A lost Christmas package: We are never lost to the Savior

Two Christmases ago we had a foreign exchange student in our family from Switzerland. Knowing that it might take a while for Christmas presents to be shipped from Switzerland, her parents sent her gifts over a month before Christmas. We had some Christmas gifts for her too, but she was missing her family and looking forward to receiving Christmas gifts from them. A week before Christmas, her parents reported that the postal service had lost track of the package, and they didn’t know where it was or if it would arrive by Christmas. By Christmas Eve, the package had still not arrived. It was lost and no one knew where it was.

 

We prayed as family that her package would come. But by the afternoon, it still hadn’t. I went into my room and prayed. I said, “Heavenly Father, I want our exchange student to know that prayers are answered.” And then I thought maybe I shouldn’t tell the Lord what to do. But then came into my mind and heart what to ask. I prayed, “You know where that package is. You have the ability to bring it to us.”

 

And He did. At 4:30 on Christmas Eve, the doorbell rang. We were watching a movie downstairs, so my husband got the door. He told me later that it had arrived. I wrapped it and put it under the Christmas tree. Our exchange student didn’t know it had arrived until she opened it Christmas morning. We were all happy for her. We all rejoiced.

 

If the Lord knows the location of a lost package and cares enough to bring it to the home of a foreign exchange student from Switzerland living in Idaho, then he surely knows each of us and He knows what we need. He is willing to tell us how to love and minister to each other. If we are willing to listen and act, we will grow in the gospel and in our love for those to whom we minister.

What I know and what I don’t understand, yet

When I think of what defines Mormons or members of the church, I think of followers of Jesus Christ, families, and temples. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons, we know that families can be forever and that marriage is between a man and a woman. For as long as I can remember I wanted to marry a wonderful man in the temple who shared my same beliefs and who I was attracted to, have children, and raise a family. Those are great goals, goals that will help me live with God someday. But what if the very principles taught by our church were ones you couldn’t follow? What if you were attracted to the same sex? What if you wanted to get married, but marrying the person you were attracted to wasn’t considered marriage by your church?

 

Some people I love have same sex attraction. When I think that they will not be able to experience in this life the joys I experience—marriage in the temple and having children—my heart hurts. In a moment of despair over this issue, I knelt and asked God why. How could the people I love not fit into the church I love? I doubted my faith and testimony. But then the Savior answered. Remember the experiences you’ve had where you have come to know that the church is true. Remember your testimony. Remember feeling the spirit at church, in the temple, and as you’ve prayed. You don’t have to understand this now.

 

Since then I’ve had many more experiences validating my testimony. I read in 2 Timothy 3:14, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” We had a lesson in church on Sunday about how God’s commandments and laws keep us safe even when we don’t understand. There are many things I don’t understand, but I do know that Jesus Christ is real, that He loves me and every person who has lived, lives now, and will yet live on this earth. His atonement is for every person. His grace is for every person. Every person can have a personal relationship with Him.

 

I know as the children in this Christmas video proclaim, “For unto you and unto me and unto all of us, a Savior is born.” I know this despite the many other things I do not understand.

 

 

 

 

I wish

What happens at a Mormon funeral?

Last week a friend and I attended the funeral of a friend of ours who died from throat cancer. He was only fifty-five and left a wife and four children, one who is still in high school. The funeral took place in a Mormon church building. When I walked in I was greeted with a smile by another couple I know. Attendees were dressed in many different colors. Some wore darker clothes but black is not the expected attire. There were even a few men and young men wearing their scout uniforms because Marti was a scout leader. I wanted to attend the funeral in part to show support for the family although with the filled chapel, they didn’t know I was there, but even more because I wanted to be reminded of my own purpose on this earth. A Mormon funeral is a celebration of the life of the deceased and of the plan of salvation and the atonement of Jesus Christ. We heard musical numbers which expressed the family’s love for their dad, brother, son and also their love for the Savior. The talks taught us about Marti and how he lived his life, but we also heard and felt testimonies of Jesus Christ and how the speakers knew from personal experience that this life is not the end and that we can all live with our Heavenly Father again. There was crying and I’m sure the family will continue to mourn the passing of this wonderful man. But the crying was also an expression of joy that this life is not the end and that they will be reunited with Marti again.

