Sunday, May 28, 2017

When to Give and When to Take

I had a conversation with my teenage daughter about the law of consecration and the United Order.

Before I describe the conversation to you I feel like you need a little bit of background on me.

I am something of a minimalist. I try to live by Sarah Lazarovi's "Buyerarchy of Needs" (a play off of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs).

This, along with the quote "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" from William Morris are the guided principles of my consumerism.

My daughter was not familiar with the United Order, so I described it to her, definitely oversimplifying things, with this statement, "Basically you gave everything you had to the church, and then they would give you back anything you needed." I followed up with, "That didn't mean no one had nice things - but for example, if you needed a ball gown for a fancy dance, you got one. If you didn't need it, someone else got it."

My daughter's response: "That sounds like something you would love."

You have no idea how much I would love it. So so much.

This essay is about sacrifice. I think minimalism and the law of consecration are very much tied to the law of sacrifice. But sacrifice is so tricky.

Young mothers tend to sacrifice so much that they don't get enough to eat, enough sleep, or enough mental health support. This leads to devastating outcomes like postpartum depression, and suicide.

Spouses of abusive partners tend to sacrifice so much that they stay in abusive relationships, which leads to depression, suicidal thoughts, and in some instances murder or suicide. When children are involved, the heartbreaking outcomes can be devastating for these kids.

Members of the church who make covenants to obey and live the laws of consecration and sacrifice often give so much of themselves that they become disillusioned with at least the church, and in extreme cases even deny the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The problem with sacrifice and the law of consecration is pride. Pride is a barrier.

Being a survivor of abuse I have found some bitterness in my heart toward the law of sacrifice. I sometimes find myself saying in my head "But I sacrificed everything, and it got me into an abusive relationship where I felt robbed of my very being, where my children's quality of life was diminished, where my safety and the safety of my children was not guaranteed. Why should I sacrifice? People will just take advantage of me." In my mind, living the laws of sacrifice and consecration were the gates to abuse. Indeed, very often they are. It is easy to be taken advantage of if you sacrifice and give. So how do we protect ourselves from abuse when we are living the law of sacrifice?

Here is the not-so-easy answer I have come up with: we don't.

Oh, I believe in boundaries, definitely. But we have to be careful that our boundaries come from a place of Doctrine & Covenants 121:43 - "when moved upon by the Holy Ghost" - rather than from a place of pride.

The past several years I have been recovering mentally and spiritually from an abusive relationship. I have learned a lot about boundaries, and at the same time I have developed a lot of pride.

Ironically, pondering the law of sacrifice as I have been doing the past several months seemed to increase my feelings of pride. The elusive balance between sacrifice and boundaries was something I couldn't quite grasp until a month or so ago when I had this inspired thought:

The Savior gave everything. Not just His time and His talents and His love. He gave His very life. His life. And who appreciated him? Very few people. What happened to him? He was abused. In fact, in the words of my beloved Isaiah, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not."

That thought was humbling, and I try to use it whenever I want to withhold something - time, money, love, compassion, my talents, whatever it is. I try to come back to that thought. He gave everything - He sacrificed everything and He didn't stop when people abused Him.

Now, am I saying that you should find ways to be abused and taken advantage of? No way. Remember that the Holy Ghost might prompt you not to give - but you have to be very very in tune with that and make sure it isn't pride motivating your stinginess.

I am saying that when you find yourself in a position to give of your time, talents, energy, compassion, love, etc and you want to withhold because you are worried about being taken advantage of, or you start feeling those begrudging feelings of "But who is going to take care of my needs?", remember the Savior and give anyway.

And then take.

Take the Savior's yoke. Take and take and take from the Savior. That is the place to take. No spouse, no friend, no child, no church leader, no human being will ever be able to give you everything you want and need (remember that thing about pride?). So you have to take it from the Person who is immune to Satan's tricks and lies. The only human who has no pride. Not one drop. The only person capable of giving you absolutely everything you need.

And sometimes the only thing you can get from Him is the assurance that some day you will be able to enter into His rest.
Surrender by Reflections of Christ

A friend of mine once said that she imagines our reunion with the Father will consist of us falling, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted into his arms, and He, with tears streaming down his face, will say, "That was hard, wasn't it? I am so glad you are safe at home with me now."

How do you find a balance between sacrifice and mental health? How do you keep pride out of the picture? Have you learned to rely on the power of the Savior?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What Did I do Wrong?

The question "Why is this happening to me?" can be a soul expanding question when we ask it in humility and learn what God wants us to learn, sometimes that question can become debilitating if we ask it in shame or embarrassment or anger.

