Friday, December 14, 2012

Finding Time for the Lord

When a Sunday School teacher asks the inevitable question, "Why do we sometimes forget to pray or read our scriptures?", someone inevitably answers, "I think we just get too busy and forget."  And then it leads to a discussion about how we need to slow down and make time for the important things in life. We talk about how life is too fast-paced, we are the generation of instant gratification, and we need to learn patience.  Does this sound familiar? The comments are all good.  We do need to make time to attend church, commune with the Lord, attend the temple, study our scriptures, go home teaching or visiting teaching, hold family home evening, fulfill our church callings, and raise the future generation in truth and righteousness!  But life is busy and time never slows down.  So how do we make time for the Lord?

My solution is to reverse the situation.  Instead of trying to find a few minutes to dedicate to the Lord after everything else is done, why don't we dedicate all our time each day to the Lord?  Then we could try to find a few minutes to spare playing Angry Birds or browsing Pinterest - because those are necessary breaks from reality at the appropriate time too. What if we make our lives so busy doing the important things that we do not have time for the unimportant things?  I used to think I was doing that, but now that I have a newborn again I realize just how much time I used to waste.  Now I am on my feet from sunup to sundown and sometimes in between.  My day goes better when I begin it with a prayer, asking the Lord to help me accomplish His will that day.  And it usually works, depending on how well I remember to rely on the Lord.

I have work enough to do,
Ere the sun goes down,
For myself and kindred too,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev'ry idle whisper stilling
With a purpose firm and willing,
All my daily tasks fulfilling,
Ere the sun goes down.
(I Have Work Enough to Do, LDS Hymnbook, p. 244).

I believe part of the reason missionaries say their missions were "the best two years of their life" is because they spend each day in service dedicated to the Lord.  Even if we are not full-time missionaries, we can experience some of their joy when we spend each day building the kingdom in our own appointed way.

Imagine that we are so busy - putting in an honest day's work, cooking healthy meals, catching up with friends, playing with our kids, folding laundry, helping our neighbors, strengthening our bodies, educating our minds, teaching our fellowmen, recording family history, sharing our testimonies, communing with the Lord, serving in the temple, and studying our scriptures - that we have no time to waste on trivial things. "Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperancepatience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence" (D&C 4: 6).

I think we know what our personal time-wasting weaknesses are.  When I constantly check Facebook to see what my friends have posted in the last 10 minutes, it is time for me to shut down the computer and play with my children.  I love a good dystopian novel, but when I stay up late reading and I am crabby with my family the next day, I know my priorities were reversed. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the internet, or reading books or magazines.  Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information.  But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it" (Good, Better, Best. October 2007).

I know when I spend my time in productive ways, serving the Lord by serving my family and my fellowmen, I feel happier inside.  I feel content.  I feel pleased with my work and my life.  When I become absorbed in the computer - even if it is typing a spiritual blog post - I feel disappointed with myself and anxious to make that time up to my kids.  But we cannot "make up" time - we can neither invent more time or go back in time.   Each day has exactly 1,440 minutes. Every minute we have is precious time we can either spend growing closer to the Lord or drawing away from Him.  Our lives are a precious gift from God.  My new resolution is to show my gratitude to Him by spending my minutes accomplishing His will, one day at a time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Using our Talents to Bless One Another

Our family welcomed Zachary Landon into the world on September 5th, 2012.  He is sweet and handsome and so snuggly!  We all adore him.  His big sisters cannot leave him alone! As wonderful as a new baby is, the transition from two to three children has been difficult.  My life is crazy. My friend assured me that craziness is the new normal, so I better adjust quickly.  Among the scattered moments of gratitude and peace, I feel I am constantly climbing a mountain, but never reach the top: a mountain of dishes, a mountain of laundry, a mountain of homework... I just hope I do not fall off! I need heavenly help to magnify my talents and strengthen my soul.  Erma Bombeck penned the following words: "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'".  I confidently feel that in this journey of motherhood, I am using everything God gave me!

Christ has taught us to use our talents.  He commanded, "Thou shall not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known" (D&C 60:13).  In fact, we learn from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 that those who bury their talents will have them taken away and given to those who will use them.  To those who multiply their talents, the Lord praises, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Matthew 25:23).

We all have talents! The Lord also calls them gifts.  "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many fits, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.  To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby" (D&C 46:10).  Why does the Lord give us spiritual gifts? "For all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God" (D&C 46:26).  The secret to improving our talents?  Use them to bless one another. I finally caught on to this principle while trying to improve my baking skills.

About three years ago I decided I wanted to master the art of homemade bread. I failed miserably.Every batch of bread refused to rise and was slightly softer than a rock. They progressively improved as I attempted multiple bread recipes.  Then one day last year, I decided to pray before making a batch of bread.  Mylee and I said a prayer out loud in the kitchen before we began baking.  We told Heavenly Father that one of the loaves was for a friend and we really wanted it to taste good.  We asked him to please help us.  It turned out to be best batch I had ever made!  The loaves were light and fluffy.  Since that experience, I have given at least one delicious loaf of bread away from every batch I make. By dedicating my bread to service for the Lord, He not only helps me make better bread, but he also allows me to draw closer to him and my fellowmen.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton, a past member of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught, "It is our right and responsibility to accept our gifts and to share them.  God's gifts and powers are available to all of us...When, in disgust or discouragement, we allow ourselves to reach depressive levels of despair because of our demeaning self-appraisal, it is a sad day for us and a sad day in the eyes of God.  For us to conclude that we have no gifts when we judge ourselves buy stature, intelligence, grade-point average, wealth, power, position, or external appearance is not only unfair but unreasonable."  We are children of God, and I think he sorrows when we think we have nothing to give.

Some talents are more noticeable than others. Elder Ashton taught us to recognize some less-conspicuous gifts.  "...The gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost" 
(There Are Many Gifts, November 1987).  If you need help recognizing your gifts, I encourage you to think of ways you serve others.  Are you a good listener when a friend needs to talk?  Do you hear the Holy Ghost inspire you to know what to say?  Do you uplift others with a powerful testimony?  Are you a peacemaker?  Service comes in many shapes and sizes.

I served as an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple during my senior year at BYU.  My Friday night shift became a sacred highlight of every week.  I felt surrounded by angels as I served in endowment sessions, carried prayer rolls names, and greeted people as they entered the temple.  However, my favorite and most challenging responsibility was doing initiatories.  I felt the heavenly, yet heavy, weight of memorizing every word of the ordinances!  If you are an endowed member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then you understand how much memorizing it requires. I spent my first few temple shifts simply studying the words and committing them to memory before I performed them.  I, a 22-year-old college student, was having trouble with it all;  I could not imagine how difficult it must for the senior temple workers! However, those beautiful, wise, and experienced women told me a secret.  They said that because we were serving in the Lord's house, he would give us power beyond our abilities to memorize everything we needed and more.  They were right.  It is not really a secret at all!  Did not the Lord promise that he would prepare a way for us to accomplish his commands? (1 Nephi 3:7).  

