An LDS Perspective on Death

Standard

Not very long ago, a family I know lost their young son Evan when he drowned. This little boy was always so bright-eyed and cheerful at church. A line in one of the most moving and powerful novels ever written – Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton – reminds me of Evan. The story is about a black African pastor whose son kills the son of a wealthy white landowner (who lives nearby). The story is one of suffering but also redemption. There is a touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor), the father of the murderer confronts his neighbor, the father of the slain. During this difficult encounter the umfundisi admits to his neighbor “it was my son that killed your son.” After this revelation, both men talk for a brief time. During that conversation, Mr. Jarvis, the wealthy landowner, reflected on the times in the past that he rode past the umfundisi’s church. He then asked if the umfundisi had ever seen – years ago – his young son ride by the church.

“Jarvis listened to the sounds in the house. Then he spoke very quietly. Perhaps, you saw the boy also, he said. He too used to ride past Ndotsheni. On a red horse with a white face. And he carried wooden guns, here in his belt, as small boys do…. I remember, umnumzana [said the umfundisi]. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him.”

That last line in that touching encounter reminds me of Evan – there was a brightness in him. Every time I saw him walking down the hallway at church, I saw that brightness. That brightness has faded from this life but it is not forever lost. Evan’s brightness only glows with more intensity in the next life – waiting to illuminate his family when they are reunited once again.

Rob Gardner used a poem written by his grandmother in his musical production Joseph Smith, the Prophet. This poem is the thoughts of a mother who lost a child. I will take the liberty of making minor edits so that it fits more with Evan’s death and all children who are lost so young.

“The wind through the cypress made them sway
And rolled the clouds back that winter day
The sun shone through long enough to say
Your baby was here, but cannot stay.

For there are more important things to do
And [he] must add a gleam to heaven’s hue
To help brighten the pathway for one and all
For through the darkness, great men fall.
This little spirit so pleasant and fair
Returned to the ones who were waiting there.
And when I walk out in the night divine
I know one of the stars that shine is mine.

[He] came to the earth just for a while
[Just] long enough to see [him] smile
For this little [child] we loved so much
Was just too precious for a mother’s touch.”

As a parent of young children, I was especially touched by the experience of Evan’s death. Even so, I can’t really understand the grief the family went through. The loss I’ve experienced in my life has been different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. [This essay was originally written in 2009; since that time my family experienced the loss of a niece, a particularly difficult event, and I’ve lost other friends and acquaintances to death; most of them have been young, about my own age]. All deaths of friends or family members can be trying experiences. I’d like to share a few experiences with death I’ve had over the years and some of the knowledge and comfort I gained through those times. In all these experiences, other people suffered much more than I did; others had more poignant pains and more severe suffering but each of these experiences also affected me deeply.

When I was 15, the cousin I was closest to – in age and in friendship – took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn’t have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending three weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent three weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn’t enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable and homesick. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them – two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.

The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I’m normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don’t know if I cried very much then. I actually don’t think I ever really cried much about Tanner’s death; I was upset by it and sad but I didn’t cry much. I don’t know why, I’m normally emotional about such things (and more so the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental – that he really didn’t mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner’s mother, my aunt, did. I’ve missed Tanner over these years but I know that I’ll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That’s one of the beauties of the gospel – it provides hope.

A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I cannot say I was a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me) so we were around each other a lot. He lived just down the street from me. Following Max’s death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men’s president) following Max’s death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max’s choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max’s father expressed hope for his son. I’ll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience and one of the most influential lesson’s I’ve ever had at church.

The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening; then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of the difficulty at the time. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.

Not too long after I got home from my mission – the following summer, in fact – I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people – in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.

The next 4 deaths I experienced were not as sudden but they were still painful. My grandfather John died after a quick fight with cancer just a few days before my oldest daughter was born. In 2008, within one and one-half months of each other, my other three grandparents died after extended fights with various dementias. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. Then just about one month later my grandmother Maxine passed away. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Shortly after her death, her husband, my grandfather Wallace, followed her into the eternal worlds.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and grief. These events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. This door appears ominous and heavy to us but it leads from a world of despair and darkness into one of light and love. While there is sorrow on our part, there can be joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families.

One thing that got me through all of these hard times is a sure knowledge of the resurrection. I have faith in the Savior and in life after death. Death is part of life – it happens to all – but that fact rarely assuages our grief. Death that occurs early in life usually seems tragic while death in late life rarely seems tragic. With a broader perspective, whether or not a death is truly tragic depends more on the type of life lived rather than the length of life lived. However in reality, when we lose loved ones we still feel the intense pain of separation regardless of the goodness of a person’s life. I believe we should grieve. However, at some point the pain we feel can be replaced by joy. It may take a long time; we may never fully move beyond the pain in this life but tasting that bitterness will help us appreciate the sweetness that comes when we are reunited with our lost loved ones in the life to come.

Following the death of my granny but before her husband – my grandpa – died, I had a dream about her. I share this personal experience because of the symbolism of it and because it strengthened my testimony of the reality of life after death. That’s my purpose in posting this series about lessons I’ve learned from death – to share my testimony that this life is not the end; there is life after death. Some dreams are just dreams but I think some are very meaningful and some are inspired, even visions. This dream falls into the meaningful, symbolic category.

In my dream my family members were all sitting in an LDS chapel. My aunts and uncles were there too – it was our whole extended family. We were all sitting there talking quietly when Granny walked in. She still appeared old but she looked well, like she did before her dementia. She sat down and started talking with various family members – she was the same Granny we all knew. She didn’t stay long. When she stood up to walk out she grabbed Tanner’s hand (he just appeared by her side – Tanner is my cousin who died in 1995) and the two of them exited through the chapel doors. That was the end of the dream. It was really nice to see Granny as Granny again. I thought this dream was wonderfully symbolic of Granny leaving our family who are all still living and going to be with those who have already passed on to the other side. She simply walked through a door to a different phase of existence.

