In January 2017 my brother-in-law had a heart attack. Most of the men in my husband’s family and even many of the women have heart problems. Many have died young from heart attacks, and it seems they are genetically programmed for heart disease. My brother-in-law is a healthy man who works hard outdoors a lot, and yet he still had a heart attack. For me, this was a wakeup call. My husband is 10 years younger than his brother and already has a heart problem. Because of his genetic background, even though he is not over weight and is otherwise a healthy person, his heart doctor put him on statins.
I love to cook and I love things with butter and cream in them, and anything salty. Probably the majority of the food I made was high in fat and salt. In reality this kind of diet is not great for someone with heart disease. I knew I had to make immediate and drastic changes to our diet or my husband would be following in his brother’s footsteps in a few years.
The first thing I did was to buy a Mediterranean cookbook. I had heard for many years that the Mediterranean diet was the best. I read the book from cover to cover. Any food or spice unfamiliar to me I bought on Amazon. I recognized I needed the correct ingredients to do it properly. This began my love for cooking with whole grains and legumes. It was quite a learning curve for me because there were so many spices and techniques that were unknown to me. When I first started I would spend 3 hours fixing dinner, which was not only too long but it was also exhausting. Soon I learned little tricks to speed things up. Before long we were eating lots of whole grains, legumes and fresh vegetables, and very little meat. Not only were the recipes healthy but the food was delicious.
I began to study about different grains and their nutritional value. I learned about pairing them with certain kinds of vegetables and spices and fined tuned the recipes I was using. There was so much to learn and the more I learned the more I realized how God had made all of these wonderful, healthy foods available for us to eat. In many ways it was very exciting to learn about this! A side effect of learning something new is wanting to share that knowledge with others. I let the Relief Society leaders in my ward know that I was willing to teach a class on whole grains. I just had to let others in on this good news!
Last January the Relief Society Leaders of my ward took me up on my offer and had me teach a class about cooking with whole grains. I worked really hard to prepare for the class. To start with, I made a true and false test about different types of grains. That became my teaching platform as I answered the test questions. I also included a grain yielding chart from dry to cooked for each of the grains. There is a local store that sells bin items that includes a huge variety of grains. I visited the store and wrote down the different grains they sold and their prices. I also chose about 10 recipes that I had fine tuned and typed those. All of these things went into the packets I made for the class members.
I taught the class on a Thursday night and the Sunday before, I finally finished all of my preparations, except for actually making the recipes. I wanted the class members to taste the food to see that it was really good. As I typed the last of the papers for my packet I was feeling pretty good. I was excited to be done except for the food preparations, because this had consumed me for several weeks. I went to bed feeling satisfied.
That night, as I was sleeping, in the middle of a dream I had the words come strongly to my mind, “You forgot to type the nutrition sheets.” I remember thinking, “Oh, I did forget about those.” On Monday morning I awoke and the first thing I thought about was the reminder I had during my dream. It was a very distinctive reminder because it had nothing to do with my crazy dream. And I knew that God was reminding about something I had planned to do but then had totally forgotten about.
I immediately got up and went to work. I found all of the nutrition information I had planned on using about the various grains. It took the whole morning but I was able to get it done. The night I taught I had a table set up with each of the grain fact sheets and a dish of the specific grain next to it. Without this reminder I would have been missing a big part of the presentation. If I had remembered later, I would have been rushed to get it done. I was so glad for the timely reminder.
From this experience I was reminded that God is aware of us individually and He cares about the things we are doing. Even with all of the billions of people on this earth, He cares about the women of my ward. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be successful in the things we are doing, especially those things that bless the lives of others. Because He cares, He reminded me of something important. At least, something that was important to me.
When I was a teenager my mom once told me, “If it’s important to you, it’s important to our Father in Heaven.” I have always remembered this teaching. God loves each of us, and will guide and direct our paths, sometimes when we least expect it. Sometimes it will be a small thing like a reminder in a dream. Sometimes it will be something big and important, that is life altering. I was reminded from this experience that God is in the details of our lives!
