Famine

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One of the classes I’m taking this semester is a Child and Family Advocacy class. It is so interesting to read different research studies and peer-reviewed articles that support the eternal doctrines and principles I’ve read about my whole life. I’ve come to realize that although I have a firm testimony in Jesus Christ I believe in eternal truths, for some reason there was a disconnect in my mind between my testimony and current research on things like marriage and family. It has been so comforting to see that there actually is so much research that backs up the things I’ve been learning at church my whole life.

In the last couple of months of seminary this year, I started really incorporating the studies and articles I was learning about in my class into my seminary lessons. I was shocked at how much my students loved those studies and would ask for the references so they could use them in the discussion they are having. I realized that my students were constantly having conversations on these topics at school and they didn’t always know how to defend their beliefs using sources that are more commonly accepted.

All these experiences I’ve been having the last few months really made these verses in the book of Amons stand out:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:

And they shall wander from sea to sea, from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.

In that day shall the fair and virgins and young men faint for thirst.

(Amos 8:11-13)

I think these verses are so interesting because it specifically points out there will be a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. I understand that to mean that the words of the Lord will be on the earth, but we won’t hear about them.

I think that is so true when it comes to so many of the doctrines that relate to marriage and family: religious freedom, fatherlessness, cohabitation, abortion, same-sex marriage, extreme feminism, equality, etc. So much of what we hear on these topics does not align with what we are taught at church. And we hear it so frequently that it becomes very difficult to discern the truth.

But there is so much hope because the truth is out there! There is actual research that supports what prophets and apostles teach and when those who are seeking hear the truth they, like my students, eat it up!

I hope that I can do my part to help the word of the Lord be heard. I hope that I can have loving, kind, and enlightening conversations with others. I hope I can do my part to share eternal truths in both secular and spiritual ways so that those of us who are seeking more light and truth can work together to find it!

A Voice Unto All

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Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants is one of my very favorites. It is the section that contains a revelation given to Emma Smith It’s not very long, only sixteen verses, but it contains such beautiful prophesies and promises about her. At the very end is this verse:

And verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my voice unto all. Amen.

I love knowing that the same prophesies and promises I’ve admired in Emma can apply to me if I am faithful. But one of the times I studied that section I looked up every single footnote and in verse 16, quoted above, it leads me to Jeremiah 42:6 which says:

Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.

Whether it be good or whether it be evil? That’s such a strange phrase! I mean, I’ve always been taught that everything good comes from Christ, so that’s easy to understand, but what’s this evil voice of the Lord business?

After a little help from the seminary manual, I learned that the phrase “whether it be evil” refers to something the people didn’t want to do rather than something bad. That makes a lot of sense! I mean, I’d like to say that I was the kind of faithful person that just happily responded to every prompting I receive, but I’m not. Sometimes the things I’m asked to do are things I really don’t want to do. Sometimes because I’m scared, often because I’m lazy, and other times because I just plain don’t understand the “why.” But I hope that I’m faithful enough to do it anyway, (though I may sometimes talk back a little first.)

Back to Emma, this footnote in section 25 gives me a whole new insight to what this section means to her and her life. She was asked to do so many things she didn’t want to do, really hard things like uprooting her life multiple times on threat of death or destruction to plural marriage. She did not live an easy life. But though she struggled at time, she was faithful. It was not easy, but she was blessed.

I hope that I can follow the examples of Emma and Joseph, Jeremiah, and so many other faithful people, and not shrink from doing the hard right thing.

Farewell to Seminary

The End

This week I was released as an early morning seminary teacher after six years of service. It is without a doubt my favorite calling I’ve ever had and I sincerely hope I have the opportunity to teach again in the future.

The thing I will miss the very most is getting to know and work with such incredible youth. Every time I would see all the crazy stuff happening in the world I would remember my faithful students and feel comforted that the next generation is so uniquely equipped to handle the circumstances they live in.

