Monday, December 26, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: The Easter Connection

The gifts have been unwrapped and the decorations will soon be put away.  We have reflected for a time on the birth of Jesus and in a small way we have reflected on the marvelous life of Jesus.

In reality, the search for Jesus will take us far beyond the manger in Bethlehem.  If we would truly follow the star we must go to Nazareth, to Galilea, to Jerusalem, if only in our hearts. 

We must find not only the infant Jesus, but Jesus the man.  We must find the fisher of men, the teacher, the leader,  the healer,  the friend.  We will find him by the sea of Galilea. We will find him on the Mount of Olives.   We will find him on the dusty roads of Palestine. We will find him with the leper, the adulterer, the crippled, the sick.   Ultimately, if we would find Jesus, we must follow the star to the Garden of Gethsamane, to Golgatha, and to the Garden Tomb.

Our worship must take us past the manger to kneel at the cross, for here he finished his work.   The gift was complete.   This is the gift that matters most; the gift of all gifts; the gift of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Without Easter there could not be a Christmas.  This is the gift of which the angels  exhultantly sang; good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  Joy to the World, the Lord is Come! 

Jesus forever changed the world.  He has forever changed me.

 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

The glorious message of Christmas is the Easter Message.  It is the message of the empty tomb.  Like Mary Magdalene, I have stood in the empty tomb, and I know now just as surely as Mary knew then, that Jesus has overcome the world.

May we always feel the peace that passeth all understanding  in the sweet knowledge that Christ has overcome the world.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: The Olive Press

We saw olive trees everywhere in Israel. They are interesting trees, with uniquely shaped trunks. They live for hundreds and even thousands of years. Olive oil is a nearly perfect food, and is highly prized for its healing properties. 

In the past, olives were picked by hand and dropped on cloth on the ground, then gathered for pressing.

The first pressing was to be used in the temple, the second pressing was for consumption, and the third and final pressing was fuel for heating, cooking and light.

Friend-husband and I in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Elder Todd Christopherson said, "Let us consider the cost of God’s precious love. Jesus revealed that to atone for our sins and redeem us from death, both physical and spiritual, His suffering caused Himself, “even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink. 

"His agony in Gethsemane and on the cross was greater than any mortal could bear. Nevertheless, because of His love for His Father and for us, He endured, and as a consequence, He can offer us both immortality and eternal life.

'It is poignantly symbolic that “blood [came] from every pore” as Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, the place of the olive press. 

"To produce olive oil in the Savior’s time, olives were first crushed by rolling a large stone over them. The resulting “mash” was placed in soft, loosely woven baskets, which were piled one upon another. Their weight expressed the first and finest oil. 

"Then added stress was applied by placing a large beam or log on top of the stacked baskets, producing more oil. 

"Finally, to draw out the very last drops, the beam was weighted with stones on one end to create the maximum, crushing pressure. 

"And yes, the oil is blood red as it first flows out."

This ancient dead olive tree was moved to the BYU Jerusalem Center because of its interesting and beautiful trunk. Some time later the "dead" trunk began to grow new branches. You might say the tree was resurrected.

I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.  John 5:21.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: The Sea of Galilee

There is so much to love about Galilee.  The sea, or should I say lake, is a jewel shining in the midst of an unforgiving desert.  I will never forget the beauty and power of the things I saw and heard there.  Like the life-giving sea, Jesus gives living water to each of us in the deserts of our lives. 

Some of my favorite scripture stories happened near the Sea of Galilee: Jesus calling His Disciples, Jesus healing the sick, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus walking on the Water, Jesus rescuing Peter who also walked on water, Jesus calming the sea.  

I have always loved the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  A large number of people had gathered to hear Jesus.  It was nearly time for passover and there was no place to get food.  The disciples seemed stressed.  An unnamed boy had brought a little food.  It seems he was the only one.  Five barley loaves and two small fishes, may have been enough to satisfy a hungry boy, but certainly could not feed this army of people.  Or could they?

We can only guess at the size of the loaves.  Perhaps they were the size of a biscuit.  The size is irrelevant in comparison to the number of people who were fed.

Jesus offered a prayer and the disciples distributed the food.  5,000 people ate and were filled and 12 baskets of fragments remained. 