We read in 2 Nephi 32:9, "But behold I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul."  Consecrate means to devote, to ordain, to dedicate, and to make sacred. This means that when we perform any thing unto the Lord and pray for divine help from the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord will dedicate our performance for our good, and by consequence, for the good of those we serve. I believe this consecration of service principle applies to all righteous aspects of life. I had a group of friends in high school who used to sing at a nursing home every Sunday. Were their songs made sweeter because they sang for the elderly patients who lived there? I think so. My husband is a special education teacher; he prays to know how to teach his students, therefore he receives inspiration to best meet their learning needs.  

I experience this principle as a mother.  Motherhood is full-time service, so I know the Lord is with me as I pray for guidance to raise my children in righteousness.  When I dedicate each day to the Lord, he multiplies my talents beyond my own limited capabilities. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, "We thank all you mothers and tell you there is nothing more important in this world than participating so directly in the work and glory of God, in bringing to pass the immortality and earthly life of His daughters and sons, so that immortality and eternal life can come in those celestial realms on high...Yours is the work of salvation and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however feeble you may sometimes feel that to be..." (Because She is a Mother, April 1997, italics added).  There is the promise again!  As you serve in the work of salvation (which is not limited to motherhood alone), you will be made more than you are.  God will help you as you help His children. Hallelujah, because I need all the help I can get!

Friday, August 10, 2012

His Covenant of Peace

Effie, a woman in my ward whom I greatly admire, has said, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape." I try to follow this Effie-ism by graciously accepting every challenge as it comes without worrying or getting anxious about the future, but this pregnancy has made it so much harder to do. These crazy hormones have caused me to worry about almost everything!

I recently read a story about a husband and wife who were confronted by a burglar in the middle of the night.  The man owned a gun and protected his wife and three young children by shooting the burglar. I thought, "What if someone breaks into my house and tries to hurt my girls? I don't own a gun! I need to learn how to shoot a gun! I need a concealed weapons permit to protect my family!" And then I thought, "But what if my kids find the gun and accidentally shoot themselves?"  These thoughts come at night while I am lying in bed trying to fall asleep.  Then I wake up my husband in a frenzy, "Landon, are all the doors locked? Are the windows closed?  What if someone comes in our house and tries to take our girls?"

And then there are the stories about babies and toddlers dying in freak accidents.  I hate hearing these stories.  They send me into a downward spiral of despair as I think about those heartbroken parents who have lost their children.  I pray for those parents and pray that my kids will not be hit by a car, drown in a pool, fall out a window ... you get the idea.

And then there are the stories about babies almost making it full-term but dying in the womb because the placenta detached or the umbilical cord wrapped around their neck. Why do people think I want to hear these? NEVER tell these stories to a pregnant woman!

Add to that all the suffering, violence, war, and abuse in this world and the future seems dark and depressing!  I want to hold my family close and hide under the covers from the world! This is where my faith comes in and saves the day. I came across the following scriptures in Isaiah:

"For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee ... And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.  In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee" (Isaiah 54: 10, 11-12).

I felt my worries wash away as I read these verses. The phrase "great shall be the peace of the children" and the promise that I shall be far from fear and terror gave me the much desired peace I was desperately yearning for. Don't we all want peace? The Lord has promised us a covenant of peace, but we must accept it.  He stands at the door and knocks, but we most open the door to Him.

“On that very night, the night of the greatest suffering that has ever taken place in the world or that ever will take place, the Savior said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you... Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior's commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord's merciful heart” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Created for Greater Things, 2011).

Our Savior does not want us to worry! Elder Holland even said that our troubled hearts are grievous to the Lord's merciful heart. He wants us to trust in Him.  We must have faith that good things will and do happen! Despair comes from the devil, who delights in our unhappiness. We must have faith that Christ's atonement is sufficient to cover all the grief and pain in this world.  And someday, the suffering will end.  Christ will come again and all wrongs will be made right.

Of course I know that until that day comes, bad things will still happen.  Before we came to earth we accepted the challenges that come with life, knowing they were necessary to allow us to learn and grow and become like God. I was privileged to take a New Testament class from Camille Fronk Olsen while I studied at BYU.  She taught me a lesson that has stayed with me, "The Lord has not promised that you will never cry.  However, he has promised to dry your tears when you do." I know that my worrying does not help me or my family, and if something bad were to happen, the Savior would be there to pick me up.  He has always been here for me and He always will be.

Elder Holland has also said, “God expects you to have enough faith and determination and enough trust in Him to keep moving, keep living, keep rejoicing. In fact, He expects you not simply to face the future (that sounds pretty grim and stoic); He expects you to embrace and shape the future--to love it and rejoice in it and delight in your opportunities”  (Created for Greater Things, 2011). 

In other words, we should not just 'endure to the end.'  I like to say that we should 'enjoy to the end!'  I am in my final month of pregnancy; however, the lessons I have learned about our Savior's covenant of peace will stay with me long after my baby comes. I pray they will never leave. I bear witness that those who wait upon the Lord will find peace and happiness in these troubled last days. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Best is Enough

I have always held high expectations for myself.  Some have been too high and I belittled myself when I failed.  I felt wholly inadequate whenever I would read, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5: 48). When I was younger and understood the stern reprimands of repentance more than grace, patience, and God’s love, I even thought life would be much easier if I was baptized when I was 90 and then died the next day.  That way I would be assured eternal life! 

Now I realize that baptism does not equal perfection. We are clean when we come out of the water, but not perfect. To be clean is to be forgiven of sin. To be perfect is to be whole or complete.  It is possible to be clean and imperfect at the same time.  For me, the key to understanding this was by recognizing the difference between sin and weakness.  In her book Weakness is not Sin, Sister Wendy L. Ulrich, Ph.D. explained that sin is “willful rebellion against God”, while weaknesses are “human limitations and vulnerabilities that come with our natural bodies” (p. 34).  Weaknesses are given to us by a loving Father in Heaven who knows it is necessary for us to learn how to overcome them through humility and faith. As long as we recognize our sins, repent of them, and pray for strength in overcoming our weaknesses, we are closer to perfection every day. As the apostle Paul said, “For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

I had weaknesses when I was 8, I still have them now.  Some I have overcome, some are still around, and some have developed since.  I have realized that I will never reach perfection in this life.  No one will.

