Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Gift of Time

Originally Written March 22, 2020

Yesterday as our family knelt in family prayer I was overcome with the feeling that God is giving me a gift. It is a gift he is giving me to prepare my children for whatever is coming next. 

In the past several months - really probably the past several years - I have been wishing that I could just have more time. More time to teach my children the gospel, more time to talk with them and get to know them, more time to slow down and play with them. When you have seven children there is never enough time. And being a teacher-mom means I have had even less time with each child.

I feel like I have been given a great and powerful gift with the current global pandemic. The gift I have been given is to have my children in my home full time, insulated from the attacks of the adversary, and in my care so that I can more intensely nurture them and prepare them. While our home has been a little chaotic this past week, I have also noticed some incredible God-given changes. My children are kinder, and more soft spoken. They are more helpful, and more spiritual. I get to control, for the most part, what happens in our home, and I have chosen to make sure that there are a lot of calm, peaceful interactions. Children must be taught to be calm, and the world doesn't teach them to be calm. We must teach them that calm and peace within the walls of our home.

Each interaction with my children this week has been precious to me. There is no rushing, just being together. I have honestly savored every moment. Let me throw a little reality in there, though... when I took my 16 year old son out driving, we got in the car and shut the doors and just sat for a moment. Then I said, "It's so quiet!"

Having all seven children home full time reminds me of the first few times my husband and I got our families together. The scene as chaotic, but full of joy. We called it "joyful chaos". Those two words are the most accurate description of our family life.

Today while we were participating in the ordinance of the sacrament with our family in our "home church", I had a beautiful vision. Our home was encased in great shield, not unlike the ones in a science fiction movie. I felt a power surrounding our house, keeping out the evils in the world, and increasing the love and strength inside our home.

We live in a confusing time, and for a lot of people, a scary and disappointing time. I feel incredibly blessed to have the peace that we have.

Staying Focused

"Being self-reliant does not mean that we can do or obtain anything we set our mind to."

I read this sentence for the first time last fall. It rocked my world. I have always believed that if I wanted anything, all I would need to do is work hard and stay focused, and I could obtain it.

I have been working hard my entire life to be financially secure and to have a strong family. And there I was, in a very precarious financial situation, blending a family and co-parenting with an ex-spouse. My life is so much not what I have been working for.

To be completely honest, I was beginning to get burned out. Working hard for so long and not achieving what I thought I would be able to achieve has been exhausting. I thought I was self reliant because of this mindset that if I just work hard I can do anything I put my mind to.

So if self reliance is not being able to do or obtain anything we set our mind to, what is it? The Church's Personal Finances for Self-Reliance course book describes it this way:

"Rather, it is believing that through the grace, or enabling power, of Jesus Christ and our own effort, we are able to obtain all the spiritual and temporal necessities of life we require for ourselves and our families. Self reliance is evidence of our trust or faith in God’s power to move mountains in our lives and to give us strength to triumph over trials and afflictions."

My focus had been on my own abilities, rather on the enabling power of Jesus Christ and having faith in God's will for me. I have been trying to be more focused on God's will in my life. One aspect of this was resigning as a school teacher. Being a stay at home mom has always been one of my life goals, and yet I always found reasons why it wasn't possible. When the global pandemic hit and schools were shut down and teachers were expected to teach from home, I was able to "test drive" my dream. It was beautiful. I loved being home with my kids, and it made me want it more than anything else. So I resigned. It took a lot of faith, because without my income, we wouldn't be able to pay the bills. But God will provide, and has. Going to Air Force basic training this summer allowed us to save a LOT of money, pay off some debts, and prepare for my exit from the full time workforce. It also gave my husband some time to figure out how to increase his earning power to be able to replace my income. 

Sometimes we loose focus, and rely on our own abilities, rather than the grace of God. I hope I can learn to stay focused on that grace, and on God's will.

Have you ever lost focus? What did you do to refocus yourself on the things that matter most? How have you learned to rely on God's will rather than your own ability?

