Sunday, April 24, 2011


I have always loved buttermints. Any and all. But then one Christmas my friend Heather brought us a tin of the most amazing homemade buttermints. First, who even knew you could make such a thing? I thought it was like licorice—something only “the store” made. Second, this was pure heaven. It melted in your mouth with the most perfectly glorious flavor. There could be no substitute. Heather’s buttermints were infinitely superior to anything else I had ever tasted.

Every Christmas we hoped we might appear once again on Heather’s gift list. And that the gift would again be her fabulous buttermints. And year after year the mints would appear. Then one Christmas we were sadly forsaken. Of course we weren’t offended. We love the Joneses with or without their holiday offerings! But we did long for that little taste of heaven. Then in March, after the snow melted, there sitting on the lawn was an auspicious-looking tin. It didn’t take much imagination to envision our dog dragging it from the porch to the snow back in December. We pried open the lid, and to our joy and amazement the tin contained a perfectly-preserved batch of pristine buttermints, undisturbed by our dog or the elements, and we lovingly savored every single one (and had a good laugh with Heather about our serendipitous snow treasure afterward)!

Finally this past Christmas I couldn’t stand the suspense any more. I had to know how Heather performs her magic. I rallied the guts to ask for her recipe. She said she’d do me one better — she’d come here and teach me how. In March we finally made it happen — a personalized buttermint tutorial. I had no idea what I was in for. I started taking copious notes. The process is extremely nuanced and detailed, with instructions like: “Cook to 250 degrees...not the bottom of the line, nor the top of the line, but right in the center of the line.” Sometimes I think the artist in me is not equipped to deal with that kind of precision. But she assured me that if I followed every step with exactness, I would have wonderful buttermints.

This week we’ve been making these fabulous buttermints (or, what my friend Luisa calls, "the most scrumptious confections of all time") and I hope this becomes an oft-repeated Easter tradition. Here’s why: The process is a beautiful analogy for the lifetime process of sanctification, culminating in a powerful atonement metaphor.


Zion metaphor:
We’ve been studying the three Zion communities in the Book of Mormon for Family Home Evening over the past couple of months. Each of these communities, during a time of great adversity, was described as “the happiest people ever.” Nephi “taught [his] people to live after the manner of happiness.” One of the great keys to their happiness was hard WORK. Nephi taught his people productive skills, and to love manual labor. Making buttermints is a new skill, working with our hands.

Next is the people of Moroni: “ But behold there never was a ahappier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni...” Moroni taught the power of preparation and unity. My preparation was my tutorial with Heather. (Heather’s preparation was making 18 batches in one day, until they got it perfect!) In the buttermint making process, everybody LITERALLY pulls together (unity) for the stretching and cutting, and many hands make light work.

I think one of the best parts of making a big batch of buttermints is sharing them with our friends and loved ones. In Zion communities there is always a Service component (we share what we have with others). This kind of cooperation and outward focus leads toward no contention (peace, charity) and the kind of Zion community we find in 4th Nephi. “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people....and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.”

Personal righteousness: Everybody starts with clean hands

Careful Obedience: Follow the instructions exactly

“Cook to 250 degrees...not the bottom of the line, nor the top of the line, but right in the center of the line.”

All of the instructions must be followed with precision (exactness and honor).
This kind of precision requires FOCUS: keeping our eyes on the prize and single to the glory of God.

If you follow these safe candy-making procedures, you can avoid the laborious washing process, saving much time and trouble.

Adversity metaphor: Stretching

Pull edges up and over, toward the center, so they don’t harden.
(Reminds me of how we need to be careful not to harden our hearts.)

As soon as it is cool enough to handle, butter your hands, pick up the candy and start stretching. It will be slimy and out-of-control at first. Resist the urge to knead and squeeze. Lightly pull and stretch, establishing a rhythm...side to side, over the top, repeat. When it becomes more manageable, hold the ball in one hand, pull and fold with the other. When you can, move it to your fingertips and continue spreading and stretching, using the length of your arms. It will become opaque and lose some of its glisten.

