Monday, December 26, 2011

Studying the Book of James

by Annmarie Worthington

Currently in my scripture time I am studying the books of James and Numbers. I’m further along in my study of James. I thought I’d pass along some ideas I’ve had in my study. I’ve read through the book a few times now and it has a pattern to it.  First, James will introduce a topic by giving a command or instruction of sorts. Then he’ll give more information on the topic by either further explanation or an illustration. I think this is a good way to approach the book of James, looking at it as great information on certain topics.

Here is the first one to give you an idea of what I mean. Then you can do the others on your own, whenever you are studying this great book.

Trials*: James 1:1-12

* I say trials instead of temptations in this section because the actual translation is various afflictions. Later on in the chapter he is talking about actual temptations. I ‘ll use that word there.

  • Count it all joy (vs. 2)

-the trying of our faith produces patience (literally: endurance/ steadfastness)

  • Let patience have her perfect work (vs. 4)

-that we may be perfect, lacking nothing.

  • Ask God for wisdom (vs. 5)

-because He gives to all men liberally and upbraideth not.

  • Ask in faith, nothing waivering (vs. 6)

-doubters are live waves tossed by the wind.

-doubters don’t receive anything from the Lord.

-doubters are doubleminded and unstable.

  • Let the brother of low degree rejoice (vs. 9)

-because he is exalted (see Matthew 23:12)

-the rich is made low because as the flower and grass wither, so shall their ways.

Some of my thoughts on trials:

*It appears that when we know that God is allowing the trial in order to perfect us, getting us to where we lack nothing, then the trial is a blessing and really is a cause for rejoicing.  I think I will list out some recent trials and how I was able to grow and learn as a result.

*I like the fact that God gives wisdom liberally and does not get on to His children for asking for it.  It gives me confidence in prayer.

*The picture of doubters is one that troubles me. I think it will give me more confidence in faith. I can see how it can be tempting to be driven by the waves of current circumstances to allow us to doubt. But, I would rather be more stable, riding above the waves like a world class surfer, who never wipes out.

Well, this gives you a glimpse of my scripture journal. I’m sure your thoughts on each topic will be different from mine, because everyone’s circumstances are so different.

Whenever your scripture study brings you to the book of James, you can list out the rest of the topics and share with me what you’ve learned.

 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When We Think We Know Better

by Annmarie Worthington

gossip

I heard something today that got my dander up. It was a comment someone made about another person. I know neither the commenter nor the commentee, I simply overhead them in the grocery store. I was struck by their complete arrogance that they knew what was best for this other mom to do, in a situation I suspect they had very little actual information. So, in today’s post you will get to hear from the snarky, sarcastic Annmarie. (You lucky duck). Then, I will once again step down from my soap box.

We’ve all been guilty of judging the way other families do things.  Some people are offended that they let their children watch PG-13 Harry Potter episodes. Other people think it’s wrong to let your children play outside on the Sabbath. Or maybe we feel they don’t discipline their children correctly. “Well, if my child did that I would….[fill in the blank]” Why do we do that to each other? Is it not possible that God put those children in just the family He wanted them in knowing the personality of the mom and dad?

My family experiences this too. I’ve chosen a different path than many people. Being a single mom who homeschools is no easy feat. However, I am CONVINCED it is the right path for my family. I’ve prayed and fasted about it often.  Anything else doesn’t feel right to me. Does that make life challenging? You betcha! But, my children are worth it. I do, however, get a lot of people who seem to think I’ve made the wrong choice. They don’t say it outright (except for one or two). It’s more subtle hints. Many people seem to think that all my problems would be solved if I put my children in public school.

There is a joke in my house, because of the amount of people that have negatively commented about my decision to keep homeschooling. Anytime something goes wrong, we say, “Well, you know if I put you in public school this wouldn’t have happened.”

Are the biscuits burned? Well, darn it, I should have put you in public school. Is my paycheck late? Guess that wouldn’t have happened if you were in public school. Maybe it is snarky of us to laugh at it, but it sure lightens the load sometimes to have fun.

This post isn’t actually about my homeschooling choice, so if you happen to be one of the people that has said something to me about it, there really are no hard feelings. Besides, I’m sure I’ve judged you too at some point. It’s what we humans seem to do best.

My actual point is, we don’t know what Heavenly Father has told other families. My bishop and I had a quick talk about this once after a comment someone said to me about homeschooling my children. The bishop told me that God wouldn’t even tell him how I was supposed to educate my children. I am the leader of my home and I am who God will tell.

I have to remember that as well when I am tempted to judge another family’s choices. I am as guilty as the next person of inwardly scolding someone’s choices.  We all have strong opinions when it comes to child rearing. It would do us good to remember that most parents truly have their children’s best interest at heart, and know their children better than anyone else. We need to have the benevolence to not feel we always know what is best for others. We need to let God lead them.  If they unintentionally actually make the wrong decision (as we ALL do sometimes), let’s come up beside them and help.

Sometimes families do make poor choices. Even evil ones. What do we do then? Let’s say a family is falling apart because of drug use, or some other equally foolish behavior. We could all gossip about them and talk about what horrible parents they are. Because, you know, that will really help them heal their family. Why is it religious people so often shoot their wounded? Instead, why don’t  we come alongside them and love them.  Let them spend time with you and see the fruit of parenting according to scripture. Not in a preachy, “see how much better my family is” way, but just live your lives around them.

I think if we spent more time loving and serving one another, instead of judging each other’s decisions, we would be a much healthier nation. There would be less burdens weighing people down, and happier families. Where there still are burdens, sometimes because of bad choices and sometimes because life isn’t fair, let’s lift up the hands that hang down. That’s a lot more helpful than wagging our tongues and shaking our heads.

There….I’ve said it and now I am officially off my soapbox.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dillon’s performance

I will blog more this weekend, but just wanted to quickly share with you guys a video of Dillon’s latest performance. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Dillon is my 15 year old son. To see his video, click here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blessed beyond measure

Yes, there are times I find life challenging. In fact, most days I am completely overwhelmed. Even today. But, as I was scurrying about it occurred to me how completely blessed I am.

First, I have GREAT kids. No, they’re not perfect and there are things I’m concerned about, but there are things about myself that need improving too. Second, Heavenly Father provided a way for me to work from home and continue raising my children. I have always been committed to being my children’s mother and being there for them. My Father in Heaven has assisted me in doing that even as a single woman.

We are not rich. In fact, we live considerably below the poverty level. But, we are still a thriving family. As an added bonus He put people in our lives that willingly, under no compulsion, and in great sacrifice to themselves assist us. The Nance’s have assisted in my children’s music education since the day my parents said they wouldn’t. You might think it is silly that I think music is so important, but I believe we were created to create beautiful music to our Heavenly Father. It is part mathematics (like He used in creation) and part soul (such as He put in us). 

