the Promised Land.

I try to make my blog posts (and lessons) relatable enough for everyone, no matter what stage of faith development or what spiritual path you find yourself on, but I do understand that the context of this post and the audience it was written for (Mormons) is pretty niche. If you have no idea what or no desire to know what I'm talking about, I want you to know thats 100% ok and I truly, really, with all my love encourage you to skip this one.

One of God's favorite things to do is call people into the wilderness. It sounds weird, but think about it. What stories do you know from sacred text where wilderness wanderings were a God-led thing?

In case you need a few examples to get you started:

  • our beloved pioneers
  • the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt
  • the Jaredites
  • The prophet Elijah
  • Christ in the desert for 40 days
Today, we are going to use the journey of Lehi's family as an archetype to work with and see what applications it has for our own lives. I'd love for you to think of two things: a journey in your past and a journey you are presently on. It can be a literal journey, it can be a journey of faith, a journey of trial, whatever comes to you. Just hold those two experiences close as we examine this story.

Every journey starts with a call into the wilderness. Sometimes we are led, sometimes we are pushed, and sometimes we are dragged kicking and screaming along the way. Truly, I think it really doesn't matter whether we embark on the journey as a faithful Nephi or a murmuring Lemuel. At some point, all that matters is that we answer the call. Sure, there is something to be said about having a trusting heart and a "go and do" attitude, but be honest with yourself - do you always respond that way? I don't. In fact, its something like 70% of the time I resist the call until it becomes impossible to ignore, murmuring in fear the entire way.

No matter the posture of our heart and spirit, when we follow the call, we step into the unknown. We have left the beginning and for the rest of our journey we find ourselves in the arduous and challenging middle of our story. As we get further into our journey, with wilderness behind and before us, I think its pretty normal to get (or at least feel) lost. It makes sense then to ask for directions.

This reminds me of a verse from Proverbs 3
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge (or turn to) him and he shall direct thy paths.
God is good.
God's promises are good,
and God makes good on every promise.

So it makes sense then that God would direct the paths we are called to. We can trust God's directions.

Sometimes the directions make perfect sense,
and sometimes you walk out of the house to rush your kids to school and find a fancy brass compass ball thing on your porch.

The idea of the Liahona is pretty wild, which is wonderful for me because I am absolutely obsessed with these weird stories. Lucky for me the scriptures are full of them. I mean, brass ball compasses, blind people seeing, people building boats without Youtube, dead people not dead anymore... wild. Our sacred stories are weird and complex and mystical and magical. That is why I love them.

So instead of thinking about the Liahona as a literal ancient artifact, I'd like you to think about it more like a metaphor for your two journeys. What has been a Liahona to you? What has guided you when you've felt lost? What has pointed the way when you needed direction? What guides you even now?

At the beginning of the year, my ward had what they called a "musical testimony meeting". Members had the opportunity to stand up, share their favorite hymn and why it was meaningful to them (in less than 60 seconds - believe it or not, no one spoke for more than that) and then the congregation sang one verse from their favorite hymn. I loved hearing how many of those songs had carried people through some of the darkest times in their life.

For me personally, something that has carried me is Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese". It has guided me and offered comfort for many years.

But there is a real kicker about the Liahona. The text says it runs on faith. Like, faith is its power source. So my question is

What happens then when you're fresh out of faith?

What happens when you had a baby six months ago
and every morning since, you've woken up from your nightly 3 hour nap
with a heaviness that envelops you,
that slumps your shoulders
lower, lower;
threatening to sink your ship
that barely stays afloat now?
and every evening as you lay you down to sleep
you think
"give me this night
tomorrow's breath"
because you're not sure you'll make it.
Faith? Fresh out.

What happens in the moments when you look in the mirror
and you don't recognize yourself because you're
tired, ragged, running to a hundred doctor's visits
only to get a slice of news here, some there,
most of it not good.
and you're worried, you're afraid,
especially when you're laying in a backless hospital gown,
What happens when someone says
"have faith" then?
Do you turn your eyes to the speckled grid ceiling and whisper,
"I'm fresh out, God."

What then?
Does the Liahona still work
when you're fresh out of faith?

I think of Jairus who was once caught in a moment like these. His daughter had just died. He did the only thing, the last option left, by going to Christ and asking for help. Upon hearing his request, Jesus asks Jairus, "Do you believe?" Jairus replies, "Yes Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief."

