Life Lately

I haven’t been super consistent at posting lately. But I feel drawn to blogging again. I sat down to write today, wondering what should I write about? There are so many things to say. There are concerns I have. People are losing their faith in God and their love for one another. Our country is in turmoil.

In January, I decided to break away from Facebook. It started to take a bigger portion of my life than it should have. (read: I was addicted to it). I feel like after eliminating Facebook, I probably freed up about 60-90 minutes of my life!

I also have freed up feelings of anger, frustration, and general depression about this world around me. I turned off my phone, got up and started getting out more and tuning into my family more.

Here’s what’s been going on in my neck of the woods…

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Oh Deer

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Quilty fun

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Tiger made a dress. And Sasquatch has glasses.

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T-Rex being a boy and finding things like dead snakes (and bringing them home!)

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There IS peace in this world. Just go outside. Look up.

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Handmade Pixie Shoes. (The show off the cutest little dirty toes).

I know that life isn’t perfect. And I don’t want to claim that mine is. Am I blessed? Yes! Absolutely!!! Despite my bounteous blessings, this is life, and I’m experiencing my share of trials. However, we can remember this:

“…thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” – 2 Nephi 2:2

Know the Greatness of God

I guess that this is what I mean by wake up, put down the phone, and get outside. I find that one of the quickest ways to feel God’s greatness is to go out for a walk.

Put down the phone, get off the internet (even before you finish reading this post!) and serve someone else. Into instant gratification? Get out and serve someone else. Nothing is more invigorating or electrifying as feeling the love that God has for all of us, and this comes to us as we serve each other.

And I know what you might be thinking! It’s easy for you to say, Choco, You aren’t dealing with _____[fill in the blank]_______ problems. However, I guarantee that anyone reading this can find someone who is happier than they are while having it worse than they do. When I’m feeling frustrated or down, and I don’t want to let God into my heart, I can’t help but remember Viktor Frankl. Who found purpose and stayed positive to his purpose WHILE IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP!

Know the greatness of God.

He Shall Consencrate Thine Afflictions for Thy Gain

As we come to know the greatness of God, trusting Him follows. We realize and remember that He isn’t just some arbitrary God up in heaven finding some kind of entertainment in our suffering.

He is our Father.

” Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” – Matthew 7:9-11

If you are a parent, then you should be better able to imagine our Heavenly Father – and why He allows us to endure adversity. No he doesn’t want to see us suffer, but He knows what we will see when we get to the other side of suffering.

Yes, there are horrible things happening in this world around us. But maybe there are some pretty great things, too. Maybe we can take a few minutes to know God, trust Him, and then count the ways that He is consecrating all that we are enduring for our gain.

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Creativity is pretty. And joyful.

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🙂

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Take a breath and look around!

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If you blink, you’ll miss it. 🙂

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The Atonement: The Beatitudes (6/8)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 5

“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

Matthew 5:8

Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

I think that I’ll go about this post in a different way than usual. First of all, the promise…

for they shall see God.

When I think of this promise, my heart fills with hope and joy. I think that it is because I’m a human being. Despite the relationships we have with our parents, I think that we all, at some point, want to know our Fathers, our parents. We want to know that we are loved. We want to know we belong. We want to know that we are accepted.

I grew up without knowing my biological father. Now, I was greatly blessed in that I was adopted at a very young age, and I have never known life without a father. Though I’m not related to my dad by blood, I have had the experience of being loved, accepted, and supported by a dad. Not only is this a blessing, but I believe that it is a right to every child on this earth to have a mother and a father that love them. (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World.)

As grateful as I’ve been to have a dad, there was still something missing. Who did I look like? Why was I short? Though I didn’t really want to push for a relationship with a man who I thought had abandoned me, I sincerely wanted to know my father. No matter who was raising me, there was a part of me, my own identity, that I just did not know. This question, who are you, anyway, Catania? lurked in my head for 31 years.

Then, miraculously, I found my biological father. (On Facebook!) I’m grateful to know Him. I felt like there was a part of me that I was finally discovering. I’m grateful for my dad, my biological father, my step-father, my mom, my step-mom, and all of the people I’ve been blessed with in my life.

I bring up this experience with my father because I think that we all have a similar spiritual experience. I believe that we are innately drawn to understanding God because He is our Spiritual Father. When we understand Him, we understand more of ourselves as we are His offspring.

So – blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. I’m highly motivated to be pure in heart because I yearn for a relationship with my Father in Heaven the same way I’ve always yearned for a relationship with my own dad and biological father.

On with the Beatitude…

Pure In Heart

In the first part of the beatitude, we are instructed that the pure in heart will be blessed. Purity can be understood and achieved in three ways.

Inherent Purity
So – inherent purity. Seems impossible, and for most people over the age of about 8, I think that it is. To me, inherent purity is the purity exhibited by children.

Think about children. Is there anything more pure than a child?

I’ve been blessed to have a lot of this influence of inherent purity around me in my life right now. Not only am I homeschooling my children (two of whom are five and three), but I’m also serving as a song-teacher to children ages 18 months to 12 years old. I see every week, every day, even, that children are truly pure. They experience this world purely. They feel intense, pure joy, disappointment, or whatever they face.

I’ll give an example. A few weeks ago, in church, I was singing the song “Do as I’m Doing,” in primary. One of the children, a rather rambunctious (yet pure!) boy was the leader. He decided that we would jump.

Since I’m the chorister for these children, I believe in “getting into it.” The real key to teaching children is talking/acting in a way that they can understand. So, as I sang, I jumped up and down: high and low, fast and slow.

Strangely enough, I was consumed with a pure joy as I jumped and sang this simple song. It was the most amazing thing. There was no reason for my joy. I realized that the joy I was experiencing stemmed from the purity of the moment.

I was tempted to feel a little self-conscious. I knew that my hair was flying everywhere. I’m overweight. From an adult’s (less pure!) perspective, I’m sure that I wasn’t a pretty sight. Thankfully, I looked out again at the kids, and realized that the moment was pure and it was joyful. I could choose to let my feelings, spirit, and emotions be clouded by some stupid comparison, or I could remain pure and focus on the intense joy of the moment.

So – the point of this experience is that inherent purity exists. And there are times we allow impurities into our lives by worrying about the expectations and judgments of others. We allow impurity in our lives by focusing on distractions rather than being mindful of the present moment. Children are masters at pure and present living. It is no wonder that Christ tells us to be like children.

