Christmas Thoughts

This year I was honored to write the ward Christmas program–the words to weave together the choir pieces and vocal solos that made up our special Christmas sacrament meeting. This is the program we presented, with links to the songs we presented, although our ward choir is not quite as good as the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, and I’m sorry to say that Josh Groban is not in our ward.

Merry Christmas. This beloved season brings mixed emotions for many of us, as it is a time of remembrance as well as celebration. We often look at Christmas through the eyes of the child we were, or the child we are, and through loving eyes as we think of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Why do we celebrate Christ’s birth in December, when it is likely that He was born in April? There are traditional and historical reasons, but perhaps one of the most important explanations is that at this time of year—in the bleak midwinter—when we in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing the cold and darkness of the winter solstice, we can best understand the idea that Christ is the Light that shines in darkness. He is the Light of the World, and we are reminded how much we need that light when the winter days are brief, and the hours of night are long. On that night so long ago, whether we imagine the silence of sliding sand or the hush of falling snow, we can feel the anticipation—the eternal importance—of the birth of our Redeemer, as we dream of the joyous day to come.

Choir: “Still, Still, Still,” arranged by Norman Luboff

The birth of Christ was announced universally by the appearance of a new star in the heavens. Locally, it was announced by an angel to some of the poorest and most humble people who lived near Bethlehem—shepherds who were watching their flocks in grassy fields under the river of stars we call the Milky Way. We are asked in some Christmas carols to imagine that we are one of the shepherds who heard the angels that night, but it is much more likely that we, as premortal spirits, were part of the heavenly host, singing in the choir on this, the most important night so far in the history of the Earth.

How happy we must have been to know that our Elder Brother, Jesus, was about to begin His mortal life. The time prophesied for centuries, from Adam to Isaiah to Samuel the Lamanite, had come at last: the Savior would bring new light to a world in darkness. We watched as the heavens opened, the shepherds looked up, and we heard the chosen angel say, “Fear not. For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then we sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”

Choir: Angels’ Carol by John Rutter

Now, let us go with the shepherds, following the angel’s instruction that we will find the Christ Child “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The idea that Jesus would leave His glorious place at the right hand of God the Father to become an unappreciated and even hated teacher on the dusty roads of Palestine—that He would minister to and heal people who had little understanding of who He really was—that He, the long-awaited Messiah, would allow Himself to be arrested and scourged and crucified while His followers looked on with uncomprehending despair—all this was included in what the prophet Nephi learned was “the condescension of God.” The King of kings submitted all He was and sacrificed all He had so that He would understand our sorrows, so that He could redeem us from the Fall and conquer death for us, so that we could choose to return to live with our Heavenly Parents. We can examine the story of Christmas to help us see what gifts we can bring—day to day and night to night, joy to joy and trial to trial—as we do the small things that lead to the great things; as each of us brings the gift we can offer to the Savior now: our daily reverence and love, for God and for our neighbors, as His disciples.

Primary children: “If I Were a Shepherd,” by Stephanie K. Adams

Christ has a love for each of us that reaches from before the Creation to a realm beyond the stars. But on that holy night, the Lord of lords came to Earth as a newborn child, one of the most vulnerable of creatures, and everyone who saw Him must have wondered, “What child is this?”

Vocal solo: “What Child Is This?”


It was gracious of Mary and Joseph to allow the shepherds to come near the Baby Jesus, and perhaps a bit startling when they knelt to worship the newborn Child. But it is appropriate now, as it was then, for us to kneel and worship our Redeemer.

Vocal solo: “O Holy Night” (but I love this arrangement by Mack Wilberg so much, that the Tabernacle Choir will present it here).

 “His gospel is peace.” “In His name, all oppression shall cease.” But war and tyranny and cruelty have flourished through the centuries and continue to flourish at home and abroad. And yet, we know that the peace of the Savior is available to us. While so much of the world is in pain, we can most effectively help and heal ourselves and others if we are strengthened by the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We invite you during the next few days to make a personal pilgrimage to the stable in Bethlehem to kneel with gratitude for all that the Christmas season signifies.

Vocal solo: “When We Seek Him,” by Shawna Edwards and Angie Killian

The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is fulfilled as we experience the hope of both Christmas and Easter—the birth of Christ, His life here in mortality, His visit to the spirits in prison, and His glorious Resurrection. We recognize Christ as the Beginning and the End, the Author and Finisher of our faith. We hear the invitation, a call as the sound of a distant silver trumpet: “Let every heart prepare Him room.” With all who worship the Father and the Son, we join in a chorus of praise as we look forward to the day when the Lord will come again. Merry Christmas.

Choir and congregation, with organ and trumpet: Joy to the World

Old Testament and Pearl of Great Price Study Resources: A Partially Annotated Bibliography

This is a list of resources available to enrich your study of the Old Testament as we study it this year in Come, Follow Me at home and at church. No one would be able to study all of these sources during the year, but maybe some of them will seem worthwhile. Where I have read a book, I have included my notes.

Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, rev. ed. 2011). A study of the Bible as literature and its influence on storytelling as an art and practice.

Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (Basic Books, 2011). A study of the poetry in the Bible (not just in Psalms) with an emphasis on parallel structures.

Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (3 vols.) (W. W. Norton, 2019). This is the complete translation of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) by a highly acclaimed scholar of Hebrew and biblical studies. All of this work except the books of the prophets was published separately before being compiled into these three volumes. The author provides extensive footnotes that are as interesting as is the text and that explain his translation choices and give other valuable insights.

Michael Austin, Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem, Contemporary Studies in Scripture series (Greg Kofford Books, 2014). This book discusses the Book of Job as both history and literature. A fascinating, enlightening book by a Latter-day Saint scholar.

M. Russell Ballard, “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” General Conference, April 2007,

BMC Team, “Why the Book of Mormon’s Depiction of a Loving God Fits with the Old Testament,” Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #422 (April 5, 2018), An article that reconciles the view of God as wrathful and even arbitrary or cruel, as He sometimes appears in the Old Testament, with the loving God of the Book of Mormon as Nephi knew Him (and, I would add, the weeping God of Enoch in the Pearl of Great Price—see Moses 7:28–40).

David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy, Contemporary Studies in Scripture series (Greg Kofford Books, 2014).

Edward J. Brant, “Understanding the Old Testament: Keys to Resolving Difficult Questions,” Ensign (September 1980),

BYU Religious Studies Center, Come, Follow Me for 2022 (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2022). Online resources: “high-quality articles that are well researched, inspirational, and written by scholars, educators, Church leaders, historians, and popular authors. The RSC library is not found on or anywhere else online. The scripture readings and lessons are displayed first, followed by recommended readings.”

