I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to jump back in to blogging after a year hiatus. I’ve missed the mental and spiritual exercise! I hope that your 2022 ended on a high note and that 2023 is off to a great start.
In a convergence of New Year’s resolutions, my inaugural post of 2023 draws on our first Family Home Evening of 2023–goal setting!
My husband and I drew pie charts à la the children and youth program design from our church in preparation for this FHE. We labelled each quarter with the four areas of personal growth from the program: spiritual, intellectual, social, physical. We made enough for each adult and child to have their own 2023 Goal Chart.
For the lesson we began by singing “Seek the Lord Early” to orient us towards the point of goal-setting (i.e. become more like Jesus Christ) that I wanted to reinforce. I provided a brief reminder of the Plan of Salvation (that we come to earth to learn, grow, and become more like Jesus). We talked about setting goals as a way to motivate self-improvement, focus our lives on meaningful work, and measure our progress. We then set about writing our goals in each category. We talked and sought ideas from each other. Adults helped children brainstorm, flesh out ideas, and write their goals.
We have all of our family’s pages posted in a public spot where we can easily refer to them. I plan on following up every week during Family Home Evening to keep us on track to reach our 2023 goals.
In Genesis 18 Abraham discovers three visitors approaching his tent and immediately recognizes them as holy people. The language in this chapter alternates between identifying the strangers as “they/them” and “the Lord.” This interplay might find explanation in Leo Tolstoy’s short story “God is Love” but mostly the chapter reminded me of my childhood.
Whenever new families showed up at church (especially if they had children my age), I would run to my parents and ask if we could invite them to dinner. With eventually eight children to feed and tight resources my parents’s answer was usually no. I dreamed of one day having my own home and being able to welcome guests at a moment’s notice with plenty to share.
I am moved by Abraham’s determined hospitality. He begs the strangers to stay, to rest, to have their feet washed. He engages his entire household in serving the strangers and attending to their needs. Not only does Abraham produce plenty of food and drink, but he welcomes them as honored guests.
In my first mission area my trainer encouraged me to listen to the women at church and find someone whose language skills I could learn from. My trainer invited me to make an appointment with the sister for us to visit her and share a message. As a new missionary I found this daunting but proceeded as instructed. The sister was overjoyed to make an appointment, offering to feed the three of us dinner. We set the appointment and I looked forward with great anticipation. In truth I had little to look forward to that first transfer with the freezing temperatures spent daily riding a bicycle through a strange city with women I didn’t know very well.
On the appointed day we worked through our schedule until it was time to set out for the sister’s apartment. We biked for what felt far too long, the minutes ticking by. Our appointment drew near then passed us. My trainer was lost. Finally consulting the maps we always carried with us, she reoriented and eventually got us to the right apartment building. Cold, exhausted, and embarrassed by our tardiness, I sheepishly entered the apartment. The lights were dimmed. As my eyes adjusted I spotted the dining table laid with candles, covered in dishes full of hot food. The sister welcomed us, brushed aside our apologies, and took our coats. We feasted with her comfortably, all embarrassment forgotten, warmed by her hospitality, and feeling like honored guests.
In Matthew’s record of Christ’s ministry, the Lord told his followers “in as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40, NT). Abraham seems to have understood this important truth—when we serve our fellow men and women, we are serving our brothers and sisters, children of God, and He counts it as if we have served Him.
May we all look for the unexpected guests among us, ready to welcome them as if they were the Lord Himself.
Two months ago I came across the phrase “eye single to the glory of God” in the Doctrine and Covenants (cf. D&C 4, 27, 55, 59). It had been repeated several times in different sections and it finally impressed upon my mind that my children should understand its importance. I pondered first what the phrase means and then how I could present it in a way that my under-eight kids would understand. It has become increasingly important to me that they catch the vision of eternity.
At breakfast I set up a print of Christ in the Red Robe by Minerva Teichert to represent the glory of God. We reviewed Moses 1:39 (PoG) to provide a simple definition of the glory of God—achieving the “immortality and eternal life” of mankind. We discussed how Jesus Christ makes eternal life possible through His Atonement, death, and Resurrection. Once we established that background, we started our activity.
To help my kids understand “keeping an eye single to the glory of God,” I felt inspired to tie the phrase to their physical vision. I took two empty cereal boxes and cut small squares out of each bottom at a corner.
Each child took a turn holding the cereal boxes up to their eyes to look through the holes. With a box at each eye, they could see a lot of everything except the print of Christ/glory of God.