***
While children are pure, and inherent purity exists. The fact of the matter is, most of us are not children and are impure. Yet we are told “blessed are the pure in heart.” Christ doesn’t give us commandments that we can’t keep. He has provided us a way to become pure.

Purity through Refinement and Trial
As we grow up out of childhood and no longer have the advantage of being pure through inexperience and innocence, we begin to discover our many impurities and weaknesses. The Lord require purity, but none of us are pure, so He blesses us with refining experiences.

These experiences are blessings, but not usually all that fun. I mean, this isn’t singing “Do As I’m Doing” and jumping with thirty children.

Refinement is hard, hard stuff.

I think that the best way to understand the refinement and purification process that we go through is when we think of the refinement of a fine metal. Our trials and experiences in life are like the “Refiner’s fire.” When going through such refinement, we are set in a crucible – a hot, hot crucible, and brought to a temperature that we can handle, but is still hot enough to burn away impurities.

Though this process is difficult, I think that it can help to remember the promise of the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is where gratitude for trial and tribulation come into play. If it weren’t for the crucibles of trials that we experience during our lives, then we wouldn’t be pure. We wouldn’t be made holy. We’d never “see God.”

Purity through the Cleansing Effect of the Atonement
Often, it seems like the trials and tribulations we face in life are not necessarily our fault. They might come through circumstances of mortality (think Cancer…what a crucible!) or they might come through the sins of others. (We don’t do anything in a vacuum). These tribulations refine us in ways that we don’t usually expect.

There is another way to be refined, and it is usually related to ways that we have specifically soiled ourselves. We can be made pure when we apply the purifying effect of the Atonement. In other words, we can be made pure when we repent.

The purification process of repentance occurs when we 1) Exhibit Faith in Christ 2) Repent 3) Covenant with Him in the Waters of Baptism (Which cleanses us) 4) Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost (Which sanctifies us). After being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can renew our baptismal covenant each week by partaking of the Sacrament. This will help us to become pure each week, even though we often soil ourselves through sin time and time again.

What all this has to do with the Atonement

I want to understand this beatitude within the context of the Atonement, so we’ll look at each aspect of purity and think of the Savior and His Sacrifice.

Inherent Purity
Christ was inherently pure. We know this because He never sinned. The scriptures describe His trial and crucifixion as “a lamb to the slaughter.” (See Isaiah 53:7 and Luke 23:8-9.)

Refinement and Trial
Christ, though already pure, went through a continued refinement throughout his life. It reached a peak in the Atonement. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He suffered all of our sins and infirmities – to the point that He bled from every pore. He was mocked, judged, and then crucified. All unjustly. But it strengthened him and purified Him to the point that He could then become the Savior of the world. If He didn’t go through this process, then He wouldn’t have been able to redeem us. He wouldn’t have finished His work. And He wouldn’t have inherited God’s glory.

It’s hard to imagine how exacting, how excruciating his crucible was!

The purity that came from this experience, though, enabled Him to be able to Return to His Father in glory. Additionally, this experience enabled Him to enable us – we are strengthened through Christ because He experienced all and knows how to succor us. (See Alma 7:11-12.)

Cleansing and the Atonement
So – we already know that Christ was pure. Why would he have to go through the process of cleansing?

Hopefully, I can express what I think in a way that makes sense.

When Christ went into the Garden of Gethsemane, he took on our sins. So – even though He had never committed a sin, because He took ours on, he was now technically impure.

We read:

“That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;” – Doctrine and Covenants 76:41, emphasis added

“And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.” – Alma 11:40, emphasis added

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

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5, emphasis added

In no way do I suggest that Christ was impure, in and of Himself. No. He, like the sacrificial lamb, was perfect. However, once He took on our sins, He had to finish His work. He took on our sins. He allowed our sins to soil Him because He knew that only He would have the strength or capacity to purify them.

Because He took on our sins, He could perform the Atonement. This process allows the blood that He shed in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross to cleanse us.

Alma teaches:

“I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.” – Alma 5:21

And, Christ, who did perform the excruciating work of purification for us has invited us:

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” – Isaiah 1:18

Christ because He was pure, took on our sins, infirmities, and impurities of every kind. In doing so, He suffered, bled, died. Then, three days later, He triumphed over death and hell extending us the ability to also become pure through Him.

Isn’t this the best thing ever? Like the best news ever. I can’t help but feel hopeful joy knowing that I have a Savior who has done so much for me

See God

Finally, we are back where we started. The promise of this beatitude is that the pure in heart will see God. We will know our Father. We will be reunited with Him. We will find joy and identity.

***
What does purity mean to you? How have you been able to embrace life’s difficulties an let trials help make you pure? How have you been able to employ the purifying power of the Atonement in your life?

Marry Me! (Part 31 of the HaM Love Story)

Homey and Me

Homey and Me

This is part thirty-one of the Homey and Me Love Story.

It was March 17th, there was a dusting of snow still on the ground from the storm the day before, and Homey and I were at my house…shooting the breeze. Well, actually Homey was on one knee, shaking, and sweating despite the fact that it was only 65° in my house.

Homey held up an open ring box, with a diamond ring sparkling, and demanded, Marry me!

I started to say yes, but then laughed, realizing that he left me no option to say yes or no. I motioned for him to get up, started putting on the ring, or maybe I was hugging him…I don’t know. I can’t really remember the details. But I’m sure that we were kissing and that we were so mushy that you would have needed a barf bucket if you were there. It was the best.

Before Homey had come out to PA, we had given ourselves a curfew, and we were getting really close to it. So we hugged, kissed, celebrated, and then Homey left for the night.

I wanted to call him right away. Instead, I started texting him. We texted back and forth until we couldn’t stay awake anymore.

I was engaged…to be married.

I went to my bed, alone, realizing that this experience was limited. Everything in my home was different. I wouldn’t walk up my creaky stairs many more times. I wouldn’t be sleeping alone much longer. I wouldn’t be checking my phone every three seconds to see if I had a text from Homey. Soon enough, I’d be moving to Arizona, and we’d be together. In fact, we’d be together forever.

I wasn’t on cloud nine. I was on cloud nine-hundred ninety nine.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of happiness and excitement as I showed off my engagement ring and told everyone my big announcement. With every repetition of the phrase, “We’re engaged!” the fact that I was engaged felt more real.

