27 August 2009

Reflections at 19

Today is the anniversary of my confirmation into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Starting tomorrow will be my fourth year as a member of the Church (yesterday was my baptism date) and as such I think now is a good time to reflect on the changes that have made the journey such a special one.

I've given this a lot of thought over the past few days, and I feel confident that I can do this. So here we go: the 3 most important changes of my life as a result of joining the Church. I even feel confident that I can put them in order too.

I’m a woman, Phenomenally


The third most important change to my life is the ongoing process of learning to appreciate the fact that I'm a woman. In a world that has never treated women with the dignity and respect that she deserves, and in a culture that looks at the liberated woman so differently than the Church, finding joy in the fact that I'm a young woman has not been easy. And if I can be frank, yet still maintain a certain propriety, I've come to a sense that being a woman is probably the most physically and emotionally exhausting thing I could possibly be. If my body isn't going out of my way to make me anemic, it's pounding my brain with enough hormones to incapacitate me to tears for no apparent reason. There are some days when I do not see how being a girl is anything more than painful.

But now that I'm actually taking Relief Society to heart and allowing it to reveal the femininity I've so deliberately tucked away, I see that there is a crucial difference between being meek and being weak. There is no lasting strength in headlocks and roaring fits of angry rage; nor is there anything weak about a woman who willingly chooses to be gentle and docile in the ugly face of aggression. Choosing to be meek, in fact, is probably the hardest transition I've had to make because so much of what it requires is so different from my nature. My independence has allowed me to be bold in the face of great opposition, to speak firmly for what I know to be the truth in many instances where it was not the easy thing to do. However, there is more to be being a servant of God than preaching powerful words of deep testimony--it's also having the inner stillness and serenity to believe what you say, and to dwell comfortably in that holiest of kindly spirits.

It has been no small task for me to trade my Feminine Mystique for kitchen gloves, to cover my feminism with the apron of my calling and go to work. But the more I learned about the temple, what it means to truly honor those covenants, and the blessings that would be mine if I would be exact in my obedience and devotion, the more I knew what needed to be done. I gave up what I believed in exchange for what I truly wanted.

How many drops of blood were spilled for me?

Which brings me to the second most important change. Understanding and exercising the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the means by which every change in my life has been possible. He paid for my mortality that I might come here and get a body. He paid for me to have agency, that I might learn to use that body and make choices regarding my own destiny. He paid for the mistakes that I would certainly make because I am mortal. He paid an incredible price of ultimate pain and suffering that He might have perfect compassion for me at every moment in my life. In every sickness and despair, every longing and every loneliness, I have the comfort of heaven to be with me because Jesus Christ made the choice that would make it possible. And most amazing of all, He paid the price for our ability to rise from our graves and to become as gods; exalted beings in our Heavenly Father's kingdom.

Nothing less than a perfect sacrifice could have done all of that. And even though I know all of these things and I've spent the last 3 years of my life trying to understand and appreciate them, I just have to ask: How do you thank someone who has saved your life like that, even though it would cost Him everything in life and in death to do so? The idea that anyone could love ME that much is staggering to me. It will take me more than a lifetime to understand the fullest implications of what Christ did for everyone I know and love when He died to save us all.

When you bring these truths into your heart, you begin to see how true they are in your own life and it changes you. You're willing to take more things on faith, even things that don't exactly make sense because showing your gratitude to Him is more important to you than understanding every little detail about His plan.

I have a lot of work to do when it comes to relying on His perfect grace to truly change me, even though I know that what He offers will bring inexpressable joy to my life. If getting results in the way of recognizably becoming a better person was as easy as wanting it, I'd have made it ten times over.  But a reputation is a hard thing to outrun, I can tell you that much.

I Know He Lives

Which is why the most important thing I've learned is the most important thing on my list. My relationship with my Heavenly Father is the most important thing I possess. He is my greatest treasure and my joy, my Father and my friend, the one who loves me more than I will ever understand. And in return I try to love Him more than anything on earth and even heaven itself, more than anything that dwells in either place. What He has given me is a deep and abiding assurance that He loves me perfectly, and I will spend the rest of eternity learning what that really means. Tongue or pen have no words to express how much I love Him. All I can do to show Him is to live as He tells me so I can continue to be as close to Him as I possibly can until I see Him again.