The Savior did not just suffer for our sins, He atoned for our sorrows and sufferings. Once again a quote by Alan Paton is enlightening: “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering…. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”

The prophet Alma taught how the Savior’s atonement helps us overcome death and sin and sorrow and sickness: “And [the Savior] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). The Savior suffered in part so that He would fully understand our sufferings. This means, as Alma said, that He knows how to heal our wounds; the Great Physician will apply His balm of Gilead and the salve of salvation.

The great prophet Enoch had a vision that spanned the ages of the earth. He saw many people in many times. He saw the great wickedness upon the face of the earth. He saw the flood in the time of Noah wipe out all the people of the earth except for Noah and his family. Enoch’s response to this vision was similar to many of our responses to death. “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look. And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?” (Moses 7:44-45). The blood of the Lamb that was slain sanctifies us, which sanctification is not just a purification of our sins but also a change in our very beings. Sorrow is replaced with exultation.

Joseph Smith, while a prisoner in the Liberty Jail pleaded, “O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?… Remember thy suffering saints, O our God: and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” (D&C 121:1,6). In reply the Lord comforted Joseph: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). What comfort comes from Him who descended below all and rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death! The prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma experienced the loss of multiple children. Surely their grief was intense as they buried their little children amid the turmoil of the Restoration. Joseph said, “The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on the earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 196-197).

Faced with the loss of precious loved ones we often wish that they could remain with us, but our views are often limited and one-sided. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin offered some comforting words not long before he passed away:

“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt…. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome…. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

One line is especially key: “The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” Our tears of sorrow will – sooner or later – turn to tears of joy. We don’t always or even often understand some of the hard things we are asked to bear – and little could be harder to bear than the premature death of a child – but the Lord understands our pains. The Savior personally experienced them – all of them and more! He knows who we are personally and hears our prayers. He even matches our tears with His own.

The Prophet Joseph offered these words of faith to those suffering the pains and pangs of loss: “If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.” (Source). Sometimes that long journey into the eternities occurs early in life and sometimes it occurs late in life; but for all, it does occur.

One of the great blessings of the gospel is the sealing power that binds families together for eternity. This power was held by many of the ancient prophets. It was lost from the earth during the great apostasy that promptly followed the death of the Savior’s original apostles. Elijah came to the prophet Joseph Smith to restore this power. This restoration was prophesied by Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). To someone who lost a child or a parent or a sibling to the dark clutches of death, these words resonate with a euphonious and joyful sound. Hearts readily turn to those who are dead. What is comforting is that with the sealing power, as hearts turn there is more than just longing; there is real power in the sealing of a family together. The bonds of family continue beyond the grave and into the eternities. That’s the great blessing of the gospel – we can be together forever with our family. This sealing occurs in the temple. Sealing the generations together is “the great work…done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times” (D&C 138:48).

In the Kirtland Temple in 1836 the Prophet Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 137). He saw some there who died before the restoration of the gospel (particularly his brother Alvin). He marveled that people like Alvin could be exalted without having received the gospel while they were alive. This is one of the most liberal and amazing blessings from our Heavenly Father. All will have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the gospel either in this life or in the life to come. They can accept or reject those ordinances – they can choose not to fully consecrate themselves to Truth and the Lord – but they will have the choice. The doctrine that is even more comforting, particularly to parents who lose their little ones, is that all children who die before they reach accountability will be saved in the celestial kingdom as Joseph saw in vision: “I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10). That’s a very comforting doctrine; I also think it can add extra incentive for parents to live righteously so they will be able to live with their children again!

Death need not seem completely tragic. As the Prophet Joseph said: “The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope” (Source).

As much as fathers love their children and miss them terribly if they die, mothers are often more distressed by the deaths of their children. There is something special about carrying the child for 9 months then approaching the gates of death to bring forth a new child through the doorway of life; this act and service creates a special bond between mother and child. If this bond is shattered by a premature death, even though the break may be only temporary, mothers are often devastated. Joseph Smith offered these words of comfort to mothers who have had their children sealed to them: “‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?’ Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid…. Children … must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.” (Source).

That’s another wondrous blessing of the gospel – we mourn those who die but we do not mourn without hope. In the acute and even chronic pain of separation, as overwhelming the grief may be, with the blessings of the gospel, there is always a beacon of hope in the darkness. This beacon may appear dim and distant but it is there to comfort us in our darkest hours. We can see this beacon as we let our faith break through the wall of despair. Eventually this beacon will grow brighter until we are able to embrace once again the source of the light as we cross from this life to the next and are reunited with our loved ones.

Sometimes the light of these loved ones blesses in this life in our times of sorrow. In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on suffering but more specifically on experiences that help us overcome suffering. He missed the April 1999 and October 2000 General Conferences due to multiple surgeries. I remember parts of his talk vividly – some of what he said resonated strongly with me while I watched and listened to him, an apostle of the Lord bear testimony of the comforts God provides to His children. As he was suffering in pain in the hospital, Elder Hales reflected on the blessings of the gospel.

“On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s own way. It is one thing to teach, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need.” (Hales, Nov. 2000 Ensign, Online Source).

Sometimes angels visibly comfort us in our dark hours. As members of the Church we are entitled to the ministering of angels as we live worthily. These angels are not always seen but sometimes they are seen; when they minister unto us they provide great comfort and hope.

