Monday, May 25, 2015

"Continually Holding Fast to the Rod of Iron"

Have you ever had moments where things are just hitting from every side?  
For me those moments cause me to deeply reflect on who I truly desire to be.
It is during these moments of reflection a devotional will speak to my heart and get me asking questions like "where does my heart truly lie?"

Before Brother Johnson spoke he had asked his wife to share some thoughts.  
Her thoughts were very profound and touched my soul deeply.  
She also offered counsel in which one could bring themselves closer to their Heavenly Father.

How blessed we are to have such inspirational teachers all around us.

As I listened to Brother Johnson speak about the three groups described in Lehi's vision, I found myself taking his counsel and trying to find the group that best described me. 

As you read his words may you also reflectively and truthfully find which group which best describes you. 
As for me, I have some work to do.  
"Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

May 11, 2015


Continually Holding Fast to the Rod of Iron

Daniel L. Johnson

First Quorum of the Seventy

 Elder Johnson

It is a real pleasure for me to be with you today in this devotional.  This university has always been special to me because my wife graduated from here when it was still Ricks College. 
 She was a math major and a member of the international folk dancers. 
 She continued her studies at BYU and continued with her dancing. 
 Then she married me, and I am not a dancer of any kind. 
But she has a very compassionate heart and has stayed with me anyway.   

Each one of us is the product of a wide variety of influences in our lives and I have had the blessing of having as my wife and eternal companion, a wonderful daughter of God who has been, without question, the greatest influence in my life.  She was born in Sugar City just four miles north of here. 

She has followed me from country to country throughout Latin America, has lived some 31 years of our 45 years together, far from her native country and family, and in countries that do not speak her native tongue.  During all of that, she raised six wonderful children and is now the grandmother of 24 grandchildren, the eldest of which is now serving a full-time mission.  She told me the other day that she has survived 18 international moves and moved into and out of something like 26 different homes.  It seems to me, President Gilbert, that there must be some kind of university degree that she has earned through all of that.

I once asked her this question, and I would counsel you to never ask your spouse a similar question:

“If you had known what you now know and having lived as we have lived, would you have said yes when I asked you to marry me?” 

I really expected and even anticipated a very quick and very enthusiastic, “yes, of course I would have”.  Instead, she waited far too long to answer…and I was rapidly thinking of how I could retract the question…but before I could, she replied:

“I would have thought about your proposal of marriage much longer before I responded…but…yes…I think that I would still have said yes.”

I earnestly pray and invite your prayers to the end that the Holy Ghost will be with us today as we discuss eternal principles than can, and should, change our lives.  I do not pretend to be the possessor and/or conveyor of great and hidden truths; rather I will be discussing some basic truths that you will have heard many times before.  But, the Holy Ghost knows each one of us and will teach us according to our individual needs.  Indeed, he is the real teacher.  But, we have to invite him to do so. 

That is why there are so many scriptural references that include, in one way or another, the invitation to “ask”, to “seek” and to “knock.”  To those who “ask,” the Lord promises that they will receive.  To those who “knock,” the door will be opened and to those who “seek,” they shall find.

You have been asked to read and ponder several scriptural references in preparation for this devotional.  I will not offend or embarrass you by asking if you did or did not.  I will simply state that those who did, will gain greater insights into those scriptures than those who did not.

You will recall from your readings of the Book of Mormon, that Lehi and his family awoke one morning and found a “round ball of curious workmanship and of fine brass” on the ground.  It had two spindles and “the one pointed the way whither they should go.”

You will further recall that it worked according to their faith and diligence.  If they were slothful and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, then it ceased to work and they did not progress in their journey.

The Liahona also provided them a new writing which gave them understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.  These writings were changed, from time to time, according to their faith and diligence which were given to these writings.

Now, you will recall that they already had the Brass Plates which contained the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament.  Together with the writings on the Liahona, these were their scriptures and they were expected to study and give heed to them continually.  As they did so, they progressed in their journey and if they did not, they tarried in the wilderness and were afflicted with hunger and thirst.

The question that I would like you to consider is this, what was the Lord trying to teach them, and us, through the workings of the Liahona?

As you consider that question, I would remind you of the one and only purpose that the Lord has, and He has none other.  As He, Himself declared:

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

To the end of bringing as many of His children home to Him as possible, He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to not only provide the way for our return, but also to be the example that we should follow.

Jesus asked this of his disciples:

Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? 

