Category Archives: Conversion

Powerball vs. Eternal Life

Adapted from a talk given in the Philipsburg Branch of the Altoona Pennsylvania Stake on January 17, 2016.

Like me recently, you were probably overwhelmed by the media and public frenzy over a $1.3 billion Powerball lottery. For days it seemed that this was all everyone was talking about.

At my work, they collected for a Powerball pool, and they were all excited about the possibility of winning. I received a little badgering over not joining the pool. And frankly, there was a slight twinge of temptation there. Maybe even more than a twinge. I admit I did check out the Gospel topics page at LDS.org just to double check the church’s stance on gambling, and learned that the church is against state run lottos. Then I checked out the Powerball website…to learn that it is run by 30 states, so I guess you could say that the Church is reaallly against it.

I’m a convert and even before I joined the Church I didn’t really have much to do with lotteries. But the few times I did play… it seems I had all the luck. I once spent a weekend at an event where break open tickets were being sold as a fundraiser: I won both big prizes and a number of smaller ones. I have played the slots exactly once in my life: I won ten times what I put in. Once when I was in university I really needed new tires but I was literally down to just a couple of bucks. I used my last two dollars to buy a lotto ticket: I won $406 – just enough for the tires and the gas to get to the garage and back.

Elder Randall K. Bennett in his conference talk entitled “Choose Eternal Life” said, “We all have temptations…. It is never too hard or too late to make correct choices.” So though the temptation was there, I declined to join the Powerball pool. When a few of my colleagues were ribbing me about not joining them and one of them said, “What will you do when we all win and quit?”, I responded, “I guess I’ll have my pick of your jobs!”

Spending a couple of dollars on a lotto ticket may not seem like a big deal, but it has been said that it is the small daily decisions that we make that determine who we are. In that sense, every decision is an eternal decision. Elder Bennett said:

Our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has taught: “I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences.” Each of you…is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents. You do have a divine nature and destiny. During your premortal life you learned to love truth. You made correct eternal choices. You knew that here in mortality, there would be afflictions and adversity, sorrow and suffering, tests and trials to help you grow and progress. You also knew that you could continue making correct choices, repent of incorrect choices, and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ inherit eternal life.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen once said, “We can have eternal life if we want it, but only if there is nothing we want more.”

Aren’t there things that we all want? Money, fame and fortune is what the world tells us is necessary for success, and some non-church LDS companies buy into this formula when they publish such articles as “Top 10 Highest Paid LDS Youtube Stars” or “Richest LDS Entertainers”. The popularity of such so-called news perhaps sheds some light on who we may be becoming as a people. Are we choosing to be indoctrinated into the ways of the world? One way we can measure where we ourselves are headed is to examine how much real news, how many edifying stories and historical moments we are watching versus how much entertainment news, celebrity gossip and reality voyeurism we engage in.

In his book Pathways to Perfection, President Monson tells us the real formula for success. He says:

In this significant preparatory period of life we seek a map to sail uncharted seas, a formula to insure success, a guide to guarantee achievement. Where will we look? How will we seek? To whom will we turn for help? Our decision is vital. Our day of decision is now….

I say: “Turn your hearts and direct your thoughts to him who declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the light.” His word is as an unfailing compass to chart safely a true course through the storms of life. He taught faith, love, charity, and hope. He spoke of devotion, courage, example, and fidelity. His life reflected his teachings.

To you his inviting voice repeats the call, “Come, follow me.” By doing so, [you] will not fall victim to the evil one’s cunning and to temptation’s snare” (p. 251).

Success is turning your hearts and directing your thoughts to Jesus Christ in all that you do, not in winning the lottery. President Monson gives us four steps to follow for success:

  1. Labor to learn.
  2. Strive to serve.
  3. Think to thank.
  4. Pause to pray.

Notice the words that he uses here – labor, strive, think, pause; not just the simple verbs we usually use – learn, serve, thank, pray. The Gospel is an action we take on in our lives, not just a noun. It is something to work at, to put effort into, not just do as a routine part of lives.

First, of laboring to learn, President Monson says:

A half-hearted effort will not suffice. You must labor with all your might…. At stake is eternal life – yours…. Will you be a leader of men and a servant of God? Or will you be a servant of sin and a follower of Satan? Decisions determine destiny. In the quiet of your study, surrounded by books written by the finest minds of men, listen for and hearken to the Master’s invitation: “…learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29-30)….  Alma, the prophet, could well have been speaking to you when he counseled, “Oh, remember, my son, and learn wisdom…; yea, learn…to keep the commandments of God” (Alma 37:35) (p. 253).

Second, of striving to serve, he quotes Thomas Huxley: “The end of life is not knowledge, but action” and then continues, “When our testimonies are reflected by our service, they shine with unequaled brilliance” (p. 253).

We spent five months overseas last year in Sri Lanka, a country where most people are very poor compared to us. A nice quad costs the same for them as it does for us – about $50 US. To give you an idea of how much this really costs for someone from that country….I spent more on groceries each week than most people make in a month. A friend of ours, for example, makes purses for 10 rupees each – less than 1/10th of a cent. I noticed another friend of ours did not have proper scriptures. She had been saving but every time she was getting close, something came up. For example, at 18 years old she basically became the breadwinner for her family because her father became ill and could not work.