I love that the Lord can take what we have and make it enough.  He can do it with food.  He can do it with money.  He can even do it with time.  No matter how limited our resources may be, the God of miracles can make it more.

There is so much more I love about Galilee, but I will save it for another day.

Reluctant Goodbye at Galilee

One last look at the Galilee
That ancient life-giving scriptural sea
The scenes of stories held dear to me
Where Jesus’s footsteps feel near to me
Revealed doctrines grow more clear to me
As Son-light sparkles and shines for me
On the sacred sea of Galilee.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Remembering Christmas: No Other Name

The name "Jesus" was specified by the angel Gabriel.  It means Savior.   His other names are no less descriptive. Christ means annointed one.   Messiah means deliverer.  Immanuel means God with us.  

The scriptures teach "there is no other name given, whereby salvation can come to the children of men."     Like Nephi, we can barely comprehend the condescension of God.  

This helpless baby nestled in the staw  was Jehovah,  the God of Israel,  the Great I Am,  the Creator of heaven and earth,  the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Bright and Morning Star....and he became like us, that we might become like him. 

Did Mary and Joseph know that Jesus must be born in Bethlehem, the house of bread?

How appropriate that the "Bread of Life" would begin his life in the city named the house of bread.  How did they feel about the humble place of his birth?  Would they have chosen a stable? a manger?  What did Jesus mean to teach us by coming  in this way? 

This is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Catholic Church holds Christmas Mass here each year on Christmas Eve.  The acoustics are awesome.  We took opportunity to sing Christmas carols together in this beautiful place.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: What Kind of Man would God Choose to be the Father of his Son

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother  Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  

Recreation of a Nazareth Village like the one where Joseph lived.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to maker her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the lord appeared unto him in a dream saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceive in her is of the Holy Ghost.

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS ; for he shall save his people from  their sins....

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife."

Liz Lemon Swindle's beautiful painting.
Joseph was no less valiant than Mary.  Imagine his feelings as he perceived that his love had been betrayed.  Imagine his heartbreak, his anguish at his shattered dreams.  Yet, at the angel's word he too showed complete and immediate obedience. 

 Don¹t you just marvel at the strength of his spirit, his trust, his faith.  We know so little of Joseph, but we imagine him gentle and kind, strong and protective. We know that he would have been equal to Mary in righteousness and spirituality.  What kind of man would God have chosen to raise his son?   Joseph would stand beside Mary.  He would teach and guide Jesus.  He would act as father. 

When Joseph went to Bethlehem                             
I think he took great care
To place his tools and close his shop and leave no shavings there.
He urged the donkey forward then, with Mary on its back,
And carried bread and goat cheese in a little linen sack.
I think there at the busy inn that he was meek and mild
And awed to be the guardian of Mary’s sacred child.
Perhaps all through the chilly hours he smoothed the swaddling bands,
And Jesus felt the quiet strength of Joseph’s gentle hands.
And close beside the manger bed, he dimmed the lantern’s light
And held the little Jesus close upon that holy night.

Children's Songbook, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1989 p.38
Word by Marilyn Curtis White

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Mary

Depiction of a Nazareth of home in a recreated Nazareth Village

"...the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.

To a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary...

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, mary: for thou has found favour with God.

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in they womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS."  (Luke 1:26-31)

What kind of woman would God choose to be the mother of his son? Nephi calls her a virgin most beautiful and fair.   Alma calls her a precious and chosen vessel of the Lord.  

Historians tell us that Mary was very young when she was told of her sacred mission, perhaps as young as 13, and probably not older than 16.  Can you imagine the thoughts that must have 
filled her young mind?  

It would be she who would prepare Jesus for his triumphant mission.  Her baby would be the son of God! This was neither the first nor last time that the Lord would choose someone very young for his most important work.  David was just a boy when he was annointed King of Israel.  The Savior would come through his blood line. 

I love Liz Lemon Swindle's younger Mary.
Mormon was just 10 when he was entrusted with the plates, and 16 when he took charge of the Nephite armies.  Joseph Smith was 14 when he saw the father and the son, and began his mission to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth.  We begin to see that you are never too young to be of great service to the Lord.

We love the words that Mary spoke as she accepted her sacred calling. "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.  Be it unto me according to thy word."  If only we could be so obedient to the will of the Lord.