Church Educational System, Old Testament Student Manual Genesis–2 Samuel (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), (click on the book icon at top left to access the whole table of contents). This was the Religion 301 student manual for BYU Old Testament classes and is full of detailed information about the scriptures and the background and context of the times.

Church Educational System, Old Testament Student Manual 1 Kings–Malachi (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), (click on the book icon at top left to access the whole table of contents). This was the Religion 302 student manual for BYU Old Testament classes and is full of detailed information about the scriptures and the background and context of the times.

Church Educational System, Old Testament Student Study Guide (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), This is the seminary manual for the Old Testament.

Church Educational System, Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2017), (click on the book icon at top left to access the whole table of contents). This was the Religion 327 student manual for BYU Pearl of Great Price classes and is full of detailed information about the scriptures and the background and context of the times.

Henry B. Eyring, “Studying and Teaching the Old Testament,” Ensign (January 2002),

James A. Faulconer, The Old Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions (Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2017). This book is organized based on the Gospel Doctrine lessons on the Old Testament (before the Come, Follow Me program was instituted) and raises questions for the student of these scriptures to ponder and seek to know more about.

Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2019). Givens and Hauglid go through the history and significance of each part of the Pearl of Great Price—the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith–History, and the Articles of Faith, with not much attention to Joseph Smith–Matthew. The main discussions are of the Books of Moses and Abraham, as they have the most complex histories and have generated more controversy. This book was not published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by Oxford University Press, and so the authors are writing as academics and not as promoters of faith. They bring up the various controversies surrounding elements of the Pearl of Great Price, and give alternative explanations for them, including the faithful explanations that I find most convincing. I found this book fascinating and it is a great addition to one’s study of the scriptures.

James R. Harris, “The Pearl of Great Price: A Unique Scripture,” Ensign (December 1972),

Paul Y. Hoskisson (Ed.), Sperry Symposium Classics: Old Testament (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2005), This is a collection of some of the best talks from BYU Sidney B. Sperry Symposiums that focused on the Old Testament. The book contains some especially memorable presentations on “Prophets and Priesthood in the Old Testament” (Robert L. Millet), “Melchizedek” (Frank F. Judd, Jr.), “The Abrahamic Test” (Larry E. Dahl), “The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ” (Edward J. Brandt), “Isaiah and the Great Arraignment” (Terry B. Ball), “Obadiah’s Vision of Saviors on Mount Zion” (Gary P. Gillum), “Elijah’s Mission” (E. Dale LeBaron), and “Remnants Gathered, Covenants Fulfilled” (Russell M. Nelson). This book also has a list of the Sperry Symposium talks for each year from 1978–2001, some of which are available online. 

Kent P. Jackson (Ed.), A Bible Reader’s History of the Ancient World (Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Brigham Young University, 2016).

Ann N. Madsen and Shon D. Hopkin, Opening Isaiah: A Harmony (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018),

Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993). This is a Bible dictionary from a non–Latter-day Saint point of view, with some entries not found in the Bible dictionary published along with the Bible by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Kerry Muhlestein, “The Book of Abraham, Revelation, and You,” Ensign (December 2018),

Kerry Muhlestein, “Getting the Most Out of Your Come Follow Me Old Testament Year: Resources Available,” Meridian Magazine (January 4, 2022), 

Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 14 (Deseret Book, 2nd ed. 2000). Nibley was a great expert on the history of Egypt, and as a Latter-day Saint scholar could relate that history to the scriptures like no other, especially to the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. I learned a lot more about Egyptian history and religion from this book than I may ever need to know, and there is a lot of redundancy between the entries in the book, but when I got to the last chapter, which is a “rough summary” of the book, I realized that without reading this very long book, I would not have understood the summary very well. Most valuable to me were the early chapters specifically about Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac and their sacrifices. Nibley’s abilities with language, history, and cross-cultural comparisons are amazing.

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 18 (Deseret Book, 2010). Collected writings by a distinguished scholar of the ancient scriptures, including the series of articles published about the Book of Abraham in the Improvement Era (the forerunner to the Ensign and Liahona).

Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 2 (Deseret Book, reprint ed. 1986). This book takes verses from the Pearl of Great Price and explains them as the Book of Enoch, as it was translated as part of the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. Nibley compares that latter-day Book of Enoch to many apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls documents, and other manuscripts that have been discovered more recently than the translation of the Pearl of Great Price. This and Nibley’s other works have greatly enhanced my understanding and study of the scriptures. 

Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 2 (Deseret Book, 1986). This book compiles Nibley’s articles about Old Testament subjects published in Latter-day Saint and other publications. Good insights into the Old Testament by a distinguished scholar of ancient scriptures.

Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price (Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013). This book is a transcription of 26 lectures that Hugh Nibley gave to his Honors Pearl of Great Price class at BYU in 1986. Professor Nibley was brilliant, but he tended to ramble as an unedited speaker, and this book catches every digression and ramble (although everything was probably connected in his prodigious mind). The best way to approach the book, perhaps, is to turn first to pages 337–341 and look at what he meant for each lesson to cover—he doesn’t give the lesson numbers for everything in his summary, but it is helpful when he does. I’d write the central message at the beginning of each chapter before reading that chapter.

This book is very valuable in describing how the scriptural canon came to lose the revelations that are now available as the Books of Moses and Abraham (including the Books of Adam and Enoch in the Book of Moses) in the Pearl of Great Price—the influence of Greek philosophy that led the church fathers to stop taking the scriptures literally and other things. (This material is in the early lectures, for the most part.) Also, the lessons on Matthew chapter 24 (lesson 25) and Joseph Smith–History (the first part of lesson 26) are not duplicated elsewhere, to my knowledge, and very valuable. However, for more complete (and edited) information on Enoch and his chapters in the Book of Moses, I would recommend Nibley’s Enoch the Prophet, and for the same on Abraham and the Book of Abraham, I would recommend Nibley’s Abraham in Egypt and An Approach to the Book of Abraham. But this book is much less expensive and shorter than those volumes, and it will certainly suffice for the reader who wants a less extensive tour and can sort out the wealth of Nibley’s pearls from the redundancies and digressions. Sometimes Nibley was referring to a visual aid that the students in class could see but the reader cannot, and he sometimes references books or articles in the BYU library or on reserve at the time, and those aren’t necessarily available. The book also includes President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1976 article “The False Gods We Worship,” which is always worth reading. On the whole, I found this to be a great introductory study of the Pearl of Great Price, despite the frustrations, and it contains some information that Nibley put together, along with his comments, that cannot be found elsewhere.

