Sunday, March 1, 2020

Go and Do

We had New Beginnings at the beginning of February.  I shared a few thoughts but afterward didn't feel like I had adequately expressed what I wanted to share with the young women.  So I wrote them a letter.  Here's most of what I shared:

Last week was New Beginnings.  I shared a few thoughts about 1 Nephi 3:7, "go and do"...but after coming home I just felt like I hadn't adequately expressed what was in my heart.  And I keep thinking about it.  So I'd like to share just a few thoughts with you about this year's youth theme...hopefully better expressing what is in my heart and what I think Heavenly Father wants you to know.  I know that my words will fall short of being able to fully express what is in my heart, but I hope that you'll be able to feel the truth in my words and feel the love I have for you and for the Savior.  I imagine you are all familiar with this verse.  Nephi and his brothers have been commanded to get the plates from Laban.  Their attempts have been unsuccessful and Laman and Lemuel think they should head back to their parents. But Nephi refuses to give up because he has faith that when God asks him to do something then God will help him to be able to do what he has asked.  And then Laban is delivered into his hands and he gets the plates.  I shared a few stories of several faithful women that were asked to do hard things and responded with faith that they would go and do.  One of my very favorite stories is of Esther.  Esther was a Jewish woman and was married to the king.  He didn't know she was a Jew and a law was passed to put all the Jews to death.  Esther's uncle Mordecai came to her and told her to go in to her husband and plead for him to save her that time even entering the king's presence without being summoned could be a death sentence.  Her uncle said, "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"  Esther fasted and prayed and went in to the king and her people were saved.  Like Esther, you were sent to Earth at this time because you have a role to play.  Your role isn't the same, but it is just as important.    
Another woman of great faith is the widow of Zarephath.  There was a famine in the land.  Elijah, the prophet, was told to go to Zarephath and there he would find someone to feed him.  He met the widow who was gathering two sticks to make a small fire with which to make her last meal for herself and her son and then they would die.  Elijah told her that if she would make him food first, then her cruse of oil and her flour would not other words she would continue to have food.  It must have taken such courage and faith to give her last food to Elijah when her son was starving!!  I can hardly imagine. But she trusted in the prophet and 1 Kings 17 tells us:  "And she awent and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days." 
During the pioneer era, the Martin and Willie Handcart companies started late and experienced great difficulties.  When Brigham Young heard of their plight, he spoke to the Saints in Salt Lake during General Conference and said that they must go and rescue those in the handcart companies.  Many women pulled off their stockings and shoes right in the conference and piled them up to be taken!  They hurried home and gathered blankets and other supplies.  They had already made the difficult journey and most of them probably didn't have much.  But they didn't refuse to share what little they had.  They immediately gave what they could to help in the rescue efforts. 