Way back in the last millennium when I was a seminary student myself, my own seminary teacher referred to the book of Daniel in the Old Testament as “The Book of Extraordinary Youth.” That has stuck with me and every set of scriptures I’ve had since then I’ve added that additional title to the book of Daniel. It was a tender mercy that this was my scripture block of study this week while I have spent so much time mourning my releasing and remembering all the students I’ve had over the years.

The qualities the four young men exhibit in the book of Daniel are alive and well in the youth of the church today. They are enthusiastic. They create deep and lasting friendships. They rely on each other. They act in faith. Christ can be seen in their countenances. They stand for truth and righteousness wherever they are. They have deep gospel discussions with each other. They look out for each other. They pray for and with each other.

Daniel 1:17 describes the youth of today just as it did the youth of old:

As for these four chidlren, God gave them knoweldge and skill in all learning and wisdom.”

I am so grateful to have been a part of the seminary program for so long. I have been in awe of the thoughtful questions they ask, I get excited when they make connections as they piece together their testimony and knowledge, and I have been truly honored when they trust me with their difficulties and personal experiences.

Their strength has strengthened me. Their great contributions to who I am becoming are now a part of me. I will treasure this time in my heart forever.

Mountains

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My family hiked up Mount Si this week. I’ve been studying the worlds of Isaiah recently and he frequently speaks of mountains as holy places. As we were hiking, I kept thinking of this quote:

“As the Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi made clear in a slight variation of Isaiah’s exclamation:

“‘O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people’ [Mosiah 15:18; emphasis added].

“Ultimately it is Christ who is beautiful upon the mountain. And it is His merciful promise of ‘peace in this world,’ His good tidings of ‘eternal life in the world to come’ [D&C 59:23] that make us fall at His feet and call His name blessed and give thanks for the restoration of His true and living Church” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Peaceable Things of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 82).

We know that mountains in the scripture soften symbolize holy places or temples. We know they are places of peace, of revelation, and of communication with heaven. With how crazy the world has been lately, and with temples still mostly closed, I wanted to find some peace on a mountain top.

As we hiked up, I was reminded that ascending a mountain is no easy task. Even though I’m an experienced hiker, when the trail gets hard there is always a little part of my mind that is thinking “There is no way I can do this! I should just turn around.” But as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I can always make it.

I’ve wondered before why God puts such beauty in hard to reach places. I’ve realized that when beauty is easy to access we, as humans, tend to sully it in some way. We litter, we overcrowd, we clear and build, or we try and make money off it. Heavenly Father puts beauty in hard to reach places so it can stay as pure as possible while still being available as a reward for those who are willing to conquer the challenge to reach it.

The same is true of our temples. There is such beauty in a hard to reach place not because Heavenly Father wants to restrict access but to keep it pure and so we appreciate the beauty of it more. We need to be sanctified, clean, and strong enough to partake of the covenants offered.

At the top of the mountain, with my family, I felt peace. The journey was worth it. My journey along the covenant path is far from over, but I know that no matter how difficult the journey gets, it will always be worth it.

Source of All Truth

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Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the source of all truth. In Joseph Smith History he talks about the unusual excitement in the area and how although all the sects of religion were using the bible Joseph had a hard time discerning truth because the things he heard all seem to contradict each other.

I feel like we are seeing something similar right now. With the global pandemic happening there is a lot of media and politics being produced about COVID-19 and the effects it’s having on our economy. However, so much of it seems contradictory. It seems like everyone I hear from is an “expert” who is telling “the real truth” while attacking those who hold opposing views. It is so hard to know what information to trust and if we don’t know what information to trust, it’s really hard to know how to act.

However, just like Joseph, we can find the source of all truth through prayer. Isaiah 11:2 talks about what happens when we receive knowledge from God. It says:

And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirt of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

I take so much comfort in knowing that although I don’t know the answers when it comes to COVID-19, I do know who is the source of all truth. I do know that as I do my part to study and to seek inspiration through the Holy Ghost I will be able to discern truth.

I still don’t know the answers, (though I am really getting sick of our stay at home order) but I have been reminded again and again over the last few months that the peace of Christ comes regardless of our circumstances. I’m going to choose to focus on what I do know instead of what I don’t know.

