Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Atonement Covers All Pain

Pain and suffering are prominent topics across the world. In the news and all around us we hear of those suffering from earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, wars, other political unrest, unemployment, we experience pain from death of loved ones, breaking of families, poor decisions of those close to us, we experience suffering from our own imperfect decisions and pain as we strive to right the wrongs. And right now my legs are experiencing pain from jump roping seven hours a day every day this entire week :)

My point is, we all endure pain and suffering in a multitude of ways, often at the same time. Each of us copes with pain in different ways; some blame God and move away from Him, and others humble themselves and come unto Him for help and comfort. Either way, pain and trials are catalysts that shape our lives and move us--we choose the shape and direction.

Last night I was talking to a friend who is struggling with multiple things, most of which are frustrating enough to handle individually, let alone all together. At one point in the conversation she said, "I'm just tired of it all; I just want to push it all on someone else and say, 'Here, you have this, I don't want to deal with it anymore.'" My response is that she can! We all can! We are taught that we can "Cast [our] burden on the Lord, and he shall sustain [us]" (Psalms 55:22). Jesus Christ Himself said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28).

In the most recent General Conference, Elder Kent F. Richards gave a talk entitled, "The Atonement Covers All Pain." In his talk, Elder Richards spoke of pain and the place is has in our conversion and in our quest for eternal life. He taught, "All souls can be healed by His power. All pain can be soothed. In Him, we can 'find rest unto [our] souls' (Matt 11:29)."

We do not have to struggle alone, nor does the pain we experience in this life have to be in vain. In this talk we also are reminded that, "The Savior is not a silent observer. He Himself knows personally and infinitely the pain we face." The Master Healer bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, He took upon Him the pains and sicknesses of each of us (see Isaiah 53:3-5; Alma 7:11-13).

The Atonement covers all pain.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

To the Fathers in Israel

We celebrate Father's Day to hopefully remember all the great things our fathers have done for us and all the important things they do and roles they play in our lives. I'm 25 so I'm still recognizing things that my father has done for me as I grow up and shed the "my parents just always tried to ruin my life as a teenager" mentality. And as time goes on and I gain more exposure to the world and meet more people, I realize more and more how great my father really is.

I tried to find an article or talk that praised fathers and taught children that they should honor their fathers, etc., (I didn't think it'd be hard because there are dozens of talks praising and thanking mothers and women for what they do) but I found that most of the "father" and "husband" talks given by apostles were full of counsel for how a father is to better lead his family and love his wife and children. Of course each of these talks contains uplifting words to the fathers and husbands who love and lead their families righteously, but also focus intensely on constantly doing more. After some pondering, I feel that this is only right. We, as men and priesthood holders, have certain duties to fulfill and labors to perform concerning God's children on the earth. Once married, we are entrusted with the love and care of a daughter of God, and how precious is that gift! How great is the need to be counseled on how to treat her and love her considering the polar opposite teachings to which we are exposed in this world. Then, as a husband, we are to provide a place worthy of God's children where they may dwell in peace, love, and safety. Once again, what a large amount of trust is placed with men when they are blessed to be fathers!

So on this Father's Day, let's read and apply in our lives words of a prophet of God that will hopefully help, uplift, and inspire fathers (and future fathers such as myself) to rise to a higher sense of responsibility and love concerning their families (and future families) that homes may be better places where the Spirit of the Lord can dwell and where God's children find refuge and safety in this world of unknown and unrest.

In 1987, President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) gave a talk entitled, "To the Fathers in Israel," in which he gave inspired counsel to fathers concerning their obligation to provide material support and spiritual leadership. Taught President Benson, "Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. Callings in the Church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity" (italics added).

He continued by quoting another prophet, "President Harold B. Lee truly stated that 'the most important of the Lord’s work that you [fathers] will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home. Home teaching, bishopric’s work, and other Church duties are all important, but the most important work is within the walls of your home' (Strengthening the Home, pamphlet, 1973, p. 7)" (italics added).

