About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

Count Your Blessings

There are times when our outlook on life can be very negative, times when the things that comforted us in former days have lost their luster, or when the things that comforted a different generation never comforted us in the first place.

One of my sisters felt that way about the song, Count Your Blessings.

The lyrics to Count Your Blessings were written in 1897 by a Methodist minister, Johnson Oatman, Jr. The tune we all know would also have been written around that time by E. O. Excell, who also composed the tune we use for Amazing Grace.

My sister told Eliza Porter about her wish that there were another tune. Eliza was the drum major at the high school my sister attended. Eliza composed the tune sung in the video above, telling my sister that the tune came effortlessly. The adapted lyrics and new tune are sung by daughters of Darrell Brown. 1

I hope you enjoy this updated version of Count Your Blessings. At the least, I hope it will give you a few moments to reflect on your blessings in a way the time-honored song perhaps has not.

Notes:

  1. All five of the “Brownies” are Darrell’s daughters, but this Darrell Brown isn’t the famous musician Wikipedia talks about.

God’s Truth v Our Opinions

I’ve been bemused in the past several weeks (actually years) to hear folks debate as though their pronouncements change Truth.

This is not to pretend that I know Truth in its fullness. Mastery of Truth is the domain of God. Or for those doubting that there is a God, hypotheses regarding Truth are the domain of those who can objectively measure some aspect of Truth.

I’m going to avoid talking about the current pandemic in this post. But I will liken our many internet discussions to two discussions occurring in my extended family.

The more present example of grossly wrong opinion comes to me from my autistic child, who persistently asserts that I am her brother-in-law, that I and my husband are not her parents, and other bizarre assertions that fly in the face of objective, provable truth. Her memories of past events are often distorted. Sometimes her recollections are so vastly distorted that it strains imagination.

Her perception of current realities can be frustrating. When I encourage her to shower, for example, she’ll almost always challenge me. “How do you know [I need to shower]?!?!?” she will yell at me. The response is often a variation of “Darling, because I can smell/I can see.”

This kind of obtuseness was frustrating enough when she was in grade school. Now that she’s an adult, it is still frustrating.

And yet I love her.

Another example is my relative Riley. 1 After much effort and expense [and after Riley had sent roughly $1.2M to scammers], the family was able to get Riley protected by orders of guardianship and conservatorship. But as is Riley’s right, they are petitioning for these protective orders to be terminated. While Riley has been under conservatorship and guardianship, their health has improved and they assert they have not suffered further losses to scammers. Riley believes this improvement and lack of loss means everything is better. They are willing to incur tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to free themselves from protection.

This is frustrating. And yet we love Riley.

Though I will not draw the parallels between my two domestic situations and larger concerns about Truth, I hope these parables of my reality will prick any excessive self-confidence you may be nurturing. For an instant, imagine that certain confident pronouncements you make could be as wrong as pronouncements voiced by my child or by Riley.

I submit that a key tenet regarding Truth is that God loves all of us. Or that even if there were no God, we ought still act as though an omniscient, omnipotent being will hold us to account for hateful thoughts and deeds regarding ourselves and others.

I also submit that another key tenet of Truth is that there is one sole truth (albeit complex and multi-faceted). Your opinion about truth has no power to alter that truth. Those who act contrary to objective, known evidence will not have the luxury of being lauded by God or history for their obtuse ignorance.

Now I’m off for a bit of self-reflection regarding which of my cherished convictions are in painful conflict with God’s Truth and which actions are inconsistent with God’s Love…

Notes:

  1. Not their real name.

Soft Hearts – A Parable

The scriptures urge us to make our hearts soft, warning of those who are hard hearted.

How is this done?

It might be useful to think of the humble roll, which starts off deliciously soft right out of the oven, but which can become unacceptably hard all too soon.

The secret to soft rolls is simple, yet little practiced.

It turns out flour absorbs and retains moisture much better if the flour is mixed with an equal weight of boiling water. This liquid/flour mix 1 is created using liquid and flour already intended for the recipe.

In the case of the roll, softening part of the flour in this manner will allow the roll to remain soft much longer than rolls created using traditional recipes.

In our lives, we can remain soft-hearted no matter our prosperity if we earnestly seek to serve God and keep God’s commandments. 2 This will involve serving others, mourning with those who mourn, and comforting those who stand in need of comfort. 3

But there are times when it is easier to bask in our prosperity, with foreseeable results. We become callous and cruel, yet still imagine that we are somehow right with God.