Brad Wilcox has explained, “Even those who end up in the celestial kingdom will still be engaged in the perfecting process.  In D&C 76:60 we learn that ‘they shall overcome all things’, not that they already have.  This life ‘is the time to prepare to meet God’ (Alma 12:24), but we still have eternity to learn to be like Him” (The Continuous Atonement, p. 20).  For me to expect perfection of myself after a mere twenty-seven years of life is a little haughty, not to mention overwhelming.  Bruce R. McConkie taught, “Sanctification is an ongoing process, and we obtain that glorious status by degrees as we overcome the world and become saints in deed as well as in name” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 265).

I know my weaknesses and I’m working on them a little bit at a time, sometimes a lot at a time.  I am growing closer to my Savior and as I do, I feel His spirit compensating for the areas in which I lack. His grace does what I cannot. If I died tomorrow, I have the most perfect feeling of assurance that I would be worthy of the celestial kingdom because I am doing my best to keep His commandments.  This is not pride; it is faith and hope. 

Knowledge of the difference between sin and weakness freed me from self-contempt over my inadequacies! Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “He who was thrust down in the first estate delights to have us put ourselves down. Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself” ("Notwithstanding My Weakness", Ensign, Nov. 1976, 12).  I no longer mind if my visiting teachers come over and my house is messy.  It is okay if I accidentally burn the cookies.  I can smile when we go to the store and my children’s clothes are mismatched.  Alone I am an inadequate, but with my Savior by my side and I am more than adequate!

Perfection is not expected in this life. Fears of not being enough are whispered in our ears by the father of all lies to discourage us from even trying. I am grateful for my Heavenly Father who loved us enough to send a Savior to heal our hearts, calm our fears, and provide peace to our souls. "Be ye therefore perfect" is an invitation, not a condemnation.  One day we will be perfect. Until then, our best is enough.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More than Just a Game

Ticket to Ride.  Have you ever played that game? The object is to collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes from city to city. The longer the routes, the more points players earn. I have only played the game twice in my life. The first time I accidentally cheated (long story) and I still lost. The second time was with my husband and a group of married friends just a few months ago.  Of the four couples playing, we scored the lowest.  Needless to say, we are not huge fans of strategy games because we stink at them.  Settlers of Catan? No thank you! Anyway, back to the second time I played the game and what I actually learned from playing it.

After eating dinner with our friends, we all sat around the table to play.  Landon and I decided to connect our train from El Paso to Denver.  It only required four train pieces.  We connected to Santa Fe on our first turn, but on the next round another couple purposely blocked our way by placing their trains from Santa Fe to Denver! Aaaahhh! Even though it was just a game, I felt genuinely upset! After some more strategizing we decided to abandon that route and we eventually did connect to Denver by way of Oklahoma City.  That route used nine train pieces, which meant more points for us in the end.  What we initially thought was a setback turned out to be a blessing, even if we didn't win the game.  Do you see where I am going with this?

Sometimes life dishes out trials that are so unbearably difficult that we wonder if we can survive them. This is exactly how I feel when I am in the grips of postpartum depression the months following the birth of my babies. It is how my parents felt - and still feel 10 years later - after my brother passed away. We often ask "Why, God, is this happening to me?"  Sometimes we learn the answer to that question.  Sometimes we do not.  But I have faith that someday, it will all make sense.  Every question will be answered by our loving Heavenly Father.  He is in control of each step of our lives from preexistence to birth to death to eternal life. What we saw as adversities were actually blessings.  That may sound trite, but it is true.  Trials can strengthen our testimonies if we will surrender our will to God's.  "For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3).

When Landon and I graduated from college in April 2007, I was six months pregnant.  He was desperately applying for physical education teaching jobs all over the country.  Secondary math and science jobs were abundant, but the chances of receiving a PE job were slim. After three months of unsuccessful job hunting, we moved into my parent's basement just 2 weeks before our first daughter was born.  He took two part-time jobs, one loading UPS trucks and the other as a post-high special education assistant.  He woke up at 4 a.m. every day, even after getting up with our newborn daughter in the middle of the night. 

In November, seven months after graduation, he interviewed for and was offered a full-time special education teaching position at a local elementary school. This was a wonderful blessing even if it wasn't a P.E. job!  He began teaching and taking classes to receive his special education license.  After 4 months, the district told him they were cutting his position and we were back to where we started: no teaching job.  He applied for more positions in Spring 2008 and was eventually offered another elementary special education job at a different school.  Hallelujah! At the end of the summer, a district special education representative called us. Landon's new teaching position was going to be cut too.  However, the district wanted to offer Landon a position as one of the six elementary PE specialists in the district. 

Suddenly, what I call The Year of Teaching Turmoil came completely into perspective!  The many unexpected setbacks led Landon into a position he originally wanted, but could not have received without district experience. This also led him to eventually earning his special education license in addition to his P.E. license. We had more points at the end of the game! We learned that the Lord had been watching over us all along. We just needed to keep exercising faith in him. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3: 5-6).

I have heard the following quote by Elder Orson F. Whitney so many times that I hesitate at first to post it, but it is quoted so much because it is THAT GOOD.  “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. … All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire" (Quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [1972], 98).

Baptism in the Bathtub

This post comes from my daughter Mylee who is 4 years old. I overheard this while she was playing with Barbie and Ariel dolls in the bathtub:

"I'm gonna baptize Barbie because she's 8 years old."

"Ariel, I baptize you for the Mormon for the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I hope you be good when you get baptized and Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon is great for you to read.  I love the scriptures.  You should too. The pioneers and the missionaries. I love you so much. Amen."

"Okay! Holy Ghost time!"

Need I say more? Out of the mouth of babes...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Be Thou an Example

A woman in my parent's ward told a story once in Relief Society.  She said she'd found an amazing hair product. It was a hairspray of some sort that made her hair easier to style and stay exactly how she wanted it.  I wish I could remember the name of the product! She said that she was so excited that she told all of her friends about it so they could enjoy hassle-free hair days too.  No more bad hair days! It was a miracle!

She then compared her miracle hairspray to the gospel. If our testimony is so precious to us, and our faith gives us strength on bad days, why do we not bare it more often? Why do we not become so excited about the gospel that we share it not only with our friends, but with strangers too? Gospel means "good news," and we all need some of that!

I am nervous to share my beliefs with neighbors of other faith, unless it is during a religious conversation that they initiated.  I'm afraid they will be offended or think I am too pushy, maybe self-righteous. Once I had a dream that I went to my next door neighbor's house - wonderful people who have fallen away from the church - and the husband screamed that he "didn't want to hear no Mormon preaching" and to get out of his house! It is kind of funny because he is one of the friendliest guys I know. Even though it was a dream, I do not intend to bring up religion with him. Ever. His wife has told me they are not interested in coming back to church and I will respect that, but I hope they change their minds!