At the beginning of this year I set a goal to attend the temple once a week. My temple attendance has always been spotty. When my kids were young it seemed I was always pregnant or nursing, and so it was difficult to go, and of course I was taking care of little kids. I also struggled with migraines and on my good days I had so much catching up to do that temple attendance was at the bottom of my list. I felt guilty about not going very often but I really was in survival mode in those days.
This year seemed to be the year for me to actively access the blessings of temple attendance. I wanted to attend once a week recognizing that some weeks it just wasn’t going to happen. Some weeks I would still be struggling with migraines, or traveling, or watching grandkids. But I knew that most weeks I could do this.
Even though I set this goal, some weeks I would forget about it, which is really a poor excuse for not going. I would realize, as I looked back over my week, I could have easily gone and decided I needed be more proactive about it. For me that meant scheduling it in my calendar at the beginning of the week. That solved the problem for me and it actually helped me be more organized about other things too.
By the end of January I was doing really well and getting to the temple most weeks. Since I do a lot of family history, I have a lot of family name cards to take with me to do the proxy work. One of the things I really like about the temple is that it displays God’s love for all of His children. When I go to the temple I am able to represent someone who is dead, who was unable in this life to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. That way the person I am representing has a chance to receive the necessary ordinance work. This tells me that God loves all of His children and gives everyone a chance to access the blessings of the temple.
One of the reasons I wanted to start going to the temple more is because President Russell M. Nelson promised us that we would receive additional strength and blessings by serving in the temple. He also said in October 2018, “Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater. I plead with you to take a prayerful look at how you spend your time. Invest time in your future and in that of your family. If you have reasonable access to a temple, I urge you to find a way to make an appointment regularly with the Lord—to be in His holy house—then keep that appointment with exactness and joy. I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples.” Since I deeply feel the need for some miracles in my life, I wanted to do as President Nelson asked.
It’s interesting to me that he used the word “plead” in the above quote. One time I went through one of his talks and marked how many times he said plead, urge, exhort, encourage and invite. His word choices amazed me and I took more seriously what he was saying. I feel his sincerity and also his urgency to help us become better disciples of Jesus Christ. One of the ways to become a better disciple of Christ for me was to attend the temple once a week.
After two months of regular temple attendance I noticed something one day. I felt stronger spiritually. I felt like I was better able to resist temptations and better deal with some of my personal weaknesses. I just felt stronger. It wasn’t after any particular temple trip that I noticed this, and I didn’t have any great revelatory experiences, but I just felt stronger. It was like God was giving me a glimpse of the power of the temple, and I definitely felt like I was receiving the promised strength from temple attendance.
Someone recently asked me what I thought about the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t really have an answer for her because it seems my life hasn’t changed that much. I still do a lot of family history, I continue to play games with my daughter and help her with homework, I do housework and meals. I have a scripture project that I’m still working on. I definitely miss church and meeting with the good people of my ward, and going out to dinner or the movies. But when I really thought about it I realized what I really miss is temple attendance. I had set a goal and was actively pursuing it, and I was reaping the promised blessings. I was going even when sometimes it was difficult but I was doing it. Not only did I feel strengthened but I was achieving a goal, and that in and of itself was a good thing.
The restrictions from the virus won’t last forever. Someday we will be back to our every day lives and I will pick up my goal and again start attending the temple once a week. Life will get back to normal. This virus has presented me with the opportunity though to recognize and reflect upon the blessings I have received from my temple attendance. It has also given me the confirmation that President Nelson knows what he’s talking about. He really is a prophet of God! I hope to always remember these truths.
I am on a medication that is very expensive. Every year, in order to receive it at a discounted price, I have to phone the company and answer a few questions. During this call I also have to listen to a 10 minute scripted commentary about the drug. The young woman I was speaking with was enunciating very clearly her words, even though it was quite clear that English was not her first language. I could understand the individual words she was saying but I still had no idea what she was talking about. I think it was part legalese and part accent, but I only had occasional glimpses that made sense.