In the meantime, after I was baptized I longed for a set of nice scriptures, and as a sign of renewal after my divorce, I saved and bought myself a beautiful quad. Over the next couple of years I saved and bought myself a complete set of scripture illustration stickers, and spent much time making my scriptures a beautiful book. I sacrificed many things and much time and about $450 to make my scriptures exactly as I wanted them.

But, on one of my last nights in Sri Lanka I approached my friend and gave her my scriptures. She cried in gratitude. What for me was the equivalent of a week or two of work, for her would have been four months salary. And she now has proper scriptures to use on a mission if she so chooses. My sacrifice and service to one person may help her to sacrifice and serve countless others.

Third, of thinking to thank, it really is necessary to ponder what we are thankful for instead of giving automatic ‘thank you’s for everything. We must actually think about the things we are thankful for.

For example, President Monson says:

Do you think to thank your mother and your father who have given you life and who rejoice in your accomplishments? To them no sacrifice is too great, no loneliness too acute if such opens the way for you to enjoy the blessings of life…. A fitting tribute of gratitude was made by a young Latter-day Saint girl attending…high school. The students in her class had been asked to prepare a letter to be written to a great man of their choice…. This young lady…addressed her letter to her father, and in her letter she stated: “I have decided to write this letter to you, Dad, because you are the greatest man that I have ever known. The overwhelming desire of my heart is that I might so live that I will have the privilege of being beside you and mother and other members of the family in the celestial kingdom.” That father has never received a more cherished letter (p. 255).

Finally, of pausing to pray. How do we do this? Seek Heavenly Father’s counsel, advice, guidance for the things we endure every day. Give Him thanks for all we have, even the trials that He sends our way. An old Native American prayer says, “We pray for strength, and you send us trials to make us stronger.”

President Monson says:

Perhaps there has never been a time when we had greater need to pray to that God who has given us life. One cannot help but compare our situation today with conditions at the time of Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans.

The prophet Daniel rebuked Belshazzar: “And thou…O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart….But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and they concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose ways are all they ways, hast thou not glorified.” (Daniel 5:22-23)

He then interpreted the writing on the wall: “God hath numbered they kingdom, and finished it…. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” (Daniel 5:26-27)

When we are weighed in the balances we will not be found wanting if we make personal prayer a pattern for our lives. When we remember that each of us is is literally a spirit son or daughter of God, we will not find it difficult to approach our Father in heaven (p.p.255-256).

As Elder Hafen reminded us, ultimately this pattern for success will lead us to eternal life, but only if we want it, and only if there is nothing we want more.

Like some other churches, for the past few years our church has come under increasing condemnation for its stance on marriage. It has been criticized from outside and in, by the world and by members who know the doctrine and yet want to change the will of the Lord.

Our beliefs about marriage, about families is clearly defined in the Proclamation on the Family. Some would have you believe that the current controversy is simply a matter of equality for all. It’s not. As a church, we believe firmly that people have the right to choose in almost every aspect of their lives, but we also know the adversary will always find new ways to try to bring about his desires and to pull people away from God.

Here’s an example. We know that the Second Coming will not occur until all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children have had the opportunity to come to this earth and partake of a mortal existence. What better way to stop this from happening than to destroy the spiritual purpose of the family? For more than thirty years this has been the case in China with its one-child policy, a policy widely criticized throughout the world, including in the United States. Sister Sheri Dew, past member of the Young Women General Presidency, in her book Women and the Priesthood, quotes Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster:

“For more than three decades, Chinese women have been subjected to their country’s brutal one-child policy. Those who try to have more children have been subjected to fines and forced abortions. Their houses have been razed and their husbands fired from their jobs. As a result, Chinese women have a fertility rate of 1.54.”

Now here’s the interesting part:

“Here in America, white, college-educated women – a good proxy for the middle class – have a fertility rate of 1.6. America has its very own one-child policy. And we have chosen it for ourselves. Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff.”

Sister Dew continues: “It doesn’t take a mathematician to calculate the impact on society of a population that won’t replace itself. Even more serious is the attempted threat to our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. Mortal life is a prerequisite for eternal life” (p. 140).

Does this mean that we are to have one child after another, year after year? Of course not, though it may. The Family Proclamation and other church materials clearly state that the number of children a couple has should be prayerfully considered by each couple. Such decisions are decisions of eternity. Interestingly, the amount of money one has – or whether or not one has won the lottery – is not a suggested requirement.

The admonition to Adam and Eve – and through them, to us – was to “multiply and replenish the earth.” That commandment has not changed. We can choose to follow that commandment literally, but we can also choose to acknowledge that there are other ways of replenishing than by having children.