I think we often hear stories in the church about someone who was nervous to approach a nonmember about the gospel, but felt prompted to do so and the person was baptized.  A wonderful young mother in my ward converted to the church when she was in college.  She said that members lived in the apartment on either side of her, but none of them told her about the church. She thinks the friend who did share the gospel with her was sent to her because her neighbors failed to do so. Yikes. She told us how much joy the gospel has given her and encouraged us to tell people about the church. She is right.

The picture in this post is of my brother Levi. He is currently serving in the Florida Tallahassee Mission. We are all so proud of him! As a missionary, his entire life right now is dedicated to preaching the gospel. I know he appreciates referrals and support from ward members. We do not have to wear a suit and a name tag to share our beliefs. We should keep pass-along cards in our purses! I think this might be easier now that Mormons are more prevalent in the media. Mitt Romney's presidential run is even more of a reason to share some accurate and correct LDS beliefs. Sometimes nonmembers need help discerning LDS fact from fiction! The phrase "magical underwear" does sound silly until you explain the sacred meaning behind garments and temple ordinances...

However, we also need to recognize that some people do not want to hear about the church. Trying to convert them will only push them away. This is my solution: Live your life in such a way that when people know you, they'll want to know Christ. Be a friend, respect their beliefs, keep the commandments, serve one another, love your fellow men, and be happy to do all of it! I am a firm believer of sharing the gospel by example.  We never know who is watching us, and I believe we influence more lives than we ever know.

"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Friends Who Refused to Let Me Fall

My brother died soon after my Senior year of high school began.  I was 17.  He was 15.  He fell off a cliff overlooking Snow Canyon State Park. That was the beginning of the darkest year of my family's life.

Today in Sunday School we reviewed when the prophet Alma asks the people if they "are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life" (Alma 18:9).

The teacher then asked if we had any stories to tell about people who had mourned with and comforted us.  I thought of my friends during my Senior year of high school.  They were a gift from God and carried me through my grief.

The day after Zach died, there was a knock on the front door.  I opened it to see all my friends from Seminary Council - Brother Bushman, Laura, Akayleia, Cortney, and Wesley - standing on the front porch.  I immediately started sobbing and they all put their arms around me, held me, and prayed with me.

A week after Zach died, Akayleia and Tiffany picked me up and took me to the Homecoming football game.  I don't remember who won the game, but I remember my friends put my hoodie over my head so no one would recognize me.  They snuck me in and we sat on the opposing side where the bleachers were practically empty.  Some friends who knew I was there came and joined us.  I wish I could remember everyone who came over.

Jolene came to my house as soon as I told her Zach had died.  She stayed with me the whole day and came back every time I needed her, whether I asked her to or not.  A few days after his death, Jolene, Rosie, and Melissa even made me laugh so hard that I peed my pants. Then I had to hug Rosie's grandma who kept whispering, "I'm so sorry" while trying to sneak downstairs to change my wet pants! They gave me some Huggies a few days later as a joke that started my laughing all over again.  It felt so good to laugh.

Robyn came up to my house many times. She always listened to me.  She understood when I didn't feel or act like myself during debate class. She and Wes and I sat in his car outside my house and listened to the song "From Where You Are" by Josh Groban. I cried and didn't feel embarrassed.

Wes and Robyn and Laura W. took me to Outback Steakhouse for dinner, just so I could get out of the house.

When I could not get out of bed, Akayleia sat on my bed and read a book to me and rubbed my back.

Everyone in Seminary signed giant cards for me with encouraging messages and compliments.  It helped to know so many people cared about me.

Everyone on RASK Council signed a book for me.  I still have it upstairs on the book shelf.

I broke down once during a Seminary lesson about how families can be forever.  I left the room and shut myself in the seminary council office and sobbed on the floor. Brother Bushman and Wes came in to check on me.  Wes and I then ditched school and he took me to Chili's for lunch.

Another late night I was having panic attacks.  I called Laura, but she was out with Austin.  Her mom took a message and I eventually fell asleep.  Around midnight, the phone rang.  It was Laura calling me back.  I fell apart again when I answered, and she said a prayer for me over the phone. I felt peace once again.

Even after months had passed, my friends did not forget about me.  One Saturday Heidi, Michael, Laura, Austin, and some other friends stopped by my house.  They were on their way to Pine Valley to go sledding and play in the snow.  They picked me up and off we went. It meant so much to me to be included.

I received condolence cards in the mail from high school people I barely knew, but who still cared about me. My entire AP Spanish class, mostly filled with Mexican people I barely knew, even made me cards! I later dropped that class, but kept the cards.

How does someone "mourn with those that mourn" and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort"?  Simply by being a friend. By offering dinner, a laugh, a phone call, a card, a break, or whatever else is needed rather than saying, "Call me if you need help with anything."  Because, really, who actually calls when they need help with anything? I know there are more friends who helped me whose stories I am forgetting and I am sorry. Much of that time is a blur. I made it through my senior year because I had friends who refused to let me fall. Alma would have been proud.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cherishing our Role as Mothers

Motherhood has been on my mind lately.  Sometimes my role as a mother seems insignificant to the rest of the world.  Sometimes it seems insignicant to my children.  Sometimes it seems insignificant to me.

This month my husband graduated with his Masters in Education.  I helped him every step of the way.  We have both invested a great amount of time and money these past few years into his education, but he was the only one to walk across the graduation stage while I sat in the crowd, pregnant and entertaining our restless daughters and applauding him.  It didn't seem quite fair.

This experience caused me to critically think about my role as a wife and mother. My conclusion after much prayer and thought is this:
At this point in time, I need to be at home with my children.  I need to support my husband as he supports our family.  My role is anything but insignificant! I am the heart of this family. I am the glue that holds us together. Not to mention, they'd live on cold cereal without me! Although society may not value my role as a wife and mother, my husband and kids and Heavenly Father sure do! And that is all that matters.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it this way,
"Do the best you can through these years, but whatever else you do, cherish that role that is so uniquely yours and for which heaven itself sends angels to watch over you and your little ones...Remember, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Eccl. 3:1) Mothers, we acknowledge and esteem your faith in every footstep. Please know that it is worth it then, now, and forever."

Elder Holland also quoted from a letter a young mother sent to him. Her words are my words: “Through the thick and the thin of this, and through the occasional tears of it all, I know deep down inside I am doing God’s work. I know that in my motherhood I am in an eternal partnership with Him. I am deeply moved that God finds His ultimate purpose and meaning in being a parent" (Because She is a Mother, April 1997).