The name, Mary, means bitter...perhaps a reminder that a sword would one day pierce her heart. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Wise Men Still Seek Him

In my nativity set, I have camels, presumably to carry the wise men to Bethehem. We occasionally saw camels in Israel, but it was in Jordan that I had the chance to ride a camel.  It was great fun and I have new respect for the Wise Men.

We did not hear about Wise Men  while in Bethlehem though the scriptures testify that they visited the baby Jesus.  The wise men did not really kneel at the manger as we often imagine.  They came much later, perhaps as much as two years later.  We know this because Herod on learning that he had been tricked by the wise men ordered the death of all babies two years and younger.

Even though we know this, we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men when we celebrate Christmas.  We display them in our nativity sets and we include them in our singing of carols and in our  Christmas pageants 

The wise men, or Magi, came from afar, and unlike the  common, humble shepherds were men of wealth, influence, and power,  perhaps even kings.  And so we see that the Savior did not come to just one nation or class of people.

The Savior’s mission was to all people, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, humble and influential, Jew and gentile.   All men, no matter what their race or station can come to the Savior and become whole.  We are reminded that when he comes again every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ.

We feel a sense of wonder as we imagine the Wise Men opening their treasures for the small Jesus.  Their gifts were so well chosen.   Gold, a gift reserved for royalty, a gift representing a crown, a gift befitting a king. Frankincense, a type of incense used by the priests in the temple.  This was given as a symbol of his priesthood, his divine power, his Priestly nature.  Frankincense was used in the temple for sacrificial offerings, and was given to the baby Jesus... Jesus, who would one day teach us much about sacrifice...Jesus, who had come to sacrifice himself for us, that we might live again.  The third gift, myrhh, was a type of perfume used for burial, a gentle reminder that Jesus would one day die for us.

Don't you love these images:  Learned men searching for Jesus, the source of truth and knowledge; Influential men traveling through the darkness, to find the light of the world--following the star to seek the bright and morning star; perhaps even Kings, bowing before the King of Kings. 

Wise men still seek Him.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Shepherds

Oh how I wanted to see the Shepherd's Fields.

 The idea of shepherds has so much significance to me. I am touched by the thought that humble shepherds were the first to hear that Jesus had been born.  It delights me to know that God loves ordinary people doing ordinary work.  I am one of those ordinary people, and I love knowing that I matter to him.

Despite this symbolism, I believe that these shepherds were far from ordinary, for they tended temple sheep.  These sheep were sacrificial lambs who would be used in temple sacrifice, just as Jesus was the sacrificial lamb who would sacrifice His life for the sins of His people.

The symbolism is flawless.  Jesus is the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.  The angels sent these humble shepherds to worship the Lamb of God.  Perhaps they brought a lamb or two as a gift for the new born shepherd-king.

As it turns out the Shepherds Fields are now covered with houses in modern Bethlehem.  We happened to see a shepherd in Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives.

We were never close to any shepherds in Israel. It is my hope to draw ever closer to the one true shepherd of my heart--Jesus the Christ.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Bethlehem

I was warned that Bethlehem would be different from the Bethlehem of my childhood stories.  I grew up imagining a wooden stable like the ones I had seen on the farm where I grew up.  The stable in my mind was very like the barn on my dad’s farm.  Only smaller.

Eventually I learned that the stable was more of a cave or grotto.  Even though I know this, I display a small wooden stable each Christmas with my small Mary and Joseph, hand painted by my talented daughter-in-law.

Was I warned that the stable would be small and crowded?  Or that the religious atmosphere might be somewhat foreign to me?  I don’t remember.  Perhaps I was.

We had been in Israel several days before we visited Bethlehem, and I had already learned that where ever a sacred site had been identified someone had built a church over the site or at least in close proximity.  Because of that the church built over the stable-cave was not a complete surprise.

The church was being remodeled and so there was scaffolding and other signs of construction.  There were candles and many electric lights and chandeliers, none of which seemed to match.  If there was significance to the randomness of the lights, no one mentioned it. Perhaps the lights were meant to honor the holy infant who was to be the Light of the World.

It was crowded and there was a line to see the place where Jesus was born.  We were told that this was a short line.  We felt a bit rushed because of the people behind us and the small space inside the cave.

