Saturday, December 29, 2018

One in Christ

I have been asked to speak on Elder Ulisses Soares' General Conference talk “One in Christ.”

In it, he compares the Restored Church of Jesus Christ to the mighty Amazon River, which is a blending of the Solimões and Negro rivers. I did a little research and discovered the following:  These rivers flow side-by-side over distance of six kilometres. The reason they never mix is because of the distinct differences in temperature, speed and water density between the two. The Solimões is faster, cooler and denser, its waters flowing up to 6 km/h at 22 degrees Celsius, and the warmer, slower waters of the Rio Negro flow more slowly 2 km/h, and maintain a temperature of around 28 degrees Celsius.

Elder Soares says when new members join the church and truly merge with its membership the restored Church of Jesus Christ becomes even stronger and steadier. 

What does merging with the church mean? 

He quotes Moroni 6: 4-5:

4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

How do we nourish new members of the church?

First of all, I didn’t say CONVERTS, because we are all CONVERTS.

Elder Soares says we can help them do this in three ways, 1) they need to have friends; 2) They need assignments; and 3) They need to learn Gospel principles.

So, how we nourish new members of the church? I did some more research and put Elder Soares' questions in an anonymous Google survey and gave it to some of my friends, (no one from this ward.) 

Here are some of the concepts I learned:

  1. I am a PERSON not a PROJECT. You may be assigned to minister to me, but please love me and treat me like a friend. Our spirits are siblings. That doesn’t necessarily mean I need a LOT of friends, just good ones. Take time to get to know me! Ask me to do things with you outside of church. I’ll make time for you.

  1. Presume positive intent. Kindness goes a long way. Harsh words could drive me and my family away for generations. I know I need to learn to repent and forgive also, but it is hard to learn the gospel if I don’t feel comfortable in my ward. I’ll try to be positive as well.

  1. Don’t make assumptions such as, because I wasn’t born in the covenant I am less than a person who was. I am at a different place in my eternal progression than others. We are all at different places. Please be patient with me as I learn the Gospel, after all you are still learning too. And likewise, I’ll try not to assume that you know everything because you have been in the church longer than I have. We do not fit stereotypes; we are unique children of Heavenly Father.

  1. Having a calling is wonderful, so please help I have the training and support I need to carry out my responsibility. If I don’t know who to talk to, help me find out. Point me to members and sources in the ward, and in books or online. I’ll ask if I need help, but If I feel overwhelmed, I may not know who or what to ask.

  1. Help me to learn the Gospel! Help me understand the scriptures, have the lesson manuals I need, and go to my classes. Do I have a ride to Sunday meetings or church activities? Ask me! Sometimes it’s had to advocate for myself because I feel like I am bothering others. When I learn these things I can help others.

  1. I know the church has a place for me, please help me find it. I am looking, really I am. If you have found your place, then guide me to mine.

We all know that we are imperfect people trying to learn, live and teach the gospel to each other. When we genuinely focus on individuals, we make the connections that bring us closer together as a community and church as a whole. I think the Primary Children’s Song Book easily covers these concepts:

I Am a Child of God,  I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,  Love One Another,  Jesus said Love Everyone,  Give Said the Little Stream,  We Welcome You,  Our Door is Always Open,  We are Different, and my personal favorite,  Kindness Begins with Me. 

Elder Soares says of new members:

“They leave behind a world they knew well and choose to follow Jesus Christ, with full purpose of heart, joining a new “river” like the mighty Amazon River—a river that is a valiant force of goodness and righteousness that flows toward the presence of God.”

I’d like to return to the metaphor of the two distinctly different rivers merging together into the mighty Amazon. 

When I first read about the specifics of the difference in the Solimões and Negro rivers, my science teacher sense kicked in. One river carries sand, silt and clay, small particles of weathered rock. These particles are carried from high in the Andes Mountains and deposited in the ocean as the speed of the Amazon river slows down when it mixes with the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil. The other river carries dissolved nutrients which are deposited in the same underwater region in likewise manner. To me, when I see sediments mixed with nutrients, I know that the end result of this mixture is underwater soil. So, in my final research, I searched for the conditions of the underwater areas in the Amazon Delta. In 2016, a massive coral reef that stretches for some 600 miles was discovered in these the muddy waters at the mouth of the river, and spans 3,600-square miles along the ocean floor. 