I'm not a father, but I recognize that this talk holds wonderful, timeless counsel that will bless the lives of all who strive to live in such a manner.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I Am A Mormon

My parents and siblings are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was raised in the Mormon faith and have always gone to church, etc. Therefore I have seen firsthand what wonderful blessings come from living the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. So many things have happened in my life that I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. The teachings taught therein are indeed the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In my traveling I am exposed to numerous different situations, people, and lifestyles. I have met people that are very happy, people that are absolutely miserable, and people everywhere in between. Everyone is seeking happiness and success. However, the world defines happiness and success in a different way than the Lord does.

As I observe the different lifestyles people choose to live, my testimony in the Lord Jesus Christ strengthens. I know that living His gospel is the only way to be truly happy in this life. The world's teachings are increasingly opposite the Savior's teachings and the world has people going in circles pursuing something that cannot bring true peace and happiness.

I have read the Book of Mormon, I have prayed to my Heavenly Father to know of it's truthfulness, and I have received a witness that the Book of Mormon is true. In the same manner I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. In Their infinite love for us, They restored their Church that we may know how to live that we may return to live with Them and our families forever.


Monday, June 6, 2011

I saw a pillar of light...

So I may have snapped at the sisters while I was teaching Relief Society yesterday... Like, snapped my fingers at them...

For the last hour of church in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the men and women split up into different classes to better discuss and learn how we can be (or prepare to be) better husbands and fathers or wives, mothers, serve each other and our neighbors, and otherwise better apply the teachings of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives. The men go to priesthood meeting or Elders' Quorum and the women attend Relief Society.

As can be inferred, my presence in Relief Society was somewhat of an extenuating circumstance. My responsibility in our ward is with the missionary work and so the Relief Society president asked if I would co-teach the lesson yesterday with another sister to help get the sisters excited to share the gospel with their family and friends.

The lesson reached a point where we were discussing testimony and we began to talk about the one of the powerful testimonies of the prophet Joseph Smith. As a fourteen-year-old boy, Joseph Smith prayed out loud for the first time in a grove of trees near his home. In answer to his humble prayer, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, beginning the long-awaited restoration of the fulness of the gospel. This experience is now called the First Vision and the grove where it happened is called the Sacred Grove.

The First Vision account and experience is very important and very sacred to me. I rarely feel the Spirit stronger than when the First Vision is begin discussed or recounted word for word. I know that Joseph Smith did, in fact, see our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. My testimony of every other aspect of the gospel and the Church largely stems from how strongly I feel about that very first vision of Joseph Smith.

In the lesson as I began to recount the words of Joseph Smith, I stumbled over the words and after several attempts realized that I did not remember the First Vision in English. Feeling a bit embarrassed and also disappointed that I could not retell the account from memory, I reached for my scriptures to read the account, knowing that reading the account just does not quite hold the same spirit as having it memorized. In a split-second decision as prompted by the Spirit, I decided to just tell the story in Russian as I could do so without prompts. As I began the account in Russian, many of the sisters began to giggle and without breaking stride I snapped my fingers at them to bring them around and to let them know that was a sacred event and could be a great spiritual experience for all of them. In Russian:

"я увидел прямо у себя над головой столп света ярче солнца, который постепенно спускался, пока не упал на меня... Когда же свет почил на мне, я увидел Двух Лиц, стоявших в воздухе надо мной, чьи блеск и славу невозможно описать. Один из них, обратившись ко мне и назвав меня по имени, сказал, указывая на другого: “Сей есть Сын Мой Возлюбленный. Слушай Его!"

The sisters immediately sobered up and the spirit which filled that room as the testimony of Joseph Smith concluded was palpable. I have no doubt in my mind that each sister felt the incredible strength and presence of the Spirit at that time. It did not matter that what was being said was in a language no one understood; the Spirit testified to all that the experience we were discussing truly did happen. Testimonies were strengthened as the Spirit touched the hearts of those in the class. Indeed, we all experienced and shared a tender mercy of the Lord as He poured out His Spirit upon His daughters and me at that moment in that room.

To those of you who are reading this, please consider the significance of Joseph Smith's first vision in the Sacred Grove. As he knelt and humbly sought the will of God, he received an answer. Said he:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me... When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved  Son. Hear Him!

This most sacred and wonderful experience changed the world. Let it change your life.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?

As we go throughout life there are many things that we do and a few things that we become. Often our actions dictate who we become, as illustrated in the line by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character." In the most recent General Conference, Elder Lynn G. Robbins gave a talk entitled, "What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?," that highlighted the differences of "to be" and "to do" and the dependence each has on the other.