We hastily glanced around us, touched the gold star on the floor where they said the baby had been born, and wished we could see the manger, which is now in Rome.  We wondered if there had been room for animals and shepherds in this tiny place.

I wrote this poem shortly after our visit to Bethlehem.

In Search of the Stable

Is this cave the stable in Luke’s story,
The place where you were born?
I touched the star where they said it happened

And snapped a photo in your honor
Of the place they say you slept.
The manger is in Rome not here.
This is not the way I pictured it.

I have a different picture of this place
In the manger of my heart
and the stable of my mind.
I like my picture better,
But I am glad to be here anyway
And wish you a happy unbirthday
In October instead of April, or December

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Nazareth Part 2

The inner door is for people to enter.  The larger door is for animals.

A depiction of the Synagogue in Nazareth.

Scrolls like those that would have been used in a synagogue.
Synagogue Windows
Tools that a carpenter may have used in Nazareth.

more tools

A typical shepherd of the day.


Our hotel was next to the Sea of Galilee with a beautiful view both morning and night.  During the day we were able to travel to many spots with historical and scriptural significance.  The scriptural stories that I learned in my youth took on new significance as I stood on sacred ground near the spots where those stories took place.  I had a testimony before I went to Israel, but I am changed somehow.  I have a better understanding of the culture.  I have a better understanding of Jesus and His gospel.  I appreciate Him more.  I want to know Him better.

Our first stop was Mount Arbel where we had a gorgeous view of the Galilee.  The Galilee refers to the entire region surrounding the sea of Galilee.  

It was a bit of a hike.

Mount Arabel was historically a pretty bloody place.  There are caves in the cliff where more than once Jews hid themselves from conquering rulers.  It never ended well.  Most who sought refuge in the caves were brutally killed.  Other jumped from the mount to avoid becoming slaves.

Look at this stunning mosaic.  


Jesus grew up in Nazareth.  He probably learned to be a carpenter from Joseph. He knew the village and surrounding hillside.  He played with other children and learned the culture of the Jews.

He also learned about His mission and destiny.  Who were His teachers?

Eventually He preached here and announced in the synagogue that He was the Messiah, but the people of Nazareth rejected Him.  A prophet is not without honor except in his own country.

This is also the place that Nephi saw in vision when the angel revealed Mary the mother of Jesus to him.  This is the place where Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of the Son of God.  This is the place where Gabriel visited Joseph and told him to take Mary to be his wife and the name her son Jesus.

We visited a reconstructed village in Nazareth which depicted Jesus's childhood home.

We saw our first olive press here.  The olives are hung in bags and weighted to extract the first oil.  This is the prized virgin olive oil

In this type of press the olives are pitted and then crushed.  This releases more oil.  Oil is 50 % or more of the weight of the olives.

An olive garden, early tools from the period, traditional weaving and a shepherd, are some of the things we saw here.  Local Christians volunteer to be actors at this sight to make the experience more real.

This is how the olives look on the tree.

The woman who was weaving was animated and joyful.  Someone mentioned to her that she could get rich selling her rugs and mats. She did a little dance and said, "I am already rich, because I am the daughter of the King of Kings."

For some reason I was a little surprised to find Christians in Israel who openly displayed their love for Jesus Christ.  I asked how many Christians live in Israel.  Our guide estimated that there are around 160,000 or less than 5% of the population.

A noisy donkey.  Donkeys were a common way of transporting people and goods in Nazareth.  Especially for the poor.
A wine press.  Many families made their own olive oil and their own wine..  They used their feet to mash the grapes so that they would not crush the seeds which would make the wine bitter.  There was a channel cut in the ground to carry the wine to a vat where it could be put into bottles.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why China? Part 5: Pandas

Pandas are an endangered species, native to China.  There are only about 2000 in the world and only about 49 live outside of China.  About 239 Pandas are in captivity in China and the rest live in natural habitat. 

The 49 or so Panda living outside of China are in 18 different zoos in 13 different countries.  China once gave two pandas to the United States as a gift.  Their new address was the Washington D.C. zoo.  China gave 23 Pandas to 9 different countries between 1958 and 1982 as an act of diplomacy. 