 

I’ve attended the funerals of all my grandparents but one grandfather who is still alive. When I attended the funeral of my mom’s dad, I felt an immense grief. My granddad had not been close to his family and had not participated in church for years. When my mom’s mom died, I felt relief for the end of her years of suffering and joy at the life she lived. I know when I die she will be there to greet me, her short frame a bit taller because she won’t be stooped with age and hampered by broken hips. She’ll give me a big smack on the cheek probably with bright red lips painted with lipstick. Towards the end of his life, my granddad softened a bit, and I hope that he will greet me as well and we will have a better relationship in the life after than we did in this life.

 

Attending a Mormon funeral reminds me that I want to do better–keep the commandments, serve, appreciate my family, and enjoy life–so that I will be ready to leave this mortal existence and be greeted with open arms by those I love who’ve completed their journey on earth.

Are we born sinners?

In high school we had a discussion in my freshman English class about if people are naturally evil or naturally good. I’m sure it was based on literature and historic philosophies. I remember becoming very upset and wanting to walk out of the discussion. The consensus was that people are sinners and naturally do evil. That was so against my belief. As a Mormon who grew up being taught at home and in church that I am a child of God, I couldn’t believe that I would naturally choose to be bad. We believe that we are literal spirit sons and daughters of God and if God is perfect and good, how could that mean I was inherently evil?

 

Our church differs from many Christian churches in believing that when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they made a good choice and that Adam’s choice does not make us all sinners. Our second Article of Faith or statement of belief is “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Adam’s choice was a transgression because God commanded him not to eat the fruit or he would die. Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit so they could have knowledge, experience good and evil, and have children. This also meant that they would sin and die. Adam’s choice made it possible for all of us to be born and experience good and evil. But we will be punished for our own sins, not Adam’s transgression. Because God or our Heavenly Father wanted us to return to him, we were given a Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth and gained a mortal body. He was tempted and tried, suffered for our sins, was crucified, and resurrected. He paid the price for our sins if we will repent. So why do we sin?

 

We learn from a prophet in the Book of Mormon, “For the natural man is an enemy to god, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever…” (Mosiah 3:19). As I’ve discussed with my running friends, why is it that when we get mad about something our husband did, into our minds comes a reminder of all the other times we were mad at our husband? And not just our minds, but we get upset, those same emotions returning that make us even more angry. Or why when my child makes a mistake do I want to punish him severely and get mad and take away all his privileges and show him by my anger that he’s made a wrong choice? Why when my daughter was preparing to serve a mission did I nag her to buy her supplies which pushed us apart when really I was just fearful and protective? Why do our bodies react to emotions in what seem like destructive ways? If God made us, then why would we struggle against what our bodies naturally do?

 

Because we were sent here to choose God. It’s all about choice and following the will of a Father in Heaven who loves us. Yes, our bodies naturally don’t want what’s best for us. We think it feels better to eat whatever we want, watch whatever we want, and react in anger. But that’s the easy way, the way of giving into our mortal body. And we are here to overcome that mortal body, not because it’s bad, but because we are learning to choose. Our bodies are a blessing and we wouldn’t be able to experience the whole range of love and anger if we didn’t have a body. How do we overcome our body’s tendency to choose evil?

 

Mosiah also gave us the solution, “For the natural man is an enemy to god…unless he [man and woman] yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). Instead of becoming angry or when we feel those critical thoughts come into our mind, stop and pray and ask God, what should I do? How should I see this situation? I’m scared about my child making more mistakes. What should I do? Love him. Teach him. Share your testimony of repentance. Even though my daughter is leaving to serve a mission, which is a good thing, I’m worried it will be hard. Love her. Tell her you have confidence in her ability to prepare and receive her own answers to prayer. When my husband is mad at me for something that I think wasn’t my fault, what do I do? Love him, pray to see where I’ve made a mistake, apologize, and repent.

 

Our bodies are amazing and so are our spirits. We can experience a fullness of joy on earth and in eternity as we choose to overcome the natural man. We do that by letting the Lord teach us bit by bit. By submitting to God as a child submits to his father, because He is our Father and He knows what we need to experience to learn and grow and return to Him.

The job of a Mormon apostle

An apostle testifies of Jesus Christ. That was the purpose of the apostles in ancient times after Jesus died as well as today. There are typically 15 men set apart or given the priesthood authority and office to be apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: a quorum of twelve and three members of the First Presidency. They are given assignments for leadership around the world and often speak at worldwide and smaller group conferences. They are not perfect men, but they are committed to living the gospel of Jesus Christ, testifying of the reality of Jesus Christ, and teaching the people of the world today what they need to know to return to live with our Heavenly Father. Just like each of us, the apostles have different personalities and while we are not supposed to have favorites as we don’t have favorite children, I do feel a closeness to some more than others because of the way they present their messages. One of those I feel a connection with is Elder Richard G. Scott. He spoke at a devotional at Ricks College when I was a student there. I bought a tape of his talk and listened to it over and over. He had a deep understanding of suffering and his slow, quiet tone and message soothed my heart and mind.