Then, He answered His own question by stating:

Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”

So, in response to the question that I asked, the Lord was teaching the family of Lehi, and us, that the primary purpose of the Liahona and the scriptures is to help us know, understand, and become as the Savior is.  Studying the scriptures continually helps us keep our eyes, our minds and our hearts focused on the Savior, and as we apply and live the teachings found in the scriptures, we become more like Him.  As we become more like Him, we become candidates for eternal life.  He so declared:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Now, I would like to discuss with you a vision or dream given to a prophet of the Lord.  I refer to Lehi’s Dream that is usually entitled the “Tree of Life.”

This was a part of your study assignment for this devotional, so I will refer only to certain parts of what Lehi and Nephi saw and their interpretations of the same.

You will remember that there were four groups of people represented in the vision or dream.  The first three groups entered the path that led to the Tree of Life.  You will also remember that the gate to the path is baptism, as stated by Nephi:

For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water;…and then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life;” 

So, we are talking about members of the Church in these first three groups.  Let’s review each of them.  I will not take time to discuss the fourth group, as they are those that rejected the invitation to be baptized and entered the great and spacious building.  However, as we consider the other three groups, you might want to do your own internal evaluation to determine the group to which you currently belong, and ask yourself to which group you would prefer to belong.

Group 1:

And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.  And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.  And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.

Please note that there is no mention of the Rod of Iron in these verses.  From that, we can assume that these members of the Church did not grasp hold of the Rod of Iron.  Remember, the Rod of Iron represents the Word of God, or scriptures. 

Members of this group apparently did not read or study the scriptures, did not listen to general conference, read the Ensign or attend their Sunday meetings, all of which represent the Word of God, or the Rod of Iron. Consequently, they lost their way, wandered off and were lost.

Group 2:

And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.  And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed…and after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”

Please note that this group clung to the Rod of Iron.  They reached the Tree of Life and partook of its fruit.  Then they got distracted by the enticements of the world, became ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, stopped focusing on Him and focused instead on the attractions, temptations, and riches of the world.  They then fell into forbidden paths and were lost.

The key to understanding these verses is the phrase, “clinging to the Rod of Iron”.  Why were they lost if they were clinging to the Rod of Iron?  I would compare the word “clinging” to a “white knuckle” experience.  Many of you have had such experiences.  If any of you have been white water rafting, you will recall how you clung to the side of the raft.  You clung so hard that your knuckles turned white. Then, when you came to calm waters, what happened?  You let go!

That can be compared to a practice not uncommon in a university setting.  It is called “cramming” like just before mid-terms or finals.  Instead of focusing on your studies all semester long, you try to memorize in a few hours or days what you neglected to learn, through consistent study, in the weeks and months before.  In the gospel context, “scripture cramming” can occur when asked to prepare a talk for sacrament meeting, or when faced with a crisis in life such as a death in the family, a break-up of a relationship, or a new calling about which you know nothing.  So you cram.  You look up talks you seldom listened to or scriptures you were negligent in reading.  You seek the spiritual guidance and support from others because of your own spiritual weakness.  Then, when the immediate need or crisis is over, you let go! You put the scriptures back on the shelf where they were before, you regress to old habits of infrequent Church attendance, and you abandon daily scripture study and prayer, at least until the next crisis, or “white water” experience.  Or, in other words, you turn to the Savior for help only when a desperate need arises, instead of continually.

The members of this group were baptized, many were probably ordained to the priesthood, received temple ordinances, perhaps even served full-time missions and were married and sealed in the temple.  Then they let go!  They stopped reading their scriptures daily, or continually, and fell into forbidden paths and were lost.

This is much more common that you might think!  For example, how many of you know a returned missionary who is now less active? What a tragedy! Why does it happen?  For 18 or 24 months, the Lord teaches missionaries how to live the rest of their lives.  They learn to study the scriptures each day with their companion and they pray constantly.  Their focus is on the Lord continually.  Then they come home.  They get invited to dances and parties that end late at night (or early in the morning).  The next morning, they are tired and get up just in time for class or work.  What do they stop doing?  They first stop reading the scriptures, then they stop praying, they stop focusing on the Savior and then they lose the spirit and fall into forbidden paths and become lost.  They let go!

Thankfully, most do not and they remain faithful to what they learned on their missions.  Their lives are continually focused on the Savior through daily scripture study and prayer.  We are so grateful for them and for their faithfulness.  They are the future of the Church and the future parents of those who will carry the Church forward after you. 

Group 3:

…behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree…they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.”

