Counting Down ‘Til Christmas

I love Christmas more, now as an adult, than I did as a kid! I think that it is because Christmas is more meaningful to me. I know that at Christmas we celebrate the Savior, and I have a testimony that Jesus Christ truly is my Savior.

I also think that Christmas is more fun for me now because I’m a mom. I love making Christmas-time fun. I love watching my kids suffer with excitement! I also have had so much joy in teaching the gospel to my children, and Christmas-time is a wonderful time to teach them to have fun and be spiritual.

Anyways…In our home, we do a few “Advent” Calendars…

There are a lot of good ideas all over the internet for interesting advent calendars, and I won’t waste your time repeating many of them (that we do in our home). But I will share with you my favorite of our advent calendars…

I will be the first to admit that this isn’t the cutest advent calendar I’ve ever seen. There are so many creative and beautiful ones. I like them a lot. However, this advent has substance. It is Christ centered. It is our Messiah Advent.

The overall idea: Each night you open a package which has an ornament, and hang the ornament on the tree (this part is fun for kids). Attached to the package is a small envelope with a scripture (or a few scriptures). These are the scriptures that we read as our family scripture study. The scriptures are a series of scriptures based on Handel’s Messiah and some scriptures that I compiled form the Book of Mormon that correspond with the themes in Handel’s Messiah.

Here’s how I made it…

First I collected 24 ornaments. Do this however you want. I actually made my ornaments out of polymer clay. We have various symbols of Chrismtas: a wreath, Christmas tree, Angel, etc. You can buy these ornaments, too. It doesn’t really matter what you decide. I love the ornament idea because we use these same ornaments and packaging year after year.

Second
I also attach an envelope with a scripture assignment inside of it to the gift/ornament.
Each of these envelopes have a scripture assignment. This is our scripture reading for the month of December. These scriptures are compiled – from Handel’s Messiah, and other scriptures from the Book of Mormon based on the structure of the Messiah. You can find a list of the scriptures and the day to read them here.

Third I attach the ornament package plus envelope to a cute knit garland using a mini-clothespin.

The kids love this because they get to “open” a present every night. I love it because we focus on the mission and role of the Savior in our lives. This activity helps promote family bonding and understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.

So…try it out!

***
If you are interested, I included a series of blog posts on the scriptures that I compiled for this advent calendar. You can read them here.

What are some of your favorite family Christmas traditions? What do you do to keep Christmas Christ-centered?

A Pattern to Effective Gospel Teaching (Mosiah 4:1-3)

I have been thinking about gospel learning and teaching a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how the gospel has been presented to me and how I’m sharing the gospel with those I must teach (like my children, etc).

I have to admit, I’m not always very receptive when the message of the gospel is given in a gloomy-lectur-y way. I wish I could say that I was always better at being receptive even if the message is given in a way that seems to rub me wrong. But it takes me a lot of journal-writing and prayer to sift through a message that seems full of doom and criticism to finally get through to the Spirit of what was being taught.

I have been thinking about this because I know that those who give these messages don’t mean to give them in a dooms-day way. I think that they mean to be motivating the listener to understand the need for obedience and the gospel. I also know that as a teacher – and especially as a teacher of children and youth – I think that I need to make sure my approach is hopeful without being “sugar-coated.”

Today, I came across the following scripture, and learned the pattern that I’ve been searching for! (yay for scriptures!)
Pattern for God-like Gospel teaching

  1. Make sure that your teaching is done with the Spirit and with purpose – King Benjamin delivers a message to the People – as prompted by the Spirit. He begins his address to the people

    “And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.” – Mosiah 2:9

    – at this point, the people know exactly why King Benjamin is addressing them. I admit that this may not always be necessary…I mean, if you are teaching a class, the students already know why you are speaking to them. However, remembering your purpose will always help you to keep the Spirit when teaching.

  2. Take the time to relate to the people you are teaching. – King Benjamin is such a great example of this. Even though he is the king, he recognizes, genuinely, that he is no different than many of them. His assignment may be different, but his value and status as a Son of God is the same as the value of any other man or woman. He shares:

    “I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man.

    But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me. – Mosiah 2:10-11

    As I think about why King Benjamin would express this so explicitly, I think that it is because his admission – helps to let the message of the gospel go to the People undistilled. He is as reliant on the mercy of the Savior and the blessing of God, even as king, as any of the other people. How on earth can the people be expected to recognize their own “nothingness” if King Benjamin doesn’t do so.

    When we preach the gospel, we need to remember that our talks or lessons are to be given – not in a prideful or hierarchical way, but we should be giving these messages as humble servants of God.

  3. Be receptive to the Spirit – understand the message that you need to give. King Benjamin continues in His address, bearing testimony of the Savior, and delivering a message directly from God.

