What nearly every Disney movie is about

sad-468923_1920
I have a secret. I’ll let you know what nearly every Disney movie is about. Lean in, and I’ll whisper it to you….
shame.
You don’t believe me?
What is shame? There is a difference between GUILT and SHAME.
Guilt is, “I behaved badly. But, I can change.”
Shame is, “I am bad. I am less than. I am NOT ENOUGH.”
Shame robs us of the feeling that we can change — it makes us want to separate from people–even those closest to us– and to hide. In the words of Brene Brown, a researcher on shame, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection…. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
How are Disney movies about Shame?
LionKing
The Lion King: Simba is unrightly shamed into thinking that it was his fault that his father Mufasa died — he is made to feel that he is unworthy of love and belonging — so he runs away into the wilderness.
Ana_Frozen
Frozen: Elsa has “winter powers”, ashamed and scared of these powers her parents and she hides herself away — even from her closest relationships. She hides to the point that her sister Ana sings a heart wrenching song knocking on her door asking her to come out and play, “Do you want to build a snowman?”
Cinderella
Cinderella: Judged as “less than” by her step mother and sisters and subsequently mistreated, this story is all about Cinderella’s step family shaming and blaming her and seeking to separate and isolate her from the outside world.
As you learn to identify shame you will begin to realize that it is EVERYWHERE. One blogger wrote, “Shame is like glitter. It gets on everything and won’t go away.” You will recognize it when it is present and you will recognize where it is absent. You may even recognize it in the very oldest of stories:
Adam and Eve are in the garden of Eden. The Bible says that they were naked and they were not ashamed. But then Satan appears tempting Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. She does so. Then Adam partakes. Hearing God’s voice, Satan points out their nakedness and says, “Quick, hide!” And shame was born — along with it’s attendant consequences — separation from God and from those we love. God appears and asks Adam, “Who told thee thou wast naked?” And Adam, feeling shame, is quick to blame, “The woman whom thou gavest me… she gave me of the fruit, and I did eat.” Shamed people, shame people.
Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_009
Sticking to the biblical narrative, Christ tells a parable of a prodigal son, who wastes his inheritance in riotous living. Upon hitting “rock bottom” and eating out of the feed for the pigs, he determines to return home, for he reasons, that even his father’s servants live better than he is living now. When the son does come back his first words to his father are, “I am no longer worthy to be called thy son.” And yet, the father rejoices and calls for the fatted calf and a feast. The moral: there is no need for such shame.
When a woman is brought to Christ who has been taken in adultery, and they say, “Moses in the law said such should be stoned, but what sayest thou?” Christ tells the pharisees and accusers, “Let him who is without sin cast a stone at her.” And he waits. The accusers leave and Christ, himself being sinless, says to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.” This is the antidote to shame: Love, Compassion, Connection. Shining a light on shame causes it to wither away. Shame grows in secrecy, judgement, and blame.
It cannot grow in the presence of courage, compassion, and connection.
In beautiful irony, it is in the ultimately vulnerable and shame inducing act of carrying His cross to crucifixion and then death by that means, that Christians believe that Jesus Christ was able to reconcile God and man and make atonement for sin and overcome the separating sting of death and shame. The ultimate act of love.
When I hear stories about shame, I am drawn to two things — 1) the magnitude of the pain that shame causes, and 2) the great feeling of loss that failing to address the shame head-on earlier, has lead to.
Brene Brown found that there was only one trait that separated those who struggled with shame and those who were resilient to it, those she called the wholehearted –that these wholehearted people, “believed that they were worthy of love and belonging.” This truth, this key to overcoming shame — that inner critic of dangerous, diabolic, negative self-talk–reminds me of one of the greatest truths that my parents taught me in the form of a lullaby they sang to me, which I now sing to my kids.
“I am a Child of God.
And He has sent me here.
Has given me an earthly home,
with parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do, to live with Him some day.”
What is the answer to the villain of shame in every Disney movie? — Love. You are of worthy of love. You belong. You are enough–it’s no secret.
Advertisements

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I recently joined Toastmaster’s International, a public speaking and leadership development club in my community. I had the opportunity this last week to give my first speech for the club — my icebreaker speech. In it I was to introduce myself to the club — in less than 6 minutes.  What do you think?

2011-12-14-missionimpossible

In Mission Impossible, Ethan Hunt steps into a phone booth and receives a call, he LISTENS, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to . . . ” and the mission is given.

My mission call, as it read on the 4th of October 2000, as a 19-year-old, read slightly
different:

“Dear Elder Baker: You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor . . . .”

Can I tell you the story about when I received my mission call? In LDS or Mormon Culture, opening a mission call is almost ritualistic or a right-of-passage. People make guesses on where you will be called to serve. Often the opening of the call is done at a large family gathering. It’s kind of a big deal.

2000px-Brigham_Young_University_medallion

I was attending BYU in Provo, Utah on Oct. 4th 2000. My mission call had come to my apartment in Provo, but the plan was to open it with my family after we’d all attended the BYU football game that night. After the game, I ran back to my apartment at the dorms to grab the unopened letter. The plan was to meet on the corner across from the dorms and from there go to my cousin’s house to open the letter and read aloud to my parents and brothers and sisters where I would be serving for the next 2 years. I waited for a while on the corner of this busy street as post-BYU game traffic backed up and moved slowly. I was pumped and excited to open that letter. I remembered that my parents had just got a new gold minivan. I patted myself on the back for remembering that as I tried to spot their car. Then I saw it. They were heading south down 900 East. Traffic was slow and they were right in front of me just on the other side of the center line. I ran toward the center lane, grabbed the sliding door of the van, slid it open, jumped in before traffic started to move, and. . . . I didn’t recognize a person in the car.

I’d had a big ol’ smile on my face.. . . The father yelled, “GET OUT!” The mom was shocked, and my expression morphed in to this:

shocked_emoji_face
I think I apologized and from there I don’t remember closing the door or walking back
across the street. I was traumatized. It was the worst.

When I did open that mission call later that night, this is what it read:

“You are assigned to labor in the Washington D.C. North Mission. It is
anticipated that you will serve for a period of 24 months….You will prepare
to preach the gospel in the Spanish language.”

That was almost 20 years ago now, and I’ll share some of the major lessons that I
learned as a missionary later. But first, a little bit more about me.

I am the husband of a super hot babefemale-outline-clipart-9 . . . and because of that we’ve now got 5 kids. 🙂

And for those of you with no kids or who have less than 5, I like how Jim Gaffigan
says it, “You want to know what it’s like to have 5 kids? Imagine that you’re drowning
and someone hands you a baby.”

I enjoy “interesting hobbies” – keeping chickens and bees. As a graduate student I trained monkeys to make individual finger movements cued by a computer screen and recorded muscle and brain signals and wrote algorithms to decode those movements –all for a Luke Skywalker-esque prosthetic arm research project. I now work in medical devices doing a mix of product and business development for a start-up company near the Cleveland Clinic.

So what can I give you as a take home message for this speech – what can I share from what I learned as a missionary in two years –and do so in less than 6 minutes? Well, here’s an ultra-abbreviated Readers Digest Version:

#1) I learned that the people we serve we come to love. Missionaries work to serve and share a gospel message about Jesus Christ from 6:30 a.m. to 10 pm every day for 2 years. I came to love the Spanish speaking people of Washington D.C.–Rafael Cubria, an educated Mexican doctor who came to work because the fishing village where he was from was too poor for him to make a living, Luis Paredes from Venezuela who came to work and send money back home–who missed his wife and kids so much he would often just start to cry as he talked about them. Rolando and Maribel Castro, a young Bolivian couple whom we helped to marry on Valentines Day. After serving these people for 2 years, Washington D.C., became sacred ground for me. When we lose ourselves in service, its easier to find who we truly are, as D. Todd Cristofferson said, “the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. . . . indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!

#2) We can have access to all the information in the world, but unless we are TEACHABLE it values us nothing. As Derek Sivers put it, “If more info were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.

#3) Things that don’t change remain the same. That seems overly simple, but in application our actions often belie the truth–that we don’t understand this principle. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

lds-missionaries-teaching-young-man-262826-gallery

#4) I knew this before I served my mission, but after my mission I KNEW, KNEW THIS: that the message I shared–and every one of the 70,000 missionaries serving worldwide shares–is true.

So, this is your mission, should you choose to accept it, the next time a Mormon missionary knocks on your door or approaches offering to share a message with you, choose to LISTEN.

Healing in His Wings

With this talk I made a conscious effort to focus on stories. I did the majority of my preparation by searching for stories dealing with healing from my own family history. I was previously unaware of all of these. Isn’t it wonderful how once we know the stories of our ancestors, they become heirlooms that remain in our minds forever?

FrancesFriendIntroduction: Frances Friend Baker

In 1849, my great-great-great-grandfather William Baker and 3-greats-grandmother Frances Friend emigrated from England to Australia. There they started a farm growing tobacco–which evidently William taught his family was “only to be for poultices on horses’ injured legs, etc. and wasn’t for the use of man.” Anyway, they also raised horses, cattle, and sheep and made clothes from the wool. Six years after having settled in Australia, “missionaries from America came teaching the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. William and Frances were impressed with their message. The Holy Spirit had testified of the truth of the missionaries’ teachings and they knew without a doubt that they could not deny it. They were baptized 31 May 1855.” Their history notes, “For some time Francis had been suffering from an issue of blood similar to the woman in the New Testament.”

Think of that woman in the New Testament who was suffering from an issue of blood–Mark indicates she was bleeding for 12 years! (Mark 5:25-34) I don’t know how long my great-great-great-grandmother suffered from her issue, it just says for “some time.” The woman in the new testament had spent all her money on seeing doctors and hadn’t gotten any better, and had actually gotten worse. She was likely anemic–feeling constantly tired and weak, and because she was constantly bleeding she would have been considered unclean according to the law of Moses–which would have socially isolated her. Anyone she touched would be considered unclean and would need to wash and purify him/herself in order to be clean again. Now, my 3-great’s-grandmother certainly didn’t have access to Midol or Ibuprofen or any of the other conveniences that women today have to alleviate what was essentially a never ending period. Brethren (men), we certainly don’t understand the ramifications of this to the extent that the Sisters (women) do.

As soon as this woman in the New Testament hears that Christ is nearby, she decides to go out and try to touch Him, reasoning that if she can just touch His clothes, she will be made whole. Similarly, my 3-great’s-grandmother, Frances, either before or soon after her baptism asked for a priesthood blessing from the missionaries–if they would “lay hands on her head.”

