Protecting Religious Liberty Protects All Liberty

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La’ie, Hawai’i Temple

In case you didn’t see the title of this post, you can read it again right now…Protecting and religious liberty will protect all liberty.

Liberty

First and foremost, we need to understand what liberty actually is.

Here is a list of the definitions of liberty.

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Liberty is more than the “freedom to.” It is also the “freedom from.” This is an important distinction to make.

Freedom to

This is what we usually think of when we think of liberty of freedom. We have the freedom to choose, act, etc. In the gospel, the “freedom to” do something is agency. We are all blessed with agency. God loves and is the great protector of our agency. He doesn’t interfere greatly with our lives, but lets us choose as we will, even if it is something that will not please Him.

I also believe in freedom to choose, speak, think, believe, and exercise faith.

“Freedom to” act is not where freedom and liberty end. It is only the beginning.

Freedom From

As I mentioned earlier, God loves and is the great Protector of our agency. This is why He has given us commandments. Commandments and covenants aren’t arbitrary rules of a power hungry God. Instead, they are the “hacks” that enable us to live lives of liberty.

The commandments will keep us free from addiction, pain, strife, captivity and constraint. When we keep the commandment to forgive others, then our hearts are free from the captivity of anger and revenge. We then are better able to think and act.

In other words, “freedom from” helps to keep us “free to.” We become agents to act rather than be acted upon.

Liberty enables us to act rather than react to circumstances or actions of others. Liberty enables us to live abundant rich lives rather than live lives that may be indulgent but are riddled with addiction.

When we start to understand what liberty is, we naturally want to protect it.

The Constitution Protects Religious Liberty

It seems like people love to say that there is a “separation between church and state” as if religion needs to stay out of the government. The irony is that the first amendment of the constitution was written so that the government would stay out of religion.

In the Bill of Rights, we read:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” – Amendment I, Bill of Rights, The Constitution of the United States of America

These are the first words of the first amendment in the Bill of Rights. Remember that the Constitution wouldn’t have been ratified without the Bill of Rights.

I mean just think about the  phrase – Bill of Rights… These are our RIGHTS!

And according to this amendment, the separation of church and state is all about congress and the government staying out of the business of any church.

Congress can neither make a law to establish religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. Right now, we are being subjected to a potential loss of this right. Religious rights are being jeopardized.

If our government can create laws that will nullify this first amendment, then what will stop our government from stripping away other rights?

Patterns

Today, I was blessed to hear the words of a living apostle, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. He spoke on protecting religious freedom. He gave an example from The Book of Mormon. About 90 years before the birth of Christ, on the American continent, a democratic republic was organized by a dying king. King Mosiah didn’t have anyone to pass the kingdom on to (all of his sons were serving missions and refused). He decided to create a system of judges that would govern the land. These judges would be elected by the people.

Today, Elder Holland and quoted the following scripture:

“Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.” – Mosiah 29:26-27

This is an oft-quoted scripture, and most Mormons are relatively familiar with it. I believe that it’s true, too. There is safety in democratic practices because usually the majority of the people desire that which is right. Even if we don’t all believe in the same God or religion, most of us believe in the sanctity of life. Most of us believe we should be kind. Most of us think that lying and stealing is wrong.

Most of us, even if we go by different names and religions, still want that which is right.

But things change. And King Mosiah warned that when the majority of the people choose iniquity, then they will be visited with the judgments of God.

As I said, many are familiar with this scripture. Elder Holland recognized this fact, and then invited us to read a related, though less familiar scripture.

This scripture happens about 120 years after King Mosiah had created a democratic system. The people are still being governed by judges, but some changes have happened.

“And it came to pass that in this same year, behold, Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram.

For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.” – Helaman 5:1-2

Notice the last phrase in the second verse, “for the laws had become corrupted.”

As I read this and thought about the warning given by King Mosiah, I wondered – what came first? The wicked majority voice or the corruption of laws???

We are at a crossroads now. Activist judges and loud minorities are influencing laws – even laws that will prohibit religious liberty and limit the personal liberties of all who live here. I believe that the majority of people now desire that which is right, but if our laws begin to change, then how will it impact us?

If we elect those who both influence us negatively and limit our liberties, then we may start to see a change. We might witness a majority who choose evil over good.

Again – remember choosing evil over good doesn’t mean everyone is a Christian. It means that we will see more people who choose to cheat others (eg: Wall Street circa 2007???), we will see more people care little about human life and rights (eg: Any war torn country right now!.) When we have a majority that chooses evil over right, we will self destruct. So we must protect our liberties now – our religious liberties, so we can continue to be an innovative, vibrant, and abundant society.

***
I feel like I need to end this with some kind of advice on how to protect religious liberty. Here are a few ideas. They come from a talk given by the Apostle, Robert D. Hales.

  1. Be informed – Get involved with the community to know what issues could have an impact on religious liberty. I must confess that I haven’t always done this in the past, but I will start now. This is such an obvious place to start.If you are reading this post and thinking that what I’m writing is nonsense, then take a few minutes to inform yourself – find out what is happening in regards to religious liberties. There is no need for anxiety, but becoming educated is crucial for any other kind of action.
  2. In your individual capacity, join with others who share our commitment to religious freedom. – I like this – in your capacity. Today, I’m using my capacity by writing a blog post. You are using your capacity by reading it, and you could even choose to share it. Perhaps your capacity is greater. You could volunteer for a political figure or cause that will support religious freedom. I don’t have that kind of time right now. If you are a mother of young children, your “capacity” might include teaching your children. There is something that each of us can do. Share an article on facebook. Share a quote on Instagram. Donate time or money to a cause that supports religious freedom. Any bit helps. Just do what you can.
  3. Live your life to be a good example of what you believe As Elder Hales said, “How we live our religion is far more important than what we may say about our religion.” Isn’t that the truth?! Becoming informed and getting involved really won’t matter much if you aren’t living right. Does this mean we have to be perfect? No! No one is perfect. But doing our best to live our religion will help to preserve religious liberty because it shows to others precisely why preserving this liberty is so important. We should be the kind of people that others want to live with. 🙂

Thanks for reading this long post. I hope it has been helpful and hopeful to you. I hope that you are inspired to stand fast in the liberties wherewith we have been made free – no matter your religious background. I hope that you will join me in rejoicing in and protecting our precious liberty.