Last night was my first performance as a member of our area's Heritage Choir. I look forward to our practices every week because singing in the tabernacle, surrounded by fellow singers, brings me joy. It was our Mother's Day concert, which means the songs we have been practicing the past few weeks have been about how special and important mothers are. These songs have also helped me.

As I sang, I gazed at my husband and daughters in the audience.  This time, it was my turn on the stage while he sat entertaining our restless daughters and applauding me. I realized in that moment what I forgotten with his graduation: we are a team.  I help him, he helps me.  His accomplishments are mine; mine are his.  We raise our children as husband and wife, side my side as equal helpmeets.  Our roles are designed differently, yet perfectly complementary. I realize this is a great blessing that not everyone enjoys and I feel more grateful for it.  My resentment was replaced by joy and gratitude for my role as a wife and mother.  I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Whether we are working moms or full-time homemakers, whether we are single moms or have husbands helping us, whether we make homemade pizza or throw a frozen pizza in the oven, whether our closets are cluttered or perfectly organized, whether we have one child or eight children or even no children but mother those around us - we are irreplaceable and must "cherish the role that is so uniquely ours."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mormons are Saved by Grace Too (Or, The Brad Wilcox Show)

            You know that moment when melted popsicles are stuck to the kitchen floor, you can barely see the carpet through the toys scattered on the ground, dinner is boiling over on the stove, all the kids are whining for your attention, and your husband is working late?  I do.  Or maybe you are a single parent right now and a husband won’t be coming home.  Or maybe you are single and wish you were married and had messy floors and whining kids.  Either way, it is at these stressful, trying moments that our Savior’s grace is appreciated more than ever.  Sometimes I wish I could call upon the powers of heaven to clean my house and calm my children in one big bang!  That would be nice.

             During these moments when I want to retreat to my bedroom and scream into my pillow (and sometimes I do), I pray for grace. The bible dictionary defines grace as “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ” (p. 697).  I need divine help and strength every minute of every day. Through the gift of grace, I receive peace.  I receive patience.  I can accomplish all that is required of me.  When grace is on my side, I am a WAY BETTER mom.

            Brad Wilcox, a member of the Sunday School General Board and an associate professor of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University, has given what I believe is one of the best explanations of grace and works.  (I am proud that I had him for a professor when I was at BYU!  I came away knowing more about children’s literacy in one semester than I had in learned in one year!)  In a speech titled His Grace is Sufficient, Brother Wilcox explained “Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His (BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011).

            Brother Wilcox compared this to a mother who pays for her son to take piano lessons.  Because Mom has paid the teacher, she can ask her son to practice.  Practicing does not repay Mom for paying the piano teacher; rather, it is how the son shows appreciation for the gift.  It is how he takes advantage of the opportunity to play. Mom finds joy in his playing and progressing, so she continues to ask him to practice. In the same way, Jesus has paid the price of justice through the atonement.  He has the right to say “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19) and “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). 

             Sometimes the son may think his Mom’s requirement to practice is too overbearing. “Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”  In the same way, we may sometimes think Christ’s requirements are too much.  “Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”  If this is our attitude, maybe it is because we do not see through Christ’s eyes yet and we have not comprehended what He is trying to make of us.  His atonement is an investment He made in us.  Brother Wilcox explained when people of other faiths ask if we have been saved by grace, we can reply “Yes! Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully – yes!” (Maybe we could throw in a Baptist-preacher type "Hallelujah!" and "Praise the Lord!") And then we can ask, “Have you been changed by grace?”

            Not only does grace sustain us from day to day, it also saves us from hell. “It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life” (Bible dictionary, p. 697).

            Grace means that all of God’s children will be resurrected, and almost all of God’s children will go to heaven when they die. Hell is reserved for very few individuals: only those who have received all light and truth, and yet deny it. In the belief that all receive salvation through the grace of Jesus, our doctrine as Latter-day Saints seems to align with evangelical churches. However, we differ in the belief that heaven holds differing degrees of glory, and that is where our works come in.  Our works, which reflect our commitment to become like Jesus Christ, determine whether we ultimately make it to the Telestial (glory of the stars), Terrestrial (glory of the moon), or Celestial Kingdom (glory of the sun). These are the kingdoms referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: 40-41

            “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.”

            Brother Wilcox explained it this way, “We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

             Our ultimate goal is to make it to the Celestial Kingdom to dwell with God, Jesus Christ, and our families forever.  We believe that over time, we can eventually become Gods and Goddesses like our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.  This is not something we can earn; it is a gift that we are given as we grow into celestial beings through our works. Brother Wilcox stated, “Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for.”

            The definition of grace continues, “It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (Bible dictionary, p. 697).  This is why “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne 25:23). 

Here’s another Brad Wilcox goodie – this time learned from his book The Continuous Atonement.  This scripture is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that we should try to accomplish all we can without Christ, and then when we decide we need help we should call upon Him.  This is not how it is supposed to work!  We never have to try alone.  When the scripture says, “after all we can do”, the “we” should be interpreted as Jesus and us together – we are a team. I like to apply the scripture this way: “I know it is by grace that I am saved, after all Christ and I can do”.  Me and grace, side by side, every day.  Thank you, Jesus.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sacrifice Brings Forth the Blessings of Heaven