Now the New Testament woman, “When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment…. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.”

Similarly, following this priesthood blessing Frances, my ancestor, was healed from her affliction. Ever after that was a testimony to her of the power of the Priesthood of God which the missionaries held.

bible-video-jesus-miracles-woman-1400924-printWoman with the Issue of Blood

Returning to the woman in the New Testament, upon touching Jesus’ clothes, “And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.

I imagine this woman was nervous or scared, she being unclean, had just touched a man of God. For all she knew, Jesus could react angrily, or the people or His disciples could become angry that He was now “unclean” by the law of Moses because He had been touched by an unclean woman.

But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” (Mark 5:25-34)

Healing: Physical and Spiritual

Christ’s ministry was all about healing–both temporal and spiritual healing. Because of the Fall of Adam, the natural man had become an enemy to God–fallen man, and Christ had come to provide the necessary healing to allow men and women to yield themselves to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and put off the natural man/woman and become saints through the atonement of Christ, enabling them to become as children: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon them (Mosiah 3:19).

There is a tie between the physical and the spiritual–they are connected. In Alma chapter 15, we read of Zeezrom. Earlier Zeezrom had tried to bribe and trick Amulek and Alma in order to discredit them in front of the people. As he contended with them, he became more aware of his guilt and error. In verse three it reads,

“And also Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat.” (Alma 15:3)

Alma’s remembrance of his sins was so painful that he said, “Oh …that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, …and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.” (Alma 36:15)

On the opposite spectrum Lamoni, and his wife, show that a fullness of spiritual joy is connected to and can overpower the physical body. Lamoni awakes after his first spiritual coma per se and says, “For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the spirit.

As one Jesuit priest said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1881-1955)

Christ healed both physical and spiritual illness. Indeed some of the names that Christ has been called include Physician and the Master Healer.

egkk6k5xHe healed physical blindness, and he also opened his disciples’ spiritual eyes to see.
When a paralytic is lowered through the roof of the home where Jesus is teaching, He says, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” And then to show that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.” (Matt. 9:2,4)

Christ brought miraculous healing of physical illness and ailments. And He also brought the Balm of Gilead–Repentance! The ability for us to be healed of spiritual ailments, if we will only follow the first principles and ordinances of His Gospel– namely, have faith in Him, Repent, Be Baptized (or partake of the sacrament), Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost (the purifying power of the Spirit), and continue doing that until the end of our lives. This is the process of conversion–and it leads to healing.

Conversion–>Healing

President Nelson taught:

“As I quote [Christ’s]words spoken at four different times and locations, note the pattern:
•To people of the Holy Land, the Lord said that His people “should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
•To people of ancient America, the resurrected Lord extended this invitation: “Return unto me, … repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you.”
•To leaders of His Church, He taught,“Continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them.”
•Later, during the “restitution of all things,” the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding the pioneers, “After their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.”

The sequence of His pattern is significant. Faith, repentance, baptism, a testimony, and enduring conversion lead to the healing power of the Lord.”

IMG_2965Temple: The Lord’s House–A Place of Healing

Every temple bears the plaque “Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord.” And He has had these temples built in this last dispensation to provide a place wherein we can be healed and cleansed from the problems, blood, and sins of this generation. By attending the temple and participating in the ordinances there,both for ourselves and for our ancestors, we can find healing for ourselves and we can literally heal the family of God by reconnecting its members through the sealing power.

This reminds me of a story from one of my ancestors Jeannette “Nettie” McAllister, the daughter of Karl G. Maeser, considered the founder of Brigham Young Academy– which became Brigham Young University. Her father-in-law, Duncan McAllister, was working on the Salt Lake Temple. Nettie had recently stepped on a nail during the remodeling of her home and had contracted lockjaw and a subsequent infection. The doctors were recommending that her foot be amputated. Duncan had heard of Nettie’s ailment. This day though, as he worked, he heard the Spirit speak, “Go to Nettie”. Three times it told him, “Go to Nettie.” So he left and upon entering her home, he found her convulsing on the floor. He immediately laid his hands on her head and in a voice of authority and belief, in the name of Jesus Christ commanded her to be whole. And soon thereafter she was.

Faith Not to Be Healed

Our God is a God of miracles. However, whenever I hear stories such as these, I know that there are just as many where such miraculous healing did not occur.

I came across this story in my family history:

The son of Frances Baker, who I mentioned earlier, grew up in Minersville, Utah. He, Henry Friend Baker and his wife, Amy Walker Baker, ultimately had 12 children. In 1918 they had a farm in Minersville, UT. You see, starting in 1918 a global pandemic of flu broke out. They called it the Spanish flu and it was the deadliest in history. It infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide–about one third of the planet’s population and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.

1918-spanish-fluIn one year of the Spanish flu, more people died than in four years of the Black Death Bubonic plague from 1347-1351. During this time (1918-1920) they sold their farm in Minersville and bought a beautiful 10 acres of land in Nampa, Idaho. It had orchards, a creek, grapes, good soil, pheasants, and they mentioned that the climate was milder there. Noel Elbert (7) and Vance (5) were anxious young boys eager to move to the new farm. They kept urging their mother to hurry with the packing. As the family rode the train up to Nampa they were exposed to this Spanish flu. Amy Walker Baker said, “So many were coughing there.” She wrote in her history, “Elbert and Vance were the first to take the flu, then Blanche. …The whole family except Henry was down with the flu, and as it was a rather new disease or in a more severe form, the doctors didn’t know how to cope with it.” Elbert and Vance “grew worse as days passed by. We called in the elders and doctors.” They rubbed wintergreen liniment, a warming cooling ointment on Elbert twice a day (the wintergreen smell of which a surviving sibling disliked ever since), “and did [their] best to save them but to no avail.” Amy said, “The night before Elbert’s death, he wouldn’t let me leave his bedside, so I lay beside him. He put his arms around my neck and said, ‘Oh! Mama, I do love you.’ …Eight days later the call came for Vance. Seems they weren’t to be separated. They were always congenial and so near to each other, and always together. A day or two before his death during the noon meal, we heard him talking. Lois stepped in the room to see what he wanted. He said, ‘I’m not talking to you; I’m talking to Elbert.’ Later he said to me, ‘Elbert’s come to get me, I’ve got to go with Elbert.’ At his leaving Henry and I were there alone, standing side by side. Not a sound or sob was heard.

We wonder, Why? Why did this have to happen–a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old? They called doctors and had the elders give blessings. These were people of faith.

Elder Bednar taught,

Strong faith in the Savior is submissively accepting of His will and timing in our lives–even if the outcome is not what we hoped for or wanted. …Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains– if moving mountains accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, and lame–if such healing accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even if we have strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.”(Bednar Aug. 2016 “Accepting of the Lord’s Will & Timing”)

providence-doucet-81314-unsplash

Our souls are like violin strings–they make music when they are stretched.

President Nelson taught,

I recognize that, on occasion, some of our most fervent prayers may seem to go unanswered. We wonder, “Why?” I know that feeling! I know the fears and tears of such moments. But I also know that our prayers are never ignored. Our faith is never unappreciated. I know that an all-wise Heavenly Father’s perspective is much broader than is ours. While we know of our mortal problems and pain, He knows of our immortal progress and potential. If we pray to know His will and submit ourselves to it with patience and courage, heavenly healing can take place in His own way and time.

Enabling & Succoring Power of the Atonement of Christ

And some times even when that healing doesn’t happen the way we want, we are given tender mercies to bear the burden of dealing with the absence of that healing.

As Vance passed away, Amy Walker Baker said, “Not a sound or sob was heard but the spirit was glorious and peaceful. When his spirit left his body, I looked toward the ceiling and said, ‘Oh, if I could only see the little darlings meet each other.’ Then I became unconscious to earthly surroundings. While in this condition I saw beyond this world a group of people assembled together waiting to welcome these two precious souls back home again. This experience… brings a firm testimony and evidence of life after death, and a consolation which cannot be found elsewhere. These are stepping stones to a higher, better life.

pictures-of-jesus-mary-martha-1104492-tablet.jpg

Empathy

In Mosiah 18, we learn that a part of our baptismal covenant is to be willing to“bear one another’s burdens… and to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9) Fiona Givens, wife of Teryl Givens and co-author with him of many of his books, has commented that this is a formula for empathy–that in order to comfort those who stand in need of comfort we must first bear their burdens and mourn with them. We must sit with them, visit with them, minister to them, just be with them–in order to be able to comfort them. We must show empathy.

In that case, the condescension of Christ is the greatest act of empathy the universe has ever known. For God to come down and subject himself to the pains, frailties, temptations, and sufferings of mortality, and not only to become mortal but to “descend below them all” to “bear our griefs and carry our sorrows” to be “wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-5) to “take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people”. All this that “his bowels maybe filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people.” (Alma 7:11-12)

Because Christ did this and has born our burdens and mourned with us through a mortal experience and has felt in His bowels and in His flesh the physical and spiritual pain of sickness and sin and shame and guilt and heart-wrenching loss–He knows not only theoretically, in principle, He knows–in the aching of the cells in His body, in shortness of breath, literally in the drops of blood from every pore–how to succor His people according to their infirmities. This much I know! He is able to forgive our sins, to heal our self-inflicted wounds –but not only this, He is able to succor us, to give us more of what we need–according to our infirmities so we can endure and keep on keeping on.

One of the most encouraging stories in all of scripture is in Mosiah 24 when a lost army of the Lamanites ends up finding Alma’s people in the Land of Helam. They are taken captive and an old “friend” of Alma’s from when he was a priest of King Noah’s is set to rule over them. He treats Alma’s people like slaves, giving them burdens and setting task masters over them–and he forbids them to pray, threatening to put to death anyone caught praying to God. So Alma’s people cry out to God in their hearts, and He hears their cries saying,

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and 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. … And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience”

…that they were then miraculously delivered out of bondage.

