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.
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.
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.
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.
I have written many times before about how I have had migraines for many years. I had my first migraine when I was 21. At the time I didn’t know it was a migraine. I was shopping and all of a sudden my head really hurt, I felt a little nauseated and my eyes hurt. Aspirin had always helped with my previous headaches, so I went home and took two aspirin. I was surprised when aspirin didn’t help. I continued having headaches, and I continued taking aspirin, and I continued to be surprised when it didn’t help. Being a poor student I didn’t have any money so I didn’t go to the doctor about it.
I graduated from college, went to graduate school and got two Master’s Degrees, all the while having headaches. I met and married a wonderful man (he’s still wonderful!), and had two children. One day I was reading a magazine article about headaches and the descriptions of the different types of headaches. I was really surprised when my headaches fit the description of migraines. It had never occurred to me that they were migraines. I did go to the doctor about them but there was little they could do until I was through having children.
I continued to have debilitating migraines and the funny part about all of this is that it didn’t occur to me to pray about this problem. Of course I usually prayed for help with individual headaches, but overall it just didn’t occur to me to pray about it. I think I was thinking that everyone has something to deal with and this was just one of my things to deal with. For many years I stumbled through my days trying to deal with my responsibilities with children, a home, a husband and well, basically my life.
Fast forward several years when I was pregnant with my sixth child. For some reason I decided to pray about a way to treat them. I’m not sure what changed or why it finally occurred to me to do this. By this time I had been having migraines for 18 years, and yes, sometimes I’m a little slow.
I started asking for guidance in my prayers. I asked to be directed to find a way to treat the migraines when they happened. I even hoped that maybe I could find some way to prevent them. I prayed about this for several weeks. At this time I was serving in the Young Women’s presidency in my ward at church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We were having a presidency meeting when one of women in the meeting started talking about headaches she was having. Her doctor had told her to take an aspirin with a Coke and lie down for a while. When she said this I strongly had the Holy Ghost tell me to do this too.
Not being a Coke person I tried Pepsi with the aspirin. It worked! It worked fairly well most of the time. Sometimes it just dulled the pain and sometimes it didn’t work but this was the first thing I had tried that even came close to working. I did some research and found it was the caffeine in the Pepsi that worked so I switched to aspirin with a caffeine tablet. Later on I alternated between aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen with the caffeine. This gave me the ability to function much better for several years. In hind sight I wish I had prayed about it many years sooner.
So the lesson I mostly learned from this experience is that God is often just waiting to bless us but that we need to ask Him. We need to humble ourselves, recognize that He is our Father in Heaven and ask (sometimes beg) for the blessings we need. We need to show our faith in Him by asking and then moving forward in faith knowing the blessing will come, when it’s the right time and in the right way. Sometimes this means it’s not the way or what we expected, but He will bless us. I recently read a talk in the May 2019 Ensign by Dale G. Renlund about qualifying for blessings that God wants to give us. “Most blessings that God desires to give us require action on our part-action based on our faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in the Savior is a principle of action and of power,” said Elder Renlund.
Since then I have learned that sometimes I’m the one denying myself help from heaven because I haven’t asked for it. I have also learned to be more specific in my prayers, to ask with faith in Jesus Christ, and then watch for the hand of God in my life.
My daughter, who has Down syndrome, turned 18 last week. She proudly announced that she’s an adult now. She’s aware of a lot of things in life. She watches all the preteen shows on TV and Netflix and is a sucker for anything to do with romance. She oohs and aahs when there is a wedding in a show. She loves it when they hold hands and kiss. She dreams of her own wedding and finding her true love.
A few year ago we were driving in the car together. She was staring out the window and said, “I really want to get married.” She had said this many times before and has said it many times since. But, there was something in her voice that tugged at my heart that particular time. Even though she’s pretty bright, she’s not capable of being independent, let alone married. Getting married in this life is not in the cards for her.
