Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings on Gratitude

***Please note that these musings are not intended to be a lecture or sermon. They're definitely not intended as a sign of how "good" I am or as evidence that I've got the craziness of life figured out in the least but are often for my own self as I ponder the person I hope to be. I just hope that maybe by sharing them they might help someone else along the way.***

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life has always had a lot of ups and downs. We all have them. It’s just part of being human. Sometimes we may look around at all the platitudes of perfection that are on social media or the covers of our favorite magazines and wonder why it seems like we’ve unfairly received more than our fair share of the downs though. After all, why can’t we have a fairy godmother come and make everything work out? Wouldn’t that just be so much nicer? I know I’ve spent more than my share of hours wishing for just such a thing.

The thing about wishing for what we don’t have though is that it doesn’t allow us to think of just how blessed we are. One of the memes I saw recently that really struck home said something to the effect of while we’re busy wishing for all the things we wish we had someone else is wishing for the things we have already been blessed with. Definitely something to think about when we start whining about things that really won’t make a difference 5 days from now or even 5 years.

We may never know why things work out the way they do but dwelling on the what might have beens or the way we wish things were only brings us down. If instead we think about the things that we do have to be grateful for we realize that each of us has been given so many amazing gifts that we can’t even really begin to start counting them.

This lesson really hit home for me when someone was discussing how gratitude affects our prayers. They suggested considering how long we usually pray for and then taking that amount of time and trying to write out as many of our blessings as we could think of. When the time was up review the list and then ponder what life would be like if you woke up the next morning with only the things on your list.

I’m definitely not perfect at it, even though I tend to think of myself as a fairly positive person I’ve realized lately just how often I let the bad take control over the good and start in on the whining and complaining and dreamily wishing. Now don’t get me wrong, wishing is fine but we’ve got to be willing to put some action behind it and make it happen. When we start going down those empty negative roads we just end up feeling even more negative and it snowballs on itself but when we stop and intentionally turn ourselves towards gratitude it’s like a whole new world of joy opens up before us.

Like I said, I know we all go through things though and sometimes it really is just ridiculous little stuff but sometimes it’s hard - really hard. As I gain more perspective on life I realize that even in those darkest of moments when I’ve felt like there’s nothing but me and the storm there have been blessings and lots of them– blessings of strength, comfort, friendship, care, and so much more.  I can realize looking back that I really wasn’t as alone as I felt and I know that I wouldn’t change any of those moments because they have taught me so much and helped me become the person I am. If that’s true than when moments of wind and hail come I probably need to focus on the lessons I’m learning and the growth I’m achieving if I want to keep moving forward in the future and trust and have faith that things will continue to work out as I do so. 

I’m so thankful for this time of year when we can all take a little time to ponder our gratitude and allow it to help shape us instead of allowing pride and jealousy destroy the beauty all around us. My wish is that it will help us all find a little more joy and a little more love and realize amidst all the false enticements and notions of "reality" the things that matter most.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Musings on Symbolism and the Sacrament

Some more quick musings from church yesterday – definitely Gospel according to Deb and more food for thought than anything else. Definitely not thoughts that are intended to represent the church or its doctrine.

While the Sacrament was being blessed and passed I thought of how symbolic it all is at a level I hadn’t appreciated before. The priesthood blessed it and passed it in symbolism of Christ blessing and passing it (which is pretty significant and amazing in itself). In each row though the members passed and shared it among each other.

Isn’t that a beautiful and powerful symbol of how the Lord’s gift of the Atonement works in each of our lives? He is the source of the blessing and sanctifying but we all help share that with each other, sometimes we receive directly from the Holy Spirit but many times that Spirit comes to us through the offerings and service of loved ones, friends, teachers, and others that Heavenly Father has given us. Everyone takes turns receiving and sharing. It’s also done in a very quiet and personal hand to hand and one by one way.

I think that so often it’s too easy to get caught up in the repetition and forget the simple symbolic beauty of so much of our worship. It was a good reminder for me to really think about what’s going on and take some time to ponder what God is trying to teach us.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Coming to Christ As We Are

Some random musings for a rainy/snowy Friday:

Have you ever had someone say something that just made a lot of sense and seems like something you’ve known forever but just never really thought about that way? I’ve had two of those this past week that are kind of connected and it got me thinking so I figured I would write it out before I forget and share with hopes that maybe it would help someone else too.