Hugh Nibley, “To Open the Last Dispensation: Moses Chapter 1,” in Nibley on the Timely and Timeless (BYU Religious Studies Center, reprint ed. 1978; 2nd ed., 2004),

Monte S. Nyman (Ed.), Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament (BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984),

D. Kelly OgdenJared W. Ludlow, and Kerry Muhlestein, The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, Sidney B. Sperry Symposium no. 38 (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2009),

Camille Fronk Olson (text) and Elspeth Young (paintings), Women of the Old Testament (Deseret Book, 2007). A beautiful book with informative text that tells the stories of the women in the Old Testament (named and unnamed), along with history, context, photographs, and other illustrations, including lovely paintings of the women by Elspeth Young.

Mark L. Pace, “The Blessings of Studying the Old Testament,” Liahona (January 2022),

Donald W. Parry, “Christ and Culture in the Old Testament,” Ensign (February 2010),

H. Donl Peterson, The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary (Deseret Book, 1987). This book is interesting as a commentary because the comments are almost all from prophets and apostles (with a few apparently from the author/compiler). This makes the commentary authoritative, with some of the most interesting comments from Elder Bruce R. McConkie. The commentary seems a bit dated in some cases (the book was published in 1987), although you’d think such comments would never contradict or change; still, I believe that some thoughts would be stated differently or given additional context by a current prophet.

Kristal V. L. Pierce and David Roth Seely (Eds.), Approaching Holiness: Exploring the History and Teachings of the Old Testament (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2021). According to the blurb on the RSC site: “This volume aims to assist in the personal and family study of the history and teachings of the Old Testament. The book gathers some of the clearest writings on the Old Testament that have been published by the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University.” 

Ellis T. Rasmussen, “The Language of the Old Testament,” Ensign (February 1973),

E. Randolph Richards and Richard James, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World (IVP Academic, 2020). I haven’t read this, but the blurb indicates that the cultures of the Bible were collectivist, whereas modern Western culture is individualist, and this leads to misinterpretation. If this is a good as Richards’ other book (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes), then it’s probably worth reading.

E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scriptures with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (IVP Books, 2012). This thought-provoking book, by two Evangelical Christian pastors with international experience, points out ways in which the Middle Eastern biblical culture differs from Western culture, and suggests how those differences might lead to a misinterpretation of some passages of the Bible. The authors refrain from telling the reader how passages should be interpreted, instead explaining the cultural differences and suggesting possibilities for misinterpretation without presuming to reinvent the reader’s interpretation in absolute terms. Although this subject is difficult for the reader who is immersed in Western culture (as I am), the idea that “what goes without being said” in my culture and in biblical culture may be at odds is a valuable one. The topics range from different interpretations of things like time and money, to the differences between the individualistic Western culture and the collectivist cultures of Asia and the ancient Middle East, to the Western assumption that all the rules apply to everyone equally at all times and why that may not be true when it comes to the Bible (even though God is the same yesterday, today, and forever). The authors write from a perspective of faith and from their experience in non-Western cultures and with attempting to teach these ideas to college students. The book is accessible and even witty at times. Highly recommended for those who read the Bible (and other writings with a Middle Eastern cultural outlook, like the Book of Mormon).

David J. Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier, Gospel Study Series (Cedar Fort, 2nd ed., 2009).

David J. Ridges, The Old Testament Made Easier, Gospel Study Series (Cedar Fort, expanded 3rd ed., 2021).

David J. Ridges, The Pearl of Great Price Made Easier, Gospel Study Series (Cedar Fort, 2009).

Daniel Rona, Old Testament Supplement Study Materials: Holy Land and Jewish Insights (Ensign Foundation, 2001). Written by a long-time guide to the Holy Land, this book is organized consistent with the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lessons (before we had the Come, Follow Me program). The author is especially interested in explaining the Old Testament in light of Jewish history and practices.

Aaron P. SchadeBrian M. Hauglid, and Kerry Muhlestein (Eds.), Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament, Sidney B. Sperry Symposium no. 46 (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2017),

David Roth Seely, Jeffrey R. Chadwick, and Matthew J. Grey (Eds.), Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament, Sidney B. Sperry Symposium no. 42 (Deseret Book, 2013). I’m just starting to read this book and am finding it to be valuable.

Andrew C. Skinner, “The Book of Abraham: A Most Remarkable Gift for Our Time,” Liahona (January 2022),

W. Cleon Skousen, “The Old Testament Speaks Today,” Ensign (December 1972),

Society for Biblical Literature, The Harper Collins Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version) (HarperOne, 2006). The complete text of the Bible in the NRSV translation, along with footnotes, cross-references, and maps.

Faith S. Watson, “Faith and Fortitude: Women of the Old Testament, part 1,” Ensign (March 2014),

Poem: Shady Grove

Shady Grove

Something about these

Electric, ocean-breezy, air-conditioned California summers is

Too easy and not easy enough.

We might all fly south for the summer,

Where it’s quiet but for crickets and hymn-singing,

To a house with a porch all around,

And a screen door that slams properly not-quite-shut,

And ice cubes that clink in a pitcher of tea—

Brewed, not grown in the sun like a corn stalk—

Sweet like the smell of a snowball bush.

“Are you hot, sugar? It stays cool and dark in Granny’s room,

And you can lie down a while.

Or else get a hat and Grandpa’ll take you down to the cemetery

And tell you about the tombstones.”

(Generations in red East Texas earth.)

“I thought we’d have cantaloupe for dessert this evening;

No sense turning the oven on. These smelled so good at the fruit stand.”

And in my all-electric kitchen I turn on

The oven. Outside it’s a hundred and two,

And I almost bought some cantaloupe at the supermarket,

But didn’t have the heart, here.

Lisa Bolin Hawkins (1982)

My Pandemic Year (Plus)-January 2020-June 2021

It began on March 12, 2020. Not that the concerns of life began then, because there were presidential primaries, the coronavirus was in the news, my right leg was aching and having trouble post–back surgery in January, and I was trying to set up ministering interviews for the sisters in my Relief Society district. But on that day, according to my journal for March 15, “This has been a crazy week with the world changing. Everything has been shut down as of Thursday because of the coronavirus pandemic. I am trying to ‘self-isolate.’” And so began our experience with the coronavirus pandemic that changed the world. We had it a lot easier than many, many people did, but it was still a memorable and distinctive, and sometimes terrible, experience.

My life didn’t change that much: I work from home; I don’t socialize often. Some things that we looked forward to (a show in Salt Lake City of the “Dancing with the Stars” troupe; the NCAA basketball tournament; several BYU arts and music events) were cancelled. I moved some aspects of life online—contact with the other members of the Relief Society presidency, the sisters in my district, and the sisters I minister to became matters of email, text, and Zoom. I began ordering groceries online from Smith’s and picking them up in their parking lot—a great, free service that I appreciated (although I wished I could select my own fruits and vegetables). Alan and I had our own sacrament meetings at home, with hymns and Come, Follow Me readings and him kneeling to bless the bread and then the water and passing them to me. No one knew how long we would be locked down; certainly the thought that all these precautions would last for a year or more was, well, unthinkable.