Here are some things to think about:

  • To replenish means to fill something that had previously been emptied. We can think of Noah and his family in this sense – they were tasked with beginning the human race anew after the earth had been wiped clean and emptied of life by the Great Flood.
  • To replenish means to make full or complete. If we consider this meaning in a spiritual sense, it means to constantly nourish ourselves with prayer, scripture study, attending meetings, service, and all other things we do to rejuvenate our minds and souls as we serve the Lord and learn of Him.
  • To replenish means to inspire or nourish. The more spiritually filled we are, the more we can inspire and nourish others, through encouragement, friendship, service, missionary work, and countless other ways.

Are we choosing to be engaged in replenishing the earth and its inhabitants, or are we doing the opposite and giving fuel to Satan’s powers?

  • Are we consuming more than our share of the earth’s resources?
  • Are we taking more spiritually from others than we are giving back?
  • Are we draining our families and friends of emotional or financial resources unnecessarily?
  • Are we exhausting our lives in pursuit of worldly things?
  • Are we using up the good will and patience of those around us by demanding that they give to us constantly but doing nothing for them in return?

All of these are eternal choices with eternal consequences.

Elder Bennett tells us:

In reality we have only two eternal choices, each with eternal consequences: choose to follow the Savior of the world and thus choose eternal life with our Heavenly Father or choose to follow the world and thus choose to separate ourselves from Heavenly Father eternally….

In evaluating your choices and their consequences, you might ask yourself:

  • Am I seeking divine direction through daily scripture study, pondering, and prayer, or have I chosen to be so busy or apathetic that I don’t take time to study the words of Christ, ponder them, and converse with my Heavenly Father?
  • Am I choosing to follow the counsel of living prophets of God, or am I following the worldly ways and the opposing opinions of others?
  • Am I seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost daily in what I choose to think about, feel, and do?
  • Am I consistently reaching out to assist, serve, or help rescue others?

….[Your] eternal destiny will not be the result of chance but of choice. It is never too late to begin to choose eternal life!

And even though it may be tempting at times, choosing eternal life does not include playing Powerball.

Church Service Missions

Altoona Pennsylvania Stake Conference, Nov 22, 2014

In the fall of 2012 I was teaching in northern Manitoba, Canada, about 750 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota. My husband and I had been married for two and a half years, and I had taken this position teaching in a remote Cree Indian community for something to do while we waited for immigration to allow me to come to the United States to live with him and my step-daughter. During those first years of our marriage we spent a lot of time on Skype – we turned on Skype when we got up in the morning, and turned it off when one of us fell asleep at night. With little else to do in the community I was living in, I was spending a lot of time online while we were Skyping. One night I was on LDS.org and was just sort of clicking my way through all sorts of links on there, when I stumbled across a page that talked about part-time church service missions. As I read, I got more and more excited. As a convert to the church in my mid-twenties with a nine-year old daughter, I didn’t have the opportunity to serve a mission, so I found this prospect intriguing. I, for one, always imagined that church service missionaries were retired older members, probably married, with no children at home, and looking for something worthwhile to do in their golden years. And that used to be the standard. But no longer! If you have as little as eight hours a week to spare, you can qualify to serve a church-service mission!

You, like me, may not realize just how many different kinds of church service missions there are. Some are full-time; some are part-time. Some require travel; some are at-home. They all fall under one of the areas found in the four-fold mission of the church – helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary efforts, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead. But one thing is clear…if there is something you love to do, there is probably a mission for it.

Do you like taking pictures? There’s a mission for that! Church-service photographers are sent a topic each week, spend a few hours taking pictures, then submit them to the church. These photos are then used by website developers, church magazine editors, the Mormon Newsroom, and other church departments to create and enhance content on the church’s more than 200 official websites.

Do you like looking at pictures that other people have taken? There’s a mission for that! While you are checking submitted photos to ensure they meet our standards, you also tag them so that when someone is looking for pictures to add to a website or article, they can quickly find them.

Do you like technology? There’s a mission for that! If you have tech skills, you could be developing apps and other tools for members, making online games for children, creating music apps, or offering technical support.

Do you like family history? There are missions for that! Indexing, research, data specialist, online support – these are just some ways that you could serve a family history mission.

Do you like helping people with their problems? There are missions for that! From Addiction Recovery to Bishops’ Storehouses to Mormon Helping Hands there is a way for you to serve. And if you have medical training, there are even humanitarian cruises where you spend five months on board a navy ship traveling from port to port giving medical attention to underprivileged areas of the world!

Do you like building or fixing things, talking to people, answering phones, working with youth, teaching, helping the missionaries, enhancing military relations, swimming, camping? There are missions for all of these things!

There are even at-home church service missions for youth and young adults who cannot serve a full-time regular mission!

So, after praying about it for several months and having several conversations with church employees about it, I submitted my mission papers and a few months later was called as an Operations Specialist for the LDS.org Response Team in the new church department called Communication Services. Now, that’s a mouthful!

But what do the thirty-five of us on the LDS.org Response Team really do? Well, you know the little Do You Have Feedback About This Page? link at the bottom of all the church web pages? I answer the feedback. I typically respond to 500 or more messages a month dealing with all sorts of topics. I answer a lot of Welfare, Calendar, Directory and Newsletter questions, and I also answer a lot of questions in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Bulgarian and Romanian – and no! I don’t speak all of those languages! Some of us are specialists in different areas. I, for example, am the Specialist for all the feedback for Study Notebook, whether it’s in the online Notes or the various Gospel Library apps. If you have trouble with highlights, tags, links, journals, bookmarks, notebooks or notes, more than likely I am the one who will respond!

