Constant Vigilance!

Please tell me you recognize that quote.

I’m reading Harry Potter to my kids right now and we are in book 4, where Alastor Moody is introduced. Even though he turned out be be bad disguised as good (a whole other topic for a whole other time), he had some great advice. Also, I would love to have a sneakoscope and foeglass. The sneakoscope would work just like in the book, but my foeglass would warn of temptation and sin.

But back to my point. Professor Moody’s dramatic piece of advice to the students for fighting against the Dark Arts was, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my need for more searching prayers more often. Especially morning and night. For a week or two, it was new and magical and I felt welcomed back. Then, all those things that were excuses before came sneaking back in without my noticing. I tried to pray in the mornings in the middle of my getting ready. Showered, dressed, and hair combed, but still needing to put on my eyelashes and dry my hair. My intent was that it become a part of that process.

Then one morning I had somewhere to be. Time was of the essence, my brain was going a million different directions and I totally skipped past it. For a couple of days…

The evenings slipped most quickly, though. Golly, that bed has a power of temptation all on its own. I can pretty well ignore it all day, but as soon as the last kiss and hug has been given, my bed calls to me. “Come. Lay down. Relax. The bedtime gauntlet is over and you can just tune out here until the morning gauntlet. You neeeeeed this.”

I have no self-control. I’m practically running at it’s siren call, and before I know it, I’m enveloped in the warmth and comfort of my heating pad and blankets. About 30 seconds before I’m asleep, I realize I forgot to pray. At first, I would grab the extra blanket from my bed, wrap it around me, and get on my knees. Last night I did the huddle under the covers thing.

And yes, praying is praying and you should absolutely pray no matter what the circumstances, but my intent is to have more meaningful, heartfelt prayers, presenting my best-self before the throne of God.

Huddling under the covers doesn’t cut it.

Constant vigilance is hard!

I realized one thing that had changed in those first few weeks was that I was trying to not get lost in Facebookland everytime I felt bored or overwhelmed or like I wanted to kill people. So, I decided to remove that app from my phone. And Pinterest. I don’t end up on Pinterest very often, but if I really feel like I have time to waste and nothing new is coming up on fbland, I’d end up there. So, those are gone. It was too tempting to get sucked into a screen coma.

A friend wrote on Facebook (ironic) recently that she realized every time she got on Facebook, she was actually looking for something to read. That’s true for me. Especially something mindless. I can peruse Facebook while children are talking to me and still comprehend both things. Or tune both things out.

But, my idle time was very idle. Since I feel like I have very little time to read anyway, I decided to use that bored time to open the Gospel Library app on my phone. Not to read scriptures, because I really need to focus to get anything out of them, but I could easily read a small amount of the Ensign.

I was really proud of myself the other day when I realized I’d actually read all the talks from October’s Conference!

Please don’t point out that it took me three-and-a-half months. That might burst my bubble a little.

But that is the point. Remembering to do the little things are what will help us be constantly vigilant and in a place where we can feel and recognize the peace and love of the Spirit. Then we’ll also be able to realize when that warmth is slipping away a little. I realized it this morning. That’s why you get this long-winded essay.

In Harry Potter, the Dark Lord lost some of his power and slipped into the background for a while, but he built up his strength and watched for every opportunity he could to regain his power.

When we slip into complacency, Satan seizes those opportunities and builds upon them.

“Constant vigilance!”

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Holding Fast to the Word of God

I teach Sunday School to a group of fabulous 10 year olds at church. It’s such a great age because they are beginning to come into their own. They are just getting into that tweenager stage so they don’t have the full attitude yet and are starting to ask their own gospel questions and look for their own answers.

A few weeks ago, our lesson was on a vision had by a Book of Mormon prophet named Lehi. We call it “The Vision of the Tree of Life.”

Here’s a quick and dirty summary of the vision: Lehi sees a tree with fruit, there is a rod of iron leading to it which keeps people safe from mists of darkness, dirty rivers, and a great and spacious building. The tree represents the love of God, the rod is the Word of God, the mist is tempation, the river filth, and the building represents pride.

Here are the specific links if you’d like to read for yourself. It’s good stuff.

1 Nephi 8; 1 Nephi 11; 1 Nephi 12

As I was teaching, I noticed something I hadn’t before. That’s the wonderful thing about re-reading the scriptures. New stuff, even though it’s old stuff.

