Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Defined by Motherhood.

As I was procrastinating my nightly chores (a bad habit, I know), I decided I would finally watch the new training on Strengthening the Family and the Church through the Priesthood. I noticed how almost all of the discussion in which the sisters were involved were centered on motherhood. I thought about how a lot of people might take offense at this, and how quick we are in general to take offense at things that conflict with our personal views instead of listening to the Spirit. I thought of how society tells women that in order to be successful, we need to define ourselves outside of motherhood and even womanhood. What a shame that we have come to the point that the title of "mother" isn't valued as an identity. I am confident that when I reach the end of my mortal life, what will define me most is what I have done with the title of Mother.

Ordinary Acts of Obedience

From President Packer's Conference talk:

Latter-day Saints recognize the transcendent importance of the family and strive to live in such a way that the adversary cannot steal into our homes. We find safety and security for ourselves and our children in honoring the covenants we have made and living up to the ordinary acts of obedience required of the followers of Christ.

Sometimes I really need these quotes that remind us of the ordinariness of most of what we do. If we expect life to be a stream of overwhelming spiritual experiences punctuated by lofty achievements, we will most likely be disappointed. Extra-ordinariness and importance are not equivalents.

When I was younger I was the type that wanted to have a hand in everything. I was in every club or activity I could manage, took every class, sought after every position. I wanted to have it all, and I thought that I was establishing the pattern for a successful life. (Little did I know, this kind of activity was only sustainable because high school really isn't as hard as real adult life.) 

Then I went to college, and got really involved in my YSA ward. Super-involved, just like I had been in high school. But when I thought about joining clubs or getting into student government, I just didn't feel the drive anymore. I had to choose, and I chose my callings, even though sometimes I worried what the effect would be on my resume.

After my mission, being focused on one single task for a year and a half, I was even less inclined to jump into everything I could. I picked one or two things that interested me in law school and joined in, but for the most part stayed aloof from the social workings of my class, and didn't even try to get on a law journal. I still worried about my resume, but by this time I was getting married and hoping to have children before long, so it just didn't seem worth it.

And now I am a stay-at-home mom. Sometimes I think of getting a part-time job so I can use my degree and bring in some much-needed income (and maybe even hire someone to do the dishes for me!), but always I come back to the fact that I need to be fully present at home right now. I personally need to learn focus on obeying in the simple, mundane things: learning to keep a house of order; learning to be patient, even when the whining is becoming unbearable; learning to value my calling as a visiting teacher as much as a Relief Society President, because they are equally important and their object is the same; learning to work, even when it isn't glamorous, because it is what others need. Those are the things that will bring peace and security to my home.

A great life is the culmination of a lot of ordinary acts of obedience and faith, and when we value our obedience based on our visibility, we are remiss--"thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18)

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Seek...to love him... Seek his face."

I came across this talk as I was looking for something different, but it is so beautiful that I wanted to share it. Here is the whole talk by Sister Ruth H. Funk:  http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1978/10/come-listen-to-a-prophets-voice?lang=eng

I have prayed fervently to know which, of all that could be said, should be said. I have been prompted to share with you a sacred personal experience. It so graphically demonstrates the reality, the nearness, the infinite love of Jesus Christ, that several times in the past I had thought to tell of it publicly. Always I was led not to do so. This evening, the Spirit whispers yes.