You’d think that is plenty of service in itself, but when I lost my ride for Dillon (my teenager) to get to early morning seminary and couldn’t find a replacement they volunteered to come get him. Let me put this in perspective for you Utah natives who’ve never experienced early morning seminary.  The students have to be there at 6 am. Yep. AM. Do the Nance’s have a child in seminary and are headed there anyway? Nope. Their children are all in college. They volunteered so I would get a little more sleep with my late night work schedule and so I don’t have to get all four little ones out of bed at 5 every morning.

On top of that, they are my friends. I trust them as much as I am capable of trusting anyone. They listen to me, are willing to have dinner with us at our home (my pathetic attempt at repaying their kindness) as much as possible, and are in general just the kind of people you like being around.

Then I have the Kings in Utah. They lift me up in prayer daily and often send me email that are designed to lift and encourage me. Bill King has hired me to pen the lessons he has learned fly fishing. He’s kept a wonderful journal and sends me entries to put in a book format. I feel honored he’s entrusted the task to me. I recently started outlining some of it. As I didn’t even know what fly fishing was, I suspect they did this to find a way to help us financially while not letting me feel like I was receiving charity. That is double kindness. On top of that they came and spent some time with us some months back. They traveled across the country simply to find a way they could tangibly make my life easier. They walked in, looked around, and said your laundry room needs some shelving. Then Susan King proceeded to do all my laundry (what a gargantuan task that was), while Bill took off to Home Depot and purchased and built and entire shelf and drawer system. It has made my life much easier and my laundry room stays organized. Every day that I go in there to do laundry, I think of them and what a blessing they are in my life.

Sometimes God sends me tender mercies. I’ve always been ashamed of my home. All my furniture is shabby and it is so small that it is nearly impossible to buy pretty things for it. Not just because I can’t afford them, but because  there is no place to put them. Yet, this week God gave me a gorgeous loveseat, that is in pristine condition, free of charge thanks to LeeAnn Stehle. I’ve never had anything so pretty. As soon as I am able to afford a slip cover to match it for my big couch I will have a pretty living room for the first time ever. Kind of exciting!

Then there are myriads of little blessings in my life. Marian Bailey is always willing to come, if she can, when I have a babysitting emergency. Vicki Lorimer has been a steady, faithful friend since they day I’ve met her, and has blessed our lives in countless ways. Alison Jones always encourages me with one of my callings. Susan Adney looks for ways to bless my family.

When I look at all the blessings I’ve received, there is very little room to grow impatient with the stress and burdens of my life. I truly am blessed beyond measure.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Lord’s Handmaiden

by Annmarie Worthington

 

mary-angel

Sometimes it is easy to idolize certain people from Scripture. It is tempting to forget they were human just like the rest of us. They had fears and faults. Many of them learned to overcome them, and that is what makes them almost super-human to us. One of my favorite ladies from Scripture of all time is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Have you ever taken the time to think about things from Mary’s perspective? Research shows she was probably quite young when the angel first appeared to her. She may even have been as young as 14. What do you think girls from that time period (and even a few still from this time period) dream about? Getting married. She was already espoused to Joseph.  I’m sure she spent much of her time daydreaming about her future with Joseph. She dreamt of romantic evenings and all the wonderful children she’d be blessed with. Then out of nowhere comes an angel that changed everything.

His pronouncement almost certainly meant loss of her marriage to Joseph. Depending on how severe his reaction was, it could even mean being stoned to death. Did she flinch from her calling? Not at all! At first she was confused. How could this be possible? She’d never known a man. When the angel told her, she accepted his answer even though there was much of it she couldn’t understand. She simply replied,

“….Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” ~Luke 1:38

End of questioning. Compare that sweet young girl’s response with the high priest that fathered John the Baptist. He had trouble accepting the angel’s pronouncement. So much so that the angel was angry and caused him to be mute for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

Not only that, but Mary didn’t even grumble about the possibility of losing her marriage. She would have lost it too, if the angel didn’t intervene and explain things to Joseph. He had already decided to “put her away”.  The serene submission of this woman is something to be treasured and emulated.

We often skip to the next “big” trial of Mary: her labor and delivery. But think about how trying those nine months must have been. Whispers from neighbors and friends. The uncomfortableness and newness of pregnancy that she had to face alone, for at least part of it. There must have been a lot of both emotional pain and physical hardships. All was endured without complaint.

Then it was time for delivery. She may have thought that Heavenly Father would at least want His son delivered in Kingly array. Whatever she expected, I doubt is was a stable after traveling for days from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. After the birth of her child, she becomes surrounded by shepherds who told her of the angels’ pronouncement to them.  Luke says, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” I’m sure she wasn’t sure what to think. But, she was a thoughtful young girl. Her Father in heaven gave her many things to ponder.

When it was time for her to make the offering for her first born son, she heard words that probably sent fear into her heart. Simeon the prophet spoke to her,

“….Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)….” Luke 2:34-35

Again, no word of complaint came from Mary’s lips. There must have been times she thought the Lord was asking too much of her. Just imagine the pain she went through watching her first born son suffer on the cross. A suffering we have no comparison to in our modern society. Crucifixion is such an intensely brutal way to die. Picture your child, or if you don’t have children, a child you care deeply for, going through that. A sword piercing her soul is probably an understatement.

Yet through all that, did Mary get bitter at God? No. She was worshipping with the apostles even before His resurrection. What a woman.

You might be thinking “So what? Mary was great. What does that do for me?”  All I can tell you is what it does for me. Mary is an incredible example of godliness. I’m humbled by her life. Whenever I am tempted to inwardly grumble about my circumstances I think of Mary and her response. All I am left with is the profound feeling that I too am to say to Heavenly Father, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  I can tell you the first time this verse really hit home to me.

It took me five years to get pregnant with my first child. I can’t adequately explain how desperately I wanted a child, so when I finally got pregnant it was the thrill of my life.  Beginning in my third trimester I began having physical problems. However I was pretty sure the problems would go away after I delivered, assuming they were pregnancy related. Unfortunately, they didn’t. My problems only got worse. I felt awful. I just couldn’t shake the tiredness and other symptoms I was having. I read every verse on slothfulness I could find trying to “jar” myself into feeling more energetic. It didn’t help.

Then, I found a lump in my neck, which led to several procedures. When my firstborn son was just 6 months old I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I was in shock. To make things worse I misunderstood the doctor. When he was explaining life expectancy I thought he said the MOST I would live is 10 years. I looked over at my precious son that I had been praying to have for so long. Was I really doomed not to raise him? My heart was broken.

My husband was out of town, so I drove home alone with my new baby, devastated. After I got him to sleep I sat on my bed and opened my Scriptures. The verse it opened up to was Mary’s response in Luke 1:38. I remember distinctly praying, “God, I don’t feel this way, but I know it is how I should feel. I will say the words. Will you help me mean them?”

There will always be times that we are asked to endure things we don’t want to. We have to remember who we are. We are the handmaids (or bondservants) of the Lord. Let’s show our love to Him by our humble submission.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Know that I am God

“Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.” D&C 101:36
”Therefore let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in my hands; be still and know that I am God.” D&C 101:16

I got to teach a lesson on the second coming today. I can’t tell you how much I long for His return. Though, when I was a teenager I wanted him to wait until I got married and had children. I didn’t want to miss out on those experiences. My daughter expressed that same concern when I shared how much I want eternity to start. I got to tell her information I didn’t get in my teen years…the millennium. You see, even if the Savior does return before she has a chance to marry, she’ll get that opportunity in the millennium. Plus, the Savior will be running things, so it will be even better. The look of relief on her face warmed my heart. Now we can long for His return together.