Sometimes the Team is given special assignments. Anyone who is in Primary is probably aware of the Primary Resource Pages. These are thematic compilations of every related article, song, movie, game or other resource found on LDS.org that are suitable for children, and are a great help for Primary teachers and families looking for activities for lessons and family home evening. I was part of the group that accepted the request from the General Primary Presidency to find the resources for this resource.

Another special assignment that I was part of involved checking the materials available in other languages to be sure that the links worked and that all available translated documents were posted online.

And yet another special project that I am involved with is image tagging so that church departments can easily find images. A few weeks ago I sent an email to Young Men and Young Women leaders about this project and how the youth and other members can get involved. If you haven’t seen it yet, please ask me or your youth leaders about it. I strongly encourage you to help out with this worthwhile project!

President Monson said in 2013, “You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good” (Thomas S. Monson, LDS.org News and Events, June 24, 2013).

I didn’t know when I decided to serve an at-home part-time mission that I would be involved in any of the above activities. But there is no doubt that I have had opportunities to be an influence for good. Working with Study Notebook has led to the developers knowing what works and what doesn’t work, and in some small part this has resulted in changes being made to how it syncs with the apps for the over 2 000 000 current users. My work with the Primary Pages has benefited thousands of Primary teachers. I have had online discussions with hostile anti-Mormons who have written to me later and told me that they changed their minds about us and apologizing for things they said. I have brought several inactive members back to church. These are people I will never meet from places I will never go. I have sent countless golden contact referrals to the missionaries. And because I sometimes forget to remove my name tag after church activities, I have had the opportunity to heighten the church’s presence in my own community.

Since 1979, the Church-service missionary program has provided a growing and varied number of opportunities to serve. This important missionary workforce helps many Church departments and operations provide needed products and services, while at the same time, safe-guarding the integrity of tithing funds. Serving others brings great blessings to the tens of thousands of us who serve, to our families, and to the Church worldwide. I invite you to prayerfully consider joining me in hastening the work by serving a church service mission. It’s just an hour a day. You won’t regret it! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Forward with Faith…or The Plague of the 3 Ds

Note: This post was originally written as an adaptation to a talk (sermon) that I gave early this year.

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On New Year’s Eve my husband and I stood on our front porch at the stroke of midnight listening to the laughter and festivities taking place on our street. “Here’s to a better year,” he said. To which I replied, “Surely it can only get better from here?”

You see, this past year was marked by the three Ds that have plagued our marriage for all of its three and half years. Death, disease and disappointment seem to have been the hallmark of our marriage. Last month was no exception. Among the three deaths that affected me in December was one of my brightest students that I taught last year on the Cree Indian Reservation where I worked in northern Manitoba. Not technically diseases, but certainly health issues abounded. Between a bad fall, kidney stones, and a dog attack, things were not pleasant. And this Christmas we were supposed to spend the holidays with my family in Newfoundland, which I was dearly looking forward to, as was my three year old nephew whom I miss dreadfully.

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by the trials we endured in December, and in a way, we weren’t. Those of you who don’t know us very well could think that I was over-exaggerating when I said that our marriage has been plagued by those three Ds. It started the week before our marriage, actually, when a sewage flood in the apartment I was renting ruined nearly everything for the wedding, followed by the loss of 300 report card files that had to be redone, 12 hours of hair care, and a day in the hospital due to kidney stones.

Then we got married.

Since then I have lost my grandmother and other relatives, several friends, and many former students, most of them to suicide; I have had health issues with every major organ in my body; my step-daughter has had ongoing issues with her ears and other problems resulting from the illness of her mother and her subsequent moving halfway across the country; some of our relatives shunned us for a whole year because we asked them to watch a Christmas Devotional with us; my old van literally blew up in the driveway; my replacement vehicle was stolen and ended up costing about $10 000 in repairs over the course of the year as a result; my husband’s car was broken into when he met me in Montreal for our immigration interviews; due to immigration laws and issues, we were separated for three and a half years, not the nine to fourteen months we had expected; our oldest daughter ran away from home two years ago and hasn’t spoken to any of us since. And this is the shortened list.

When such things occur, it is human nature to wonder why these trials and tribulations happen. Why me? is a popular refrain amongst those suffering intense adversity. Perhaps the better question is: Why not me? Understanding why such things occur in our lives is a key step toward being able to move forward with faith.

W. N. Partridge in his book entitled ‘All These Things Gain Us Experience’ gives us five reasons why we have afflictions.

First, punishment is one reason that we have trials. Indeed, it is human nature to assume that our trials are punishment for some misdeed we have committed. But this is not always so. We turn to various means to attempt to make sense of what is happening to us.

Falling to our knees in prayer is one way we attempt to make sense of the things that are happening in our lives. Our cries of woe are further reinforced in our minds when we feel that our prayers for relief have gone unanswered. But Richard G. Scott teaches us that, “It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately…. When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.”

