You Are Divine

This morning as I was studying my scriptures, I got a pep talk from the Spirit. It’s something I really needed as I’ve been struggling to get back into better habits of daily scripture study, healthier living, serving others, etc. In Helaman 13 (Book of Mormon), a prophet named Samuel was commanded by the Lord to go and cry repentance to a city of wicked Nephites. The first time he went, the Nephites kicked him out. As he was heading back to his home in another city, the Lord commanded Samuel again to go and preach repentance to this city, called Zarahemla. So instead of entering back through the city gates, where he knew he’d just get kicked out again, Samuel climbed up on the city wall and started preaching and saying that they needed to repent or God would curse them. This goes on for the entire chapter and is actually a great one to read and evaluate yourself. Most of us probably aren’t going around and murdering people, but all of us have things we need to repent of and do better with.

Anyway, my pep talk came after I read Helaman 13:25-27, but before I share that, I’m going to explain some things after you read the verses. While you read this, be thinking of yourself and whether or not you have ever done any of these things. And be honest with yourself. I’m not asking you to admit it to the world, or even to anyone but yourself. It reads:

“And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth – and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.”

This made me think of the world we live in today and how everyone is trying to please everyone else. We keep trying to create words, phrases, laws, etc that allow certain people to live as they please while also restricting the freedoms of others (namely freedom of speech and religion). It’s an impossible game we’re playing at. And in my opinion, it’s because the world refuses to listen to (let alone act on) truth.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland spoke at the April 2014 General Conference about this very topic. His talk was titled “The Cost – and Blessings – of Discipleship”. He said:

“Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.

Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like “comfortable” doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?”

Elder Holland continues to elaborate on that topic. He teaches us that Jesus Christ, while full of charity and love for the people, was not sent to coddle us and only tell us “Good job!”. Christ was sent to teach us and show us the way we NEED to be living.

Think of this: Put yourself way back in first grade math. The problem on the board is 2+2. You write down 5, because you’re 99% sure that’s what it is. The other 1% is you thinking you might be wrong, but it doesn’t really matter, nor do you really care that much. Why is it THAT important for you to get this problem right? Then your teacher comes to your desk to check and see how you’re doing. What is the role of your teacher?  Will she stop and say “2+2=5. Great job, Jimmy!” and allow you to continue in ignorance? Will she say “Jimmy, I’m not really sure that 2+2 is 5, but if you think that’s right, then you’re right”? NO! Of course not. That actually sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

We all know that 2+2=4, not 5. But we know that because we had a teacher (hopefully) who said “Jimmy, I’m so glad you tried this problem! But 2+2 does not equal 5. Let me show you how to figure it out.” And we know now that learning that 2+2=4 is something we need to know to build up to learning algebra, calculus, physics, etc.

This teacher is like Jesus Christ. He is SO happy that we try to get through the problems in life, but He corrects us when we’re not following truth and the way He corrects us is with love. He also doesn’t just tell us the answer. He walks us through the problem to help us understand why we got the answer we got and why we’ll need to know it later. And sometimes we still might not understand it, but if we nod and smile and trust that He’s right (just like I did with most of my math classes), eventually one day, maybe years later, we’ll finally say “Ooooh! I see why that was necessary and true!”

As I evaluated myself after reading Helaman 13:25-27, I realized something else (and here’s where my fantastic pep talk came in): Way too many times do I make the excuse “Oh it’s okay that I’m struggling to reach these goals. It’s just my personality to not want to do these things.” AKA I tell myself that it’s okay to do things wrong because that’s “just who I am”. Proceed to pep talk from God:

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Photo by Greg Olsen

STOP. That’s wrong. That is NOT who you are. You are a Daughter of God. You are SO much more than your weaknesses and mistakes. Don’t let Satan trick you into not doing what God wants you to do just because “it’s who you are tend to be”. You TEND to make mistakes. You TEND to be a human being. It’s HUMAN nature. But it isn’t DIVINE nature. So suck it up and BE DIVINE.

Be Divine. That hit me hard. If we are children of God, we have the potential to be as He is. We have the ability to do what He does some day. And what we learn here on Earth is what we’ll need to know for our eternal lives. So study hard now. Apply what you learn now. We have limitations because of our human nature, but those limitations can be freed if we embrace our divinity.

The Importance of the Sabbath Day & Family History

In my ward, I’m one of the family history leaders and we wanted to talk about the importance of family history. We were also assigned to talk about the Sabbath Day, so I tried to combine the two topics as smoothly as possible. This is the talk I gave yesterday and hopefully you can take one thing from reading this and be able to apply it in your life. 🙂

We all know that the Sabbath Day is an extremely important day of the week. A well known scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 59 tells us why: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High”.