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Faith and the “Reality Distortion Field”

Something pretty for this post...Even though it really has nothing to do with it at all. :)

Something pretty for this post…Even though it really has nothing to do with it at all.

In the most recent General Conference, President Monson stated the following:

“May we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary – a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right. Without such faith, we go nowhere. With it, we can accomplish our goals.”

As you probably know (if you read this blog often), I could write an essay of at least 3,000 words on this subject. But I’m striving for brevity. So, here are a few thoughts on the faith we need to help inform our choices and empower us to accomplish our goals.

In our society, it may be tempting to think of faith as some kind of quaint virtue, or perhaps something even worse.

Faith is the first principle of the gospel. It is a subject we hear about time and time again.

Faith is a virtue, but it isn’t relegated to moral interests. Faith is real power. (By the way, virtue is power – not just something for boring, prudish people! You can read more about virtue here.)

Without faith that a seed will sprout, we won’t keep watering it, fertilizing it, and nourishing it. Therefore, without the vision, or faith, of what a seed will be, though that vision is so different than the seed itself, the seed will never become a plant.

Because faith is a true principle and power, we see can faith at work – not only in a religious sense, but in any case.

Let’s take Steve Jobs, for example. It was often said that he had a “reality distortion field.” The “reality distortion field” or “RDF” is described as follows:

“RDF was said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible. (Reality Distortion Field, Wikipedia)

There is plenty of criticism regarding Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” but the fact also remains: he believed a personal computer could be created. And it was created. He believed that they could figure out a way to put all of your songs in your pocket, and with the iPod, they did.

Later, now that we have been able to enjoy the success of Jobs’ ability to “distort” reality, we celebrate him as a visionary. We say this as if Jobs possessed some kind of magical ability. I don’t think that gives him enough credit. It really isn’t easy to “distort reality.”

I believe that this “reality distortion field” could be renamed to faith. Faith seems to “distort” our present knowledge and lead us to believe that with God, anything is possible.

Of course, faith is not a distortion. Alma teaches,

“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, emphasis added

Notice the last phrase – which are true. We learn more about truth in Doctrine and Covenants:

“And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” – Doctrine and Covenants 93:24

Though faith doesn’t often seem to coincide with our current notion of reality, faith is a belief in that which is true – past, present, or future. And the truth is, we don’t know everything right now. There is so much we can’t see, so much we can’t sense. Relying only on what we currently know and experience is an actual and incredibly detrimental distortion of reality. A distortion of true reality – past, present, or future – will result in our impotence.

So, how do we develop the faith that empowers? How do we choose to distort what we think we know now and believe in something that is yet to happen?

We can simply put our faith in God. He is our Father. He knows all. He created all. He does have all of the information. He will enable us to sense and see what we need to know in our lives – even if what He reveals to us isn’t aligned with our current sense of “reality.”

When we exercise our faith, we may be misunderstood. Some may say that our “reality” seems “distorted,” but with faith in God, reality is never distorted. God isn’t bound by time – past, present, or future. He sees and knows all now. Through the Holy Ghost, and according to His will, our Heavenly Father can impart with us the knowledge we must know in order to achieve our goals. In other words, with faith, we can also become “visionaries.”

I don’t know…when I think about faith this way, it just seems so powerful. Why wouldn’t we want to develop it?!?!

We are Children of God

I was assigned to give a talk today in church. I feel like it went well enough. In my opinion, we always learn more from the process of preparing a talk than anyone who hears it. However, if you are interested in what I said in church today, read on…

As you can guess, I received a call from the Bishop, and he asked me to speak in church. When I informed my family of my assignment, they inquired, “What are you supposed to speak on?”

I answered, “Just my thoughts or something inspired from the talks in General Conference. I’m not sure what I’ll speak on yet.”

My seven-year old daughter leapt up and said, “I know!” She got a piece of paper and went to the table. About ten minutes later, she produced this:

Isn't the cutest thing? She actually wrote a talk for me!

Isn’t the cutest thing? She actually wrote a talk for me!

I felt that my daughter made a good thesis that I will expand on:

We will live with our Father in Heaven again.

From this statement, which could have been written by any of the seven year old, the following points are implied:

    1. We have a Father in Heaven
    2. Our lives have an eternal potential
      • Which Heavenly Father has made possible for each of us.

We Have a Father in Heaven; We Are Children of God

In the book of Moses, we have a detailed account of Mosess’ experience speaking with God face-to-face on a high mountain.

We read:

“And he saw God face to face, and talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.” – Moses 1:2

So – Moses was on a high mountain, speaking to God – a being so glorious and powerful that Moses wasn’t able to endure God’s presence without holy intervention. God had to bestow some of His glory on Moses for Moses to handle His presence!

The Lord then made a declaration about Himself – that He is the Lord, God Almighty – and then asked Moses a question:

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?” – Moses 1:3

An interesting question. And let’s think about it for a second.

Some people come to this earth and have very short lives. My brother was born on October 28, 1992, and only 18 years later, he passed away on June 11, 2011. Like every inhabitant on this earth, his days were numbered.