My Story of Healing

My senior year of high school I fell into a spiral of deep depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behavior. I would put on a mask that all was fine at school, but inside I was a wreck and I’d come home, retreat into my room, and just cry. I would wake up in the morning and literally feel a cloud of gloom and anxiety just descend over my mind. This continued for months, with my angel mother being my heaven-sent source of support. I know my parents said many prayers on my behalf. I was hesitant to take any medication to help with my emotional and mental condition. I was afraid that if I did so, it would affect where I would be called to serve on my mission. If I put on my mission papers that I had taken medication for depression, would they send me? Or would it limit where I would have been called if I hadn’t taken the medication?So I foolishly held out continuing to plead for respite from my emotional and mental anguish. It wasn’t until one night as I read the letter of Moroni to Pahoran as Moroni chastised Pahoran for not making use of what was available to him that things began to change:

“Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” (Alma 60:21.)

And the Spirit spoke to me and in that moment I knew that I was just sitting upon my butt and wasn’t making use of the medication and means that the Lord had provided for me. And that was the beginning of the Lord helping to deliver me from bondage and was Him visiting me in my affliction.

I know that Christ will deliver and heal us–-in His time and according to His way-–as we are converted and come to Him on the Gospel path-–faith, repentance, baptism (sacrament), and making and keeping temple covenants.

Malachi tells us that “unto those who fear [God’s name] shall the Son of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings.” The Hebrew word that Malachi uses is kanaph meaning “wing or extremity skirt, corner of a garment.” So this scripture could be interpreted, “unto those who fear my name shall the Son of Righteousness arise with healing in the fringes of his robe.”As my 3-great’s-grandmother Frances knows, and as the woman in the New Testament who touched that fringe of His robe knows,–there is healing there in His wings, in the very fringes of His robe. Do you know that? Have you experienced that? Do you need to experience that again?

christ-land-bountiful-174607-tablet

In His own words, “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy. For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.

That we may respond as they did then, by drawing near unto Him, is my prayer,

And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them … every one.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Having a Faith Mindset with the Stories we Tell Ourselves

robyn-budlender-112521On January 2, 2007, Wesley James Autrey, a construction worker from New York City was at the subway station at 35th and Broadway. He was there with his two girls, 4 and 6 years old. As they waited for the train, a young man nearby had a seizure which caused him to fall off the platform and onto the subway tracks. The man lay unconscious on the tracks with the train approaching 200 ft. away. Wesley said, he heard or felt a force out of nowhere say, “Don’t worry about your own. Don’t worry about your daughters. YOU CAN DO THIS!” And so he jumped down to try to help the man. Quickly he tried to grab his arm and pull him toward the platform, only for him to slip out of his reach. He tried a second time. Same thing.

Now, it’s one thing to jump onto Subway tracks as a train is approaching and attempt to save a man, but as Mr. Autrey realized that he wouldn’t be able to get the man on the platform, he did something at a whole other level of heroism. He pushed the young man, still seizing, down into the gaps between the tracks, grabbed the man’s arms, and lay on top of him as the train passed over them, with the screams of his girls ringing in his ears. The train grazed the back of Mr. Autrey’s leg and stopped with the second car above them. The young man came to with Mr. Autrey on top of him unaware of where he was. Mr. Autrey explained what happened, and he asked, “Are we in Heaven?” No, we’re very much alive, and Mr. Autrey yelled to the people on the platform that they were both, “OK.” (Carnegie Hero Fund – Wesley Autrey)

What an incredible act! I am not sure I would have had the faith to jump down there and leave my daughters alone on the platform. And I’m pretty sure I would have lacked the faith to remain down there on top of that young man as a Subway train ran over top of me? When Autrey and others like him that have exhibited selfless acts of heroism, have been asked, “How?” or “Why did you do it?” They are quick to mention that there wasn’t a lot of thought that when into it, they just had to act, and acted automatically. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, such heroes follow the example of the Good Samaritan and reframe the question, from:

“If I stop to help this person, what will happen to me?” to “If I don’t stop to help
this person, what will happen to him/her?”

This is what I wish to speak about today, reframing the events and circumstances in our lives. To which side do we lean–the side of faith and action–or the side of fear and inaction? Fear has a tendency to keep us from action, to paralyze us towards not making positive or necessary changes.

I believe that one of the blessings and challenges of this mortal life is to be able to experience the gamut of human emotion. We will all experience fear, anger, sadness, joy, love, excitement, despair, anxiety, awe, and I believe that we should allow ourselves to feel these emotions. When we’re sad, acknowledge that sadness and let it pass through us, we don’t need to hang on tight to it and ask it to stay the weekend, but we also need not berate ourselves for feeling blue now and then. The same goes with fear. It’s kind of like in 2 Ne. 4, Nephi laments about his weaknesses, “Oh, wretched man that I am,” and he goes on a bit from there, but then he comes back to, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. . . .” He feels the feels, but doesn’t wallow in the pit. The story of Nephi and his brothers going back to get the plates of brass illustrates the difference between how we interpret the circumstances or events in our lives and how leaning toward a faith vs. a fear mindset changes us.

Nephi vs. Laman’s Stories
Nephi, Laman, Lemuel, and Sam have gone back to Jerusalem to try to get the Plates of Laban. They cast lots, and the lot falls to Laman. Laman tries to go in and nicely ask for the plates, and he ends up having to run out for fear of his life. The scriptural account says, “And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.” They think they’ve failed. I mean, they went in and asked for the plates, Laban called Laman a robber and Laman was able to escape with his life. But what does Nephi do? He tells a different story, and he does it pretty forcefully. In fact, he uses an unbreakable oath, “as the Lord liveth and as I live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us.” He continues and basically says and I paraphrase,

“it’s a really wise and important thing to have these Plates of Laban with us in the wilderness, we can’t give up. Hey, remember all the money, dishes, and nice things we had to leave behind at our house when we left? Dad wasn’t very popular at the time, so we didn’t have a moving sale. So, why don’t we go back and get all of our valuables and see if Laban will trade us the plates for all those riches?”

Pretty reasonable, right? And this story or explanation that Nephi told was accepted by his brothers. And then, although the scriptures don’t say it, but I’m guessing they were no longer exceedingly sorrowful and set about trying option 2.

We are all familiar with the story, they go before Laban and show him all that they are willing to give him. And from the scriptural account it makes it seem like Laban would be a fool to not take this offer. There’s no way those plates are worth as much as what is being offered to him. But, Laban is greedy, he thinks he can have his cake and eat it too, and so he sends his servants to kill Nephi and his brothers and take their riches, and he’ll keep the plates as well. The scriptures don’t explicitly say it but it’s hinted that in the flee for their lives, Laban gets their loot. This makes Laman and Lemuel extra mad. They were already emotionally raw toward their father for making them leave all their great stuff, and perhaps they thought they could always go back and might be able to get it, but now, even though it was “already likely lost” to them, they’re worked up again over having “lost their riches for real” this time. And the interesting part is that Laman–this was Laman’s story–Laman interpreted the events and told himself a story that fueled anger towards his father and Nephi, and he shared this story with Lemuel. And Lemuel “hearkened unto the words of Laman.” And so Laman and Lemuel start beating Nephi and Sam with a stick–blaming their losses on them.

Then an angel appears and basically says, “Umm, what are you doing, Laman, Lemuel? You’re telling and listening to the wrong stories. However, Nephi is telling the right stories so God is going to work through him unless you shape up. Now go back and God will put the guy who just tried to kill you and stole all your stuff into your power.” I find this interesting because the brothers were to go back and get the plates, that was their purpose. But that’s not what the Angel promised Laman and Lemuel, he promised that God would deliver Laban into their hands. God was aware that Laman and Lemuel were mad. They just had everything they owned stolen, perhaps they felt stupid or ashamed for having tried option 2. Perhaps they wanted revenge on Laban. In some way, I feel like the angel was conveying one of today’s popular t-shirt messages by saying to the older brothers, “Keep Calm and Listen to Nephi” and yeah, you’ll be able to give Laban “what he deserves.” So how do Laman and Lemuel react to seeing this angel, here it is:

“How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?”

What? Did I miss something? How does Nephi react?

“And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?”

Do you see the disconnect between how Laman and Lemuel and Nephi interpret the same circumstances that happen to them in entirely different ways? Do you see the difference in the types of stories that Laman and Lemuel tell themselves and the ones that Nephi, Lehi, and Sam tell themselves?

Jeffrey H. Larson, in a Speech at BYU taught:
Your feelings are created by your thoughts and not the actual events. All experiences must be processed through your brain and given a conscious meaning before you experience any emotional response.

We don’t usually just feel an emotion spontaneously; rather, we create our feelings from our thought processes. “Depending on our thoughts, we experience certain feelings.” –Jeffrey H. Larson

In high school and since, I have had a motto that I have attempted to live by: “Life is 10% what happens to me 90% how I react to it.” This thought and others have instilled into my mind the importance of mindset in my life. Mindset, or how we think about things and interpret them – or in essence the stories that we tell ourselves about our circumstances, is crucial to both our success in this life and our salvation in the next. Perhaps this is why faith, a scriptural component of mindset, is the first principle of the gospel. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Having a sound mind reminds me of having the right mindset, interpreting what happens to us through the right lens. Realize that we can choose how we interpret the events in our lives, we can choose the stories that we tell ourselves, we can choose how we react. As Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of the horrific Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, said,

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

If we choose to react with faith and hope, with a calm assurance that the Lord will bless us, then as Pres. Monson has taught, ”The future is as bright as your faith.” Have hope, and the BoM teaches us to have hope that we will make it all the way: eternal life or bust! Don’t sell yourself short, tell yourself the stories that you will make it to the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom. And if you can’t in good faith tell yourself that, meaning you can’t take the sacrament and witness that you’re trying to always remember Christ and are willing to keep His commandments, then do what you know you need to do and get help in repenting so you can take the sacrament worthily and have this hope.

Neuroscience has taught us that the locus of fear in our brain takes place in the amygdala. The amygdala is part of what is called the midbrain. The midbrain essentially controls our reflex default settings. However, we also have a higher center, called the neocortex or frontal cortex. This area gives descending commands to the midbrain to interrupt, modulate or disregard the midbrain. In a reflex fashion we can feel fear—however—through active mental effort we have the capability to override or reinforce the midbrain.

In other words, our emotions, our suffering, is often determined more by the stories we tell ourselves and our interpretation of events in our lives, than by the actual circumstances themselves. So what stories are we telling ourselves? Are they faith-filled, Nephi-like ones? Does the Lord play a role in them? Or are they more like Laman and Lemuel’s, despite seeing an angel or the hand of God in our lives, we’re more focused on the problem or problems? We complain and despair, we give in to anxiety, we want to give up, because we already gave one or two efforts, that’s good enough, right? I mean, Laban, 50 servants, he’s a big kahuna. Laban vs. God, though (hands up like scales). This reminds me of a quote shared to me from an EFY counselor I had,

“Perhaps we need to stop telling God how big our problems are, and start telling our problems how BIG God is.”