Anyway, something Lehi said about the iron rod made me pause in the middle of my lesson and mark the scripture so I could think about it more later on.

…they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.

And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.

-1 Nephi 8:30-31 (italics added)

Some of the people had taken hold of the handrail and some had let go and were making their way to the building. But the verbs used are what really got me thinking. What’s the difference between pressing forward and holding fast, and feeling their way?

I typed those phrases into Google and came up with these:

Press forward – to move forward; to struggle forward; to continue. syn – advance; make up for lost time; pick up speed, proceed forward; progress. (synonyms from thesaurus.com)

Hold fast – remain tightly secured; continue to believe in or adhere to an idea or principle; stick or become stuck to. syn – attach; cement; cleave. (synonyms from thesaurus.com)

Feel your way – to judge where you are going by touching with your hands instead of looking; to act slowly and certainly because you are not certain how to do something.

Sounds like pressing forward is not always easy. It denotes difficulty and catching up. Living the gospel and standing up for what you believe are certainly difficult. Facing loss, sickness, heartache, or having a trial of faith can make it truly challenging to even struggle forward. But those who do press forward progress. I’ve had plenty of times in my life when I’ve felt like I was playing catch up with the Gospel. But I always knew there was a light I could look to to find my way, even if I had let go.

Holding fast indicates not giving up, even when those terrible difficulties arise. One of the synonyms for this is cleave, which Google defines as “become very strongly involved with or emotionally attached to”.  The irony of this for me is that I didn’t feel that deep emotional attachment to Jesus Christ and my beliefs until after I had gone through the darkness, had let go a few times, and finally found my way back. That time of drawing close to my Savior and trusting Him with my heart and soul is when I truly grew to love Him.

Oppositely, feeling your way conjures images of darkness or not being able to see, experimenting with one thing or another trying to find what feels right. There is no light to look to. There is no solid handrail to grip when dark and difficult times arise.

Someone shared this personal experience in the magazine for youth, The New Era:

I was 14 and struggling. I didn’t have many friends. Those I had were beginning to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and immoral behavior. The pressure to participate was growing daily. I was struggling to stand up for my beliefs. I was struggling to find friends. I could understand why temptation was called “mists of darkness” (1 Ne. 12:17). I felt blind to the light of the Spirit.

Pressing forward and holding fast vs. feeling your way to me is equivalent to light vs. darkness, hope vs. despair, love vs. hate and anger.

Jeffrey R. Holland spoke on this:

Our times are turbulent and difficult. We see wars internationally and distress domestically. Neighbors all around us face personal heartaches and family sorrows. Legions know fear and troubles of a hundred kinds.

This reminds us that when those mists of darkness enveloped the travelers in Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, it enveloped all of the participants–the righteous as well as the unrighteous,the young along with the elderly, the new convert and seasoned member alike. In that allegory all face opposition and travail, and only the rod of iron–the declared word of God–can bring them safely through.

We all need that rod. We all need that word. No one is safe without it, for in its absence any can “[fall] away into forbidden paths and [be] lost,” as the record says.

I’ve been through some stuff, but I’m not standing before My Maker right at this moment, so I know there will be more stuff. Having a hope in Jesus Christ helps me not want to cower in a corner and hide until the great and dreadful day when He comes again.

As my boys are fast approaching the searching and experimenting teenage years, I have a lingering fear of what they will choose. But I also have a deep hope. If we as their parents keep the light of Christ alive in ourselves and our home, they will have a place they can look to for guidance and answers, even if they are feeling their way instead of holding fast. We’ve certainly had our times when we were feeling our way along as well, and (hopefully) sharing our own experiences will help them see the need to hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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The Great Healer

Ever since the pivotal moment in my youth where I had an undenying witness that Jesus is the Christ and He loves me, I have never doubted. Pulled myself away, yes, but never, ever denied His miraculous love and healing power.

His love is unconditional, and the miracle of His atonement reaches every aspect of every life.

The events of my youth were traumatic and heartbreaking. Add to that the additional choices I made that were not in line with what I was taught, and I had a serious need for the grace and forgiveness of God.

And I got it. It was a long road, and it a was hard, but because I went through those things and experienced both the gift of forgiveness and the weight and burden of my grief and anger lifted, I truly came to know the love of Jesus Christ.

He healed my heart. He blessed me with amazing people to help fill the hole in my heart. Especially my amazing husband.

He also took me by the hand and gave me the strength to repent of the sin I was committing.

