Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Stone Cut Out of a Mountain

September 3, 2008

Dear Son,

Well, another uneventful week has come and gone. There was a bit of a hubbub over the weekend as Hurricane Gustav sped across the Gulf. It was aimed right at New Orleans, so the governor called out the National Guard and made evacuation mandatory about three days in advance. By the time Gustav actually came to shore, everyone was well on their way to Houston or points west.

There was also some concern that it may veer left and land at Galveston, but as the days passed, the likelihood lessened. As it turned out, it hit west of New Orleans which put them on the dirty side of the storm, but it had moved pretty fast across the Gulf so didn’t have time to work itself up. It was a Category Four when it crossed over Cuba, but was only a Cat2 when it made landfall. So, all in all, it was a lot less trouble than everyone feared. Ariane’s extended family (like her grandmother) was at some risk, but luckily Monty and Cheryl are now well-established in Richmond.

As it turned out, this was a bit of mercy for the Republican National Convention which started on Monday. Had Gustav been catastrophic and hit New Orleans dead on (or closer than it was), the election would have been over. Despite how smoothly everything went this time, the specter of Katrina would raise her ugly head and the footage of Republican incompetency would have cooked McCain’s goose. Never mind that the governor of Louisiana is now a Republican and doing an excellent job. Gustav would have decided the election.

Hurricane Hanna was hard on the heels of Gustav, only she was headed straight for Miami. Now, she’s doing loop-de-loops over Jamaica and Haiti, which is the weirdest thing I ever saw. All the hurricanes this season have been atypical. Gustav was the only one that acted as a proper hurricane should. Ike and Josephine decided they wanted to get in on the action early and are now getting worked up out in the Atlantic. Ike has scarcely left the African coast.

I told your dad that I was waiting for Hurricane Nana. He laughed and thought that was a pretty good joke, but I said, no, really, she’s right here on the list of names. With the way things are going, it looks like we’ll definitely see her before the season is over.

So much for the weather update. And now for the news. Oh, wait. There isn’t any. Alora did start preschool yesterday, and she absolutely loved it. I think that’s really wise of Ariane as it gives Alora an outlet and Ariane a break for a few hours twice a week. That child is all energy, but she always needs someone to share the excitement with. One day while Ariane was here, she and I were in the office chatting, and Alora came in and said, “I need you to entertain me.” It was really funny and Ariane decided maybe she better watch what she says to her friends because her kids are always listening. Apparently, Alora agreed entirely with Ariane’s assessment that she always needed someone to entertain her. Aaron is the polar opposite. He reminds me a lot of you. He’s perfectly happy off in a corner somewhere wrecking havoc all by himself.

Alora talks constantly about you coming home, but the best concept she can grasp is ‘next week’. We tell her, when it’s Halloween, but for a child who refers to anything in the past as ‘yesterday’, that means little to nothing.

I really need to figure out how to fix this silly webcam. I start to go through grandchild withdrawal, and there’s no way Dad will go down to Richmond every week, or even every other week. I think I’m going to talk them into Fast Sunday family dinner again. I don’t know why we left off—probably because Adam’s life got too busy and the house consumed all their attention and energy, but now it will be one of the few ways we get to see them. I think now the whole empty nest thing is starting to sink in, but, at least we worked into it gradually and it wasn’t a big jolt all at once. That’s made it a lot easier to adapt.

BYU sounds like a good plan to me. I think you’d be a lot happier in Provo than at BYU-Idaho. You and cold are pretty much strangers, and if you think Provo is cold, you’d be in for a violent shock at Rexburg. Besides which, I’m certain you’d still be drawn to Provo even from Rexburg. By far, the majority of your friends are there, and weighed on that scale, Provo rather clunks down and flips Rexburg through the air. I’m glad I didn’t have to try to talk you out of Hawaii, first, because the cost of living there is impossible, and second, BYU-Hawaii is considered the party school of the CES. If you’re going to spend a boatload of money, I’d much rather you spent it on your education rather than an extended vacation. Just keep checking with President Sanchez to make sure he’s sent in your ecclesiastical recommendation. Dallas barely made the deadline because his MP set his on the back burner.

I had an interesting experience last Wednesday that I wanted to tell you about. I went and sat with Sister Marsha Johnson’s mom, Lucille, while she went out to do RS stuff. I sat with her a couple of hours and chatted with her or listened to her stories the entire time. She told me her conversion story, which I’m certain you’ve heard, but she also told me lots of things I didn’t know.

Sister Lucille was born in Oklahoma, but when her mother died when she was nine, her father moved the family to Arkansas which was where he was from originally. Then, when her father died, her grandmother kept the boys but sent herself and her sister back to Oklahoma to live in an orphanage. When she was fifteen, she ran away to find her sister who was living independently. From there, she went to live with her uncle and worked on his farm, which she finally felt was home. She is 84 years old, so it was the height of the Great Depression when all this was going on, and she in the heart of the Dust Bowl.

As so many people did, she ended up married and in California. Her marriage didn’t last, as to use her words, ‘he was too handy with his fists’, and she refused to put up with it. As a single young mother, she got a job as a police officer and worked at La Jolla guarding submarines. Her brother had taught her to shoot when she was a child, as it was their job to go out hunting and bring home meat for the table. She told me she loved guns, (there were times she wanted to turn one on her abusive husband), and was the best sharp-shooter on the whole base, except for her instructor. She could light a match at twenty paces, which Brother Ricker refused to believe was possible until he went out to prove it to himself. She smiled when she recalled how hard they tried to do it because they were not going to allow this tiny old lady to best them. She thought that maybe, perhaps they had finally done it.

She worked at the submarine base for about five years, and then decided to go back to her family in Arkansas. She traveled all across the country by herself, with her three children in tow. Then, she met her second husband, they married and moved to Houston. I think her oldest children were pretty much grown by the time Marsha and her brother, Randy, came along. At least, Marsha very rarely mentions them, and I was really shocked to learn of Sister Lucille’s first marriage and her children.

Anyway, when Marsha was about eight, the family was living in Houma, Louisiana, where she worked as the chief bookkeeper for a chain of five grocery stores. Niggling questions about the Bible continued to vex her. When she asked her pastor questions, first he said, ‘we must have faith’, then came ‘I don’t know’, until finally he said, “You know, Mrs. Johnson, you really are becoming a problem.”

That was when she started investigating other religions, but none of the pamphlets or other information her friends had to offer gave her any satisfaction. One day, she mentioned this to one of her friends who happened to be a less active Mormon (I’m certain because of her isolation) and happened to have a Joseph Smith pamphlet in her car. Sister Lucille took it to be polite and after her friend left, went to the trash can to throw it away. That was the last thing she recalled until she found herself sitting at her kitchen table reading the pamphlet, the hair standing up on her head, it so electrified her. She knew that moment it was true and told her friend as much. She begged her for more reading material, but her friend told her, “No. You’re ready for the missionaries.”

That went as you would expect, but when it came time to the family to be baptized, they told her they must drive 35 miles to Shreveport. When they got there, they went to a specific house and into a back room which had a huge wooden box in it. It had originally been a crate in which they shipped oil field machinery, but they had painted it, I assume water-proofed it, and built ladders ‘coming and going’, as Sister Lucille put it. If they wanted a ‘real’ baptismal fount, they were told they must drive to New Orleans (on the opposite end of the state). In that crate she was baptized, as was her husband, and he baptized their daughter, Marsha. They were the first members of the Church ever in Homer, Louisiana. The rest is history, but it’s that history I want to tell you about.

As it happened, Sister Lucille was, as I said, the head bookkeeper for five supermarkets. As she required them, she would choose the sharpest and best cashiers from those stores and ask them if they wished to learn bookkeeping. Of course, they all jumped at the chance, she trained them herself, and soon Sister Lucille had a whole pool of bookkeepers working under her. One could say she was a woman of some influence.

After she joined the Church, as she put it, she ‘couldn’t keep it to myself’. She preached the Gospel to anyone who would listen, and every single one of ‘her girls’ joined the Church, as did their families. Before long, they had a branch up and running which filled her entire living room and burst out of it because neither could her friends keep the good news to themselves. As she said, she did the preaching and her husband did the baptizing.

In those days, the Church didn’t just build a chapel because it was needed. The saints had to come up with a big chunk of the money, and $1000 1960-dollars was a hefty amount. However, that is how much the Johnsons ultimately contributed to the building fund for their ward house. They quite literally built the Kingdom in Homer. They lived in there some years. It’s where she and Marsha ultimately call home. They eventually moved away to follow the work, but when they left Homer, their branch was well on its way to full ward status and the meeting house was eventually built. She told me that whenever they drive through, they have to see that chapel because they feel so much a part of it.

Needless to say, Sister Lucille takes great pleasure in relating this story and in contemplating just how many people she brought into the gospel. Of course, there is absolutely no way of telling just how far her testimony reached, for every single one of her girls remained steadfast in the Gospel and raised their families to do the same. When one considers how many missionaries must have been sent out into the world and how many children raised their own in the gospel as a result of their parents’ conversion, the influence of Sister Lucille and her husband staggers the mind.