For me, one way of obtaining comfort for another’s death is remembering that I was there in the pre-earth life when the Plan of Salvation was presented. We all were there. We were there when Lucifer presented his alternate plan, which was rejected. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity to come, even though we knew there would be hard things to bear and many sorrows to experience. There are times in this life that I shrink from the bitter cups from which I am asked to drink; we all drink dregs of bitterness in our lives. Knowing the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness that we can taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon in life. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning us to him. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. Death is not the end; it is a door – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died that we might all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

“For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:15-17).

The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” (Alma 11:45). Through death and resurrection we see an end to corruption of the flesh. That’s one of the great blessings of the resurrection and all who have lived on the earth will receive the blessing of resurrection. We have experienced the aches and pains of life and will have greater joy in the incorruption of our bodies in the resurrection. We can also see an end to corruption of the spirit as well and be whole and pure in the resurrection through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the blood of the Savior.

The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. Additionally, the Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father’s merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day and a new dawn.

Note: This is a repost and slight update of an essay I previous posted in separate parts on my blog. Links to the original posts are found in this post I wrote in reflection on the death of my niece.

The Mission and Spirit of Elijah

Standard

The mission of Elijah is so important, his conferral of priesthood keys so vital to our salvation and to the work of the church in the latter days that I will reiterate many of the things that [our stake patriarch] spoke about so we can both serve as witnesses to the truth of the prophecy of Malachi and of Elijah’s mission. Elder Cook spoke on this topic this past General Conference and a number of others also addressed it.

The last two verses of the Old Testament contain prophecies about restoration:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Those verses refer to Elijah (whose name is a testimony of God), his return to the earth, and the subsequent conversion of hearts. The Savior quoted these verses when He visited the Nephites after His resurrection (3 Nephi 25:5-6). Moroni quoted them the first time he appeared unto Joseph Smith.

Moroni gave the scripture with minor differences; this rendition is found in Doctrine and Covenants 2: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:1-3). Instead of turning hearts of fathers to children, the children will have the promises made unto the fathers planted in their hearts. These are promises, or covenants, made by The Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they are promises made to other prophets; they are promises made to our ancestors. This has direct applications to the restoration of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ for the Restoration is a restoration of covenants given in days long past.

The restoration of covenants came through visitations of holy messengers. One of those visitors was Elijah, who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, the day when Jews around the world had a place set for him in expectant welcome at their tables during the Passover. Joseph Smith recalled the experience:

“Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.” (D&C 110:14-16).

Since that time – since the keys of the sealing of families together forever were restored – we’ve had an exponential increase in the yearnings of fathers and mothers to daughters and sons, an increase in the spirit of Elijah that bears witness of the divine nature of the family (see Russell M. Nelson, “A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).

In Deuteronomy we are commanded to learn about history, specifically our family history: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

At this past General Conference Elder Anderson counseled: “Find your grandfathers and grandmothers and your distant cousins who have gone before you. Take their names to the temple with you. As you learn about your ancestors, you will see patterns of life, of marriage, of children; patterns of righteousness; and occasionally patterns that you will want to avoid.” (Spiritual Whirlwinds, Elder Anderson, April 2014). As we study the lives of those who came before, we can be inspired by them or be warned by their poor choices. We can strive to emulate their faithfulness and seek to improve shortcomings they and we might have.

I’d like to share three stories from my family that illustrate faith and devotion to God. The are illustrative of the spirit of Elijah and the sealing keys restored through him.

A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing persecution from government and church leaders in England, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. They struggled to earn a living in Holland so they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.

Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.”

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travellers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur and where Elijah could come to restore keys of sealing. I’m grateful for the sacrifices made, courage shown, and dedication to God by the Pilgrims.

I’d like to jump ahead more than 200 years to the year 1854 and travel 350 miles to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

One of my great-grandfathers – Samuel Linton – was on a quest to discover religious truth. He told of his conversion to the gospel of Christ, which occurred shortly after his father unexpectedly died: “I made up my mind to go and hear every sect and party that professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [to discover which I thought was true]. I saw [an] advertisement of the Latter-day Saints which read like this: ‘Elder Samuel Harrison of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would preach at ten o’clock on Sunday at 7th and Callow Hill, and he would show that neither Protestant nor Catholic had the true gospel preached to them.’ This took my attention. I thought they were the most presumptuous people I had heard of, to style themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I thought I must go and hear them first. I was there on time. The people began to gather in. I thought they were the most sociable, happy people I had ever seen. The Elder came in and went up on the stand and gave out a hymn. I thought it, and the prayer, was the most sensible I had ever heard. He preached from the New Testament, and quoted passages of scripture that I had committed to memory in Methodist Sabbath School, but he applied them in such a different light that it bothered me to understand it…. When meeting was over I was in no hurry to go. There was a man by the name of Luts, a perfect stranger to me. He asked what I thought of the preaching. I told him I had no fault to find. I asked him a great many questions. He answered me satisfactorily. He told me if I would come back in the afternoon, he would lend me a book, which, if I would read, I could learn a great deal about the Gospel. I read it, I was convinced that the Lord had restored the Gospel and the authority to administer the Ordinances thereof, I applied for baptism. They asked me if I had considered the consequences. He asked me if I was ready to have my friends turn against me and have my name cast out as evil, and suffer persecution, and perhaps lay down my life. I considered a moment, and I thought the former-day Saints had to take all these chances, so I told him I was prepared for all this. He said on these conditions you may be baptized. They were about three weeks before they were ready to go. There were quite a few baptized. There was plenty of ice to be moved, so we had a cold bath. We were all right. We took no harm. This was the first of January, 1854.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 1 of 3).

