RELIEF SOCIETY *
In Relief Society, our topics of study vary throughout the month. On the first Sunday of the month, our lesson is selected and taught by one of the three members of the local Relief Society presidency: the president or one of her two counselors. On second and third Sundays, instructors teach out of the assigned adult curriculum manual for the year. This year, we are studying the teachings of the prophet, Howard W. Hunter. In our stake, the fourth Sunday is set aside for “Teachings For Our Times”. Priesthood leadership select recent talks given in our worldwide General Conference, which occurs semi-annually, in April and October. I teach the fourth Sunday lesson in Relief Society.
*Relief Society is the worldwide women’s auxiliary organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the oldest women’s organization in the world, and may well be largest as well (I am not certain, but I think so.)
TEACHINGS FOR OUR TIMES
This month, my assigned topic was an address given in April 2016 General Conference by a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom. It is entitled, ” I Am A Child of God”. I was immediately reminded of the blog post I wrote last year on this same topic. What I did not relate at that time is that there has been a major battle for the minds and hearts of my children which had been raging for just years between me and my ex-husband. While I was teaching my children one thing, he was teaching them the opposite. This happened on many fronts, over many subjects, but the fires raged hottest between my Creationism and his Evolution. I knew very well why: it was a point on which he could turn the hearts of my children toward himself and away from Heavenly Father and their mother who loves Him. According to my son, who believed him, my ex-husband even taught the outright lie that the LDS prophets and apostles supported and taught evolution as the way Creation happened. Even with this lengthy refuting evidence, my son chose to cling to my ex-husband’s teachings.
That battle was actually a good thing, because as I fought for the soul of my boy, I was forced to study things out much further and deeper than I’d ever done before. He came home with questions I could not answer and I assertions I knew were untrue. He would only consider outside authorities, refusing my testimony he believed my ex’s assertions that I was a liar, and not to be trusted. So as I searched the scriptures and LDS resources for hours, always with a prayer in my heart for divine help, I found that my testimony was strengthened in the process of trying to help him. I stand by what I wrote then, and by what I am about to write now, even if I stand alone in it. By the witness of the Holy Ghost to my heart and mind, I know this doctrine is true, and that Elder Hallstrom’s witness is true as well.
I know I won’t be able to fit all my thoughts and impressions into the lesson on Sunday, so I have decided to put them online, in case there is interest from some of the sisters I will be teaching tomorrow, and because I love them.
As published in the May 2016 Ensign magazine, the header statement or headline for Elder Hallstrom’s talk that begins on page 26 is this:
“A correct understanding of our heavenly heritage is ESSENTIAL to exaltation.”
According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, ESSENTIAL means “necessary to the constitution or existence of a thing. 1.) important in the highest degree.” Hahaha, the Celestial Kingdom IS the highest degree, and that is what exaltation is: living the kind of eternal life that Heavenly Father lives, in the kind of glory that He lives it. “2.) pure.” Webster’s uses the example of essential oils from plants, so basically it is the essence of a thing.
This made me think of the Food Network television show, Cutthroat Kitchen. Instead of being a mere test of the skill and talents of cooks and chefs, a heavy dose of malice and adversity is thrown in the mix. Contestants bid in an auction for sabotages they can place on their competitors. I thought of the commonly-seen sabotage of having all your ingredients stolen away, usually followed by having to use less-than-ideal substitutes. Think of the following dishes and how difficult it might be to make them if the ESSENTIAL ingredients to complete them were suddenly taken away: Macaroni and Cheese with no cheese, Chocolate Chip Cookies with no chocolate, or Potato Salad with no boiled potatoes or eggs.
Elder Hallstrom’s opening statement is this: “Our most FUNDAMENTAL doctrine includes the knowledge that we are children of a living God.”
FUNDAMENTAL (adjective) pertaining to the foundation or basis; serving for the foundation, [ground work]. Source: Webster’s 1828 dictionary.
I thought of my children’s building blocks. What if the foundation was not a block? How would a skein of yarn work? A rolling pin? A bin of rice or sand? Perhaps the rice or sand might appear to work at first, but when the rains come down and the flood come up, meh… not so much. So I gathered together a visual exercise with blocks, yarn and a container of rice which I hope will cooperate with me in front of the class.
