Sunday, August 28, 2011

Paying my Children to go to Church !?!?!

You know it's going to be a good Sunday when all four kids have broken down in tears and stomped the feet repeatedly and wailing, "I won't go! You can't make me!!"

Ahh, you could just revel in those sweet Sabbath morning sounds.

Usually at least two of my children pitch fits about Church, but this morning was over the top with three of them desperately trying to get out of their weekly ecumenical obligations. See, the Little Cannoli has been sick for the past week and last night she cried and cried. I took her to Urgent Care this morning to get her ears checked, but they were all clear. The doctor looked at me, smiled and said, "It's just cold!" Little Cannoli needed a nap and since she was (is) feverish there was no way she was going to Church. That means one of us adults had to stay home.

After the DH and I negotiated for a good five or six minutes about who needed a nap more (it was super sophisticated of us, "Me!" "I'm SO tired, though!" "Me, too!" "Nu-uh. I'm more tired." "No, I am!" "You have more jobs at Church. You have to go." "Not this week, I don't." "But I don't WANT to!" Yeah, we weren't at our best either. . .) the DH finally bit the bullet and said he would take the kids. Heaven bless him!!

When the kids found out I wasn't going the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth began. Supergirl E and Mr. J were easily bought off with snacks. But Princess N was holding firm. She had drawn her line in the sand and wasn't budging. There was no way she was going to Church without me unless the DH carried her kicking and screaming. After talking with her for awhile, she admitted she was worried he wouldn't make it to Primary to pick her up on time and she would left all alone in the Primary room. There was more back and forth and finally I said, "You can trust your dad. He will be there. I promise!"

Princess N rolled her eyes, "Pu-lease. Yeah right."

And then it came out of my mouth: "I'm so certain you can trust him that I will give you $3 if he doesn't show up on time."

"Seriously? $3? 300 pennies worth of money?" Her tears immediately dried up and her eyes gleamed like Donald Trump's do every time he fires someone.

"I trust him so much I'm willing to put a bet down," I said. "Not that YOU should ever bet. Especially on a Sunday. Because gambling is bad. . . but your DAD is not."

"$3, huh? All right." She then turned to her siblings, "Hey guys! Mom's gonna pay us money to go with Dad!"

See? Getting your kids to Church is easy as pie. You just have to pay them :P

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony (Part Three)

Here's the final part of my recent sacrament meeting talk. To read Part One go here. To read Part Two go here. BTW, all the present pictures on these posts are CAKES. Man, some people really know how to work their fondant! Blows my mind. . .

The gift of testimony isn’t just something that occurs inside us. Yes, we feel it through our emotions but testimony is more than that. True testimony is action. It is a conviction of truth that is so deeply rooted in us that we cannot help but act according to that truth. This is what Alma meant when he asked, “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change of heart?” (Alma 5:14). When our desires work in us to create spiritual experiences, experiences that we hold dear in our memories, then we are compelled to action.

While I was preparing this talk, one of my children asked me why “you always get up there every month and talk.” Now I’m not sure if this child was referring to people in general or me specifically, but seeing as I can really only speak for myself that is how I will answer the question. This is the answer: for me, testimony is action. Testimony is something I do. One way it is manifested is through standing up and sharing my feelings and experiences. Other actions I take for testimony are visiting teaching, family scripture study and family prayer, and fulfilling my Primary calling. I have had experiences where each of these things has blessed my life and the Spirit has borne witness to me that these things will lead me closer to Christ, so I take action.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said it this way, “Simply stated testimony—real testimony, born of the Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Ghost—changes lives. It changes how you think and what you do. It changes what you say. It affects every priority you set and every choice you make.”

This brings me to the final step on the path of testimony: choice. Because of the nature of faith, we cannot have a perfect knowledge of spiritual things. But a testimony is not a perfect knowledge of things. It is an act of faith. It is a choice to trust something outside ourselves, something bigger than ourselves, and hope that it is true.

Of course, testimony also isn’t thoughtless acceptance. President Howard W. Hunter, when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said, “I have sympathy for young men and women when honest doubts enter their minds and they engage in the great conflict of resolving doubts. These doubts can be resolved, if they have an honest desire to know the truth, by exercising moral, spiritual, and mental effort. They will emerge from the conflict into a firmer, stronger, larger faith because of the struggle. They have gone from a simple, trusting faith, through doubt and conflict into a solid substantial faith which ripens into testimony.” Strong testimonies grow out of difficulty and questioning. As long as we stay on the path each choice we make can be a step toward strengthening our testimonies.

The Lord has promised, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63). When we choose the path of testimony, when we desire a testimony, seek and remember spiritual experiences and take action on the witnesses we receive, the Lord will reward us with a priceless gift. We can feel the excitement, gratitude, and joy that come from getting the gift we wanted, and needed, most: a testimony.

