Monday, March 28, 2016

One Year

It's been trying. Scary. Tearful. Blessed. I've had promises fulfilled. Hope restored. I've met my sisters. It's been difficult, but I've been strengthened.. 

Today, I am amazed. Baffled. Confused. Shocked. 


I cannot believe that it has been one entire year since I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It seems like yesterday. SO much has happened in this first year of my life as a latter-day saint, that it seems like I haven't had time to breathe. I pick my head up, and it's been a year! What??

A lot has been going on, socially, mentally, emotionally. It has been a trying time. When I wrote about my baptism last spring, I said "He is a foundation 'whereon if men are built they cannot fall' (Helaman 5:12)." And I still believe that is true. I have built upon His rock for the last twelve months, and this has been the only way I could stand, keeping my head high, knowing that the battle is the Lord's (2 Chronicles 20:15). 


I haven't always been filled with confidence, though. I haven't always proudly worn the name of Christ on my heart or in my actions. I haven't fully lived up to my covenant in the past year. There have been many times is didn't trust God, many times I doubted, many times I wanted to give up, many times I didn't "always remember [Christ] and times I didn't "keep His commandments" (D&C 20). THIS is why I am so grateful that the Atonement is infinite. The day of my baptism wasn't the one and only day of forgiveness for me. I get to repent and take the sacrament and be cleansed as many times as I need to. When I'm sincere and I'm trying, He will always forgive. When I fall, He will stand me up, dust me off, and say "Go on! Try again!"
"After learning to crawl and then stand, [our grandson] was ready to try walking. During his first few attempts, he fell, cried, and gave a look that said, “I will never—ever—try that again! I’m simply going to keep crawling.” When he stumbled and fell, his loving parents did not feel that he was hopeless or that he would never walk. Instead they held out their arms while calling to him, and with his eyes on them, he tried again to move toward their loving embrace. Loving parents are always ready with outstretched arms to welcome even our smallest step in the right direction. They know that our willingness to try and try again will lead to progress and success." 
(Your Next Step, Randall K. Bennett).

As long as we are willing to keep trying, He is willing to keep forgiving and keep helping us. This is a lesson I have been trying to learn over and over and over again this year. Just as earthly parents don't lose hope or give up on children learning to walk, our Savior and Heavenly Parents will never lose hope or give up on us. Heavenly Father looks at us and reminds us, "I'm always in your corner." He is ALWAYS there for us. He longs to help us. 

Since I was baptized, I have faced many trials. But I have faced them, rather than running away. One of the biggest blessings the gospel has given me is the strength and hope to go on. 

Heavenly Father has blessed me so much this year. He has taught me so much, gospel knowledge in the scriptures, and spiritual knowledge and assurances that come from Him in prayer. We are growing together, Heavenly Father and me. I'm learning more about Him and what He asks of me every day. I am so grateful that He chose me, that He called me out of darkness and despair into His marvelous light. I still have a lot to learn, and I'm grateful that our Father is a patient tutor. I want to be just like Him one day.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Friday, March 25, 2016

186th Annual General Conference

General Conference is fast approaching! I cannot believe it's already been six months since our last General Conference in October.

I really really love watching Conference, perhaps especially because I'm a convert to the Church. One of the things that drew me to the Church was a living Prophet and apostles. I'd always wondered why the Bible ended, why the Old Testament had prophets, but we didn't have any now. I was delighted to hear about the Prophet Joseph Smith and our current prophet, President Monson, and to pray and receive from God knowledge that we truly do have a prophet on the earth! What a blessing it is to have a prophet to guide and teach us, to ensure correct doctrine, and to share comfort and counsel from the Lord.

I know that the sermons given during General Conference are inspired by the Spirit of the Lord. I have had so many questions answered, while watching Conference and while reading old conference talks. I absolutely love that we have new scripture, new guidance and knowledge from the Lord, as well as reminders of what we already know, every six months. This is truly and wonderful and magnificent blessing.

April 2016 General Conference will begin this Saturday (March 26) with the General Women's Meeting. How beautiful it is to gather with the women of the Church all around the world and hear from the strong women leaders of the Church. It's a very special and holy time that I really look forward to.

The bulk of General Conference will occur the following weekend, April 2 and 3, with morning and afternoon general sessions, and the priesthood session Saturday evening. You can watch it in a variety of places; visit lds.org or talk to your local leaders for more information about times and viewing options.

