BoM 10: Taking Responsibility

In the past when I’ve read Alma 31 I’ve always found it a little insulting that Alma tells the poor, humbled Zoramites that they would be better off if they chose to be humble. This time around I wanted to better understand why Alma highlights a value difference between being compelled to be humbled and choosing to be humble.

And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?

Alma 32:14, BoM

As I pondered the intent of Alma’s initial words to the poor Zoramites I realized that, far from trying insult them, Alma is actually extending an invitation for the people to look beyond the life that has been forced upon them and take action available to them to find truth and a spiritual life in God.

Before launching into what has become a classic Gospel analogy, Alma tells the group of poor Zoramites that their knowledge of eternal truth “shall be unto every man according to his work” (Alma 32:20, BoM). Upon this reading, that phrase struck me as an invitation to be teachable and actively learn about God. Then Alma presents his analogy comparing the word of God to a seed. When planted in fertile ground (desire to believe) and properly nourished with belief and religious practice, the word of God will take root, strengthen faith, and begin manifesting good fruit, which will result in the development of personal knowledge of truth. 

Alma and Amulek’s message culminates in a powerful testimony of the coming Savior. They have already established a beautiful groundwork for the progression of desire, belief, faith, and knowledge and Amulek brings the lesson full circle, citing the knowledge that he has gained about salvation as well as reiterating the steps the people can take to build their own knowledge of the truth: 

Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world….

…and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea infinite and eternal.

And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name….

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance….

Alma 34:8, 14, 15, 17, BoM

This is the point of Christian belief, to exercise faith in Christ to repentance and eventual salvation. What Amulek and Alma make clear for the poor Zoramites is that they can choose to pursue this work on their own, in their families, even when a house of worship is not available to them. As long as they humble themselves by opening their hearts to the word of God and being teachable, they can work out their salvation in partnership with Christ.

BoM 9: This great joy

The story of Lamoni’s father really gave me pause this time studying the Book of Alma. My haphazard Come, Follow Me study with my kids led me to highlight his story. I’m struck by his “astonishment” and his stewing or disquiet over his confrontation with Ammon and Lamoni (see Alma 20:27; 22:3, BoM). What is it that makes the king over the whole Land of Nephi want to understand what Lamoni has learned from Ammon, that has completely changed Lamoni? I think the answer is discomfort. Suddenly the king who was satisfied with his power and wealth and living a very comfortable life doubts his identity and place in the world, so much so that he offers his entire kingdom to Aaron as a desperate attempt to get answers, to try to relieve the discomfort (Alma 22:15, BoM).

In some ways Aaron’s teaching initially increases the king’s discomfort. The Fall is a story of displacement: Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God establishes the conditions of mortality for their descendants, the entire human race. These are conditions of separation from God’s presence, toil to survive, disease and death. But Aaron quickly presents the solution to the King’s sense of displacement and the displacement of the human family: Jesus Christ, the Savior, will come to earth and be a living sacrifice to reconcile mankind to God, to make repentance possible, to bring us back into God’s presence where we belong (Alma 22:13-14, BoM). Lamoni’s father embraces this truth readily because he first understood the pain of displacement. He desired a solution and recognized that the true resolution was more important than any worldly comforts to which he was accustomed:

What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

Alma 22:15, BoM

Do we feel the loss of God’s presence deeply enough? Do we fear enough the potential permanent separation from God if we don’t repent and follow Christ? I am not a doom and gloom Christian but I do see how getting caught up in modern comforts, entertainment, and/or wealth can completely obscure the reality of human life and our collective spiritual destiny. The joy that Lamoni’s father experiences upon accepting Christ as his Savior and Redeemer can inspire us all to seek greater understanding of our purpose here on earth and to receive the great joy promised to all God’s children who follow Jesus Christ.

BoM 8: Personal Testimony, Personal Responsibility

One of the Come, Follow Me prompts for last week’s study of Mosiah 25-28 suggested that we discuss the importance of taking responsibility for our own testimonies. Chapter 26 identifies “the rising generation,” those who were children at the end of King Benjamin’s reign, did not understand his teachings and did not make the covenant along with their parents, and who chose not to believe and not to be baptized as they grew older. (See Mosiah 26:1-2, BoM.) Testimony, or belief, is the foundation for participation in a faith community.

