Our MARVELous Summer

A few weeks before summer began, my son and daughter came home from watching Endgame  eagerly discussing plans to watch all 22 movies in the series.  I had no idea the hype Endgame was nor that the movies had all been building to something.  I mean, I liked some of the movies, but at one point had decided they were all the same.  However, feeding off the enthusiasm of my children, I began to spout ideas of basing our summer plan the Marvel movies.  I began to talk about unit studies and themes and learning activities, to which my kids responded with moans of, "It's supposed to be for fun, Mom!"  In the midst of all this chatter, Joel sarcastically declared, "It will be MARVELous." The moment he said it, he regretted those words coming out of his mouth.  Because this mother latched onto the phrase and designed....

Our MARVELous Summer

Okay, I'll be honest, I really did create a unit study type schedule based on the movies. But when you need to finish 22 movies in 12 weeks (minus all of the summer camps and job schedules to work around), you pretty much just have to watch the movies. But, that doesn't mean we didn't do a little bit of learning.

Before kicking off our movie marathon, I introduced some MARVELous scriptures.

2 Nephi 27:26

Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.
Alma 26:3, 15

Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made binstruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.
Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting adarkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting blight, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.

Alma 10:5
Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.

Marvelous work, light and power! Aren't those incredible phrases?

And for anyone interested in the unit studies that can be done with these movies, here is the list I made up. Maybe in another lifetime I can spread the movies out over a year and then follow the plan!

The Movies and Possible Themes:
Captain America: The First Avenger (1943 – 1945) - WWI, WWII, Civil War
Captain Marvel (1995) - Air Force, Flight
Iron Man (2010) - Cold War, Robotics, Iron, Business, Money/Economics, idealized portrait of first American Inventors
Iron Man 2 (2011)
The Incredible Hulk (2011) - Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, emotions, “It ain’t easy bein’ green,” muscles, strength training
Thor (2011) - mythology, hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind
Avengers (2012) - Good vs. evil, teamwork, STEM challenges
Iron Man 3 (2012)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - astronomy, love, family, caring, outsiders, 10 life lessons learned from Guardians
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015) - bugs, metaphysics/matrix stuff, parenthood, pursue your goals and passions, 3 Lessons learned from Ant Man
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016) - spiders, bullying, Greatness Starts with becoming a servant
Doctor Strange (2016 – 2017)  - time travel/teleporting, sorcery/magic, doctors/medical field studies/tour hospital; dissection/anatomy
Black Panther (2017) - panthers/large felines, social structures, national and family culture, kings, Africa
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2017)
Avengers Infinity War (2017)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Final Word
Though we didn't follow the plan above, there were some unexpected moment that occurred for me as we watched the movies.
#1 - I did not expect to fall in love with the Avengers. I loved almost every character! Iron man unexpectedly became my ultimate favorite and I could do without Thor.

#2 - There are some great discussions that can come from these movies. Ethical, moral, behavioral questions and discussions arose from this intricate saga. Familial relations, choice and accountability, character development, working with others to solve big problems, courage, time and possibilities...the list goes on.

#3 - I did not expect to cry when it was all over! Not only was I mourning the loss of some beautiful characters, but also the end of our family moment. I could not have planned a better activity with kids ranging from age 2-17! These movies gelled us together.

So, maybe we didn't go hiking, or camping, or travel or visit the lake, in that regard it was a pretty lame summer; but despite the stress we encountered through it all, we did create an incredible memory. It truly was MARVELous!


Education Week Presentations Finally Here!

Hi All! 

So, right after I presented at BYU-Idaho's Education Week I rushed off on a two week vacation with the family.  And so I finally snagged a moment to update my blog, adding my slides (see bar above).

Speaking at Education Week was a dream come true, literally!  I still remember the day I decided I wanted to speak.  It was at least 15 years ago while attending Provo's Education Week with my dear friend.  As I was visiting with her in between classes, the idea struck me and I have dreamed of it every since.  Though there was so much pressure leading up to it, I truly found joy in sharing a piece of myself with others and hopefully blessing them in the process.

My classes in a nutshell:

The Art of Relationships:  Becoming One with Our Father
Prayer is such a universal topic!  We all want to understand prayer more.  Why?  Because we know that is the most sacred way we can communicate with our Father in Heaven.  Asking, "Who am I?" is the first step in building a relationship with Him.  He is our Father and we must come to know we are His children.  When we ask this important question, we will receive personal revelation that we are His.

Seeking requires a little more energy and effort on our part.  The footnote for "seek" in  Matthew 7:12 tells us that seeking means two things:  objective and meditation.  When we seek for the Lord's guidance, we must first know what it is we really want.  Our objectives must be clear.  Likewise, we must meditate before praying to be sure we are praying for what the Lord would have us pray for.  In seeking we shall find answers to our deepest questions and desires. 

