Our Journey Home

Several years ago, my son was taking a long road trip alone. His destination was about twelve hours away, more than half of that time with nothing but wide open space. Before he left, we made sure he had enough food and money for his journey. Definitely one of the most important preparations was figuring out how many miles the car could go on a tank of gas, where gas stations were, and their hours of operation. And, of course, the mother in me asked him to call and check in every few hours—both on his way there and on his way home.

Let’s liken that experience to our earthly journey. We are all children of God. We should never forget that Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation is so very personal. It is His plan for me. I am His child. He loves me, watches over me, and wants me back home. If we can truly comprehend that, we can know for certain that a loving Heavenly Father would not send us on a long road trip alone without a plan. He would make sure that we had the information and resources necessary for our journey. He would want us to be safe and check in to let Him know where we are and how we are doing. And He would be anxiously awaiting our return home.

There are certain words and phrases we hear so often in the Church that, if we are not careful, they can seem ordinary. I believe the plan of salvation would fit in that category. Yet far from ordinary, God’s plan is extraordinary! Whether it is referred to as the plan of happiness, the plan of salvation, the plan of redemption, or simply the plan, it is what a loving Father in Heaven designed to enable us to return home to Him.

When was the last time you stopped to think about what the plan of salvation actually means—and more particularly what it means to you?

David A. Bednar gives us this beautiful definition, “Our Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness includes the doctrine, the ordinances, the covenants, and the exceeding great and precious promises whereby we can become partakers of the divine nature. His plan defines our eternal identity and the pathway we must follow to learn, change, grow, and ultimately dwell with Him forever.”1

Let’s go back to my son’s road trip. Most of the time, he could choose for himself where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. However, there was one thing that he could not neglect—gas stations! There were limitations as to how far he could go on a tank of gas. Knowing where and when to stop for gas was vital. Before he left, a plan was made. Because he understood that plan and accepted it, his trip was not only safe and successful, but also peaceful and enjoyable. We too accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan before we left His presence. The vital checkpoints on our mortal journey are the ordinances and covenants we make with Him. Like my son’s gas stops, these are not optional if we want to return home to our Heavenly Father. Covenants made and kept keep us safe in this life. D. Todd Christofferson recently reminded us, “The covenants God offers to His children do more than guide us. They bind us to Him, and, bound to Him, we can overcome all things.”2

Gratefully we did not come on this road trip of life unprepared. That doesn’t mean there won’t be ups and downs, twists and turns. There will be! At times, it will be downright hard! So, “in times of distress,” Elder Christofferson teaches, “let your covenants be paramount and let your obedience be exact. Then you can ask in faith, nothing, wavering, according to your need, and God will answer.”3 He is there, anxiously waiting to help us on our journey home to Him.

References:

1.  Exceeding Great and Precious Promises – David A. Bednar

2.  Why the Covenant Path – D. Todd Christofferson

3.  The Power of Covenants – D. Todd Christofferson

Preserving the Legacy

Sacrifice. Service. Perseverance. Loyalty. Courage. Those words could easily be used to describe both our Founding Fathers and our forefathers. The month of July is always packed full of fun and festivities, but it should also be a time when we reflect on what we have because of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. Those who founded this country have left a legacy that has shaped the world. And so did our early pioneers! For me, and perhaps for you, some of those pioneers were my family. Their legacy has had a profound impact on me. Now it is up to each of us to preserve those legacies.

D. Todd Christofferson once said, “Let us not be content with where we are, but neither let us be discouraged.”1 That seems to perfectly describe those who fought so long ago for our freedom and for our faith. The desire for a better life guided those who came before us. Their efforts and actions not only affected them but forever blessed the generations to follow. I absolutely believe they knew and understood that and that is what gave them a determined strength to keep going, especially when it was the most difficult. We are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice, service, perseverance, loyalty, and courage.

