Friday, December 15, 2017

Knowledge vs. Proof

My daughter had an interesting experience on the bus the other day. One of her close friends decided to assert his atheistic views on her, browbeating her verbally for being stupid enough to believe in God. Over and over, he denied the existence of deity and challenged her to prove otherwise. She was absolutely flabbergasted by his vehemence, finding it hurt her soul to hear it. She also felt terribly inadequate to answer him. Although she had tasted many sweet spiritual moments in her lifetime, expressing or explaining them to one who was so adamantly against God felt awkward. In the end, she simply repeated, "I can't prove it, but I know it," each time he dared her to qualify her faith.

While I felt bad for the hurting heart she had, I also rejoiced that she'd had one of those refining moments that cause a person to take stock in what they believe. She felt like a failure because she couldn't come up with words to convince him, but I thought she succeeded with flying colors because she acknowledged that faith isn't a matter of proof. It is "the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).  She couldn't point to anything around her and say, "This proves unequivocally that God exists," but she could search within her heart and feel the many ways He has touched her over the years. 

Like the heart within us that we can feel beating, though we cannot see it.
Like the electricity that ignites our lights and appliances, though we cannot see it. 
Like the wind pushing the leaves along, though we cannot see it.
photo credit: YouTube

Some things are real even if we can't see them. The "proof" is in the effect. It's in what happens because of the thing we can't see. 
Faith in God, after all, doesn't work like a geometric proof or a scientific analysis. Though there are steps we follow to gain a knowledge of God, and though we can test the Lord's promises, our faith in Him is ultimately beyond empirical explanation to those who will not open their spiritual eyes.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Goals and Hope

A few days ago, I blogged about pressing forward with goals. I think there's a huge connection between having hope and setting goals. When we make a plan to change something, there is the implied belief that change is even possible, and the more we believe in the power of incremental progress, the more we have reason to hope in the promises of eternity as well as the immediate future.

However, sometimes in our eagerness to change and grow, we set lofty goals that can soon feel unattainable, so we lose hope and quit. I won't suggest that we shouldn't set our aspirations high, but I do think we need to make concrete plans about the path we will take to get there. And by concrete, I mean ... flexible concrete ... As in define the path, but don't cement every stepping stone permanently just in case. Because stuff happens, and we don't want the unexpected to so derail the planned course that we can't still reach our destination.

My martial arts instructor, KNJ Jeremy, explained how he went about creating his school's curriculum. He said in essence, "I look at what I want my black belts to be able to do, and then I work backwards, breaking it into pieces until we get back to the fundamental skills and techniques." By so doing, his students advance in a very logical, seamless way from one level to the next because each new skill builds on the one before it. In the six months that I've been assisting with children's classes, I've been astounded at how quickly his students improve, and the vision of black-belt proficiency is very real for some of them, even if it's years away.

Remember the "flexible concrete" bit? In Martial Arts, that might be something like an injury that means certain skills can't be practiced for a while. (Been there, done that multiple times.) Does that mean stopping all progress? No! With an end-goal in mind, I can still work on those stepping stones that are within my capabilities. In that sense, the "path" is not always completely linear or direct. It may look more like switchbacks going up a steep mountain, but hey--it's still going up!

We need to do the same for our goals, no matter what we're trying to achieve. Visualizing the finish line can thus be inspiring instead of daunting. We can accept unexpected obstacles as opportunities to reroute instead of turning back or throwing up our hands in defeat.  Self-discipline and self-forgiveness can work in tandem to move us forward with hope that we can achieve.

What long-term goals are you setting for yourself? 
What are some of the stepping stones it will take to get there?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hope Quote from Elaine Cannon

photo credit: Stanford Graduate School of Business

"The daily work of the Lord involves changing hopeless to hopeful ... And it is for us to find at last that in the midst of winter we have within us an invincible summer. In a world filled with adversity we can reach for joy."