The first thing I heard someone say was that we shouldn’t wait until we’re perfect to come to Christ but that we come to Christ as we are and He helps perfect us. I think I’ve done a lot of this – thinking that I have to figure something out or be good enough before I can have His blessings. It’s just not true. He loves us as we are right now. Yes, sins will keep us from being able to receive certain blessings but we overcome those sins as we bring them to Him – not on our own. That’s what the Atonement is all about.

The second thought that I heard was just a mental image of our relationship to God that I thought illustrated the first thought beautifully. We’ve all either been or known little children who wake up in the middle of the night and need their parents. Sometimes it’s for a bad dream, sometimes it’s just because, but those little children don’t hesitate to call out or seek out their source of comfort and safety – that place where love makes it all ok again. They don’t worry about if they’ve been good or kind enough that day or if it’ll bother their parents. They just react on an instinctual need to feel that love and comfort. Christ calls us His children. He and Heavenly Father love us more than we can understand, even more than the sublime love of parents who after all is said and done are only human and have to deal with things like sleep deprivation! We shouldn’t hesitate to turn to them when we need that love and comfort or encouragement – they’re going to be there for us with open arms to provide whatever safety and refuge and renewal we need no matter what else may have happened that day. It doesn’t mean that it won’t take time or effort to calm ourselves and find that solace we seek but we don’t give up seeking it.  

3 Nephi 9:14 Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.”

Matthew 11:28 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Mark 3:23 (JST) “And blasphemies, wherewith soever they shall blaspheme, shall be forgiven them that come unto me, and do the works which they see me do.”

Moroni 7:34 “And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.”

Ether 4:14 “Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.”

Mark 1:17 “And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

God continually is calling us to Him. He knows that we will only find the comfort and peace and love and encouragement we need to grow and improve and overcome our sins as we are humble enough to answer the call and allow His Spirit to work within us.

Monday, August 1, 2016

How God Helps Us Best

So yesterday I was asked to give a talk in church and thought I would share my thoughts:

My thoughts today are on the universal need of all mankind for help. It’s a fact of life that each of us has, at some point in time, faced a challenge that was too difficult to bear on our own and have needed the assistance of someone else. Also that we all surely will face many more such challenges in the days and years to come.

So what do we do when those struggles and challenges, tests and trials come? Who can we turn to for help? Obviously those who know us and love us most and those who are the wisest are probably our surest and safest sources for guidance and support.

Isn’t it natural then to believe that Heavenly Father is our best source of help. He knows us better than anyone else. He loves us more than anyone else. He is the only one who understands all the laws that govern life here and in the hereafter.

In Primary we learn that if we have a problem we can pray to Heavenly Father and he will hear and answer us. This seems to come easy to children who naturally trust in their parents and other loved ones to come to their aid in times of need.

Something happens as we grow older though, we think we have it all figured out. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has tried to help their child with a seemingly simple task like putting on their pajamas only to be told, quite sternly, that I wasn’t needed because they were big now and could do it on their own – despite having switched the holes in their shirt for their arm and head and having it inside out or both legs stubbornly stuck upside down in one side of the pants.

But in one way or another, don’t we all do the exact same thing? We try to do things our way and find ourselves uncomfortable and stuck and we’re not really sure what happened or how to fix it but we’re also not quite ready to admit that we need help because that would mean that we don’t know absolutely everything yet?

Like the loving parent He is though, Heavenly Father stays right by our side in those moments, allowing us to deal with those crazy uncomfortable pajamas until we are willing to let him give us the assistance we need.

In fact the scriptures are full of promises that God has made to always be there with the help we need so long as we can humble ourselves to trust and ask.

D&C 1:28 “And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.”

D&C 78:18-19 “And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.”

James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally , and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

1 Corinthians 2:9 “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”

Psalms 5:11-12 “But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous; with favor wilt though compass him as with a shield.”

And one of my personal favorites because I think it helps to put it all in perspective. 

Moses 1:39 “For behold, this is my work and my glory -- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

God wants us to succeed, he wants us to learn, this promise is repeated throughout the scriptures - He wants us to grow and become like Him and because his entire work and glory centers around each of us gaining eternal life He’s there with us every step of the way.