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Homey went back to AZ, and we continued to email and talk on the phone, but now our conversations were laced with real plans. It was an exciting time.

One of the first things I had to do to prepare for our wedding was talk to my bishop about canceling my temple marriage to Rusty. Here’s the thing, marriages performed in the Mormon temple are considered to be eternal. When we are married, the priest performing the wedding doesn’t say, “’til death do you part.” Instead, under proper authority, this priest is sealing a husband and wife as a married partnership together forever. This scripture explains:

“And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens;…” – Doctrine and Covenants 132:46

Marriage isn’t only a social construct. It is ordained of God. It is a covenant, the crowning covenant, that we can make during our mortal lives. Marriage is an eternal covenant made between God, husband, and wife. Getting married in the temple isn’t just a wedding. The temple marriage is a significant and sacred covenant. Divorce isn’t really meant to be an option.

Elder Oaks explained,

““Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:8–9).

The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because “of the hardness of [our] hearts,” the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members.” – Dallin H. Oaks

So, if we are living the way that we should, then we would have no need of divorce. We would not enter into a covenant that we didn’t mean to keep. If we are serious about our commitment to God, then we will be serious about our commitment to our spouses, even when it is difficult. When we truly accept the gospel and the covenant of temple marriage, we rely on the Atonement to aid in our marriages.

Even though my story is ultimately a happy one, divorce has always brought confusion and sadness in my life.

Divorce isn’t ideal, but Heavenly Father knew that people wouldn’t keep their covenants. He knew that there would be victims. He knew that there would be a need for divorce, so He allows for it under certain circumstances, but it isn’t meant to be a quick solution.

In the Mormon tradition, when a man and woman who have been married in the temple are legally divorced, the blessings and obligations of the temple covenant are not automatically revoked. Only someone with authority from God can cancel the temple marriage. As the Savior teaches,

“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. – Matthew 19:6

Because the temple marriage isn’t instantly revoked at the time of a legal divorce, Mormons go through another process. Often, it is referred to as a “temple divorce.” However, as I began my own process, I soon learned the true name of this process: the cancellation of temple blessings. What a difference this makes. “Temple divorce”- sounds pretty cut and dry – sign a paper, and voila… However, “Cancellation of Temple Blessings” sounds more difficult. I don’t want to lose out on my blessings. I don’t want the covenants that I have made and kept to be cancelled. For this reason, most people do not receive a cancellation of temple blessings when they are divorced. Instead, they wait until they can be re-married, so as not to lose the benefit of such covenants.

I had not broken my covenant with God nor with Rusty; therefore, I still received the blessings of this covenant. These covenants are very sacred, so I can’t really spell it out to you, but I can tell you that I was protected throughout my marriage to Rusty, throughout my divorce, and throughout my life as a single woman. Someone asked me what good my temple marriage had been since my marriage had ended in divorce anyway. To this person, I proclaimed, It wasn’t the temple that failed me; it wasn’t God that failed me. It was Rusty. I have lived worthy of my covenant, and can still appeal to God for all of the blessings of the New and Everlasting Covenant…What good was my temple marriage? It led me to be closer to my God, the temple has infused my life with the Spirit. And the Spirit has saved me – literally and spiritually.

So, I was being blessed by this covenant, but now that Homey was in my life, I knew that I wanted to be able to make this covenant with him. In order for this to occur, I needed to see my Bishop and begin the process of a cancellation of temple blessings.

In some ways, this process was exciting. I would be getting married soon! I was moving on! My prayers were being answered. But for the next six weeks, I would feel so much stress – the stress of completing all of the components of this process, and the spiritual stress that also accompanies all big changes. It was a challenging process. There were three main ways that the cancellation process kind of scared me.

One – The Process itself

First of all, the process of a cancellation of temple blessings is exhausting. I had to meet more often with the bishop. I had to have extended worthiness interviews. Old “stuff” that I hadn’t thought of in years was brought back to light. I had to write a letter to the First Presidency. My bishop would have to get in touch with Rusty. My bishop would have to get in touch with Homey’s Bishop. After all of this, I’d then have to have an interview with the Stake President.

The Stake President and Bishop would also send letters to the First Presidency and give their thoughts.

My request, forms, and letters would all be sent on to General Authorities, and they would evaluate everything. Prayerfully, a decision would be made by the First Presidency. They’d send me back a letter, and I’d know if they had agreed to cancel the temple blessings or not. It was a long process that required a lot of work.

Homey and I prayed about it and decided to set a date for our marriage. We didn’t know if I would be granted a cancellation of temple blessings. We decided to act in faith. I had kept my covenants. I knew that God would keep His, too.

So. I met with my bishop, and I started the process. The first thing I had to do was write a letter to the prophet. If you are not Mormon, you need to understand how huge this is. Essentially, I had to write a letter to the Pope. The only one who can revoke the covenant of a temple marriage is the prophet. Yikes!

I wrote my letter to the Prophet and First Presidency of the church. You can read more about that experience here. I sent a copy of this letter to Homey. I was so happy to receive his response.

Catania, this email is gonna be brief. I just want to thank you so much for sending me a copy of your letter to the First Presidency. You are an AMAZING woman. I’m so lucky. ohmygosh I will never forget how lucky I am. I LOVE YOU more than raccoons love shiny stuff in a box.” – Homey to Catania, March 2007

Not only was it nice to hear Homey talk about how much he loved me, I’m so glad that he compared himself to a raccoon. He really was my kind of guy.

Two – An Unwanted Reminder

Even though Homey was supportive of me, and even though he knew my past, the process of a temple cancellation was a constant reminder to me and to Homey of my past.

Sometimes, I just wanted to pretend that I had never been married before. I wanted to be pure. I didn’t want a shadow to hang over my relationship with Homey. For the most part, this was possible. Rusty was such a distant memory that it never came up between Homey and me.

However, when we began the process of the temple cancellation, there was no getting around the constant reminder of my first marriage, my past life, and I kept worrying that Homey would be turned off by all of this. Homey was, after all, a bachelor who had never been married. Would all of this talk about Rusty and my first marriage make Homey realize that I was tainted meat? that I was worthless?