Another great word for testimony is conviction. The older generation who, under King Benjamin, entered into a covenant with God to believe in Christ and take His name upon them, were convinced of the truth of King Benjamin’s words (see Mosiah 5:2-7, BoM). This conviction led them to behave in ways consistent with the teachings of their king and the diverse group of people became unified under the covenant. They had peace in their land, they welcomed strangers to join their community, they worked hard to serve each other. Each person who had made the covenant honored it individually and as a community of believers.

Years ago I sat in an ecclesiastical endorsement interview with my Bishop so that I could attend a church university. My bishop asked me to share my testimony. I shared typical statements of belief: I know the Church is true, I know Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration, I know Jesus Christ lives, etc. When I finished, my bishop unforgettably stated, “that’s nice. That is a very simple testimony.” The paternalism dripping from these words offended me deeply. What’s wrong with my testimony, I fumed to myself? It’s a sincere testimony!

About six years later I discovered what my bishop meant. As I suffered through the first months of my mission, with my self-construct crumbling, facing rejection every day and feeling very isolated among colleagues who didn’t know or love me, I had to learn to rely on a personage who I believed in and whose existence I felt certain of, but with whom I had never had “real” experience.

You see, it turned out that I had been living the Gospel in a vacuum, following the teachings of the Church and keeping commandments in carefully controlled settings that presented almost no challenges to me or to my faith. I grew up in a sheltered home, was oblivious to many things in high school that could have given me some real life experience, attended a Church university where it was easy to keep Church standards and follow Church teachings, and then lived with my grandmother while I worked and prepared for my mission. Each situation certainly had its own challenges, but none of those challenges constituted the sort of rich environment that allows for deep testimony development or growth. I lived the Gospel but with very little opposition. Without realizing that I had created a controlled environment for myself, I made internal claims as to having overcome various personal weaknesses. In reality I hadn’t actually overcome anger management problems, I had only removed myself from situations that caused flare ups. I didn’t actually love other people like Christ does—I just created an environment for myself in which I could associate with people when and where I wanted to and love from a distance.

All of that changed on my mission where I was suddenly forced to live in an environment completely out of my control. I begged God to help me get out of the worst of the situations and then I developed a bitterness against Him for not removing the challenges. This was my first real experience grappling with faith and testimony. Did God really exist if I couldn’t feel His presence? Did He really exist if He didn’t answer my prayers right way or in the manner I expected?

As I endured and tried to process the various experiences of my mission, I began to learn profound truths about the nature of testimony and what it takes to truly believe, to be convinced and change one’s behavior to be consistent with those convictions. King Benjamin’s people became so convinced of their lost and fallen state—they felt that truth deeply—that they begged for a solution. They believed in Christ because they also felt deeply the truth that only He could save them. (See Mosiah 4:1-3, BoM.)

In my darkest moments as a missionary I relied on the basic “simple” truths I had learned as a teenager: Christ exists. I found a deeper connection to Him in my anguish and built personal strength to believe regardless of my circumstances. I learned how the Atonement is supposed to work in helping us change our “natural wo/man” tendencies to godly characteristics and behaviors—it’s a painful process that cannot happen in a vacuum! I needed opposition (2 Nephi 2:11, BoM) to challenge me, to allow me to confront my weaknesses and, with Christ’s help, practice behaving in better ways until my heart could be changed and I could “naturally” behave in godly ways; in other words, have my nature changed.

I experienced a new facet of God’s grace as part of this testimony-building experience. For several months on my mission my behavior towards my companions was nothing short of despicable. My self-construct or false identity was gone and I began behaving in my most “natural” way; it turned out that a really mean and judgmental person had been lurking beneath my façade (see Mosiah 3:19, BoM). Despite my awful behavior, however, I experienced how deeply Christ loved me and desired my improvement. He blessed me continuously with powerful experiences ministering to local members and investigators, He magnified my singing voice to touch people’s hearts, He helped me and my companions teach in unity with the Spirit, He saw the unspoken righteous desires of my heart and answered them in subtle and meaningful ways. I didn’t deserve any of it—I recognized that all too clearly—but the patience and love with which Christ ministered to me helped me begin changing my heart. As I experienced the power and depth of Christ’s love for every single person on Earth I began to see others with new eyes.