There are a few key things to note here though:

First, Heavenly Father will never force us to do it His way. Our agency is too precious to Him and too essential to us. He gives us the commandments and warns us of the consequences for good and for bad, but to step in and take away our ability to choose would also mean taking away our growth and understanding that is a necessary part of His plan for our ultimate happiness. Satan would try to have us believe that allowing us moments of failure and forcing us to figure things out means that Heavenly Father doesn’t love us. Any of us who have watched a child learning to walk know that this isn’t true, although we try to teach and train and help prepare them to walk on their own, stumbles and falls are part of the learning process and we have to just do our best to help minimize the possibilities for danger without interfering in the learning process. I think to some degree that’s what Heavenly Father does for us as well and I know He cheers as louder than anyone when we get back up and try again and find we can succeed.

Second, we have to know that obstacles and challenges are there for a reason. Satan tries to convince us that this is also evidence that God doesn’t really love us. Because of the Gospel we know that it’s simply not true. True agency requires that there be opposition. We have to have a choice to make if we want the blessings of choosing it. When we overcome those obstacles and challenges, when we face adversity and carry on we learn that all things are possible through the Lord. Our faith in His help and the blessings that He has given us is increased and we find we have grown to become more like Him. Even Christ was faced with opposition and challenges but when we look at his life we can see how he handled those situations and was able to take every one of those would be stumbling blocks and turn it around into a positive stepping stone. Your attitude in facing those obstacles can make all the difference. I have noticed though that complaining about them rarely makes them any easier.

Third, We have to follow His path if we want to succeed. Like a trail up a mountain made by guides who know the way, Christ has shown us how to return to Heavenly Father. In the early part of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi talked about the importance of this. Aside from having a firm grasp on the iron rod there wasn’t a safe path that led to the tree of eternal life. Christ said Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Some would argue that it doesn’t seem fair, with so many paths to explore why should only one path lead to God. We have to trust that God knows more than we do though and no matter how much we may wish it differently because He governs in fairness and order that in the end things work out the way that they should. Thankfully repentance is part of that great path and we can always find the trail again with Christ’s help.

The rod of iron that led safely through the path was symbolic of the word of God. One of the biggest blessings that Heavenly Father has given us to help us find and stay on the path are the lives and testimonies of His children.

I love that the scriptures are full of people who were just people like us who lived their lives, did what they could and even messed up sometimes – in some cases a lot of times. We can see what happened when they trusted in God and followed His plan and what happened when they didn’t. We can see how God works with each of us in our own imperfections and can do amazing things through us despite ourselves. We can see the courage and faith of Ester, the obedience and sorrows of Nephi. From David we learn that we can slay giants as well as the need for all of us to beware of pride and coveting and when we mess up we should humble ourselves in repentance. Each person’s story helps us because, like us, they were simply trying to figure life out and had moments of failure and moments where they were able to be worthy of God’s highest blessings.

Heavenly Father has also blessed us with prophets, seers, and revelators in our own time. I know that President Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I know that he and those who work with him in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have been called by God to a sacred work and that they receive revelation that will help lead and guide the church. Over 2,000 years ago, Paul explained to the Ephesians why God gives us prophets and leaders and told the people the things that God’s true servants would do, he said, “And [the Lord] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” In the midst of everything we see and hear today it’s easy to feel tossed and fro and feel uncertain of where to go or what to do or how to follow Christ. Not too long ago we were able to hear in person from Elder Rasband – an Apostle and servant of the Lord who exemplified the kind of teaching Paul described. We are also blessed through technology and media to hear from President Monson and our other leaders not only every six months in General Conference but continually through the resources that are online and available in Church Magazines. He’s also blessed us all with Stake and Ward leaders and teachers who love us and do their best to magnify the callings that the Lord has given them.

These are not the only sources that we can learn from though. We can learn from the examples of our own family and friends. Since it’s July I’d like to share with you a family pioneer story that I just learned somewhat recently.

