Friday, July 31, 2015

Building a Celestial Family: Part 3

Be kind in our speech. 

We owe our families the kind of relationship we can take into the presence of God. . . . We can determine to forgive quickly and fully. We can try to seek the happiness of others above our own. We can be kind in our speech. As we try to do all these things, we will invite the Holy Ghost into our families and into our lives.
Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency (source)

I often tell my brother and sister "Use soft words." Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Love is patient, love is kind" (1 Cor 13:4-9). The Lord taught us this again through another prophet in the Book of Mormon, Moroni. Words can be hurtful. Yelling, shouting, and insulting our family members does not build loving relationships and invite the spirit.

We should make a devoted effort to be kind when speaking to each other, especially when children are in our homes. Children learn what "love" means by the actions of those who tell them "I love you." Do we want to teach our children or brothers and sisters that "I love you" means yelling and shouting, insulting each other, and never acknowledging strengths?

This is something that I still am working to overcome. Almost every day, my patience runs short and I have to say, "I'm sorry for using hard words. Can you forgive me? Can you give me another chance?" We are not perfect. I am not perfect. We should strive to be kind in our speech. We should ask forgiveness, and keep trying. As President Eyring said, we invite the Holy Ghost into our families as we strive to be kind to our parents and siblings.

This post is part of a series entitled "Building a Celestial Family." Missed the beginning? Find it here: Intro, Part 1, and Part 2. Read the final post here: Part 4

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Building a Celestial Family: Part 2

Seek the happiness of others above our own

We owe our families the kind of relationship we can take into the presence of God. . . . We can determine to forgive quickly and fully. We can try to seek the happiness of others above our own. We can be kind in our speech. As we try to do all these things, we will invite the Holy Ghost into our families and into our lives.
Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency (source)

"Testifying of God's 'eternal purposes,' the prophet Lehi taught, 'Men are, that they might have joy' (2 Nephi 2:15, 25). Many people try to find happiness and fulfillment in activities that are contrary to the Lord's commandments. Ignoring God's plan for them, they reject the only source of real happiness. They give in to the devil, who 'seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself' (2 Nephi 2:27). Eventually they learn the truth of Alma's warning to his son Corianton: 'Wickedness never was happiness' (Alma 41:10). . . . We will find peaceful, eternal happiness as we strive to keep the commandments, pray for strength, repent of our sins, participate in wholesome activities, and give meaningful service."

President Eyring counsels us to seek the happiness of others. The way to find lasting happiness is through the gospel. In mixed-member families, some parents or siblings don't know the gospel. Even in most whole-member families, there's probably one or two parents or siblings who aren't living gospel standards. We are called to be a "city on a hill," a lighthouse (Matthew 5:14, 3 Nephi 12:14). Lighthouses direct sailors when the waters are rough. We, too, can lead our families through rough waters, knowing that we have the true path to happiness. The Lord desires that every member of the human family return to Him, sealed in smaller family units. He wants our family sealed and living a celestial level of life. People can't live celestial if they don't know celestial. We need to teach our families, in their head and in the heart, what the gospel is and what it means. We can do this by being an example, and also talking about the gospel. We can be the one to bring our families home to Heavenly Father. 

The second part of the above quote describes how we can find "peaceful, eternal happiness." Two in the list are wholesome activities and service. We can have wholesome fun with our families and serve others together. Watching movies, playing board games, going for mini golf or to the park are all ways families can bind and have fun together. Families can serve by visiting those in need, baking cookies to deliver to others, or teaching a child's friend about Jesus Christ. All of these can be done in whole- or part-member families. As families grow close together, trust is built, and we move toward a celestial level of family life. 

Familiy life requires sacrifice, and the gospel requires sacrifice. Families will not be happy if everyone demands on getting what they want right away. The psalmist wrote: "I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O Lord; for it is good" (Psalm 54:6). We must be willing to sacrifice and compromise. If my brother wants to play Mouse Trap but I want to play Clue, I must be willing to sacrifice sometimes. If I want meatloaf for dinner, but the rest of my family really wants spaghetti, I might have to sacrifice. By the same token, there will be days when a brother or sister has to sacrifice - they don't get to play their game or have their preferred dinner. When that happens we should be kind and loving towards them, and appreciative of their sacrifice.

Achieving happiness in family life is a family effort, but it starts with just one person.

This post is part of a series entitled "Building a Celestial Family." Missed the first posts? Find them here: Intro, Part 1. Then read the rest: Part 3, Part 4

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reader Report: Standing for Something

Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes

Gordon B. Hinckley

Publishing Info:

~ ~ ~

Honestly, I didn't love this book. It was written much likea General Conference talk, but nearly 300 pages. Long talk, right? President Hinckley said amazing inspirational things, it was just long for something with a short attention span like me.