In case you haven't caught this yet, I firmly believe it is a wonderful blessing to be able to learn at the feet of our prophet and apostles! Through their experiences and counsel, we can grow closer to Christ. By praying to have the Holy Ghost teach us during General Conference, I know that we can receive personalized answers to the questions and struggles we are facing right now. Often these personal answers come to me "between the lines" - they're not in the words of the sermons, but in the workings of the Spirit as I listen.

I encourage you to prepare for General Conference in whatever way you see most fit, including prayer, scripture study, fasting, writing down your questions, and anything else you feel prompted to do. When we are ready and willing to learn, the Lord will pour out His Spirit upon us and bestow great treasures of knowledge. I pray that this can be your experience next weekend.

video



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hallelujah

Source: Google Images

Easter. Spring. For as long as I can remember, this time of year has been my favorite. Maybe it's just because my birthday is this time of year - spring is the first thing I knew. Maybe it's Easter eggs and bright colors and cute chicks. Maybe it's the gentle warm breezes that pull us out of a crisp winter. Maybe it's new life and sunshine and redemption and hope and promises.

As a kid, I liked spring. Maybe it was bright colors, or pretty flowers, or buying a new Easter dress. Even when I was in the traps of my eating disorder and bound by heavy depression, I still liked spring.

But when I came back to life, Easter and spring gained a new significance.

Though I began treatment in the fall, I embraced recovery in the spring. 
A year later, I was introduced to the gospel in the spring. 
Another year later, I was baptized, in the spring.


When I found the gospel, I was in the midst of a pretty bad relapse with my addiction and depression. I can remember one afternoon, sitting on the floor in my room, crying and desolate and desperate to just feel okay again. And I thought about the things I'd just head about Jesus Christ and realized - it would be okay. It's wasn't at the time, but it would be. And would be okay. The gospel gave me permission to hope, something I hadn't done for a long time.

And that's what Easter is all about, to me. Hope. Redemption. Easter means that life can come out of the ashes. It means that like a phoenix, it doesn't matter how crushed our lives are, how much it looks like it's the end. Because of Christ, it doesn't need to be the end. Because of Him, we can ALL find new life.

Hallelujah.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Leah & Rachel and the Principle of Compensation

For almost a year now, I've had the goal of working my way through the Bible. It's been always slow and not so steady.

Just a few days ago, I was reading in Genesis. I read about Jacob and his marriage. Jacob really wanted to marry Rachel, but Rachel's father gave Jacob the older sister on the wedding day, as it was not proper for the younger sister to be married first (Genesis 29:26). Jacob wasn't very happy, but he eventually was able to marry Rachel as well. And [Jacob] loved also Rachel more than Leah" (Genesis 29:30).

"And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren" (Genesis 29:31).

"And Leah conceived, and bare a son . . . for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction . . . And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also . . . And she conceived again, and bare a son . . . And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord" (Genesis 29:32-35, emphasis added).

Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son.  

Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son.

"Understand the principle of compensation. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude" (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Come What May and Love It," October 2008).

"The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss."

"All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" (Preach My Gospel). 

Leah was faithful. Leah loved the Lord. Leah was in a marriage where her husband didn't love her - actually, the scripture says he hated her. Rough, huh? So, "The Lord saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb." God blessed Leah with sons.

But! The Lord also caused Rachel to be barren. God made Rachel barren so Leah could feel something special that Rachel didn't have. Rachel had the love of her husband, Leah was able to bear children. Leah got something special. If Rachel had also borne sons, Leah's sons wouldn't be a special blessing. 

So let's look at Rachel now. While Leah was experiencing her blessings of compensation, Rachel is still here with no sons (bad news in that society). Rachel must have been pretty bummed - maybe angry. "When Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister" (Genesis 30:1). Maybe Rachel wondered why she couldn't have any sons, when her sister was bearing many sons. When we read this story in the scriptures, it's short to us - seconds or a minute to read. But Leah had four sons. If her sons were born back-to-back, that's still a matter of five to six years that Rachel is watching and wondering why she can't have any children. That must have been hard.

But as I already said, this was Leah's compensation for being faithful - Leah's husband hated her, so God gave unto Leah to bear sons.

During these years when Leah was bearing sons and Rachel wasn't, Rachel may have wondered what she had done wrong, why this curse had some upon her (reminder: a prevailing belief at the time was that all affliction was the result of sin or God's disfavor). Rachel may have wracked her brain trying to figure it out. She probably poured her little heart out to Heavenly Father asking why she could not give sons to the husband she loved. 

Rachel's barrenness was in no way a result of anything she did. Rachel suffered this loss, as God blessed Leah, as Leah experienced the Principle of Compensation.

