Words Tell: Descriptions of the 2020 Election Fallout

I’ve spent a few hours yesterday and today reading through news reports following the 2020 Presidential Election.  We are now day 10 and 11 post election.  Joe Biden is the President Elect.  Donald Trump has lost.  I find it fascinating to see what words writers and reporters are using to describe what’s happening in our world today.  These words are just clips, as I found them, in no particular order taken from two days’ worth of various news reports.  I have not cited the sources.  Little words tell big stories.  Most describe Donald Trump and who he is.  Some refer to how he’s handled the COVID crisis.  All are reflective of what people think of the situation we find ourselves in right now.  Draw what conclusions you will.  (I did not intentionally skip over positive comments–there simply were none to be found.)  Here’s what I found:

One reason why Trump’s advisors are so worried he might not be able to win is because he lost.

Despite clinging to the job desperately, he’s not actually doing any of it.

Still asking supporters for donations.  Never misses a hustle.

scamming people out of their money by saying that is country wrongly kicked him out of power

continuing to fire off baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud

keeps fighting as a performance

the elephant in the room–his election loss

claims weren’t credible

disdain for the workings of government

Mr. President, pack your bags, and be gone.

grabbing headlines

justify measures

nefarious activity

cries voter fraud

lawsuits inadmissible or unreliable

incorrect and not credible

cheap talk on Twitter

claimed alleged fraud

obviously hearsay

refused to concede

sewing doubt

fanning the spectre of voter fraud

laying the foundation for questioning the legitimacy

blasting out inflammatory accusations of fraud

questions of US elections will linger

refused to acknowledge while launching legal challenges based on unsubstantiated claims of fraud

so many lawsuits have been filed in so many state and federal courts that no one has an exact number

they are throwing the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks

humoring him

continued to spread lies

beset with infighting

flimsy evidence

a slew of baseless lawsuits

corrosive to democracy

deplorable approach to life and politics

divisive language

stop the circus and get to work (House Speaker)

The election’s over. Stop delaying reality

long shot litigation

refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power

absolutely disgraceful, un-American

coddling and kowtowing despite his defeat

let the grim era of demonization in American begin to end here and now

relationships have been jeopardized

conservatives have been crowing

TX Lt. Gov. has offered $1mil for anyone who produces evidence of voter fraud

the long knives are out, and he’s a big score settler

making them serve a hitherto hidden agenda

“Pentagon Purge” to help him carry out irresponsible withdrawals

widespread concerns in national security community

something repugnant is brewing

fringe ideologues

to support his personal agenda

How is this going to end?

amplifying misleading messages

activity sits on hold

refusal to accept results

transition offices sit vacant

planning conversations are silent

awkwardly twiddling threats

playing into fantasies

so as not to leave a paper trail (no one’s talking about it)

officials growing anxious

I am worried they are going to open the hood, and it’s going to be a lot worse than they expected.

contacts have gone silent

anyone looking for another job would be fired

the silence is still deafening

a flurry of lawsuits

spreading false claims

refused to accept the outcome

transition still hypothetical

undermining urgent need

downplaying the significance

strategy lies in tatters

it’s not enough

remain stuck

claims fall apart in court

sinister, fraudulent motives

the crisis is accelerating

purely outlandish stuff

legal team grinds to a halt

panicked predictions

chaos and meddling

mysterical claims of fraud

rang mostly hollow

Trump with his grotesque character on full display:  the greed, the bullying, the mysogyny and flagrant sexual infidelity, the malignant narcissism.

“the most flawed man I’ve have ever met in my life” (Trump’s own Chief of Staff)

inability to even pretend empathy

bullying the press

casual subversion of justice system

moral cowardice toward dictators

4 chaotic years

semiliterate tweets

half-completed thoughts

wishful thinking

scientific illiteracy

inconsistent, dishonest, reckless policymaking

world-historical calamity that alters the course of civilization

habitual dismissal of logic and standards of proof

constructed his own narrative

eager participant whenever he sees some advantage for himself

flair for spectacle

racial grievances

tenuous relationship with and sometimes outright disdain for truth

casts doubt on legitimacy

extremely dangerous, extremely poisonous to our democracy

stay out of the fray (Republican aids)