Reading Isaiah for me was a lot like this. I clearly knew what the individual words were but I still had no idea what they were saying or meaning. Occasionally something would make sense, but overall I was totally lost. Because of this, I dreaded reading or studying Isaiah, even though members of my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have long been admonished to study Isaiah. Even Christ tells the Nephites about the importance of Isaiah. In 3 Nephi 23:1 He said, “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” So it’s not just a suggestion but a commandment! And Christ tells us to be diligent and that Isaiah’s words are great. Clearly I was missing something.
Guilt is good sometimes, if it motivates change. I also had a desire to be obedient. So, I decided I would make another effort at studying Isaiah, at trying to make it comprehensible to me. I wanted to understand what it was truly saying and not just read the words. I had my scriptures and a study guide and so I began. It ended up taking me a year and several months, going from verse to verse, writing extensive notes next to each verse. It’s probably good I didn’t know how long it was going to take me because It might have been even more overwhelming.
Part way through I wondered why I was doing this because it was so taking so long and it was sometimes tedious. It also seemed like to a lot of gloom and doom to me. But, I kept at it. At one point I thought if I had written Isaiah I could have said the same things in about 5 chapters. It just seemed like there was so much death and destruction.
But every so often I would find something that truly was beautifully written, almost like poetry. But then it turns out that much of Isaiah is poetry, just not the kind I’m used to. I loved how he described the Savior in Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Prince of Peace.” These words are so beautiful they were set to music by Handel in his oratorio Messiah.
There were other things that stood out to me as beautiful too and I began to understand not just the cultural differences but also his ways of expression that differ greatly from our society’s way of thinking. I kept at it and slowly I began to understand it better.
I don’t know at what point I began to actually enjoy my studying. I don’t know when I changed my thinking from dread to pleasure, but I noticed that when I was reading something else written in the old testament I thought, “Isaiah would have said that so much prettier!” What a shock it was when I actually recognized what I was thinking.
Somehow I began to think of much of Isaiah as beautiful. Oh there’s still a lot of death and destruction, because a lot of Isaiah is also history and people often make very poor choices. But in between the gloom and doom there are also some beautiful passages where Isaiah is testifying of our Savior and His love for us. Passages where he tells us the blessings of keeping the commandments, where he teaches us about the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gathering of Israel. Beautiful words that testify that Jesus is the Messiah! No wonder Christ said “great are the words of Isaiah.”
Even though I have really only scratched the surface of studying Isaiah and I recognize I have so much more to learn from it. I can honestly say I no longer dread the thought of studying his great words. Instead, I treasure his promises like those found in Isaiah 54 where Christ promises peace, mercy and everlasting kindness to His followers. These beautiful words teach me of the Savior’s love and bring me peace and joy. These words teach me that if I am diligent, I can find beauty in the words of Isaiah.
Naughty or Nice
In church the Sunday before Christmas, my daughter who has Down syndrome, was asked by a man if Santa was going to visit her. She excitedly said yes, and then the man asked her if she had been “nice.” She immediately got what he was referring to and said, “I’ve been nice, but he’s been naughty,” pointing to her dad. We all burst out laughing because what she said was very unexpected and it was actually funny. She has a good sense of humor.
Because of things like this, Down syndrome in some ways is puzzling to me. There are some things my daughter’s not good at and probably never will be. She can do basic math but even that’s iffy. She reads really well but her comprehension is not great. I don’t know how many times she called 911 and the police came to our home. No matter how many times we told her to not do that, she kept doing it. We finally got rid of our land line in order to prevent it.
She will wear clothes that are dirty and then put them back in her drawers. In the mornings before school, I have to look her over to make sure she’s not wearing something dirty. The only time she will wear socks is if we are going bowling, so her feet and shoes are usually stinky. She’s not allowed to take her shoes off in the car!
Normal Human Things
Even as I write these things I know they are all small things, even petty things. They are also normal human being things. Things that even other people without disabilities might do or struggle with.
