Monday, February 22, 2021

Stand As A Witness

Last week we read in Doctrine and Covenants Section 14:

If you shall ask the Father...you shall receive the Holy Ghost...that you may stand as a witness of the things of which you shall both hear and see...

Since then I've been pondering what it means to stand as a witness, and this experience came to mind: 

Several years ago I had the opportunity to teach a week-long plein air painting course in Capitol Reef for the first time. I was very excited about the opportunity, but also a little stressed. I had never been to Capitol Reef before, and didn't know where the best places to paint might be, or how to find them. I had to build a visual curriculum around a place I'd never seen. I would be in charge of up to 20 students, of various ages, and didn't know how well their different personalities might mesh. I would also be in charge of food for these 20 students for the week, on a limited budget. The more I tried to wrap my mind around all the details, it became completely overwhelming.

I asked my husband, Jeff, for a blessing. I let him know a little of what was bothering me. I needed clarity. I needed to let go of anxiety. I needed peace. 

For some reason I naively thought that through this blessing I might receive heaven-sent curriculum guidance, a roll-out of the meal plan, or a vision of how the entire week would look. Instead, I got one unforgettable piece of advice: Your primary purpose while there is to be a witness for the Savior. 

My mind launched a litany of the impossibility of this task, teaching for a state-sponsored school where the separation of church and state is very clear and I am careful not to use language that might be considered "religious" in nature.

Then I received even more specific instruction: Your witness will be expressed in the way you treat the students, by showing respect for the beauty of the land, showing respect for each other as sons and daughters of God, and by serving others as He would serve.

Well, that didn't sound impossible at all! Suddenly a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. I could do this. My new perspective changed everything. It wasn't about me; it was about Him. It wasn't about the curriculum, it was about the Creator. 

With that single focus in mind, everything seemed to come together effortlessly. My mind was relieved and my energy renewed. It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, creating deep friendships that I reflect on with gratitude and joy. 


The residence was far more beautiful and perfect than I could have imagined. It was situated on a hilltop, surrounded by natural beauty in every direction: Rugged cliffs, heavy clouds, distant hills, a winding stream, and even a little pioneer homestead in a valley below. Students worked night and day, inspired by the beauty of the landscape and their new palettes with mineral pigments ground straight from the earth. Not coincidentally, several students said it was the best educational experience in their entire time at the university. It ended up being a haven of creativity and productivity for me as well.



As we boarded the bus to return home, one student said, "When we get to the final judgment, I want to be a witness for you." I was stunned. I hadn't breathed a word to anyone about my assignment to witness. But I guess, to those with ears to hear, my witnessing for the Savior had been loud and clear. "Will you witness for me?" she then asked, and I nodded my approval. 


At the end of Section 14 it says, 

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who created the heavens and the earth, a light which cannot be hid in darkness...

And behold, thou art [Jana] and thou art called to assist; which thing if ye do, and are faithful, ye shall be blessed both spiritually and temporally, and great shall be your reward. 

I replaced the name David with my own in the last verse, to underscore the deeply personal instruction in these verses. Based on my own experience with witnessing in this way, it's true that the Savior's light is so bright it cannot be hidden, but speaks for itself if we merely point the way. I also have to add that I know the promised blessings are real. At least they were for me. 

I hope I can remember and be ever mindful of our constant responsibility to stand as a witness. And that when I remove myself from the equation and focus singularly on that ideal, amazing things result.



Sunday, February 21, 2021

One Touch With the Finger of His Love

 We spent the first two weeks of February in San Francisco, welcoming a brand new grandson to our family. Little William Wade Hollan entered the world on February 1, 2021. I looked at our daughter Jordan as the time approached. She was achey and exhausted, hadn't been sleeping well, and was just so ready to get the show on the road, so to speak. Labor and delivery, as all women know, was no cake walk either, but went relatively smoothly. There was inexpressible pain, and such taxing effort, and then suddenly, here is this new human that's forever a part of your life. And none of the symptoms of pregnancy remain. There's no heartburn, no nausea, whatever was bothering you is also swept away in that delivery. It's a miracle.




Talking to Jordan about this feat of nature reminded me of when I delivered her, a little over 26 years ago. It had been a really rough pregnancy. I was literally drinking water a teaspoon at a time in an effort to keep enough liquid down to prevent going to the hospital with hyperemesis and dehydration. Our brother and sister-in-law would stop by, and I would beg them: "If I EVER talk about having another baby, will you please remind me how hard this is?" Then, a few months later, after a relatively easy delivery, I held her in my arms, and said to my husband, "She's so sweet! Let's have another!" Just like that. 


