Monday, June 27, 2011

“Finding Joy Through Loving Service”

(find the talk here)

Let me tell you a secret. The first part isn’t so much a secret – I like to run. I have been running consistently for several years now, and I really enjoy it. It gives me a chance to get out and be on my own for a little while, and when I am running outside (my very favorite place to run) I get to see the beautiful reflections of God’s love for us, evident in this wonderful world He created for us.

The secret part is that when you see me with my headphones on while I’m running, don’t assume I’m listening to some 80’s rock (my favorite running music). More often than not (unless I’m running a race) I’m probably listening to General Conference talks.

What’s interesting is that I just listened to Elder M. Russell Ballard’s talk during my recent run – and I don’t remember any of it, except the story of the gold prospector, and the part about how we need to serve others in our community to help spread the gospel throughout the world.

So I was excited to read it. And then I read it. And nothing stood out to me. Which is weird, because usually when I read the talks from General Conference I love them. Not this one. Of course, I knew it was all true, and I kind of got excited when Elder Ballard started talking about how charity begins at home. But he only spent a few sentences talking about that, and moved on. It felt like he briefly touched on many different small “nuggets” of truth, and didn’t really expound on any of them. At first, I was disappointed, because I love delving into the doctrine of the gospel, especially when my study is led by a prophet and apostle. But then as I read Elder Ballard’s testimony at the end of his talk, I realized how appropriate it was for him to touch on all these nuggets, especially in light of how he told the story of how the young man panning for gold was looking for nuggets, and was missing all the flecks of gold.

I am like that a lot. I look for the nuggets and miss the flecks. I want to know the “big things” that will make me a good person. Especially in mothering. I feel guilty because I don’t do huge activities with my kids every stinking day. Half the time I don’t even really play with them one-on-one. I feel like I’m failing them. But then when I add up all the small “flecks” of fun things I do with my children, even just acknowledging them and the things they say, and including them in my activities as I clean the house and do chores, I know those things are adding up for my kids and their lives are being filled with all the flecks of gold that I can give them.

Elder Ballard spoke directly to my perceived dilemma right from the start of his talk, “Against this beautiful backdrop of spring and its symbolism of hope, there is a world of uncertainty, complexity, and confusion. The demands of everyday life—education, jobs, raising children, Church administration and callings, worldly activities, and even the pain and sorrow of unexpected illness and tragedy—can wear us down.” (emphasis added) I have felt the “uncertainty, complexity, and confusion” of this world all too well in the past few months. Just when I think I have things figured out, something goes “wrong” and I feel my life spiraling out of control. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Elder Ballard said, “Brothers and sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, no matter how much we try to make it complicated. We should strive to keep our lives similarly simple, unencumbered by extraneous influences, focused on those things that matter most.” (emphasis added) You’d think that after President Uchtdorf’s talk last fall, we would have ‘things that matter most’ down to an art. For some reason, I keep forgetting, and I need to be reminded at every General Conference.

Like I said, Elder Ballard’s talk was a collection of gold flakes, and taken together, you can see the importance of the principle he spoke about – love and charity for one another. My favorite flake was a quote from the Book of Mormon about how to receive this gift of love and charity. “…pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love…” I don’t know any other way to receive spiritual gifts. We can’t just read a self-help book and suddenly have spiritual gifts. Really, we can’t do anything of our own power. Everything we have, and everything we are, is through the Savior, Jesus Christ. Why should being able to express love and charity be any different? We have to pray for spiritual gifts. Patience and love for my children and my husband are probably the number one topics of my prayers to Heavenly Father. Mostly because I struggle with the patience part, but also because I know where patience comes from. I don’t just work hard at it and have it. Sure, I should work at it, but unless I am blessed with that gift from Heavenly Father, all my hard work won’t be enough.

How do you receive spiritual gifts? Do you pray for the gift of charity in your daily prayers? What flakes of spiritual gold did you find in Elder Ballard’s talk?

Find more great comments on Elder Ballard’s talk over at the General Conference Book Club on Diapers and Divinity:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Establishing Eternal Families

(read the handbook here)

It has long been established that families are central to God’s plan. Even in the beginning, with Adam and Eve, they were commanded to have a family. Establishing a family should be the first priority of every faithful Latter day Saint man and woman.

The first element of that priority should be obtaining a temple marriage. You can read many recent talks by the General Authorities to understand just how important that is. The adversary is definitely working hard on this front.

I read an article recently that was published in 2005 which stated that the divorce rate was declining, but so was the marriage rate. Instead of getting married and then divorced, people are simply moving in together. Of course, people who just live together without getting married are also more likely to break up – so the “sociological” divorce rate is probably higher – since a live-in relationship that breaks up is probably almost as bad for all parties involved – including the children.

The article also stated an interesting trend that Europe has more live-in couples than the USA, but that couples with children in Europe usually live together, even if they aren’t married. So in the USA, we have single moms (or dads) who end up living with multiple “partners,” bringing their children into the mix, and then leaving when things don’t work out. And then in Europe, you have non-married biological parents of a child living together, but they stay together. It’s hard to tell which of the two are worse – children having to endure several messed up relationships, or children living with their parents who are unwed. I would say that of the two, the latter is less damaging for children. But both are perversions of the Lord’s way, which is exactly what Satan wants.

