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

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

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

Your Personal Key to Heaven

In a worldwide devotional in 2017 Russell M. Nelson said, “Pray to discern between God’s laws and the philosophies of men, including those cunning counterfeits of the adversary. Through eons of time, Lucifer has honed his craft. He is skilled at distraction, distortion, deception, and misdirection. I plead with you to avoid his cunning snares as you would avoid a plague!”1 As you read that last sentence with today’s perspective, it is impossible to misunderstand the urgency of President Nelson’s plea.

Think how dramatically the current pandemic has altered our lives. In a split second, everything changed. In one way or another, each of us has been affected by this plague. There have been lost freedoms, lost jobs, and lost lives. It will take years to recover.

The same will be true if we get caught in Satan’s cunning snares. I find President Nelson’s use of the word skilled chilling. Satan is skilled at distracting us and deceiving us. He will distort the truth. And he would love to divert us from looking in the right places for answers to our spiritual questions. Those are his cunning snares! We must avoid them as we would avoid a plague!

We simply cannot navigate through the challenges of life alone. We can’t! We need constant help from heaven. Recently M. Russell Ballard encouraged us to “rely more fully upon God and to turn [our] hearts to Him through sincere prayer. Seeking heaven’s inspiration to endure or conquer what is before us will be our safest and surest way to move confidently forward through these troubling times.”2

I love this reminder from Boyd K. Packer, “Prayer is your personal key to heaven.”3 We really do have a loving Father in Heaven who is eager to help us and to answer our prayers. I know that! Whenever I sincerely ask for answers to pressing questions, the answers always come. There have been times when my prayers were not answered in the way I desired, but He softened my heart to accept His will.

Prayer is powerful! It can change us. It can give us courage. It can give us strength. “Let us remember and appreciate the power of prayer.”2

References:

1.  Prophets, Leadership, and Divine Law – Russel M. Nelson

2.  Watch Ye Therefore, and Pray Always – M. Russell Ballard

3.  Prayer and Promptings – Boyd K. Packer

love life

Love Life!

Many years ago, Russell M. Nelson gave this advice, which seems especially necessary right now, “Love life! Cherish each moment as a blessing from God. Live it well—even to your loftiest potential.”1 With the craziness and chaos all around us, loving life requires us to be more thoughtful and more intentional about what we allow into our lives. It requires us to be more focused on the good and especially on God.

Can we truly love life without having peace in our life? Can we live life to our loftiest potential without striving to live peaceably? I don’t think so. Is it possible to be peaceable when contention seems to be everywhere? Yes, it is!

One of the greatest examples of this is found in the Book of Mormon. The prophet Mormon described wars and wickedness that are hard to comprehend. Yet he recognized the followers of Christ because of their “peaceable walk with the children of men.”2 Those words have always intrigued me. What exactly does a peaceable walk look like, especially in extremely challenging times? I’ve reflected on that many times but more so lately. The other day I got the best answer!

I was listening to Sheri Dew’s interview with the prophet’s wife, Wendy Nelson. One of the questions Sister Dew asked was, “President Nelson gave a talk called ‘Hear Him.’ What have you learned about hearing Him, how to hear Him, from being married to President Nelson?” This is part of Sister Nelson’s answer, “To hear Him, … we absolutely remove anything that prevents the Spirit from being in our home in full abundance. An example is zero contention. I thought that was an impossible thing. … [L]iterally, if we would be watching a movie, and there would be contention, he needed to turn it off. If there was a sporting game, but it became contentious rather than competitive, he would turn it off. So anything that offends the Spirit —contention. … Our home is designed by both of us to make sure that the Spirit can be there in full abundance so that hearing Him is always on our mind.”3

That is what walking peaceably looks like!

Begin today, as Jeffrey R. Holland challenged us, “to be peacemakers—to love peace, to seek peace, to create peace, to cherish peace.”4

As we do, we will be among those who our prophet today will recognize as followers of Christ because of our peaceable walk with each other. “Love life! Cherish each moment as a blessing from God. Live it well—even to your loftiest potential.”1

References:

1.  Doors of Death – Russell M. Nelson

2.  Moroni 7:4

3.  Wendy Nelson Interview – Church News Podcast

4.  The Ministry of Reconciliation – Jeffrey R. Holland

Count It All Joy

Count it all joy – what a great scriptural reminder we find in James 1:2! President Russell M. Nelson has taught that joy is “a principle that will only become more important as the tragedies and travesties around us increase.”1 Does that sound a little like this year? Interestingly, the entire scripture reads, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”2 In the Joseph Smith Translation, the last few words are “when ye fall into many afflictions.”3 Many afflictions? Absolutely! What about different temptations? I’m sure there have been at least a few times this year when we’ve been tempted to complain, to get upset, to give up, to be unkind. And yet, we are to count it all joy.

President Nelson reminded us that “joy … as little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation … and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”1

When everything started shutting down, I found myself focusing on what I couldn’t do. I could no longer go to the temple or to church, go on vacation or out to dinner. I was allowing restrictions—circumstances—to blur my focus. Places, as wonderful as they may be, are not the source of my joy.

Luckily it didn’t take me too long to get my focus where it belonged. Never before have I  felt such a longing to be in the temple, been more anxious to hear from the prophet, so excited for general conference, and more eager to go to church. The sacrament has become more sacred, the temple more cherished, family more valued, and the living prophet more important.

Through this year of tragedies and travesties, temptations and afflictions, I am more profoundly grateful for my family, my faith, and my friends. Yes, I can count it all joy.

References:

1.  Joy and Spiritual Survival – Russell M. Nelson

2.  James 1:2

3.  James 1:2 – Joseph Smith Translation