Please note the phrase, “continually holding fast to the rod of iron.”  This group read the scriptures continually.  They kept their focus on the Savior continually.  Now, you may want to define the word “continually” differently, but I would suggest that it means just what it says.  I would suggest that it means every day of your life!  The scriptures are the most important thing that you can study.  It should take precedence over chemistry, physics, accounting, dance, music, sports, or any other secular study or activity.

I would suggest that you start your day, every day, with the scriptures.  I would suggest that prayer and studying the scriptures go hand in hand.  They are inseparable companions.  Constant prayer will lead you to the scriptures and continual scripture study will lead you to prayer.  Both of them keep you focused on the Savior and give you access to revelation and to that peace that can only come by “continually holding fast to the Rod of Iron. It will make you better students, it will lead you to the temple, it will make you want to keep the Sabbath Day holy, it will help you avoid and overcome the temptations of the adversary.  It will keep you focused on the Savior.

Now, I would draw your attention to the phrase, “they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.  I have asked many missionaries and young single adults what they think this phrase means.  The most common answer is that “they were probably exhausted from the journey”.  I don’t think that is it. 

The key to understanding this phrase is found in chapter 11 of First Nephi:

And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.  And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.  And he said unto me: What desirest thou? And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof.

The angel responded by saying, “Look.” Then, Nephi saw in vision the Virgin Mary, whom the angel identified as the mother of the Son of God.  He then saw Mary bearing a child in her arms and the angel then asked Nephi:

Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

Then, in verse 24, we find the clincher:

And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.”

The Tree is clearly a representation of Jesus Christ.  It is interesting to note that those in Group 2 also arrived at the tree, but they did not fall down as did those in Group 3.  The obvious question is, why not?  How could they be in the very presence of the Son of God and not know it?  Is it really possible to be in His presence and not recognize Him?

You only have to read the New Testament to find your answer to that question.  He ministered for three years among the Jews, teaching and performing miracles, but few recognized Him for who He was.

The questions that each of us must ask ourselves are, “what can I do to ensure that I am firmly entrenched in Group 3, holding fast to the Rod of Iron, so that when I arrive at the Tree of Life, or in the presence of the Savior, I will recognize Him and fall down at His feet and worship him?  What can I do to keep my eyes, my mind and my heart focused on the Savior?  What can I do to become more like Him?

Again, the answer is found in the scriptures themselves:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."

On April 4, 1986, in connection with his first general conference as President of the Church, President Benson presided over a special meeting for priesthood leaders.  As he concluded his address to them, he made this plea:

“I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in your callings. Read them in your families and teach your children to love and treasure them. Then prayerfully and in counsel with others, seek every way possible to encourage the members of the Church to follow your example. If you do so, you will find, as Alma did, that “the word [has] a great tendency to lead people to do that which [is] just—yea, it [has] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which [has] happened unto them.”

I add my own testimony to that of President Benson.  I know that if you will immerse yourselves in the scriptures each day of your life, you will not only not fall into any serious transgression, but more importantly, you will come to know the Savior.  You will be able to keep your eyes, your minds and your hearts focused on Him.  As you come to know Him and apply His teachings and follow His example, you will become like Him.  As you become like Him, you will be a candidate to live forever in His presence.

I testify that we are children of a loving Father in Heaven who desperately wants us to return to Him.  I testify that Jesus is the Christ and has provided the only way for us to return home, and that is through His atonement.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Celebrate Nurturing"

As a childless home Mother's Day has always been a challenge for me. While my mother was alive I would make the day all about her but since she was called home I have found myself on a journey of coming to peace with my childlessness and Mother's Day.  

While scrolling through posts on my FB book page this morning I came across this gem posted by Terri Jeppson, at first I was just going to scroll past because I thought the wording was harsh; but then I read who had made the quote, Rosemary Thackeray and found myself instead reading her words.

I am surrounded in my FB world by many women who face the same empty childless home as I do. 
I understand their tears, longing and frustrations because I have walked through each and every emotion that comes with being childless.

I learned years ago that each of us are on the same path as Lds women working our way back to our eternal home but I have also learned that each of us learn and grow at different paces.
I have read many a "what to say, what not to say, how to bear childlessness, and the list goes on and on in hopes of helping those who are in that situation come to a sort of peace with their empty arms.