So, while I “knew” as a young person that God is real and that Jesus Christ is my Savior, I did not have the experiential knowledge that makes for a deep or multi-faceted testimony. Not until I followed spiritual promptings to serve a mission and had to take responsibility for my spiritual life, did I begin to build true conviction.

The message I most wanted to share with my children this week is the importance of taking responsibility for their personal testimonies. We discussed different experiences they could have as children that will help them build their testimonies. I can teach them simple Gospel truths, simple enough that they can understand (see Mosiah 26:1, BoM); but I also need to invite them to take action to find out for themselves if and how those principles are true and what that truth means for them. This is the locus of belief or faith.

As a parent I want to create a safe environment in which my children can learn and grow in both secular and spiritual knowledge, but I also want them to have significant life experiences earlier than I did that will help them build deep and abiding convictions in God’s literal existence, His awareness of them, the worth of souls, and Jesus Christ’s infinite love and ability to help us all become exalted individuals and families.

BoM 7: Unity in Christ

King Benjamin’s sermon is one of my favorite passages of scripture. I have held several formal leadership positions over the years and now as a mother especially I really admire and value King Benjamin’s selflessness, compassion, and love for his people. And his amazing success in uniting a diverse society is undeniable.

For Family Home Evening the week we studied King Benjamin’s sermon (Mosiah 2-5, BoM) I wanted to help my children embrace difference and understand the powerful way in which King Benjamin united his people. To do this I borrowed an idea from a lesson plan a missionary companion and I developed about 11 years ago to teach some of our friends who were getting baptized. We used heart shaped necklaces with the name of Christ written on them to discuss the baptismal covenant as found in Mosiah 18, BoM.

The goal of my FHE lesson was to have each person identify as different from everybody else and, through the scriptural narrative, reveal how we can become unified. To establish each individual in our home as a separate entity, I cut out construction paper hearts with a different color for each person. I wrote each person’s name on a heart. On the back of each heart I glued a matching red heart with the name of Christ written on it. To start the lesson I handed out the necklaces to each family member to wear with their name facing out, careful not to reveal the matching red backs.

I began by narrating King Benjamin’s struggles as a leader of a diverse society. He was king of a group of Nephites who had joined with an older society of Mulekites. A small group had headed off to seek new lands and was never heard from again which resulted in some social disturbance among the core group at Zarahemla. At the end of his reign, King Benjamin made a final effort to reinforce unity among his people.

My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.

Mosiah 2:9, BoM

King Benjamin taught his gathered people about the reality of God’s existence, the nature of life on earth, and the prophecies of a coming Savior. He helped them understand their relationship to God and the need each individual has for redemption. He testified boldly and invited the people to repent and keep the commandments. The response of the people is astounding to me:

O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men….

Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

Mosiah 4:2; 5:2, BoM

King Benjamin invited the people to enter a covenant and use a new name to signify their acceptance of that two-way promise with God:

…the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

…There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

Mosiah 5:6-7, BoM

Taking the name of Christ upon us

In our lesson I instructed everyone to turn over their necklaces to reveal the matching hearts with Christ’s name written on them.

The result of King Benjamin’s sermon and invitation was social unity. By writing the name of Christ on their hearts the people began to see each other with new eyes, as brothers and sisters with common goals, as essential parts of a whole community, as individuals whose welfare and happiness contributed to the overall harmony of their collective society. And the people lived in peace.

BoM 5: Boundless Mercy and Blessings, Likening the Scriptures

Tonight for Family Home Evening we tackled 2 Nephi 26. I was taken with the quote from Joseph Smith in one of the suggested study subtopics from Come, Follow Me for this week, that God is “more ‘boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive’ (The Joseph Smith Papers, “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1,” p. 4 [addenda], josephsmithpapers.org).” My kids wanted to make Muddy Buddies as well so I considered if there was a ready way to liken the scriptures and use the treat-making as an object lesson. And I hit on something great!

We started by reading the quote from Joseph Smith and discussed what “boundless” means in context. We defined what it means to have boundaries and then talked about how Jesus has no limits on His love, mercy, or the blessings He wants to share with us. We read 2 Nephi 26:20-22 to lay the groundwork for our thinking about boundless love and mercy. I paraphrased a little, asking if the people described in those verses are making good choices or bad choices. Once we established that they’re making bad choices, we moved on to Nephi’s exclamations about the love of Jesus Christ for “the world” (all people in the world, I clarified) (see v. 23-33). I used our easel to summarize ways in which God is merciful as described by Nephi in the verses.