In the Book of Mormon, Alma 26:17 uses one of my very favorite words in the scriptures: Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?

Mosiah 27:29 uses it again: My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.

That word “snatched” is a powerful word. It makes me think of a child in a perilous situation and a parent grabbing them just before they fall off a cliff or sink under the water.

I’ve had this visual for a while now of Satan circling us like a shark, waiting for the slightest sign of weakness, to drag us down into the dark and murky waters the first chance he gets.

But when I read these scriptures, I know that if we just look up, His hand is outstretched, waiting to pull us to the light.
He’s so close. He’s ALWAYS there.

We had our ward conference this weekend and our stake president said, “Repentance works every time.”

I know that is true. From the experiences and follies of my youth to, more recently, feeling a call to repentance about my prayers, I have felt the miracle, peace, and love of forgiveness.

Especially as I’ve changed my praying habits and made an effort to be more open and consistent, I have felt an immediate and amazing change. The relationship I once had with my father has returned so quickly. He had the blessings waiting for me. I just had to make the effort.

Since Hymns speak to me, I’ll share this Hymn with you that touched my heart this weekend.

I know that my Redeemer lives.
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead.
He lives, my ever-living Head.
He lives to bless me with his love.
He lives to plead for me above.
He lives my hungry soul to feed.
He lives to bless in time of need.

He lives to grant me rich supply.
He lives to guide me with his eye.
He lives to comfort me when faint.
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.
He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
He lives to calm my troubled heart.
He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives, my kind, wise heav’nly Friend.
He lives and loves me to the end.
He lives, and while he lives, I’ll sing.
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.
He lives and grants me daily breath.
He lives, and I shall conquer death.
He lives my mansion to prepare.
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”
He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

I do know that my Redeemer lives. I feel His love and power in my life, giving me strength and hope everyday.

He has healed me.

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Letting the Lord Back In

A number of years ago, our family started giving a Gift to Jesus at Christmas. For me, it’s like a New Year’s resolution. We’ve dropped the ball the last couple of years, but I’ve still thought about something I’d like to work on throught the year to bring me closer to my Savior.

Just like I’ve dropped the ball in writing our goals down, I’ve also dropped the ball on accomplishing my own goal – increasing the frequency and efficacy of my prayers.

For a long time, I felt very close to my Heavenly Father. I turned to Him often and with fervency.

Then, when my step-dad Lloyd passed away, I got knocked for a loop. I prayed and prayed when he got his leukemia diagnosis. I felt certain he would be healed. His life would be different, but he would still be around to be a very important part of our lives. He was such a critical and stabilizing pillar for me and my kids. We needed him.

Two weeks later, he was gone.

My faith and trust in my Heavenly Father was shaken and it was really hard to turn to Him.

I could talk about the mundane and offer pretty generic prayers, but truly trusting the deep feelings of my soul to Him  was beyond me.

When I think about it, it seems so silly that I felt/feel that way. He has trusted me with so much. He has given me warnings and strengthened me before traumatic times that I wasn’t aware were coming, but after the fact, I’ve recognized that I was prompted to do something that would help me through a trial.

I’ve turned to Him and trusted in Him when I knew there was no one else I could possibly turn to, and He loved me and supported me in a way no one else possibly could.

And yet, here I am, over three years after Lloyd’s death, still having a hard time trusting Him with my heart.

What is comes down to is me.

How do I make the time to pray in the way I feel is most effective and personal? Where can I find time in my day to kneel and truly offer what is in my heart?

The time is the hardest part. A friend shared once that she prays in the shower, which I can truly see the merits of, since it is about the only time during the day when I can ponder and have complete, coherent thoughts. So, I use that time to meditate, if you will, and figure out what is happening in my day. Plus, it’s one of the only times in my day I don’t have someone needing my attention, or if they do, they know they have to wait.

I already set my alarm for 15 minutes before the morning has to start to read my scriptures, which I do off my phone in the dark, so as to not awaken anyone who may have come into my room in the night. By the time I push my alarm once, or twice, depending on how the night went, I’m rushing to get in my chapter of reading. By then someone is up and wanting to chat or snuggle, and I’m rousing everyone else to get going.

Last year I put a sticky-note on my bathroom mirror so I would remember after the kids were off and I had showered, which worked until I got used to the sticky-note and didn’t notice it anymore.