At New Beginnings I also shared a couple of personal experiences when I have been asked to do something that seemed hard for me at the time but I determined to go and do and received blessings from my obedience.   
Now I have recounted these stories and there are probably many lessons that could be learned from them.  The importance of obedience.  The need for courage.  The blessings that come when we "go and do".  But I worry that as I recounted these stories, my emphasis was too much on what these faithful women did.  And while there is much we can learn from and emulate in the lives of these women, I don't think I focused enough on what is perhaps the most important part.  Nephi didn't just say he would go and do and that he'd accomplish the task. He pointed out that if he chose to go and do what THE LORD COMMANDED, then he knew he would succeed because THE LORD would prepare a way.  Esther was courageous and the widow of Zarephath was full of faith and the pioneer women were selfless.  But the reason that each was successful in doing what the Lord had asked is because the Lord helped them.  A couple of years ago, I realized that I was holding on to some hurt and anger.  Someone else had hurt me and I wasn't forgiving that individual or choosing to act in loving ways toward that person.  And I knew...from direction given in conference talks as well as from inspiration from the Holy Ghost...that I needed to forgive and I needed to act in loving ways even if the other person didn't.  I will be honest.  It was hard.  I shed more than a few tears.  But I came to see ways in which I was not acting in loving ways and ways in which I had hurt the other person as well.  And with a lot of help from the Savior, I found healing and I learned to act more like He would.  I can absolutely tell you that it wasn't because of anything great in me.  I still struggle often to react in kind and patient ways when someone isn't being kind to me.  But when someone isn't being kind to me and I want to lash out (and far too often I do), if I will take a deep breath, and say a prayer asking for strength beyond my own, then I am able to be kinder and more loving than is in my nature. 
I haven't saved a nation or fed a starving prophet with my own last meal or built a ship or gotten the plates from Laban or been protected in a lion's den.  But I have been asked to do things that were hard for forgive others who had hurt me.  To accept callings that were beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.  To go to church by myself with 3 young children when my husband wasn't very active in the church.  To study the scriptures daily when that seemed impossible to me as a 14 year old girl.  To do more than seemed possible with the time I had.  To act on promptings that didn't make sense.   And here is what I have learned.  There's an awful lot that I am not that good at or that I couldn't do on my own.  BUT Every. Single. Time. I trust in the Lord and I "go and do" the things the Lord asks me (whether that is through the scriptures, the words of the prophet, or through personal promptings/revelation), He helps me to be more and do more than I could on my own.  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13)....and so can you!  
I have been studying and pondering the names of Christ.  Each name can help us learn something about Him.  I have a favorite name of Christ.  I mean I love many of his names....Savior, Redeemer, High Priest of Good Things to Come, Advocate, Holy One of Israel, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace.   But my favorite name of Christ is Emmanuel which means God with Us.  Because I know He is.  Sometimes when I am going through a hard time, I can feel Him close.  I can feel Him comforting me. A couple of nights ago I was reading 2 Nephi 1 and I just absolutely love verse 15:  "But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love."   Can you imagine that/feel that?  Have you had times when you have felt like He was wrapping His arms around you and holding you tight?  I have.  And can you imagine what it will be like when we see Him again after we leave this life and He is able to encircle us in a giant hug?  Oh I just can't wait for that!   But you know what?  Sometimes when I am going through a hard time, I don't feel that.  I can remember a time about 8 years ago when I felt very overwhelmed and very tired and very alone.  And I just wasn't sure if I could keep doing what I was doing.  I began to wonder if maybe, possibly, things would be easier if I didn't go to church.  Maybe it would give me more time to complete the tasks on my to-do list.  Maybe he wasn't the very least I couldn't seem to feel Him there.  And I kept praying and for several months no help seemed to come.  Where was God?  I was trying to do the right things but I felt tired and alone.  I can't adequately explain what happened but a couple of things happened that let me know that He was there and He was aware of me.  Elder Holland gave a talk that was shared in a 5th Sunday meeting that helped me see that I was needed, I was known and I had some areas I needed to improve in.  Explaining it like that truly doesn't adequately express how my heart changed that day.  But I committed to do my very best to always be the disciple of Christ He needed me to be.  And it has led to countless changes and blessings.   Even though I hadn't been able to see Him there, He was with me and He was orchestrating things so I would be ready to hear the message that my heart needed.   And I know He is there with you, beside you, as well.  And He always will be.  No matter what.  He loves you.  He desires to bless you.  Let me share one more verse of scripture with you that I love:  Jacob 6:5  "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts."   All of us need to repent...and all of us need to come unto Christ.  Repentance is such a beautiful gift.  But the part that I love so much is when it says to cleave unto God as he cleaves to you and that His arm of mercy is extended to you.   It's a lot like 2 Nephi 1:15.  He is holding on to you, loving you, leading you.  Are you holding on to Him, trusting Him, allowing Him to guide you?   He is trying to encircle you in His love...are you hugging Him back or pushing Him away?   He's still there...but you will find greater peace and joy and the ability to "go and do" so much more if you are cleaving to Him, trusting Him. 
Oh how I love you!   I can't ever truly tell you how I feel about you or about the Savior for I just don't have words. But I express gratitude daily for the blessing it is to be in young women's with you and I express gratitude daily for a Savior who is Emmanuel...God with us.  I know He is! 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

1 Nephi 1-7

It is only the second week of January, heading into the third.  And I loved Come Follow Me last year and learned so much.  But I have read and studied the Book of Mormon a lot and while I was excited to study the Book of Mormon, I hadn't expected to have so many insights and a-has.  But I think that is the power of studying with others...because the Bennetts shared some great insights last Sunday and because Sara, Jackie, Laurel and I often text about gospel insights.  And so this week has been so beautiful and I have learned so much.