These two great rivers, flow alongside each other and finally merge, bringing life giving waters to this coral reef. It is unique, perhaps even peculiar in a sense, since it is deeper and darker that what is expected for a reef, but it is a direct result of the mixing of the two rivers. The sand, silt and clay particles provide stability and surfaces for plants and coral to grow. The dissolved nutrients provide the organic compounds necessary to nourish the flora and fauna. Each river, by itself will not not produce this precious coral reef burgeoning with life. It is only when they travel side by side and merge together they can provide the necessary environment for life to thrive.

Brothers and Sisters, we, both new and experienced members, are the rivers. Together we flow, side by side, each having a place in God’s kingdom, until we merge into the mighty Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And with oneness in Christ, provide structure and nourishment for the restoration of the fullness gospel throughout the earth, so that we may, with our other brothers and sisters throughout all time and eternity, flow toward Christ our Redeemer.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Copyright 2018 Penny Lee Soutar

Friday, December 14, 2018

Caring For the Elderly

As I have adjusted to moving to my parent's home in Big Flats, New York, I have come to a greater understanding of why it is essential to care for elderly as they wane from life.

They deserve to be independent and make their own decisions as long as possible.

After all their long years of sacrifice, it's time for them to be comfortable and worry free.

I've seen my step-mom (who married my dad nearly 40 years ago) care for her own two children, my 5 younger siblings, her mother, her step father, her sister and numerous grandchildren. She set the example for us to follow.

Mom still toddles around the house, letting the dog out, fixing herself peanut butter toast, watching Law and Order, keeping her own hours - some days up early and some days not. She misses Dad, who has been gone for almost 2 years, desperately, and I can only imagine how hollow her life would be if she were not able to walk through the house they designed and remodeled together and feel that once in a lifetime love she feels for him.

Mom wants to stay in her home...and as long as she can we kids should strive to make that possible. Always so independent in life, she doesn't believe she needs people here, but she does.

First and foremost for safety.  The elderly have been living as independent adults for upwards of 60 years. They don't see the dangers of living alone with progressive heath deterioration. They often like to age the way they lived...they tackle problems as they come. But problems usually come as a surprise.

When I was visiting over a year ago Mom fell and was on her bedroom floor for who knows how long. When she was taken to the hospital she was admitted for a UTI and stayed there for more than three weeks. That was one of the experiences that helped me make the decision to move in. One sibling who lives close by was coming every day to check on her but it was just not enough, as she works full time and has her own family to care for. We didn't want Mom to have an accident and then suffer waiting for someone to come by.  My sibling was worried night and day. Mom has always been so independent and has had a hard time asking for help....and now with the added malady of dementia she often doesn't think about help..only how she can get herself out of a bind.

Secondly for companionship. The Elderly sometimes feel that their younger family members are too busy with their own lives and forget about them. Sometimes this is true. But, I had promised my dad before he passed that we children would take care of her.

No one else was able to or chose to move in with her. I left my job and sold my home in another state to make sure she would not be alone any more. Difficult as it was, I regret nothing and would make that decision again. I am fulfilling the promise I made to Dad. I knew he was waiting for me to step up and keep that promise.

I follow the lead of my youngest sister who has been caring for her daily for over a year. We visit and talk silly nonsense to her, make her smile and let her know she is loved. We plan family meals and gather around the dinner table catching up and laughing. Always laughing.

Thirdly for the pets. Would any person want to move from their beloved home and NOT take their beloved animals? Animals provide constant, unrivaled companionship for persons living alone. Every day when Mom gets up she greets her dog, leans to kiss her and says, "I love you, you know that?" Saying I love you to someone, even an animal is a cathartic release representative of the love we all carry inside of us. It needs to be expressed.

And Buttons eats it up. She keeps Mom warm by sleeping on her lap. She keeps Mom engaged with by barking her little heart out at neighborhood noises and visiting cats. She keeps Mom active by asking to be let in and out of the house. Buttons is perfect. I firmly believe Mom would die without her dog.

Fourth, for long term memory.  Being in familiar surroundings keeps her where she was when she started losing her memory. There are many forms of dementia, but when a person gets to stay in their own home it helps them to stay connected to their past and live in the present. Her long term memory still functions; her familiar Fenton Milk Glass Collection, powder blue curtains, myriad silk florals and her family pictures surround her with comfort that dates back over half a century.

Mom now gets be treated like the clan queen she is. My siblings and I cook, clean, take her to appointments and out to restaurants. We pay the bills, maintain the house, yard and vehicles. We monitor her medical conditions and consult with her physicians. We see to her needs and comfort. She trusts us to care for her. She loves us.