We talked about how the boxes split our vision, making it impossible to focus on the picture of Christ. We discussed what sorts of things we pay attention to that might distract us from God. My girls mentioned video and computer games, music, toys, television. I added in work, extracurricular activities, social engagements, food. And how many of these things compete for our attention on a daily basis?!
I brought the object lesson home by giving each child a second chance to look through one cereal box. (I flipped it so that they were looking from the open end to the hole in the bottom which nicely focused their vision.)
It was possible to see the print of Christ!
We ended our scripture study by reading from section 59 and discussing how we can keep our eyes single to the glory of God:
Behold, blessed, saith the Lord, are they who have come up unto this land with an eye single to my glory, according to my commandments.
For those that live shall inherit the earth, and those that die shall rest from all their labors, and their works shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared for them.
Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength.
D&C 59:1-3 (emphasis added)
As we keep the commandments, make covenants with God, serve others, share the Gospel, live the Gospel, we focus our attention on Christ and being partners with Him to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, PoG).
As I read Doctrine and Covenants section 24 last night and considered what to share with my kids for family scripture study, I honed in on the Come, Follow Me study guide suggestions to look at how the Lord lifts us up out of afflictions. I read through some of the suggested companion scriptures, spending a little extra time with Isaiah 40:28-31, OT. Years ago I “discovered” these verses towards the end of my mission. They perfectly encapsulated much of my mission experience waiting on the Lord, receiving His strength and being lifted up from some very challenging situations.
This morning with my kids we read in D&C 24:1 “I have lifted thee up out of thine afflictions…thou hast been delivered from thine enemies, and thou hast been delivered from the powers of Satan and from darkness!” We discussed some of many challenges Joseph Smith faced prior to and after organizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. Molly remembered that people tried to steal the gold plates from Joseph Smith and he was forced to hide them in and around his home. Joseph had to move his family several times to escape persecution while translating the Book of Mormon. When Joseph was in the middle of baptizing his wife and several others, he was arrested for preaching from the Book of Mormon.
I followed up by asking what afflictions or challenges we have faced as a family? I reminded Rachel of her experience in fall 2019 when she rode the bus to school from our friend’s house since I had to take Molly to preschool and couldn’t get back to our town to drop Rachel off at school on time. She was assigned a seat on the bus with two other girls who would push her off the seat. She wrote a note to me and my husband one day begging us to find a different way for her to get to school. Then one day she spontaneously prayed for help with her situation. Weeks passed and things got better. She remembers that she made some new friends which improved her situation. I suggested that the pandemic was also an answer to her prayer. We were running ourselves ragged getting Rachel to our friend’s house, Molly to preschool on time every morning, turning around to pick up Molly, and all without the daily help of my husband who was gone Monday through Thursday working. The sudden lockdown lifted us out of these challenges. We also discussed how sick I was while pregnant with Abigail in early 2020 but, after praying for help, the Lord lifted me (and our whole family) out of that affliction through proper hydration (you can read my blog post about this experience).
I testified of the blessings we received as we turned to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for help in the midst of our afflictions. We read together:
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31, Old Testament
I pointed out the conditional blessing expressed in verse 31: if we “wait upon the Lord,” He promises to bless us with renewed strength, that we will “mount up with wings as eagles,” run “and not be weary,” walk “and not faint.” For my children’s benefit I recalled how exhausted I was when I began my mission in the Netherlands in January 2009. It was freezing cold, dark, and windy every morning when my assigned companions (colleagues) insisted on running outdoors for our daily exercise. I was not prepared for this physically or in the way of accessories and only had a short sleeve athletic shirt and some thin, baggy jogging pants. Luckily I had also brought a junky sweatshirt that I wore every morning. After the morning run, we would ride our bikes and walk all day in skirts. I suffered from jet lag (and likely from dehydration as well); it wasn’t unusual for me fall asleep during the day if we were invited into a home to share a message or teach a lesson. I would crash in bed every night around 9:30/10:00 pm, then I would wake up at 6:00 am and do it all over again. I waited on the Lord, praying for relief and placing my life in His hands, as I struggled through these challenges. He gave me strength to push through the difficulties: He lifted me out of bed and helped me run every morning, He gave me energy to crisscross the city on my feet and bike every day, and He brought me back to our apartment in one piece every night. By the end of the transfer (six week period), I could sing while biking and I had even improved my running time (my senior companion was keeping track). I know that the blessings the Lord promised through the prophet Isaiah thousands of years ago were fulfilled for me.
No matter the afflictions you face right now, if you will wait upon the Lord, He will lift you and strengthen you.
A few weeks ago as I listened to Doctrine and Covenants sections 10-18, I kept hearing the word “name” over and over again. (Maybe it was because I kept replaying the sections after I realized I had gotten lost in thought.) But “name” and individual’s names appear frequently in these sections.