Elder Bednar shared the following scripture story in which Alma was able to influence his people by helping them reinterpret the events that were happening to them and tell a story of faith rather than anxiety/despair: The setting here is that Alma and his people in the Land of Helam encounter an army of the Lamanites. The army has been lost after searching for the people of Limhi who have just escaped. As the Lamanite army comes upon Alma’s people, the people are terrified:

“But Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be
frightened, but . . . should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.. . . Therefore they hushed their fears.” (Mosiah 23:27-28).

Notice that Alma did not hush the people’s fears. Rather, Alma counseled his people to remember the Lord and the deliverance only He could bestow (see 2 Nephi 2:8). And knowledge of the Savior’s protecting watch-care enabled the people to hush their own fears. The arrival of a hostile army is a scary thing, they were justified in being frightened. Yet as they remembered the Lord and His deliverance and reminded themselves of this, or interpreted their situation through this lens, they hushed their own fears. They changed their mindset. They chose faith over fear. Only we are able to change our stories we tell ourselves, others can’t change them for us, unless we believe them ourselves.

We read in Mark 4:37-41:

After teaching the masses, Jesus and His disciples set sail for the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a dark night and the Savior rested on the ship. In time “there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship.” Terrified, the disciples woke Him up in fear stating: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” He calmly answered that: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” He who had created the earth was again commanding the elements. In wonderment, His disciples asked, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Just as the Savior’s words brought peace and LIGHT to the Apostles in the boat during the great storm, the Savior and his teachings bring peace to us today and will help us develop a faith-based mindset:

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.”–Mark 13:7.

And from D&C 38:30: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” So, prepare antidotes & inoculations to a fear-based mindset.

Antidote No. 1
Elder Bednar in his talk, And They Hushed Their Fears gives principles as antidotes to the negative aspects of fear for helping to draft faith-filled stories that we can tell ourselves and use to re-interpret fearful, difficult, anxiety or despair-producing events in our lives: The first is to look to Christ and press forward with faith in Him. I’ll sum this up with Trust in the Lord.

Hel. 12:1-2 “The Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him . . . doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people . . . .

I love this scripture. It relates to parenting in so many ways. This is how I see the Lord trying to work in our lives, if we but let him.

Hard is Good
I read an article in the Ensign that took an enlightened look at anxiety and this person’s struggle with depression and highlighted the insight he gained from the account in Ether as the Jaredites built barges to cross the ocean to the Americas. I quote from this article:


“The Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.

“And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.

“. . .When they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.

“And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind” (Ether 6:5-8).

These verses became personal to me. I felt that I was in my own barge, with winds of anxiety beating upon me and waves of depression swelling over me and burying me in the depths of despair. When I was “encompassed about” and would cry unto the Lord, I would break through the surface but would then be buried once more. I read verse 8 again: “The wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land . . . and thus they were driven forth before the wind”. Then it hit me. The very wind that caused the mountainous waves to bury the barges also blessed the Jaredites on their journey. I had been pleading with Heavenly Father to calm the wind and waves, but without them, I might not reach whatever “promised land” He was leading me to.

These verses changed my outlook on life. My anxiety and depression had increased my reliance on Heavenly Father. Without the wind and waves, I might never have come to know God as I have–and the Jaredites might never have reached the promised land. For now, a few years after this experience, my winds of anxiety are no longer gusting and my waves of depression have ceased to bury me. But if and when the tempest returns, I will call upon the Lord and be thankful, knowing that calm seas don’t carry barges to the promised land–stormy seas do.”


Brothers and Sisters, sometimes the Lord may calm the winds and waves of our lives, but sometimes He uses those very winds and waves to bless us to reach our “promised land”– our righteous goals or desires. President Haymond referred to this same scriptural account and that these stormy seas were unable to sink the Jaredites because their barges had been made tight. Using this analogy, Pres. Haymond has counseled us to become a temple-tight, temple attending people.

How we look at our trials can help us face our fears and tell ourselves faith-filled stories of the circumstances of our lives: Jeffrey A. Thomspon, in a speech at BYU talked about how zookeepers saw their jobs helped them to deal with the negatives that job entailed:


“I chose to study zookeepers because they are passionate about the work they do, even though they make little money and have few opportunities for career advancement. Learning about what “calling” means to zookeepers was eye-opening. As you might expect, zookeepers find their work very meaningful. They care for their animals as if they were their own children, and they feel great satisfaction when they can enrich their animals’ lives and maintain their health. They believe deeply in conservation and see themselves as educators of the public about species preservation. By and large, they are almost outrageously satisfied with their work. But is every day fun for them? Hardly. When zookeepers talked about their work as a calling, they spoke not just about satisfaction but also about sacrifice–caring for sick animals in the middle of the night, doing unsavory work, foregoing a comfortable living, and the list goes on. I learned something tremendously important from my study of zookeepers. For them, the pain and burdens and sacrifice were not threats to their sense of calling–they were part of it. The work was meaningful because of the trials and burdens. That is an important lesson. We can’t expect deep meaningfulness from our calling unless we are willing to assume its burdens as well.”



lion-3081374_1920

The same is true in our lives, we can’t expect deep meaningfulness in our lives unless we are willing to assume its burdens as well. Dealing with struggle, burdens, and doing good despite inconvenience, goes back to Lehi’s sermon on opposition in 2 Ne. 2. Without the trials in life, without the times when the wind and waves evoke fear in our hearts, without the difficult, life would be less meaningful, our satisfaction at coming back into the presence of the Father having used the cleansing power of the atonement would be less rich without having had to overcome or struggle. It’s not going to be easy or convenient for anyone, and that’s probably a good thing because that means that it will be a big deal for anyone and everyone who makes it back. Truly a “great and terrible Day of the Lord”.

Inconvenience & Effort
Today in carrying out the work of the Lord we are often asked to sacrifice convenience. Visiting the homes of families who we have been asked to watch-over takes time away from our own families. Elder Vaughan J. Featherstone said,

“Opportunities for Christian acts of service do not always come at convenient times. . . . I promise you that most of the service you render to the Lord will come at times not convenient to you.”

Is it convenient to get up around 5:30 am to get to early morning seminary? It’s often not convenient to be asked to speak in church or to serve in a ward or stake calling. It’s not convenient to make priesthood ministering or visiting teaching visits. Has it ever been convenient to pull over to help someone on the side of the road? Is it convenient to serve a mission for 18 months to 2 years?

President Harold B. Lee said, “the true Church is intended not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.”

The second antidote to fear in our lives is Effort. We must put forth effort to overcome inconvenience. In a recent “Time Out for Women” in Salt Lake City where Sheri Dew spoke. Sister Dew cited President Russel M. Nelson as saying:

“The Lord likes effort! He could have said to Moses, ‘I’ll meet you halfway.’ But Moses had to go all the way to the top of Mt. Sinai. He required effort from Moses and Joshua and Joseph Smith.”

The Lord likes effort. He asked Lehi to send his sons back to get the plates after they’d already traveled 3 days’ journey into the wilderness. We must have faith and believe that our goals or what we must to do change, repent, or improve is possible, otherwise we will not generate the action and desire necessary to do the work to achieve our goal, make the change, repent, or improve. And Pres. Monson taught, “It is not enough to want to make the effort and to say we’ll make the effort. We must actually make the effort. It’s in the doing, not just the thinking, that we accomplish our goals. If we constantly put our goals off, we will never see them fulfilled.”

Effort Story
Pres. Monson shared the following story,


“In July of 1976, runner Garry Bjorklund was determined to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team’s 10,000-meter race which would be run at the Montreal Olympics. Halfway through the grinding qualifying race, however, he lost his left shoe. What would you and I do if that were our experience? I suppose he could have given up and stopped. He could have blamed his bad luck and lost the opportunity of participating in the greatest race of his life, but this champion athlete did not do that. He ran on without his shoe. He knew that he would have to run faster than he had ever run in his life. He knew that his competitors now had an advantage that they did not have at the beginning of the race. Over that cinder track he ran, with one shoe on and one shoe off, finishing third and qualifying for the opportunity to participate in the race for the gold medal. His own running time was the best he had ever recorded. He put forth the effort necessary to achieve his goal.”


If we will put forth the effort and overcome our fear of inconvenience, and Trust in the Lord and labor to come to know him, . . . Elder Holland taught, “as you labor to know him, and to know that he knows you; as you invest your time–and inconvenience–in quiet, unassuming service, you will indeed find that “his angels [have] charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.

Just remember that that path is strait (meaning narrow) and not straight (meaning un-turning) and narrow. So the scriptures emphasize the narrowness of the way, it may wind up and down and circle back and go through all sorts of unsavory times and trials and it may not make sense at times or be convenient, but I know our individual path if we stay on it and let the Lord guide us through where it takes us will be for our welfare and happiness. And this leads us to have Faith and Hope.

– 2 Ne. 31:20 “Wherefore ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”

How do you strengthen faith? We’ve all heard this–church answers, right? By reading the scriptures or conference talks. By living the commandments. By praying and asking for faith. It is in using or flexing our “faith muscles” that our faith grows.

pulse-3079904_1920

The Law of the Pendulum
A professor stood at the front of a class and said, “The Law of the Pendulum states that a pendulum cannot rise higher than the level at which it began.” He then asked the students if they understood the law. They said, yes. He stated it again, “The Law of the Pendulum states that a pendulum cannot rise to a higher level than where it began.” And then he asked, “Do you believe it?” One arrogant student said, “Duh, it’s only obvious.” The professor then asked this student to come forward. He asked him to stand on a chair at one end of the room against the wall. He then pulled back a curtain at the front of the classroom and there was an iron cable hanging from the ceiling with 3 45 lb. weights hanging from the end. The professor had constructed a very large and perfect pendulum. He grabbed the weights walked over to the side of the room with the young man standing on the chair and he positioned the weights with the cable tight such that they nearly touched the young man’s nose, and he said, “The Law of the Pendulum states that a pendulum cannot rise higher than the level at which it began. Do you understand this law?” Yes, the boy said with more tredipation. “Well, do you believe it?” Just then the Professor let go of the pendulum and the pendulum swung to one side and as it came back, that young man jumped from off his chair. The pendulum swung back and it didn’t hit the wall. The professor, on this day, “though wasn’t teaching the class about the Law of the Pendulum; he was teaching the class about a different law, the Law of Action. And the Law of Action says that it does not matter what we say we believe; our real beliefs are revealed by how we act.” (Take the Stairs by Rory Vaden)

The real evidence of our faith in Christ and our ability to overcome fear and inconvenience in our life is witnessed by our efforts–by how we act.