Knocking takes us deeper still.  This is when we "stop praying from the neck up," as Truman G. Madsen has once said.  We must dig deep inside and lay all of our affections at His feet.  This type of prayer will result in Him opening the heavens and pouring down blessings upon us.  This opening is directly related to the covenants we make and how we honor them. 

By asking, seeking and knocking, we are assured that we will receive, we will find and the doors of heaven will be opened unto us!

The Art of Relationships:  Experiencing Joy in the Messiness of Motherhood
Motherhood is messy!  I don't know any mom out there who doesn't wonder about the complexities of this relationship.   In 2 Nephi 2 we learn all about opposition, the purpose for it, and the joy that can be found in the plan of salvation. 

2 Nephi 2:12 - Without opposition, there would be no purpose in the creation.  And it is through becoming cocreators with Christ that we truly find joy.  This creation is more than bearing children.  We have the opportunity to use agency in creating our best selves, in creating a loving environment for our families, and creating memories (the good and the bad). 

2 Nephi 2:5 - "...men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil."  Adam and Eve taught all these things unto their children.  Learning together is a part of the gospel plan for families.  We can create a house of learning by reading aloud with our children and making mealtime meaningful. 

2 Nephi 2:21 - "And the days...were prolonged...that they might repent while in the flesh."  When we think of being a light to our children, it is important that we are pointing them to the true Light, even Jesus Christ.  We teach our children the principle of repentance by example, by leading them to Him when changing is needed. 

2 Nephi 2:26 - Ultimately, to find joy as mothers we must place our faith above our fears.  Mothering is scary and hard.  We have days that are filled with uncertainty and pain.  And yet, we can follow the example of Mother Eve and face our fears with great faith, knowing that it is in his power we rely.

The Art of Relationships: What is Perfect Love?
When God gives us the commandment, "Be ye therefore perfect," I believe He is simply instructing us to love more perfectly.  We can work ourselves out by striving to reach the world's definition of perfection:  flawless, thinking in shoulds, doing it alone, and striving for a destination.  But that is not the kind of perfection Christ meant.  Instead He wants us to live in the moment, utilize repentance, lean on others, and acknowledge our weaknesses with humility.  This is Christ's perfection.  And when we learn to love God, we can ignore the world's definition and strive to love our fellowmen as Christ would do.

**Again, you can access the full slide presentations by clicking on the bar at the top of the page.** 

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"The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of love and He and His Father are the personification of love.  If we are to become like them, pure love must possess us….President Ezra Taft Benson instructed us: 'If we would truly seek to be more like our Savior and Master, then learning to love as He loves should be our highest goal' (Ensign Nov. 1986)."
      Richard. C. Eddy, BYUI Devotional, July 2005


Lessons from the Garden

I always seem to have some of the best analogies come to me while I'm working in yard.  Today was no exception!

I was just cleaning up the winter junk - - dead leaves, garbage, clipping dead branches, etc - - when I got to a section of dead leaves with a few trying-to-bloom tulips interspersed.  Well, I could have gotten down on my knees and used my hands to clean the dead leaves out of the tulips, but that would take too much time and require too much work.  So, instead, I pulled out the tulips and raked out the leaves.  Right after doing so, I felt a twinge of sadness. 

Why did I pull out a beautiful flower just to get rid of the ugly stuff around it?  

And then I thought, "I wonder if I do that with myself."  Do I focus on rooting out the seemingly ugly parts of me so much that I don't let the beauty bloom? 

Similarly, my son was weeding a few days ago and pulled up what looked like weeds but were actually flowers not yet blooming.  Again, are we focusing on the weakness that we don't understand the beauty that is hiding? 

The Lesson of the Tulips
With regard to the tulips,  I had justified the act.  I wanted the job done faster.  I wanted the job to be easier.  And I also figured the tulips weren't thriving so well anyway, it wouldn't matter.  But once I pulled out that green plant, I was devastated.  I had let the ugly leaves control my decision rather than preserving the beauty amidst the ugliness.  We all have ugliness and we all have blossoms ready to bloom.  When we live from our weaknesses rather than our strengths, the true beauty inside is stifled (or rooted out altogether). We all know what happened to the man who buried his one talent in the ground (Matt. 25:14-30).  Let's not be that man!  We are to literally bloom where we are planted, despite the ugliness around (or within) us. 