As for me, Sister Thackeray's counsel touched me deeply: 

 "Maintain confidence when speaking of motherhood, but be aware and sensitive to the situation of the people you are addressing. Perhaps you have heard a teacher or speaker say something to this effect: “For those who do not have children, remember to keep an eternal perspective. One day, despite current circumstances, you will be a mother of numberless children.” While this may be true, it does not begin to fill the void and emptiness a childless woman can feel and may seem to trivialize her feelings. Individuals need not feel obligated to provide advice with the intent to make a person feel better about her situation. It is always best to be led by the Spirit, and sometimes it is best to say nothing."

I have had many try to support me with their well meaning words and instead they were a jab to my 
already wounded heart and I would withdraw but over the years I have found that when I follow the Spirit there is no wounded heart and there are time when the Spirit just "zips" my fast moving lips.

Since I have started writing and sharing my thoughts this has been made very clear to me. 
I remember times where I was angry, hurt and wanting to lash out on my blog and my mind would be blank and I was unable to write but after I humbled myself and allowed the Spirit to work with me the words would once again flow through my finger tips as I typed and my mind would be full of ideas.

I am so grateful for inspired women who like me are trudging through the
"muddled, mortal middle" with me.  
Their words let me know that even on those dark days when I feel all alone I'm not alone.

How grateful I am for having the light of the Gospel which shines so brightly in my life and which brings me great peace and joy in the knowledge that I can Nurture so many around me.

May her words speak to those who are in the same rocking, storm tossed boat as me.

That they too may come to peace with their for now empty arms.

Celebrate Nurturing

Rosemary Thackeray
The author lives in Utah, USA.

Here are three suggestions to help women understand and relate to one another, whatever their circumstances.
As women, we have many roles we play in our families, our communities, and the Church. In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” we learn that one of our primary roles is that of being a mother.1 What are some of the facets of this role?
In most settings, motherhood is discussed in terms of having and rearing children. These children may come into the home by natural childbirth or through the process of adoption or caring for foster children. During talks and lessons in church about the role of being a mother, the discussion often turns to raising children. We discuss holding weekly family home evenings, incorporating daily scripture study into busy schedules, teaching children to pray, preparing children for missions, and more. On these occasions, women will sometimes share frustrations and funny anecdotes about their children’s adventures and antics.
Another facet of being a mother is being a nurturer. Nurturing can be described as acts that foster a good temporal and spiritual climate in which love and learning can thrive. Seen in this light, being a nurturer is not a role exclusive to mothers. Opportunities to nurture are available to everyone, regardless of age or marital status. Personally, I have been blessed with many moments in which I was able to nurture others through my service in Church callings and associations with friends and family. I have also been the recipient of nurturing by women other than my mother.
As a single woman in her 40s who has never given birth to or reared children, I do not pretend to understand the experience of motherhood and the joys, pains, sorrows, and many emotions that accompany that calling. At the same time, it is possible that women who have the privilege of motherhood do not understand the heartache that comes from knowing that one of the greatest blessings that life has to offer will have to wait for eternity. Yet as sisters in the gospel, we should strive to be empathetic. I offer the following three suggestions to all Latter-day Saint women to help foster understanding and appreciation for one another.

1. Speak Confidently of Motherhood

At times Church members may be reluctant to talk about motherhood, fearing that a childless woman may be offended or that mothers will be filled with guilt over their inadequacies and shortcomings. That should not be the case. Motherhood is an important, noble, divine calling. Sisters need to receive support, love, validation, and reinforcement as they strive to magnify their calling as mothers.
Maintain confidence when speaking of motherhood, but be aware and sensitive to the situation of the people you are addressing. Perhaps you have heard a teacher or speaker say something to this effect: “For those who do not have children, remember to keep an eternal perspective. One day, despite current circumstances, you will be a mother of numberless children.” While this may be true, it does not begin to fill the void and emptiness a childless woman can feel and may seem to trivialize her feelings. Individuals need not feel obligated to provide advice with the intent to make a person feel better about her situation. It is always best to be led by the Spirit, and sometimes it is best to say nothing.

2. Speak More Often about Nurturing

Nurturing is a behavior that spans a lifetime. You do not need to be a mother to do it—many women have never given birth but still practice nurturing. For example, one day I was driving along the shore of the ocean with my 11-year-old niece, Callie, and we saw a wedding ceremony on the beach. We talked about the importance of a temple marriage and how it compared to the beach wedding. This tender moment allowed me to teach Callie and uplifted us both.
As Latter-day Saint women, our collective nurturing efforts contribute to the character development and testimony strengthening of those within our circle of influence. Therefore, we should consider speaking more frequently not only of motherhood but also of nurturing and its impact on our lives. We should celebrate nurturing as often and with as much jubilation as we do motherhood.