Whether patriots or pioneers, they certainly wanted things to be better. And thankfully they were wise enough not to let discouragement halt their progress or their dreams. May we, like them, not be content with where we are. May we, like them, keep the faith and not get discouraged when the going gets tough. May we, like them, give our all for our freedom and our faith.

Reference:

1.  The Living Bread Which Came Down From Heaven – D. Todd Christofferson

Feel At Home

Living in Utah, being able to attend the temple had always been easy. Maybe too easy! There wasn’t just one temple nearby but several! When the pandemic made it necessary for the temples to close, it was the first time in my life I couldn’t go any time I wanted to. Naively I thought surely the temples wouldn’t stay closed for long, maybe a month or two. At the time, I had been serving as a temple worker for nearly two years. Going weekly was part of a routine that I not only enjoyed but also very much needed. As the months passed, oh how I yearned to be in the temple!

A while ago, I read this quote by Neal A. Maxwell, “We cannot reenter His house until our behavior would let us feel at home.”1 Until now, I doubt the word reenter would have caught my attention. After months of being away, I was asked to come help with an early morning session for a limited time. It is impossible to describe my feelings as I walked into the temple that first day. I was overcome with emotion and profoundly grateful to be there! It really did feel like home!

Although not quite back to their pre-pandemic schedules, many temples have recently opened or are soon opening for more patrons to attend. There is so much excitement and anticipation. We have been away so long. So much time has passed. Are we ready to reenter? Will we feel at home? That was my initial thought when I first read Elder Maxwell’s words. But the more I have thought about it, the more I have come to realize that it doesn’t really matter if it has been a year, a month, a week, or even just a day. What has my behavior been like since the last time I was in the temple? Has it been such that I will feel at home when I go back?

Do you remember when President Russell M. Nelson reminded us that “every time [we] worthily serve and worship in the temple, [we] leave armed with God’s power and with His angels having ‘charge over’ [us].”2 That is an amazing blessing! One that we should never take for granted. And one we should not assume comes without effort on our part.

Elder Maxwell teaches us, “We cannot share in [God’s] power without sharing in His attributes.”1 How do we share in God’s attributes? We become like His Son. Because of our Savior’s perfect example, we can know God’s attributes. And by following Him, we can acquire those attributes. Becoming like the Savior is a lifelong pursuit. Some days will be more successful than others. But because of Him, we can try again when we don’t quite get it right. With His help, we can always do better and become better. As our behavior becomes aligned with His, we will feel at home in His house.

L. Whitney Clayton has taught, “As we become more like Him, we will feel at home in His house, and He will feel at home in ours.”3  Isn’t that a beautiful thought!

References:

1.  God Will Yet Reveal – Neal A. Maxwell

2.  Spiritual Treasures – Russell M. Nelson

3.  The Finest Homes – L. Whitney Clayton

The Small Details

“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”1

On a Monday two weeks ago, my friend’s father passed away. Within a day or two, her mother’s health unexpectedly declined, so rapidly that she was unable to attend her husband’s funeral on Saturday. Early Sunday morning she passed away. A whirlwind of a week, to say the least! Physically and emotionally exhausted, my friend turned on the TV to watch Music and the Spoken Word. The choir was singing “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing”—her favorite song. The Tabernacle Choir has nearly a thousand songs in their repertoire, yet this was the song that they were singing at this moment on this Sunday morning. To her, it was a very personal message from a loving Heavenly Father that He knew her and He knew just what would comfort her aching heart.