The Lesson of the Mistaken Weeds
With regard to the weeds my son picked, I'm guessing he had similar thoughts.  He wanted the job done fast so he didn't really think about what he was plucking out of the ground. I'm reminded of Wendy Ulrich who has said that our weaknesses also have a strong side depending on how we use them (see Weakness is not Sin).  Sometimes we are so hyper focused on where we go wrong that we fail to see the good things blooming from the weaknesses we have. Didn't the Lord teach us, "I will make weak things become strong (Ether 12:27)?"  I don't think He was only (if ever) referring to eliminating every weakness we have and becoming perfectly strong in that thing.  Again, Ulrich talks about the purpose of weakness is to keep us humble, not as attributes we need to do away with.  As we turn to the Lord in humility concerning our weaknesses we can find the good blooming. 

I'll give an example:  I often feel like I talk too much.  And yet,  I have friends who aren't big talkers and have expressed gratitude that I do talk because it makes them feel comfortable. Rather than rooting out what I consider to be a weakness, I can turn to the Lord and ask him to help me be more aware of when to talk and when to listen.  I can appeal to Him on how I could use my weakness  - - and its strength - - for His good. 

And so I am grateful once again for the lessons I learned from my garden.  I need to get out there more often!  ;-)

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"Nowhere is God’s love, wisdom, and redemptive power more evident than in His ability to turn our struggle with human weakness into the invaluable godly virtues and strengths that make us more like Him." 
Wendy Ulrich, It Isn't a Sin to be Weak, Ensign, April 2015


In a New Phase

Yesterday I went to the park.  Donovan loves the park.  I don't.  But because I did it with my other kids and because he loves it that much, I took him.  I thought, "I'll just sit and read a book while he plays on the playground."  It sounded so lovely. 

But that's not what happened.

You see, there are other mothers with toddlers at the park.  Other mothers who are seeking friends, not only for their kids, but also themselves.  Other mothers who are hovering over their toddlers while you are sitting reading a book.  And when you don't stand up to help your toddler do everything, the other mothers do.  Which makes you feel horrible because you really don't want to help them yourself.  I figure, when the kid is old enough to go down the slide alone, he'll do it! 

But let me be fair.  This is not about the other mothers, I have no judgment toward them in the least.  They were all wonderful, caring, kind and attentive.  This is not about them.  This is about me.

I'm just in a different phase in my motherhood journey.  It's not the "other mothers" who make me feel this way, it's just where I am right now.  It was a rough transition for me to go from "mom of little kids" to "mom of teenagers."  Now I'm both, with a toddler.  Having a tail-end baby has made me struggle a little bit with the joys of motherhood because my older kids are moving on and I'm still....here.  I am:

cleaning up messes
trying to read a book with my toddler crawling all over me or sticking his book in my face
deciphering two-year old language (sometimes not too well)
going to the park
cleaning up messes
changing diapers
putting on shoes
cleaning up messes...again

Oh!  And yesterday he "locked" me in the shower!  We have drawers right by our shower.  He opened one of them.  Making it impossible for me to get out of the shower.  So I started yelling for him to come save me.  Eventually he did.  And I laughed, that time.  (It may not be so funny the third or fourth time.)

Toddlers are just so constant! And when I finally lay him down for the night, there are the teenagers ready to talk and have meltdowns and needing mom, just mom. 

So, I say again...I think I need to just relax and accept that I am in a new phase. Sometimes a lonely phase because there are few people in this same phase with me.  But it is a phase nonetheless.  As the older women around me counsel, the kids will grow up and leave one day, so I'd best be grateful!  And I am, when I really stop and take a breath.  I love:

new words being discovered
helping explore job options 
watching children become their own little people
the artwork
family dinnertime  (that will be way too quiet way too soon!)
playing games 
answering questions
reading aloud
hugs and kisses

There is joy in motherhood!  Sometimes it just takes a minute to remember that.  Mostly, for me right now, it's about accepting the phase I'm in. 

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“The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work. 
Please know that it is worth it then, now, and forever.”
Jeffrey R. Holland


Our General Conference Traditions

picture from lds.org

We just finished General Conference weekend for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It was wonderful as usual!  So much to learn and wisdom to gain from these great leaders of ours.

As we prepared for conference, my daughter told us how they were asked to share a family conference tradition in church and she didn't know which to share because we had so many!  Yes...Conference weekend is a BIG DEAL at our house!   Here are our favorite traditions:

#1 I make breakfast Saturday and Sunday 
(Not a usual thing at our house, especially the last couple of years!)
  We don't have the same thing every conference.  I just make it a point to eat together at the table and have something yummy!  This year it was muffins, eggs, fruit one day and german pancakes the next.

#2 Conference Bingo

I know this is a common one a lot of families do now.  I copied these boards years ago, colored them and laminated them.  Now only my two youngest really do it, but it's not conference without them.  (Apparently they all fight over board #7 because "it's the best.")

