Two Modern-Day Temples

Josh and I spent the last week of our trip travelling around the southwestern part of Guatemala–an area Josh was fairly unfamiliar with–with an eye toward visiting the two LDS Temples in the country. 

First, we visited the temple in Quetzaltenango. It was dedicated just two years ago, and is built after the “small temple” paradigm that many of the newer temples follow. We arrived at night, after a long day of travel, to the following sight. This was our view from the Casa de Huéspedes (guest house) where we spent the night:Image

Interestingly enough, at night, the lights of the temple attracted tons of moths. I tried to get a good photo, but this was the best I could do:


Believe me, there were way more than two!

The next day, we were able to spend the entire morning in the Temple, which was wonderful. Josh pointed out that there were many details inside that were uniquely Guatemalan, from the Monja Blanca flowers on carved into the door handles (the national flower of Guatemala), to the mayan-inspired carvings and patterns of the wallpaper, to the beautiful mural in the endowment room depicting many sights that we had just seen travelling around the country. It was truly beautiful. 

Here is one last daytime view of the Temple:


There was some sort of big youth gathering going on. I have never seen so many young people on the grounds of a Temple!

And here is a photo of Josh and I in front of the Temple:


We ended our trip at the Guatemala City Temple. We were planning on doing the same here: spending the night, and passing our last morning in Guatemala doing ordinances in the Temple, but things don’t always go as planned. Instead, we did a session the night we arrived, and had the chance to do a few more ordinances the next day. Here are some shots of the Guatemala City Temple:




Josh and I both work in the Oakland Temple, and it has been closed for the past six weeks or so. I don’t think I fully recognized how much I had missed that constant attendance until we walked into the Quetzaltenango Temple. It was so wonderful to enter these beautiful grounds and this beautiful building and hear the ordinances I know so well in English in a new language. It was so comforting to feel the same feeling of peace and comfort that I am used to each week in a new place far from home. 

As an additional bonus, because of the nature of the Temple, I was separated from Josh for a time and had to survive with my own Spanish. I was nervous about it, but suddenly, I was able to communicate with these sweet women who were working in there. I couldn’t believe how easily it flowed. Thank goodness for the blessings of the Temple!




Nosotros fuimos a Tikal

On Thursday, Josh and I ventured up to Peten to visit one of the most treasured sites in Guatemala, Tikal. Tikal is the site of an ancient Mayan city, which originated hundreds of years before the time of Christ. It died out when the Mayans did (before 1000 AD) and was hidden beneath jungle until the 19th century, when it was uncovered by archeologists. Now it is a National Park here in Guatemala, and it is probably the most popular tourist destination here.

And with good reason. It is truly phenomenal. Much of the city is still covered by jungle, but many of the acroplises and temples have been uncovered and are available for people to climb on and explore. These uncovered architectural masterpieces are connected by dozens of paths through the jungle.

I took many, many pictures. So many, I am going to have trouble deciding which ones to share with you. Here is just a smattering of things that we saw:



This giant tree stands near the entrance of the park and has a sign that says that the Mayans refered to this kind of tree as “The Tree of Life” Here, Josh pretends to partake of the fruit thereof.



This is one of the many groups of shops and residential areas. Let’s just say that based on the size of these rooms, they did  most of their living outside, not in their homes.



On the right-hand side of this photograph is the “Grand Jaguar.” It stands on one end of the Grand Plaza, which is kind of the central attraction of Tikal. At the other end is Temple II:


And here is a view of the Grand Jaguar, or Temple I, from between the buildings of the acropolis which borders it:


Here is a picture of Temple III, which they are still working on uncovering. It gives you an idea of what these buildings would have looked like completely overgrown by the jungle:



And here are me and Josh from the top of Temple IV, which is the only one you can currently climb. That’s okay, though, because it is the tallest, and the view is truly incredible. In the background, you can see Temples I, II, and III. You can also see how jungly it really is:



One last thing: Josh and I kept remarking on what this park would be like if it were in the United States, where we have a different kind of National Park system and more resources to excavate, preserve, and create educational experiences. I was pretty shocked by just how little information was available inside the park about the things that you were looking at. The contrast was particularly clear when we went to Temple V, which currently looks like this:


That’s me at the bottom.