I LOVE this scripture because of the phrase “more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world”. The world we live in isn’t exactly pretty. Just in the past couple of days we’ve seen a lot of hatred because people disagree on what they feel is right or wrong. The world is getting farther and farther away from Christ. So how are we supposed to stay close to Him with all the world’s philosophies surrounding and suffocating us? By dedicating our Sabbath day to prayer, taking the sacrament and reflecting on the Atonement, and paying our devotion to the God who has given us everything.

As we partake of the sacrament each week, we are made clean again, just as we were at baptism. However, I have to say that doing this just on Sundays isn’t enough. Verse 11-12 in D&C 59 continues on saying: “Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times. But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations (or offerings) and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.” Obviously, we don’t take the sacrament every day. But we can’t be made clean when we take the sacrament on Sundays if we haven’t adequately repented for the previous weeks sins and mistakes. We must be vigilant in remembering our covenants every single day of the week.

Mark 2:27 tells us that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” I interpret this to mean that the Sabbath day was given to us for two things: first, a reprieve from the world. Second, as a model for what we should be doing on the other 6 days of the week. Yes, we have work, school, activities and other such things we need to do in order to provide for and nurture ourselves and our families, but spiritually speaking, we cannot live without striving daily to be more like our Savior. Sunday is the day we receive the most guidance on how best to accomplish that and it is those things we learn that we need to apply throughout the week. Isaiah 58:13-14 teaches us that putting the Lord first instead of ourselves is the best way to find lasting joy and be able to “call the sabbath a delight”.

Now, more than ever before, our examples need to shine forth for the world to see.  My favorite scripture is Matthew 5:14-16. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” We need the Sabbath day to help us climb to the top of the hill and let our lights shine brighter. We are the ones called in this last dispensation to spread the Gospel over the whole Earth.

In 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith established Christ’s church once more. EVERYTHING Christ taught in His time and EVERY doctrine and eternal truth that has ever been taught since the beginning of time was restored exactly as it had been previously. We live in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. This means that our dispensation is the one that “includes all others, both in heaven and on earth.” Doctrine and Covenants 128:18 states: “It is necessary … that a … welding together of dispensations … should take place … from the days of Adam even to the present time.”

According to Elder David B. Haight, this means that our dispensation is the dispensation which will fulfill all of the decrees of a loving Heavenly Father for the ‘salvation of [all] men and the redemption of the earth itself.” Elder Haight also answered the question of why the Church spends so much time and money on gathering records and articles for family history research by saying: “[We do this] because we love them. Because they are entitled to the same blessings that we enjoy. Because this is a major part of the heavenly plan for this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, for the blessing of all people.”

I want you to think for a moment on your life. When have you felt Heavenly Father’s love specifically for you? We all come from different backgrounds and different cultures. We have different experiences and different talents. Some of us were baptized within the last few years. Many of us grew up in the Church. We’ve all made mistakes, big and small. But I feel confident saying that you have each felt the love of God in your lives at least once. Sit for a minute and remember how that felt – how it feels now. . .

Now ask yourself this: If God loves you and each of us here today in a way that not one of us can fully comprehend, how do you think He feels about His children who have lived on the Earth previously and who did not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I guarantee you that He feels the same about them as He does about you.

President Howard W. Hunter once asked: “Does it seem reasonable that persons who have lived upon the earth and died without the opportunity of baptism should be deprived throughout eternity? Is there anything unreasonable about the living performing the baptisms for the dead?”

The scriptures teach us that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). He gives every single one of His Children every opportunity He can to learn of Him, to accept Him and to try to become as He is.

Malachi 4:5-6 says: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

I’ve thought about these verses a lot. Often, it just seems a jumbled mess of words that I know means something significant but can’t really put my finger on. I know it has to do with temple work for our ancestors but that’s about it. As I thought about it in preparation for this talk, though, I came to understand a deeper meaning. The hearts of our fathers – our ancestors – turn to us, waiting, hoping and pleading with us to do the work they can’t do on their own. They are being taught by spirits on the other side of the veil, but they are waiting for us to help them seal their faith with the saving ordinances beginning with baptism and confirmation. Just as they turn their hearts to us, we need to turn our hearts to them.

Family History is something we all know is extremely important, yet it often gets put on the back burner for a variety of reasons. It is our privilege as well as our duty as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to reach back through time and give our ancestors what they cannot get for themselves without a physical body. President Hunter continued in his remarks: “Perhaps the greatest example of vicarious work for the dead is the Master Himself. He gave His life as a vicarious atonement, that all who die shall live again and have life everlasting. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In a similar way, we can perform ordinances for those who did not have the opportunity to do them in a lifetime.”