In our reading of the Doctrine and Covenants two weeks ago I discovered the perfect line of scripture to go along with this conundrum of childbirth. We were studying two chapters of scripture, sections 12 and 13, about the restoration of the priesthood. In some supplemental readying at the end of Joseph Smith History there's a beautifully descriptive passage about the experience, written by Oliver Cowdery, who was Joseph Smith's scribe.

These were days never to be forgotten...
What joy! what wonder! what amazement!
I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion;

Oliver then goes on to describe some of the persecution they had suffered, all the deceptions and falsehoods that exist in the world, then follows with this most beautiful sentence fragment...

--but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind.

There it is! That notion of the resultant joy making all the previous struggles completely worth it, to the point that the memory of the pain is swept away. He then concludes with this phrase that captures exactly how I feel:

I shall ever look upon this expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving...
If that doesn't describe the moment of becoming a grandmother perfectly, I don't know what does!






Monday, October 5, 2020

To Restore

I love the word RESTORE.

According to Webster's, the word restore means:
  1. GIVE BACKRETURN
  2. to put or bring back into existence or use
  3. to bring back to or put back into a former or original state RENEW
  4. to put again in possession of something

My grandpa loved to restore antique furniture. He would follow my grandma to antique stores and cart home old, worn (sometimes dilapidated) tables and chairs, take them back to his garage, then lovingly sand, stain and oil them by hand until they shone like new, their rich wood color and grain enhanced. Sometimes Grandma would embroider new seats for the chairs, adding her special touch to the project. Then they'd put the renewed furniture in their living room, or gift the pieces to one of us...so the item was not only renewed, but put back in use. 

When we upgraded from our starter house we bought a gracious two-story Craftsman home designed by Sylvanus Marston. Many referred to it as the "crown jewel of the neighborhood." Built in 1908, the house needed a lot of work. We walked in and immediately fell in love with its potential. We then spent every weekend working to restore it to its original Pasadena charm. We did careful research into what hardware and materials were best suited to the original time period. We looked at styles of the era and made sure that what we selected in terms of color and fabrics was in line with former trends. Three years later we opened our doors for a neighborhood home tour. It was immensely satisfying to see the home we saw in our minds restored to its former beauty, yet improved with modern updates.

In each case, restoration involved great respect for the character of the original, down to the minutest detail. Something was also added, to make the restored product both personal and relevant to today, as well as honoring the past. Each attempt at restoration, no matter how beautiful the end product, was attempted by mere mortals and bears traces of both time and humanness.

When Jesus was on earth, prior to his ministry he worked as a carpenter. He, like my grandpa, loved to fix that which was broken, to mend, and restore hearts, families, and the world.

In the scriptures, the word restore also refers to the resurrection, when our lifeless bodies will be restored to their former shape and function, only better, perfected. One major addition: immortality. Oh, how I love the concept of restoration, and the hope that it gives to each of us. 



I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that our church is a modern-day restoration of the church Jesus set up while he was here on earth. It includes a living prophet, just as in biblical times, and twelve apostles, called and ordained, the way Jesus Christ established his church during his earthly ministry. These men are called to be special witnesses of the Savior. We believe God talks to our prophet just like he talked to Moses, Noah, Abraham and Isaiah anciently. 

We also believe that over centuries, both the authority and some important truth from Christ's original church was lost. Every one of Jesus' apostles was killed. Secular rulers and monarchs manipulated the doctrine to fit their personal whims. Some hired translators to rewrite the words of the Bible to suit their personal ideologies. Gospel scholars like Tyndale were labeled heretics and martyred for bringing forth more accurate translations and/or pointing out flaws in the church's teachings. 

For that reason, God the Father initiated the promised restoration (foretold by prophets anciently) by answering a young farm boy's prayer and instructing him to listen to his Son. Jesus told young Joseph that he should join none of the existing churches, but that he would be instrumental in restoring Jesus's own true church to the earth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Encircled.


People often ask me if I have any religious paintings. The truth is, they are all religious, they are all a form of worship for me. Even the wildest landscape will usually have strong spiritual underpinnings, not the least of which is emulating the Creator. Yes, I have paintings of temples and even a portrait of the Savior. But that doesn’t detract from the deeply spiritual meanings behind all of my paintings, often revealed or at least alluded to in their titles. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. 


This week’s scripture reading contains the intersection of meaning and inspiration behind this painting, Encircled. Yesterday I read one of the most beautiful accounts of the Savior, witnessed by thousands, where he calls for the humblest, most vulnerable members of the multitude to be brought to him...first for those "afflicted in any way", that he might heal them, and then he calls for the children. He prays to the Father and blesses them, with language more beautiful than they had ever before heard or imagined. He blesses each child, one by one. He weeps, twice. He experiences a fulness of joy. Angels descend from heaven in a pillar of fire and encircle the children. It is clear that they are being blessed, protected, and that they are valued beyond measure. 