Now if you are one of those people who has a very happy and fulfilling life, that is as close to stress free as one can get on this terrestrial world, so you don’t necessarily long for the Savior’s return,  let me make you happy too. Don’t worry… your life will be even better. Look at the first verse I typed. “….for in this world your joy is not full….” See? You’re not even up to full yet. It will get even better for you.

The rest of us, however, have to struggle through this life. And let me tell you it is a constant, difficult struggle for me. Most days I am in physical pain. I’m not sure why, but it is there. So, I have to muster the gumption to get through that and just function. Then add the unbelievable stress of not knowing if I’ll earn enough this pay period to cover the bills, of trying to further my education on my own (without the benefit of an instructor) in order to increase the possibility of a better income, of raising four children with stresses of their own alone, an ex-husband who seems to look for ways to make my life more painful, a home that is in constant need of upkeep, a ridiculous amount of loneliness, and the normal struggles and trials of life, all while balancing several jobs.  Most days I feel overwhelmed. Some I am in downright despair.

There are bright spots though. I love those tender mercies the Lord gives me. I love teaching my children. It is such a joy and blessing to teach them about the world, to see lightbulbs go off as something clicks, to discuss the universe. I love learning my Scriptures. I knew my Bible pretty well before I converted to Mormonism. Now there are a whole bunch of new scriptures to learn. The glory of it is how it all fits together. The more I learn my scriptures, the more I learn my God. Which is my favorite bright spot. I love having someone I can trust. God never lies to me. He never uses me. Even when He gives me hard things to do, it is to help me grow. That is probably why verse 16 means so much to me.

I am in God’s hands. Not only that, so are the people who are using me, or trying to harm me. I’d certainly rather be in my place then theirs! The lesson I’m trying to master is to “be still and know that He is God.” If I had that down, life wouldn’t be nearly so stressful.  My goal this week is to rest in Him throughout all my responsibilities and let my heart be comforted. I’ve been praying for greater faith for quite some time. Now is the time to test my mettle and see how much I’ve grown.

By the way…..I learned something interesting. Last year I prayed for something desperately, but God said No. I was very disappointed. Then I was watching a BYU devotional and the speaker said to remember to thank heavenly Father for unanswered prayers too.  I begrudgingly obeyed…which wasn’t easy. I thanked Him for saying no and told Him I trusted He had a very good reason. Recently I found out the reason He said “no”. Let me just say I can enthusiastically thank my Heavenly Father for not saying yes now. It truly was a blessing to me! Hopefully I will always remember that lesson and never resent a no again! I’m very glad that He is God and I am not.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asleep in the Light

drowning

 

Something that has been weighing heavily on my heart is sharing the gospel. There is so much in Scripture that those around us don’t have that my heart is breaking. I was re-reading the biography of a tremendously godly Christian who was passionate about finding the truth. Even before He learned about Jesus as the Savior he was searching for truth. He tried everything in that all consuming desire, even some harmful things. But he was honest enough to eliminate them from his life when he found them to be false. Once he found the Savior, he put everything he had into serving Him. He literally poured out his life for his God. Yet often while reading his journey my heart would weep for all that he was missing. I questioned why the Lord never sent LDS missionaries to him during his deep and honest search for the truth. I’ve often wondered that about myself. When I was learning about the gospel in my teen years, why didn’t heavenly Father send missionaries to me? It would have prevented much pain in my life to know all the truth from the beginning. As much as people on TV joke about Mormon missionaries. I had never spoken to one in my life until the night I went over to try and convert the children’s piano teacher. I have to believe that there was a reason God waited for me to know the truth.

I wanted this brother to know the truth too, though he died in the 80s. I did look up on family search to see if his ordinances were done. If they hadn’t, one of you dear brothers was going to get a call asking you to perform them for me. After his wife passes, I will be thrilled to do her ordinances. But, that may not even be necessary. I’m drawing up a letter to share the restored gospel with her. I’m praying she reads it and gives it real prayer and consideration. I’m sure her husband will do all he can from his side of the veil to make sure it gets in her hands.

Which leads to what has been on my heart. There are so many people who do not have the gospel. People we see every day and never talk to. What excuse do we have for such apathy?  The brother, whose biography I mentioned wrote a song about this very topic called Asleep in the Light. Here are the lyrics: (A word of warning. He was a no compromise sort of man and his lyrics are always quite blunt. When you know his heart though, you are not offended).

Do you see, do you see, All the people sinking down?

Don’t you care, don’t you care, Are you gonna let them drown?

How can you be do numb, not to care if they come?

You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done.

 

"Oh bless me Lord, bless me Lord", You know it’s all I ever hear,

No one aches, no one hurts. No one even sheds one tear.

But he cries, he weeps, he bleeds. And he cares for your needs.

And you just lay back And keep soaking it in

Oh can’t you see it’s such a sin!

 

’Cause he brings people to you door, and you turn them away as you smile and say

"God bless you, be at peace." And all heaven just weeps.

’Cause Jesus came to you door. You’ve left him out on the streets.

 

Open up, open up, and give yourself away. You see the need, you hear the cries.

So how can you delay? God’s calling and you’re the one, but like Jonah you run.

He’s told you to speak, but you keep holding it in.

Oh can’t you see it’s such a sin!

 

The world is sleeping in the dark.

And the church just won’t fight,  ’cause it’s asleep in the light.

How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed?

Jesus rose from the grave- And you, you can’t even get out of bed.

Now I know we often want to share the gospel with those around us, but feel at a loss as to how to do it without being offensive to our neighbors and acquaintances. This has been on my heart a lot, especially with how much our faith has been in the news. This is a good thing, because people are more open to discussing it right now. Let’s use this to our advantage. I was praying through how to share the gospel with my neighbors. To be honest, I don’t even know most of them. Plus, we live in a bad neighborhood so we tend to keep to ourselves. But, I think I have an idea that is useful no matter what neighborhood you live in. We’ve gotten a bunch of Books of Mormon and are wrapping them in ribbon with an invitation to an open house at my home. I’ve got a night blocked out where anyone who is curious about what Mormons believe can come and ask questions. I’ll have refreshments there, and the missionaries have already agreed to be there as well. Even if no one shows up, at least I will have gotten the Book of Mormon in their hands. When they are ready, they will open it up. They’ll have my contact information in it if they ever have any questions. I’m so excited about this! Let’s not continue to watch people drown all around us. Let’s get rid of our apathy. No more hording the light we’ve been blessed with.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Opportunities Before Us

moon missionaries

I had a dream last night that I was back in an evangelical church. Not as a member, but with acquaintances. During the dream I realized just how much of the gospel they were missing and my heart was burdened with the loss. These were good, godly people who loved the Lord. I wanted them to know Him completely. To realize the parts of the gospel they were missing. At the same time I knew, as I was sharing with them, that they weren’t going to receive my testimony. Yet, I felt compelled to give it anyway.