Others live long lives. My grandmother was born on October 27, 1929 and she passed away on October 9, 2015. She lived a good 85, nearly 86 years, but this is, by no means endless. Like all who lived before her or after, her days had a beginning and an end.

Moses, who lived in anciently was acquainted with this pattern we all know – people are born, they live, and then they die. And yet he was speaking face to face with a glorious being that was also endless.

Immediately after asking this question, as Moses is bathed in God’s glory just to be able to endure His presence, the Lord then says to Moses:

“And, behold, thou art my son; …” – Moses 1:4

Now imagine Moses – who had not been raised by his own parents, but had been raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter knowing that he was not her biological child. We know that Moses’s mother was able to help nurse him as a small child, but I don’t know that Moses had any relationship afterward with his biological parents. He was raised as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter.

By the time Moses had this experience with God, he was in the desert – having been banished by the people who had raised him; having been rejected by the ones who might have been closest to resembling a father and a mother.

And then, there, face-to-face, transfigured by the power of God to endure His presence, Moses learned of his divine identity. He is a son of God.

***

One summer night, when I was about 12 years old, I was sleeping outside, in the yard, in a tent. I’m not sure if it was the darkness of night or for some other reason, but I was feeling lonely. I was at my dad’s house. Now, I’m the only child of my dad’s that’s not biologically his. Sometimes this fact troubled me. That night, I lay there in the tent, under my “California Raisin” sleeping bag, and I couldn’t fall asleep. Confused and sad, trying to understand my identity and place in my family, I looked up to the sky, and then I saw lightning.

I am a classic fraidey-cat, and when I was 12, I was especially scared of dark, ominous situations like these. I saw the lightning, and counted for thunder. It never came. However, I kept thinking, “I need to get up and get in the house.” The yard was dark and scary, and my sleeping bag was safe-ish and warm. I was too scared to move, let alone leave the tent.

The thought came to say a prayer.

I said a prayer, and I was overwhelmed with love. The threat of a storm wasn’t in my mind. In fact, the prayer that was answered had less to do with my fear of the lightning, and more about how I was feeling before-hand. In that moment, I felt God’s love, and I knew that I was a Daughter of God. Though I couldn’t pinpoint my biological identity, it didn’t matter because at that moment, I knew that I was a daughter of God.

I wish I could impart the comfort this knowledge gave me. I can’t adequately describe the deep peace that such a witness gives. All I can say is that I know I’m a daughter of God. I know He loves me, and that He knows me, personally.

It doesn’t end with Moses nor does it end with me. We are all children of God.

Imagine if we all really understood this simple truth.

In his conference talk, Elder Hallstrom stated:

“In today’s world, no matter where we live and no matter what our circumstances are, it is essential that our preeminent identity is as a child of God. Knowing that will allow our faith to flourish, will motivate our continual repentance, and will provide the strength to be steadfast and immovable throughout our mortal journey.” – Elder Donald A. Hallstrom

Our Lives Have an Eternal Potential

When we come to realize that we are children of God, then we then start to glimpse other truths: our lives didn’t begin the day we were born, but we had a spiritual existence with God before coming to Earth. Additionally, after we die, our spirits will live on.

Heavenly Father, speaking face-to-face with Moses taught:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39

It is important to understand that God’s work is not only a spiritual work. His work is that both our bodies and spirits will be immortal. His glory is that we will be able to live with Him again.

We often hear about the promise of Elijah as recorded in Malachi – that Elijah “shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers,…” (Malachi 4:6). I have always thought of this within the context of our earthly families – both immediate and extended. I’ve thought of my heart being turned to my ancestors and their hearts turned to me. I’ve thought of my heart being turned toward my children and posterity, and their hearts turned back to me.

I hate to admit that I’ve never considered that this promise applies also to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father’s heart is continually turned toward each of us. In fact, it is turned towards each of us so much so that His entire purpose: His work – and His glory is our immortality and eternal life. For Him, it is all about us.

Eternal Life is Possible Through Christ

After telling Moses His work and His Glory, the Lord taught Moses about the creation and the fall of Adam.

If you think about it, this line of teaching is kind of puzzling. Our Heavenly Father’s work and glory is our immortality and eternal life, so He works for our eternal life. To expand on this teaching, the Lord tells Moses that He created a world. He created our first parents. He placed them in the Garden of Eden, and then He allowed them to be…tempted?…And they fell?…They became susceptible to death?…They were cut off from God? How is death – both spiritual and physical – a fulfillment of God’s work and glory?

Lehi explains:

“And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.”

“And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.”

“But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” – 2 Nephi 2:22-25

The fall was a necessary part of our immortality and eternal life. Without the fall, we wouldn’t be here right now. When the Lord allowed Adam and Eve to fall, His heart was turned toward them and us. It most likely pained our Father to have his crowning creations, His son and daughter, cut off from Him. But His heart was turned toward Adam and Eve – even as they were banished from the Garden of Eden and His presence.

Heavenly Father, with His heart turned toward Adam, Eve, and all of us, knew that we, because of the fall, were susceptible to death and hell – the antithesis of immortality and eternal life. So, He prepared a solution.

Lehi continues:

“And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall…” – 2 Nephi 2:26

Likewise, we learn in the gospel of John:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

We are children of God and capable of living with God eternally through the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul teaches:

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:”

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;…” – Romans 8:16-17

What a heritage and what a future! This knowledge – that we are children of God and capable of eternal life – empowers us.

We can look back again to Moses’s experience. The account of the Lord speaking to Moses face-to-face in Moses 1 happened on the mountain of the Lord, before Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. I can’t imagine Moses having the strength or faith to complete His divine mission without such knowledge.