Instead of doing a summary/thoughts/quotes report like I usually do, I'm going to talk about my life and how this book fit into it. 

To start off, the layout of this book is simple: our world is great but in trouble, here are individual virtues that can remedy our situation, and here are ways to safeguard and grow those virtues. The first nine virtues are: love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness and mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude, and optimism. This book had some great sections and one-liners, but there are just too many to share with you guys (these reports have been pretty long and boring lately). 

Here's my experience with the book: I checked it out from my hometown library in May. I wanted to read books written by prophets and apostles, so I found the Religion/Christian section, then the Mormon shelf. This was the only written by a General Authority, and I'm glad it was Hinckley because he's my favorite (I can't wait for his Teachings of Presidents of the Church book to come out!) 

If you've read personal posts on here, you might know that I'm the only member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in my family, and that my parents aren't too happy with my decision. Well, since I've moved back home from my college town, I've been going to church happily, but alone. Last Sunday, my parents asked me to go to church with them. This was hard for me, because I really want to go to sacrament meeting (and I know that Heavenly Father wants me to, also), but I also wanted to strengthen my family relationships (because I know that families are important to Heavenly Father). I prayed about it a lot. A lot. 

On Thursday, I watched a video. I won't go into detail because it's not uplifting. Basically, it was an interview about faith. And though it was meant to strengthen faith, it made me question. I wondered if I'd made the right choice in being baptized. Then, I opened my journal. I saw the bright colors and bulletins from church. The Holy Ghost reminded me of what I'd learned in these meetings, what I'd taken notes on in my personal studies, and what I'd cried to God about in these pages. In my journals, I learn that God loves me. I know that He's here, I know that He's listening to us. 

That night, my missionary, Sister A called. I didn't answer so she left a message, telling me to call back because she had a favor to ask. Oh my, I thought. The next day, I called her back. She said she wanted me to skype in for a lesson with a girl in her area who wants to be baptized but is experiencing opposition from her family. She thought I could help. I was very hesitant, considering what I'd been thinking and feeling regarding my own faith, but I agreed. 

On Saturday, I asked my parents if we could talked about going to church on Sunday. We ended up talking for hours about my joining the church and how they thought I'd made a wrong choice. And it got to me. What if I had made a wrong choice? Do I even know what I believe? I had been so sure, but then I'm wasn't. What was I supposed to do? How do I know what's right? And Sister A wants me to help this young girl keep the faith. How can I help her when I can't even keep it myself?

Then I looked at my journal. "First and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe" (Elder Jeffery R. Holland). Keep going, I thought. And then, "Rescued by the Gospel." I remembered where I was before I found this. I remembered that this gospel had in fact, rescued me. I didn't want to go back to that life without this. I may not be able to explain that, but I know it. I thought, The Book of Mormon is true, and I need it in my life.

Then I picked up my book to read. The next chapter, the tenth virtue, was entitled: "Faith: Our Only Hope." I thought, how perfect to read about faith from a prophet of God, when I have so little of it. He said faith is real and strong and powerful. He said that we have no greater motivation than the knowledge that we are children of the Almighty and that He will help us achieve. He said, "Vibrant testimony comes of anxious seeking" (p 110). He said, "I know that He is intensely interested in our lives, that I can speak with Him in prayer, and that He will hear and listen" (p 110). I thought, I need to know that. That I am loved and heard.

Before bed that night, I sat writing in my journal.
I know the gospel is true. I know the Plan of Salvation is true. I know that the Savior walked the lonely path so I don't have to. I know that His love and mercy are stronger than my weaknesses. I know that I belong in this Church. I know that this is where God wants me. I know that this is where I will find peace, hope, and guidance, in the Book of Mormon and this Church, I know that Heavenly Father "doesn't intend to save just a few of His children" (movie, The Restoration, Intellectual Reserve, 2006), and that He didn't drop us here to grope in darkness. I know that we have a prophet today, who teaches the whole world about God and Jesus Christ. I know that he stands at the head of this, Christ's Church, which contains the fulness of ordinances, and all truth pertinent to salvation. 

This book renewed my faith exactly when I needed it. I encourage you to record your testimony periodically, so that when you are in times of doubt, you can go back and look at what you said. It's one things to have someone else tell you they believe, it's another thing entirely to have yourself tell you that you believe.

Keep the faith, and carry on.

"I believe that God will always make a way, even when there appears to be no way."

Friday, July 24, 2015

My Very First Pioneer Day!

"Our journey in life is unique to each of us. As we press forward with faith, we leave a legacy of hope for future generations to follow."

