Category Archives: Example

Little Birds

house_sparrow_1

Photo courtesy of https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Sparrow/id

It was very calm in our yard this morning. Not like yesterday. Yesterday when I took the dogs out, there were dozens of birds out there chirping loudly and making an unholy racket in the Palo Verde and pecan trees. I assumed that our local Cooper’s hawk had caught another pigeon and was eating it on the roof again, and went back inside. A few minutes later, the dogs wanted to go out again, and amidst the avian din they went to the wooden fence and began whining and scratching. As I approached, I could hear a fluttering but could not see where it was coming from. I peeked over the gate, and saw a house sparrow frantically trying to free itself: it’s leg had slipped between the upright slats in the fence and it was trapped upside down. I ran to the door and called Steve to come out, and then gently held the bird while my husband figured out how to free it. I cupped it in my hand for a moment for it to catch its breath, then released it on the nearby brick wall. It quickly flew away, harbouring a slightly bloody leg but apparently none the worse for its harrowing experience.

In some of the Irish parts of Newfoundland it was customary to follow the ancient traditions of Wren Day on St. Stephen’s Day, known by most people today as Boxing Day. In Avondale, Conception Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, the boys would “visit each house in their community on St. Stephen’s Day, chanting [the lyrics to the song The Wren] while carrying an evergreen branch which was decorated with ribbons and feathers.”

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,

St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the firs,

Although he was little his honour was great,

Rise up, young ladies and give us a treat.

Up with the kettle and down with the pan

A penny or two to bury the wren.

With a pocket full o’money and a cellar full o’beer,

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

Another version can be found here.

In the oldest forms of the Irish, Welsh, French, Spanish, Norse, and English tradition and well into the 20th century, an actual bird was hunted by wrenboys on St. Stephen’s Day. The captured wren was tied to the wrenboy leader’s staff or a net would be put on a pitchfork. It would be sometimes kept alive. There are many theories about where it started and why, but none that I will detail here.

Another avian tradition associated with St. Stephen’s Day was the Christmas Side Hunt, a yearly event where hunters would compete to see who could bring in the highest number of birds and small game. There was no expectation that any of these creatures would be eaten; it was purely for sport.

In 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, who, along with many others, was concerned about declining bird populations, proposed a new holiday tradition, which has come to be known as the Christmas Bird Count. Instead of killing birds and counting them, volunteers survey designated areas for species and numbers. Today, tens of thousands of people participate across North America, and this citizen science is used to determine the health of bird populations and to inform conservation efforts for species at risk.

These are some of the things I was pondering as I helped free the house sparrow from my fence yesterday. And then I remembered an admonition from our church leaders to our primary children long ago, written in song:

1. Don’t kill the little birds,
That sing on bush and tree,
All thro’ the summer days,
Their sweetest melody.
Don’t shoot the little birds!
The earth is God’s estate,
And He provideth food
For small as well as great.
2. Don’t kill the little birds,
Their plumage wings the air,
Their trill at early morn
Makes music ev’rywhere. …
Think of the good they do
In all the orchards ’round;
No hurtful insects thrive
Where robins most abound.
little-birds

Indeed, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke at length about this topic and others in the October 1978 General Conference his talk Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live:

I read at the priesthood meeting at the last conference the words to the verse of the song years ago, “Don’t Kill the Little Birds,” with which I was familiar when I was a child growing up in Arizona. I found many young boys around my age who, with their flippers and their slings, destroyed many birds.

In Primary and Sunday School we sang the song:

Don’t kill the little birds

That sing on bush and tree,

All thro’ the summer days,

Their sweetest melody.

As I was talking to the young men at that time all over the world, I felt that I should say something more along this line.

I suppose in every country in the world there are beautiful little birds with their beautiful plumage and their attractive songs.

I remember that my predecessor, President Joseph Fielding Smith, was a protector of these feathered and other wild life creatures.

While President Smith at one time was in the Wasatch Mountain Area, he befriended the creatures from the hill and forest. He composed four little verses as follows, and opposite each he drew a little picture. Of the mountain squirrel first, he wrote:

This is little Chopper Squirrel

Up in the mountains high.

He begs us for some grains of corn,

With thanks he says goodbye.

And then the bat was next:

This is little Tommy Bat

Who flies around at night.

He eats the bugs and ‘skeeters’ too,

Which is a thing quite right.

Then he came to the deer:

This is little Bambi Deer

Who comes to the cabin homes.

She licks the salt we feed to her,

And on the mountain roams.

And then the birds:

This, our little feathered friend

Who sings for us all day.

When comes the winter and the cold,

He wisely flies away.

Now, I also would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life. I think that every soul should be impressed by the sentiments that have been expressed here by the prophets.

And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals. For that purpose I read the scripture where the Lord gave us all the animals. Seemingly, he thought it was important that all these animals be on the earth for our use and encouragement.

President Joseph F. Smith said, “When I visited, a few years ago, the Yellowstone National Park, and saw in the streams and the beautiful lakes, birds swimming quite fearless of man, allowing passers-by to approach them as closely almost as tame birds, and apprehending no fear of them, and when I saw droves of beautiful deer [feeding] along the side of the road, as fearless of the presence of men as any domestic animal, it filled my heart with a degree of peace and joy that seemed to be almost a foretaste of that period hoped for when there shall be none to hurt and none to molest in all the land, especially among all the inhabitants of Zion. These same birds, if they were to visit other regions, inhabited by man, would, on account of their tameness, doubtless become more easily a prey to the gunner. The same may be said of those beautiful creatures—the deer and the antelope. If they should wander out of the park, beyond the protection that is established there for these animals, they would become, of course, an easy prey to those who were seeking their lives. I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is, to them, the ‘sport’ of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds, and who will come in after a day’s sport, boasting of how many harmless birds they have had the skill to slaughter, and day after day, during the season when it is lawful for men to hunt and kill (the birds having had a season of protection and not apprehending danger) go out by scores or hundreds, and you may hear their guns early in the morning on the day of the opening, as if great armies had met in battle; and the terrible work of slaughtering the innocent birds goes on.