3. Expand Your Circle of Sisterhood

People who share common interests tend to gravitate toward each other. Young mothers tend to quickly develop friendships with one another because of their similar situations in life. Sisters who are finished rearing their families may feel that they have nothing in common with those just starting out. And sisters who have never had children also seem to be in their own circle.
However, the fact is that we all need each other. Sister Marjorie Hinckley, wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), said: “Oh, how we need each other. Those of us who are old need you who are young. And, hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old. It is a sociological fact that women need women. We need deep and satisfying and loyal friendships with each other.”2
Consider inviting sisters in your neighborhood or ward to a social event, lunch, or evening out or to join your family home evening or holiday celebrations. You may be surprised at your shared interests.
For sisters who find themselves in a position where they are nurturers but not yet mothers, acknowledging feelings of sadness is real and normal. Righteous biblical women, including Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elisabeth, felt sorrow in their barrenness. When she finally conceived, Rachel rejoiced, saying, “God hath taken away my reproach” (Genesis 30:23).
The one source of peace and comfort in times of trial comes through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He has truly “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). That does not mean that there will not be hard days ahead, especially as you see others enjoy rites of passage associated with motherhood. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles put it this way: “You can have clear faith in the ultimate outcomes at the end of the trail but still find vexing uncertainties in the steps immediately ahead. The Lord knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. You, however, function in the muddled, mortal middle.”3
All of us can find joy and fulfillment in the “muddled, mortal middle.” As sisters in Zion, we must look for our commonalities, recognize that we are all striving toward the same eternal goal, and realize that we can help each other along the path that includes opportunities for both the mother and the nurturer.

General Women’s Meeting

To read, watch, or listen to addresses from the general women’s meeting held in March 2014,

The Word Mother Has Layers of Meaning

“When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve ‘the mother of all living’ [Moses 4:26]—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality [see Alma 13:2–4, 7–8], righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood [see Spencer W. Kimball, ‘The Role of Righteous Women,’ Ensign, Nov. 1979, 102]. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.”
Sheri L. Dew, former second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, “Are We Not All Mothers?”Ensign, Nov. 2001, 96.

Developing a “Mother Heart”

Julie B. Beck
“Female roles did not begin on earth, and they do not end here. A woman who treasures motherhood on earth will treasure motherhood in the world to come, and ‘where [her] treasure is, there will [her] heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21). By developing a mother heart, each girl and woman prepares for her divine, eternal mission of motherhood. …
“In my experience I have seen that some of the truest mother hearts beat in the breasts of women who will not rear their own children in this life, but they know that ‘all things must come to pass in their time’ and that they ‘are laying the foundation of a great work’ (D&C 64:32–33). As they keep their covenants, they are investing in a grand, prestigious future. …
“Covenant-keeping women with mother hearts know that whether motherhood comes early or late; whether they are blessed with a ‘quiver full’ of children here in mortality or not; whether they are single, married, or left to carry the responsibility of parenthood alone—in holy temples they are ‘endowed with power from on high’ (D&C 38:32), and with that endowment they received the promised blessings and are ‘persuaded of them, and embraced them’ (Hebrews 11:13).
“Every girl and woman who makes and keeps sacred covenants can have a mother heart. There is no limit to what a woman with a mother heart can accomplish. Righteous women have changed the course of history and will continue to do so, and their influence will spread and grow exponentially throughout the eternities.”
Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society general president, “A ‘Mother Heart,’” Ensign, May 2004, 76, 77.

"What is this thing called Death?"

(Brent L Top Byu Education Week 2010)

In 2012 I started working as a Hospice nurse.  A Hospice nurse is one who comes in and educates a families about the process of death and maintains the comfort and dignity of their loved one who is dying.  It is a very emotion filled job yet it is such a privilege and blessing to be a part of something so sacred.

I have sat with those who were ready and not afraid of death and I have set with those who have fought to their last breath to stay on this mortal plane.
I have sat with those who accept and are excited to see their deceased loved ones and I have offered comfort to those who are scared and in a panic when they see their deceased loved one.  It is a very special career choice and I love it!

My life has been surrounded with watching those I love the most being called back to their heavenly home.  Each was tearful yet there was a great peace that came when they took their last breath.  Most my family had been called home naturally but my brother made another choice which to this day has left me with unanswered questions but peace has finally come to my tortured soul and his untimely death.

