Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent: He's Coming

"A Savior is Born,"

An advent is "a coming into place, view, or being; arrival" (source). For Christians, Advent is the time before Christmas, when we remember and prepare our hearts and homes for the birth of Christ. 

I grew up doing Advent calendars counting down to Christmas Day, lightning Advent candles each week, and hearing Advent sermons in church. 

Since my conversion, since being a Christian has started to mean something to me, Christmas has become more of a special and holy time for me. As a preteen/teen, I didn't really care about Christmas, honestly. We decorated and got happy for no reason, we had to spend time together (usually fighting), and more miserable things? Why would I like that? Why would anyone like that?

"He is the Gift,", 2014

Last year, released a video entitled "He is the Gift" (above). I attended a Christmas missionary event at my friend's ward (congregation) and watched the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional. I realized just how monumental and significant this event was, this birth. This time of celebration became more important and holy to me. I began to think about what this season means, what the birth of this little guy really shows us. Just like everything Heavenly Father does, it's hope. It's peace. It's joy. It's love. That's what it's all about. 

Traditionally, Advent was celebrated by families or churches with an Advent wreath, holding five candles - four purple and one white. The purple are lit, one each Sunday, for four weeks preceding Christmas. And the final white candle is lit on Christmas Day (or Eve) to signify the birth of Christ. Each candle, and each week of Advent, has a theme. They are, in order: hope, peace, joy, and love. 

The Christmas season has taken a special importance in my heart this year, even more than last year. I'm amazed that Heavenly Father would send His Beloved Son, cold and alone, and watch Him to the point of His tremendous suffering for me. I'm so grateful that my God choose to become human like me - with this not perfect body that aches and gets hungry, with this flesh that's wants unholy things, in this world that is nothing close to His heavenly home. It's amazing, to me, to think of my Savior, the Lord, the King of Kings, a little squirming baby, unable to walk or talk or anything. Cold and crying, because He was human like us. To think of His mother, this young girl who was an amazing servant for God, to accept this calling, to mother our Christ. Being a mother is scary enough, but to mother this one? Unimaginable. 

So this season, in this time of Advent, when we wait for our Christchild, I've decided to embark on a special study pattern, to study what prophets ancient and modern have taught about these four things that Christ brought to our world when He was born - hope, peace, joy, and love. 

Join me? 


"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Friday, November 20, 2015

God is Mindful and Merciful. We Should Be, Too.

A number of ideas have been on my mind and on my heart lately. My heart is broken for the brokenness of our world. Instead of offering advice, instead of offering my words, I will offer the words of God.

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:35-40, emphasis added).

"Blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land. Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth" (Alma 26: 36-37, emphasis added). 

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27).

"The Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Nephi 31:3, emphasis added). 

"Thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" (2 Nephi 28:30, emphasis added). 

"We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true" (Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth," October 2014).

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of thepriesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men" (D&C 121:41-45, emphasis added).
. . .

"He commanded that their little children should be brought. 
So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, 
and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him. . . .
He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them
and prayed unto the Father for them. 
And when he had done this he wept again; 
And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: 
Behold your little ones
(3 Nephi 17:11-12, 21-23).

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reader Report: Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

"Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

Colton said he met his miscarried sister whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how "reaaally big" God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit "shoots down power" from heaven to help us.

Told by the father but often in Colton's own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready there is a coming last battle."

Todd Burpo, with Lynn Vincent

Publishing Info:
Thomas Nelson, 2010

~ ~ ~

When Heaven is for Real the movie was released a few years back, it caught the attention of my grandmother, who read the book and rented the movie. Not being a big reader back then, I didn't read the book, but we did watch the movie. And I thought it was mediocre (I guess I wasn't thinking about the part where this was an actual kid telling about his actual experience, but that's beside the point). 

Flash forward to this summer, when I started reading like crazy again. I've always loved books themselves (even when I wasn't particularly interested in reading them), so combine that with my renewed interest in reading, and the public library's bargain resale shelf - I bought over ten books thi summer. I found Heaven is for Real for 50 cents, and being a bargains shopper and book lover, I had to buy it, and figured I'd read it sometime.

Well, I finally got around to it. And, I still didn't find the story particularly engaging or interesting. I don't know (nor would I like to get involved with debates concerning) whether or not the Burpo's story is true,  whether is was a drug-induced vision, whether the parents embellished, or whether such heavenly trips are even possible for children (we know of a few prophets who have seen heaven, as relayed in scripture - Daniel, John the Revelator, Nephi). That's not my interest.

