In the coming days I will be restructuring my sites – creating one out of the many. This is one of those sites that I will be moving to my main site. You can read all about it in this post Simplify on laryssawaldron.com. I anticipate that over the next few months I will be transferring different posts from here over to that one and then leave the rest. I have LOVED writing about religion and spirituality on this blog. It has been such a rich experience for me to be able to share, however, since I went back to full time work (teaching religion) I have had much more to say but much less time to say it in! In an attempt to find the balance that is truly needed, so that I can just write about whatever, I am going to combine this one with that by the end of this year.
If you don’t already follow me there, please feel free to join me. And thank you for reading this blog, it has been a joy since I started it in 2008.
At the end of the school year, my daughter in junior high released butterflies with her science class. Then, the teacher gave her two caterpillars to take home and watch as they developed in the beautiful circle of life. Within a few weeks, she was tired of them and so, as is often the case with parents, the responsibility became mine. And for some strange reason, the caring of the butterflies became deeply personal to me.
For the first few weeks, the two black caterpillars grew bigger and gnarlier – almost hairy – as they roamed in their little plastic container that had a paper-towel lining the top. My daughter assured me that her teacher said that, “yes, there would be plenty of oxygen, food, etc. and soon, the first little caterpillar attached itself to the paper towel and became a chrysalis.” (Surely I am getting some of the scientific words and concepts wrong and I beg pardon for that as I am not a scientist, but a reader of Eric Carle’s, The Very Hungry Caterpillar – so for all I know, these guys should be eating “one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one watermelon,” etc. 😉).
The second guy roamed around for about a week more, but by the time he went to form into a chrysalis, the paper towel had begun to mold and he couldn’t find a place to attach. It seemed that he became frantic, because one day, he scooted over to the hanging chrysalis and began to shake the other guy very vehemently (I know this sounds weird, but so it was). I realized that he was probably going to kill them both, so, I quickly wet a second paper towel and gently opened the plastic cup and began to prod the caterpillar with it so that he would leave the first one alone. Amazingly, it worked and he came over and attached to the second paper towel as the first chrysalis hung precariously by a very thin thread and rested on the gunk in the bottom of the plastic cup. After the second formed into a chrysalis, I followed some internet research and prayerful meditative thoughts and carefully moved them both into a mason jar where they both had more room to hatch.
After about another week, on a very beautiful sunny Saturday morning, I looked over at the mason jar and noticed a bunch of blood on the paper towel below (which was amazing really see Moses 6: 59-60). The first butterfly had emerged! I had once read a story about a boy who tried to help a butterfly emerge out of a cocoon (which btw, I have learned that butterflies emerge from chrysalis and moths from cocoons, but I digress). The story goes –
And he sees the butterfly struggling. So trying to help it, he uses some scissors to cut a hole to help the butterfly to get out. As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand. But this never did happen and the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. The butterfly, you see, was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. Sometimes the good intentions hurt the butterfly.
So, you see, I left that butterfly alone until it had detached itself from the paper towel and was moving around in the bottom of the mason jar. And then, I had such an amazing experience with it as I helped it out and then let it go into the world. This type of butterfly was called a Painted Lady. It was so beautiful – it was truly the miracle of life! It grabbed onto my hand and we just stared at each other for a while. Later, I hoped as it flew away, that it would be able to have a lovely life (of 6-20 days) and not be gobbled up right away by some animal. Again, those who know much more than I will find that surely I have done something wrong in my upbringing of this butterfly – oh well, what can I do? But the beauty and joy of that day stayed with me for several days.
I figured that the second one would be in its chrysalis for at least another week.
Within a couple of days, my junior high daughter got into a bike accident and got a concussion and banged up her face. Thankfully she is doing much better, but on that same day of the accident, the second one emerged early. And this one had emerged well before it had finished forming. So the first half of the body was out, but the other half was in, and it was thrashing around desperately trying to get out – for hours!
So, there I am, caring for my poor daughter, and my poor butterfly. Checking on both, doing anything I can think of for both. I spent more time on my daughter of course, but my husband joked around with friends that I had become a butterfly physician, and my oldest daughter very astutely asked, “Mom, are you putting your emotions and worries about helping [your junior high daughter] into trying to help and heal this butterfly?” Yes. Yes. I was.