And all this because one sister whose hardship and distance prevented her from regularly attending church meetings kept in her glove box a Joseph Smith pamphlet and was not to timid too share it. I asked Sister Lucille whatever became of her friend, if she starting coming back to church when they had established their branch, but she told me after she attended their baptism, she moved away and then died shortly thereafter. She never knew the results of her efforts.

But, how great must be her joy! When Sister Lucille finally meets her again, how they will rejoice in knowing the blessings they bestowed upon so many. Whenever I wonder if what I am doing is enough or if it is worth it, I consider that ‘less active’ sister and hope that there are more like Sister Lucille who latch onto the truth I try to communicate and cannot keep the good news to themselves. That thought makes all the effort worth it.
So, that’s my homily for today. I hope it inspires you as much as it has me. With juggernauts like Sister Lucille, the Gospel cannot help but fill the whole earth. Like that stone cut out of the mountain without hands, it is unstoppable. Remember:

Work hard. Have faith. Do good. But, most of all, rejoice!

All my love,


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reflections of Christ

This is a cool slide show offered by Mabry Studios. It was created to be viewed at the Mesa Temple Visitor's Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I highly recommend it as a great way to start your day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Power of Fellowship

To Elder Paul Freeman, from Gay Gerard

August 10, 2008

Dearest Elder Paul that I love,

I’ve enjoyed your letters home so much, and I’m thrilled with the things you’ve accomplished on your mission and they great personal growth you’ve shown. I haven’t been able to write as I’d have liked, I’ve had so much on my plate, but my life is settling down to a roar, and life is sweet.

We had an awesome sacrament meeting today, our new stake partiarch, Brother Neve, and his wife spoke, both lacing their talks with stories from their pasts. My husband, Bob, was reaching for a Kleenex before I was. They both spoke on how how small things can bring about great blessings, and it’s so true. The small acts of service we render to each other can have eternal consequences. One story Sister Neve told was of being impressed during one meeting to get up and go sit by a woman who was sitting alone. They exchanged a little small talk and a hug. She said that 20 years later, this same woman, by now a dear and long time friend, very active in the Church, told her that if she hadn’t come and talked to her that morning (and Sister Neve was the only one who did) she’d have never gone back to church.

It reminds me of the old adage, "They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care."

When we were in the Santa Fe 2nd Ward in Norwalk, Les and I were "Fellowshipping Chairmen," and under Bishop Cottrell’s inspired instruction, when any member of the ward planned to bring a non-member friend to church, they’d call us, we’d call the Home Teaching leader, he’d call his home teachers, and before the next Sunday came around, everyone knew that so and so was coming, and they’d be met at the door with smiles and welcomes, not by one person, but by many, invited to dinner after the meeting, invited to a beach picnic, had offers of rides and babysitting, etc. Bishop Cottrell told us that for two years in a row, our ward was number 1, worldwide, in referral baptisms. It was really fun, with missionaries coming over all the time, eating, getting their hair cut, their shirts ironed, etc. It was a happy time. Our family was instrumental in getting 11 of our kids’ friends and three of their mothers baptized.

I’m telling you these things so if there’s a need in your area, you might suggest the ward members go all out in fellowshipping non-members, not with preaching, that’s your job, but with real, honest to goodness love and service. One friend of mine, Marian Hewey, was stricken with severe rheumatoid arthritis, had gone through four sets of missionaries with no intention of being baptized. It wasn’t until she called me one day, I went and found her alone and in terrible trouble, carried her into the shower, then took her to the hospital where she began a road to recovery. That experience softened her heart, and she and her children were baptized and she bacame a great strength in our ward. I talked with her a few years ago, she was completely bedridden, unable to even hold the phone without help, but she was providing a home for sister missionaries. She was a great lady.

I hope these last weeks of your mission will be wonderful and you’ll come home trailing glorious clouds of your missionary mantle. I love you, Grandma Gay

"Insight is the most profound level of learning." Enoch Tan

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Witness of the Holy Ghost

To Elder Paul Freeman

August 6, 2008

Dear Son,

Well, we managed to survive the weekend, which was rather a hectic one. I told you that — and — were getting married on Saturday. It was also newsletter weekend, and since Sister — didn’t take us up on our offers to help her out with the reception, I procrastinated getting the newsletter finished, which was entirely normal, of course. However, as it happened, while I was putting the newsletter together on Saturday morning, she called to get Ginger’s phone number which started me worrying. About an hour later, Ginger called me from down at the church and said, help help! So, Dad, Dani and I went down and helped out for a while. (Dani is home for the summer missing Jeffrey who is now in Madrid. She'll go back to school at the end of the month).

Once they started setting up for the wedding the night before, the — realized they needed to to cut the gym in half (of course). They had hit upon using the volleyball standards and nets and some pink cloth Ginger said she had scads of, but once she got down there it was obvious that was noy going to work. So, we put our heads together, tried a few different things, figured out what would work and what wouldn’t, called Jeanette to run and get some other stuff we needed, and then Dad and I took off, leaving Ginger alone again because Dani had taken Braelynd with her to the store or something.

So, Dad and I grabbed some lunch, then headed back home to get the newsletter done. Dad was incredibly patient with me, I must say. Friday he swore he was going to shut down the shop whether I was ready or not, but I managed to get seven pages finished, take a shower, wrap their present (We have enough paper! Hallelujah!!) and then get back down to the wedding just as — and — were getting into their car to drive away. I don’t think they even saw me, but that wasn’t important anyway. They really had quite a good turn-out and it was a nice little wedding. Best of all, Matt was standing there on the curb so I got him to lug in the stoneware we got for them. It about killed Dad getting it from Sam’s to the car to the house, and I could only get it from the living room to the back door again. Dad had to take it the rest of the way. Matt’s response was, ‘What the heck is in this thing?!’ He was rather disappointed when I told him it was just dishes.

I have no idea how they’re going to get their boodle home. They flew out to his post in South Dakota early Sunday morning. Dad was rather freaked about the whole thing, in his quietly skittish way. There was far too much deja vu at the Hafer building on Saturday afternoon. He rather got stuck in a time warp.

So, after the new Couple — drove away, I had set the copy machine going, Dad remained to the library rather than have to deal with the crowd, and I had greeted Sister — and effused over Ginger’s handiwork which really was absolutely marvelous and didn’t look a bit like the last minute slap-dash that it was, I went back to the library and set to. Fortunately, Ginger and Sister Lewis (I’m not sure if you met the newly arrived Lewises while you were here) brought back two plates of food which was very considerate and well-timed, as Dad was spiraling down into an insulin reaction. But, we got one hundred copies printed, collated and stapled, then stashed in the RS closet until the morrow, and then managed to get some shopping done after that. I think it was pushing eight o’clock by the time we got home, and I’m really, really, really glad Dad had already had his dinner and I didn’t have to fix it after the day that we had.

And, all this time a little tropical depression was brewing out in the Gulf, acting rather erratic and petulant in its youth. Sunday came and went and the tropical depression became Tropical Storm Edouard. Meh.

I think we’re probably going to be driving [a neighbor family] down to church every week for a while—at least until [their grandparents] come back down in the fall. Their car broke down over the weekend and so they had no transportation. They split their family up between us and [another family], but once I got into the car I realized there’s a middle seatbelt in the front where [the youngest] would fit quite nicely, so I can accommodate the whole crew. Their financial situation and the price of gas really can’t peacefully coexist, so car-pooling makes all the sense in the world. I don’t think it will take [the husband] much to convince [the wife] of the wisdom of it.

The Relief Society newsletter was as effective as always as a Fast Sunday reverence inducer, and we’re getting less and less particular about the gender of the recipients. I’m starting to get back into the groove after taking back the publishing duties from Sister Elsasser. The April issue was pathetic, May was a complete wash, and June and July were only two or three pages long because I tried wrangling with Word which is impossible. So, because that won’t work, I removed the program that WordPerfect couldn’t get along with and now things are working marvelously. Besides, do I really need Visual C+++ on this computer? I think not.

Monday morning came with tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches which continued all day. The silly little storm sidled up to the coast as close as it could and still maintain its form, then slowly skittered along it west by northwest for the better part of the day. Making a beeline toward Galveston. Then it stopped and parked southwest of New Orleans (I don’t think they got a drop of water out of it), and Dr. Neil began to fret. The longer it stayed out to sea, the better its chances of reconsolidating its tattered edges and then be an out-right hurricane once it landed at Galveston. They predicted landfall at 1:00 pm on Tuesday but weren’t issuing any evacuation orders or anything—not even Galveston.

We watched it all day, and after Adam had done a walk-through of the house with their own personal inspector without anyone looking over their shoulders, he sent Ariane and the kids up here. They got here about 10:30 pm and we all went straight to be—except Ariane, of course, who hasn’t had the internet for a couple of weeks, at least, and so had a lot of make-up stuff to do and she set to it.

Tuesday morning I was awakened at 6:30 am by Adam calling me to ask what they were saying on the news about Edouard. Danged if I knew. Dad turned on the beast and we cranked up the volume so Adam could hear the forecast, etc, for himself. What a change overnight! Edouard had all of the sudden sped up, sliced heavily to the right, and made actual landfall at Sabine Pass at 7:00 am, but all the forward stuff was already hitting when we turned on the news. And, it was totally weird in that the left side of the storm provided the most wind and rain, leaving the towns that had actually evacuated (Sabine Pass, Port Arthur, etc) relatively unscathed. Ironically, because it landed at Sabine rather than Galveston, instead of Stafford being square in the storm’s path, it passed north of them, putting us in the more exposed position.