The excavation and upkeep of this temple had been aided by a Western European government. They had a whole display, with pictures and information about the history of the temple and its excavation. I loved that, and found myself feeling very grateful for the resources that we have for the US National Park System, which is truly spectacular. Also, I hope we have better translators than they do at Tikal. Check out this sign at the entrance (I have posted it at the largest size so you can hopefully read it):


Semuc Champey

Just yesterday, Josh and I took a day trip from Carcha down to Semuc Champey. This amazing natural wonder has an interesting geological history that I cannot do justice. Basically, it a limestone bridge above a big river filled with pools of water. The river rushes below the pools into a series of caves at this point:



You can see one of the highest pools on the right-hand side of the picture. The result is a series of cascading pools of amazing blue water that sit above the rushing river. It is really beautiful:




At the end of the limestone bridge, the river reappears from the caves and continues onward. Obviously, Josh and I went for a swim in these amazing pools, none of which are more than 7 or 8 feet deep. Even though the sun was not out when I took these pictures, it was plenty hot outside, and the swim felt amazing.




One of the best parts of this trip were the little K’ekchi girls selling chocolate. They were totally tickled that Josh could speak to them in their language, and flirted with him with abandon. He was so caught up, he didn’t even realize I was taking this picture:



Obviously, we bought some chocolate from them.


Josh and I have been busy travelling to different parts of Alta Verapaz this week. First, we headed off to Polochic, a region so named because the Rio Polochic runs through the valley. Here is a not-so-glorious picture I took of it from the bus:


In general, it is much more beautiful than this. This is a region where Josh spent a good chunk of his LDS Mission, and where he learned to speak K’ekchi, as this region is mostly populated with K’ekchi people. It is unmentionably hot in the valley, and I was eaten alive by mosquitoes while we at lunch (don’t worry, I am taking malaria medicine). We spent the night, however, in the mountain town of Senahu, nestled up in the mountains that surround the valley.

At Josh’s request, we rode up to the town in the back of a pick up truck. This is a very common form of transportation in Guatemala, and I was wary. I was also assured that he did this all the time as a missionary–in fact, I have seen multiple missionaries doing just this while we have been here. That did not necessarily make me feel better, but the road was so steep and windy that the driver drove very slow, and the view was amazing. Here are some shots:


Self-portrait in the back of a truck. Sorry for the blurriness.


Looking forward

Looking forward

Sadly, the previous day, the mayor of Senahu had been killed in a car accident in a different part of the country. When we got there, much of the town was waiting in the center square for the procession of her casket. I took this picture around 5 pm, and the procession did not arrive until around 9 pm. You cannot tell very well from this photo, but there were people all around, hanging off of balconies, sitting on the sides of the street, everywhere:


The next morning, we climbed to a lookout on the top of a hill in the middle of Senahu so we could see the whole city. It was truly beautiful, with mist and clouds shrouding the mountains:




We were also able to visit with some of the members of the LDS Church Josh knew from his mission, including one of his favorite members of all time. This man and his family have fallen on very hard times, and we visited with him and his wife at a small hospital in La Tinta, down in the valley. It was wonderful for Josh to see them, wonderful for me to meet them, and a humbling reminder of just how blessed we are.



¿Donde estan Laney y Josh?

For the last week or so, we have been staying in San Pedro Carcha, a smaller city outside of the larger city of Coban, where I have been in Spanish School.