When we look to the scriptures for answers, we fall upon passages such as that of Lot’s wife, who through disobedience to God’s commandments was turned into a pillar of salt. But, as Partridge explains, “Lot’s wife…wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her…. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly…. To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now, to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances and have only dismal views of the future, and to miss the here and now and tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there and then and yesterday are some of the sins of Lot’s wife.”

Are we like Lot’s wife, holding on to the familiar yet discordant past in fear of what is to come? When we feel we are being punished for some misdeed, it is easy to wallow in self-pity and guilt, to maintain the status quo. As much as we do not like what is happening, some small part of us thinks that we must deserve to be punished, or that, as the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Moving forward is difficult in the best of times; moving forward with faith in times of trial, to exchange a known way of being that we can bear, regardless of how terrible the experience is, for perhaps an unknown trial that we cannot, is a frightening prospect.

But, we cannot remain stagnant and expect to grow as an individual, as a family, as a community, or as a nation. One of the purposes of punishment is to help us effect a change for the better in our lives, to be more obedient to the will of the Lord, to strive to better those around us through service. Lot and his daughters learned a hard lesson that day about the consequences of disobedience, just as the inhabitants of the earth did when they failed to listen to Noah‘s voice and the rains started to fall, and the Nephites who became slaves to the Lamanites after the martyrdom of Abinadi. They knew they had done wrong, as the scriptures record that “they did cry mightily to God…that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.”

So it is with us.  As we learn the lessons of obedience, we, too, can have our afflictions lessened as we go forward with faith.

A second reason that we are given afflictions is to help us remember our duty. Affliction is not limited to people of my faith. Indeed, anyone who believes in God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, have taken upon themselves certain duties when they become believers. When we became members of this Church, we took upon ourselves many duties – to obey the commandments, pray daily, read scriptures, bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, accept callings….the list goes on. Afflictions help us to remember those duties, for if we do not remember them, we begin to forget God, and Satan creeps into our lives.

This is what happened to Lehi and his family in Mosiah 1:17. “Therefore, as they were unfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were driven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore afflictions, to stir them up in the remembrance of their duty.” Lehi had been wandering for eight years in the desert, forgot God, and was afflicted. Not just afflicted, mind you, but SORE afflicted.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 121 we read of Joseph Smith’s pleas to Heavenly Father while in Liberty Jail: O God,  where art thou? In Section 122, we read the Lord’s response to those pleas, wherein He asks fifteen questions of Joseph, ending with the phrase, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee  experience, and shall be for thy good.”

When we have afflictions and honestly feel that we have not done anything to warrant such punishment, we should ask ourselves if we are remembering our duty to God. To move forward with faith through such trials, we must fulfill all of our responsibilities, magnify our callings, pay a full tithe and a generous fast offering, keep the Sabbath Day holy, obey the commandments, do our visiting and home teaching, support our leaders, fellowship with other members, follow the counsel of the prophets, and live up to our roles as parents. In the midst of affliction it is easy to let these things fall to the wayside. The harder path is to move forward with faith by striving to do each of these things more perfectly.

A third reason that we have afflictions is so that we can be an example for others. Seeing how others overcome afflictions in their lives can help us to move forward with faith when we are faced with our own afflictions. In Alma 17:11 the Lord says to the four sons of Mosiah as they are starting their fourteen year mission among the Lamanites that, “…ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me…” Can you imagine how those young men must have felt knowing that they were about to have fourteen years of afflictions? And yet, they moved forward with faith, because they had been promised that if they bore their afflictions they would have much success.

Oftimes we are not being afflicted because of wickedness or because we have forgotten God in our daily lives. Health problems, unemployment, family crisis, death, financial issues, natural disasters come to both the unrighteous and the righteous. When righteous individuals are afflicted in such ways, it is to show that even in the midst of trials those who know God can be examples of hope to those around them by going forward with faith.

Although not a member of our church, my husband’s Aunt Anne, who has been afflicted with a very painful condition her entire adult life, is a wonderful example for my family. Despite her condition, she is one of the brightest, most cheerful people you could ever meet. And when her only daughter and son-in-law asked her if they would consider moving closer to them, the first thing Aunt Anne did was to go to her knees in prayer, not once, but several times.  She received the answer that she and Uncle Hal needed to move to be near their only child. They immediately flew halfway across the country, chose a home site, contracted a builder, and put their home up for sale. The amazing thing about this, however, is not that she prayed and acted upon the response she received. The amazing thing is that her daughter lives in Oklahoma City. In fact, when the big tornado was sweeping through the community, cousin Amy’s home was in its direct path. She went to the safest part of their home and prayed fervently that her home would be spared and her husband would make it home safely. And…the tornado changed direction at the beginning of her street. Amy’s house sustained little damage – the worst was a section of fence that fell down. But less than a quarter of a mile away, complete destruction reigned. Whole neighbourhoods gone, with just foundations showing where homes once stood. And it was in the midst of this chaos that Aunt Anne and Uncle Hal decided to follow the Lord’s prompting to give up all they had worked their entire lives to build, to leave behind friends and activities and the very comfortable life they had made for themselves in their retirement, and to move forward with faith to begin again.