Samuel joined and remained firm in the faith even though it caused conflict with some of his family. He emigrated to Utah, living near Salt Lake for a while until he was called to what was referred to as the “Muddy Mission” – colonizing St. George, Utah. Samuel went without question. All of Samuel’s life he exhibited great faith; his daughter spoke of his faith: “We never had to call a doctor if father administered to us, we got well immediately, no matter what ailed us.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).

From Utah, through letters, Samuel tried to teach his mother and family who were living in Philadelphia. He took two trips back east to teach his family. I’ll quote from a history about him: “[Samuel] was very anxious to have his folks join the church. His father died a year after they came to Philadelphia and [Samuel] later left to gather with the Saints. After 20 years he got a letter from his mother through the dead letter office. [Samuel] began writing trying to convert [his mother and siblings]. Later he made two trips to visit them, but they were too full of prejudice to talk to him or listen so no more joined the church, but he has had their work done in the Temple which we hope they have learned to accept and appreciate.”  (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).

Samuel, in being baptized, had his family turn against him but he knew the gospel was true. He believed in the ordinances of the temple and made sure those ordinances were performed for his family so they could, if they accepted the work, be part of the great chain of generations welded to each other and ultimately to our Eternal Father.

In Doctrine and Covenants 128 Joseph Smith quotes 1st Corinthians 15:29 referencing baptism for the dead and then explains what it means. In Joseph’s explanation, he quotes Malachi.

“16 And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:29: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse…. The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:16-18).

The prophecy and promise of Malachi foretold of the role of Elijah in helping restore the keys necessary to save families by welding generation to generation.

I will relate one more story, this time jumping ahead 150 years from the time when my ancestor Samuel joined the church. This is an experience I particularly felt prompted to share this morning [in Sacrament Meeting].

My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.

Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.

Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source: http://www.hopewessman.net/2009/05/hopes-story-her-miraculous-life.html)

We read in the scriptures: “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.” (2 Nephi 2:8-9). The atonement of Jesus Christ brings hope! Even those passing through the darkest abyss can feel peace. Those who have departed are merely that – parted from us but not forever lost.

Because of the atonement of Christ, because of the sealing power of the priesthood that was restored unto Joseph Smith by the prophet Elijah, families can be together forever! We know that tears of sorrow and that separation are only for a small moment. Even though hearts rend in suffering, Christ repairs the breach; He binds up the broken-hearted. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of fathers and mothers, which might be broken, turn to their children. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of children turn to their mothers and fathers. As temple ordinances are performed, families are welded together for eternity.

My cousin and his wife had three other children born without complications after Hope. Then, in 2012 they found out that the baby they were expecting – Amelia Grace – had the same genetic condition as Hope. The same shock and sorrow hit them but they knew that they had coped with the death of Hope and they could cope with Amelia’s. They again found strength in the atonement and in the blessings of the temple. Amelia died during the birthing process but through the sealing power of the holy priesthood, Amelia and Hope can be Mike and Marinda’s eternally!

My cousin shared his testimony after the death of Amelia: “The loss of one’s child is not a pleasant experience. While I do not know why Marinda and I have this experience, I testify that we are strengthened through Christ, knowing that we can be reunited with our…daughter(s) again one day. For this is part of God’s plan for each of his children who seek to follow him.” (Source: http://www.ameliawessman.net/p/a-fathers-thoughts.html)

I testify that those who have experienced such great loss can find healing through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify that this what the mission of Elijah is ultimately about – allowing for families to be sealed together for eternity. I pray that we all remember the words of Malachi and turn our hearts to our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and participate in the sacred work of the temple.

Long-winded Paul

Standard

There is a story in the New Testament that is morbidly funny. I don’t want to make light of a tragic event but everything worked out in the end so maybe there is justification in seeing the humor of the situation.

The Apostle Paul was a tireless champion of the cross. He preached Christ in whatever situation he was in and selflessly spread Christ’s gospel. He fulfilled his calling as an apostle – a special witness of Christ. Paul was a powerful preacher. As an aside, I’ve always been interested in physical descriptions of historical figures, particularly from scriptural history. Joseph Smith described Paul’s physical appearance like this: “He is about five feet high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 180; see also Paul: Untiring Witness of Christ). This compact man was a lion of the Lord. He was also long-winded.

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.” (Acts 20:7-12).

Sometime on Sunday the disciples of Christ held a sacrament (communion) meeting. Needing to get an early start on a journey the next day their church meeting was kept short. Actually, no it wasn’t. Paul preached “and continued his speech until midnight.” Lamps were lit as Paul continued to talk. One of those at the long meeting was a young man named Eutychus. He, understandably, dozed off while Paul taught long into the night. Unfortunately, Eutychus was sitting on a window ledge on one of the upper floors. The loss of muscle tone with sleep and the combined effects of height and gravity resulted in the premature demise of poor Eutychus. It might even be said that Paul bored this man to death. So Paul rushed down and raised Eutychus from the dead. Many might have taken this as a sign to cease preaching but Paul went back up, broke bread (sacrament) and “talked a long while, even till break of day.” Paul wasn’t one to let a little thing like death and bringing someone back to life get in the way of a good sermon.

There are many reasons why Paul preached for so long. One of the most important is that Paul was a visiting church authority who had a lot of instructing to do. He had just a short time in Alexandria Troas (where this story takes place) before he had to continue on his journey. Paul had one short week and likely only one sacrament meeting to teach and organize the church in that city. So he taught, day and night, without ceasing and without tiring. Paul was an unflinching and unfailing witness of Christ. There is a reason Christ appeared to the man who was then called Saul on the way to Damascus. Just as Saul was zealous in his defense of the Law of Moses and in attacking Christianity, he became zealous in defending Christ once converted. Yes, Paul was long-winded but he was a powerful witness of Christ and one of the most important and influential leaders of the early Church of Jesus Christ.

