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Friday, November 11, 2011

Church History Symposium 2012

I just received word that I was accepted to present at the Church History Symposium this year.  This is awesome for a couple of reasons:

1.  My paper is on the development of thought behind D&C 138.  For those of you who don't know, President Joseph F. Smith received a vision about the ministry of Christ in the Spirit World, for the 3 days before His resurrection.  The main thoughts are on whether or not Joseph F.'s vision, showing that Christ "organized His forces" rather than visiting those in the Spirit World, were new ideas or not.

2.  No undergrad has ever been accepted.  I don't think one has ever been dumb enough to apply.  As Peter Jay Elliott once characterized me, "you're dumb enough to ask, smart enough to know you have to.

When I got the acceptance e-mail in class, I teared up.  I love this Church.  I love its prophets.  I love its history.  I love that the Church is both true and living, that things can develop and change, as needed.  And I love you all, for supporting my writing, my nerdy love of talking history, and for supporting me.  I love you all more than I can say.

I love my life.  The next step is to try and live up to the opportunities I've been given.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Jesus said "Love Everyone"

I’ve recently been listening to some favorite talks and interviews with General Authorities.  Here are two: one with President Hinckley, and one with Elder Holland:

President Hinckley: Experiences Worth Remembering 
Transcript of the full talk
“I had a long-remembered meeting with Mr. Shimon Peres of Israel. He was a former prime minister. He had seen much of conflict and trouble in his time.
I asked him whether there was any solution to the great problems that constantly seem to divide the people of Israel and the Palestinians. He replied, “Of course there is.”
As I recall, he said, “When we were Adam and Eve, we were all one. Is there any need for us now to be divided into segments with hatred for one another?”
He told a very interesting story that he said he had heard from a Muslim. The Muslim told of a Jewish rabbi who was conversing with two of his friends. The rabbi asked one of the men, “How do you know when the night is over and a new day has begun?”
His friend replied, “When you look into the east and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun.”
The second was asked the same question. He replied, “When you look into the distance and can distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree, then you know morning has come.”
They then asked the rabbi how he could tell when the night is over and the day has begun. He thought for a time and then said, “When you look into the east and see the face of a woman and you can say, ‘She is my sister.’ And when you look into the east and see the face of a man and can say, ‘He is my brother.’ Then you know the light of a new day has come.”

The second thought, tied in with the thought above, is the transcript of aninterview that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland had with PBS, during the making of the documentary, “The Mormons.”

Where were you when you heard that the ban was lifted on blacks in the priesthood?

“I can remember exactly where I was. For us that's the "where we [were] when Kennedy was shot," this deep, deep, spiritual, emotional moment in the history of the church. I was a very young commissioner of education, still in my 30s, and I was coming over from my office in the church office building to the suite of General Authority offices for something or other. ... I walked into the office of the General Authority I was going to see, and he said, "Have you heard the news?" This was barely moments out of the temple meeting and the announcement where it was official. And I said: "What news? I haven't heard any news." And he said all worthy men -- regardless of race or status or circumstance -- all worthy men are to receive priesthood.

You're going to think all I do is cry, but this is in the same family as that missionary experience I described to you. I started to cry, and I was absolutely uncontrollable. I felt my way to a chair ... and I sort of slumped from the doorway into the chair and held my head, my face in my hands and sobbed. 

There's no issue in all my life that I had prayed more regarding -- praying that it would change, praying that it would come in due time. I was willing to have the Lord speak, and I was loyal to the position and the brethren and the whole concept, but there was nothing about which I had anguished more or about which I had prayed more. And for that to be said in my lifetime, when I wasn't sure it would happen in my lifetime, ... it was one of the absolute happiest days of my life.”

I rejoice that the gospel, with all of its blessings are available to all of God’s children.  When all worthy men were given the opportunity to receive the Priesthood, it meant that temple work could be done for all.  Men and women could be sealed in the Temple.  Because of Jesus Christ, we can return to live with our families in God’s presence.  Because of the Church’s belief that “all are alike unto God,” we should all love each other as brothers in sisters.

President Hinckley, later in the same address, said:

"I have given you a sampling of significant occasions that have forever touched my life.
They have influenced my thinking and my behavior. They have affected my life in an unforgettable manner.