In 1846, the saints were forced to abandon their Nauvoo home and move westward. They sought peace and the freedom to practice their restored God-given religion. In the east, the saints had faced much persecution, starting from the time of Joseph Smith's First Vision, and continuing until even today (though the persecution is not nearly as intense). They left homes, jobs, possessions, and sometimes family to seek Zion, a place where they would be of one mind and one heart, a righteous city unto the Lord. 

Thankfully, the saints today worship and practice their religion free from legal action or mob brutality. 

Today, we celebrate the courage and faith of those early saints, and remember those difficulties. We thank the Lord for these people who protected the truths of the Restoration, that they can be available to us still today. We revere their patience and enduring spirits. 

~ ~ ~ has a lovely page celebrating our pioneer ancestors. Here are some graphics from that page:

As far as I'm aware, I did not have any pioneer ancestors on the grueling "Mormon Trail." But I am so grateful for the courage and valor of these early saints. No one (that I know of) in my family is a member of this Church. Every morning when I wake, I remember the covenant I made at baptism, to take upon me the name of Jesus Christ. I must take His name upon me and be an example to my family. 

Because I am the first, I am a pioneer. I am a pioneer for my family - those who passed before me without the gospel, those here now, and those yet to come. I hope and pray each day that I will be able to bring my family home with me. 

The pioneers of the 1846 exodus trekked across the American prairies for eighteen months. I trekked across the fields of misunderstandings, broken hearts, and valleys separating points of view for six months. I am a pioneer because I never gave up.

My steps will be followed, no mater what they are. I pray that I will make the right steps, so that those following me will also be on the right path. I pray that I will be an example. I pray that I will find a righteous man and raise my children in light and truth, training them up in the way they should go. I pray that when we find our eternal homes, ours will be in the mansions of the Father.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reader Report: Heaven is Here

Heaven is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy

Stephanie Nielson began sharing her life in 2005 on, drawing readers in with her warmth and candor. She quickly attracted a loyal following that was captivated by the upbeat mother happily raising her young children, madly in love with her husband, Christian (Mr. Nielson to her readers), and filled with gratitude for her blessed life. However, everything changed in an instant on a sunny day in August 2008, when Stephanie and Christian were in a horrific plane crash. Christian was burned over 40 percent of his body, and Stephanie was on the brink of death, with burns over 80 percent of her body. She would remain in a coma for four months.In the aftermath of this harrowing tragedy, Stephanie maintained a stunning sense of humor, optimism, and resilience. She has since shared this strength of spirit with others through her blog, in magazine features, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Now, in this moving memoir, Stephanie tells the full, extraordinary story of her unlikely recovery and the incredible love behind it--from a riveting account of the crash to all that followed in its wake. With vivid detail, Stephanie recounts her emotional and physical journey, from her first painful days after awakening from the coma to the first time she saw her face in the mirror, the first kiss she shared with Christian after the accident, and the first time she talked to her children after their long separation. She also reflects back on life before the accident, to her happy childhood as one of nine siblings, her close-knit community and strong Mormon faith, and her fairy-tale love story, all of which became her foundation of strength as she rebuilt her life. What emerges from the wreckage of a tragic accident is a unique perspective on joy, beauty, and overcoming adversity that is as gripping as it is inspirational. Heaven Is Here is a poignant reminder of how faith and family, love and community can bolster us, sustain us, and quite literally, in some cases, save us.

Stephanie Nielson
Stephanie Nielson was born and raised in Provo, Utah. She is the author of, a popular blog about her life as a wife, mother, and Mormon. Stephanie lives in Provo with her husband and children.

Publishing Info:
Hyperion, 2012.

~ ~ ~ 
"Let the light of your faith inspire other people. . . . Share your hope."
Stephanie Nielson, p 143

The title says this book is a story of hope, triumph, and joy. That is is.

Stephanie shows us triumph, by expressing in full detail the difficulty of her accident and early recovery. She reveals how emotionally taxing the accident was by painting a beautiful picture of her life before. 

Memories of childhood, and her dreams for a big family. Stories of how her older siblings played with her, and how much she enjoyed all eight of them. She tells of how her faith strengthened her as a child. She tells of meeting her husband, and how she knew right away that she would marry him. She tells stories of their newlywed years, and when they discovered they were having their first child. She tells about their family growing, and the joy of her husband fulfilling his dream in learning to fly a plane. She says her life was perfect. A stay-at-home mom with four kids at 27 years old, with a great husband.

I loved this part, because it seemed like I had all the same dreams she had - a loving husband, a house full of kids. 