I began this painting as a brief sketch and a plein air painting, which I ended up calling Stream of Light. While I was standing on a bridge painting the glorious back-lit autumn leaves and the stream below, a handful of teenage girls walked into the scene. The overhanging leaves encircled them like a giant halo. I reached for my camera. I knew immediately that this would make an important painting, and I knew what its title would be. I finished my plein air painting on site, but this was a larger studio painting, based on the earlier experience. It took a little more than a year to complete. 

In the scripture story Jesus says, “Behold your little ones.” Granted, a group of teenagers wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as little ones. But which of our children most desperately need to know they are valued? Need the Savior’s protection? and blessings and love? Teenagers. Definitely.

Another favorite scripture including the word encircled is found in 2 Nephi 1:15. 
"I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” 
That is how I felt that autumn morning as I stood there taking in this scene at Sundance. The Lord’s glory was everywhere. I felt it. I felt Him. And I felt his love surround me in warmth and light. 

That is the kind of meaning behind just one of my paintings. This is an award-winner, a large, visual statement-maker. But to me it represents a spiritual experience, a couple of favorite scriptures, and being embraced by the love of the Lord. 






Encircled is September’s Painting of the Month, on sale for 20% off, framed and ready to hang, and fill your home with spirit and light.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A love note from my Mother

It's my mother's birthday today. She would be 83. But she passed away when she was just 54. Nearly 30 years ago.

I love that her birthday is right between May Day and Mother's Day. It's a two week mom-fest of flowers and memories. One thing I especially love about my mom is how humble she was, despite her amazingness. Nothing was about her. She loved to point the spotlight on others. She had the sweetest birthday tradition of sending flowers to her mother, to thank her for bringing her into the world.


Mom's favorite flowers were daisies. A perfect symbol for her. Bright, cheerful, and humble.

Today I'm sharing a note she wrote to her mother, on her birthday. It's dated May 5, 1981. My cousin Adrienne brought me this note when we moved here from California, 15 years ago. I was so touched that she had it, and had saved it for me. And now I'm sharing it with you. In a small attempt to honor my mother. So much love wrapped up in one little hand-written note!

Mother Dear -- 
I love you. I always love you, but on my birthday I guess I love you just a little bit more. I'm thinking about the past 44 years and wonder where or what I'd have been if you had given up after six children. 
I can't imagine living with someone who didn't love Christmas and bells and beautiful dishes and parties and family togetherness.  
I shudder to think of growing up with someone who didn't haveth patience to tolerate my adolescence' who didn't understand my need to stay home from school occasionally to clear out the clutter in my head; or who didn't play the piano and encourage me to learn, and then turn over to the her prized privilege of accompanying Daddy. 
I needed a mother who could build me and make me feel capable of anything, one who could show me by example the things you can accomplish when you trust in the Lotd and do your best. I needed a mother to show me that being a good wife is being a listener and confidant, a supporter and builder a value for pressure release, and at the same tie growing intellectually and spiritually to stand by his side.  
Mostly, where could I have found a mother who could teach me to love my Heavenly Father, that nothing is as important as the gospel of Jesus Christ -- and to do it by example as well as precept.  
Boy am I glad I got you! 
Love,
Susan

Thank you, Mom, for your enduring example of kindness, devotion, humility, and pure goodness. I love you so much. I'm especially grateful for those times when I can still feel you nearby, feel your guiding influence and support, from clear across the universe.

These flowers, titled "Mom's Birthday Daisies" are for you! xoxox

Friday, April 3, 2020

Now More than Ever...A Sanctuary of Faith

Last January I was invited to create a poster for our stake (similar to diocese) women's conference. As soon as I hung up the phone an image came to me. I could see it so clearly in my head I called my friend and described it to her over the phone. The theme of the conference was Sanctuary of Faith. Recently, our prophet had encouraged us to "remodel our homes into Sanctuaries of Faith."  Instantly I knew the poster needed to have a home inscribed over a temple. I knew it was inspired.

I wish the execution of it came to me as easily as the idea did. It took weeks to research different temples, different houses, different color schemes. And then how to put it all together? This was one of those times where I knew I was being led, and I continued to press forward, trusting that it would all turn out somehow if I was dogged enough. 

There were stacks of paper all over my drawing table...sketches, paintings, outlines. Then one day I had to paint a demonstration of a sky for my UVU class. And I knew I needed to finish this project. Then I realized the sky I was practice-painting for my class was actually the perfect backdrop for this Sanctuary image I was working on. I cut out a white paper outline of our Provo City Center Temple, and laid it over the top. A perfect fit. I used the exact same colors from my sky painting to paint some shadows around a simple but welcoming white house. 

Then there was the nightmare of scanning everything and composing it all digitally. Thank heaven my husband is a technological wizard because this required a massive amount of his wizardry to create the final product. 