The main thing that struck me was how sick Colton actually was. That either wasn't emphasized or didn't stick out to me in the movie. Colton was so sick for five days, and on the brink of death for some of those, before the doctors correctly diagnosed him as experiencing a burst appendix. In the book, Todd says the nurses at the hospital were told by the doctor not to give the family hope - that they were operating on Colton, but his death was positively immanent. And he recovered so miraculously, through the prayers of his community. That, to me, was amazing.

Since the story wasn't to compelling, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite quotes:
  • "I thought of the times where the scripture says that God answered the prayers, not of the sick or dying, but of the friends of the sick and dying - the paralytic, for example. It was when Jesus saw the faith of the man's friends that He told the paralytic, 'Get up, take your mat and go home.' [Matt 9:6] A that moment, I needed to borrow the strength and faith of some other believers" (p41-42). That's something I've had to be humble enough to do recently. Kind of reminds me of this from Elder Jeffery R. Holland: "If your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine. I know this work is God’s very truth . . . Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe" ("Lord, I Believe," April 2013; emphasis added).
  • "God knows where He puts our children, in each family . . . God can reach anyone, anywhere, at any age" (p 143).
These two quotes tell me 1) God hears our prayers, and the prayers we pray for those we love; and 2) God knows our families, and He put us together. 

"Well, Jesus told me He died on the cross so we could go see His Dad."
(p 111)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reader Report: Carry on, Warrior

Carry on, Warrior

Glennon Doyle Melton

Publishing Info:
Scribner, 2013

I fell in love with Glennon a few years ago, when I saw her TED talk. So raw, so real, so exactly where I was in my life. And so hopeful. I began following her blog, and, when the book came out, of course I read it right away.

That was a few years back, before I had this blog. Since I just reread the book, love it so much, wanted to tell you guys about it, and haven't been writing often, I decided to write a post about it!

After the scriptures, this book is my favorite book. It's written as a collection of essays, which is really my favorite way to read. Glennon tells us about the "God-shaped hole" in all of us; how she tried to fill it with things that left her feeling emptier; how she gave that all up when she held a pregnancy test in her hand as a young, unwed mother suffering from bulimia, alcoholism, and substance abuse; and how the grace of God pulls her through every day - with many humorous anecdotes sprinkled in there, because Glennon's hilarious. 

Glennon is SO relatable. The reason she gives is this: She believes we all have a piece of God inside us. When she talks about her deep insides, and not just the shells we cover ourselves with, she's talking out of her "God-piece," so to speak. And since all of us are made up of the same amount of God, when she speaks from that part of her, that part of us hears it because it's the same stuff - it's the same divine nature in her and in me and in you. When we tell our truth, we connect. 

I don't know how Glennon came to faith (she doesn't really tell us about that), but I love how she looks at her faith now. She loves God just about more than anyone I know. She loves God fiercely, and since each one of us is made up of the same amount of God, she thinks that means she should love everyone fiercely, so she tries very hard to do that. Glennon believes in love, forgiveness, redemption - because she's sat at God's feet and received all that, and now she tries to give it all away to others. She knows that we're all lost and sad here. She says, "Life isn't hard because you are doing it wrong. Life is just hard."

Glennon used to think that something was wrong with her and that she had to hide. Now, Glennon knows that God made her and loves her, so she can stand on the rooftops and sing, because it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks - God already loves her big big. She knows that she did not come to this earth to find her worth but that she brought it with her. She knows about her divine nature. 

Glennon knows that she's not perfect. She knows that everyone else is not perfect either. So she forgives - forgives herself, forgives others, forgives a lot. Again, she knows that she's loved either way.

And my favorite - Glennon says life is "brutiful" - a combination of beautiful and brutal. Because it's true. It is. Life is brutal, but life is also beautiful. Both/And. Kind of reminds me of Nephi: "It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one" (2 Nephi 2:11).

If you want to laugh, if you want to cry, if you want to know that God loves you, if you want to find hope, if you want to sit down with a girlfriend and say "You know, life's really stinkin' hard," if you want to see the sun shining through another daughter - go to the library and check out Glennon's book. You won't regret it. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Freedom and Agency

"Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.
God will protect you; then do what is right!"
"Do What is Right," LDS Hymnbook

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of freedom, and specifically freedom in Christ. What does this mean?

It's important to understand what Christ brings freedom from. It's sin. Sin is what chains us down and makes us slaves. Satan "is seeking to hurl away [our] souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo" (Helaman 7:16). As one speaker said in our sacrament meeting, "Satan is not your friend."

