04 October 2022

Like a Dry Sponge

This post is part of the General Conference OdysseyThis week covers the Sunday morning session of the October 1998 conference.

This weekend's General Conference was a magnificent fountain of living water. I felt like a dry sponge soaking up all the goodness: music, prayers, and talks. It was a much needed refueling in my life. We live in a time of great drought and famine, not of earthly water and food, but of living water and the bread of life. The eternal truths spoken of in conference can be feasted upon again and again. Which is one of the reasons I'm enjoying participating in the General Conference Odyssey.

Topics in this session from 1998 included tithing, hope, temples, testimony, righteousness, and a Q&A format from President Hinckley. Choosing a favorite talk is like trying to choose a favorite child. They are all great.

The talk on tithing resonated with me as we personally face challenging circumstances of a slightly reduced income and greatly increasing prices due to governmental inflation. It's good to be reminded of the financial commandments and attendant blessings to bolster our faith.

President James E. Faust talked about his father paying tithing in kind with the best of the hay and said, "The legacy of faith he passed on to his posterity was far greater than money, because he established in the minds of his children and grandchildren that above all he loved the Lord and His holy work over other earthly things." 

He told of being a young bishop and having President Henry D. Moyle, of the First Presidency, in his ward come in for tithing settlement declaring, "Bishop, this is a full tithe, and a little bit more, because that's the way we have been blessed." I can add my testimony to that. It's better to round up and give a little more, than to try and be precise with odd numbers. You can't ever out give the Lord.

I've always believed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to all of societies ills. Especially regarding poverty. I've never known or heard of any full-tithe payer being homeless, or starving, or even hopeless. President Faust quoted President Hinckley from when he spoke to saints in the Philippines, "if members, even living in poverty and misery . . . will accept the gospel and live it, pay their tithes and offerings, even though those be meager, they will have rice in their bowls and clothing on their backs and shelter over their heads. I do not see any other solution." President Faust continued, "Indeed, I believe it is possible to break out of poverty by having faith to give back to the Lord part of what little we have."

I have seen the blessings of tithing in my life. The windows of heaven have truly opened, not always in a direct monetary way, but in countless ways that add up to living prosperously. Blessings of health when there isn't medical insurance; vehicles and appliances lasting until there is money to replace them. Getting great gas milage when serving in callings that require a great deal of travel. (Here in the Midwest where branch boundaries are huge.) Finding items on sale right when they are most needed. Receiving "hand-me-downs" of all kinds of the very things we needed. Having food stretch, almost to the point of "fishes and loaves". All these constitute blessings I associate with paying a full and honest tithing.

President Faust used a favorite Joseph Smith quote, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." When I hear leaders say, "Oh we can't ask the members to do that," I wonder why not? Aren't we supposed to sacrifice? And those of us who have been endowed in the temple have covenanted to consecrate our all to the building up of the kingdom. President Faust said, "Our donations are made holy by our faith." Much like the widows mite. "To be faithful members of this Church requires sacrifice and consecration."

He finished by talking about all of the sacrifices we must make to obtain the blessings. "Receiving the blessings requires the payment of tithes and offerings. Ours is not a Sunday-only religion. It demands exemplary conduct and effort every day of the week. It involves accepting calls and serving with fidelity in those callings. It means strength of character, integrity, and honesty to the Lord and our fellowmen. It means that our homes need to be places of sanctuary and love. It means a relentless battle against the bombardment of worldly evils. It means, at times, being unpopular and politically incorrect." How timely is that! 

The promise for obedience is that "Those who keep their covenants and pay their tithes and offerings will have some extra defense against these virulent modern-day forms of evil."





27 September 2022

For My Sons

 


This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Priesthood session of the October 1998 conference.

I married an Marine, who had been a Drill Instructor. Four of our five children are boys. They grew up with more military stories than missionary stories. They all love guns. When we have family reunions one activity day is dedicated to shooting. Three of our sons have or are serving in the military. (Our daughter was the first to serve, but she doesn't enjoy guns or shooting. The other son tried but was injured in Recruit Training and didn't get to serve.)

As our sons have built up their arsenals I have reminded them again and again that there is something more powerful than guns or bombs or any other weapon. President James E. Faust said it this way, "You young holders of the priesthood have access to the greatest power source in the world." Though he cautioned that "we can enjoy priesthood power only when we do our duty."

President Faust told the story of Zion's Camp and some of the hardships they endured. He quoted George A. Smith, a sixteen year old who recorded their experiences, saying of Joseph Smith, "But during the entire trip he never uttered a murmur or complaint." And went on to explaining that "Although Zion's Camp failed in its stated purpose of restoring the Saints to their lands in Jackson County, Missouri, it was invaluable as a stern schooling. They learned that faith is more important than life itself." What an important lesson! Similar to what I've tried to impress on our sons, that being a righteous priesthood holder is more important that having a huge arsenal. 

President Faust told about the covenants made at various times in early church history to provide for and take care of the poor and needy, assisting them to physically move from one place to another. Then he admonished, "We have an additional duty in our time to increase our labors to love the spiritually poor among our brethren so that they and their families might enjoy 'peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.'" I find it interesting to read these talks in light of the adjustments in recent years to the concept of ministering. It's as if that is what has been preached to us all along and we just didn't fully understand it.

He concluded, "As we look to the future, we will continue to have obstacles, difficulties, challenges, and opposition. Satan has more tools at his disposal than ever before to deceive, distract, and corrupt our people. We will continue to be winnowed." 

The brethren aren't called prophets casually, they are the real deal. They see what is coming and we benefit when we heed their teachings and warnings. 