Nothing less than that will ever satisfy the yearning that is in me, and nothing in this life is worth having that would take me away from that truth.

I'd like to bear my testimony that I know these things are true. I know that my God and my care for His Church is the reason for my every happiness, that God lives and heaven smiles upon those who treasure what matters most in life. In the name of Jesus Christ, whose truth this is.
AMEN

22 August 2009

Temple Building: In which I discover I can't spell Oquirrh


SALT LAKE CITY  |  21 August 2009  |   President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dedicated the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple today. Prior to the first dedicatory session, President Monson joined hundreds outside the temple for the traditional cornerstone ceremony. [Continue to story]

I recently was listening to a talk by Elder Merrill J. Bateman. It was given at BYU in 2000, and the way in which he talked about missionary work really caught my attention because he emphasized something that I guess I've always known, but never stopped to think about.


Every temple that is built is a victory for the welfare of the human race. It stands in direct and holy opposition to Satan and his angels. Every temple that is dedicated reclaims a piece of the Kingdom for our Father in Heaven. Our temples are such sacred and beautiful places to our people, naturally we rejoice that more of them are being built. But there's more to the story than that.

What I didn't know pertains to the rate at which the temples are now being built, and how that is a reflection of how the Lord is hastening His work.

Elder Bateman points out that Isaiah was speaking to us in the latter days when he instructed:

Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes (Isaiah 54: 2)

This verse refers to the growth of the Church, which we've long witnessed as one of the fastest growing religions in both the United States and the world. But looking at it again, the imagery in it alludes to the tabernacle of the Old Testament--thereby suggesting something that I didn't realize until Elder Bateman showed me it was true.

The number of temples being built isn't just a reflection of our growth; it's an investment in that growth. Our growth is going to continue because more temples are being built, in tandem with the fact that the Spirit of Elijah is coming to member and non-member alike, to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." (See Malachi 4: 6)

And really, I'm not a numbers person. But you really don't catch on to the scope of what any of that means until you look at the numbers.

Elder Bateman quotes President Brigham Young when he said that accomplishing the work of the Lord would require thousands of temples. And like any one of us probably would think, he always assumed that such a high number would probably be a part of the Millennium, the time after Christ comes again and begins organizing His kingdom on the earth.

But to even break 1000 temples is doable in my lifetime. Elder Bateman's time frame was more along the lines of 2025, at which point I wouldn't even be middle-aged. I'm sitting here pondering what that would mean, and again, all I have to speak for me are Elder Bateman and the numbers.

I remember sitting in the upper room of the Salt Lake Temple in March 1996 during a meeting of the General Authorities. The Church was preparing to dedicate its 50th operating temple after 166 years of this dispensation. At the end of the meeting, President Hinckley stated that he hoped there would be at least 100 temples operating before he completed his assignment on earth. I sat there stunned. The president was in his 86th year. It had taken 166 years for the first 50 temples to be built. I knew him as an optimistic man, but how could another 50 temples be built in the remaining years of his ministry?
About 18 months later, in another meeting in the Salt Lake Temple, President Hinckley announced the concept of the small temple. On a long summer trip, returning from the old Mormon colonies in Mexico, the manner in which these temples should be constructed was revealed to him. The temples would be of the same quality as the larger ones, they would be built of the finest materials, and they would be constructed to last for hundreds of years. Moreover, many of them would be built next to existing stake centers. The St. Paul Minnesota Temple was dedicated this past weekend, bringing the number of operating temples to 69. The 100th temple, expected to be in Palmyra, New York, will be completed within a few months. Brothers and sisters, we are witnesses of a miracle.

This talk was given in 2000. So, let me put this in terms that even I can understand. In four years, the Church managed to double the number of temples from 50 to 100. Even though it had taken them 166 years to build the first 50?

This also coming from a church that took almost forty years to build ONE?


Now granted, that ONE is really beautiful, was made at a time period that doesn't enjoy the technology and prosperity we do today... but seriously. Forty years. That's practically BIBLICAL!

Needless to say, we've come a long way, and not on our own either. These Houses of the Lord are beautiful, and I rejoice with my brothers and sisters all across the globe as more of them are being built because even though the Oquirrh Mountain Temple isn't serving any of the saints where I am at the moment as far as performing ordinances are concerned, the fact that it's now dedicated definitely serves all of us in a very real way.