increasingly unmoored

election stolen from him

potential to become violent

obtuse and perverse

refusal to acknowledge empirical facts that conflict with how he sees the world

callously insisting


belief based on nothing

fed his cynical promotion of blitherism–belief based on nothing

pressured newsmen to change forecasts to agree with his misstatements

cynical indifference

ludicrous assertions and irrelevant

damage done to American democracy

stirred up political currents

impulse toward authoritarianism

cheapened with tacky stunts

took advantage of and inflamed them into an absurd culture war

voter intimidation

humiliated rivals

reversed conventional wisdom

ignored party leaders

devisive personality

now-exposed insanity

defeat may trigger civil war

grievances and paranoias refusing to congratulate

allegations and irregularities

declined to concede

frivolous challenges

injunction rejected

unsubstantiated claims

calls Biden’s victory “an immaculate deception”

denying reality

lawsuits fizzle

peddles baseless claims of fraud

this will not help his legacy

contesting results

refuse to recognize

created a false image

publicly disengaged

fraud allegations based on extra-ordinary failure to understand how elections function

claims of cheating

lack of understanding

anti democratic

isolated speculation

debunked conspiracy theories

promoting a bizarre lie

election rigged

meritless statements

all claims refuted

implications plainly false

votes concocted out of thin air

claims dismissed

baseless claims refuted

allegations of coaching voters

Trump fumbled COVID, sabotaged his own election

baseless voter fraud claims

rejected, DRT has had a haphazard inattentive handling of the crisis (COVID)

grievously wrong

tirades on Twitter

unsubstantiated claims

obstruction of justice

bickering wings of the party

high political tension

long-shot lawsuits

fuel conspiracy theories

dawdling and denial of access

clogging things up

hotly speculated

arbitrary and illegal actions

no evidence the votes were compromised

gaining little traction

public relations nightmare

judges:  no evidence of fraud

stealing the election

keeping up a charade

spiraling out of control

rigged election

casting doubt

usually first the evidence, then the lawsuit

shifting narrative

chaotic caucuses

undermining officials

disillusion of reason

riding the crazy train

unhinged conspiracies

on an island of misfit toys

rabbit holes of unreality

conspiracy-theory cult

bizarre myths



baseless conspiracy theories

an embarrassment


norm-shattering behavior

a fractured nation

competitive scrum

baseless claims

undermining of democracy

seeded a lie before the event

corrosive to democracy

flimsy evidence

a slew of baseless lawsuits

sewing doubt

misleading messages

stop the steal rallies

undermining confidence

nefarious activity

grabbing headlines

inflammatory accusations

unsupported evidence

messy and nasty

preservation of power above all else


DRT’s disastrous response (to COVID)

tried to spin coronavirus out of existence

Trump presidency marked by errors in judgement

strange overtures to foreign dictators

appointments that deviated wildly

tried to minimize the impact of COVID

no shows of empathy or compassion

political aids have unflagging loyalty to DRT

steered into treacherous waters

failed attempts to convince

He tweeted, shouted, heckled, interrupted, mocked, lamented and filibustered his way through crisis after crisis.

Top scientists, policy makers and experts driven out by Trump’s political appointees intent on ferreting out adherents of a fictitious “deep state.”

The kind of attention he has always sought required conflict as its oxygen.

statements not occasioned by reality

inflated incremental victories into victories

“invincible superman”

a show of energy and force


disregard for facts

boundless self-confidence

combative attitude

downplays virus


numbers inflated

accusations grossly untrue

mistakes of judgement

Fake News Media

destructive instincts

drowning out wiser counsel

fake assurances

entirely unprepared

no patience or attention to detail

personal and petty

settling scores

worst fears played out

it became a kind of withering exit music to DRT’s brief attempt to act like an ordinary president

hectoring Democrats while praising Republicans

badly mishandling virus

sullen, graceless exit

threatened the rule of law

threatened to arrest rivals

cheapened the presidency

crude tweets

clownish rallies

looted the Treasury

norms bent to accommodate his whims

seemingly unending Trump show

incorrect and not credible

bogus claims and invalid arguments

questionable affidavits

accusing people of fraud

legal strategy looks amateurish and disjointed

Judge called claims of widespread voter fraud “fiction”

inadmissible hearsay within hearsay


keeping multiple balls in the air that we know are not going to land in a good place

groundless lawsuits

ignore the will of the voters

rules of evidence don’t apply

spurious claims

widely mocked press conference

stuck in his own election time warp

specious voter fraud claims

he has to worry about criminal investigations

spreading lies and insults

might satisfy his titanic ego

This is not a political party.  It’s a cult.

boasts he won

tantrums over losing

loves the bottom line

hates to be a loser

He will never admit that he lost.