Widow of Zarephath

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I love the story of the prophet Elijah’s interaction with the widow of Zarephath. Elijah, who has been surviving off the food crows bring him, is told to go to the city of Zarephath where he will meet a widow woman who will be able to sustain or feed him. I have to admit, that this got a little long as I inserted all the side notes I love on the way to my main point. If you’re only interested in the main principle, feel free to skip all the italicized paragraphs.

So as he heads to the city he meets her and asks if he can have something to drink and as she’s getting it for him he asks for bread as well. She describes that she and her son are on their last bit of oil and meal and she’s planning on making their last meal before they stave to death.

Side note: I love that she describes her circumstances here. So often we expect the Lord to inspire His servants to know exactly what is going on in our lives without any effort on our part. Although that certainly works at times, inspiration + information = revelation. So Elijah was able to get more accurate revelation because she provided him with information. 

Elijah asks her to go ahead with her plan, but make him a little cake first and afterward make a meal for herself and her son. He promises that if she does so, “the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 17:14). In other words, if she acts in faith and puts serving the Lord first she will be sustained through the famine.

Side note: A common theme in the scriptures is how “When we put God first all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives” (“The Great Commandment,” Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, April 1988). This is a beautiful application of this principle. 

Maybe this woman didn’t think there was much of a difference between starving to death before her last meal or after, but she chose to act on the prophecy of Elijah and fed him first. After she acted in faith, she saw that his promise was sure and they continued to have food.

This is where so many stories end. She learned, she acted, and now she’s reveling in the blessing she received for her faith. But that’s not where this story ends! Soon afterward, her son is sick and her faith is tested again. Her son gets sick and he stops breathing. She turns to Elijah and says “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance and to slay my son?” (1 Kings 17:18).

This is so relatable! She’s basically saying, “Hey, I was super faithful and did the hard thing, and now I’m going through an even bigger trail! My son died! That’s now how it’s supposed to work! I thought when you promised we would have food that meant we would live!” I hear ya sister!

We don’t know much of her thoughts and feelings here, but we know that in a time when she may have been tempted to turn away from God and His prophet, she chose to turn to them.

Elijah took her son, prays for him, and through the power of God the child is revived. I love her response here, “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).

The widow learned that Elijah was a prophet, and then she was tested on that knowledge. She had to decide if she was going to act on her new knowledge, or if she was going to turn from it. We see this same pattern in the lives of Moses, Nephi, and Joseph Smith. It is a pattern I have seen in my own life. We can be sure that as soon as we feel like we’ve learned something, we will be tested on that knowledge.

Elder Holland has a beautiful talk on this principle, “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence” and says “This opposition turns up almost anyplace something good has happened. It can happen when you are trying to get an education. It can hit you after your first month in your new mission field. It certainly happens in matters of love and marriage. It can occur in situations related to your family, Church callings, or career.

“With any major decision there are cautions and considerations to make, but once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts. Certainly don’t give in to that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.”

Side note: The entire talk is incredible. I highly recommend reading it.

Recognizing this pattern in my life has made all the difference. Instead of being surprised and hurt when a new aspect of my faith is tested, I can see it as a part of the learning process. I see it as a part of the plan instead of feeling like something is going wrong. And when I prove faithful, it has always led me to something greater on the other side.

 

Blessings Predicated On Laws

The story of the battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua is a kind of crazy. The children of Israel marched around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times, blew their trumpets and the walls fell.

In the book of Judges, there is a story about Gideon and 300 men beating the huge army of the Midianites with trumpets and lanterns.

In both of these stories, the Lord commands the people to face a huge challenge in a way that seem to defy my understanding of cause and effect. I mean, I’ve played in symphonies and the only thing I’ve ever seen trumpets bring tumbling down is my ability to hear.

The Lord has also said:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:120-121)

If every law decreed in heaven has a blessing, what is it about blowing trumpets, marching around cities, and lanterns that make it so wars are won and cities are conquered?