Last weekend, our stake sponsored a service project for refugees and others in need. We had gathered clothing, furniture, household appliances, cookware, toys, and other household items which were available for them to take at no cost. The outpouring of love was incredible. Our bowery property was filled to overflowing! We had so much clothing! We tried to hang all the dresses, suits, jackets, and dress shirts on make-shift clothing racks and along the fence. The entire grassy area was covered with men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, stacked on blankets, sorted by size and separated in tops and pants.  One sweet woman came up to me and asked if we had any temple dresses. I pointed her over to where the dresses were hung but told her that I had not seen any temple dresses. She said she had already looked there and hadn’t seen one either. I told her to check with the people who were still putting some things out. A few minutes later, I saw her walking toward me with something white draped over her arm. Stunned, I asked her if she had found a temple dress. With the biggest smile on her face, she said, “Yes, and it’s even my size!” I couldn’t contain my tears, and neither could she. She then told me that before she had left her home that morning, she had made a list of four things she really needed and said a prayer that she could find them. Three of the things were easy to find. The dress, however, would seem very unlikely. Now with the temple dress in hand, she had found everything she had prayed for. Out of literally thousands of articles of clothing, there was only one temple dress, and it was her exact size.

These two experiences are beautiful reminders that, as Ronald A. Rasband once taught, “The Lord is in the small details of our lives.”2 A song and a temple dress can certainly be described as small details, yet they came at the exact moments they were needed. They were heaven-sent miracles.

I hope we never overlook, underestimate or underappreciate the small and simple things that the Lord does for us. What often are called coincidences are, in fact, evidence that the Lord truly is in the small details of our lives.  

References:

1.  Alma 37:6

2.  By Divine Design – Ronald A. Rasband

What Kind Of Student Am I?

President Russell M. Nelson recently said, “Adversity is a great teacher.”1 I love how absolute that statement is. I think it is important to note that he didn’t say that adversity can be or might be a great teacher. So, the important question to ask myself is, “What kind of student am I?”

That turned out to be quite a soul-searching question for me. As I began to think of some of the adversities I have faced, my first thoughts were those things that rocked my world—the really big, really hard things. But then I began to think a little deeper, about times that probably shouldn’t have rocked my world but did—like the time I let something someone said offend me so much that it was hard to feel comfortable at church. That lasted longer than I care to admit! Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes even small, seemingly insignificant things can have very significant consequences when we refuse to recognize them and learn from them. For me, it seems I am a much better student when my classes are hard! During those times, there is no doubt that I need to study more and have more help from the Master Teacher!

The reality is none of us will escape adversity. It is a vital and ongoing part of our schooling here in mortality. As I have reflected on some of my greatest adversities, while I would definitely not want to repeat them, they truly have been great teachers. I have learned things I could have learned in no other way. I now see life through a completely different lens. I hope I am more compassionate, more loving, and more forgiving. I hope I am more aware of others who are experiencing heartache and sorrow. I most assuredly trust in God and in His promises! And even as I look back on my weakest adversities, I can see that they, too, have been great teachers. I can acknowledge that I am still learning and still growing and still trying. And so is everyone else!

I should probably ask myself more often what kind of student I am. And to that, I’ll add a few more questions too! “What am I learning from adversity?” “Am I trying to be a better student?” Am I relying on the Master Teacher to help me?”

Reference:

1.  What We Are Learning and Will Never Forget – Russell M. Nelson

be role models

Remember This: Kindness Begins With Me

The other day I took my almost two-year old grandson to the aquarium. Since there were hardly any people around, he happily ran from one exhibit to the next. When we got to the penguin exhibit, there was an even younger boy with his mother. Immediately, these two little boys connected. They climbed up and down the stairs together, giggling and watching each other’s every move. Although it didn’t last long, for them playing was just the natural thing to do.

Of course, their heartwarming interaction was nothing unusual. You can see the same thing happen at almost any playground. When little children see other little children, they see new friends. Is it any wonder the Savior taught, “Except ye … become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”?1

Earlier this month, Gary E. Stevenson spoke to young and old alike, reminding us of “our heavenly duty”2 to be kind and loving to each other. He counseled the adults to “be role models of kindness, inclusion, and civility—to teach Christlike behavior to the rising generation in what we say and how we act.”2

Too often what we hear and see cannot, in any way, be considered Christlike. Sadly, there are times those words and actions are our own. While we cannot change others, we can change what we say and do, how we act and react.