You likewise will have significant experiences. I hope that you will write them down and keep a record of them, that you will read them from time to time and refresh your memory of these meaningful and significant things.

Some of them may be funny. Some may be of significance only to you. Some of them may be sacred and quietly beautiful. Some may build one upon another until they represent a lifetime of special experience."

I love the Lord, and his servants, the prophets.  Please remember your own experiences, your own favorite quotes, and share them.  


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Joseph Smith and Revelation

I'm currently enrolled in Grant Underwood's "Joseph Smith in Mormon History" class at BYU.  My textbook is "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" by Dr. Richard L. Bushman, recognized inside and outisde of the Church for his scholarship.  Reading his book just gave me a huge "AHA" moment.  Let me explain.

I have wondered for years why the revelations before 1835 were favored in the Doctrine and Covenants.  When the Twelve were called, the burden of “direct” revelation was taken from the prophet, and transferred to leading councils of the Church.  What a beautiful system that the Lord has created!

Joseph Smith’s ability to apply, adapt, and expand on his own revelations fantastic to me.  But he did he not only rely on his own revelations, but he seems to have recognized (to an extent) pragmatism and Priesthood should work hand in hand.  Revelation was not only parting the Red Sea, it was organizing Israel’s camp. It was not only Jesus multiplying the bread and fishes, it was the distribution of the bread and the fish.

A final word about revelation, from President Henry B. Eyring.  This is from an MTC address that he gave several years ago, while he was teaching mission presidents how to teach missionaries to teach by the Spirit.  Some of this is paraphrased, but you get the idea:

"You may think that revelation is easy for me, because I'm an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But it is not.  Revelation is hard.  I'm supposed to teach you by the Spirit how to teach hundreds of others how to teach by the Spirit.  That is a near-impossible task.  That is why I stay up late at night worrying about assignments like this, pleading the Lord, reading his word, and trying to figure out how to say what is most important. It is HARD."

Revelation is hard.  We have prophets, councils, and the Spirit to teach us what to do.  

Sorry these thoughts are so scrambled.  I just love the Prophet so much.  If he could do so much, with so much on his plate, and so little experience, it gives me hope that I can in some small way help build the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years Later: 9/11/2001

Ten years ago, I was driving to Indian Hills Middle School, during the first month of school. I was in the car with Tommy Ballard, my best friend. We heard the news that someone had crashed into the first World Trade Center, and I felt as if it was a horrible accident. Then came the second plane. And the third, into the pentagon. And the fourth, into a field in Pennsylvania.

On this ten year anniversary of one of the formative moments of my teenage life, it’s hard for me to express the horror and shock I still feel at the events. But perhaps even more important is the aftermath, 2 wars, a worldwide depression, even silly things like losing Leathermans to the TSA (3 and counting).

The first emotion I remember feeling is a desperate desire for revenge. My 13 year old self thought that someone needed to pay for that crater in the ground, and the thousands of empty places at dinner tables, work spaces, and family prayers. I remember hating Osama bin Laden, and praying that he would “get his”, that he would know something of the pain that he and his cronies had caused.

That took a long time to get over.

My next feelings were sympathy for my fellow Americans. I wanted to hug each person that had been affected, and tell them that everything would be ok. In my fledgling faith, I wanted to be able to explain that this was all a part of a divine unfolding, that God was the Gardener, and He knew what was best.

That desire hasn’t left me. I still know that God is in control, and that He has a plan for all of His children. But my faith has developed to the point where I can see that God has a plan, but that it includes the perspective that He allows us to make mistakes, even ones that cost the lives of thousands of His children. God, in His wisdom, will “force no man to heaven,” but endows each of his sons and daughters with the dangerous ability to choose what each person wanted to do for himself.

In God’s wisdom, in His patience in allowing us to even kill one another thinking that we are doing Him a service, (See John 16:2) He reminds us that those who do so “have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:3). It would also be wise to remember that Athiests, Jews, Christians, and Mormon have all supported and participated events that are not representative of their beliefs and principles. Again, God allows us to choose. It is tragic at times, but beautiful at others.

We MUST choose to do one thing, and that is forgive. We cannot become embroiled in bitterness or apathy towards others. We must not think “God will punish them, and I am justified in feeling how I feel.” That’s the most un-Christlike, unkind thing a person can do.