#3 Apostles Pictures on the Wall with Quotation Bubbles 

Okay. This one started just a few years ago I think.  It's simple.  We put up the Apostles' pictures up on the wall.  As we listen to conference we are to write the main theme or a sentence about what we learned during his talk.  

#4 Walk Around the Temple 

Throughout our married life we have been fortunate to live close to a temple.  Thus, in between the Sunday session we take a walk around the temple.  In Richland, WA we would spend a long time there - - eating lunch, playing on the grassy hill, enjoying the sunshine.  Now that we live in Rexburg, our time at the temple usually involves a very quick-paced stroll (I think one year we just drove to the temple, looked at it for a minute from our car windows, and drove home again).  The point:  we go to the temple during conference. 

#5 Chicken Salad Pitas 

Every year I make chicken salad pitas for lunch on Sundays.  It was what we would eat at the temple for lunch, but now we just eat it before we take our trip to the temple. 

#6 Order the Speakers 
My husband contributed this little tradition...and we LOVE it.  Basically, we each write down the order in which we think the 15 prophets and apostles will speak.  As conference goes on we calculate our average numbers. For example:

If my guess is that Elder Bednar will speak first but he actually speaks 5th my score would be

If I then guess that Elder Holland will speak 2nd and he speaks 12th, my score would be 10 

If I guess President Oaks will speak 8th and he speaks 3rd, my score would be

At the end we then total up our final score:  4+10+5=19 

This really is so much fun!  Our missionary son won this year with a score of 39.  Apparently he created a whole spreadsheet evaluating patterns from the last 20 years of conference before ordering his list (guess he had some time on his hands!).

#7 Conference Jeopardy  

Last, but not least, every Monday night following General Conference we play Conference Jeopardy.  Taking information from my notes, I make up a Jeopardy Board.  We have done this for YEARS!  My kids won't let me forget it.  I will be honest, this has not been our most PEACEFUL family home evening activity, resulting in much arguing and many tears.  But in recent years it has become more jovial, less competitive and probably our favorite tradition so far! 

So there you have it - - how the Hathaways "Do" Conference!  

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What is said is not as important as what we hear and what we feel.  That is why we make an effort to experience conference in a setting where the still small voice of the spirit can be clearly heard, felt and understood.
Elder Robert D. Hales, CR Oct. 2013


LDS Culture

There is so much chatter on resisting the culture that exists within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Moving here to Rexburg almost four years ago caused me to even enter that discussion and really work through my own thoughts on the subject.  I would even admit that I was starting to become a little cynical and defensive about how we live gospel principles (me personally, and in our home as compared to others in the community).  Recently, it dawned on me that there is another way to look at it, a way that makes the culture a positive thing and not something to fight against. 

We have a beautiful and rich history that has created such a culture.  Joseph Smith didn't just create a bunch of blind followers, he created a community of Saints.  It is within this community that we learn to work, to love, to discern, to serve, to sacrifice and to make covenants with our Father in Heaven.  Actually, it is through our interactions with one another that those covenants become deeper and more meaningful.  I once heard a speaker say that the Atonement is not only vertical (between us and God) but also horizontal (between you and me).  

I believe what we really kick against is the culture of perfectionism.  This is not just within the Church.  This is in our worldly culture as well.  The images we see on social media affect how we see one another.  We are a culture afraid of mistakes and vulnerability (Brene Brown has done extensive research on this shame culture and vulnerability). And so, of course, these same feelings will permeate into our wards.  It is impossible to connect with a group of people afraid of being human - - which includes making mistakes and being imperfect.  

And yet, what a blessing it is that we have Sunday, a day set aside for us to dress our best act our best.  Being our best does not mean we are being fake.  There is some of that out there - - go to church on Sunday with a smile on your face and then spend the rest of the week being completely the opposite.  But for the majority of those I know who go to church, they are simply trying their best to be good people - on Sunday and not on Sunday.  What a blessing it is to have just one day a week when we can truly act the way we wish we could act all the time! What a blessing it is to have one day a week we can partake of the sacrament and renew that person we want to be and know is in there somewhere.  What a blessing it is that we have a day when we can "become unspotted from the world."  And what a blessing it is to know that after we make a million new mistakes, we get to go back and refresh ourselves again!  

Another struggle with have with regards to this strong culture, is that of conformity.  How do we keep our individualism amongst so many others striving to live the same teachings?!  One of our greatest doctrines is that of unity - - growing together in love, creating Zion.  The world's definition of unity is equality or "sameness."  This is much different than the Lord's view of unity - to become one.  Erich Fromm talks about the idea of "herd conformity," which is basically the fear of being different.  And so we as members of the Church need to realize we aren't so much resisting becoming the same as one another as we are fighting against the world's definition of unity.  Because the draw for conformity is so strong, we fear we will lose our identity, our personal stamp on the world.  Yet, we also strongly desire the sense of belonging in this great cultural community!  This is the real conflict. 