He’s going to fight to the end.

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“Show how love and joy, beauty and goodness shine out amongst the rubble.” –Wendell Berry

I grew up next door to my Grandma Elsa Laemmlen.  When I was a girl, I wandered through the orchard to visit her, often daily.  I knew her and she knew me.  We didn’t need to say much, we just loved being together, doing things together.  Sometimes we stitched.  Sometimes we baked.  Sometimes we plucked caterpillars from the tomato vines.  Her button box was filled with treasures collected from decades of mending and repurposing clothing for her family.  I always wondered where my favorite magenta buttons came from.  I should have asked her.

There is not much that remains of my Grandma’s life now.  My children did not know her.  They will not understand these treasures, now so dear to me.  I wonder if you, seeing these remains, can feel her goodness.

She is not here to tell her story.  She seldom spoke of her own experiences no matter how many times I asked her to “Tell me a story.”  She was a strong woman who did hard things.  She new how to tend beehives, pluck feathers for down pillows, make sausages from a butchered hog, bake Kuchen and raisin pies.  She was a Mennonite quilter with nimble fingers that were never still.  She taught me to knit and crochet and sew doll clothes on her old black Singer sewing machine.  She taught me to tie grape vines and work in the fields.  She taught me how to pack Kelsey plums, green and pointed, into paper cups, counting each row carefully.  She made her own prunes in a lye bath.  She made jams and jellies from fruit she grew on the farm, including quince and damson plums.  I spent hours and hours picking up walnuts with her in the fall and shelling those walnuts with her during the cold winter hours.  We stemmed cookie sheets full of sun-dried raisins together, Thompson and Muscat, as we sat in the recliners with the space heater humming at our feet.  We took naps together in the front sun room on the “devan” covered with an old Indian blanket.  And often we just sat together (she always in the rocking chair by the window) and watched out the window.

These photos are a few of the pieces, the artifacts, the treasures that remain from my Grandma’s life.  I miss her.  The life she shared with me was filled with love and joy and beauty and goodness.  I hope you feel it too.

How can we be so superior to “our barbarous ancestors”?
The truth will never be complete in any mind or time.
It will never be reduced to an explanation.
What you have is only a sack of fragments never to be filled:
old bones, fossils, facts, scraps of writing, sprawls of junk.
You know yourself only poorly and in part, the best and the worst maybe forgotten.
However you arrange the pieces, however authentic,
a story is what you’ll have, an artifact, for better or worse.
So go ahead. Gather your findings into a plausible arrangement.  Make a story.
Show how love and joy, beauty and goodness shine out amongst the rubble.
–Wendell Berry, Sabbath Poems 2006

Posted in Family History, Thoughts and Insights | 5 Comments

Gathering Stories of Faith and Inspiration


We have had an incredible couple of weeks in the Abidjan West Mission.  Every 6 weeks in every mission around the world, each missionary is interviewed by the Mission President.  Since we are filling in for the other Pres Lewis here right now, we are the lucking ones doing these interviews.  And because this is out of the ordinary and because we don’t know the missionaries in the West Mission very well yet, we decided to do the interviews together and get to know each of the missionaries better.

We have been spending 30-40 minutes with each missionary, listening to their stories–who they are, where they came from, why they are here, and how they met the Church and began to follow the path they are on.

Right now, after all of the COVID evacuations, there are only 85 missionaries in the West Mission.  By the time we finish in a couple more days, I will have collected 85 incredible stories of faith and inspiration.  These young men and women are absolutely amazing.  Their stories are a part of history, the history of the Church in Africa.  They are living and experiencing history in the making.  I am thrilled to be here watching from the sidelines.

Here are just a few of their beautiful faces.  Can you see the light?

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“Always Take At Least Two”

I don’t often keep the duplicate photos I take.  A wise photographer told me years ago, “Never take just one photo, always take at least two.  One will always be better than the other.”  It’s the best photography advice I’ve ever heard and I always take at least two and I delete all but one.  One is always better.  Except for today.  I took the photo above, and then snapped a few more of these sisters who get excited every time we stop to buy fruit from them.  Their mother is in the back on the right.  They set up their stand on a busy road and do a good business.