I think sometimes it can be easy to forget how rich we are in Christ. Not just because of the atonement, but because of the restored gospel. I don’t want to go back to a life without the indwelling Spirit to constantly guide and comfort me. I don’t want a life without priesthood  and patriarchal blessings. I love that we have an eternity of learning and growth ahead of us. I love the mercy God shows to those who never had an opportunity to hear the gospel. I love the fellowship I have with my Father now. I had fellowship with Him before my conversion of course, but it is different now. Richer. The closest I can come to explaining it is the difference between black and white 2D and full color 3D.

There is a song that I am planning on singing at church sometime that has a line that goes, “I want to take your word and shine it all around”. That is how I feel. I think Heavenly Father wants us to feel that way. I read a passage today that warmed me with desire. Jesus, speaking to someone He had just healed and who wanted to stay with Him forever, said “….tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” Mark 5:19.  Think about all the things God has done for us. The love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. The fellowship, friendship, and comfort. Where would we be without Him? I am looking for opportunities to share Him so others can have the same joy.

Mormonism is in the spotlight right now because of the upcoming presidential election. I recently had an evangelical acquaintance express frustration on Facebook that Governor Perry said Mormonism wasn’t a cult and that Pat Robertson said Romney was a good Christian man. He felt like these men had compromised their faith by accepting Mormonism. I knew his comment would imply that Mormonism was indeed a cult and  It felt impossible to let his comment go unchecked, so I responded. I was sort of hoping it would open up an opportunity to discuss Mormonism publicly, but so far it hasn’t.

Mitt Romney has opened the doors for us to share our faith. We cannot waste these opportunities. I know it can be frightening sometimes, but remember the words of the Savior. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” To me, that is more frightening.  Let’s think about the people around us and open the door to a glorious eternity for them. Let’s really use wisely the opportunities before us.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Do I Serve God?

in-liberty-jail

Have you ever felt despair? I’m not talking about depression or sadness, but real despair. The kind that makes you seriously consider if life is worth continuing.  I can only think of three times in my life I have felt real despair. Once was as a very young teenager. I went to an authority figure pleading for help and protection from physical danger, but no help came. The other two times were as an adult. As a  young person I kept going because I was an optimist. I used to be the kind of person who was genuinely surprised that publishers clearinghouse didn’t show up to award me a million dollars, even though I hadn’t even entered. So, plugging along with the hope that things would change was natural to me. I was sure given a few years my life circumstances would change and things would get easier. After all, I could move away for college. As an adult all I had to do was think of my children. That is reason enough to keep going.  However, none of those reasons stop the feelings of despair. Though someone can have a reason to keep going, they need an even better reason to keep going with quality.  Do you just survive or do you live? How do you keep going when  you can’t muster up hope?

There was once an Old Testament Prophet, who was feeling some despair himself. Well…there were several of them actually…but I’m only going to talk about one: Habakkuk. 

Habakkuk lived in Israel during a time of great unrighteousness. Everywhere he turned he saw corruption and immorality. As a matter of fact, the first line of  his book is, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” Often that is what despair feels like, a huge burden that weighs you down and aches even down to your joints and sinews.  Listen to some of the pain in his voice,

“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!

even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

Why does thou shew me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance?

……the wicked doth compass about the righteous.”

Have you ever felt that way? I have, and currently still do. Joseph Smith did too. In liberty jail he cried out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place?” It is very hard to feel alone. It is worse to wonder if even God, the one being who can be trusted, has abandoned you too. That would say horrible things about your worth if even the almighty, all loving God no longer cared about you.

The Lord heard Habakkuk’s plea and answered him. But, as God so often does He answered in a way Habakkuk never would have imagined in even his worst nightmare.

God replied, “I will work a work in your days,

which ye will not believe, though it be told you.

For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation,

which shall march through the breadth of the land,

to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.”

Heavenly Father told Habakkuk He is not as unaware and uninvolved as He was being accused. Already He had the Chaldeans ready to swoop in for judgment. Now think about that. The Chaldeans (we know them as the Babylonians) were a horrible nation. Their king, Neduchadnezzar, had no regard for human life. Even God described them as “terrible and dreadful” (vs. 7). I’ve taught the book of Daniel a few times and the background information I’ve learned about the despicable Nebuchadnezzar is enough to make you sick. You can imagine how Habakkuk felt about that news. Really, Heavenly Father, Nebuchadnezzar? That is who you’ve chosen for the judgment of the unrighteous? He’s worse than the whole lot in Israel. That hardly seems fair. God, you must realize that he will not distinguish between the righteous and unrighteous. The entire nation will be destroyed.

He expressed his concern to God, and I’ll be honest with you I love the way Habakkuk thinks.

“Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die.

O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and , O Mighty god,

Thou hast established them for correction.

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity;

wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and beholdest

Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?

…..I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower,

and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.”

To sum it up, he said, how can you, a Holy, pure God use horribly wicked people, to judge less wicked people? It seems evil to turn your people over to the Babylonians, even though they’ve sinned. Yet, Habakkuk knew that a holy god must have a holy reason. That is why his last sentence said, I will sit back and listen to how you reprove me.

God gently admonishes Habakkuk throughout chapter 2, telling him to have patience. He reminds Habakkuk that the just shall live by faith. Habakkuk must trust God. He must believe that God is righteous and doeth everything in righteousness. God also told him of the dreadfulness of sin.  The final chapter of Habakkuk is his prayer. He asked God that in His wrath would He also remember mercy. Then He rehearses the acts and character of God, and comes to a conclusion as to how he, Habakkuk, will live the rest of his life.  His conclusion, which I’ll explain in a moment, is the best answer for all of us, who like the prophets of old, occasionally must live in the midst of despair.

Many of you have read my conversion story. You remember it cost me greatly to become a Mormon. What you don’t know is that  my second year as a Mormon caused me almost equally great pain and turmoil. Not because of Mormonism, but because of the unrighteous actions of someone I trusted & loved greatly. It has been a difficult year. Then last week some new trials popped into my life. One was fiscal. I’m losing $500.00 per month in income and realized that someone else I thought was trustworthy, had in all likelihood been using me taking advantage of me for the last few months. Now I would need to find another job in order to properly care for my family. For someone who already works four part time jobs that idea is distressing.

I had just gotten home from work the evening I learned this. I’d been home about 5 minutes when a process server showed up at my door. My ex-husband is suing me. It will cost me more to defend myself than it would if I just gave him everything he wanted, but if I don’t stand up to him, he’ll just keep pulling this kind of garbage. (OK, vent over). I broke down completely after reading the papers I was served. Sounds dumb, I know. After all I’ve been through the last 5 years you’d think I could take something like this in stride, but I couldn’t. It was like the final straw on a very weary and weak back.