I have all kinds of excuses about nightly prayers, too. That’s when Brandon and I find a few minutes to talk and watch a show together, I’m tired and fall asleep while praying, someone needs another hug or a drink of water and I’ve reached the end of my rope and then don’t feel like praying because I’m trying my hardest not to lose it.

My list could go on.

I also feel like I need to come to the Throne of God appropriately dressed. I find it hard to talk to Diety in my underwear, even if it is Mormon underwear. And I’m so excited to get to climb into my bed that I don’t think about kneeling before I’ve stripped down to those fancy skivies and snuggled into a blanket.

So then I end up kind of bowing my head and hunching under my covers to pray.

The Lord deserves more from me. He has given me everything. I can at least get dressed.

This article from the October 2014 General Conference really stuck with me. The title, most particularly.

Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence

Whenever the adversary cannot persuade imperfect yet striving Saints such as you to abandon your belief in a personal and loving God, he employs a vicious campaign to put as much distance as possible between you and God. The adversary knows that faith in Christ—the kind of faith that produces a steady stream of tender mercies and even mighty miracles—goes hand in hand with a personal confidence that you are striving to choose the right….

As long as you allow these voices to chisel away at your soul, you can’t approach the throne of God with real confidence. Whatever you do, whatever you pray for, whatever hopes for a miracle you may have, there will always be just enough self-doubt chipping away at your faith—not only your faith in God but also your confidence in yourself.

Self-doubt is really what it comes down to. I have been doubting my own faith. Sure I’ve prayed and gotten answers to things, but my faith is lacking.

Take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being….Spiritual confidence increases when you take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being by applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ daily.

This comes down to time again. Time to read the scriptures, time to read the Ensign, time to plan my Primary lesson, time to prepare and have Family Home Evening, time to read scriptures as a family and with my spouse, time to have personal, couple, and family prayer.

But is it worth the time? Is feeling like I can come before the Lord with confidence and faith in what I’m asking worth scheduling these critical tasks into my schedule?

Obviously, the answer is yes. I have really disliked feeling a distance (that I’m responsible for) between me and my Heavenly Confidant.

Accept trials, setbacks, and “surprises” as part of your mortal experience. Remember that you are here to be proved and tested, “to see if [you] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [your] God shall command [you]” (Abraham 3:25)—and may I just add, “under all circumstances.”

I think because I had felt so close to and trusted by my Father, and in turn had truly trusted in Him and felt so confident my prayers would be answered as they had so often before, I was truly shocked. I felt betrayed and shut myself down.

This year, my relationship with Him will improve. He loves me. I know that, and I’ve been treating Him pretty badly.

Time to let the Lord back in.

 

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#bestday or #sundaycurse?

One day I was at church alone with my boys while visiting one of my old wards (congregations). One of the speakers that day was on assignment from the Stake President and spoke on a topic that has been a big focus of my church this year, keeping the Sabbath day holier.

It was a great, well-meaning talk and he had some nice ideas. At one point he was saying that we need to be respectful of those sitting around us in the meeting by paying attention and keeping quiet.

Cue the children.

At exactly that moment, one of my boys pushed the other off the bench. I generally try not to leave during the meeting, which is probably what the speaker was hinting at, but I feel when I’m alone, it’s more of a circus to haul all of my children out of the chapel than to quickly hush one of them. So I doled out the appropriate amount of comfort and discipline and went back to trying to pay attention.

I’m not kidding you when I say that not even 60 seconds later, my youngest punched my oldest in the face. Given the topic of the speaker and the previous fiasco, I had to hold back from laughing out loud.

I thought, “This guy is telling me I don’t belong here!”

Probably a big part of what made me not break down in tears was that I was sitting within a group of people who loved me and supported me when my husband was called to the bishopric and had to sit in the front of the congregation, leaving me alone to wrangle four very small boys, ages newborn to eight.

See, I used to have this ideal of what my family should behave like at church. You know, all lined up with hands folded and heads reverently bowed, shirts tucked in, and shoes tied. I got really frustrated at any misbehavior, which wasn’t really misbehavior, just normal behavior for little boys doing their best to sit still for an hour and fifteen minutes when nothing being said is really aimed at them.

Until one day my boys were behaving normally and I was already close to the end of my rope after getting them out the door for 10:00 church on my own and I was just about to lay into one of them when a friend behind me starting laughing.

His reaction made me stop and analyze my reaction.