I thought of some of the comments I have read on Christian and/or conservative social media pages where most folks writing do not know what I do as a Latter-day Saint. They build their lives, their worldviews, their thoughts and deeds, upon ideas about God and their origins that are as sad, to me, as watching a child try to build a tower on top of a pillow. Trying to convince that child otherwise, though? My Dad always quoted my Grandpa, who said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Grandpa was right. So this means that sometimes you and I, as parents and friends, have to wait and and watch while those we love cry and struggle unnecessarily because they refuse to believe that there could possibly be a better way: a truth.
LAW OF WITNESSES
Though he does not say so, Elder Hallstrom enacted the Law of Witnesses when he next quoted from prophets and apostles throughout time and all the standard works of scripture. The law of witnesses was mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, but usually 2 Corinthians 13:1 is cited the most often.
I remembered a song by Christian artist, Mark Schultz, Cloud of Witnesses. I think it is probably based on Hebrews 12:1. Though a lot of the scenes that he paints in this song are foreign to the LDS way of doing things, I have always liked this song. The concept we teach of Zion, where everyone’s hearts are knit together in love and there is peace and harmony among all the members, and they see eye to eye – because they all know, live and love the truth – I just long for this. It is such a lonely thing, sometimes, to be among Latter-day Saints who don’t believe as I do; who don’t understand or misinterpret the desires of my heart. When he sings about the circle of prayer, I am reminded of the prayer circles in the temple. I, too, have been comforted and helped by the prayers of the righteous. During a time when I was wandering from my family and my faith, I believe I even heard the voices of Latter-day Saints in the prayer circle, because the first time I went through the temple, I was amazed and brought to tears by the sound. I knew I had heard this before, but I had not known what it was until that moment! My sister, who was my temple escort, whispered to me that she had diligently kept my name on the prayer roll, always, during the whole time I had been lost. I also like the final verse of Mark’s song. I would like to imagine that kind of glorious reunion with all those who have gone before me, who love me, and who have successfully fought the battle I am fighting now.
Thinking of one particular sister in our class, I decided to make a visual aid with clouds and featuring 2 Corinthians 13:1
THE POWER OF THE DOCTRINE THAT WE ARE LITERALLY CHILDREN OF GOD
“[This doctrine] provides continual motivation for us to make and keep our indispensable eternal covenants.” – Elder Donald L. Hallstrom
All I could think of here was one of my mostest favoritest quotes from the prophet Joseph Smith. It was one of those teachings that changed my life.
Even though I always knew I was a child of God, I had some false ideas about him, which I did not know I had. It was my privilege and blessing to have had a righteous priesthood leader, Bishop Richard Thomas, to help me and teach me in my early twenties. In his office he had a picture of the Savior, and circling the ceiling were the 15 photographs of the current Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. 99.9% of what Bishop Thomas taught me came from the scriptures, prophets or apostles. So when I would question something he was teaching me, he would just quietly hand me a talk or address from a true servant of God, and sometimes point at their picture up there on the wall. There it was, in black and white, word for word, just as he had said. Over time, I realized could relax. I could believe that what he was teaching me was the true gospel and not some twisted gospel principle again; served up cold, second-hand and self-servingly by a false priest or priestess. He was always fastidiously careful to clarify whenever anything he told me was his own personal conclusion, formed from study and prayer: or as he called it “the gospel according to Richard Thomas”. This gentle personal honesty honored of my intelligence and acknowledged my faith and trust in him as my Priesthood leader and teacher. All of these sacrifices for me have garnered my deepest, eternal respect. So he taught me, by his example, how to draw life out of wells of living water. I woke up, spiritually, as I began my own course of personal prayer, scripture study, and studying the teachings of the prophets; including Lectures on Faith by Joseph Smith. In the years leading up to this true and blessed friendship, I had been trying to build on a skein of yarn, too… and no wonder my life came crashing down. Here is that quote (Lectures on Faith 3:2-5):
The reason the doctrine that I Am A Child Of God provides continual motivation is because IT IS TRUTH. It answers points first and second.
Point First: Imagine no correct FOUNDATION. Imagine not knowing or believing God exists and He is my Father.
Point Second: Imagine having no light to see by. Imagine not knowing in whose image you were designed or that it was intended by your Designer that you were to become just as He is. Imagine believing, instead, in a vengeful, capricious god with no form, no parts, no passions who created you, hopelessly sinful wretch of a worm. You would wonder why this Being created you and perhaps believe all your suffering was because he hated you. The thought that you were created in the image of such a god as this would be confusing. For some, the added thought that we were supposed to become like him might be baffling, discouraging… or even enraging.