Pouring out my heart to God I asked what more He wanted of me. Why did it seem like the more I strove to honor and obey Him, the harder life became? Was it worth it to keep doing my best to honor a God who didn’t seem to care one whit about my and my children’s lives. Every day is a struggle and the more I strive to become righteous, the harder life gets. Sometimes it seemed that the more righteous I tried to behave, the more the wicked got away with things and I was seemingly punished. I didn’t think I could keep going. I’d live of course, for the sake of my children, but wasn’t sure how I would strive any longer.

At that very moment a gentle voice whispered into my ear. Why do you serve God, Annmarie? Are you doing it for rewards? Are you doing it for glory? Are you doing it for ease? If so, that isn’t really working out for you, is it?

I thought about that for most of that night. I couldn’t sleep because of all the stress I felt anyway. Throughout the evening the story of Habakkuk came to my mind. I haven’t read that book in a few years, but the story was as fresh and alive as if I’d read it that morning. I came to some conclusions. I serve God because I love Him. I serve Him because I wouldn’t feel right or natural doing anything else. I’m His child and have been since before the world was created. I will not be okay doing anything other than filling the measure of my creation.  I do not serve Him for rewards or glory.  God was right. The just live by faith. I had to make a decision-again- to live that way as well.

Do I believe God is righteous? Do I believe God will do things with my best interest at heart? Can I trust Him? Does He deserve my love? The answer to all these questions is yes. Therefore I can do nothing other than come to the same conclusion as Habakkuk.

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines;

the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat;

the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,

and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.”

I serve God because it is the right thing to do. I will, even in my despair, look to Him to give me strength. He will make my feet steady. He will give me the endurance. I will trust Him to be an anchor to my soul, that I can fulfill with my life, as it says in Ether 12:4.

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety of hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

For that is the reason I serve Him. I hope to glorify God. With prayer and grace, I can do that while living in poverty or wealth, while being loved or used and mistreated. The circumstances of my life do not make my goal any harder or easier, therefore I will strive not to lose site. I serve God because I love Him. I want to bring Him glory.

If that is true, than I shouldn’t waver just because life is a struggle. I should dip my head out of the feelings of despair that overwhelm and seek to drown me. I will look to my Heavenly Father in reverence, trust, and faith.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Love for Wounded Hearts

People tell me their deepest secrets. Even strangers. I can meet someone during a morning walk, and by the end of two miles I’ve learned their husband beats them and they’re pregnant with twins. I’m not sure why people tell me things. Maybe it is because in some way they sense that I’ve been damaged too. At least that is how my friend, Deanna describes me. I love Deanna. I’ve never met a more lovingly blunt person in my life. She’s who I go to when I want a raw, honest answer. Whatever the reason, people tell me things and I listen. We often cry together and try to work out a solution.

In the last three months I’ve had four people confess to me they’d been molested as a child. Not all of them are local, or even people I knew for more than an hour, lest people try to imagine who it could be. Please don’t do that. Sometimes they email or call from far away. They wanted someone to talk to about it that would not judge them. They wanted a release for some of the emotions they have been bottling up for years. We don’t talk about what happened to them, because if it were me, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. Instead we talk about what they worry about now. There is a common theme I saw in all four of them, and others I know that have suffered in similar ways. The biggest is the feeling of something being wrong with them. As if they are not worthy to be loved.

They weren’t just speaking about romantic relationships, but relationships in general. One young man put it this way. “I always care about people way more than they care about me. It makes me wonder if something is wrong with me.” My heart broke in two listening to that young man. If it wouldn’t have been highly inappropriate, and I could have, I would have wrapped him in my arms and told him how much my heart ached for him to feel loved. To know that he was loved by many.

But, I know from experience that that wouldn’t have convinced him anyway. He’d need proof. I can’t furnish that. His sentiment isn’t unusual with people of similar experiences. Never had I wished I had more wisdom than I actually did than at that very moment. It wasn’t an easy thing for him to say to me. I know because I’ve uttered very similar words to my friend Vicki and it cost me a lot of private emotion to do so. The wisdom didn’t come. So I said the only thing that made sense to me.

I told him I think the problem is that we are surrounded by humans. The fact is people, including ourselves, are naturally selfish. Not necessarily evil, though there are many who have given way to evil ruling their lives. Our natural human framework for thinking is how it affects us. Rarely do we take time out in the midst of actions or conversations and put it in the framework of how it affects others. We are all like that to some extent. Some people stretch that farther than others, but we all do it. If you combine the natural idiocy of humans and the insecurities of people who’ve been very wounded, you get despair and pain.

I have found a solution though. At least personally. There is one person who will always love unselfishly. As a matter of fact, He tends to forget Himself quite a bit and focus on the needs of others. We never have to doubt that our Savior cares about us, or that He has an agenda and is manipulating us. Of course, I’m not na├»ve enough to think His love is because of any personal worth of my own. I know it is because of HIS personal worth. He loves, because that is who He is. I think there is something that everyone who has been wounded by their mortal existence can learn from that.

Probably the best way to counter not being loved is by loving. When we can forget about ourselves and pour our lives out elsewhere we get to feel real love. Not the temporary, selfish, human kind, but the kind our Savior wants us to know. His love. Charity. We don’t feel externally from others, but internally.

The first and most important place to do this is in our homes. Forget about our agendas and look at what are the needs of those around us. How can we help them meet their goals? However, we can even get selfish there, so we need to spread our wings a little and find people to love and serve outside the sphere of our little home. I feel the most at peace when I am bringing peace to others. You’ll find quickly that if you’re doing that for the wrong motive, you will not get the results you were expecting. If you’re serving others to get something out of it, even peace, you’re missing the point. We’re supposed to forget about ourselves and think about others.

That means when they are selfish and ungrateful, it doesn’t change our love. We’re not doing it for gratitude. We’re doing it to help others the way our Savior would. The peace and joy we get is just a side effect. Not a bad side effect though, huh? So this week, make it a point to find someone and serve them selflessly. Do something for someone, deserving or undeserving, that they need, but aren’t asking for.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Learning On Your Own

Well, I haven’t really been blogging for a few weeks for a couple of reasons. First was that I have been putting a lot of “overtime” in one of my jobs. It’s been many, many times the hours as usual and I’m having  a hard time keeping up.  Too bad I’m on salary.  Secondly is that I’ve had some things I needed to think through that I’m not supposed to be blogging about. That was hard, because I do much of my sorting out by writing and talking. I haven’t been able to do either.  I haven’t let any dust settle on me though. I’ve gotten a lot of Scripture study in, but I must say there is a lot about Mormonism that is confusing. I don’t understand how all the rules work together. Some of them seem to contradict one another, but you find that in everything because life isn’t so simple that everything can be neatly filed. I used to rely on someone else to help me understand things, but I’ve learned what a mistake that was. People can’t always be trusted. Plus, if you ask 10 people the same question, you can sometimes literally get 10 contradictory answers. There is a solution though.