Then the accident. There was a plane crash. Stephanie was agonizingly pained as flames engulfed her whole body. By the time she was rescued, burns covered 80 percent of her body. She didn't see her family for three months. And when she did, she realized how much they were doing for her, and she felt like a burden. She was in pain, she was helpless, she didn't look like herself.

Stephanie tells us the story of her recovery - how goals were to lift one arm, then both arms at the same time. Then touch her two index fingers to each other. Then standing, then walking. Using the bathroom by herself, feeding herself, buttoning a coat. Though she only started taking baby steps four months after the accident, she made a goal to hike up Y Mountain on the anniversary of the accident. And she did. She told of the transformation of her children - from the first visit when her daughters couldn't look at her and her son didn't remember her, to when he started crying for her at night and her daughters snuggled up next to her to read a story.

Here are some of my favorite parts:

  • Once, while Stephanie was still in a coma, her condition took a terrible turn for the worse. Her mother took this as the doctors saying it was time for goodbyes. "My father asked Jesse to give me a priesthood blessing. The rest of the family bowed their heads and listened as Jesse put his hands on me. As he spoke, sure that my spirit could hear, he felt impressed to offer me a choice, essentially between heaven and earth. It was time to decide, he said, if I was going to go or stay. If I chose to stay in my body, he blessed me with a full recovery, a rich and happy life, and strength and patience as I healed. If I wanted to, though, he knew I could leave my mortal body behind. . . . As my mother told me about Jesse's blessing, a whisper of memory fluttered inside me. . . . I had made a choice. I was away from my body, in that beautiful place with Nana, and I was asked to choose. I could stay there if I wanted, and be released from my physical body, or I could go back to earth. . . . I was told that if I went back to Earth, my life would have meaning and purpose beyond what I could comprehend, but I was reminded again that it would be difficult. I asked what I could do to make it easier. Let the light of your faith inspire other people, I was told. Share your hope" (p 142-3).
  • Shortly before the one-year anniversary of the accident, Stephanie and her husband had the chance to talk with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Stephanie remembers part of that interaction like this: "As we talked he told me to be proud of my scars. 'We look for Christ's scars because they are evidence of what He did for us. They'll be the first things He shows us when we see Him again. Your scars tell a story, too. Although they may not make you feel attractive, they are a witness of a miracle, that God blessed you to live, and that you have accomplished very difficult things'" (p 293). 

This book truly is a magnificent representation of the strength we can have with our Heavenly Father's help through any trial.

"My scars are a witness of a miracle."
Stephanie Nielson, p 294

Friday, July 10, 2015

Reader Report: Boy Meets Girl

Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship

"I wrote Boy Meets Girl the year after I was married. It was a great chance to answer many of the questions that were raised by my first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I know the last thing most singles want is more rules and, in Boy Meets Girl, I wanted to offer an alternative: an intentional, God-pleasing game plan for finding a future spouse. In the book, I discuss how biblical courtship (a healthy, joyous alternative to recreational dating) worked for me and my wife Shannon, to give an encouraging and practical example for readers wanting to pursue the possibility of marriage with someone they're serious about. This updated version includes a new foreword, a new chapter, an all-new '8 Great Courtship Conversations' section, and some updated material throughout."

Joshua Harris
Joshua Harris is the author of six books, the most recent being Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down. Living what he calls a "backwards life" Josh became a best-selling author at age 21, the lead pastor of a mega-church at age 30 and only now, at age 40, is attending Regent College, a graduate school of theology, in Vancouver, BC. His passion is making biblical truth accessible to everyday people and helping others discover the security, identity and freedom of being rooted in God's love in Christ.  Josh and his wife Shannon have three children.

Publishing Info:
Multnomah Books, 2000

~ ~ ~

"Falling in love was God's idea. He was the one who made us capable of experiencing romantic feelings. He was the one who gave us the ability to appreciate beauty and experience attraction. And He was the one who invented marriage so the blazing fire of romantic love could become something even more beautiful--apulsing, red-hot ember of covenant love in marriage."
-Josh Harris, p 35

This book is in essence, a sequel to I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In that book, Josh urged readers to skip dating until they were ready for marriage. In Boy Meets Girl, Josh helps readers figure out how to move forward appropriately when one is ready for marriage

Josh begins by telling his story of how he met his wife, Shannon, and how he trusted God through the early stages of their relationship, and talking about why we need purposeful romance and more than just intense feelings and how God guides us in His timing. 

