Tuesday, August 9, 2016

An Unexpected Gospel Lesson From Cleaning My Glasses

photo by Jean Scheijen
Based on the testimony I gave Sunday.

Because I only wear my glasses shortly in the morning and before bed, I don't put effort into taking care of them properly. I wipe them clean with just my shirt and only use water if they're really dirty. I've never had any issues with this method.

When we first moved here, I went to a community event showcasing local businesses and received eyeglass cleaner and a cleaning cloth from an optometrist. They sat in a drawer for the last two years. A couple weeks ago, out of nowhere, I finally decided to use them.

The difference was unbelievable!

I was astonished by the enhanced clarity. I couldn't believe not only that I had been missing out all these years on even better vision, but also that I didn't even know I was missing out! I thought my glasses had been perfectly clean, when in fact they had the potential to be even clearer had I used the proper materials specifically made for the job.

I immediately related this to the gospel. (I love how gospel symbolism and lessons can be found in the most everyday situations.) I thought of repentance and how I may think I'm clean because everything looks good, but really I could be even cleaner if I ask the Holy Ghost to reveal to me where I can improve and then use the Atonement to become truly clean. I thought how there is no replacement for the Atonement. No amount of good deeds, personal righteousness, or help and support from others can do what Christ did through His infinite sacrifice.

Then I thought how much better I could see. Repentance leads us to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who lets us see things as they really and remain clean as we follow the truth he shows us.

I am so grateful for this small but significant experience. It opened my eyes to how I need to use the proper materials to keep myself truly pure and able to discern truth. Now I clean my glasses with the cleaner and cloth every night and am working on doing the same with my spirit.

Sharing Time: Share a time when a seemingly insignificant situation led to a significant gospel lesson.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Constant Companionship of the Holy Ghost

The talk I gave at a baptism last night.

The gift of the Holy Ghost is often underappreciated. Once we come to understand why his constant companionship is a gift, we value it more and do whatever we can to be worthy of keeping his presence in our lives.

Elder Bednar said, “Everything the Savior’s gospel teaches us to do and become is intended to bless us with the companionship of the Holy Ghost" (Increase in Learning, p. 49).

Why? Elder Gerald N. Lund stated, “When one is given the gift . . . of the Holy Ghost, he has overcome spiritual death to a degree, for he has come into the presence of one member of the Godhead” (Ensign, "Salvation: By Grace or by Works?", Apr. 1981).

With the perspective of having a member of the Godheadone who counsels with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christas a constant presence in our lives, it's easier to see how he is a gift and brings so many blessings to us through the many roles he plays.

He gives us guidance straight from the One who knows what we need and what the plan for each of us is. The Holy Ghost is a reliable source of truth and will never lead us astray. 

He testifies of gospel truths, leading to testimony and ultimately conversion. He also relays answers from heaven when we pray and ask for help.

He gives us warnings of physical and spiritual danger. Protection from sin is reason enough for us to desire and appreciate the gift of the Holy Ghost (Elder Eyring, “The Holy Ghost As Your Companion,” Oct. 2015 general conference).

Through him, we have continuous access to immediate comfort and peace. We can feel God's love through His Spirit.

The Holy Ghost gives us promptings of how we can help others. His companionship not only blesses us, but also allows us to bless others.

One of his most important roles that is often overlooked is sanctification. Baptism washes away our sins, and the sacrament enables us to continue to be cleansed from sin, but only through the Holy Ghost. Elder Bednar explained this relationship in his talk last conference (Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” Apr. 2016):
Sometimes Latter-day Saints express the wish that they could be baptized again—and thereby become as clean and worthy as the day on which they received their first saving gospel ordinance. May I respectfully suggest that our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son do not intend for us to experience such a feeling of spiritual renewal, refreshment, and restoration just once in our lives. . . .
As members of the Lord’s restored Church, we are blessed both by our initial cleansing from sin associated with baptism and by the potential for an ongoing cleansing from sin made possible through the companionship and power of the Holy Ghost—even the third member of the Godhead. . . . 
The act of partaking of the sacrament, in and of itself, does not remit sins. But as we prepare conscientiously and participate in this holy ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then the promise is that we may always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us. And by the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, we can always retain a remission of our sins.
Last of all, the Holy Ghost is a like a stamp of approval. He approves of the covenants we make in this life to make them valid in the next. He also gives us a way to measure our discipleship. If we feel his companionship constantly, then we know we are on the right track and are worthy of his presence. If we don't feel him, then we know we need to make changes to invite him back into our lives.

With these blessings in mind, it's easy to see how he is the greatest gift we can receive on earth, because he leads us to the greatest gift of all: eternal life (D&C 14:7).

Elder Clark confirmed this beautifully (“Eyes to See and Ears to Hear,” Oct. 2015 general conference):
Brothers and sisters, I know that if we will do these things, the Holy Ghost will come! We will grow spiritually and gain experience with the Holy Ghost, and He will be our companion. If we will look to Christ and open our eyes and our ears, the Holy Ghost will bless us to see the Lord Jesus Christ working in our lives, strengthening our faith in Him with assurance and evidence. We increasingly will see all of our brothers and sisters the way God sees them, with love and compassion. We will hear the Savior’s voice in the scriptures, in the whisperings of the Spirit, and in the words of the living prophets. We will see the power of God resting upon His prophet and all the leaders of His true and living Church, and we will know with a surety that this is God’s holy work. We will see and understand ourselves and the world around us the way the Savior does. We will come to have what the Apostle Paul called “the mind of Christ.” We will have eyes to see and ears to hear, and we will build the kingdom of God. 
Life may get hard, confusing, painful, and discouraging. I bear you my witness that through the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ will cut through the confusion, the pain, and the darkness. Whether it comes in a remarkable burst or in a gentle flow, that glorious spiritual power will infuse healing love and comfort into the repentant, wounded soul; dispel darkness with the light of truth; and cast out discouragement with hope in Christ. We will see these blessings come, and we will know by the witness of the Spirit that it is the Lord Jesus Christ working in our lives. Our burdens truly will be “swallowed up in the joy of [our Redeemer].”
 Challenge: Strive to always have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

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?