 

Elder Scott died today. He was 86 years old. I’m sure he and his wife are rejoicing in heaven as they are reunited.

 

Now we have only 12 apostles. Since our last general conference, a worldwide meeting held twice a year, three apostles have died: Elder L. Tom Perry, Elder Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Richard G. Scott. As a church we anticipate the calling of three new apostles during our October conference. These men will join with the twelve still in place to testify of Jesus Christ. I am looking forward to their personalities coming through in their talks and being inspired by the leaders the Lord has chosen now to represent Him.

What if the church isn’t true?

Last week I was playing the “What if?” game with some friends. Each person writes a “What if?” question on a piece of paper and puts it in the center of the table. Then you pull one of those questions and write an answer to the question on a separate piece of paper. Put the question back in the middle and everyone draws a different question and reads aloud the question and the answer which don’t go together. It’s a silly game. One of the questions was “What if the church wasn’t true?” Of course although the question was serious, the answer that was read with it was nonsense. And because we were playing a fun game and not having a doctrinal debate, we didn’t discuss the real answers to that question.

 

What does it mean for something to be true? The definition of true is “in accordance with fact or reality” and “accurate or exact.” I think when we give our testimonies and say, “I know the church is true,” we are saying that we know that it’s right, good, the way to life with Heavenly Father, and the only church on the earth that has all the teachings and ordinances that God wants us to have to return to Him. Yes. That’s our claim. That ours is the only true church. The only one that is in accordance with fact or reality and is accurate and exact. But what if it’s not?

 

Many years ago as I pondered this question, I came to the conclusion that if the church wasn’t true and I believed in something that wasn’t real, at least I was living a good lie. Look at the goodness of what we believe. We believe that if we keep the commandments and endure to the end, we will be able to live with God and be creators of our own worlds. We believe that family relationships are important and can last beyond this life. We believe that we should love and serve others. We believe that we can find lasting happiness and peace and mercy because of the Son of God who came to earth and took upon himself a mortal body, suffered for our sins and pains, died for us, and overcame death so we can be resurrected.

 

Now I don’t just hope that the church is true. I’ve had spiritual experiences that have secured my belief and knowledge in the truth of the gospel which is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The other night as I prayed and pondered this question, I was filled with a warmth and love from my Heavenly Father. I am continually blessed to witness miracles, mercies, and the growth and goodness that come from living the gospel.

 

Another way to know if something is good or true is to look at the fruit it produces. In Matthew 7:17-20, Jesus taught, “Ye shall know them by their fruits…Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit…Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” While Mormons are not perfect and there are some standards that we possess that many don’t agree with, once people get to know us and look past the bizarre rumors they’ve heard, we’re good people, trying to do good.

 

There are also many good people, trying to do good that are members of different churches or of no church. How does our claim apply to all that aren’t members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Just like in the past when people didn’t believe the earth was round, it still was. I’m not saying I think everyone needs to join our church, but if you want to know if our claim is correct, accurate, or exact, then study our religion and pray to God to know.  Read The Bible, read The Book of Mormon, take the missionary discussions, live the teachings, and ask God. The last prophet in The Book of Mormon wrote, “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know he truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5).

 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and each person has the ability to know personally just as I know.

Countdown to a child leaving on a Mormon mission

My daughter is leaving on her mission in twenty-two days. I’ve experienced many things as a mom, but never this before. I’m excited for her but scared. For 18 months she will be preaching the gospel and serving. During that time she can e-mail us weekly, write letters, and call or video-call on Christmas and Mother’s Day. She hasn’t lived away from home before so I’m concerned about her being on her own. She will be in the MTC or Missionary Training Center for ten days and then on to her mission. While in the MTC she will practice teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. She will make friends and she will learn to rely on her Savior. In her mission she will have a loving mission president and his wife to watch over her. Also, there are often couples who work at the mission home who support the missionaries. My in-laws are doing that right now in New Hampshire. I’m grateful to learn over the past year what they do to love and support the missionaries. My daughter will not have to find herself a place to live, work at a job, or decide her schedule for the day. Missionaries are always with a companion and follow a strict routine of being up by 6:30 am, exercising, studying, meeting with and teaching people, serving, and being in bed by 10:30 pm. While many things are decided for her like where she will live, the standards she will follow, the types of clothes she will wear, and the outline of her schedule, she will need to figure out how to work when she’s homesick, tired, or physically ill, how to get along with her companion, how to talk to people she doesn’t know, and how to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Spirit. I am worried about her figuring those things out and the struggle she will have, but I know that if she submits her will to her Heavenly Father and learns for herself that the Savior Jesus Christ’s atonement is for her and all people, she will be successful and will grow more than she could if she stayed at home.