Uncertainty
One aspect of fear that as human beings we are uncomfortable with, and perhaps especially so within the church, is uncertainty.

Elder Lloyd K. Newell taught,
“If you are fearful because you feel powerless, I invite you to turn to the Lord. Draw upon the power of the covenants you have made and are keeping. Trust in God’s power, for it is mightier than any power on earth. God’s words to ancient Israel are also His words to you: “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” (Isaiah 41:13)

Erin Holmes, a professor at BYU recently spoke on uncertainty. She shared:

“Some of my students this semester shared a blog post with me titled “You’re Not Messing Up God’s Plan for You.” The author taught, “It’s tempting to think that God has some master plan that He’s measuring me against, and if I take one misstep I’ve missed my chance for happiness forever.”

Sister Holmes continued, “I can relate to that fear. When life doesn’t seem to match the ideals we envision, we may struggle just as this author did, worrying that we don’t measure up or fearing that we are disappointing God. The author of the blogpost continued: But you know what? As I’ve examined that mindset, I’ve learned that I need a better understanding of God and what the term “His plan for me” means.

“I’m learning that God is much less a divine dictator who demands perfect compliance to a predetermined plan for our individual lives and much more a co-creator with us of the kind of lives we want to live.”

Sister Holmes echoed, “We become co-creators with Him in our lives by making and keeping covenants. The author of this blog post then asked, “What is the source of fear?”

He answered: I think it is rooted in the assumption . . . that I must solve all my problems and face all my challenges alone, using my own resources. That is frightening, because deep in my heart I know how limited those resources are… Knowing that I am not capable of changing myself or my circumstances for the better, I stand frozen in fear.

Fear comes from the false belief that we are all alone. — (that we are fixed, stopped,
dammed.)

Sister Holmes taught, “Scripture says in D&C 90:24, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good”. This doesn’t mean all things are good, but for the meek and faithful, things–both positive and negative–work together for good, and the timing is the Lord’s. We wait on Him, sometimes like Job in his suffering, knowing that God “maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole” [Job 5:18]. A meek heart accepts the trial and the waiting for that time of healing and wholeness to come.”


I’ve talked about faith and fear and how we can interpret the events in our lives through a lens of faith. We can strengthen our faith by reading the words of Christ and Trusting in Him. We increase our faith when we put forth effort to overcome fear and inconvenience. We increase our faith when in the face of uncertainty we trust that we can co-create an abundant life with Christ by making and keeping gospel covenants. We become comfortable with taking a step or two into the darkness before we see the light that guides–we become comfortable with some uncertainty.

When it comes to interpreting the events of our life through a lens of faith, I really like this metaphor given by Elder Bruce C. Hafen. Level One he compares to people who are unaware of or refuse to see realities, while Level Two, focuses only on the pessimistic realities.

“Consider the metaphorical image of “lead, kindly light.” At level one, people either do not or cannot see that there are both a kindly light and an encircling gloom, or that if there are both, that there is no real difference between the two. At level two, the difference is acutely apparent, but one’s acceptance of the ambiguity may be so wholeheartedly pessimistic as to say, “Remember that the hour is darkest just before everything goes completely black.” How different are these responses from that calm but honest prayer at level three,

“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
lead thou me on. . . .
I do not ask to see
the distant scene–one step enough for me.”
(Hymns, no. 112.)

So what’s the take home message? We all feel fear. Some are just better at not allowing it to stay around for long. We hush our fears, by looking to Christ, trusting in Him and using His Gospel to mold the stories we tell ourselves and to interpret the events of our lives. We combat fear through the Gospel Covenants that we make and keep thereby co-creating with Christ an abundant life. It is my prayer that we may choose faith and hope, rely on the Lord, and hush the anxiety and despair aspects of fear. Doing so will require us to ACT, to put forth real effort often when things are not convenient or comfortable.
We are blessed to have the restored fullness of the Gospel to guide our lives. Life is hard. I believe that each of us will be tested with trials that will bury us as it were in the depths of the ocean, that will try and test our faith and courage as Abraham’s of old was tested when asked to sacrifice Isaac.

Life is harder though, when the stories we tell ourselves aren’t the ones the Lord would have us tell ourselves–when our mindset is more toward doubt and fear than faith and effort and action. May we stay close to the Gospel, may we be quick to do good, to follow the heroic example of our Savior, be temple-tight, and stay on the old-ship Zion as the storms of life and the waves of the sea push each of us towards our own Promised Land. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Planting Christ in Our Hearts at Christmas

gareth-harper-175342I love the holiday season. I get anxious as soon as Halloween is over to get our Christmas decorations up and to put the Christmas music on. I love the decorations, the lights, the music, and I love to slow down and just soak it in. All the kids get excited. Drostan keeps asking each day if tonight is Christmas Eve and he has been praying ever since December started, “Bless that we’ll have a good Christmas Eve.” I remember one Christmas, after we’d read The Night Before Christmas and had put the kids down. After singing a bedtime song, and just as I was about to leave, Anela, then 4 years old called me over to her bed and said she couldn’t sleep. I asked, “How come?” And she said, “Because they’re dancing in my head!” Confused, I responded, “What?” “You know, the plums! Sugarplums are dancing in my head!”

At this last Stake Conference, Elder Taylor told us that the Brethren are suggesting that we simplify all that we can and get back to the basics of the Gospel. To focus on the essential and let the non-essential, unimportant drop out of our lives. Perhaps we look at how we celebrate this Christmas season and can evaluate whether we need to simplify and get back to the essential elements of Christmas. Traditions can be uniting and memorable, but we can also get carried away in the trappings of the holiday, causing us to miss out on the Silent Nights, the Still, Still, Still moments because we’re mentally Far, Far Away on Stress’ Plains.

Elder Taylor said, “we must plant the Word in our hearts and in the hearts of those we serve.” What is the Word? In the Gospel of John, he tells us: “For in the beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father.” When Christ visited the Nephites after His resurrection he explained His doctrine. The doctrine of Christ is “exercising faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” (Brian K. Ashton, Oct. 2016). We can seek Christ and plant Him, the Word, and His doctrine into our hearts this Christmas by following the examples from that first Christmas.

The Shepherds

image-1036614_1920

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over
their flock by night.

Elder Uchtdorf opined, “The shepherds were more than likely quite ordinary people, like many commendable souls who go about their days earning a living.”

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,… And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. . . .

Elder Uchtdorf continued, “[These shepherds] could represent people who, at one time, may not have been actively seeking the Christ, but their hearts changed when the heavens opened and Christ was proclaimed to them.”

To these humble shepherds, tending to their flocks, was given a sign that the Messiah has been born. The baby is somewhere in Bethlehem, lying in a manger. Returning to the scriptures:

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

These shepherds immediately decide to “go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass.” Do they just leave their flocks behind to seek after and find Jesus? Similar to how Peter and Andrew later leave their nets to follow Him? Whatever they decide to do, they decide to do it quickly.

And they came with haste,

I wonder how many stables they had to look in with Bethlehem being packed–and with no room in the inns until they “found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” My favorite aspect, though, is that after they found him they became missionaries that Christmas and made known the saying which was told them concerning this child: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.

The Wise Men

christmas-1299283_1280
Elder Uchtdorf taught, “The Wise Men were academics who had been studying the advent of the Messiah, the Son of God. Through their learning, they identified the signs that pointed to His birth. When they identified them, they left their homes and traveled to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Their knowledge of the Christ did not remain solely academic. Once they saw the signs of His birth, they acted. They set out to find the Christ.”

Both the shepherds and the wise men were given different signs of Christ, both had to take action to seek Him out and find Him. Both of them did so by holding fast to the words of God (the scriptures) and the words of the angel and then taking action.

Mary

virgin-868970_1920
Another example of planting the Word or Christ into our hearts is that of Mary. Interestingly enough, that first Christmas we have no record of Mary seeing the angel of the Lord or hearing the Heavenly choirs sing. Yet, I am sure that the shepherds shared with Mary and Joseph the vision and message the angel declared. And it is this simple testimony from the shepherds, that we are told, “Mary kept and pondered these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

We can plant the word in our hearts by pondering on scripture in our mind and in our heart. We can plant the word in our hearts by always remembering Christ, thinking of what He would do, remembering occasions when we’ve witnessed His hand in our own lives, and and trusting that He will yet help us through the grace of His atonement.

Best Christmas Ever
We can plant the word in the hearts of those we serve by serving and giving. President Monson said,

“Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things.”

2005 is up there as one of my best Christmases ever. My wife and I performed in the church’s production of The Savior of the World at the Conference Center Theatre. That Christmas season we were poor college students, just two years married and living in Provo, Utah. My wife was pregnant with our oldest daughter Anéla. We would drive up for shows every Wednesday night and Friday night, and we had a show on Saturday afternoons. The first act is all about the birth of Christ and the second about His resurrection. For one show we were told we would be performing for the deaf and blind. Someone in the cast knew American Sign Language, and taught the whole cast how to perform the finale number, Jesus Once of Humble Birth, in sign language. I remember as we began singing and signing that final number the spirit was electric. And as we finished, without a dry eye in the cast, the audience erupted in the silent applause of the deaf (holding both hands up in the air and waving/rotating the hands back and forth).  Because the whole cast had made an effort to make that audience feel special by learning the final song in sign language, that experience became a major highlight of that Christmas.

When we give of ourselves with people, and not things, in mind – we put Christ in our hearts.

The Book of Mormon: The Word
The Word is the also the words of God. And as we’ve been challenged recently by our prophet Thomas S. Monson and by Elder Nelson, we can plant the Word into our hearts by reading from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ every day. I quote President Monson:

“My dear associates in the work of the Lord, I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives.”

And as Bishop Wilde has shared with our ward, The Lord’s Promise to the Euclid Ward is that we will rejoice in reading The Book of Mormon. We will learn with joy. We will have many revelations. We will obtain a hope, and our faith will become unshaken.