However, this isn't the end. "God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son" (Genesis 30:22-23). After Leah had been compensated - after she got a special blessing that her sister did not have - God remembered Rachel and opened her womb. Rachel bore sons.

Rachel, too, was blessed by this principle of compensation. The son Rachel FINALLY bore? She named him Joseph. 

Joseph, who would be hated by his brothers but loved by his father. Joseph, who would be sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph, who would become ruler of Potiphar's house, and be an example of righteousness when he fled from the temptations of Potiphar's wife. Joseph, who would interpret dreams and warn Egypt of a famine. THAT Joseph.

Because of the Atonement and the merciful Principle of Compensation - we will be repaid for all unjust harm that comes our way. Just like Leah. Just like Rachel.

(Source)

Leah suffered, so God blessed her.

Rachel suffered, so God blessed her.

I suffer, so God will bless me. 

You suffer, so God will bless you.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Miracle of the Holy Bible

When I was a child, my family attended a Methodist church. I don't have many strong memories of my time there. In the Methodist church, when members have a child, he is usually baptized as an infant, and attends confirmation class in middle school, at which time he has the opportunity to choose to become a full member of the local church, or not. I remember going to confirmation class, and not learning anything I felt substantial enough to make my decision. I remember asking my pastor, "What if I say no? Am I allowed to say no?' He told me I could, but in the end I said yes because I knew everyone wanted me to. I became a full member of my local church, but my heart wasn't in it. I wasn't sure of what I should do.

After, I remember going on retreats and trips to serve others in the summer through my middle school years. I remember being frustrated with the Sunday School program, and complaining that they didn't teach us anything. I remember not knowing how to pray, and wanting something more out of my faith.


I can also remember, for a long time, having issue with the compilation and canonization of the Bible. I can remember thinking and saying things like, "Who do they think they are? These guys that put the Bible together, what right did they have to choose?" and "What if they put something in that wasn't supposed to be in? What if they left out something really important?" For a long time, I didn't find the Bible reliable because of the method in which it was compiled - all these separate documents for hundreds of years, then put together by a conference of people who thought they had power. Some people assured me that they were "inspired" in choosing books, but how could I know that?

This problem, and MANY others led me to stop attending church services when I was in the 10th grade. Which meant the end of all religious activity, because I had not been encouraged to pray or study the Bible on my own. 


The next few years of my life were really dark, for many reasons. I had stopped believing in God altogether, and decided that all religion was, for lack of a better word, crap. I thought it was dumb, not true, and I no longer saw why anyone believed it. The invalidity of it all was so real that it astounded me that anyone believed. In one of my high school classes, we watched a video in which one of the participants stated "The strongest atheists are those who were once Christians." And I thought, Yep. That's true. Because it was me. 

Now, I realize that I didn't leave religion because it was all bad, but because I hadn't been taught the whole truth. Parts, but I didn't have all the answers.

Exodus 14:13-14
The first Sunday I attended a service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I had a discussion with some members and was given a copy of the Book of Mormon. That day and that week, as I began reading, I knew it was true. Absolutely. Completely. Unequivocally. I knew this was it, this is what I'd been looking for and longing for. These were the answers I needed, the things that were left out of my lessons as a child. 

"All things have been done in the wisdom of Him who knoweth all things." 

I had long wondered why God sent prophets so long ago and just stopped - Did He think we didn't need Him anymore? Did He stop caring? Anyone looking at this world knows we still need guidance. And here it was, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A prophet living today. God did care and knew we needed His guidance! I wondered about the compilation of the Bible. And here was a record compiled by a prophet of God - someone who was certainly authorized to decide what to keep and what to leave out, someone most certainly inspired. 


As I grew in my knowledge and testimony of the Restored gospel, I studied for hours and hours the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the words of our modern-day prophets. I loved it. I couldn't get enough. 

However, I didn't study the Bible on my own, and only looked to it when the missionaries, church teachers, or church leaders pointed to it. I only believed the verses our prophets quoted. Many of my former thoughts about the Bible remained - that its compilation was invalid, that it was immensely corrupted, that it was unreliable, and that I didn't really need to concern myself with reading it. I wouldn't have minded if the Church threw the Bible out, personally. I didn't need it. 

Then I came across this talk: "The Miracle of the Holy Bible," by M. Russell Ballard (now on my list of Favorite Talks). He says: 
"It is a miracle that we have the Bible’s powerful doctrine, principles, poetry, and stories. But most of all, it is a wonderful miracle that we have the account of the life, ministry, and words of Jesus, which was protected through the Dark Ages and through the conflicts of countless generations so that we may have it today. It is a miracle that the Bible literally contains within its pages the converting, healing Spirit of Christ, which has turned men’s hearts for centuries, leading them to pray, to choose right paths, and to search to find their Savior."