I needed to lighten up. I surely wasn’t getting anything out of church by being angry and frustrated the whole time and going home in tears every week, and my boys would very quickly resent going. That’s not what anyone wanted.

So I made a few changes on Saturday to make Sunday morning go more smoothly, and changed my expectations.

Amazingly, Sunday got better.

This year, with churchwide push to make the Sabbath the best day of the week, I’ve spent a little time thinking about what else I can do to make our Sabbath better. The result?

Sunday Curse.

The first time I spent some time thinking about it and wondering what to change, my husband came down ready for church in his everyday work clothes. He works as a Director of Communications and Marketing, so he wears nice business casual clothes everyday, plus he teaches early morning seminary, so almost always wears a button shirt and tie, but he has a suit for Sunday because we are supposed to wear our Sunday best, and in his closet, in my opinion, the suit is his best.

So we got into a little tiff over his clothing choice for that day. I had concerns not only that he wasn’t putting his best foot forward, but that it would lead to arguments with my boys over what I felt was appropriate to wear to church since, they, too, have suits.

I realize that all this makes me sound ridiculously shallow, but it is the Sabbath, and showing our utmost respect is important to me. I mean, after all, if my family is going to act like themselves and I’m going to be ok with that, at least we should try to look nice!

Sunday Curse. I swear it’s real.

I kind of gave up on the idea of trying to improve our Sunday, until one day I saw this quote on Instagram:

All of us are blessed when the Sabbath is filled with love for the Lord at home and at church. When our children are taught in the ways of the Lord, they learn to feel and to respond to His Spirit. We will all desire to attend each Sunday to partake of the sacrament when we feel the Spirit of the Lord. And all, young and old, who are carrying heavy burdens will feel the spiritual uplift and comfort that comes from a Sabbath day of devoted contemplation of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, Christ is always near, waiting and willing to help us when we pray for help and are willing to repent and come unto Him.

– M. Russell Ballard

Then that same night I opened my Ensign to a conference talk by Claudio R. M. Costa entitled “That They Do Always Remember Him” and read this:

I believe that starting a tradition of telling the stories of Jesus to our children and families is a very special way to keep the Sabbath day holy in our homes.

This will surely bring a special spirit to our home and provide our family with examples from the Savior Himself.

The Sabbath and the sacrament become much more enjoyable as we study the stories of Christ. In so doing, we create traditions that build our faith and testimony and also protect our family.

Well, geez. What am I supposed to do with that?

I tried to keep those thoughts from wandering around in my head again during the week because of the argument from a few weeks ago and didn’t even bring it up in my prayers, but still, that Sunday turned out a little ugly. Sunday Curse strikes again!

So, really, what am I supposed to do with this? I’m still trying to figure it out, but one thing I have felt is that I need to quit forcing it. Being dictatorial doesn’t invite the Spirit. Watching a video from mormon.org, practicing my mediocre piano skills by playing the Hymns, and reading a story or two from the Friend at bedtime do invite the Spirit. And if I happen to practice piano over the top of the football game, well, bonus!

Truthfully, Sunday has been my favorite day. We don’t turn on the TV before church and my boys find creative ways to play together. They (generally) get along and there is a feeling of happiness and peace. I turn on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir channel on Pandora and it adds another level of peace.

I know I still have a long way to go, but it doesn’t have to change today.

Line upon line.

Baby steps.

All that jazz.

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Finding Our Way

They say with age comes wisdom. I’m not sure I’m really old enough to claim I have wisdom, but I have some very beautiful and life-experienced women who I call dear friends from whom I’ve gleaned wisdom. Add in my own life experiences and I might have a tiny bit of insight into real life.

All that to say, one thing I know for sure is we all have to find our own way to Christ and our trials can help us build a deep and lasting relationship with Him better than anything else. I know I wouldn’t have the relationship and trust I do without the challenges I’ve been through.

I had my biggest “come to Jesus” moment when I was really young. I was lost after my father died. I was definitely a daddy’s girl. I would turn to him for love, comfort, answers, all those things a little girl needs. I didn’t know how to do that with my mom, and I never really tried. Add in the fact that he ended his own life, and not only had I lost my pillar, there was anger, abandonment, and guilt. I was a month shy of 13, and the next 5 years were hard.

I ended up in my Bishop’s office a few times. It was a part of my path. Amazingly, my Father trusted that I would find my way. And in one of my most cherished moments, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, told me He was there.