I tried to help in anyway I could as the butterfly fell out of the chrysalis into the bottom of the mason jar, half formed. I googled, I followed suggestions and intuition. Nothing I did seemed to help. My husband kept saying, “let it go!” He was probably right, but I just couldn’t give up on the little guy. It grabbed onto my hand like the first one and we looked at each other for a while. We kept thinking it had died, but then, it would defy the odds and start moving again. Finally, it began to get desperate and thrashed about like it had when it was a caterpillar. I did what I could to help it reattach and get comfortable, and it calmed and miraculously lived for a while longer, until finally, now, it is truly dead. I want to bury it in the flower patch in our home.
I’ve been thinking over the last day or so about life. For some, it is so so beautiful, like the first butterfly. For others, like the second, so desperately tragic! Without a view of Eternity, I cannot imagine how people make sense of it all. How can some who are like the first butterfly look at those like the second and think “too bad for them, but I’m good”? Or “this is my life” and give no thought to the second. Or worse, deny the hope of God, Justice, or an Eternal Reward. There cannot be only this life – the law of justice that dwells inside the human heart demands more!
It reminds me of an idea from a talk, given years ago by then Elder Boyd K. Packer called, The Play and the Plan(from a CES fireside, May 7, 1995) in which he stated,
The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act I is entitled “Premortal Life.” The scriptures describe it as our First Estate. (See Jude 1:6; Abr. 3:26-28) Act II, from birth to the time of resurrection, the “Second Estate.” And Act III, “Life After Death or Eternal Life.” In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I. The production has many plots and subplots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!
We progress or we are held back in life within the limits imposed by spiritual and natural law which govern all the universe. We sometimes wonder, if the plan really is the great plan of happiness, why must we struggle to find fulness of it in mortal life?
If you expect to find only ease and peace and bliss during Act II, you surely will be frustrated. You will understand little of what is going on and why it is permitted to be as they are.
Remember this! The line “And they all lived happily ever after” is never written into the second act. That Line belongs in the third act when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. The Apostle was right when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19.)
Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of this great drama, you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much, some in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering, premature death even of innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We’ve seen a lot of that recently.
Do not suppose that God willfully causes that, which for His own purposes, He permits. When you know the plan and purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.
I will leave you to study the whole talk (which is really so lovely) and say finally, that at the end of the day, there is no justice in this life, no way to make things right, or whole, or fair, without the Atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No social justice of our time will give back justice to the Slaves, or the Jews, or the Native Americans, or any number of injustices and atrocities that the agency of men and women in this world has committed. Please understand – we should teach and talk about those injustices so that history will not forget, we we should also always remember that real justice for life’s inequities and unfairness will come for them and for us through Jesus Christ. What a blessing – a glorious truth that gives me hope everyday.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
On the way home from a family trip to West Berlin, we had to make our way through East Germany. That trip included periodic checks to make sure that no one was escaping.
“How many more checks will there be, Daddy?” He shushed me saying that we were almost back in West Germany. There would be no checks in the West. An armed soldier came to the door. Dad handed him our passports. The guard looked at the symbols of America on the front and grunted as he checked each face to its passport picture.
Ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, the train began to move again, and my brain raced as I imagined an escape story – Someone could fit under this seat, couldn’t they?Maybe a girl my age.My passport would keep her safe, because the guard didn’t check our sleeping car.
Dear President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev. I started to write a letter in my mind, they would listen to a little girl who had just experienced seeing something unjust, wouldn’t they?
What can I do? I thought as the train meandered on, taking me back to freedom.
November 1989 (age 15)
The wall fell!?!?
Hooray went the International celebrations.
“Hey, the Berlin wall fell!”
Listen, I tried to tell my classmates what it meant.
We were Freshman in High School and East Germany was a whole world away for them.
All I could see in my mind’s eye were the armed guards and the little girl I had imagined. I wondered how they were feeling – if they were some of those who were helping to break chunks out of the wall.
What can I do? I thought as I celebrated the burgeoning freedoms of being a teenager in the USA.
I thought of little girls all over the world unable to get an education. Walking 6 miles each way to carry water from an old spring only to turn around at night to do it again. Girls married off at my age. Girls working on farms. Girls getting shot at while they tried to learn to read.
Was there anything I could do to help tear down walls for them, or for my classmates so that they could see how blessed we were?
1996 (age 22)
“Do you know what this is?”
“Sure,” I said to the wrinkled man who was holding my passport. I was wondering if this Bulgarian man was going to give it back or make a run with it.
“Do you really know what this is?” I watched his worn and craggy hand as he flipped each page with a sacred awe. I thought of his whole life behind the communistic wall. He would have been young after WWII when the walls went up. To have tasted freedom and then have it taken away, I couldn’t imagine.
“I’m beginning to,” I said as we locked eyes and looked at each other.