Monday, December 11, 2017

Press Forward (in the Right Direction)

All around me, in my closest circle of friends and family, people are setting goals and making big changes in their lives. My daughter is making strides to improve her grades. My sister is thinking about a career change that would involve moving the family. My martial arts instructor is getting ready to test for his sixth degree, and I for my second. My husband and I both challenge ourselves with professional goals, and my son is preparing to serve a mission. There are big and little things on the horizon, but they all require us to keep moving if we want to find success.  

photo credit: Tami Stackelhouse

"The scripture doesn't say walk forward, or move forward, or simply proceed forward. It says to press forward! In order to do this, you must have a vision of where you are going. The Holy Ghost will  help you remain steadfast, and your testimony of the Savior will help you proceed with a perfect brightness of hope." ~ Elaine S. Dalton, April 2003 General Conference

For me, the best goals--the ones that bring me the most satisfaction, and the ones that I feel I get the most divine help with--are the ones that coincide with gospel principles. Sometimes, it's just a matter of shifting the focus slightly to make sure my heart and mind are in the right place: as in, instead of saying, "Go on a diet", I can say, "Keep the Word of Wisdom", or instead of "manage stress better", I can say, "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings".

The gospel is designed to help us progress. Our earthly, mortal, temporary goals will be most successful when they align with our celestial, immortal, eternal goals!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Old vs. New Value

On a dark and rainy night a couple of weeks ago, a car rear-ended mine as we were paused at a red light. It wasn't a high-speed collision, and everyone was able to walk away from the site without blood dripping or bones protruding. My Rav4, however, was totaled. 

photo credit: autoblog
Mountains of paperwork later, I'm now driving a silver Rav4 that is 136,000 miles younger than the last one, and many well-meaning friends say, "Well, it was about time to get a new car!" Several times, I have quipped back, "Yes, but I didn't want a new car payment." Our budget will look very different now.

The age of our cars has been the punchline of jokes since my husband and I got married, but not the reliability of them. Our old cars kept going and going and going and going. We loved them, even if the chrome on his '87 Corolla had moss on it, and even if my '02 Rav4 had a few shopping cart dings and a rip in the upholstery. We have both since been forced to upgrade to newer models, and while we enjoy the increased luxury, we don't love paying so much more (because anything more than zero is more).

What does this have to do with anything? The idea that "newer is always better, no matter the cost" permeates our society. Even folks with very limited incomes can be found upgrading yearly to the newest model smart phone with all the latest gadgets and apps. They can't pay their electric bill, but they can livestream movies ALL DAY in high definition on their phones ... 

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing inherently wrong with "new". I like new. The dual-climate control and seat-warmers are awesome new options. But "new" by itself isn't where the value comes.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the most valuable things are very, very, old. Sure, policies and procedures may change in the Church. A new program may replace an old one, organizational structures may be reconfigured to adapt to growth, and new global needs may precipitate changes in funding or service priorities. But the old principles and truths remain the same, and hopefully we modern saints value the time-honored ways of the Eternal Lord. The power of His Atoning sacrifice or of His Priesthood do not need new "bells and whistles". The supremacy of His love and wisdom cannot be upgraded if they are already infinite. There is no technological way to improve upon the power of simple prayer or the faith to keep commandments.

photo credit:
In this season when there is pressure to go out and buy (as a gift, of course!) the latest, newest gizmo, may we remember the oldest and best gift of all: God's love for us, so great that He gave us His only begotten Son to be the Savior of the world!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Rising Through the Fog

Last month, we made the trip to Meridian, Idaho to attend the open house of the new temple to be dedicated there. The whole trip usually ran us about six and a half hours, and we thought it might be safest to give the quiet, middle stretch to my seventeen-year-old son to drive. Our route took us through Pendleton, Oregon and up into the Blue Mountains. He had driven this part of the freeway before, and I didn't think twice about handing over the wheel to him.

I also didn't think about the weather and the fact that thick clouds had rolled in. Just east of Pendleton, he began the climb, and were suddenly plunged into a fog so thick, we could scarcely see beyond the width of the road. To our eyes, the guardrails surely kept us from falling into the grey swirling cauldron. 

