Sunday, May 8, 2016

I Am Hannah
This was the part I wrote for my role in the pageant for our stake women's conference on women from the scriptures and Church history. 

I am Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel, from the Old Testament. I was in a polygamous marriage, and as if that wasn’t hard enough, my husband’s other wife, Peninnah, could have children, but I could not. Peninnah would tease me for being infertile because she was jealous that our husband loved me more than he loved her.

Every year we went to the temple. One year, Peninnah was so cruel, I wept bitterly and couldn't eat. My husband tried consoling me by asking, “Am I not better to thee than ten sons?” Of course he was a good husband to me, but the love a woman has for her husband and the love she has for her children are not quite the same, and I wanted to experience that motherly love more than anything.

I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the temple alone and poured out my soul in prayer and tears. I vowed to God that if He would give me a son, I would dedicate my son’s life to the Lord. Eli, the temple priest, told me to go in peace and blessed me that God would answer my prayer. The peace and faith I felt were so strong that I knew the Lord would. My bitterness left, and my appetite returned. [After I spoke, it hit me that perhaps she had been fasting.]

After one last trip to the temple, we went home. That very same night I conceived! Although for years I had cried unto God for this blessing, it wasn’t until I had a humble heart and was willing to sacrifice the very thing I wanted that the Lord gave me what I desired—and so quickly.

After Samuel was born, I wanted to wait until he was weaned before taking him to his new home. I cherished this precious time with him, holding him and nourishing him. Once he was old enough, I kept my promise and took him to the temple to stay. Every year when we visited, I would bring him a coat I made.

It was hard letting him go and not being the one to raise him, but I sang in joy and praise to show my gratitude. The Lord blessed me even further for my sacrifice. He gave me three more sons and two daughters! And Samuel grew to be a great and faithful prophet who restored order and worship to our people and counseled kings.

Because of my experience, I offer you the gift of grace, the meaning of my name. It was through the Lord’s grace from His atoning sacrifice that I was able to make and keep my covenant with God, to trust in His timing and love, to no longer be sad, to forgive Peninnah, to endure life without my firstborn, and to know Samuel would be mine again someday.

My prayer for you from the past is that you rely on the grace of Jesus Christ to help and strengthen you in times of trial. Grace isn’t meant just for repentance. You can access this divine power at all times for all needs, whether it be comfort, increased faith, a softened heart, or a weakness made strong. If you continually apply His grace, then you will be able to do whatever He asks of you, and you will receive every blessing He has promised you.

Discussion: What else can we learn from Hannah's story?

Stake Women's Conference: Daughters of Light

At the end of April, our stake had a women's conference. A couple months before the event, I was asked to portray one of the women from the scriptures: Hannah. I was told to prepare a 3-5 minute talk about her from her point of view. It needed to include the lines, "I offer you the gift of [gospel principle]..." and "My prayer for you from the past is..."

I put a lot of thought into my talk (read it here) and came away learning a lot not only about Hannah, but also about how her story applies to me. I was again reminded how really studying scripture stories in depth can lead to a deeper understanding of the people and lessons involved.

The day of the event, all the women participating in the pageant arrived early to get into costume and run through our entrance. The place was decorated beautifully!

Each table was assigned a tribe of Israel
The stake Relief Society president wanted us to really get into character and have fun. She was hoping we would dance during our procession into the hall. I was the only one besides her who did. I tried finding a musical instrument to use, but there were none. At the last minute, I thought to grab an extra scarf and twirled it and myself around. She later thanked me for dancing.

The sisters who spoke before me were inspiring and brought the Spirit in. I was nervous, which is funny because I love public speaking, but this was more akin to acting. I had memorized my part, though there were printed copies we could read from. When I had practiced at home and in the car, I always got emotional. Yet when performance time came, I was all smiles. I felt as if I had ruined the spiritual streak with my unemotional delivery. The women after me were also emotional, though the ones after them were more lighthearted. However, the audience enjoyed when I held up my toddler's church sweater as a prop; I think they thought I made it, just as Hannah made Samuel's coats!

After my part, we had a musical activity. The stake president's wife played her guitar and taught us "Hava Nagila." The RS president threw in some simple dance moves, of course. It was fun.

After the second set of sisters, another woman and I sang "His Plan for You." When I was first asked to sing, I thought there would be multiple numbers. I realized I was wrong once I got there and read the program. The only other number was by a professional harpist/singer. I was confused why I was asked to sing a duet when there are many talented sopranos in the stake! I was afraid the audience would be expecting something spectacular. I have never taken a singing lesson in my life. I'm a self-taught alto who inherited the Latin voice range instead of the Italian one. We sang our best, though, and I was overall happy with it.