It is easy to believe that your trials come because you were faithful enough. If only I had enough faith, if only I was more obedient, if only I had a stronger testimony.

Prior to a major trial, you may have felt confident in your faith and testimony. I know that prior to my divorce I felt like I had unshakeable faith and never ending courage. In spite of the difficulties of my marriage I felt like if I pressed forward with faith my marriage could be saved and we could be happy. When that didn't happen, you can see how my faith might have been shaken.

After my divorce I constantly questioned my testimony and my faith. In fact, three years later and I am still questioning my faith and testimony. Is it strong enough? Do I really believe what I say I believe? Do I have an unshakable testimony? Do I have enough faith?

Satan wants us to believe that our faith isn't strong enough. He wants us to think our testimony isn't good enough. But those are lies.

No matter the source of our trials, whether caused by our own sin and weaknesses, the sin and weaknesses of others, or simply this fallen world, the Savior's atonement can strengthen us.

Maybe my testimony wasn't as strong as I thought it was. Maybe I don't have as much faith as I thought I had. But if I turn to the Savior during my trials my testimony and faith will be strengthened. As the father in the New Testament pled with the Savior, "Lord, help thou mine unbelief" so, too, can the Savior help strengthen our faith and testimony.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wake Up! Don't You Know What We Have?

"Sometimes we sleepwalk on the path of discipleship." 
- Pres. Uchtdorf 
Saturday AM Session General Conference October 2016
One of those repetitive lessons that we hear over and over again is the plan of salvation. It seems like such a simple thing, such a plain truth, that it is easy to take for granted. In his Saturday morning address, President Uchtdorf explained that when people would ask about the Church he would usually start with something about the word of wisdom, or draw parallels between our beliefs and the beliefs of other religions. However, he mentioned, explaining the plan of salvation to people had the biggest impact. He said:
Some of my friends would say that this message felt familiar, even though such things were never taught in their religious upbringing. It was as if they had always known these things to be true, as if I was simply casting light on something that was always and deeply rooted in their hearts.
A few weeks ago, I came across this video - some missionaries in the Billings Montana mission rapping about the first lesson the missionaries usually teach - the lesson about the restoration and the plan of salvation. I enjoy rap in general (clean rap, which is hard to find!) but this song resonated with me in a way no other song outside of the hymnbook has ever been able to do.

John 20:24–29, Thomas sees the resurrected ChristI believe it is because the content is so powerful. The plan of salvation is such a powerful truth. I love President Uchtdorf's description of the plan of salvation in his talk. If you haven't read it I highly encourage you to read it. I may print it out and make a goal to read it at least once a week, even though it is so familiar to me. President Uchtdorf cautioned, "It seems to be human nature: as we become more familiar with something, even something miraculous and awe-inspiring, we lose our sense of awe and treat it as commonplace." I don't want to treat the glorious doctrine of restoration and the atonement and the gospel plan as commonplace! I want to adore it and appreciate it.

President Uchtdorf's sleepwalking comment hit me between the eyes. Do I sleepwalk on the path of discipleship? I think I have been sleeping walking for a while, and I want to wake up! Well, this is me waking up! What am I going to do to show that I am not sleepwalking? I am going to share the glorious message of the plan of salvation and the love of our Father in Heaven for us! I encourage you to do the same. Share the plan any time you can with whoever you can.

"What shall we give in return for the flood of light and truth God has poured out upon us?" (Pres. Uchtdorf)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Sometimes, when studying the gospel, I get bored of the topics I am studying. Particularly at church in Sunday School and sometimes in Relief Society. I crave something new, something deeper. I get bored with the same gospel topics every week, the same discussions, the same comments, everything the same. I have always understood the value of these repetitive lessons for those who haven't learned the lessons, those who are new to the church, and such. But only recently have I learned the true value of those lessons for me.

As I was completing a requirement for Personal Progress with my youth age daughter, I came across this scripture in 2 Peter 1

Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.
John 13:1–35, Jesus blesses wine and passes it
Image Credit: LDS Media Library
What a humbling verse of scripture. Peter knew that the Saints already knew these gospel topics. He wasn't trying to teach them something new. He simply understood the principle of putting people "always in remembrance" of the things that are most important - the plain and precious, simple parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a math teacher and a musician you would think that I already clearly understood this idea.

In order to be a good mathematician, you need to be constantly reviewing the basics - if you aren't constantly using your times tables, you forget them. If you don't frequently solve equations, or factor polynomials, you won't be very good at it.

Professional musicians will agree that in order to be a good musician, you still need to practice the basics, your scales, etudes, and so on. When practicing even an advanced piece, you should stop and practice intonation, bowings, fingers and such.