Seeing as we're in an economic crisis at the moment, and there will no doubt be some (both inside and outside of the church) that will criticize us for building temples at a time like this, I pray that we all will understand what it REALLY means to have these temples being built right now, at this rate, no matter what the personal cost. Nothing could BE more important than all of our Father's children receiving the ordinances of His holy temple.

I'd like to bear my testimony of the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--that they truly are the Houses of the Lord unlike any other on this earth. I testify of the ordinances performed inside of them. Having participated in some of these ordinances, I can speak from some of the most sacred experience I've ever had that what we do inside those holy walls doesn't just save lives here, it saves souls in the hereafter.

And most importantly of all, I testify of the blood that makes all of this possible and so much more, even Jesus Christ. I know that there is no other name under heaven whereby man can be saved, and I know that if we will consecrate our every effort to Him in righteousness, He gives us the deepest and most profound truth, joy, and peace in return.

AMEN
[On a belated note--HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRESIDENT MONSON!]

11 August 2009

Millions shall know Brother Joseph again

Artist: Joseph Brickey
Joseph Smith is dear to my heart in a way that is not easily described. He is someone I have not met
or spoken with, but I've come to know him as a person instead of a malleable history--and in my opinion, this has not only been truer to life, it has made all the difference in my testimony.

I see Joseph, a precocious child that knows something of what it means to wonder--to pray and plead with heaven for answers and comfort, peace and understanding. A youth that cannot explain the yearnings in his own heart as he wanders into some private nowhere hoping that something will come... but what? The anxiety of feeling unshakably foolish, the mounting turmoil, the deepest despair a young heart can hold, until finally...

The truth. Spoken quietly and reverently to a heart long disturbed, then finally touched... proving to body and spirit forever that there is Someone out there... waiting for someone to do more than hear and see, but to feel.

Consider the fear that comes next... yes, fear! Such fear and loneliness as to make a heart quake and tremble in the very meekness that humbles it to new life! What shall my parents and siblings think of me? My friends and neighbors? Their opinions of me matter little, but their judgment of this truth is everything to me now... just like that. As if it had never been any other way because it never can be again. But such weight isn't a heavy yoke so long as you keep moving in the never ending service of others.

And so begins the lifetime of tests, of judgment, of great sacrifices and even greater lessons-- wondering all the time if we're doing the right thing, going the right way, if we will ever be enough, and still knowing all the time why we endure. What other choice is there? Where else can I go, knowing that no other person or place can offer the newness of life I have enjoyed? There is no power of myself or in any other place that kindles that deep and abiding flame like the gospel--the trust that, when burning brightly, dispels all darkness and reveals the truth and mysteries of the kingdom of God.

Having known such light, I accept that there will be darkness anywhere and everywhere else outside of the truth. I accepted that as the light gets brighter, the darkness will grow darker still. But Brother Joseph said it best, that "deep waters are what I am wont to swim in."

I pleaded for the light, knowing that nothing less than heaven would suffice.

How do I know Joseph Smith is a prophet? Learning the truth of his call is the easiest, most basic truth there is to understand about his life! Ask and ye shall receive from the Spirit, who deliverth to all men liberally and upbraideth not! Seek the Spirit of God in humble prayer and you shall know that Joseph Smith was a prophet.

But to come to the best realization, to understand the personal wrenchings and swellings of a prophet's heart, to endure hardship and to be obedient in every instance, even when all others around you begin to stumble and fall. To work and to sacrifice as Abraham, to love and to cherish our Father's imperfect children--THAT is hard. Facing imperfection in days and ways no one anticipates from the bitterness of life... yet somehow, we continue; always knowing that we have further to go than this long and tiresome journey.

Learning to love Joseph Smith has not been difficult because in many ways it's no different than learning to love this journey. If you would know of Joseph Smith, walk beside him. Follow the path he traveled. Engage in the cause and the dream of Zion. Feed the hungry, care for the sick, the widow, and the orphan. Rejoice in the knowledge and blessings in the temple. Find joy in the Lord, the pure love of Christ, even the Holy Ghost, and you will understand the character, heartaches, and trials that truly made up the life Joseph Smith.