Jacob Nesser was born in 1810 in Switzerland. He was baptized and served a mission there. In 1862 he left Switzerland and was part of the William H. Dane Handcart company. He traveled across the ocean and set out across the plains with his wife, Regula Lobbey Nesser and about 7 children to answer the call of the prophet to gather. They traveled with friends and family. The journey seems to have been difficult for both of them in their early 50’s however, which apparently for the time period was considered advanced in age. Regula died and was buried at Winter Quarters. It seems as though shortly after that one of his sons died along the way as well. Family records tell the rest of his tale. Jacob continued on the trail with his children and reached the Salt Lake Valley. He decided to settle down in the town of Providence, Utah. He married again and had 7 more children. Life in the valley wasn’t easy for Jacob and his family. He found the changes from his homeland in addition to the complications of advancing age and probably the loss of his wife and child extremely difficult. He had been a shoemaker by trade in Switzerland and tried to continue on in that trade but had limited resources and success.  It seems as though he loved his family and children but poverty and poor health took their toll.  He grew bitter towards the church. Just about 10 years after reaching Utah he died. The children from his first marriage left Utah and moved to Jackson County Missouri. His second wife Elizabeth, and her children ended up leaving Utah to join an apostate group that had promised to take care of them but did not. According to the records that I’ve been able to find so far only one of his children – his oldest daughter from his second marriage remained in the Church.

Some of you may be wondering why I would tell such a tragic story when talking about how God helps us best. Where was God during all those times of struggle? Outwardly Jacob had done all he could, I don’t know his heart but I think I could easily imagine his feelings and frustrations, his disappointment and even some of his bitterness. I don’t have all the answers about why he was asked to endure what he did even as he had tried to be faithful, but thankfully I know that’s not where Jacob’s story ends. Not quite 40 years after Jacob’s death, his great grandson James Burlington decided to join the church but about the same time he married a woman who was not a member and lost interest. Heavenly Father still wasn’t done with them yet though and thankfully his 5th great-grandson, my father was introduced to the church yet again when his roommate at college decided to share the gospel. Like I said, I don’t have all the answers but what happened with Jacob and Regula and their family and to me it is a testimony even though Regula died on the journey and Jacob struggled and became bitter that Heavenly Father loved them and was grateful for the faith that they had shown and that He never forgot them and wanted their children to have the blessings of the gospel. We may give up on Heavenly Father, but He never gives up on us.

Jacob’s story has also helped me put in perspective the concept that President Monson has taught so often. Our decisions determine our destiny and sometimes little choices we make can have a great impact on our future.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it pours knowledge into our souls and shows things in their true light. With that enhanced perspective, we can discern more clearly the choices before us and their consequences. We can, therefore, make more intelligent use of our agency. Many of God’s children fall into unanticipated traps and unhappiness because they either lack or ignore gospel light. They are unaware of their options or are confused about the outcomes of their choices. Ignorance effectively limits their agency.”

We have been blessed by Heavenly Father with the gift of the gospel, with the blessings of covenants, with the power of the priesthood, with scriptures, with prophets, with teachers, leaders, family, friends, with our own talents and wisdom and the ability to receive revelation through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He has surrounded us with everything we might need to be successful and face our challenges if we can only be humble and teachable.

So why does it still seem so hard? What can we do if we’re still struggling and in need of help?

Sometimes when I feel myself facing a particularly difficult challenge I try and take some time for honest personal reflection. I try to remind myself -

  • I don’t have to do it all, I just have to do my best and leave the rest to God.
  • Great things don’t happen overnight, they happen bit by bit, line upon line.
  • God has given me so many blessings that are all around me if only I take the time to look.
  • I may not be able to choose my circumstance but I can choose what I do about it.
  • It doesn't do any good to worry about things that are out of my control, I can only work to make right what is within my sphere of influence.

I also ask myself the hard questions. Please understand that these questions might be different for each of us based on our struggles or personal tendencies.  These are just some that I have found helpful and hopefully can help get you thinking-

  • Am I focusing on the most important and essential things, the things of eternity or am I focusing on the things that are just nice or not important at all?
  • Will this matter 5 minutes or 5 days from now? 5 years or 50?
  • Am I too busy trying to figure it out on my own and relying on Google that I’ve stopped trying to listen for the still small voice and seeking answers through study and prayer?
  • What am I doing that’s getting in the way of God being able to bless me?
  • Am I following the plan that God has laid out for my life or am I trying to follow the plan of the world and hoping for God’s blessings?
  • What idols am I letting come between me and God?
  • Am I letting someone else’s lack of faith alter my eternity?
  • Am I trying to carry the worries and burdens of tomorrow with only today’s strength?
  • Are my actions consistent with my faith in a loving Heavenly Father?

