Defender of Marriage and Family

I want to quickly acknowledge that I realize some people may not agree with what I have to share today. I do say some things rather bluntly, and I don’t mean to come across as judgmental, prideful or better than anyone else. I simply am standing for what I know to be true and doing what I can to follow my Savior Jesus Christ by sustaining His servants – the prophets, apostles and other leaders. If you don’t agree, that’s totally fine, but please do not argue. My goal is not to contend with anyone, only to share what I know to be true and how I know best to follow that truth. Thank you!

In today’s society, people don’t really care about family. Sure, there are a few of us, but the majority of people just don’t care. They don’t think families are important. They don’t think it matters if they ever get married. They don’t see how family, success and happiness all correlate with each other. And then there’s the people who like families and think it’s great, but they don’t feel that it’s ‘for them’, or perhaps they just don’t agree with the idea of getting married any earlier than 25 or 30 years of age, not just themselves but anyone for that matter. In my personal opinion, they don’t exactly care very much about family, either, because they don’t understand or care about the eternal and divine importance of marriage.

Now let me share with you why I believe in families and in marriage and why they are so important to me that I’m willing to give up just about anything in order to have them. Here’s why I believe that and why I believe that marriage and family aren’t just for people who believe it’s right for them but it’s for EVERYONE (like the Gospel!):

Because the Lord said so.

Seriously. It’s as simple as that. I put my faith and trust in God in all things (or try to do my best at it, anyway), and over and over again He has counseled us and taught that marriage is ordained by Him and that family is the most important unit of a society and of eternity (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World). From the beginning of time this is the way it’s always been! In Genesis 2:18, 21-24 it says:

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him… And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man… Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

Even Adam, the first man on Earth, had a wife and family. It’s not supposed to be any other way. And let me point out that it says Adam’s wife was to be “an help meet for him”. It doesn’t say that his wife was just for fun, or for when he gets bored. Nor does it even imply that he owns her in any way, shape or form. To me, that tells us that the man and the woman are equal partners as they work together to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth” (Genesis 1:28). Which brings me to the point of families. Not only is marriage a commandment and a very sacred thing, but so is bearing children. So why is marriage so important? So we can have children and teach them and help them grow and eventually do that same. Well, why is having children and teaching them so important? Because all of Heavenly Father’s children need the opportunity to come to Earth, gain a body, and gain experiences that will someday bring them back Home to our Father. THAT is the ultimate goal for everyone. When I think of it that way, I don’t want to wait until I’m 25 or 30 to be married and have children. I don’t have a problem with how young or old people are when they get married but I do have a problem with people who go against the commandments of God. Now, I don’t mean that it’s a sin to have the opinion of waiting until that age to get married, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge others and condemn them for not having that opinion. Here’s what the prophets have said on that:

“WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” (Family Proclamation).

I do recognize that there are some people who are older than 25 or 30 who aren’t yet married but want nothing more than to find their spouse. It’s simply the Lord’s plan for them. And so I testify that those particular individuals who desire to be married will have an opportunity to have families one day, whether in this life or the next. I know this because I know how important it is to have a family and I know how much God loves each of His children – He won’t leave you behind because you didn’t have the opportunity to get married here. I promise.

Now, what brought all this on? Today was my first Sunday in my new YSA ward and in the third hour they talked about the purpose of YSA (Young Single Adult) Wards. Just one point that was brought up was that these wards are to help us meet people our age and get us married. One of my roommates whispered vigorously “I disagree. I REALLY disagree completely.” When I asked why, she said with a bit of an attitude that implied I should feel the same way, “Because I’m too young! I’m only 21, I don’t want to get married yet!” All I felt when I heard that was sadness. I am almost 22 years old and I want nothing more than to have the blessings of marriage and children so that I can serve them and learn even more about how to become more like my Father in Heaven. All I want to do in my life is serve the Lord and do everything I can to bring others closer to Him so they can have the opportunity to go Home one day and be able to stand in front of Him and declare that they did everything they could to follow Him. The way I see it, refusing to get married simply because you’re too young and have a life to live before you get married is not a good enough reason and honestly, it’s a pretty selfish way to live. If the whole point of my life is to serve and help bring others Home to our Father, what better way to do that than marriage and family? In a family, there is no room to be selfish – you are CONSTANTLY having to serve and think of your spouse, children and/or parents and siblings.

And you know the best part? Once I get married and sealed to my spouse by someone holding the proper authority of God, I can have my family FOREVER. See, family is so important that Heavenly Father has made it possible to be with your family now, in your mortal life on Earth, and forever into the eternities. If family is so important here to society and to individuals, why wouldn’t it be equally important to have them after this life, too? Marriage and bearing children are eternal laws, which mean they have always been in existence and they always will be.