“Live well,” he said as he gave it back to me.
The passport would give me a lifetime of the pursuit of happiness.
In Bulgaria I was shushed for talking about religion too loudly in a woman’s apartment.
“Be quiet!” she said with fear in her eyes, “they’ll hear you!”
We were in her own living space, and she was terrified. My passport gave me the ability to live without that fear.
In Bulgaria, I was choosing some peaches from a fruit stand. The owner began throwing bruised peaches in my bucket.
“Hey! What are you doing?” I asked, shocked at his actions.
“What are you doing?” he asked back.
“I’m choosing the peaches I want to buy.” Duh!
“You’re not allowed to choose!” He roared at me and continued to throw rotten fruit into my bucket.
I poured the peaches back on his pile and handed him the bucket, “then I choose NOT to buy from you!”
Then I bought triple the number of peaches from the woman in the next stand because she said I could choose whichever I wanted.
The passport gave me the right to know that I could choose.
After a year and a half of living and working in a former Eastern European Country in the mid-nineties, my plane landed on the tarmac of JFK. The passengers erupted into spontaneous cheers, clapping, and laughter.
I had never been on an International flight before where we spontaneously broke into applause and cheering when we hit American soil. But, there was something about that plane ride. It was loaded with refugees from war-torn Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.
I spent time on the flight trying to help translate for the refugees because the Bulgarian language and theirs were similar.
That was something I could do. And I found something else too.
1997 (age 23)
“Are you Wilhelm?”
I turned to look. A man walked up to me. He was tall and fit in a crisp, clean officer’s uniform.
“Yes?” I lamely muttered, while glancing at the lunch stains on my t-shirt, tugging at my cluttered ponytail, trying to smooth out the grooves in my hair.
I followed him into a beautiful oak paneled room, where he stood in front of me on a small dais, about a foot off of the ground flanked by the American flag on the left and the Utah state flag on the right.
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me. I, (insert your full name), do solemnly swear”
As I repeated, I thought of the little girls in East Germany who were not on the train.
“that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;”
I thought of the old gentleman holding my passport.
“that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”
I thought of the woman in her own apartment, with fear in her eyes. The peach sellers. The refugees.
There, in front of the flags and the officer, in a quiet, solemn ceremony, I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of patriotism I’d never felt before, a pride and gratitude that I felt both then and now to be a defender of my country. To help bring freedom to the little girls all over the world so that they could read and write and pursue happiness.
Modern day (age, er um … older)
What can I do? I think as I look around me.
How do I teach my children? I wonder as I see the immense privilege that we live and breathe daily.
How can I help them understand how free we truly are?
I write. I teach. I speak. I serve. I donate. I pray. I work to never forget that freedom is an ideal, a state of mind, a series of great privileges to live without fear, to live without walls, to choose. It has to be taught, and re-taught or it will be lost.
How can we help those around the world to create places of freedom in their nations as well?Can we help our own break out of walls of hate, anger, misunderstanding, and addictions that we create?
What can I do? I think as I drive through my beautiful country, thankful for those who have sacrificed to make us free.
This week in Come Follow Me, we learn in D&C 49 that Leman Copley is having a hard time letting go of some of his beliefs from being a member of the Shaker religion to align with truth and become a fully functioning member of Christ’s Church. In fact, the Lord says, “that they [the Shakers] desire to know the truth in part, but not all” and that because of that, “they are not right” before the Lord and need to repent.
In classes this week, we likened this situation to a Monkey’s trap – you remember, the coconut (or other such contraption) with food in it and a hole cut big enough for a monkey to get its paw in to grab the food, but not big enough to get its hand out while holding food. So, unless the Monkey is willing to give up the food, he is trapped. We talked about how Leman was trapped by old attitudes and beliefs. We pondered how Modern Day Israel is trapped because some of them won’t let go of actions and attitudes that hold them back from all of the truth and blessings that Heavenly Father intends for them.
But it’s not enough to talk about them, is it? It has to be me. I have to look at my own Monkey’s paw – the trap that I’ve been caught in for years. And as I start my new diet for the ‘um-teenth’ time, I realize that I’ve been doing it all wrong. As I log my food and am tempted to bend the truth about how much I’m logging, or maybe not log the food at all, the Spirit sharply but lovingly (see D&C 121: 42-43) calls back the verse I’d been teaching to my own mind – “they [you] desire to know the truth in part, but not all” and I realize probably for the first time how not being honest with myself has been a Monkey’s trap for me.