All that was required in that moment was a mustard seed of faith. Such a small and simple thing. Nephi says in 1 Nephi 16:29
"by small means the Lord can bring about great things."
A lot of religious accounts I follow on Instagram will occasionally post an inspirational quote that says something along the lines of "How big is your faith?" as if the measure of it is what matters. But according to this passage, Nephi is essentially saying


because God magnifies and multiplies all we offer.
even a mustard seed.
knock and it shall be opened to you -
even if you knock softly, gingerly;
even if all you can do is place an open palm on the door and weep.
ask and it shall be given -
even if the asking is a silent, desperate,
half-feeling prayer.

because God is good
to me,
to you,
to all.

To those that cry out with quivering breath,
who hold their mustard seed with trembling hands,
God gives this promise:

"out of them shall proceed thanksgiving;
I will glorify them,
and they shall not be small."

All of this to say, friends, that the Liahona works on faith.
Not big faith.
Not mountain faith.
Not Nephi-large-in-stature faith

just faith.
only what you can muster in this moment.

So returning to our story of Lehi's family in the wilderness, very soon after they receive the Liahona, a series of tragedy strikes, culminating in the story of Nephi's broken bow. Archetypally, this is the point when the journey's trajectory arrives at a cross-roads.

There are two examples in this story to follow:

  1. Nephi, who does stuff
  2. everyone else, who complains
To be fair, lets get real right now.

Have you ever lived with a 3 year old? I currently do. I love my little guy to pieces, but I like him just a tiny bit less when he crawls into my bed at 5:30 am and says - with morning breath right up to my nose - 

I huuuungry.
I waaaaant a prooooooteeeeein baaaaaar."

Because I'm a good mom, of course

I turn over and pray my most sincere prayer
that if I promise to lay very still and quiet,
he will think I'm asleep and he might go back to sleep too.

Just as I think my prayers are answered,
he asks again,
louder this time,
until there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Hunger is a real thing.
A three year old's hunger is a very real thing.
And there were definitely some 3 year olds 
in Lehi's family out there in the wilderness.
As a mom I can almost guarantee you that
most of the "murmuring" looked at lot like
my house at 5:45 pm when I call my hubs on his way home from work and say,
"The natives are restless. Please bring pizza."

So today instead of giving you a speech about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps Rachel Hollis style, to make yourself a bow and be the hero of your own story, I'd like to offer you a new perspective. The hunger, pain, and doubt Lehi and his family experienced were real. As real as your own hunger. As real as your own pain, your own doubts. Nephi did NOT look down on them or tell them to stop their whining. 

No. He sat with them, encouraged them, and with his own strength and faith he helped them. There are times when we need people in our lives to step up, step in, and help us. I look at these verses as an opportunity to honor those who have helped us in our wilderness. How have others used their strength to bless you in times of trial?

Very soon after we moved into this ward, I got a phone call on Pie Day. A new friend asked if I'd like to come over and bake a fresh pie. "You see," she said, "its my mother's birthday. She passed away a while ago, but I always like to do something fun to honor her and pie just seems like the right thing to do." There was no way in heck I was going to say no to 1. a tender invitation like that, and 2. fresh banana cream pie. She was kind and welcoming and tender in a way I had not felt since moving from Phoenix.

A few months later, I fell into a really bad depression. A quiet friend followed me closely on Instagram, and on some of my hardest days she left 2 liters of Dr. Pepper, fancy lavender dish soap, and kind notes of encouragement. She never knocked, never asked for a bit of my time or any recognition. Just kindness and friendship and the pure act of Christlike love.

On one of these hard days, I woke up to find that my dear, sweet 3 year old had turned the temperature control on our fridge to "OFF" and all the perishable food was warm and spoiled. I had just done a huge Costco run the day before, so hundreds of dollars worth of food was wasted. That day, another sweet friend invited my son to play while I went for a small grocery run AND made my family dinner that night, which helped my budget and stress levels immensely. 

These are small and simple acts of kindness that are not small at all. I needed these gifts of strength because at the time I was fresh out. These people stepped in, stepped up, and helped me. We cannot always be a Nephi. Luckily, we don't have to be.

We know that in the end, Lehi's family's story ends well. Nephi makes a bow, finds food, builds a boat, everyone travels overseas and makes it to the promised land. In our own lives and journeys, we rarely have the benefit of knowing how our story will end, but we always still have the promise that goes hand-in-hand with the call.

God is good.
God's promises are good,
and God makes good on every promise.

What is your promised land? I'm not talking about primary answers. (spoiler alert: we all make it in the end) What I'm really asking is 

What has God promised you?
What is the land of milk and honey on the other side of your wilderness?
If you don't know,
if no promises have been made yet, 
ask. right now.
Ask for an image of your promised land.

You don't have to know how to get there
because God is good.
God will direct your paths.
God makes good on every promise.