Many fear death because of their fear of the "Unknown."  I guess it is due in large part to my LDS beliefs that I do not fear death and there is no "Unknown" for me.  My understanding teaches me that this mortal probation is a testing ground and a time to prepare to return to our creator and if our lives are in order we have nothing to fear.

I sat with a good friend who was not LDS but who was a honorable and good man.  As he took his last breath I felt this great peace come into the room and his face was filled with peace.  I felt a great love wash over me as I gazed upon his face and knew that our Heavenly Father was pleased with what this humble man had done during his mortal probation.

One of our great leaders of our church talked about how it took "more faith" for him to remain in this mortal sphere due to he had glimpses of our Heavenly home.  I have had two near death experiences where I was told I needed to come back.  Like that great prophet I found myself begging to stay there with them, my loved ones, but then they showed me why I had to come back and I remember this great love pouring into my heart and "WHAM"
I was back in my body.
Oh, how my soul longs to be there.

In the talk that I have attached to my thoughts Brother Top talks about our loved ones and "How greater their love for us has grown since being in their Heavenly home."  As he was speaking my mind flashed quickly over my childhood and how loved I had been then there was a brief moment when my beloved mom and popper's had been called home came over me.
The moment they had been called home I felt this great joy and love wash over me.
 It was so powerful that my whole body was tingling!!
 It was a taste of what it is to come and it is what keeps me moving forward with Faith.

I now believe I understand a moment I had when I was standing at my brother's casket.
I heard my brother pleading with me to let everyone know how sorry he was because he had not realized how loved he had been in his mortal probation.

Because Brother Top did a much better job expressing his thoughts on this subject I am going to let his word finish up what I am unable to put into words.

May we all find hope and beauty in his words and may his words erase the fears of the "unknown."

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Are our Burdens Burdens or Blessings in Disguise?

Last week I felt that my burdens were unfairly placed and just to heavy to bear.  It was a really long and icky week.  I then had a friend who called to let me know how her life had been going and how unfair and heavy her burdens were also.  As I listened to her I found my mind going in two different directions.
In one direction I found myself thinking about "Molly Mormon" and then in the other direction I found myself thinking about a passage in Mosiah:

"For Amulon knew Alma , that he had been one of the King's priests,
and that it was he that believed the words of Abinadi and was
driven out before the king, and therefore he was wroth with him;
for he was subject to King Laman, yet he exercised authority over them,
and put tasks upon them, and put taskmasters over them.
And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions
that they began to cry mightily to God.
And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries;
and he put guards over them to watch them,
that whosoever should be found calling upon God
should be put to death.
And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the their God,
but did pour out their hearts to him;
and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them 
in their afflictions, saying:
Lift up your heads and be of good comfort,
for I know the covenant which ye have made unto me;
and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
And I will ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders
that even you cannot feel them upon your backs...
This will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, 
and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God,
do visit my people in their afflictions."

That passage of scripture stayed with me for two days and like the puzzles Heavenly Father has given me in the past with a piece here and there, I found myself missing enough pieces of this puzzle to know what He was trying to teach me with those verses.

Today in Relief Society the lesson was based on Elder Bednar's talk:

 "Bear up their Burdens with Ease"

As soon as the teacher spoke the title the Spirit started whispering and all the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place and hence here I am.

The teacher started by asking us to think about our burdens which are heavy to carry.
 Instantly Childlessness came into my mind along with some other heavy burdens that I have had to bear over the years but the childlessness continues to be there and will always be there.
She then asked if we looked at out burdens as burdens and just let them weigh us down to where we were not able to move forward or back or did we view our burdens as a blessing?
I can honestly say there was a period of time in my life where my childlessness hindered me and I was not moving.  I was stagnant and dying a little inside each and every passing day. 
When I first went to the temple a healing began and as I have searched out lessons on the Atonement I can honestly now say that my being childless has brought some amazing blessings that I would have missed out on if I had been allowed to carry our children.
I then shared with my sister's what amazing blessings I witness through my friends and their children and now their grand-children but for me, my blessings though different were just as amazing.
I then closed with yes, I still have my days when I am reduced to tears because of my hearts desire to be mother but unlike my previous years I keep moving forward one day at a time one step at time.

We had a wonderful discussion and after class I was able to have a discussion with a member of the Branch Presidency where we discussed how everyone has their burdens to bear and how to each and everyone of us those burdens are "so very heavy and woe is me and no one understands." 
No, we as brother's and sister's in this wonderful gospel may not understand the burdens our fellow brothers and sisters carry but there is one who totally understands and that is our Lord and Savior because he descended beneath all things.  He knows and He understands.