We have been fortunate enough to be staying with a family Josh knows from the local ward of the lds church. They have very graciously opened their home to us, and it is wonderful to stay there. Here is the courtyard of their home:



And one of their three dogs who stands guard by the front door:



This past week in Carcha was the annual fair, which means that the main part of the city is decorated, and that people trek out to a field on the outskirts of town to do fair-like things. After Josh’s description of the extremely dangerous sounding rides, I had no desire to go. It did create a festive atmosphere in town, however:



Almost every day, we have eaten at the same restaurant, where we have scrambled eggs (huevitos) and amazing black beans (frijolitos) with great tortillas that are hot off the grill. The owner is this amazing lady who always talks to us, and her restaurant is cheerily pink on the outside:



The other day, we attended an orchid show in the main town square. Apparently, Orchids are native to this area, and grow incredibly well here; this is the perfect climate for them. They wanted to charge us five times the normal entrance fee to take pictures of the amazing orchids, so here is one growing in the courtyard of the Spanish School–and further proof that they grow in the wild here:



Other than that, we have spent a lot of time reading, as it rains pretty much every afternoon. This is the rainy season in Guatemala, which they call “winter.” Apparently, they only have two seasons, summer, which lasts two months, and winter, which lasts the other 10. It doesn’t seem like winter to me, as it is still 75 to 80 degrees everyday, but the rain is pretty intense, I’ll give them that.

One last photo. This has nothing to do with Carcha, but instead a creature living in the courtyard of the first place we stayed in the capital. Josh and I headed outside to read, and found this guy just sitting there.



He kind of gave us the stink eye. We decided to read somewhere else.

Hasta luego!

Escuela de Español

Josh and I are settling into a routine here in Carcha:

We wake up, and catch the 20 minute bus into Coban so I can attend my four-hour, one-on-one Spanish class, starting at 8:30. Here I am with my teacher Jaime, hard at work:


The school is super cute, with a garden outside, and a place where Josh can sit and read while I stumble through a new language. Here is Josh lounging:


The school is owned by this sweet older woman (whose name I cannot remember at present) and my teacher is her son. Each morning, around 10:30, she announces that it is time for a break, and we go to her kitchen where she has made us tea and has bought us some kind of treat. After I mentioned on the first day that Josh lived in Guatemala as a misionero mormon, she made sure that we could drink the kind of tea she had because she knew we do not drink coffee.

The school even has a mascot named Tiny:


Every day, at the beginning of my lesson, Jaime moves Tiny’s bed from the kitchen to the classroom, and he comes and sits in the classroom for the entirety of the lesson. There are actually another dog and a cat who live there as well, but Tiny is the official mascot. Yo pienso que Tiny me ayuda aprender Español muy rapido!

Viene mas tarde!

We are here!

Josh and I arrived safely in Guatemala on Tuesday afternoon and promptly found a place to take a nap. Our flight left at 1 AM, and landed in Mexico City 5 hours later. Unfortunatley, for the first hour or so of the flight, they had all of the lights on and were serving food. Not sure why, but they did, so sleeping was pretty difficult.

On Wednesday, we made our way to the town of Carcha, just outside the larger city of Coban. I had my first English class today: just me, the teacher, and the schools two dogs, Tiny and Scrappy. I still have a long way to go, but at least I am starting to understand the conversations that Josh has. Hopefully, twenty hours of one-on-one instruction should do great things.

The bus ride here was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. The supremely confident bus driver was driving so fast on this curvy road that I felt compelled to lean against the curve so that my weight would not contribute to the bus tipping over. A little bit harrowing, but we made it here okay!

I forgot the cable to connect my camera, so pictures will have to wait until next time. Until then, I will continue to practice my Spanish.

Hasta Luego!

Guatemala, here we come!

Josh and I are off to Guatemala tonight for almost a month. Here is what we are taking:


We will be trying to update our blog as much as possible, so stay tuned here if you want to know where we are. I know my mom does!


You don’t need to CONFORM to COMMIT

This past Sunday, Josh and I spoke in Sacrament Meeting. I spoke about something that has been on my mind for quite a while, something I have been giving quite a bit of thought to, and something that is very important to me: why we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often think that we have to all be the same in order to follow Christ.