Wherever you are now, 
you have everything you need 
to get you there.
One small step forward,
one little push forward,
what you have in this moment
is all that is needed to get you to 
the Land of Promise.

*This is a drawing I did for my class. For me, my promised land is symbolized by a honey bee. I found all the loving phrases in these chapters that started with "be" and made sure to include them here.*

10 Things I've Learned from the Great British Baking Show

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Who doesn't love the Great British Baking Show? Not only is it persistently positive and mostly void of interpersonal drama, but it also inspires and celebrates home bakers. I've walked away from each season with new baking knowledge and skills that have greatly improved my bread, cakes, and fancy desserts. I once even attempted an apricot galette - which is basically a rustic French pie. And it was delicious. To celebrate my love for baking and to express gratitude for the only show that can successfully see me through pre-bedtime anxiety attacks, I give you, in no particular order of importance, the 10 things I've learned from the Great British Baking Show.

  1. It is the most wonderful experience in the world to let people surprise you with their hidden talents. Every season has had a contestant whose daytime occupation seemed in opposition to their baking hobby. These people, including a general contractor, an engineer, a prison warden, and a pediatrician I personally would assume to be too busy or completely disinterested in baking. And yet, those same people were skilled enough in baking to make it on the show, some of them even to the finals with their amazing bakes. You can't judge a person on their looks or their occupation. A lot of times their skills and talents overlap and play off one another in ways that directly contribute to their success. So, if you are one of those people who swing the giant balls that demolish buildings AND you love creating intricate little caramel decorations for your petite fours - freaking go for it! You're amazing.
  2. There is not always a right or wrong way to do something. A lot of bakers on the show make something in the way that their families or they personally enjoy eating. Though these bakes may not meet the judges' standards, it is easy to tell that a lot of passion, time, and consideration for their loved ones goes in to the creations we see on the show. There is absolutely nothing wrong with baking something with love. Sure, it may not make you THE Greatest British Baker, but it certainly makes you a great one nonetheless.
  3. I will never forget the time in season 1 that Ian threw his baked Alaska in the trash because he felt it wouldn't win the challenge. Even though the rest of his bakes were very good, because he had nothing to show for his efforts the judges had to send him home that week. It broke my heart to see him leave! But I learned an important lesson from watching. It is always better to try and fail than to not try at all. All the judges wanted to see was his best effort, but they never got to because he hid it away before they could judge him. That knowledge alone has encouraged me in my own creative pursuits. Keep trying, don't trash it, and give it your best.
  4. Apparent in the case of Ian's baked Alaska and a lot of other contestant's bakes is this surprising fact: It does not have to be beautiful to be good. So many creations have won challenges on merits of texture, flavor, finish, and the pure luck of just once being better than the rest. There have been beautifully decorated cakes, perfectly colored breads, and inventive chocolate delivery systems (looking at you, Season 3 Ian) that did not win challenges. On the flip side, there have been some downright ugly looking bakes that surprised everyone, sometimes even winning Star Baker! So, I think its important to remember that presentation is not always everything - its whats inside that counts.
  5. There is a good chance that someone will be better than you, even at your best thing. Don't let this discourage you! Try to see this as a learning opportunity. Your only job is to believe in yourself and give whatever it is it your very best anyway. Leave the comparison to the judges.
  6. Sometimes the difference between Star Baker and just another person in the tent is the willingness to accept and take criticisms to heart. Sometimes watching Paul Hollywood judge technical challenges makes me feel SO bad for the bakers. But what I do know is that the audience doesn't get to see is the time the judges make to teach and constructively critique the bakers so they can succeed in future challenges. Flexibility and the willingness to learn makes you a better baker (or artist, or writer, or parent, or.... you get the point).
  7. Paul Hollywood is infamous for his harsh critiques and high standards. Its no wonder contestants shiver and sometimes crack under his scrutiny. There have even been times where Paul just outright tells bakers that he doesn't think their bakes will be very good. One of my favorite PH quotes comes from season 2 when Paul didn't believe in Beca's chocolate orange cake and straight up told her so. In the end, it turned out beautifully. One of the most glorious moments in my television-watching life was hearing Paul say, "I annoyingly really like that." So when someone doesn't believe you, maybe even especially when its Paul Hollywood, don't let it stop you. Try anyway and surprise us all.
  8. Who you are is important and makes you special. I love watching contestants flavor their bakes and fillings with spices, meats, and fruits from their family's countries and childhoods. It makes the show interesting and above all, I can see in their eyes the excitement they have for sharing a piece of themselves with the judges. When something is meaningful to you, share it. It blesses everyone to take part in the simple joys of life. 
  9. Practice practice practice and then practice some more. You don't get good at anything unless you've tried and failed and tried again. Take notes. Experiment. Study. Ask for advice. Then practice again. I have a cinnamon roll recipe I've used for years and only recently have I started experimenting with different fillings. All that practice has paid off - it is by far and wide the best thing I can bake, and people are always excited when I do.
  10. Its okay to cry. I have seen so many tears on this show and it always touches me. These people love being in the tent and they want every opportunity to keep trying. Its okay to be disappointed, afraid, nervous, heartbroken, and devastated. Even over miniature meringue pavlovas. Its okay to let the things that are important to you be important to you. And simply because I can't choose one to eliminate from the 10...
  11. The experience is its own reward. There is no money prize for the winner of the Great British Baker title. They go home with a lovely bouquet and an etched glass cake stand.  I think this minimalist prize really drives home the real purpose of the show - to just simply be there and try your best. And that is a good approach not just on TV, but to life.