We MUST turn to God, like this woman has.

Sandy's Story

We MUST love our fellow men, because we love God, or if we don’t believe in God, because we believe in doing the best we can.

It takes time to heal. It may take longer for some to forgive, but peace will bind the broken heart, if that peace is sought in the proper way (John 14:26-27, 16:33).

A modern day Apostle, George F. Richards, taught us something concerning forgiveness, by relating a dream he had experienced:

“I dreamed that I and a group of my associates found ourselves in a courtyard where, around the outer edge of it, were German soldiers--the Fuehrer Adolph Hitler was there with his group, and they seemed to be sharpening their swords and cleaning their guns, and making preparations for a slaughter of some kind, or an execution. We knew not what, but, evidently we were the objects.
But presently a circle was formed and this Fuehrer and his men were all within the circle, and my group and I were circled on the outside, and when we walked around and I got directly opposite to him I stepped inside the circle and walked across to where he was sitting and spoke to him, in a manner something like this, "I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live here on the earth?"
And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection.
I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me that I must love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good" (General Conference, October 1946).

This dream was less than a year after Victory-in-Europe Day. If people could find it in their hearts to forgive Hitler, and all those who had wronged them in this world war, we MUST find it in our hearts to forgive others.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I've come to know that the Lord will "raise up friends and pour out peace" and "joy cometh in the morning."

These past few weeks have been pretty difficult for me. I know everyone's life is difficult, and things go wrong, and that people have their down times. And what happened isn't really important, other than it has been a struggle to see the bright side of life for a few weeks. The passing of Greg Gray really through me for a loop, and it turns out that I'm not nearly as tough or prepared in other aspects of my life that I'd like to pretend I am. But it is also true that the Good Lord knows me better than I know myself, and knows that I have things to work on. I've been a big baby in a lot of ways. I'm sorry for that. I'm not going to go into detail either, besides to say that I've felt betrayed and confused. I'm sorry for the lack of detail, but I appreciate the prayers and positive thoughts!

Through these experiences, I've realized and remembered that I have the greatest friends in the world. Sometimes I don't think it's possible to realize the kind of friends that you have until you feel like you don't have any allies.

When Joseph Smith was going through his experience in Liberty Jail, sometimes referred to as a "Prison Temple" (because of the revelations received there), the Prophet was worried. And troubled. And felt alone.

The Prophet was in jail on trumped up charges, in a room that didn't allow him to stand at full height, poisoned food, attempts to feed him human flesh, and his wife had just had a child. His people were being driven out of the state at the point of gun and bayonet. He had reason to worry and to ask God "where art thou? And where is the pavillion that covereth thy hiding place?" And seemingly pleading his case, reminding the Lord what the Prophet had endured for Him, and that the Prophet had done nothing to deserve this treatment, acknowledging the power the Lord had, he asked:

D&C 121:2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

In all the tender love of a Father, and with a sweetness almost unparallelled in scripture, the Lord replied:

D&C 121:7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

9 Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

The Lord, in His knowledge that the Prophet needed to go through this in his eternal tutelage, and knowing that the Liberty Jail experience was difficult and potentially deadly, reminded Joseph that the Lord had given him true friends, that would not leave him.

The Lord has referred to his disciples as His friends on many occasions in the scriptures, and saying that "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) He also said that "I will call you friends, for you are my friends." (D&C 93:45) That is a promise. The Savior laid down his life as our Friend, Brother, Savior, and Redeemer. He is still our "kind, wise Heavenly Friend."

The Lord has also said that He will not "leave us comfortless, I will come to you." Promising help "Not as the world giveth, giveth I unto you," but an Eternal perspective and peace that cannot be purchased. No amount of money can buy peace of mind. Only obedience and application of the principles the gospel.

President Ezra Taft Benson has said that:

"Men and Women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision,quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles,lift their spirits, multiply their blessings,increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace." Ezra Taft Benson

I've been reminded of that in the past week. Friends have come, as well as peace. They have come hand in hand, both through just being around friends, and the love that have come (in my mind) as directed by the arms of the Savior.

There are too many people to mention, but I have been greatly appreciative of the text messages, facebook messages, and e-mails from concerned friends and family. To them, I say, I'm doing great. After all, "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." I've had my night or two of sorrow, and am now more focused and happy than I have been in months.

