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 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.)

NT 15: Absence and Easter

A few weeks ago I began pondering the idea of absence. Several circumstances gave rise to this train of thought, including musings about how people lose their faith in God. I wondered if they stopped feeling God’s presence for some reason and that opened a void which Satan could fill. What was only a momentary absence somehow becomes convincing proof of God’s non-existence.

In the three years of Jesus’ mortal ministry, He became defined by his irrefutable presence in Israel. He performed miracles with many witnesses, He taught convincingly in small and large group settings, He manifested God’s power on innumerable occasions, He boldly declared His origins and divine Sonship, He walked on water, He calmed storms, He raised the dead. His presence in one village led the people to drive Him away (Matthew 8:28-34, NT) while in many other communities He gained notoriety. His direct impact on the larger community became so marked that local rulers grew restless and began plotting how to make Jesus disappear.

Despite His own prophecies about His short-lived presence on earth, Jesus’ apostles continued to rely heavily on His accessibility and seem to have taken His proximity for granted. When some of the disciples failed to heal a young man on their own, they (sheepishly?) watched Jesus heal him and then asked why they could not succeed. Perhaps out of concern for His disciples to continue His work once He was gone, Jesus lamented, “how long shall I be with you?” (Matthew 17:17, NT.) No one seems to have made contingency plans in the event of Jesus’ permanent absence.

I imagine the apostles’ shock as Jesus was led away from Gethsemane, publicly humiliated and condemned to an infamous death. They weren’t counting on this. Some of the apostles stayed nearby as observers and mourners while Jesus hung on the cross. Many of them gathered together in the aftermath of the Crucifixion and burial, facilitating Mary’s urgent report of the empty tomb and providing the setting for Jesus to appear to them. But even after witnessing the resurrected Lord, some of the apostles simply returned to their previous lives (John 21:2-3, NT). How could they keep a movement alive when its founder was no longer present? Could people believe in someone who is absent?

The miracle of the empty tomb is the absent Christ. Because the tomb was empty on the third day, no grave will permanently keep its dead. Because the tomb was empty, all people can receive forgiveness of sin, healing, comfort, joy. Because the tomb was empty, the resurrected Christ could organize the spread of God’s work on the earth. In the absence of Christ, the apostles began their ministries to teach, heal, baptize, confirm, and testify of the once present Jesus and now resurrected Son of God. He didn’t become less real or stop existing when He was no longer a constant presence. The promise of His Resurrection provides the reality of glorified, eternal existence for all mankind.

This Easter I think of dear friends and dead family members, absent but not gone; separated by distance but not by memory; loved and not forgotten. Sometimes absence dims memory and makes us question the reality of our experienced past. At times I have lost the feeling of God’s presence in my life and it is tempting to question whether He was really ever there in the first place. But in that absence I have found compelling proof of God’s present reality, His mindfulness of me, His awareness of and concern for all His children.

Like the apostles had to learn in the wake of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, Christ’s absence from earth did not change His reality. In His absence, the apostles testified boldly of His eternal existence, glory, power, and presence. In His absence, we can continue to believe; we can hold fast to our faith; we can choose to press forward in our devotion and commitment to follow Him. We can, because He lives.

NT 2: Turning Our Hearts

The new home study curriculum is amazing! I bore my testimony about it in church yesterday and then again in Sunday School. I can already see positive changes in our home, family, and myself from this program. The hardest part of scripture study for me is deciding what to study. With the curriculum provided, my biggest roadblock is gone! I have been able to pick out one to two verses or a story or a Gospel principle to share with my kids each day and they actually listen!! No more fighting over reverence and sitting still through a 60-verse chapter, no more difficult concepts flying over their heads. I feel so empowered by this curriculum to make the scriptures accessible to my children. If you haven’t already started implementing Come, Follow Me––For Individuals and Families, you need to do it! Don’t spend one more day without the blessings that will come if your family studies the scriptures together.

Getting off my soap box now….