As I wait for that day when I can partake of those wonderful blessings that come from being married and being a parent, I do everything I can to prepare and learn more about how to be a better wife and mother. In the meantime amidst all of that, I have learned to be happy on my own so that when I do get married, I will find happiness and joy that I can’t even begin to imagine now. I testify that families are the most important thing ever to be in existence. I pray for my family, present and future, just about every day because I know there are things I can improve on to help my family be strengthened and come closer to Christ and I know that through my prayers for them, they will be blessed as well. I testify that marriage is something we should not wait for simply because we want to do whatever we feel like doing rather than what the Lord wants us to do.

We need our families now… and always. They are the people who will always be there to love us when no one else does, support us in our trials, and bring us the greatest joy and happiness we could ever imagine. Our families are how we learn in a safe and loving environment about those things that matter most. We are taught by the examples of our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters how to treat anyone we spend any amount of time with. Without a family, we have none of that and life gets a lot harder than it needs to be. Without our families, we can’t progress in the way Heavenly Father wants and needs us to. Without our families, we can’t return to be with our Heavenly Parents.

And those are the reasons why I choose to be a defender of marriage and family.

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…Exact Obedience Brings Miracles

“Obedience brings blessings, exact obedience brings miracles.”

This quote was constantly being stated over and over again throughout my mission during district meetings, zone conferences, zone interviews and any other missionary meeting that we had. Though there were times, particularly at the beginning, where I thought some rules were pretty ridiculous, I eventually came to have a very strong testimony of how true this statement was. But honestly, it wasn’t for a while before I actually started to be converted to (in other words – to act on) the truth of it.

Before I jump into some examples from the scriptures and examples in my own life, I’m sure some of you might be wondering “What’s so important about following commandments and rules? Aren’t some of them pretty much just like guidelines and things you only do if you want to? If I have agency, why can’t I just do whatever I want?” So, here’s the thing about obedience: “I’m not obedient because I’m blind. I’m obedient because I can see”. I don’t know where that quote comes from, but I like it. Perhaps occasionally my obedience comes because I don’t know what else to do, but most of the time I’m obedient because I know that it brings clarity, assurance, happiness, peace, and so on. Sometimes when we choose to be obedient (and yes, it’s a choice! No one is forcing you to do what you’ve been asked), the path we’re supposed to take becomes so much more clear after even just the first step or two. I know that great blessings come from being obedient to the laws and commandments God has given us. In Preach My Gospel (a tool for missionaries) Chapter 6 under the Christ-like attribute of Obedience it says:

“…you are expected to keep the commandments willingly, to obey…rules, and to follow the counsel of your leaders. Obedience is the first law of heaven. It is an act of faith. You may sometimes be required to do things you do not completely understand. As you obey, you increase in faith, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, protection, and freedom. Strive to be obedient to the Lord, [and] the living prophet…”

You know, being obedient really is a lot easier than doing whatever the heck you feel like doing at whatever point you’re at in life. That promise of increasing in faith, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, protection, and freedom is true! Do we really have to test both sides in order to know and understand which one is right? Not necessarily. Some things are rather obvious which is right and which is wrong – the commandments telling us not to steal or kill, for example.  Other things, though, aren’t so obvious. Let me use a simple example and then we’ll apply it to rules and commandments. I used a bike example a couple weeks ago. Let’s go back to that. You know that while riding a bike, the best way to not crash and burn is by having both feet on the pedals and both hands on the handles, right? Why? Because someone told you that if you don’t ride a bike correctly, you can fall and hurt yourself, whether it be skinned knees or elbows, broken bones, or even death. Which is why you’re told to not only keep your feet and hands where they’re supposed to be, but to also wear protective gear (generally a helmet will suffice, but you may also wear knee and elbow pads). If you are obedient to those rules while riding your bike, you are less likely to get hurt, even if you do end up accidentally falling or crashing. The same goes for life. We are given rules and commandments because that is how we are kept safest and happiest. There are some rules that are required (helmet) while others seem like you really don’t need them (knee and elbow pads). Unfortunately though, sometimes people telling us the results of being disobedient isn’t always enough to keep us from putting our toes across the line just once. At some point or another, whether it be with something serious like drunk driving or not so serious like only going five over the speed limit, we do disobey the rules and commandments laid out for us. Sometimes it’s because we just want to see what it’s like. Other times they’re completely by accident. Still others are disobeyed because we simply just want to do what we want to do, just once, and then we’ll go back to doing what’s right. Whether it’s accidental or purposeful, there are consequences and the reason why we should or shouldn’t do certain things becomes much clearer than it was when we were simply told why we should or shouldn’t do those things. Actions solidify testimonies, good or bad.