It had already started raining so Dad decided to work from home and had his morning meeting over the phone. The news folks were telling everyone it was safest to stay off the roads and were showing some shots of the rain falling in buckets, only blowing sideways. We had a good steady rain all day, enough to bring the sorely neglected grass back to life, but I don’t think we heard a clap of thunder nor saw any lightning, and had a breeze, at best, not even a stiff one.

Alora and Aaron knocked about the house all day being bored to tears. The weather wasn’t severe enough to be interesting to them, but it never let up enough so that they could play outside. We all lived, though, and are very grateful. Unfortunately for the Robinsons next door, they had chosen Monday as the day to rip up their driveway and have it completely replaced. Now I don’t know when they’ll be able to replace the concrete.

Fast and Testimony meeting on Sunday was fabulous, as always. This week most everyone spoke about missionary work, especially since the Thursday before the ward had a missionary activity sponsored by the ward missionaries. Brother Sulski arranged it, so you know it had to work out well.

First, they sent around sign-up sheets for the activity (no ward activity can even be announced without sign-up sheets). Then, Thursday night, about 36 people congregated at the Sulskis’ house (even some who didn’t sign up), they broke up into the pairs to canvas the streets Brother Sulski assigned, and then they went out and tracted some subdivision, I can’t remember the name, but a small one with only 700 homes. They tracted the entire subdivision in a matter of 60-90 minutes, and came away with 15 different names/families for the missionaries to visit. How cool is that?!

In Fast and Testimony meeting, Brother Kent first got up and talked about his regret in not being able to attend. I’m sorry to say that Brother Kent is starting to show his age a bit. You can tell his pain is getting increasingly difficult to deal with, but he keeps chugging on. It may take him a bit longer to get up the aisle every month, but it’s difficult to imagine Fast Sunday without him. I know he’s pushing 80, but it’s always seemed to me like he’d go on forever.

At any rate, he bore his testimony, as usual, with an appropriate homily or remembrance, but then announced that surely Brother Sulski would get up and tell us all about the ward missionary activity. We went through several ward missionaries, including Sister Brighton and Brother Rucker, then Sister Erickson spoke about her increased appreciation for the concept of visiting teachers, and Sister Mahana who needed to bear her testimony publically to her girls before Deneka went off to BYU later this month. Sister Santana brought everyone to tears, as she usually does in speaking of her sadness that people won’t open their ears because of their pride. Sister Parker testified of miracles, prayers, and the strength of families. Gavin was in a severe boating accident requiring major surgery, but when the doctors got in there, what they had seen on x-ray was there no longer. The doctor told them it was a miracle, but they didn’t need his word for it to know it.

Finally, just as everyone was glancing at the clock to see if he had time, Brother Sulski got up and told us all about it, including the fact that once everyone had gone home, Blake tried to convince his dad to go back to a certain house they had visited and talk some sense into a guy who refused to listen to the truth. As he spoke, I looked around the room and counted how many people I know who have joined the Church as adults: the bishop, the Kellers, the Sterns, the Mixas, Sister Santana, the Kents, the Sulskis, the Johnsons—the list goes on and on, and these people are the stability and strength of our ward. How marvelous it is that some valiant and faithful young men set aside the doubts, fears, and uncertainties which are prerequisite with coming of age, and sacrificed all the common pursuits of their peers to share with those people their own testimonies of the gospel! How little a sacrifice it was for them when they were rewarded with such treasures beyond price! And, what did they sacrifice? Absolutely nothing of any lasting value but gained blessings unmeasured and some otherwise unattainable but essential to their eternal progression.

When I realized the day had come and gone (Friday or Saturday), I was feeling guilty that I missed the activity, and guilty that I felt relieved that I didn’t go because doing the same absolutely terrifies me and I know I shouldn’t be. However, the Lord told me that he was pleased with my own part and my offering was acceptable to him by a few affirmations he allowed me. The joy and gratitude I felt in gaining that knowledge is beyond description.

I keep plugging away at these silly blogs, hoping that someone gets some good out of them somewhere. I know that the urgency I have felt in starting and maintaining them is a direct answer to my prayers for missionary experiences, and so I do it. However, that little doubt always hovers about me and I cannot help wonder if I am only deceiving myself in order to excuse any more active participation in missionary work.

Then, as I went to the temple with Sister — and she told me how she couldn’t thank me enough for my example and the blogs and how they have touched her life, made her want to get closer to the Lord, and helped her see how she needs to improve in her temple attendance and her scripture reading to accomplish it, I knew that in itself was worth the effort. After all, there I was in her car going to the temple with her, and she had called me to ask if I wanted to go with her. That has never happened before.

Then, Monday morning, I was fairly dancing in the streets when my Facebook friend told me of her experience at Fast and Testimony meeting that Sunday, and how she knew beyond doubt that she was supposed to go on a mission. Son, when I first knew her, she was a brand-new convert and had made the astounding choice of ending her live-in relationship with a boyfriend who refused to marry her, so that she could be baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ. She had helped raise his children, her own children were attached to him as well, but she made the choice and was really struggling with it, particularly since Christmas was coming on and she would be all alone. I believe I was one of the few Mormon friends she had at the time, but now she is an integral part of her ward, is strong in missionary work herself, and knows the Lord wants her to be willing to sacrifice that time to him. She isn’t certain if she will clear the physical requirements (she has some health issues), but her desire burns within her.

All that keeps running through my head is ‘how great shall be thy joy’, especially when I consider the lives she will touch and is now touching as she serves, and I know I cannot begin to fathom it. More and more I catch glimpses of why the prophets have such urgency for the work to go forward, why President Hinckley traveled so far for so long and why he scattered temples across the globe, building at an unprecedented rate. Surely his own joy was commensurate to his sadness in contemplating all our Father’s children who yet remain in darkness, all those who desire the temple blessings but cannot gain them because of geography. Surely he spent hours on his knees each day pleading with the Lord to pour out his blessings upon the people. Surely President Monson is just the same. I know that the pure love of Christ motivates them, and, like Lehi did to his own family, they beckon us all, member and non-member alike, to come and partake of the pure love of Christ and know its sweetness and glory.

In RS this week, Sister Brighton gave a lesson about relying upon the Lord and recognizing when his influence is working in your life. She quoted something from the World Leadership Meeting which was included in last month’s Ensign, which was that if you feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, the Atonement is working in your life.

That really hit me because I had just been reading in 1 Nephi 10:1 where he relates the state he was in when he received the revelation of the Tree of Life. He wanted to know for himself what his father, Lehi, had seen in the vision. First, he had desire—real and true and strong, and I have to believe of the most sincere variety and for the purest of purposes. He wasn’t just curious. I have to believe he wanted that same testimony of the gospel which he felt so strongly in his father. He wanted to know.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he had faith. He believed all the things his father had told him. If he had not, the desire would have been the weakness of idle curiosity or nonexistent. But his faith not only in his father but in the Lord was strong enough to effect all that was to follow.

Third, he pondered. I’m certain he just didn’t say, ‘that’s cool. Can I see?’ I’m sure he pondered all the words his father said, all aspects of the dream, examined it from every different angle, and I’m sure hitting upon the right answers as he went, all of which became a part of the revelation process. If it were not so, he could not have answered the angel as he did when he asked him ‘do you know what this or that is.’ But, Nephi answered correctly. He knew because he had thought it out and the Spirit had born witness of its truth.

Back to the Holy Ghost again. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to really study it out, but Moroni serves my purpose here when Mormon says in Moroni 8:
Moro. 8: 26
26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

The remission of sins bringeth meekness and lowliness of heart by which comes the visitation of the Holy Ghost. We cannot receive the Holy Ghost unless we are worthy through the Atonement. I think too often we fail to recognize the significance of each and every moment when the Still Small Voice whispers comfort and truth to us. We look forward to ‘someday’, when we will be as near as perfect as we possibly can, that then, and only then will Christ’s Atonement take effect in our own lives. Perhaps we admire others whom we see as spiritual giants and feel assured that their souls have been washed clean with the blood of the Lamb and aspire to become like them so that we may enjoy the same grace. Perhaps in looking beyond ourselves, we fail to fully appreciate what transpires within our own souls.

I think perhaps one of life’s great struggles and one of the Adversary’s greatest tools is doubt—not doubt in Christ but in ourselves. To believe in Christ is marvelous, elevating, and beautiful, and simple to embrace, but to believe Christ when he tells us all our sins are forgiven is far more difficult because we also have to believe in ourselves. We cannot entangle ourselves in the snares of self-condemnation and self-doubt, or debates within ourselves if we have offered true repentance worthy of his forgiveness. We have to know he speaks truth when he promises us that no matter how often we slip and trip and stumble, no matter how great is our struggle to overcome our own personal weaknesses, he has forgiven us and will continue to forgive us as often as may need be as long as we are willing to accept that inestimable eternal gift.