May it help you to feel an expanded awareness of the Savior’s deep personal involvement in each individual life. He is real. He is near, and he loves more than we can comprehend.
Our first two children were beautiful little girls. During my third pregnancy, a critical situation developed. It was soon recognized to be life-threatening. Medical experts advised us that there were two alternatives—my probable death, or therapeutic abortion of the child growing within me. The Holy Ghost testified there was no option—I would continue to carry our unborn child. Others in similar situations may well receive a different witness from him. This was personal revelation and was accepted. Anguishing months followed, months of pleading with the Lord that those near to me would have the same conviction, months of applying the power of the priesthood through my husband’s administrations. At last a healthy child was born—our first and only son. My life was spared. This is background for the incident that I feel prompted to share with you this evening.
It occurred when this most treasured, little son was nearly three years old. One day, suddenly and without warning, he stopped breathing and fell to the floor, apparently lifeless. My husband was not home, and I called my ten-year-old daughter, Nancy, to get help as I carried him to the bedroom. As I worked to revive him, I literally, cried out unto the Lord. I begged him to spare our only son. I promised that I would dedicate myself to training him up to be an instrument in the hands of God if he would be spared. The police arrived with their emergency equipment. I continued in fervent, vocal prayer to the Lord, petitioning him to restore our little boy. The doctor arrived. Just as a stimulant was to be injected directly into his heart as a final emergency measure, he cried. My prayers had been answered, but I was to receive further testimony of this in a most unexpected way.
The next morning, our son climbed on his daddy’s knee. “I was sitting on the lap of Jesus,” he said. Then he went on, “He looked into my eyes. I was so happy. I wanted to stay there with him, but he told me I had to go back home to you.” Even now, twenty-four years later, our son remembers vividly the reciprocal love he experienced during his brief “step out of time.” He is vigorous and well, living with his lovely wife and a little son of his own as he continues to serve the Lord.
Just as this child, for that one brief moment, knew and felt the love of the Savior, may we, as women of all ages, as daughters of God, as wives, as mothers, as contributing members of society whose identities are being challenged, seek to know him well enough to love him, well enough to serve him. Seek his face. Reciprocate his love. Reflect it to others. Consider this sobering thought as expressed by C. S. Lewis: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and godesses” (The Weight of Glory, Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965, pp. 14–15.)
Jesus Christ is our Savior, our brother, our friend. He is as near as we allow him to be. Our only ultimate joy and happiness is predicated upon our relationship with him. Our only peace, through disappointments, sorrow, and challenges, will come as we draw nearer unto him. With such love for our Redeemer, every difficult experience may be met with courage, acceptance, and even gratitude. His love for us is a gift beyond price. What does he ask in return? “Love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How I know the Book of Mormon is true.

I am writing a talk for a speaking assignment in Church tomorrow, and I felt like I should go back and read the last talk I gave, which was in January of last year. On this blog I have shared some thoughts and collected some interesting quotes, but haven't recorded a lot of my testimony. Perhaps that is the most valuable thing I can preserve and share.

I was asked to speak about my testimony of the Book of Mormon. It’s kind of funny; my gut feeling about this topic has always been one of inadequacy. I don’t have a impressive story about how I came to know that the Book is true. I don’t have a whole list of evidences or of striking experiences. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I got a testimony. And yet, I can say with truth that I know that the Book of Mormon is true, that it was prepared by true prophets for our day and brought forth by another true prophet by the power of God. And so it is that process of gaining a testimony that I want to talk about, because I think that it might be something that many of us share, and is also instructive in a practical way for those who have doubts and want to gain a testimony.

President Packer of the Quorum of the 12 described his experience this way, and it was very similar to my own:

"When I first read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, I read the promise that if I “would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if [the things I had read were] true; and if [I would] ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he [would] manifest the truth of it unto [me], by the power of the Holy Ghost” ( Moro. 10:4 ). I tried to follow those instructions, as I understood them.

If I expected a glorious manifestation to come at once as an overpowering experience, it did not happen. Nevertheless, it felt good, and I began to believe."

He continued,

My experience has been that a testimony does not burst upon us suddenly. Rather it grows, as Alma said, from a seed of faith. “It will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” ( Alma 32:30 ). If you nourish it, it will grow; and if you do not nourish it, it will wither (see Alma 32:37–41 ).

Do not be disappointed if you have read and reread and yet have not received a powerful witness. You may be somewhat like the disciples spoken of in the Book of Mormon who were filled with the power of God in great glory “and they knew it not” ( 3 Ne. 9:20 ).
(Source here)

That is kind of how I felt during my mission. I hadn’t had one single powerful witness that I could relate to others, yet I found that I could testify with power and truth. My testimony hadn’t come suddenly, but it was there nonetheless.

Most of us are all too familiar with the promise made by Moroni that Elder Packer mentioned. That is the part that I always focused on growing up: if we ask sincerely, we will get a testimony. But when you look at the chapter as a whole, you see that Moroni gives a lot of other instructions that teach us how to gain a testimony.

Jumping back to verse 3:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, ... that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.”