Josh stresses the importance of wisdom paired with romance. He compares romance to a kite, with wisdom being the string: "I suppose there are times when a kite feels tied down by the string. 'If this bothersome string would just let go of me, I could really fly high,' the kite might think. But that isn't true, is it? Without the string holding it in the face of the wind, the kite would quickly come crashing to the ground. In the same way, romance without wisdom will soon take a nosedive. . . . It's not enough to simply have romantic feelings. . . . Long-lasting romance needs practical, commonplace wisdom that knows when to let the wind of feelings carry us higher and when to pull back. When to express our emotions and when to keep quiet. When to open our hearts and when to rein them in" (p 41).

"Romance says, ' This is what I want and it's good for me.' Wisdom leads us to consider what's best for the other person. . . . We glorify God in our relationships when we put our needs aside and base our decisions on what serves the interests of the other person" (p 44-45). Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to decide if we're guided by selfish or selfless desires (paraphrased, p 45). Is starting this relationship now what's best for him? Will I be a distraction for something God is calling him to do immediately? Will expressing all my feelings serve him, or distract and confuse him? Are my actions encouraging him to love God and seek His will more? Am I communicating clearly and in a way that benefits him? Does the way I dress encourage (key word - encourage) him to have a pure thought life? Will kissing now be what's best for us in the long run? Am I treating this person the way Christ would? "A selfless desire to do what's best for the other person can guide us in the big and small decisions of a relationship. It's not tedious. It's an expression of sincere love and the defining mark of a Christian relationship" (p 45).

Next, Josh moves on to talking about courtship - how to grow in friendship, guard each others hearts, tips on communication, embracing our gender differences in order to complement each other, reasons to get support from your community, and a great chapter on sexual purity during courtship. 

It can be hard to know how to act towards your boyfriend or girlfriend in the beginning of a courtship. You're "more than friends, less than lovers." You're getting to know each other more, but you're refraining from the traditional dating game. You have feelings for each other, but you don't want to awaken love prematurely (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). Josh says: "Growing in friendship involves learning through conversation who you are as individuals. It's having fun together and spending quality and quantity time together. . . . Don't stress yourself out trying to orchestrate incredibly entertaining or romantic dates. Relax and enjoy each other's company. Look for activities and setting that allow you to spend time together and talk freely. . . . Look for ways to share the different parts of your life - the fun, the mundane, and the in-between. . . . How can you let each other see the 'real you'? Whatever it is you love, whatever it is that captures your imagination, invite the other person into it - and ask the other person to take you into his or her world, too" (p 79). 

It's important to have Christian fellowship with your boyfriend/girlfriend. In marriage, we are serving God together and helping each other move closer to God. In courtship, we should be starting that. Share your testimony with your partner and in groups, talk about your faith with your partner, pray for each other and with each other, talk about what God is teaching you right now, read Christian books together, talk about what you learned at church and how you're going to apply what you learned, read scriptures together (Josh and his wife read the book of Acts together during their courtship and emailed about what they'd learned). For Mormons, other activities can include sharing your favorite talks from General Authorities, attending family home evening together (in each other's homes or in a YSA group), attending Institute together, watching Youth Devotionals and General Conference together, attending missionary events and sharing the gospel together. There are so many ways to share your faith with your partner and encourage each other to grow. 

It is true that God made men and women different. Many people in the world see this as women being 'less than.' This is not true. "God made women totally equal to men in personhood, dignity, and worth. They are no less important or valuable to God. Within the context of their equality, God assigned men and women different roles. . . Men and women were created equal, yet different. And the fact that we're different is wonderful" (p 107). Matthew Henry said "Eve was not taken out of Adam's head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled by him, but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him." (Sister Linda K. Burton gave a great talk about the complementing nature or males and females at the April 2015 General Conference - read it here. Also see The Family: A Proclamation to the World.)

Josh reminds us of the importance of community - receiving counsel from parents, church leaders, mentors, and friends. It's vital to balance personal thoughts and revelations with counsel from your community. They are able to look at your relationship objectively, while you may be missing some things because of your emotions. "While it's true that no one else should decide whom we marry, how arrogant it is to think that we can make this important decision on our own! And while a couple needs time alone, how shortsighted and foolish it is to cut ourselves off from the wisdom and support of the people who know us best" (p 125-6). 

Josh devotes a whole chapter to outlining why we should save physical intimacy for marriage. It's a beautiful chapter that reminds us that God didn't give this commandment to torture us, but because having these relations with one person is a joy. And when you save them for your wedding night, it is a special gift that you give to each other as a married couple, a new experience that separates your courtship from your married life. But, "there's another reason the struggle on waiting for marriage is a blessing. God not only wants to maximize a couple's enjoyment of sex in marriage, He also wants a couple to learn to trust Him together. When a Christian man and woman systematically deny their own physical desires as an expression of mutual faith and submission to Jesus Christ, they are laying a solid foundation for their marriage. They're learning to fight sin as a team. They're learning to care for each other, pray for each other, and challenge each other. In the most practical of ways, they are submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord of their relationship" (p 151). 