“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, pp. 265–66.)

One of the poets stated in this connection:

Take not away the life you cannot give,

For all things have an equal right to live.

—and I might add there also, because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.

Let us be mindful, every day, of the small and simple ways we can show thanks and gratitude to our Heavenly Father for the countless ways He has beautified our world. One little bird may not seem like much, but as another children’s song tells us, His love for us is indicated by His love for even the smallest bird.

1. God sees the little sparrow fall,
it meets his tender view;
if God so loves the little birds,
I know he loves me too.

Refrain:
He loves me too, he loves me too,
I know loves me too;
because he loves the little things,
I know loves me too.

2. He paints the lily of the field,
perfumes each lily bell;
if he so loves the little flow’rs,
I know he loves me well. [Refrain]

3. God made the little birds and flow’rs,
and all things large and small;
he’ll not forget his little ones,
I know he loves them all. [Refrain]

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Insensitive

The expression on your face…told me
Maybe you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive

So go the lyrics to one of my favorite (anti-)love songs. An international hit written by Anne Loree, it is featured on Canadian singer-song-writer Jann Arden’s 1994 album Living Under June.

My friend Connie and I were fortunate to be able to hear this song in concert at Acadia University about twenty years ago. Arden was performing on a hot summer night in University Hall on her album tour. I don’t know if Connie recalls this or not, but Arden was a little miffed that instead of buying tickets to her show, a number of people were sitting on the green outside the venue listening to the show, and had an exchange with them from the stage.

Both Arden and this impromptu audience were insensitive – Arden because she parlayed with non-paying guests instead of focusing on her audience, and those onlookers because they were taking advantage of the open windows on a sultry evening to get a free show.

I was thinking about these events lately when I found my Jann Arden songbook. (For those who have not heard the Living Under June album, I strongly suggest you do – it remains one of my favorites of all time.)

I’ve made insensitive comments that cause me to now wonder if people thought I should be the one giving advice about how to be insensitive, as the song describes. Such as a comment I made to my grandmother after she had to have a colostomy bag that I regret to this day. Or as teenager telling a former acquaintance that I thought her child was special needs. Open mouth; insert foot.

And thinking about the insensitivity described in the song and in some comments I have said made me ponder some of the insensitive things that have been said to me.

Comments like…

“It’s great to see you. I just wish there was less of you to see.”

“You shouldn’t even try this yoga pose – it’s only for skinny people.”

“I never would have thought someone like you would know that.”

“I like your shirt but it would look better on someone else.”

“Your singing might sound okay if you took some lessons.”

Or my personal favorite – or perhaps I should say least favourite?: While being prepared for a second surgery the past summer just one week after having a hysterectomy that was devastating because it meant not only that I had cancer but also ended twenty-five years of trying to conceive and carry another child to term, having the pre-op nurse ask, “Are you pregnant?”

Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me is one of the worst lies we tell ourselves. Words hurt. They can wound us to our very soul without the person who is saying them even knowing the impact they have.

People who made those insensitive comments about my weight to me did not know that no diet, weight loss program, exercise regime, or doctor have been able to help me lose weight. For example, when I lived in Ontario I strictly followed a medical weight loss program and exercise program, and gained forty-five pounds in three weeks. When I tried Jenny Craig, all of their consultants were absolutely dumbfounded that I kept gaining weight – they had never seen anything like it. Following one doctor’s advice I kept eating less and less. The last time I saw him he told me that the reason I wasn’t losing weight was because I was eating too much. I said, “I don’t know how much less you want me to eat since all I had yesterday was half a donut hole and a cup of unsweetened herbal tea.” Just last year another doctor and dietitian in Pennsylvania told me I was not eating enough – and following their advice about diet and exercise I gained fifteen pounds in nine days.

My point is this: We never know what struggles people are having. We never know what they have or have not tried to correct their flaws, or what we perceive to be their flaws. Heavenly Father’s plan for us is that we ‘might have joy‘, but that joy is easier to find if we concentrate on being sensitive to the feelings and needs of other’s instead of making their lives harder through insensitive comments. We should be building people up instead of tearing them down. We should be helping them to find joy instead of adding to their misery. We should be their biggest champions instead of one of their (likely) many detractors.

But it goes beyond the old adage”If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s a great start. But if we never say anything nice to others because all we have to say to them is insensitive, they never receive encouragement.

The musical group Simple Plan put it this way:

No, you don’t know what it’s like
When nothing feels all right
You don’t know what it’s like
To be like me
To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you’re down
To feel like you’ve been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one’s there to save you
No, you don’t know what it’s like
Welcome to my life

No one should feel this way. Instead, let us follow President Ezra Taft Benson’s advice, when he tells us that a person who is kind is sympathetic and gentle with others, is considerate of others’ feelings, is courteous in his or her behavior, and has a helpful nature: “Kindness pardons others’ weaknesses and faults. Kindness is extended to all—to the aged and the young, to animals, to those low of station as well as the high” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 47).

Let kindness and sensitivity be our goal to helping ourselves and others find the joy that Heavenly Father has promised we might have.

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.

*************************************

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.