A mom’s battle to keep her children safe: Censoring the internet

At church we discussed strategies for protecting our children from pornography. While non-Mormons may think that we are strict, have many rules, and don’t allow our children to make choices, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a strong belief in agency or the ability to make choices. In trying to protect our children from pornography are we taking away their choice? A woman in our meeting gave a great analogy. She said that some people live on quiet streets and neighborhoods with very little car traffic and it’s safe to let their children play outside. But in other neighborhoods, cars drive by fast and often and parents don’t allow their children to play on the street. They set up restrictions and rules to keep their children safe. The internet is a place where we and our children work and play that has lots of traffic, much of which is unsafe and can cause harm.  I’ve come to believe that protecting our children from pornography is a constant battle with three stages or lines of defense.

 

Set up fortresses. These are tools to protect us and our children from exposure to pornography. Get an internet filter. I don’t have one to recommend, but there are many. Limit the access your child has on the internet through settings on their phones, tablets, or Ipods. On Android devices this is done through profiles and on Apple devices this is done through the settings with a password. We recently blocked Safari from our daughter’s Itouch. She can text, receive e-mails, and use apps we’ve approved that have access to the internet, but she can’t go to the internet to search or look up information. Limit the times and places your family uses the internet. We’ve had our computer in the kitchen for years now, but using the internet in the open needs to apply to our personal devices too. Have a basket in the kitchen where every member of the family puts their devices. Use them in the main area of the home. Have a time at night where there is no access so you can spend time together as a family and work on homework without being distracting. Then have a time when everyone is done with the internet for the evening. My parents used to say that I didn’t need to be out after midnight because nothing good happened after twelve. I would say that applies at an even earlier hour with the internet. You can either set a time with your router to have the internet shut off or you can have all the devices in a box or basket that is put away next to Mom’s bed at night. No child or adult should be using their personal internet connected devices in their rooms at night.

 

Keep those fortresses maintained. Teach your children very plainly about the effects of pornography. Teach them the importance of keeping their bodies clean and safe. Teach them that relationships should be long lasting and built on trust and real love. Teach them to recognize the conflict with pornography—-that it feels bad and good at the same time. Help them develop an internal filter because no matter how much you filter, set rules, and monitor, we each have to have develop our own defenses and the ability to walk away from viewing pornography. Then teach and talk to them some more. And not just about pornography. If you have a loving relationship with your children, they can come to you when they need help.

 

Repair damaged fortresses. I’ve heard this for years and didn’t believe it until recently. It’s not a matter of if but when our children will view and perhaps engage in long term pornography use. The Savior’s atonement can help overcome pornography use and addiction. But only when the pornography user is willing to change, willing to be humble and repent. Parents, other family members, and respected adults can help in this process.

 

The other day I was sweeping my kitchen floor and lamenting in my mind that Satan has an unfair advantage. I can’t compete with the draw of entertainment and pornography and the craftiness of those who seek to entrap us and our children. But then I went to the temple and was reminded in the initiatory ordinance of the power I have through keeping covenants. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are worthy can make covenants or promises in the temple between themselves and God. We promise to keep His commandments and dedicate our lives to Him, and He promises to help us overcome the evils of this world. Overcoming is not just something that will happen after we die. There are many resources and supports to help us. I will list some I’ve found at the end of this blog.

 

Mothers, be strong. Be the defenders of your home. Keep fighting. You are worth it. Your husband is worth, it and your children are worth it.

 

Good Pictures Bad Pictures: this is a book to read with children of all ages.
Four FHE lessons for families from lds.org about pornography.
Arm Your Kids for the Battle: an article from BYU magazine.
To Young Men Only by President Boyd K. Packer: a pamphlet about masturbation and thoughts.
A Parent’s Guide: a book published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of age appropriate teachings about sexuality.
Mormon Channel: For the Youth–lots of great episodes about thoughts, agency, sexual morality, and more.
Fight the New Drug:  a website which teaches about the harmful effects of pornography.