The girls are always a little shy when I ask to take their photo, but then they love to see the photos I take of them.  I think they are stunningly beautiful young women.   It would be a sin to delete a single one of these photos.

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A Temporary Change of Assignment

In Africa you learn to expect the unexpected.

Last March, remember how the travel lady here booked our tickets to Mali, but she did it in the names of Pres and Sis Lewis of the Abidjan West Mission (we’re the East Mission) instead of for us?  And we missed getting back to Mali by hours because the next day the lockdowns happened?  And then we ended up being here to help with all of the mass evacuation of all the missionaries in March and April and May?  Remember how good it was for us to be here to help the Binenes finish up their mission and then to welcome and help the Bendixsens settle in?  Remember all those reasons we needed to be here?

Another reason has been added to why we are not in Bamako right now.

We’ve been asked by the Area Presidency to be interim Mission Leaders for the Abidjan West Mission.  Pres Lewis has some health issues that need to be addressed at home in case surgery is needed.  They’ll be returning home for a time on Oct 13th to have things checked out.  Sis Lewis will also be able to have her knees scoped and their daughter has rescheduled her marriage so her parents can attend.

The hope is that they will be able to return after 6-8 weeks where John will be an interim President until Pres Lewis returns.  This assignment has come from the Area Presidency in Accra and has been approved by  Elder Suarez and Elder Vinson and by Elder Nash in the Missionary Department in Salt Lake City.

So while they are gone, our assignment will switch over to the West Mission.  Our offices are side by side and the mission homes are side by side too, about 5 min from here.  We’ll get to stay in our little apartment in the same area.  I think they picked us so our nametags would match!

This evening we joined Pres and Sis Lewis in their home as they informed the missionaries of this change in an online mission-wide devotional.  It’s a hard thing to step away from missionaries you love.   We will do our best to keep the work rolling forward while they are away.

To follow along on my Mission Blog where I am posting regularly, you can go here:



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Meeting Martha Cragun Cox, a woman after my own heart.

I have been reading a wonderful book called Women’s Voices:  An Untold History of the  Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 by Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey Godfrey and Jill Mulvay Derr.  It is filled with journal entries and first person accounts of women who lived fascinating and difficult lives.  This week I read Martha Cragun Cox’s words.  She is a woman after my own heart.

Here are a few parts (with my own highlights) of a long and beautifully detailed overview of Martha’s life and memories which was written by Lavina Fielding Anderson.  You can find this complete review here:


Martha Cragun Cox
A “Salt of the Earth” Lady
Lavina Fielding Anderson

Martha James Cragun Cox was born into a Salt Lake family on 3 March 1852, married into a polygamous St. George family on 3 December 1869, had eight children, buried three, and died 30 November 1932. To support her family she taught school all over the southern end of the Mormon corridor in the small towns of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. She went to Mexico in time to be expelled by the Revolution. She loved history, and her narrative gift found expression in Church periodicals. She spent her last years in temple work in St. George, Manti, and Salt Lake City.

Why is she important? Because she left a handwritten autobiographical record just over three hundred pages long, written in 1928. It is because of this autobiography that she is more than a name on the family group records of her hundreds of Latter-day Saint descendants. She claims neither unusual beauty, power, intellect, wealth, nor influence, though she seems to have been above average in her hunger for knowledge, her energy, and her loyalty. But her autobiography, by its very existence, transcends the limitations of her time and place to show her struggling towards a sense of self, struggling to make sense of the world, and struggling to make sense of her life. In her autobiography, she performs the labor which is the distinctive work of that genre; and by so doing, she has stocked the toolshelf and provided cheerful companionship for scholars of first-generation Utah, of second-generation Mormonism, and of future generations. It is a record, quite simply, of a strong, uncomplicated woman, a lady who was the salt of the earth. Like salt, she both seasoned and preserved what she touched. And like salt, her influence was subtle, not compelling or dominating.

Her autobiography sets one goal for itself in the first two sentences: “There are few lives so uneventful that a true record of them would not be of some worth, in which there are no happenings that can serve as guide or warning to those that follow. It is to be hoped that in the pages that follow there will be some things found that may be taken as good lessons to those who read.” [1] Because she has perceived shape and direction in her own life, she is a reliable guide. . . .