All-Consuming Fear

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What I Want My Daughter To Know About Elsa

Saturday, January 11, 2020

*Spoilers ahead. If you haven't seen the movie by now its your own fault.*

On the drive to pick up her brother from school, I heard my daughter sigh from the backseat of the van.

"What's up babe?" I asked.
"Mom! I am so mad! I made a wish when I made my bear at Build-A-Bear and it never came true!" She said.
"What did you wish for?" I asked.
"I wished to be Elsa. Every time I get in the bath I test out to see if I have ice powers, but nothing ever happens."
I held back a giggle, trying to recover my daughter's faith in magic and wishes. "Wishes don't always work, and that's okay. Maybe it didn't work because the world already has an Elsa, and what it still needs is you."

The conversation soon moved on to another topic, but its stuck with me since.

Both my daughter and I have joined the world in a mutual love for Frozen II and Elsa. Since seeing it in theaters over a month ago, my mind has replayed its songs and scenes over again so I can squeeze every bit of joy and meaning from them. I have read every article, blog post, and Instagram caption I have come across about Frozen II (this one being a particular favorite), but this conversation with my young daughter highlighted something I hadn't realized before - she and I walked away from the story and characters of Frozen II with two very different treasures.

This makes sense, given there is a 20 year age difference between us. Part of me is thrilled knowing that the enchantment of story, the possibility of magical ice powers, and the potential of being the "chosen one" (or the "fifth element", whatever you want to call it) is still very real to her. The other part of me houses my desire for her to see beneath the glittering facade of magic powers to what is really at the heart of her favorite heroine. "There are so many things to love about Elsa," I want to tell her. "Her ice powers are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg."

Elsa Is Prudent

Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, it is obvious that Elsa has learned much from her adventures in the first Frozen. The castle gates are open. Elsa has integrated herself into both a family unit (charades, anyone?) and the larger society, which is apparent just by observing the attitudes of the Arendelle citizens - seeing Elsa is totally normal for them. Even though she feels restless and is not completely at peace, she recognizes and appreciates the important role that community and connection play in her life. Her simple lines in the song Some Things Never Change, "I'm not sure I want things to change at all," and in the song Into the Unknown, "Everyone I've ever loved is here within these walls / I've had my adventure / I don't need something new / I'm afraid of what I'm risking if I follow you into the unknown." showcases two things: 1. Elsa's purposeful and measurable efforts and success in finding a place in which she feels a sense of belonging, and 2. her wisdom in being unwilling to abandon the goodness she's found at the first call to adventure. From this alone I feel we can clearly see that Elsa is capable of learning from her experiences and consciously chooses to follow a growth trajectory.

Elsa is Intuitive

Elsa is a tad bit more lucky than the rest of us who best recognize intuition as a soft inner knowing. Her intuition literally called to her in an audible and unmistakable way, via a "voice" singing a haunting lullaby from a far-off, unseen somewhere. From the moment she first heard the call, she leaned in to hear what it was trying to tell her. Through the day and night the call followed her - which follows the pattern of intuition in life off-screen, too - and because she both recognized its voice and allowed herself to be open to it, she was able to give voice to her deep and forbidden desire to follow her heart wherever it took her. Her acceptance of her intuition is easily apparent as she softly sings, 

What do you want? 'Cause you've been keeping me awake
Are you here to distract me so I make a big mistake?
Or are you someone out there who's a little bit like me?
Who knows deep down I'm not where I meant to be?
Everyday's a little harder as I feel my power grow
Don't you know there's part of me that longs to go
Into the unknown?

As she continues to follow her inner guide, her confidence grows. She becomes more sure of herself and of her path and purpose. The story is propelled almost by her certainty alone. It is her trust in her intuition that awakens the Nature Spirits, that helps her recall her father's bedtime story of the Enchanted Forest as more truth than tale, and brings her into alignment with a purpose greater than that of Queen of Arendelle.