The Savior knows and loves each and every one of us. We knew Him before we came to this Earth. We knew Him well and we all loved Him. We wouldn’t be here without that love. Just as the Savior knows us and loves us, so should we come to know and love our own ancestors. A minute ago, I talked about how our hearts need to turn to our ancestors as their hearts turn to ours. We can do this through family history work as we dig through journals, newspaper articles, or call parents and grandparents. The Atonement of Jesus Christ would not have worked, or continue to work, without Him fully knowing or loving us each individually and I believe that same principle applies to us. We can be saviors to our ancestors by doing their work in the temples, but only if we first come to know and love them as the Savior has come to know and love us.

Brothers and sisters, I have a testimony and a knowledge that family history and temple work is some of the greatest work we can and will ever do in our lives on Earth. I also know that families can be together forever.

The day I started my mission was also the day my brother died. I know I’m not the only one here who’s lost a family member and knows the pain that death brings and the hole that comes into your life. It’s not an experience I would ever wish anyone to go through. But it’s not an experience I would have the Lord take away from me, either.

I often wish my brother was still here despite my faith in God’s plan, but I can also say that I truly am grateful for the trial and experience. My family wasn’t particularly close while I was growing up. As I continued on my mission a few days after his funeral, I came to understand and love my family more than I ever had before. I gained a greater understanding of the Plan of Salvation, the healing power of the Atonement and the importance of families. I gained a desire to learn more about my extended family, who I really don’t know well because I’ve only met them a few times throughout my life. That desire grew to wanting to know about the ancestors who have already left this Earth. As I’ve heard stories about my parents and grandparents growing up, I’ve come to know that my ancestors were full of love, energy, joy and selflessness. As I’ve done temple work for my ancestors, I’ve come to feel their love and protection for my while I do my work on the Earth. My ancestors and brother who have left behind a legacy of faith and have inspired me to become better every day and to strive more and more to be like the Savior are my heroes.

I know my Savior lives. I know that He loves me and each of you. I know that this Gospel is true and that we have been saved for the latter-days, to lift and inspire the people around us and to bring the Gospel to the world. I know this all to be true, and I say it humbly in the name of our Brother, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Conquering Fear with Faith

I have anxiety. To the point that I either feel like I’ll throw up or pass out. But it only happens in certain situations, and generally, that means I try to avoid those things. Well… That’s kind of hard to do when those things are pretty important to what I’m doing with my life. About a month ago, I faced one of my greatest fears. Actually, it is my greatest fear. No questions asked. I say that because it’s something I have been almost forced to face and I hated almost every second of it.

Until I decided to put my faith before my fear.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Now, this story I’m about to tell is my own personal story. Anyone who reads this may or may not be able to relate (my guess is you probably can, even if our stories are extremely different). Whatever the case, whatever your life story, I hope that you can find something here that you can apply to yourself and help you gain greater faith and come closer to your Savior.

A while back, I think I may have written about my decision to change majors (both here and here). To make a long story short, I’ll just say that I started out as a Music Composition major and came to realize that I really disliked the program. I also did not want to do that for a career anymore. As I searched for a new degree in music, trying to find the one that fit me just right, I sort of got smacked over the head by Heavenly Father and shoved in the direction of the Piano Performance degree (which I had been avoiding like the plague). This may not have been the path I ever thought I would take, but I had no doubt what Heavenly Father was telling me to do – develop your talents as much as you can in order to better bless the lives of others throughout your time on Earth.

Honestly, I have to say this has been the biggest trial of my faith. Ever. Not even the death of my brother three years ago can top this one. I’m completely serious. Why? Because it’s something that I have to CHOOSE to do. Having Tyler pass away unexpectedly was unavoidable and there was nothing I could do to change it. Choosing a major that scares me more than anything else… That takes even greater faith than having a trial forced upon you. Actively choosing to face your greatest fear is actively choosing to have faith – it is choosing the Lord’s side.

But making that decision to move forward with this goal has not been a one time thing. At least once a week for the past year, I have had to choose over and over again to put my faith before my fear.

I went into this knowing that I hate performing. I only realized about a year ago that the reason I hate it so much is because I’ve developed pretty bad anxiety in certain situations, performing being the main one. So having discovered this, I took a class and went to a psychologist to figure out how to overcome my anxiety because I had absolutely no doubt that this is what I needed to be doing. I found some good techniques that helped a lot with calming my racing heart and upset stomach and keeping myself from passing out. I was more confident in my ability to do this without freaking myself out too much and I even became excited to perform. Any time I had doubts about my abilities to do this recital (which would get me switched into the performance major) were often easily quelled with a few relaxation and meditation methods.