I love you all. You've done more for me than I can say.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Greater Love Hath No Man Than This" Greg Gray

Video Courtesy of

On July 23rd, 2011 Greg Gray passed away, a drowning victim. He had dived into the river where his family had been fishing to save his sister. His sister survived, but Greg did not. My heart is full as I try and express my feelings about Greg, some words of inspiration he gave me, and some reflections on death, and Greg's love he showed in his death.

I regret that I only knew Greg for 4 1/2 months, while we served in Beaverton, Oregon on our LDS missions. Though I did not know him for a long time, I loved him dearly. I knew him while he was serving with Elder Duncan Tuitakau, and I was serving with Elder JJay Jensen. JJay and I were organizing a zone meeting, trying to uplift and inspire the rest of the Hillsboro zone to new heights. Our zone had been reaching new heights in terms of confidence, work, faith, and attitude. Baptisms and conversion came as a bi-product of these factors, and JJay and I wanted to make sure the trend would continue. I don't remember much about the zone meeting, other than great trainings on unity by some members of our zone, and that there was a powerful spirit in the room when the floor was opened to sharing testimonies. Elder Gray, fresh out of the MTC eventually stood and took the floor. After almost 3 years, I can't remember his exact words, but this was the gist of what he said:

"I didn't decide to serve a mission because it was the easy thing to do. I didn't come to Portland for myself. I came for every single person that I come in contact with. I came to show the love that the Savior would for each of them. I didn't come on a mission to be recognized, or patted on the back. I came here to work."

Those words deeply impacted me. I had been out almost 20 months at the time that I heard Elder Gray's timely testimony. I was reminded that I was also called on a mission to work and love, and to do my best, not to be recognized as the best.

Greg lived up to his words. Through the death of his grandfather, some alarming and scary situations in his first transfer, and hard work with his companion, Greg and Tui saw great success in their own personal growth, and in persons gaining faith in Jesus Christ and then acting upon it. Greg was a spiritual leader, and he rallied those around him to new heights.

Greg's faith and character shined when he passed away, when he dove into the river, I would guess without any hesitation. He showed the Savior's compassion, and lived the Savior's words that "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) He lived the Savior's commandment that "That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

It can be easy to ask the question, "why Greg?" The answer is that we don't know. Death comes to each one of us, in the words of the author Chuck Palahniuk, "if you stretch the timeline out long enough, everyone's survival rate drops to zero." But it is in situation of the young, the good, and the loved that we oft can wonder "WHY?" The answer is that we don't know.

President Spencer W. Kimball once remarked that not everyone dies because they were called to a great work on the other side to do (although, undoubtedly Greg is very busy as a missionary on the other side). Sometimes people just die. Sometimes alarming and sad things happen, through no fault of our own. Some are "appointed unto death," but sometimes it just happens. I think, perhaps, that it is in these times that we feel our faith stretch and grow.

But I do know something. I do know that Greg would want us all to go on in faith, and love, and working hard for the good of others. I think that Greg would have wanted us to become better from this experience.

"Greater Love Hath No Man Than This" will be forever changed for me. I am so grateful that the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. I am so glad that when our spirits separate from our bodies that we return to the God who gave us life. And I am so very grateful that "because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal band of death, which death is a temporal death."

May the Lord help us all to remember Greg, his example, and the love he showed.

This may also help: Tragedy or Destiny by Spencer W. Kimball.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Link Bomb 7/16:

The newest Mormon Message from Jeffrey R. Holland

A new Paris, France?

The new temple site in Fort Collins, Colorado.

An LDS missionary was mauled by a lion in a Guatamalen zoo (and lived!).

New York Times article on the Hill Cummorah Pageant.

This is a great one to share: an historian on the most important things in the Book of Mormon.

Not really LDS related, but a BYU comedy group did a Harry Potter parody of Katy Perry's Firework."

Official Church Apps for iPhone.

The "Sister Wives" family is petitioning to make polygamy legal. Joanna Brooks asks the question, what would Mormons do if polygamy became legal?

If you're an LGBT Latter-day Saint, PLEASE participate in the survey on this page:

An interview about Mormons with the Interfaith Alliance President, who recently defended the public slander of Mormonism on Fox News.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Link Bomb #2: Catching Up on the Mormon Articles and News You Should Be Reading

A new movie on the candidacy of Joseph Smith for President of these United States is in the works.