One senses in her pages both the pleasure in recollection that is one of the joys of reminiscence and also an urgency to record, to make an island of permanence in an ocean of evanescence. Thus it is also a vivid and little-mined scrapbook of small-town life along the Mormon southern corridor—dances, courting, Indian relations, diet, and doctrinal understanding are all there. . . .
I feel the same urgency to record my own simple but true record that might someday be of worth or a guide to someone after I am long gone from here.  Every day I fill pages in my journal.  I doubt my family now will ever read what I write, but someday, in some distant future, I think my words will be of value to someone, including the children and grandchildren of my own kids.  They will wonder what it was like for me here and now, in this day and age, when all of our world seems to be falling apart around us.

There may be some who will wonder why and how I believe what I believe and how I feel permanence in the tempest around me.  My words will stand as a testament that I find peace in Christ and in His teachings.  I am grateful every day for Him and for His gifts to me as I continue writing my fingers to the bone.

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A Matter of Bequeathal by Helen Mar Cook (1916-2015)

I have recently been introduced to the poetry of Helen Mar Cook.  Her son, David Cook, was our son, Aaron’s Mission President in Santiago, Chile.  Pres Cook has been sharing her poetry with me and with others and I have loved each piece.  Especially this one.

I share her heartfelt desire to leave myself behind–with words but also with a few quilts!

My friend troubles over the mixing bowl,
measuring salt, sugar, flour and yeast,
mixing, blending, then kneading the dough
to place under a damp cloth for rising.
She pummels, rolls and shapes
the perfect loaf, places it in the oven
to come out fragrant with taste and lightness.

I am a troubler over words. I measure
metaphor, mix, blend, knead and pummel
to shape a poem that I hope my dear ones
will taste and savour.

She stores her trunk with embroideries
while I go on threading the rainbow
with silk strands, stitching, unstitching.
sometimes dropping a stitch
to bring subtlety, meaning
into a line.

Her children will treasure her recipes,
and her patchworks will be handed down
through generations after she has gone.

My patchworks, my recipes will turn
into a shuffle of papers, phrases
that I measure into hoped-for meanings.
when nights grow cold. I wonder
will my crazy patchworks keep them warm.


Helen Mar Cook was the last surviving grandchild of Elder Orson F. Whitney, sometimes described as the Poet Laureate of Mormonism. She inherited her grandfather’s gift for the written word and became an accomplished and frequently published poet, receiving numerous awards in prose and poetry. She published four volumes of poetry. Her first book, Shape of Flight, was published in 1975 by the Utah State Poetry Society when she was named Poet of the Year. She was a well-known teacher and lecturer in poetry workshops and readings throughout the state of Utah. She was a member of the Utah State Poetry Society having served as President and in various official capacities. She served as president of The League of Utah Writers and the Utah Association of the National Pen Women and served on the National Letters Board. She also served as President of the Ben Lomond Poets, Blue Quill Writers, and on the Literary Arts Panel of the Utah Arts Council. She was also a member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

Posted in Quilting, Thoughts and Insights | 3 Comments

Ekaette’s World and Practical Christianity by Ann Laemmlen

Here’s an article I wrote that was published in the March 1989 Ensign.

Ekaette’s World and Practical Christianity

How a Nigerian sister taught me about true service and practical Christianity.

by Ann Laemmlen

I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine named Ekaette, my neighbor for two and a half years. She lives in a tropical rain forest in Nigeria, the most densely populated country in Africa. During the rainy season, Ekaette’s home is surrounded by lush green undergrowth. Palm trees decorate the horizons, and the sun shining through the clouds creates gorgeous sunsets. During the hot, dry season, winds from the Sahara desert bring a haze of fine dust that filters the harsh rays of the sun.

Ekaette is two years older than I. She was a young schoolgirl when her marriage to Akpan, ten years her senior, was arranged. Their first child was born when Ekaette was only fourteen or fifteen years old. Ekaette has had eight children. Five have survived. Her family joined the Church a few years ago.

Akpan is unemployed, but he works at miscellaneous jobs and repairs things for other people. He is a proud and industrious man, a good husband and father.

Ekaette has a nice home made of reddish clay packed between bamboo poles. A thatch roof protects her family from the heavy tropical storms. Inside, the home has a hardpacked earth floor and is divided into four rooms. A covered cooking area is separate from the house.