I rejoice that I know the truth: I am a Child of God and I am here to pass through experiences to help me become like him. Even better, there are prophets and apostles here, whose teachings about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are true and trustworthy. They tell me what God is really like, and what God is really not like. I am his seed (Mosiah 15:10-13). I am his planting (Isaiah 61:3). I am his olive tree (Jacob 5:3).
Right now we are growing soil sprouts according to a method I learned about in a book by Peter Burke. I am enjoying teaching my youngest daughter her first lessons in botany combined with more lessons from the gospel. A seed always reaches for the light, even if we turn it away. Do you do that with your Heavenly Father? Yes, I know you do, sweetheart! An alfalfa seed does not try to be a red clover seed, does it? An alfalfa seed is happy to be an alfalfa seed, isn’t it? It follows the plan for which it was created. Can you see the need these little seeds have for constant nourishment? Do you see how they always need light and a little water every day? What would happen if we put the pot in the dark now, or stopped watering it next Tuesday? How is Heavenly Father like a Gardener? What role/s of fatherhood does a Gardener play? To provide, to preside or to protect? What does it mean to nurture? That’s what Mommies do. We are nurturing these baby plants (Alma 32:37-43). I have never seen a mature daikon radish plant, yet the faith of the pot of radish sprouts growing on my windowsill astounds me sometimes; as it unhesitatingly, gloriously throws off its jacket (Mosiah 3:19) and keeps becoming like those parents which it has also never seen before, but just seems to know it was destined to become just like (Genesis 1:12, Moses 1:39, Matthew 17:20).
Point Third: Imagine having no confidence to continue. Imagine feeling, as Elder Holland described,
Is that what life was meant to be? Is this the grand finale of the human experience? Are we all just hanging in a cold canyon somewhere in an indifferent universe, each of us searching for a toehold, each of us seeking for something to grip—with nothing but the feeling of sand sliding under our fingers, nothing to save us, nothing to hold on to, much less anything to hold on to us? Is our only purpose in life an empty existential exercise—simply to leap as high as we can, hang on for our prescribed three score years and ten, then fail and fall, and keep falling forever?
The answer to those questions is an unequivocal and eternal no! With prophets ancient and modern, I testify that “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”
(Where Justice Love and Mercy Meet, April 2015 General Conference address).
There have been times in my life when I have felt the confidence that Joseph Smith described. What a joy, relief, encouragement and blessing it was to know God approved of the way I was living my life and of my devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That he saw me, knew me, and was acknowledging all my efforts, no matter how imperfect, and that it was pleasing unto him, even sufficient. Finally, I could achieve Enough.
Even though the illustrated children’s book is not 100% correct in it’s portrayal of our relationship with God as his children, I still like the story by Max Lucado called You Are Special. If only Max Lucado knew that he was a child of God! Then he would not have portrayed our Heavenly Father as a human craftsman and we his children as merely carvings of wood, like the puppet protagonists Punchinello and Lucia. Brother Lucado, you and I are both spirit children of God just like a boy named Willard is my son.
In the story of Punchinello I see something else that is wrong. It is the sticker game, where puppets gave each other stars and dots, and some puppets spent their entire existence chasing after them. The forced and feigned piety, the attitude of haircloth-and-scourging, of self-negating abasement that some Christians, even LDS, seem to demand of their brothers and sisters in the gospel is a perversion of humility. Jesus was not shy about stating who he was and being who he was: the Son of God. Even if that made him different, even if that made him stand out. We read in the Bible about not putting our light under a bushel. Yet, like Scrooge snuffing out the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past, we sometimes indignantly shove bushels over each other… as if the brilliantly glowing light of somebody else makes us look dimmer.
“Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this—it is the father of all lies…Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone,“robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb.”May we encourage each other in our effort to win that prize is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” – Jeffrey R. Holland, The Other Prodigal, April 2002 General Conference.