Two Years

Standard

Two years ago today, the spirit of my niece Allison sloughed off her mortal tabernacle in an accident that brought crashing grief and pain. I have few new words to convey my feelings and thoughts at this point. I posted about Allison last year and shortly after the accident two years ago (my sister also posted a brief memorial post on her website today). Comfort is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ – in His Atonement and resurrection – and in the blessings of the Priesthood and the temple (for more information see http://mormon.org/plan-of-happiness)

I hope that we can all be a little more kind and loving today; I hope that we can find someone to lift up – to help someone who is sad feel glad. May we recognize the supernal blessings we all are given from our Father and from the Savior; may we recognize then receive and not reject what has been given and then render up our thanks unto God for those blessings.

Because I have few words to add about Allison, below is a video recording of the BYU Men’s Chorus singing the beautiful song Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort, arranged by Mack Wilberg. I love the lines: “Death shall not destroy my comfort, Christ shall guide me thro’ the gloom…Jordan’s stream shall not o’erflow me while my Savior’s by my side… Oh, hallelujah! How I love my Savior! Mourners, you may love Him too.”

Full lyrics:

Death shall not destroy my comfort,
Christ shall guide me thro’ the gloom;
Down he’ll send some heav’nly convoy,
To escort my spirit home.

(Chorus)
Oh, hallelujah! How I Love my Savior,
Oh, hallelujah! That I Do.
Oh, Hallelujah! How I love my Savior!
Mourners, you may love him too.

Jordan’s stream shall not o’erflow me,
While my Savior’s by my side;
Canaan, Canaan lies before me!
Soon I’ll cross the swelling tide.
(Chorus)

See the happy spirits waiting,
On the banks beyond the stream!
Sweet responses still repeating,
“Jesus! Jesus!” is their theme.
(Chorus)

Elder Bowen’s General Conference Talk

Standard

General Conference so far has been uplifting. I have enjoyed the talks and the music. One talk that touched me particularly was Elder Shayne M. Bowen’s from Saturday morning. He spoke about parents losing children to death. The grief is severe but the guilt and anger can become toxic and destructive. Christ offers reassurance in the resurrection and assuagement through the Atonement.

As a side note: I met Elder Bowen a couple times when he visited our previous ward. I was impressed when he took the time to meet with our youth and teach our young men – offering to answer whatever questions they had (and as Young Men’s President I was more than happy to turn my lesson time over to one of the Seventy). He is a great teacher and has a deep love and knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Charge for Memorial Day

Standard

As we are celebrating Memorial Day here in the United States, a day that we honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country and freedom, a quote from Joseph Smith resonated with me. During the “Last Charge” meeting, Joseph Smith told those present the following, which was meant to be encouraging:

“Brethren, you have many storms to pass through and many sore trials await you; you will know what it is to be bound with chains and with fetters for this cause’s sake. God knows I pity you and feel for you. But if you are called to lay down your lives, die like men of God and pass immediately beyond the reach of your enemies. After they have killed you they can harm you no more. Should you have to walk right into danger and the jaws of death, fear no evil – Jesus Christ has died before you.” (As cited by Truman Madsen).

We all die. Whether we die old or young, in sickness or in battle, we still die. What is important is the manner in which we have lived our lives and the manner in which we face our deaths. I hope that we can all, when the time comes, die like men and women of God – faithful. If so, when we are dead we are beyond the reach of all our enemies. Jesus Christ died that we might live. All will live again; I hope that all who will might live again as Christ lives – in celestial glory.

He Lives!

Standard

“He is not here: for he is risen” (Matt. 28:6) – never were more powerful or hopeful words spoken! With His resurrection, Christ shattered the bonds of death, freeing all from that dark prison. He set the captives free, blessing all who lived with immortality after their deaths: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Prophets in our day testify of Christ’s resurrection. In 2000, the Lord’s living apostles and prophets testified:

“[Jesus Christ] rose from the grave to “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life. He also ministered among His “other sheep” (John 10:16) in ancient America. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).

Of the Living Christ, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

“I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C 110:3–4).

Of Him the Prophet also declared: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).” (The Living Christ).

I add my witness of the Living Christ. He lived, atoned, died, and was resurrected in propitiation for our sins and to help us overcome death. He overcame death and hell so that we might be able to have physical and spiritual life. Jesus is my Savior and King. He has come and will come again to the earth!

Arising from darkness – the miracle of forgiveness

Standard

This is the talk (with very slight modifications) I gave in Sacrament Meeting today. Much of it is found in other posts on this blog but I edited, arranged, and added the material. It was an almost 30 minute talk (I’m grateful I had prepared enough material, although I had plenty of backup prepared as well that I did not have the use).

With the strike of an automobile, one year ago tragedy struck our family. As I have shared a number of times on this site, my 11 year old niece Allison was riding her bicycle when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. It has been a challenging year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? Do we forgive or do we allow the cankering cancer of hate to grow inside ourselves? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The healing waters of Christ cannot wash away our hurt and grief if we keep them locked up within the stony tables of our hearts instead of offering them up to Him. Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow, suffering, and pain. Sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in our lives. We can even find joy amidst the hardship as we turn towards Christ. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

Jesus offers hope and healing to all who mourn. Isaiah tells us that the Savior: “bind[s] up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim[s] liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He] comfort[s] all that mourn; [and] appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give[s] unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer. He pours forth the olive oil of mercy unto those in need and He comforts those who mourn: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

God shall wipe tears from our eyes – what a touching, beautiful, and miraculous experience that will be! This is a miracle we can perform for others. Pres. Harold B. Lee said of this miracle – the miracle of healing those who sorrow and who suffer with spiritual sickness: “The greatest miracles I see today are not necessarily the healing of sick bodies, but the greatest miracles I see are the healing of sick souls, those who are sick in soul and spirit and are downhearted and distraught, on the verge of nervous breakdowns. We are reaching out to all such because they are precious in the sight of the Lord and we want no one to feel that they are forgotten.” (Lee, April 1973 General Conference). The Lord came to heal the sick – in body and spirit. We are commanded to follow Christ; we must to do as He did and reach out to and heal those who are dejected and sick in spirit.