She’s also got some great abilities though. She’s got a great sense of humor, as evidenced by the story above. Often she says things that are really funny, and she knows she’s being funny. I can see the sly look on her face when she’s saying something funny. She’s great at board games and gets the strategy for many games, and she loves card games. Yet she struggles with jigsaw puzzles. I keep showing her how the jigsaw puzzles work and she keeps trying and is getting better but I doubt she will ever be able to do one by herself.
Something else she’s really good at is cleaning. She cleans her room and bathroom every Saturday. She has jobs that she does every day after school, and she actually does well with them. My daughter sets the table nightly, and helps clean up after dinner, usually putting the left over food into smaller containers. Frequently she helps me with some yard work, and lots of other projects I have. She has fractured skills. Like I said, Down syndrome is somewhat puzzling to me.
She Can Tell Time
She can tell time and wears an analog watch. Usually she gets herself up in the morning at the right time without using an alarm clock. I’m not sure how she does that but she rarely oversleeps. I have other family members who can only tell time on a digital clock, so it really is amazing to me that she has this ability.
She tunes into people and their emotions and is emotional responsive. If someone is sad or hurting in some way, she is immediately by his or her side giving them hugs or just sitting with them and maybe holding that person’s hand.
She’s also spiritually sensitive. Sometimes in meetings she tells me she can feel the Holy Ghost. She reads her scriptures nightly, even though she has little comprehension of what she’s reading. It’s remarkable that she always says her prayers because most people with intellectual disabilities are very literal. She prays to a Being she cannot see and yet she prays, and she knows her Heavenly Father loves her. This is a young woman of great faith.
I’m Not Blind to Her Disabilities
She is so limited in some ways and so advanced in other ways. She has her talents and skills, and she has things she’s not good at, and probably never will be. I’m not blind to her disabilities but maybe really, she is just more like an average person than seems apparent, since all people have things they’re good at and things they’re not good at. Maybe she’s just a person who has her quirks and ways of doing things, like most other people.
I know there are people who are often puzzled by the things I do or don’t do, or even can’t do. So, really I probably shouldn’t be puzzled by some aspects of Down syndrome. I just need to look at it differently. Really, she’s just another person in my life that I sometimes get frustrated with, I’m happy to be with or even perplexed by. She is someone I love and admire. She is my daughter.
Lately I have been thinking about one of my favorite scripture stories. It is the story of Martha and Mary found in Luke 10:38-42. It’s really only a few verses but it’s a story that teaches much. The story starts with Martha receiving Christ into her home. She is busy getting food and her home ready to receive such a beloved guest. Her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of the Savior. It’s interesting to read,”Mary, which also sat at Jesus feet,” because it implies that Martha often is found there too. But this day, each is showing love in her own, but different way. Martha is fussing about making sure everything is perfect and Mary is spending time with Christ.
Then Martha asks Christ to intervene. She is unhappy that she is doing all the work while Mary gets to relax and just enjoy visiting, and she wants Christ to do something about it. Christ’s answer to her reflects several things. He recognizes Martha’s hard work and careful manner and thus He accepts her devoted service to Him. He also tells her that how Mary is serving Him is good: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary’s devotion and display of love are clearly accepted by Christ.
For years it seemed to me that Christ was saying Mary’s way of showing love was better. I read it as Mary had chosen the better part, better than Martha. Then one day I noticed it said she had chosen the good part, not the better part. It didn’t say that Mary’s way was better. There was no comparison happening. Both ways were acceptable. Both ways were good. They were just different.
The problem was when Martha wanted Christ to tell Mary to help her. It was as if she was saying her way was better, she was judging. She didn’t recognize Mary’s efforts at demonstrating her love for Christ. Another problem was that she didn’t address Mary directly. So, not only was she judging, she also wasn’t taking responsibility for the herself or the situation. She was wanting someone else to solve the problem when she was quite capable of doing it. There are so many subtle elements to this story, and so many things I relate to.