    “For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.” – Mosiah 3:4

    While we may not see an angel and get express instruction on teaching people, we may still have this responsibility or charge. For example, as a mother, I am responsible for teaching my children the gospel – I need to declare the gospel so that my children can be filled with joy. Additionally, I have been called and set apart as a leader to the Young Women. It is my duty to declare this message to them – as prompted by the Holy Ghost. And, if I’m living worthy of the Spirit, then the Holy Ghost will direct me. I have many opportunities to teach -through formal assignment, precept, and example. And the message we teach is the Lord’s. It is His gospel. His good news.

  4. Let the Spirit do the work. Sometimes this takes a lot of faith, but we need to let the Spirit do the work of delivering the message we give to the hearts of the listeners. After King Benjamin gives the first part of His address, the Spirit begins to work on the listeners. They begin to understand their weakness. They begin to understand that they are natural men – enemies to God. They realize that they need the Savior. Their reaction is recorded as follows:

    “And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.

    And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. – Mosiah 4:1-2

    – the people “fear” the Lord – or, in other words, they “reverence” Him. They begin to understand their dependence on Him, but they also feel the Love and mercy that He has for them.

    I have experienced this. The amazing thing about the gospel and Jesus Christ is, when we feel the humility that God would have us feel, it isn’t degrading. We recognize our weakness, we recognize His blessing and mercy to us, and we are filled with overwhelming humility – Wow! He really loves me. I will share one experience:
    When I was single, I was praying a lot. I wanted to be married. I wasn’t desperate to be married. I wouldn’t marry just anyone. But being a single mother to two children was extremely difficult. There was too much to do. There were lonely nights. There was pain and grief.

    Over time, I started to date this guy. Things started off well, but they ended quite sourly. I didn’t always conduct myself in a way that was worthy of the companionship of the Spirit. Dating after you’ve been married can be pretty…difficult.

    Anyways, I repented, and moved forward. I broke up with that dude. I realigned myself with the Lord with a fervent promise to fight to have the Spirit every single day.

    Life went on.

    Not long afterwards, I met another dude – “homey.” And he was a blessing like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I love my children. I love my family. But I’ve never felt love and companionship like I did as I started getting to know and courting Homey. It was completely amazing. We started making plans to get married, and I knew, through the blessing of meeting Homey, that the Lord was approving my repentance, my life, and my dedication to Him.

    I had a meeting with my Bishop, and he asked me to look at this picture of the Savior.As I looked, he asked me if I had a testimony of The Savior; If I knew that Christ loved me.

    I will never forget that moment. As I looked at the picture, I felt like the woman, who washed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. My sins, which were many, were forgiven (see Luke 7:47).

    I knew that the blessing that I was experiencing – meeting Homey, and ultimately marrying him were miracles. I knew that Christ had made every good thing in my life possible. I knew I was nothing without Him. I knew that even though I wanted to do what was right, I was weak and imperfect. I knew that I needed the Lord. It was the Spirit that taught me this truth. The Bishop may have helped be the vehicle to this message, but he couldn’t “force me” into learning it. He patiently let the Spirit do His work.

    When we let the Spirit teach, it always goes a lot better. King Benjamin didn’t manipulate the people. He didn’t spell out what they needed to do, specifically, to put off the natural man. He didn’t tell them how to dress, what time to show up to church, or what they should study for FHE. He taught them correct principles: Be meek, Be submissive, Be patient, and Be full of love. The Spirit brought this message to the hearts of the listeners and instructed how each of them could apply the principles taught personally.

    Because they had this experience with the Spirit, their love and reverence for the Lord grew. They understood their need for Him. Because the Spirit was teaching them, King Benjamin could give a general address that would effect each listener personally If we follow this pattern when we teach, then our children and those we are called to serve will also receive specific tutelage from the Master Teacher through His Spirit.

  5. Remember that this is Good News! Gospel teaching doesn’t stop at the recognition for us needing the Savior. In fact, the most important step comes last! Gospel teaching is complete when we convey the message of hope and joy.

    The people of King Benjamin, after hearing the words of King Benjamin and covenanting to come unto Christ have the following experience:

    “And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.” – Mosiah 4:1-3

    The people were filled with peace and joy. These are the fruits of the Spirit! They did not leave this situation dwelling on their nothingness. They didn’t feel hopeless, miserable, or good-for-nothing. They weren’t consumed with guilt. They understood that they fell short, but they also truly understood the role of the Savior in their lives – that He would perfect them.

    This had also happened in my life. Because of the blessings of the Savior, I was filled with peace and hope. I was also blessed with a physical blessing. I knew that Jesus Christ loved me, His atonement was accessible, and I felt so much joy. Courting Homey was one of the happiest times of my life. The Lord, through His mercy, worked a miracle in me and my life.

    This is the kind of result we should strive for when we are teaching the gospel. Those who are faithful that hear the message should be filled with hope and vigor. They will recognize their need for the Savior, but won’t dwell on their shortcomings. Instead, they will dwell on the hope of our Savior – on His mercy and atonement. They will know that, despite their nothingness, God will turn them into something. While we can’t force a person to come unto Christ, I think that we should dwell on the hope of the gospel, rather than our natural state and imperfection. It is important for us to understand our need for a Savior, but the fact that perfection is possible through the atonement is the hopeful message that really motivates us to choose the Right. The gospel message is good news: glad tidings. When we teach, we cannot forget this part!