One thing the Bennetts pointed out was how many similarities there are between what Lehi experienced (see 1 Nephi 1:5-9) and what Joseph Smith did.  They both prayed.  They both saw a pillar of light.  They both quaked and trembled.  Both saw Jesus, though Lehi's sounds more like a dream/vision and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ actually appeared to Joseph so they aren't exactly the same but I bet that was so comforting for Joseph to begin translating and have this experience be one of the first things he read.

We talked about why the Lord didn't tell Lehi to get the plates from Laban and get Ishmael's family and then go into the wilderness.  We don't know for sure, but here are some thoughts.  First, they had a long and arduous journey ahead of them.  Maybe part of the reason was to strengthen them...physically and spiritually...certainly it helped them see that God could and would help them, helped them recognize the importance of these plates, and helped them to trust God.  But it probably also hAd some physical benefits as well.  Maybe that was a small part of why the pioneers had to move to Kirtland then Jackson County then Nauvoo...all the moving prepared them physically and spiritually to be able and ready to respond to a prophet's call to head west.

It's also possible that Lehi's life was in such danger that if he waited, his life might have been taken.

Another thought I had was this...when I get a prompting and act, sometimes I can see why I received that prompting and sometimes I can't.  But I often  feel peace that I acted on the prompting. But if I don't act right Away, I often begin to doubt myself...thinking that it was probably just my own thoughts or that I am being silly and it doesn't make sense to do XYZ. I justify not acting and doubt the reality or origin of the prompting.  Maybe if Lehi didn't act quickly, he would have begun to doubt that this was revelation and not just a dream.

Another possibility shared on-line was that by sending them Back and having them approach Laban a couple of times, it gave Laban the chance to soften his heart.  He didn't but the Lord gave Him this chance to repent.

Tender Mercies:  One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to show the Lord's tender mercies toward His children.  That's one of the things I am watching for as I read the Book of Mormon this year.  But it's also my goal for each of us to record His tender mercies weekly.  I'm trying to do it each day, but I'm encouraging my girls to record something each week on Sunday.  I'm seeing the Lord's hand in my life so much more clearly already.  I'm so thankful.  One thought I had was that several people pointed out that we seem to see God's tender mercies better when we are in the midst of a trial.  After thinking about this, I decided that clearly God loves us all the time and is doing things for us all the time.  But as  a parent, I don't feel tender when my kids win a contest or reach a goal or everything is going well.  I rejoice with them, I cheer for them and I deeply love them but the feeling within isn't exactly one of tenderness.  But when they fall and scrape their knee, or they fail the math test that they studied hard for, or they don't get a part in the play or something else hard happens, then I want to hold them and reassure them and I feel very tenderly toward them.  My love hasn't changed but they can probably feel my tenderness in a different way than when I am cheering them on when things are good.  I think that is probably true for us as well in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  I am slowly getting better at seeing His hand in the good and bad times.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Goals for 2020

I have so much I want to experience in 2020. But I loved having an overall Focus for 2019. On Instagram I saw this post/ this idea @work.and.wonder to write what I am because starting with what you are gives support to become what you want to be and helps manifest those things into your life. It felt like a beautiful way to summarize my hopes for how I want to live this year (though I also have specific, written down goals). I love the quote from Joel Osteen: "I am not who people say I am. I am who God says I am. Whatever follows 'I am' will surely find us."

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Exercising and Sharing Our Testimonies

I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting  today.   Here's my talk, with a few minor changes that I made as I spoke:

A week ago, I watched Star Wars:  Rise of Skywalker.   I promise not to ruin anything in the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet.  But there are a couple of things related to Star Wars that I think relate to strengthening and exercising your testimony.  
In Star Wars, we have Jedis and the Sith....good versus evil...just as we have in reality here on Earth.  To become a Jedi requires training and practice and self mastery.   Luke and Leia (and others) did not just wake up one day and decide to become Jedis and with no effort gain great skill in the force.  It took years of learning and continued practice.  But as they put in this effort, their ability to use the force became stronger and better and their lives are changed.  This is very similar to our testimonies.  We aren’t just born with a testimony, though we are born with the light of Christ.  We must continually work to build and strengthen and use our testimony.  And as we do, our lives are changed.   