I think one of the reasons I like this story is because I am sometimes Martha and sometimes Mary. When I’m Martha I’m often fussing around trying to make sure everything is perfect, usually with good intentions. I am showing my love through my food and service. But sometimes I’m also thinking my way of doing something is better. Unfortunately, sometimes I judge others and their ways as inferior. It’s subtle and I don’t always recognize that’s what I’m doing, but it is what I am doing when I criticize someone else’s efforts, even if it’s just in my thoughts.
I can be Martha when I think my way of studying the scriptures is better, or how I discipline my children, or how I fulfill my calling. Any time I think my way of doing something is better than someone else I am being Martha. Sometimes I don’t want to deal with problems and I hope someone will fix things for me even though I’m quite capable of it. Just wave a magic wand so I can have my way.
In some ways I’m not painting a very pretty picture of Martha, which would not be accurate. This is only one side of her and the scriptures show her to be a faithful disciple. She was devoted to Christ, a woman of great faith. Martha wasn’t perfect but followed her Savior with complete trust. She was a worker and served others, and we need people like that. Where would we be without the doers of the world?
Sometimes though, I am also Mary, and my priorities are people I love. I concentrate on what’s important and try to keep it simple. My focus is on the Savior and I make Him my priority. I try harder to live with purpose and intention. But dinner does need to be fixed, and laundry done and children need to be tended. People need to show up at their jobs and lawns need to be mowed. As nice as it might be, I cannot spend all of my time studying the scriptures or reading conference talks.
Perhaps I am painting another inaccurate picture. The scriptures show Mary to be just as devoted to her Savior as Martha was, and undoubtedly she was a worker too. It seems Martha was used to Mary working alongside her in the kitchen and was upset when she wasn’t helping. Mary’s way of showing love and devotion was just different from Martha’s, each good and acceptable.
Ideally I would be a little bit of Martha and a little bit of Mary, or maybe Martha in some circumstances and Mary in others. Perhaps that is one of the lessons from this story. For me to serve and show love in my way and also let others do the same without judging. To recognize that Christ doesn’t compare me with anyone else. For me to also be just as devoted to my Savior as these two women were.
I grew up without a lot of family around. We didn’t live near any extended family and I didn’t have a sense of aunts and uncles, or cousins. I knew what they were and the genetic ties but they had little meaning to me. I had grandparents but I didn’t see them often. They lived far away and were not very involved in our lives. There had also been several marriages and divorces, and the new husbands were my “grandpa.” I remember being about 17 when one day I did some thinking about it and figured out who my real grandpa was.
Since I have married I have a better understanding of extended family relationships and their importance. When we were actually planning our wedding, my husband wanted to have his aunts and uncles at the ceremony. He grew up with them very involved in his life. He knew all of his cousins and there were dozens of them. His extended family gathered often and they even had family reunions. I knew about family reunions but had never been to one before.
Since space was limited at our wedding, and I didn’t have a good understanding of family connections, aunts and uncles were unimportant to me. So, we didn’t have them come to the ceremony. Now that I am an aunt I see it differently. I love my nieces and nephews and feel a connection to them. I love going to their weddings and family gatherings. I rejoice with them at the births of their children and other life events.
If I had it to do over again I would have found a way to have my husband’s aunts and uncles at our ceremony. I see the importance of family and family connections now. I see the value of having aunts and uncles involved in our lives.
I also like the titles of aunt and uncle, or grandma and grandpa, and I like these titles to be included with the person’s name. Titles tell us how we are connected to each other. They recognize that we are family. Titles give us a sense of belonging. They help you to know that your relationship is special and that love is there.
Recently one of my daughters referred to me by my first name with her child. I told her to include Grandma with my name. I explained to her why I think titles are important. It’s because I want my grandchildren to know I am not just another person in their lives. I want my grandchildren to know how we are connected, that we are family, that we belong together. I want my grandchildren to know that our relationship is special and that I love them.
I have a daughter who has many wonderful qualities. She’s kind, the first to volunteer to help others with their projects and she’s very thoughtful. She’s faithful to her covenants and works hard being a better disciple of Christ. On the other hand she’s not super organized or tidy. I have told her that being organized and tidy will make life go smoother and help her family run better, but it won’t get her into heaven. But kindness will, and she is one of the kindest people I know.