We will have the privilege of hearing from them this coming weekend during another General Conference. By listening with our spiritual ears we will hear what we need to move forward with faith and confidence.

20 September 2022

Becoming Like Christ


This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Saturday afternoon session of the October 1998 conference.

Some years ago I read through all of my journals, which I began keeping in June 1975 after I received a journal as a high school graduation gift from a cousin. I haven't written daily for the entire 47 years, but enough to get to know me and my life. 

While reading I noticed three themes that were constant throughout:
1) I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ
2) I want to be married to a righteous man
3) I feel that I don't measure up, and want to be better and do better

It was an interesting exercise in self-reflection and discovery. I'm so grateful I've kept a record of my life. For the past two or three years I've been writing daily, partly because my memory is not what it once was, and I want to remember things!

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin's talk resonated with me as he talked of "Cultivating Divine Attributes". Since 2020 I've been contemplating what it means to "live the gospel" and "become like Christ" and "build a Zion people". I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to re-read this talk and find some answers.

Elder Wirthlin speaks of preparing for the Second Coming and asks, " What do we believe that will motivate us to move forward? What do we hope for? What are the virtuous, lovely or praiseworthy things we should seek after? I believe we should strive to develop within ourselves the traits of the character of the Savior." 

He turns to the words of the Apostle Paul, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." Then Elder Wirthlin suggests, "We should not wait a single day to intensify our personal efforts to strengthen these virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy attributes. . . As I read and ponder the scriptures, I see that developing faith, hope and charity within ourselves is a step-by-step process. Faith begets hope, and together they foster charity. . . . These three virtues may be sequential initially, but once obtained, they become interdependent. Each one is incomplete without the others. They support and reinforce each other. . . . These are the virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy characteristics we seek." 

What a wonderful, simple pathway to improvement! And the Lord has promised that if we seek we shall find. 


16 September 2022

A Season of Opportunity

This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Saturday morning session of the October 1998 conference.


My husband retired in June for the second time. The first time was in 1999 after serving in the United States Marine Corps for over 25 years. This time it is from teaching technology (shop) for about 15 years. We are currently on vacation in Washington state visiting friends from 30 years ago who were part of the ward where TopDad joined the church. This is a new season for us!

Bishop H. David Burton spoke of a ". . . season of a thousand opportunities," at this session of conference. This talk had a particular lasting impression on me when I heard it the first time around. He told of grocery shopping when he was first married and seeing President and Sister Joseph Fielding Smith in the same store, far from where they lived in downtown Salt Lake City. After several sightings Bishop Burton got up the courage to ask why they were shopping so far from home at this particular store. "Looking over the tops of his glasses he emphatically said, Son! [he had my attention.] Sister Smith and I patronize establishments that keep the Sabbath day holy."

Bishop Burton went on to talk about the importance of keeping the covenant of the Sabbath day. "But I also know that remembering to keep the Sabbath day holy is one of the most important commandments we can observe in preparing us to be the recipients of the whisperings of the Spirit."

I thought this was particularly insightful because I'd never had any trouble not shopping on Sunday, or attending recreation or cultural events; but to make an effort to shop at and support others who were also keeping the Sabbath day seemed to me to be a new level of obedience. So since that time I've looked for and shopped at stores that are closed on Sunday. That is not easy, and sometimes in some areas I haven't found any. But when I do I make the most of them.

In Iowa I found a grocery chain that closed on Sunday. In researching locations on their website I looked into the history and values of the stores. 

Fareway's policy of being closed on Sunday has been in place for as long as our company has been in existence. We believe our customers, employees, and business partners deserve a day at home with their families - free from the fast-paced life we all live the other six days of the week. As a family-owned business, we understand the importance of family time and always have this in mind when operating our stores.

The idea of resting on Sunday is something our founder, Paul S. Beckwith, firmly believed in; in part because of his religious beliefs and a story told to him by his father. Paul's father was a pioneer who traveled to new territory by wagon train. Some pioneers were in a hurry, and drove on every day, leaving behind those who stopped for a day of rest and worship. As settlers continued to move westward, families who had taken Sunday off began to catch up with those who had pushed ahead; finding broken-down wagons, lame animals, and weary people. Paul's father told him he decided that the Bible was right; neither man nor beast was made to work seven days a week.

I thought that was a great story! One of the benefits I have experienced from choosing to shop at stores that honor the Sabbath is that I seem to find unadvertised sales on the very items I need that week. Or on things to put into storage. It's almost like the benefits of paying tithing; money goes further!

Bishop Burton said, "This is the season of opportunity for families to stand tall and be counted among the faithful who obey the fourth great commandment:"

Seems to me that that particular season has never ended. 

06 September 2022

Needed Encouragement

This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the General Young Women session of the April 1998 conference.

I grew up wanting nothing more than to be a wife, mother and homemaker. It is what I had seen my mother and grandmothers, even a great-grandmother, do with their lives. I had interests and talents, but the driving force of my soul desired a family. Looking back from the vantage point of a senior citizen I wish someone would have encouraged me to pursue one of my interests to the point of mastery and certification; I could have used the income earning potential at various times.

Each of the four speakers in this session addressed the fact that our main purpose in life as women, is to marry and raise a family. It is part of Heavenly Father's plan for His children to do so, partly as a learning laboratory, and partly as a means for other spirit children to come to earth for their mortal experience.

Sister Margaret D. Nadauld said, "You young women have an important role to play in at least three families. The first is the family you are part of now, the second is your future family, and the third is the heavenly family of which we are all part."

This is an important reminder that no matter our current marital status, we are all part of at least two families at all times; and if we think of our church unit as our family then that is three! We don't ever have to be or feel that we are alone.