A couple months ago, I came to the realization that Heavenly Father expects us to try our best to be exactly obedient (wear ALL the safety gear, not just the helmet. Even if you look like a doofus, at least you’ll be the safest you can be, right?), not just mostly obedient and not just in spiritual matters but in EVERY part of life. There are a lot of examples in the scriptures when a servant of God is told to do something and promised a blessing if he or she accomplishes it (I will share some examples here in a minute). Some of those things aren’t necessarily commandments that everyone needs to follow, but they are still what I like to call personal commandments – commandments that you specifically have been asked to follow. Let me explain that a bit more. I believe in revelation – personal communication with Heavenly Father where I can talk to Him and He can talk to me. Without that, I would seriously have no idea what to do with myself. At all. Anyway, whenever you pray, you can receive an answer to a question, guidance for a decision you need to make, or just peace and comfort when you’re having a bad day. Anytime you receive an answer that tells you you need to do something, that is a personal commandment. It is something that God is asking you specifically to do. Make sense? Good. Any and every commandment, be it personal or for everyone, is a requirement in order to be the safest you can possibly be.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about a captain in the Syrian army named Naaman. He had leprosy, which is a pretty awful disease and one that caused people to have to leave their families and most likely never see them again since it was so contagious and there wasn’t a cure for it. The prophet Elisha requested that he come to his house so that he would “know there was a prophet in Israel”.

“So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:9-14)

Sometimes we’re a lot like Naaman. We’re commanded to do something so simple that we second guess it or doubt it. But anything we’re asked to do is designed to test our faith. I know I’ve often thought that it would be easy to do hard things the Lord might ask me to do because it makes sense that something hard for me would test my faith. But then I wonder about the simple tasks. Would I do those without hesitation or would I be like Naaman and doubt that something so simple could heal me? Let me tell you, I’m still working on that. But here’s what I’ve learned about it so far.

“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 28:30, see also Isaiah 28:13). The Gospel is a lot like math – you can’t learn algebra before you’ve learned addition and subtraction. Heavenly Father is not going to give us more if we haven’t learned the things He’s already given us. So back to that promise from Preach My Gospel about how you increase in faith, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, protection, and freedom? The more we are obedient, the more of those things we will gain.

Here.  Let me share with you some of the proof about why I personally have continued to choose to be obedient. Recently, I’ve been working on switching my sleep schedule to be more like it was before – early to bed, early to rise. I prefer mornings rather than staying up late. I’ve just always felt like sleeping in was a waste of a perfectly good day. Well, apparently Heavenly Father seems to think so, too, because as I’ve worked up to getting to bed by 10 and waking up around 6:30, I have felt more energized and awake throughout the day than I am when I get the same amount of sleep while going to bed at 11 or 12 and getting up at 8 or 9. So then what do I do with those extra couple of hours in the morning? More obedience! I study my scriptures and also study for school. It’s seriously the best thing I have ever done. My days go so much better, I’m a lot happier, I’m doing better in school, I feel the guidance of the Spirit with me more often and I get a lot more done. I even have a little bit of extra time to do what I want at the end of the day most days, as long as I stick to my schedule! Now, you might be wondering where some of those things fit in to the commandments. Well, here’s a bit of revelation given to the early saints in 1832:

“Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:124).

Not only is that scripture, but the idea of changing my schedule around and getting more study time in didn’t actually come from this. It came as I prayed to know what more I could do to improve myself, be happier, and find ways to serve the Lord more often. And because I am working to be exactly obedient to the counsel I’ve received, the blessings are pouring down and miracles are starting to happen.

I testify that obedience does bring blessings and exact obedience does bring miracles. I testify that as we strive to follow the counsel of the God, whether He has given it to us in scripture, through prophets or through our personal studies, we will become stronger in faith, love, testimony, knowledge, wisdom, and freedom. I know these things because I’ve tested it. I have learned the principle and then acted on what I learned. Knowledge and understanding cannot come if we’re not willing to do anything about what knowledge we’ve already gained.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The Mission: Reflecting and Applying What I’ve Learned

So my mom and I made a trip to Nauvoo a couple weeks ago and I met the sweetest sister there at the visitors center who has been out for about 3 months. We talked for a good hour and it was completely inspired and helpful for both of us. She asked me a lot of soul-searching questions about my mission that nobody has ever asked me in the 8 months I’ve been home. It’s helped me be able to remember the things I learned on my mission – things that are really important but somehow get a little lost when life catches up to you. Most of these things I learned were things that took me my entire mission to learn, some I didn’t quite get until after I’d come home. All of them are things I will need to remember throughout the rest of my life.

Here are just a few that I wanted to share (Note: I am writing these directed towards missionaries, because that’s how I learned them, but I want each of you to apply it to your own life since not everyone is preparing to serve a mission, is on a mission, or has served a mission).