  6. Super long post, I know…but I hope it is helpful to someone (other than me).

We Talk of Christ: Your Spiritual Personal History

One common misconception about the Book of Mormon is that it was written by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is actually a collection of testimonies and histories written by ancient prophets. Nephi, one of the ancient prophets who helped author the Book of Mormon, explains:

” 26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” – 2 Nephi 25:26

The prophets recorded their testimonies and experiences so that their children would know where to find remission for their sins.

I have to admit, I’ve always loved this scripture. In the past, I’ve always loved it because of the first half – where it says “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ.” Recently, however, I’ve started to notice the latter portion of the verse: “And we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know…” I have four children, and am in the thick of motherhood. I have a testimony, and one of my greatest concerns is the development of the testimonies of my children. I want them to know Christ and how they can receive a remission of their sins.

Of course, in helping my children to develop their own testimonies, I can point them to the scriptures, and I do. This is accomplished through Family Home Evening, Family Scripture Study, Family Prayer, and church attendance. I love these moments that we spend together, but I’ve been feeling like I want to do something to really share my testimony with them.

So – in the spirit of Family History – and keeping a personal history, I have decided to begin keeping my spiritual personal history.

A quick digression (even though this post seems like it has been a complete digression). I have done a bit of family history work, and while I’ve felt a connection to the ancestors that I’ve done work for, I don’t really know any of them. I don’t have journals or stories. Well, let me take that back. I have one short personal history – of my great-grandmother. In her history, she doesn’t tell much about her testimony or life. She relates a few things – where she was born, the names of her siblings, the name of the store her father owned. Then, she spends a long time telling about the time she had a tapeworm! GROSS! I have always thought that this personal history is kind of funny. Of all the things that she wanted her posterity to know – she related the tapeworm story?!

My tape-wormy great-grandma, (post tape-worm) and her husband (my great-grandpa)

Now, I have to wonder – what kind of legacy am I leaving? What will my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren know about me? (I haven’t had tape-worms, so that’s out…)

I do keep journals. And they are embarrassing. I have at least 4 journals from my teenage years. Every entry mentions a different boy. Or two. (I thought I wasn’t boy-crazy!) As I’ve gotten older, my journals are marginally better, but they are still more about the troubles I have faced.

On another note, when I read Nephi’s words, I feel close to him. I feel like the selections he has included in the scriptures help me to understand a part of his Spiritual Development. I can see why he says that his soul delights in the scriptures – throughout his experiences prior, he has used his knowledge of the scriptures as a source of courage. Nephi’s courage was based on Moses’ courage. We see this development through the record he has kept.

While I don’t claim to be a scripture writer, I have thought that it would be a good idea to keep a Spiritual Personal History. I am making one copy for each of my children. I do not plan on giving these to my children until they are older. (I’m thinking that when they go to the temple they will get it).

So here’s what to do:

  • Determine how you would like to record your spiritual personal history.
    • By hand – I have decided to write my history by hand. I like handwriting. It is just a crazy thing. Although, I admit there are times I wish I was typing it. Typing would be faster.
    • Word Processing – this is a simple and quick (not to mention neat) way to record your personal spiritual history. Plus, there are many websites where you can import your word document and have it printed as a book. If you have a lot of kids this may be the way to go!
  • Begin reading through old journals. – This is where you will start getting your content. I got my first journal when I was eight. I’m looking for entries where I record my testimony or any spiritual experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t record many of these.
  • As you read through your journal, think of how your testimony began to develop at that time. – For example: as a fifteen year-old, my testimony came from spiritual experiences like girls’ camp. Even though I wasn’t a sober-minded 15 year old girl, I did love the way that the Spirit felt. In my spiritual personal history, I explain this – by giving specific examples on how I felt my testimony growing during that period.
    • As you go through this, it is really great to see how our testimonies truly come line upon line.
  • Consider including actual journal entries -in the words that you used at that time in your life. – This will help to show how your testimony developed over time.
  • Consider including your Patriarchal Blessing – and also the events that surrounded your receiving it.
  • This personal history is not meant to be every single spiritual experience you’ve had. Instead, like the Book of Mormon, it is an abridgment of your testimony – how it developed over the years.
  • As you consider what to include, remember Nephi’s words: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” This is what you are doing – writing your testimony so that your children will know what source they out to look to for a remission of their sins. They will read your words and know that you knew.

So, I encourage you to begin your own spiritual personal history! And if you’ve already done so, comment here with a few hints/tips!

***
For more blog posts about the Book of Mormon, head over to the Book of Mormon Forum.

Faith, Fear, and Brand New Babies – Alma 32:21

First of all, I had a baby last week. Pretty exciting, huh? I’m happy about it. I was in a bit of pain during the pregnancy, so it is nice to have the baby here, finally.