"Oh, you learn a lot of things in a family, don't you? And they're important things--things like praying and sharing and laughing and working and getting along with others." Sister Nadauld explained. That certainly could describe our church unit families too. 

Sister Carol B. Thomas told several stories of young women who were learning things in their families and also from watching the women at church. "As each of you practices being a homemaker, you are doing exactly what the Lord wants you to do. In every young woman's heart is a deep yearning to someday be a wife and a mother. These feelings were nurtured in your soul long before you came to earth." 

This is exactly why Satan works so hard to confuse and discourage young women about their role in today's world. He doesn't want more spirits to come to earth to righteous parents. He doesn't want there to be a leavening influence of righteous mothers raising children to be like the stripling warriors from the Book of Mormon. He wants women to question their role and try to be like men; to limit their families and spend more time chasing dollars, position and praise in the world. It shouldn't be a hard decision at all to stay home with a baby and make home a refuge for a growing family. But Satan has distracted women who end up feeling that it is an extreme sacrifice to be a wife, mother, and homemaker.

Sister Sharon G. Larsen said, "Young women, you are like titles of liberty as you strive to protect your families from such intruders as selfishness, harshness, anger, and strife. Your banner stands for peace, love and service to your families. . . . Young women, your life is the banner that can help to protect your families from wicked intruders. We call upon you to take a stand for kindness and goodness and service to those you love most--your families."

President James E. Faust expressed his love of women and said, "I hope that each of you girls will become an individual of significant worth and a person of virtue who contributes both now and in eternity. As a woman you have been born with many unique endowments that are not common to men." 

I can vouch for that! My husband can do many things, but remembering birthdays and holidays, and preparing for the future are not among them. He can lift heavy things, but his logic, and financial choices, defy understanding at times.

"Women today are encouraged by some to have it all: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, and separate careers in the world. For women, the important ingredients for happiness are to forge an identity, serve the Lord, get an education, develop your talents, serve your family, and if possible, to have a family of your own.
"However, you cannot do all these things well at the same time. . . . You cannot be a 100-percent wife, a 100-percent mother, a 100-percent Church worker, a 100-percent career person, and a 100-percent public-service person at the same time. How can all of these roles be coordinated? I suggest that you can have it sequentially."

I've written several times about being a homemaker on my other blog. If you're interested you can read my thoughts here and here.

President Faust ends with, "Lastly, how do I think you may become great women? You should cultivate and employ generously your noble, womanly instincts of care and mercy, first to your family and then to others. May you always hunger and thirst after righteousness within the framework of the revealed gospel of Jesus Christ. May you have an eternal perspective as you go about your angelic cause of doing good so that it will not only lead you to become great women, but ultimately to become queens in the eternities."

I have several regrets in my life, but being a wife, mother and homemaker is not one of them. This session was a wonderful shot in the arm for me, affirming my life choice and helping me remember the eternal perspective.

30 August 2022

Endure to the End (I hope I can!)

This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Sunday afternoon session of the April 1998 conference.

I think it was when I was serving as a missionary that I began to notice lots of scriptures about enduring to the end. I marked and cross-referenced them believing they were important reminders that we have to remain obedient and active in our testimonies until the end of our lives. It also helped me get through some hard days as a missionary in the deep South with little success in finding the golden contacts.

Another season of enduring to the end was during five pregnancies, which can not be rushed or ended just because I'm tired of feeling bloated and cumbersome and weary in body and spirit. Each baby came when she or he was ready to come. I had to endure to the end!

In this particular session of conference Elder Robert D. Hales spoke about enduring to the end. "Our greatest example comes from the life of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. . . . The Savior of the World was left alone by His Father to experience, of His own free will and choice, an act of agency which allowed Him to complete His mission of the Atonement." Where would we be if He had given up, and not endured to the end? Our gratitude should be boundless for Jesus' faithfulness in completing His assigned mission.

Elder Hales also spoke of the pioneers. "They knew their purpose or goal--to not only find Zion but to establish it. Because they knew that, they were willing to endure all manner of hardships to bring it about." More gratitude here for the fortitude of those faithful and steadfast pioneers who didn't give up when the going got hard. Elder Hales counseled us saying, "We are taught in the scriptures that there must be opposition in all things (see 2 Ne. 2:11). It is not a question of if we are ready for the tests; it is a matter of when. We must prepare to be ready for tests that will present themselves without warning."

Another gem, "The Church is not built in one generation. The sound growth of the Church takes hold over three and four generations of faithful Saints. Passing the fortitude of faith to endure to the end from one generation to the next generation is a divine gift of unmeasured blessings to our progeny. Also, we cannot endure to the end alone. It is important that we help by lifting and strengthening one another."

Have you ever pondered what it actually means to "endure to the end"? Do we just grind through our days hoping that it gets better? Do we quit when things are tough, taking an easier route? Elder Hales gives some advice: "We learn to endure to the end by learning to finish our current responsibilities, and we simply continue doing it all of our lives. We cannot expect to learn endurance in our later years if we have developed the habit of quitting when things get difficult now. . . . Everyone has something they must learn to master. Some are just more obvious than others. . . . When we take an assignment, we have to think, 'I will learn how to accomplish this task by all honorable means, by doing it the Lord's way. I will study, ask questions, search and pray. I have the potential to keep learning. I am not finished until the assignment is completed.' This is enduring to the end: seeing things through to completion."

And finally, "There is nothing that we are enduring that Jesus does not understand, and He waits for us to go to our Heavenly Father in prayer."