Speed up to about a month or two ago. My recital was getting closer and the doubts had come back in full force. I wondered why I was doing this and how I could be crazy enough to think I was good enough. My fears were returning bigger than ever and I wasn’t sure I could go through with the performance – what if I messed up in front of everyone? What if I crashed and burned and had to stop in the middle of the recital and leave? What if I passed out on stage? It would be humiliating if any of those things happened. How could I put myself in such a situation and come out feeling like I was still good enough? And an extremely negative thought would even make the occasional appearance – how could I come out of something like that feeling like I personally still had worth?

“…Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.” (Matthew 8:26)

I turned to the scriptures and words of the current prophets and apostles. In a recent Ensign magazine, there was an article that related to anxiety. While I studied and pondered that article, I realized that my anxiety is just a physical manifestation of my fears. And I am not my anxiety. I am not made of fear.

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9)

I realized that I am a divine being whose body tends towards fear, but my spirit tends towards faith. I am a daughter of God and I knew, at least once, that He believed in me. I took time to remember how I felt when I first realized I would need to pursue a degree in performance. They were memories of joy and excitement. As I had those moments to remember, I found comfort and peace. I remembered again and again that this wasn’t just a good thing to do. No. If I’m being honest, this was the clearest answer besides knowing I needed to serve a mission that I have ever received. This was what the Lord had explicitly told me to do. And if He tells me to do something, I have to have faith that He will be with me as I do it.

About two weeks before my recital I received the greatest blessing, one that I know came directly from the Lord: a new professor who, even in his corrections, was only ever positive and encouraging. Both of my professors who were with me in this insane endeavor never stopped believing in me. I lost sight a few times of what I was capable of, especially as the recital drew closer and closer. I forgot that I am good enough, both as a pianist and as a child of God. I sometimes couldn’t remember why I was doing this or even that I wanted to do it. But these two men – angels in disguise – never forgot, never lost sight and never stopped believing.

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My professors and (top) and my parents and (bottom) at my recital.

 

“…Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things… that you may be found worthy.” (D&C 98:14)

Before a recital, the performer is required to do a hearing – perform in front of the faculty over their degree/instrument to make sure they are ready to perform their recital. If you fail the hearing, you have to push your recital back to a later date. Normally the hearing is at least a week or two before the recital. Mine, however, was just three days before my recital. And I was freaking out, mostly because I knew I would have to perform in front of a faculty member who I had seen and talked to maybe once for a few seconds but didn’t know and therefore, he was intimidating and scary for me to play in front of. I received a blessing of comfort and counsel the night before to try and calm my nerves. In that blessing I was told this:

“Heavenly Father wants you to know that He loves you and that He is proud of how hard you have worked towards this worthy goal. You will be blessed to reap the rewards of this work.”

There was more than that, but those words were just what I needed to hear.

“…I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)

As I went into the hearing the next day, I was still nervous, but I thought I would do well… It was a disaster. I had a huge memory slip (all pianists are required to play all their music from memory) at the beginning and it just seemed to go downhill from there. I was frustrated, embarrassed and extremely annoyed with myself. I couldn’t believe how badly I was doing. Again, I was extremely blessed to have my professors believe in me. I miraculously passed the hearing because my professors had heard me play over the previous week and knew that I normally was not that awful. I have no doubt the Lord had a hand in that.

“…Be not afraid, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)

The day of my recital came and I was feeling better about things due to an extremely good performance I had done the day before in front of the piano students and faculty. It was becoming easier and easier to see how much the Lord was giving me strength and fortitude as I approached the time to perform. And then it was about 7:25, five minutes before I would go on, and the anxiety hit me with full force, worse than ever before. I was trying to do my breathing exercises and clear my mind, but the lightheadedness persisted to the point I had to lay on the floor backstage at 7:28 and my fingers and hands started to tingle and go numb (not exactly the best thing for a pianist).

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2)

With the help of the backstage managers, I was able to distract myself long enough that by the time I needed to go on stage, I felt stable and ready to perform. With my fingers still tingling, I took a deep breath, remembered why I was doing this, said a prayer in my heart and walked into the light of the stage. I smiled (or tried to, anyway) as the audience applauded, bowed, sat down, placed my fingers on the keys, breathed deeply again, prayed again, and started. The first 30 or so minutes of the recital were not flawless… But it came pretty close. I can’t express to anyone how good that made me feel. I also cannot express my joy and surprise at how comfortable I felt as I played. It was truly a miracle.