Let’s just say, if you read my talk posted below, you will know that I don’t think that is true.

Normally, I would shy away from posting this kind of thing to a public space, but I think this topic is very important. I want to be a Christian, and I think that my church can help people be the best followers of Christ they can be. We can all do better. This talk was an effort at me trying to process my thoughts and do better. Hopefully, it can help some others do the same.

Sacrament Meeting Talk–9 June 2013

I am a member of a Facebook group started by a friend of mine during the 2012 election cycle called “Mormons for Obama.” The group was started as a place for members of the church with more liberal-leaning personal politics to find each other across physical space and meet up in the digital world of Facebook. I tell you this not because I believe that politics have a place in our church or in our Sacrament Meetings. I firmly believe they do not. I only tell you this so you can have some context for the comments that I want to reference.

In the last several weeks there have been many postings where members of the church in wards throughout the country say that they feel “alone,” like they “don’t belong,” or like they are so out of the mainstream of the Church, they can no longer attend. The pain in these postings is palpable, and the struggles these people are going through tug at my heart. They have stuck with me and gotten me thinking about why we even have the church, and what our differences mean.

It is our nature as human beings to want to belong. We are constantly joining different social groups, looking for people like us, and forming families so we can have a group to call our own. Our ward is one of those groups, as is the church as a whole. As members of the Oakland Ninth Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we belong to this ward family. Ideally, it is our home, it is our refuge, it is a place where we are welcomed and accepted.

However, it is also a part of human nature to feel alone, to feel like we are different, and to feel like we do not conform.  Sometimes, we want to be different—for example, as Latter-Day Saints, we often talk about setting ourselves apart from the world. But, when we find a place that we know we want to be, it is hurtful, depressing, and demoralizing to feel like we do not belong or like we have no place. I know there have been different times in my life when I have felt just that way—like the church was not the place for me, it would not accept me, it would not support me, it would reject me and my talents and my worldview.

To those of you who have felt that way, or who do feel that way, or who may feel that way in the future, I want to share with you some things that I have learned that help me to believe that God wants each and everyone of us to be a part of his church, and in particular, this ward. Moreover, he doesn’t just want us, he needs us. Each one of us, with our individual thoughts, talents, abilities, ideologies, bodies, brains, and spirits are essential to his work on the earth.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the church as a body—the Body of Christ. In Chapter 12, he compares us all to the individual parts of the body, the things that make it move, function, and grow. In his description of how the body works, he makes many different analogies that work beautifully to describe how we, being different individual human beings, work together as one.

It is through baptism that we become a part of the body (1 Cor. 12), and as a part of the body, we work together to accomplish the work of our Heavenly Father. There are three important things about the Body that Paul points out.

First, every part of the Body must be different. In verses 17-20 he writes:

“If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.”

In other words, if we were all eyes, or noses, or feet, or hands, or belly buttons, the body could not function. It would only be able to do one or two things, but we need it to walk, talk, see, smell, sit, stand, sing, and shake hands, and do all the other amazing things a body can do. We were created differently for a purpose, every one of us with our own ideas, talents, abilities, and ways of working. And God has put us in this position so that we can help the body to function.

Which brings us to the second point: we must all work together. If our bodies were just a pile of unconnected parts, all pulling in different directions, we wouldn’t be able to function at all. Undoubtedly, that is how some of us feel at times, like that parts of our body are not cooperating with each other. But we need to be sure we are all working together to accomplish the same goals. Paul writes in verse 21:

“…the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”

We cannot put aside parts of the body—they are all needed. And in recognizing that every part is needed, we can begin to figure out what our function might be, to help recognize the functions of others, and to help the body function together. No one part can do it on its own, it needs the other parts to make sure all the work gets done.