I want us to try the little exercise we did at the beginning of my talk, but this time with testimony. I want you to think of something you have a testimony of. Maybe it is God’s love. Maybe it is the Savior’s love and his sacrifice. Maybe it is your testimony of prayer or the truth of the Book of Mormon. Maybe it is Joseph Smith and the teachings of modern prophets. Whatever it is I want you to try and envision your testimony. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What desires brought you to that testimony? What experiences did you have with that precept? How well do you remember it? What actions and choices do you make as a result of it? The way we answer those questions will help each of us know where we are on the path of testimony and how we can continue to grow in and appreciate this marvelous gift.

I close with the eloquent words of Nephi’s testimony, “Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. . . I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions . . . he hath filled me with his love. . . Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh . . . therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God” (2 Nephi 4: 16, 19-21, 35).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony (Part Two)

Here's the second part of my recent sacrament meeting talk on testimony. This is the part where I talk, over the pulpit, about what's it's like to be depressed. It was only a brief part of my talk, but I was really scared to say it out loud in front of people. But I saw several heads nod when I described my experience and then I was glad I had taken the risk. To read Part One go here.

Quite often the desire for the gift of testimony leads to an experience of testimony. These experiences are as numerous and varied as there are members of the Church because the Holy Spirit will work in each of us in an individual way. Nephi had a vision. Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Of course for most of us the witness of the Spirit will not come in an epic manner. The experience might be a simple feeling of peace after family prayer. It might be the rush of coming out of the waters of baptism. It might be a depth of feeling that comes when pondering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It might be the strength we feel after hearing someone else testify. Testimony, for most, is an accumulation of experience. The experiences come “line upon line and precept on precept, here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10) but they come. This is how it has been for me. I cannot point to one big, dramatic experience. Rather, testimony has entered my heart bit by bit, surreptitiously. It is only when I think back to years past that I realize how my testimony has grown.

Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way, “Your testimony may begin from the acknowledgment that the teachings of the Lord seem reasonable. But it must grow from practicing those laws. Then your own experience will attest to their validity and yield the results promised. That confirmation will not come all at once. . . It requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and a willingness to sacrifice.”

It is precisely because the process requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and sacrifice that testimony is also very often a memory. We live in a fallen world and are beset by the turmoil of mortality. We get sick, people hurt us, natural disasters occur, we fail or fall short. Difficulties of every shape, size and flavor arise. But God expects us to keep our testimonies intact, even when we are faced with the most frustrating and daunting events. This is when memory becomes important. Perhaps in the midst of a trial you may not feel particularly comforted or blessed, but the memory of your testimony and experiences will be there to hold you up and until the trial has passed.

This too has been true in my life. I have depression. Usually this is a well-managed condition and doesn’t put too big a damper on my life. It’s something I’ve come to understand about myself and I’ve learned to live with it. Occasionally, though, the dark times come and I temporarily lose my perspective. It is very difficult for me to feel the Spirit then. I believe my mood disorder prevents it. It is easy for me to forget the blessings Heavenly Father sends. It is easy for me to overlook His guidance in my life. It is easy for me to get bogged down in my emotions and lose my way. During those dark and sometimes desperate moments I remind myself that I know Heavenly Father loves me, that I know I am His child, that I know Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that I know He suffered for me and because of his sacrifice I will be okay. I remind myself that I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for my life and that His plan compensates for whatever struggle I am having. Even if I can’t feel the Spirit in that moment, I can remember occasions where I have felt it and it is enough.
President Henry B. Eyring told a story once about how he came home late from work one evening to see his father-in-law doing some home repair work for him. While thinking of what a nice thing this was a voice spoke to President Eyring and said, “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.” So President Eyring did. In fact, he wrote each day about how he had seen the Lord’s hand in his life in a journal that he later shared with his children. Of this effort he said, “Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening of heart and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.” Our memories play a key role in defining and sustaining our testimonies.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony ( Part One)

I am one of those strange people who LOVES giving talks in sacrament. Captive audience? Yes, please!! A Facebook friend of mine is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church and recently posted a video of one of their sermons. I really liked how joyful it was and how the pastor got the audience involved. I was trying do both those things in a Mormon way. I think it worked, although you'd have to ask a ward member to really know. I'm posting it in parts because it is really long and I would hate for anyone to resort to skimming :) Anyway, enjoy!