He had to lead a people that were his by blood but not necessarily by experience. He had to go back to the Pharaoh, where he had been raised, and fight for those whom his adoptive people had oppressed for so long. Then he had to lead the children of Israel away from a powerful Egyptian force, and through a sea! Oh – all of this while Moses had a speaking problem!

If you look at Moses’s story without a spiritual perspective, all of the odds are against Him. Yet he was enabled to complete his work because of one simple fact taught to Him by God. As Moses himself stated:

“For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten;” – Moses 1:13

This knowledge helped Moses fend off the temptations of the Devil, it helped Moses as he bargained with the Pharaoh, it helped him deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt, it helped him cross the Red Sea on dry ground, and more.

When we know our spiritual identity – that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father, we, like Moses, are empowered and enabled to do great work in our lives. This knowledge can give us identity, peace, and purpose. It will strengthen us during our own trials. It will propel us to do what we were sent here to do.

If we all had the simple knowledge that we are beloved children of God – well, it would change the world.

We are children of God with the potential to live an eternal life through the love of God and the eternal sacrifice of His Son. Our little primary children know this. And we can know this. We can internalize this truth, and we can experience the power that comes from knowing He is our Father and that He loves us.

How have you come to know that you are a child of God and that He loves you? How might you strengthen your relationship with God and your knowledge that you are one of his beloved children?

Healing Words

I love the idea of Christ as our master healer. I think that it is because I have needed it so much in my life.

I have experienced self-inflicted wounds (through sin), I’ve experienced the pain that comes from the choices of another. Additionally, I’ve experienced the pain that accompanies our mortal lives.

So – pain that comes from our own sins – while it isn’t easy to deal with, it is a bit easier to accept (at least logically). I mean, we know that we do it to ourselves. We may not like it, but a+b=c and when we are in control of the equation, we can’t very well go around blaming others. (Even though we might). What I’m trying to say is – in relationship with the Atonement – it is obvious to me that the Atonement will heal us from the sins that we have committed.

This is a very sublime blessing, too. I don’t want to downplay that!

I love this quote and reminder from President Packer:

<3 Boyd K. Packer

❤ Boyd K. Packer

What I find especially comforting about this quote, and about the Atonement, is that it will heal all who follow Him, and that it heals us from so much more than our own sin caused self-inclicted wounds.

When I was in a bad marriage, years ago, and when I found out about my ex-husband’s double life, I found myself grappling with how to heal. It was the Atonement that enabled me to pick up the pieces of a sham of a marriage, find healing, and eventually meet and marry Homey.

So – the Atonement can heal us from the sins of others. What a blessing. How many of us suffer because of the choice another person made? It isn’t fair, but the Atonement will help to make up for that unfairness.

Finally, what I really love, when I think about this quote and the Atonement – is how the Atonement can heal us when we suffer the trials of mortality. I mean the ones that aren’t directly caused by any one thing or person. These trials are real, and they are often so hard to deal with.

For example, a few years ago, my younger brother passed away. He died in a freak accident. There is no one to blame. He didn’t do something stupid. He didn’t commit a sin that would then potentially cause death. His death was not the result of another’s poor decision.

It was an accident.

It was one of those characteristic moments of mortality. (They are always so much easier to deal with and appreciate when they are someone else’s characteristic moment.)

These “moments” are experienced by all of us. Perhaps they might not be as drastic as death. But we get sick. We get hurt. We see loved ones die. And it is hard to understand why this is happening.

The Atonement may not always answer why we must go through these experiences, but it will heal us. And what else can offer that? There is potential for justice (and supposed healing) when I think of righting my own sins or when someone else sins against me. But when it is just life being life, we can’t go after anyone for justice. We can’t find healing by “righting a wrong.” There was no wrong committed to right. Healing can seem impossible.

Yet we can be healed of these difficulties and pains, and it is through the Master Healer, Jesus Christ. If we will turn to Him, then He will always heal us.

He will heal us when even when we rebel against Him and sin.

He will heal us when another person’s selfish choice hurts us.

He will heal us when there is no one but nature to blame.

Jesus pleads:

“O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” – 3 Nephi 9:13, emphasis added

I’m so grateful for the reminder that, if I will simply turn to Christ, then He will heal me. I know that He will heal you, too.

***
How have you felt the healing power of the Atonement in your life?

Abide With Me

So, this is, hands-down, one of my favorite hymns of all time. This video is a rendition sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Several years ago, I was a member of a ward choir, and we sang a simple version of this song. I hadn’t participated in many ward choirs prior to this one, and was surprised and the spirit I felt when we practiced this song.

As I sang the line, “Oh Savior, stay this night with me, behold ’tis eventide.” I felt like I understood why those two simple disciples on the road to Emmaus would implore the Savior to stay with them. When I sang the song, I felt like begging for the same blessing. Even though I haven’t physically walked and talked with the Savior, I have felt His Spirit. I have felt His love and peace. Feeling the love of Christ, feeling His peace, is something that we can access all the time, but it seems like the strength of the feelings ebb and flow. There are times when we can feel His presence stronger than others. This may be due to our own worthiness (sin really diminishes feeling close to the Savior) or our circumstances (when I’m in spin class, even though I’m not doing anything wrong, it is a different environment, not a very spiritual one).

The ebb and flow of these feelings are okay (I think). I mean, that’s life, right? But still, I understand how it is to feel like I want the Savior to stay with me, His love is peaceful, reassuring, calming, and … well, I can’t adequately describe it.

And even though I’ve witnessed for myself that Christ loves me, even though I know that I’ve felt the Spirit in my life, there are times when I forget His love, and I feel lonely and distant from The Savior. I wonder why I can’t feel His Spirit as strongly as I would like. I even begin to doubt my testimony. I have faith that He is the Savior, but sometimes I wonder, “Do I know? Will I ever really know? These thoughts give way to frustration, and I wonder if I will ever grow spiritually, or if I will always be waffling around between knowledge and doubt.