Included in all of the fun of post-partum is the insane hormonal fluctuations. For me, these ups and downs are usually triggered by worries about the future or past.

A few days ago, I had a flash of a realization. All of my kids will no longer be kids or babies, but will soon be tested. Okay, I already knew that. But this time, when I thought of it, I was overwhelmed with fear – for them. Would they choose the right? Would they choose to be happy? Will I have taught them enough? If I have taught them enough will they trust me and trust the Lord or will they rebel? What kind of temptations will they face? etc… (oh, and I may or may have been crying a little bit…yay baby-blues… 😉 )

Of course, even when our thoughts/fears are relatively irrational, it is nice to know that the Lord will still comfort us. I had given up worrying about the future – mainly because the crazy hormonally-driven-worry-state had passed…I had gotten sleep and some food – that usually does the trick for me. I had even forgotten about this little episode.

Then, yesterday, I ran across the following scripture:

“21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” – Alma 32:21

As I grew up Mormon, I’m quite familiar with this scripture. However, It came across differently yesterday. I felt assured and peaceful. I remembered that faith is not fear. Instead of worrying about potential problems that my children will face, I need to go forward with faith and hope.

As I think about this, I realize, faith needs to be a hope for things that aren’t seen which are true. So, instead of thinking, “Oh…everything will be okay. They will overcome their challenges.” I need to focus on what I know to be true. I can’t say how my children will choose to exercise their agency, but I can put my faith in something that is true.

Ways to exercise my faith (instead of fear)

  • I can have faith in family prayer. I know that it unites our family. I know that it has brought peace and power into our home. I know that if I continue with family prayer, the experience will be worth more than all of the “sermons” I ever give my children. I know that they will gain confidence as they hear me express my love for them to Heavenly Father. And, even if they don’t develop their own testimonies of prayer, I can have comfort in the fact that I’ve brought the spirit into our home through prayer, and that they know that I have a testimony.

    I hope that, perhaps, this experience will inspire them to go to the Father in prayer on their own. But even if they never do pray on their own, I can feel good about knowing that, through family prayers, they have had experiences with prayer.

  • I can have faith in Family Home Evening – I have already seen how family home evening has blessed our lives. Our children love it. (knock on wood). They love to learn, they love to teach, sing, and do activities. Family Home Evening has been a very positive part of our family life. Sure, it isn’t “picture perfect,” but it is always helpful. One of the most positive parts of FHE is that through holding it regularly, we are able to address family issues in a safe, fun environment. We don’t have to make anyone feel “singled out”, but we are still able to gently correct our children. Not only that, but we (parents) are able to be taught by them (it is such a humbling thing – I think it’s really healthy for family life). We are able to laugh with one another.

    I hope that they continue to love the way that Family Home Evening brings a spirit of love and unity into our home. I hope that, even if they don’t choose to accept the gospel, they will never forget the way that learning the principles of the gospel in FHE felt.

  • I can have faith in family scripture study. – This is another source of peace that we are able to feel in our home on a daily basis. I’m grateful for a husband who does such a wonderful job in leading our family to reading and discussing the scriptures. We don’t do anything extraordinary. Usually, we read about 5-8 verses a night. We also discuss the verses. I want to make sure that scripture reading isn’t boring, but it is an edifying experience. Sure, when you’re only reading 5-8 verses an night, it takes a long time to get through the Book of Mormon (or other scriptures), but I don’t think that getting through the scriptures is the point of scripture study. I think the point is, and I hope my children will remember, that we have the spirit in our home on a daily basis. We have the scriptures, we learn from them, we apply them to our lives.

    I hope that my children, even if they don’t accept the scriptures for themselves, will always remember that they have seen practical application of them in our home.

  • I can have faith in their own strength. I can pray to see my children as Heavenly Father sees them. Is this true faith? I don’t know. This is interesting. But I guess what I’m saying is – I can let them express their agency. I don’t need to fear on how they’ll express it. Of course, I should prepare myself for future difficulties. It is a part of growing. However, I think that I should seek to see my children how Heavenly Father does – seeing their potential, and helping them to see it and want to achieve it.

    When I was a youth, I was excited about the gospel. I didn’t always make the right choice, but I did have a testimony. Sure, I’ve matured since then, as has my testimony, but the point is, I remember having faith and testimony. I’m sure that my children won’t be all that different. I just need to be like our Father in Heaven, trust them a little bit, and gently guide them.

  • I can have faith in the power of charity – Christ’s pure love. – I say this because I’m trying to develop charity. I feel like the phrase “Charity begins in the home.” is true. It is most essential (and probably most difficult) for me to develop a truly charitable love for my family members. My children need to know that I love them unconditionally. My children also need to know that my parenting stems from my love for them. (So – if I reward/punish them, it is out of love, not anger or emotion). My children need to know that my actions toward them are not manipulative or caused by hunger for power, but they need to know that I do what I do because I love them.