Just when my worrying and fear would reach a fever pitch, I’d get an email from Homey and be comforted by his words:

“I just barely fell asleep on the couch and had a dream that we were married…and we were at the golf practice facility hitting golf balls. My oldest bro was there with his kids (this will probably happen because he lives in Tucson and loves golf), and Tiger and Panda were there running around with them. This one will definitely all come true in just a few short months. Anyway…it was good because it feels so right every way I think about us together.” – Homey to Me, March 23, 2007)

Or…Just when I was sure he’d realize I was “tainted meat” and that he was “settling,” he’d say something like this:

“Why are we getting married? Pregnancy, financial security, loneliness or wanting to get out of the family home are not valid reasons for getting married.

We’re getting married because I love you more than anyone I’ve ever loved and God’s plan for us is that we are married to one oanother to obtain all the eternal covenants, blessings, and ordinances that Heavnely Father has outlined for us. I want to be with you all the time. And if I HAVE to go to work, then I want to be with you the rest of the time (other than maybe a round of golf here and there… 😉 I really truly love you. you’re not pregnant, we won’t have (much) financial security, I’m not lonely, and I don’t live with my parents…so it must be love. 🙂 – Homey to Me, 29 March 2007

Even though our meeting was unconventional, it was right. Through the process of the cancellation of temple blessings, I was learning that all of the afflictions I had experienced in life were consecrated for my gain. (See 2 Nephi 2:2.) I began to learn (and frankly, I’m still learning this) that I didn’t need to fear. I could trust God, and I could trust Homey.

Three – The Usual Fear that Comes from the Adversary

Besides the constant reminder of my divorce and the process of the cancellation, I was facing a third challenge: the Adversary. This challenge proved to be the most difficult.

It seems like from the second that Homey proposed to me (well, the second he got back on the plane to AZ), I was bombarded with doubts. I have already discussed some of the doubts (about divorce, etc.) I constantly worried about my worthiness. I worried that the cancellation of temple blessings wouldn’t happen. Some of the people who should have supported me proved to be the biggest problems. I was constantly second guessing myself.

Worst of all, my cold feet returned, and with a vengeance. I began to wonder, Do I love Homey? Really? Will I really be happy with a man, or am I happier without one?

I came to the conclusion that I was in love.

Which led to another doubt, Should I really be marrying Homey, or am I blinded by Love? I have always been so blind. I’m a terrible judge. Perhaps I’m making the biggest mistake of my life.

I wanted a “big” sign that this was right. But instead I was simply feeling a quiet sense of peace. I had to remind myself of the miraculous nature of a quiet sense of peace.

One Saturday, I went to the temple. I was feeling burdened with all of the stresses coming in my life. By then, I had quit my job, and I was already living with my mom again. In some ways, major decisions had been made that I couldn’t “unmake.” I still didn’t know if our wedding would happen. I was still waiting to hear from the First Presidency on the cancellation. I was overcome by my emotions and stress.

I walked into the temple sad. Sadder than I had been in a very long time. Would I be able to feel peace without the nagging of doubts?

I attended the temple, and my heart began to settle. I was reminded that I could trust God. He is a God of Miracles. He created the Earth; surely He could perform the miracles I still needed in my life. I felt his love, and by the time I was leaving the temple, I without really knowing it, I started singing a song in my head,

“You can make the pathway bright,
Fill the soul with heaven’s light,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
Turning darkness into day,
As the shadows fly away,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.
f there’s sunshine in your heart,
You can send a shining ray
That will turn the night to day;
And your cares will all depart,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today. – You Can Make the Pathway Bright, Helen Silcott Dungan

I hummed the song as I walked to my car. When I got in the car, I sat down and said a silent prayer, thanking Heavenly Father for the chance to go to the temple. Suddenly, the song I was singing dawned on me. I know that the song was Heavenly Father’s way of telling me that things were okay. Instead of worrying, I could make the pathway bright by allowing God’s sunshine in my heart.

I also realized that we have agency. Even when the Lord blesses us, we have agency. We don’t have to accept the gifts that God gives us. Heavenly Father had personally answered my petitions and prayers (and Homey’s), and allowed us to meet and court one another. While this was an answer to my prayer, I didn’t have to accept the gift. I could still walk away. However, I knew that Homey was a miracle and a gift, and if I chose to walk away from this blessing, I might not receive another.

Though so much of my future would be an act of faith, I could trust in God. I could be happy. I could scatter sunshine. I knew that His hand had been in my life up to this point, and that as long as I continued to come to Him, His hand would stay in my life–guiding me, stabilizing me, reaching out to me in love.

***

A final excerpt from an email from Me to Homey:

“I read a quote today–from Boyd K. Packer. It included the following scripture, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear,” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). I realized that I need to take this to heart. Sometimes I get afraid, Homey. Sometimes I’m afraid that the temple cancellation won’t happen. Sometimes I’m afraid that we won’t be able to get married for a while, and that we’ll miss Cancun, and that it will be difficult. Sometimes I get afraid that moving is going to be too difficult and hard. Deep in my heart, I know that these fears are unfounded and wrong. They are, quite honestly, Satan’s stupid whisperings. He’s trying to get me down. He tries in so many ways. But today’s quote helped me to know how I can overcome my fears–BE PREPARED. I have a bit to do for preparation, and it’s a good thing that I have 53 days to do it. That’s plenty of time. And this helps me have confidence. I’m grateful for the adversities that we are facing together. It helps me to love you even more. It helps me to see that our love and marriage are wonderful things. I know Heavenly Father is happy about them. He is the one who set us up! I know that we still have more to overcome. And I know that if I continue to put my confidence in the Lord, supporting you as you also put your confidence in the Lord, then we will be able to work together. It is exciting, Homey. I’m realzing–instead of me being the only one–the only one to receive revelation, the only one to feel the Spirit–I will have you, too. I know that you can lead me, and that I can trust you. It’s exciting–we’re going to be married. We’re going to be “one flesh.” We’re going to be united. I’m really happy about that. I have a lot to learn about this. I think that I come from a deficit because I learned bad habits. This experience will help me to learn how to be a good wife, I think–and how to truly trust in both the Lord and in His Priesthood.” – Me To Homey, 27 March 2007

And this is what happened…we struggled as we waited, together, on other sides of the country, to see if we would be able to get married in the temple. Every day, I checked my mail. Every day I prayed. Every day I wondered, will we be married at the Washington, D.C. Temple in May? Will we be able to celebrate with friends and family? Will we go to Cancun? or…will we tell our friends and family to cancel their plans? Will we have to postpone the trip to Cancun?