1: Don’t get discouraged when the going gets tough, wherever you are in life – whether you’re preparing to serve a mission, are on a mission, just been home from a mission, never served a mission, or don’t even know what a mission is. A mission is hard. Especially if you’re trying to do what’s right and follow the Lord in all you do. You are put with each of your companions and in each of your areas for a reason, whether it be to learn to love and serve your companion or the people in the area, whether it be to let your companion learn to love and serve you, or perhaps there is something you need to learn from what the area itself has to offer (or not offer, you might think sometimes). It’s going to be hard – some companions you might feel like you want to choke them in their sleep, some don’t do what you think they should be doing, others just… you love ’em but you just want to run screaming from them sometimes. But you’re with them to learn something or help them learn. Some areas are more successful than others – you’re constantly teaching and finding people to teach with what seems like no effort at all. Other areas just never have anything to do but knocking on door after door after door. You feel like there’s no point in even going out every day so why don’t we just stay in and find productive things to do in the apartment instead? Remember to be obedient to the Lord’s commandments and mission rules – honestly, they’re there to teach you and to help you through the discouragement that inevitably comes. Sometimes you might not feel so productive or successful when night after night you write zeroes for your daily achieved goals. But how do you know you didn’t touch someone’s (including your own) life today, even if everyone just slammed the door in your face? Forget yourself and let the Lord’s work happen! He knows where you need to go, what to say and who to talk to. He understands that it’s hard to keep going when seemingly no one is ever going to accept the Gospel. But I testify to you that things go so much more smoothly when you can learn to be selfless and search for more things the Lord would have you do instead of doing what you want to do. Sometimes you’re not there to change anyone’s life but your own because you have lessons to learn and ways to improve, too. Remember Abinadi going to his death probably thinking he didn’t change anything, yet he still did as the Lord asked? Alma was touched by Abinadi’s teachings and brought hundreds to the Gospel because of one faithful servant of the Lord who was obedient and served with all his heart instead of being discouraged and staying home.

Excited about getting drenched in the rain!

We had fun in a storm (instead of getting upset about the bad weather)!

Letters from home - we receive strength and encouragement when we remember to listen to messages that come from our Heavenly Home!

Letters from home – we receive strength and encouragement when we remember to listen to messages that come from our Heavenly Home!

2: Remember your relationship with God and work to keep it strong and in tact. As long as you remember to communicate with Him DAILY and with SINCERITY, you’ll be just fine. I learned how to pray on my mission. I mean to REALLY pray. It’s not just thanking God for things and asking for what you need. It’s really communicating with Him, telling Him EVERYTHING. I learned that it’s okay to be mad at God, but you have to tell Him and not bury it inside and just brush it off saying “I shouldn’t be mad at Him – He’s God!” I found that doing that only made it worse, but acknowledging how I really felt, good or bad, and pouring out my heart and soul to my Father in Heaven, telling Him absolutely EVERYTHING really strengthened that relationship I have with Him and allowed me to let go of the negative feelings and embrace the positive. As long as I remembered who I was to God and that HE needed me to be exactly where I was for whatever reason only He knew, I did just fine. I was (AM) happy. I felt like I was doing well and I was successful, even when it didn’t show in the numbers we’d send to the mission leaders. Your relationship with God is priceless because it allows you to see who you really are and what you can become, what you can achieve because of those things. You are the son or daughter of God, which means He loves you, which means you are NOT worthless with no talents or purpose to your life, which means you CAN make a difference, wherever you are.

Instead of biting off more than we can chew, let's just take it one bite at a time!

Instead of biting off more than we can chew, let’s just take it one bite at a time!

3: Don’t get discouraged and overwhelmed by everything you have to do. Just take it one step at a time – You’re going to feel like you have about a billion goals to achieve in a day or in a week. You have to set goals for the amount of lessons you teach, new investigators, people who attend church, personal goals, companionship goals, district goals and zone goals. You’ve got goals your mission president assigns you to do. Goals of what you want to work on to better yourself. Goals you need to help your companion with. And it just goes on and on. Here’s my advice on that: Pick ONE thing to focus on for yourself, your companion and your area each day, week and/or transfer. Listen to your mission president – he’s inspired of God to have you work on certain things. Don’t try and do everything at once. There’s plenty of time in your life to learn and grow. Most importantly when setting goals: Pray. Your Father knows you and He knows what it is you need to work on most. My mission president challenged each of his missionaries to pray every night and ask “what one thing do I need to do tomorrow to be a better missionary?” He also challenged us to continue doing that throughout our lives and applying it to whatever role we were in (daughter, sister, mother, wife, student, etc). He promised that the answer would be immediate if we listened for it and that we then needed to do everything we could to work on it the next day. The answer might be a different one than the night before or it might be the same. Whatever it is, focus on that one thing and DO IT. Heavenly Father doesn’t care how MUCH you grow, only that you are growing – quality, not quantity!

Why are you serving?

Why are you serving?

4: Never forget the reason you came on a mission – if that reason for coming on a mission was only because of peer pressure, you better find a better reason, because that’s not going to be enough to keep going when things get hard. You have to WANT to be there. If you start getting homesick and thinking of how much you miss your family, friends, books, etc, take some time to recoup. Take a few seconds to think about it, then move on and remember “I came on a mission because…” It’s okay to be homesick. It’s okay to want to go home. A mission is HARD. There is going to be at least one time when you feel you’re not strong enough to continue and it’s okay to take some time for yourself, to regain that strength you need to continue forward. It’s okay to do that when you need to but it’s not okay to dwell on it and let it consume you. As a missionary, you’re thinking only of others 24/7. You are constantly serving the Lord. I testify that He WILL help you get through whatever you’re struggling with, now, on the mission and after. As long as you have the desire to serve Him and do your very best, you are qualified and called to serve. He knows you and He knows what you need. He knows what you’re going through and He wants nothing more than to help you, but you are going to have to do your part in seeking, knocking and asking. If you take time each day when the going gets tough to remember why you’re out there serving your Father, He will give you strength and power to continue forward with His work. Because it is HIS work and it WILL prevail.