Finally, Josh devotes a chapter to addressing forgiveness for past sexual sins and how to deal with them in a relationship (though a lot of what he says applies to any sin, really). He ends with the final preparations before marriage, and tells us about his own wedding day. 

Included in this section is a list of questions to ask before you get engaged, which Josh adapted from an article, "Should We Get Married?' by David Powlinson and John Yenchko: Is your relationship centered on God and His glory? Are you growing in friendship, communication, fellowship, and romance? Are your parents and mentors supportive of your relationship? Is sexual involvement playing too big a part in your decision? Do you have a track record of solving problems in the way that scripture directs? Are you heading the same direction in life (can you cleave to each other)? Have you taken into account any cultural differences you have (hurdles that may have to be overcome because of familial, racial, historical, financial differences)? Do you want to marry this person? With all this intellectual and spiritual aspects to think about, it' s important to not overlook your heart. It should not be the deciding factor, but do you love this person and want to grow old with them? Have the courage to answer these questions about your relationship and decided what to do - whether is proposing or ending the relationship. 

Throughout the book, Josh tells us of his own courtship and engagement, and shares stories from other people he knows. These people come from many different circumstances - some lifelong Christians, some recently converted, some with Christian families, some being the only person in their family to value a God-honoring relationship, some save the first kiss for the altar, some choose to share this before marriage while still saving other things, some end in marriage, some end with the people realizing marriage should not happen. The variety of stories, I think, give a hope that these principles can work, wherever you are and in whatever circumstance. The point of this book is not to set rules, but to show people how to look to God in scripture and prayer to change your heart and define your own guidelines. 

One of the best parts of this book is the bonus at the end, the "Courtship Conversations." Each conversation includes a date idea, suggestions of things to discuss that go along with the activity, and questions to ask. Each date includes 15-20 questions (sometimes more), so you could actually use the conversation suggestions for many more dates or activities. I'll be buying the book just for those (not really, but almost).

Overall, I thought this was a great read. Josh made many great points about the attitude we should have during a relationship that's moving towards marriage. He discussed a lot how this time should be different from friendship, while also being different from marriage. There were many practical suggestions of ways to evaluate yourself and your relationship during this time, as well as to move forward. Like I said, I'm definitely buying this book. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Building a Celestial Family: Part 1

Forgive quickly and fully. 

We owe our families the kind of relationship we can take into the presence of God. . . . We can determine to forgive quickly and fully. We can try to seek the happiness of others above our own. We can be kind in our speech. As we try to do all these things, we will invite the Holy Ghost into our families and into our lives.
Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency (source)

The guide to the scriptures says: "As people forgive each other, they treat one another with Christlike love and have no bad feelings toward those who have offended them." That's kind of big. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus as telling us, "If [a brother] trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus again commands us to forgive without end in Matthew: "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matt 18:21-22). 

The Savior said this to us again in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith "And so on unto the second and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven." (D&C 98:40). The Lord commands us that if someone continues to hurt us withour repenting, we are still to forgive him: " And if he do this [continue in wrongdoing without repentance], thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold" (D&C 98:45). The Savior asks us to forgive everyone, but He doesn't ask us to make them pay. Like every single commandment the Lord gives, this is for our benefit. Holding a grudge hurts. Living in anger is not fun. Scientific studies in recent years are showing that a lack or forgiveness on our part makes us unhealthy. The command to forgive those who persecute us is given for our benefit. The Lord tells us to forgive others because He knows we can't live the abundance that He desires for us when we carry all that hurt. The Lord assures us that when we forgive, this person isn't receiving a "get out of jail free" card: "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:10).  He's allowing us to let go and move on, while assuring us that He will take care of the justice or mercy towards this person. Vengeance is not our job. However many times we say "I hate this person," it won't make up for the wrong. It won't give us any peace. The only peace comes from the Savior, when we know we are forgiven, and we forgive others. 

I worked a bible camp for kids this week. On Thursday, our Bible point or catch phrase for the day was "God has the power to forgive." The teachers told the kids that God has this power, and He shares it with us. God forgives us, and He gives us the power to turn around and forgive other people. That's true for little kids, for grown-ups, and for teens. He forgives all if we repent, and He gives us the power to forgive and let go of that hurt. 