As with many other places in the world, there is no electricity in Ekaette’s area of the country. Ekaette cooks over a fire, washes clothes in the stream, and irons them with an iron filled with hot coals.

Ekaette’s day begins very early. She and her children must carry all the water they will need for the day from a stream not far from their home. Several times a week they must make a trip into the forest to cut the firewood they need. They carry the wood home in bundles on their heads.

Most of the food for Ekaette’s family comes from several small farm plots outside their village. Ekaette grows cassava, yams, bananas, plantain, pineapple, hot red peppers, and several kinds of greens used in different soups.  Ekaette and her family are happy. They have a good life.


I met Ekaette while I was directing a village health program for the Thrasher Research Fund, which sponsors research projects on child health in third-world countries. My colleagues and I organized health classes and trained volunteer teachers in dozens of villages to teach basic health principles like nutrition, sanitation, personal hygiene, and home health care. The teachers then taught similar classes in their own language in homes, schools, churches, and village council halls.

I remember one hot, sultry evening sitting under a generator-operated ceiling fan looking through some of the latest editions of a newspaper which I had just received. I paused at a page filled with suggestions of practical things to do in our homes to save money. Ideas included turning off lights and water when they are not being used, buying food in bulk and then freezing it in small containers, using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones, sending letters to cut down on long-distance telephone bills, and not shopping for food when you are hungry. These suggestions are certainly practical, but they belonged in a world other than the one I was in at the time.

But in spite of the differences between my world and Ekaette’s, there was something that united us: the gospel of Jesus Christ—Christianity.

Christianity is absolute. It should not be affected by our environment or circumstances, even though they determine how we practice our beliefs. Christianity should not be affected by skin color or race, by how we earn a living, or by what we buy at the market. It should not be determined by climate or geographical location.

I returned from Africa with a simpler definition of Christianity than I once had. To me, Christianity is love, or charity—the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love—the pure love of Christ. It may prompt alms or benevolent deeds, but it is not the same thing as charitable works.

In other words, Christianity is not so much what I do, but how I love; it’s the process of learning to love as Christ loves. Churches are institutions where we can learn about Christ and practice being Christians. But attending church will not make me a Christian any more than sitting in a library will make me a scholar. It simply gives me the means and opportunity of learning to become a Christian. Christianity teaches me about my relationship to God and to those around me. Understanding that relationship helps my heart change, increasing my capacity to love.

Principles such as love, sacrifice, faith, repentance, self-reliance, and consecration are universal. Working in Africa taught me how much more important principles like these are than programs. The Western world provides many programs for third-world countries. Schools are built, clinics are established, medicine is dispensed, tractors are imported, and food is distributed. The programs help meet immediate needs, but often, the principles behind the practices are overlooked. I don’t think I could do much good for Ekaette if I concentrated on programs like food storage or family history, worthy though they are. But Ekaette and I share a broad basis of belief in such eternal principles as faith, love, and self-reliance. In practicing these principles, we learned from each other.

I realized the importance of teaching principles after I attended a Relief Society lesson at the local branch. The lesson, taken from the manual, was on keeping our homes neat and clean. An illustration in the lesson manual showed an American home that was neatly arranged and obviously well kept. Our instructor was so unfamiliar with Western-style homes that she held the picture upside down when she showed it to the class.

Later that week, I went to Ekaette’s house and found her covered from head to toe with mud. She was beaming. Inspired by the lesson, Ekaette was cleaning her home. She had taken every single item out of the house (there wasn’t much), and she was smearing new clay mud on the walls and floor. She excitedly showed me how she had decorated the front of the house by using a darker mud along the bottom for a nice trim. It looked beautiful. Ekaette had learned the principle, then implemented it in a way that was practical for her.

Her example prompted me to think about my own efforts to apply the principles of Christianity. It occurred to me that perhaps the first and most important principle to practice is self-examination. For example, many times I think, “That’s a good idea, but I don’t have the means to do anything about it.” Money and material things become issues that prevent Christian service. But what things does it take to be a Christian—a rug to kneel on, or a warm loaf of bread to share with a neighbor? Must I be financially established before I can share my means? Must I go to Africa to find children who need help? I believe the Lord is pleased when we serve with whatever resources we have available to us.