Will we have to wait?

Click here for part 32.

Joy Project – Week 4 of 52

Week four of my joy project…also I’ll be posting other stuff soon. I know that it has been a lot of this lately. Sorry. I’ve got to get back on a good schedule. Life has been life lately.

January 20, 2014 – A Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday Little T-Rex!

Happy Birthday Little T-Rex!


Today we celebrated the T-Rex’s birthday. The girls had the day off of school, and Homey had work off, so we were able to hang out together as a family. We had so much fun doing all sorts of activities chosen by T-Rex. We went to the dog park, the duck pond, and the Phoenix Temple. We got haircuts, ate cake and played wii. I love this little boy.

The T-Rex was so cute at the duck pond and the dog park. While at the duck pond, he cheered and jumped up and down, so excited to see the ducks. I handed him a piece of bread, and he was too excited to think and break it into pieces. Instead, he chucked that entire slice into the water and laughed as a horde of ducks fought over it. We all laughed as we saw the entire slice sailing through the air.

Joy is having a little boy in our house full of girls. Joy is an active, happy, curious, playful son. Joy is my T-Rex. He’s always full-throttle, no matter what he’s doing. Joy is seeing a child happily experience this world in his own distinct way.

January 21, 2014 – Flowers and Temples

I don't know the name of this flower, but it is pretty.

I don’t know the name of this flower, but it is pretty.

The Phoenix Temple from the trail.

The Phoenix Temple from the trail.


I know, nearly every entry is either kids or running. That’s a lot of what I do. Well, I actually do a lot more than those two things, but both kids and running are such consistent forms of joy in my life.

Interestingly enough, both kids and trail running are really hard. Perhaps why they can also offer so much joy.

I love seeing unexpected things on my run. Today, I saw some pretty purple flowers. Winter time is a lively time in the desert. Flowers are blooming and bees are buzzing. It was nice to look down, and see these tiny purple flowers.

They can teach us something, don’t you think? They inhabit such a desolate, harsh world. The Sonoran Desert isn’t really the easiest place to thrive. Yet these flowers were prolific among the rocks. They don’t long for a “better” place to live. They simply bloom where they are planted and make the world a better place in the little way they know how.

I can do the same. We can all do the same. Imagine what this world would be like if we were all happier to bloom where we are planted, if we were happy to be little purple desert flowers, instead of all competing to be giant American Beauty roses. Peace on earth won’t be achieved through meetings by talking heads and world leaders. It won’t be achieved through war, sanctions, or regulations. Equality isn’t going to come simply as a result of laws and executive orders. If we want lasting peace and unity, we simply need to beautify the little corners of the world we live in.

This little purple flower isn’t much to look at on its own. The profound effect comes from hundreds, thousands of little purple flowers blooming and spreading across the desert floor.

Joy is going on a trail run, breathing hard, feeling my legs burn, and then finding that place where I can let God and nature teach me that it’s okay if I’m not famous or important. Joy is knowing that a nameless, purple desert flower is beautiful and makes a difference in her world.

January 22, 2014 – Varicose Veins

I’ll spare you a picture.

It sounds like a strange thing to find joy in. And, admittedly, I usually complain about my varicose veins. They are unsightly. They hurt.

But I’m convinced that joy and pain are opposing forces – which means that even though they are different, they are connected. So…if I believe this, then it is possible to find joy even in pain; gladness even in misery.

Which brings me to my varicose vein.

After long runs, my veins tend to throb. Because I have been training for a marathon, my varicose vein has been especially sensitive. I woke up feeling them throb, and wanted to complain. But then I wondered, where’s the joy in my painful, ugly, throbbing varicose vein?

Of course, I could say, I’m grateful for my varicose veins because at least I have legs. At least my varicose veins aren’t worse, etc. But I wanted to find more than that.

And I realized, my varicose veins are physical proof–of my motherhood. They were a result of my first pregnancy and have gotten worse with each repeated pregnancy. Of course, in the past, I’ve been prone to say, “Dang kids, they ruined my body!” And, it’s true, my body is forever changed because of child bearing.

However, instead of being frustrated by my transformation, I’ll find joy. My varicose vain is a battle wound that I’ll wear with valor. When it throbs and aches, I’ll think of the children that I bore. It is physical evidence of both the temporal and spiritual transformation I have undergone through motherhood. Just as my veins are a little more worn and tender, my heart is more worn and tender. The sacrifice is more than worth it.

Oh…and not only that…but my varicose veins are reminders. They are reminders of my miraculous body, good health, a functioning nervous and cardiovascular system.

Joy is knowing that even the annoyances I face in life can be blessings. They might be symbols or reminders of sacrifices I’ve made. They might be blessings, in and of themselves. Joy is knowing that I have an able body that has been able to withstand the trauma and miracle of childbirth.

January 23, 2014 – Adventures

The flower shop.

The flower shop.


I’ve started a new tradition with the little ones…adventures. (Mom tip: when you call mundane activities and outings adventures they seem awesome.)

We decided to go to the flower shop for today’s adventure. There is a little flower shop near my house. Sasquatch, T-Rex and I visited it. Sasquatch was so cute and excited. We looked at the many varieties of flowers, the displays, the balloons, and decor. We walked into the refrigerated section where Sasquatch and T-Rex each found a flower to buy. T-Rex chose a red gerber daisy because it was the same color as Mario. (He’s obsessed with nintendo…). Sasquatch chose a yellow rose.

The woman at the flower shop was so nice. She talked to the kids like they were adults. She carefully wrapped each flower. She asked Sasquatch questions, and my heart burned to see Sasquatch communicate with the florist like a little adult.

Joy is adventures with your little kids. It is finding the wonder in life – which we so often pass by.

January 24, 2014 – Date Night

Exciting

Exciting


Usually Tiger babysits for our date night, but she had a party, so we had a “date night in”. Actually, it was just what the doctor ordered.

We picked up some Rubio’s and a Redbox. I sat and crocheted as Homey fell asleep during the movie. Perfection, if you ask me.

