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...