I know that as we seek Heavenly Father’s help that He will show us the way to safety. He wants each of us to return to Him. He loves each of us because we are all His children. Struggles and challenges come to each of us but He’s given us all we need to make it through, and not only make it through but to feel joy and success as we journey. Whenever we’re struggling all we have to do is turn to Him and follow the path He gives us.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ready and Able to Serve: Filling up Our Treasure Chests

The other day I was helping someone. An extremely sweet sister that I hadn't met before who had suddenly found herself in a hard place and time and needed help desperately and on short notice.

It's not the first time I've gotten those calls. Sometimes I haven't even gotten an actual call but had a prompting or passing request- either way as the “calls” come they have resulted in a variety of different things. I've brought meals, watched children, driven people to places, helped people move, picked up groceries, took care of animals, and just sat and chatted.

I've always loved the opportunity to serve others. I've never once regretted going and doing (although I have unfortunately regretted plenty of times when I've missed that opportunity for one reason or another). I've often found that I was blessed even more than the person I was trying to help. I love getting to know people better, lifting someone's day, and for my tiny part knowing that the world is brighter because I did something to help.

I hope that doesn't sound conceited or trite because I wasn't the only one who answered the call in this case and it was amazing to see how each of us were able to be there and what we were able to bring in the way of help and how each of us were needed. In the midst of my pure exhaustion that followed I had a thought - What if I hadn't been able to serve? What if I was too busy with other things? What if I didn't have the physical/emotional/mental/spiritual/temporal resources available that she needed? Would she have suffered because I wasn't able to serve? What would I have missed?

I almost broke down in tears of gratitude to my Savior. I thought of all the times I wanted to help but didn't or couldn't and I was so thankful that at least this once I had been prepared to be able to help. I'm not sure I could have done what I did even just a few months ago and the thought was painful to me. Maybe someone else could have been there and everything would have been fine without me, it probably would have. Maybe they could have helped better than I did. But maybe not. Maybe I was the only one who could have done what I did and that small bit for whatever it was worth would have been left undone.

The Lord has blessed me with a treasure chest. It's my job to take care of it and fill it up with the things I need though. If I want to be able to help I have to have the knowledge and strength and resources to be there. I have to be busy filling up my treasure chest so that when others need something I am ready and able to share. It's just logic that you can't give what you don't have.

Now I don't think that God expects us to have everything right today that someone may ever possibly need from us or that we alone have to save the world. He gives each of us different gifts and different needs and what I'm expected to be able to give now will be different than what I might be expected to give 30 years from now. But God knows what we're capable of doing and I think that He wants each of us to be doing our very best. I don't want to have to get to the eternities and realize that I missed opportunities to serve and love and bless because I was too busy or lazy and hadn't prepared myself or didn't even realize that there was a need. The prophets have taught to get out of debt, provide for the future, take care of our homes and families, to take scripture into our hearts, to learn all that we can, and stay close to the Spirit. I think those are all things that I can work on bit by bit each day to help fill my treasure chest so I won't have to come up empty handed and can be satisfied that I truly did give all I could.

I am just so thankful that I was here, I was ready to answer the call and I was able to serve because of what I've been blessed with largely because of promptings that have come through the Holy Ghost. That means so much to me. I still have a lot that I can be doing to fill my treasure chest up but the other day I truly felt like I could not have been more blessed.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Two Cents: Overcoming the Tragedy of Hate

A few thoughts have been running through my mind since I found out about the murders in Orlando this past weekend. Although every time situations like this happen my heart twists in agony for the suffering of those involved, this one hit close to home since I grew up just outside Orlando and many of my friends still call it home. I was so thankful that Facebook has a new “check” where people in the area can let their friends know that they’re safe. I’m saddened beyond words that such a feature is needed but such is the world we live in.

Social media also has been great at proving just about everybody’s got an opinion on it. The right to free speech is letting them share and share they are. I’ve seen quite the range of comments and opinions and information about a variety of mostly related topics. Even though it’ll likely get lost in cyberland for the sake of my own peace of mind I’m adding my two cents for whatever they might be worth.