But things kept changing—increasing cases and deaths related to COVID-19, with many people in Italy dying and some cases and deaths even in Utah. People over age 50 were considered especially vulnerable to severe illness, hospitalization, and death, so we tried to be very careful, although Alan still went to work at his office at BYU. The stock market fell by a lot. On Wednesday, March 17, we were awakened by a 5.7 earthquake, centered in Magna, that destroyed or damaged some buildings and shook the trumpet off the Angel Moroni on top of the Salt Lake Temple—it all felt very apocalyptic.

There was no toilet paper (which I stock up on anyway, as part of our emergency storage) or hand sanitizer in the stores, and a lot of other things were out of stock—cleaning supplies were rare, meat was not as plentiful, and then occasionally there would be something inexplicable missing, like Knorr instant rice packets or cans of creamed corn. I think sometimes the packaging elements were needed elsewhere so the food item wasn’t available; shipping was also affected—but we never faced the empty shelves that were common in some parts of the United States, or the severe deprivations that people suffered elsewhere. Every three or four weeks we would go to the 7:00 a.m. “senior hour” and fill our basket, as the shelves seemed better stocked then. We never really went without anything; it changed the way we managed the shopping, though. And no eating out. I drove through Kneaders about every other week and we had Brick Oven pizza delivered a few times.

Meanwhile, my back and leg were giving me all sorts of trouble and I wasn’t able to exercise; it felt like there was an extra layer of anxiety over everything. Our daughter Caiti had been coming to dinner some Sundays before the shutdown, but said that she was around so many people and germy money at her work as a manager at Barnes & Noble that she didn’t feel good coming over to see us. So we lost some contact with her. Her employer never did shut down the store and was, in my opinion, somewhat lax concerning masking and distancing—they had the rules, but the employees could not enforce them with customers. We would take stuff to her house, leave it at her door, ring the doorbell, and then retreat down her stairs to talk to her from a distance. Our son Brian and his family invited us to join their “Zoom Church” two or three times, asking me to tell the story of my conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 17, asking Alan to tell about his mission to Japan in 1974–1976, and asking us how we met during our BYU freshman year in 1973–1974. I think Elliot and Michael were interested, although Michael spent much of the time hanging upside down off the couch. I had hoped we could have regular Zoom calls with them, but they were very busy, as were we, and we never managed to arrange it. We did start having monthly Zoom calls with Alan’s siblings and their spouses, which we enjoyed very much.

Meanwhile, life went on in some respects. I had an MRI for my back, kept working on my Zion book (how the principles of Zion can/should affect our social and political choices), the plumber and HVAC guys came to do needed repairs and checks, and the Relief Society was scrambling to keep people connected by virtual means. Alan still had high council meetings on Zoom at 7 a.m. on two Sundays of the month. He continued to go to work but was being very careful about masking and social distancing.

Masks! In March I started making cloth masks, at first the ones that look like paper hospital masks. I used leftover bias tape and piping to tie them on, and then some shoelaces I ordered. I made two each for us and two for Caiti. Then I made eight for Brian and his family. I used leftover “lamb quilt” material, which may not have gone over big with Elliot and Michael. I ordered a big roll of elastic, which took ages to get here from Amazon, and dipped into my quilt fabric and made better masks from the Relief Society’s pattern, four for Alan, two for me, four for Caiti, and I think 16 for Brian and his family. Angela doesn’t have a sewing machine so I felt that was a very important grandmotherly duty. Alan started getting more comfortable masks at work, and since I hardly ever go out, I was fine with my little supply.

One great oasis in the desert of the pandemic was General Conference on the weekend before Easter Week. We truly received living water from the prophets and apostles and others who spoke. They announced a new proclamation on the Restoration of the gospel, also a new symbol for the Church with the Christus statue as a central focus—very beautiful. (The meme on Facebook was a picture of the Angel Moroni next to the new symbol and says of Moroni: “He drops his trumpet one time [in the recent earthquake] and he gets replaced!”) We participated in the Hosanna Shout on Sunday morning. President Nelson announced a worldwide fast for help with the pandemic on that coming Friday, which was Good Friday. He announced eight new temples, including ones in Dubai (first in the Middle East), Shanghai (first in mainland China), and Pittsburgh (closer to our friends Jean and Dan). Even with everything closed, the work hastened on. Oh, and there were some great talks, too! Sister Bingham had me ready to stand and applaud (I settled for a hearty “Amen!”). I watched the first session with Alan, did mending and sewing during the Saturday afternoon session, watched the Saturday evening session while we ate dinner, hemmed up my temple dress (it was always too long and I am ¾ inch shorter since the first back surgery) during the Sunday morning session, and quilted during the Sunday afternoon session—if I just sit there and try to listen, I fall asleep!

The Holy Week preceding Easter felt more meaningful than it ever has—the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His willingness to create the path by which we can come to Earth—even with all its sorrows and sicknesses and death—and work with Him to become the covenant-keeping, spiritually mature, compassionate, patient (oh dear!), eventually exalted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Parents resonated so deeply in this time of death, illness, and anxiety. He is indeed the shadow of a great rock in a weary land (see Isaiah 32:1–2).

 I finally got to see my neurosurgeon via telehealth and he said the MRI showed the nerves had been released from their prison at L2-3 and L3-4, and there was some trouble still at L4-5 but that was “not a target of the surgery.” This would come back to haunt me. I got another cortisone shot and it helped until about January 2021.

We watched a 60 Minutes episode on a Sunday night in May and two of the three segments were about how people are suffering financially and otherwise during the pandemic. I ended up crying. Our family is so lucky compared to almost everyone else. Landlords were still evicting people for not paying rent until Congress passed a law against it—I think that is so cruel. I know landlords have expenses too but if everyone would just back off on enforcing their “rights” and stop thinking about what’s legal and start thinking about what’s moral the world would be so much better.