A second principle I learned is that it is important that I serve wherever I am. My experiences in Africa was very special to me, but I do not feel that it is better to love someone far away than those near at hand. The Savior showed by example whom I should love. He didn’t leave his own country and travel far away to another place and people. He went among his own people, and he associated with a variety of people—the wealthy and the poor; the politicians; the sick, the lame, and the blind; tax collectors; the hungry, the tired, and the lonely; and even those considered unworthy.


When I was in Africa, it was clear to me that Africa was the best place for me to practice being a Christian. Now that I am home, the most practical place for me to be a Christian is here, among my own people. This is challenging for me. It often seems easier to send some money to a “save-the-world” organization than make room in my busy schedule to take time with a brother, sister, neighbor, or friend.

A third lesson I have learned is that I should prepare myself to serve in a wide variety of settings. I had many experiences that helped me understand Ekaette and her family better. But because I could not understand all she had experienced, it was hard for me to know how to help in the best and most practical ways. I don’t know how it feels to have three of my own children die in my arms because no medical help is available. I don’t know how it feels to wonder where my next meal is coming from. I don’t know how it feels to mold the walls of my home into shape with my own hands. I don’t know what has brought Ekaette her greatest joys. As hard as I try, I am not able to relate to many of her problems and challenges.

And yet, I’ve learned that the more variety I can experience, the more people I will understand. Choosing to associate only with a select group of individuals who think and act the same way I do will seriously limit my opportunities for Christian service. I can choose to increase the variety of my experience and my capacity to love. The more people I understand, the more like Christ I can become.

As I have tried to practice being a Christian, I’ve discovered that many of my motives are often reflected in the actions of the people around me. As my colleagues in Africa and I associated with hundreds of people from dozens of villages, we observed many reasons for their participation in our program. Some came because they believed that white health workers would provide free services, medicine, or employment. Others were curious about the novelty of white faces in their villages. Some came because they were concerned with their family’s health; they were frightened of illness and feared that a child might die. Others wanted to learn more about health for their families’ sake. Some came because their neighbors came. Still others came because there was love in their hearts and a desire to know how to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.

It was fascinating to see the different responses to our project. The people who came hoping to get something free dropped out very quickly. The curious got used to our white faces and also left. Those who needed to solve family health problems usually did well; they not only received some answers to meet their current needs, but they also stored up information against future needs. Those who were motivated by love not only stayed, but went a step further in offering what they had learned to those around them.

Ekaette was one of these people. She told me once, “If you had given me money—no matter how much or how little—it would all be gone now. But you have given me knowledge, and no one can ever take it away from me!” In the last year or so, Ekaette, on her own with very little help from us, trained teachers to instruct several groups of women in different villages.

In Ekaette’s life, I have seen Christianity—or love—at work. Guided by gospel principles, she has found practical solutions to her daily challenges. And so can we. I am convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to all of the world’s problems.

I have spent nearly half of the last decade living outside of my homeland. During this time, I have seen and experienced much contrast, and I have looked into the eyes of many who have great challenges in their lives. I believe what President Spencer W. Kimball said to be true—that in the gospel of love taught and exemplified by the Savior, we can find the answers to all our problems. With that kind of love in my heart, I can be a practical Christian, whether here or in Ekaette’s world.

Photography by Ann Laemmlen

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Turning Their Hearts

COVID Grandparents

I saw this incredible piece of art today and I can’t stop staring at it.  Spanish artist, Juan Lucena painted this in honor of all the deceased grandparents of COVID 19 who were not able to say goodbye to their grandchildren.  This has been one of the greatest tragedies of our last 3 months– links between our generations have been severed in isolation.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking to imagine grandparents leaving without a last kiss or hug or the gentle squeeze of a tired hand.

The grandma in the painting turning back reminds me of the oft-repeated scripture, voiced by the prophet Malachi in the last verse of the Old Testament, where he said, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

There are important links that hold generations together and if those links are broken, our purpose here –to be gathered in families– is lost.  In this beautiful and heart-wrenching artwork I feel the importance of those family ties that bind us to our dear ones.   May we always remember them.

Here is Juan Lucena, the artist:

COVID Grandparents- la-despedida-que-hubieran-merecido.1

COVID Grandparents- la-despedida-que-hubieran-merecido

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The Process of Becoming Christlike

Faith is not Blind.2

I’ve been reading a very insightful book written by Bruce and Marie Hafen called Faith Is Not Blind.