When we, like bits of flour, are immersed in the spiritual/emotional/social equivalent of boiling water, it is an opportunity for us to absorb from these trials a more profound softening of our hearts.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of this, describing how suffering from leukemia affected him. He wrote, “The Spirit whispered, ‘I have given you leukemia that you might teach my people with authenticity.'” 4

These are trying times for all of us. May we emerge from this time better able to make and honor a covenant to serve God and keep God’s commandments.

Notes:

  1. This mix is referred to as a “water roux” or by the Asian terms tangzhong or yu-dane (湯種) .
  2. c.f. Mosiah 18:10, also Mosiah 21: 31-32.
  3. c.f. Mosiah 18:9.
  4. Neal A. Maxwell, A Disciple’s Life, p. 562.

Virtual Worship Tips

We all know that some ordinances must be administered in person, such as marriages, baptisms, blessings, and partaking of the sacrament. However it is possible to continue many aspects of community worship using other methods. For those who haven’t yet been invited to share in virtual congregational meetings, I wanted to share how this can be done.

Live Gatherings

My local Relief Society used Zoom for a gathering to discuss gardening and how to make bread. While there are several other platforms for communicating, Zoom offers several benefits:

  • Participants can use either a computer or their phone or can even join using a land line. There is no need to have a specific type of computer or to be a member of a particular social media platform.
  • Zoom offers unlimited time for any conference between just two participants.
  • Zoom offers free 40 minute sessions for more than two participants (up to 1000 participants, I believe)
  • Zoom allows you to record the video and audio content, including separate audio for each participant, allowing savvy folks to edit together a polished product after the fact.
  • “Zoom” is easier to say than anything that has more syllables (e.g., FreeConferenceCall.com)

My local Relief Society will begin gathering virtually on alternating Sundays at a set time on Sunday afternoons.

Our congregation has had an “empty nesters” group for Family Home Evening for many years. With the advent of the stay at home orders and cancellation of live Church meetings, this has also migrated to Zoom. Useful tips for live meetings:

  • Set the meeting so everyone is muted by default when they join.
  • Designate a moderator for the meeting – preferably rotating this opportunity. This doesn’t need to be the meeting host. The moderator can help make sure everyone gets a chance to participate.
  • Conduct a wee bit of training so people know how to use the “raise hand” feature. Those old Primary habits can help ensure a conversation that comes closer to order than the chaotic default.

Pre-recorded Devotionals

Folks in my local congregation have mad media skills. Since March 29 leadership has been assembling devotionals to support our Sabbaths. Talk about home-centered, Church-supported worship! The Easter devotional is inserted above.

The format of these devotionals has typically been:

  • Opening remarks
  • Opening Song
  • Opening Prayer
  • Church video (Easter was about the Holy Week, last week was President Nelson’s reading of the Restoration Proclamation)
  • Talks and music provided by members of the congregation
  • Sacramental Song
  • Closing Prayer for the devotional and invitation for households to administer the sacrament in their homes if there is someone available who is authorized to administer the sacrament.

I’m not part of the team that puts together our Annandale Devotionals, and I don’t know how they managed some of the magic that resulted in this devotional. For example, the performance of Beautiful Savior involved a singer in Annandale and a pianist in Utah. But as a moderately-informed person, here are suggestions on how such devotionals can be created:

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Good, Fast Friday

Today we are fasting on behalf of those suffering because of the Coronavirus pandemic, that health workers will be protected, that the economy may recover quickly, that suffering may be alleviated throughout the world.

This is also Good Friday, the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the tragic death that preceded Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In many Christian faiths, Good Friday is a time of fasting, signaling the final stages of Lent, forty days of sacrifice in honor of Christ’s forty day fast at the beginning of his ministry.

For some moderns, this tradition of sacrifice may seem meaningless. But this skepticism ignores the fact that the effect of our thoughts and concerns can be felt far beyond the limits of physical communication.

I myself don’t have too many stories of miracles specifically related to fasting, other than the fact that every time I have taken a personal concern to the Lord during a fast, I could no longer remember why it had been such a concern by the end of my fast.

However I was raised by a mother around whom miracles manifested on a regular basis. We regularly prayed before going on car trips, specifically so the car would run. On one particular cross-country trip the lights didn’t seem to work, and mother prayed as she drove throughout the night for the lights, anxious that we arrive at home in time for us kids to be able to attend the first day of school. Well after midnight Mom began to feel foolish – surely her prayers couldn’t actually be making a difference. As she stopped her prayers, the lights dimmed to darkness. She resumed praying. The lights brightened.

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