Kindness just makes life more enjoyable. It makes hard times better. It smooths over faults and leaves the recipient and giver both blessed. Kindness costs nothing but gives much. Simple acts of soft words returned for harsh, or even just ignoring meanness, creates peace and love. When I see people go out of their ways to be kind, it always touch me. Kindness warms peoples hearts and their lives.
My daughter often reaches out to others with her art, with kind words, or with friendship. She is simple in her acts of kindness. Once when she was a teenager we were at a restaurant. A child from another table came over and started talking to her. Eventually the child pulled a chair up to our table and the waitress brought his food to him and he ate with my daughter (his parents were at the neighboring table and gave permission). Mostly she just chatted with him but she was kind and he wanted to be with her. Children have always been drawn to her. I told her once that they must sense her inner goodness. She is a kind person and people are can see it in her face. Jesus Christ also reached out to others in kindness.
Joseph B. Wirthlin, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke on kindness in General Conference, in April 2005. He said,”Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others.” So often this is hard, especially when someone has been unkind to us. It is tempting to return harsh words for harsh words. It is difficult to be kind when someone has hurt us. And yet, Christ did it. He returned kindness for malice and hatred. He spent His life being kind.
“Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion. He healed the sick. He spent much of His time ministering to the one or many. He spoke compassionately to the Samaritan woman who was looked down upon by many. He instructed His disciples to allow the little children to come unto Him. He was kind to all who had sinned, condemning only the sin, not the sinner…Yet His greatest act of kindness was found in His atoning sacrifice, thus freeing all from the effects of death, and all from the effects of sin, on conditions of repentance,” said Elder Wirthlin. To be truly Christlike we need to be kind.
Elder Wirthlin continued:
“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?” Love them.
“If they are obnoxious?” Love them.
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?” Love them.
“Wayward?” The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.”
I love these thoughts from Elder Wirthlin. Love is the basis of kindness. Christ loved others and He was kind. Our great task then, if we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, would be to learn to love others and to develop kindness. It’s funny to me how love is the basis for every good thing, which is probably why loving our neighbor is the second great commandment.
There’s a short little poem I like by an anonymous author: “I have wept in the night, for shortness of sight, that to somebody’s needs made me blind; But I never have yet, felt a tinge of regret, for being a little too kind.” I have met many kind people who inspire me to be better, who help me want to be more kind. My daughter is one of them. She recently texted me synonyms for my name and told me that’s how she feels about me, and told me she love me. Such a simple thing to do. Such a kind thing to do. Her kindness warms my heart and life.
When I was a youngster I rode my bike almost every where I went. I loved the freedom it gave me. I really liked racing down the street with the wind in my face. I got really good at riding with no hands and felt really cool. So cool in fact, I thought I could ride my bike with no hands and my eyes closed. I let go of the handlebars, sat up straight and closed my eyes. Three-seconds later I was lying flat on my back on the grass with the wind knocked out of me. I had hit the concrete curb and flipped over the handlebars. I was really lucky I landed on grass instead of concrete. I remember looking around to see if anyone saw this really idiotic incident. I was more worried about someone seeing the stupid thing I did than actually the stupid thing I did. Why it didn’t occur to me that it was foolish and dangerous to ride withy eyes closed, I’ll never know. That was the first and last time I ever rode my bike with my eyes closed. Not looking where I am going is a dangerous thing.
I’ve noticed there are other ways I haven’t been looking where I am going too. Most days I get up and get my daughter off to school and do a little housework. With most of my kids grown and gone my life is simpler these days. So simple in fact that I noticed that I wander through each day without a real purpose, without a lot of direction.
In the past I was busy from when I got up to when I went to bed. It seemed there was hardly time to even breathe most days. It’s different now. I still have things to do and I am still busy but it occurred to me that I really don’t have a purpose, a direction to my life. I’ve been asking myself what do I really want to accomplish at this stage? What is it I really want to have happen. When I look back at my life in 10 years what will I wish I had done? I don’t just want to be busy. I want to be busy with something meaningful. I guess I’m trying not to go through the rest of my life with my eyes closed.