In 1984, the Chinese stopped giving Pandas as gifts and now they only loan Pandas for ten years.  The loan comes with a price tag of $10,000 to $1,000,000 per year.  Some of that money goes to conservation of Panda habitat and research.  Any offspring born to Pandas on loan also belong to

The name Panda means Big Bear Cat.  Pandas are scientifically classified as meat-eaters because of their digestive system, but live almost entirely on bamboo.   Adult Pandas eat an astonishing 20 to 30 pounds of bamboo each day. It takes a lot of time to get all that bamboo down.  They spend about 12 hours of every day eating.  That's right, 12 hours out of every 24 hours is spent in the dining room.

Pandas sometimes eat small birds and rodents.

An adult male can weigh as much as 350 pounds.  Females are smaller and can weigh anywhere from 150 to 275 pounds.   Baby Pandas are tiny, weighing less than 5 ounces .  Imagine a rounded cube of butter and you've got the idea, except that the butter is pink. Panda cubs are born blind, pink, and with no teeth.
In a few week the cub's skin turns gray in spots, the spots that will eventually become black.  The color pattern is set after about a month.  The first fur is very soft and coarsens over time.

Panda cubs crawl at around 3 months and start snacking on bamboo when they are 6 months old.  They depend mostly on their Mother’s milk for the first year.  On their first birthday, panda cubs weigh about 100 pounds.  They will live with their mother for up to two years.  In the wild, a mother Panda gives birth about once every two years.  Panda dads don’t stick around to help raise the kids.

Pandas don’t reproduce much in captivity. Apparently Pandas are shy about mating in public.  Panda
keepers have tried Viagra and Panda porn, but the most success has come from artificial insemination. 

Six Pandas live in the Beijing Zoo.  We were hoping to see at least one of them.  Our guide told us that on a good day we might see two or three.  To our delight we saw all six of the handsome creatures.  For some of us it was a first.

Six out of six.  I guess it was a good day. 

Linda Garner

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why China? Part 4: Before I Came to China

Before I came 
to China, 
I thought that 
all Chinese people
looked alike.

In China, 
I saw that 
Chinese faces 
are as different 
as snowflakes.

I swam 
in an ocean 
of Chinese faces 
and saw the music 
in their smiles 
and the warmth 
in their eyes.

Some faces 
reminded me of 
friends at home 
who are not Chinese.

I even saw one 
that reminded me 
of you.

Linda Garner

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why China? Part 3: More about the Great Wall

One of the highlights to our Beijing experience was climbing the Great Wall of China.

The Chinese used walls to protect and isolate their people and their royalty.  There are walls surrounding some towns and cities.  There are walls surrounding the Forbidden City.

The Great Wall was built to protect China from invading armies.  It is more than 4,000 miles long.  Longer than the width of the continental United States.  

The Wall is as wide as 30 feet in places, plenty wide enough to drive a car across.  It is 16 feet tall where it has not eroded.  To get to the top of the wall we climbed stairs that extended about a mile.  

The most curious thing about the stairs is that they are uneven.
Some stairs felt normal, others were short, and some were very tall.  I had to crawl over some of the taller stairs, lacking the stability on the snow and ice to negotiate such a tall step.

The walls were built to keep intruders out.  The uneven stairs helped to slow the enemy down.  

There was a railing on each side of the stairs.  One railing was crowded with the hands of many travelers.  The other side of the stairs was very icy and seemed a little treacherous.  I seldom was able to grasp the railing.  Closer to the top there was no railing.

Their was a guard house part way up the stairs and a tower at the top.  At the first guard house, I realized that I needed to shed some of my layers as I was getting too warm.  The sun had begun to warm us, and I was also generating some of my own heat from the exertion.  I left my heavy coat soon after, hanging on the railing.

We didn't see graffiti near the wall, but padlocks hung along the side of the stairs just under the railing.  On the padlocks were carved initials and names of some who wished to leave their mark.

We learned that the wall was begun in the Quin (pronounced Chin) dynasty and was added to during the Ming Dynasty at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.  Those who died while building the wall were buried within the wall.  The early builders use compacted dirt.  During the Ming Dynasty bricks were also used.
The climb was challenging for me but doable.  Reaching the top was a victory.  The view was spectacular.  We were blessed to have a clear day.  I savored the victory and enjoyed the satisfaction of completion.  

This is the hero rock.  If you have made it this far you are a hero.  I may not be a hero but I felt like one when I reached this rock.  Every once in a while, I like to do hard things.  

Linda Garner