This is like Lucifer, who, rather than desiring to do the work to also become like his Father, simply desired to steal it away for his own possession instead… and when that did not work, to fight endlessly and maliciously snuff it out (Moses 4:1, D&C 29:46). We need to stop this. No matter how brightly one candle can shine – even if that candle is our Exemplar – five more candles shining together as brightly as they can along with the first are a brighter light than one lonely candle, missing his fellows, mournfully burning all by himself.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
Ezra Taft Benson is quoted as saying “Pride is concerned with who is right, while humility is concerned with what is right.” Over and over in the New Testament account we see that the men pointing the finger of scorn at the innocent Christ were in actuality guilty of the very sins they attributed to our Lord. There is a difference between the integrity of standing for truth and righteousness , as Christ always did, and the enmity for all things good and true that is pride. The Truman Madsen Joseph Smith tapes contain this interesting quote: “The question was put to [Joseph Smith], ‘Joseph, is the principle of self-aggrandizement wrong? Should we seek our own good?’ Listen to his answer. ‘It is a correct principle and may be indulged upon only one rule or plan–and that is to elevate, benefit, and bless others first. If you will elevate others, the very work itself will exalt you. Upon no other plan can a man justly and permanently aggrandize himself.'” An example of this is the account I just shared of my former bishop, Richard Thomas. Obviously, he has no need to aggrandize himself; not that this humble man would even desire to. I did the aggrandizing for him, and every word of my praise is just, true and well deserved. I believe that upon this same principle rests our honor for all the prophets and apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (Alma 26:10-17, 35-36; Mosiah 2:16). This cloud of witnesses devote their lives to us, in pure charity, desiring nothing but our eternal benefit. Indeed, to be trusted is better than to be loved.
“The study of doctrine and the teaching of doctrine will change behavior more than the study of behavior will change behavior.” – Boyd K. Packer
PROFESSION OF FAITH VERSUS CONVERSION
“Do we know [we are children of God] in our mind and in our heart and in our soul?” – Elder Hallstrom
I couldn’t help thinking here of Moses 5:13, “And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.” I have come to believe this is one reason why people struggle too long and unnecessarily with temptations. If they really believed they were children of God, destined to become like him if they so chose the path and pattern that leads there, they would stop believing that they are too weak, only human, incapable of perfecting themselves through the Atonement of Christ, incapable of perfect obedience even if only in part… or whatever.
“Is our heavenly parentage our first and most profound identity?” – Elder Hallstrom
I thought here of Moses 7:33, another one of my all-time favorite verses from the Pearl of Great Price. “And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;” All those folks in Moses 5:13 chose Lucifer as their father, and guess what? They did became like him! They became like him by obeying his commandment not to believe their Heavenly Father. Only those who are currently choosing Lucifer’s pattern in their hearts would delight in and excuse themselves in pursuing carnality, sensuality and devilishness…and stubborn remaining there.
I have lived through decades of domestic violence, but with the help of just and true Priesthood leaders, I have found comfort and healing. One of my branch presidents thought my battered soul was still of worth, and authorized the use of Church funds to finance professional private counseling through LDS Family Services; counseling that I could never have been able to afford otherwise. Early on, my counselor asked me to study Abraham 1, in the Pearl of Great Price. I thought I knew this story, and why it had been told (Genesis 22:2) but I did not. When I returned for my next session, she asked me to liken myself unto Abraham. Me? Like the great Abraham? No! Never! Not even close! This was very, very hard for me to do. She worked with me, patiently, for weeks. But what she asked me to do next was even harder for me and took even longer: to liken my abusers to Terah, and to ponder what my abusers idols could have been, or were. What had my abusers sacrificed me to? In loyal insistence, I fought, denied, struggled… cursed her as a liar, as a paradigm-destroyer… and in the quiet moments, as the Spirit whispered confirmation that what she had suggested was indeed true, my anger was replaced by weeping, mourning and grieving. It felt like blood was coming out of my soul, blood that had been bleeding out for years, only now the dam had finally broken. It was in my cries, in my tears, in the shaking and trembling of my body, in the sleepless nights upon my knees, in the uncontrollable crying sometimes, at Sunday services. They had loved me, but not enough; not enough because they loved their idols more. My heart had died – pierced with deep wounds – at the hands of those who should have been the last to have hurt me (Jacob 2:35). I had been wandering around; trying to live, trying to breathe and function, with a gaping hole in my chest.
Once I began to realize that my abusers would always love their idols more than they loved me, or at least that there was nothing I could do – any change of their hearts was completely their responsibility and that I was both powerless and blameless in this thing – I began to see that like Abraham, I had a choice to make. Eventually I chose, as Abraham did, to make Heavenly Father my father, and allow the Terahs in my life to continue in their idolatry as they would. I allowed myself to give up on the futile, desperate hope that there was something, anything I could do or be that would finally make them cherish me more than their idols. It was an odd sort of peace: this resignation, this acceptance. I just let them be them, as they were, and gave up on anything different. From then on, I learned to turn to my Heavenly Father; to just seek my Father to teach me. I only allowed myself to listen to true messengers from my Father. Of course, that meant I had to learn how to discern who these messengers were and were not. I began to learn who I really was according to Him and what He thought I could become, for reals. From then on, the affections of my heart were placed on the Lord, and just as He promised, when we draw near unto Him, He draws near unto us. Always. He gave me my yearned-for children. He gave me my eternal companion. Everything good in my life has been a gift from Him.