For Family Home Evening tonight I borrowed an idea from this week’s material (Come, Follow Me, “January 7-13,” p. 8) to work from Matthew 1:1-17 and discuss the importance of knowing about our family history. I broke in the topic this morning by reading just Matthew 1:1 with the girls, telling them about Samuel anointing David to be the future king, the prophecy of Christ’s lineage, defining “lineage,” and telling them what we would be doing for FHE. The girls asked if we could play a game. I pondered the request and with the help of the Spirit I came up with an “Ancestor Matching” game.

The Lineage of Jesus

Singing “The Hearts of the Children” from the Children’s Songbook really set a nice tone for our lesson tonight. We reviewed the main points of the morning’s teaser and re-read Matthew 1:1. My oldest daughter helped write out the lineage of Jesus from king David down to Joseph and Jesus. I then wrote my kids’ names on the board and showed them their lineage through of my ancestral lines. The girls asked if we could say the names out loud. As we read the names of our family members, I felt a powerful spiritual witness of my ancestors’ continued life beyond the grave and their awareness and appreciation of us. They care that we know about them.

Malachi prophesied, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:5-6, OT). Elijah restored the sealing power of the Priesthood to Joseph Smith and it is available today in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 110:13-16). I think one of the essential points of the Gospel is that, through the sealing power of the Priesthood, we unite every generation. This is one of the ways Heavenly Father brings His children back and it is one of the great blessings of eternal life: living with our family members in God’s presence for eternity. But I think part of the blessing is having our hearts knitted together. How can we do this unless we know about ancestors and start cultivating that bond now?

To this end, I told the girls stories about the ancestors we listed on the board. I tried to keep the stories short and centered on topics they could grasp and also easily remember. My oldest is almost six so I told them about my grandpa being given a gun and horse at the same age and sent out to the mountains with his brother overnight to watch the family sheep. I told them about my third-great grandmother who had thirteen children. She raised geese and ducks for various family needs (we are all about livestock and farms). I told them about my grandmother who never learned to swim or ride a bicycle but who built on her strengths to become a talented seamstress, cook, baker, and homemaker.

Then the kids got their wish! We played a game matching information about ancestors to their picture and name.

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We felt our hearts turn to our ancestors tonight. I hope my kids will remember some of these stories, finding strength and inspiration in them; I hope through the stories they will also build a powerful bond with these family members.

 

NT 1: Drops of Oil

I decided to continue my blog this year with 86 insights gained from implementing the Church’s new home study curriculum. This year we will study the New Testament as a family.

For daily family scripture study, my husband and I decided to pull single verses of scripture from the recommended readings in each week of study. Our children (ages five and under) really don’t get much out of reading whole chapters at a time. By selecting one or two verses to read, then contextualizing and retelling in our own words, we hope to better engage the kids and begin to inspire a life-long love of the scriptures.

Last night I chose Matthew 25:1-13 (NT) to share with the kids before bed. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins provides a terrific lesson about personal spiritual preparation and testimony growth. I grabbed some pompoms and plastic cups for an object lesson/activity. I read the first verse and then gave my kids the rough outline of the story:

There was going to be a wedding but no one knew when it would be. Everyone wanted to attend the wedding. They knew the wedding could be at any time, even at night. But there were no street lamps! What would the people need to get to the wedding safely?

My oldest daughter chimed in with, “a light!”

I handed out the cups and explained that the people needed to buy oil for their special lamps, but they could only buy a little at a time; they had to collect oil over a long time to be ready for the wedding. My older girls walked back and forth across our living room to collect one pompom at a time for their “lamps.” Only one child got enough “oil” to attend the wedding. I explained the relationship to spiritual growth.

Today we reviewed the scripture verses before school. We decided to keep a jar out and add a pompom every time we do something that fills our spiritual lamps. One pompom for every prayer, attending church, sharing, being kind, keeping the commandments, etc.

I hope this visual will help the lesson sink in as well as encourage my kids to think more about and work on their personal relationships with God.