Reading the Book of Mormon will help us to plant the Christ and His words into our hearts. The Lord declared to Jeremiah:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)

I love that imagery. This reminds me of similar imagery about planting the word in our hearts in the Book of Mormon. Alma taught:

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.(Alma 32:28)

Alma then goes on to teach, and I paraphrase, “But wait, this is just the beginning! You just know that the seed is good, but no one just plants a seed to know if it’s good, they plant it because they want the fruit!”

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.(Alma 32:41)

Tree of Life: Sacrament

tree-of-life-vector-file
Brothers and Sisters, this reminds me of another tree we read of in the Book of Mormon. Lehi and Nephi were shown a vision of a Tree. Lehi says that on the tree is a fruit desirable to make one happy. He says that the fruit is sweet above all that he’s ever tasted and was white to exceed all whiteness. That sounds an awful lot like big white lights on the tree, and from most pictures of artist’s depictions of the Tree of Life that I’ve seen, it looks almost as if the tree were or could be a temperate, non-coniferous Christmas Tree.
And how fitting!

Lehi sees multitudes holding on to a rod of iron (the Word of God) that follows a path through mists of darkness until it reaches the tree. It is this rod that helps the people find the tree. Later, when Nephi sees this same vision, the Angel asks Nephi what he wants, and Nephi says, “to know the interpretation thereof ” He wants to know what the dream means. Thereafter, the Angel intersperses Lehi’s dream with vignette visions of the life of Christ. He first shows Nephi Christ’s birth, that first Christmas, and testifies that this is the “condescension of God” literally the “coming down” of God and the angel testifies of Christ as the Son of the Eternal Father, and then asks Nephi, “knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” And Nephi answers, “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” Where is the love of God best manifest? We read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son . . . ” So if the Tree of Life is the Love of God, and the love of God is best manifest in the gift of His Only Begotten Son, then the tree of life is Christ. And if the Tree of Life is Christ, then what is the fruit of Christ whose fruit is desirable to make one happy?  It’s the atonement of Christ! The opportunity to repent. The greatest and most desirable of the gifts of God is eternal life and we obtain that through virtue of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Said even more simply, we obtain eternal life by keeping our baptismal covenants which we renew every Sunday when we take the sacrament.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“Those who partake of the sacrament worthily thereby put themselves under covenant with the Lord:
1. To always remember the broken body and spilled blood of Him who was crucified for the sins of the world;
2. To take upon themselves the name of Christ and always remember him; and
3. To keep the commandments of God. . .
As his part of the contract, the Lord covenants:
1. That such worthy saints shall have his Spirit to be with them; and
2. That in due course they shall inherit eternal life.”

Elder James E. Faust taught,
“If we partake of the sacrament regularly and are faithful to these covenants, the law will be in our inward parts and written in our hearts.”

Christ himself taught the metaphor of the sacrament as a method by which we take upon His name but also internalize Him and plant Him in our hearts, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”(John 6:56)

Seen in this way, Lehi’s dream is a view of multitudes of people clinging to the word of God, the scriptures, (which leads up to the tree–to Christ–and helps the multitudes to find Him, just as the sign from the Angel, or the Star for the Wise Men, helped those from the first Christmas find Christ. The multitudes then partake of the fruit of the tree: Christ – His atonement – which we do in remembrance of when we partake of the sacrament. So could Lehi’s vision really be all about people clinging to the scriptures to find Him, reading them every day, in order to survive the mists of darkness and temptations simply to get to sacrament meeting and partake every week?

So we’re back to Alma comparing the words of Christ to a seed that we’ve planted in our hearts, and we’ve nourished it by reading daily from the Book of Mormon and the scriptures and by partaking of the fruit of Christ by repenting and taking the sacrament.

Alma says: “And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”

Into Our Inward Parts
Too often I can find myself living in my head, being too analytical, or simply understanding things intellectually. Stephen W. Owen, the Young Men General President, taught recently: “It is not enough just to know with our minds; we must understand in our hearts. Doctrine can’t just influence our thoughts; we have to let it change our very
nature.”

Let me illustrate this with a story from the Church News shared by Elder James E. Faust:

“A group of religion instructors [were] taking a summer course on the life of the Savior and focusing particularly on the parables.

“When the final exam time came, . . . the students arrived at the classroom to find a note that the exam would be given in another building across campus. Moreover, the note said, it must be finished within the two-hour time period that was starting almost at that moment.

“The students hurried across campus. On the way they passed a little girl crying over a flat tire on her new bike. An old man hobbled painfully toward the library with a cane in one hand, spilling books from a stack he was trying to manage with the other. On a bench by the union building sat a shabbily dressed, bearded man [in obvious distress].

“Rushing into the other classroom, the students were met by the professor, who announced they had all flunked the final exam.

“The only true test of whether they understood the Savior’s life and teaching, he said, was how they treated people in need.

“Their weeks of study at the feet of a capable professor had taught them a great deal of what Christ had said and done. In their haste to finish the technicalities of the course, however, they failed to recognize the application represented by the three scenes that had been deliberately staged. They learned the letter but not the spirit. Their neglect of the little girl and the two men showed that the profound message of the course had not entered into their inward parts.”

Daily scripture study of the Book of Mormon, regular Family Home Evening, Just Serving!, Lighting the World, Giving rather than Getting, repenting, taking the sacrament,
magnifying our callings, thinking of Christ and what He would do, and then taking corresponding action, will plant the Christ into our hearts and we will experience greater joy and happiness–whether at Christmas or any time or circumstance–of the year.

As we do so, the Spirit will always be with us and we will experience the Lord’s whispering, guiding influence in our lives, described by Isaiah in this beautiful way: “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

And so it is my hope this Christmas, that as visions of sugarplums dance in the heads of our children, that we seek Christ as the Shepherds and the Wise Men did, that we make room for Him in the inn’s of our hearts, that we ponder the words of Christ as Mary did, and that we take action to plant the word of Christ in our hearts to change our very natures and that we give our children the example and opportunity to do likewise. As we do so, I believe we just may have the best Christmas ever. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Just For You: Looking for and finding God’s tender mercies in your life

The story goes that a certain court jester one day went too far and insulted his king. Infuriated, the king sentenced the jester: Execution! Bewildered, the king’s court pleaded mercy for this man who had served him well for so many years. After a time, the king relented only enough to give the jester his “choice” as to how he would like to die. True to form, the jester replied, “if it’s all the same to you my Lord, I’d like to die of old age.”

Years following his mission of “Other Side of Heaven” fame, Elder John H. Groberg, as a general authority, was asked to hold two stake conferences in Lima, Peru. His wife accompanied him and the flights from Salt Lake to Lima had gone well and the plane landed in Lima on schedule. Elder Groberg related:

. . . when we pulled up to the gate and prepared to disembark, strange
delays began to happen.
First, it took an unusually long time to get the paperwork done before the plane’s door opened and we could exit. Then, in the hall to the Immigration checkpoint, one of the doors was locked. The entire group of passengers had another long wait until an officer came and opened the door. By the time we got to Immigration, two other international flights had disembarked and the lines were very long. We were tired and wondered what else could go wrong. Sure enough, there was another delay as our bags were literally the last ones off the conveyor belt. When we eventually got through Immigration and Customs it was close to midnight.

airport-2085262_1920

Finally, with bags in hand, we entered the congested waiting area where, despite the late hour, hundreds of people were milling around – greeting travelers, offering taxis and hotels or selling various items. We were met by a member of the Area Presidency and his wife who had been patiently waiting for us. Just as we crossed the crowded street and were melding into the throngs of humanity and cars, we hard the plaintive call: ‘Kolipoki! Kolipoki!’ The last thing I thought I would hear in Lima, Peru, at midnight was someone calling my Tongan name! Yet there it was, clearly, ‘Kolipoki!’ We turned around in amazement and saw a woman coming up to us, all out of breath from pushing her luggage cart, trying not to lose sight of us. ‘Kolipoki, Kolipoki, ’ofa o tokoni mai!’ (Elder Grober, Elder Groberg, please help me!) I responded, ‘Ue! Koe ha ’oku ke fai i heni?’ (Wow, What are you doing here?)

It turned out that a little earlier that evening this faithful Tongan sister had arrived in Lima. She had come to meet her daughter at the conclusion of her mission in Peru. The daughter had made arrangements with the mission president to fly from her last area in Cuzco so as to arrive in Lima about the same time as her mother’s plane did. Something went wrong, and mother and daughter had missed each other. The mother didn’t speak any Spanish and precious little English, but finally made it through Immigration and Customs. As she entered the passenger waiting area, she was pressed on every side by the mobs of people. She looked and looked but could not see her daughter. She kept asking where her daughter might be, but no one seemed to understand or even care; they just wanted to sell her something or get her
in a taxi. To all these requests she simply said, ’No,’ as she knew she must stay there to find her daughter.

people-1119012_1280

She was worried, but with fervent faith she found a small corner, bowed her head, and prayed and prayed and prayed. She knew the Lord would help her. During the prayer she felt a sudden impression like a voice that said, ‘Open your eyes now!’ She obeyed, and lo and behold, passing a little way in front of her she saw Kolipoki! Upon hearing her story, we were able to contact the mission president by cell phone, and before long mother and daughter were safely together and on their way to a missionary apartment.

What are are the odds of such a thing happening on its own? There were millions of people in Peru, and probably no more than three or four who could speak Tongan. A faithful Tongan woman arrives in Lima, finds that she has a problem, prays in faith, listens, opens her eyes, and sees someone she knows who speaks Tongan and can help her!” (John H. Groberg, Anytime, Anywhere p. 86-88)

Wow. Think about that for a minute. Does that not demonstrate the tender mercies of a loving Father in Heaven?

From the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi is clear that one of his themes for reasons for writing on these metal plates is to document proof of “the tender mercies of the Lord”.

We read in 1 Ne. 1:20, “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

And in a divinely inspired concluding fashion, at the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni hearkens back to Nephi’s theme about remembering the mercies of God:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” (Moroni 10:3)

Elder David A. Bednar taught,

“The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits ‘his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men’ (D&C 46:15)”

When we take the sacrament we have the opportunity to remember and think of Jesus. I used to try to think of the stories of Jesus and his miracles written in the Gospels during the sacrament. Relatively recently though, I’ve come to believe that the most important things we can remember and think on about Christ during the sacrament are the stories of Jesus in our own lives–the fingerprints of the tender mercies of God specifically for us.
When Alma shares the story of his conversion with his son Helaman in Alma chapter
36, he urges him first,

I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.” (Alma 36:2)

Alma is exhorting Helaman to remember the tender mercies of the Lord in his life and the lives of his ancestors. Do you have specific tender mercies that you remember? Are there time’s when you can look back and recognize God’s hand guiding, delivering or sustaining you in His tender, merciful way? What about coincidences in your life? I’ve always felt that coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous. I’d like you to think and remember time’s when you’ve felt God’s coincidences or tender mercies in your life.