Recently, President Eyring gave a really great talk in General Conference. In it he reminds us of Christ’s invitation:

“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” – Doctrine and Covenants 88:63

This is a good reminder. If we draw near unto Christ, then He will draw near unto each of us. If we seek Him, then we will find Him. If we ask, we’ll receive. If we knock, then the door will be opened. It’s a pretty good promise.

There are so many ways that we can draw near unto the Savior. We can study the scriptures, we can pray. I like to go to the temple. But the thing is, even as I’m trying to draw nearer to the Savior, sometimes I feel like I can’t get near enough. Like there is something I need to learn. I tend to get a lot out of scripture study, but it is a cerebral understanding of the gospel–it is very intellectualized.

It is harder for me to pray because it is abstract, and sometimes I’m not the most “feely” kind of person. But I still pray, and I know that if I could do a little less analyzing and intellectualizing, and instead let myself feel, then I might be able to recognize that the Lord has drawn near unto me.

When I go to the temple or to my church services, again, I intellectually know that I’m serving the Lord. I feel the Spirit, and have a rush of enlightenment and excitement, and this is good. But I want to learn how to make the feeling last.

Above all, I want my faith in Christ to turn into sure knowledge. I want to know – not only with my head, but also with my heart. I want to know with my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and…even kidneys.

***
Back to President Eyring’s talk…

President Eyring concludes with this brilliant testimony.

Pretty Awesome, huh?!

Pretty Awesome, huh?!


I love this testimony. Every single time I hear it or read it, I feel the Spirit confirm to me that what President Eyring is saying is both true, and that his testimony is special. I realize that even though I’m kind of like a “toddler” when it comes to spirituality and testimony, there are people who are adults. There are people who know, and they can guide and comfort me with their knowledge. We are blessed with apostles and prophets who do know Christ: with their hearts and brains…AND…eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and even kidneys.

In the Mormon church, our leadership is unique in that the Prophet and Apostles aren’t a bunch of men who are simply interested in the gospel and have gone to seminaries to study the scriptures. They aren’t paid to live in Christ’s service. These are ordinary men. They have families and jobs. They grew up with testimonies of Christ and of Heavenly Father, and with a commitment to serve Him. Over time, they have grown in the gospel. Eventually, each of these apostles and prophet received a calling (from God, not as a product of their campaigning to receive such a calling) to be His special witness. They are not unlike Peter, James, or John, who were hand-selected to be “fishers of men”.

Like the ancient apostles, President Eyring and other apostles bear testimony of Christ. In this talk I feel like President Eyring is trying to convince us to believe that Christ lives–because he knows it. It isn’t his hunch or “feeling.” President Eyring knows that Christ lives as surely as did those two disciples who traveled to Emmaus knew – when their eyes were opened and they physically beheld the Savior.

When my testimony in the Savior begins to falter, and I wonder if He hears my prayers, if He loves me, if He can bless me in my times of need, I know that I can take comfort in the testimony of the Apostles and Prophet. Yes Christ does live. There are people on this earth who know this for sure, and I can trust in their witness.

My faith is strengthened by the testimony of those who are true witnesses of the living Christ.

***
Do you believe in Christ? Have you had experiences when you have felt the Savior draw near unto you? What do you do to strengthen your faith in Him? How does it make you feel to know that there are people on this earth who have had experiences with the Savior and can witness of Him, personally?

We Are Daughters of Our Heavenly Father

Don't You Love Her?!

Don’t You Love Her?!

As you may know, my oldest daughter turns twelve next month. I’ve been thinking about it a lot for well over a year, now. I’m feeling excited, scared, worried, happy…a little bit of everything. Last week, Tiger went to girl’s camp. I’ve been working feverishly on her Gospel Art Book (more updates to come on that very soon). I’ve been thinking about her testimony, how I’m pretty much handing everything over to her now. Of course, I know that I still have a profound impact and influence on her life, but I also know that she is going to have to rely less on “borrowed light” and begin to cultivate a testimony of her own. This scares me. Not in an I don’t trust her way, or even in an I don’t trust God way. But in a did I do enough? way.

Oh…and I don’t want to forget to mention…18 months after Tiger turns 12, Panda will be 12. I feel like it’s showtime.

So, they’re maturation and upcoming exposure to new temptations, experimentation, and soul-searching has got me thinking. What am I teaching them now? What do I need to impart above and beyond everything else? If there is only one thing that they really learn in the next six years, what should it be?

I think that Sister Dalton’s talk from this last General Conference (“We Are Daughters of Our Heavenly Father”) is the best place to start. If there is anything I want my children to know, it is that they are beloved Daughters of God.

Our Identity: Daughters of God

Regarding the statement made by young women each Sunday: That we are daughters of Heavenly Father- who loves us- and we love Him, Sister Dalton says:

“It is not only an affirmation of our identity—who we are—but also an acknowledgment of whose we are. We are daughters of an exalted being!”

I love this idea: Who we are and whose we are.

You may already be aware that there are times when I’ve got a bit of this whole “identity crisis” thing going. For the first 31 years of my life, I didn’t know my biological father. Although I was raised by a good man, a great father, I still didn’t really know who I was. The knowledge of my biological father remained a mystery for me. I didn’t want to replace my dad (who had adopted me). I love him. But there is something about not knowing your physical parent.

Because of this experience (and a few other experiences that I don’t really want to get into here), I found myself going to my Heavenly Father. Though I felt confused by my physical situation of fathers, step-fathers, and adopted fathers, I knew that there was no confusion in regards to my spiritual ancestry. I knew, and I know that I’m a daughter of God. This knowledge buoyed me up during times of difficulty and depression.