Although we didn’t lose anyone to COVID, we still had plenty of anxiety and grief—it was worrisome that people were not following the rules to wear masks and avoid going out. I was proud of the Church for being extra cautious. I worried about my kids and grandkids catching the virus and about all the people who were suffering in places like New York City, where the hospitals were overrun, and elsewhere. I worried about the people who were having to go to work as essential workers—some appreciated more than others—and risking their and their families’ lives in doing so. When George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minneapolis, the problems of racism in the United States were emphasized again, and there were peaceful demonstrations everywhere and even riots in a few big cities, although things don’t seem to have changed much for the better. The Trump administration never said a credible comforting word about the pandemic, which was left to the states to scramble to alleviate as best they could, or the killings of Black people by the police. Children of some of our close friends were having severe health problems, and two friends died unexpectedly of other causes—a close colleague of Alan’s and a good friend who lived in Boston. We attended their funerals via Zoom, which was a true blessing for many reasons during the pandemic, and also a pain sometimes for people who were trying to get used to meetings online. It was a strange and anxious time, and that only got us through the spring of 2020.

That summer, we cancelled all our travel and vacation plans. They started having Zoom church meetings again. As the pandemic continued into autumn, the “pandemic fatigue” seemed to get worse, as did some of the illness and death statistics as colder weather came. Once again, General Conference was reassuring and like an oasis in a desert of bad news and troubles for so many people.

I decided to give up make-up for life, and thought I was going to give up pierced earrings (I assumed the holes had grown back together) but changed my mind on the latter. My previously very short hair grew to my shoulders. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and the Republicans took her seat two weeks before the Presidential election (after saying they couldn’t approve an Obama appointee months before an election). Finally the Presidential election came and finally Trump lost, but he and his supporters immediately started saying the election had been “stolen” while unsuccessfully fighting it in the courts. It was such a relief that he lost and so bizarre that he and his followers wouldn’t accept it.

Covid cases started surging in Utah—it seemed that family gatherings and bars and restaurants were the main culprits, so of course they had closed the schools—and made life harder for a lot of parents, some of whom (mostly mothers) had to quit their jobs for lack of child care. The online school that took the place of in-person school was not as good an educational or social experience for the kids. I felt so bad for seniors in high school who missed all the fun things that are supposed to be part of that year, and for those entering universities with online classes and so many social restrictions (though some ignored them and spread COVID as a result). And for young adults who were graduating from college or graduate school, only to have their plans significantly affected or put on hold as a result of the pandemic, and their decisions undermined. And for the young men and women who were trying to decide whether to serve a mission at their planned time or to wait—the pandemic affected missionary work and sent much of it online, where it was headed anyway. But the missionaries in our area did not have enough to do, and some young people called on missions abroad were sent to missions in their home countries instead, and so missed that opportunity, but no doubt gained others. It will all sort out, but it was a hard time to be anything other than a well-established, older couple with resources and time to wait things out, as we are.

On Thanksgiving and Christmas we made our usual foods, but it was hard to take them to Caiti’s front porch instead of having the usual family dinner. I posted on Facebook as part of President Nelson’s invitation to #givethanks. I told Jack Welch that I would help with editing the BYU New Testament Commentary project, but got bait-and-switched to edit a book by Brent Schmidt, Relational Faith, which needed a lot of editing and took till June to finish.

January brought a needed surgery for Alan and worries about that, but he did fine. Also, Trump’s supporters of the false “stolen election” idea—after he urged them to do so—attacked the U.S. Capitol and would have harmed or killed some of the Senators and Representatives if they could have and stopped the electoral vote count. I watched it all in horror on TV, remembering other horrible things we watched on TV through the years, like President Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination, the 9/11 attacks, and the Challenger explosion. The insurrectionists didn’t succeed except they committed federal crimes and injured many members of the Capitol police. I was astonished that law enforcement was not more prepared, because the call to attack the Capitol was all over social media and many people were posting about their plans. I couldn’t help but think that if a Black Lives Matter demonstration had been planned for that day at the Capitol, the National Guard would have been out in force. But a bunch of crazed white supremacist Trump supporters didn’t rate the attention, and so tragedy ensued—a domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. And still there were Republicans in Congress who supported the idea of the stolen election. It will linger on and do damage, something like the whole “lost cause” myth after the Civil War continues to do damage.

The House of Representatives impeached Trump (again) but it couldn’t go anywhere in the Senate. At the time of this writing (June 2021), I am reading The Abandonment of the Jews (by the United States and other Allies, during the Second World War) by David Wyman, and just read a biography of Lady Bird Johnson, and am living through the early part of the Biden administration. And I see that at during World War II, and during the 1960s, and now in 2021, the Republicans in Congress are obstructing every initiative they can to have the government properly involved in improving American lives, fighting racism and white supremacy, and trying to help people out of poverty and into minimally decent lives—the same problem, at all three times and at other times, too. People who are in trouble need help, and what’s the government (actually our fellow citizens) for, if not to help?

My left shoulder got inflamed and I had to have a cortisone shot. Meanwhile, the second surgery on Caiti’s hip was deteriorating and they scheduled her to have a hip replacement on February 4. She was having a hard time, in pain and sometimes having to use a crutch to get around. They changed the stake boundaries and we got a new bishop and 26 new Relief Society sisters in one fell swoop, so that made life interesting. As the first counselor in the Relief Society presidency, I had a lot of Zoom meetings all year, plus trying to somehow encourage ministering sisters without impinging on their agency, doing interviews by email and text, and creating the “Thursday Night News” each week. President Joe Biden’s inauguration put an end (sort of—lots of damage to try to undo) to a four-year nightmare. I spent a lot of time watching the news during the pandemic year. It is so good to have a decent, honest man as President.

On Saturday, January 23, Alan woke up with swollen lymph nodes and a little fever, and based on exposures at BYU, suspected he might have COVID. We put on masks and went to get a new (to us) car and tried to be in denial. On Sunday night, he started feeling worse and moved into the basement, so I delivered his meals and left them at the bottom of the stairs. He took his temperature and it went up to 105 degrees, and he felt pretty bad, but his fever broke in the night, he said. I called our doctor’s office and got busy ordering an oximeter and zinc tablets and other recommended things from Amazon (yay, 2-day delivery!). By Wednesday night, I knew that I was getting sick, too. Alan got a COVID test on Wednesday and got the positive result on Thursday. I called the doctor on Thursday and she ordered a COVID test for me, so we went to Springville—the test felt like an attempted lobotomy with a giant Q-tip. At 6 a.m. Friday I got the positive test results and when the doctor’s office opened I called and started lobbying for monoclonal antibodies, which they said I was probably too young to get. My friend Karen Lewis, knowing about my kidney disease and that every virus I get heads straight to my lungs, had given me her best doctorly advice to get them. By Saturday morning my throat hurt so much I could barely swallow, but a man from Intermountain Healthcare called and asked me questions and said I was eligible (I may have told him that I weigh more than I do). So by late Saturday morning I was at the Urgent Care, getting IV monoclonal antibodies, which I mostly slept through. And just like that—my COVID symptoms went away. I was still tired and a bit brain-foggy, but I didn’t get really sick (and the insurance didn’t pay for them—$500+ dollars; you’d think they’d rather pay for that than for me to be in the hospital, but it was worth it, anyway).