Recognizing the Lord’s tender mercies requires that we see with spiritual eyes, hear with spiritual ears, and understand with our hearts.

Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? (Mark 8:18)”

Sin can obscure our ability to see and hear with our spiritual senses and understand
with our hearts.

For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. “(Matt. 13:15)

Repent and change for the better and we’ll be better able to recognize tender mercies in our lives.

I’d like to share two quick stories that show my Heavenly Parents’ tender mercies in my life.

When my son, was 18 months old or so, my wife was pregnant with my youngest daughter. Wanting to get away from the house with the kids, and it being a beautiful Cleveland summer day, she had taken the kids to Fairport Harbor to spend a day at the beach. I was unable to go because of work. The two older kids were playing on the playground at the top of the beach, the 18 month old was contentedly playing in the sand maybe 25 yards away near some other mothers and youngsters in the ward.

My wife went up to the top of the beach to throw some garbage away in preparation for returning back home. On turning around, she sees our son making a b-line as fast as his little feet can carry him toward the water. She immediately screamed his name and took off run-waddling down the beach as fast as her pregnant feet could carry her. No one else in the group had noticed the little boy booking for the water. Halfway down the beach, my wife knew that he would trip in the water and fall head first into it. Uttering mental prayers that as soon as she’d reach him and pull him out, he’d breathe. My wife said it was the longest 5-8 seconds of her life as she saw him trip, fall head first into the water and assume the dead-man’s floating pose. Sure enough, as soon as she pulled him out of the water, he gasped, breathed, let out a couple cries and then was fine. This was a tender mercy in our lives–that my wife saw him and knew immediately what would happen, that she was able to reach him quickly, and that he hadn’t ingested any water and all was well.

Elder Bednar taught, “Faithfulness, obedience, and humility invite tender mercies into our lives, and it is often the Lord’s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings.

When I graduated with my PhD it was 2010 and the economy was still reeling from the 2008 financial collapse. I was having difficulty finding job opportunities in industry. My life plan had me working in the neurostimulation division of Medtronic, living in Minneapolis. But that wasn’t happening. All I’d been able to secure were opportunities as a post-doc either in Pasadena, California, Seattle Washington, or at the Cleveland Clinic. My wife and I sat down and did the whole pros-cons columns exercise and prayed over what we should do. And we waited for inspiration. And we waited. And then, with inspiration still not received, we made a decision best we could, largely based on what we thought best. Up to this point, our “Life Plan” had worked out – I’d gotten in to BYU and the U of U’s Biomedical Engineering PhD program while my wife completed her Master’s at BYU. But now, I didn’t really want to do a post-doc–-I had no desire to be a professor and work in academia which is typically the route or reason for doing a post-doctoral fellowship. I remember we visited the Historic Kirtland Visitor’s Center relatively soon after we’d moved to Cleveland. On one of the walls was the scripture from D&C 38:82, ”ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high;” At that moment, the Spirit confirmed to my wife and I that “this is the right place.” And since then we’ve felt the Spirit guide us to our home where we now live. God answered our prayers and this became a testimony of His love for us and a proof of His tender mercy in our lives. As in this experience of mine, the Holy Ghost helps us to recognize and treasure tender mercies as important blessings.

Indeed, Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness and salvation has also been called the “Plan of Mercy.”

We read in Alma 42:15 “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.

Many times we are reminded that God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. However, we seldom hear quoted the scripture that speaks of what our work is . . . . In D&C 11:20 it teaches, “Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea with all your might, mind and strength.

Is that an encouraging statement? Yes and no, right? Perhaps at times. We all come short of this though. Or perhaps we feel un-confident that we aren’t giving our entire might, mind, or strength to keeping those commandments. The gap between fulfilling that statement and where we are can sometimes be daunting or discouraging. And in those moments we need to remember the Lord’s mercy – that He’s designed the perfect answer to our perpetual shortcomings–repentance. Repentance is about change. Heavenly Father’s plan is about change. It’s about transformation. About changing or transforming us from fallen men and women, to Celestial ones. And it only works because of the atonement of Christ. The gap is filled, not because of all we can do or because of our efforts, but that through our efforts of repentance we can gain access to the unbounding and enabling grace of Christ to change and become better than who we could have ever hoped to be without repenting. We all are in need of making changes. Some of us may have large changes that we need to make, or perhaps we are in the middle of trying to make those changes. With others, perhaps we are as yet unaware of the changes that we need to make. Yet, I believe that the tender mercies of the Lord will put us in a position to have the opportunity to learn what we need to in order to change to continually improve and progress towards Eternal Life. He won’t give up on us, nor should we ever give up on ourselves.

GoodSamaritan

I love this quote from President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.,

“You know, I believe that the Lord will help us. I believe if we go to Him, He will give us wisdom, if we are living righteously. I believe He will answer our prayers. I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of His children. I do not think He intends to shut any of us off because of some slight transgression, some slight failure to observe some rule or regulation. There are the great elementals that we must observe, but He is not going to be captious about the lesser things. I believe that His juridical concept of his dealing with His could be expressed in this way: I believe that in His justice and mercy, He will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that He can give, and in the reverse, I believe that He will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for Him to impose.”

And in a similar vein, Elder Holland taught,

“. . . surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.”

In conclusion, recently in a training meeting for new mission presidents Elder Holland related a story that demonstrates the mercy of God:

One night a young man from Southern Idaho stormed out of the house and set off to join an infamous motorcycle gang. He succeeded in that resolve and for 20 years became immersed in a culture “of temptations yielded to and degradations explored,” never contacting his parents, who feared that he was dead.

Eventually ending up in Southern California, he one day was sitting on the porch of a rented home when he saw two LDS missionaries making their way up the street.

“With a rush of memory and guilt, regret and rage, he despised the very sight of them,” Elder Holland recounted. “But he was safe, because he kept all visitors at bay by employing two Doberman Pinschers who viciously charged the gate every moment that anyone came near.” The dogs startled the missionaries as they passed by and continued on, “our man on the porch laughing at the lovely little drama he had just witnessed, wishing only that the gate hadn’t restrained his two dogs.”

Then, the two elders stopped, looked at each other, conversed a little, “likely said a silent prayer,” then turned around and approached the gate. “The Dobermans on cue charged the gate again, hit it, snarling, frothing, and then stopped in their tracks. They looked at the missionaries, dropped their heads, ambled back to the front steps and lay down.”

The man on the porch was speechless as the missionaries opened the gate, walked up the path and greeted him.

One of the elders said,“Are you from this part of California?”

The man said, “No. If you want to know, I’m from Pocatello, Idaho.”

There was a pause. “That’s interesting,” the elder said. “Do you know the [such-and-such] family in Pocatello?”

With a stunned look, the biker paused, and then, in very measured words, said, “Yeah, I know them. They are my parents.”

“Well, they’re my parents too,” the missionary said. “God has sent me to invite you to come home.”

The younger brother had been born after the older boy had left home. The elder brother did not even know of him.

“Mom and Dad have been praying for you every morning and night for 20 years,” the younger brother said. “They were not sure you were alive, but they knew if you were, that someday you would come back to us.”

The wayward son invited the two in, and they talked for the rest of the day and some of the night. He did return home, returned to Church activity and, in March 2015, was married and sealed in the Boise Idaho Temple.

Commenting on the account, Elder Holland said, “This is a story of the role of Almighty God, the Savior of the World, and the Holy Ghost involved in the work of the ministry to which we’ve been called. “The Holy Ghost prompted those parents to keep praying, to keep believing, to keep trusting. . . . The Holy Ghost inspired that rebellious boy to come to himself like the prodigal he was and to head for California.. . . The Holy Ghost influenced that younger son to serve a mission and be willing to accept a call to Southern California.. . .The Holy Ghost inspired one of my brethren in the Twelve, who was on the assignment desk that Friday, to trust his impression and assign that young man for service not a great distance from his native-born state. The Holy Ghost inspired that mission president to assign that young missionary to that district and that member unit. The Holy Ghost led those missionaries to that street, that day, that hour, with big brother sitting on the porch waiting, and, with Doberman Pinschers notwithstanding, the Holy Ghost prompted those to elders to stop, talk and in spite of their fear, to go back and present their message.. . .

“And, through the elders, the Holy Ghost taught repentance and brought true conversion to one coming back into the fold.”

Elder Holland said the young elder, without realizing it, gave the missionary speech of all time, when he said to his brother, “God has sent me here to invite you to come home.” (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865683974/The-divine-companionship-includes-the-Holy-Ghost-in-missionary-work-Elder-Holland-says.html)

God loves us. He sends us very personal and individualized blessings, protection, assurances, support, and spiritual gifts, because He is a merciful God who knows our circumstances, and the yearnings of our hearts and wants us to come back home to Him. Even when we do not recognize these tender mercies for what they are, He continues to send them. It is my prayer that we will do our work – to keep His commandments with all our might, mind, and strength– and when we inevitably fail to do so, that we will quickly humble ourselves and repent so that we might claim the mercy that God is so freely willing to give us if we but choose to do so. And then whether we die young or in our old age like the jester at the beginning of my remarks, we may be confident that we will stand before a much more Merciful King, our Father. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why me? What now? And the Bitter Cup

sad-468923_1920

 A talk I recently gave in Church:
I recently had some meetings for work in Ireland. We had taken a red-eye flight from Newark, New Jersey to Dublin. As the plane landed after the six hour flight, the passengers in the area towards the back of the plane where I was sitting, heard a little Irish three-year-old girl begin to break down and throw a fit. The little girl was obviously tired and sick of being in the plane and just wanting to be home. In an attempt to comfort her that the trip was over and they were home, her father said, “We’re here in Dublin!” She quickly responded bitterly in her adorable Irish accent, “No we are not, we’re not in Dublin!”
The exchange was cute and several people chuckled and grinned. Regardless of whether or not we were in Dublin, this little Irish girl just needed to vent her frustration at being cooped up on United Airlines. Given United’s recent mishaps where videos showed United security dragging a passenger out of his seat and off the plane that damaged their “Fly the Friendly Skys” brand, we joked, “Enterprise — we pick you up! United — we beat you up!”
Sometimes life leaves us feeling somewhat like this little girl, frustrated, cooped up, and wanting to yell out that we’re not where we want to be and “Why me!?”
When hardship or suffering befalls us, whether it be by our own decisions, the decisions of others, or the simple randomness of happenstance, it’s often one of the first questions that aches out of us… why me or why her? Why does Heavenly Father let bad things happen to good people?
It’s normal and not wrong to ask why. It can be helpful to know or bestow some meaning behind our suffering; ultimately though, I believe there is a more excellent way, a better question to ask that I’ll get to later.