I felt on fire. My heart was so full of love and joy and happiness, I thought it would explode. I wanted to run and jump and yell and tell everyone!

It changed me.

My experiences are not unique. Everyone has their own refiners fire. Some people (me) are more bull-headed and need to be knocked around a little before we learn our lessons. It seems some of us have a deeper faith and need less time in the refiner’s fire. Some of us haven’t come to the trial point in our lives. But we will all get there. We all get the testing we need to humble us enough to find our way back. For some of us, it might not happen until the next life.

I think my younger brother is one of those in that last group.

I was reading in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 3:34 when I got the phone call about my brother. That scripture quickly became one of my favorites: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever.” It helped me understand that he was finally in a place where he would find peace. This was his way to the Lord. He had also been lost after our dad died, and I knew that he was getting the answers he so desperately needed but weren’t available here. He was remembering his testimony and kneeling before his Savior.

I truly feel that our Father loves us so much that He gives us every chance He possibly can to find our way back. And we have to go through the experiences we have in our lives so that we can be like Him and associate with Him on a personal level.

I can absolutely say that I am grateful for what has transpired in my life because those things have made me who I am today. I know my Father in Heaven trusts me, and I trust Him. I might not always understand why, I might question His motives, and I might be mad about some things, but I trust Him.

After all, I can only see my tiny picture, and He sees all of eternity.

 

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Teach Us Tolerance and Love

I’m taught a lot through music. Some people can recall scriptures at a moments notice. I am not one of those people. I have a hard time memorizing scriptures and remembering where they are located and the story behind it all. I’ve been studying my scriptures regularly for almost 20 years now, and can recall small parts of verses, but if I have a specific scriptural though come to mind, I ask Brandon where it is. He always knows.

But music is so different for me. Music sticks with me. Music is the language of my soul. And there can be so many gospel principles found in one song. One of my favorite hymns gave me a line to ponder last weekend.

In humility, our Savior,
Grant thy Spirit here, we pray,
As we bless the bread and water
In thy name this holy day.
Let me not forget, O Savior,
Thou didst bleed and die for me
When thy heart was stilled and broken

On the cross at Calvary.

Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving;
Teach us tolerance and love.
Let our prayers find access to thee
In thy holy courts above.
Then, when we have proven worthy
Of thy sacrifice divine,
Lord, let us regain thy presence;

Let thy glory round us shine.

For a long time, the first two lines of that hymn are what ran through my head when I was having a hard day with my boys, or the fighting was getting out of hand.

This weekend, another line stuck out to me. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a post from Humans of New York:

“I’ve never been in a relationship. I haven’t even told my parents that I’m gay. I was sitting with my mother at dinner the other night, and a gay couple walked by holding hands. She said to me: ‘I don’t know why they have to do that in public.’ I didn’t say anything. But I was looking at her, thinking: ‘How do I tell you that’s what I want more than anything?’”

As I read it, the line “Teach us tolerance and love” came to my mind.

What if a part of the way we become more like our Father is to learn tolerance and love for the actions and choices of others?

Moroni 7:47 says, “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him”.

Then consider this, another favorite of mine:

“We often equate charity with visiting the sick, taking in casseroles to those in need, or sharing our excess with those who are less fortunate. But really, true charity is much, much more.

“Real charity is not something you give away; it is something that you acquire and make a part of yourself. And when the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again. …

“Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended. … Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.” (Marvin J. Ashton)

If charity truly is the pure love of Christ, and this quote is a very small definition of true charity, then what do we have to learn about tolerance and love?

Jesus said the second great commandment is to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Love is the great healer of all. “Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship. It comforts, counsels, cures, and consoles. It leads us through valleys of darkness and through the veil of death. In the end love leads us to the glory and grandeur of eternal life.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin)

Obviously, there are some horrific and tragic choices being made that can’t be tolerated, and they will receive their judgement at the bar of God, but we are commanded to love. Love essential to our own salvation.

Love always wins.

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Move Forward In Faith

I’ve had a couple of fun experiences in the last few weeks that have made me think about pressing forward in faith. And truthfully, these didn’t really require pressing so much as just carrying on with regular life and hoping for the best.

The first was a Relief Society (our women’s organization) activity on a blustery night. Ok, so it was a full blown windstorm and there was a warning issued about not leaving your home’s just as I walked out the door. But here was my justification. We were highlighting some beautiful senior sisters  (not nuns, sisters in the gospel) in our ward, so a lot of time and love had gone into this activity already, plus I didn’t read the warning until after the event. Anyway, my committee and I were at the church setting up for this (what we were hoping would be) beautiful event when the power went out.