D&C 10:61 “And I will bring to light their marvelous works, which they did in my name….” D&C 11:30 “But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name.” D&C 13:1 “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron….” D&C 14:8 “…if you shall ask the Father in my name, in faith believing, you shall receive the Holy Ghost….” D&C 18 “Name” occurs 16 times in the printed text. These three verses arrested my attention:
And as many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved. Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved; Wherefore, all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father, for in that name shall they be called at the last day….
D&C 18:22–24 (emphasis added)
This became the subject of pondering. I am always intensely interested in topics of identity and personhood, nomenclature and etymology. The theme of names and naming in the scriptures has a lot of depth to explore that I would like to discuss with my kids eventually but, for the present, I managed to narrow it down sufficiently to a somewhat focused Family Home Evening lesson two weeks ago.
I began by simply introducing the topic of names and what it means for a name to become associated with characteristics or qualities. On our easel I wrote the word “Daddy” and asked the girls to call out the first words that came to their minds. They said things like “entertaining,” “warm,” “fun,” “tickle,” “giggly.” (I think my husband suggested “smelly.”) We repeated the activity with the word “baby” and then with a specific member of our family to nudge their thinking in the scriptural direction I wanted to take them. (They loved this activity, by the way, and would have happily spent time going through the exercise for every member of our family.)
Then I wrote the name “Jesus Christ” on our board and asked everyone to call out the first words that came to their minds.
While writing the words on the board that everyone came up with, we had a good discussion about why we associate certain words and characteristics with Jesus. We also read D&C 18:22–24. I encouraged my kids to reflect on what they would like to be known for: if someone hears their name, will that person think of love, compassion, sacrifice, bravery? We reflected on the baptismal covenant that our oldest daughter made at her baptism in January, which includes taking the name of Christ upon herself (as mentioned in D&C 18:24). As we take Christ’s name upon us, will our behavior and actions reflect His character and influence upon us? I expressed my hope that as we each follow Jesus Christ our names will become synonymous with His.
Last year I learned that Martin and Lucy Harris’s ancestral home was modern day Lincoln, Rhode Island—that’s right near me! Today I took my family on a field trip to view the Harris Family Burial Ground which volunteers have been renovating for almost a year. Join me on a short tour of the burial ground and learn a little more about Martin Harris’s family background.
Now as concerns the reading this week in Doctrine and Covenants sections 3-5, I find it fascinating how God so willingly works with us as partners in His Plan of Salvation. He is patient and loving. But when we don’t do our part or follow through on our promises, we may just lose the partnership. It’s been an important lesson for me to simply do what God asks and not stress that my weaknesses will somehow mess up God’s plan. The other great lesson is that I need to value and care for the partnering opportunities God gives me whether it is cultivating my marriage, raising my children, or serving my fellow women and men.
Martin Harris was promised that if he repented and renewed his commitment to obedience and the Book of Mormon manuscript disaster, he could once again partner in the work of the Restoration. And God was merciful! Martin Harris eventually became one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon and signed his name to the testimony of its divine origins, its translation by Joseph Smith through the gift and power of God, and it’s signaling the Restoration of priesthood keys, ordinances and church organization, all under the direction of Jesus Christ. Despite his weaknesses, Martin Harris did not mess up the Lord’s plan. Rather, he was once again entrusted with sacred responsibilities. He was able to participate in and contribute to the marvelous work of publishing the Book of Mormon and establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
New year, new goals––including blogging with a little more frequency! So here I am at the start of a fresh Come, Follow Me study guide and I am so excited to share my first insight of the year with you!
Last week while reading Doctrine and Covenants section 1 I read the verses that serve as the Lord’s preface to this new book of scripture in which He states that He has called a prophet in the latter-days to warn all people on earth of coming calamity (see D&C 1:1-17). With a pandemic raging across the world, mutating and outpacing human response, and civil unrest spreading across the United States, my sense of foreboding is more than heightened. This is some scary stuff! But, I wondered, why warn us if only to frighten us? As I read further, I felt like I saw between the lines of text. This book of scripture is called Doctrine and Covenants––it contains the same eternal truths and foundational doctrines as the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon, but it also points us to saving ordinances in which we make sacred covenants with God. Covenants, I realized, are the key to our preparation and protection in these unsettling and calamitous times. Hence the Doctrine and Covenants IS God’s warning as well as our survival handbook!