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace…Try as you may, you cannot put the Lord in your debt. For every time you try to do His will, He simply pours out more blessings…” – Ezra Taft Benson (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, Dec 1988)
WHO DO I LOOK LIKE?
“Here on earth, we identify ourselves in many different ways, including our place of birth, our nationality, and our language. Some even identify themselves by their occupation or their hobby. These earthly identities are not wrong UNLESS they superced or interfere with our eternal identity – that of being a son or a daughter of God.” – Elder Hallstrom
One of my favorite television shows is Long Lost Family. The show originated in Denmark I believe, and has since been duplicated in England and Australia. In the United States, season one of Long Lost Family recently concluded on cable network, TLC. Recently, I also watched the trailer for a documentary called Anonymous Father’s Day, which centers on the perspectives and feelings of children conceived via medically therapeutic stranger-donor insemination. I was especially struck by the similarity of expression between adoptees and donor children. Both expressed feelings of a loss of identity, of looking into the mirror and asking the question with no one to answer, “Who do I look like?” I am the mother of two donor-conceived children, and I have heard this question from them, too.
I can relate, at least a little. I was to think of myself as white and was taught next to nothing about my mother’s culture and ethnicity. I was not treated as white in school. I remember strangers approaching my mother to guess at her background: “You’re Hispanic aren’t you? No? From India? No? Mulatto then? No?” I can remember the fury of my mother, yelling at me, “You are white! You are white!” when she learned that I had identified myself as both Caucasian and Native Hawaiian on the ACT and SAT tests. I remember how I felt, in 2002, when a relative gave me a picture of my maternal great-grandmother. I looked into her face and saw my own. A piece of me had been missing all this time; I had not even known it, and now here it was! It could not be bred out. It could not be erased. Here was the truth: I am Hawaiian and I am Mary’s. Mary was strong and good; that must mean I can be strong and good, too. I decided I had to learn more about her and my other Hawaiian ancestors. This eventually led to receiving copies of the sacred patriarchal blessings of three of my LDS Hawaiian progenitors; the reading of which lifted my own sense of identity and worth. I am a child of God, and He has sent me here, for a reason, to this noble family lineage descended from Joseph of Egypt.
“Here on earth, we identify ourselves in many different ways, including our place of birth, our nationality, and our language. Some even identify themselves by their occupation or their hobby. These earthly identities are not wrong UNLESS they superced or interfere with our eternal identity – that of being a son or a daughter of God.” – Elder Hallstrom
I thought of a mirror, and how we are created in the image of God. When we look at ourselves, do we see Him? I thought of the transparencies teachers used to use in school, or the anatomy plates in my parents Collier’s Encyclopedias, where you could lay one image over another, and still see them all. I thought of a lot of songs.
The visual aid I eventually came up with was look up a picture of the First Vision, by Del Parson, on lds.org. I took a screen-shot of their high-resolution jpg, and then cropped the image down to just show Heavenly Father. Besides the statue recently unveiled in Nauvoo, Del Parson’s picture is the only image of Father that is produced by the Church. I took three index cards, cut them in half and wrote down identity words I thought most of my sisters would share: Montanan, American, Caucasian (perhaps I should have used Blackfeet), English, etc. I put tape on the back of them. It works out that when I place these cards on the iPad screen, it covers up the picture of our Heavenly Father.
This was the most melody-filled part of my lesson preparation, and more songs have kept coming to mind all evening. The first song just came soaring, like a bird. It is by the very talented LDS composer Janice Kapp Perry, and has so many scriptures that go with it: Alma 5:14, 19; D&C 59:15, D&C 138 21-24, to name a few. It is called Have You Receive His Image In Your Countenance, and can be heard/viewed if you click on the blue hyperlink in this sentence.
Then, of course, is one of my top favorite songs, one that I have often cited on this blog. Could You Believe by Christian artist Twila Paris
And how about another song that I just love, Love, LOVE: I Am His Daughter, written by Stephanie Mabey and sung by Nicole Sheahan. Both are Latter-day Saints.