At 6:47.

And the five ladies we were highlighting were already there.

And there is no emergency light in the gym.

It was dark.

Fortunately, someone more prepared than I had a few flashlights in their purse, we finished setting up, and, at 7:00, the lights came on! A friend of mine teased that that’s what happens when you move forward with faith. I kind of think it was a coincidence, but I never doubt that the Lord is looking out for me, so, maybe.

The second was this week. I’m in the middle of tearing down and rebuilding my master bath shower, and one night I discovered I lost a diamond in my ring. I quickly ran to my room to say a tearful and heartfelt pray and felt like I needed to look in our huge tool chest that I had been messing around with earlier. So, I went out and dug through every drawer, pulled out the bottom drawer to look in the base, checked the surrounding floor, and found … a mouse skeleton.

I went back in a little distraught. Where could it be? The only other places I could think of were the pickup truck full of shower debris, or the shopvac, also full of debris. I felt I needed trust in Him instead of crazily dig through piles and piles of dust and dirt, so I decided I’d keep my eyes open and hope for the best. If it hadn’t shown up by the time we were ready to dump the garbage, I’d dig through the tile and sheetrock to see, if by some miracle, I could find it.

Fast forward to another night of cleanup. As I was vacuuming, I noticed something shiny on the floor. It was a shaving from a screw, but it put me on alert. Could I have, by some miracle, missed the diamond in my cleanup the day before?

Miraculously, I had! I looked over, and there it was, standing straight up, stuck to the subfloor that was tacky from glue residue.

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This I did feel was a miracle. I had prayed about this multiple times, had gone over the demolition area with a flashlight more than once, had worked in there all day, and didn’t run across it. This was a tender mercy of the Lord. I had done what I felt prompted to do (look through the tool chest, put off digging through the trash), and then moved on with hope.

As I was thinking about this idea of pressing forward in faith and reading a little, I came across this quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in our General Presidency: “There are times when we have to step into the darkness in faith, confident that God will place solid ground beneath our feet once we do.”

Which brought me back to the time we really did press forward in faith.

My husband, Brandon, was working his dream job as a baseball announcer in North Carolina. He had dreamed of and planned for this career since he was a boy. His schooling was focused on it. And then he decided it wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t good for him, it wasn’t good for us, and it wasn’t good for our family.

So, one day, he walked in the door just a few hours after he’d gone to work and said he’d quit. I was shocked and scared, but so proud of him. He stepped into that darkness in faith. And things weren’t all roses and daisies immediately. There was a while there where he was unemployed and went to interview after interview only to be told he was their second choice, but the first choice had accepted the job offer. It was a humbling time, to be sure.

We took another step forward and decided to move back to Washington to live with my parents while Brandon continued looking for employment, since we were focusing our search closer to our family anyway.

Brandon kept searching in faith, even though rejection after rejection was depressing, and finally got offered a job working in communications for a state agency. Not at all where he thought he’d end up, but it put us on an amazing path, His path, which is always better than our own.

Ether 12:6 in the Book of Mormon says: “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” As we’ve looked back on this time in our lives, we can truly see His guidance we through it all.

This experience, more than anything else, has given me courage to occasionally move into the darkness, but more importantly, to put daily trust in the Lord that He is guiding me and I need to keep moving forward.

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He Knows My Name

We had a conference at church this last weekend where all the members in our area (10 congregations) met together to be taught by our area leaders. There was a great story told about a man who was on a ship that was going down. The captain had ordered everyone to stay on the boat, but this man had a voice tell him by name to get off the boat. He tried to convince the captain they should jump off, but the captain was convinced they would be safer staying on. After the fourth or fifth time of being told, each time by name, to get off the boat, he finally tackled the captain off. Shortly after, the boat sunk like a rock and they would all have been killed in the suction if they had stayed on.

When the man was asked what he took away from that experience, he replied, “He knows my name.”

He knows my name as well. When I was 18, I had an undeniable witness given to me that He knows me and loves me. That was my first true testimony building moment, and it is my most cherished. Still, nearly 20 years later, it amazes me.