Monday, August 5, 2019

Outward Performances and the Law of Moses

As I began to study the Come Follow Me lesson for this week, my attention was drawn to the section titled "My outward actions must reflect and increase inner conversion." The early Saints after the Savior's death still believed that they were required to practice the rites and rituals of the law of Moses to obtain salvation. I was then intrigue by this assertion in the manual:
This may seem like a problem that doesn't apply any more since we don't live by the law of Moses. But as you read Paul's writings... think about your own efforts to live the gospel.
This got me thinking about all of the rites and rituals we perform or participate in as members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Why, if the law of Moses has been fulfilled, and we profess to follow Jesus Christ, do we continue to participate in rites and rituals?

The first thing I did was head to Doctrine & Covenants Section 132 for a little refresher on the New and Everlasting Covenant (which is really most of what the temple rites and rituals are about). As I studied about the marriage covenant and sealing power and authority I was reminded that the New and Everlasting Covenant is in regards to exaltation rather than salvation.

Salvation vs Exaltation

In Moses chapter 1 verse 39, the Lord tells Moses, "Behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."

President Russell M. Nelson taught, "To be saved - or to gain salvation - means to be saved from physical and spiritual death." This salvation comes because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His atoning sacrifice. We are all saved. This is what fulfilled the Law of Moses - Christ died for us, and made that eternal sacrifice so that we can all be saved. The Law of Moses was a way to remind the Jews that Christ would come and would die for all the world.

President Russell M. Nelson continued, "To be exalted - or to gain exaltation - refers to the highest state of happiness and glory in the celestial realm." This is different from salvation because it is not something that just comes to everyone - we have to make certain covenants and promises, and we make those covenants and promises through rites and rituals that are reminiscent of the Law of Moses.

Rites and Rituals

When we make covenants and promises with Heavenly Father toward our exaltation, such as baptism, receiving the priesthood for worthy males, and making temple covenants, we do so only once for ourselves. We are baptized only once ever for ourselves, and we participate in temple covenants only once for ourselves. Unlike the Law of Moses, where the rites and rituals had to be performed regularly, we only perform those rites and rituals once for our own exaltation, or eternal life. The only rite or ritual we perform multiple times for ourselves is the sacrament. However, partaking of the sacrament, while an important practice for remembering the Savior, is not essential for exaltation.

Outward Symbols of an Inner Commitment

So why all the rites and rituals? What is the point, if we believe the Law of Moses has been fulfilled and that salvation is given to all men, regardless of what we do?

The Book of Mormon gives a stirring account of some early Saints who lived prior to the life of Christ but knew of Him and the fullness of His gospel. Essentially, they already knew that Christ would come and that He would give us the beautiful gift of the atonement. However, they were still required to live the Law of Moses and participate in those rites and rituals.
Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.
Now they did not supposed that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.
The Saints in the Americas did not keep the Law of Moses because they thought they needed to do all of those things in order to gain salvation. They kept the Law of Moses because they used those rites and rituals to strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ.

Likewise, we are not required to take the sacrament, or participate in temple ordinances. Even if we have made covenants for ourselves in the temple, there is no requirement to return to the temple for our own exaltation. We did what was required. So why go back? Why take the sacrament? The Book of Mormon gives us this beautiful explanation and admonition: "to strengthen [our] faith in Christ."

It is easy to think of partaking of the sacrament and attending the temple as some kind of check box. Each week we take the sacrament on Sunday, "check"! Each time we attend the temple to perform vicarious works for the dead, "check"! We will probably get a lot more out of the rites and rituals that we perform regularly if we approach it as the Saints did in the Americas - as a way to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ.

The section from the Come Follow Me manual ends with these questions:

Are your outward performances, such as taking the sacrament or attending the temple, leading you to conversion and strengthening your faith in Christ? How can you ensure that your outward actions are leading to a change of heart?



Sunday, August 4, 2019

Cut to the Very Center

Today in fast and testimony meeting I was thinking about my parenting in the past several weeks. I have been in lecture mode, and I was reflecting on ways I could teach my children (specifically my teenagers) without lectures. It is one of my life goals to raise my children, especially my teens, to be self-reflective, self-motivated, and hard working. I try to lead by example, but sometime I am afraid that my lectures are obscuring my example, and they become discouraged or disinterested in growth.

Then I was thinking about how as parents we spend a lot of time helping our children with course correction, and how they may not always appreciate that at this time in their lives. I know that I probably didn't appreciate the helpful criticism of my parents when I was a teen.