As I remember these lessons I’ve learned and find ways to apply it in my life now in preparation to return to school, in preparation for future marriage and family, and in preparation for whatever else the Lord might see fit to send my way, my life becomes so much easier. There is discouragement and failure around every corner, but if I take time to remember the Lord and my relationship with Him, remember why I’ve chosen to follow Him every day of my life, and remember to take it one step at a time, the discouragement fades and I only see my failures as successes because instead they become lessons and experiences I’ve gained to make me stronger.

So I suppose in a nutshell, my advice to anyone with a desire to serve the Lord: Always remember Him, seek His guidance, and then learn to listen to and follow the Spirit. He’s ALWAYS there telling you what He needs you to do. Seriously, ALWAYS. Every minute of every day. We just have to listen and choose to do whatever it is at the time He tells us to do it. The more you learn what the Spirit feels like to you and the more you listen to Him, the more often you will recognize Him speaking to you. The more we listen to the guidance of the Spirit and do the Lord’s will, the closer we come and feel to our Father, the more truth we come to know and the easier life becomes.

He is with you, always.

He is with you, always.

Body, Mind and Spirit: Fight for Who You Are and SMILE!

Since returning home from my mission, I have started to understand more about what the scripture Mosiah 3:19 says:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

What I’ve begun to learn and will continue to learn about is that the natural man – we in our bodies – truly are enemies to God. Our bodies and our minds are not who we are because they are vulnerable to temptations, sins and mistakes. The more we give in to those temptations, the more our spirits retreat into ourselves and, eventually, our minds and bodies are stronger than our spirits. However, because our spirits are who we really are, we can’t stamp it out of us. We can never do anything too horrible, too far off the path of God to be completely lost in our bodies and minds forever – in other words, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is not limited to those of us who have never done anything too horribly wrong. It is for every single one of us whether all we’ve ever done in life is steal a cookie from the cookie jar or commit sins like murder or adultery. The catch with the Atonement is that WE have to be the ones to choose to apply it in our lives. We have to recognize when our bodies and minds are taking over and then we have to “put off the natural man and become a saint” with the help of our Savior Jesus Christ in order to realign our spirits with God’s.

I’ve also learned that it takes work, alertness and awareness, preparation, diligence, obedience, and love to stay true to who we are – children of our Father in Heaven who want to return Home to Him. Life isn’t a journey in which we’re just along for the ride. It’s hard WORK. We can’t just walk through looking at all the pretty flowers and enjoying the nice gentle breeze and smell the fresh mountain air 24/7. There will be days where we have to cross all sorts of terrain – steep, rocky mountains with barely any shrubs and just enough air to keep you alive. Deserts with no breeze and temperatures of 120+ degrees with sudden sand storms  blowing every which way around you. Oceans that seem impossible to cross, particularly when you can see a hurricane with wind gusts of up to 150 miles per hour coming straight for you. The list of natural disasters and occurrences goes on and on, much like the list of temptations, trials and sins. But in each one, it takes a certain amount of discipline, fortitude, faith and courage to continue moving forward, one step at a time. We have to set goals to make it to the next rock, the next dune, the next wave. We have to think what to do in each moment with an eternal perspective and an idea of how to accomplish our ultimate goals. Many of us would constantly be thinking about how tired we were, how thirsty the heat was making us, how scared we were that we’d be dumped in the ocean and drowned. We’d complain that we haven’t even gotten very far and the rest of the way would just be so hard and take forever to reach the end. Our complaints would be the only thing we uttered. Does that really help us achieve our goal of making it through the trial stronger and better than before? NO! If we recognize our wrongdoings, whether sins or mistakes, and work to turn again towards the Lord, what would your attitude be then? We might take a moment to recognize the beauty in the rocky mountains and the majestic view you have when you reach the top. You might see the great power in the sand storm or hurricane and take a minute to enjoy the terrible yet awe-inspiring beauty they have. Instead of complaints, your thoughts are filled with things to be grateful for and you remember Christ and all He has done for you. Your goals become possible as you think about what you CAN do rather than what you can’t. They start to become within your reach when you turn your thoughts to the Savior and think “I can do this. I’m not alone and I can enjoy this because I’m not alone” or even something I might think (seriously, these are some of my exact thoughts from when I’ve been walking around in the mountains or just walking in general) “ooooh my tummy is so rumbly! Rumbly in my tumbly! Hey, look at that rock. That would definitely hurt if I fell on that. Good thing I’ve got some help here so if I do fall, I’ll get back up. Oh my, that bush just scratched me! OW! Hmmm, oh well, it’s not that bad, I’ll just be more careful from now on.” Even though those are some of my thoughts in a physical experience (yeah, I know I’m weird), they’re similar to how I think in spiritual trials as well. There is always good to be found among the bad. And no matter how great and terrible your trials and storms in life might seem in the moment, there is always something to be learned and appreciated from each one of them. I tend to look at trials and weakness and sin as moments where I can learn what I need to improve on, and I ponder about it and set small goals to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming like my Father. Our Savior helps us to recognize those things and He helps us to be able to look back and see how far we’ve come as well as the beauty of where we’re at. The goal of where we need to be is not overwhelming or unattainable when our Brother is standing beside us. Instead, the path to achieving that goal is clearer and possible.