I’ve had gentle reminders of it through the years. Sometimes when I’m feeling lost, often as the frustrated mom of many small, rambunctious boys, and almost always when I’m struggling. Sometimes I ask for the help, like when I can’t find things, and sometimes it just shows up out of the blue and knocks me off my feet that He knows what I need in that moment.

Take this last weekend. My husband just got home from a two-week long trip. The first week was fine, but going into the second weekend, things started to unravel. My sister was ill and my mom needed to go help her, leaving my with my grandma to take care of (have I told you we share our home with my mom and grandma? We know, we’re crazy), along with ourselves, minus Brandon. At first it seemed doable, but as the weekend approached and behaviors started to deteriorate, I started to feel like we weren’t going to make it. Add that my mom’s trip needed to be extended a day, the time for church on Sunday got moved up an hour from 10am to 9am and was a 30 minute trip away instead of our normal 10 minutes, and two of my boys were very unhappy and vocal about a going to a scouting food drive, I was barely holding it together when I dropped them off at the church Saturday morning.

Then, He knew my name.

As I was getting ready to drive away, one of the boys Scout leaders flagged me down and offered to bring the boys home with him. It was such a small gesture, and really no big deal to him, but in that very moment, it was so huge for me. One less trip I had to wrestle with children to convince them to get shoes and coats on and get in the car. I drove home in happy, disbelieving tears.

We got home and I sat down to decompress from the FUN morning I’d had when my phone rang.

Again, He knew my name.

A friend called and said she just felt like she needed to volunteer to watch the kids so I could go to the adult session of the conference that night. I had written that out of my schedule long ago. There was just no way it was going to happen. But here was a sweet friend listening to a little prompting voice and acting on it. I was seriously stunned. I rarely cry around people, or to them, so you know it was a big deal when I couldn’t even speak for about 60 seconds.

How did He know? Because He knows me. He is aware of the mundane, everyday details of my life, and even though I don’t always notice it, if I’m coherent enough by the end of the day to think about it, I can see the small ways He has stepped in to lighten my load, or help me be patient, or help me be the one to show someone else He knows them.

“I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.”

He knows my name.

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“By Small and Simple Things”

We had an awakening moment in our house last week. Life had gotten very busy with kids going in various directions from the time school got out until 8:30. I had also started reading Harry Potter to the kids at bedtime, and that was important to them, so family scripture and prayer got rushed so that everyone was in bed and I could read. Or, sometimes I’d read a few verses of scripture from the hallway and everyone would fold their arms from their beds. Or, I would sing a quick Primary song and then pray while they were in bed. Or, it got forgotten all together.

Then one day I caught my boys breaking a serious house rule. You know, not the kind you just quickly reprimand and move past.

And suddenly we realized we were rushing (or missing all together) something critical in our lives. And it seems like such a small thing! We go to church, we pray at meals, we expect and teach good behavior, we even pray together as the boys are running out the door in the morning, but we were missing something vital. Small, but vital. We weren’t putting on our whole armor or getting our whole shield up. And, boy, did the adversary find that gap quickly. We had let our guard down.

When the boys were little, I had this visual of a force field encapsulating my home that would protect us from the fiery darts. Now that they are older and making more of their own choices and exercising their agency, it is getting harder for me to protect them, and more important than ever that I do everything I can to help them protect themselves. And the things they need are small.

Alma 37:6 in the Book of Mormon reads, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” and that scripture never spoke more true to me than it did when I realized that the small task of gathering together to read from the scriptures and pray brought great protection. I mean, it only takes 15 minutes at the most. How could I shoo that away?

As I’ve watched dear women whom I love dearly leave the church, it has made me realize that Satan also only needs a small gap to gain a great hold. And he is ever watchful.

Over the summer I had let a seemingly insignificant thing creep back into my life, but it wasn’t insignificant because the Lord had told me to delete it from my habits. So, when I got my gentle reminder about exactness in obeying the laws of God, I made an immediate change. See, I have another image of us floating in the ocean, with sharks circling, watching for the smallest sign of weakness so they can attack and pull us down. And he’s so wiley, he knows just the small thing that can destroy us.

The amazing part is, we have someone on our side, ready to snatch us up when He sees the smallest chance as well. And He will give us gentle reminders about the small things we need to change or improve on so that we can become our greatest selves. The us that He knows and loves because He walked with us before. His love is no simple thing. It is vast and unfathomable, especially for me, who shows her weakness and unworthiness daily. He still loves me. He is still cheering me on. And He is helping me every small step of the way.

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