Our teacher then closed with the scripper about the Lord will not give us more than we can handle and she made this comment, "He may take us right to the edge but He will not let us fall." 

 I was instantly taken back to Nov. 1998.  My 90 year old popper's had been sent home to die. 
 My 89 year old mother was in the hospital where our trusted doc told me that she would not make it through the night.  My husband was back East somewhere and I was all alone. 
 I remember crying out to our beloved Doc to "shoot me now, my popper's is home dying and my mom is here dying.  I can't bear to lose both my parents at once." 
He told me to go home and worry about my popper's and to trust him that he would take care of my mother.

I was at the edge. 

A woman would stop by at least once a day to check on me (that woman is now my true blue friend.)  Nov. 30th my beloved popper's was called home and my mom was still in the hospital deciding why she needed to stay and not go with my poppers. 
 Dec 2nd she was strong enough that we could plan the service for my poppers.

Years later my true blue friend told me that the reason she stopped by was because she was so worried about me.  She knew I had no family support and I was so frazzled that she just knew I was going to go off the deep end and she wanted to be close by to throw me a rope.

I remember looking at her and sharing with her that same scripture that was shared by our teacher today.  I testified to her that "Yes, the Lord had taken me right to the edge of my endurance but before I toppled over the edge He called my popper's home."
There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord will visit us in our afflictions and I know that during the year I taught and took care of my popper's the Lord eased my burdens and my heart was full of comfort and my head was lifted. 
Those of you who have prepared to attend the temple know of the great adversity that comes before that great great blessing. 
 I have heard that missionaries preparing for their mission also face that great adversity. 

As I have continued to grow in the Gospel I hate to admit it but I am so very grateful for the burdens that were placed and continue to be placed upon my back because as our teacher and Elder Bednar said, it has given me "the Spiritual traction" to keep moving forward.

May we as follow the example of Alma and his people when we find our burdens are to heavy to bear
and since Elder Bednar is much more articulate than me I will close with his talk which inspired this blog and a great Relief Society lesson.

The unique burdens in each of our lives help us to rely upon the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.

I have a dear friend who, in the early years of his marriage, was convinced he and his family needed a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. His wife was sure that he did not need but merely wanted the new vehicle. A playful conversation between this husband and wife initiated their consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of such a purchase.
“Sweetheart, we need a four-wheel-drive truck.”
She asked, “Why do you think we need a new truck?”
He answered her question with what he believed was the perfect response: “What if we needed milk for our children in a terrible storm, and the only way I could get to the grocery store was in a pickup?”
His wife replied with a smile, “If we buy a new truck, we will not have money for milk—so why worry about getting to the store in an emergency!”
Over time they continued to counsel together and ultimately decided to acquire the truck. Shortly after taking possession of the new vehicle, my friend wanted to demonstrate the utility of the truck and validate his reasons for wanting to purchase it. So he decided he would cut and haul a supply of firewood for their home. It was in the autumn of the year, and snow already had fallen in the mountains where he intended to find wood. As he drove up the mountainside, the snow gradually became deeper and deeper. My friend recognized the slick road conditions presented a risk, but with great confidence in the new truck, he kept going.
Sadly, my friend went too far along the snowy road. As he steered the truck off of the road at the place he had determined to cut wood, he got stuck. All four of the wheels on the new truck spun in the snow. He readily recognized that he did not know what to do to extricate himself from this dangerous situation. He was embarrassed and worried.
My friend decided, “Well, I will not just sit here.” He climbed out of the vehicle and started cutting wood. He completely filled the back of the truck with the heavy load. And then my friend determined he would try driving out of the snow one more time. As he put the pickup into gear and applied power, he started to inch forward. Slowly the truck moved out of the snow and back onto the road. He finally was free to go home, a happy and humbled man.

Our Individual Load

I pray for the assistance of the Holy Ghost as I emphasize vital lessons that can be learned from this story about my friend, the truck, and the wood. It was the load. It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward. It was the load that enabled him to return to his family and his home.
Each of us also carries a load. Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints. Two guiding questions can be helpful as we periodically and prayerfully assess our load: “Is the load I am carrying producing the spiritual traction that will enable me to press forward with faith in Christ on the strait and narrow path and avoid getting stuck? Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?”
Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness. Because our individual load needs to generate spiritual traction, we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most.