This weekend, I had the great opportunity of going to a young single adult (YSA) conference in the Denver area. Dr. Matt Townsend, an expert in communication and relationships, was there and gave a fireside the first night and taught one of the workshops the next day. It was so inspiring to me and helped me to recognize my progress and what I can do to continue in that progress. He discussed basically the difference between being spiritually minded and being carnally minded (worldly). Which reminded me of one of my favorite scriptures:

“…Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal” (2 Nephi 9:39). Spiritually Minded ILife Eternal = SMILE!

Dr. Townsend said that our bodies and our minds are what keep us from progressing and that we need to constantly, on a minute by minute basis, need to stay aware of ourselves and if we are listening to our mind, body or spirit. 

For example: if we’re in the middle of church on a fast Sunday and all we can think about is how hungry we are and what we’ll eat when we get home, that’s our body taking over. Or maybe we think “oh my goodness, I can’t believe she wore THAT to church!” That would be our mind taking charge. But if we’re focused on what is being taught in church and think “wow! I think I need to change that about myself. It seems like Heavenly Father needs me to be better in that area so I can help others”, then that’s our spirits dominating. Which of the three sounds like the best “voice” to listen to? For me, definitely the spiritual. If you notice, our body and mind keep us constantly thinking of ourselves. It’s a selfish lifestyle where if we listen to our spirits, we learn to think more about others, how we can serve them, and what we can do to serve Heavenly Father. AKA Selflessness!

I believe in what’s called the Pre-Mortal Existence. This answers the question of “where did we come from?” and explains why we tend to feel better when we choose to follow God versus when we don’t – because we came from His presence! Not only that, but He is a part of us, literally! He is our FATHER and we inherited character traits and spiritual traits from Him and our Heavenly Mother, just as we inherit character and physical traits from our earthly, physical parents here on Earth. I testify that it’s really as simple as that. Our spirits are divine entities and so when we do things that aren’t so divine (sin), it doesn’t feel good. A physical example of that would be if you’re riding a bike and try to go with no hands, then as a result you fall and scrape your knee. That doesn’t feel good does it? Not really. Do we want to do it again? No! Because it doesn’t feel good. But sometimes we fall again anyway, over and over. Sometimes we might just give up and say “why bother? I just keep falling, so I might as well just stop trying” (mind) or we might keep trying to do what we want to do with the bike (no hands, body) rather than what we’re supposed to do with it (keep our hands firmly around the handlebars). Neither of those choices feels good because riding a bike is fun, especially when we go with no hands despite the warning of how dangerous that can be, but we don’t like it when we scrape up our hands and knees. What we should really do is be obedient to what will keep us safe and happy (spirit).

Now I want to share something I’ve come to know without a doubt – as we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and do our best to be obedient to His laws, we will be happy. Our spirits will be in tune with His and we will have clarity of mind, sureness of where to go and a joy that is eternal as long as we continue to be spiritually minded. If we listen to our bodies telling us to just do what we want (eat, sleep, watch TV, etc) or our minds telling us we’re not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough or what have you, then we will NEVER be happy. Whatever we do to appease our minds and bodies might feel “good” for just a minute or two, maybe even a few months or years, (like riding a bike for a minute or two with no hands) but that good feeling won’t last for eternity (like when we fall on our bike because we went with no hands) if it isn’t something that’s in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of our spiritual nature, generally we will have a nagging feeling that we need to stop doing what we’re doing and change in order to find true happiness. We know we need to ride the bike with both hands on the handlebars because we know we can go faster and longer, we can make sharper turns and adjust to bumps in the road as they come and as we do those things, we are made stronger, our mind is clearer because it leaves us free to focus on what really matters rather than the little bumps and turns that come along, and we really just have a greater joy!

The Gospel is designed to help us stay true to who we really are – spirit children of our Heavenly Father. If we continue DAILY in the steps of Faith, Repentance, Baptism/Sacrament, receiving the Holy Ghost (yes that’s a daily thing!) and enduring to the end, then we will always have the companionship of the Spirit which brings our spiritual nature out and helps us to see with heaven’s eyes – with the eyes of a divine Being.