I certainly thought life would get easier as I got older; I'd be wiser, more experienced, etc. Well, in some ways that's true, but in other ways I feel more foolish and inexperienced now than I did as a missionary. There truly is opposition in all things! And enduring to the end means staying faithful to covenants and obedient to commandments to the very end when we take our last breath.

Elder Hales says, "I testify that if we will be obedient and if we are diligent, our prayers will be answered, our problems will diminish, our fears will dissipate, light will come upon us, the darkness of despair will be dispersed, and we will be close to the Lord and feel of His love and of the comfort of the Holy Ghost." What a promise worth enduring for!



23 August 2022

Timeless Testimonies

This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Sunday morning session of the April 1998 conference.

President Thomas S. Monson began the session with a talk called "Look to God and Live". Two gems from him:
  • There seems to be an unending supply of trouble for one and all. Our problem is that we often expect instantaneous solutions, forgetting that frequently the heavenly virtue of patience is required.
  • Lest we question the Lord concerning our troubles, let us remember that the wisdom of God may appear as foolishness to men; but the greatest single lesson we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed the question, Have You Been Saved?
in his masterful lawyerly way. I didn't remember all the different ways and means that he talked about and it was a good refresher course to file away again for retrieval in conversations with people of other faiths.

Elder W. Eugene Hansen spoke of Children and the Family, using The Family: A Proclamation to the World as a framework. I loved the quote from his father, "There's nothing so boring as loafing, because you can't stop and rest." He also said of his parents, "And most significantly, they taught by what they did, not just by what they said." I wish I could redo some of my parenting!

Sister Margaret D. Nadauld talked about the joyful invitation to Come Unto Christ. "Surely it pleases the Lord when we, His children, reach out to one another, to give help along the way and to bring another closer to Christ." That is timely today as we strive to build a Zion people ready to receive the Savior when He returns.

Elder Henry B. Eyring also spoke of becoming one saying, "And all of us know something of the sadness and loneliness of being separate and alone." He taught, "Then, through obedience to those ordinances and covenants, their natures would be changed." We don't have to remain in a fallen state, "The Savior's Atonement . . . makes it possible for us to be sanctified. We can then live in unity, as we must to have peace in this life and to dwell with the Father and His Son in eternity."

More gems from him:
  • Where people have that Spirit with them, we may expect harmony. The Spirit puts the testimony of truth in our hearts, which unifies those who share that testimony. The Spirit of God never generates contention. It never generates the feelings of distinctions between people which lead to strife. It leads to personal peace and a feeling of union with others. It unifies souls. A unified family, a unified Church, and a world at peace depend on unified souls.
  • Quoting President Clark: "When we partake of the Sacrament we covenant to obey and keep his commandments. There are no exceptions. There are no distinctions, no differences." President Clark taught that just as we repent of all our sins, not a single sin, we pledge to keep all the commandments. Hard as that sounds, it is uncomplicated. We simply submit to the authority of the Savior and promise to be obedient to whatever He commands. It is our surrender to the authority of Jesus Christ which will allow us to be bound as families, as a church, and as the children of our Heavenly Father.
  • We must speak no ill of anyone. We must see the good in each other speak well of each other whenever we can.
  • There is a protection against pride, that sure source of disunity. It is to see the bounties which God pours upon us not only as a mark of His favor but an opportunity to join with those around us in greater service. 
President Gordon B. Hinckley ended this session with his stirring and powerful Testimony. "I would enjoy sitting in a rocker, swallowing prescriptions, listening to soft music, and contemplating the things of the universe. But such activity offers no challenge and makes no contribution. I wish to be up and doing. I wish to face each day with resolution and purpose."

His gems:
  • It is the opportunity, it is the responsibility of every man and woman in this Church to obtain within himself or herself a conviction of the truth of this great latter-day work and of those who stand at its head, even the living God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We grow in faith and knowledge as we serve, as we study, as we pray.
  • It is this conviction, this quiet inward certainty of the reality of the living God, of the divinity of His Beloved Son, of the restoration of their work in this time, and of the glorious manifestations which have followed which become for each of us the foundation of our faith. This becomes our testimony.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the truth and it is timeless in its application, sounding as relevant today as when the talks were delivered; even going back to the beginning. What a blessing to have the technology to listen to and read the talks again and again.

16 August 2022

Whistle While You Work

This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Priesthood session of the April 1998 conference.

So many powerhouse speakers in this session! I remember Elder Maxwell's address, not because I heard it, but because when I read it in the Ensign it resonated with me as something my parents had done with their five children. (They adopted a sixth, but she was handicapped and treated a bit differently.)

Oh how we need a strong work ethic today among our citizens, old and young. In the (I believe) wrongful emphasis on getting a college education we have given too much emphasis on working with minds instead of with our hands; looking down on those who do as less intelligent. WRONG!  My hero, role model for a husband was always President Hinckley, who was a scholar with a great mind, but could build or fix just about anything. He was accomplished in both ways, mind work and hand work. I have great admiration for the many craftsmen and tradesmen who keep our world running and beautiful.

Elder Maxwell said, "Young men, your individual mix of work will vary, understandably, by season and circumstances as between the hours spent on homework and family work and Church work, part-time work, and work on service projects. Each form of work can stretch your talents. . . . Whatever the mix of work, the hardest work you and I will ever do is to put off our selfishness. It is heavy lifting."

What I've learned over the years of mothering is that you can't tell the end from the beginning. The son who was the laziest has turned out to be the most disciplined and hardworking. The son with the best work ethic as a youngster has struggled to keep a job as an adult. It is amazing to see. We treated them all the same!