Paul’s third point is one of the most interesting to me: we must not expect every one to do it the same way. In verses 4-6, he writes,

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”

In these words, Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that just because we are different, does not mean that we are not also serving God. There are many, many ways to follow Christ, to do his will, and to be a faithful member of his Church. There is no one right way. And since we must all be different, it is expected that we will approach our own salvation in a way different from our neighbor, from our friend, from our spouse, and from other members of our ward. And when people do things differently, it does not make them wrong, it just makes them different.

Martin Luther is quoted as saying “Marriage is the school of Love.” I don’t know whether Martin Luther actually said this, but the point is well taken: it is in wedding ourselves to another person that we can learn how to fully love someone who is different from us. We often talk in the church about the family being the same kind of vehicle; it is how we learn how to be charitable toward those we don’t understand, we don’t agree with, or we don’t like. It is how we learn to show Christ’s love. The Church can be that same kind of vehicle. It is a place where we can learn to love those who are unlike us, to serve them, to spend time with them, to administer to them, and to accept kindness from them. The Ward can be the school of Love. [If you want, you can read more about this concept here. It is not my original idea.]

When I was discussing about this topic with my mother recently, she stated the contrast perfectly. What she said was: “there is a difference between conforming and committing.”

The Lord does not expect us to conform. He does not expect us to look the same. He does not expect us to all do it the same way.

However, he does expect us to commit to following him, to making and keeping covenants with him, and do our best to serve the people around us.

We do not need to conform in order to commit to following his gospel. In fact, he would not like us to! It is essential that we are different, that we come from different places, that we have different ideas, talents, and abilities, and that we use those differences to be a member of his church—the Body of Christ. It is through that Body that the Lord does his work. One of us may be the eye to see the brother or sister in need, another may be the hand to do the work needed, while another may be foot to get the hand to the right place. One of us may be the ear to hear the prompting of the spirit, while another may be the brain to implement a solution, and yet another the arms to make it happen. What is important is that we commit to being a member of this Body, to helping one another accomplish his work.

In the last general conference, President Uchtdorf gave a wonderful talk called “Four Titles,” in the Priesthood Session. While teaching about the title “Disciple of Christ,” President Uchtdorf said the following:

“Remember that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built not for men and women who are perfect or unaffected by mortal temptations, but rather it is built for people exactly like you and me. And it is built upon the rock of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whose Atonement we can be cleansed and become “fellowcitizens … of the household of God.”

Without the Atonement of Jesus Christ, life would be a dead-end road without hope or future. With the Atonement, life is an ennobling, inspiring journey of growth and development that leads to eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”

I will put my mother’s words into President Uchtdorf’s mouth and say: you do not have to conform to commit. It is my prayer that we, as members of Christ’s Church and the Oakland Ninth Ward, can remember that God created us each as wonderful individuals. He knows us and loves us as individuals. He wants us each to explore our own potential, our own talents, our own abilities, and our own intellects so that we can be better members of His Body. It is also my prayer that we can look to find the talents and abilities of others and realize that we are all working together toward one great goal: to live with our Heavenly Father again. Each person will do it differently, and that is the way it is supposed to be. And how beautiful those differences are.

Everything is new

We have been married for a little over three months now and I realized that a lot of new things have happened in my life.

I experienced my first opera, Nixon in China, which I would STRONGLY recommend against for your first opera experience.  I went to two more shows after Nixon in China to give it another try and show Laney that I loved her. Attila and The Magic Flute were much better, and I would recommend Attila as a first Opera experience to anyone, it was really well done and kept my interest the entire show.

I watched professional golf.  We got some free tickets to watch the warm-ups for the U.S. Open in San Francisco and we went with Will and Rachel.  It was like an exciting, long, and beautiful walk for me.  It did get a little uncomfortable at one point when Tiger Woods asked Laney if she wanted a tour of his private suite.

I have been with the Contra Costa County Library system for a few months now, but it still has that new feel.  I really enjoy everything about it still.

There are too many new experiences to list, but Laney and I have been having a great first three months of marriage!