Unfortunately, Caiti was going in for surgery. Alan was just barely out of quarantine and so could take her up to the University of Utah for the operation (at 5:45 a.m.)—she had some cracks in her bone where screws from previous surgeries had been and so was ordered to keep her weight off her leg for two months, when most people who have hip replacements are up and walking the same day. Then her blood pressure dropped terribly and she was at the hospital for two nights, but she could tell right away that this time the surgery was going to work. As I was still in quarantine, she couldn’t come to our house to recover, so somehow she and Alan got her up the stairs to her apartment and since I didn’t have COVID anymore, once I was out of quarantine, I was able to bring her groceries and do her laundry and take out her trash and just visit. I took her to her first post-surgery appointment in a near-blizzard and that was a scary drive for us both.

On February 18 Alan and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. On February 21, we attended our first (masked and distanced) in-person church meeting—no hymns and precautions around the administration of the sacrament and everyone masked, but still so good to (sort of) see people, and we felt confident in our natural immunity, for that time being. I got another cortisone shot, this time in my left hip—I have calcifications on the bones that are causing tendons to rub, or maybe the rubbing tendons are causing the calcifications. Whatever that problem was, I kept having trouble with it, and going back to the doctor, and getting an MRI, which showed that my January 2020 surgery did not cover as much as I thought it did. Meanwhile, I was in pain and it was hard to get things done. I scheduled surgery for May 24, hoping to resolve the pain situation and the back situation forever.

We spent some of our tax refund on a new laptop computer for me, as mine was out of warranty, at least a reasonably priced warranty. I lost some of my email contacts and it was generally a hassle to get the new one set up, but it is working well (except the lost email contacts). We waited our turns, and I waited 90 days post-monoclonal antibodies, and we did the quarantining, and finally got fully vaccinated against COVID with the Pfizer shots at Utah Valley Hospital. In the middle of April, Caiti (also vaccinated) started coming over again, and by June, we were told that we didn’t need to wear masks except in healthcare facilities and on public transportation. Things were opening up, which was both good and scary. Of course some people won’t get the vaccine (some can’t), which doesn’t help with the spread or with variants. But the case and death rates, at least in the United States, have gone way down.

My pandemic year was marked at the end with another back surgery at Utah Valley Hospital—surgery for a herniated disk that was just as bad when I had the first surgery, but that the doctor hadn’t planned to take care of, so he didn’t. So I was back 15 months later to have a similar surgery, which went fine, but because my medications were mismanaged, my three days and two nights in the hospital were hellish. And just as we had seen my son Brian and his family right before January 2020, we saw them again—first time in person since the pandemic began—in early June 2021. It was symmetrical somehow. I pray that our pandemic year has truly ended, and that cases and deaths will continue to drop in the United States and throughout the world—many countries are having trouble getting vaccines. These mRNA vaccines are a genuine miracle, and I hope they can be adapted to prevent future pandemics, which are likely to come in the future. And that is a summary of my pandemic year.

Enslaved Babies: Indexing Pre-Civil War Virginia Birth Records

Each Sunday I try to index at least one batch of records on Last Sunday, I chose to index Prince William County, Virginia, birth records and ended up with a batch from 1857. The batch presented as a ledger with one record per line; on this page there were 43 lines, so 43 babies recorded. Each line had a space for the child’s color, and an indication whether the child was born free or slave, in addition to the expected male or female. There was also a space for the father’s name, but the instructions made clear that some fathers’ names were owners’ names for children born into slavery, and the indexing form had places for both father’s names and owner’s names. Father’s place of residence (all Prince William County) and mother’s name were also listed. The ledger was all in the same handwriting and the dates were not in order, which made me think it was probably a transcript of original records submitted to the county.

A pattern soon became apparent. Sometimes the name of the child was listed as “no name,” but all white, male children had names. The children who were listed as slaves had only first names, no last names. If a child was white, a W was placed in the box for the child’s color. If a child was not white, the color box was left blank. If a child was white, the free or slave boxes were left blank (after all, no white child would be born a slave in that era; they were all free). If the color box was blank, then the free or slave box would be filled in, depending on the child’s status. If the child was a slave, the “father” listed was actually the child’s owner (and possible biological father, given that enslaved women were sometimes raped to produce more “property” for their enslavers). The fathers’ occupations were almost all farmers, with a couple of coopers (barrel-makers) and a merchant. Free, nonwhite children’s fathers’ names were listed. For white children and nonwhite free children, the mother’s full married name was listed; for enslaved children, only the mother’s first name was listed. The relationship of the informant was, for white and nonwhite free children, listed as father; for enslaved children, the relationship was owner.

There were three free, nonwhite families listed; twenty white families; twenty-three enslaved children with their owners and mothers (hardly to be considered families). I have tried to imagine what life must have been like in Prince William County in 1857. The Civil War search engine at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, “House Divided,” reports about 1857:

After a contentious presidential election during the previous year, many Americans hoped that 1857 would finally bring political calm. They were sorely disappointed. Two days after James Buchanan (Class of 1809) was inaugurated president, Chief Justice Roger Taney (Class of 1795) announced the Supreme Court’s controversial verdict in the Dred Scott Case. The result was more outrage and greater division over slavery. But by the year’s end, bad economic news trumped the political storm as nearly five thousand businesses failed during what became known as the Panic of 1857.

 “The Year in Review: 1857,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,

Prince William County, with a border on the Potomac River and encompassing locales that later became the Northern Virginia metro area of Washington D.C., had been an area of tobacco plantations before the Revolutionary War, but exhaustion of the soil and changes in the market led planters to cultivate other crops after about 1790. In that year, the population of the county was 58% white, with the remainder being enslaved Black people; a few enslavers freed their slaves after the American Revolution (Wikipedia, s.v., “Prince William County, Virginia,”,_Virginia). Ronald Ray Turner’s website on Prince William County, in the African American Records section, lists court, contract, and deed records concerning free and (mostly) enslaved African Americans from 1784–1859, with 1857 transcripts involving rewards for runaway slaves, the rental of unnamed slaves who were part of the estate of a man who had died, and many letters and other proceedings concerning the conviction and death penalty pronounced upon five slaves who killed their master in 1856.