Commentary on the Church's promise to stay out of the 2012 GOP race.

A (brief) history of the Community of Christ's version of how polygamy started.

Jimmer Fredette plays on staying active when he moves to Sacramento.

New Mission President Seminar news

Are Republicans Ready for a Mormon President? Written for the New York Times by 2 BIG names in Mormon Studies.

The new Church History and Joseph Smith Papers websites are up!!

Joanna Brooks (great blogger and Mormon feminist) on the approval ratings for Mormon candidates.

A small Washington newspaper talks about LDS Missionary work.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks talks freedom of religion.

A great flickr account by a great foundation, who works to improve the Church's image online.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

LDS Linkbomb #1/Book Suggestions

Richard Bushman gave an interview with Time magazine this week, discussing the Book of Mormon Musical.

The newest Mormon Messages

Jeffrey R. Holland testifies of the Book of Mormon.

The Church reminds its leaders that they must remain politically neutral.

CNN did a pretty good job explaining Mormon beliefs.

You can always set up your own profile!

Mormon Times is worth a read. It's an extension of the Church News (apologetic and sympathetic. Not that there's anything wrong with that.).

I'm a firm believer that faith is to be explored, and that LDS are far too quick to think that all people who leave the Church don't have a reason for it. My friend Jon Adams, at SHAFT has some great thoughts. He references John Dehlin, whose podcast I'm currently addicted to.

There are some GREAT LDS History books out there. Here's a list for those interested in the history of the Church, not necessarily Church History. Remember, if you have questions about Church History, ask someone who knows, or can find an answer for you.

1. Rough Stone Rolling: Richard Bushman
2. Brigham Young: American Moses: Leonard J. Arrington
3. The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism: Grant Underwood

Monday, June 27, 2011

To Develop Relationships

In preparing for this talk, I continually thought of a song once sung: “I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love…I need to make a change…and I need to start with the man in the mirror.”

I realize the difficulty in this subject. I realize its difficulty, both in the introspection that it causes, and in how we want to judge others fairly, not make any set rules, or “deal breakers” that could end up making us close-hearted and close-minded.

The first thing that came to mind when I thought of what I wanted is a play on a quote from Liz Lemmon, who, I’m paraphrasing, as said:

“I’ll tell you what I do want. I want someone who will be monogamous, and nice to her mother. I want someone who thinks that Seinfeld is funny, and that E.T. is terrifying. I want someone who will actually empty the dishwasher instead of just taking forks out as needed, like I do. I want someone with clean hands and feet and a smile that lights up a room like a Disney princess. And I want her to genuinely like me, even when I’m old. And that’s what I want.”

But not everyone’s dating situations are the same, or similar in any way. With that in mind, there are three things that I feel are very important in finding success in long-term dating, and these are traits I’m trying to develop, so that I can be who I am supposed to be.

Plan: Planning things together involves being able to communicate openly about things that need to be done, and things that you want to do. Planning involves thinking about others, and how your plans and their plans affect each other’s plans. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that there are several instances in the scriptures where our goal for Eternal Life is called a “Plan,” whether it be of happiness, salvation, or forever families. Joseph Smith, in the King Follett discourse says that the world was “organized”, not merely created, and the Book of Abraham records that the Lord “organized us” before we came to Earth. There are 173 references to preparing in the scriptures, 44 references for plan, and 19 references to organize.

It’s important to be able to have candid and open lines of communication with everyone, but especially with someone you are considering spending eternity with. Fear of feeling foolish or inadequate when speaking to someone is common. Try your best to learn how to speak to others, as the Lord has taught, “in their own language.” Learn to listen, and to respond to others words in words that they will understand. How you say something can be just as important as what you say, and much more frequently than you would think, the tone and feelings evoked in words are more powerful than what was actually said.

