Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, February 20, 2009

Message in a Bottle

by Kerry Blair

I told you some time ago how (and why) my grandmother kept her worries in a box. Since that has worked so well for me, I’ve now started to bottle prayer.

Yes, really. While I am still in the early stages of market research, all signs point toward it being quite effective.

You see, I’ve long relied on Elder Maxwell’s declaration that prayer is the most efficacious thing one mortal being can do for another. With so many people I know going through so much in these latter days, bottles of jam still have their place in compassionate service—and I distribute them widely—but bottles of prayer spread even farther.

My favorite recipe is one I happened upon years ago when I was a young RS president. There was a woman in our ward who could have campaigned against Job for “Most Persecuted Person in the History of the Planet”—and won. Every time I answered the phone it was her or the bishop or her Visiting Teachers, calling to report yet another calamity. The Elder’s Quorum president suggested we hire one of those fire-fighting planes to drop consecrated oil over her house, but since the Priesthood failed to follow through on that one, crisis management was mostly left to me.

They were some of the scariest days of my life. Every time I approached her door I feared I would be overcome and consumed by her dozens of cats. It never happened (obviously) but I was consumed by the felines’ fleas—until I got smart enough to wear jeans and tuck the hems into the tops of my boots. I helped her clean, I really did, despite the very real concern that her derelict roof would collapse, trapping me alive with all those felines and fleas.

(And, yes, it has occurred to me that I may be turning into a little old cat lady myself, but how rude of you to think it while I’m trying to tell you a story.)

One Sunday afternoon, I sat with this poor sister in the hall outside the bishop’s office while she waited for her tri-weekly appointment. (He was too smart to go to her house.) She was going on and on about how diligent she had been in following his counsel to say her prayers morning and night—and every minute in between.

Amazed at the still-sorry state of her life I blurted out, “What in the heck are you praying for?”

She smiled with the self-righteous assurance of a St. Benedict and replied, “All I ever ask is for patience and the strength to endure.”

It was like a lightning bolt of divine revelation struck me right there on that cheap plastic chair. “So that’s your problem,” I said. “My gosh! If you’re going to pray for patience and endurance, what do you expect the Lord to send you? Could you try praying for peace and joy for awhile and give us all a break?”

I was not the most compassionate RS president to ever serve in that ward. Not even close.

It was then that the bishop opened his door. “Never mind the appointment,” I said, standing. “I’ve solved Sister Job’s root problem. She just needs to stop praying . . . and buy flea powder.”

I didn’t say that last line, but I thought it very loudly, so it will still count against me on Judgment Day.

I tell you this flippantly, but I believe it is true at a very basic level. I know with all my heart that the Lord hears and answers prayers. Moreover, He often gives us what we pray for, if only to teach us to be more aware of what we truly want—and need—in life. This sounds irreverent, but it’s not too much unlike that old monkey paw morality fable where a man wishes for what he thinks he really wants/needs and then discovers to his horror that he should have thought his heart’s desires out much more carefully. I once received a blessing in which I was instructed to ask the Lord for things only under the direction of the Spirit. When I do, life is good. Or, when it isn’t good, I am at least good with it. It’s when I believe that I can run the universe at large better than You-Know-Who that I get into trouble. Deep trouble. (Do not try this at home, in other words.)

So, while I can’t know or maybe even guess at the desires of others’ hearts, let alone perceive the needs of which only the Lord is aware, I can (and do) put my prayer for them in a little bottle. It is my way of offering the Bread of Life along with the much more meager gift of bread and jam. The prayer I include is always the same. I ask in their behalf for what the angels promised us all at the birth of our Savior: comfort and joy.

And it works. When we ask for joy and seek after the gift of the Comforter, it doesn’t matter how many jams* we get ourselves into or how many worries we have in our boxes—we’ll be fine.

*Sorry. I tried so, so hard to write just one blog without a bad pun in it, but I just couldn't.


At 2/20/2009 12:17 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

I take it your froggie blog is on a "bottle" theme now. Wow! I can hardly wait for Rob's version.

Seriously, you've written a great, thought-provoking blog again.