I really enjoyed this talk and how well Elder Robbins illustrated the importance of both doing and becoming as we strive to become like Christ. The account of the Savior in the Americas following His resurrection records an important question the Savior asked, "what manner of men ought ye to be?" Answering His own question, the Savior taught, "Verily I say unto you, even as I am" (3 Nephi 27:27).

We are commanded to become as the Savior is, humble, meek, submissive, patient, loving, diligent, wise, perceptive, strong, obedient, gentle, even perfect (see Galatians 5:22; Matt 5:48). Indeed, in the same sermon to the ancient inhabitants of the Americas the Savior admonished, "for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do" (3 Nephi 27:21).

In my job I interact with a lot of different teachers. While each teacher has a degree and a job as a teacher, not all have become teachers. Some love the kids, understand the importance of patience and an education and take time and effort to do what is in the best interest of the students. Some, on the other hand, merely print worksheets, give thoughtless assignments, and do what is required that the kids are busy and not getting into trouble. In each instance, the teachers are doing their job, but not all have actually become teachers. Likewise with us, we may be baptized, we may attend church, we may even do acts of service. But until become converted, strive to fulfill our covenants made with the Lord, and love our neighbors as ourselves, we have not become disciples of Christ.

This analogy can be applied to many facets of our lives and Elder Robbins expounds on the most important applications. Read this talk and figure out how you can better do and become.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Do I Live My Faith?

At church, from my parents, and in the scriptures I have learned of commandments and principles that Jesus Christ has given us to help us be happy and successful in life. While I have learned that adversity and trials are a very important part of our growth and experience in this life, I have also learned that living the commandments and following the example set by Jesus Christ enables me to avoid unnecessary unhappiness and misery and enables me to be worthy of returning to live with my Father in Heaven and my family for eternity.

Of course following the example of Jesus Christ is not always, if ever, easy. We live in a world of shifting and changing values where men call good evil and evil good. The adversary, Satan, is very clever and disguises unhappiness in very exciting and appealing packaging. I know what I believe and I know what Jesus Christ expects of me, but I also know that I am not perfect and that I must be constantly vigilant and do those things that I know strengthen me against temptation. Experience has proven that when I consistently and sincerely pray, when I study my scriptures, and when I strive to keep the Sabbath day holy, I receive strength to live in the world but not of the world.

Jump rope has provided me with incredible opportunities to see the world, meet amazing people, give back, develop myself, and be an example of the believers and share the gospel with close friends and associates. However, traveling for competitions, performances, and other opportunities brings with it inconsistent schedules, late nights, early mornings, full days, little or no control over my own schedule, and little or no regard for the Sabbath day. Finding time to pray and spend time in the scriptures is often a challenge and striving to keep the Sabbath day holy at times seems almost impossible.

But as I struggle to figure out how to live my faith in the midst of these challenges and make my fair share of mistakes along the way, I find that the Lord is patient and forgiving. He blesses me with the opportunities and creativity to enable me to hold true to that which I believe and that which I know brings true happiness. For instance, when I am gone on a weekend, I try to find the closest meetinghouse and so that I can attend church. That alone has provided great experiences. And at times I must also make sacrifices. I stay up later or sometimes skip the little relaxed bonding-time with my teammates in the evening in order to have time to study my scriptures. I forego some really fun and exciting opportunities to teach or perform and pass up some paychecks and job opportunities so that I do not have to jump on Sunday and can keep the Sabbath day holy. Some years ago I left the jump rope world and all the inherent opportunities for two years to serve a full-time mission in Ukraine with no promise of opportunity when I returned. But whatever sacrifices I think I have made, the Lord has blessed me immensely for them in such ways that I cannot even describe.

How do I live my faith? I live my faith by striving to develop my talents with which God has blessed me and to use them for good and to spread the gospel. I live my faith by striving to use those blessings to be an example of the believers. I live my faith by striving to love and serve those I am around as the Savior does. And I live my faith by striving to make time to pray, make time to study my scriptures, and attend church on Sunday and otherwise keep the Sabbath day holy. While of course I do none of these things perfect but the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about trying, changing, and trying again.