Think back to a time when you received a gift—one you really enjoyed. It could have been for a birthday or anniversary. Maybe it was Christmas. Or maybe it was just an ordinary day and the gift was a small but significant something. I want you to try and remember the weight of the gift in your hands. What was the shape of the box? How big was it? Was it wrapped? Next try to remember what you felt as you looked at the wrapping. Did you know what was inside it? Were your hands sweaty? Did your fingers tremble as you opened it? Maybe you were calm even as the anticipation was building inside you. Now try to remember what you felt as you held the gift in your hands. Gratitude? Excitement? Joy?

These were all things I felt when I was about ten years old and received a porcelain doll for Christmas. Back when I was growing up in Logan, Utah the biggest store in the mall was ZCMI; it was sort of like Dillard’s. It was the fanciest store I had ever been to and I loved going in there. Besides all the clothes they had a fabulous toy section and an old fashioned glass candy counter that housed some of the mo delicious confections. To this day I am still searching for a place that sells sugared pink grapefruit chews.

What was really magical about ZCMI, though, was Christmastime. At Christmas the whole store was filled with decorations. Bows, garlands, lights, trees. The place was decorated to the hilt. And, to top it all off, one entire wall was filled with porcelain dolls; row upon row of delicate, soft–haired, satin-and- silk- dressed, beautiful, blushing dolls. They had baby dolls, Laura Ashley dolls, dolls with dogs—pretty much everything a ten-year-old girl could want. But the most fabulous of all the dolls was the Gone with the Wind set. My sister had gotten the Scarlett O’Hara in the green picnic hoop skirt dress with the oversize sunbonnet the year before so I had my heart set on the Scarlett O’Hara doll in the sequined red velvet gown with the tulle shawl and ostrich feathers on the shoulders. This doll came with real ostrich feathers and the dress was made of real velvet. It was awesome.

Now, lest you think this was a passing fancy on my part, let me tell you it was not. My sister and I spent every Sunday afternoon going through magazines cutting out all the ads for porcelain dolls, figurines, and specialty plates and spoons. We mounted and numbered each picture on cardstock and then ranked them in order of beauty and coolness. I could go on but suffice it to say, my longing for that Scarlett doll was immense.

So when Christmas morning came and I saw that rectangular box my heart jumped in to my throat. When I unwrapped it and saw the label on the foot of the box I think I squealed. Then when I pulled her out of the box and felt the impossible softness of the feathers, the real ostrich feathers, I was completely filled with amazement and gratitude and joy.

This is a fun memory for me but it also has a point. The Lord gives us gifts in many ways. Usually we call them blessings, but there are some we actually refer to as gifts—spiritual gifts. A primary spiritual gift for any follower of Christ is that of testimony. Or as it states in Doctrine and Covenants 46: 13-14, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life it they continue faithful.” Elder Richard G. Scott described the gift of testimony this way, “A strong testimony is the unshakable foundation of a secure, meaningful life where peace, confidence, happiness, and love can flourish” (The Power of a Strong Testimony). How do we feel about this most fundamental gift of testimony? Do we feel as excited and joyful about it as we do our temporal gifts? I would like to suggest today a path to understanding and gaining the gift of testimony, a path that will hopefully make us feel as spiritually vigorous as youngsters on Christmas morning: desire, experience, memory, action, and choice.

In trying to define what a testimony is we usually think of things that we know, things that we would be willing to stand up and vouch for, things like the statement, “I know this Church is true.” But a testimony begins well before we stand at the pulpit and say those words. As Alma states in his famous sermon on the seed of faith, “Yea, even if ye can more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). The seed of testimony is the desire for a testimony. The gift of testimony comes to those who want it. Just like the odds of my getting the porcelain doll would have been very slim if I hadn’t fervently wanted the doll in the first place, the odds of each of us gaining and retaining a testimony if we don’t want one are very, very slim.

This may seem like a small thing to point out—the fact that we have to want a testimony in order to receive it—but it really isn’t. From the Lord’s perspective, our desires are among the most important things we have and we are, in fact, commanded to school our desires to the Lord’s path and let our “eye[s] be single to the glory of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:5). We are to focus our all on Him and His glory.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “We should remember that righteous desires cannot be superficial, impulsive, or temporary. They must be heartfelt, unwavering, and permanent.” He then went on to quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell, saying, “What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.” This is what is meant in Moroni 10:4 when Moroni says that to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon we must have, “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” A testimony is first and foremost a desire. It was so for Joseph Smith before he went into the grove to pray. It was so for Nephi when he prayed about the vision his father, Lehi, had. And so it is for each of us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"The Diet Coke" by . . . ME!

Hi friends!

A short story of mine was posted this morning over at Wilderness Interface Zone. It's all about Mormon teenage rebellion, which of course starts with everyone's favorite caffeinated beverage!

And, yes, I have a real post on it's way but we have eight days until school starts here so things are getting busy, busy, busy. Hopefully I'll get that other post up sometime this week.