Even in times of our own suffering we can help heal others. In the days before Allison’s funeral, my sister and her husband took time to visit and comfort the boy who was driving the car. Allison died because of his mistake but he was going to have to live with her death. They wanted to let him know that they forgave him for what happened. “There was hurt but no hate.” (Faust, April 2007 General Conference). They exemplified one of the greatest miracles in life – the gift of forgiveness. This is a gift given to us by Christ and one we can give to others. Those who Pres. Lee said are “sick in soul and spirit and downhearted and distraught” might be aching for one thing from us – the healing that comes from us offering the gift of forgiveness.

We are approaching the time when we celebrate Christ’s birth. As Christmas day nears some of us might be worried about getting presents planned, organized, finished, purchased, packed, wrapped, and shipped. We might wonder how we are going to pay for presents. In this bustle it can be easy to feel overwhelmed; it can be easy to forget that the greatest gifts are gifts of ourselves. Whether we can afford to buy and give expensive presents or not, we can all afford to give one gift – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did to us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring said of forgiveness,

“Many of us have lost loved ones to death. We may be surrounded by individuals who seek to destroy our faith in the gospel and the Lord’s promises of eternal life. Some of us are troubled with illness and with poverty. Others may have contention in the family or no family at all. Yet we can invite the Light of Christ to shine on us and let us see and feel some of the promised joys that lie before us…. [Christ] came into the world to be the Lamb of God, to pay the price of all of the sins of His Father’s children in mortality so that all might be forgiven. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14-15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received. When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this [time] you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Some people are quick to forgive others. There is a story of told of George Albert Smith, who was president of the church from 1945 to 1951. The story goes as follows,

“George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have called the mayor of Salt Lake City and said, ‘What kind of city are you running? [I want] that blanket back.’ Or he could have called the chief of police and said the same thing. Or he might have said to the guard, probably a Latter-day Saint, ‘Are you blind?’ [Instead], What did he do? He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket…for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.’” (Madsen, Presidents of the Church, p.224).

Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, especially those who wronged him. We are commanded to forgive one another in part because the Lord is so willing to forgive us; we need to follow His example. “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C: 64:9-10). My sister and her family were able to forgive the young man who struck Allison. We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not mean that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins. It also does not mean that we cannot seek appropriate recompense when necessary, but we should always forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving heart. When we refuse to forgive others, we give them control over us; we let others determine our happiness. In our unforgiving, we do more harm to ourselves than to those whom we do not forgive. While we need to forgive others, sometimes that forgiveness needs to be directed inwardly.

Elder Holland stated: “There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life—either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist….”

“When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal….”

“Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the ‘high priest of good things to come.’” (Remember Lot’s Wife)

Forgiveness is such an central principle and commandment that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He included the following phrase: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Again, the lesson is that we are required to forgive others if we want to be forgiven. After Jesus ended His prayer He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). That seems like a strong case for the importance of forgiving others! It is a simple condition for forgiveness – forgive others to have our sins forgiven. There can be more to being forgiven, but forgiving others is a necessary step.

Others might wrong us but sometimes we are the ones who have wronged others. In these instances we must ask for forgiveness and repent. There is a story of a man who snapped in anger at his children. They started to cry. Realizing his error, he went to their room and asked for forgiveness. They quickly jumped into his arms and kissed him, forgiving him for any wrong. This man stated:

“I learned a lot of lessons from that. But the one that sticks with me the most, because I’m a father, is that it’s a father’s job to repent first. That’s what is means to me to be a father – to be the first one to repent and heal the relationship. My children were anxious and willing to forgive and be friends with me. But I had to start it. It seems to me that that’s the way relationships are healed. It’s no more complicated than that. It may take longer in some cases, but there isn’t much more to it than simply yielding your heart to what you know is the truth and saying, ‘I’m sorry.’” (Warner, Bonds that make us free, p. 261).

I’ve made my share of mistakes in parenting. Parenting is hard work; it takes effort and patience. But it also takes more than that; it takes love and selflessness. As a parent it is especially important to be the first one to repent and ask for forgiveness. Repentance is often a necessary step to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is precisely what Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection were about. 2000 years ago a baby was born in humble circumstances. His birth came without much earthly adulation but the heavens were resplendent with signs and wonders for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Angels appeared to shepherds, wise men followed a gleaming star, and the righteous and wicked alike went without night in the New World. That tiny baby was the Son of God – the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. He who showed his spirit body to the brother of Jared now had a body of flesh. He who will return as Christ the Conquering King came first as a lowly Babe in Bethlehem. There is little we know about His early life; we do know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, dwelt in Egypt, and grew up in Nazareth. He was visited by wise men some time in his first few years of life. He grew up learning from Joseph and Mary. At age 12 He spent time teaching the priests in the temple – they marveled at His knowledge: How does the son of a carpenter, a 12 year old boy know so much about the scriptures?! At age 30 Jesus started His ministry full-time. Over the next three years He lived without a home, spending most of His days walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem. He called men to be apostles. He taught, healed, and performed many miracles. The greatest miracles He performed were forgiving sin. Jesus then instituted the sacrament, atoned for all the sins, sicknesses, and pain of humankind, stood trial, and died upon the cross. But that was not the end! On the 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead, bringing everlasting life to all people. He rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death and hell.