Each of us who has been baptized and confirmed into the church has the Holy Spirit residing with them, unless they’ve done something to drive Him off. Even then, with repentance, He will happily return. That is who we should be going to for our answers. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions. I ask thousands. I’m sure Brother Stuckey and President Jones sometimes get tired of answering them, though they are too polite to say so. (Lucky for me). So, questions are ok, but relying on others for your answers is not.

If there is anything I’ve learned over the last year the most, it is to listen to the whisperings of the Spirit above the voices you hear around you, even if those voices claim to have more knowledge and experience than you do. If I would have heeded my conscience and the voice of the Spirit in a large matter that happened last year, I would have saved myself much heartache. Believe me, if the Spirit is warning you about someone, take Him seriously. Life experience isn’t nearly as much fun as recognizing the voice of the Spirit.  It is incredible the many ways that Heavenly Father has made available for us to really hear what He is trying to say. Learning them is such a joy.

The easiest for me of those is through Scriptures. In the last few weeks of my Scripture study, I’ve seen a few recurring themes. The most interesting have been faith and prayer. I’ve started a system to start indexing what I’ve been learning. In my scripture journal, I have begun putting a note in the margin what the “topic” is that the passage I’m been impressed to write about.  Then every few weeks I take each of these topics and put them in their own designated page in a notebook I’ve started. It is helping put things together to get a better picture instead of just being focused on one little verse. Once you look at the topic in light of the many scriptures related to it, it makes it much easier to get a true picture of the topic. I’m so excited about all I’ve been learning. Well, this isn’t much of a post, but I’ve got a sick child to attend to.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Important Talk

***The following is a talk by Brad Wilcox. I am printing it in my blog for a dear schoolmate (Hi, Todd) whom I care about very much. I’ve been trying to send it to him for weeks and his computer keeps refusing to accept it. This was my brilliant idea to insure he actually gets to read it. You are welcome to read it too. It is a wonderful talk that explains works and grace better than anything I’ve ever read before.****

 

His Grace Is Sufficient

BRAD WILCOX


Brad Wilcox was serving as a member of the Sunday School General Board of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as a
BYU associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education
in the David O. McKay School of Education
when this devotional address was given on 12 July 2011.

© Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.

Complete volumes of Speeches are available wherever LDS books are sold.

For further information contact:
Speeches, 218 University Press Building, Provo, Utah 84602.
(801) 422-2299 / E-mail: speeches@byu.edu / Speeches Home Page


I am grateful to be here with my wife, Debi, and my two youngest children—who are currently attending BYU—and several other family members who have come to be with us.

It is an honor to be invited to speak to you today. Several years ago I received an invitation to speak at Women’s Conference. When I told my wife, she asked, “What have they asked you to speak on?”

I was so excited that I got my words mixed up and said, “They want me to speak about changing strengths into weaknesses.”

She thought for a minute and said, “Well, they’ve got the right man for the job!”

She’s correct about that. I could give a whale of a talk on that subject, but I think today I had better go back to the original topic and speak about changing weaknesses into strengths and about how the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient (see Ether 12:27, D&C 17:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9)—sufficient to cover us, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes.

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Cover Us

A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”

She said, “I just don’t get grace.”

I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.

Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”

Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”

She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.

I said, “Wrong.”

She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”

I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”

“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Transform Us

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”

They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”

I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”

Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to.

I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to EFY.” I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.

His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”

I said, “I can’t afford it either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom, because she is a real softy.”

We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, “Get me out of here!” Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.

Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”

Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.

But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Help Us

“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?

Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.

There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.

There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.

I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying any more.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.

I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.

In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).

One young man wrote me the following e-mail: “I know God has all power, and I know He will help me if I’m worthy, but I’m just never worthy enough to ask for His help. I want Christ’s grace, but I always find myself stuck in the same self-defeating and impossible position: no work, no grace.”

I wrote him back and testified with all my heart that Christ is not waiting at the finish line once we have done “all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). He is with us every step of the way.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 155). So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2).

In twelve days we celebrate Pioneer Day. The first company of Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Their journey was difficult and challenging; still, they sang:

Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;

But with joy wend your way.

Though hard to you this journey may appear,

Grace shall be as your day.

[“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, 2002, no. 30]

“Grace shall be as your day”—what an interesting phrase. We have all sung it hundreds of times, but have we stopped to consider what it means? “Grace shall be as your day”: grace shall be like a day. As dark as night may become, we can always count on the sun coming up. As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. Faithful pioneers knew they were not alone. The task ahead of them was never as great as the power behind them.

Conclusion

The grace of Christ is sufficient—sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). As we do, we do not discover—as some Christians believe—that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much and the strength to do all He asks (see Philippians 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Grace is the presence of God’s power (see Luke 1:37).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said the following:

Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .

. . . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .

. . . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. [CR, October 1976, 14, 16; “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, November 1976, 12, 14]

With Elder Maxwell, I testify that God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus’ grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Oh, young people, don’t quit. Keep trying. Don’t look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don’t search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and, as you do, I promise you will feel the enabling power we call His amazing grace. I leave this testimony and all of my love—for I do love you. As God is my witness, I love the youth of this church. I believe in you. I’m pulling for you. And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Surprising Joy

IMG_1064

Me with Vicki, one of my biggest joys.

It took me completely by surprise. I was standing at the mirror trying to get ready for the day. By some small miracle half the children were still asleep so there weren’t too many interruptions. I began brushing my hair. It wasn’t cooperating, but that is nothing unusual. I have very temperamental hair. Then I saw it. A small string on the top of my head, mixed in with strands of hair. I kept trying to grab it, but it wouldn’t come. It was like it has little hands that were holding on to something. Then it hit me. That is no string. That is a gray hair. Aaahhh! Now I know I am no spring chicken, but I really wasn’t expecting a gray hair. It was horrifying. Almost as bad as the day I came home to people trying to break into my house…almost. It was more like coming home and finding my house has a crack in it. Bad analogy. That might get me thinking about wrinkles. So what does all this have to do with what I’ve been learning? Trust me there is a point. I’m not a total narcissist.

Lately, as I get ready in the mornings, I’ve kept my computer by me and will listen to a general conference talk. I’ve decided to listen to previous talks from before I was a member. I came across a talk by President Monson entitled Joy in the Journey. I usually prefer talks that teach me theology or challenge me to be better, so my initial reaction was to skip it, but I made a commitment to listen to all of them in order backwards. I’m glad I listened to it. I realized some things about myself during that talk. Without being conscience of it, I have been just surviving without taking time out to enjoy life. Admittedly, my life is challenging. It is constant work, without any discretionary money to do something I love. There is no adult companionship..not even at work as I work alone from home most of the time. Often what I feel is exhausted, discouraged, and frightened.

After the initial shock of becoming single and finding employment that still enabled me to be a mom, I somehow must have thought in the back of my mind that I will only have to do this for a short time. Surely, after all I’ve been through, the Lord will send me some godly man who will adore both me and the children and I’ll live happily ever after serving God, my husband, and my children. Yes, I’d still write, but no more working until 2:30 in the morning. No more complete exhaustion. No more loneliness. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that there wouldn’t be any men out there ready for that kind of responsibility in my age bracket. I’ve had a couple of tempting date offers from two young men who didn’t realize my age, but I had the foresight to tell them no and not let the temptation get too appealing.  I will admit to being a little tempted with one of them.  I mean what harm could one date do with a strapping, handsome young man who thinks I’m funny? But, alas, wisdom prevailed.