Elder Maxwell also gave this interesting observation: "When the time comes, young men, make your career choices. Know that whether one is a neuro-surgeon, forest ranger, mechanic, farmer, or teacher is a matter of preference, not of principle. While those career choices are clearly very important, these do not mark your real career path. Instead, brethren, you are sojourning sons of God who have been invited to take the path that leads home. There, morticians will find theirs is not the only occupation to become obsolete. But the capacity to work and work wisely will never become obsolete. And neither will the ability to learn. Meanwhile, my young brethren, I have not seen any perspiration-free shortcuts to the celestial kingdom; there is no easy escalator to take us there."

When I was a child I didn't understand my grandmother's love of doing the dishes. I do now. There is satisfaction is working to make home a clean and lovely place for myself and my family. There is joy in working, even at something that will need to be done again tomorrow!


02 August 2022

Treasure Nuggets

I wish I could focus on only one talk--but that doesn't work. There are just too many little nuggets from each talk that can be shared.

What I really found interesting this week is the many references to the terrible, troubled times we live in. In 1998! Here's my theory about that. We each begin life at a certain point in time and as children we are innocent and don't notice the outside world too much. Only as we mature do we see the evil around us, and as we get older it really does get worse, and we, if we are striving for eternal life, see and feel the division between good and evil more acutely. Therefore, the elderly general authorities are much more aware and feel it more deeply. 

What President Hinckley said in his opening remarks certainly bears repeating. He talked about religious disagreements, such as some not understanding or thinking we are not Christians, and said, "I hope we do not argue over this matter. There is no reason to debate it. We simply, quietly, and without apology testify that God has revealed Himself and His Beloved Son in opening this full and final dispensation of His work. . . . Let us be true disciples of the Christ, observing the Golden Rule, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us strengthen our own faith and that of our children while being gracious to those who are not of our faith. Love and respect will overcome every element of animosity. Our kindness may be the most persuasive argument for that which we believe."

Elder David B. Haight ended his address with this sweet testimony, "Brothers and sisters, live the commandments. Do what is right. Take advantage of this great opportunity in your life to live it well, to be good, to have good works, and to influence other people for good. The gospel is true. I hope that every day of my life I might be able to do some good and to encourage somebody to live a better life and to understand what has been restored to the earth."

Sister Anne G. Wirthlin of the General Primary Presidency gave us this little gem, "Pondering is more than reading words; it is searching for meanings that will help us as we relate to one another and as we make choices in our lives. It is allowing the word to move from our minds to our hearts."

Bishop Richard C. Edgley of the Presiding Bishopric also talked about being misunderstood by other Christians, but he decided that it didn't matter what others think. "So, if we, even in our weak and stumbling way, are earnestly striving to live a Christlike life, how others choose to characterize us should be of little consequence. The responsibility for our Christianity is ours. Others may characterize us as they will, but the true and righteous Judge will judge us as we are. Our discipleship is for us to determine, not someone else. . . . As a Church we are individual Christians, trying to prove our discipleship to the Savior. It is not an institutional matter, it is a personal matter." 

When I was about fourteen I had the question in my heart, 'What is the purpose of life?' One day as our family read the Book of Mormon we came to Alma 34:32, "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors." It was one of those Joseph Smith moments where this verse entered into my heart with great power. 

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin spoke about this subject. I love the analogy he gave, "We might compare our eternal journey to a race of three laps around the track. We have completed the first lap successfully and have made wonderful progress. We have started on the second lap. Can you imagine a world-class runner stopping along the track at this point to pick flowers or chase a rabbit that crossed his path? Yet this is what we are doing when we occupy our time with worldly pursuits that do not move us closer to the third lap toward eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God."

Another gem from Elder Wirthlin could be called a great explanation of ministering. "Once we understand that we are all literally brothers and sisters in the family of God, we should feel an obligation for one another's welfare and show our love through deeds of kindness and concern. . . . As we progress and become more like the Savior, we can strengthen every group with whom we associate, including families and friends. The Lord places us in these communities of Saints where we can learn and apply gospel principles to our everyday lives. These groups are at the same time both a school, a proving ground, and a laboratory where we both learn and do as we practice living the gospel."

President James E. Faust spoke of ordinances and covenants. I love hearing his voice! Among other things, he said, "In our society many sacred values have been eroded in the name of freedom of expression. The vulgar and the obscene are protected in the name of freedom of speech. The mainstream of society has become more tolerant, even accepting, of conduct that Jesus, Moses, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and other prophets have warned against since the beginning of human history. We should not allow our personal values to erode, even if others think we are peculiar. We have always been regarded as a peculiar people. However, being spiritually correct is much better than being politically correct. Of course, as individuals and as a people we want to be liked and respected. But we cannot be in the mainstream of society if it means abandoning those righteous principles which thundered down from Sinai, later refined by the Savior, and subsequently taught by modern prophets. We should only fear offending God and His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the head of this Church." 

I think I appreciate these talks now more than I did then. At the time of this conference I was two months from having our fifth child. That baby boy is getting married this Friday, August 5. I have grown and matured a lot since my optimistic and hopeful days as a mother of young children. I've endured the harsh realities of life while I've clung to the iron rod and pressed forward. Life has not turned out like I thought it would, and I have shed many, many tears. I'm really grateful that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been my foundation and anchor. I don't know how others make it through life without Him.

26 July 2022

Women are Important!

 This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the General Relief Society session of the October 1997 conference.