I assume that at the time the children listed in the 1857 record were born, the county was roiling from the brutal murder of George E. Green by his slaves Nelly, James, and Newman, who were hanged, and 14-year-old twins Elias and Eliza, whose sentences were later commuted to sale and transportation “beyond the boundaries of the United States.” (The adults testified that Green was “a hard master,” starved them, would not let them leave his property or do other things that other people’s “servants” were allowed to do, and made them work during the Christmas holidays, contrary to tradition.) (“Virginia Governors Executive Papers—Henry Wise; Commonwealth v. Nelly and Others”; “Prince William County Clerk’s Loose Papers, December 16, 1856,” obtained through Ronald Ray Turner, “Prince William County: African American Records,”

Based on that assumption, I expect that there was a crackdown on the Black population of the county that year by the white population, with a lot of fear among white people because five slaves had dared to kill their master the previous Christmastime. Both free and enslaved Black people probably had to tiptoe on eggshells even more than usual, lest their white enslavers and the other white people of the county see them as threats, with possibly dire or even fatal consequences to a Black man, woman, or child considered “uppity.” The entire country was undoubtedly aware of slave revolts taking place from 1712 to that present day; runaway slaves were being hunted; the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 made all politically conscious minds aware of the debate in white society over whether new states were going to be free or slave; John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was only two years in the future (Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America [New York: Bold Type Books, 2016], 69–208; 202–203; 207–208). The Civil War would begin in about five years, in 1861.

It was, perhaps, no time or place to be bringing a Black child into the world. If they survived early childhood, both white and Black children’s circumstances were probably affected by the economic Panic of 1857. They would be only eight years old when the Civil War ended in 1865, having seen the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (Manassas) take place in their county, along with other, lesser-known battles and skirmishes. The county hosted Confederate soldiers and was occupied by Union soldiers during the war; 25 places are listed on the county’s “Civil War Heritage Trail” (Prince William County, “Visit Prince William County,” n.d.,  

And yet, by the time the Civil War ended, those Black children born in 1857 would have been declared free. They would live through the hopeful era of Reconstruction, only to see any progress made eroded by the institution of Jim Crow laws and the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. (See generally, Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy [New York: One World, 2017]; Henry Louis Gates Jr., Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow [New York: Penguin Books, 2020].) Between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War II, when those children would be 88 years old, they would see their country undergo years of segregation and discrimination against Black people, and perhaps have a glimmer of hope that things might change—although that hope would rise and then be dashed again and again.

As I thought of those 43 children who were defined from the beginning of their lives by their color, I realized that they now had the privilege of being indexed so their records will be available to people searching out their family histories. I have no illusions that African American genealogical research, especially for descendants of enslaved people, is easy. That enslaved children and their mothers were given no last names, and no biological fathers were recorded, means that connections are almost impossible to make without additional records that are almost always nonexistent. The Prince William County courthouse burned in 1863 (like so many Southern courthouses during the Civil War), and that makes research for the descendants of this “class of 1857” even more difficult.

Those children’s lives surely had the happiness and sadness that we all experience, but their birth in the turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century seems the first step on what, for many of them, must have been a hard road. I picture them as precious, cute, chubby babies, each a beloved child of God, their earthly parents proud or perhaps unhappy to welcome them into what must have seemed a world embroiled in trouble and uncertainty—with more to come. Some of my ancestors owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and I am ashamed of that aspect of my heritage. I have been reading a lot for the past three years about the history of African Americans in the United States and of racism in the world. I am trying to be an anti-racist and wish there were something more I could do to advance the cause of anti-racism and see that Black people are given the help and opportunities they need and deserve. I plan to learn more about African American genealogical research and I hope to choose indexing batches where I can record more of those precious lives; lives that deserve to be recorded and cherished in memory by their descendants and by us all.

Poem: Persistence


What time is it on Dali’s clocks? Can’t tell.

Persistence of memory is perverse—some things

are engraved in my mind as I think they happened,

but not as they really were. (I know this because

my sister tells the same, but not the same, stories.)

I’ve told my memories in certain ways for years,

but are they memories or stories of memories?

Events reel out in my mind, with jerks and jumps—

no persistence of vision smooths the frames into film.

Persistent anxieties flicker by: the projector may stick

and memory and executive function burn away

from inside to outside edge—would I know?

I’ve heard that if I can’t remember where I put my keys, that’s okay,

but if I can’t remember what keys are for, then my internal clocks

are melting. Memories persistent, but wrong. Memories gone.

I remember, therefore I am. Maybe.

Lisa Bolin Hawkins

Sacred Disruptions

In a recent Sunday School lesson, on Zoom, a couple of sisters wondered if their children had been noisy and distracting in our in-person sacrament meeting earlier that day. Other members assured them that they were not.

My husband was a member of a bishopric in a Young Single Adult ward for three years. When he returned to our family ward, one of the things he noticed was how quiet the YSA ward had been in comparison. You’d have thought those young adults were waiting at the back of the Tabernacle to hear a pin drop, it was so quiet, especially during the sacrament ordinance.

Those sacred silences can help us. As the Primary song says, “It shouldn’t be hard to sit very still, to think about Jesus, his cross on the hill …” (Mabel Jones Gabbot, “To Think about Jesus,” Children’s Songbook) and I always want to add, at the end of the song, a whispered “but sometimes it is.” We can use the silences to focus on the Savior and the meaning of the sacrament He introduced at the Last Supper. We can think about last week and next week and what we might do differently and better. We can remember our covenants. We can be grateful. And sometimes we are distracted by our own thoughts, or by other people.

But when I hear babies cry or children get restless while we are in church meetings, I often think about Jesus telling His disciples to allow little children to come to Him (Luke 18:15–17). If I had been a mother in Jesus’ time, I hope I would have tried to bring my babies and send my older children to Him. I would have liked to sit at His feet myself. No wonder there were crowds around Him all the time—we are hungry for His presence; we are all His little children.

Sister Sam Ryan in our ward described the moments when children make noise in our meetings as “sacred disruptions.” We wouldn’t want to leave our children out of our meetings—although sometimes a child needs to be taken out and calmed or fed or changed. But those years of tending to children’s needs while trying to concentrate in church meetings are all too short. Those of us who are not holding babies or sitting with children can, when the pandemic is over, help those who are. Certainly we can consider how Jesus would respond to those sacred disruptions—with love, with knowing that the kingdom of heaven is like a little child.

Family History Work as a Blessing and Protection

I have been blessed many times through family history, genealogy, and temple work. I want to share one of those times.

Heading to College with $150

In 1973, I had been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for one year. I left for Brigham Young University with $150 and a half-tuition scholarship. I also brought with me to college many burdens resulting from adverse childhood experiences that affected my mental and physical health. My mood would swing between confidence that I could somehow excel, pay my way, and do all that I needed and wanted to do, and near-despair that I was deeply flawed and everything would soon fall apart.