I am reminded of the Primary song I sang as a girl:

I want to be kind to everyone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, “Remember this:
Kindness begins with me.”3

Such wise words! Even one Christlike action can make a difference! Think about the light a small candle gives to a dark room. In the very same way, each small act of kindness will add much-needed light to an ever-darkening world.

That day at the aquarium, the role models of kindness, inclusion, and civility were two innocent little boys. As often happens in life, I was being taught by a child.

References:

1.  Matthew 18:3

2.  Hearts Knit Together – Gary E. Stevenson

3.  Kindness Begins With Me – Children’s Songbook

It Really Isn’t Complicated

I recently read a BYU devotional talk titled When Shall These Things Be? by M. Russell Ballard. Although it was given 25 years ago, it could easily have been given today! It is definitely worth reading! Something he said really resonated with me. “Are you going to follow the true and living prophets or not? It really isn’t any more complicated than that. Keep your eyes riveted on the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We will not lead you astray. We cannot.”1

This weekend is general conference and I’m so excited! One of the ways I like to prepare is to read the talks from the previous conference. I read them often throughout the six months, but there is something powerful that happens when I read them all in just a few days. It is almost like putting a puzzle together. Each piece adds to the next. When I am done, a beautiful masterpiece is before me. But it only remains a beautiful masterpiece if I apply what has been taught.

In a contentious and convoluted world, what an incredible blessing it is to have calm and concise voices guiding us through the confusion! With our eyes riveted on the prophet and apostles, we are protected. What an amazing promise!

David A. Bednar suggests this helpful pattern for us to follow as we listen to conference, “[I]dentify the fundamental doctrine or principle that’s being taught, find any invitations associated with and related to that doctrine or principle, and then … recogniz[e] the promised blessings, if we act in accordance with that invitation.”2

As you listen to conference this weekend, I encourage you to make a list of the things our leaders are inviting us to do. As you look at the list, think about Elder Ballard’s question. “Are you going to follow the true and living prophets or not?” Following them is acting on those invitations. It really isn’t any more complicated than that.

References:

1.  When Shall These Things Be? – M. Russell Ballard

2. Church News Podcast: Episode 24 – David A. Bednar

Who Do You Trust?

The other day someone posed the question, “Who do you trust?” He then began to list off a few people he often trusts, sometimes simply because of their professions, without even giving it a second thought. He is absolutely right! We all do that. Every time we get in our cars, we are trusting the other people on the road with us. When we go out to eat, we trust the restaurant owner, the cook, and the waiters. When we get on an airplane, we are putting our trust in the pilot, the mechanics, the air traffic controllers. The list goes on and on. But that is not where he wanted the question to take us. His question was meant for us to think deeply about who we really trust.

Why is it that we can so quickly put our trust in people we don’t know and who don’t know us and yet often find it difficult to trust God? He is our loving Heavenly Father. He does know us! And He does love us—more than we can imagine! He will support us and sustain us if we will put our trust in Him. The scriptures are clear about that! (See Alma 36:3, Alma 38:5)

Undoubtedly, life will be challenging. And sometimes it will be downright hard! That is just a fact. When we trust God and His timing, we can find peace amidst the storms of life. I have been blessed to feel His calming hand in during some pretty fierce storms.

When one of Joseph B. Wirthlin’s daughters was going through a particularly difficult time, he gave her a small card on which he had typed these words, “The simple secret is this: put your trust in the Lord, do your best, then leave the rest to Him.”1

That is the simple secret for all of us! There are unimaginable blessings and unexplainable peace when we trust God! And I trust Him with all my heart!