Some scholars and historians try to objectify the prophet's life because they think it will allow them to come closer to the truth about him, and instead they strip his life to an unrecognizable, meaningless mess that completely misses the mark of who he was. I don't understand why people would do this, but they do. It's the willful choice to focus only on that which was mortal, or worse, in the prophet's life--the instant discrediting of that which was good in him, and the magnification of that which was imperfect. Such bias against anyone, especially the prophets, or any servant of the Almighty God, is not Christian. And only by forsaking such bias can we come to appreciate the good and the true wherever it may be found, but especially in the lives and deeds of the prophets.

I know that Joseph Smith is not only a prophet, he is my brother, my friend. I look at his life as I would a friend, and in response to the criticism of him that never ceases I think to myself, "My God, what have they done to you?" And there have been times that I've been brought to tears because I wasn't able to defend him from the misinformed criticism that has occurred in my presence--just as I would for my brother, my son, or my father. I testify that God honors such love, and will meet it with truth from on high to all of those who will seek in sincere humility and prayer.

It has long been my wish that the people in my life could see and appreciate Joseph Smith through my eyes, feeling what I feel as the Spirit reveals more and more to me about his life and the kind of man he was. I know, without a doubt, that if people could see that, they would not doubt the truth of this Church, its leaders, the Priesthood, the Book of Mormon, and the Godhead that makes all of them possible.

Joseph Smith needs no apologist. He speaks for himself as one who was once ignorant, and was lifted by the perfect grace of the Almighty. Defending his life, Joseph explained:

"As for the perils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was ordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end, or bad, as you may choose to call it. Judge ye for yourselves. God knoweth all these things, whether it be good or bad. But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation; for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it."
-Doctrine and Covenants 127: 2, emphasis added

I testify in the Holy Ghost that lifted the Prophet Joseph Smith's heart to confidence in the direction of the Lord. I testify that the Spirit is the source of all truth which is to be spiritually discerned, and only by obtaining that Spirit can we be brought to that same confidence in our own standing before Almighty God.

I pray that we will always seeks for the fullest and richest blessings that heaven has to bestow in the name of Jesus Christ.
AMEN.

04 August 2009

Growing Up

"..she stretched out her arms for the three little selfish children they would never envelop again. Yes, they did, they went round Wendy and John and Michael, who had slipped out of bed and run to her.
"George, George!" she cried when she could speak; and Mr. Darling woke to share her bliss, and Nana came rushing in. There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred."

It has been far too long since I've had the tragedy of a story knock me off kilter completely.
The above is from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, a book whose ending reads almost like an epilogue, but whose events are so wrenching as to nearly bring me to tears several times. But I honestly don't know which upsets me more--the image of Peter Pan, a forgotten child outside of both window and normalcy forever;  or the reality of Wendy growing up.


 I see a lot of Wendy in myself. A curious little mother that didn't forget the lost boys. A girl that once played in mermaid lagoons and ran from pirates. She was child-like enough to fly with Peter and be in Neverland, but remembered enough of the world to be a mother and to care for her own. If only for a season, she could draw from both worlds and have the best from each.

But soon enough, she underwent a kind of transformation that must exist in order for the Peter Pans of the world to always have someone care for them. She died, in a certain sense, by growing up. But because of that there would always be a daughter to do the spring cleaning for Peter and the motherless. She left behind Neverland, a place of childhood dreams and simple morals, in order to grow up.

When you think about what it meant to come to this earth, to have our memories of our heavenly home, our Heavenly Parents, the precious truths we once knew hidden behind the veil, Peter Pan has a similar smack of that same growth process. There comes a time when we trade the truth of childhood innocence and simplicity for the truth of a conscious, accountable, sacrificing adult.

And just as Peter Pan keeps Neverland alive, a place of protection and joy for children and those with faith as children, so does Jesus Christ. That's why in 3 Nephi 17, we read:
19 And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise.
20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.
21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
22 And when he had done this he wept again;
23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
This is without a doubt one of the tenderest moments in the entire Book of Mormon. The last time I read it, I didn't fully appreciate what it meant to be a child at His feet because I didn't know what it meant to be a child. In many ways, I still don't. And like Wendy, I thought it was something that I couldn't reclaim. Like Wendy, my parents needed me to grow up a long time ago, so that's what I did. And like Wendy, I always assumed that this meant that I probably would never see Neverland again.

