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.