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“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.” (D&C 78:18)

The first sentence of that scripture applied quite accurately to the final 20 minutes of the recital. I performed a Prokofiev Sonata and that was the hardest piece I’ve played thus far in my 15 or so years of piano playing. On top of that, it was my closing piece and by the time I got to it, I was exhausted and almost sweating because it was so hot in that room. There were quite a few mistakes as I played, but I persisted and continued to the end. Those mistakes could have kept me from passing the recital and being accepted into the performance program. But as that scripture says, the Lord led me along. I may not have been ready to bear that particular piece very well, but I was still positive – I still was of good cheer, and the Lord blessed me for it.

I have never before felt so serene on stage at the center of attention. As I said earlier, those kinds of things generally make me run away to avoid any feeling of anxiety. That night, though, I conquered my fear. I conquered it by exercising faith in Heavenly Father, faith in myself and faith in the talents I had worked so hard to develop. And I believe that because I chose to put my faith and trust in the Lord, His promise that I would reap the rewards of my work really happened: I passed my recital and I was accepted into the piano performance program at BYU.

I promise you, without any doubt in my mind, that if you choose to let your fear determine your destiny, you will never get anywhere that you really want to be. However, if you allow your faith to conquer your fear, no matter how badly you might want to run the other direction, if you allow yourself to trust the Lord more than anything else, you WILL be successful. It may not happen on the first few tries, but it will happen.

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and then was crucified at Golgotha almost 2000 years ago. Because of what He did for YOU, I promise you that you are capable of doing hard things. I did something I never thought I would do, something I never really wanted to do until I knew the Lord needed me to do it. Because of this experience, I KNOW I can do hard things and I know I can do them because I know the Lord is with me, providing a way for me and giving me strength whenever I need it. I have no doubt that He will do the same for you.

 

 

A Worldwide Nation

I’m not sure exactly where I got this term “worldwide nation”. I thought it might have come from a hymn called “They, the Builders of the Nation”, but I think I was just filling in words with the right amount of syllables. Whatever the case, the term caught my attention and got me thinking. Today is Pioneer Day. Almost 170 years ago, after going through years of persecution (including one or two rather horrific massacres) and seeing their prophet and leader become a martyr, the Mormon Pioneers trekked across Indian territory, through the plains and the Rocky Mountains and settled in Utah. It was a place where they were free from fear and free to believe what they knew to be true without getting killed for it.

In Utah, Pioneer Day is kind of a big thing. There are fireworks and parades and people even get the day off work. I had never heard of it before I lived here. The Primary kids would usually sing some sort of pioneer song in sacrament meeting, but I never connected it with an actual day set aside for remembering the pioneers. To be honest, I kind of thought it was a little ridiculous how big of a deal it is. But today, as I’ve thought about it a little more and been reminded of the many pioneer stories I’ve read and come to know over the years, I’ve realized that Pioneer Day is a lot more important than I originally thought. It’s a day that SHOULD be celebrated, and not just in the Church. Pioneer Day is a day that is all about remembering ancestors who endured hardships that we can’t really imagine today. It’s a day that is about remembering ancestors who left behind families, friends, farms, precious heirlooms – they left behind their entire lives as they knew it to follow God and to forge a new and better way for the posterity that would come generations after them. Without our ancestors doing whatever it is they did, inside and outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we wouldn’t be who we are today.

Each generation learns from the generations that came before them whether through stories, journals, legends, myths, etc. The past often influences the future. We can see that even within our own short lives as we make decisions based on what experiences we’ve had previously. On this day, we remember those stories and honor the people who experienced them. I personally have also taken some time to be filled with gratitude for those pioneers who crossed the plains, particularly those who crossed with nothing but 17 pounds per person of all their belongings in handcarts. The sacrifices they made, some of which included the deaths of children, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers simply because they knew that God had asked it of them continue to blow me away no matter how often I hear the same stories. Pioneer Day is a celebration of the faith our ancestors had to have in order to make some of the hardest decisions of their lives.

Now, back to the term “worldwide nation”. It sounds kind of like an oxymoron – a word or term that contradicts itself like bittersweet, same difference, accidentally on purpose, etc. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense in conjunction with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many churches throughout the world are run by local leaders. There are very few churches which have the same thing taught in every single church house every single week. What’s taught in most churches is whatever the pastor, preacher or rabbi decides to teach that Sabbath day. This isn’t a bad thing, by any means because it allows each congregation to be taught according to its needs. However, this is the reason I really love being a member of the LDS church – no matter what meetinghouse you go to, no matter what part of the world you’re in, you will be taught the same thing that everyone else throughout the world is being taught that same day and it will be taught using the same materials that are used in your home ward (congregation). I love this because to me, it testifies that Christ wants all of His people to know the same exact things. It unites His people in a way that makes everyone feel welcome, known and loved and allows everyone to be able and comfortable participating in discussions, even when they’re on vacation in Timbuktu and have never set foot in that chapel before in their lives.