It is important for us to forgive in our families. "Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness" (Bible Dictionary, "Temple"). Our homes are supposed to be as sacred and holy as the temple. That's pretty sacred and holy. Can we have that holiness, that presence of the Lord, when we are forgetting to ask forgiveness and give forgiveness? when we are holding grudging and getting even? No. Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Mercy is the essence of the gospel." Our homes should be places of mercy and forgiveness. If children don't experience forgiveness in their homes, how will they believe that our God is a god of forgiveness? (Nehemiah 9:17). We, especially those of us members living in nonmember homes are to be "an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim 4:12). If the essence of the gospel is forgiveness, shouldn't we be abundantly splashing our families with forgiveness?

This post is part of a series entitled "Building a Celestial Family." You can find the rest here: IntroPart 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Reader Report: I Kissed Dating Goodbye

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Approach to Romance and Relationships

Tired of the game? Kiss dating goodbye.

Going out? Been dumped? Waiting for a call that doesn’t come? Have you tasted pain in dating, drifted through one romance or, possibly, several of them?

Ever wondered, Isn’t there a better way?

I Kissed Dating Goodbye shows what it means to entrust your love life to God. Joshua Harris shares his story of giving up dating and discovering that God has something even better—a life of sincere love, true purity, and purposeful singleness.

Joshua Harris

Joshua Harris lives outside Washington, D.C., in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where he's a pastor at Covenant Life Church. His greatest passion is preaching the gospel and calling his generation to wholehearted devotion to God. Each January he leads a national conference for singles called New Attitude.

Publishing Info:
Multnomah Books, 1997

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"Some people who hear about my decision to not date till I'm ready for marriage assume that my heart must've been broken. No, my heart was made new by my Savior. The change in my attitude was the result of realizing the implications of belonging to Him. The Son of God died for me! He came to free me from the hopelessness of living for myself. That had to change everything--including my love life. Having a girlfriend was no longer my greatest need. Knowing and obeying Him was. I wanted to please Him in my relationships even if it meant looking radical and foolish to other people--even if it meant kissing dating goodbye" (p 18). 

When Josh Harris says "Kiss dating goodbye," he doesn't mean never date. Josh says this mostly meaning, "I'm not going to date until God tells me it's time."  Josh says, "The main focus of this book is on enjoying singleness and waiting on romance til you're ready for marriage (p 187).  It's about watching God in your relationships, and entering into a dating relationship or "courtship" as he calls it, when God gives you the heads up. Its moving from friendship to dating prayerfully. "You and I will never experience God's best--in singleness or in marriage--until we give God our all. We've held on to old attitudes, foolishly clutching a lifestyle that the world tells us will bring fulfillment. God asks us to hand it all over to him" (p 55). 

Josh outlines the pitfalls of modern dating, and offers new ideas about romance. We often see good Christians in solid dating relationships get involved in sexual sin, but we often blame it on a lack of self-control. While self-control is important, Josh points out that, as with David and Bathsheba, the sin isn't one step but a series of missteps. The bible tells us to "Flee from sin" (1 Corinthians 6:18); He knows that we won't always have enough self-control, so we shouldn't play games with evil. He tells us to run away. "Dating in and of itself isn't the cause of the problems we see in relationships. Sinful and selfish people are the cause of sinful and selfish relationships--it's our own wrong attitudes and values that make for defective dating. But while dating isn't necessarily wrong, we've got to keep in mind that the system of dating as we know it grew out of a culture that celebrates self-centeredness and immorality. Just as a bar that sells alcohol doesn't force anyone to drink and isn't the cause of drunkenness, a bar is an establishment created so that people can have a place to get drink. You wouldn't say that getting rid of bars would end alcoholism or that everyone who visits a bar has a drinking problem, but neither would you encourage a friend who was trying to quit drinking to hang out in bars" (p 36). Now replace the bar with dating. Dating doesn't make us sin, but the environment it creates often is the perfect place for sin to creep up on us. The "seven habits of defective dating, Josh states, are: Dating tends to skip the friendship stage, dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love, dating tends to isolate a couple from other vital relationships (family and friends), dating can distract young adults from their primary responsibility of preparing for the future (education, job, growing in godliness), dating can cause discontentment with God's gift of singleness, dating can create an artificial environment for evaluating a person's character, and dating often becomes and end of itself (pp 38-46). We need something new. 

Josh stresses the importance of caring for and respecting others, as Christians. He reminds us that this applies to our dating relationships, too. We are to respect for the person we're dating and care for them. It's our responsibility to guard their purity, watch over their hearts, and love them as Christ loves them. Sometimes loving them as Christ loves them means not dating. "I've come to realize that while friendships with the opposite sex are great, I have no business asking for a girl's heart and exclusive affections if I'm not ready to consider marriage. until I can do that, I'd only be using that girl to meet my short-term needs, and not seeking to bless her for the long-term. Would I enjoy having a girlfriend right now? You bet! But I wouldn't truly be loving her and putting her interests first" (p 19). 