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I testify to you that the more we listen to our spirits, the less our bodies and minds will take over and the less we’ll get into trouble and find misery and be enemies to our Father. As we allow our true identity – our spirit – to shine through all the evil and sin and temptations and false doctrine in the world, we will become more and more like our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. It’s not easy, but it’s completely worth it and possible if we learn to listen to our spirits and allow family, friends and the Lord to strengthen and guide us. 

Remember to SMILE! 🙂

My Conversion Story… Part of It, Anyway.

My, oh my! I can’t even say how awesome the last couple weeks have been! I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences as my mom and I took a trip to Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, then there was the Book of Mormon readathon for the youth in my ward. Oh, and of course, spending time with some wonderful friends and making new friends at game nights and date nights. My job is actually super fun and as I get ready to go back to school, well… Let me just say that I honestly can’t complain about my life. Even when it isn’t this good, I have nothing to complain about! And I think I’ve got it figured out as to why that is.

I am continually being converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yup. Simple as that. A lot of people say “Oh I was converted when…” or “I gained a testimony of that during…” Well I’ve got to tell you that gaining a testimony and being converted are things that don’t just happen once. If it did, then everyone who has a testimony or has been converted would be perfect and would have no further reason to be on this Earth. At least, that’s how I see it.

At the beginning of my mission, and in the few weeks or months before, I’d heard a quote by Elder Holland about how we should all have at least one convert on our missions and that convert should be ourselves. Being only 19 and having grown up in the Church, I somewhat smugly thought “Oh that’s not me. I’ve already been converted!” Hmmm, well I have to tell you that I was completely and 100% wrong about that. And I’ll never be that prideful again, in that regard. I think it was about three or four months into my mission before I realized that conversion is a process that happens throughout every day, week, month and year – throughout your entire life. It’s a process because there are constantly things put in our paths that we’re tempted with, mistakes we make (sometimes over and over again), and trials that try to shake our faith and things we’ve learned previous to that experience. I know for me, I’m strengthened and pushed closer to my Savior every day because of what I read in the scriptures, conversations I have both with my Father in Heaven and with friends and family (sometimes even with random strangers!), and activities or places I attend.

I had the great privilege of serving my mission in what we like to call “the Land of Joseph”. Sharon, Vermont is where the Prophet Joseph Smith was born and today there’s a beautiful memorial and visitor’s center there to remember him. I visited there two or three times with investigators and less-actives, but in my last area I also had zone conferences there. Even when I wasn’t close enough to visit the memorial, it was always in the back of our minds as missionaries. Rather, Joseph was always in the back of our minds, if not the front. Setting aside the fact that we were constantly teaching what he did for this dispensation in bringing back the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we were literally walking where the Joseph walked and doing exactly what he has done – doing everything we can to bring others closer to our Savior Jesus Christ.

I want to make a quick side note for anyone reading this who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Joseph Smith was only a prophet, seer and revelator. Nothing more than that. We do not worship him, nor do we put him on the same level as Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and is unlike anyone else ever to walk this Earth. We simply revere Joseph Smith as a man chosen by God to bring the world His complete truth. I would be surprised if others in earlier dispensations didn’t revere Adam, Noah, Moses or other prophets for doing the work of the Lord and establishing the Gospel once again on the Earth. You can read more about why we might need a prophet on the Earth today by clicking here.

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Mom and I at Carthage Jail, Carthage Illinois

Serving in the land of Joseph was such a huge blessing and eye-opener to me. I’m sure I still would have gained a stronger testimony and conversion of Joseph Smith being a prophet wherever I served, by serving where he was born has made his story all the more special for me. Then last week, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois as well as Winter Quarters, Nebraska with my wonderful mother. For those who may not know, these are some pretty significant places in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nauvoo was where the early saints went after being thrown out of the state of Missouri, where they were persecuted, tortured, and even killed simply because of what they chose to believe. Quincy, Illinois is where they went immediately following their sojourn in Missouri, but Nauvoo is where the Prophet Joseph Smith declared they would build a city and live in safety and peace. In the 1840s, it became a rather large and booming city where saints gathered and did live in peace and safety, but again, only for a time. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith had many enemies who believed getting rid of the Mormon leader would kill the religion for good. They continued to harass the Mormons and. in 1844, they succeeded in arresting Joseph Smith along with Hyrum (the prophet’s brother), John Taylor and Willard Richards (both were also leaders in the Church) under false charges. On June 27, 1844, while waiting in Carthage Jail for a hearing, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob not willing to wait for the hearing.

At Winter Quarters, Nebraska.

At Winter Quarters, Nebraska.

 Whenever I hear stories of everything these early saints went through for the Gospel and the building up of Christ’s church, I can’t help but feel that it is true. All of it. Why else would they endure such hardships? There were times that Joseph was persecuted terribly. He was tarred and feathered at least once, and put in jail under false charges and in very horrible conditions many times. The saints experienced massacres and were often driven out of their homes, even in the dead of winter. As I imagine myself being in those situations and I think about why I would continue believing the things taught by Joseph Smith about Jesus Christ despite all the many terrible persecutions happening to me and my family and friends, I can only come to one conclusion: It HAS to be true.