He forgives us now, not off in someday. He knows we need that forgiveness now. We need his purifying grace that we may be meek and humble in our gratitude and in his praise, submissive as a little child in our willingness to follow his example and follow where he leads, as we know he desires nothing but to lead us back to the Father. He knows far better than we the intensity of our need for direction, prompting and guidance, and so he grants his forgiveness and cleans the vessel which he would fill to overflowing with the Holy Ghost, our Comforter.

That is an astounding concept to me, especially when I consider when I have felt the Holy Ghost so strongly it nigh well overwhelmed me. To feel that burning in my heart and the surety and peace in my head tells me not only that what I am pondering is true, but with each prompting joyfully professes that Jesus is the Christ, the Atonement is real, and my sins are forgiven me that very moment.

Once we realize this for ourselves, that fire of understanding spreads out from us to encompass all those in our sphere of influence and beyond it. In knowing our own redemption and its divine simplicity and eternal nature, without beginning and without end, we cannot damn others who have lived lives far more distanced from God than ourselves. The Lord forgives all, and we should not be waiting for others to prove themselves worthy of our love and friendship. Once we are forgiven and filled with the pure love of Christ, gentle and generous treatment of others becomes part of us. It strengthens the more we emulate Christ and deepens our understanding of our Heavenly Father and his Only Begotten Son. What a marvelous blessing that is, the Gift of the Holy Ghost testifying of the Atonement and our own redemption.

There you are. Your little blue dot has popped up saying you’re on line. I love you.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Saying Goodbye

From Jami Bernards to Elder BJ Bernards, dated August 5, 2008

Dear Elder,

I am so sorry to neglect your requests. I will try to get to the garment store this week and do that for you.

We had a small but very important miracle happen this week, the explanation of which must be that the Lord hears and answers your prayers. We have had troubles with cameras. I bought a nice digital camera with my Costco rebate about a year ago, and it was apparently stolen from Kids Korner after a staff meeting in January. I was so unhappy, especially since I didn't have the discretionary funds to replace it.

When we finally got our new rebate, I went down and bought another camera, just before Ben and Megan came to visit for the 4th of July, so I would be able to take pictures. I have been so distressed ever since they left, because I haven't been able to find it. Well, I got a call from Ben yesterday, asking if I had lost the camera. The kind people at the gym we went to on the 4th found a camera and have been asking around to try and find the owner. I called the girl at the desk yesterday, and she said when none of their regular patrons or employees identified it, they started calling the people who had had birthday parties there, and kept working their way back until they called Ben, who thought to call me and ask! I am so grateful that she would take the time to do so! I am going to pick it up today, and then we will get to work taking all of those pictures.

Following your example of putting the most important things at the beginning of your letter, please fast and pray for Brother Roger Morris, Camille's husband, Sam's and Rachel's dad. He has been on dialysis for several weeks now, and has finally been approved for a kidney transplant which is being donated by his nephew. He goes in for surgery on Aug. 15th.

My goodness, we have such a lot to do! I read from the BofM [Book of Mormon] this morning, about Ammon and the Lamanites who came over to live with the Nephites, and I am impressed with how many times throughout history the Lord has led his people from one place to another. It's like when I was pregnant with my first baby, really struggling with the difficulties of pregnancy, and I sat in the Marriott Center for a fireside and looked around and thought, 'Oh my goodness, some woman birthed every single one of the people!'

In a similar way, while I know the Lord from time to time has led many of his children from one place to another, the immensity of the undertaking nearly overwhelms me! The faith to leave everything behind that is known and loved and needed, and strike off into the wilderness, not knowing where you are going, when you will get there, or how you will survive when you get there -- the faith of those amazing people is nearly incomprehensible to me! This is the second time in my life I have moved somewhere sight unseen, following the inspiration of my husband and the confirmation of the spirit in my heart and the assurance of the reasoning in my mind. Alpine was a good place to come to, it has been difficult and filled with struggles and opportunities for personal growth, sacrifice, and learning, and now it is good to go forward.

On Sunday, as I considered that it was my last Fast Sunday in this ward, I wondered if I should bear my testimony, and determined that if the Spirit prompted me, I would do so. I sat in the meeting for some time without feeling the prompting, until I saw Pres. Cory Bangeter walk forward to speak. At that time I knew I should stand up, though I didn't know what I would say. Pres. Bangeter was in the stake Sunday School presidency for a long time when Dad was the ward Sunday School president for a long time (10 years, maybe, at least 3 different wards). Pres. Bangeter was then called to the stake presidency, and one year ago he and his wife were called to serve in New York City in the Church Educational System (CES).

Pres. Bangeter was born and raised here in Alpine, although they lived away out of state for a long time and then only moved back maybe 15 years ago or so. Anyway, his example of faith and courage has always been a role model for Dad, who has felt a connection of love and brotherhood with him. And here, in our ward, there were very few people in the congregation who even knew who he was -- interesting. When he stood up, he spoke of the intense need throughout the Church for mature, seasoned couples to go out and serve. He said it was like passing out candy to children, people were so grateful for their light and knowledge, wisdom, and service. Then he concluded with his powerful testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.

As I stood to follow him, I felt impressed to share the sacred experience that my priesthood leader, my husband Brad, received the direction nearly two years ago that we should go. I shared a bit of my struggle in accepting that counsel, how difficult it is to leave what you love, and how I couldn't imagine a nicer place to live than somewhere where you know and trust and love your neighbors on every side, and feel their love in return. I thanked the many youth leaders who have served our children over the years, both in this ward and in others, who had given up personal vacations to take Scouts and Young Women on experiences that would build their testimonies. I shared how we have been in 9 different wards without moving once, and how I have seen the pain and difficulty of separation, followed by the love and bonding that comes from serving together in the gospel. I related how we have seen neighbors die, and many struggle with difficult, and even horrible illnesses, and how we have seen the youth struggle against the world and grow and overcome.

And through it all, the constant in our life has been the House of the Lord, how when we have been low . . . , and lower . . . , we have been able to come to His House each week and be fed at His Table. I am so grateful for the tender mercies of the Lord, in providing a Church for me to belong to, that blesses my life, that feeds and nourishes me spiritually, that gives me friends to love and serve, and others to love and look after me and mine. It is truly a privilege and the constant in my life, the iron rod that has without failing guided and protected me. And that now, it's our turn to go out and spread some candy around.

Afterwards, it was easier to talk to people. Instead of having to explain why we were going, we could just express love and sorrow at saying goodbye. Bro. Robert Cummings, whose wife Dalene died of cancer several years ago, who was in the Bishopric with Joe Nilsson while Ben served his mission, who came and helped up finish the basement apartment so we could rent it when we were desperate for income, gave me a hug and actually shed some tears while Dad and I spoke with him. I had shared in my testimony how we had seen Joe Nillson return from his mission, court his sweetheart Jill Harley who had just left my Laurel class, marry her and go on to serve as the Elder's Quorum president in our ward, and he is now our stake president.

Our lives have been blessed by many wonderful people who have been stalwart in their testimonies and their examples of constant love, faithfulness, service. It has truly been formative for us to live here. I remember when I was younger, struggling with my role as wife and mother and member of the church, and seeking role models to follow. I remember watching Elaine Devey sitting on the bench in the chapel with several grandchildren around her, week after week, year after year, and realizing that that was what I wanted in life, a family that endures, that spans the generations, that earth and hell combined cannot shatter. And I learned that that is worth every sacrifice.

There is nothing, NOTHING else in life that can satisfy the deepest yearnings of the soul, except to be sealed in the bonds of the priesthood with those that you love and who love you, trusting that their faithfulness will overcome every possible affliction and tribulation, rejoicing together in the faith that through the atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has overcome all things, that we too will one day overcome all things, and be reunited in His Kingdom to go no more out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brighter and Brighter Until the Perfect Day

To Elder Paul Freeman

July 23, 2008

Dear Son,

After I sent you my letter last week, I went back to proof and polish it for publishing on my blogs, and ultimately ended up adding to it. The finished product can be found at both A Mormon Family Journal and A Mormon Journal, so I'm not bothering to send it to you again. Honestly, I doubt that you had time to read it all last week. With that in mind, I'm only going to send that which I haven't previously sent you this week, so you can have time to finish reading it all if you have a mind. And, since I know you've got pictures to peruse and other letters to read, I'll only send the last bit. (I also got our family page up and running. You can check it out if you like).

But, before that, a bit of chat. Hurricane Dolly is headed straight for Brownsville, but she's just a timid little thing (barely a category 1), so it doesn't look to be too serious. We hope to get a bit of rain out of it, but I'm skeptical. All we've seen thus far are sprinkles.

Adam took some much needed time off last week for a bit of a vacation with the fam. They went to Galveston on Thursday, did the beach and the aquarium, and then came up here on Friday. After he and Ariane got back from the movies (they saw The Black Knight at the new IMAX on H249, they tooled around town looking at furniture, then finally ended up back here to work on their hutch (or at least that was the plan). Actually, Adam decided the oak tree out front needed trimming and followed Dad out when he went to mow the lawn. Dad didn't get the lawn mowed, but the tree did get a bit of a trim, which was nice because I really would have hated to see Dad perched up on that ladder like Adam was. Fortunately for him, Dad had been contemplating the whole business for some time and had already bought an electric tree trimmer, so the job was a lot easier than he anticipated.