Elsa is Reliant

If there was one takeaway from the first Frozen, its that disconnection never ends well. So instead of pushing those closest to her away when she realizes she must go to the Enchanted Forest, Elsa welcomes their company. Even though her first concern is their safety, she realizes that this is a journey she can't take alone. She doesn't walk herself to her destination; she allows Christoff to take her there. She takes as many people with her as are willing to go until they are unable to go any further. Elsa understands that her story is part of a greater story of past, present, and future, and therefore excludes no one who is willing to do the work with her. She welcomes every effort, every explanation, every piece of wisdom that comes her way because she recognizes she does not have all the answers.

Elsa is Tenacious

She has only one goal through the entire film: find answers. Who is calling to her? Why? What is the full story of the past? What happened to her parents? What is her purpose? Elsa is relentless in her pursuit of knowledge. Eventually, she finds herself at a place where she innately knows she must travel to alone. For the first time in forever (see what I did there?) Elsa is alone on a dark, rocky beach because she knows that this particular part of her journey is meant just for her. She's sent everyone else away under the guise of "keeping them safe," but I think it really comes down to the fact that there are some journeys in life that must be taken alone. On a journey of self-discovery, at some point the worry of others becomes a hindrance. Anna could not have survived the tempestuous sea Elsa had to cross or faced the Nokk and come out victorious. Anna had nothing waiting for her in Ahtohallan. Elsa intuitively knew this and therefore had to make a tough decision she knew would hurt her sister. Tenacity means being capable of holding tightly to something; Elsa refused to let go of her calling, no matter what.

Elsa is Vulnerable

Even though Into the Unknown is Frozen II's signature song, Show Yourself  is what makes Elsa's character arc complete and brings an underlying sense of wholeness to the film. Show Yourself  is vulnerability in song form. Lets just look at the lyrics.

"I have always been a fortress, cold secrets deep inside. You have secrets too, but you don't have to hide."
"I have always been so different, normal rules did not apply. Is this the day, are you the way I finally find out why?"  

This would be incredibly hard to admit for anyone. The ache to belong is a strong and innate human need and Elsa is not immune. For her to find companionship, even if it comes in the form of an explanation from the divine is an incredible gift. The song continues,

"Here I am. I've come so far. You are the answer I've waited for all of my life. Show yourself - let me see who you are."

This is a beautiful act of vulnerability to say, "I'm here. This is all I have. I've waited for so long and given everything to be here right now. Is this enough? Am I enough?" Have you ever had that experience in your own life? Where your need to be seen and accepted was so strong you'd give anything and everything to hear the simple words, "You are loved?"

Then Elsa has a subtle realization about who exactly it is she's been waiting for. Her path forward is clear - all she needs is to embrace it. As she does, the audience is gifted with one of the most beautiful lines of song:

"Show yourself. Step in to your power. Grow yourself into something new. You are the one you've been waiting for all of your life. Oh, show yourself. "

The message is:

Wait no longer.
Everything you'll ever need
is already inside you.

This is the culmination of the work of so many researchers, psychologists, and educators I greatly respect. Brene Brown's vulnerability? Check. Carol Gilligan's voice of the soul? Check. Maya Angelou's 'belonging nowhere and yet everywhere'? Check.

I can't listen to Show Yourself without openly weeping every.single.time. And whenever I hear my daughter sing it? It is unadulterated peace, wonder, and awe.

Elsa is Humble

Elsa is largely absent from the film from the point of her transformation until almost the very end. When she does reappear, she carries herself with a sense of quiet peace. Anna ultimately was the one who put into action the necessary steps to heal the Enchanted Forest and liberate the Nature Spirits and it is Elsa who helps her realize this. Elsa never rubs her powers, her transformation, or her new title of "The Fifth Element" in her sister's face. Instead, she reminds Anna with one simple sentence how necessary their sisterhood is: "Mother had two daughters. We did this together." Elsa steps down from the Arendelle throne knowing that Anna was the best fit for that role. She moves away from a life of castle comforts (not that she ever really felt comfortable there anyway) and into the Enchanted Forest. Elsa is not caught up in titles, royalty, roles, and authority. Her humility stems from her acceptance and realization of something much greater. Her power comes from her deep and resilient connection to her heart and soul self.

Elsa is so much more than ice powers, magic dresses, and a new horse. These are things she has, and they ultimately come to her because of who she is. So the next time my daughter tells me she wants to be like Elsa, I will do my best to show her what magic is really all about.

Instagram Goodness

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.