Censoring your children’s media: A Mormon writer’s perspective

Recently my sister-in-law asked my opinion on if she should allow her twelve year-old daughter to read The Hunger Games. Censoring children’s reading is one of my favorite topics so I was happy to give my opinion. Since I write young adult novels and read a lot, I am more liberal about what I feel like my children can read. I am also more conservative than much of the current young adult book industry. And therein is the trickiness of censoring. We all have different opinions. We all have different standards. We are each affected by media in different ways.

 

I believe parents are responsible for teaching their children and then facilitating independence and responsibility. A parent should always go with how the Spirit guides or your gut feeling concerning your children.

 

Teach your children to recognize how media makes them feel. Our thirteenth article of Faith, one of thirteen statements about our beliefs, says “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Does the book you’re reading or the show you’re watching help you want to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous? Is it lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy? I’ve come to realize that some violence doesn’t affect me as much as sex, especially explicit, and I can’t stand torture. One of my daughters realized in high school that she could choose to leave the classroom during movies with violence or suffering even if they were  shown to enhance history or engender empathy.

 

Children need to learn how to monitor their own media. Recently there was a controversy in our high school over a book. One student wanted the book banned because she felt it was inappropriate. Another student felt like the book had value and shouldn’t be banned. What I thought was unfortunate is that many parents got upset and demanded the book be removed from the reading list without reading the book themselves. I had read the book a few years before and could see both sides of the issue. I could see how some of the material in the book might be inappropriate and also that the book had value. The ideal scenario for me would be for students to be given options for books to read and if they begin reading a book or watching a movie and feel uncomfortable, the student can approach the teacher and have the assignment modified. I do realize that there is social pressure and embarrassment and that some students say they don’t want to read a book just to get out of the assignment.

 

After this incident, a committee resolved that teachers would make parents more aware of what their children would be reading, so they could make an informed decision ahead of time. The truth is, even if a list like that is available, I’m not going to read everything my children read or watch every movie that they might see. But I can discuss with my children how they feel when reading or watching a movie and what it might feel like when they are prompted to shut the book or turn off the movie.

 

Now, having said all that, I do believe parents can set standards and expectations with their children and in their homes. I think it’s okay to say, “You can’t read The Hunger Games until you’re thirteen.” I would suggest if you’re going to make a statement like that, you should read them yourself before.  You know your children. You have a good idea of what affects them, but you also need to allow them independence and the ability to make their own decisions. I read a lot and still do read a lot. I don’t want someone telling me what I can and can’t read or watch. Help your children develop that empowerment themselves. There are books I’ve read or movies I’ve watched that I shouldn’t have finished. There is media now that I don’t participate in that I might have years ago. That’s the beauty of learning. As Joseph Smith, the prophet through whom the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in the latter days, said, “The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 211).

 

Teaching children is a process, also not arrived at in a moment. We are all capable of being the teachers that our children need when we use the guidance of the Spirit and take time to talk with our children.

 

While I believe firmly in facilitating independence and an openness with literature, my opinion on censorship of social media and internet access is very conservative and will be addressed in my next post.

Current occupation: Homemaker

My daughter was filling out a job application and needed to list my current occupation. I told her to put homemaker. She said, “Is that a code for staying at home with your kids?” When I first had children I would put housewife on forms, but for a while now I’ve put homemaker. I noticed that even this past week when asked what I do, I said, “I stay at home with my kids. Oh, but I do work one day a week at my husband’s office as a bookkeeper.” As though that is a more valid occupation.

 

After a lesson in Relief Society (the women’s meeting during church) this past Sunday, I have a better appreciation and respect for the word homemaker. Bonnie L. Oscarson, the Young Women General President (the president for the entire church’s program for girls’ ages 12-18 and their leaders) said, “All of us—women, men, youth, and children, single or married—can work at being homemakers. We should ‘make our homes’ places of order, refuge, holiness, and safety” (“Defenders of the Family Proclamation,” Ensign, May 2015, p. 14-17). I love that and I love that it applies to every single person, in or out of our church and regardless of paid employment. Even my children can be homemakers. They can contribute to the good feelings in our home by their obedience, kindness and respect to their parents and siblings, and by contributing to the household. I can be a homemaker by speaking with a soft voice to my children, communicating well with my husband, and keeping the house in order by teaching my children to work and by keeping chaos at bay, which is one of my job descriptions.

 

As we each contribute in making our homes a safe refuge, we will be happier, those who live in our homes will want to be at home, and we can all list at least in our hearts that we are proudly, homemakers.