My first thought is that I think unfortunately we’ve gotten really good at trying to treat symptoms instead of actual problems. I may be wrong but I don’t think this is about guns and I don’t think it’s even really about the LBGT Community or Muslims or any of that. Those things all play into it sure, but there are plenty of Muslims that wouldn’t condone the actions taken, there are people that are part of the LBGT community that own guns and fully support freedom of religion, unfortunately there are Muslims that have attacked other groups of people using other kind of weapons, and even more to the point- there are many other people that have committed other atrocities that aren’t related to any of these things. What it all comes down to really is hate.

We’ve gotten more intellectual about our hate and we hide it well but it’s still there. We may not go to the extremes that that were involved in this instance but we still have it lurking beneath the surface. We hate the people that would do this sort of thing. We hate the people who have allowed this to happen. We hate the laws that didn’t stop it. We hate the way the reports have covered it. We hate that we can’t do anything about it. We hate that the world is in chaos. We hate that everyone’s prayers for the people involved haven’t changed what’s happened. We hate a lot.

I want it over with. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t condone the actions that were taken or want to in any way seem like I want to justify the choices that someone makes to harm anyone in any way. I just don’t want to live with the hating and blaming any more. That may seem overly naive but I’ve lived through the terror of tragedy that struck too close to home. I’ve been within feet of a classmate that decided to act on their hate and took the life of someone and changed his own forever. I know from experience that we can hate things and people all we want but it only perpetuates the cycle. It just makes us more bitter, more divided, and more afraid at times when what’s needed is more compassion, more unity, and more courage.

I really believe that unless we can remove the hatred these tragic events are not going to stop. Why would they? We can talk about gun control all we want but people with a desire to harm are still going to find a way to do it. We can legislate and debate back and forth with PC hogwash keeping us from admitting the basic fact that we’re all human. When we start putting labels on ourselves and others it keeps us distanced from them and throw in a dose of hate and it becomes us versus them. I have many friends in the LBGT community – do I love them because they’re part of that community? To me that would be ridiculous and shallow, I love them because they’re my friends and I treat them like I do all my other friends. Same goes for any other labeled group. It doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge that people are different and face different challenges based on certain things. It just means that I know deep down that everyone has a story and a struggle and is worthy of compassion and understanding and space to work out their own crazy life in their own crazy way. I have enough problems of my own, why would I assume I can “fix” everyone else’s?!

I know I don’t have all the answers to what to do. I do know that Christ taught us to pray and that we should love our enemies. Sometimes that’s hard, Christ knew about that too though and He never put any conditional clarifiers on it which to me makes me think He probably meant it just the way He said it. So I’ll keep praying for those who have lost loved ones that somehow they’ll be able to find some measure of peace. I’ll also keep praying for those whose hearts are becoming lost to their hate.  I’ll pray for those of the rising generation that are growing up in fear of an unknown future. I’ll pray for love to come to all of us and fill us up where hate and fear have emptied and hardened us. Then I’ll keep trying to follow Christ’s example in taking those prayers and putting them into action. I’ll try harder to love deeper, I’ll try to look for the best in others so that they can see it in themselves, and I’ll trust in Him to help me know who might need an extra hug or helping hand. Though so far I'm incredibly imperfect at it and it hasn’t changed much, it has started to change me. Maybe with some time I won’t be so quick to judge. Maybe I won’t be so quick to take offense. Maybe I won’t be so caught up in my own story that I miss pages of beauty that could have been added by those around me. Maybe I’ll appreciate more the unique gift that each and every one of us are to the world and the greater story of history. Call me crazy but it doesn’t sound like much room left for any hate if I can manage all of that. Maybe I can’t change the world but I can change me. It may sound altruistic or downright corny but maybe when all is said and done that’s really all that matters – how much we’ve filled our hearts with love and how much we’ve shown that love to those around us.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Family Forever

Once upon a time I was a stupid teenager. I had some things happen that I let damage my self-esteem pretty bad and ended up with a crowd of friends who although not ill-intentioned, simply did not have my same standards. Although I never committed any "serious" sins there was a short time when I was not worthy to enter the temple.