Okay, I guess that is pretty good. Without the Bible, we wouldn't have this unbroken line of belief in Christ, this worldwide community of Bible-believers who have turned to Christ because of its pages, looking to ancient prophets when we didn't have living ones. If not for the Bible, Joseph Smith wouldn't have been seeking the true church, he wouldn't have known who Christ was, he wouldn't have learned character and strength from its pages, or read James 1:5 - "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

Joseph Smith - History 1:25
Elder Ballard, a man whom we sustain as a prophet, seer, and revelator said this: "It is not by chance or coincidence that we have the Bible today. Righteous individuals were prompted by the Spirit to record both the sacred things they saw and the inspired words they heard and spoke. Other devoted people were prompted to protect and preserve these records. Men like John Wycliffe, the courageous William Tyndale, and Johannes Gutenberg were prompted against much opposition to translate the Bible into language people could understand and to publish it in books people could read. I believe even the scholars of King James had spiritual promptings in their translation work" (emphasis added). These words, by someone whom I know is a prophet, soothed my soul slightly regarding the reliability of the Bible - he testified that the Bible was written, compiled, preserved, and translated by individuals who were inspired by the Holy Ghost

"I bear solemn witness that we are true and full believers in the Lord Jesus Christ 
and in His revealed word through the Holy Bible."

I can trust his testimony, and he says this book is important. If a prophet says it's important, I guess that's good enough for me. 

"[The Bible] is one of the pillars of our faith, a powerful witness of the Savior and of Christ’s ongoing influence in the lives of those who worship and follow Him. The more we read and study the Bible and its teachings, the more clearly we see the doctrinal underpinnings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We tend to love the scriptures that we spend time with. We may need to balance our study in order to love and understand all scripture. You young people especially, do not discount or devalue the Holy Bible. It is the sacred, holy record of the Lord’s life. . . . Those who join this Church do not give up their faith in the Bible—they strengthen it. The Book of Mormon does not dilute nor diminish nor de-emphasize the Bible. On the contrary, it expands, extends, and exalts it. The Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible, and both testify of Christ."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reader Report: January 2016

Over the summer, I began writing "Reader Report" posts, to keep track of what I was reading and share the great stuff I found. Over the past months, those have become exhausting and not fun to write or read. There are some books I just skipped over, didn't post about them. These are, like I said, not fun to write and not fun to read.

However, I do still want to keep track of what I'm reading and share the good stuff. So I'm going to change how I do that. Instead of reporting on every single book, I'll do shorter updates every once in a while and say what I've been reading and what I thought - short and sweet (hopefully).

Here goes!!


 Daughters in My Kingdom, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
***** (5 stars)
This book was SO, SO, SO good. If you're a woman, if you're a member of the Church, if you love women, if you care about others - read this book. It covers the history of the Relief Society from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City and then around the world to today. It includes quotes and stories from prophets, Relief Society general president, and women of the Church worldwide. I learned so much reading this book, and was reminded of how much I love the women I've met in the Church. They are numerous, and their influence for good in my life cannot be measured. I have always loved Relief Society, and this book just made me love it more. 

I highly recommend this book. You can order the book for $3, download it as a PDF or MP3, or read online - click here.


Multiple Blessings, Jon and Kate Gosselin
I Just Want You to Know, Kate Gosselin
**
This books were alright. I watched "Jon and Kate Plus 8" many years ago, and since I love reading, was obviously interested in the book. Both of these books tell about the in's and out's of family life for these folks, at different times. The first discusses how the parents met and what their early marriage was like, their infertility struggles, and how they leaned on God in that time, the birth of their twins, and Mom's longing for "just one more," and how when the ultrasound tech counted SEVEN babies in Kate's womb - they trusted that it was God's plan and decided that life was too sacred to destroy any of them. The second book tells about later parts of their story, how being in the media affected their life, how life was changing with 10- and 12-year-olds, how their family dealt with the divorce. These books weren't spectacular, but not bad, either.


What You Have Left, Will Allison
***
This novel was about a family: Cal; his daughter Maddy, Maddy's husband Wiley, their daughter Holly; Holly's husband Lyle, and their baby. When Holly was young, her mother (Maddy) died. Wiley brought Holly to stay with Cal for a week or so - and Holly never saw Wiley again. This book is a kind of crazy tale, told in modern time and flashbacks, that describes the rocky road of family relationships. It was really real, true to life. I probably wouldn't read it again, but I don't think it was a waste of time. If you like fiction, it's a good read (I'm not a huge fiction person).