My narration helped them connect the fact that God loves everyone and wants to bless everyone, even if they’re making bad choices. Mercy comes into play as God blesses us even when by many standards we don’t seem to be deserving. My kids really got this as I asked whether they always make good choices. Does Jesus still love you when you make bad choices? I asked them. YES! They exclaimed.

I felt it was important to add a final note (like Nephi) about obedience. All God asks from us is to be obedient to His commandments. Nephi lists out many of them but I just wanted to touch on this essential component.

Then we began on the Muddy Buddies….

I explained that we’re kind of like the cereal—a little plain, tasty but nothing special. Jesus, however, wants us to be our best selves possible and offers us many different ways to achieve greatness (in my narration, “to become more delicious”). The kids took turns adding ingredients which I simultaneously wrote into our existing list, discussing with the kids as I went.

At one point I asked the kids what ingredient we should add next. My oldest suggested chocolate. I asked, “how do you know to add chocolate?” When she finally got to, “we need to follow the recipe,” I brought us back to obedience. God offers us unlimited mercy, continually inviting us to repent and come to Jesus to “buy milk and honey without price.” He freely offers magnificent blessings, but we have to follow His recipe as found in the scriptures and taught in His Restored Church to receive the greatest blessing of all—eternal life.

The girls were pretty quiet by the end—yes, they were eating Muddy Buddies hand over fist—but they were also attentive as I closed the lesson and testified of the importance of following God’s “recipe” for a happy and, eventually, eternal life. A basic understanding of mercy (we defined this as unlimited love for and desire to help/bless someone even if they’re making bad choices) seemed to click. I hope they caught a glimpse of the Savior’s boundless love for each of them.

*No promotional considerations were made in writing this post. (It is simply hard to separate the cereal from its iconic recipe.)

BoM 4: Scattered…but Not Forgotten

Towards the end of 1 Nephi we see a really tender moment between Nephi and his older brothers. Lehi’s family has just arrived in the promised land, everyone is getting settled and Nephi resumes his record keeping and Gospel instruction. In the process of reciting details prophesied about the anticipated Messiah’s earthly appearance, Nephi mentions the scattering of Israel. This would be a poignant moment for Nephi and his brothers: they belong to Israel but God commanded their family to separate themselves from Israel and take a harrowing journey to a new land. They have become part of the prophesied “scattered Israel.”

As I read about Israel being scattered across the isles of the sea, I realized how that must have sounded to Lehi’s children—the isles of the sea were probably the most remote and desolate places they could imagine; it might be roughly equivalent to someone saying “Mars” or “Jupiter” today. Lehi’s family was now completely cut off from everything familiar and comfortable, with no chance of getting “home” back.

But Nephi’s message, and the tender moment, looks ahead to the future of their children and grandchildren down to our present day when God has promised that He will remember the isles of the sea and gather Israel again.

Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers. Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.

1 Nephi 19:15-16, BoM

Nephi’s message of hope in covenants, Christ, and the love of God doesn’t seem to be lost on his brothers—they end up asking more questions in order to better understand the prophecies. (See 1 Nephi 22, BoM.)

How often do we feel separated from “home” or like we’ve been “scattered on the isles of the sea”? Sometimes we feel like heaven has gone quiet. Sometimes our own choices have led us off the covenant path and away from God. Some of us wonder if we could ever find a way back or if God will even be aware of us anymore. But His promise to the ancient Israelites holds true for all of God’s children. He does remember us. No matter how far we’ve gone we are always within God’s reach. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7, NT).

No matter how distanced we feel from heaven, God is always able and willing to close the gap and gather us back to Him.

BoM 3: My Laman and Lemuel Moment…or Year

During last week’s Come, Follow Me reading I was startled as I heard my own voice while listening to the audio of 1 Nephi 17. Laman and Lemuel are complaining to Nephi about all their trials and hardships:

[Our father] hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.

Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy. (1 Nephi 17:20-21, BoM)

“We have suffered” echoed in my mind as I remembered the worst inner dialogue I have ever used in my life–and it was on my mission. “I hate this. I hate being a missionary. I feel so miserable. Why am I suffering so much? I can’t wait for this to be over. I enjoyed my other travel experiences so much more. I would be so much happier if I were anywhere else.” If that’s not self-defeating, I don’t know what is. These words repeated over and over in mind for months. In all fairness, I think I was dealt a rough hand on my mission, but I could have and should have found healthier ways of working through my challenges, misery, pain, and bitterness. (Luckily God taught me much and my inner dialogue doesn’t reflect the type of missionary I turned out to be.)

Part of my problem was that I had started my mission feeling like a Nephi. I knew the scriptures, I loved the Gospel, I was excited to teach people, I had made good choices my whole life, I had an education, and on and on. But God needed to teach me some important lessons and, as a result of a unique personality combined with some very difficult circumstances, I took these lessons very hard––in fact they were devastating. I felt like God had broken me down to nothing so I clung desperately to the accomplishments and qualities I had once used to pad my identity.

One of the most challenging things God taught me was in revealing a series of lies I had told myself about my character. As He exposed those lies, I fought the truth, desperately afraid of what would happen to me. But then, as I surrendered to His “stretching and ‘higher’ ways,” He helped me accept who I really was (both the good and the bad) and begin building a new character better founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ (see Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance,” General Conference, April 2002.) For example, I had to accept that I was actually judgmental and self-righteous. As God built me back up, He taught me how to love people wherever they’re at and how to graciously acknowledge and admit my own weaknesses and shortcomings.

My “suffering in the wilderness” experience leaves me with sympathy for Laman and Lemuel. It is so easy to immediately label them as “the bad guys” in the narrative and every time I re-read the Book of Mormon I want to fall into that old pattern. But I am catching myself––I don’t want to judge them. I get why they were so upset! I left all my comforts, too, and wandered in the wilderness for a long time. Suffering is the worst! No one wants to suffer.

So, how do we solve the Laman and Lemuel dilemma? When we’re suffering in the wilderness, what do we do? For me, I’m going to change my inner dialogue and, instead of taking things so hard, I’m going to try and laugh more and be actively grateful for every blessing, the big and small. I’m going to submit more readily to God’s “stretching and higher ways” rather than cling to whatever it is God wants me to give up. Instead of being angry about what God is supposedly doing to me, I’m going to focus on what I can be doing to make life happier for others. Instead of rhapsodizing about the past, I’m going to look forward to the future and envision the happy, enjoyable times ahead. Instead of asking, why is this happening to me, I’m going to ask, what does God want me to learn from this experience? How is this experience going to change me in positive ways; how will it make me a better mother, wife, friend, disciple?

BoM 2: Supporting My Spouse in a Demanding Church Calling

Now I know of a surety…that the Lord…hath given [us] power whereby [we] could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded [us]. (1 Nephi 5:8, BoM)

Several years ago my husband was asked to serve as the leader of an inner-city branch. We loved our branch and the wonderful people we served and served with.

Soon after the stake set apart my husband, I had a dream one night. We were driving our Jeep in a foreign city that I recognized from my mission. My husband was behind the wheel and our one-year-old daughter was buckled safely in her car seat in back. In the dream I became increasingly worried about my husband’s driving. He was driving carelessly, looking at everything but the road and the traffic around us. We found ourselves approaching a set of traffic lights with multiple crossings of one-directional traffic. Just ahead and perpendicular to our line of traffic I could see a barrier and a harbor immediately beyond. My husband drove straight through the light, crossed traffic, and broke the barrier, plunging us into the water. I struggled to free myself from the seatbelt and, remembering our daughter, I turned to try and free her. My husband by this point had already freed himself and was swimming for the surface. My daughter and I could not get out.

I awoke, terrified, but not at a loss for the meaning of the dream. In waking hours I had begun to worry about the amount of time my husband was spending on his church calling and not on his school work or with our family. I expressed my concerns to my husband following the dream, relating its events and my interpretation. I was legitimately afraid for our family’s future.

Sariah expressed similar concerns to her husband, Lehi, about the safety of her children and health of her family. “[S]he…complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:2, BoM). They had taken a huge step into the unknown by obeying the Lord’s commandment to leave Jerusalem. They were also taking a huge risk sending their sons back to Jerusalem to obtain a sacred record from a dangerous man at the Lord’s command.

