Lessons from Death, Part 6

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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.

Link to part 5 of this essay.

Lessons from Death, Part 1

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Not very long ago, a family I know lost their not-quite-two-year-old 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. In the touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor) told the other man, “It was my son that killed your son” a subsequent conversation ensues. 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. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him.” I took this detour because that last line 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. That 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. It is some of the thoughts of a mother who lost a child – the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma lost many children to death. While Rob Gardner did not edit it for the musical in order to preserve its integrity, I will take the liberty of editing it 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 little children, I’ve been especially touched by this whole experience of Evan’s death. Even so, I can’t really understand the grief the family has gone and is going through. The loss I’ve experienced in my life has been far different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. But all deaths of friends or family members can be very difficult experiences.

The Armor of God and Spiritual Clothing, Part 2

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Have “your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Elsewhere the Lord has said, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear” (D&C; 38:30). As we prepare ourselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally we can better withstand temptations and other things that would lead us away from doing that which is right. When we are prepared we are able to go where and when the Lord will have us go. With what are we prepared? The gospel of peace. It brings peace to our lives and we can use our feet to spread that peace to others as so many LDS missionaries can attest.

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire the attack his enemy. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and even attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand serious firepower from the arrows of enemy archers. In general, soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually. Why did Paul say that the shield of faith was most important? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other things build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the Adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church and be an involved part of a ward.

“Take the helmet of salvation” (Eph. 6:17). Helmets protect the head and brain. Head injuries are usually very serious with the highest rates of fatalities and disability of any injury. The brain controls everything we do. What should we be doing with our brain, how do we protect it? The next verse provides the answer: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:18). We should pray always. We should pray not just for ourselves but also for others. Prayer is our method of communication with our Heavenly Father. Through prayer and the spirit and the grace of God we are led to salvation. If we pray for strength and greater faith (which we should) we should always remain humble and ever-reliant on the Lord. As C.S. Lewis once said: “Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.” (Source). However, as we are faithful, wearing our helmets of salvation, the Lord will be with us just as He was with David facing Goliath or Joshua and his army facing Jericho. When we keep the goals of salvation and exaltation in mind, we do not let anything distract us from doing what is right. With a helmet of salvation we keep our thoughts pure and Christ-centered. Those who are faithful will, in the next life, replace their helmet of salvation with a crown of knowledge (Prov. 14:18), righteousness (D&C; 29:13), glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life (D&C; 75:5).

Link to the 1st part of this post.
Image source.

The Divine Role of Motherhood – Part 5

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When the days seem tough and the nights even worse, young (and old) mothers can find solace and encouragement in the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“In speaking of mothers generally, I especially wish to praise and encourage young mothers. The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work. The young years are often those when either husband or wife—or both—may still be in school or in those earliest and leanest stages of developing the husband’s breadwinning capacities. Finances fluctuate daily between low and nonexistent. The apartment is usually decorated in one of two smart designs—Deseret Industries provincial or early Mother Hubbard. The car, if there is one, runs on smooth tires and an empty tank. But with night feedings and night teethings, often the greatest challenge of all for a young mother is simply fatigue. Through these years, mothers go longer on less sleep and give more to others with less personal renewal for themselves than any other group I know at any other time in life. It is not surprising when the shadows under their eyes sometimes vaguely resemble the state of Rhode Island.

“Yours is the grand tradition of Eve [and so many other wonderful mothers]…. We thank all of you…and tell you there is nothing more important in this world than participating so directly in the work and glory of God, in bringing to pass the mortality and earthly life of His daughters and sons, so that immortality and eternal life can come in those celestial realms on high” (Ensign, May 1997, p. 35).

In closing, I’d like to paraphrase the words of Elder Ballard: “We need [mothers] who can hear and will respond to the voice of the Lord, [mothers] who at all costs will defend and protect the family[,…but] above all, we need [mothers] who will stand up for truth and righteousness and decry evil at every turn, [mothers] who will simply say, ‘Lord, here am I, send me'” (When Thou Art Converted, p. 179).

The Divine Role of Motherhood – Part 4

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A few years ago I talked with my mother about some of the best experiences she had in life. She talked mainly about being a mother. During our conversation I learned much about the great joy she had as a mother but also about the great times of struggle. She stated that the most rewarding and satisfying thing in her life was, in her own words: “The safe pregnancy and delivery of our children and then raising them. Having and raising seven lovely children has been wonderful. It was a lot of hard work but they all turned out okay. We did a lot of things together as a family, we worked hard, we survived hard times and ate cracked wheat. We went to church every week and spent the time together as a family. There were occasional problems but we survived them and overcame them.