But thankfully, I see now that I am wrong. I'm so beautifully wrong. You and I, and everyone else on this earth, CAN see Neverland again.

Why?
 
Because Jesus Christ lives! His Atonement doesn't just allow for forgiveness through repentance, and comfort in sickness and pain. His Atonement doesn't merely pay the price for our agency and learning by giving us the choice, and I daresay even say the permission at times, to break His rules. His Atonement also paid the price for us to go home again--home to our Heavenly Father, dwelling with Him and His associates in heaven. If we want to return to Neverland, there is no other name under heaven whereby man can be saved.
 
 
 
The promise of that immortal and eternal prize has been the backbone of every idea I've pursued in the past 3 years. It's because of the vision of the kingdom to come, the hope of Israel, that I try only to do those things that will please my Father in Heaven. It's because of the sins I've committed that I know that no other way but His way, through His Son, according to His laws, on His terms will have the power to exalt the entire human race. And it's from living the commandments, even when they make absolutely no logical sense at all, that I've come to appreciate what makes them true... the fact that they're still true, no matter what the circumstances.

The entire world could fall apart, both outside these walls and within the frailest human heart, and the message of the gospel would still be true. From childhood to adulthood, states of geography and mind alike, to people of every culture, throughout all time--the message of Jesus Christ and what He has done, is doing, and will do in the future will never cease to ring louder than the echo within His empty tomb. The only "never" about Neverland is that it shall NEVER disappear, halt, cease, or fail. Even in the face of moral relativism and militant atheism, the kingdom of God is at hand.

Why? Because someone VERY real, even Jesus Christ, was willing to give up the easier, even blissful existence that we've been given here on this earth. We are here, learning to live and thrive within our own families--His gift to us. But not Him. He is elsewhere, preparing a house of many mansions in which ALL have a place. In essence, our Peter Pan took His place beside our windows because that's where we needed Him the most.

But really, I have to wonder... just how much has He given up to be there? Was that part of His sacrifice--never being able to have a life like ours? Even if you only view that question in the context of His mortal life, sometimes I wonder what it was like for Him--even as a child. From the time He was young, His sacrifice was in flawless unison with what the Atonement required; a perfect, sinless life. I simply can't fathom that. No sin. His ability to learn would have been limited only by His capacity to take in information. How does one handle that kind of power, even as a child?

But a child shall lead them... just as Isaiah prophesied. And when we look at Christ in context with His Father, we see His total submission to the will of our Father in Heaven. That's exactly how Christ would have wanted us to see Him--a perfect Son. A submissive child.

That's why we read in Matthew 18:
  1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

  2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

  3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So what does it mean to become as a little child? Obedience? Humility? Sacrifice? All of the above? Or are these just outward signs of the inward grace, and THAT is the answer?

I'll be honest, I don't know. It's a lesson that is taking me quite some time to learn. I've been paying closer attention to my family for this one, and that is never easy.

But I do know one thing. Reflecting again upon that image of Peter Pan outside of the window, this time focusing on the choice he had to make that night--whether to remain a lost boy or to be a child in the Darling home--I can't help but see one thing that frightens me most about Neverland.

How many people do I know that are standing at the window to the Gospel, trying to decide if they want to come in or not? How many people in my life will never meet another member of the Church? How many times have I passed up an opportunity to answer someone's prayer for the truth because I didn't go to them when they needed me? How many people are counting on me right now to share the truth with them, and neither one of us are aware of it?

Reflecting back on this message from the First Presidency, it's all too likely that this has already happened to me more times that I know. And that's a chilling prospect to me.

I may not know the meaning or reasoning behind all things, but I know enough to start opening my mouth to people I care about. And it's hard, and uncomfortable, and I've pretty much sucked at it so far. More than sucked. I've actually blown it a few times already. Just like Wendy, as described by her father, I can never do things half way.

But I'm not going to give up. I have too much to learn, there's too much to do, and time is more than a joke in the belly of a crocodile. It doesn't have to chase you at all in order to catch up with you. And it appears to me as if the First Presidency wants us to be more vocal in these times, following the injunction of Peter to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3: 15)

And while they haven't asked me much about hope where I am right now because they're too busy asking me about polygamy, abortion, gay marriage, and everything else about the Church that doesn't matter, that doesn't mean I can't veer off topic slightly...

... say, the second star to the right, then straight on until morning?


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