The second thing that I find important, is to know that the person you want to date seriously is going to be imperfect. But you can’t focus on that. That is a Pandora’s Box, and once opened, is nigh impossible to close. We all do things that annoy others. Boys can be cocky, and ignorant of other people’s feelings. They’re going to yell at the TV during sporting events, though we know that they can’t hear us. We think that no one else on a group project is doing their share. We will probably think movies like Billy Madison and Dumb and Dumber are funny until the day we die. And guys, girls are going to want to have dress up dates, expect you to think it’s ok to listen to country or Justin Bieber every once in awhile. They’re going to want to watch the Bachelorette and want you to think that Bentley is just as evil as they do. They’re going to think that you should drive the speed limit, and use good grammar, and stop wearing flat brim hats. And guess what? That’s ok.

But focusing on these minor things is not going to make a great relationship. It doesn’t sound like a relationship built on love and patience, one that you both want to last forever. When we focus on the things that aren’t important, it can impair our ability to follow the Spirit’s direction. Be one that can be said to “scatter the sunshine.”

I feel like most people want to be the best person that they can be. Men want to be the perfect husband and father. Women want to be the perfect wife and mother. And because our strengths can become our downfalls, these self-imposed expectations can be suffocating. Be positive. Accentuate their best characters. Go out of the way to say something nice, or to give an extra hug on a bad day. Make dinner. Plan a date idea. Do little things just because they want you to. Notice her earrings. Tell her how much your care. Text him first sometimes.

Tell him that you think he’s great. Write nice notes. Joseph Smith would often refer to Emma’s letters as “sweet morsels” or “pieces of paradise.”

The things that build relationships, whether it is with the Lord or with another person are simple: with the Lord, it’s faith. It’s prayers. It’s scripture reading. It’s temple attendance. It’s being loyal. It’s the same with dating. Communicate. Learn together. Serve together. Find joy in each other’s successes. Make time for little things like intramural games, or walks in the park.

The third thing in spiritually being prepared for dating involves recognizing when the Spirit confirms that the person is right for you to choose. I’m not going to tell you how you will know that it is right. Revelation, like love, is intensely personal. Each person feels them individually, and I personally find it difficult to describe how I feel when I receive revelation. But there are certain things that I can do to help myself receive inspiration from the Spirit.

I pray and ponder, I read the scriptures, I write things down, and I talk with my mom. I think about what one of my mentors would say, and I try and decide what is best. I tell the Lord my plans, Everyone seeks and feels Find what’s best for you, and develop the talent of revelation. Sister Julie B. Beck has said that it is “the single most important skill one can acquire in this life.”

Earnest prayer and inspiration are needed in all situations, and perhaps there is no other event I can foresee that requires more earnest prayer and inspiration. The Lord wants you to be happy. Just also remember that just as importantly, the Lord lets you choose. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said:

I would like to have a dollar for every person in a courtship who knew he or she had felt the guidance of the Lord in that relationship, had prayed about the experience enough to know it was the will of the Lord, knew they loved each other and enjoyed each other's company, and saw a lifetime of wonderful compatibility ahead--only to panic, to get a brain cramp, to have total catatonic fear sweep over them. They "draw back," as Paul said.

"I am not saying you shouldn't be very careful about something as significant and serious as marriage…beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don't give up when the pressure mounts. …. Face your doubts. Master your fears. "Cast not away therefore your confidence." Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.’

If it works, it works. Don’t be afraid if things are working out more quickly, or better, than you expected. Trust the Lord. Keep his commandments. You will receive His direction. And He will want you to follow it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My talk from Sunday

Sacrament Meeting Talk: Remarks based off of an address given by Elder Paul V. Johnson “More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us”.

Elder Johnson said that,“Earth life includes tests, trials, and tribulations, and some of the trials we face in life can be excruciating. Whether it be illness, betrayal, temptations, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, or some other ordeal, affliction is part of our mortal experience. Many have wondered why we must face difficult challenges. We know that one reason is to provide a trial of our faith to see if we will do all the Lord has commanded. Fortunately this earth life is the perfect setting to face—and pass—these tests.”

Each of the tests that Elder Johnson mentions are painful in their own right. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain can be crippling, to the point that we may ask ourselves, as the Prophet Joseph did, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, year thy pure eye, behold from the Eternal heavens the wrongs…of thy servants?”

While broken bones, courtships, and expectations lead to what the Lord really wants in us- a broken heart- I have found that there is a certain brand of trial that seem to gnaw deeper at my soul, cause more sleepless nights, and require long talks with my mom and roommates than any other: loneliness.