What I get from that is that Moroni wants us to come to know the nature and workings of God. That isn’t a one-time exercise; it’s something we continually study and ponder. How has He shown mercy to His children in the past? How has he answered them? For Elijah, God didn’t speak in a rushing wind or an earthquake or a fire, but in a still small voice. How has He shown mercy to me in my life? When I ponder all of this, a lot of good feelings come. They aren’t strong, overpowering feelings. I feel uplifted, loved, peaceful, and grateful. That helps me to recognize the kind of feelings that Moroni wants me to look for in my answer.

It helps me to record these feelings and thoughts in my journeal when I study, so that I can heed Moroni’s counsel to remember and also show the Lord that I value what He is teaching me.

Back to Moroni: After making his famous promise, he explains more about how the power of the Holy Ghost works. In verse 6, he says “whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

In reading the Book of Mormon, I do feel like its contents are just and true. So many verses have helped me to understand Christ and His Atonement and to feel His love for me. Just a few nights ago some of the words of Abinadi taught me new things about Christ that I hadn’t really focused in on before:

He “suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be ... led, crucified, and slain...
“And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.”

When I read that, I imagined Christ having willingly done all of that for me so that he could stick up for me. He could understand me. He could represent me at the bar of God, having Atoned for my sins so that I could inherit all that He has. That is so powerful and humbling. I was brought closer to Christ through reading that in the Book of Mormon.

Going on, in verses 7 and 8, Moroni gives another criteria:
“And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.

“And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not he gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.”

So now I have to ask myself, have I experienced the gifts of the Spirit through the Book of Mormon? It certainly teaches about them—who exhibited greater faith than Nephi? Greater knowledge and wisdom than King Benjamin? The gift to translate and see like Mosiah? The ministering of angels like the children who were there during Christ’s visit?

Then as I read the Book of Mormon, I experience these gifts myself. I gain knowledge as I study and recognize areas in my life that I would be wise to change. My faith increases as I read about others who so boldly followed the Savior. I grow to understand things in new ways. I gain foresight into my future and where my choices will lead me. I have moments where I get lost in the stories and can almost feel what those people would have felt. And since Moroni tells me in verse 18 that “every good gift cometh of Christ,” I know that these gifts come because the Book of Mormon truly testifies of Christ.

All of these help me to recognize those simple, quiet ways that the Spirit tells me that the Book is true. They don’t all happen all at once, and sometimes I don’t even recognize them while they are happening, but I can recognize the accumulation of those things as a strong testimony of truth.

As powerful as all of those things are, I think that Moroni closes the chapter describing an even more powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon. In verses 32 and 33, the third and second-to-last verse of the whole book, he says this:

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”
These verses describe action and change, not just asking and receiving.

The strongest testimony that I have from the Book of Mormon is that it has changed my life, and continues to change my life. As I have studied in the Book of Mormon, I have learned principles. When I try them out in my life, I have gained greater peace and happiness, and seen that the results were exactly as the Book promised. It is this process that Alma talks about; he describes the Word, in this case the Book of Mormon, as a seed. He doesn’t say that we simply have to ask whether the seed is good. Rather, we have to exercise faith to plant it and nurture it and water it and feed it and really try it out—experiment upon it. Then when it grows, our faith turns to knowledge, or testimony.

In a talk to seminary teachers, Elder Eyring described the process this way:

“[The] challenge is not to prove that the Book of Mormon is true but to prove to God that they —the students—are true. When they do this, they will know the book is true. And when they prove that they will do what the book says, God will tell them more:

“And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.” ( 3 Ne. 26:9).

He went on,

“[Y]ou will realize you do not prove [the Book of Mormon] through arguments. You do not even prove it through great examples or stories. Those will help, but your students will prove the Book of Mormon by saying, “I believe it is true; I will try it.” Once they have proved themselves to God, then the proof will come to them because they will see the spiritual fruit."

"The Book of Mormon is about people proving their belief to God little by little. And then He confirms their belief and gives them more."

This, to me, is how you gain a true testimony of the Book of Mormon. No amount of grand spiritual experiences will be stronger than the evidence of our changed lives and hearts. If I had an angel come tell me it was true, you may or may not believe me when I told you. But if you can see my life, my choices, and the results of those choices, you will see clearly why I know that book is true.

Elder Eyring continues:

"“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

“And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”

Now, that is the change. It is not to be a little better. It is not to know a little more. It is to be born again, to be changed by the power of the Atonement.

You and I know that if a person will read the Book of Mormon, it will describe that change and how to have it.”