Stretching is the longest, most difficult part
It’s completely outside our control
The only way through is to stretch (grow)
Then the very nature of it starts to change
This stretching process takes way longer than we think
(How long, O Lord?)

Repentance: If you really screw up, you can always throw it back in the pot and return to the boiling step. :)

Patience: After all that hard work, you are dying to eat some, but it turns out there's a very long curing process. They are edible now, but nothing like the finished product. You have to learn to wait.

Atonement metaphor: Curing
Line a half-sheet baking pan with plastic wrap. Arrange pieces on plastic in a single layer to cure. Cover with another sheet of plastic wrap, making sure the cover is air tight. Allow to cure for up to three days.

Even after paying careful attention to detail and doing everything precisely,
the mints look like they didn’t work, like they won’t be any good.
Some are chewy, some are grainy, some are crunchy.
The curing process takes care of all that.
They must be entombed in sheets of air-tight plastic for up to three days.
After the three days, even the most stubborn and silly-looking buttermints will wind up perfect, white, creamy and delicious.

An Easter miracle

No matter how hard we try, how carefully we observe the commandments, we are flawed. Without those crucial three days in the tomb where our Lord lay down his life and took it up again, there is no way any of us would ever be “good enough” or reach perfection. But, given those three days of grace, there is hope for us all.

And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the [mints] thereof; and I beheld that [they were] most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the [mints were] white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
And as I partook of the [mints] thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of [them] also; for I knew that [they were] desirable above all other [mints]. —Adapted from 1 Nephi 8:11-12

* * * * *
I would like to send you a little package of these wonderful Atonemints for you to try for yourself, along with a brief summary of the atonement metaphor. Just leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rites of Spring

The kids have been on spring break and The Princess just got her driver’s license -- creating a crazy combination of life and activity and all things new and exciting. The jonquils at the base of the oak trees in the front yard have sprung to life, smiling at me every time I approach the driveway. And there is (finally!) no snow to weigh them down. The plum tree at the foot of the hill has burst into blossomy pink. All seems right with the world.

As a second witness that Easter is approaching, we had the enormous privilege of seeing the Carl Bloch exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art just before we left town. There are no words to describe what it feels like to walk into room after room where you see a sensitively rendered, lifesize depiction of the Savior -- the closest thing I can imagine to actually being in His presence. There was palpable reverence and peace. The holiness brought me to tears. A time or two I couldn’t stop myself from whispering out (while inwardly shouting) my love and praise for the Master. Powerful.

Having recently painted the Savior myself, I couldn't help but be moved by this quote: "God helps me, that is what I think and then I am calm." - Carl Bloch.

Then we spent five warm and sunny days in southern Utah on a painting excursion. I felt all kinds of ideas and emotions waking up inside me as I packed the cooler and filled my palette, barely anticipating the possibilities.

I tend to think of the desert as a barren wasteland, and an odd place to usher in Holy Week. But the house where we stayed was in “a desert community” where the pueblo-style houses are built down into the ground so as not to interrupt the landscape, and the residents commit to leave the surroundings untouched. Cotton-tailed bunnies would bounce through the sage brush and run right past our windows, while red-tailed hawks circled the sky. We walked through a sculpture garden and labyrinth, hiked to a plethora of petroglyphs, soaked our feet in the stream, and sat and stared at the stars.

Early-ish one morning I went out for a walk with my camera, looking for something spectacular to paint, and what gradually struck me is that the desert landscape is very like Jerusalem, and the landscape itself an atonement metaphor. Virtually everywhere you look, there is:

a scarlet robe

a crown of thorns

swords and spears

a stone rolled away

an empty tomb

great drops of blood

deepest darkness offset by blinding light

stone tablets; ancient writ

death and decay; new life

Suddenly I can’t wait to get back to my studio and create a whole series of desertscapes, with imagery symbolizing the atonement.

I found that while the desert itself may seem dry and desolate, my search for deeper meaning led me to Living Water there. I was not just awake, but invigorated. Joyful. Filled to overflowing. I hope I can make that newness and excitement last far beyond Easter morning.