I went to the temple yesterday with Sister P. That was really nice. It was Relief Society temple day, in addition to the day MW took out her endowments. It was good because more than Sister E and Sister P were there, but also the Sisters R, Sister B, Sister P, and myself. MW and BE will be getting married on August 2nd. Sister E used to do weddings for a living, so there's really not much she wants us to do, but G and I plan on putting ourselves as much in her way as possible so we can be of as much use as she allows.

Whenever I go through a session with someone who is taking out their own endowments, my mind is always full of my first visit to the temple and I wonder if their thoughts mirror my own at that time. Then, I consider how much I have learned and how my testimony has strengthened over the ensuing 28 years, and each new thing the Lord teaches me when I attend.

Last fall during the adult session of stake conference, President Tolman explained to us why our stake was not going to participate in the 'fill the temple' program that the new temple president initiated. He said that because we live within the shadow of the temple, we should not have to be compelled to attend by a sense of obligation. He didn't want attending the temple to be for us just another church assignment, as if we were filling a shift canning peanut butter. He said he hoped each of us would develop the resolve that nothing can keep us from the temple.

That need is very much a part of me. I crave to enter those walls and partake of the peace and spiritual enlightenment and instruction that awaits me there. Unfortunately, lacking transportation does keep me from the temple, but I need to strengthen my commitment and my arrangements so that even that ceases to be an issue. Aunt Carrie has started working in the temple, and the other day she told us of a scripture her temple president wanted them to memorize, which is this:

D&C 50:23-24

23: That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
24: That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

This is stunning to me when I consider how much light and knowledge of eternal things I believe myself to understand, and yet, I know that compared to the light the Father wishes to bestow me, I now scarcely hold a candle.

Sister J relayed another experience to me from her temple work. She attended a fireside of just temple workers inside the temple, and the speaker was an area authority or something of the sort. She said the things he taught them were deeply profound and awe-inspiring as things she had never learned before. Even so, now, she cannot remember of what he spoke which is typical of those in attendance that day. Overpowering all were the mighty power of the Spirit and truth and the brilliance of the light which shone upon them.

But why should this seem beyond our own grasp? It is all there in the scriptures which we are exhorted by the prophets to study. We are not admonished to memorize the Journal of Discourses or other writings or to make them a part of our daily routine. IWe are guided and instructed through the Holy Scriptures in which the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ is contained, where we obtain everything we require to gain salvation and exaltation. It is all there, at our fingertips, the same scriptures read by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and Gordon B. Hinckley, the same source of light and knowledge. The question then remains, how much light are we allowing to escape from within those pages? How much light are we allowing into our souls?

The image comes to me of a dark lantern (which sounds oxymoronic, I know), which is basically a normal lantern surrounded by a metal can with only one door that the user opens or shuts according to when and where he wants the light to shine. Our scriptures are much akin. We carry around the source of truth, knowledge, and inspiration, that conduit to the Spirit in its completeness, everything the Lord knows we require to return to him again. Do we stumble around in the dark because we refuse to open the lantern, do we open it now and again to shine on a particularly rough patch in our path, or do we open it wide and cherish the light? Do we continue in God as the light grows brighter and brighter until we reach that state of perfection in which we become that light? I see attending the temple as removing that light from the captivity of the dark lantern and into the freedom and protection of a hurricane lamp. In this, the light shines free of encumbrance, its own variable how bright we allow it to burn.

Too many of my answers to these questions are shameful. I need to improve. I need to allow that light into my life by humbling myself enough to admit that I need it and that I cannot traverse this journey without it. There pride rears its ugly head again and keeps me too much in the dark. I need meekness and humility, and in this way continue in God by obeying his commandments and keeping the covenants I have made. Only through this can I partake of that light.

Well, here is another long letter that I swore was going to be shorter. Sorry about that. I need to stop here so that you'll have time to read [my previous letter]. Know that I love you. I always pray for you. When I attend the temple on Tuesdays, a strong complement of missionaries usually attend the same session, and as we pray for them, you are indeed bright in my thoughts and sweet in my heart.

All my love,


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Yearning for Truth

To Elder Paul Freeman

July 16, 2008

Dearest Son,

The following is a letter that I started to write you on Sunday during Sunday School (the foyer, for once, was quiet and deserted). The rest I finish today with all my hopes and prayers that it may be of use to you somehow as you endeavor to bring those around you unto Christ.

Gosh. I wish there was some way I could convey to you the power of today’s sacrament meeting. I must have heard Brother Keller wrong when I understood Ben to be speaking today (I thought at the time that it seemed rather early, considering his recent return home), or, Brother Keller could have simply been Brother Keller. At any rate, the McAvoys spoke, a relatively new couple in the ward, married six or seven years and 40-ish. It was simple and simply powerful and moved everyone in that room.

Sister McAvoy spoke about being raised in the Church, her earliest recollections of feeling the witness of the Spirit (when quite young), and gaining her own testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. She thought it a bit vague to say, “I know this Church is true,” and expounded on the definition of truth and all we imply when we use that well-known phrase.

Brother McAvoy spoke quite simply and tenderly but powerfully of his conversion experience. He told of his grandmother who was a devout Catholic, so much so that nothing prevented her from attending mass on Wednesdays and Sundays—not even the Maine winter weather. He told how he wished to believe something so strongly and with such certainty as did his grandmother, but he had too many questions regarding her religion and tired of the answers given him—answers not at all but advice: have faith, my son.

Eventually, he became frustrated enough to start seeking out and investigating other denominations. He stated that he never went to a bad church—that they all were made up of good people doing good works—but they were all missing that ‘little something’ which would have joined him to any particular denomination.

Then, having reached the conclusion that there was no sect which answered all his questions and met all his requirements, he decided that he’d give agnosticism a trial for a while, that while being a great deal of his life. However, he ultimately admitted that the national religion of commercialism and instant gratification failed to provide him with any true fulfillment. As he spoke, it felt to me that he never gave up on God or Jesus Christ, nor ceased to believe in them, nor to hunger and thirst after the eternal truths denied him. He simply gave up looking.

Realizing that living for the latest gadget left him nothing but a bunch of stuff, he thought he’d try prayer. Prayer seems so elemental, does it not? And yet, for him, he was venturing into the unknown. He said he had always prayed out of the Catholic prayer book, his prayers all preconceived by some stranger probably dead for centuries. However, he eventually reached the decision that when he prayed he would have a real conversation with God, in the hopes that he would receive real answers.

He said, then, the answers started coming—not necessarily the ones he wanted, but they came. Ultimately, these promptings led him to respond to an advertisement touting a job with ‘a great boss and positive working environment,’ etc. That certainly seemed to be the job for him. He got the job but immediately realized it was not the job for him, it was the worst job he had ever had, and he despised his boss, but every time he determined to quit on the spot, something inside him said ‘not yet’.

The one thing he liked about his place of employment was the fact that everyone discussed religion frankly and openly, and there was nothing he more enjoyed. He said people of all denominations were represented and voiced their opinions and explained their doctrines freely. However, one of his friends told him one day to “stay away from Ann. She’s a Mormon.”

Of course, this sparked his interest. He had never heard of these people called Mormons, let alone the church to which they belonged. Ann (the future Sister McAvoy) seemed perfectly normal to him, and rather nice at that. So, he determined to figure out the mystery. He had never heard of a Mormon before, and because his friend was so negative, he expected her answers to his questions to be dodgy and anything but forthright. He expected her to be evasive altogether respecting any inquiry he made and was glad to be pleasantly disappointed in his preconceptions.

Over the years of his search, he decided that there were two primary principles prerequisite to any religion with which he would associate himself. The first was the need for a ‘captain of the ship’. He said that his Catholic upbringing helped develop his opinion that the church he chose must have a central governing body and that the religion must be universally consistent in precepts and practice. His stated his prerequisite as ‘is it protestant?’ which I understood to mean, does it have a head to guide the whole church or do delegates convene to vote on doctrine which may or may not be require the adherence of individual congregations?

He asked this of Ann. She told him of the Great Apostasy and the Restoration of primitive church. We believe that Christ stands at the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that, through his prophet, Joseph Smith and under direction of our Savior, it was again established on earth. The priesthood (the authority to administer in Christ’s name) had once again been restored. The Church is consistent worldwide: the same scriptures are used, the same principles taught, the same programs initiated. The Church is the only faith with governing body which is true to the structure of the early church established by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. We believe that the leaders of our Church are apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ, and that through his divine authority they lead and guide this church. We believe that each member is equally entitled to revelation over his particular calling or sphere of influence, but the stewardship of our prophet, seer, and revelator encompasses the whole earth.

Brother McAvoy went on to say that this answer moved him to ask his second prerequisite question, who goes to Heaven? Sister McAvoy told him of our temples. We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. (3rd Article of Faith, Pearl of Great Price, emphasis added). We believe that every soul shall have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ whether in this life or in the next. We believe the moral agency of each individual is essential to God’s great plan of salvation. We believe that missionary work continues beyond the veil which shades our mortal eyes, and all will choose of themselves whether to accept or reject the vicarious work performed for them within the House of the Lord. God will force no man to heaven.