“One time when we had 3 or 4 small children a friend was extolling the virtues of Sesame Street and said how her child could count to 10 and knew all the colors and all because the child watched Sesame Street on TV. I was appalled and wondered ‘What is a mother for?’ and why would anyone need TV to teach children what I thought was my ‘job description.’ So we read and played and counted everything and numbered everything and named colors and tied shoes and did all sorts of things. We learned to work and had jobs to learn responsibility.”

She also talked about the struggles of being a mother: “What has been difficult? How about seven babies! It was very difficult when we didn’t have any money and Dad was working two jobs and we were trying to make ends meet. We did not have much money at all, especially when the kids were small. We did not have much but we always survived. It just took a lot of hard work and some ingenuity.

“Another hard time was when we had four children under the age of five. This was a terrible emotional stress. The kids were sick all the time and we had no money. I was physically sick some too. Our washer broke during this time and so the children stomped the clothes in the bathtub to wash them – they thought it was fun; they thought they were like the pioneers. At least they had fun with it.

“These years were hard with a lot of difficult physical work. I was changing diapers on three babies. I also mopped the floors at night so they would stay clean at least the eight hours until morning. I also had to deal with potty training all the kids and cleaning up their messes. We also had a garden and had to plant it and keep it growing and harvest the food and can and store some as well. We had to work really hard to survive.”

My mother found that church helped her cope with the stress of raising children: “I really loved going to church and relief society – that was my salvation once a week. Enrichment was lovely to put the kids in the nursery and be away for 1.5 hours. We had weekly meetings and so it was nice to have some time away from the kids. I could learn and grow and spend time with other ladies in the ward. Church was always a big boost for me and I looked forward to it each week.”

I will always be grateful for my mother and all the work she did (and does) as a mother. She is a remarkable woman and mother. She is someone the Lord looks upon and smiles.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 6

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“And satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough for water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. He gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water. He turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. We, as we forsake water for a time during our fast, will become like watered gardens. These promises are more than just physical promises – they are spiritual. We will be well-watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a well-spring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” These last series of promises are all connected. The blessings of fasting and faithfulness extend beyond ourselves to bless the lives of our children. They in turn can bless our lives; they can build up the waste places. The hearts of the children will turn to the fathers. By our faithfulness, we are strengthening the foundation of many generations. We can be the one who forges a strong link between generations. We can repair the breach in the wall and rally others to our side with the words of Shakespeare: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, line 1).

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this responsibility, this need to be faithful and not be a weak link.

In that sacred and hallowed house [the temple] there passed through my mind a sense of the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come after me.

I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.

I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.

As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us. (Keep the Chain Unbroken, Hinckley, 1999).

If we are faithful, our generations will praise us as ones who kept the faith, who restored the paths and rebuilt the breached wall.

Pure Thoughts, Part 8

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The lack of purity in thought and heart is what keeps the Church and its members from being as Enoch’s Zion. Robert Millet explains this,

“There is [a] matter that prevents many of us from enjoying the Spirit of the Lord in our lives as we might: the tendency to live on the edge, to play percentages with God, to tempt fate and to place ourselves in circumstances that can contribute to our spiritual undoing. There are those who want to see how far they can go without going all the way; those who want to drive the vehicle as close to the edge of the cliff as possible with no intention whatever of falling; those who cunningly creep up on the flame with no intention of ever being burned; those who want to enjoy all the privileges of Babylon but at the same time keep their citizenship in Zion intact. I promise you that there is no lasting happiness in such approaches to life, but rather a type of moral or spiritual schizophrenia” (Robert L. Millet, Selected writings of Robert L. Millet, p.351).

As we purify our thoughts and hearts, we will become a Zion society like that described by the LDS hymn:

This earth was once a garden place,
With all her glories common,
And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
In Adam-ondi-Ahman.

We read that Enoch walked with God,
Above the pow’r of mammon,
While Zion spread herself abroad,
And Saints and angels sang aloud,
In Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Her land was good and greatly blest,
Beyond all Israel’s Canaan,
Her fame was known from east to west,
Her peace was great, and pure the rest
Of Adam-ondi-Ahman. (Hymns, #49)

We must be pure of mind and heart so we can as a church become a Zion society. We must build Zion within each of our homes and within each of ourselves. As we hike through life, we need to partake of pure water, whether it is gathered in purity from springs or taken from other sources and filtered and cleansed. As we purify our minds, we are sanctified by the Spirit of the Lord and are blessed individually and as families.