          We make many promises as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We covenant to consecrate our lives to Jesus Christ.  We are asked to pay tithes and offerings, attend church every week, serve in the temple, devote time to daily prayer and scripture study, go home teaching and visiting teaching, refrain from gossip, keep the Word of Wisdom, write in our journals, serve missions if we can, and more.  Above all, the Savior has asked us to offer Him “a broken heart and contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20). It may seem extreme to some to sacrifice so much. It would be too much to ask if the church was not true, but the church is true. And for each commandment Heavenly Father gives us, more blessings are poured out upon us as we keep it. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven, before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130: 21,22).     UAdd a Note 
Our loving Father has a purpose behind everything he asks of us, and everything he requires of us is for our good, now and into eternity. “For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). We pay our tithing, yet there is still sufficient money for our needs.  We read our scriptures and the Spirit stays close to us, making it easier to handle the challenges of the day.  We avoid drugs and alcohol and our bodies stay healthy.  We attend the temple and our eternal perspective is broadened and families are bound together forever.  I labor every day as a wife and mother serving my husband and my children, but my joy in doing so is too great to be measured.  If the blessings that come from sacrificing our time and talents are so great that we are blessed by them, is anything really a sacrifice at all?
My husband and I gave up watching a television show that we both found humorous.  We realized that the values it portrayed did not align with the values we live.  I thought it would be a sacrifice, but it was not.  Now there is more room for the Spirit to dwell in our home.  The early members of the church were persecuted and driven from their homes by mobs. They crossed the plains, lost limbs to frostbite, buried their loved ones, and even gave their lives to build up Zion.  A television show is nothing.
In the Old Testament we learn about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  The land was cursed with famine and Elijah was hiding for his life from wicked King Ahab.  The Lord directed him to the destitute widow to ask for a loaf of bread.  The bread was her and her son’s last meal before they died.  Elijah promised her that if she fed him, her barrel of meal and cruse of oil would never run out until the famine ended. What a difficult sacrifice to make! Did she know he was a prophet? In an act of great faith, she gave the bread to Elijah and witnessed the fulfillment of his blessing.  Later, her son died of a sickness and Elijah brought him back to life (1 Kings 17: 8-24). None of these blessings would have been given had she not sacrificed that loaf of bread.
Some sacrifices are more difficult than others. When I was seventeen years old, my fifteen year old brother died.  His loss has been the hardest sacrifice I have yet to endure. I believe that in the pre-existence I agreed to sacrifice my earthly time with him because I trusted in a loving Heavenly Father’s plan for our lives. I ache every day to hear my brother’s laugh and feel his warm bear hugs. As difficult as it was and is for me, it has been much harder for my parents.  They have felt some of what Heavenly Father must have felt when he sacrificed His Son. Yet, even as Heavenly Father took my brother home eight years ago, He has given him back many times since.  He guided our family to adopt my youngest sister after his death.  My siblings have felt his presence protect them in accidents.  His spirit has been with me at times too sacred to share. One day, our family will be together again never to be separated.
Joseph Smith taught, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; …When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain” (Lectures of Faith, [1985], 69).  To sacrifice is to know God.  
All that we have is a gift from God.  He has given us everything, even His only Begotten son, whose grace we are sustained by from day to day. Is it a sacrifice to give up or give back that which we never earned in the first place? No. Even when he does ask everything of us, as he did of Job, he gives it all back and more into the eternities.  “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:38).  Elder Ballard has taught, “Sacrifice is a demonstration of pure love.  The degree of our love for the Lord, for the gospel, and for our fellowman can be measured by what we are willing to sacrifice for them” ("The Blessings of Sacrifice", Ensign, May 1992, 75). The less living the gospel seems like a sacrifice, the nearer we are to becoming like our Savior Jesus Christ.  Nothing is truly a sacrifice if it brings us closer to eternal life.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dare to NOT Compare

My body has always been what I like to call curvaceous. My husband tells me he loves my curves. That is wonderful, because sometimes I do not. After giving birth to my first daughter, I weighed over 200 pounds. My self-loathing, like my weight, was at an all-time high and I knew I could not be the healthy, confident mother I wanted to be unless I changed. I dieted and exercised and lost 60 pounds! Then I got pregnant with my second daughter. The weight came on fast and after nine months, I was breaking the scale once again. I trained for two triathlons, ran a half marathon, and ate every salad like it was my last meal on earth. I still had a little muffin top, but I was strong and healthy. Now I am pregnant with my third baby. Guess what? The weight is coming back on. It may have something to do with cravings for ice cream at 11 p.m., but who knows?

The other day, my neighbor came to the door. She must be a size 2. She wore skinny jeans with a belt cinched over a stylish cardigan, which accented her tiny waist. I stood there looking frumpy in my dirty sweats with a messy ponytail, a common outfit for a mother who chases down toddlers all day. I smiled and chatted, but after she left I did what any other self-assured woman would do: I walked into the pantry and downed six Oreos with a glass of milk. Maybe it is the pregnancy hormones, but I doubt it.

Comparing is a dangerous game. To take pride in being “better” at something than someone else is to fall victim to vanity. Vanity is a bad word, right up there with pride. Yet to focus on our weaknesses results in falling victim to Oreos. Or maybe self-pity. Sometime they are one and the same for me. When we pity ourselves, we sometimes think it is hopeless to even try to change. Or we criticize other people who have accomplished what we have not.

The solution is to remember we are all equally loved by Heavenly Father because we are His sons and daughters. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). This scripture includes all souls, not just slim souls, or witty souls, or on-time-to-church souls. We are all invited to partake of eternal life. I do not believe that our Savior, who atoned for each and every one of us, wants us to compare ourselves. To compare implies that we are in a competition. Yet the road to heaven is not a race. We should not compete with each other; we should serve each other. The only person we are in competition with is ourself.

We have been designed with specific strengths (and even weaknesses) so we can help each other make it to the Celestial Kingdom. “For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46: 11-12). And because God loves all of us, we should love each other too. Pure love pushes out envy. Jealousy and criticism are signs of low self-worth and should not be manifested.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, addressed this subject:
"God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect...God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not. And yet we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others — usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s wonderful that you have strengths. And it is part of your mortal experience that you do have weaknesses.
God wants to help us to eventually turn all of our weaknesses into strengths, but He knows that this is a long-term goal. He wants us to become perfect, and if we stay on the path of discipleship, one day we will...Keep working on it, but stop punishing yourself" (Forget Me Not, October 2011 General Conference).

And I would add: stop punishing other people when they are better at some things than you are. I have friends and family who are skilled at sewing quilts, designing crafts cute enough to sell, combining mismatched clothing into fashionable ensembles, and taking professional photographs. I am grateful because these are talents I do not possess. I benefit from and am inspired by their strengths. I could not have run a half marathon without encouragement and advice from my runner friends. I share my gifts every time I make people laugh, lend a listening ear, sing in church, or deliver a loaf of homemade bread to a neighbor.

Whenever I begin to envy others and pity myself because they have an experience, ability, or possession I lack, I ask myself, "Would having that affect whether or not my family makes it to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom?" If it would affect it, then I work to incorporate it into my life. If it would not, I do not worry about it. By keeping this eternal perspective, I allow myself to be the woman who is happy with her identity simply because she is a beloved daughter of God. I am jam-packed with self-worth and recognize that my road to eternal life is specifically designed with me in mind and should not be compared to anyone else. I cheer other people on! Then I can love my baby-birthing body and talk to my neighbor while eating only two Oreo’s instead of six.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Be Nice