Lehi, ever confident in his calling and the instructions of the Lord, comforted Sariah the best he could, bearing his testimony of the goodness of God. When Nephi and his brothers returned to the family camp safe and with the brass plates in hand, Sariah exclaimed: “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them” (1 Nephi 5:8, BoM).

I similarly learned an invaluable lesson about supporting my spouse in church service. Rather than let preoccupation with my dream feed my fears, I turned my attention to serving our branch with equal love and diligence. Rather than complain when my husband informed me he would be gone all day Sunday or had to step out unexpectedly on church business, I learned to say, “good luck, be safe; I will see you when I see you.” As I supported my husband in his responsibilities, I witnessed the same truth Sariah learned: the Lord protected, blessed, and prospered our family.

A few examples that taught me the goodness of God and demonstrated His willingness to bless when we serve Him and follow His commandments:

  • While driving between my parents’ home and my in-law’s at 6 months pregnant, with my one year old in the car, I was struck by a tractor trailer. Not only were we able to walk away from our totaled car merely shaken and without a single physical injury, the company paid us generously for our totaled vehicle and gave us extra money.
  • The minivan we purchased after the accident ran perfectly at over 250,000 miles for 3.5 years (until my husband was released…then it started falling apart).
  • We had two healthy children born while serving and they rarely got sick.
  • Despite the terrible quality of roads everywhere we drove on church service, we only ever had one flat tire on each of our cars in 4.5 years, and both flats manifested conveniently at our home.
  • I was handed multiple opportunities to hone my musical talents through music service which provided me with a creative outlet, increased my personal joy, and resulted in significant spiritual growth as well.
  • When a promised job fell through just before my husband graduated with his doctorate (and we had no back up plan), the Lord sent us a friend who recommended a totally different career path. My husband’s church service became some of the most impressive parts of his resume and he successfully got a (much better) job less than five months after our initial disappointment.

The wonderful thing about church service is that the whole family can participate, not just by being supportive in word. As I participated in our branch, serving in multiple callings at the same time, doing informal service, with my young children in tow, I witnessed first hand how God strengthened, protected, and blessed our family. I will forever preach to friends, family, and strangers that the Lord blesses and prospers individuals and families when they lose themselves in church service.

BoM 1: Excitement for the 2020 Come, Follow Me Curriculum

I am thrilled we are studying the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ in 2020 as a worldwide church! I love the Book of Mormon. Last year the most difficult part of adapting to the Come, Follow Me home study curriculum was working an additional daily reading/study of the Book of Mormon back into my schedule. My spirituality definitely suffered from pretty much dropping Book of Mormon reading.

While taking President Nelson’s October 2018 challenge to read the Book of Mormon in 86 days, I felt his promises take effect in my life and my family.

In his talk, President Nelson promised, “the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation….

“You and they [your loved ones] will be drawn closer to the Savior through this process. And changes, even miracles, will begin to happen.” (Nelson, “Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel,” Oct. 2018.)

Increased spiritual power may be what I marked most. I felt incredible spiritual power as I implemented the new Come, Follow Me curriculum in our home. The Holy Ghost blessed me with ideas about how to share the scriptures with my children in effective and meaningful ways. When my husband began his new job and went to Europe for two weeks of training, I felt bolstered by God and successfully raised my children for two weeks by myself without the stress, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness when challenges arose that I had fully expected to experience. The heavens opened for me and miracles happened.

That spiritual power is what I missed most as 2019 progressed; it ebbed noticeably as I dropped the Book of Mormon from my daily scripture study. I gradually lost steam with Come, Follow Me, I began to suffer some mild anxiety, I bobbed in and out of depression, I lost my zeal and rediscovered my fear of missionary work. I am not saying that dropping Book of Mormon study caused these things, but that because I wasn’t studying the Book of Mormon, I did not have access to the spiritual power that could have helped me through these trials.

Already in 2020 with my reintroduction of daily Book of Mormon study I feel spiritual power flowing back into my life.

I hope that as your family undertakes individual and group study of The Book of Mormon this year, you will feel more connected to each other and to God, that you will have an abundance of spiritual power to face challenges or lift up others, that your homes will be filled with the peace and love of Jesus Christ.