So what do we do to combat this culture of perfectionism and conformity?  If we were to listen to the words of Brene Brown we would become more vulnerable and build deeper connections through sharing our humanness with one another.  Does this mean every Relief Society or Sunday School lesson needs to be a time to "air out our laundry?"  Of course not!  The purpose of our time at church together is to build one another up through the principles of the gospel, to discuss ideals and possibilities.  Overcoming these struggles means we aren't so afraid of judgment that we then become the judge.  It means we love people where they are on their personal path to perfection.  It means we share the messy parts of ourselves as much as the righteous.  Joseph Smith has said, "Let not any man publish his own righteousness, for others can see that for him; sooner let him confess his sins, and then he will be forgiven and he will bring forth more fruit."  

We can also commit to putting our best selves forward!  We can't settle for being mediocre because we fear others will think less of themselves if we show our goodness.  Nor are we to puff ourselves up, so to speak, in declaring our own righteousness.  Our best selves are who God intends us to be and who He sees us as being.  Only He knows the true intents of our hearts.  It is in our righteous motivations that we behave our best and then motivate others to do the same - - not the same as us, but the best of themselves. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does have a very thick culture.  Maybe it's time we take this great culture and embrace the goodness it has to offer rather than fighting against it.  We all know that a house divided cannot stand.  This does not have to be a battle within the Church, it is a battle against the natural man, against worldly views rather than spiritual. I am so grateful I am a part of a community that expects the best of me.  I'm grateful for a Father in Heaven who believes the best in me.  This is what I learn from this cultural background from which I came. 

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Here is a great series on how we can stay unified as a Church while we are becoming more diverse: 


So Many Thoughts!

My mind is exploding this week!  I had a discussion with a dear friend on Monday and something she said sparked something in me that helped me see some things more clearly.  I've also been studying and reading about God's love and what that really means.  Trying to put my thoughts together in one succinct statement has been difficult, but I want to try!

So far this year, I have seen a theme in the new LDS Come, Follow Me curriculum.  Beginning with the births of John and Jesus, we see their parents preparing themselves to be worthy of the call to raise them.  Elisabeth and Zaracharias, in particular, seem to be creating a worthy place for his divine birth.  We then explore the worshiping behaviors of the witnesses of Christ's birth.

Fast forward to Christ as an adult and we immediate watch as He then turns His devotion to God.  His baptism is monumental in now only showing us the way to God, but in showing us that by baptism of fire we can be sanctified and have the capacity to be cleansed spiritually.  Eventually, we get to His works and miracles, beginning with the changing of water to wine which signifies our own changing required to fully come unto Him. From Jesus's works and His teachings we learn how He loves and how to love.

What does it really mean to Love as God Loves? 

In his talk this past General Conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained, "The love God speaks of is the kind that enters our hearts when we awake in the morning, stays with us throughout the day, and swellings in our hearts as we give voice to our prayers of gratitude at evening's end."   Wow!  What would that feel like to have that kind of love?  How do we get to that point when love simply permeates our hearts the whole day? 

This is what my friend and I have been chewing on the past few weeks and suddenly things became more clear for me.  We've talked about the changing process and how we often feel like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other - - light to darkness and darkness to light.  This week she described it a bit differently.  She said, "What if we don't swing clear back to the darkness, but we simply swing to our natural state (kind of in the middle)?  So when we experience the light, we catch a glimpse of where we can be, and yet we can't stay there forever because we are mortal, so we go back to our mortal state."  In other words, it's not that we go from good to evil, per se, but that we are inherently good and simply can experience feelings of greatness every once in awhile to give us the motivation to keep on reaching. 

As I have pondered on this analogy, this concept, I have been flooded with thoughts.  I can see now what it really means to be "good enough" (for lack of a better term; *see note below for thoughts on this).  I can feel the difference between discouragement and divine discontent.  Ultimately, looking at changing, love and the gospel in this light we can take unrighteous judgment out of our hearts because the Lord sees His children as good who have the potential for greater light and love. 

For example, all that is required of us is to follow the commandments (Mosiah 2:22) and to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven all that is required is baptism (Moses 6:57).  Yet, if we desire more light or glory, the Lord makes it possible for us to obtain it.  We can make more covenants (the temple), seek more diligently, and serve more readily.  If we want to feel a deeper love for and from our Father in Heaven, we can seek it and He will grant us the true desires of our hearts. 