So much hope and peace comes from this simple fact: that we are daughters of Heavenly Father who loves us.

From Identity to Purpose

I have found that when I become more sure of my own identity–especially spiritual identity, then I also become more aware of my purpose as a daughter of God. In fact, I’m solidly sure of my divine nature: I know that I have a Heavenly Father, and I know that he loves me. Because I know this, I know that my creation and coming to this earth was not an accident. As a bi-product of this knowledge, I know that I have a divine purpose, and that He expects me to do the work that I was sent here to do. I feel that the same is true for all of us.

And, this is my personal belief, but I also think that as we grow closer to the Lord, His Spirit inspires our desire to do the work that we have been sent here to do.

I love what Sister Dalton teaches:

“As daughters of God we are each unique and different in our circumstances and experiences. And yet our part matters—because we matter. Our daily contributions of nurturing, teaching, and caring for others may seem mundane, diminished, difficult, and demeaning at times, and yet as we remember that first line in the Young Women theme—“We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us”—it will make all the difference in our relationships and our responses.”

We do have a divine purpose and work to complete. Yet, we are not all expected to do the same thing. We have unique circumstances and unique expectations.

The thing I love about this quote by Sister Dalton is that she recognizes the importance of the “little things” that we do–how these “little things” matter to Heavenly Father precisely because we matter.

This is so hard for me to remember. As I spend my life changing diapers, wiping noses, saying things like, “please don’t lick the carpet”, driving to activities, stopping fights, cooking, cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning, I have to remember that what I’m doing matters. It matters that we live in a clean home, that my kids are clean, that they are developing, getting along, and eating. Though what I do may not seem powerful or important, I’m changing lives, one at a time.

Last night, T-Rex was in a crazy mood. (Cute but Crazy!) Homey wasn’t feeling well, and I wanted to help keep the T-Rex out of Homey’s hair. We made brownies. Then he was back to harassing his dad. So, I scooped this little two-year-old boy up into my arms and took him to the piano. We started playing and singing all of his favorite primary songs. Song after song. He patiently sat on my lap as we sang. It was one of rare those moments where I was able to recognize the blessing as it was occurring. I loved listening to the T-Rex’s voice quietly sing along with me (using his extra-cute-hard-to-decipher words).

What I was doing wasn’t really important–in a worldly way. It lasted only a few minutes. We didn’t sing particularly well or to practice for some upcoming event. The dishes still needed to be done, and the dinner needed cooking. But the T-Rex and I sat, singing, and spending time together. And though it wasn’t important in a worldly way, I knew it mattered. It mattered to me. It mattered to T-Rex. It mattered to Homey. Above all, It mattered to God. Though I can’t quantify my experience in dollars, I know it was more valuable than most material things.

I write this because it’s hard for me to remember that what I’m doing matters. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Sometimes I forget that singing a few songs, happily together, is more important than checking instagram (again).

From Identity to Purpose to Power

Some people have this mistaken notion that the women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are unempowered, belittled, and side-lined. Of course, the idea that women are marginalized in the church is nothing more than a fallacy.

Sister Dalton recounts her mother’s experience:

“She kept her covenants, and because she did, she called down the powers of heaven to bless our home and to send miracles. She relied on the power of prayer, priesthood, and covenant promises.”

We see a pattern here: When we keep our covenants, we receive power. This is how it works. The power of the Lord–the Power of the Priesthood–infuses our lives when we make and keep covenants. Sister Julie B. Beck reminded us: “Don’t confuse the power with the keys and the offices of the priesthood..” She continues to explain:

“God’s power is limitless and it is shared with those who make and keep covenants. Too much is said and misunderstood about what the brothers have and the sisters don’t have. This is Satan’s way of confusing both men and women so neither understands what they really have. Sisters and brothers each have every ordinance, every gift, and every blessing available to them to get back to our Father in Heaven, and no one, male or female, is left outside of those blessings to qualify for exaltation.” Julie B. Beck (2011 BYU Women’s Conference

The Lord empowers us through the covenants we make. I think that another name for this power that the Lord blesses us with is virtue.

Sister Dalton states, “Virtue is the strength and power of daughters of God.” This power is within us because we are daughters of God. When we understand our identity and begin to fulfill our purpose, we are blessed with an enabling power. Virtue garnishes our thoughts, words, and actions, and we become the kind of woman whose value is “far above rubies.” As we become virtuous, powerful women, we learn more of our identity and purpose, which strengthens our power for good.

***

This is a long blog post…sorry about that…but it is what I want my daughter to understand. It is what I’m still seeking to understand and put into effect in my own life. We are daughters of God. We have a divine purpose and responsibility. As we make and keep covenants, and as we do our duty, we are blessed with power and virtue. And the best part of all: this procession will make us happy.

***

Check out sister Dalton’s talk here. What stood out to you? What do you think about the identity of women as daughters of God? Their purpose? Their power?

Also, click here to learn more about women in the Church.

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ

Last year, our newly called General Relief Society President gave a talk at the Relief Society Broadcast titled, Is Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ Written in our Hearts? During Sister Burton’s talk, she gave three principles of the Atonement that would help us increase faith in Jesus Christ. The three principles included:

One: All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Two: There is power in the Atonement to enable us to overcome the natural man or woman and become true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Three: The Atonement is the greatest evidence we have of the Father’s love for His children.

When I listened to the talk, I felt an immediate rush of gratitude and love for this new Relief Society President. Personally, I loved Sister Beck (Sister Burton’s predecessor), and I couldn’t really imagine loving another Relief Society President so much. But she gave this powerful talk which confirmed to me that she was the new General Relief Society President–called by God. I was grateful for both the witness and the talk she gave. It was just what I needed. (Isn’t that always the way?!)