Elder Ballard said, “testimony—real testimony, born of the Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Ghost—changes lives. It changes how you think and what you do. It changes what you say. It affects every priority you set and every choice you make.”  As your testimony grows and gives us power...just as a Jedi gains greater power as he or she learns to use the Force.  Elder Ballard said, “...The Spirit cannot be restrained when pure testimony of Christ is borne.”  AND “Miraculous things happen when members join with missionaries and share pure testimony with those who are not members of the Church.”  Our testimonies can lead to miracles...for us and for those we share our testimonies with...just as the use of the Force often led to miraculous results. 
There are so many things I could talk about that help us strengthen our testimony:  living the gospel, sharing our testimonies with others, prayer, temple attendance, service, scripture study, repentance.   
Elder Ballard said, “Real testimony of these precious truths comes as a witness by the Holy Ghost after sincere and dedicated effort, including teaching in the home, prayer, scripture study, service to others, and diligent obedience to Heavenly Father’s commandments. To gain and forever hold on to a testimony of gospel truths is worth whatever price in spiritual preparation we may be required to pay.”  I could easily give a 30 minute talk or longer just on this subject so I can’t possibly discuss all that we can do to strengthen our testimonies.  So I want to focus on just a couple of things: 

First, recognizing that we aren’t alone and using the people around us to strengthen our own testimonies. In Rise of Skywalker, I loved this one line:  They win by making you think you are alone.  There are more of us than them.”   I absolutely believe this is one of the adversary’s make us feel or think we are alone, to make us think that we have no help in living the gospel and strengthening and using our testimony.   But we are not.  Heavenly Father has given us so much to help us.   One of the things that has really helped strengthen my testimony is my friendships.  I have a group of friends that often text one another and share gospel insights, ask questions about our scripture study, etc.  I have friends (and children!) that willingly go to the temple with me, helping me to make it there more consistently.  If we surround ourselves with people who also have testimonies, it is so much easier to strengthen our own.  NOW PLEASE don’t misunderstand.  I am absolutely not saying that our testimonies are based on others’ testimonies...we must gain a testimony for ourself.  I’m also NOT saying we should only be friends with those who believe as we do.  How will the gospel be spread or miracles happen if we only associate with those we go to church with?  However, I am advocating for developing at least one close group of friends that you can share your beliefs with and that can help strengthen you when you are feeling weak.   And if you are currently in a lonely I think most of us go through times when we feel lonely or friendless, I have in the a couple of things...reach out to others (I know that is so hard when you are struggling!   So hard)...and perhaps consider finding a group online that will provide support and strength if you are having difficulty finding a group here in our ward.  Social media has its pros and cons, but I have found that my life is blessed by participating in a couple of online groups that discuss scriptures and the gospel.  And we have our families.  My family has been so blessed this past year as we have studied and read the words of the New Testament and used the Come Follow Me manual.  And if you don’t have family support, you might consider inviting others to study with you.  We’ve had friends join us nearly every week to read and study together on Sunday afternoons and that has been such a wonderful experience! 