I’ve spent many years and a lot of energy putting things into my mind, willing facts and figures to stay put and not fade (and yet they all do) and maybe not as much energy on practicing a way of life like our Savior. I’ve thought and taught a lot about “becoming” –we are human beings, not human doings. I know all of that, but something about the Hafen’s arrangement of words got it just right for me.

Practicing.  Practicing is different than just living and hoping you get it right (which has been my way, my approach to being Christlike, hoping for the best).  The Hafens give examples of things like playing the piano that can’t be taught intellectually, they have to be practiced. There is no other way for us to become what we need to become, other than practicing over a life-time. You can’t study music theory and stare at a keyboard for a lifetime without touching it, then sit down in Carnagie Hall to play a concerto, even if you’ve intellectually memorized every single note. It simply is not possible. You must practice with your heart, your mind and your hands over and over and over again, perfecting each note, each nuance, each sound.

Here are parts of 3 different pieces of music my daughter Claire learned and performed.  I’ve heard every note in each of these 100s and 100s of times as she sat practicing them.  I  have the sound of them memorized, but is there any chance I could play them?  Never!  My hands were not the hands practicing them.

It’s not so different from hearing the good Word from the pulpit every Sunday for my entire life and not practicing it.  Hearing alone gets me nowhere.

Here is an excerpt from chapter 10 that I will be thinking about for a long long time, like the Rest of My Life:

Learning from experience teaches us in ways nothing else can. In designing His plan for our mortal experience, God consciously took the risk that some of His children wouldn’t come back. Didn’t He have the power to touch us with some kind of wand that would give us the capacity to live with Him in the celestial kingdom? . . .  What is it about experience that is so essential it’s worth the risk that we may not come back?

Salvation and exaltation are not just abstract goals. Those terms describe an entire process that requires growth, development, and change. Central to that growth process is mortality’s unique opportunity to let us learn by experience–by practice–which is the only way we can develop capacities and skills. We’re not here just to learn facts and absorb information. There is something about forcing people to be righteous that interferes with, even prohibits, the process that righteousness in a free environment is designed to enable. Righteous living causes something to happen to people.

There are two very different kinds of knowledge. One involves such rational processes as gathering information and memorizing. The other kind of knowledge we might call skill development–like learning how to play the piano or swim or take a computer apart, learning to sing or dance or think. The process of becoming Christlike is more about acquiring skills than it is about learning facts and figures. And the only way to develop those divine skills is by living His teaching. Even God can’t teach us those skills unless we participate fully in the process, with all the trials and all the errors that are inherent in learning a skill by practice, . . . Some things can be learned only by practice.

Faith is not Blind.1

European scholar Michael Polanyi has identified “skills” as a unique field of knowledge. He writes that often the essence of a skill can’t adequately be described, measured, or specified. So the skill can’t be transmitted by written descriptions and instructions intended to be memorized by later generations. “It can be passed on only by example from master to apprentice.” Therefore, “an art which has fallen in to disuse for the period of a generation is altogether lost” and “those losses are usually irretrievable.” . . . .
It follows, then, that we can learn a skill only by imitating the skillful performance of one who has mastered the skill–even when the teacher whom we imitate cannot specify every detail of the art. There is a close analogy between this fact and the central gospel concept that emulating the Savior’s example is the ultimate way of internalizing the gospel, a way that transcends merely following specific commandments and detailed doctrines. . . .

The idea that exaltation results from a process of skill development may help explain why there is a veil. Faith and repentance and knowing God are processes and principles of action, understood not only by defining them but by experiencing them. God is a great teacher, and He knows the patterns and the principles we must follow-and practice–in order to develop divine capacities. He can teach us those skills, but only if we submit to His tutoring.

Much of the substance of Christ’s gospel can’t be fully measured; it can’t all be specified, except as it is understood by experience. But that is no reason to value it less. We can’t totally explain our most significant experiences–our love for our families, our testimonies, our feelings of gratitude for the Lord’s love and mercy. To reduce these essences to a content that we can communicate fully to other people may diminish their sacredness. Like beauty and joy, they are too important, to nuanced, to be totally specifiable.

There is a veil between our world of mortality and God’s world of the eternities. It can become very thin at times. But for most of us the veil remains, for He has placed it there to help us learn how we must live, and who we must become, to live with Him someday.

Faith is not Blind

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