This principle of remembering is so vital to everything we do in life - even walking or using a muscle. A broken arm will need to remember how the muscles move after being confined to a cast or sling for so long. It's amazing to me that I didn't full recognize the importance of this principle until much later.

It has changed my perspective of repetitive messages in Sunday School and Relief Society lessons, and even in General Conference talks. I now crave the repetition, I need it to keep me straight and keep me grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What things do you get bored of? Does the principle of remembering change your perspective?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Nearer, My God, to Thee

Christ standing outside and embracing Mary and Martha, with others watching in the background.
Image Credit: LDS Media Library

General Conference this weekend was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband's talk really penetrated my heart. His reminder to never forget the spiritual experiences we have had struck me. When I was regularly studying the gospel, I had many spiritual experiences that I, thankfully, recorded in my journal. Lately I have been lacking in my study of the gospel, mostly because I went to grad school and spent all of my time on graduate studies. I tried to at least keep up on reading the Book of Mormon, although I didn't have much time to devote to the study of it. I just kept reading. I believe that helped me through what was a very stressful time in my life.

When I mentioned to my husband that I needed to find a time to study the gospel, he mentioned to me that I should spend my lunch period at work studying the gospel and writing in my blog. I have to pump on my lunch period because I am breastfeeding, so I am tied to my desk in my classroom. I have been having a little bit of a pity party about it the past few weeks because I like spending time in the faculty room with my colleagues, and I liked being able to take a break from work. But lately I have been working through my lunch since I am attached to my desk anyway. It is hard to stop and do something else. But this! This, studying the gospel. I can take a break from work for that!

So if you need a little lunch time pick-me-up, feel free to check out my blog around lunch time during the work week. I will likely post something every day. If it doesn't help you, at least it will be helping me!

What messages hit you the hardest during General Conference? What changes are you planning to make in your life because of what you heard? Did you notice any themes?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Naptime Epiphany

Image Credit: peasap
(I found this draft languishing on my blog dashboard and felt it needed to see the light. I wrote this about a year ago)

My two year old has (normal) autonomy issues. He only wants to do what he wants to do, and does not want anyone telling him what to do. To illustrate this point, today I told him it was time to go read in the rocking chair. He had a full on meltdown complete with kicking and screaming.

"I know it's really hard to do things that you don't want to do. But it's time for us to sit quietly and read."

kick-scream-tantrum "Le-GO! Le-GO!"

"If I let you go it will be to put you in your crib so that you can fall asleep on your own. Should I put you in your crib?"

kick-scream-tantrum "Le-GO! Le-GO!"

"Okay" I put him in his crib. "I will be right here in the rocking chair ready to hold you when you want to sit quietly." I sat down on the rocking chair next to his crib and watched as he turned beet red and tried furiously to climb out of his crib. I could tell when he realized his attempts were futile, and used the moment to offer my help.

"Would you like me to help you?"


"Would you like me to hold you?"


"I could help you get out and I could hold you in the rocking chair."

Him: "Hold you?"

So I picked him up and he snuggled right down in my arms in the rocking chair, apparently convinced that snuggling with mom in the rocking chair was better than attempting to get out of his crib while turning red in the face and screaming.

Four verses of I am a Child of God later, and he was almost out. And I felt a little wiser, because I had an epiphany.

Just as I, as a mother, did not force anything on my sweet, innocent two year old, and I did not punish him for not wanting to take a nap, Heavenly Father does not force His will on us, and He does not punish us for not abiding by His will. At the same time, He does not shield us from the natural consequences of our stubbornness and pride. He sits quietly by and waits for us to realize that our way is not ideal, so that He can quietly say, "Would you like me to help you? Would you like me to hold you?"

He wants us to want His way. He wants us to decide, on our own, that His way is better than our way (even though He has told us before). But He doesn't force us, and He doesn't punish us. He just waits for us to come around, face our fears and give up our pride so that He can bless us and give us peace.

How often do you, like a toddler, scream red-faced trying to get out of your prison? How have you learned to accept God's will and want it for yourself?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Deeply Understanding the Atonement

Note: I wrote and gave this talk a year ago on Sunday, April 20, 2014. A sister in my ward asked me for a copy, and I kept putting off typing up the edits I made to it on the stand (as I am wont to do when giving a talk). But now here it is, in the form I delivered it. I hope you enjoy it this Easter season!