Sister Mary Ellen Smoot began her talk with the story of Esther, so it fits right in with this week's Come Follow Me lesson. She talked about the importance of our roles as women in building the kingdom. I met her when she visited her sister who lived in the stake next to ours in Virginia, and they hastily put together a two stake Relief Society conference. Sister Smoot was so gracious and kind, and forgiving of my social faux pas. (I've had some awkward, embarrassing moments throughout my life that I wish I could erase.) I well remember the excitement we felt about the new Presidents of the Church curriculum for Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums. I was in a stake RS presidency and got to teach the sisters how to teach the new lessons. Which, by the way, I loved! I still have all the manuals and refer to them when preparing other lessons and talks.

Sister Virginia U. Jensen spoke of our role in creating places of security. ". . . what a great opportunity we as women have to influence the lives of those around us. . . . Sometimes this world is a frightening place to be. I believe, however that women have unique opportunities and special gifts and talents to protect, nurture, and influence others. We can create places of security where marriages, children, and families can thrive and avoid the evil of the world." 

I loved her story about Captain Moroni, my hero. "While his enemies gained power through fraud and deceit, Moroni empowered the Nephites by teaching them to be faithful to God." Isn't that a timely statement. As I read it I felt that it applied directly to our day. President Nelson is doing exactly the same thing with us!

Another important teaching from Sister Jensen is, 
"Adherence to the Lord's commandments is the foundation of her fortress.
To provide safety for those around us, we as sisters need to expand our knowledge of all things spiritual. We need to learn and progress in understanding and teach our children those things that will make them less vulnerable to deceit and to the designs of those who conspire against righteousness. Ignorance is not bliss; it is dangerous."

Oh how we need this reminder today! I teach Primary with nine children in my class. We regularly have three to five children, as someone is always on vacation or home sick, or just not fully active. These nine children represent seven families in our branch. Only two of those families study the Come Follow Me lessons each week or read any scriptures daily. Last week I sent a letter to the parents to remind them of their responsibility to teach their children. The twenty minutes I have with them on Sunday is not enough time to teach them anything; we barely have time to review the story. 

It seems to me that too many families are involved in too many worldly pursuits and activities while neglecting the spiritual education of their children. Sister Jensen's talk would be a good one to share with the parents.

Sister Sheri L. Dew spoke next and charmed us all with her humor, directness and riveting testimony. One of the things she said struck me as something that comes from someone who has been through fiery trials. "As our testimony of Him expands and matures, we begin to care more about life forever than life today, and we have no desire but to do what He needs us to do and to live as He has asked us to live."

It is not only prophets who call us to repentance, Sister Dew did a pretty good job,
He needs us today. He needs us to speak up for what is right, even when doing so is unpopular. He needs us to develop the spiritual maturity to hear the voice of the Lord and detect the deceptions of the adversary. He delights in women who keep their covenants with precision, women who reverence the power of the priesthood, women who are willing to "lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better" (D&C 25:10). He needs us to be everything we can be, to "arise and shine forth, that [our] light may be a standard for the nations" (D&C 115:5).
 
She asked two penetrating questions: 1) How much good might we do if at this very hour we rededicated ourselves to Him who is our Redeemer and our Rescuer? And 2) Might we commit to do just a little better than we have been doing, and in the process marshal our forces to lead the women of the world in all that is Godlike and ennobling?

I get rather frustrated at how little our branch Relief Society does, both with the sisters, and in the community. I wish we could unite and do so much more. Sometimes I think that many of the sisters, who have attended only this branch, don't know that they are part of a larger Society. They don't realize that the sisterhood of the Relief Society numbers in the millions! And together we can make a positive difference in our homes, communities and the world.

24 July 2022

Pioneers Today

This is the talk I gave today in Sacrament Meeting.


Once while serving as a missionary we were teaching and inviting a person to be baptized, the person said something like this, "I can't join the church because I don't have anyone in my family who was a pioneer." I

responded, "I don't have any 'cross the plains' ancestors either. But I will love and honor forever my grandfather who listened to the missionaries and joined the church in Norway in 1905."

 

Grandpa Hansen was born on a tiny island where the Arctic circle intersects the coast of Norway. He left the island in 1901 to go to a city and begin an apprenticeship as a baker. After two months he decided that wasn't for him and joined his sister in another city who introduced him to a tailor who gave him a job. After a few months of satisfactory work he signed a contract for a three year apprenticeship. While learning that trade, he was introduced to some Mormon missionaries and began to learn the doctrines of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

On 10 February 1905 Grandpa visited the missionaries and applied for baptism. They told him they'd arrange things and for him to meet them at 7:00 that evening.

 

He said, "All forenoon I studied the scriptures, and I meditated on my procedure till late in the afternoon. Suddenly a terrible storm arose. The wind shook the building till the rafters squeaked, and the snow pierced through every crevice. The darkness of the long evening had covered the town, and only a faint flicker from the street lamps could be seen. I lounged on the bed, as I felt very tired, and fell into a comfortable sleep. It is possible that I slept for several hours, but a clear and loud voice called: Conrad! It is seven o'clock!"

 

He thought someone on the stairs had called out to him, but he couldn't find anyone. He returned to his room, saw that the clock said 7:00 and remembered his appointment.

 

He was baptized in the Arctic ocean in the midst of a snowstorm in February! I love my Grandpa Hansen. He was faithful his whole life and believing that his ancestors had awakened him to remember his baptism appointment he did genealogy and temple work his whole life leaving a book of pedigrees and family group sheets over a foot tall.

 

He didn't cross the plains in a wagon or handcart, but he was a pioneer in his family. He left Norway and headed to Zion, Salt Lake City, Utah in 1906. He eventually met Rose Christensen and married her in the Salt Lake Temple on September 1, 1909. They had 15 children; my mother was number 12. Grandpa died while I was serving my mission in 1979, he was 96.