    Heavenly Father is the best example of charitable parenting. He is always willing to be merciful, yet there are times when his children must be chastised. It is easier to get through life’s difficulties and to keep the commandments when we realize Heavenly Father loves us and his main plan is for us to be happy. When we experience His love, we trust Him. This is the kind of relationship I want to develop with my children.

    I have faith that, if I develop charitable, true Christ-like love for my children, and they experience it, then they will be motivated to continue strong in the gospel. Perhaps they will develop that love towards others. And, even if they choose not to continue in the gospel, then they will not doubt how I felt about them…Oh, and I also feel like, If I’m successful in this way, then the love they feel will actually bring them closer to Heavenly Father than anyone else. In other words, I hope that through my love for them, they will recognize how much their Heavenly Father loves them.

So…I don’t need to fear the future. Sure, there are many dreadful things that we and our children will have to face. I know that there are many difficulties and temptations that our children must face. However, I have faith that Heavenly Father can help me overcome these difficulties. I don’t need to be afraid. I just need to work hard and rely on the Lord.

A Pattern for Heavenly Parenting – Mosiah 26:15-32

I was talking with a friend about how the scriptures are the best parenting guide – who better to pattern our lives (as parents) after than Heavenly Father, a perfect parent…right?

In Mosiah 26:15-32, we have a great example of how to be a good parent. In this scripture block, Heavenly Father sets a pattern we can follow when we find times where we need to comfort, advise, and/or teach our children.

The setting:
Many in the rising generation do not believe in the church. They are going around trying to convince others to leave – with flattering words and messages. Because of this deception, there is growing wickedness in the church. Alma, the elder, who is the High Priest of the Church, isn’t exactly sure to handle the situation. So – he went to the Lord concerning the manner. The Lord responds.

The Pattern:
The Lord’s response follows a simple pattern.

  • The Lord comforts and reassures Alma.
  • “15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
    16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
    17 And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
    18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
    19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.” – Mosiah 26:15 – 19

      • This is a great example to parents. First of all, Heavenly Father recognizes the good that Alma is doing. Obviously, Alma is feeling worried and – probably – less than capable. Heavenly Father takes this moment to kindly remind him of his many strengths. He recognizes the hard work that Alma has done up to this point.
      • Heavenly Father takes a second to remind Alma also how good the others are – that have committed to keeping their covenants.
      • Finally Heavenly Father commends Alma for seeking instruction.
    • As parents, when our children come to us with a problem, or when they need some kind of instruction, as Alma did, we can learn from Heavenly Father. We can begin our instruction with sincere compliments. We can recognize the achievements of our children. We can assure them that we are proud of them and recognize the good that they are doing.

      It seems, to me, that taking the time to genuinely offer love and support – before handing out advice will help to ensure that both the hearts of parent and child are soft.

  • The Lord Covenants with Alma
  • “20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
    21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.” – Mosiah 26:20 – 21

      • After reassuring Alma, The Lord covenants with Alma. I feel like this covenant was already made (when Alma was baptized), but the covenant is reiterated. It is renewed, in a way. Alma is reminded that as he serves the Lord by gathering his sheep, then Alma will receive eternal life.
      • The Lord also covenants that those who listen to his words will also receive eternal life.
      • This covenant is especially relevent to the problem that Alma is facing.
    • As a parent – well, we can’t really offer this type of covenant, but I think we still learn from this step in the pattern. We just need to modify it a little bit.

      We can remind our children that they have made covenants and will receive blessings for keeping the commandments.

      Just as the covenant made between God and Alma is specific to the situation Alma was in, as parents, we can take this time to remind our children of the connection of certain promises we have made with their associated blessings.

      • For example, if a child is having a question about modesty, we can take this moment to emphasize the blessing associated with being modest. This can be a good time for us to bear testimony of the blessings we have received for following such counsel.
    • No matter how we modify this step (the Spirit will instruct us on what to do), I feel like it is important. Often, the reminder of our covenants is a good motivation to want to keep them.
  • The Lord Teaches General Principles and Doctrine.
  • “22 For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.
    23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.
    24 For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
    25 And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me.
    26 And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed.
    27 And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” – Mosiah 26:22-27

      • The Lord now takes a moment to do some basic gospel teaching. This step is essential as it will form the basis for his very specified instruction to Alma (that comes later).
      • Notice how the Lord doesn’t say too little. He also doesn’t say too much.
    • As parents, we can make sure that when we give our children instruction, we frame it in the context of Gospel truths. I feel like it is easier to understand and accept specific instructions when we see how they fit in to a larger picture.

      In fact, with such instruction, I think that our children will start to come to the conclusions of what they need to do, specifically, before we even mention the actual directive.