Joy is a date night with Homey. While I love going out (I really do), there is an inexplicable joy about a quiet night at home–where you don’t have to talk, you don’t have to think, you can just be. This kind of joy really only comes as you age with your spouse. Homey and I have only been together for 6.5 years. We have a long way to go, but I am so grateful for his companionship.

January 25, 2014 – Correction

Chollas on a trail run.

Chollas on a trail run.


Another lesson from a trail run.

As I embarked on my run, I heard a woman screaming, cursing, and threatening her children. I was embarrassed and angry. Everything in my soul wanted to walk up to the woman and ask her what her problem was. Homey and the family were with me.
“I’m going to say something to her. This is out of control.” I said to Homey.
“Just leave her alone.” He warned.
I listened to him. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want to make it worse for her children.

But I couldn’t get them out of my mind. As I ran up the trail, I thought of what I should have said. I thought of my brother, who was taken from this world at the age of 18. If she knew that the little ones she was cursing out with the vilest of profanity would only live to the age of 18, is that what she’d choose to say to them?

I prayed and asked for forgiveness, sorry that I didn’t stand up for those little ones.

I wondered what would Jesus have done?

In my mind, I felt like He wouldn’t have confronted the woman. However, He wouldn’t have ignored her, either. Instead, He would have served her.

Next time, if I overhear a woman, frustrated, at her wit’s end, cursing her children, instead of passing judgment and professing on how I think she ought to conduct her life, I’ll just ask, Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do to help you? (or something along those lines). I will extend her true, Christ-like love and serve her.

I was frustrated with myself for ignoring the situation. I prayed that the children would be protected; that the mother would calm down. I prayed that they would all be able to be happy. And I asked Heavenly Father to forgive me for passing judgment. Because I passed judgment, I also passed up a chance to serve.

Joy is knowing that Heavenly Father will correct you, if you will let Him.

January 26, 2014

Today, Tiger gave a talk in church. I meant to get a picture, but the day was crazy. I ended up spraining my ankle after my trail run on Saturday. I had three sick children. I went to sacrament to hear Tiger’s talk and then left.

This was Tiger’s first talk.

Tiger spoke on gratitude. She gave an organized, interesting talk. She cited the scriptures and applied lessons. She inspired everyone to be more grateful and to live up to the blessings that come to a grateful heart. It was pretty awesome.

Joy is watching your children bloom into these people. Joy is seeing your child become an individual who thinks and acts on her own accord. Joy is seeing that this individual that you are raising is choosing the right. Joy is listening to and learning from your offspring.

What has brought you joy this week?

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.

Waiting upon the Lord

General Conference will be here soon. Are you excited? I am. 🙂 I would like to share a few thoughts I had from a conference talk last October.

I always love every single talk, but it was during Elder Hales’s talk that my ears really perked up. He said:

“I have often pondered, Why is it that the Son of God and His holy prophets and all the faithful Saints have trials and tribulations, even when they are trying to do Heavenly Father’s will? Why is it so hard, especially for them? … As we ask these questions, we realize that the purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences. How do we do this? The scriptures give us an answer in one simple phrase: we ‘wait upon the Lord.’” – Robert D. Hales

There are so many things to say about this talk and this quote, but I have been thinking about the concept of “waiting” in general. Waiting takes time. It takes patience. Those are hard for me. However, during a trial, I think that we can learn to pass the time effectively. When we do, we will be renewed and comforted.

There are many ways to pass the time: prayer, service, scripture study. However, I would like to really talk about one way to pass the time while waiting on the Lord….Temple Attendance

Click for source.

We pass the time while waiting through regular temple attendance. Going to the temple nourishes our souls with holy blessings, and help from beyond this world.

Last year, I found out that my dad and step-mom were getting a divorce. They had been married for over twenty years. My heart ached for my dad. He was surprised when she wanted to leave. I knew that it was kind of tough for him. As everything was unfolding, I said a prayer for him. Before kneeling down, I felt a little frustrated – my dad isn’t Mormon. He is Catholic, but doesn’t go to church much. My brothers have been baptized, but don’t really go to church. I felt alone in my prayers. Even though I know that every prayer has power, I wished that there would be more of us united in prayer for my father. I kind of felt hopeless.

However, as I prayed, I was filled with this sense – I wasn’t the only one praying for my dad. I had done the work of My ancestors. They knew and loved my father. They were praying, too. I was overwhelmed with love and hope. Prayer doesn’t only transcend distance. It could transcend the veil of mortality and death. We could be united in prayer. I knew that I wasn’t the only one praying. It is because of consistent temple attendance that I was blessed with this comforting knowledge.

There are times when attending the temple can be difficult. There are physical limitations – especially if you live a long distance from the temple. Other times, the trials we face may tempt us into thinking that we don’t want to go to the temple: that we won’t find the peace and blessings we desire there. I testify to you that this idea is false.

Years ago, a month after my husband left me, I attended the temple with my ward. I didn’t want to go, but my Bishop very strongly encouraged me. I was sad, and afraid. The temple is about families being sealed together forever, and I was getting ready to file for a divorce. But I went.

I won’t pretend like it was easy. It was an incredibly difficult trip. I lived in Philadelphia at the time, and our temple was the Washington D.C. temple. Our stake had reserved busses for this stake temple day, and months before, my husband and I reserved our seats. By the time the temple trip arrived, He was gone, and I boarded that bus alone. Most of the other people who were in on the bus were there with their companions. I felt a little sad, but on the plus side, I got a whole bench to myself! When we got to the temple, the pain that I felt was even more pronounced – as I saw many happy couples worshipping and serving together. I was alone. I had never been “alone” – a divorced, single woman – in the temple before.

Yet, waiting upon the Lord through temple service wasn’t all bad news. Even though it was hard, and I felt pain, the blessing of the temple calmed me that day. I was assured that – even though the path would be very hard – I would be blessed with a worthy companion. I knew that I needed to come back to the temple often to receive that blessing. The Lord assured me that waiting upon Him would be worthwhile despite the difficulty. And it was!

I knew that rescue from this trial wouldn’t be immediate, but I was blessed with strengthened faith – which helped me to endure. This was not a one time blessing. It seemed like after a while I needed to refill my spiritual gas tank. Repeated, regular temple attendance nourished me as I tried to keep pushing forward in the midst of the trial of being a single, divorced mother.

If you find yourself in the midst of trials, try going to the temple. It may be hard, but there is peace and strength that comes from temple service.