But now that I am in the position of parent I actually crave helpful criticism. It would be so helpful to have people in my life speak out and point out those areas in which I can improve. In the first book of Nephi chapter 16, Nephi admits that he has been lecturing his siblings, and that "the guilty take the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center." Every day I feel the need to be cut to my very center. I am not a finished product - far from it - and I need all the cutting down I can get.

I am in a stage of life where the people who speak truth to me are typically speaking truth in general terms and to a large group of people, and not specifically directed at me. It is up to me to reflect on my own life and personality and allow words of truth to cut me "to the very center". This takes a lot of humility, and an enormous ability to rely on and hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Both are areas of life that I struggle with and work on every day.

Perhaps as I work to teach my children about self reflection, self motivation, and hard work, I can use examples from my own life, and allow them to consider if the truth is cutting them to the very center, causing them the discomfort of growth. Then we can learn together, and I can focus on my own personal growth more than lecturing my teenagers.

What do you use as a source of truth to help refine you and cut you to the very center? If you have teens (or if you were a teen) what strategies helped you teach (or learn) self-reflection, self-motivation and hard work?


Monday, July 22, 2019

Answers Come

In my last post I talked about not really knowing how to prioritize all that there is to do. 

I still don’t know all the answers, but this quote from President Oaks showed up on my news feed the other day and I felt as if it was an answer to my prayers. 


I have been trying to pray for that inspiration to know what things MUST be done, according to eternal principle. I am finding this inspiration harder to receive than I thought, but I did feel like I could at least name a few:
1.) scripture study (both individual and with my family)
2.) prayer (both individual and with my family)

Beyond this I haven’t been able to come up with much else that is required by eternal principles. When I try to add to my list I end up going down a rabbit hole of “Well, if that is important, than so is this.” And I start getting in debates with myself, “What makes this more important than the other thing? Could I choose between doing these two things?” Because that thought process gets so mangled and complicated I feel that it is safe to assume that anything beyond those first two priorities falls in the “pray for wisdom to exercise our preferences” category. 

I am still working on actually following these priorities. Having a clean house is incredibly important to me. But I wonder if it would become less important if I was studying the scriptures and praying more regularly on my own and with my children...? Teaching my children to work is important to me, but should it be more important than teaching them to study the scriptures and pray? I don’t think so. 

And so I continue working on prioritizing my time and I spend a lot of time in prayer and counsel with Heavenly Father, beggin Him for the inspiration I so desperately need!

How do you decide what is most important in your life? How do you discern what is required by eternal principles? How do you use wisdom to exercise your preferences for all the other things?


Monday, May 13, 2019

What Lack I Yet?

I have always identified with the young man who asked the Savior "What lack I yet?"

"And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth." (Mark 10:20)

Perhaps I have kept all of the "big" commandments, but we all have small things that we can change. My problems it not being unaware of my failings, but rather being hyper aware of all the things I can change or do differently. My struggle has always been figuring out what to prioritize.

As I re-read Elder Larry R. Lawrence's talk from 2015 General Conference I realized that I can ask Heavenly Father to guide me.

I am a planner, and I like having the next several minutes, hours, days, and months planned out. I am flexible and willing to make changes, but I like to have a "plan" as a starting place. Unfortunately, I think this tendency has hampered my ability to listen to and follow the spirit in quiet moments. I am so sure of my course that I have been relying on my own will, instead of listening to God's will.

As I sit here trying to make the commitment to seek and follow God's will in the small things, I am confronted with a few doubts:

1.) What if God wants me to figure things out on my own and He doesn't answer my pleas for "What should I do?"

2.) What if I am not worthy of receiving God's will and inspiration?

When I ponder these challenges I realize that these are the doubts I have been facing for years, if not decades. I don't know how to overcome these doubts just yet, but I will focus on overcoming them this week.

What doubts do you face when trying to make a new commitment? Do you sometimes feel unworthy to receive revelation? Do you struggle to know if God wants to you figure things out on your own or if He wants to give you direct revelation?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

What Matters Most

I am trying to figure out what matters most. In a large family with so much going on, even a "simple" life can seem very complex. I am trying to simplify, but not miss the mark. This era of raising children is a season, and I am trying not to overly complicate it.

Balance. I have trouble with balance.