Reference:

1.  Come What May, and Love It – Joseph B. Wirthlin

Let God Prevail

I have always found it interesting how differently people handle life’s challenges. What makes someone more resilient? Perhaps that question can be answered with another question, one that Russell M. Nelson asked near the end of one of his conference talks, “Are you willing to let God prevail in your life?”1 I have thought a lot about that question over the last few months. What does it mean to let God prevail in our lives? Do we trust in Him and in His timing? Are we willing to rely on Him when we are asked to do hard things? Are we willing to walk away from the world, even if we are mocked for doing so? Most likely my answers to those questions will be a little different than yours. And I suspect even the meaning of those questions changes depending on what is happening in our lives.

One certainty in life is that we will have challenges—difficult ones! We will have disappointments, heartaches, doubts, and losses. At one point or another, we have all had to ask ourselves if we are willing to let God prevail in our lives, though we probably didn’t use those exact words.

Just recently I accepted a new assignment, one I cannot possibly do without a lot of help from Heavenly Father. I had questions only He could answer. And He did! I need His constant guidance. Letting Him prevail in my life is taking me on a beautiful journey. There have been other times in my life when I have had to trust Him and trust His promises. As I have done that, I have been sustained in my heartaches and have been able to rejoice in my covenants.

I have watched others as they have gone through heart-wrenching and life-changing events. Even if they weren’t consciously asking it, they have still had to confront that question head-on. Trusting God and letting Him prevail in our lives doesn’t mean going through our challenges alone. He expects us to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”2

One of our family friends got Covid really bad. He spent a few weeks in the hospital. At times, his condition was grim. His wife, feeling overwhelmed and scared and needing more faith than she had on her own, reached out to our family and asked for our faith and prayers. Our prayers were constant as we pleaded with Heavenly Father to bless our friend and his family, always placing our trust in Him no matter what happened. We decided to fast as a family. Things improved dramatically—for a few days. Then he had a setback. We fasted again. We kept praying. We held on to our faith and so did his family. He improved slowly and was finally able to go home. He still has a long road ahead of him, but he continues to recover and regain his strength.

You may recall the experience President Nelson shared about his granddaughter-in-law whose father passed away despite fasting, prayers, and priesthood blessings. Understandably, she was devastated. She had to consciously “expand [her] perspective and seek the eternal.”1 President Nelson said, “By choosing to let God prevail, she is finding peace.”1 If we choose to do the same, we too will have peace and “wholeness and joy.”1

As we ask ourselves if we are willing to let God prevail, President Nelson reminds us that the word willing is crucial. “We have our agency. … We can choose to let God prevail in our lives, or not. We can choose to let God be the most powerful influence in our lives, or not.”1 Let’s choose to do it—everyday and always! At times it may be difficult, but it is surely much easier than the alternative! Especially in our most difficult hours, life is always better when God is in charge.

References:

1.  Let God Prevail – Russell M. Nelson

2.  Mosiah 18:9

Love should be …

If you have turned on your television or radio in the last several days, you have undoubtedly been bombarded with commercials reminding you that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and you need to buy this or that to show the special people in your life just how much you love them. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t write a note or do something extra special for the ones we love this week. Not at all! We definitely should! Holidays are great times to show expressions of love.

However, the way we show people we genuinely love them is how we treat them – day in and day out, especially when life is hard or it’s inconvenient. I think Dieter F. Uchdorf said it best, “Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do. … Love should be our walk and our talk.”1

Think about it, if Heavenly Father has commanded us to love, He will help us know how to love and who to love! I truly believe that! When love is our walk and our talk, we are focused on others. We look for ways to bless those around us. And most importantly, we listen for the impressions from the Spirit. When love is our walk and our talk, the quality of our relationships will improve! Love begets love. Love begets miracles!

When was the last time you did a random act of kindness for a member of your family? For a friend? For a stranger? Sometimes it’s the really simple things that have the greatest impact. Joseph B. Wirthlin once said, “We often don’t know the reach of a simple act of kindness.”2

Imagine how much better the world be if each of us made a conscious effort to have love be our walk and our talk every day!

References:

1.  The Love of God – Dieter F. Uchtorf

2.  The Abundant Life – Joseph B. Wirthin