Joy and Thanksgiving – Gratitude Scripture Chain

Today, we are studying a scripture chain on Gratitude. I wish I could say that there was more of a “theme” to these scriptures, but mostly the theme is: Gratitude Scriptures I Like. That being said, I think that there are definitely themes and things to learn with this series of scriptures.

“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” – Alma 37:37

I love this scripture because it makes prayer seem so personal. We need to counsel with the Lord. We need to discuss our ideas with him, share our dreams with him, and also let him have a part of our plans and daily lives. If we counsel with Him, then He will advise us. Pretty awesome.

Oh yeah, and we need to be grateful – this scripture gives us good advice on what gratitude is: a heart full of thanks.

A grateful heart is an important part of counseling with the Lord. Here’s the thing…In Alma 37:37, we are taught to counsel with the Lord. And we are also taught in Jacob “Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” – Jacob 4:10 There is a difference – between counseling with the Lord and telling Him what to do. I have a tendency to “tell the Lord what to do.” I mean, I just ask for blessings and kind of leave it at that. Counseling with the Lord implies a conversation. We discuss with the Lord what we’re thinking, desiring, and doing. Yet, with the attitude of a grateful heart, we also allow Him to speak, and that is how we will get the guidance we need.

“And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.” – Doctrine and Covenants 46:32

We must give thanks to God for all of the blessings we receive. This section is specifically speaking giving thanks when we are blessed with gifts of the Spirit. I think that this commandment is not limited to such blessings. We need to give thanks for every blessing we receive from the Lord.

One thing that is difficult for me is to be grateful for all of the ways that Heavenly Father blesses me – especially when these blessings come in the form of trials. I don’t think that we are expected to be all “jumpy” and “happy” when enduring trials, but we are expected to look to the Lord with cheer, hope, and gratitude.

“Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” – Psalms 97:12

I like this scripture because it brings up two different but related concepts: joy and thanksgiving. I feel like the concepts of rejoicing and thanksgiving are more closely related than I’ve ever really recognize before. As we rejoice in the Lord and in His holiness, we really recognize our need for Him. Rejoicing in the Lord, finding Joy in His blessings, humbles us. And, as we rejoice in Him and find joy in our lives, we become more grateful.

But I don’t think that joy necessarily comes first. It almost seems like joy and thanksgiving are companions. Because as we fill our hearts with gratitude, joy comes along. The joy leads to greater gratitude, which leads to greater joy.

I’ve noticed something about the gospel: it is an upward cycle.

Oh, and before I move to the next scripture, again, I’m thinking about Joy and Gratitude within the context of our trials. I think that the end of this verse helps us understand how this is possible: “give thanks at the remembrance of His Holiness.” Often, when we go through trials, we have intimate experiences with the Lord and His atonement. We have personal, deep experiences with His Holiness. Even though our trials are difficult, when we experience His Holiness and atonement so personally, our gratitude and joy grow.

“I, the Lord, am willing, if any among you desire to ride upon horses, or upon mules, or in chariots, he shall receive this blessing, if he receive it from the hand of the Lord, with a thankful heart in all things.” – Doctrine and Covenants 62:7

I like this verse because it teaches us more about the nature of God. He is willing to bless us in any way that is within His will or power. We simply need to receive such blessings with a thankful heart.

He loves us so much.

“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” – Doctrine and Covenants 78:19

Again, I’m struck by the word all in this verse. There is no caveat that we are to be grateful only for the things that seem to be positive or favorable. We need to be grateful for all.

When we are grateful for all, then we’re made glorious.

I think that this is because when we are grateful – even for our adversities – we manage them better. We let the Lord work miracles in our lives. And ultimately, the miracle He works is our perfection. (pretty glorious if you ask me…)

Gratitude is essential in our progression. As we live gratefully, we receive more blessings from Heavenly Father – including the instruction and Spiritual gifts that we need to be like Him. As we become more like Heavenly Father – we come closer to His nature…and His nature is happiness. So, gratitude leads to happiness.

Pretty cool. 🙂

***
For tomorrow’s assignment, please read The Divine Gift of Gratitude. As you read, mark anything that stands out to you. Write a few notes on why these things made an impression. Take a minute to really learn from the Spirit.

Joy and Thanksgiving: Connections – Opposition and Cause/Effect

Welcome to day one of the Joy and Thanksgiving scripture study series! Today, we found a few connections…So, here we go…

“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.” – 2 Nephi 2:13

In this verse, Lehi makes a few connections the series he gives is as follows law→sin→righteousness→happiness→punishment and misery→God→Us and the earth Each of these items seem to be connected either because they are opposites or because they are connected through cause and effect.

This is how I've marked the connections in my scriptures.

Cause and Effect – for example, if we are righteous, then we will be happy – is pretty obvious. What is a little bit harder to understand is how opposition can possibly be a part of the plan of Happiness.

As I think about this series of connections, the point where we get to God seems to make the need for opposition to make more sense. Opposition is a simple fact – it is the way that it is. If we want to be like God, then we must experience opposition. Opposition is a fact even in God’s existence, and because Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of Knowledge of good and evil, opposition is a simple fact of our existence.

Now, we know that Adam and Eve didn’t experience this kind of opposition before the Fall, but that doesn’t mean that opposition didn’t exist. They were not aware of opposition until partaking of the fruit and gaining knowledge.

“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.” – 2 Nephi 2:23

Again, the connection in this verse is that the concepts are opposites. And all of these concepts and connections help to increase our knowledge. As we experience misery, we can also have a better appreciation for joy. We know what sin is, and we also know what Good works are: we are able to differentiate the two. However, this does not mean that experiencing sin is the requirement to being able to do good. It is simply about our knowledge. We can’t possibly know good works if we don’t know sin. Based on this knowledge, we make a choice. We make the choice to have joy and happiness. Conversely, we can make the choice to be miserable.

Sometimes, miserable trials happen to us. This may be a consequence of our own actions. Or it could be a consequence of another’s mistake. We may even experience pain and misery just because we are mortal. Whatever the case, we experience trials that may have a miserable effect on us. Just because we are experiencing pain doesn’t mean that we will automatically experience joy. But, because we are experiencing pain does mean that joy is possible. The key to turning the misery of these trials into joy is through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

I think of Alma – the experience of his conversion. For three days, he was basically in a coma, and was racked with guilt and pain – the pain of a “damned soul.” He is able to escape it, though. He explains:

“And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.” Alma 36:17-19

Through the atonement of Christ, Alma no longer felt his pains. What is more amazing is what he did feel in place of all of that misery:

“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” – Alma 36:20-21

Joy and pain are connected.