That may seem a bit strange or harsh to people not of our faith but we believe that the temples are the most sacred and holy places on earth - we believe that they are the House of God and the scriptures say "that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence" (Moses 6:57). If we want to be in God's House, if we hope to dwell in His Presence we must be clean and worthy.

So there I was, unable to enter the House of the Lord. All my life I grew up knowing how special temples were and it was devastating to me not to be able worthy to participate in those sacred experiences. My top priority became repentance and taking hold of the blessings of the Atonement so that I could return. I remember a special blend of feeling joyful and humble when I was able at last to enter in again that I now feel each time I enter. 

It was soon after this time that I found my favorite Primary song - I had always loved music and especially the church songs but this one took on special meaning to me.

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
 Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father's plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me how I can.
 While I am in my early years,
I'll prepare most carefully,
So I can marry in God's temple for eternity.
 Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father's plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me how I can.
If there was a blessing in all that I went through, it was that I appreciated temples and eternal families like I had never done before. I knew with certainty that I could never settle for anything that wasn't forever. I wanted my family to be eternal and that I would have to continue to make sure that I was worthy and focused if that was going to happen.

Fast forward a bit and I knelt across the alter from my very best friend and made sacred promises with him and the Lord that no matter what came our way we would stay focused on eternity together. When I look at my husband, my children, when I think of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents - I feel an indescribable joy and overwhelming gratitude for how very blessed I am. I am so grateful that the priesthood was restored and that temples are once again on the earth and that we can be sealed together as a family forever.
In our ward during April we focused a lot on temples and families. We made a ward goal for everyone to try and get their families to go to the temple together - at least to walk around the grounds and feel the Spirit there. We were able to go as a family to both Boston and Montreal and see the temples there. 
No my kids weren't the most reverent while we there, yes it was a difficult thing to get everyone together and do the long drive. Would I do it again? Of course! Even though it was challenging and I imagine it will remain so no matter what the future brings, having our family together at the temple, teaching our children that they are part of our family forever, showing them how much we love them and God loves them are some of the most treasured moments of my life. 
I hope that by helping them focus on the things of eternity so they will be able to remember who they are and where they are going and know without a doubt that they are children of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and wants to keep the commandments and be clean not only so that they can be happy in this life but so He can bring them home to live with Him again to live in his eternal joy with all our loved ones together forever. 

my greatest blessings

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Musings at Midnight: Kids, Compassion, and the Curse of the Mombie

This week has been hard. I think everyone has certain things that are their triggers – personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Well, one of my big ones is sleep. I realize for many people it’s not a big deal if they lose a few hours, even on a regular basis, but I love my sleep. If I don’t get a decent amount I’m pretty much good for nothing aside from being extra cranky and clumsy and confused (and probably confusing). Seriously, it’s like so much of me that wants to do good things and love and help just shuts down and I can barely function.

Funny thing is- I’ve got kids. Although everyone jokes about the sleepless nights of parenthood most people really are back to getting at least a somewhat decent night’s sleep by the time that the child is at least a year old if not sooner.

That’s pretty much how it went with Monkey. Sure she had some nights that were hard but those quickly became the exception instead of the rule. Then we had Tiger – he would wake up between 1-5 times a night up until he was around 4 ½. We tried everything – even just letting him cry it out wasn’t going to work. I was lucky if I got a solid 7 hours in maybe once or twice a month. Then we had Bear – for his first month or so he was a fabulous little sleeper, unfortunately it didn’t last and even at a little over 3 years old now he generally wakes up at least 1-3 times every night with maybe a full 6 or 7 hour stretch of sleep at night every 3-5 months.

I blissfully got one of those days the other week and naively convinced myself that we might be making progress. I should know better. The very next night he had a stuffy nose and woke up after about only two hours of sleep and spent the rest of the night sleeping only in small stretches that would go from 20 minutes to 1 hour or so. He’s still fighting his cold so now we’re about a week into this new sleep schedule and I feel like I’m becoming a mombie (a zombie that’s not so creepy and continues to have to do mom stuff like dishes and laundry and cooking because that’s what I’m programmed to do not because I’m actually capable of thinking intelligently 90% of the time).