Finding my purpose in life at this stage of my existence is challenging. I want some overall sense of direction to each day. I think volunteer work is important and even meaningful but that is an action, a result of a goal or purpose. As I have sought for direction and continue to think about what is truly important, I have been reminded of a quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This comes from one of my all time favorite talks by him, entitled The Love of God.
“God the Eternal Father did not give that first great commandment because He needs us to love Him. His power and glory are not diminished should we disregard, deny, or even defile His name. His influence and dominion extend through time and space independent of our acceptance, approval, or admiration.
No, God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God!
For what we love determines what we seek.
What we seek determines what we think and do.
What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”
Dieter Uchtdorf, November 2009 Ensign
I have written before about trying to focus more on the first and great commandment found in Matthew 22:37, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And it seems that all my roads lately keep leading back to this concept. To let the love of God, my love of God, be my focus and purpose seems to be calling to me. To have this concept as my goal and my guiding force. Then all things will make sense. Volunteer work, scripture study, serving others, family history and temple work and even house work will be done all because I love God. Getting up in the morning will be done with the purpose to learn to love God more fully and to demonstrate that love through my actions. To learn to have His will become my will.
This is something that is not easy for me because I am all too human. Sometimes I want what I want, not what God wants. But I keep thinking about what will I wish I had done 10 years from now. And so the personal battle goes on, the wrestle with myself.
In the same talk by Elder Uchtdorf, he talks about God’s love for us. I try to remember this even is sometimes I don’t feel it.
“God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.
He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”
These beautiful words encourage me to look to my God. Even when I sometimes ride with my eyes closed, I need to remember He is always patient, He always loves me. He is rooting for me, not waiting for me to make a mistake. As I try to improve little by little I just need to keep my eyes open to focus more clearly where I am going.
When one of my daughters was little, we would race up the basement stairs to see who could get to the top first. Whoever won would shout out, “I beat you!” Being older and faster, I frequently won which caused my daughter to try even harder the next time. She got pretty fast on those stairs!
One time I was grocery shopping with this same daughter, who was 4 years old. She stopped to look at a cereal box as I continued walking. She finally noticed that I had made it to the end of the aisle. Fearing being left, she loudly shouted out, “Mom, don’t beat me.” I was sure the people three aisles over could hear her. I was also sure that people really thought I was beating her and I was very embarrassed. I wanted to run to people and reassure them that I was not beating her. Honest!
It’s So Easy to Judge
Children give us lots of opportunities to be embarrassed, and to also have our actions misunderstood. This incident also reminds me that sometimes we hear something someone said and think we have a complete picture. We think we know exactly what is going on. It is so easy to judge the situation without having an understanding of what is really happening. And because we think we know, we make a judgement.
Before I ever had children I remember thinking, when I would see someone’s child misbehaving, that my children would never do that. I thought I would teach my children what to do and then they would do it (I’m sure all those who are parents are now laughing). Actually, being a spectator is a lot different from being a parent. And being a parent is certainly a lot harder than it looks on the outside.
The Merciful Obtain Mercy
There’s an expression I really like, “walk a mile in his shoes.” It conveys the idea that until we actually know someone’s heart and why they make the choices they do that we really can’t understand the situation. It teaches us not to assume or to judge. One of my favorite General Conference talks is by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and is called The Merciful Obtain Mercy.
I loved it when he said, “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” He goes on to say, “It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”
Years ago, any time when there was someone in my ward that I didn’t like very much I would be made her Visiting Teacher or she would be made mine. This happened several times over the years (obviously I had a lot to learn). Each time, it didn’t take long before I learned how wrong I was about that person. Most of the time we became friends, or at least I gained a greater understanding of her. God, in His mercy, gave me the opportunity to better learn not to judge.