I was grocery shopping with my sister a couple of months ago when a man approached me. He told me his wife had sent him to buy water chestnuts and asked me if I knew where (and what) they were. I replied that I did not, but I eventually found them by the Asian food (if you ever need to know) and soon after, the man found them too. As he grabbed a can off the shelf, he looked at me closer and said, "You look familiar. Do I know you?" I asked him what high school he went to. Not the same as me. I asked him his name and then BAM! It hit me! This is how the conversation went:
Me: "You were SO MEAN to me in 7th grade!"
Him: "Oh man. That was so long ago. Can you really hold it against me?"
Me: "One day I wore my hair in a ponytail. The next day I wore it down and you said my hair looked like a ski jump."
Him: "I'm so sorry. Really, but that was a long time ago."
Me: "Don't worry about it. How are you?"
We then had some awkward small talk and went our separate ways. I am not bitter towards him anymore. I am glad he is doing well. I even feel a little bad that I brought the past up. But the lesson remains: Think before you speak unkind words. The adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me" is not entirely true. I was vulnerable in 7th grade. I had just moved to a new area and had no friends at school. Add to that the insecurities that come with being a preteen and you get one extremely shy, self-conscious girl. The truth is, this boy's constant teasing in 7th grade made my life miserable. He and one other girl would team up to bully me daily in History and English class. The ski jump remark sounds funny now, but combined with the many other insults they dished out, it was not funny at all. 7th grade was so bad that I asked for a boundary waiver and changed schools. That was the beginning of a better life for me.
I recall a story I heard in a sacrament meeting talk. A father told his son to hammer some nails in a fence. He said that the nails are hurtful words we say to each other. He then instructed his son to remove the nails from the fence. That signifies saying "I'm sorry". Even though the nails were gone from the fence, the hole they left remained. The hurt from unkind words may still linger, because words once said cannot be undone. Jesus Christ taught us “that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). Of course, we should refuse to take offense and forgive people who are mean to us, but it is easier said than done. Deep wounds need time to heal.
The scriptures give us counsel concerning our speech with one another:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good . . . be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4: 29, 32).
How can we follow this counsel to, as the hymn speaks, "Let us oft speak kind words to each other"? By developing charity, the pure love of Christ, for all mankind. We need to love one another. "The real challenge that we face in our communications with others is to condition our hearts to have Christlike feelings for all of Heavenly Father’s children. When we develop this concern for the condition of others, we then will communicate with them as the Savior would. We will then warm the hearts of those who may be suffering in silence. As we meet people with special needs along life’s way, we can then make their journey brighter by the things that we say" (Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, General Conference October 1988).
I will be more careful in the way I speak to God's children. I can be more kind, more patient, and more loving. I am glad I ran into my old middle school nemesis! My own experience reminded me how important it is to speak positively. A seminary teacher taught me that before I speak, I should review the following questions:
Is it kind?
Is it positive?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Would the Savior say it?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Obedient Because We Can See

        I recently read an article by a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was full of bitterness and derogatory terms towards the church. It claimed that questioning LDS doctrine draws criticism and isolation from other member friends, and even rejection from family. I feel saddened that this was the experience the author had and hope it is not common. It is hard to believe that the church I belong to, and the church the author used to belong to, is one and the same. I do believe we are often too quick to criticize one another for differing opinions, and we should not judge one another's worthiness; however, I wondered how much of the article was truth and how much has been distorted with time and negativity.
        The author claimed that we honor "blind obedience more than critical thinking." I'd like to blend those together: we honor critical thinking followed by obedience. We are asked to sustain and support our leaders. But we are also told to pray for personal revelation, to find our own testimonies of gospel truths. When President Monson and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak, I pay attention. Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, until he revealeth his words unto his servants the prophets". The Holy Ghost witnesses to me that their words are true. Therefore, I follow my own witness, which falls in line with official doctrine of the church. For example, my brother is about to serve a two-year mission for the church. This is asked of young men when they turn 19 years old by our church leaders, but my brother received his own confirmation that he should serve a mission before he sent in his mission papers.
        President Boyd K. Packer addressed this topic: "Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. … We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see" (Agency and Control, Ensign, May 1983, 66)".
        What is so wrong with following leaders who have been ordained of God? Absolutely nothing. Following God's prophet is an intelligent decision. We believe our doctrine is pure, meaning our truths are the same as Jesus Christ taught when he was on the earth. Our church is His church, restored again through the prophet Joseph Smith. Therefore, when our general authorities speak as Special Witnesses of Christ, they are saying what Christ wants us to hear. It's good to listen up!
        Jesus Christ taught, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). If following the prophet makes me a sheep, then BAAAA!
        Obedience to our leaders and the gospel principles they espouse unites us as members of the church. Our unity makes us stronger together and is a key characteristic of a Godlike people. "And the Lord called His people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness..." (Moses 7:18).
        So much doctrine has been polluted over time by individual opinions. A woman recently argued that since not everything in the Bible is true, the verses that teach that homesexuality is a sin are not true. I completely agree that we should love everyone no matter their sexual orientation and would not shun or refuse to befriend someone based upon that, but I cannot agree with justifying a lifestyle that Jesus Christ taught was a sin. I support my leaders in accepting everyone into the fold who chooses to live gospel teachings; I also support them when they reiterate that that sexual relations should be saved for marriage, which is ordained of God between man and woman.
        When you pick and choose what doctrine to follow as you would food at a buffet, you are, in a way, creating your own church with a customized set of doctrines. This can distance you from the influence of the Holy Ghost. For many people, this has lead to leaving, and eventually even fighting, against the church, as the Amalekites and the Amulonites did to the Nephites and Anti-Nephi-Lehites in the Book of Mormon:
"And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things" (Alma 24: 30).
        I love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe it is the only church on earth with a complete restoration of all truth. Therefore, I trust our prophet and do my best to follow him. I believe people can and do find happiness in other churches, and I respect that. We are all on the same team when we are following Jesus; in this day when morals are considered outdated and old-fashioned, we need all the allies we can get. I feel peace and happiness when I live my life in accordance to the teachings of Christ's church. I feel content knowing my life has a purpose and a plan put in place by a loving Father who knows me. For me, that peace cannot be found by following anything else.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Tender Mercy

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles defines tender mercies as “very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ” (The Tender Mercies of the Lord, April 2005 General Conference). To me, these are the moments when Heavenly Father says, “I know you. I hear you. I love you.” I had one of these moments a few weeks ago.

To preface how much my tender mercy meant meant to me, I have to first address the “M” word. You know what that is? Money. This can be a touchy subject sometimes, depending on the amount of money people earn or wish they earned. Landon is a teacher. I am a stay-home mother. We have to carefully budget every penny we have. This is not a complaint; this is a lifestyle we choose and I know we are far better off than most of the world. I am grateful for what we have. However, if you ever want to complain that teachers are unappreciated and underpaid, I will be a great listener!

One night Landon and I stayed up late anxiously discussing financial issues. More specifically, how to either make more money or save more money because it keeps running out. Funny how that happens. We decided we wanted to pay more money toward our mortgage too, but where do we take the money from?