Yes, God's love is "perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal.  However, President Russell M. Nelson explains that the "full flower of divine love and our greatest blessings from that love are conditional - predicated upon our obedience to eternal law."  In his article he further notes, "...many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and Son feel for each of us are conditional."  We are taught, "If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love."  The more committed we are to following the Savior, the more light and love we can feel.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us!  It is evident in their greatest sacrifice, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We have access to the greatest love God has to offer us.  All that is required to obtain it is to reach for Him.  The question for me is now longer, "Does God love me?"  The questions that now burn in my heart are, "Do I love God and at what depth do I love Him?"  With this thought we no longer need to worry about being good enough or doing enough, we can move forward knowing God is in our hearts and leading our steps.

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In today's world trembling with terror and hatred, our knowledge of divine love is of utmost importance. We bear responsibility to understand and testify that Heavenly Father and Jesus the Christ are glorified, living and loving personages."  
President Russell M. Nelson

**Note: I feel like we use the term "good enough" to imply that we don't need to improve, to stay settled where we are.  And ironically, when we focus on being "good enough" we don't necessarily feel any better about ourselves.  The gospel is one of change and growing. So, yes, God loves us as we are, but He also knows our potential to be so much more! 


What is this Thing we call Death?

"And it came to pass that there were many who died, firmly believing that their souls were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ; thus they went out of the world rejoicing.  And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land...but there were many who died with old age; and those who died in the faith of Christ are happy in him, as we must needs suppose (Alma 46:39-41)."

There have been many deaths within my little circle the last few months, four of which have occurred in the past six weeks.  Today my heart is sad as I "mourn with those who mourn."  Many tears have been shed not only for those we've lost, but also for those who've been left.

When death is so inevitable why is it hard for us to accept?  Yes, we will miss those we have come to love in this life, and there are those deaths which are sudden or appear "too early" (which is the case for these most recent deaths); but for those who know there is something after this life, we still must mourn and struggle with what death means to us.

I love the writings of Rabbi Harold S. Krushner!  On the topic of living and dying he has written, "In my forty years as a rabbi, I have tended to many people in the last moments of their lives.  Most of them were not afraid of dying....The people who had the most trouble with death were those who felt that they had never done anything worthwhile in their lives, and if God would only give them another two or three years, maybe they would finally get it right.  It was not death that frightened them; it was...the fear that they would die and leave no mark in the world (Living a Life that Matters, p. 6)."

In other words, many of us are not afraid to die.  We're afraid we will never truly lived.  As we continue to age in life we begin to wonder, "Did I matter?"

Similarly, in one Elder Uchtdorf's great talks, he touches on these thoughts.  He talks about the regrets most people find themselves having as they near the end of their lives:

                     * I wish I had spent more time with the people I love,
                     * I wish I had lived up to my potential, and
                     * I wish I had let myself be happier.

I, for one, find myself wondering these same things as I continue to watch these beautiful people pass away.  I find myself wanting to love more, make better decisions with my time and energy, and simply be happier.  I used to say, "I don't want to get to the other side and wish that I'd enjoyed myself more!"  And it's true.  This life is really so short.  It's busy and it's hard and it's our current reality, but it is not the end - - which should bring us some comfort when we come to that knowledge.

Again from Elder Uchtdorf, "Yes, this life is passing swiftly; our days seem to fade quickly; and death appears frightening at time.  Nevertheless, our spirit will continue to live and will one day be united with our resurrected body to receive immortal glory.  I bear solemn witness that because of the merciful Christ, we wi ll all live again and forever.  Because of our Savior and Redeemer, one day we will truly understand and rejoice in the meaning of the words 'the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.'"

So, for those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones, I pray for the peace "which passeth all understanding."  For those who are still living, I pray we can all resolve to be a little kinder, love a little more, slow down and enjoy the journey that is ours to live.  "For behold, this life is a time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors (Alma 34:32)."  What a great opportunity we have to prepare for such a day as that!

 - - - - - - - 

"For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s." - - Romans 14:8


Youth: Involving them in the Lord's Battalion

At the age of 3 my daughter, Brooklynn, was playing a game with her siblings and the babysitter.  The game was set up with all but one person sitting on one end of the room and the person who was "it" standing on the other.  The person who was "it" would shout out a characteristic and those with that characteristic would race to touch the person who was "it" first.  When it came to be Brooklynn's turn she started with things such as, "Whoever is wearing purple pants" or "Whoever has blue eyes."  Then, as is natural for her, she shouted out, "Who has Jesus in their heart?"  This question came from a Sunbeam teacher who's number one goal was that each child in her class would leave knowing that Jesus was in their heart.  Brooklynn has internalized this message from that early age and has never lost it.  She is a natural at ministering to the one!

Sister Bonnie D. Oscarson spoke of using the young women in the ministering. She said, "Brothers and sisters, our young women are amazing.  They have talents, unlimited enthusiasm, and energy and they are compassionate and caring.  They want to be of service.  They need to know they are valued and essential in the work of salvation.  Just as young men prepare in the Aaronic Priesthood for greater service as they advance into the Melchizedek Priesthood, our young women are preparing to become members of the greatest women's organization on the earth - - the Relief Society."