At 2/20/2009 1:16 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

This one should definitely be included in "Counting Blessings 2 : Kerry On" =) (no stranger to puns myself)

At 2/20/2009 3:11 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Wonderful post. "I know with all my heart that the Lord hears and answers prayers. Moreover, He often gives us what we pray for, if only to teach us to be more aware of what we truly want—and need—in life." Really gives me something to think about right now. Thanks.

I finally read Ghost of a Chance last night. LOVED IT!

At 2/20/2009 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't imagine how much of a lift you've given me this afternoon, Kerry. Reading this blog tickled my funny bone while it touched my heart. Thanks.

By the way, how many cats do you have? Three? Four? And a dog? And rabbits? Hmmm ...


At 2/20/2009 5:41 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Karlene: Thanks! It surprises me to hear that it's still around...not that you could miss the bright pink cover, even in a landfill. :)

Deb: I only have three cats. The "real" cat and the twin auxillary cattens that we're "only taking care of until we find them good homes." At this point I expect the search to take another 15 years or so -- unless I take them to Utah in April to leave on Jon's doorstep. That might work.

Over the years we've had packs of dogs, kaboodles of cats, warrens of rabbits, flocks of birds and poultry, herds of gerbils and hamsters, bunches of turtles, too many tortoises and singing frogs, and a lakeful of freshwater fish. Having pretty much exhausted the native wildlife, my daughter is now setting up a saltwater aquarium to house sea critters. If extra-terrestrial life is ever found on earth, I fully expect Hilary to bring it home and ask me what to feed it.

At 2/20/2009 6:05 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Re: Hilary: Reese's Pieces, of course!

Cattens (!) would of course find a lovely home with us, but we have the legal limit of 2. There's always Best Friends - it's practically on your way. Except that you'd just want to take more home with you. =) We sure did.

At 2/20/2009 8:42 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

This is one of those things I've known on an intellectual level for a long time but forget in daily practice. Beautiful post, Kerry. Flea powder and all. :)

At 2/21/2009 7:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


When you bottle your home grown prayers what brand of canning jars do you recommend? Mason or Kerr(y)? I've heard you shouldn't use commercial jars like mayonnaise, peanut butter or pickle jars. They aren't very resistant to hi temperature pop culture extremes; they break easily. Also, lids may not seal on commercial prayer jars because the sealing edge may be irregular rather than daily and the neck of the jar may be so stiff the screw band of inspiration will not hold the lid firmly in place when you're processing your toughest prayers.

Do you recommend only a water bath at 8 years or upon conversion or is that just a preamble to the pressure canner you use for the rest of your life? I can never tell if my prayers are low acid, high acid, or sugary until they're offered and it’s too late to ponder what in heaven's will--will work. Is 212 degrees for twenty minutes enough or do you recommend more time on your knees?

I know when you're bottling at low altitude, say under a thousand feet, you only need about ten pounds of humility to bottle your prayers effectively. But when you're at higher altitude, say over two thousand adoring fans and growing, you need a lot more. Do you know exactly how many more pounds?

What about re-bottled prayers? You know, the ones that don't seal after the first pressure canning attempt? Do you throw them out and start over or re-bottle? Do you add any sugar as a preservative and store them in a cool dry location, say on the nightstand between Genesis and a Pearl of Great Price? Or is it better to rotate your prayers? I started doing that when I noticed they were sitting on the shelf too long. The expiration date comes so quickly I have to stay on my knees longer just to keep up. If the bottled prayer expiration date comes and goes, do you throw them out or wait for the growing season and then bottle more? There's gotta be a secret additive you throw in on a regular basis to keep your prayers from going vain? I hate that ugly grayish brown look.

I don't think sugar is the end all be all. Do you use anything else when you bottle prayer? I've heard if you just keep at it, everyday on your knees, you'll eventually solve your problems. Even the ones that seem to come in pears and nearly artichoke you to death. I'd love to hear all your prayer bottling secrets.

Thanks for the post.


At 2/23/2009 9:34 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Ly?! LY! I thought you'd been lost at sea and washed up on some deserted beach somewhere withough Internet access.

As usual, your comment is better than my blog. I have no idea how to reply! :)


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