I have told her that someday she will get married in heaven. She will have a beautiful wedding and her family will be there and she will be very happy. She asks me questions about it frequently. Questions like, “Will I have a beautiful dress?” “Will I have flowers?” “Who is going to be my husband?” I try to answer these questions honestly with the little knowledge I actually have about heaven. I tell her, “I’m sure you will have a beautiful gown.” I don’t know if she’ll have flowers but I have told her, “I’m sure your wedding will be just how you want it.” When she asks about her husband I tell her, “I don’t know who you are going to marry, but Heavenly Father does and I’m sure He has someone wonderful in mind for you.” She’ll clap her hands with joy at the prospect of it all, but really, these answers just satisfy her temporarily. She still wants to get married in this life.
She has seen her sisters and brothers get married. She has seen them having children, and she wants the same joy that creating a family brings. It seems to be inborn in her to want to find a true love, a soul mate. I tell her that not everyone gets married in this life, but that hasn’t deterred her. She really wants to get married.
I haven’t told her this because she’s really not capable of understanding it, but I have been thinking about how there are a lot of things people want in this life that will never happen. People have problems they would like solved. Some have health issues they would like cured. Many want to be free from addictions, have enough money to meet their needs, or have family problems go away. Some people yearn for children. I think we can look at society, the world at large, and want for things that seem like will never happen. All of us, in some way, want for something that will probably never happen.
That seems to be part of life. To recognize that there are things that will not be in this life, and to hope for better things in the world to come. How do we deal with life when it doesn’t give us what we want most? When our hearts seem to be breaking and our souls are stretched to their limits? For me, faith in Jesus Christ and hope in His promises are sometimes the only things that I can fall back on. I trust in His absolute knowledge and power. Joseph Smith said that to have faith in God we need to know and trust in the Nature and Character of God. We need to know that He loves us, is mindful of us and trust that He knows what is best. To know that He knows what is going on, and if we stay faithful despite our circumstances, He will make all things right. I love the scripture found in Revelations 21:4 which says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying. neither shall there be any more pain…” And so, with this promise we go forward knowing that God always fulfills His promises. We go forward, knowing there are things that we want, that we will never have in his life.
My daughter will not marry in this life, she will not have what she wants most now. But I am sure she will marry in the next world. I am sure because I know and trust in the Nature and Character of God. He will wipe away her tears and hold her close, and her pain will be gone. She will have what the faithful inherit.
Sometimes I have the attitude that the only way I’m going to make it to heaven is through Brownie Points. I look at my short comings and weaknesses and the same mistakes I keep making over and over and almost feel there is no hope. If I do something good I tell myself that it’s a Brownie Point, a positive on the great balance sheet in the sky. Sometimes I think Brownie Points will be the only way I get there. Basically, I have in the back of my mind the attitude that I can buy my way in. Of course when I say it like that I know it sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. Logically I know I can’t buy my way into heaven. I can never do enough good, accumulate enough points, grit my teeth in sheer determination enough. No matter how hard I try I can never buy my way in.
But, in reality I don’t have to. That is the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has already bought my way into heaven. Through the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ my entrance fee has already been paid. What I have to do is accept the gift to heaven that He is offering me. I accept that gift by making and keeping sacred covenants with Him and repenting. There is beauty in making covenants and great power in keeping them. When I keep my covenants foremost in my mind and thoughts I spend my time differently. I choose my words and thoughts with greater care. I am more present in my prayers. I seek Him in my life more fully and I realize I don’t have to be perfect in order to accept His gift of heaven.
I recently read an article in the Ensign (June 2019, p 30) about being perfect in Christ. It listed out several things that God expects of us. Things like denying ourselves of all ungodliness, loving and serving God. Repenting with faith, doing our best to keep the commandments and covenants we’ve made and continuing on in life in patience. The list I really related to was what God doesn’t expect of us. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect now or to never make a mistake. He doesn’t want us to be burdened by an attitude of perfectionism or to be self critical for lack of progress. He doesn’t want us to be constantly busy with all work and no play. The last one was what hit home with me. He doesn’t want us to try to earn our way into heaven. In other words, He doesn’t want us to have a Brownie Point Mentality.