After the conference, I talked to a friend about the Atonement. She suggested I do a “scripture study series” on the Atonement. I laughed it off…I mean all of the scriptures are about the Atonement. The task seemed impossible! Even though I knew I couldn’t do a scripture study series on the Atonement, I also knew that there was something I should work on…

A friend of mine -who is a Relief Society President – sent me an email shortly after the Relief Society Broadcast. I will share a part of it with you here, (I hope that she doesn’t mind!)

“Did you just love the RS meeting Saturday night? I thought it was amazing and realized I need to strengthen my testimony in the areas Sister Burton talked about. The question I went away with was about the first principle of the Atonement she spoke of, that all that is unfair about life can and will be made right through the Atonement. Can that be true during this life or is it meant to be looked at in an eternal perspective? I have complete faith that it will be taken care of after this life. I’m not there for this life though and sometimes it makes me feel unfaithful. I see so much trouble and pain in my calling as I work with the sisters in our ward, that I can’t see how it can be solved in this life. It would take a miracle. And then I think well, that’s what I should have faith in, that she (the generic, composite she) will let God make a miracle in their life, that she will follow gospel principles, that she will get her act together through the power of Jesus Christ. But the odds are not in her favor at all. Drug use, bad choices, ignorance, a lifetime of bad habits, mental illness etc. It is all stacked against her. I have faith that the atonement can fix those things, but there’s so much personal participation required, I guess that’s where the disconnect lies. Any thoughts?

I saw Sister Burton’s talk as a personal challenge; not just to strengthen others testimony of those principles, but really work on my own.”

When I read this email, especially this part, it galvanized what I was feeling as I watched the talk Sister Burton gave. It gave me even more insight. I know that in a way, I trust that the Atonement is powerful. Yet I reassessed my faith. Do I have faith–even of a mustard seed? What do I really know about the Atonement. Do I truly understand and even trust the three principles that Sister Burton gave? How can I strengthen my faith and testimony–not only of Christ–but of His infinite Atonement?

At about the same time, I had started on a project–creating a Scripture Study Companion of the New Testament. While working on this, it hit me. As a part of the scripture study companion, I would create exercises for each chapter of the New Testament that included an in-depth study of the Atonement. I had this feeling (and I still do) that everything in Christ’s life can teach us about the Atonement…sometimes it takes a little probing, but we can learn more.

The point of all of this is to invite you to also complete this course of Study: The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ.

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ


You can find the assignments in each chapter of the Scripture Study Companions that I’ve published. They can be downloaded for free and are available in various formats.
Click here to download the New Testament Study Companion: Matthew
Click here to download the New Testament Study Companion: Mark

Luke and John will be coming soon.

I will be writing a couple of times a week here on my blog–about my own study experiences. I will include the exercise/assignment. And my own thoughts. I’d love it if you studied and also shared your own insights. I’m hoping that we can follow Sister Burton’s charge to better understand the Atonement and have this knowledge written on our hearts so our faith and love in Christ can be strengthened and we can be strengthened as we navigate the trials of our lives.

Hope for the Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing (and others)

Yesterday, I was on the phone with my sister when she said, “Oh my gosh. Catania. Did you hear about what happened in Boston? At the Boston Marathon?”
“No. What’s up?”
“It was bombed.”

I couldn’t believe it. I went to the computer and found a news story. Instantly, my heart ached for the people who were suffering and worrying. My dad works in Boston, and I have to admit that I was happy to remember that he was out of town. Then, I started thinking about the race. A few years ago, I ran a marathon in Baltimore, MD. I have to say, the event was amazing. There were thousands of people lined up in the streets, running…running for their health, running because they are competitive, running to honor passed friends, running to raise money for diseases. It seemed to me that every person out there was running for a good reason. Most people who run a marathon won’t come close to winning, but they’re still there–happy to run. Running a marathon is about discipline, mental toughness, physical exertion, and accomplishment. It’s really amazing.

When I thought of Boston, I thought of all the people-who in one second were reveling in the denouement of months of training. Then, the next second, they were afraid for their lives. This doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

I don’t understand terrorists. I don’t understand how people could be filled with so much hate and anger. I don’t understand the darkness of a soul that would choose to hurt so many people at random. It honestly makes no logical sense to me. Why can’t we let happy people be happy? Why is it that there are so many people who want to pull others down rather than build each other up? My mind aches when I think of those who have been hurt.

This Boston situation isn’t all, either. It seems like there is always something horrible happening. School shootings. Bombings. Drug Wars. Kidnapping. Child Abuse. I could go on, but I won’t. We already know it all.

Today, I went on a run/hike in the trails near my home. It was a gloriously beautiful morning. I had been thinking of those in Boston as I began my own ascent into the hills. It felt good to breathe hard, to feel my thighs sting, as I climbed. I prayed for a while as I ran. Then, listened to a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf – The Hope of God’s Light. I felt especially touched by this quote:

“There may be some among you who feel darkness encroaching upon you. You may feel burdened by worry, fear, or doubt. To you and to all of us, I repeat a wonderful and certain truth: God’s light is real. It is available to all! It gives life to all things.1 It has the power to soften the sting of the deepest wound. It can be a healing balm for the loneliness and sickness of our souls. In the furrows of despair, it can plant the seeds of a brighter hope. It can enlighten the deepest valleys of sorrow. It can illuminate the path before us and lead us through the darkest night into the promise of a new dawn.”

I experienced a bit of an object lesson as I listened to this talk. I walked up the mountain, in the shadows. The hike caused me to breathe heavily. I was getting goosebumps as a breeze blew past me. Yet, I knew that there was light on the other side. As long as I kept walking, I’d soon catch my breath and bask in the sun.

And I did.