It hit me during President Monson’s talk…..What if this wasn’t a season of waiting? What if this is my life? I’m not saying I’ll never marry, because my patriarchal blessing promises that I will. However, it did not promise when, and it gave some qualifications on the male that I don’t see available in my area. Maybe it will be 20 years before that happens. I had to ask myself, will I find joy in my journey if that were the case? Can there be joy with countless hours of work, little financial gain, complete exhaustion, unbelievable stress, and complete loneliness? The answer is yes.

First, I am surrounded by four blessings with beautiful spirits every day. I receive many moments of joy when one of my children says something that makes me laugh, or makes me proud. I receive moments of joy when one of them asks to be cuddled. I’m a cuddler, so I enjoy that. I take great pleasure and joy in my God. I love learning about Him and conversing with Him. He knows me. I mean really knows me. Even with that knowledge he still reminds me in priesthood blessings that He loves and is proud of me. That always amazes me. All I see is someone who needs to grow….a lot. I take great pleasure in studying my Scriptures. And I love to write.  All of these things bring me joy in my journey.  Then sometimes, God gives me special blessings. Maybe someone treats me to a night out, or gives me tickets to the symphony (hallelujah!) that they don’t need. Sometimes it is something as simple as my dear friend Marc coming over, watching a movie with me and talking for hours. Actually we rarely get through a whole movie because we keep pausing it to discuss stuff. I love intelligent conversation.

What I realized was that I needed to stop looking to the future for my joy and see the joy I already had. Life may not get easier any time soon, but I will at least see the blessings that I do have and praise my God for them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Getting to Teach

Wow! I’ve got so much that has happened this week I don’t even know where to start. So, I’m just going to list out a few things.

Item One:

First, I do NOT have liver cancer. It was such a complete relief to eliminate the worst case scenario first. We don’t know what is wrong with me, but we’ll find out. I so grateful that I do not have to go through cancer treatments again. Though I had a blessing that promised I would survive, I was worried about going through that as a single mom. I still remember how hard it was when I was married and had cancer. At that time I only had one child. Now I’d be alone, no help, and 4 children. Thankfully that wasn’t my lot. My doctor is setting up an appointment with a specialist, so we’re looking at other possibilities. I’m not worried in the least. I feel really confident about things.

Item Two:

We start our school year tomorrow. I’m so excited. You would think someone whose schedule is so challenging would be dreading the start of our school year, but on the contrary I’m thrilled. I get so much joy out of teaching my children. I’m looking forward to this year’s subjects as well. I’ve decided for the children to do creative writing three days a week and essay writing the other two. By the end of the year my two oldest children will have written a short adventure novel. Not only that, but Dillon starts rhetoric and Rachel starts logic. It opens up a new world for them. Plus, Dillon gets to take Physics and Calculus. We’re finally getting to some challenging work. I’ve been looking forward to this since Dillon was in Kindergarten.

Item Three:

I’ve begun having some gospel discussions with my youngest. Although, he overhears the discussions with the other children, for the most part they are completely over his head. Now he’s old enough to begin teaching. How it began is actually kind of funny. I was telling Dillon about the horrific terrorism that took place in Oslo this weekend. When I told him about the youth camp I didn’t realize Neil had been listening. He walked up to me and asked how many lives they had left. At first I was confused, but then I realized the only exposure he has had to “death” is playing games on the wii. First, I had to explain to him that in real life you only get one life on earth, but that we get to live with Heavenly father forever after we die. He didn’t understand why we only get one life, but asked really good questions. It was fun trying to come up with ways to put the answers on his level.

Item Four:

Technically this is part of three. I’ve been trying to come up with ways to help my children understand why we live out our covenants if the Savior has already paid for our atonement. They weren’t violating their covenants in any way, nor do they have a desire to. I just wanted to make sure they understood the vast importance of our earthly existence. Someone emailed me a BYU devotional that covered the topic perfectly. It is called His Grace is Sufficient by Brad Wilcox. You can download it for free on the link I’ve provided if you’re interested. I really recommend reading it. Then this morning in Relief Society my friend Deanna was teaching. She read a quote that I want to teach my children. “We live to die and die to live,” I can’t wait to discuss it with them. First we’re going to watch a video of a general conference talk by President Packer that I think is perfect for pioneer day. It is called The Test.

Well there are so many more things to write about, but they will have to wait until I have more time. Enjoy your pioneer day!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Holiness and Happiness

I’ve said this many times, but I am re-learning God. It’s like moving to a different country with vastly different cultural norms and understandings. How God views me is one of those areas that I am re-learning. There was a saying at the church of my former faith, “God cares more about your holiness than your happiness.” That does not mean they believe God to be an evil dictator, on the contrary they see the fact that we are sinners and the unmerited blessing of God choosing ANY of us for salvation as evidence of His great mercy. I agree that He is a merciful God, but I always had a hard time thinking that He cared about my happiness as a result of some of the teachings. Any failure left me feeling as if I deserved the worst of punishment, after all my holiness is more important than my happiness. Yet no matter how hard I tried, I would still have occasions of failure.

One of the things I found confusing as a new member was the fact that God could be interested in my life outside of obedience to Him. After all the Scriptures speak often of God being the one who deserves all the glory. Why should I have a right to think I deserved anything. Then I was taught a scripture that began a journey for me I am still continuing. Now when I tell you this Scripture, you’ll think me a simpleton. Most of you dear Latter-Day Saints have known this Scripture since childhood and its teaching is as natural to you as breathing. But to me….it was the most foreign concept I had ever come across. Moses 1:39 “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” I remember thinking could that really be God’s glory? No. We’re supposed to glorify Him. Heaven is all about Him. I had a theocentric view of eternity. It astounded me the thought that my immortality could be God’s glory.  Why would God care about me? My occupation should be glorifying Him, not His glory about helping me.

Yet, as I thought about it more…and yes it took a while….it began to make sense. I’m a mother. I LOVE being a mother. My children mean more to me than life itself. How do I spend my days? I spend all my moments  raising and providing for them. All my energy goes to helping them learn and grow and become the future leaders of our world. My work and glory is often bringing to pass their future. Why wouldn’t God’s be bringing to pass ours? After all, He is my Parent. That opened up an entirely new world to me and it made trusting Him so much easier. Let me try to explain it another way. We once had a dear woman, Sharon Jones, speak in Relief Society who said that in her pre-existence she must have asked Heavenly Father to take very good care of her on the earth because she had an earthly father who was one of the godliest men she knew, and a husband who rivaled him in godliness and treats her like a princess. She spoke about how well loved and cared for she has been her entire life. I never got to meet her father, but everything I’ve heard about him confirms her words. Her husband is my home teacher and I can testify of his godly character and compassion. He is very kind to my family. I’ve also seen the way he treats her, and yes she gets to be a princess. I love watching them.