Today in sacrament meeting, about 10 people performed a special musical number. They sang a children’s hymn in Portuguese. Some of the people served in Brazil on their missions, some were from Brazil and some were from Spanish speaking countries (my ward is very diverse since I live right next to the English Learning Center at BYU). While they sang, I felt the Spirit testify to me that this truly is Christ’s Church and that He loves each and every one of us no matter our culture, no matter our background, no matter the language we speak, and no matter our skin color. We all matter to Him and we all are important. The Gospel of Jesus Christ unites people all over the world. Missionaries are taught different languages so that EVERYONE can receive the Gospel and understand it in their own tongue and in their own culture. As we stand united throughout the world because of what we believe and know about Jesus Christ, it allows us to stand for righteousness and truth wherever we go, whoever we are with. Because we are united in this way, it allows us to be a worldwide nation.

I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to find true joy and eternal life. The Savior provided a way for us to return to Him and He expects us to share it with everyone around us – including other countries, other cultures, and our own family, friends and neighbors. As we become more like Christ by following the steps of the Gospel (faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end), we unite ourselves with others who are doing the same and who have done the same throughout the world and throughout time. We, our ancestors, and our posterity are all pioneers in our own way as we each do our part in building a worldwide nation – in building the kingdom of God.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Since one of my closest friends recently returned home from a mission, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mission and all that has happened in the past year and a half. Having my friend come home and being able to talk and catch up with him has made me realize something: I am not where I want to be.

About two years ago was when I got transferred to the last area of my mission. That was the point where I finally came to love every part of what I was doing and I really didn’t want to go home anymore.IMG_4356 I did want to see my family and friends. I was excited for school to start again. And I was happy to have a chance at implementing everything I’d learned in those 18 months into my “real” life. However, I was not looking forward to being home because I knew it would mean I’d go back to school, I’d go back to my house, and I’d go back to technology and the world. I absolutely loved being able to forget myself, serve people and share what is most precious to me. I was terrified of forgetting what I’d experienced as a missionary and going back to the old habits I had of watching TV and movies all the time, not getting homework done when it needed to, not reading my scriptures like I know I should, spending too much time on Facebook or Pinterest or what have you, and the list goes on and on.

Well, being around such a fresh returned missionary (he’s only been home less than two weeks) has really showed me that those things I was terrified of? I’ve done them all. I’ve procrastinated my homework. I’ve slacked off on my scripture study. I’ve watched too much TV and movies. I’ve spent too much time on the internet. I’ve done all the things I said I never wanted to do again.

As I’ve spent time with my friend and seen who he’s become since I last saw him three years ago, I’ve received revelation and inspiration telling me to stop messing around and remember my goals and dreams that I had while serving my mission. I’ve been reminded that I need to stop living for myself, let go of my selfish desires and again let the Lord be the one leading my life. I feel like I’ve been the one dragging the Lord along behind me as I do what I want to do whenever I want to do it. Instead, I should be allowing HIM to be the one pulling ME forward and letting Him be the one to show and teach me what I need to do when I need to do it.

Sounds easy enough, right? WRONG.

Recognizing these bits of inspiration, acknowledging them and saying you’re going to do them is one thing. Actually going and doing them is another. Breaking bad habits is HARD. Especially when it’s often the only thing you really know. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like I’m a selfish person. Sure I do good things and I serve others. Sure I spend time with my family and friends and show them that I love them. But when I think about it, I often only do those things when I feel like doing them – when it’s convenient for me. If I have the thought that I need to do something, half the time I end up waiting until I want to do it or until it’s convenient. Ideally, I need to be doing those things the moment I receive that guidance from the Lord, when HE wants me to do it. Not the other way around

I have a huge testimony of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I know that He lives and that He has provided a way for me and for each of us to become perfect one day and live with Him and our Father again. I know that everything He taught is everything we need to be doing. But just knowing these things is not enough.

When I came home from my mission (really, when almost anyone gets home from their missions), I was on a spiritual high. I felt like I could do anything I wanted. I felt invincible and as though I would always keep the good habits I had developed for the last 18 months of my life. I did really well at it, too, for a few months. Then it became easier and easier to justify making more and more time for myself until I got back into most of my old habits from before the mission. I might have a stronger testimony than before and I might have more knowledge than before, but I feel like I have taken one or two or maybe three steps back away from my goal of becoming more and more like the Savior. All because I’ve let my good mission habits slowly die away and my selfish every day habits come back to life.