With my mortal mind, I see cause and effect like the law of gravity. If I throw something up, it must come down. I sometimes try to apply that same kind of direct obedience to the commandments. If I pay my tithing, I will be financially stable. If I obey the word of wisdom, I will be healthy.

I am pretty sure that this type of cause and effect is not what the Lord wants us to learn. I think the key principle in both of those stories and in that scripture is obedience. When the Lord says that blessings are predicated upon obedience, He is not saying that the act of obeying causes our blessings, but that our blessings come because of our obedience.

I don’t believe that blowing trumpets and marching around a city somehow caused some sort of scientific reaction that we don’t yet understand that made the walls fall down. I think when the Children of Israel used their agency to obey the command of the Lord it allowed Him to bless them with the promised result.

I think this is a vital concept for me to learn. I know there are times when I am praying for a blessing and I feel a prompting to do something that seems to have no connection to what I am praying for. I am looking for an answer that will cause what I’m looking for to happen, whereas the Lord may be giving me an answer that when acted upon allows Him to bless me with the result I need.

The lesson for me to learn is that when the Lord commands, I should obey, even when it doesn’t make sense.

Now, you didn’t think I could talk about the story of the Battle of Jericho without sharing one of my favorite songs. I mean, this is a classic. Also, it is impossible for me not to laugh when the wailing woman starts her part at around 1:43. Enjoy!

 

 

It’s So Obvious

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I remember the first time I really studied the story of Moses and the brass serpent in seminary. I thought, “That is so stupid, why didn’t they just look? It was right there!” My seminary teacher likened it to the access we have to scriptures. They may sit on our nightstand next to us as we try to fall asleep with our worries and struggles on our minds. Others may look at us and say “Why don’t they just read the scriptures, they’re right there!”

The obvious lesson is that when we look to Christ, we live, we are healed, we are strengthened, we are blessed. As I read this story in the scriptures this week I thought a lot about why people didn’t do what was obviously the right thing. I know I’ve found myself saying or thinking things like this in the past:

  • McDonalds is always hiring. I don’t know why they’re begging on the street when it’s not that hard to get a job.
  • Schools shouldn’t have to teach kids that, parents should be the ones teaching that, what is the deal with parents these days?
  • If kids would just look up from their cell phones now and then they wouldn’t struggle with anxiety and depression nearly as much.
  • You have to invest in church to get something out of it, so if they want a testimony they just need to come more often.

Pretty much any time I start a sentence with “All they have to do is…” it’s headed that direction. In a list like that, it doesn’t paint me in the best light, but the point is that there are times when we assume that something that has been easy for us is easy for everyone. Maybe no one has ever taught that person the “obvious” principle, maybe they struggle with an unseen mental illness, maybe their family life is so overwhelming they are just hanging on by a thread.

Of course, there are times when pride is the reason people don’t do the “obvious” thing, but I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned serving as a Relief Society President is that I can’t assume everyone has had the background, support, teaching, and understanding I do. There are so many reasons people need help to look to Christ.

I think this is where the community of the church, ministering, and families come in. We need to help each other look to Christ. We need to stop judging other people for not looking. We need to help each other learn how to do it, when to do it, and what the temptations are when that’s our goal.

We all need to look to Christ, let’s help each other do it.

 

God Meant it Unto Good

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At the end of the book of Genesis there is one verse that really stands out to me:

But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Genesis 50:20

This is Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel, speaking to his brothers who sold him into slavery. From there Joseph’s life is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. And yet, just before he died, he’s able to tell his brothers that God used the evil acts against him to bring good.

I think a lot of us have examples in our lives of times when other people’s choices have affected our lives in difficult ways. It is sometimes very hard to see how those experiences can strengthen us and bring about good. President Eyring is constantly testifying about the power that trials have to strengthen us:

We must ask in prayer that God, by the power of the Holy Ghost, will help us see our blessings clearly even in the midst of our trials. He can help us by the power of the Spirit to recognize and be grateful for blessings we take for granted.