We had barely printed enough to give each sister in attendance a small photocopied souvenir. Many people asked if they could order prints. People who were at the conference, people who missed it, people from far away who somehow heard about or saw the poster. I started researching ways of reproducing it in a way that would be affordable. (My fine art prints require a $175 color match before the first print is even created. And the cost just goes up from there.) That project quickly fell to the back burner as I prepared to publish and launch my cookbook with an exhibit of the paintings that illustrate the recipes.


Fast forward to last week. Who could have imagined a year ago that now all our chapels and temples would be closed, because of the Covid-19 pandemic? That our only sacrament services would be held inside the walls of our own homes? That all of our work and all of our worship would take place here at home? 

It occurred to me that the world needs this image, and needs it now. To remind us that our homes can be sanctuaries of faith, that heaven's light can reach us here, and that our light can fill the world. Because we all need a reminder that our homes have now become our primary houses of worship. So a sweeter spirit can prevail. 

My husband once again helped me recompose the art as a stand-alone piece, in sizes and proportions that work better for matting and framing. And here it is. A print for which there is no original. The print is the original. 


We created a version without type as well.

We found a way to reproduce them that would be more affordable, so I could offer them to you at half the price of my regular fine art prints. Right now, when we need them most. In a very limited edition. Click through to my website, janaparkin.com, to order the size that's right for you.  (If you're local, simply venmo me @ jana-parkin and I'll save your order here for pick-up (no wait time, no shipping!)

QUESTION: How have you remodeled your home into a Sanctuary of Faith? I'd love to hear your experiences.




Sunday, March 22, 2020

Calling all Modern-Day Josephs

This morning I received an email in my inbox with the subject line: "Calling All Modern Day Josephs." I assumed this was about the prophet Joseph Smith, as we've been focusing on the 200th anniversary of his first vision in the sacred grove.

Instead, this was an inspiring email from another Christian contact, Pedro Adao, recounting the story of Joseph of Egypt, the dreamer and interpreter from the Old Testament. (As the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tells us, "It's all there in Chapter 39 of Genesis."

I particularly loved the insight Pedro shared about Joseph:
"We love the story of Joseph...
But Joseph only had the opportunity to rise to power and influence, because he accessed the wisdom of God to bring salvation to the people he served... 
IN THE MIDST OF A CRISIS.  
You see, IF THERE WASN'T A FAMINE, NONE OF US WOULD EVEN KNOW WHO JOSEPH WAS!"
That really rang true for me, at this time when there is so much that is going very, very wrong. Those who turn to God will be given wisdom, will be called to serve, will be able to help and even possibly save others.

One of the truly great messages of the story of Joseph of Egypt is that God hears prayers and talks to ordinary people. Joseph was among the youngest of a full dozen sons, and could easily have been overlooked. He was a victim of familial abuse, he was sold into slavery, he was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. But he also had a connection to God.

In fact, he had a particular gift from God: The gift of visions (prophetic dreams) and the interpretation of dreams. He was able to use these gifts to get himself out of prison, and eventually to become second only to Pharaoh in the leadership of Egypt, and was able to save his family and his nation from a devastating famine.

But every single one of us has a spiritual gift (at least one!), a gift that helps us connect to heaven and know when God is speaking to us, a gift that then allows us to help others. And every single one of us can use our gifts right now, in the midst of a crisis, to connect with God, and to help others. God might need us to use our gifts now more than ever before.

But we have to learn a few things. We have to know HOW God speaks to us personally. We have to know what it is God wants us to do, and we have to trust God that he can use us, despite our limitations, and that, including our gifts, he can use us to bring about good in the world, to bring about change.

With that in mind, I want to talk a little about that other Joseph, Joseph Smith. Like Joseph of Egypt, he was no one important. He was a 14-year-old farm boy. In his day, there's wasn't a famine of food, but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord. (Amos 8:3) His story, too, lets us know that God hears prayers and talks to ordinary people in extraordinary times. His account of his First Vision, when he prayed for wisdom in a grove of trees, is an excellent pattern for all of us for both seeking the wisdom of God, and understanding how God works in and through us.

I have spent the past several weeks studying the First Vision extensively, and created a 10-page Discovery Journal. to help us seek God's input and discover our individual work, gifts, and callings. I have taken the First Vision account apart line by line, and added questions you can ask yourself, and ask God, to begin to discover the work God has specifically for you.




Please leave me a comment below with your email address if you would like me to send you a PDF of this Discovery Journal, to record your own spiritual insights. There is no cost to you whatsoever. I'm sharing this with anyone who would like one.

I truly believe we can all be modern-day Josephs, in the sphere where God intends us to serve. I know we can connect with our higher power, and have a greater influence for good in the world. To start, you just have to ask.