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

Because Adam fell, we all experience pain. We all are born into this mortal world, we will sin, we will be hurt by the sins of others, and we will experience difficulties like sickness and death. Sometimes it feels pretty bleak. But, this scripture helps us to remember, that because Adam fell, we also have the potential to have joy!

Think of a coin:
On the one side, we have heads (Joy), and on the other we have tails (Misery). They are inseparably connected. You can’t pick up only the joy side of the coin. You will also pick up misery. Adam had to fall and experience misery and the pain of the consequence of mortality if he wanted to experience joy.

And where on earth does the joy come from? We find out in the next verse:

“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.” – 2 Nephi 2:26

Joy comes from our Savior. He has overcome the pains and consequences of Adam’s fall. He will provide us joy even when we experience misery. He is righteousness, happiness, and every good thing.

Remembering this can help us – as we struggle. Sometimes we have a hard day. Sometimes we have a few hard days. Even though they aren’t fun, we can remember to look to the Savior – who will bring some meaning and happiness to our suffering.

***
>What do you think? What did you notice as you studied? Please share! 🙂

***
For tomorrow’s reading assignment, click here.

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.

Challenges, Heart Conditions, and Knowledge – Matthew 13:12

So – this post is partially a response to my scripture study today and also a response to this article. So just go with it for a second.

So…we’ll start with the scripture study portion of this blog post:
After giving the parable of the sower, the apostles ask Jesus why he speaks in parables. Christ answers them the following:

“12For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.> – Matthew 13:12

Note the Joseph Smith Translation of this verse: “JST Matt. 13:10–11 For whosoever receiveth, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever continueth not to receive, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”

I’ve thought about the theme of being receptive/having a soft heart and knowledge a lot. I guess it is because I love learning more about the gospel. I have definitely learned that the Spirit speaks to me as I study the gospel. I may not get the “warm fuzzy” feeling we think we should get. Instead, I feel the enlightenment of the Spirit – what some may call an “Aha moment”. I know that these are things I couldn’t have learned on my own, but I need the gentle guidance of the Holy Ghost. Such experiences are humbling. And they cause me to truly hunger and thirst for more experiences with the gospel.

Alma explains a similar concept taught by Jesus:

“10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.” – Alma 12:10-11

So – I really do want to know the mysteries of God, and this scripture tells me what, exactly that means. Knowing the mysteries of God requires that I have a soft heart – in my studies and in my actual life. In other words, I need to be willing to accept and do what I have been taught – even if it is hard.

So…

I recently read a post in the NYT about a single, Mormon woman. Overall, I felt like she has lost her faith in one way or another – and seems to point to her being single in the church to be the cause of such a loss. I kind of felt sad as I read the article because I have also been a single Mormon woman.

My situation was different than hers. I was married at a young age. I was married in the temple to a return missionary. I never figured I’d be married so young, but that was right for me. Within two months of my marriage, my spouse began cheating on me – officially. Of course, I had absolutely no idea, and his unfaithfulness continued throughout our marriage.

I discovered his second life – his sexual addiction – his betrayal(s) – 6 1/2 years into the marriage. The challenge was staggering. We had two children – 3.5 and 2 years old. I was completely blindsided as he did a really good job of living a double life. However, the Lord softened my heart and helped me to remain faithful with the help of two amazing bishops, and really really great friends.

I remember, two days after finding out about his infidelity, the day after meeting with the bishop, I was leading the Primary – as the primary chorister – and we were singing “Families can be Together Forever”. It was emotional and difficult. No one, other than my bishop, my mom, and another friend, had a clue as to what was happening in my life. I needed to continue in my calling, but it was hard.

I wanted to stop. Sure, there was a part of me that was tempted to say, “It’s not true!” But I couldn’t say that because I knew that it was true – Families can be together forever – through Heavenly Father’s plan – meaning you actually have to keep the commandments! Otherwise, there is no guarantee. So, I was very tempted to give up.

About a month after the dissolution of my marriage, I was scheduled to go to the temple with my ward. Our entire stake had rented buses for each ward, and months prior to the trip, My (then) husband and I had reserved two seats for it. By the time of the trip, I didn’t really want to go. How was I supposed to go to the temple – alone, and in the process of a divorce?!

But my bishop encouraged me to go, and I went. I’d love to say that it was a wonderful, easy, uplifting trip. I’d love to say that I smiled and laughed the whole time.

But it was really hard. The idea of being a single woman was even more pronounced in the halls of the temple. I felt a little isolated -for a second. No one was isolating me, though. It was just a way that I felt. I don’t want to blame anyone…

Of course, the Lord has a way of comforting us in the exact right way at the exact right time, and that happened in that temple trip. The Lord blessed me to know that I would have the blessing of a temple marriage again one day (no idea when). Until then, it wouldn’t be an easy life, but I’d manage – if I relied on the help of the Lord – if I made the commitment to keep going to the temple and other church activities that were more “family-oriented.”

I realized that the Lord would bless me with strength, and knowledge, if I continued with a soft heart. And He did – all along the way.

This is where I get back to my original topic. We are all given challenges, but we are given the tools to overcome them, too – through knowledge. And we can’t gain this knowledge unless we come to the Lord with a soft heart. Having a soft heart may mean that we accept the challenges that He has given us. We can remember the words of Nephi, “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world;” (2 Nephi 26:24). This includes giving us challenges. He wouldn’t give them to us if they didn’t benefit us in some way. If we accept them with a soft heart – ready for the information he is willing to teach us, then we will gain knowledge.

Which leads me to my most favorite “knowledge” scripture:

“3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” – John 17:3

This is why we need to gain knowledge – so we can have eternal life. And Heavenly Father disseminates his knowledge in various ways. Sometimes, we learn through the scriptures and prayer. Sometimes we learn in our challenges. Sometimes we learn when we repent. Other times we learn through our blessings. The Lord wants us to succeed. He glories in our salvation.

So – we just need to keep our hearts open – ready to receive what he yearns to give us.

  • "But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:42.
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