These characteristics: unlimited enthusiasm, energy, the desire to use their talents, and compassion are all things we can embrace and utilize by incorporating the youth in the work of salvation.  Already we are seeing women who are more energized and enthusiastic about ministering because of their interactions with the young women or their daughters.

Another blessing for the Relief Society sisters is that there are more opportunities to take on leadership roles.  The training and leading are no longer only in the hands of those with leadership callings.  One sister expressed to me that involving the young women in the work makes her want to be a do better so that they will have a righteous example to follow.  Another sister spoke about the privilege of modeling what she'd like her daughter to see and learn.  This will require stretching on our parts as we involve the young women and learn to let go, allowing them to take the reigns.  Through this process of mentoring future leaders, we have the opportunity to learn to trust them and they in turn will trust in themselves as they take on leadership roles in the future.

"[Involving the youth] mayh also simplify and srengthen these efforts within families as mothers and daughters, fathers and sons serve together (Ministering instructions, p.7)."   One sister recognized that she could now see her daughter as a person not just her daughter.  This mother finds joy in watching her daughter utilize her gifts and talents to bless the lives of others.  This can't but help the love between mother and daughter grow as they continue to serve their sisters together.

"Involving youth in ministering assignments incrases the reach of caring for others by increasing the number of members who participate (Ministering FAQs p. 7)."  Rather than carrying the load ourselves, we can reach out to the youth and utilize their strengths in furthering the work of the Lord.  I have noticed that weight lifted while serving with my daughter.  It is refreshing to ask her, "What do you think we can do for this sister?"   One mother also shared with me that one of the sisters they visit loves to do crafts, but she does not enjoy that!  However, her daughter loves doing crafts so now they can go visit and this sister no longer feels the burden of needing to fill that need herself.   Our youth have gifts, talents and personalities that can enhance our own gospel service and reach the hearts of those we serve.

Elder Robert D. Hales has taught us, "[Brothers and sisters], we are engaged in a battle between the forces of light and darkness. If it were not for the Light of Jesus Christ and His gospel, we would be doomed to the destruction of darkness."  The Lord has consistently used youth to do His mighty works.  Think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, so young and yet so necessary to the plan.  Christ Himself was found teaching in the temple at the age of 12.  And of course, the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored on the earth today because a young boy was will to pray and do the work necessary to obey the answer.

My favorite example is the story of Mormon.  At the age of 10, Ammaron gave him the task of retrieving the plates when he became 24.  When he was 11 years old, he was carried into the land of Zarahemla - - a very populous city and on the bring of war with the Lamanites.  Later we learn, "And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and new of the goodness of Jesus.  And I did endeavor to preach unto this people...but I was forbidden to preach unto them, because of the hardness of their hearts....Therefore, it came to pass that in my sixteenth year I did go forth at the head of an army of the Nephites, against the Lamanites (Mormon 1-2)."  Think of the burdens that were placed on such young shoulders!  The Lord knew Mormon could accomplish the great tasks placed upon him.

And then there is David who, at a young age, defeated Goliath.  His response when confronted with the Philistine giant was, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied.  This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand... (1 Sam. 17:42-46)."

How do we instill such strength in our youth?  We use them!  We rely on and trust them!  Why does Heavenly Father entrust so much of His important work in the hands of the youth?  Because He knows they can do it!  President Nelson knows this as well as he has reached out to the youth of the Church inviting them to join the Lord's Battlion. The youth are being called upon again to usher in the 2nd coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  It is exciting! And we as leaders need them.  Again Sister Oscarson has counseled, "...the [youth]...are...needed and essential in accomplishing the work of the Lord in their families and in His Church."

The youth have been born "for such a time as this." They are equipped to do all the Lord has and will continue to require of them.  It is our opportunity as their leaders, parents and teachers not only to train them, but also (and more importantly) to give them opportunities to rise to the occasion.  We are not meant to teach them how we think things should be done, but to empower them to be their strongest selves as they learn to be the future leaders of Christ's Church.  We as leaders get to not only watch this happen, but make it happen for them!  What a challenge!  What a blessing!

  - - - - - - - - 

“Is it any wonder that following the Savior’s visit to the Nephites, they lived in peace and righteousness for two hundred years? Because of miraculous instructions, blessings, and attention they and their children received, righteousness was perpetuated by their children’s children for many generations.  Let us not underestimate the capacity and potential power of today’s children to perpetuate righteousness.
President Michaelene P. Grassli, Primary General President, Oct 1992



image from lds.org

"Whoop-de-do! The Gospel’s true!"

