Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Monson Moment


For more than fifty years I have enjoyed listening to the General Conference stories of Thomas Monson (recently deceased President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Many of his stories told of his life long efforts to reach out and serve, particularly the widow, the sick, the afflicted. This aspect of his life always impressed me. (see My dad, who was born the same year as President Monson, lived a similar life of service. Like Monson he too was called to serve as a bishop in a ward full of widows (when dad was called to be bishop of the Logan 18th ward, there were over 80 widows in the ward) which offered many opportunities to serve.

With my two counselors: Dale Babbitt and Chris Frossard.

In 2005 when I was called to serve as the the bishop of the Spring Creek 18th Ward in Springville, the newly created ward was lean on widows (only one) but nonetheless full of families and individuals with a variety of challenges, including addictions, unemployment, chronic illness, marital problems, unpaid utility bills and not having enough food to eat. Many of the most pressing needs were from members who lived in the low-income trailer park and apartment complex within our ward boundaries. I was a frequent visitor in many of the trailers and apartments.

During the summer of 2008 I traveled to the Holy Land on an orientation trip in anticipation of teaching at the BYU Jerusalem Center the next year. While in Bethlehem I was inspired to buy enough olive wood Christmas ornaments to give as a gift to each family in the ward during tithing settlement in December. I knew that it would be my last Christmas as bishop and I wanted to do something different, nicer, more meaningful and longer lasting than the usual offering of candy from my desk top candy jar (usually raided by the priests each Sunday). I wanted to spread Christmas cheer.

Prior to the beginning of tithing settlement I printed out a short explanation about the symbolism of olive wood--Gethsemane means "olive press" and it was in the place of the olive press on the Mount of Olives where Jesus-born-in-Bethlehem would one day suffer under the weight (press) of our sins and trials. I then invited all ward members to join us for a special Christmas service on the Sunday before Christmas and to join us at a new time for church services on the first Sunday of January.

I correctly assumed that it would be the faithful, church going members who attended tithing settlement. There they were given their gift. When tithing settlement was done, I then proceeded to hand deliver (through the cold and snow--which gets deeper and colder with each passing year) the ornament and accompanying card of explanation and invitation to every non-tithing settlement attending household (of which there were many) in our ward. I delivered with the stories of Thomas Monson running through my mind.  I just knew that there would be some sort of "Monson Moment" in which my efforts had an impact for good on someone's life. As I made my visits, I conjured up all kinds of conference worthy stories that I would certainly be able to tell: "I was down and out on my luck and didn't know where to turn and then the bishop dropped by with a meaningful Christmas gift that changed my life." "My faith was dwindling and then the thought of Christ in Gethsemane (prompted by the visit of the bishop) bolstered my faith as I remembered the true meaning of Christmas." "When the bishop arrived with the invitation to the Christmas service I knew that our family needed to attend."

On the Sunday before Christmas I was more watchful than usual to who was entering the chapel. I really hoped to see one of the "less-active" families I had visited happily join us. To my disappointment, the only non-regular attendee that day was a single man who was now living once again in his childhood home. For this self-proclaimed Christmas Sunday Mormon, there was no inspiration from my gift, just a desire to gather at Christmas with families he had grown up with.

On the first Sunday in January, I similarly watched for rejuvenated newcomers. I imagined a testimony or two begin shared that day about how my visit had been the impetus for a change of heart and a desire to attend church. There was no such testimony.

My dashed hopes eventually turned into a comic commentary on my bishoping service. It was evident I was no Thomas Monson. My anticipated Thomas Monson moment had passed with no heartwarming tale to tell. But I guess in the eternal scheme of things that is OK. I gave the gift and made the visits out of love and concern, not for some story to tell.  I'm sure that is what motivated Thomas Monson too.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point

For a family outing tonight we decided to visit the Luminaria lights at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi Utah. Tickets were $17 for adults which is a bit more than the free light display at Temple Sqaure, but will all agreed that it was well worth the visit. For nearly 90 minutes we walked the 1 mile path through some impressive lights and wonderful sculptures all set to beautiful music. Along the way there were places to get warm by a fire and to buy hot chocolate and treats, but we were good just walking and enjoying. All of the missionaries from the Utah Orem Mission were also enjoying the show.

5,000 Luminarias blanket the hill slope in a beautiful mosaic of colors that flash and dance to the music. Mesmerizing to watch.

The Light of the World Garden with its 35 life sized sculptures depicting events from the life of Christ was lit with hundreds of lanterns. Here Jesus is seen walking on water.

The Samaritan woman at the well.

Reaching to touch the hem of His garment.

 Oh My Father. Matthew 14:23. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.

Gathering chicks.

He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.

Lazarus come forth!

Resurrected Christ appearing to Mary.

 First vision of Joseph Smith.

  Bean bag toss.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Family Gatherings

One of the highlights of the Christmas season are the traditional Tueller and Emmett family gatherings. The venues, activities, foods and attendees change and evolve over the years, but what remains the same is the joy of gathering with family.

This year the descendants of John and Norda Emmett met on Sunday Evening December 17th at my sister Mary's house in Mapelton. After lots of visiting over appetizers and then dinner. we began the festivities with a touching, joyful video collage of photos from the past 35 years of these gatherings. Niece Amanda scanned and organized all the wonderful photos. 