Life has never been easy. For anyone. Certainly not for the Savior. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this saying: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peaces was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Continuing in the chapter, Isaiah goes on to say that we have gone astray and we have turned away from the way of the Lord and even though He suffered and felt our pain, he never once complained, nor did He ever wish that we could suffer through our own pain instead of Him doing it for us. The example of our Savior teaches us to “be strong and of a good courage, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). Jesus Christ recognized that His Father was always with Him and that there was never any reason for Him to doubt or be afraid. Our Savior suffered through the most agonizing pain imaginable and probably beyond, yet He only once requested of His Father that He might be spared. And even then, all He did was say “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). The Lord has only ever thought of others needs more than His own desires. My friend is much like that.quote-eyring-jesus-woman-well-1173100-gallery I almost always see him asking after people and their families, looking for service opportunities, spending time with and loving his family, and trying to discern the needs of the people around him so he can try and meet those needs.

As we go throughout our lives, we might feel great for a little while, taking two steps towards our ultimate goal (whatever that may be). Eventually and inevitably, though, we end up taking one or two steps back again. Right when we feel like we’re pulling ahead and doing wonderfully is the time when we end up stumbling, sometimes even falling. Such is life and such is the nature of the fallen man. There is no way to avoid the ups and downs of life. There isn’t a way to keep ourselves from stumbling every once in a while. But there IS a way to get ourselves back up and continue forward, no matter how small our steps may be.

I testify that that way is in and through Jesus Christ.  I may not be where I want to be and I may have taken a step or two backwards from where I was a year and half ago while I was fresh off the mission, but there IS a way for me to step forward again. I testify that each of us CAN change and move forward, especially when we surround ourselves with people who exemplify Christ and who remind us of where we need and should want to be. We can achieve our goals and become who we and the Lord want us to become as we access the power of the Atonement – the sacrifice Christ gave. The more we recognize our sins, mistakes and bad habits, the closer we are to repenting, changing and becoming better. The more we utilize the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repent, the closer we come to Him and the more we become as He was and is.

 

The Game of Life

Today while visiting my home ward, someone bore their testimony about how life isn’t easy, nor is it about to get any easier. They compared it to playing a video game – when you “level up” it generally means that there are a lot more obstacles and trials you have to get through in order to pass the next level. But the nice thing about leveling up means that you are also given more strength and additional abilities to accomplish whatever tasks stand in your way.

Now, I normally am not a fan of video games. I find them to usually end up being a waste of time and generally only fun if you’re playing with someone else, but today I was struck by just how genius of a comparison that really is. Life starts out alright, with simple trials here and there. As you get older though, and gain more knowledge and experience, the trials seem to come with ever-increasing force. Life is HARD, and it’s not getting any easier the older we get. It usually just gets harder.

Something I’ve learned in my own life, though, is that the harder it gets, the more I really enjoy it. I don’t mean to say that I love having trials and hardships and feeling pain and all that. I mean that the harder things get in life, the easier it becomes for me to see my progress and to see how much the difficult parts are changing me and helping to shape me into the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be.

In Matthew 5, Jesus Christ teaches his disciples that the Law of Moses should no longer be followed because Christ’s law is the higher law. He teaches “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” (Matt. 5:21-22) “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).

In these verses (and throughout the chapter) you can see how the higher law is more difficult that the Law of Moses. However, in the last verse, Christ says “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” I love how that comes at the end of this instructional chapter. One lesson that I take from this is that the Lord gives us laws he wants us to keep and then provides a way for us to really internalize them and become perfect at keeping them. The best part, though, is that He doesn’t expect us to do it perfectly right away. He knows that it takes time for us to learn these things and why they’re so important for us to do (or not do). He knows we will be imperfect at keeping His commandments, but that’s why most of us have 80-100 years of life on Earth to learn to keep them! And through learning to keep His commandments, we become more like Him. That’s the whole reason we have commandments – to fulfill that last verse and “be ye therefore perfect…”

Thinking back on the trials and things that I’ve gone through in my life, I can clearly see that my life is not easy. Maybe it’s easier than some people’s lives. But I know it isn’t easy to keep going every day and be full of joy and filled with the Spirit every minute of every day. Thankfully, though my life isn’t all rainbows and lollipops, I love it all. I love the joy I find in nature. I love the family and friends I have who love me, too. I love the vacations and trips I’ve taken. I love what I’m studying in school. I love my callings in church. And I love my trials. Why? Because I can see how much closer I am to being more like my Savior. Without each of the difficult times I’ve had in life, I wouldn’t be even remotely close to who I am today. For that, I will be forever grateful for whatever storms come my way.

So my challenge for you is this: Level up. Use the experiences, the tools, the abilities and everything else life thus far has given you. Use them and level up. Just as leveling up in a video game is an accomplishment and something to be celebrated, so too is leveling up in life. Look forward to the next challenges, embrace them and take them as they come. Because they’ll only make it possible for you to keep going when something harder comes along.