Needless to say, this doctrine answered Brother McAvoy’s sense of injustice in the belief that only those who lived under the influence of Christianity and accepted its doctrine could possibly make it to heaven. He expressed his concerns that there were many good people in the world, those who lived Christian precepts and did good works no matter the form of worship to which they ascribed. Every sect he investigated failed to answer the injustice of that claim.

He then decided to read the Book of Mormon. However, he had not voiced his intent to Ann nor decided to meet with the missionaries, so he went to the local Christian book store to pick one up. (Here, the congregation laughed). Failing in that quest, he decided that if anyone had that book, Barnes and Noble would. (The congregation laughed again). When he again failed to find it, the clerk tried to help him by looking it up on the computer. She said, “It says we have one in stock, but I can’t figure out in what section it would be in.” Then, she mused, “That’s really weird, because my neighbor is trying to give copies away all the time.” To be fair, Barnes and Noble does carry the Book of Mormon and can be found here.

Brother McAvoy decided it was time for him to attend a meeting and accepted Ann’s invitation. Being from a Catholic background, you can imagine the paradigm shift he underwent as he grew accustomed to our particular brand of worship. The building was simple, without the usual ornaments he had come to expect. Instead of a priest or preacher standing in a pulpit before the room, members of the congregation delivered the sermons. Our faith functions on a lay ministry, where leaders and teachers of both genders donate their time and talents to the Gospel. No plate for donations was passed, which settled another point of concern for Brother McAvoy. The priesthood is conferred upon all worthy males, beginning at the age of twelve and progressed through incremental degrees. Thus, the sacrament (similar to the Holy Communion), the center and focus of our Sunday worship, is conducted by young men with great simplicity.

Brother McAvoy came away certain that it was all too good to be true. There had to be a flaw somewhere, some indiscretions of its leaders, some controversy regarding the Church, some sort of underhanded dealing. It all too perfectly suited him and answered his every concern. There had to be a fly in the ointment, and so he determined to investigate. Needless to say, he found no shortage of derogatory material to peruse on the Internet. He came across arguments against the Book of Mormon, the premises of which he easily dismissed. However, it puzzled him immensely that the primarily focus of attack centered on Joseph Smith rather than the Church itself.

He had by that time agreed to take the discussions. The missionaries came and shared with him the first discussion. The spirit was strong, their closing prayer had been said, and the missionaries took their leave. However, the senior missionary turned to him again and told him that he didn’t know why, but he had to tell him one more thing, which was this: it is all circular. If the Book of Mormon is true, then the Church has to be true, and if the Church is true, Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the Book of Mormon is true. It was then that Brother McAvoy realized why Joseph Smith was the brunt of so much defamation. There is nothing sinister about the Church. Attacks upon it as an institution are week and ineffectual. Thus, they focus on the man rather than the church he founded, hoping to deprive it of its foundation.

The fault with that strategy is, Joseph Smith is not the foundation of our faith. Our religion is sunk into the bedrock of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and propelled by the continuing revelation he gives to his prophets today. With that certainty burning in one’s bosom, with the whisperings of the Spirit that assures one time and again of the truthfulness of not only Christ’s divinity but also his very personal and intimate, everlasting and infinite love for each individual, the railings of its adversaries and accusations of the misinformed simply cease to be. They do not and cannot whisper the peace of the Still Small Voice. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and the publishers of such things produce naught but anger, distrust, resentment and malice.

Finally, Brother McAvoy explained, it was time to “meet the prophet”. He knew he would know him a Man of God, a true prophet, or simply a chairman of the board who claimed divine inspiration to accomplish his own ends. This all occurred over the summer of 2001. September rolled around, and his investigation had reached this point.

Then, 9.11 happened. When he learned that President Hinckley was calling a memorial service in honor of the victims, he knew the opportunity for which he had waited presented itself. He would finally get to meet the prophet. Unfortunately, his boss was rigid and demanding. Personal days were nonexistent in that office, which meant neither Brother McAvoy or Ann would be able to attend the memorial service. As it happened, an interesting little tropical storm was pirouetting in the Gulf, threatened to land a hurricane on their city, Tampa Bay, Florida. The boss closed up shop and told everyone to stay home, which opened the way for Brother McAvoy’s attendance. He stated that he didn’t claim a personal miracle in the form of a hurricane, only that he just thought the sequence of events interesting.

President Hinckley was nothing as expected but everything Brother McAvoy hoped he would find. He wore no vestments, no great tall ornate hand, no robes or anything that overtly proclaimed to all the world that ‘Here is a Great Man!’ However, he spoke with such great power that his voice reached into Brother McAvoy and professed to him personally that he was truly the Lord’s Servant, called of God.

And there his story ended, and his bore his own sweet testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. The Spirit bore witness of the precepts he taught, particularly as every lesson subsequent to that meeting seemed an extension of it, as if they simply broke into groups to discuss it. To see how many people he affected was not surprising, particularly when the laughter or nodding heads or tissues produced professed how nearly the converts in the chapel (which were not a few) identified his story with their own. Neither were the born-and-bred members unmoved, for every member who professes to follow Christ must at some point or another develop a testimony of their own. They must deal with the doubts and questions which niggle at them. They must have the Witness of the Holy Ghost profess that this church is Christ’s own.

I know, because I have experienced my own conversion. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I know he lives and actively engages in furthering his work and his glory, which is to bring to pass the eternal life of man. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his Gospel, fully restored, guided and directed by his hand. I know that he suffered for our sins, that he achieved the great and infinite Atonement, all for his love for us—for me—and for his love of God the Almighty, his Father, that we, his children, may one day return again to him.

I know Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God, that he was called and ordained to be the Lord’s instrument on earth when the truth was restored. I know that his successors in that holy calling as prophet, seer, and revelator, as well as president of the Lord’s church, are equally called of God, the Lord sustains and uplifts them, they wear the mantle authority upon their shoulders and have bestowed upon them the keys of the Priesthood of the Holy Order of God.

I know that President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet for this time, and, like every other prophet before him, He has been raising him up for this singular purpose from his birth. Do you remember when, as first counselor in the First Presidency, he came to Houston, to our chapel, and we were able to see him in person? We were not near enough to shake his hand, nor did I wish to add to the press to greet him, but as he walked into the room he brought with him such a spirit of God’s love as radiated out to encompass us all. I know he is God’s prophet, as surely as I know President Hinckley was God’s prophet, and the depth of my love and certainty for him I cannot express.

I know Jesus Christ is my lord and my savior, my son. I know his love for me is infinite. I begin to understand what it is to kneel in his presence as I petition to the Father and pray in his name because he has bestowed upon me that great privilege, as I know that experience, as overwhelming and indescribable as it is, is naught but the smallest inkling of what it will be when he at last calls me home.

Of these eternal truths I testify, in his name, even Jesus Christ, my Savior and Redeemer. Amen.

I love you. Be well, have faith, work hard, do good and rejoice! The Lord is King.


Mormon belief: Mormons believe God speaks

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Personal Revelation and the The Blessings of Forgiveness

Written by S. Bernards, to Elder BJ Bernards, on October 21, 2007

Elder B.J. (and family),

Thank you for sending your thoughts and love, as well as your learnings from the mission which have been so inspiring to us all. Thank you, also, for being such a good example for [my children].

Two recent events have taught me of God's mercy and care, and have helped me be reminded of the reality of his existence. May I share?

The first event is this: Three weeks before I finally found it again, I lost my wallet. And soon after loosing it I prayed that God would help me find it again, during the which prayer I felt an immediate assurance from the Spirit that I would find it. It was so surprising, then, that day after day it remained elusive! As each day went on and ended without my discovering the wallet's whereabouts, I found my patience wearing a little more thin, and my fears encroaching a little bit more on my faith. You see, I had a business trip to Utah scheduled, and I needed a driver's license to fly, and my corporate credit card to pay the expenses. Finally, on the Monday before the trip, my emotions reached a boiling point and I pleaded for an immediate solution, asking that I could have a miracle occur (in being guided to the wallet) so that I could share the experience with my children and thus teach them of God's reality and tender care. Immediately I felt/heard the thoughts: "Go to your closet!" So I went to my closet. "Look in your gym bag!"
"But," thought I, "I've looked through that gym bag a dozen times!" Nevertheless, I reached for the bag, and the first zipper I opened revealed the missing wallet. I was dumbstruck. "Julia," I exclaimed as I rushed out the door to the car for the drive to work, "I've got the family home evening lesson tonight! There's something that I want to share with the children about miracles!"

When I arrived at work I received an email from a colleague of South Korean heritage, who was recently converted to Christianity ([Protestant sect]) and who had asked me to be a spiritual mentor of sorts to help her learn about what Christianity was all about. (In Korea she grew up learning ancestral worship and the Buddhist philosophies, so the gospel of Jesus Christ was still very new for her). In her email she revealed that her Mom was dying of cancer and that over the weekend all of her family that had been living with her had flown to Georgia to be with her. She was lonely and afraid and without much hope, so I invited her to dinner, knowing that her friendship with Julia would likely bring her joy, hope, and a renewed perspective.