Jesus accomplished all this to bring the possibility of eternal life to humankind. He did this because He loves us. Because of this love and His power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and to each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C: 64:7).

We can be forgiven but sometimes before we repent the darkness of sin can be overwhelming. We might cry out with the fearful sailor:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.

There is a change on all things made.

The rocks have evil faces, Lord,

And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

Sin leads to a hellish darkness of separation from God – poignant and painful – a pain that feels endless. This separation from God is spiritual death. However, there is help available there is a way that we can be born anew, free from this type of death. This help comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and through repentance. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds that burn away the dreary mists of life. Through Christ’s suffering, we are provided solace for sin. Jesus is our song in the darkness of night. He is our pillar of fire. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas of sin. This is the true miracle of forgiveness – that the turmoil of our suffering can turn to peace.

Alma, the great Book of Mormon prophet, shared his experience in overcoming his sins. He rebelled in his youth; he led people away from the church and from God. His family prayed and fasted for him and through a great miracle, he was able to repent of his sins. He described his repentance to his son:

“13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities…I saw that I had rebelled against my God…

16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

17 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.

18 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.

19 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.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:13,16-20).

This light and joy from Christ can replace the darkness and sorrow. The Lord is willing to forgive us as we repent. Alma did some terrible things but he was able to repent.

Elder Holland said recently, “Whoever you are and whatever you have done, you can be forgiven. Every one of you…can leave behind any transgression with which you may struggle. It is the miracle of forgiveness; it is the miracle of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. But you cannot do it without an active commitment to the gospel, and you cannot do it without repentance where it is needed.” (Holland, Oct. 2011 General Conference). I testify that this is true. I’ve been blessed with the miracle of forgiveness in my life; I’ve seen this miracle work wonders in the lives of others. One of Satan’s most insidious lies is that we are not good enough to repent; that we could never be forgiven. We are good enough and we can be forgiven. The miracle of forgiveness is a manifestation of Christ’s mercy.

In what is one of the most moving descriptions of the Lord’s mercy, the prophet Micah described the Lord’s feelings for the House of Israel – for all of us. Micah expressed his hope for redemption; he said: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness” (Micah 7:7-9). The Savior pleads our cause. He is our court-appointed defense; what better defense can we have than someone who truly, completely, and perfectly understands and loves us? Christ can bring us out of darkness into the light. Micah later continues with another moving and loving description of the Lord: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19). The Lord executes justice but he delights in mercy and is compassionate. He loves each of us dearly.

The Savior’s life was filled with many acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind; He cured all manners of infirmities; He cast out devils; He took time to bless children even when He was tired and hungry; He brought the dead to life. However, His greatest act of mercy was the Atonement. “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Ne. 9:21-22). This single act made it possible for all to live again and for all to receive forgiveness of sins as they repent and have faith in the Lord. The way is prepared. “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). The Savior’s mercy, His forgiveness, is offered freely to us as we repent.

As we repent, the Lord’s Spirit cleanses us and the Savior’s Atonement sanctifies us. The great prophet Enoch was taught these truths: “Ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:59-60).

This is a three part path to sanctification. First, when we sin, we need to repent. An important part of that process is baptism. Second, through confirmation and the re-confirmation that comes when the Holy Ghost burns in our hearts, we can have our sins forgiven; we are absolved of guilt and brought back into alignment – we are justified – with Christ. Lastly comes the greatest miracle – through the blood of Christ we can be sanctified. This means we are not only forgiven, it means that our very nature is changed so that we no longer have desires to do wrong. It means that we become holy as God is holy.

I have been speaking about our need to forgive others as well as our need for forgiveness. In a hymn we learn more about forgiveness.

“As now our minds review the past,

We know we must repent;

The way to thee is righteousness—

The way thy life was spent.

Forgiveness is a gift from thee

We seek with pure intent.

With hands now pledged to do thy work,

We take the sacrament.” (As Now We Take the Sacrament)

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ gift to each of us as we repent. Forgiveness is the gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to others. No matter who we are or what we own, forgiveness is the greatest gift we can receive. None of us can return to or Father without the Savior’s mercy.

Mercy is a major component of forgiveness. In order to receive mercy, we must be merciful. We are commanded to be merciful: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Mercy is a beautiful doctrine but one eternal principle seems at odds with mercy – justice. Justice and mercy are usually mentioned together even though many times they seem like they are mutually exclusive of each other. On the surface, it does not seem possible for someone to be both just and merciful.

In the book of Alma we find one of the clearest descriptions of the interplay between justice and mercy. We learn that justice must be served – it is an eternal law that cannot be broken: “Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God…. Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:13,25). However, we know that God is both just and merciful. Justice must be fulfilled but God provided a way for justice and mercy to be served: “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15). The Great Lawgiver, even the Lord Jesus Christ, offered himself as a merciful sacrifice so that justice would be fulfilled. The great Book of Mormon teacher, Jacob, younger brother to Nephi, called the Plan of Salvation the “merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Ne. 9:6). The Plan of Salvation is a Plan of Mercy.