 

President Dallin Oaks gave a talk in 1997 called Following the Pioneers. That was the year of the Sesquicentennial of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, and there were reenactments of the trek, and celebrations of all kinds. He said:

"Now after all these studies and activities, it is appropriate to ask ourselves, "Therefore, what?" Are these pioneer celebrations academic, merely increasing our fund of experiences and knowledge? Or will they have a profound impact on how we live our lives?

This question applies to all of us. As President Hinckley (then prophet and president) reminded us last April, "Whether you are among the posterity of the pioneers or whether you were baptized only yesterday, each is the beneficiary of their great undertaking." All of us enjoy the blessings of their efforts and all of us have the responsibilities which go with that heritage. . .  We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day."

 

Elder Oaks finished his talk by telling the story of some young men who risked their lives to find out about a plot to kill the prophet Joseph Smith. He said, "The faith, commitment, and courage of these young men is an example to all of us. These pioneer qualities and the others I have mentioned--integrity, inclusion, cooperation, unity, unselfishness, sacrifice, obedience--are as vital today as when they guided the actions of our pioneer forebears, early and modern. To honor those pioneers, we must honor and act upon the eternal principles that guided their actions."

 

So what do all those lovely qualities have to do with us today in this place? How do we put them into practice? What does it mean to be a pioneer today?

 

Let's review some religious practices that need the qualities of faith, sacrifice and obedience. Perhaps you are the first in your family to pray daily. It takes faith to kneel down each day and give thanks for blessings and ask for guidance and forgiveness. The Lord said through Joseph Smith, "Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things." (D&C 59:7)

 

Are you the first in your family to study the scriptures? That takes some sacrifice of other activities to accomplish. The Lord commanded us to "Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled." (D&C 1:37) We should know what those prophecies and promises are! We can, through daily scripture study. I tell my Primary class that just as we need daily physical food, we need daily spiritual food. Fasting too long from spiritual food makes us weak and vulnerable to temptations.

 

Are you the first to pay tithing? Everyone who has a testimony of tithing knows that it takes faith and sacrifice, rather than money, to be obedient to that commandment. But we're told that the windows of heaven will be opened and "pour [us] out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." What a promise! (Malachi 3:10)  I have seen it happen over and over again.

 

Maybe you're the first to attend church every Sunday? It takes integrity to live up to our beliefs and attend church each week rather than seeking and participating in worldly activities and entertainments. The Lord said, "And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High." The promise given for this commandment is that all the good things of the earth will be ours! Did you notice though, that we are asked to rest from OUR labors, but not the Lord's labors?  


Are you the first to accept and serve in a calling at church? Many other churches are spectator churches, where only the pastor leads and speaks; but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one in which we all are asked to participate in some capacity. The Lord wants us to grow and develop as we journey along. He has given us talents to increase and improve, skills to develop and share, and He asks us to serve each other. Moroni describes meetings of the saints saying: "And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done." (Moroni 6:9) Everyone can participate!

 

Are you the first in your family to give up tobacco and alcohol, coffee and tea? The Word of Wisdom was "adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints." (D&C 89:3) God, who designed our bodies knows what is best for them. We are temples of the Spirit and need to be clean and pure to have health both in body and spirit. His commandments help us to do that.

 

Are you the first in your family to choose to follow God's commandments rather that the fads, trends, and morals of the world? The Lord told the Israelites through Moses, "Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." (Exodus 19:5-6) The apostle Peter reminded the people of his time, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:" (1 Peter 2:9) In the series The Chosen, Jesus gives an instruction and Peter says, "Well that's different." Jesus answers, "Get used to different." We are called to be different from the world. Different in our beliefs, our morals, our values, our actions.

 

If you have done all or even some of these things you are a pioneer. You are blazing a new path for your family. Just like my Grandpa Hansen. And those who follow you will love and honor you for your faith, sacrifices and obedience.

 

The best part of being on this trek is that we are not alone. There are many who have gone before, and many on the path now, who can help us along when the going gets tough. And it will, because this life is a test. Remember what Abraham was told: ". . . we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Moses 3:25) Do all things! Not just when it's easy, not just when we feel like it, not just when we have the time or money or whatever. We are to do all things God commands us. All the time!

 

No doubt there were days when the original pioneer's fervor for the journey was at low ebb; when walking in the dust of the wagon train, or pushing the handcart seemed more than they could bear another day. But they kept going through the motions of putting one foot in front of the other and made progress to their promised land in spite of the difficulties or the lack of glamor and excitement on the trail. Perhaps the best thing that happened on those dull days was a cooling breeze, a bright wildflower, a colorful sunset, or a brilliant moonrise. Perhaps gathering with fellow travelers after supper was enough to strengthen them for the next day. Prayer, hymns, and scriptures were the spiritual food to give them strength to carry on. Feeding their spirits was just as important as feeding their bodies.

 

Today we may go through similar times of low ebb, when the journey seems long and our enthusiasm is waning. But rather than sit at the side of the road, or worse, turn back, if we'll just keep going through the motions of reading scriptures each day, praying each day, and keeping the commandments each day, we too will make progress to our promised land. Our best thing might be a scripture verse that speaks deeply to our heart and soul, a cheerful text from a friend, an uplifting email or post on social media; perhaps gathering on Sunday with fellow saints will allow us to hear just the thing to lift our spirits and feed our souls.

 

The hymn Come, Come Ye Saints is as applicable to us today as it was for those who crossed the plains in wagons, handcarts and on foot.

Come, come ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;

But with joy, wend your way.

Though hard to you, this journey may appear,

Grace shall be, as your day.

'Tis better far for us to strive

Our useless cares from us to drive

Do this, and joy your hearts will swell--

All is well! All is well!