Having experienced these kinds of changes in my own life, I have gained that witness that the Book of Mormon is true. I feel that I could say what Elder Holland said in his memorable October 2009 Conference talk:

"Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean, settling in a new world. I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek nor witness the fiery death of innocent believers. I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, “[I] give [my name] unto the world, to witness unto the world that which [I] have seen. ” And like them, “[I] lie not, God bearing witness of it.”"  -Jeffrey R. Holland

The main message I want to convey is that for me, and I think for a lot of us, getting a testimony of the Book of Mormon isn't about pursuing one convincing experience. It is about recognizing how the book shapes our lives on a daily basis when we invite it in and try out its precepts. It is about allowing it to change your life. Then, when we see that our life is transformed, we will know without a doubt that the Book is true and that it really was divinely inspired and prepared for our day. We will know that Joseph Smith was who he said he was and did what he said he did. We will know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and living Church upon the earth. And we will be on the path to return Home to our Father, having the image of Christ in our countenances.

I bear this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spiritual Toddlers

I love this quote from President Uchtdorf in the Priesthood session of this last General Conference:

It can be discouraging at times to know what it means to be a son of God and yet come up short. The adversary likes to take advantage of these feelings. Satan would rather that you define yourself by your sins instead of your divine potential. Brethren, don’t listen to him.

We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not. What father would punish a toddler for stumbling? We encourage, we applaud, and we praise because with every small step, the child is becoming more like his parents.

Now, brethren, compared to the perfection of God, we mortals are scarcely more than awkward, faltering toddlers. But our loving Heavenly Father wants us to become more like Him, and, dear brethren, that should be our eternal goal too. God understands that we get there not in an instant but by taking one step at a time.

I do not believe in a God who would set up rules and commandments only to wait for us to fail so He could punish us. I believe in a Heavenly Father who is loving and caring and who rejoices in our every effort to stand tall and walk toward Him. Even when we stumble, He urges us not to be discouraged—never to give up or flee our allotted field of service—but to take courage, find our faith, and keep trying.

Our Father in Heaven mentors His children and often sends unseen heavenly help to those who desire to follow the Savior.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Repentance unto Life

Tonight I finished reading a Spanish play called La Barca sin Pescador by Alejandro Casona. (Spoiler alert! Don't read this if you don't want to know the entire plot, including the ending.) It is about a man, Ricardo Jordan, who makes a deal with the devil, signing a contract stating that he would kill a man without blood (the devil says he will take care of the killing part), in exchange for the devil rescuing his fortunes and bringing down his enemy. But when the deed is done Ricardo hears the voice wife of the man who was killed (even though it was in a distant location, the devil took his soul there to witness), and he is haunted by his act.

He finally travels to the town where the murder occurred and becomes acquainted with those involved, growing to love them during his two-week stay. Just as he is about to confess his guilt in the murder, he finds out that someone else actually killed the man. The devil was trying an experiment to see if he could ensnare Ricardo with his willingness to kill, even without the act. At the beginning of the conversation, things seemed hopeless; the devil says that no amount of repentance will save him--his tears and regrets don't do any good. Returning the fortunes Ricardo gained in the deal won't help either, since they became worthless to Ricardo after he realized what he had done.

In the end, Ricardo outwits the devil. He says that he contracted to kill a man, without blood, and that is what he will do: he will spend his life killing the terrible man that he used to be, so that in the end, Ricardo Jordan will have killed Ricardo Jordan himself, fulfilling the contract. The devil admits his defeat, and laments that he had originally come to try to finish taking Ricardo's soul, but in the process led Ricardo to the path of love that allowed him to get it back.

I opened up my scriptures to my current reading spot in Acts chapter 11 verse 18: When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

I love how repentance is characterized as a gift from God, and not a punishment, and in light of the play I just read I got to thinking about what exactly "repentance unto life" means. It means more than tears or regret, sackcloth or ashes--in the end, it means being born into a new life, where we leave behind the person that we used to be and start anew. That is what Ricardo committed to do all the rest of his life, and that is what we commit to do through baptism, to put off the natural man and become a saint. The gift of repentance is not just the gift of being forgiven, but it is also the gift of new life where death once had claim. It is the process of resurrecting the soul that was spiritually dead.

The thought of that miracle, which can change everything and bring new life where it once seemed impossible, just fills me up with love and hope and gratitude.