    • The thing we need to watch: being too brief or too wordy. We need to follow the spirit to know when we’ve said the right amount.
  • The Lord gives direct instruction and revelation to Alma.
  • “28 Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.
    29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.
    30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
    31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
    32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.” – Mosiah 26:28-32

      • Heavenly Father finally, after comforting, covenanting, and teaching Alma, gives him direct revelation – a solution to Alma’s problem.
    • Once we have given our children comfort, a reminder of their covenants (or a reminder of the blessings associated with various commandments), and general teaching – we can give them the advice that they have desired.

Conclusion
I love this pattern because it makes sense. Of course I want my children to learn. I want them to feel like they can come to me for advice. I might even be able to help them. If we, as parents, really want to help our children (and I suppose we could also apply this to our friends who look for advice, those whom we serve, anyone), then we can follow the pattern the Lord has set.

He doesn’t instantly tell Alma what to do. Imagine that scenario – it may have helped Alma in his problem, but it wouldn’t have taught a lasting lesson.

We can be more effective in teaching our children as we implement this simple pattern. I’m grateful for the scriptures – the best parenting handbook EVER!

Sabbath Day Circus

So, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but I keep putting it off…I’m finally getting around to it.

Generally speaking, I love Sundays. My husband is home. My family is home. Sometimes, I have a few meetings, but otherwise, we are all at home. We are able to enjoy one another and kind of relax. It’s so nice.

HAHA! I always think it’s going to be so nice, but then my kids get a little bored. They want to play Wii. Or they want to watch something that is not okay for Sunday. They start to fight. They complain. They whine. etc. You get the idea. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too.

One morning, at breakfast, the bickering had begun. Kid “B” reported to me, “Mom, [sister] has the plate I wanted. I never get that plate…” I said, “It’s just a plate.” It wasn’t even 8AM, and I was already exasperated. Of course, there was more to the argument (like a little bit of sneakiness on Kid A’s part, but it doesn’t matter right now). I announced to the girls, “Today, after you are ready for church, I have a little surprise for you.”

They were excited. I told my husband my plan – we were going to make them write reports! hahaha! However, I wanted them to be excited about it, so we came up with the title, Sabbath Day Circus.

I found two of their old notebooks, wrote their names on them, drew a little (horrible) picture, and wrote: “Sabbath Day Circus Notes.” (sounds fun, huh?)

Time for fun…

So – I gave each girl a notebook with an topic and writing assignment. My children are 9 and 7. I wasn’t sure how they were going to like this idea, but with the right presentation (Circus! Fun!), they were a little excited.

I wrote their assignments on the first page. If you choose to do this for your children, keep in mind their ability. Here is an example of one of the assignments I gave:

[date] – Topic: Honoring Parents – Write a report on Honoring parents. Who should honor their parents? Why should we honor our parents? When do we honor our parents? Who has told us that we should honor our parents? Why should we honor our parents? How can we honor our parents? If we honor our parents, are we blessed? How are we blessed?”

I gave this topic to my 9-year old – who has been having a little bit of trouble with talking back lately.

Amazingly, she took to it. In fact, here’s the report she wrote. I didn’t help at all…

I’m doing a report on honoring parents. Children honor their parents. We should honor our parents because they teach us to be a righteous person. They also teach us to walk and talk and lots of other things. We should honor our parents all the time. We should honor our parents everywhere we go with them. We should honor them everywhere because then we will feel warm in our hearts. We can honor our parents by being kind, serving them, and a lot more. We will be blessed if we honor our parents. We will be blessed because it’s something Jesus would do. In Colossians 3:20 it says, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleaseing unto the Lord.” That is another thing on how we will be blessed. It is well pleasing unto the Lord. I just did a report on how honoring our parents blesses our lives.

Pretty cool, huh?

So – if you want to do the “Sabbath Day Circus,” here are a few ideas to make it work.

  • Give each child a unique assignment.
    • This is a great way to tailor to the specific needs of each child.
  • Remember to make the assigments very specific.
    • We give the kids a topic for two weeks at a time. For the first week, they write a report. When giving them this assignment, be very specific. If your child is young, they may be new to writing – especially writing reports. So, if you ask a few guiding questions that they can answer, they will begin to see that they can write a report!
    • The week after our children have written a report, they get a creative assignment on the same topic.
      • Poetry – Sometimes, I assign the children to write a poem. You may need to help them a little bit more with it. When assigning a poem, it helps to have a poetic form in mind. You can click here for a list and explanation of poetic forms. Poetry writing (especially rhyming) can be a little difficult for children, so they need a lot of help, but my kids really love writing the poetry. They get excited. So – don’t be afraid to try it. Here’s an example of some poetry that has been written by the kids.
      • (This poem was written completely by Kid A. It is in “Acrostic” format. Children usually can do this on their own. The subject is Fasting)

        For blessings in your life
        A long time till you eat
        Sometimes want to eat
        Tempting not to eat
        It pays off afterward
        No eating for a long time
        Good to do

        (Don’t you love that poem!? It is exactly how fasting can feel sometimes!)

        another:

        (This poem was written by Kid-B – who is seven. Obviously, we had to work together on it. I didn’t write the poem, per se, but I did coach her on things that rhymed. She really felt happy when it was done. Her topic was faith.)

