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 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.

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.)

NT 19: Atonement and Harmony with God

Paul’s letter to the Romans may very well contain the highest concentration of my favorite scriptures. I love Paul’s imagery and his powerful testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Romans 5 offers a beautiful explanation of Christ’s role in the salvation of the human race. As always, my reading of these scriptures is grounded in revealed, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doctrine.

Paul’s teachings about Christ’s role in salvation rely on the foundational doctrine of the Fall which explains the necessity of a redeemer. The Fall describes Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Their choice to disobey the commandment not to eat that fruit resulted in not just their dismissal from Eden but it brought upon mankind the conditions of physical death and spiritual death (separation from God through sin) (see v. 12). Paul describes sin as an ubiquitous condition of mortality: it is taken as granted that humans will sin (v. 19). A divinely ordained law establishes the shape of sin and, by so doing, necessitates consequences.

The consequences, however, are not insurmountable nor are they eternally damning if we follow Jesus Christ. His law requires the performance of specific ordinances and daily behavior in order to qualify for salvation. He will help us keep the law while providing forgiveness if we fall short of the law’s requirements. He justifies us according to our faith (v. 2) and repentance. One of Paul’s beautiful images relates to his conception of salvation as returning to harmony with God. Where mortality and sin put us into conflict and discord with God, Christ brings us back into harmony with God the Father by providing forgiveness of sins as well as resurrection (v. 1, 10). This is the crux of Christ’s Atonement, that He provides redemption from sin and death, the blessings of salvation which “abound unto many” “through our Lord by whom we have now received the atonement” (v. 15, 11). Christ puts as at-one with God.

Where sin is a given condition of mortality, pervasive, and sure to lead to spiritual death, we can find relief in Christ’s grace which does “much more abound” (v. 20). His grace is more ubiquitous than sin. Personal righteousness (i.e. performance of ordinances, keeping commandments, repentance) will insure that grace reigns “unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21).

NT 18: Building a Temple

Sorry to have been MIA for the last several months! I’m drafting posts of insights I’ve had over that time and will publish them shortly. But in the meantime, let me share something current…from the last 12 hours.

Last night as I read 1 Corinthians 3, I noticed a progression in Paul’s ideas that I hadn’t noticed before. I usually focus on verse 16 and quote it as a stand-alone idea: “Know he not that ye are the temple of God?” as if we (my usual interpretation of “ye” is my physical body) are already temples and merely need to maintain them. Reading verse 16 in context with the previous verses added a new dimension to my understanding.

I began to see in chapter 3 a larger vision of earthly growth and development. Paul establishes the starting point of human existence in verse 3, an initial stage of carnality from which we are meant to pursue the spiritual existence Paul preaches in Romans and Corinthians. Building a Christian character, worthy to inherit eternal life requires a foundation. Paul identifies how he and fellow missionaries helped the members lay a foundation for their lives through baptism. This foundation is Jesus Christ (v. 11). Paul then counsels them to build on that sure foundation.

But how and what the members (us) build on this foundation is critical (v. 10). As I approached verse 16, I began to see that Paul is describing a lifelong process of personal refinement through righteous living (“every man’s work” v. 13-15): honesty, fidelity, integrity, Christian service—much what he also counseled to the Roman church members. The end result of our efforts, Paul suggests, is more than just a spiritual existence (in contrast to the carnal). We become temples. Think about the adjectives you would use to describe a temple: Holy, sacred, consecrated, dedicated, clean, pure, sanctified. What amazing qualities to identify the sum of our lives, character, and bodies––and what an amazing reward (v. 13)!

I wanted to share Paul’s metaphor with my children in a way that they could understand and see the beauty in Paul’s teaching. This morning we sat on the floor together and brought Paul’s metaphor to life with blocks and pom poms.

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We first built our foundation while one child read verse 11: Jesus Christ is the foundation. We discussed how baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost are essential ordinances for building this foundation. I reminded the kids of the good choices Paul encouraged the Romans to make which we had discussed for Family Home Evening on Sunday. As we identified righteous choices (including deeds and behavior) we added blocks.

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As Paul reminded the Roman saints, we “all come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The kids and I talked about bad choices that we all sometimes make (e.g. telling a lie, fighting with each other, judging others) and added pom poms to our structure. We then added more blocks for good choices, watching as our structure fell apart and resisted completion. This was a great opportunity to talk about repentance: asking for God’s forgiveness, stopping the wrong behavior, and making more good choices.

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As we continued building I had one of the kids read, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We discussed the importance of keeping our bodies and spirits clean and pure through righteous choices and behavior. We eventually built a beautiful structure, firm on its foundation.

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NT 17: What Does the Atonement Mean to Me?

Last week in Come, Follow Me we read about the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane. I was also preparing to speak on Sunday about the Atonement. I reflected frequently on what I know and continue to learn about the Atonement. These are a few of the lessons that came to mind as I read and pondered Matthew 26 and Mark 14.

  1. Even Jesus wanted to give up: “let this cup pass from me” says so much to me about the extremes and agonies of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. One of the miracles of the Atonement is that He wanted to make the suffering stop…but He completed it because He knew that it was necessary to provide the opportunity for repentance and eternal life for all of God’s children.
  2. Weak things become strong: to me, the Atonement provides the opportunity for transformation––not just sinner to saint, or mortal to immortal, but also shy person to enthusiastic ministering sister/brother, or socially awkward to strong friendshipper. In a miraculous way through the Atonement, Christ is able to step into our weaknesses, give us His strength to begin improving, and teach us how to improve.
  3. Will power and energy: on my mission I learned that even when bone tired and without energy, I could keep working if I had the desire/will power.
  4. He really does understand: again, a miracle of the Atonement I don’t fully comprehend, but I know Christ understands each and every person who has ever lived on earth. He knows what we’re going through, and He CAN help.
  5. Being enough: not sure what I meant by this originally but we all need to embrace the fact that Christ loves us––imperfect us––just the way we are. He loves us enough to also see our eternal potential and encourage and facilitate its development.
  6. Joy in misery: this is another transformation topic I ponder…the fact that even in the midst of experiencing tremendous pain, disappointment, or misery, we can experience joy in the Gospel through Jesus Christ.
  7. Just me and God: learning to rely on God without having anyone else physically present on whom I could rely was a fear-inducing but necessary lesson. While studying Come, Follow Me I have reflected on how confident Jesus must have been to teach the way He did, prophesy the things He prophesied, and pursue His path to Atonement, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. God the Father was His bedrock and He needs to be ours as well.