A fourth reason that we have afflictions is to prepare us for something that we need to learn.

When I was growing up I was an active member of my Protestant church. When I became pregnant at age eighteen, my entire family was devastated. My minister told me that if I did not get married, my child would be “a sin and an abomination.” I remember looking at her, and with a sinking heart, telling her that if that is what her church believed, then I could no longer be a member of that church. I spent the next several years raising my daughter, while going to university full-time, taking extra classes, and working anywhere between four to seven part-time jobs. My parents or brother would fly the 900 miles to the province I was living in to pick my daughter up during exam periods so that I could have time to study, but the rest of the time, I was largely on my own with her while at university.

It was during this time that I began my search for a church that I could believe in. I knew that I was not an atheist or agnostic – I knew that God exists. I read everything that I could find about every other religion I had ever heard about, talked to ecclesiastical leaders from any number of congregations, searched online. In every religion I found truths, but there was always something that told me that each one was not quite right for me.

One night I saw an ad for a free Book of Mormon on television, and gave the number a call. I spent six years reading, studying, talking to missionaries, and going to church before I was baptized. To make it clear how active I was in this Church before my baptism, I had one brother exclaim, “You’re not baptized? I thought you must have been born in the Church! Well, that explains why I could never figure out why you didn’t have a calling!”

My experiences as a pregnant teenager and unwed mother were very difficult to go through, but they prepared me to go forward with faith to find the true church, and as a result, my husband and step-daughter.

Finally, sometimes we are given trials to test our patience and faith. In Abraham 3:25 we are told that we should expect lots of trials and adversity. Christ says in that verse that “…we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” A modern-day definition of the word ‘prove’ means to determine quality through tests. But the archaic meaning of the word makes our purpose here on earth even clearer. It means to find out or learn something through experience. How do we gain that experience? Through trials and tribulations, adversity and afflictions.

After I joined the church, I, like many others I suppose, had this naive idea that things could only get better. I quickly found a suitable spouse, and after a short period of time, we were married in the temple. Since it took me six years to be baptized, I’m sure you can appreciate that I rarely do things on a whim, but rather study them out and choose the best option. Getting married was no different. On seven different occasions I prayed about it, and each time was prompted to pick up the nearest scriptures and open them at random. I picked up seven different scriptures – at home and in the temple, hard bound and soft bound, triples and quads, old and new – and each time I opened the scriptures, I found myself reading Doc. and Cov. 104:51, which reads, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation.” I figured, hey! this must be a sign, right? Seven different scriptures all telling me the same thing?

So imagine my dismay when things rapidly went downhill. As in, we walked out of the temple, into the chapel, and things start to go wrong. The diamonds fell out of my wedding band. I spent most of the reception in the bathroom being violently ill. My new father-in-law kept referring to his son as the ‘gloom’ instead of the groom. Long story short, the marriage didn’t last long and my husband was eventually excommunicated.

Fast forward about a year and a half. I was living a scant five minutes from the temple, and I spent a lot of time there because I knew for certain that that was the one place that my ex would not be. I prayed day after day in the temple for an answer as to why these things had happened when I felt so sure that I was supposed to marry this guy.

One February day I was sitting in the chapel inside the temple, praying about this matter and pondering again on that scripture…”And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation”… when I heard as clear as a bell, a voice say to me, “What comes next?”

I had never thought to continue reading that verse. I picked up the nearest scriptures and read the following, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation, The covenants being broken through transgression, by covetousness and feigned words—  Therefore, you are dissolved as a united order with your brethren, that you are not bound only up to this hour unto them.” Well, I thought, that is pretty clear. The covenants had been broken, through transgression, covetousness, and lies, we were divorced or not bound to each other any longer, and he had been given the opportunity to seek salvation through repentance.

I was telling this story to my Stake President one day a few months later, and he, knowing everything that had happened in that marriage, commented, “I do not understand why you are still a member. I have known countless people who have left the church over far less than what you have experienced.” My reply? “Where else can I go? I believe the Book of Mormon is scripture. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet. I have a strong testimony in the sealing ordinances of our temples. There is no other place for me to go.”

My patience and faith were sorely tried during this time of my life, but I also know that the scriptures give us this promise: “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me….And I will…ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders…” (Mosiah 24:13-14). The only sure thing to do in times of hardship is to go forward with faith, believing that God will ease our burdens.

Here is the thing about afflictions – the difficulty of the trial depends upon the individual and the circumstances that cause the affliction. And what passes as an affliction for one person, could be a great blessing for another. Take, for example, a heavy rain after a season of drought. For the couple hosting a backyard barbeque, this rain is certainly not a blessing. But for the farmer, this same rain will save his crop and allow him to provide for his family. If we learn to approach our understanding of our trials by looking for the blessings found therein, we can move forward in faith.

Those 3 Ds of Death, Disease, and Disappointment that I mentioned had plagued our marriage? All blessings in disguise.