The Strengthening Power of the Atonement

The Savior said:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
A yoke is a wooden beam, normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals that enables them to pull together on a load. A yoke places animals side-by-side so they can move together in order to accomplish a task.
Consider the Lord’s uniquely individual invitation to “take my yoke upon you.” Making and keeping sacred covenants yokes us to and with the Lord Jesus Christ. In essence, the Savior is beckoning us to rely upon and pull together with Him, even though our best efforts are not equal to and cannot be compared with His. As we trust in and pull our load with Him during the journey of mortality, truly His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
We are not and never need be alone. We can press forward in our daily lives with heavenly help. Through the Savior’s Atonement we can receive capacity and “strength beyond [our] own” (“Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” Hymns, no. 220). As the Lord declared, “Therefore, continue your journey and let your hearts rejoice; for behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end” (D&C 100:12).
Consider the example in the Book of Mormon as Amulon persecuted Alma and his people. The voice of the Lord came to these disciples in their afflictions: “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:13).
Note the centrality of covenants to the promise of deliverance. Covenants received and honored with integrity and ordinances performed by proper priesthood authority are necessary to receive all of the blessings made available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For in the ordinances of the priesthood, the power of godliness is manifest unto men and women in the flesh, including the blessings of the Atonement (see D&C 84:20–21).
Recall the Savior’s statement “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30) as we consider the next verse in the account of Alma and his people.
“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs” (Mosiah 24:14).
Many of us may assume this scripture is suggesting that a burden suddenly and permanently will be taken away. The next verse, however, describes how the burden was eased.
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea,the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15; emphasis added).
The challenges and difficulties were not immediately removed from the people. But Alma and his followers were strengthened, and their increased capacity made the burdens lighter. These good people were empowered through the Atonement to act as agents (see D&C 58:26–29) and impact their circumstances. And “in the strength of the Lord” (Words of Mormon 1:14Mosiah 9:1710:10Alma 20:4), Alma and his people were directed to safety in the land of Zarahemla.
Not only does the Atonement of Jesus Christ overcome the effects of the Fall of Adam and make possible the remission of our individual sins and transgressions, but His Atonement also enables us to do good and become better in ways that stretch far beyond our mortal capacities. Most of us know that when we do things wrong and need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has made it possible for us to become clean through His redeeming power. But do we also understand that the Atonement is for faithful men and women who are obedient, worthy, and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully? I wonder if we fail to fully acknowledge this strengthening aspect of the Atonement in our lives and mistakenly believe we must carry our load all alone—through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline and with our obviously limited capacities.
It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to the earth to die for us. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to enliven us—not only to guide but also to strengthen and heal us.

The Savior Succors His People

Alma explains why and how the Savior can enable us:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12).
Thus, the Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities—but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us.
There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

An Invitation, a Promise, and a Testimony

I invite you to study, pray, ponder, and strive to learn more about the Savior’s Atonement as you assess your individual load. Many things about the Atonement we simply cannot comprehend with our mortal minds. But many aspects of the Atonement we can and need to understand.
For my friend, the load of wood provided life-saving traction. The empty truck could not move through the snow, even equipped with four-wheel drive. A heavy load was necessary to produce traction.
It was the load. It was the load that provided the traction that enabled my friend to get unstuck, to get back on the road, to press forward, and to return to his family.
The unique burdens in each of our lives help us to rely upon the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah (see 2 Nephi 2:8). I testify and promise the Savior will help us to bear up our burdens with ease (see Mosiah 24:15). As we are yoked with Him through sacred covenants and receive the enabling power of His Atonement in our lives, we increasingly will seek to understand and live according to His will. We also will pray for the strength to learn from, change, or accept our circumstances rather than praying relentlessly for God to change our circumstances according to our will. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14). We will be blessed with spiritual traction.
May each of us do and become better through the Savior’s Atonement. Today is April 6. We know by revelation that today is the actual and accurate date of the Savior’s birth. April 6 also is the day on which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. (See D&C 20:1; Harold B. Lee, “Strengthen the Stakes of Zion,” Ensign, July 1973, 2; Spencer W. Kimball, “Why Call Me Lord, Lord, and Do Not the Things Which I Say?” Ensign, May 1975, 4; Spencer W. Kimball, “Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings,” Ensign, May 1980, 54; Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Volume 1: 1995–1999 [2005], 409.) On this special and sacred Sabbath day, I declare my witness that Jesus the Christ is our Redeemer. He lives and will cleanse, heal, guide, protect, and strengthen us. Of these things I joyfully testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.