 

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?

'Tis not so, all is right.

Why should we think to earn a great reward

If we now shun the fight?

Gird up your loins, fresh courage take.

Our God will never us forsake;

And soon we'll have this tale to tell--

All is well! All is well!

 

The scriptures are full of stories of pioneers. Lehi was one, taking his family into the wilderness to escape the destruction of Jerusalem and being led to a promised land. His son Nephi had learned how to inquire of the Lord and receive answers. He was commanded to build a ship, and although he knew to ask where to get ore to manufacture tools, he had never built a ship. But he gives us a pattern to live by.

And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.

Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; . . . (1 Nephi 18:3)

 

When is our "from time to time" where we learn how to build our lives in the manner the Lord wants? I suggest that General Conference is one such time. Every six months we receive instructions and encouragement, as well as calls for repentance or to change, from our leaders, called of God to do so. But what good is General Conference if we don't tune in, don't listen, and then don't study each talk and glean the message that is there for us? Let's clear our calendar for that weekend, gather our family, watch together and enjoy the spiritual feast of good music and uplifting talks. It's a wonderful pause in our daily trek to the promised land.

 

Another "from time to time" can be the time spent in the temple. The early pioneers recognized how important temple covenants would be on their trek and made the effort to finish the temple and receive their endowments and sealings before they left Nauvoo. They didn't get to go to the temple again for a very long time. We are so blessed! Our temple is relatively close and we can return again and again to feel the sweet spirit that is there. While there we are instructed and encouraged for our journey through life. You can be the first in your family to receive these blessings and know the richness of Heavenly Father's gifts. I promise it is worth all the work to get there.

 

My parents lived in the same house and attended the same ward for over sixty years. I loved those ward members as my extended family. Then I married a Marine and began moving to one new ward family after another as we moved around the country. Some wards are easier to fit into than others. Some church families have more crazy relatives than others. But we still journey together and help each other. We love the older members for their wisdom and patience, and we love the younger members for their energy and enthusiasm.

 

Because we are not traveling side by side as the pioneers did on their trek across the plains we don't always see what is going on in each other's lives. We don't see when the wheel falls off the wagon, or the ox is lame, or when the flour barrel is running low. We don't see sicknesses of body, mind or spirit. We generally only see each other at our relative best on Sunday. We put on a cheerful face, our nicest clothes, and do our best to appear to be doing well on our journey.

 

However, I've learned through my own family experiences and getting to know others in our church families that absolutely NO ONE, is free from challenges of one kind or another throughout life. This is why those eternal principles of inclusion, cooperation, unity, and unselfishness are so vital to us today. We need each other to make it faithfully to the end of our journey. We are all part of each other's church family: we are brothers and sisters, parents and children, aunts, uncles and cousins. We simply cannot make it alone. We need the strengths of each other to compensate for our weaknesses as we help each other overcome and conquer those weaknesses and remain faithful to the end.

 

I want to end with a parable Jesus taught. He said:

The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. And he agreed with the workers for a silver coin per day, and he sent them into his vineyard. And the third hour came, and he saw others standing in the marketplace idle, and he said to them, 'Go to the vineyard, and whatever is just I will pay you.' And they went. Again, he went in the sixth and ninth hours, and he did the same. About the eleventh hour, he came and found other standing, and he said to them, 'Why did you stand here idle all day long?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'Go to the vineyard.' When it was evening, the master of the vineyard said to his caretaker, 'Call the workers and give them their wages beginning from the last until the first.' And those hired in the eleventh hour came, and each received a silver coin. And those who came first thought they would be paid more, but each received a silver coin. (Matt 20:1-10)

 

We are like those laborers. No matter when we join the church, early or late, we all can receive the same blessings from our Father in Heaven. It doesn't matter how or when we begin, what matters is how we end.

 

That we might help each other endure and serve faithfully to the end is my fervent hope and prayer.

 

 

19 July 2022

The Basics

This post is part of the General Conference OdesseyThis week covers the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1997 conference.

President Nelson has several times admonished us to feel the joy of daily repentance so it was wonderful to come upon this sentence in Elder Duane B. Gerrard's talk:
The repentance process should become a frequent normal procedure to teach us to deal with the infrequent abnormal occurrences of life--oh, the difference between nearly right and exactly right!
He was a commercial airline pilot and shared the analogy of the three specific areas of procedures and checklists used by pilots: normal procedures, abnormal procedures, and emergency procedures.

This talk resonated with me because for years I have talked about and taught that we should establish in our lives the habits of righteousness, as I call them. Daily prayer, scripture study, weekly Family Home Evening and church attendance, and participation in semi-annual stake and general conferences. Those are the bare minimums for a Latter-day Saint. Being temple worthy with all that entails, holding callings and being a ministering brother or sister move us further along the path to becoming who the Lord wants us to be.

Elder Wayne M. Hancock also spoke of faithfulness. He described the stalwart Swiss sisters he had known while serving there. He described them:
The lack of a car for transportation, or a husband for love and protection, or a supportive family, or a special understanding friend does not dampen their enthusiasm for the gospel of Jesus Christ or their participation in Church meetings and related activities.

No ones life is perfect; we all face challenges of one kind or another, but staying faithful despite our trials is exactly why we came to earth. This life is a test! "And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Abraham 3:25)

It is easier to stay faithful through challenges when our habits of righteousness are in place and automatic.  When we can go through the motions even when we don't feel like doing so, we will eventually break through our fog and be able to feel the spirit again.

Listening to and reading at least one general conference talk each day has helped me tremendously to remember the things that are important and to keep putting one foot in front of the other along the strait and narrow path.