In saying that, you need not think that I’m a totally dishonest person. At least not to others. But to myself, now that is something that I have been pondering for the last few days as I’ve been logging my food on the app – rounding, guesstimating, and not being exact. And as the Spirit put it all together in my mind, I finally broke through another wall. I needed to start praying for the Spiritual gift of more honesty and accountability with myself. For years, I’d been begging for more temperance (i.e., self-control) and would cry at the thought of never being able to have the control I wanted. I thought that I was just a weak, weak woman. Turns out, I may just need to be a more honest one. And somehow, it seems like that is something that I have the ability to do. At least, for the first time, I feel hope in my weakness – that I finally have the tool that will help it to be made strong (Ether 12:27).
And so, as a final act of not just hearing Him, but also of Hearkening to Him, I have been prompted by the Spirit to turn on the light and publicly write about my own issues with self-honesty so that I can “know the truth [and] chase the darkness” away from me – which, I’m sure not coincidentally, is the next chapter of Come Follow Me for this week (see D&C 50:24-25). At first, the idea of writing this seemed so humiliating. Now, I just feel humbled and thankful for answers that come when we take time to “Hear Him”.
(This was originally written for my ward’s Relief Society Newsletter’s “Hear Him” Moment”.)
This is a lesson that I created for my family history class. It helps students to walk through the process of signing up for the family history parter sites. When you access these sites, you will be able to use their genealogical records to help find your ancestors. This lesson is intended for members of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ, who have free access with their membership.
Researching: Partner Sites
Now comes the fun! It’s time to start seeking information and evidence to prove and complete the information on your family in FamilySearch. You will be going beyond Record Hints in your pursuit of sources. FamilySearch has many sources that do not automatically appear in Record Hints that require more advanced search skills.
Additionally (with your Membership in the Church) you have access to American Ancestors, Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage where you can search for additional information and sources. Becoming confident in your ability to search is a skill you now need to master.
FamilySearch – does not allow you to download a GEDCOM from the site
My Heritage – will bring over a full FamilySearch Tree (takes a while to download) but will create a GEDCOM
Ancestry – will only import 4 generations from FamilySearch, but will create a GEDCOM
American Ancestors – allows an import from FamilySearch but this is what they say on their website –
You can import up to 4 generations of ancestors and one generation of their descendants, or up to 8 generations of ancestors without descendants.Because we import not only facts and relationships but also stories and media, importing more generations would take a long time.You can import additional generations at any time by navigating to an end-of-line ancestor and selecting Download more from the FamilySearch icon in the toolbar.
Find My Past – will only take GEDCOM (will not import directly from FamilySearch)
Geneanet – will only take GEDCOM (will not import directly from FamilySearch)
If you are unfamiliar with a GEDCOM (Links to an external site.), it is a computer file for genealogy. In fact the word is short for Genealogical Data Communication. Here is a video from Ancestry on how to create a GEDCOM from their site. It should give you a good idea of what it is and how it is used.
Assignment: Using Google searches and help found on the sites listed above, pick one of the five main family history sites you will use for research and become an expert on advanced searching techniques for the site you selected.
Are you in this category? You know that there are lines and lines of ancestors linked together in FamilySearch (you’ve seen them on your mom’s or grandmother’s tree) or you are trying to get linked to your spouses’ long ancestor lines, but you just can’t figure out how to do it! Then this post is for you.
What you need to do is to create what I call a “Ghost Record” or a “Bridge Record from yourself through your living relative to your first deceased ancestor. Once you hit that deceased ancestor, then it will populate your tree with all of the deceased relatives in your (or your spouses’) lines.
A few quick reminders hat you can find in the video:
You have to create a record for a living person (let’s say it’s your mom).
That record is NOT your mom’s record. Your creation and her living record are two different records.
For privacy, only you can be in your own record.
Don’t do much with that record
It’s best not to add documents (census records, etc.) to your ghost record. those should be added by your mom into her living record.
Add only a few pictures or memories if you wish, but they will not show up for the living person, unless your ghost record and their living record are merged after their death – which of course we don’t want, but I speak of it as an eventuality in the FAR FAR future of course!
Make a note that it is a bridge or ghost record to help with confusion when the person dies and you need to merge the records together.
In 2016, Ron Tanner from FamilySearch talked about sharing living records with family members in a video called: How to Share Living Family Trees on FamilySearch. In that video, he said that we would soon be able to be in another’s record (with a permission or password, etc.) but that was 4 years ago and I will update this post when that exciting feature does emerge!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share below.