Pure Thoughts, Part 7

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The Savior explained in the Sermon on the Mount a blessing that comes from purity: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). But what does having a pure heart have to do with having purity of mind? There are many references in the scriptures to thoughts residing in the heart. For example, “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart” (Job 17:11) and “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). Our thoughts and our desires are inseparable. We can thus take the words “thoughts” and “heart” as nearly synonymous. This belief is why the ancient Egyptians considered the heart to be where the soul and mind resided. In their mummification process they thus removed and discarded the brain and preserved the heart. So if we replace “heart” with “mind”, the beatitude will read “Blessed are the pure in mind: for they will see God!”

There are other blessings that stem from being pure in heart. This state brings citizenship in the Lord’s society. Elder Cullimore said:

“Zion is defined by the Lord as the ‘pure in heart.’ The Lord said, ‘… let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.’ (D&C; 97:21).

“Since Zion is defined as the ‘pure in heart,’ those who make up Zion must be free from worldly practices and indulgences.

“President Lee said to us…that ‘The rule by which the people of God must live in order to be worthy of acceptance in the sight of God’ is indicated in this scripture: ‘For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.’ (D&C; 82:14.) (“Strengthen the Stakes of Zion,” Harold B. Lee, Ensign, July 1973, p.3.)

“President McKay referred to Zion as the pure in heart and said: ‘… the strength of this Church lies in the purity of the thoughts and lives of its members, then the testimony of Jesus abides in the soul, and strength comes to each individual to withstand the evils of the world.’ (Conference Report, October 1911, p. 58.)” (James A. Cullimore, “To Be in the World but Not of the World,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, 119).

President McKay’s statement is profound: “The strength of this Church lies in the purity of the thoughts and lives of its members.” That places a large responsibility upon each of us. We just learned what Enoch and his people accomplished! They were all pure in thought and thus one with each other and the Lord. Because of this they were taken into Heaven. If we are pure in thought and heart, we may be received, sooner or later, into Heaven.

Pure Thoughts, Part 4

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Some of the impurities that can enter our minds include: profanity, vulgarity, and pornography. I’ll first focus briefly on profanity. We learn the meaning of profanity from John S. Tanner: “Profanity…means literally, outside (pro) the temple or shrine (fanum). Profane language drags sacred words out of the sanctuary and into the marketplace, making a mockery of holy things. It uses in a thoughtless, sacrilegious, or impious way terms usually graced with sacred significance, thus violating the Lord’s injunction: ‘That which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care.’ (D&C; 63:64). Profanity, a close cousin to blasphemy, describes the kind of speech that is often called ‘swearing'” (Ensign, Feb. 1991, p.30). So, profanity is treating the sacred as if it were secular; it is being light-minded in contrast to pure-minded. We must do as King Benjamin taught, we must watch our thoughts and not take or treat spiritual things lightly.

Joseph F. Smith condemned profanity among the members of the Church when he said,

“We should stamp out profanity, and vulgarity, and everything of that character that exists among us; for all such things are incompatible with the gospel and inconsistent with the people of God. Language, like thought, makes its impression and is recalled by the memory in a way that may be unpleasant if not harmful to those who have been compelled to listen to unseemly words. Thoughts that in themselves are not proper may be exalted or debased by the language used to express them. If inelegant expressions should be eschewed, what shall be said of profanity?

“The habit … which some young people fall into, of using vulgarity and profanity … is not only offensive to all well-bred persons, but it is a gross sin in the sight of God, and should not exist among the children of the Latter-day Saints.

“I say to the fathers and mothers of Israel, and to the boys who have been born in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: I say it to men and boys throughout the world, as far as my words may go—I plead with you, I implore you not to offend the Lord, nor to offend honorable men and women, by the use of profanity” (Teachings, Joseph F. Smith, p.374).

Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship

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Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on Christian courage at this past General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a conference held semiannually from Salt Lake City, Utah and broadcast to church locations, homes, and computers worldwide.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from his talk.

When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior. We show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return. That is not weakness. That is Christian courage.

Through the years we learn that challenges to our faith are not new, and they aren’t likely to disappear soon. But true disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition.

Meekness is not weakness. It is a badge of Christian courage…. True disciples speak with quiet confidence, not boastful pride.

By arguments and accusations, some people bait us to leave the high ground. The high ground is where the light is. It’s where we see the first light of morning and the last light in the evening. It is the safe ground. It is true and where knowledge is. Sometimes others want us to come down off the high ground and join them in a theological scrum in the mud. These few contentious individuals are set on picking religious fights, online or in person. We are always better staying on the higher ground of mutual respect and love.

You can read the rest of his talk here.