Covenants will prepare us for and protect us as we face whatever else is coming. My one resolution for this new year is to do a better job keeping the covenants I have already made with God at baptism and in the temple (both Endowment and marriage). I want to better understand the promises I made and identify ways I can more strictly honor them. In D&C 82:10, the Lord says, “I, the Lord am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” When we keep our covenants, God is required to provide for us. With an uncertain future ahead of all of us I find God’s promise immensely reassuring.
How does keeping your covenants bring you peace? How do you think keeping covenants will both prepare and protect you?
I began this post while still pregnant with my fourth child. It was difficult to recount some of what I share below and I gave up the effort. But President Nelson’s gratitude challenge has inspired me to finish the narrative and celebrate God’s goodness and mercy in my life this year.
While studying Alma 37 in August as I waited for my fourth daughter to make her appearance on earth, verse 17 made me reflect on the journey of this pregnancy and the truth of Alma’s words: God “will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you….”
I have had three healthy and successful pregnancies producing three spirited and healthy daughters. But those pregnancies were anything but comfortable or conforming to any sense of “normal.” All three pregnancies produced serious mental health challenges for me. I experienced a variety of non-threatening physical symptoms that only exacerbated my suddenly fragile mental and emotional health. Three miserable pregnancies in which I lost the motivation to do most things I typically enjoy, became too quick to anger and prone to scary thoughts and desires did not make me eager to ever get pregnant again.
When my husband and I started talking last spring about expanding our family you could say that I was more than reluctant. But while sitting in the temple with a friend, I discussed the issue with God and felt that we had come to an agreement: if I agreed to provide a body and home for another of His spirit children, He would make sure this pregnancy would be a different and better experience.
About eight months later I found myself pregnant and slipping into the depths of despair. I felt just as miserable as with my previous pregnancies, I got the flu on top of pregnancy symptoms and I began to feel like God had backed out on our agreement. By January of this year I was desperate and began praying, begging God to keep His promise to me. As I shifted my prayers from bitter accusations to earnest questioning about how God would help me have a better pregnancy, He gave me one word: “hydration.”
Since I was already caught in the cycle of nausea and depression, I accepted as given that I would never physically be able to drink enough water to get properly hydrated (I was choking down minuscule amounts of liquid by that point). I got it into my head that short of having someone come to my home and give me a daily IV, I was doomed to repeat the past miserable pregnancies. When I off-handedly mentioned this to a nurse at my OB/GYN’s office, I was surprised to learn that in-home IV was actually available! This idea became my one hope. I pursued it with my doctor, insisting that it was the key to my well-being.
Fast forward to two weeks later after I had first unsuccessfully started with a peripheral IV and gone back to have a midline put in. My first treatment on Friday went so well. I woke up Saturday with a spring in my step. I hooked up the IV every day with gratitude. It had become my lifeline, the one thing standing between me and seven months of torture. By the next Thursday, however, I had developed a blood clot. As I waited in the ER for a team of doctors to decide what to do with me, I feared the loss of my midline IV and the sure source of hydration for my suffering body.
Around 9:30 pm, the doctors removed my midline, pumped me full of fluids through the hospital IV and sent me home. I was glad to be out of the hospital but fearful for what the future held. God did not abandon me at this juncture. I kept remembering a friend who used to carry an enormous jug of water and ice around while pregnant, constantly sipping through the straw. This image kept impressing on my mind, I knew it was my solution. If I could keep enough ice water with me at all times that was as easy to drink as possible, I might be able to self-hydrate. I checked with an online retailer and found a 50 oz jug with straw and handle.
For the remainder of my pregnancy I carried that jug everywhere. As soon as I drained it I filled it back up, drinking upwards of 200 ounces each day. The balance was that fine too—anything less than 200 ounces and I could feel the beginnings of mental and emotional strain. With proper hydration my fourth pregnancy turned out to be all I hoped that day in the temple when God made His promise to me. I was able to be a good mom to my three older girls, taking care of their needs with equanimity and responding to tense situations with greater balance. I was able to participate in daily household tasks without spending the rest of the day miserable on the couch. I was even able to do high-energy projects like spreading mulch. The contrast between this pregnancy and my previous three was extreme. It seemed like every day I would catch myself feeling amazed at what I had accomplished or how well I had behaved in a difficult family situation, and remember that it was because God had helped me get healthy.
God kept His promise to me. After telling me that proper hydration was the solution to my problem, He helped me identify steps I could take to pursue the solution. Sometimes in the midst of despair I forget how God operates, that He answers questions and provides direction but expects me to think through options and act in faith. As I go forward it is crucial that I actively remember how He has fulfilled His promises to me. And for you dear readers, I hope you can draw strength from my experience that God will fulfill His promises to you.
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.
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.