Loneliness comes in all shapes and sizes, some of a trivial, and some of an eternal nature. It can be the desire to be doing something on a weekend night, wanting someone to celebrate or commiserate with after seeing a score in the testing center, or just wanting, as our friends from Queen have said, “somebody to love.”

Loneliness involves all pain that I can imagine, emotional, mental, spiritual, and can lead to lasting physical problems.

May I share with you a story from my own life about loneliness? The purpose of sharing my feelings is not a request for sympathy, we all have our lonely times, but rather an example of how we can become trapped in our own disappointments, and forget that there is always, always, always, a way out, but only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

In the past six months, I feel like I’ve lost my best friends, though for the best reasons possible. One friend, is currently in Russia, serving a mission, and one of my best friends got married to the girl of his dreams. When the one left, and my roommate moved out at the end of Fall semester, I was able to convince myself that nothing was wrong.

I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that I was lonely. Because these events started in December, it was easy to attribute my feelings to finals and fatigue. Eventually, I felt that I was simply jealous. I wish I had found the girl of my dreams, and that I had somehow tricked her into marrying me. I wish that I was back out on a mission, serving the Lord to the best of my ability. Though these might have been true, I don’t think that envy was the root of how I was feeling.

I knew that my loneliness would end, that I would find the answers to my prayers, feel comfort, and not feel so alone anymore. My answer came one night, while studying Preach My Gospel and looking up corresponding scriptures on the Atonement, I read Isaiah 53, and it touched me in a way that I had never felt before. Here, we can read the prophecy concerning the Savior, what He went through in the Atonement, and why it was important.

3He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

I realized that I felt abandoned by the only person who would never abandon me. Because of my resentment towards others I could not accept the Atonement in my life.I did not understand the most important part of all: that after all the Savior went through, the hardest experience anyone has every been through “with His stripes we are healed.” In the end, the process of the Atonement, the Savior being rejected, despised, and smitten, meant that He could empathize with us when we feel “rejected…smitten of God and afflicted.”

Upon reading these words, I reflected of the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, words that I have often felt could describe the Savior:

"He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it…It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself."

The Lord was able to comfort, because He has been through every single trial that I have, that you have, that we all have! We are able to feel His love when we strive to reach out to Him. He knows of the debilitating power of loneliness. He had been through them Himself.

Elder Holland has taught
: “Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically, but perhaps not emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me… For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.”

Elder Johnson added: Our Heavenly Father loves us, and we “know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” 18 Someday when we get to the other side of the veil, we want more than for someone just to tell us, “Well, you’re done.” Instead, we want the Lord to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Feelings of loneliness are not sins. The Savior Himself experienced them, as has every person who has ever walked the Earth.

Joseph Smith once wrote that “I have been…melancholy and down in the dumps.” Imagine the Prophet’s loneliness, he being placed with the great blessing and burden of the Restoration. For a time shouldering the burden of the Book of Mormon alone. Having many of his closest friends and advisors denounce him and his character, some even claiming that God had ceased to support him. Moving county to county, state to state, losing family members, friends, children, and converts. And perhaps the most lonely of all, being taken to Carthage from Nauvoo, looking back at the city that had been built largely on his inspiration and leadership, and knowing that he was never going to see it again.

Thomas S. Monson, when called as a mission president, never having served a mission himself, traveled to Canada with his wife and family, and retired in the backyard. He prayed for help. He prayed for strength, and to do what the Lord wanted him to do. He prayed that he would never lose one of his missionaries, and that he would be led by the Spirit. It took time, but he learned by the Spirit how to lead those missionaries, and didn’t have to send a single missionary home. From feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure, an important step was made in the eternal progression of a prophet of God.

My belief is that we must all feel lonely to become closer to God. When we feel alone, forsaken, and misunderstood, we find that we have never truly been alone. We see that “His arms have been stretched out all the day long,” and that He has been diligently seeking to “gather us, as a hen gathereth her chickens beneath her wings.”

Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus, where His arms are closed, or He is not looking at someone? Have you ever seen a picture of the Savior leaving someone alone? I have not. He seeks to envelop in the arms of His love, and to bless all those what will come unto Him.”

I have found that, in the words of Ezra Taft Benson, "men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and [most importantly], pour out peace."

The Lord is there. Waiting for each of us to take His extended arm.