In an effort to receive more personal guidance on the idea of balance, I am trying to focus on what matters most. I don't know how to best use my talents in the world, or even for my family, but I do know that what matters most is learning and teaching the gospel. So I will refocus my priorities to learn and teach the gospel.

Goal #1: Learn the gospel.

Goal #2: Teach the gospel to my children.

Goal #3: Receive inspiration to direct any other effort in my life, including #1 and #2.

I am coming back to blogging in an effort to achieve Goal #1. I studied the gospel much more fervently when I was writing about it. So today I will start writing about it. I will follow the Come Follow Me curriculum, and as I study I will be asking Heavenly Father to guide me in achieving Goal #2 with my children and not overly complicated things. I need to avoid distractions in my life, even ones that seem good.

How do you achieve balance in raising a family? How do you focus on what matters most?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Of Distraction, Death, and Driving

The title of this post might sound like a PSA about distracted driving. A worthy topic, however, this post is about things of more eternal significance.

Today I was driving home from Arkansas, my childhood home state, where I attended the funeral of my beloved Aunt Shirley. This post isn't really about her, although her life would also be a worthy topic. This post is about more about how when people die we tend to remember better. Driving a long distance (5 hours) gives you a lot of time to contemplate life and the important parts of it. Especially after a funeral, and especially when you listen to General Conference talks the entire trip.

These three things together, the funeral for my aunt, the long drive, and listening to the general conference talks, allowed me to refocus and refine my life. It was a transformative five hours. Hence this essay.

My Aunt is an amazing woman. She left a wonderful legacy here on earth, and is joining an equally fantastic legacy among our ancestors in Heaven. What struck me this weekend is how easy it is to become distracted. I haven't thought a lot about my Aunt's life recently. Honestly, until she traveled to Houston to have heart surgery I hadn't really even though much about her. Not that I don't care, but I have been caught up in raising my own family, tending to my own life. Granted, many of my actions and choices are affected by the influence of my Aunt and her children, even if I am not consciously thinking about the cause and effect relationship that exists between my Aunt and my actions and choices.

As I sat with family and friends this weekend to celebrate the amazing miracle that my Aunt has been, I was reminded of so many gospel principles. The greatest principle I was reminded of was faith. My Aunt was a woman of fierce faith. When she endured radiation for Hodgkin's disease in the 70's, doctors told her that she would not be able to bear children. She said, "We'll see" and proceeded to fast and pray and fast and pray, and eventually had four amazing children who today are my heroes in every way.

My Aunt has endured several health challenges, in spite of her impeccably healthy lifestyle. She had breast cancer, diabetes, defective heart valves (all of these were most likely complications from the massive amounts of radiation she endured in the 70s). But through all of these health challenges she has maintained a patient, faithful, joyful outlook on life, and lived a life of selfless service to her children, nieces and nephews, and anyone else who cross her path. She did not make excuses, and she had good reason to make excuses.

I was humbled this weekend with a self-realization of the excuse making in which I engage. I make a lot of excuses for why this that or the other thing is hard for me to do. A lot of "if onlys"...

I always have some kind of excuse for why I don't do more than I am doing. I have an excuse for why I don't study the gospel like I did before. I make excuses for why I don't attend the temple as regularly, I have excuses for why I don't have patience with my husband and my children. Some of them are pretty good excuses.

But what I realized after this weekend is that none of them are valid excuses. There are no valid excuses.

The Savior of the world suffered body, mind, and soul so that there would have to be no excuses. Because of Him and through Him I can be more than I am, and I can do more than I can. Not because I will be amazing or I will work hard, but because through faith in Jesus Christ I can do all things.

I have been distracted from faith these past several years. Maybe the last decade. It is so easy to become distracted from the things that really matter. Faith, endurance, charity, compassion. There are so many things in life that we think are important, and then when someone dies, we have the opportunity to contemplate our lives and our choices and we realize that all of the other things do not matter and what really matters was so simple, and we tried to make it so complicated in the name of philosophy, or deep thinking, or intellectual conversation.

What really matters really is very simple. Christ taught us that. It is in the scriptures. Let's go back to the scriptures and soak up the simple brilliance of the gospel and please let us let go of all the complicated processes that distract us from what really matters.

What things have distracted you from the simple parts of the gospel? What events or things in your life help bring you back to remembrance? How do you remember things without having to go to a funeral?
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