Hugging the right lane's white line and creeping at half speed up the hill, my son stayed steady and calm despite the terrible visibility. Only the dim brake lights of a truck in front of us assured us that the road even continued beyond the hood of our car. Occasionally someone would go roaring by (probably at 40mph), and we'd mumble about his insanity and pray he didn't cause a wreck ahead that we wouldn't see until we joined it. 

We had no idea how long the fog would last, or how far up we'd have to climb, and we could only imagine the dangers that lurked just beyond our tiny perimeter of clarity.

And then ... we rose above the clouds!

The panoramic view from above the clouds. Those aren't waves. They're clouds. Those aren't islands. They're mountaintops!

The transformation dazzled us. Sunlight flooded through our windows, and we could see out for miles at what looked like a serene ocean scene with a few islands here and there. But it wasn't waves, it was clouds, and the islands were actually mountaintops!

We were struck by the metaphors and lessons we could learn from the experience of rising up through the clouds, but the one I wanted to share today was this: 
There will be times in our lives when it's hard to see the future, when we're scared and nothing is familiar. We will need to slow down and trust what we know--that obedience to the Lord's teachings (that white line in the fog) will keep us safe. And when we have persevered and climbed up through the trial, we will be rewarded with new sight, new height, and new light.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Not a Whit Behind

My morning scripture study today included the story of when the prophet Nephi exercised the sealing power (a la Elijah in the Old Testament) to call down war, then famine, then rain at last upon the people in an effort to get them to repent and return to God. When they did so, they "did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God." (Helaman 11:18)

Knowing how I feel about the prophets old and new, I could relate to their love and admiration. Daily, I am grateful for the technology that allows me to listen to General Conference talks while I do chores. The words of the great church leaders lift me and fill me with hope and faith. It's easy think of them as the very finest of mortal beings. 

And then I read one more verse, a simple, almost throw-away comment with huge implications: "And behold, Lehi, his brother, was not a whit behind him as to things pertaining to righteousness."

Wow. Lehi might not have been a prophet--or any kind of person in the limelight--but in the way that mattered most, his worthiness before the Lord, he was just as good as the prophet Nephi! One wasn't bigger and better than the other. They were equal in the eyes of the Lord!

photo credit: sadhguru

It's easy for us to get into a hero-worship mode with our Church leaders, whether global or local. Sometimes we look up to a gospel teacher or a missionary in the same way, and we think, "Wow, they've got it all together. Look at how they teach. Look at how they serve. Look how wise they are!"  As we lift them up, we may inadvertently take a dip in our own self-esteem as we think of how we don't measure up to their capacities. "They are so much better than I am!" 

But God isn't measuring or comparing our capacities. He gave them to us, so He already knows what's there. He is paying attention to the part that we control--our willingness to follow His example and keep His commandments. [Note that I did not say our ability to follow/keep, but our willingness. He knows we'll fall short. That's why He gave us a Savior.] 

He also isn't comparing our worthiness against each other and saying, "I love this guy because he's more obedient than you are." The Lord loves all of us and wants all of us to return to Him. He gave His life in order to make that possible, and it's an open invitation.

Every single one of us has the potential to match a prophet in "things pertaining to righteousness" because each of us can repent as often as we sin and partake of the purifying power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Clean is clean. Whom God forgives and sanctifies is clean every whit, no matter how started out. We don't need to rank ourselves against others or feel inferior (or superior, for that matter) because our worth is great in the sight of God, and He is willing and able to save all who come unto Him.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Of course as soon as I made the decision to start this blog, trials and tribulations increased to fill my mind and my time with the kind of things that siphon hope. But I'm determined, and one great joy each day has been listening to past General Conference talks to glean wisdom and strength. In April 2004, Elder McMullin of the Presiding Bishopric gave a talk entitled, "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee". In it, he shared the following sentiment: 

Jesus, the very thought of Thee fills my heart with inexpressible joy. It controls every part of my being. My life, y loves, my ambitions are molded, enlivened, and given purpose because I know that Thou art the Christ, the Holy One. 