Dinner was great, and then family home evening began. For our friend (J-- K-- is her name), it was the first time she had ever experienced an in-home church service (aka Family Home Evening), and she shared with Julia and I that it was like being in "heaven on earth". During the story I shared with the children of my missing wallet, J-- listened transfixed and amazed--and I remembered that of all of the gospel principles that attracted her to Christianity, personal revelation topped her charts, and this story was evidence of the reality of personal revelation! As I bore my testimony that God loves us, and that he is very aware of our personal situations, and that he will help us in the time of our need if we ask him too, I received the knowledge that the timing of my wallet's disappearance & recovery was tied directly to J--'s needs. As a result, I felt both humbled and excited to be a tool in the Lord's hand to bring evidence of his existence to light.

The second event I'd like to share happened recently, as well, and is actually the third time in my life that a particular pattern has surfaced, namely: when you forgive someone, the Lord immediately blesses you, and sometimes with a big opportunity.

To explain, let me bring you back to 2001, when I worked for a new dot-com startup company that came to an abysmal end due to the founder of the company running away from the business with all of the remaining cash on hand. This was drastic for me because not only did the founder leave me bereft of a job, he also refused to pay my last month's wages! My emotions were very hot and angry towards this man, and thanks to the loving example of Julia and her challenge to "frankly forgive" him, I made the simple decision to drop my emotional burden into the Lord's keeping and to forgive him fully. Within days of doing so I received a call, out of the blue, from a consulting company in Florida, asking if I would be willing to take a great-paying consulting gig in Italy. Through prayer, Julia and I both received the knowledge that the blessing of this new job was a direct response to our willingness to forgive.

This pattern of being blessed for forgiving resurfaced again for the second time at the end of the consulting gig, when the consulting company took advantage of the lack of a written commitment to pay for our returning air fair, and took the thousands of dollars out of my last pay check. This, in effect, was an exact repeat of what the dot-com founder had just done to me! My last pay period's wages were stolen! Again, Julia loved me through my angry and upset emotions and challenged me to "frankly forgive" them. And again, I made the simple decision to drop my emotional burden into the Lord's keeping and to forgive them fully. Within days of doing so I received a call, out of the blue, from the CFO of the old dot-com company, stating that he and the CEO of the company had both secured a new job with the LHM automotive group, and had convinced the executives that the information systems needed a complete re-haul, and that they knew just the man to do it (and that he was just returning from a consulting gig in Italy...). And so there again, I was blessed with a new job opportunity immediately after being willing to forgive! There was no doubt in my mind that this second witness was a confirmation of the Lord's pattern.

Now that you have the context for what I'm about to describe, here is the third (and recent) time that this "forgiveness -> opportunity" pattern has surfaced in my life: Within [my employer's] headquarters is a woman who holds the authority (budget and procedural) for various "resource groups" (groups of employees aligned by cultural heritage/appreciation). As I had been asked to serve as an officer in one of those resource groups (the "Asian & Pacific Islander Resource Group"), I have come in contact this woman very frequently, and have gotten to know her predisposition towards inefficient bureaucratic policies in which her lone opinion overrides groups' desires, often to the detriment of all involved. Recently her power-struggles came to a head when she forced our resource group to go through her election process even though our members had voted to keep all officers in office (and if her desire was to rid the leadership team of the people with whom she butted heads, it worked, as the three team leaders who disliked her the most all stepped down from their post). Hearing the stories of these group leaders who stepped down served to heat up my emotions against this woman, as it seemed that she had a personal vendetta to fill, and that she used her position of power unjustly.

But then came my moment of truth when I was forced to decide between forgiving her and holding a grudge. The moment occurred at a black-tie gala banquet that Julia and I had been invited to attend, and it would have been very easy to pretend that I had not seen this woman across the ballroom. Yet perhaps because I was with Julia--and the fact that Julia has been so inspirational in my progress towards forgiving others--it was easy to make the simple decision to "frankly forgive" her. I walked Julia up to her to make the introduction, and cast my mind back on my interactions with the woman in order to share several points of her successes with Julia. The next week (this last Monday), I received a call from the woman...and what a change! She was kind and congenial, open and so friendly! And this was only the beginning of the blessings that the Lord decided to pour down. As I shared with you, the Lord has blessed me with new career opportunities each time I've come to a major moment of forgiveness, and this time was no exception! The very next day (Tuesday of this week) I had a chance encounter with the V.P. of New Store Format Development, and by the end of our short conversation he asked me to join his team (i.e., an internal job offer), stating that in order to convince me to join, he would give me the maximum possible promotion available under the H.R. regulations. (For some perspective, I heard from a colleague on his team that he has been inundated with about a dozen resumes a day from internal candidates who are all interested in leading the new store format strategy for [my company].)

And as if this weren't amazing enough, I received another job opportunity that makes me so excited I can scarcely control my breathing and beating heart: I've been asked to consider working directly for the CEO of [my company] (my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss) as his right-hand man and strategic adviser. Granted, I'm the most junior (by far!) to make the short-list of 10 candidates, so the likelihood of me being selected may be remote (and it will be a miracle if I am selected!). However just to be named to this list is such a blessing and an honor.

So there you have it, two recent events that have taught me of God's mercy and care, and have helped me be reminded of the reality of his existence. I know that God lives, and that his commandments bring blessings worth far more than the cost of our obedience. I love you and am inspired by your service to our Heavenly Father. God bless you!


Your brother Sam

Friday, June 27, 2008

To Gain A Personal Testimony

June 27, 2008

Dear Son,

As I mentioned in the post recently forwarded to you, your latest email has sparked quite a bit of conversation as to the best strategy in answering your investigator's questions. I needn't go into who recommended what. You don't need any prompting from me to figure that out, considering the participants on the family list. I also definitely don't need to remind you of what you know and practice so well, and have been for the past twenty months.

However, I do feel the need to be of some use to you and your investigator, so have posted on our family journal blog Uncle Alan's references, as well as updated our "Learn About Our Religion" and "Ask A Question" links with sites which may help answer his questions about Joseph Smith. Hopefully, he will realize that quotations can be distorted to seem the opposite of the intent when quoted out of context. Also, I think the best thing for you to do is refer him to Internet sites where the discussion is fair and truthful, rather than get caught up in a battle of wits, rather than invoking the Spirit in your discussions. He (or anyone you like) can use our blog as a jumping-off point, if he likes:

All that said, the discussion both with you and the family has again roused subjects of my own contemplation, and, especially since I've been praying for missionary opportunities, I thought I should share them with you. Thanks for allowing me to spout at you. I know it's a tough job, but someone has to do it, and, lucky you, it's your turn.

First, on prayer: for the past couple of months, since Dallas' wedding, Grandpa's illness, and everything attendant with all that chaos, my temple attendance has been next to nothing. Considering that I had previously been going at least every two weeks, if not every week, I deeply felt the absence in my life but was at a loss to do anything about it. Fortunately, things have settled down again, all my energy isn't poured into getting from one day to the next, and Sister Connors and I have started up again. The difference is indescribable.

During that spiritual dearth, I felt myself slipping into numbness — the best way that I can describe it. My hunger and thirst for righteousness gradually receded. My callings suffered, my scripture reading became sporadic and then stopped, as did my prayers, until I got to the point where I actually did not want to get down on my knees. I avoided making that connection because I knew the results before I experienced them.

I have recently finished reading the Book of Mormon, and the last letter Mormon wrote his son, Moroni, is truly disheartening and tragic, and up until recently, I felt unfathomable. I could not understand how a people so blessed, having not only faith but knowledge of our Lord and Savior, having countless witnesses' accounts of all they had seen and heard when they thrust their hands into his side and bathed the scars on his hands and feet with their tears — when they knew what it was to be moved by the Spirit — how could they possibly turn away from the blessings of the Gospel so firmly within their grasp? How could they commit such atrocities and abominations and embrace the darkness as thick and binding as was brilliant the light in which they once had dwelt? I could not understand it.

But then, I caught myself thinking, 'I don't want to say my prayers. I'll just be prompted to do the things I'm not doing.'

My son, I have had some excruciatingly intense experiences while on my knees, pleading for my Father's blessings and invoking the name of His Son, as is my promised right. I have received confirmation of the Spirit for which there are no words to describe. It cannot be spoken or written because those are physical means of communication, while this surety and rejoicing and humbling experience was spoken spirit to spirit.

I know you know of what I speak, as I know you have been blessed with equal certainty of our Father's infinite love for you. I know your soul has been tuned to the spiritual with the utmost care, and for this I will be eternally grateful.

I had had that experience and countless others in which I knew my prayers were answered, I recognized the promptings of the Spirit which guided and instructed me as our Father's direct response to those prayers, and yet, I did not want to say my prayers out of sheer laziness. I did not want to read my scriptures because the instruction I knew I would receive would be counter to what I wished to do.

Then, it was Sunday and everything seemed to center on prayer and personal revelation, and I knew the Lord was attempting to instruct me through physical conduits, since I had shut off that spiritual, or, at the very least, cranked it down to a trickle. The lessons of the books of Mormon and Moroni returned again to my mind, and I began to understand. How quickly and how easily would the Adversary take over my life if I shunned the light because I felt the Lord asked too much of me, or the promptings of the Spirit were inconvenient?