One of the problems with a Brownie Point Mentality is that, in some ways, it denies the power of Christ to save and change us. It implies that we have to do it on our own. It creates a barrier between our Savior and ourselves. We miss out on the concept of coming to Christ through repentance and using His strength and help to change. We completely miss the boat on understanding God’s expectations for us.
One of the blessings of having a daughter with Down syndrome is that I need to simplify gospel teachings and principles for her. The other day she asked me what repentance meant, even though I have explained it many times to her before. I said, “Repentance means you stop doing what’s wrong, tell Heavenly Father you’re sorry, and start doing what’s right.” When I really thought about it, it’s really is that simple. That really is what repentance is. Of course there are some serious matters that need to be worked out with a Bishop. Most often though, it’s just a recognition that we want to do something a little better. Sometimes it’s something we want to start doing or something we want to stop doing. Often it’s just allowing ourselves to be imperfect but recognizing we are a little better than we were last week. Usually it’s just to keep on trying to become better through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. One thing it’s definitely not though is a Brownie Point Mentality.
When I was 16 I started watching a soap opera called All My Children. It was really popular at my school and it was fun to be able to talk about it with my friends. It wasn’t long before I was really involved in the story line and the “lives” of the characters in the show. When I went away to college I scheduled my classes when it was possible so I could watch the show. There were TVs set up in the student center and several of us would gather and watch it almost daily. After I graduated and had a job I would usually go home for lunch and watch the show and I was glad the timing of the show fit in with my lunch schedule. I was heavily involved with the show even though in the back of my mind I knew some of the show’s content was inappropriate. I rationalized that some of the bedroom scenes were okay to watch because I really knew what was right and I would never do those things so it really didn’t matter. Sometimes I just didn’t think about it at all because I didn’t want to. Unfortunately it was really easy to fool myself into watching a show I knew was wrong.
After my first baby was born I was a stay at home mom so it was really easy to schedule my day around the show. When my daughter was about 8 months old I was watching the show one day when I had the thought come to me, “Do you really want that show in the background while she’s growing up.” I thought, “No, I don’t!” and I turned it off and never watched it again. What’s really interesting to me is that a show I had been heavily involved in and had watched for 14 years was suddenly unimportant to me when compared with my daughter and her welfare. I’m sure I had been prompted before to quit watching the show but had ignored the warnings. I have found in my life that often it takes the right motivation for me to make changes. In this case it was love for my daughter which was greater than a TV show.
I once read there are 3 main reasons for doing just about anything. The first is the fear of not doing it, of getting punished if we don’t do it. For example, getting bad grades because we didn’t do our homework, or disappointing people we care about. Gospel analogy would be loss of the Spirit, having people think badly of us or eventually going to Hell. The second would be for the reward we get for doing it. Keeping with the same example would be getting good grades, or getting a pay raise or promotion at work. It could also be receiving awards or public recognition. Gospel analogy would be for receiving blessings, having the Spirit with us, or feeling good about ourselves. Sometimes it is receiving the praise of others or being known as a good person. The last reason we do things is just for love of it. For me that was the case of loving my daughter more than the show. Sometimes people exercise just because they love it or go to work because they love what they do and the pay is secondary. People often quit smoking or start healthy habits because they love someone. In gospel terms it would be because we love God. We don’t keep the commandments out of fear or hope of reward but because we love God. This is obviously the higher law or reason but too often not why I do something. In the scriptures we are told to love God with “all of our hearts, might, mind and strength.” Usually the word heart is listed first because when we love God with all of our hearts everything else falls into place, our motivations are pure. As I try to love God with my whole heart and try to do things for the right reason my focus becomes clearer and I fear less. I am less worried about what others think. It seems like it should be something so easy to do. Yet it is so hard for me to do things for the right reason. Doing something because I love God and not because of the reward I get is something I am working on. This involves changing my heart and focus, and for me it will be the quest of a life time.