Mercy is such an important principle that it is one of the main messages of the Book of Mormon. In the first chapter of the first book in the Book of Mormon Nephi writes, “Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20). Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. Lehi had had a vision and started preaching the impending destruction of Jerusalem. It was not a popular message. However, the Lord was mindful of Lehi and his family. Lehi had a special calling to leave Jerusalem and work his way to a promised land. That is the Lord’s mercy; He delivered Lehi’s family from destruction. Their path was not easy but the Lord was merciful. Nephi explained how to obtain mercy – simply have faith in the Lord. The Lord has merciful feelings for all people. However, He can only be as merciful as people allow Him to be: “Thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him” (Mosiah 29:20). He cannot fully bless us with His mercy if we do not have faith in Him and if we do not pull all our trust in Him. To receive a fullness of mercy we must repent of our sins.

We can trace the Lord’s mercy throughout the Book of Mormon as people are freed from bondage – physical and spiritual. Even though much of the tone of the Book of Mormon is negative – it is after all, a chronicle of civilizations that destroyed themselves – there is always the underlying message of hope and mercy that things will work out in the end. This is the message for our lives – there is repentance and forgiveness. There is mercy to be found. This is a promise given to those who return to live with God again. This is one of the great miracles in life – that we can be forgiven of our sins and be able to return to live with God. Heavenly Father is willing to forgive us because He loves us. As we repent, we can have the pain and hurt of sin washed from our wounded hearts. We can be made whole and pure.

Forgiveness is a precious gift we must give others and one that we can receive ourselves. It can be a gift of peace to others and a blessing of joy to ourselves.

Remembering Allison

Standard

With the strike of an automobile, one year ago today tragedy struck our family. My niece was riding her bicycle with her father and her sister when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. A young man’s failure to brake resulted in a broken body and many broken hearts. It has been a tough year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As I wrote in a past post: “The healing waters of Christ have a hard time washing away our hurt and grief if we keep it locked up within the stony tables of our hearts.” Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow and suffering and pain. His bruised and broken body can help us overcome the pains in our lives. The sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in this life. We can even find joy amidst the hardship. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

I urge you to read what I wrote last year in response to Allison’s death. During that time our family was surrounded by so much love. The love removed some of the hurt. I also have a series of posts on lessons I have learned from death. These posts were written in 2009, before Allison’s death.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
  6. Part 6
  7. Part 7
  8. Part 8
  9. Part 9
  10. Part 10
We still sorrow for Allison; the separation still hurts. We miss her but we know that she is surrounded by family and peace. We know that through the sealing power of the Priesthood of God she is part of my sister’s family forever. Allison is not forever lost, we will see her again in a glorious and joyful reunion.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Standard

After finding the words to the poem Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson I started playing the Wikipedia game of following linked to pages. I was led, obviously, to the page about Alfred, Lord Tennyson and then down to the section of the titles of some of his works. One of his other poems is called Crossing the Bar, which has been cited by various LDS Church leaders in Conference talks and church magazine articles. That led me to an article by Pres. Thomas S. Monson from the Ensign in 1992 (not directly, I jumped to lds.org to search for citations of the poem). His article is entitled The Long Line of the Lonely. I knew it was going to be good with a lovely alliterative title like that! Pres. Monson did not disappoint – he never does. The article is focused mainly on caring for the widows, something few people do as well or as consistently as Pres. Monson does.

In the article Pres. Monson quotes the Tennyson poem in a touching exchange with a widow:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me,
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea. …
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

The old year is dying, a new one is born. As we cross the bar into the new year, are we ready to spiritually and proverbially “see [our] Pilot face to face”? Do we face each year with a renewed resolve to be a little better and do a little more good? Are we resolved to serve others more and focus more on the poor and needy, as Pres. Monson encourages in his article? I urge you to read Pres. Monson’s article and then put into practice what he counsels.

One story was particularly touching. Each Christmas season, Pres. Monson would make the time to go visit the widows from the ward he was a bishop over in his 20s. Of one such visit he recalled:

At a nursing home on First South, we might interrupt, as I did a few years ago [from 1992], a professional football game. There, before the TV, were seated two widows. They were warmly and beautifully dressed—and absorbed in the game. I asked, “Who’s winning?” They responded, “We don’t even know who’s playing, but at least it’s company.” I sat between those two angels and explained the game of football. I enjoyed the best contest I can remember. I may have missed a meeting, but I harvested a memory.

Widows, whose only company was each other, the commentators, and the players, were comforted by the visit of Pres. Monson. He was warmed by the experience as well. Pres. Monson closes his article with the following statement:

Today wise men still look heavenward and again see a bright, particular star. It will guide you and me to our opportunities. The burden of the downtrodden will be lifted, the cry of the hungry will be stilled, the lonely heart will be comforted—and souls will be saved. Yours, theirs, and mine. If we truly listen, we may hear that voice from far away say to us, as it spoke to another, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21.)

There will be many opportunities this coming year to lift the burdened and comfort the lonely. In light of a tragic death just a couple months ago, I’d like to include another quote from Pres. Monson’s article.

“The ranks of those in special need grow larger day by day. Note the obituary page of your newspaper. Here the drama of life unfolds to view. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey, and it often hushes the laughter of little children.

“After the funeral flowers fade, the well-wishes of friends become memories, and the prayers offered and the words spoken dim in the corridors of the mind, those who grieve frequently join that vast throng I shall entitle ‘The Long Line of the Lonely.’ Missed are the laughter of children, the commotion of teenagers, and the tender, loving concern of a departed companion. The clock ticks more loudly, time passes more slowly, and four walls do indeed a prison make.

“Hopefully, all of us may again hear the echo of words spoken by the Master: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me.’ (Matt. 25:40.)

As we resolve to minister more diligently to those in need, let us remember to include our children in these learning lessons of life.”

There are many who need our love and comfort, even if we might be members of that lonely line ourselves.

And now to the poem that started all this – Ring Out, Wild Bells:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

As we approach the new year, we should ring in the Christ that is and that is to be.