This testimony put words to a feeling I have long had, which is that following Christ is a whole-life endeavor--not just the duration of my years, but also the full breadth of all I do. 

I'm a wife. Do I sustain my husband in his Priesthood callings?
I'm a mother. Am I raising my children up to be disciples of Christ?
I'm a writer. Do my words edify and inspire?
I'm a teacher. Do I empower others to access the divine qualities within themselves, whether or not they know God?
I'm a martial artist. Do I practice my sport in a culture of peace?
I'm a singer. Does my voice lift praise to Heaven?
I'm a neighbor, and a carpool driver, and a shopper, and a pet owner. Does everything I do reflect the One who means everything to me?

When I do let my Savior's light shine in my life, I do feel that peace and comfort. An abiding happiness overrules the nagging concerns of the day, and I understand better how all things fit into a larger, much wiser plan.

In what ways does your faith influence your daily actions--and thereby your daily sense of connection to God?

photo credit: Barrie Christian Fellowship
Click here to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee". 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Remember #Ponderize?

At Church today, one of the teachers reminded us about Elder Devin G. Durrant's challenge a couple of years ago to "ponderize". The idea was to select a verse a week upon which we would mediate and strive to memorize, emphasis on the pondering part. As the teacher spoke, I pulled up the tags in my Gospel Library app to see which verses I had marked way back when that all started ... because it was a trendy thing for a while, and then faded. 

10. I had stopped after 10 verses. Gaaaak! The goal was supposed to last a lifetime, with each person acquiring 52 new verses a year to strengthen their testimonies and resolve to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

So, I'll be repenting on my slackardness and starting the #ponderize thing again. This week, I have chosen Alma 37:6 to remind myself that doing simple, seemingly insignificant things like focusing on a verse a week will lead to greater spiritual strength down the road. I know they add up, like protective tiles on a roof keeping out the rain, or scales on a dragon's hide. Now, more than ever before, I need the strength that immersing myself in scripture study and pondering the truths contained therein brings.

Did you do ever participate in the #Ponderize movement?

What's your verse this week?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Miracles Happen

... And ten days have passed since the last post because, like many of you, I sometimes struggle to find the hope when inundated with busy-ness and an onslaught of new crises, big or small. However, this last Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit the Siempreverde (Evergreen) Ward and teach a lesson in the Relief Society class. Our text came from an address made by Elder Soares in April's General Conference, and at one point, we dissected the following quote:

"Faith is the source of living with divine purpose and eternal perspective. Faith is a practical principle that inspires diligence. It is a vital, living force manifest in our positive attitude and desire to willingly do everything that God and Jesus Christ ask of us. It takes us to our knees to implore the Lord for guidance and to arise and act with confidence to achieve things consistent with His will."

As a class, we determined that joy and hope are always before us because of the glorious and infinite implications of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we don't see them because we have narrowed our focus onto our problems. Problems that God can totally handle. Problems that He has power to help us overcome or remove. It doesn't make sense on paper. How could something that happened almost 2000 years ago in a garden and on a cross in a country far, far away have anything to do with me and my troubles today? 
photo credit: Family Radio 316

Por falta de fe--for lack of faith--we sometimes keep our eyes fixed on the things which would bring us down spiritually, emotionally, even physically. We can't see what the Savior has placed before us, or what He has removed that obstructed our way. But when we can readjust our vision and see with the eyes of faith, we can know something better lies ahead. It's not only the unimaginable concept of life after death where the "better" comes. God makes things better in this life through compensatory blessings and enhanced personal growth. 