Step by step, I climbed the mountain, and soon saw the amazing view of the valley, including the temple in the distance.

View from the top...can you spot the temple?

View from the top…can you spot the temple?


Despite the horrible things that happen in this world – whether they are natural disasters or things that we do to one another, I was filled with warmth as I remembered that God loves us. As we seek Him and our Savior, our hearts can be filled with hope even during the darkest times. While we mourn those who are victims – in Boston and elsewhere – we can also be comforted by Christ: His light, His life, His Resurrection. He is our hope.

Listen to this talk by President Uchtdorf…it will lift your spirits.

Come Listen to the Prophet’s Voice

I love general conference!

I love general conference!

It seems like every six months, I get to a point where I feel spiritually parched, hungry, needy. I can’t really put my finger on it. My spirit needs refreshment and renewal. I can’t seem to get it from normal church meetings, scripture study or prayer. Going to the temple helps, but it still can’t quite satisfy what I feel like I want.

I need to hear the words of the living prophets. I love their advice, love, warnings, and messages. I love to hear the tabernacle choir sing. I love to hear humble prayers uttered. I love to be able to raise my hand to the square and sustain the servants of God.

Today, as I listened to President Monson speak, I was filled with the confirming knowledge that President Monson is a living prophet. I felt love wash over me as he began to spoke—the blessing of a living prophet tells me that Heavenly Father loves me. It is truly miraculous that the Lord can bless so many millions of people with the words of a single prophet.

Listen to the word of the living prophet and apostles here.

Can You Feel So Now?

It’s my favorite time of year.

The days are getting longer.

My morning run is a lot brighter these days.

My morning run is a lot brighter these days.

There are colorful pots of joy all around my yard.

Happy!

Happy!

The citrus trees are starting to bloom.

Trust me when I say you wish you could smell this.

Trust me when I say you wish you could smell this.

Soon, we will be celebrating Easter–which is pretty much my favorite holiday (even though I love Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and I usually do a lot more to celebrate them with my kids) it is Easter that brings me hope and joy. And I love that Easter is a holiday completely centered on Christ.

Now…before I go on too much about Easter, another thing I LOVEEEE about this time of year is General Conference.

In case you are not familiar with General Conference, once every six months, we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a meeting where we hear from the Living Prophet, 12 apostles, and other leaders of our church. For me, General Conference is always just what I need to get through the next six months.

I have a few thoughts about two talks.

In Quentin L. Cook’s talk, he asks the question posed by Alma in the Book of Mormon:

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” – Alma 5:26

I have been thinking about this question because, to be honest, I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately. Sometimes, when I’m having depressing thoughts, it effects me in such a way that I begin to question everything: the purpose of my life (as in where I’m headed in life), my faith, and my testimony…Obviously, this isn’t good.

here’s the thing.

I have experienced a change of heart

My change of heart didn’t happen in one amazing or startling moment. Over time, my heart has changed. It has shifted toward the Lord. I can see that I’ve grown closer to the Lord over time. I was baptized when I was eight. My testimony has grown a lot since then, but I still have the same feeling about God that I did then. I know that He loves me. I know that I matter to Him. I know that I want to please Him.

Though there are times when I give in to many of my natural desires and weakness, I know where my heart is. I want to please the Lord. I want to bring him happiness and glory through my good decisions because I have felt so much love and blessings from Him.

I have felt to sing the song of redeeming love

Yes. This joy is also something I’ve experienced.

I have felt it when I look in the eyes of my children, and I see how much the Lord has blessed me–even though I, in no way, deserve it.

I have felt to sing the song of redeeming love when I have sinned, then repented, and have been forgiven. I know what that kind of deep, abiding joy is. I know that this is a miraculous feeling.

Sometimes I feel it [that love] and sometimes I don’t…Why???

When we can’t feel to sing the song of redeeming love anymore, Elder Cook suggests the possible reasons why:

“Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.” – Quentin L. Cook

Now…as I read this, I have to amid, I don’t feel like I’m in a spiritual drought. Yet, I don’t feel as much happiness or joy as I’d like either. While Elder Cook’s advice is true and valuable, I don’t feel like actually applies to me right now. There is something else that is inhibiting my happiness, and I think that I found my answer in another conference talk given by President Uchtdorf.

One thing he said that I found especially interesting:

“So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial.

The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.

We do matter. We determine our happiness.

You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.” – President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Here is my answer. Why do I have trouble, at times, with feeling the joy – in singing the song of redeeming love–that I have felt in the past? It is because I get caught up in an illusion.

Sometimes this illusion is caused because I suffer from physical pain and weakness (hormones, anyone), and I mistakenly forget that I can find happiness and comfort in Christ, despite my weakness.

Sometimes this illusion is caused by boredom and ingratitude. I forget the blessings in my life, and become deceived that certain circumstances would make me happier.

But we are reminded, we matter; we determine our happiness.

If I determine my happiness, then what am I doing about it?
In the same talk, we learn to resolve to:

  • spend time with people I love
  • live up to potential–to be the person God knows I can be
  • find happiness; regardless of circumstances

And the amazing thing is: when I take the time to do these three things, then I can answer the last question of Alma’s with a resounding Yes!

***
I’m so grateful for general conference. I’m grateful for the practical advice, reminders, and warnings that we receive from the Prophet and apostles. I’m grateful for their testimonies. I’m grateful for the Book of Mormon and how it has clarified so much of the Bible and doctrine of Christ. I know that this Gospel is the true and living Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that Heavenly Father loves us and wants each of us to feel the joy of forgiveness and conversion. I also know that He wants us to remember it.

How do you answer the question posed by Alma? How has General Conference and the Book of Mormon been a blessing to you?

Check out more experiences with General Conference and the Book of Mormon at Jocelyn’s blog.

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