At the time, her comment made me feel like a complete schlep. My first thought was…Why didn’t I think of that? Was I like the pre-existent idiot who never thought to ask to be cared for? Maybe I was like the stubborn child who, even though the task is way above their abilities, keeps yelling “I can do it myself”. After that though I began to wonder if their might have been something wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t deserve to be cared for the way she did. Could it be that I had done something wrong in the pre-existence? I asked someone, who then often served as my counselor, about that. He said that if he were to speculate it would more likely be that I told Heavenly Father I wanted the advanced course on this earth. That does sound a little like me. If I were given a choice between two chemistry classes with descriptions as follows: Chem A: Here you will learn chemistry or Chem B: Here you will REALLY learn chemistry. It’s four times the amount of work, but at the end of the course you’ll be an expert. I would be the enthusiastic puppy to sign up for the Chem B class. Yes…I’m that stupid.

However, while there could be some truth in all of those explanations, I think it is probably closer to Moses 1:39. God is about bringing to pass our immortality and eternal life. He knows us. He knows what will best instruct us. Therefore He intentionally brings things into our lives that will help us learn the best. He gives each of us special struggles and weaknesses that teach us to depend on Him AND be independent simultaneously. Now I can know that each thing sifted through His hand is truly for my good. Maybe I wouldn’t learn as well if my life were like Sharon’s (though between you and me I’m willing to give it a whirl). Heavenly Father knows Sharon too. He knows how she learns best. Those are the things that will bring about her immortality and eternal life.

I now have a better understanding that God can and does love me, but not only that, He is interested in more than my submission. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to have a good future. Sometimes, when I saw my weaknesses and failures, I worried that maybe He loves me because He is my Father, but that I’m a real disappointment to Him. Though, when I was really worried about that a few weeks ago, He was merciful enough to give me words of encouragement through a blessing. While my home teacher, President Jones, was uttering the words that said my Heavenly Father wanted me to know that He was very proud of me, he could not have known the impact and gratefulness I felt for them. A flood of relief came throughout my soul. You see, even though I don’t always know and understand God correctly yet, I still love Him with all my heart. I want to please Him.

But the constant worrying about each and every failure made it hard for me to see that God could be the least bit interested in my happiness when I lacked so much holiness. Each time things were difficult in my life (and they often are), I was sure it was because I deserved it. How could God bless a person who has as many unkind thoughts as I do? Or who sometimes gets jealous of other women who are loved and cared for? Now I realize the difficulties aren’t because I lack holiness, they’re to help me develop it. It has completely changed the way I forge through trials. Though the end result of both mindsets was to be more holy, I realize now that the trial is the source of holiness, not the cattle prod to keep me straight. I can look at the trial and think eternally. What in this trial can I learn that will make me more like my Savior? What is in this that is designed to bring me closer to immortality and eternal life.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I feel like this is one big ramble where I ‘m trying to order my new thoughts correctly, but cannot. I guess I’m trying to say Heavenly Father is interested in both our holiness AND our happiness. He is busying Himself and bringing Himself glory by bringing us to eternity. If we remember that, we can look at every trial as another stair step to the celestial kingdom brought to us directly by our Father who truly loves us and knows best how we learn.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Character of God

 

repentance

Nothing affects the way we live more than the way we view God. Correct knowledge of the character of God is a prerequisite for correct faith. When I became a Latter-Day Saint I had to re-learn God. There were some substantial differences in the way I previously understood Him, to the way I was being taught in my new faith. It has been a marvelous journey. Getting to know Him correctly has brought me not just knowledge, but faith, joy, and peace. As I’ve probably mentioned many times before, I am constantly trying to develop greater faith. The journey I’m on now is stretching that. I was so grateful to my Heavenly Father for stirring the heart of my home teacher to give me a blessing BEFORE I needed it. It was a great blessing when I had it, and it felt like one of the most powerful I had ever received, but I didn’t realize how important it would be until a week later, when my latest trial began to make itself known.

I have had to place my faith in the words of that blessing many, many times. I continue to do so. At one point today, I worried about how I would be able to handle next year’s school schedule with my current health issues. The Spirit immediately said, “Remember your blessing. You were told you’d be able to care for your children.” I rested from worry. Then the Lord blessed me again. I picked up my Scriptures not too long after that today and it opened to Enos, a book I’ve begun studying in depth. The first thing my eyes laid on  was verse 6.

“And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie…"

If God says something, He will bring it to pass. I’m thankful for His constant, sweet reminders and bits of encouragement He’s been thoughtful enough to give me. I grateful He sent two godly men with stewardship over me, who were sensitive enough to the Spirit to bring me the message I needed to see my doctor. I’m thankful I have a God I can trust. One I know is after my best interest. One is looking to establish my immortality and eternal life. One whose character I can trust. I love my God.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Feasting Upon His Love

feast

There have been many opportunities for me to have faith the last couple of weeks. My health had been declining. During a visit from my home teacher, he gave me a wonderful blessing. Some of the blessing was private, but I will share that he said the doctor would find out what was wrong with me and I will be healed. He also said I will be able to care for my children. I was thrilled. I felt happy and peaceful. I honestly just expected the doctor would say my thyroid medications needed adjustment and I’d move on with my life. Instead I received a call from my doctor saying some of my liver tests came back abnormal and he wanted me to come in that day. I couldn’t. My van was broken down, so I had to set an appointment for this Wednesday, which was the soonest he will be available due to travel.

I began to panic. I’ve had cancer before. There was a part of me that was afraid that would be my latest challenge again. The Lord reminded me of my blessing, so I called my dear home teacher. I told him what was happening and asked if his blessing meant that if it was cancer I would survive. He said he felt sure I would survive and said that even as he spoke the Spirit was testifying to him of its truth. You can imagine my complete relief and gratitude for the gift of both the Holy Spirit and revelation. I knew it was now an opportunity for me to have faith. Faith that I’ve been praying for all these long months. Faith I’ve been desperate to improve. Well, now is my chance.

Then my problems were compounded with some trials my children are facing and will face for quite a while. Those trials were addressed by my patriarchal blessing. So, again, it was a matter of faith and obedience. However, our kind God did not just leave me there. He has reminded me all weekend of the words uttered in my blessings through talks and scripture that I had come across. I have felt surrounded by His presence and His love. He also showed me passages that said, God cannot lie. What a great reminder! I can trust God to keep His word; To only utter truth. The encouragement continues regularly. Even this morning I read a wonderful passage in Jacob 3. The notes in my scripture journal look like this:

Verse 1

To the pure in heart:

  • Look unto God with firmness of heart.
  • Pray unto Him with exceeding faith.

the result--  He will:

  • console you in your afflictions
  • plead your cause
  • send down justice upon those who seek your destruction

Verse 2

Lift up your heads. Receive the pleasing word of God. Feast upon His love.

I don’t know how to explain it, but that is what I’ve gotten to do all weekend. I’ve been feasting upon His love. I am grateful for all His tender mercies toward me. My prayer is that I will live with a faith that pleases and glorifies  Him.