As life begins, so it ends: when we are young, our parents care for us, and when they are old, we in turn care for them. What an amazing blessing to participate and celebrate the great circle of life! Consider caregiving for your elders. If you can't, then do as much as you can to stay engaged in their lives. They may not remember visits, conversations, presents or names, but they will remember the love they feel when you reach out to them.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Family Dream

I realized that my two cats with terminal conditions may be on their way to the rainbow bridge sooner than I'd like. I realized that although I am following the Spirit moving back to Upstate New York, I am sad to leave Olympic National Park so far away. I also realized that while the Lord blesses us all, I may never find a partner to share my life with. 
I wept and prayed. I knew that Christ understood the loneliness better than I ever could and asked Heavenly Father to help me remember the loneliness that Christ felt throughout his life. 
He sent me a beautiful dream of my parents and siblings gathered around the Christmas tree in our tiny home when we were young. I was so happy to see my deceased mother, as I had not dreamed of her for a very long time. We were singing, "I Am a Child of God." I woke with a great sense of peace that I am never alone, and when I am sealed to both parents and my deceased brother my link to my ancestors will be very real. It is a great comfort to my sorrow.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen


I knew I would grieve.

I knew I would be sad.

I did not know grief would wrap me in a cold blanket and drag me to the bottom of a frozen lake. I did not know it would rob me of my very desire to breathe, to move, to think. I did not know.

I did not know clothing would hurt. I did not know.

I did not know I would be so tired. I didn't know I would be so lonely. I did not know I would not care.

About anything.

I did not know that food would taste bad. I did not know that cooking was a burden. I did not know chewing was exhausting.

I did not know moving would hurt. I did not know walking would exhaust me. did not know turning over in bed would be impossible. I just did not know.

I did not know I could fit so many dirty dishes in the sink. I did not know that cat boxes could smell so bad. I did not know I could look at cat puke and walk on by. I just did not know.

I did not know that I could carry on day after day, feeling this burden that would break me weigh on my heart. I did not know that I could smile for some one and lift their hearts, then return to my own shattered abyss.  I did not know.


I remember a saying from a Dine woman on the CBC show, "North of Sixty." She said, "Its good to cry when things change.

The tears started when I planned to donate my field guides of the Pacific Northwest and Olympic National Park. How can I move so far away from my beloved Olympic green mountains and coastal rainforest? How can I truly move back to Upstate New York?

I have to let myself grieve. Although I trust the spirit I am following, I am sad. Although I love the job I am leaving, I am sad. But, although I am doing a hard thing, I am going. And I am sad.

So, its good to cry when things change.

This move has been brewing for many years. I long for music of the crickets at night, the cicadas at noon. I yearn for the taste of winter on the wind and the crack of summer thunder. I ache for the silence of remote graveyards; the sunset over distant hills. I crave New York.

Home. I am going home. The home I didn't want to leave for the life I had to live. I can go back now; it's time.

Big Changes

Last fall I decided to move from my home in Washington State back to Big Flats, New York, on my beloved Allegheny Plateau. I had been missing home for many recent years, and the thought that I could perhaps live more cheaply and not have to work for my mortgage was very appealing. Plus, Dad had been gone for 8 months already and my step-mom was living alone. She still is; her health seems to be stable. So, I made the decision...and it was tough.

As I look back, I had really been making this decision for the last 5 years. When I finally said it out loud to a colleague last June, I felt like I had given birth. A burden was lifted. I admitted to myself in real words with real intent that I wanted to go back home.

And so I struggled.

I had accepted a position as a chemistry teacher at our brand new district high school... a job for which I was trained but had never actually done. I worked in an alternative program for 16 years and wanted to try something new. I was terrified. The staff, school culture and diversity got me through the year. It was a good, hard year.

And now the burden is lifted. I go to clean my classroom out tomorrow and say goodbye to my newest dear friends. I cried last week when my students left. Some of them cried, too. When my supervising administrator asked me what I was proudest of this year, I replied, "I tell the kids every day that I love them....and some days they tell me they love me back."

An adventure in love is what this year really was. Loving my content, loving my students, but most of all loving myself, and allowing myself the bravery to change.

So, here's to a good, hard summer...of packing and cleaning the house, accepting a good offer on it, signing the sale papers and road tripping back to New York! With two cats, no less! (And hopefully a friend and her dog.) Should be a marvelous event in history!