The other night he woke up just after midnight - again. I had really been hoping that I might get a reprieve and get at least one good night in. For some reason my usual selfish reaction that’s been to want to scream and throw things and growl at him held off and I just felt love and compassion for my little man who needed rest so badly but was having such a hard time getting it. As I carried him down to snuggle him back to sleep on the couch a few lines from one of my favorite church hymns came to mind.

I warmed and clothed and cheered my guest
And laid him on my couch to rest,
Then made the earth my bed and seemed
In Eden's garden while I dreamed.

Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
"Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me."

Yes, I had given up sleep in my nice comfortable bed and was left to have to share a couch with my wiggly snuggler that makes it hard to sleep even after he goes back down but in that moment I didn’t feel like it mattered so much as it had before. Yes, it was a sacrifice to love and serve this little one but it hit me keenly that as I serve Him I serve Christ who not only chose to suffer intimately all that I would endure but all that Bear would endure and loves us both more than we can understand. I knew that even though all my prayerful pleadings hadn’t been answered in the way I had hoped that Christ had heard me and loved me and for the time being, I just needed to love my sweet little one and trust in God's gifts and greater plan.

The next morning I found myself reading from "Hold onThy Way" – an October 2015 General Conference address by Elder Koichi Aoyagi. He talks about a time earlier in his life when he had been trying to serve the Lord but ended up with injuries that caused him pain that lasted for over a decade. He prayed for relief but the pain persisted. He began to seriously struggle and wonder why. He did his best though to endure and remain faithful and at a particularly hard time, he talked with a trusted church leader who changed his perspective and asked him, “Brother Aoyagi, isn’t your purpose for being on this earth to experience this trial? Isn’t it to accept all the trials of this life for what they are and then leave the rest up to the Lord? Don’t you think that this problem will be resolved when we are resurrected?”

Elder Aoyagi then referenced God’s response to Joseph Smith’s pleas for help in a moment of great trial and testing “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. …“Therefore, hold on thy way … , for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:7,9)

I was thankful for the reminder so soon after my insight of the previous night that confirmed my thoughts and helped to continue to put things into a more eternal perspective. It made me think of another recent General Conference talk that touched me deeply given by Sister Carole M. Stephens in the April 2015 Women’s Session of Conference titled “The Family Is of God”

In the premortal life, we learned that we would need a period of mortality. We “accepted [Heavenly Father’s] plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize [our] divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
Elder Richard G. Scott explained that “we were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched.” That stretching comes in as many forms as there are individuals experiencing it. I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
So right now some of you are thinking, “Well then, Sister Stephens, you just don’t understand!” And I answer that you may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,” who experienced all and understands all. And in addition, I have experienced all of the mortal tests that I just mentioned through the lens of a daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.
Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”—in part through us as we follow Him.”

So anyways, even though we were tired we made it through another day. Getting ready for bed that night I realized that my lesson wasn’t quite finished. As I tried to help Bear find some relief from his cold so that he might be able to feel and sleep a little better he absolutely refused all but my most gentle efforts - efforts that although somewhat helpful and mildly soothing really would bring only a minimum amount of relief over the course of the night. My other attempts to help him were all too scary or painful for him to contemplate enough for me to implement without causing greater pain. 

So I realized it was with me. Surely I had prayed for greater patience, love, understanding and many other things. Was there a chance that these sleepless nights and hazy days were a part of my refining process? In some way had they been purposely given to help me achieve something that I desperately needed? Yes, they were draining and I hurt mentally, physically, and to some degree emotionally - but just because I couldn’t understand the workings of the Great Physician would I fight against His plan for my health, growth, and ultimate happiness? Do I really want to take a path that feels a little more safe and comfortable but ultimately will take a much longer time with a lot more pain before I can receive the blessings I need? What if that path leaves me unprepared at crucial future moments to face the challenges I will need to face or be strong enough to support those that I love that will need me?

Perhaps it was just the sleep deprivation talking but over the past day or two since I’ve made a conscious effort to bear my small burden with more patience and compassion. I’ve still struggled and in moments have fallen short in exhausted frustration but my overall perception and perspective have changed and I know that it’ll all work out just the way it should. After all, now that he’s a little older Tiger is my best sleeper and once he goes down can sleep a solid night through just about any amount of noise and chaos and that's a gift that I'm sure he'll be grateful for in the years to come!