NT 20: What Christmas Means to Me

Behold, I stand at the door and knock…. (Revelation 3:20, NT)

Letting Christ in has filled me with the Christmas spirit.

 

Years ago, maybe 25 or more, Christmas found me an angry, despondent child. I was crammed in the backseat of a minivan, the oldest of five kids at the time. After bursting out at one of my siblings, my dad pulled me out of the car to ask what was wrong with me. That moment I had a choice, did I really want to admit the truth?

You see, we were heading home after visiting one of my parent’s families, a fairly common occurrence. But this year the adults had sniped at each other more than usual. My grandmother felt more badgered than usual having bought us more presents than the other grandchildren since our family was larger and had less money. I felt anxiety, discord, and tension in the air. And for yet another year I had hidden my grimace as I opened gifts (I really dislike opening gifts in front of other people).

It doesn’t feel like Christmas, I sobbed to my parents. The magic was gone. And so began the next many years of my love/hate relationship with the season that everyone tells you is a time of excitement, happiness, and hope.

With The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ introduction of the Light the World campaign a few years ago, Christmas began changing for me. I relished having something other than my unhappy history and dislike of commercialism to focus on. I threw myself into the daily service prompts. I had my own children by then and savored involving them in serving our family, neighbors, friends, strangers, and people we will never meet. I discovered that I could ask for no presents for Christmas, allowing me to instead center my attention on my kids and enjoy with them the magic they experience.

But this Christmas has been the best of all.

The Come, Follow Me home study program has worked miracles for me this year. It has brought me greater joy in motherhood by helping me teach the Gospel effectively in my home. Though it took a back seat for a couple of months as I struggled through recurring depression and anxiety, I renewed my commitment to daily scripture study just in time for the Christmas season.

Last week while studying Revelation I read the Savior’s well-known and oft-repeated statement, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” What do we do to let Christ into our lives? I asked my children. What should I be doing to let Christ into my life? I asked myself.

I began by recommitting myself to daily scripture study and finishing out the inaugural year of Come, Follow Me. I also started listening to old Brigham Young University devotional addresses about Christmas. A talk by President Boyd K. Packer from December 1962 really struck a chord with my efforts to open the door to Christ and invite Him in. President (then Elder) Packer said:

If you could just know that at your age you could find and can have that little kid feeling again about Christmas…you find that in exchange for Christmas past comes the most supernal of all gifts….

[I]f we can accept as adults a new childhood status with reference to our God, then we will begin to humble ourselves and begin to believe and so begin to see. And in exchange for the fanciful poetry of The Night Before Christmas, comes the miracle that grows in every season….

The whole account from Bethlehem to Calvary is the Christmas Story and it takes simple, childlike, almost naive faith to know it…. [I]t is the actual account of the opening of the eyes of the blind…. And it’s the story of the cleansing of the leper…. And then the walking on the water…. And there was the blind man in Bethsaida…. There was the blind and dumb demonic, there was Peter’s mother-in-law, the one with palsy and the one with the withered hand; there’s the lunatic child, the ten lepers, there was the miraculous draught of fishes, the multitudes fed, and many others raised from the dead.

[T]hat’s a mighty meager price to pay––giving up the fanciful poetry of The Night Before Christmas––for the factual account of the actual Christmas Story. And you need never fear in this life or the next to ever be disillusioned on what is really Christmas. (Packer, “Keeping Christmas,” Dec. 1962, speeches.byu.edu.)

As President Packer testifies, we can enjoy the magic of Christmas at any age and all our lives when we invite Christ in to sup with us and center our celebrations on the true Christmas Story. In addition to (haphazardly) following the Light the World service prompts this season, we finally opened my childhood advent book and celebrated all four days of advent. We even invited friends over for the fourth day. It was magical to read the scriptures and sing the sacred songs of Christ’s birth together.

To close with the words of President Packer:

I bear witness that the Lord Jesus Christ lives, I know that He really lives, that He was born a babe in Bethlehem, that He grew and fulfilled His ministry, that He was crucified on the cross and that He was resurrected; that He lives now, directing personally the operations of His church upon the Earth and manifesting Himself personally to His servants, that belief might be swallowed up in knowledge, that His work might go forth. (Packer, “Keeping Christmas,” Dec. 1962, speeches.byu.edu.)