There was one time I was someone’s Visiting Teacher and I was visiting with her and we were laughing about something when she suddenly stopped and said, “You’re a lot different from what I thought.” I hadn’t realized she had a negative impression of me, but we were able to become friends because we got to know each others hearts a little better and judge a little less.
Just “Stop It!”
The funny thing is we don’t want others judging us but somehow we think it’s okay for us to judge others! I’m not sure why we do this and I constantly need to remind myself that I don’t know someone’s motives, their reasoning or thought process. I really do want to be better at this and allow myself to have good thoughts about others. I want to do as President Uchtdorf said and “Stop it!” So, how do I do this?
So, How Do We Do This?
Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave us the solution to stop judging others . “The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions-the more we allow love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts-the easier it is to love others…In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Brothers and Sisters, let us put down our stones.” So basically, the more love we have for God, then the more love we will have for others and the less judging we will do.
For me, it always comes back to the scripture found in Matthew 22:37. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all the heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.” When we love God more than anything else, when we put God first, everything else falls into place in our lives. For me, this is my greatest challenge. Loving God more will help me put down my stones.
Elder Nelson, in the April 2017 General Conference, gave a talk about drawing the power of Jesus Christ into our lives. In it he talked about reading every reference to Jesus Christ listed in the topical guide. He spoke about how doing this had blessed his life.
I decided to take the challenge. It took me quite a while because there are 57 subtitles, but I read every scriptural passage listed. Then when I was rereading his talk, I noticed that he said to read every scripture in the topical guide about the Savior and underline them. Somehow I had missed the part about underlining the references.
So, I decided to reread all the of the scriptural references to Christ in the topical guide and this time, underline them. In some ways this reminded me of a story told by President Monson. This was before the Berlin Wall fell and East Germany was still under communist rule. Elder Monson was the General Authority over East Germany. He was lamenting to Elder Kimball about how he wished the leaders there could have a copy of the Church’s General Handbook of Instructions. Elder Kimball told him to memorize the handbook, go to Germany and type it for the leaders in Germany. What a daunting task!
But that’s just what he did. When he got to Germany he immediately asked for a typewriter and some paper. He had typed about 30 pages when he decided to take a break. While walking around the room he was startled to see the General Handbook on a shelf. Not only was it the General Handbook, but it was in German. I’m sure he had a lot of mixed emotions over seeing the handbook lying on that shelf.
Some could say that all the work he put into memorizing the handbook had been needless. Some could point out that he should have had inspiration telling him it was unnecessary. But, I can see at least two benefits of memorizing the General Handbook. The first was he became an expert on church policy and procedure. Wherever he went he knew how to instruct those he was teaching concerning policy and procedures. Maybe the Lord needed him to know the book inside and out to help guide those he taught, especially because so many he worked with lived outside the United States.
The second benefit is that he was obedient to his church leaders. Elder Kimball, who was a senior apostle, told him to do it and he did. He didn’t question it. He didn’t say it wasn’t possible for him. He went to work and did it. Obedience strengthens the person and helps them qualify for blessings God wants to give them. God already knows what we will do. Sometimes we just need to prove to our own selves that we will be obedient.
So, back to my story of reading the references in the Topical Guide about Jesus Christ for the second time. It was a daunting task to do it again. Some could say I did it with the right spirit the first time, the second time was needless. Some could point out that I should have had inspiration to guide me while reading it the first time. I would have known then to underline the verses.
But, I can see at least two benefits from my reading it again and underlining the second time. The first is how much more I learned from the verses the second time through. There are some verses I don’t remember reading at all. As I was reading I remembered many verses from my first reading. Together the verses made more sense and tied things together better. I had a better sense of the mission of Jesus Christ and His role in our lives. Maybe the Lord just wanted me to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ in my own life.
The second benefit is that I hope to be more obedient to my church leaders. Elder Nelson asked us to do this, and though I had to give myself a little pep talk about doing it a second time, I did it. Obedience strengthens me and helps me qualify for blessings God wants to give me. It also helped me see that in spite of my weaknesses, I really do want to be obedient. God already knows what I’m going to do, but sometimes I really need this reminder.