Belly Laughs, Jenny McCarthy
**
When I picked this book up for about a quarter at my local library, my mom told me it was terrible. She was right. Yes, it was funny, but incredibly boring. The chapters were so short and the topic changed so frequently, it gave me whiplash.


To Train Up a Child , Michael & Debi Pearl
(no stars)
THIS BOOK WAS TERRIBLE. I read it to broaden my horizons, expose my self to other points of view and examine them for clarity. And my decision: these views are bad. Bad. I think, the Pearls had some good ideas, some good reasons; they saw a problem with the way people around them were parenting. But their solution was not a good one. "Training" is basically classical conditioning - treating your children like Pavlov's dogs. You condition them to associate negative behavior with pain ("just a swat on the hand," which is "not spanking"), and to obey every word you say without question. When they aren't obedient, apply the rod - bad behavior leads to a guilty conscience, use punishment to absolve guilt, because they are too young to understand that Christ suffered to rid us of guilt. Basically, when your kids are little, they get the punishment for sin even though Christ already got it for them. You are to act as God, punishing their sin.
Excuse me? 1) My kids are not dogs, they're people. People with hearts and brains and feelings - just like me. They need respect as much as I do. It's my job to teach them how to cope with all these big feelings - sometimes sadness and anger that feel bigger than their little bodies - not to spank the emotions out of them. I'm allowed to have a good cry and it's not called "bad behavior" - so are they. 2) I don't want my kids to do without question whatever authority tells them. I want my kids to learn reason and ask questions and evaluate authority and commands before blindly obeying. They're born with brains - let them use it! 3) My kids don't need to be spanked. Our 7-year-old and my 5- and 6-years-old Primary class understand that Jesus died so that we can be forgiven. They get it.

"Little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin . . . little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.  12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world . . . all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation. . . . For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity. Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy. And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption."

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reader Report Catch-up

I've been reading a lot of books lately, most of them I've sped through in one day. Here's a brief review of what I've been reading.

Faith: The Essence of True Religion, Gordon B. Hinckley
I absolutely loved this book. President Hinckley has always been my favorite latter-day prophet, even before I'd ever read a single word he said. I'm not sure why, but I've always loved him, and knew that he was a prophet before I had a testimony of the callings of our current leaders. Anyway, this is the second of Pres Hinckley's books that I've read, and I really loved this one. This book was compiled of General Conference talks and other Ensign articles by Pres Hinckley, making it kind of like a "Teachings of the Presidents" book - no wonder I loved it! - with chapters on a many different subjects. Books by the prophets are always good, so of course I'd recommend this one.

Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing, Peter Kreeft
This book quickly became one of my favorites, up there with Carry on, Warrior. Kreeft is a philosophy professor, and a member of the Catholic Church. This book examined both from a philosophical and religious standpoint or yearning for heaven, and what it might be like. His conclusion? Joy. Kreeft is a fantastic thinker, and he really knows the Bible. Every page blew my mind and changed my life. Everyone yearns for something, and this book discovers what that longing is for.

"Who ever put such a thought into our heads? . . . Who whispered in our ear the desire for heaven? And when? And even more mysterious, why do we understand it? We recognize it, that is, we re-cognize it; we cognize it again; we remember it. When did we first learn it? And when and how did we forget it?" (p 55).

My Heart is an Autumn Garage, Anne Thériault
I've been reading Anne's blog, The Belle Jar, for many years now. I was ecstatic to finally read her book. Anne is a great writer, she molds words into paintings and draws you into whatever world she's creating. She's fantastic. So her book, of course, was magic. This is a memoir of depression. Thus, it's kind of sad. But not the kind of sad that makes you want to cry, because this book makes you turn the pages too quickly to cry. As someone who also suffers from depression, I related so much to many things in this book. If you know someone who suffers from depression - read this book for a peek into their mind and life. A lot of people don't get it, but this book can help you understand a little bit.
(If you suffer from depression, I personally suggest reading it during a period when you're in "remission." It could be a difficult read, so be prepared.)

More Than the Tattooed Mormon, Al Carraway
I think every convert, if not every Mormon, is in love with Al, who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when she was 21. Her story is incredible and her testimony is vibrant. This book is kind of her story, kind of your story, but it's mostly about God. She doesn't talk so much about what she experienced or did, but what God did in her and through her - and what God can do in you. So, so inspirational. Perfect pick-me-up on a rainy day. If you ever forget that God loves you, just ask Al.