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi quoted Isaiah extensively. Afterwards, he recorded his own prophecies of Christ. He gave this explanation for such a record:

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God, for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do… and we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”

The source for the remission of our sins is our Savior, Jesus Christ, and my purpose in this talk is to “persuade [my] children, and also [you, my] brethren [and sisters], to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God”, and perhaps together we can come to better remember that source, Jesus Christ.

At a literacy conference I attended last month I learned something about how we come to remember things. One of the presenters was discussing techniques to teach reading comprehension to students. She said, “Children remember what they deeply understand.” I would say this applies to all of us as well. I wasn’t looking for a gospel connection at the time, but unexpectedly found one the following Sunday during a Relief Society lesson on the sacrament.

In that week’s lesson, Joseph Fielding Smith said, “To eat in remembrance of him. Does that mean that I would just remember that nearly 2,000 years ago wicked men took him, hung him on the cross, drove nails in his hands and feet and left him there to die? To me it has a far deeper meaning than that. To remember him—why was he on the cross? What benefit comes to [me] because he was on the cross? What suffering did he go through on the cross that I might be redeemed or relieved of my sins?” To remember the Savior means more than just to remember what happened. Remembering the Savior involves striving to more deeply understand this monumental gift we have been given.

For the past few months I have been studying the atonement with a greater purpose than I have in several years. In the years since I last made a meaningful study of the atonement, I have studied various principles of the gospel, and with great fervor. However, none of that studying as changed my heart and my life as much as the past few months have. Elder Tad R. Callister explained this change in his book, The Infinite Atonement, “Every attempt to reflect upon the Atonement, to study it, to embrace it, to express appreciation for it, however small or feeble it may be, will kindle the fires of faith and work its miracle towards a more Christlike life. It is an inescapable consequence of so doing.”

I would like to share a few of the things with you that I have learned about the atonement in the past few months - probably nothing new to many of you, but maybe, like me, you put your study of the atonement on the back burner for a while as you studied other gospel topics, and so a refresher might be nice. If these concepts seem new to you, and even if they aren’t new, I challenge you to immerse yourself in a study of the atonement of Jesus Christ and see if it doesn’t change your life for the better.

One of the most life-changing principles of the atonement is that it is infinite. The word infinite probably conjures up images of eternity, or the number of grains of sand on the beach. But when we talk about the atonement being infinite, what we mean is that the atonement covers everything. The atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ is so much more far-reaching than any one of us has probably ever experienced. But I am sure that if you look in your own life you can see the atonement touching you in many different ways.

If you have repented of a serious sin, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have lost a loved one and found peace after their death, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have been given what seemed like an insurmountable task and found motivation and strength to achieve it, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have suffered at the hands of another and been able to find healing and forgiveness, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have struggled through physical ailments or infirmities and received healing, or simply the fortitude to endure, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have ached because of the injustices of this life but been given the gifts of patience and compassion, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have struggled with the idea of being perfect, feeling like you can never do enough, and felt that burden of perfection lifted as you took upon you the Savior’s yoke, you have experienced the atonement.

I hope you can see the connection between all of these situations, even though they may not seem to have much in common. Committing a sin may seem different than suffering at the hands of an abuser, but the underlying theme is the healing, peace, and perfection that can come through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament is recorded a story about a young ruler who came to the Savior asking what he could do. The young man asked the Savior, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The Savior proceeded to list the ten commandments, to which the young man, apparently free of any major sins, responded, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” Of course, when the Savior responded with the higher laws of consecration and discipleship, the young man either decided that he didn’t have what it takes or he didn’t have the desire to make that kind of commitment, and so he left, sorrowful.

This young man had kept all of the commandments from his youth until the day he questioned the Savior. To me it appears that he had not committed any grievous sins, and had lived a reasonably good life. This young man had probably never needed to confess a sin to his bishop and work through the painful process of repentance for a serious transgression. But the atonement is so much more than just a tool for the abandonment of serious sin.

General Relief Society President Linda K. Burton taught, “Like the rich young man in Jesus’ day, sometimes we are tempted to give up or turn back because maybe we think we can’t do it alone. And we are right! We cannot do the difficult things we have been asked to do without help. Help comes through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the guidance of the holy Ghost, and the helping hands of others.”

The atonement is the source of power that allows us to “do all things”, as the apostle Paul wrote, “through Christ who strengtheneth [us].” The atonement of Jesus Christ can give us strength to do those things that seem impossible to do. Former Relief Society president Sheri Dew said, “Our responsibility is to learn to draw upon the power of the Atonement. Otherwise we walk through mortality relying solely on our own strength. And to do that is to invite the frustration of failure and to refuse the most resplendent gift in time or eternity. “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed … and he receive not the gift?””
We must learn to access the atonement if we want to receive power to “do all things” and “be perfect.”
But what about if we aren’t quite where the young ruler was yet? What if we aren’t ready to say, “What lack I yet?” because we are caught up in sin? What if we were once like the young ruler, able to say that we have kept the commandments from our youth, but today we have stumbled and fallen and now feel as if our perfect record has been tarnished?