        Faith
        While writing a poem about faith
        I began to think
        Of the time I spent yesterday
        At the roller-rink.

        It may sound funny,
        But I think it’s true
        Skating and faith are alike in many ways –
        Here are a few:

        With skating and faith
        I would suppose
        You must be taught
        By someone who knows.

        Roller skating and faith
        Are both hard to do
        No one else can do it –
        It must be you.

        With roller skating you need balance
        Which is something you feel.
        Faith, like balance, can’t be seen,
        But both are real.

        At first skating and faith are hard-
        You may want to cry
        But you’ll get better if you practice
        And give it a try.

        Getting good at skating and faith
        May take a little while
        But when you can do them
        You will have a great big smile.

      • Sometimes, other than poetry, you may suggest that your children write an original story that displays their topic in some way. I won’t include an example here, but my children have also really loved doing this.
  • Give the children plenty of time to complete their assignment. But don’t force them to take too long either – give them ownership. Then it won’t feel like a chore.
  • Remind them to use their scriptures and topical guides. Encourage them to do as much on their own as possible.
  • Have them present the reports in a fun way – This is The Circus!
  • It may be fun to have a goal – submit a poem or story to the friend or make a goal that after so much has been written, you will type up their work and publish it in a little book. (We will probably do this, eventually).
  • You may want to consider, periodically, participating, too. It may be fun to see what kind of story mom or dad may write.

This may seem like a crazy idea to some people. In fact, when I first presented it to our family, I kind of had this skeptical voice in my head saying, “Have them write reports…are you crazy?!”, but it has worked really well so far. The kids are now busy on Sundays with something that is positive and gospel centered. Yet, they are in control of their work, so they seem to be very happy. They love taking ownership, doing a good job, and then getting a positive response. They have also loved doing the creative assignments.

I have also noticed how this has helped them become more comfortable with the scriptures. They are looking in the topical guide. They are figuring out how to make meaning of the scriptures. And when we do creative assignments, they can apply these principles to real-life scenarios (like roller skating!). So…anyways, I thought I’d share this little tradition we’ve started in our family. Maybe you might like it, too.

***
If you do this, or if you have any other insights, please, let me know…comment and share.

The Mormon Radio Channel

So…I don’t watch much TV. Our TV is downstairs, and out of the way. I used to watch more, but I don’t find myself near the TV, so I rarely turn it on.

That being said, I don’t like having a silent house. I like a little bit of noise, and I prefer the noise to be interesting, if not educational.

This may sound snobby, but I promise I’m not a huge snob. I just don’t like the TV much – mostly because of deep-seeded fears from my childhood. 😉

So – there is a problem for me – I’m a stay at home mom, sometimes in a very quiet house, and I want a little uplifting noise, but I don’t care for TV (plus it’s out of the way). Usually, to remedy this, I’ve listened to the radio – and usually NPR. I’ve always thought that it was like having intelligent, adult conversation in my home. I love it. I love Talk of the Nation (especially Science Friday) and the Diane Rehm Show. But, I have to admit, every once in a while – I want a little variety.

So, I finally got around to checking out the Mormon Channel. Have you listened to it? I’ve got to say – it is Great!. It is totally uplifting and really professional.

You can listen to the channel live – or you can download podcasts. I’ve been listening to the Conversations program. I’ve listened to the first three shows. They have been uplifting, interesting, and totally inspiring. I also feel that I’ve learned quite a bit.

I won’t stop my NPR habit, but the Mormon Channel will be a nice addition to my listening schedule. So check it out…!

July 2010 Visiting Teaching Message

Strengthening Families and Homes

So, when I read the title to this month’s message, I instantly thought of the portion of the Young Women’s theme: “…we will be prepared to strengthen home and family, …” I love how the principles of the gospel are the same. We need to have strong homes and families.

In the message is a quote given by Sister Thompson. Here is a part of it:

“Each of us is in a different family situation. Some families have a mother and father with children at home. Some couples no longer have children at home. Many members of the Church are single, and some are single parents. Others are widows or widowers living alone.

“No matter what our family looks like, each of us can work to strengthen our own families or help in strengthening others.” – Barbara A Thompson

As women in the relief society, we seem to have a special committment to doing strengthening homes and families. Of course, many women in the relief society are mothers – directly. In a moment, I will give an example of something that we do in our family that seem to help me be a better mother.

But before I continue in that, I want to express how important every woman can be in the life of children and how we help each other to strengthen families and homes.

I have a good friend that has been single for some time. She is dedicated to the gospel. She served a mission. She has always been a support to me. We both lived in Utah for some time. While there, I was married and then began to have children. This didn’t change our relationship. We continued to be good friends.