After the stake RS presidency's turn, the stake president spoke and shared this talk on womanhood by Elder Ballard. Then, we said our scripture name one last time into the mic and walked back the way we came. Hors d'oeuvres and honey-themed desserts followed the closing remarks.

I was very impressed with the writing talent in our stake. Those sisters did an astounding job capturing and representing the thoughts and feelings of the courageous women from the scriptures: Eve, Sarah, Ruth, Rachel, Esther, Hannah, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Elizabeth, Tabitha, Sariah, King Lamoni's wife, Emma Smith, plus pioneer women and all the other nameless women whose righteous acts we honor. I was so grateful and blessed to have been a part of this inspired program.

Sharing Time: Who is your favorite woman from the scriptures?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Lift Thine Eyes"

Last week at stake conference, I had the privilege to sing alto in a special women's choir for the a cappella number "Lift Thine Eyes" from Mendelssohn's Elijah. I had never heard it before, and I immediately fell in love with it the first time I listened to it. The message of the song is just as beautiful as the music:

Lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help.

Thy help cometh from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

He hath said thy foot shall not be moved.

Thy keeper will never slumber.

Lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help. 

To me, the words mean we can get help from the Savior at His temple, the mountain of the Lord. I also love the line, "Thy keeper will never slumber," a reminder that Christ is always there waiting for us to seek Him and rely on His strength and righteousness. We may fall asleep while praying, reading our scriptures, sitting in Church, or even attending the temple, but He is always aware and ready to comfort or help us. We are important to Him, and He will never forget us though we may forget Him. Isaiah affirms this:

13 ¶Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.

15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.

16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands . . .

18 ¶Lift up thine eyes . . .

(Isaiah 49:13-16, 18)

Sharing Time: What does this song mean to you?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

3 Ways to Encourage Pondering After Personal Scripture Study

There's a difference between reading and studying the scriptures, and we're advised to do the latter. There are several resources available to help us search and understand the scriptures. Some of these are seminary and Institute manuals, the Church magazines, general conference talks, other LDS books, and even the dictionary.

Yet, there is a second step we're supposed to take after studying the scriptures, and that is to ponder. This means to think about what we've read in order to make connections, discover personal application, and receive revelation. Here are three things you can do to take the time to ponder after reading.

1. Listen to Heavenly Music

my favorite album

Maintain the Spirit you've invited through scripture study by listening to uplifting music, such as that from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It will aid in keeping away distractions, both externally and internally, so you can focus on the words you've read and what they mean. If you enjoy doing so, sing, hum, or play an instrument instead to create your own music.

2. Color or Craft

If you're like me and need to keep your hands busy, try an adult coloring book. I found one with Bible verses and floral designs that appeal to me. The simple activity helps me avoid reaching for my phone or any other distraction that can drive away the Spirit, make me forget what I'm pondering, or make me want to move on to something else. It also helps me stay calm and relaxed so I'm more receptive to spiritual promptings. 

If you don't like to color, other options include:
  • knitting or crocheting
  • needlepoint
  • drawing or painting
  • writing or blogging (about your study)
  • whittling or carving
  • sculpting
  • flower arranging
  • origami
If you're not artsy or crafty, you can wash dishes or fold laundry. Choose anything you can do on autopilot so your mind is free to dwell on spiritual matters, though make sure it doesn't detract from the Spirit.

3. Move Your Body

photo by Michael Lorenzo

Going out for a leisurely walk, run, hike, or bike ride allows you to see God's glorious work all around you as you exercise your body, mind, and spirit. The fresh air and sunshine can elevate your mood and keep the Spirit close by. Meditative yoga or graceful dancing also can invite peace and revelation after scripture study. Combining an enjoyable physical activity with a mental and spiritual one connects and opens up your whole soul.

For a more enriching experience, do all of these tips. For example, you could study and then go for a walk while listening to inspiring tunes. Try different combinations to find out what allows for the best pondering. Be sure to write down what you learn so you can remember and reference it in the future.

Sharing Time: What do you do to help you take time to ponder the scriptures?

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Prodigal Son: Other Perspectives

I recently read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) during my scripture study, and it reminded me of this talk from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in which he discusses the older brother. The Mormon Message video below shares excerpts from it.

This talk by Elder Brent H. Nielson from last April discusses the point of view of the waiting father. Both of these general conference talks remind us there is more to the story than just the wayward son and his return. Parables are often multifaceted, and the more we study all their facets, the better we understand the deeper meanings and applications.

Discussion: How does studying the perspectives of the faithful brother and the father help us better understand the parable and its application in our lives?