Friday, April 1, 2011

When Ugly Isn't

A few years ago I met with a new client named Brian who was in charge of a large retirement home. After our meeting he took me on a tour of the facility. As we waited for the elevator, an adorable little old lady approached us.

"Hello, Mrs. MacFarland," Brian greeted her. She returned his greeting with genuine sparkle.

As we stepped into the elevator together, I smiled, extended my hand and introduced myself. She looked up at me and said, "Well, you're awfully pretty. Really. Very beautiful." Caught a little off guard, I thanked her awkwardly, unable to get over the way she made such a fuss over my looks.

We walked a little further through the facility, then Brian casually commented, "You know that lady in the elevator?" I nodded. "She's legally blind." (ba-doom-ba!)

I laughed about that one all the way home. Perhaps it was my inner beauty she saw? But the irony wasn’t lost on me either. In fact, it stung a little. Because for most of my life I’ve been carrying around a pretty heavy ugly complex. I inherited this complex from my mother, who was strikingly beautiful, but also felt she got the short end of the stick when it came to looks.


In the last six months, two things have made a difference for me. Not changed the way I look. But changed the way I feel about how I look.

First, this book.
Precious Bane, written in 1924 and somehow overlooked as a classic (but clutched tenaciously by those who value great literature, including C. S. Lewis) has some of the most beautiful, poetic passages you can ever hope to read. Set in Shropshire, England in the 1800s, it’s a fairy tale of operatic proportions. There is love and hate, lust and innocence, birth and death, fire and flood. The heroine was born with a cleft palate (hare lip) for which she’s despised and accused of witchcraft. Yet she never gives up hope of being loved and cherished. While her brother allows his obsession with riches to poison and destroy him, Prudence rises to a shining level of wisdom and grace. Ultimately, one wonderful man sees beyond her physical flaw to her radiant inner beauty, and it becomes a love story that is powerful and unsurpassed. How I was engulfed in the pages of this marvelous book, where a woman is loved for what she truly is on the inside, rather than for how the rest of the world sees her! This is the kind of love story I’ve always believed in: True beauty rewarded with truest love.

Next, this talk, by a modern prophet.
When Thomas Monson rose to speak to a large group of women from our church, a palpable hush fell over the crowd. Toward the end he told the story of Mary Bartels, an innkeeper of sorts, who rented a room to a shriveled, misshapen old man whom many had turned away. Over the years she came to know and befriend this man, and discovered he had a generous and humble heart and a beautiful soul. Besides the symbolism of the innkeeper, this is the part that undid me:
After the man passed away, Mary was visiting with a friend who had a greenhouse. As she looked at her friend’s flowers, she noticed a beautiful golden chrysanthemum but was puzzled that it was growing in a dented, old, rusty bucket. Her friend explained, “I ran short of pots, and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting in this old pail. It’s just for a little while, until I can put it out in the garden.”
Mary smiled as she imagined just such a scene in heaven. “Here’s an especially beautiful one,” God might have said when He came to the soul of the little old man. “He won’t mind starting in this small, misshapen body.” But that was long ago, and in God’s garden how tall this lovely soul must stand!
This reached me on such a deep level it unleashed cathartic sobs. I felt a power and a soothing in his words, as if God Himself had spoken them directly to some deep hiding place in my heart. And some healing happened. I left that grand, sweeping room feeling almost beautiful.
After all that, I'm sure you can imagine how fondly I'm looking forward to hearing him speak again this weekend. Tune in if you get a chance. You’ll never know what all those inspired words could do for you if you don't stop to hear them.


And now, we have a winner to announce: chose LisAway -- who also won a book in my December giveaway -- to win the signed copy of Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth. Lisa, the book gods must hold you in high favour! Next, the set of "Miss Delacourt's Roses" notecards goes to Patty Ann. Hopefully one of my wonderful readers also won the original painting over at Heidi's blog. But if not, don't despair. I have more notecards and giclee prints available through my website. And I'm always just an email away.