Why does Father let bad things happen to good people?

  1. To teach us or drive us to remember Him.
We read in Helaman 12:2-3:
Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies…yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.
And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.

Why does Father let bad things happen to good people?

2. To test us — we come to earth to gain a body and TO BE TESTED.

Abraham 3:25: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

Why does Father let bad things happen to good people?

     3. So that He can show forth His power in delivering us and can visit us in our affliction:
Perhaps one of the most beautiful stories in all of scripture is that told in Mosiah 23 and 24. The story starts with a wicked priest named Alma. He’s essentially a “yes-man” in wicked King Noah’s court. But his heart is pricked when Abinadi teaches and testifies in front of King Noah and his priests. He believes, is thrust out of the court, and the king sends soldiers to kill him. Alma writes and teaches the words of Abinadi. Some people believe him. They repent and are baptized in the waters of Mormon. The king sends more soldiers to kill the people of Alma. They leave their homes and follow Alma into the wilderness. These are all good people. They are led to a beautiful land they call Helam. The Lord blesses and prospers them. This could be the “And they lived happily ever after” portion of the story — they believed, repented, sacrificed their homes and belongings and were led to their own little land of promise. Yet the story doesn’t end there and here Mormon inserts:
Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.  For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob. And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.” Mosiah 23:21-24.
The Lamanites come to Helam. They’re lost after chasing after Limhi’s people who –having suffered under severe taxation and defeats and the loss of many of their men in war in trying to escape this bondage by the Lamanites–had just been delivered by the Lord. Alma makes a deal with the Lamanites, I’ll show you how to get back home if you will leave us in peace. The Lamanites say, “Deal” and promptly renege on their part of the deal. They place Alma’s people in bondage and put task master’s over them to work them with heavy burdens on their backs. Yet Alma’s people are strengthened such that they cannot feel the burden’s upon their backs.
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and 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.” Mosiah 24:14
Eventually the Lord delivers Alma and his people by causing a miraculous and unnaturally deep sleep to come upon all of the Lamanites and Alma and his people are able to leave with their flocks and herds and their possessions right under the noses of the Lamanites.
The beautiful thing here though is that every one of those people KNEW in their extremity that it was the Lord God that delivered them and that HE visited them in their afflictions and that they came to know Him through that suffering.
This reminds me of the story of the old man in Sunday School who commented about his experience coming across with the Martin Handcart Company…
He said, “Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [difficulties].
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company” (quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” p. 8; emphasis in original).
Sisters and Brothers, think for a minute about the toughest experiences in your life, through them did you become acquainted with God? Did He visit you in your afflictions?

anxiety-1157435_1920

My senior year of high school I fell in to a spiral of deep depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behavior. I would put on a mask that all was fine at school, but inside I was a wreck and I’d come home retreat into my room and just cry. I would wake up in the morning and literally feel a cloud of gloom and anxiety just descend over my mind. This continued for months with my angel mother being my heaven-sent source of support. I know my parents said many prayers on my behalf. I was hesitant to take any medication to help with my emotional and mental condition. I was afraid that if I did so, it would affect where I would be called to serve on my mission.
If I put on my mission papers that I had taken medication for depression, would they send me? Or would it limit where I would have been called if I hadn’t taken the medication?
So I foolishly held out continuing to plead for respite from my emotional and mental anguish. It wasn’t until one night as I read the letter of Moroni to Pahoran as Moroni chastised Pahoran for not making use of what was available to him that things began to change:
“Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” Alma 60:21
And the spirit spoke to me and in that moment I knew that I was just sitting upon my butt and wasn’t making use of the medication and means that the Lord had provided for me. And that was the beginning of the Lord helping to deliver me from bondage and was Him visiting me in my affliction.
Neal A. Maxwell taught beautifully. In fact, many times we might all be better off just reading one of Neal A. Maxwell’s talks as he had a wonderfully wise and rich way of teaching. He taught,
Certain mortal “whys” are not really questions at all but are expressions of resentment. Other “whys” imply that the trial might be all right later on but not now, as if faith in the Lord excluded faith in His timing. Some “why me” questions, asked amid stress, would be much better as “what” questions, such as, “What is required of me now?” or, to paraphrase Moroni’s words, “If I am sufficiently humble, which personal weakness could now become a strength?” (see Ether 12:27).(“Applying the Atoning Blood of Christ”  — Neal A. Maxwell)
Knowing why can be helpful, but as G.I. Joe taught as I grew up, “Knowing is half the battle.” The other half, perhaps the more important half is the question, “What now? Or better yet, What’s Important Now?” This is the more excellent question.
One of my favorite aphorisms to live by is “Life is 10% what happens to me 90% how I react to it.”
One of the most well known stories of this principle is the story of Viktor Frankl. A Jewish psychologist who endured the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl remarked, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  And “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Understanding the Why can give us meaning to move forward in DOING what is necessary and important now and in the future.
One of the most powerful scriptures in all of Holy Writ in my opinion is where Christ describes in His own words His suffering at the threshold of the atonement:
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;  But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— (D&C 19:16-18)
Neal A. Maxwell taught, “…As we confront our own lesser trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we “might not … shrink”—meaning to retreat or to recoil (D&C 19:18). Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus.”
I love this. It is so important and yet so hard to do. To partake of the bitter cup of suffering and yet not allow it to make me bitter. To go through life and to rid myself of accusing or negative feelings toward anyone –be that my wife or my children or colleagues at work or just that random English lady who told off a group of us to come down from exploring the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland because she didn’t want us in her pictures. Such negative feelings we often hold on to in order to help ourselves feel justified in feeling that way or in being right.
Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Mortality presents us with numerous opportunities to become more Christlike: first, by coping successfully with those of life’s challenges which are “common to man[kind]” (1 Cor. 10:13). In addition, there are also our customized trials such as experiencing illness, aloneness, persecution, betrayal, irony, poverty, false witness, unreciprocated love, et cetera. If endured well now, “all these things” can be for our good and can “greatly enlarge the soul,” including an enlarged capacity for joy (D&C 122:7D&C 121:42). Meek suffering often does the excavating necessary for that enlarging! My admiration goes to my many spiritual superiors who so exemplify for us all. In the world to come, to these, the most faithful, our generous Father will give “all that [He] hath” (D&C 84:38). Brothers and sisters, there isn’t any more!”
Elder Bednar shared a story of John and Heather. John and Heather were just recently married and shortly thereafter John was diagnosed with an agressive cancer. Elder Bednar became aware of their plight and visited them. In that visit he was prompted to ask them if they had faith NOT TO BE HEALED. Meaning did they have sufficient faith to accept if the Lord’s will was that John pass to the spirit world. Heather wrote:
This day was filled with mixed emotions for me. I was convinced that Elder Bednar would place his hands on John’s head and completely heal him of the cancer. I knew that through the power of the priesthood he could be healed, and I wanted so bad for that to happen. After he taught us about the faith to not be healed, I was terrified. Up to that point, I had never had to come to grips with the fact that the Lord’s plan might include losing my new husband. My faith was dependent upon the outcomes I wanted. In a manner of speaking, it was one-dimensional. Though terrifying at first, the thought of having the faith not to be healed ultimately freed me from worry. It allowed me to have complete trust that my Heavenly Father knew me better than I knew myself, and He would do what was best for me and John.
Elder Bednar taught,
“We recognized a principle that applies to every devoted disciple: strong faith in the Savior is submissively accepting of His will and timing in our lives—even if the outcome is not what we hoped for or wanted.” He continued, “Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains—if moving mountains accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, and lame—if such healing accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even if we have strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.”
Think for a moment about a time in your life when you’ve asked, “Why me?” Or “Why did this happen to so and so?” Think about an area of your life in which you may have drank the bitter cup and have shrunk to become embittered. Think of this area and then listen to the promptings of the Spirit in how and what you can do to move from a “Why me?-embittered” attitude to more of a submissive, “What’s important now?” attitude. Then Do it.
We’ve discussed in generalities why mortality comes with hardship, but sometimes that answer seems insufficient. The unfairness seems too blatant. I don’t know all the reasons or meaning behind the real or perceived inequalities of the mortal experience. But some things I absolutely do know.
I know that God lives and that He loves us. I know that his Gospel, His plan of happiness is the blueprint to true and lasting happiness and real success and growth in this life and in the life to come. I know that life is supposed to be hard. No one gets a free ride through mortality. We’re all going to have times of heartache or suffering.. I don’t believe we’d look back with any sense of gratitude toward our Savior or in accomplishment for what we will do in our lives if it were not hard and did not require “all we can do.” I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and I know that Jesus Christ suffered for the sins, infirmities, depression, anxiety, and suffering of each and every person who ever lived and will live on this earth. I don’t know how that all works.
The_Garden_Tomb_2008
I don’t know how the time aspect of suffering — of a person enduring years of a debilitating illness or handicap is summed up and experienced in several hours to a day by Christ in the garden and on the cross. But I know that Christ knows how to succor us according to our infirmities. And I know that with His help and with the spiritual gifts that our Father in Heaven is willing to grant us if we ask, we can experience all the hurt, suffering, and loss that mortality has or will offer us and not shrink and become bitter–but instead we can allow our will to be swallowed up in the Father’s– nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.
Brothers and Sisters, if you’re in a place in life where you feel like that little Irish girl after a long red-eye flight, –or worse–you might be thinking, “redeye flight, that’s a cakewalk compared to what I’m going through”–  you feel like breaking down and yelling out that life isn’t what or where or how you want it to be, it is my hope that you might remember just for a moment the why of the suffering and bad things in life–let that give you meaning and purpose–and then move on and ask, “What’s important now?” Pray for the enabling power of the atonement on your behalf and then act in a way that you will not shrink and become bitter. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.