The divine truth is that when we trust that what happened in Gethsemane and Golgotha and the garden tomb unlocked the redeeming powers of heaven for our good, then we can begin to gain access to that power, and miracles happen, both around us and within our very hearts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Prophet's Prayer

I have been listening to past and current General Conference addresses of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints almost every day for over a year now. The words of the Prophet and Apostles echo in my ears as I work around the house, and I am stunned that messages given decades ago are just as relevant today. 

photo credit: The Atlantic
This afternoon, I listened to the address President Gordon B. Hinckley gave in the conference that occurred less than a month after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. He closed his remarks with a prayer on our behalf. It's not every day that we get to hear what a Prophet of the Lord says when he's talking to God. I noted that his petition did not ask for everything to be made perfect, or for the bad guys to be smitten and blasted by fires from heaven. Instead, President Hinckley asked for something uniquely personal to each of us, and relevant no matter which conflict we face:

Please, dear Father, bless us with faith. Bless us with love. Bless us with charity in our hearts. Bless us with a spirit of perseverance to root out the terrible evils that are in this world ... Spare us and help us to walk with faith ever in Thee and ever in Thy Beloved Son, on whose mercy we count and to whom we look as our Savior and our Lord. Bless the cause of peace and bring it quickly to us again, we humbly plead with Thee, asking that Thou wilt forgive our arrogance, pass by our sins, be kind and gracious to us, and cause our hearts to turn with love toward Thee.

I find it significant that he was concerned for what's happening inside our hearts and minds more than what is happening outside and around us. Of course our circumstances matter and he prayed about those, too, but it's what we carry inside that goes with us into Eternity. I find hope in that prayer because it is not pinned to a specific outcome beyond our control, but rather to our relationship with the Lord and His redeeming grace.

Conflicts and the threat of conflicts continue to parade through the headlines and social media feeds, but we can pray with a prophet of God for faith, love, and charity to fill our hearts. In the end, that is the only thing that will take the contention away.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fluffing the Pillows

photo credit: NYMag
I have pillow issues. Since I spin like a helicopter in my sleep, finding a pillow that works for all positions is tough. It seems that I spend an inordinate amount of time each night, fluffing my pillows into the right position or flipping them to the cool side. When I do, then I get a measure of rest for a time ... until I need to do it again.

Hope is a little like that. We can't just obtain a pouchful of hope and then enter into the Lord's rest, all cares swept under the bed. Why? Because the world and this mortal existence keep squishing the hope flat. It takes maintenance. We have to be constantly renewing our hope, shaping it to the needs of the day and the trial. It's not a one-time thing. It's a daily endeavor.

"The daily work of the Lord involves changing hopeless to hopeful--for all of us. And it is for us to find at last that in the midst of winter we have within us an invincible summer. In a world filled with adversity we can reach for joy." (Elaine Cannon, April 1982 GC) 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hope Quote from M. Russell Ballard

photo credit: Live Purposefully Now

"As we put our faith and trust to work, hope is born. Hope grows out of faith and gives meaning and purpose to all that we do. It can even give us the peaceful assurances we need to live happily in a world that is ripe with iniquity, calamity, and injustice." ~ M. Russell Ballard

Thursday, October 5, 2017

With Faith

In my personal scripture study yesterday, I read about Alma's teachings to his son, Helaman. At one point, he discusses the Liahona, a divine compass of sorts, that guided their forefathers to a new, promised land. He says, "It did work for them according to their faith in God." (Alma 37:40) When they had faith--including the faith to live according to their gospel knowledge--they received the direction they wanted. When they didn't, they had no help and were left to their own devices (or, in this case, I suppose it was lack of devices). This led to a lot of tedious wandering in the wilderness. The operative factor was the faith.

photo credit:
And so it is with a bunch of other things in the gospel. Prayer, for example, does not work without faith. With faith, it's communication with the divine Father of our souls. It's a chance to feel Him near and receive peace, counsel, and forgiveness. Without faith ... it's talking to our bed covers while our knees get sore.

Fasting with faith is a time for meditation and self-mastery. It puts a megaphone to our petitions, and shows the Lord the urgency or our plea. It is sacrifice, worship, prayer, and the power to unlock miracles. Without faith, it's a grouchy 24-hour starvation diet--if we even make it that long.