If I had not had the opportunity to care for my grandmother for several hours each day in the pain-filled months preceding her death, I would not have had the opportunity to bear to her my testimony. I would not have had the opportunity to have her say to me, “You know, perhaps that’s what I believe, too.”

If I had not had all those health issues, I doubt that our marriage would have lasted. For example, in our first year of marriage we expected that we would be able to spend about six weeks that summer together, and perhaps one or two other weeks throughout the year. As a result of my illnesses, we actually spent close to seven months together in that first year.

As Doctrine and Covenants  122:9 tells us, “…fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” This promise, given to Joseph as he lay languishing in Liberty Jail, holds true for us as well.  If we bear our afflictions well, we, too, can move forward with faith with the sure knowledge that God will be with us forever and ever.

Sleeves Part 2

A while ago I posted that my faith had become so transparent on me that even a virtual stranger could tell that I am a Latter-day Saint. It turns out that I am not the only one.

Every Sunday my husband, step-daughter and I get ready for church. My husband always wears his black suit, white shirt and tie, and is usually carrying his backpack filled with lesson manuals, scriptures, and other assorted readings.

From the window across the street, our neighbor watches.

He appears to be a kind man. Eleven months ago I tripped in the sidewalk in front of our house, and sprained both insteps, an ankle, both big toes, and a little toe, and hurt my knee, elbow and both wrists. Three cars drove past me lying in the street, and bystanders stood around and did nothing… except for our neighbor, who came running and helped Steve to get me into the car so he could take me to the hospital.

He watches as he sees a local man whom my husband graduated with come to visit. Some weeks he is at our house every day; other weeks we barely see him. My husband’s old friend has had a hard life, but then what can one expect when life starts out with beer in one’s baby bottle? In any event, he is always grateful for the friendship that we extend to him.

He watches as he sees Thanksgiving Dinner for friends and family and twelve missionaries from our church at our house and Tuesday night trips to our church for activities and dog walking.

And he watches us return from church on Sundays.

And then one day a while back he laughingly commented to my husband, “You know, you look like a Mormon all dressed up in your suit! Haha! Just kidding, man, just kidding.”

Apparently my husband wears his religion on his sleeve as well.

What we do matters. We knew that our neighbor was watching. But we can never tell who else is doing so. As Latter-Day Saints, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must live our lives in such a way that others can tell that we are somehow different. We must live our lives so that others want what we have found.

Sleeves

“You’re Mormon, aren’t ya?” I was asked today. “I could tell from some of the things you’ve said.”

I had no idea I was so transparent.

This question was asked by a new colleague of just a few weeks, a Pentecostal woman who attended Bible College and learned about many faiths there in one of her courses, and whose family has been welcoming the missionaries into their home for spiritual discussions for years. She knows what Mormons believe, because she has taken the time to find out.

When I first joined the church I don’t think anybody could have told that I was a Latter Day Saint just by looking at me. So what has happened in the past ten years that someone I just met a few days ago can see my faith on my sleeve?

Is it that I don’t drink alcohol? A conversation in the staffroom a few days ago involved comments about how much a colleague was looking forward to having a drink that evening. I was told that after a rough and busy week I must be looking forward to that, too. I replied that actually, I don’t drink, and haven’t had a drink in years. But that’s not unusual, is it?

Is it that I don’t drink tea or coffee? I often have herbal tea or hot chocolate during recess or breaks, and don’t particularly advertise that I’m drinking chamomile tea whileveryone else is drinking Red Rose. Having a hot drink during a break is a part of Newfoundland traditional culture that is a hard habit to break. So, me sitting at the table sipping hot tea with everyone else is not unusual, is it?

Is it that I don’t wear revealing clothing? No spaghetti straps, no halter tops, no shorts, no low-cut blouses. All this could be considered just clothing that is not appropriate for working in a school setting. Surely, my choice of clothing is not unusual, is it?

The woman who asked me “You’re Mormon, aren’t ya?” knew very little about me beyond these things. Yet, she was able to tell that I am a Latter Day Saint. How?

I don’t think I’m that different from other people I know. I don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, but I have been known to let loose a rude word or two on occasion. In that aspect I am in good company – J. Golden Kimball was an early member and eventual leader of the church who was known for his struggle to overcome his ‘cowboy mouth’.  One story goes that after a woman asked him why her good, helpful and kind brother died suddenly instead of her lazy good-for-nothing one, he replied, “Sister, do you know what it is?  It’s God’s will. God doesn’t want that jackass brother of yours any more than you do.”

I don’t eat meat. Neither did one of our latter-day prophets. But many, if not most, Latter Day Saints do. It is the staple of any casserole, that quintessential Mormon dish. Why am I not mistaken for a Seventh Day Adventist, many of whom *are* vegetarians?

It can’t be the number of children I have. With only one soon-to-be nineteen year old daughter of my own after four long-term relationships and a new marriage of almost a year, and now one six year old step-daughter, I certainly don’t fit the stereotypical Mormon model of a houseful of children. I am no Marie Osmond with eight children in tow.

I didn’t go to BYU. I am not a Cougars fan. I have never been to most church historic sites. I don’t live in Utah.