Mr. and Mrs. Claus then stopped by for a visit.

The youngest grandson was happy to pose with Santa so he then post the photo on his Instagram.

Two of the youngest in generation four were not as happy to be with Santa.

Next up was the annual nativity pageant. Back in my single days, mom conscripted me to be her assistant. Over the years we gathered props and costumes, many from the Middle East, and developed a script. When Marie joined the family she assumed the role of costume mistress. This year we hauled over two shepherds crooks, a manger and baby doll, plus three suitcases full of costumes for the great-grandkids and grandson Will (dressed as Samuel the Lamanite) to wear. Thanks to parents and others who always pitch in to help get everyone assigned a part and appropriately costumed. 

Samuel preaching.

 Pelting Samuel with stones (made from tin foil) and arrows (plastic straws).

Narrating the Nativity story (thanks to Joel for these photos)

Great grandaughter Elli starring in the role as baby Jesus. 

Visit of the four wisemen.

Marie made a few new angel dresses this year. 

Community singing was next. Here are the lyrics to this year's version of Home for the Holidays. (This is another tradition that mom enlisted my help with years ago and that I still faithfully perform each year):

Home for the Holidays 2017

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays
'Cause no matter how far away you roam
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze
For the holidays you can't beat home, sweet home

We gather each year as a family
To eat and sing and ski
And we welcome new folks to the family
New husbands Chris and Ben and babies three
Evie, Elli, Will, What fun!
From the mid west, west coast, Wasatch Front
We gather all together.

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays
'Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays you can't beat home, sweet home

 Next up was the talent show. 

 None of us knew that newest in-law Ben could play the bagpipes!

Will played his piano recital piece--I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. He dedicated the song to grandma and grandpa, who loved snow. 

My sister Mary dishing out her home-made Key lime pie for desert and in honor of my brother Tom's (right) birthday. I took my nut filled homemade Christmas rocks for a second year which now makes it a tradtition. Marie's Scotcheroos have been a tradition at the gathering for many years.
 Christmas eve with gathered with a part of the Tueller clan at the Provo Canyon home of Marie's sister Diane. Lots of good food.

While the Emmett nativity pageant has remained pretty constant over the years, the Tuellers like to mix it up. Some years we have done a Mexican posada and other years an Indonesian shadow puppet show  nativity. This year Diane decided that we would have grandpa do his traditional reading of the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew and then we would act out a "between the lines" nativity in which various groups would fill in dialogue and actions for what may have happened beyond the scriptural text. It was a delightful, humorous and sometimes shocking mix of both the sacred and the profane. 

The first scene was the annunciation to Mary and then to Joseph. Here's how Aunt Diane described the gist of the lengthy exhortation: "Angel Gabriel explains in great detail that Mary is temporarily 'off limits' to Joseph 'if you understand what I am saying.'"

Aunt Diane's commentary: Grandchildren react to Grandma Tueller aka Gabriel's instructions to Joseph that Mary is "off limits if you understand what I'm saying." Mother soon to be Hannah Pritchett's face demonstrates that she "understands."

Gabriel ran out of time before running out of advice for the father to be. She later lamented that she didn't get a chance to tell him to be sure and help change diapers. 

More crowd reactions to Gabriel.

Wise men and sheep waiting in the wings. 

Caesar Augustus announces the new tax plan.

The Economist Innkeeper Lant Pritchett begins to explain the supply and demand of why he has no room at his inn which causes the confused  holy family to flee.

Aunt Diane's costume collection includes this robe that she bought of the back of a shepherd in Syria.
The Emmetts were the shepherd and sheep abiding in the fields. The shepherds complained of being tired of eating mutton and of longing for a vegetarian falafel. They then explained how happy they were that day to have saved the lost sheep and returned it to the other ninety and nine sheep.  With that sheep Will chimed in using his very convincing Trump impersonation (which he has picked up by watching too many Stephen Colbert monologues and hearing too many Trump speeches): "you shepherds need to build a wall, a huge wall to help keep us sheep safe from the wolves!" In my humble Trump-like opinion, I am certain that sheep Will and the Emmett scene certainly got the loudest and longest laughs!

 Aunt Diane and her Angel choir (including her grandson Simon) singing and dancing. 

Shining Star cousin Emma tries to get the attention of the Millennial 3 Kings who can't be bothered to check out the good news because it isn't on their social news feed.

Delicious desserts including  Marie's scotcheroos in the front and a bowl of candied walnuts (the last of the 36 cups of home grown, shelled and candied walnuts I made for our neighborhood gifts). 

We ended the evening with an entertaining gift exchange with a few new twists. We drove down Provo Canyon in a delightful Christmas eve snow storm.

Christmas morning the like-family Baltes family, our neighbors for nineteen years, joined us for our traditional aebelskiver breakfast. This is their second year of their joining us for breakfast so I guess it is now a tradition too. We all missed Sarah.

The most intimate and enjoyable family gathering of the holiday happened Christmas afternoon when we got to Facedbook chat with Sarah for 45 all-to-short minutes. It was a happy conversation, but not without a few tears of longing and love at both ends. 

End of the day in my $2.97 new camo hat gift from Walmart that Joel knew I could not live without.