Elder Jeffrey R Holland said in a 2009 conference address (which is even better to listen to rather than just read) concerning the Prophet Joseph and his brother:

“As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor.  Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”

To me, Joseph’s and Hyrum’s and every one of those saints’ testimonies comes through in their actions. Each of them, whether they realized it or not, whether it happened or not, were willing to die for what they knew to be right and true. They didn’t just sit down and give up saying “Well, these people hate us because of some whacko who thinks he saw God, so I might as well just stop pretending now.” Instead, they stood firm in their faith, perhaps asking a question here and there about why God would let those kinds of horrors happen to His chosen people, but still pressing ever forward and looking to their Savior, Jesus Christ. When Joseph was killed, the Church didn’t die out. They didn’t say “Hmmm, guess he wasn’t a prophet. I suppose it’s time to stop believing what he said and go back to the way life was before!” Rather, they stood and testified that Joseph truly was a prophet who had been called by God Himself to bring back the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Saints stood steadfast and immovable, and the Church continued on. Now look at it today! 15 million strong with over 88,000 full-time missionaries throughout the world! We have humanitarian services and are often first on the scene of natural disasters. There are 147 operating temples with almost 30 more that have been announced or are under construction. There are also 4 universities that are church owned and operated with institute buildings, seminary classes and other church centers throughout the world. While the rest of the world today is falling into a downward spiral, other churches are getting smaller and it seems everyone is turning away from God, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to grow and be a light to the world, shining truth in places many would rather have darkness.

Joseph and Hyrum riding to Carthage

Joseph and Hyrum riding to Carthage

As I said before, Joseph is no different from any other prophet in the scriptures. In the Bible, Noah was laughed at and persecuted when he claimed there would be a flood over the entire earth. Moses had one heck of a time getting Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave Egypt, and then when they did leave and while Moses was conversing with the Lord on the mountain, the people started to murmur and wonder whether Moses was a prophet or not. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den just for PRAYING! In the Book of Mormon, Lehi had to flee Jerusalem or be killed. Abinadi was put in prison and tried before the king who then sentenced him to death by fire. Mormon and Moroni had to fight for their lives in a world where the Gospel and righteousness was disintegrating. In every single one of these prophet’s lives, none of them backed down and denied their experiences with the Lord. Many of them even told of how they had seen God. All of them are persecuted in pretty terrifying ways. All of them face death at one point or another, in some form or another and yet, all of them testify that God is real and continue to preach about faith, repentance, and everything else that will bring us back into God’s presence. And it isn’t just prophets who do this.

Do you really think that ANYONE would give their life for something that they have any inkling of doubt might not true?

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example. He was persecuted in the worst ways – many who were against Him tried to devise anything that might trip Him up and get Him tangled in His words. Even the devil himself tried to tempt the Savior. Nothing worked and our Redeemer was beaten and hung on a cross without any complaint because He knew His Father’s work and He knew it is all true. He didn’t doubt, nor did He fear because He knew what was right.

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and because of my experiences that I have every day and because of my constantly growing testimony and conversion, I can honestly say that I am willing to give my life to defend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am willing to die rather than deny that the Book of Mormon is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet. But most importantly, I would give up my last breath to declare that Jesus IS the Christ and the Savior of the world. Nothing will ever change that for me because I know through my conversations with God what’s true and what’s not. Yes, I will ask questions as I go through my life. Yes, I will run into things I don’t understand. But I’m finding that the more questions and misunderstandings I have, the more I turn to my Heavenly Father. He is the One we can turn to for answers and He is the One who will never lie to us and He will ALWAYS answer us. Our Father in Heaven WANTS us to understand His word. He WANTS us to have questions so that our faith can be made stronger. He loves us enough to give us the commandments to go to church, read our scriptures and pray because those are the places we find questions and answers.

The reason I’m so happy is because I have the fulness of the Gospel in my life and because every day I seek for answers and strength. Every day I turn to the Lord and every day, I know He is with me. I can feel the vast difference there is between having the Spirit with me and not. It’s uncomfortable, dark, and dreary when I don’t have His constant companionship. I hate that feeling, and am constantly working to be worthy of His presence.

I know this Gospel is true – every single bit of it. Heavenly Father has blessed me with that knowledge, even when I don’t fully understand it all. I know that the Book of Mormon is true – all it does is testify of Jesus Christ! Because the Book of Mormon is true, I know two things. First, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, seer, revelator and translator. Without the power of God (the Priesthood), Joseph would not have been able to do what he did in bringing the kingdom of God to the Earth once again. Second, I also know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that He knows me and is aware of my trials and tribulations and that He loves me unconditionally. I am not perfect – I make so many mistakes and I don’t always do what I know I should do, but because of Jesus Christ, I can have second chances, and third chances and as many chances as I need to work towards being perfect, complete and whole.

Without Christ, I can become nothing, but without knowledge of who He is and who I can become, I am nothing.