The Brother of Jared presented to my pondering as another example. Already a prophet of God, he knew the Lord's plan to punish the wickedness of the people of Babble, and I am certain prophesied amongst them by way of warning. When that failed, he pleaded with the Lord to spare from the curse first his family and then his friends, and to lead them into a land more choice than any other. He had that much confidence in the Lord, of the same magnitude and certainty as Jared had confidence in the worthiness of his brother to approach the Lord. The Brother of Jared asked, and because of his righteousness, because he prayed for so long and so well, the Lord blessed him for his faithfulness. (Ether 1)

The Brother of Jared had all that, then prospered, yet, after they had been lead by the Lord for years and reached a land of bounty, he ceased to pray. Why? Surely because he was comfortable. The status quo was good enough for him and his people, and if he should pray, perhaps the Lord's instruction would be inconvenient and difficult, which we know it was.

But the Brother of Jared endured the remonstrance of the Lord with humility and sorrow. He repented and proved his faith so mighty that the Lord could not keep the veil from his eyes. (Ether 3:6-16) His faith ceased because it became knowledge. (Ether 3:17-20) His surety so much prevailed, the faith of his people had grown so strong, that they willingly surrendered themselves to the protection and mercy of God as they thrust ships without rudder or sail into the sea and then sealed themselves inside. For their faith and obedience, the Lord poured out blessings upon them such that they became the greatest civilization the world had yet known. (Ether 6:4-12)

And so, I contemplated these things and knew the Lord was reproving me in his own gentle, loving manner. However, to reiterate the point, for the next couple of days, in Relief Society, in various meetings, every time someone looked around for someone to give the prayer, their eye fell upon me. I took the hint and have already been blessed, as I know blessings will continue to flow as I allow the Spirit to guide me.

I guess I'm writing this because I've also gained a wider vantage in respect to investigators. Often times, I hear "they won't commit to pray" about the truthfulness of the gospel or of the Book of Mormon, and I think, why ever not? I believe that often the answer lies in their comfort and convenience. Perhaps they apprehend a positive answer with all its attendant implications, and it simply is not convenient or simple to make such dramatic changes in their lives. It is quite simply easier to refuse asking and thus avoid any answer, than to ask and then defy the answer given of the Lord. Perhaps this also sheds a bit of illumination as to why people hesitate in reading the Book of Mormon.

On to Joseph Smith.

Indicative of my own self-doubts, rather than any uncertainty of the Gospel, in the past I have frequently wondered if I would have found the Church if I had not been born into it. As you know, I am a very cerebral person. I am also a very stubborn and overly self-confident one. I don't like to give way in my opinions. Admitting myself in error equals humiliation, as much as do less than perfect scores on any type of exam, test, or just-for-fun quiz.

Knowing that about myself, I would find myself wondering, should I have been raised a Catholic or Baptist, or Buddhist, for that matter, how I would act should the missionaries knock on my door. Would I politely listen long enough for the Spirit to speak to me, or would I simply treat them as any other door-to-door salesman pestering me with product I have no use for, or probably worse? If the Spirit did move me, would I heed it? Or would I simply discount it or dismiss the prompting because I was perfectly comfortable as things were?

Too often I surmised that I would have turned away the missionaries, and fearing that about myself, was ever more grateful to Heavenly Father for not making that requirement of me. They say that the Lord will not ask of you anything that you and he cannot accomplish together, and I often pondered the idea that my pride and reliance upon my intellect would be an obstacle too great to overcome, and so he allowed me to be born into a family active in the Church, so that the Gospel would be firmly established in me as I matured.

But, no matter how I was raised, there came a time when I had to develop a testimony of my own, when I had to ask the hard questions and seek my own personal answers from the Lord. I had to learn to recognize the promptings of the Spirit, not only rely upon the testimonies of others. Such a flame as that cannot illuminate a soul, as it too soon flickers out when removed from the sustenance of another's fire.

As I have grown older, as I have strengthened my spiritual muscles, as it were, as I have come to understand so much more about life and religion and all the traps and pitfalls the Adversary sets in the way of us all, I have reached the certainty that I would have found the Gospel. There are quite simply too many ambiguities and contradictions in other creeds, too many questions left unanswered, and I know I could not have accepted no answer at all as the definitive response to my searching.

What is more, my spirituality is an aspect of my life of infinitely greater import than my intellectuality, and that is as vital to me as breathing. I have to be learning. I have to be seeking and finding. My brain requires the exercise, but without the sustenance to my soul which the Gospel offers, I know I would be driven to seek it out. Knowing who I am, knowing my relationship to my Heavenly Father and my brother, Jesus Christ, defines my sense of self. In the absence of that surety, I know I would feel the message of the missionaries fill that great void in my life and I would hunger and thirst for it. I would feast upon the bounty they offered me.

Truth is truth. It rings in my soul, and I cannot imagine not knowing what I know. I cannot fathom a life without faith and hope.

And all is based upon the Book of Mormon.

The scriptures are there in defense of the Gospel. There are explanations and disambiguations enough to clarify the misinformation and disprove the lies with which adversaries of the Church bombard the Internet and other media. Studies enough offer proof that no one of Joseph's age, education, and background could have possibly written the Book of Mormon. Allowing for context answers every concern, especially when one reestablishes one's perspective from 21st century post-modern society to one of Joseph Smith's contemporaries.

The era in which history played out when the Church was restored is entirely foreign to our own. The boundaries and language may be the same, but one must consider the vernacular, social mores, society and culture in which Joseph Smith lived. One must allow for a youth growing into manhood and struggling with all the challenges fulfilling the role the Lord assigned him. Only then can one even begin to assess him fairly.

But, none of it matters. Nothing proves the Gospel except for the Book of Mormon, and nothing can prove the Book of Mormon but the Holy Ghost.

I have seen it posted that the Church cannot even produce the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was said to have been translated, and this in itself is proof of the fallacy. That question has more than once crossed my mind as I wondered why the Lord did not allow the plates to remain with Joseph and thus prove he spoke the truth. The response that the Lord requires the exercise of our faith seems a pat answer, a catch-all for everything yet to be illuminated, but when one truly considers it, the truth is, it would have made absolutely no difference at all.

Should President Monson call a press conference tomorrow and announce that the Church has been in possession of the plates all this time, and that the time had at last come to reveal them to the world, should he offer them up to be examined by independent panels of scholars and scientists, should all that investigation prove the translation of the Book of Mormon accurate word for word, it would not matter.

Consider: first, there would be a huge lawsuit between the Church, the Community of Christ (the reorganized church), and the Native American tribes indigenous to upstate New York as to whom exactly actually owned the plates. After a decade of legal proceedings, the linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists and theologians would battle for the right to examine them, as has been done with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then, after everything, they would simply become an archaeological and anthropological treasure, and their great worth would be in the evidence of an heretofore unknown North American culture with some Judeo-Christian influences in their traditions and legends.

All that would not more prove that Jesus Christ visited the Nephites following his resurrection than the Bible proves he was resurrected at all. The Israelites fled from the Egyptians on a dry path through the Red Sea, but they still built an idol to worship in God's stead. Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees themselves witnessed the miracles performed by Christ, but they crucified him even still. History is laden with examples of men denying the proofs offered, turning away from the truth it better suited them.

Those prone to disbelief would disbelieve still because all the evidence in the world cannot replace the Light of Christ which dwells in us all, and cannot begin to counterfeit the testimony borne to us by the Holy Ghost. Only he, as the third member of the Godhead, can provide us with the proof and certainty that we need to sustain our faith.

As long as fifty years ago, brass and copper plates inscribed and bound in rings, dated to Lehi's time, began to be unearthed in the Mediterranean, Africa, and North America. Archaeological evidence emerges on a regular basis to resolve questions and anomalies which have been offered in the past as proofs of the fallacy of the Book of Mormon. Anthropologists and linguists trace evidence in the Book of Mormon to middle eastern societal norms unknown to the western scholars in the early 19th century, let alone unsophisticated day workers born and raised in the virgin frontiers of an emerging country. Professors of religion independent of Church influence have stated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is nearest to that established by Christ himself, but — but.

But, one has to believe the Book of Mormon is true. One has to believe that Joseph Smith translated it and therefore he really did see God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, the Angel Moroni showed him where the plates and other ancient artifacts were concealed, and he was directed from on high to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Which I know he was and he did, because I know beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is true. Each and every time I read it, the Spirit witnesses to me of it's verity, of the truthfulness of the Gospel it illuminates, and of the divinity of Jesus Christ, that he truly is the Son of God and that he lived, he suffered and died for our sins, and that he rose and lived again. I know these things. Even as I write them, the Spirit again burns within me, further strengthening my testimony and recalling to my mind those experiences testifying of the same which have nigh well overcome me with their intensity and power.

Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He established this Church under the direction of Jesus Christ, who stands at its head. The heavens are not barred against revelation. Thomas S. Monson is his anointed this day and holds the keys and powers necessary to act in Christ's name. The Lord is no respecter of persons, and those spiritual gifts with which he blessed his children in biblical times are ours by right, under the same conditions of faith and obedience.

The Book of Mormon is true, its purpose to testify of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my lord, my savior, my brother and my friend. Of these things I testify in His name, and with all my love.