The morning after Landon and I talked, I decided to read my scriptures before our girls woke up. I sat in bed, opened my scriptures to a random page, looked down at a verse, and this is what it said:

“Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them”. D&C 111: 5.

Bam! A tender mercy! I know Heavenly Father answers our prayers, but I was not expecting an answer and peace of mind so quickly. I do not believe I “accidently” opened my scriptures to that page and just “happened” upon that verse. I think an angel was guiding my hands and my eyes. I think angels are all around us, guiding our lives in ways we never know. The Lord is helping us in ways we might not even recognize.

Although this scripture was given to Joseph Smith in 1836, I know Heavenly Father meant for me to see that scripture on that morning. I know He is aware of our needs. As long as we remain faithful, keeping our covenants and paying our tithing, he will bless us spiritually, emotionally, physically, and financially.

Do you have a tender mercy to share?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Parable of the Peach Tree

One evening last spring, my husband and I drove our young daughters to a peach orchard near our home. It was our ward’s turn to prune the peach trees. We thought it would be a great opportunity to teach our children about service; plus, they could wear themselves out running through the orchard before bedtime! I was about to learn a significant gospel lesson that has stayed with me since.

We arrived at the orchard and gazed at the endless rows of peach trees. The workers passed out ladders and taught us about pruning. The excess peaches needed to be picked so the tree could support the fruit still left on the branches. One inch needed to be left between remaining peaches to allow each to grow bigger. Peaches also need to be pruned to allow sunlight to reach the twigs. New peach twigs can be killed in just one growing season by too much shading.

As I stood atop the ladder picking the hard, green peaches, I felt that I was wasting perfectly good peaches! I watched them fall to the ground and wondered if they would have flourished had I left them on the branch. It was then that I realized the lesson Heavenly Father was trying to teach me.

When we fill our lives with too many activities, no matter how good they are, we risk stunting our spiritual growth. So many wonderful opportunities are available to us, but at what cost? Just as the excess peaches needed to be pruned in order for the others to flourish, we need to wisely choose what activities will occupy our time so the ones we keep will blossom. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families” (Good, Better, Best, October 2007 General Conference).

Too many peaches will weaken the branch; I have felt this in my own life. When I overschedule myself, I feel discouraged and unable to accomplish all that is required of me. Unfortunately, my family suffers because I cannot give them the attention they deserve. The scriptures contain counsel on this matter. King Benjamin taught the Nephites, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order” (Mosiah 4: 27).

I have also realized just as too much shade can destroy the peach twigs, spiritual darkness can weaken my testimony. This happens when I neglect personal scripture study and prayer. Peach twigs need the light of the sun to help them grow; I need the light of the Son to help me grow. I know as I trust in the Lord, he will guide me to select the opportunities that strengthen my testimony and my family.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dear Hollywood

Dear Hollywood,

I love many of the movies you produce, especially the inspirational (i.e. The Help) and the clean romantic comedies (Penelope, anyone?). I admire that your actors/actresses raise money to help people in poverty around the world. Thank you for songs that are fun to listen to while I clean the house or dance with my daughters. However, Hollywood, I have some issues. I'll talk - you listen.

What's up with your definition of beauty? Sure, the women on the cover of magazines are beautiful, even without the Photoshop work done on every image, but are you so narrow that you leave out the other 99% of females that are not a size 0? Do you really think women have to have a tiny waist with large breasts and perfectly-straight bleached teeth and expertly highlighted hair to be beautiful? I do not agree. I think a beautiful woman is intelligent, kind, strong, and selfless. Come meet my friends and you will agree. Since I was little, I have been taught that every woman is a daughter of God. That means we have divine worth, whether the scale reads 115 pounds or 210 pounds. You should check out Beauty Redefined. I have joined their fight to take back beauty.

Here's another issue. I love to workout to songs with a great beat, but how many songs do we really need about going to a club, getting drunk while rocking the dance floor, then finding a sexy one-night stand to go home with? Katy, Usher, Gaga - I know you are talented singers, but can you broaden your lyrics to make a song of substance? Despite what you may believe, women are much more than sexual objects to be used for male gratification. I don't know what's worse - a man singing about using a woman or a woman singing about being used! When I first heard Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO, I thought, "This song is awesome!" Then I read the lyrics: "Yo, I'm runnin' through these ho's like Drano." Are you KIDDING me? I have two daughters. If a man ever refers to them as ho's to be run through, he'll be running alright. Running away from me as I chase him down!

And while I'm on the subject, can you produce more romantic comedies without premarital sex? Can you back off the swearing? Can you reduce the gore and violence? If this is about money, did you know that PG-rated movies make more money than R-rated movies? Also, let's tackle those Photoshopped magazines I referred to earlier that clutter every checkout stand in America. Can you discuss more in your magazines than expert sex techniques and celebrity gossip?

I just wanted to tell you that I refuse to acquiesce my moral agency to your immoral standards. I will walk out of the theater. I will delete the offensive song. I will close the magazine. Most importantly, I will teach my daughters their true beauty and worth, despite your attacks to distort their perceptions.



Monday, January 9, 2012

I Am a Mommy

I am tired. Why? I am a mommy. I change my clothes as often as I change my daughter's diapers as one outfit after another is stained with food from messy hands and poop. I would love to go shopping for bags of new clothes, but lately the only bags I carry are the ones under my eyes! I can tell you more about Elmo's world than Obama's policies. Time for just my husband and I must come late at night after our toddlers fall asleep or early in the morning before they wake up, and only if we are not completely exhausted. The laundry piles up, the dishes pile up, the bills pile up, and some days my tears pile up and I just cannot laugh them off. Do you know what I mean?

But I am happy. Why? I am a mommy. I make a difference in the world! I get to spend every day with the people I love most. I feel peace when I lay my head on my pillow at night - next to my incredibly handsome husband - because I know I am following the Lord's plan for my life. I get all the smiles, kisses, snuggles, and hugs I could ever want. I get to relive my childhood, play dolls, and go to the park. I watch my girls grow and learn and every day I learn a little more from them about unconditional love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, service . . . and how to be an incredibly awesome multi-tasker!

Our first daughter was born just four months after we graduated from college and we were rich in love, but poor in money. We made sacrifices to have her, but it is no sacrifice to give up other dreams because I want to be a mommy even more! I know as I trust in the Lord, He will guide my paths as I raise these beautiful spirits (Proverbs 3:5-6). They are His children too. I would not trade these early years of motherhood for anything and treasure each day as a blessing. So bring on the poopy diapers! Although for the sake of my wardrobe, I need to run to Wal-Mart and buy a plastic poncho to wear tomorrow. . .