Second, I think the best way to strengthen our testimony is to study the gospel.  There are lots of ways to approach this study.  Let me share a couple of things that I have done that have blessed my life.  First, I have tried to listen for promptings or personal revelation that have come to me to tell me what to study or how to study.   Several years ago, while watching general conference, I received a prompting that after conference I should go through each talk and write down every thing that was said about each member of the godhead, separately.  I got a notebook and labeled one section “Heavenly Father”, another section “Jesus Christ” and another “Holy Ghost” and then I read and studied each conference talk and recorded each thing I learned under the appropriate member of the Godhead.  It was such a beautiful experience that I repeated that process for 2 or 3 years after each conference.  I learned so much about each member of the Godhead and their roles.  I KNOW that God is merciful and kind and loving and just and so when there is something that I don’t understand or when I have questions, I can RELY on this absolute knowledge that God is loving and good and say, “Well, I don’t understand XYZ...BUT I DO KNOW that God is good and loving and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and President Nelson is a prophet so I can trust in those things until I gain an understanding of XYZ.”   Studying the Godhead in such depth strengthened my testimony so much...and had an added and unexpected benefit of really helping me to see myself more clearly as a daughter of God.  I think it would be a valuable exercise for anyone...but above and beyond copying what I did, I encourage each of us to prayerfully ask what would be of value to us to study and then listen for personal revelation to come. 
Another way to know what to study is to pay attention to what our prophet speaks.  For instance, in this most recent General Conference, President Nelson said, " The heavens are just as open to women who are endowed with God’s power flowing from their priesthood covenants as they are to men who bear the priesthood. I pray that truth will register upon each of your hearts because I believe it will change your life. Sisters, you have the right to draw liberally upon the Savior’s power to help your family and others you love.”  He said we wouldn’t find the process spelled out in any manual, but he did give us some places to begin to study.   He encouraged us to study the Lord’s revelation given to Emma Smith in D&C 25.  Then he said, “I entreat you to study prayerfully all the truths you can find about priesthood power. You might begin with Doctrine and Covenants sections 84 and 107. Those sections will lead you to other passages. The scriptures and teachings by modern prophets, seers, and revelators are filled with these truths. As your understanding increases and as you exercise faith in the Lord and His priesthood power, your ability to draw upon this spiritual treasure that the Lord has made available will increase.”  So since October, I have been carefully and prayerfully studying these sections as well as other books, conference talks, etc. to better understand the priesthood.  I have been compiling all I am learning into a binder and trying to share some of what I learn with others. 

Finally, I just want to take a second before I close to mention that as we strengthen our testimony it is so important to share it.   We can do that in our homes, with our families.  That’s probably the most important place to share it.   We can do that in our fast and testimony meeting next week...and really each time we teach a lesson or even make a comment in a class that is, in a sense, bearing testimony.  We can do that (though in less formal ways, usually) online.   And one thing that I have done lately that has been really beautiful and strengthening for me is to bear my testimony in express love to Heavenly Father and then explain to Him what I know to be true and how grateful I am for that knowledge. 
Our testimonies are precious to us.  How we treat them is evidence of how much they matter to us.  We make time for things that matter to us.  We share them with others.  We treat them with care.  I hope that is how we view and treat our testimonies. 

In the Star Wars movies, it often seems that evil will overpower good—that there is no hope.  In life, we can also feel that we are so surrounded by evil that we will never prevail.  But here is a spoiler alert for life:  this past week we have studied the book of Revelations in Come Follow Me...and the ending of this great battle is certain.  Christ will be victorious.  We know which side will win...all that remains to be seen is will we have a testimony that is strong enough to withstand the evils of our day so that we can remain on Christ’s side and remain strong and true?  I hope that each of us will consider our testimonies to be among the most precious blessing we have, that--like Jedis-- we will each continually work to strengthen our testimonies, and to share them with others. 

**After church, I talked for a few minutes with Amelia who spoke with me. Her talk was about what is a testimony...what should it include/what should we have a testimony of.  Her talk was beautiful.  But I was so touched by this compliment she paid me.  She said when I stand up to talk, it's like I am having a conversation with the ward.  She said she isn't sure exactly what it is or how I do it, but it feels like I'm just talking to my friends and having a conversation.  I was so touched by this.  I think it helps that I genuinely LOVE the people in my ward and so when I stand up to speak, I really do feel like I'm just sharing some things with my friends.  I think it helps that I plan out what I'm going to say and practice it several times so I know the talk pretty well and can just look down every once in awhile (or to read a direct quote) but can look at the audience a lot of the time (and can add in/take out things as needed based on time or as directed by the spirit). But I thought that was the nicest compliment ever.
Sara said she always loves to hear me speak and always thinks my talks are the best...but that this was the best I've ever given.  She also said that she happened to look over at Liam, Nolan and Cash and when I mentioned Star Wars, their eyes got big and I had their attention for longer than is normal.