Growing up one member would use this declaration at the beginning of every testimony he bore.  As a child, it was humorous and endearing.  As an adult I think, "Amen!"  The gospel is something to be excited about, something to cheer for.  

President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “This is a season of a thousand opportunities. It is ours to grasp and move forward.  What a wonderful time it is for each of us to do his or her small part in moving the work of the Lord on to its magnificent destiny(CR Oct. 1997)." 

Likewise, Bishop H. David Burtain declared, “As we recognize and act on our opportunities, progress, happiness, and spiritual growth follow.  We need to be involved in moving the Lord’s work forward (CR Oct. 1998)." 

You know when you are drawn to a word and then seem to hear it again and again fora while?  The word opportunity has been that word for me lately.  An opportunity is a "suitable time combined with other favorable circumstances (Webster's 1828 Dictionary)."  

Further we learn this about the origins of the word opportunity: 

“The word opportunity comes from the Latin term opportunitas, which is composed of two other terms: ob, meaning “toward”, and portus, meaning “port”.  This word came about in the realm of navigation, where sailors used the phrase ob portus to denote the best combination of wind, current, and tide to sail to port. However, the only way to seize such weather conditions was if the vessel’s captain had already sighted the port of destination. Knowing the weather conditions without knowing the destination was useless. Therefore, a ship was in a state of opportunitas when its captain had decided where to go and knew how to get there. Later, however, the word evolved in a different direction to denote only external conditions while excluding the individual who would seize them (Leramero)."

As ministering sisters, we know our destination!  We know the port to which we need to land:  in the homes of those for whom we have stewardship.  As we prepare ourselves spiritually to serve in this capacity, we are then ready to sail when the wind, current and tide align and we are able to assist those we serve.  

"The Savior calls His disciples to work with Him in His ministry, giving them the opportunity to serve others and become more like Him...By assigning our women to do visiting teaching, we give them the opportunity to develop the pure love of Christ, which can be the greatest blessing of their lives (Daughters in my Kingdom, pp.105, 120." 

Called to be ministering is not just something we are asked so we can have more to do on our endless list of tasks.  The Lord gives us, His children, opportunities to learn and to grow so we can live with Him again.  Ministering is one of those opportunities and when we are prepared, He can use us to fulfill His great purpose in bringing His children home. 

In Alma 19:16-17  we read of one young woman who was ready for her opportunity.

16 And it came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father— 17 Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people. 

Abish had prepared herself spiritually so when the opportunity arose she was ready to spread the word, ready to be a blessing to the people and she acknowledged the Lord's hand in creating such an opportunity.  This is our call as ministering sisters, to be thus prepared that we, too, can recognize the Lord's hand and take advantage of the opportunities He can (and will) place before us! 

“Visiting teaching gives women the opportunity to watch over, strengthen, and teach one another. Through visiting teaching, the Relief Society president helps the bishop identify and resolve short-term and long-term needs of the sisters and their families” (Handbook 2, 9.5).

A brief note on the new visiting teaching focus: 
In 1916 the Relief Society established that the sisters would take a message into the homes of those they visited.  In 1923 there was instituted a uniform message churchwide.  For 95 years the leaders have been directing this message.  That's a long time! As our stake Relief Society President has expressed, it's like the leaders are "taking off the training wheels."  This does not mean we don't go into the homes of our sisters.  We need to be going into the homes of our sisters.  This new focus is simply another opportunity the Lord is giving us to use personal revelation in blessing the lives of those we visit.  This new focus is not about doing less, this is about being more! 

"Since each sister's circumstances are different, visiting teachers need specific guidance from the Holy Ghost so they can know how best to help each one (Daughters in my Kingdom, p. 114)." 

As Elder Uchtdorf reminded us at the last conference, "No one else is responsible for your personal journey.  The Savior will help you and prepare the way before you, but the commitment to follow Him and keep His commandments must come from you.  This is your soul burden, your sole privilege.  This is your great adventure. Please heed the call of your Savior.  Follow Him  (emphasis added)."  

Ministering is our opportunity, a part of our great adventure.  We must prepare ourselves so that when the tide changes and the weather is right, we will be there to minister to the ones we are called to serve. 

 - - - - - - 

"The Lord has established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to help you in this commitment to serve God and fellowmen.  Its purpose is to encourage, teach, lift and inspire.  This wonderful Church provides opportunities for you to exercise compassion, reach out to others, and renew and keep sacred covenants.  It is designed to bless your life and improve your home, community and nation…  Lend your talents to His wonderful work.  Reach out, encourage, heal and support all who desire to feel and heed the yearning for our supernal home.  Let us join together in this glorious pilgrimage to heavenly climes."  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, CR October 2017

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