Many of us view "purity and impurity as separated by a fixed point. As long as [we don't] cross the line and go all the way, [we believe we are] still pure. True purity, however, is a direction, a persistent, determined pursuit of righteousness. This direction starts in the heart, and we express it in a lifestyle that flees opportunities for compromise" (p 88). The scriptures tell us to have a "pure heart." Jesus Christ said that "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Purity is a lot more than not having sex. It's about more than our bodies. It's about keeping our eyes pure from lust, our hearts pure from idolizing a boyfriend/girlfriend. Purity is always moving toward righteousness. When someone is really striving for purity, there's no question of "how far can we go."

In this book, Josh introduced a motto, something he calls the "little relationship principle" - "The joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment." Josh specified that this applies to physical intimacy and emotional intimacy. When we are intimate without commitment, we risk hurt. Intimacy is only safe when coupled with commitment. With the commitment of friendship, we reach a certain level of intimacy. As friendship depends, we share more of ourselves with our friends. As we are purposefully entering a relationship to consider marriage, we share more of our hearts with the other person. There is a greater commitment. Only when we commit our entire selves and lives to each other can we become "one flesh" can we experience the true joy of intimacy that God has created for us to enjoy. God gives us many great gifts, and they are almost always coupled with guidelines to protect the sacredness of the gift. One example is intimacy. God wants us to be intimate with other people - our family and our spouse. To these people, we give parts of ourselves. When we are intimate with strangers, we give parts of our self away, and someone who is not committed to our well-being now holds a part of us, but since there is not commitment, the intimacy is not safe. We can lose that part of ourselves.

Josh claims that as we see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and understand our responsibilities to care for each other, it will totally change how we date - so much that it might require a new name. He uses the term "courting." Courting is basically dating with a purpose, or purposeful romance. In courting there's no playing with hearts. The boy and the girl respect each other and the other person's future spouse. The aim, he says, is to be the kind of friend that your boyfriend's wife can say to you "Thank you for guarding my husband's heart and respecting him." There would be no regrets. He says that courtship is a commitment, a commitment to protecting each other's purity and hearts.

"The various ways in which God brings men and women together, like the unique designs of snowflakes, are never quite the same. But just as a one-of-a-kind snowflake can only form at a specific temperature and precipitation, a God-honoring romance can only form when we follow godly patterns and principles" (p 187). The goal of courtship is to evaluate the other person's character and prayerfully determine if it is God's will for you to marry. With courtship, there's no recreational dating. Intimacy has purpose, and it is carefully guided by other Christian mentors and by prayer. Courting only happens when both parties are ready to enter the lifelong commitment of marriage - spiritually ready, emotionally ready, financially ready. Marriage is a big commitment. It requires serious contemplation. With courtship, the purpose is to consider marriage, and both parties are aware of this from the start. Again, courtship is a commitment to respect each other's hearts and purity.

Josh is careful to remind us that is courting is just a set of rules to us, it becomes just as harmful as modern recreational dating. In order for courting to be different, our hearts have to change. And, a person can alter their dating methods to look like what Josh calls courting, but still call it dating. "Courting" or "dating" is just a name.

Some other great ideas presented in this book:

  • "True love isn't just expressed in passionately whispered words or an intimate kiss or an embrace; before two people are married, love is expressed in self-control, patience, even words left unsaid"  (p 20). 
  • Sometimes, we feel lonely. Whether it's because we're not dating, or we feel estranged from family or friends. whatever the case, loneliness hits us all at one time or another "A girl in her midtwenties who recently married told me that she saw lonliness as God's call to her heart. 'When I felt lonely, I would think, God is calling me back to Him,' she told me. During these times she learned to pour her heart out to God and talk with Him. Now she wouldn't trade those intimate moments with God for the world" (p 149). 
  • Repeat: marriage is a big commitment. Marriage is one of the most important things to God. "Marriage is the first institution (Genesis 2:22-24). It was ordained before family, before civil government--even before the church" (p168). As Latter-Day Saints, we know marriage to be of utmost importance. We affirm that the family is central to God's plan for us on earth, and that family can only come about when a man and woman are married (preferably for time and all eternity). The dating principles Josh goes through in this book are important to all Christians, but our dating practices should be noted especially by Latter-Day Saints because we put a much higher value on marriage than many other denominations. God does not intend for us to take this covenant lightly. It is the highest covenant. It is what will bring us into the celestial kingdom, to live with Him forever. (Read about the LDS view of marriage here). 

This book presented many great ideas about the pitfalls of the way we date today, and some possible solutions. it was a great read, and I do think I will be applying some of the things he said to my own relationships.