Even studying the scriptures takes faith. If we trust that there's revelation inside the pages (paper or digital), we find it. If not, we may stumble through a confusing and archaic narrative and wonder why we couldn't just read a cozy mystery or sweet romance instead.

Everything we do as disciples of Jesus Christ requires a measure of faith. Without it, there is no power to change circumstances, or to change hearts (including our own). Faith is the battery, and we need to keep it charged up.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Do you want to be skeptical, or do you want to be happy?

This morning, I met a fine young man of faith who impressed me with his cheerful demeanor and ready, warm laugh. At almost sixteen, he has seen much of tragedy, and his current home life includes financial, health, academic, and relationship struggles of above average intensity. Most people in his situation would feel to say, "Life stinks!" 

But while he recognizes all of these hardships, he maintains a bright hope that things will get better and that God is listening to and answering his fervent prayers. In fact, I've never heard a teen talk so much or so eagerly about his time spent in prayer. 

Oddly enough, just yesterday, I spoke with a man whose attitude was exactly the opposite. His circumstances in life had led him to the conclusion that God is some kind of sadist, and our job is to love the pain or burn forever in the afterlife, and he wanted nothing to do with faith. His general outlook is bleak nine days out of ten. 

It got me thinking. Over the years, I've heard many a skeptic scoff a those who cling to faith. They call believers delusional, weak, stupid, and a myriad of other mocking terms. 

But here's the thing ... Those who believe find wisdom, strength, and courage to face their situations with optimism. If it's all bunk, then why does it work so well? If faith is self-deception, then why is the happiness real?

If the choice is between being skeptical and miserable, or being faith-filled and happy, why would I let intellectual pride stop me from finding joy in life?

photo credit: Slide Share

I knew people in the mountains of Guatemala who lived in homes made of dried cornstalks and corrugated tin. They had dirt floors, pooped in a ditch outside, and had to haul water from the river in massive jugs. But even in those circumstances, I found faith-filled people who loved their lives and found daily reasons to rejoice over God's goodness. 

Meanwhile, in the lap of first-world luxury, some allow their hope to be crushed by a slow internet, a boring job, or a fender bender dinging their car. They complain and compare and compete--and drive happiness from their lives because they refuse to look to the Lord as the source of their fulfillment. 

Our joy is not circumstantial. Our hope cannot be in the things we want because we always want more. We have to look to the Lord Jesus Christ to answer the longings of our heart, and He will not leave us comfortless. 

"We literally cannot despair--unless we choose to. But because we are mortal, death is entangled with life. We can choose to feed the darkness and death in our lives, or we can choose to feed the brightness of hope in our lives. We can worry. We can deny the light. We can refuse to ally ourselves with Jesus Christ, the already triumphant master of life. We can give our lives piece by piece into the captivity until we no longer have the power to wrench it away again. We can cooperate with the killing of our spirits and the strangling of our hopes until meaninglessness and despair overcome us. The death of the body is nothing--for Christ's Resurrection guarantees our own--but He cannot rescue us from the death of the spirit unless we choose to ally ourselves with Him, with His hope, with the inexhaustible and irrepressible life that is His."  (Chieko Okazaki, October 1996 General Conference)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What's going on here?

"You either live in hope, or you live in despair. Without hope, you cannot endure to the end." ~ James E. Faust

I am a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm also a bit of a news junkie, which can create a bit of a trial of faith, depending on how many disasters have struck recently. Let's just say this has been a rough week in the headlines. 
photo credit:

But only last weekend, I enjoyed the inspiring words of General Conference, which motivated me to use social media and the internet to spread hope and faith in Jesus Christ, not anger or discontent about whatever is going wrong in the world. So, here I am, consecrating this piece of cyberspace and a portion of my mental energy and time to promoting something that I know to be true:

God lives and loves me, and He's got my back!

photo credit: River City Church, Washington MO

And yours. Whether you believe in Him or not, though it sure helps if you do because you can recognize and access the help so much faster. I hope this blog will keep me accountable to my testimony, and if it strengthens yours along the way, then that's even better!

Knowledge vs. Proof