Although I had a full class schedule and a part-time job, I tried to spend at least an hour every week on family history research—although once you get started, it’s hard to stop at the one-hour mark! The thrill of having the BYU Family History Library and all its resources housed in the BYU campus library was an opportunity not to be missed. That may sound like a sacrifice on my part, but I believe it had a genuinely protective and helpful role in getting me through college on almost no money and with enough mental and physical health to survive my undergraduate years.

Elder Dale A. Renlund, in his April 2018 General Conference talk, “Family History and Temple Work: Sealing and Healing,” listed among several blessings of temple and family history work:

Increased family blessings, no matter our current, past, or future family situation or how imperfect our family tree may be . . . . Increased assistance to mend troubled, broken, or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole.

If you have prayed for any of these blessings, participate in family history and temple work. As you do so, your prayers will be answered. When ordinances are performed on behalf of the deceased, God’s children on earth are healed.

I think these blessings were granted to me and that my ancestors were cheering me on, hoping I would find their records and submit them to the temple, appreciating the time and work that I gave to remember and learn about them, and also praying for me to be blessed temporally and spiritually.

The Nancy Drew of Family History Work

This was real detective work—there was no internet and few records had been indexed. Birth, death, and marriage certificates were available, if you could figure out the county to request them from and if the event had been recorded, for a $2.00 or $3.00 search fee from county clerks. I sent a lot of letters that came back with an official “sorry.” But it was so exciting when a letter came with results in it, and another line on a genealogy form could reliably be completed.

I spent one memorable afternoon in front of a microfilm reader at the BYU library, looking at every family in the unindexed 1860 U.S. Census of Anderson County, South Carolina (almost 23,000 people, Wikipedia tells me now), hoping to find a Harper family with an 8-year-old John B. Harper—my great-grandfather, who had gone to Texas and whose parents’ names were unknown. After poring through many pages of faded census-takers’ script, there he was, with his parents and sisters. Of course, I had to look through the rest of the census to be sure theirs was the only family that fit the criteria, but how exciting it was to crank the microfilm reader through many turns, squinting at pages and pages of records, and feel the jolt of recognition when the lines of script focused into in the names I was searching for! I felt like the Nancy Drew of family history research.

I made it through BYU, somehow paid for it, earned good grades, and met lifelong friends and my beloved husband. To this day (48 years after setting foot on the BYU campus for the first time), I sincerely believe that the time I made for my own and others’ family history work led to blessings of physical, emotional, and financial health—sometimes barely scraping by, but able to get by, all the same. These blessings are still reverberating through my life. Time and effort spent in doing family history work is satisfying, builds our testimonies, and has a protecting and supporting influence on our lives. Our ancestors are indeed cheering for us as we remember and do temple work for them.

. . . keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.

Jeffrey R. Holland, “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You,”

(To learn more about why Latter-day Saints do family history and temple work, see  To see the 2021 sessions of the RootsTech family history conference, go to—it’s all free!)

Abortion Is Only One Moral Issue Involved in the Upcoming Election

The upcoming national, state, and local elections are about much more than abortion. The best elected leaders are those who can bring conscience, character, and reverence for life to every issue they influence. The defense of the lives of unborn children is important, but if we choose candidates based solely on their positions on abortion, we may end up voting for candidates who will have little or no influence over that issue but who could have important influence over other moral issues. Further, that single-issue vote may result in the election of candidates who are affiliated with the “pro-life party” (perhaps for tactical rather than moral reasons) but who are of lower character and have less respect for the U.S. Constitution than candidates affiliated with the other major party.

Moral issues influence the way government and laws affect the poor, needy, and otherwise vulnerable, including children born and unborn. They influence the manner in which those with minority status are respected or disrespected in our society. They influence the level of violence, outrage, and polarization in our cultural conversations. They influence the ethics of government and are examples of the way those in public life should conduct themselves. 

Presently, when people of differing beliefs are figuratively at war with one another over abortion, we can emphasize what is lost when advocates discuss only the individual rights of women, as though there were no other lives involved in the decision to have an abortion. But we can also avoid the hypocrisy that the unborn child is the only life involved, as though the mother is not also important. Those who support the right to abortion sometimes protest that people who call themselves “pro-life” are concerned about children only before they are born, pointing to the large number of children and adults who live in poverty and other severe difficulties. Gracy Olmstead writes: “A 2005 Guttmacher Institute study found that approximately one-quarter of women who had an abortion said they did so because they could not afford to have a baby.  . . . This might be an issue fought best not just through anti-abortion policy but also through efforts, at both the local and national levels, to empower and support women who need better health care access, better wages and better community supports.”[1]

The middle ground in the abortion debate, between legally allowing abortion in all cases at all times during pregnancy and never allowing abortion in any case at any time during pregnancy—a middle ground where most Americans’ beliefs lie, according to a 2019 PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll[2]—can be difficult to navigate. Caitlin Flanagan writes movingly that viewing the 3D ultrasound of a 12-week-old fetus was a “Rorschach test,” as some people see only “the possibility of a developed baby,” but she sees a living human being who would suddenly cease to live if aborted. Equally terrible to Flanagan, though, are the dreadful and deadly consequences for women of botched illegal abortions—which women can be desperately willing to get.[3]

Columnist Michael Gerson maintains that pro-life Americans are going to convince others in the abortion debate only “if we persuade enough people to join our side of the argument,” not by “gaining power and imposing our view,” and that to have our arguments associated with immoral political candidates is likely to hurt rather than help the Christian cause.[4] One way to persuade people to re-think their views about abortion is to elect leaders with the morality, wisdom, and compassion to consider the implications for human lives of every decision they face.

[1] Gracy Olmstead, “How Abortion Warps Our Politics,” New York Times, February 5, 2020,

[2] Gretchen Frazee, “New Abortion Laws Are Too Extreme for Most Americans, Poll Shows,” NPR, June 7, 2019,

[3] Caitlin Flanagan, “The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate,” The Atlantic, December 2019,

[4] Michael Gerson, “It’s Difficult for Pro-Lifers to Vote Democrat. But It’s Better Than Trump.” Washington Post, February 15, 2020,



Oxymorons are words that contain contradictory ideas, like “bittersweet” and “instant classic.” It seems we are living in contradictory times. The little article quoted below contains some awfully great (did you catch that?) oxymorons for your consideration and enjoyment. What’s your favorite?

John Atkinson, from “At the Oxymoron Museum,”
Time, July 31, 2017, p. 26
Recent past
Lost discoveries
New artifacts
Civil war
Virtual reality
Individual collections
Permanent loans
Private exhibits
Current history
Extinct life
Restored ruins
Authentic models
Primitive advancements

I think the best (and saddest) is “civil war.”