This semester (Spring 2020) I am teaching a class on Family History at BYU-Idaho, and unfortunately, as it is the end of my three-year contract as a visiting professor there, this blog must once again become a repository for all of the things that I want to remember, so that I can use those ideas in the future. That was the original purpose of this blog, you know – a digital place to store what I had gained as a Seminary teacher of 7 years. As I tried to get all of those talks and scriptures in one digital setting, my purpose and motivations changed and this blog became a place to store my religious writings, thoughts, poetry, etc.
However, I just cannot lose things like the Family History Course, and so as I teach it to my students in this strange time of COVID-19 isolation, where I teach them virtually, I’m going to adapt the lessons here in the hopes that it can help some readers, and refresh my mind later when I’m called on to teach it again – it has been my experience that the Lord NEVER wastes our learning, and so I am sure that this will not be the last time that I teach it.
So to begin, here are some talks and ideas to “whet your whistle” and get you excited to learn about family history. Come on, I know you’ve always meant to get moving with your family history, and right now – during the coronavirus isolation – here’s the perfect opportunity!
Gathering God’s Family
That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Gathering together in one as much of God’s family as we possibly can, we and they all have their agency as to whether we’ll accept our place at Aslan’s table, but we need to make sure that it is set and that there is an invitation for all of God’s children to be there. This is taught so beautifully in President Eyring’s talk, Gathering the Family of God, General Conference, April 2017. I assigned this talk as the first day’s reading and they were asked to come prepared to share insights in our opening class.
You see, the names “brother” and “sister” are not just friendly greetings or terms of endearment for us. They are an expression of an eternal truth: God is the literal Father of all mankind; we are each part of His eternal family. Because He loves us with the love of a perfect Father, He wants us to progress and advance and become like Him. He ordained a plan by which we would come to earth, in families, and have experiences that would prepare us to return to Him and live as He lives. ~President Henry B. Eyring (see link above for the full text)
Family Search – the Place to Begin Gathering People, Records, Memories, and Families
While there are MANY wonderful sites for digital family histories, we will focus mainly on FamilySearch (though I will be showing some other really helpful sites and places throughout the course).
When you sign in on the FamilySearch website there is a tab entitled “Family Tree”. The goal of Family Tree is a place in which a common pedigree of mankind is linked together. Hopefully the day will come where we can all go on “Family Tree” and see how we relate to everyone. What a lofty and marvelous goal! However, we need to have each individual represented on the tree, and to have them appear only once. Sometimes, the information on Family Tree is poorly sourced, duplicative, inaccurate, and unreliable.
Our generation has the opportunity to verify and correct the information on Family Tree so that we can be confident about who our ancestors are and whether they have received the ordinances of salvation. In future lessons, you will learn how to combine duplicate records and provide sources to information that is found in Family Tree so that we can continue filling in information on our family with confidence.
To begin, I’m going to give an assignment –
FamilySearch Beginning Assignment
The purpose of this activity is to help you access FamilySearch in preparation for future assignments. You will log in to FamilySearch.
If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you will use your church account username and password (you can find your Church Record Number by contacting your bishop or by locating it on your temple recommend).
If you are a member and do not already have one, create a churchaccount now. You will need your birth date and membership record number. Again, your record number can be obtained from your ward clerk, your temple recommend, or on the Churchs’Tools Website. If you can’t remember your username and password this article, “I forgot my FamilySearch password or username” may help.
If you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that’s perfectly fine, you can also have a free account. Simply do not mark the box that states that you are a member (for a reference to what I am talking about, see the image below):
If you are having difficulties, you can call 1-866-406-1830 for assistance.
Do as much of the following as you can and you can ask questions in the comments below for areas in which you are stuck.
Log into your FamilySearch account.
The goal is to have your tree contain accurate information about you, your spouse (if you have one), parents, and siblings on your Person Page (NOTE: bear in mind that if the person that you are creating a page for is living, then you are creating a bridge or ghost record (see video below) for them, and NOT their own family search person page. Currently, the only person that has access to their own personal living record is the living person. More on that later.
Put the following on your Person Page:
A picture posted to the left of your name on your Person Page,
Adding or edit your Vital Information (birthdate, place, etc.)
Add a spouse, parent, or child
Using a record hint (if any)
Create a story, document, or audio file posted and tag it to you
Connect yourself to your deceased relatives by adding living relatives and then connecting to your first deceased ancestors.
When I’m really questioning my faith, I look to who I am. I love the woman that I am when I live the gospel (full of joy, inner peace and love). I don’t like the feelings I have when I am doubting, despairing, and discouraged about the gospel. So I wrote this as a reminder to “doubt my doubts before I doubt my faith” (Come, Join with Us, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2013).