So what is it?

I have no idea. But what I do know is this: I have changed.  I am not the same person I was ten years ago. Joseph Smith once called himself a ‘rough stone rolling.’ He said, “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else…all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304). In many ways, I feel as Joseph did. The trials and tribulations, sadness and sorrow, hurt and heartache of the past ten years has slowly chipped off many of my rough edges, and I am gradually being smoothed like the pebbles on a beach into something marvellous and wonderful. I have a long way to go, but I can’t help but think that this is the slow process of ‘being in the world, but not of the world’ that our church leaders talk about, becoming refined into someone better than I was, someone whose potential only the Lord and my Heavenly Father could foresee.

My beliefs have become an integral part of who I am, so much so that someone who knows what Mormons believe can tell that I am a Latter-Day Saint by what I say. Perhaps this is what is meant by the term ‘true conversion’.

Despite the challenges life throws at me, my testimony does not waiver. I know Joseph is a prophet, I know the Book of Mormon is scripture, I know the temple holds many blessings for those who believe. My faith is on my sleeve, where all can see. And where those who know what to look for can ask, “You’re Mormon, aren’t ya? I could tell from some of the things you’ve said.”

Conversion

In the spring of 1992 I was pregnant with my daughter. I had been an Anglican all my life, having attended regular services with my parents, Sunbeams, Sunday School, and Confirmation classes. I had been a substitute organist for the parish of which I was a part since the age of eleven or twelve. By all accounts, I considered myself an active Anglican even after leaving home to attend university. Thus, it was with some trepidation that my boyfriend and I were asked to meet with my priest.

The Reverend was very polite to us and was obviously concerned. She asked us many questions about our intentions and was quite dismayed to hear that we did not know if we were going to wed. She informed us that if we did not get married then our child would be ‘a sin and an abomination’. I was shocked. How could this be true? Well, our child would be a bastard unless we married before she was born. I asked why this was based on the date of marriage rather than the date of conception. I received no satisfactory answer, and asked,for further clarification, about my next door neighbour who was one year older than me, also pregnant and also unmarried. I was assured that her child would be fine as she and her fiance were getting married while she was six months pregnant. I was astounded. How could her child be fine in the eyes of the God while mine would be ‘a sin and an abomination’? I commented that I felt that if anyone was a sin and an abomination it should be my daughter’s father and me, not an innocent child, and was told that if we got married, our child would be fine, too. With a heavy heart I stated that if that was what Anglicans believed, then I was not an Anglican.

Thus began my search to find a religion that I could believe in with all my heart, might, mind and strength. I began reading anything I could find about any religion. I had grown up in a family culture where I was very close to my cousins and often spent nights and weekends at their homes, always going to church with them when the opportunity arose, had attended special services at churches with the Girl Guides, and had completed a Religion course in high school that studied the beliefs of various faiths. As a result, I was somewhat familiar with many churches already, and read to further my knowledge about them. United, Catholic, Salvation Army, Pentecost, Jehovah’s Witness…none of them seemed right for me. Over the next couple of years I branched out into non-Christian religious readings, but again, did not find anything that was right for me.

Yet, I do not want to appear as though I found these churches and religious beliefs completely wrong, for I didn’t. Without fail, I always found something good, something that I believed was true…but never an entirety of belief that I could call mine.

Then, in 1995 I saw a television ad for a free Book of Mormon. I had not read anything about Mormonism nor did I have any first-hand experience with this church as there was no Mormon church where I grew up. I called the number and requested one. A few months later I had read parts of it, had met with the missionaries several times, and had started a search to find out as much as I could about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Then I accepted a two year teaching position in Canada’s Arctic, in an area that had no LDS church. I took all my literature with me – both pro-LDS and anti-LDS- and continued to study and learn about the Church. The more I read, the more I liked, but I still had many, many questions.

In 2000 I acccepted a kindergarten position in a little town in mid-western Ontario. I started meeting with the missionaries again, where my questions were slowly being answered. In late November a mother of one of my students who volunteered every afternoon in my classroom gave me an invitation to a Christmas Creche activity at her church – a tiny LDS branch about forty minutes from my home. She was pleasantly surprised to see my daughter and me at the activity, and I began meeting the missionaries at her home every week. Still, I had many, many questions.

One day in mid-June of 2001 this mother came to volunteer, as usual. I walked up to her and said, “Okay. It’s time.” “Time for what?” she replied. “Time to be baptized, of course,” I said. With a look of astonishment she asked me if I could come to her home that evening to review the missionary discussions. I knew that it was time to be baptized when I knew that I agreed with all of the doctrine of the Church, and could explain why I felt detractors of the Church were wrong in their assertions.

Two weeks later I was baptized by her husband, with her son – my student – giving the talk during the service. Four months after that my daughter was also baptized. There have been ups and downs, trials and tribulations, joy and sorrow along the way, but I have never looked back. I have a strong and true testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of Joseph Smith, of the Book of Mormon, and of the eternal nature of the family. I pray that as I share some of my experiences,understandings and beliefs, that others will come to know of these truths and understand them a little better.