Former General Relief Society president Julie B. Beck said, “Everyone makes mistakes… I often hear about the chosen, royal generation of this dispensation, but I have never heard it called the perfect generation. Teenagers are especially vulnerable because the power of Satan is real, and they are making their first big, independent choices. Consequently, they are also making their first big mistakes.”

First, do not despair. Isaiah wrote, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” If you have ever spilled red punch on a white blouse, you know how hard it is to get those red stains out of that white cloth. More often than not, the white clothing is tarnished forever and good for nothing but a rag. Our lives are much more precious to God than a piece of clothing, and He has given us the ultimate stain remover. The atonement of Jesus Christ can surely erase those sins and cleanse our souls so that not only are we white again, but we can be even better than before. The only barrier between our crimson present and our pure white future is true repentance.

President Beck taught, “We are commanded to repent. The Savior taught that unless we repent and “become as a little child, … [we] can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” We must not let one little cup of coffee, one bad habit, one bad choice, one wrong decision derail us for a lifetime.” When we take a step off the path, we must not let despair or feelings of failure keep us from continuing to step forward and allowing the atonement of Jesus Christ to change our very nature.

The repentance process can change us in a very real way, but true repentance requires us to really gain a deeper understanding of the atonement. True repentance cannot be reduced to a process with steps that we simply check off as we proceed through them. Teaching a five step process to children is useful, but later insufficient for us to develop the understanding of the atonement that we will need in order to truly change. Elder Callister describes repentance as “a melting, softening, refining process that brings about a mighty change of heart… It is a burning resolve to make amends with God at any cost.”

But even with that burning resolve, President Beck explained that, “It is not possible to make real change all by ourselves. Our own willpower and our own good intentions are not enough. When we make mistakes or choose poorly, we must have the help of our Savior to get back on track. We partake of the sacrament week after week to show our faith in His power to change us. We confess our sins and promise to forsake them.” We cannot change on our own. All the burning resolve in the world will not change us if we do not allow the atonement to change us. Elder Callister taught that the power of the atonement is key to that change, (quote) “If there were no atonement, there would be no opportunity to repent. Men might feel sorrow; they might change their behavior within certain parameters; but no divine rehabilitation process would be in operation. Simply stated, without the atonement, there would be no cleansing of the sinner’s soul regardless of any actions on his part.” (close quote)

We need the atonement in order to truly change and become more than we are, better than we were yesterday.

So how do we allow the atonement to change us, to change our lives? Whether we are seeking purification from a transgression, or healing for a wounded heart, or strength to become perfect through Christ, the power of the atonement can help us, if we can only figure out how to access that power.

I suggest that the key to accessing the power of the atonement is through studying the atonement. It seems like such a simple thing, to study the atonement of Jesus Christ - but the doctrine of the atonement is more complicated than one family home evening lesson, one Sunday school lesson, one Conference talk, or one read through of the Book of Mormon can unravel. There is a depth and breadth to the atonement of Jesus Christ that we will only come to understand as we make the atonement a focus of our regular gospel study. The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” Because the atonement of Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of His gospel, a study of that atonement can change our lives more than a study of any other gospel doctrine will change our lives. Elder Callister wrote, “As our vision of the atonement is enhanced, our motivation to embrace its full effects is proportionally increased.” An understanding of the atonement inspires us to live the gospel more fully. President Howard W. Hunter gave this promise, “As we come to understand [Christ’s] mission and the atonement which He wrought, we will desire to be more like him.” and Elder Neal A. Maxwell testified, “The more we know of Jesus’ Atonement, the more we will humbly and gladly glorify Him, His Atonement, and His character.”

If you aren’t convinced that a deep understanding of the atonement can change our hearts and our lives, let me leave you with an example of such a change. In Mosiah chapters 3 and 4 we find one of the most beautiful discourses on the atonement. King Benjamin taught his people about the atonement of Jesus Christ, about his life, suffering, death, and resurrection. After hearing King Benjamin’s teachings and testimony, his people shouted, “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

King Benjamin’s discourse brought the spirit into the lives of the people, and their hearts were changed by the power of his words and testimony. The evidence of their change of heart was that they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” We will find this evidence in our own lives as we study the atonement of Jesus Christ and come to more deeply understand that central doctrine of the gospel, is my testimony.
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