“Complete sexual abstinence before marriage and total fidelity within marriage protect the sanctity of this sacred responsibility. Parents and priesthood and auxiliary leaders should do all they can to reinforce this teaching.” This is a teaching which has gone the way of the world (literally). The whole meaning of sex and relationships has been completely corrupted by Satan. His influence can be seen all over society, and nowhere more prevalent than in the realm of sexual relations. We need to protect that. I don’t mean we need to never talk to our kids about sex. The complete opposite is true – from the time they are infants we need to teach them about the purpose of their bodies, the sanctity of their bodies, the emotions that we can feel, and the proper expression of the physical feelings they will have at some point.

After obtaining a temple marriage (which should be the first priority of every faithful Latter Day Saint man and woman), the next priority should be bearing and raising children. If bearing children isn’t an option (for whatever reason) then raising children can still be done. “By divine design, both a man and a woman are essential for bringing children into mortality and providing the best setting for the rearing and nurturing of children.” (emphasis added) Bearing children isn’t the end of it, and it’s not even really the beginning of it. The Lord’s Church is one of adoption so it makes sense that adoption is a very important part of the Lord’s plan. Especially when it comes to those who don’t have “the best setting” for rearing and nurturing. The Family: A Proclamation to the World says that “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” To me this would also mean that children who don’t get that birth should be entitled to it by adoption. Of course, both how many children and when to have them (whether through bearing children or adopting them) is completely a personal matter between a couple and the Lord.

What principle of establishing eternal families is the most significant to you? Have you found different principles more applicable to your life over the years? How are you defending marriage and the family?

Monday, June 20, 2011

“More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us”

(find the talk here)

If you read our family blog, you’ll know that the past several weeks have been pretty trying for me. Which is probably why I haven’t been writing much over here (or on any of my blogs, for that matter). Writing is good for me, and somewhat therapeutic, and so when I don’t write, things have to be going really badly. But I’m back to writing again, which means things are getting better. I hesitate to say everything is good again, because I’m still not sure that is the case. It’s a lot of ups and downs right now, and I’m hoping that I can sort all this out soon, because I don’t really like ups and downs.

So this talk is actually perfect for me to read and study in my current situation.

Elder Paul V. Johnson’s talk about adversity, trials, and growth have helped clarify some things in my mind and I hope I can apply them to the trials and adversity I face daily. None of us is exempt from trials and suffering, and most of us encounter trials every day of our lives.

Recently I read an article about marriage that mentioned something that has kind of stuck with me. The author said, “The act of enduring difficult circumstances without feeling like a martyr, or without seeking reward or sympathy, can be a soul-expanding experience. It can bring new levels of character development attainable only when patience, tolerance, and a nonjudgmental attitude are practiced consistently over time.” The thing that struck me the most was when he suggested that we endure “difficult circumstances without feeling like a martyr.” Too often, when faced with trials and adversity, I find myself feeling like a martyr. Elder Johnson also addressed this, when he pointed out that “Some obedient Saints may ask, ‘Why me? I’m trying to be good! Why is the Lord allowing this to happen?’” I often feel this way – “I am trying to be a good person, I am doing my best! I am enduring trials because of the wickedness of others, and it’s not fair!” When instead I should be practicing patience, tolerance, and a nonjudgmental attitude. Elder Robbins reminded us that “If we handle these afflictions properly, they will be consecrated for our gain.” He then quoted Elder Orson F. Whitney who said, “All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable.” Notice that in both cases growth, character development, purification and soul-expanding only happen when we “handle [adversity] properly” and “patiently.” We cannot grow in our adversity and trials when we are acting like a martyr, taking one for the team, as it were. Elder Robbins also reminded us that “Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses.” Heavenly Father didn’t put us on the earth to become martyrs. He put us on the earth to grown and learn and become even as He is.

I love that Elder Robbins pointed out, “Even very rich ore needs refining to remove impurities.” The best among us have trials. Just to make sure we didn’t miss that point, Elder Robbins told a story about Elder Robert D. Hales, an apostle of the Lord, who endured difficult circumstances. “We don’t seek out tests, trials, and tribulations. Our personal journey through life will provide just the right amount for our needs. Many trials are just a natural part of our mortal existence…” Because this world is mortal and fallen, we are guaranteed to have trials and tests. But this is the reason we are here! We are experiencing this life so that we can practice patience, tolerance, and a nonjudgmental attitude in the face of adversity, so that we can become more like the Savior. It is a refiner’s fire we are in, not a trash incinerator. The Lord doesn’t intend for us to be burned to ash. He intends for the impurities to be burned away, leaving only the most precious metals behind. But if we don’t have the right attitude through our trials, we will feel like we are in a trash incinerator, instead of in a refiner’s fire.

My favorite part of the talk was this statement by Elder Robbins, “Sometimes we want to have growth without challenges and to develop strength without any struggle. But growth cannot come by taking the easy way… We must be careful that we don’t resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature.” Sometimes in the midst of my trials, I forget why we have trials. I want to be strong and mature and have a testimony – but I want it without the pain, suffering, and trials. Elder Robbins had a few words for me about that - “[The Savior’s] suffering was a prerequisite to the empty tomb that Easter morning and to our future immortality and eternal life.” In Doctrine & Covenants 122, even Heavenly Father reminded us of the fact that even the Savior had to endure trials on this earth, “The Son of Man hath descended below [all things]. Art thou greater than he?””

“Someday when we get to the other side of the veil, we want more than for someone just to tell us, ‘Well, you’re done.’ Instead, we want the Lord to say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

I want to endure my trials with patience and a good attitude – I want to be more than conqueror. I want to be refined and molded so that when I return to the Father I will hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Find more great comments on Elder Johnsons’s talk over at the General Conference Book Club on Diapers and Divinity:
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