“The Choice to Be Grateful,” President Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, December 2011

I remember one of the first times I heard him testify that he was grateful for the difficult things he’s experienced in his life. It was during a time in my life when I felt so broken and hurt by the choices of others. My husband had just been excommunicated because of actions stemming from his pornography addiction. I didn’t yet have a great understanding of agency and I felt trapped by my circumstances.

I clearly remember thinking that there were two ways to make the pain I was feeling stop. I could let go of the standards I had been taught my entire life, or I could jump into the gospel of Jesus Christ with both feet in a way I never had before and see if I could figure out how to get the peace of the Atonement of Jesus Christ I had heard people talk about my entire life. Eventually, I made the choice to do all I could to learn how to activate the atonement in my life.

Years have passed since then. This last week I had an opportunity to speak to someone else who has a loved one struggling with a pornography addiction. Although I have that privilege fairly frequently, for some reason speaking with this person really helped me to recognize all the progress I’ve made over the last few years. I don’t think I can say that I’m grateful for my trials, but I recognize that they have been the motivation for the spiritual development I’ve worked for these last 15 or so years. I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I really like who I am.

I’m not yet like Joseph and President Eyring who are grateful for their trials, but hopefully, I’m on my way!

Since before last week it had been a couple years since I last posted on this blog I don’t think I ever shared some of the opportunities I’ve had to share what it’s like to be a wife of a pornography addict. Here are two of the things I’ve been blessed to participate in:

Heartbreak and Hope: When a Spouse Uses Pornography February 2017 Ensign and Liahona Magazines

Addressing Pornography Church Website – I’m in about half of the videos under the spouses tab, though the whole website is full of excellent resources!

Apathy vs Empathy

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A few months ago in a leadership training session of Stake Conference, the visiting General Authority talked a lot about a “plague of apathy.” The root word of apathy is the Greek word pathos, which means feeling or emotion. The prefix a means without. So apathy means without feeling. This is a plague that both ancient and modern prophets have warned of:

Jesus warned us that one of the principal characteristics of the last days would be that love among the people would gradually die. Jesus said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (JS—M 1:10; see also Matt. 24:12).

(“The Need for Love,” Elder Theodore M. Burton, General Confernece, April 1979)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens when people have no feelings. Nephi calls it “past feeling” and says that when we are in that state we are in danger of not remembering God, unable to feel the Holy Ghost and we become prideful (1 Nephi 17:45).

Obviously, the effects of pride on society may include selfishness, the inability to build healthy relationships (including families), and a disregard for the feelings and property of others.

However, I don’t think people stop feeling because those are the results they are going for, I think we hide from our feelings because when we feel and open ourselves up to others we are vulnerable. We are worried we are going to be hurt, and so we try and put ourselves in a position where we don’t care, so we don’t feel.

However, in order to protect ourselves from pain, we also insulate ourselves from feeling joy. As I’ve attended the temple this last year, these scriptures have stood out to me as never before:

And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.

And Eve, his wife, heard all these thigns and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.

(Moses 5:10-11

Side note: I think it’s awesome that we get words directly from Eve. It’s not very often we get to hear the voice of women in the scriptures and I can’t believe I scanned over it for so many years without recognizing it.

Adam and Eve were willing to enter a more vulnerable state, even knowing that they may be vulnerable to pain because the promise of joy is worth it. In fact, it’s a part of becoming like Christ. Empathy has the same root word, pathos, the prefix em means in or with. So empathy means with feeling. Having and acknowledging feelings is a Christlike quality, and required for us to return to and become like Heavenly Father!

I’ve started to notice that many of the changes in the church have been with the intent to help us build relationships with our families, other ward members, and the communities around us. These programs are aimed at helping us combat the plague of apathy and spread empathy, specifically the love of Christ.

I spent a lot of years being completely apathetic about so much in life. I felt so broken, and the only way to function seemed to be to cut myself off from feeling. However, the more I learned about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His promised peace, the more I learned how to allow Him to help me process the difficult so I could feel joy in my life. I can’t have one without the other. Although ridding my life of apathy is a continuing process, I have seen enough love and joy to know it is worth it.