After having my first child, I was having a difficult time with the transition to motherhood. Even though I thought I was prepared for it (ha!), I found that I felt overwhelmed by everything that was expected of me. I was surprised by some of my emotions. I expected to have this instant bond with my child. That didn’t happen. I realized that I didn’t know her yet, and I didn’t know how to be a mother, and that all of it was kind of hard. Add to that the insane hormones, and I had some kind of horrible, emotional post-partum/culture shock stew. (Plus, it was winter…)

Anyway, I had this good friend. She was off of school for a few weeks because of the winter olympics. She was also learning how to snowboard. She called me up to see if I wanted to go. I made arrangements and we went. Then we went again. That season, we probably went 2 times a week! Not only did we spend time sweating on the slopes, but we were able to talk and enjoy one another’s company. We laughed, shared spiritual insights, and I know she helped me bear my burdens (I hope that I was of some help in some way…).

In all of this, I’m not sure if she’s aware, but she helped strengthen MY home and family. I was able to become a better mother because of her friendship and support.

We truly need one another. We can strengthen our homes and families through positive relationships.

***
On another note, I believe that there is a significant way we can strengthen our homes and families, and it is through taking the time to be a little organized and take an hour or so once a week to Spiritually prepare.

I was taught this principle a few years ago by a member of my stake presidency. He advised that we hold a parental counsel. He reminded the adults attending the session, “Heavenly Father Spiritually prepared his week before executing it. We would do well to learn from His example and do the same.”

At the time, I was a single parent. It felt funny having “parental counsel” by myself. But I did it. I made it a formal meeting with me. I had an agenda. (Opening prayer: catania, Scripture: Catania, Items of concern: Catania, Budget: Catania, Closing Prayer: Catania) – It was kind of funny, but effective.

Now, that I’m married, my husband and I hold parental counsel weekly. We discuss our calendar, budget, Items of concern, goals, and we report on past goals/events. We also end each meeting with a “Happy moment from the week.” This is the perfect time for my husband and I to discuss concerns we have – with our family and/or our relationship. And the best part of all, it is in a safe enviornment. We aren’t fighting. Our words aren’t loaded with emotion. We open and close with a prayer. It is a very effective way to communicate, plan, report, and share. It has been such a great thing for both our marriage and our family.

See an example agenda hereTry it out!

***
I’m grateful for this month’s message. I hope we can all strengthen our own homes and families, and also be open enough to help our sisters strengthen their homes and families, too.

Positively

Today, in our Relief Society  meeting, we discussed a talk given by President Thomas S. Monson. In the talk, he included the following story:

Many years ago, a young couple called my office and asked if they could come in for counseling. They indicated they had suffered a tragedy in their lives and that their marriage was in serious jeopardy. An appointment was arranged.

The tension between this husband and wife was apparent as they entered my office. Their story unfolded slowly at first as the husband spoke haltingly and the wife cried quietly and participated very little in the conversation.

The young man had returned from serving a mission and was accepted to a prestigious university in the eastern part of the United States. It was there, in a university ward, that he had met his future wife. She was also a student at the university. After a year of dating, they journeyed to Utah and were married in the Salt Lake Temple, returning east shortly afterward to finish their schooling.

By the time they graduated and returned to their home state, they were expecting their first child and the husband had employment in his chosen field. The wife gave birth to a baby boy. Life was good.

When their son was about 18 months old, they decided to take a short vacation to visit family members who lived a few hundred miles away. This was at a time when car seats for children and seat belts for adults were scarcely heard of, let alone used. The three members of the family all rode in the front seat with the toddler in the middle.

Sometime during the trip, the husband and wife had a disagreement. After all these years, I cannot recall what caused it. But I do remember that their argument escalated and became so heated that they were eventually yelling at one another. Understandably, this caused their young son to begin crying, which the husband said only added to his anger. Losing total control of his temper, he picked up a toy the child had dropped on the seat and flung it in the direction of his wife.

He missed hitting his wife. Instead, the toy struck their son, with the result that he was brain damaged and would be handicapped for the rest of his life.

Thomas S. Monson; October 2009

A super-depressing story, I know, but it is very provocative. It really makes me think about my ability to control my anger. I’m not sure of the circumstance of this couple, but I’m sure that it’s content wasn’t as crucial as the outcome implies. I guess what I’m saying is, usually, when we look back on our anger, we feel kind of dumb about it.

This week, I want to be less upset, angry, irritated, ticked off, whatever. I’ve been noticing how often I may complain – about weather, waking up early, taking care of children all day, whining, not seeing my husband much, etc. It seems like I can always think of something to upset me. But my goal this week is to think more about the things that don’t upset me.

And I mean, I want to think – specifically – of positive things – even in the face of a potentially upsetting situation.

So….

This week, when faced with an upsetting situation, I will do one of the following:
a. Remove myself from the situation until I feel emotionally able to handle it.
b. Choose to empathize – see my situation from the perspective of my ‘antagonist.’
c. Distract myself with something productive.
d. Say a prayer for the Spirit to guide me away from anger, judgement, and criticism.
e. Be happy!!! 🙂

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