Trials are not something we need to dread or resent. They are things we should embrace and appreciate. Because they teach us to become as the Savior is.

The Privileges of Fathers

I don’t know how it is elsewhere in the world, but in the US, today is Father’s Day. Father’s Day is a special day. It’s a day to remember the man who is the reason you exist. We all come from different backgrounds and different cultures, but I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that dad’s are special and ought to be remembered in every part of the world.

Before I get started, if you are someone who claims to not have a father for whatever reason, I want you to think of the men in your life – friends, uncles, brothers, sons… Whoever they are, think of them and think of the fatherly qualities they may have, whether they’re a father or not. What have you learned about fathers from them? How have they changed your life because they’re a part of it?

This year, Father’s Day has a new meaning to it for me. Not much has changed. I’m not married or anything like that, but for some reason, I’m seeing the reason for this special day in a whole new light. Last week in Sunday School, the Mormon Message called Earthly Father, Heavenly Father was shown. I’ve seen this video before and I’m pretty sure I’ve written about it on my blog before. But this year as I watched it again, it hit me differently. I just about cried with joy as I watched it because I realized something (again): Fathers are amazing. A man’s job as a father is amazing. His responsibilities are to provide for and protect his family. A mother’s responsibilities are to nurture and care for her children. It’s the same thing I’ve been taught on a regular basis since I was a kid. But let me tell you something else about fathers: Fathers have privileges simple because they’re fathers.

Fathers have the great privilege of spending time with their children when they come home from work. Dads get to roll around with their kids as they wrestle or play hide and seek. Dads get to teach their kids to have fun and be crazy.

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I remember when I was little, my dad taught me to ride my bike on two wheels. As I rode down the street, I yelled at him that I didn’t know how to stop only to find that he was no longer running along behind me. So I just crashed in a neighbors yard. But I remember the joy I felt in knowing he had trusted me to do it by myself.

My dad liked to do this thing sometimes with us kids when we went to bed where he’d swing us back and forth towards our beds saying “Shadrach! Meshach! TO BED YOU GO!” and abruptly throw us into bed as we giggled and begged him to do it one more time.

Fathers have the great privilege of providing protection and comfort for their kids when they need it most. Dads get to tell their children not to do something that could hurt them. Dads get to kiss the owies that happen when they’ve been playing too hard or messing around too much (usually because of the dad, but oh well 😉 ). I remember my dad usually trying not to laugh after we got hurt as he immediately ran to us to make sure we were okay. I may not have appreciate the laughter at the time, but I always knew he could make everything better.

Dads have the opportunity to make sure their kids know everything’s going to be alright, even if he can’t protect them from all the pain and hurt that comes with living. I remember my dad coming into the room with my mom and sister as I sat in the office of the MTC President after having just finished touring the MTC on the day I arrived. I remember him wrapping his arms around me and whispering “They found Tyler… He didn’t make it. I’m so sorry Hailey.” I remember the love I felt from him as he sat holding me while I cried for what seemed like hours. I could tell how much he wished he could take my pain from me so I wouldn’t have to feel it myself, even if it meant he would feel more of it.

A father has the privilege of setting an example to his daughters of the kind of man they should marry and to his sons the kind of many they should become. Dads get to teach their kids what a real man does and how he treats the people around him. Dads get to teach their kids the difference between right and wrong.

Mom and Dad

I remember my dad taking each of us kids individually at Christmas time to get Mom a gift and taking us out to eat afterwards. I remember my dad taking me to work with him so I could spend time with him and see what he did for a living. I remember him asking us around the dinner table every night if we could guess what he saw on his way home from work or asking us what we learned that day. I remember my dad bringing us special gifts and treats home from his business trips around the world so we would know he was thinking of us while he was gone.

Dads are special. They have a special touch that only dads have. They influence their children in ways they never imagine. Their examples teach more than just their own kids the kind of people he wants them to be. As Steve Harvey said on his show “Little Big Shots”: Anybody can be a father, but it takes a special kind of man to be a dad.

So to my very special and amazing dad I say this:

Daddy, THANK YOU. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being willing to be a father. Thank you for working hard every day so we could have a good life. Thank you for never letting us worry. Thank you for being there when we needed it most. Thank you for teaching us to care for ourselves so when we became adults, we wouldn’t be completely lost when it came to finances and all that good stuff. Thank you for recognizing when and where you can improve and doing what you can to change so that Tyler, Hannah and I could have such a wonderful and Christ-like example to follow every day of our lives. Thank you for loving Mom. Thank you for showing it. Thank you for being my dad.

I love you, Daddy and I’ll always be your little girl!

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