When we sin, we let the devil into our hearts. And when we sin again, we let him stay, have a drink, put his feet up, and eventually make residence - "he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell" (2 Nephi 28:22). And, he is sticky. He doesn't like to leave. If we let him into our hearts, he won't leave. We can't kick him out. We don't have that power. Then, we have his evil, lying, deceptive voice in our heart, tempting us to do evil constantly.

When Christ performed the atonement, He broke those bands. He released us from the shackles from the devil.

When we accept Christ as Savior, when we exercise faith, and repent, feel godly sorrow for those sins, when we know that what we have done doesn't match up to our divine nature and potential - He can cleanse us. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). Christ kicks the devil out. He can beat the adversary, because the devil never entered into Christ. Christ, the perfectly righteous man, is the only one qualified to get the devil out.

When that happens, when the devil leaves, we become free again. We are not trapped by the adversary living inside us. We can choose again. We can move forward, choosing to do good.

The freedom that Christ offers us is not freedom to do whatever we want. It's freedom that allows us to "shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and . . . arise" (2 Nephi 1:23). It's the freedom that breaks the grasp of the devil and allows us to "choose liberty and eternal life" (2 Nephi 2:27). When God says, "Ye are free to choose" (2 Nephi 10:23), He means the hold of our sins has been lifted and we are free to run towards Him.

So let's do that. Since our chains are broken, let's run to Him, as fast as we can, choosing righteousness and obedience all the days of our lives.

A prayer in the Methodist hymnal includes this line, which I love: "Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord." Joyful obedience. Not grudging or spiteful obedience, but joyful obedience. Imagine what would happen if you thought of the "can't" of the gospel as "cans" - when you say "no" to something of the world, you're saying "yes" to letting the Holy Spirit fill your life up more. Don't be upset when you can't do something "fun," be joyful that you're saying "no" to the devil and "yes" to our Eternal Father.

"Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life."

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Making Mistakes

I believe that God loves us more than we can fathom.
I believe that God always does what's best for us.
I believe that God is very patient with us, because I know I've made a lot of mistakes - but He's given me another chance by waking me up today. He is so patient with us.

Recently, I have been having a lot of trouble with my perfectionism, beating myself up for the smallest things and convincing myself that this one tiny mistake is the end of me. Something that has given me a lot of comfort is a principle that was emphasized to me by the Holy Ghost at my Church meetings last weekend.

That principle which has comforted me is this: Mistakes are not just accounted for by the Atonement, mistakes are not just understood by God, or even just expected. Mistakes are a vital part of the Plan of Happiness.

God did not send us down here grudgingly, saying, "Fall as few times as possible. Get back with as few scars as you can." No. He was not merely aware of the reality that we would fall. I think He excitedly looked toward the day when He could see us fall - and help us back up. He knew that the only way we could go up was by first going down. There can be no growth without mistakes. He wants us to grow, therefore He planned for mistakes. Mistakes are part of the Plan.

Now, I'm not saying that we should use this as an excuse to make as many mistakes as we can during our tenure in mortality. I'm saying that mistakes are allowed and planned - that's why there's and Atonement. So that we have the freedom to try things that don't work. That's why there's an Atonement. We don't have to stress about getting everything right the first time - because we won't. "Perfection doesn't exist on this side of eternity." That's why there's an Atonement. Remember, the Atonement does not just bring us back to pre-fall status - it elevates us. Then, we gain a little more strength to move forward and do better. Maya Angelou said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." When you know better, do better.

~ ~ ~

Live in the freedom that Christ offers. Freedom to try your best, fail, and try again, growing closer to perfection each time. Move up. Move down and up. Move. Don't stay still for fear of falling, because then you'll never be lifted. 

Learn more about how the Atonement can strengthen and empower us to get back up and try again, I suggest Elder Oaks' talk, "Strengthened by the Atonement of Christ." 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Just a Little Bit About Temples

"To members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 
the temple is the most sacred place on earth. It is the house of the Lord."

This picture is from the newly completed Montreal Quebec Temple. Isn't that beautiful? 

~ ~ ~

Temples are very special places to Latter-Day Saints. They are difference than our regular meetinghouses, where we worship every Sunday. In temples, we worship more intently, and perform ordinances like marriage and others that will link our families together for eternity. For a brief overview about Latter-Day Saint temples, read here. After you read that, click here to learn even more. 

Right now, we have TEN temples under construction, on four continents. That's so cool. To see where these temples are located and how far along they are, read this story from Mormon Newsroom

~ ~ ~

I love to see the temple.
I'm going there someday
To feel the Holy Spirit,
To listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God,
A place of love and beauty.
I'll prepare myself while I am young;
This is my sacred duty.