All of us would love to look into the mirror and love who we see staring back at us; would love to see our Father in our faces. We can’t run away from the pain sometimes required to get there. The struggle is a blessing, not a curse.
LIKE A LITTLE CHILD: Imagining A Hardship
At this point in his address, Elder Hallstrom shared a personal story about his little daughter’s experience in school. As you know from this blog, “Halloween is not my favorite holiday” either, so Elder Hallstrom won some brownie points with me. He told how his daughter’s teacher, for a creative writing assignment, had asked her to imagine that she had just drunk a from a witch’s brew. This was her response, “I will die and I will be in heaven. I will like it there. I would love it because you are with your Heavenly Father.”
LIKE A LITTLE CHILD: Enduring Hardship
I couldn’t figure out, at first, what was so significant about his daughter’s story that he had felt it was worth relating in this address to the worldwide LDS Church. It was only after I had written it out, and puzzled awhile, that I remembered the tail end of the scripture from Mosiah 3:19, “and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
He mentioned things WORSE than fiction; worse than an imagined witch’s brew. He listed REAL things: pain, heartaches, injustice, disappointments, financial setbacks, heath setbacks, doubts and questions. Then he questioned our reactions, and left it to our own hearts to compare our behavior to that of a little child like his daughter.
“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are—that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?” – Elder Hallstrom
I thought of how the prophet Joseph Smith called himself “a rough stone rolling.”
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women–all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty, who will give me dominion over all and every one of them, when their refuge of lies shall fail, and their hiding place shall be destroyed, while these smooth-polished stones with which I come in contact become marred” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304).
Then I thought of how these “actual, not imagined hardships” mentioned by Elder Hallstrom could be likened unto sandpaper. If such things could speak, why would a violin, a desk, or any other piece of wood, bound to become a treasure or an heirloom, complain about the sanding that gets them there? I haven’t gotten there yet.
I thought of Hugh B. Brown’s story of the current bush, as now beautifully illustrated in a video. I thought of the all songs I love and all the characters I identify with, from the musical allegory called The Garden by Michael McLean and Bryce Neubert, especially the song called The Man With Many Names.
I thought of the Mormon Channel video called The Refiner’s Fire. With all that I have been through, would I trade places with Kim?
I haven’t gotten there yet. I think this blog is part of getting there. It is my hope that the honest stories and personal experiences and discoveries in this blog will help others get there too. So that, like Elder Hallstrom’s daughter, I can answer my Teacher, “”I will die and I will be in heaven. I will like it there. I would love it because [I would] be with [my] Heavenly Father.”
“Recently, I was in a meeting with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. In teaching the principle that mortal life can be agonizing but our hardships have eternal purpose—even if we do not understand it at the time—Elder Holland said, “You can have what you want, or you can have something better.” – Elder Hallstrom
The Pearl Necklace
The cheerful girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them: a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box.
“Oh please, Mommy. Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please!”
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box and then looked back into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl’s upturned face.
“A dollar ninety-five. That’s almost $2.00. If you really want them, I’ll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday’s only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma.”
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. McJames if she could pick dandelions for ten cents.
On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them everywhere–Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving daddy and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story. One night when he finished the story, he asked Jenny, “Do you love me?”
“Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess–the white horse from my collection. The one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my favorite.”
“That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.” And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after the story time, Jenny’s daddy asked again, “Do you love me?”
“Daddy, you know I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my babydoll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is so beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper.”
“That’s okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you.” And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek.
“What is it, Jenny? What’s the matter?”
Jenny didn’t say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver,she finally said, “Here, Daddy. It’s for you.”
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny.
When we give the Lord all we have, He gives us all He has.
The children’s story about Happiness from the Standing Tall character value series by Janeen Brady can also be applied here… and to one of the reasons that society is currently having problems with the most indulged and yet the most unhappy rising generation in recorded history.
“If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the Stream would have no song.”
A REFINER OF SILVER
“[Do you have] an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?” – Elder Hallstrom
I found the following story during my divorce, when I, too, did not understand what the role of a refiner of silver had to do with my Heavenly Father. I am glad it was still online so that I could share it with you.
There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi. As they were studying chapter three they came across verse three which says, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.
One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot – then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire [1 Corinthians 10:13]. For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed [D&C 122:9 (1-9), Job 13:15, and the September 7 2008 CES broadcast address, Lessons From Liberty Jail by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland which is worth watching, then reading, then listening to this song that he requested that the choir would sing following his remarks.]
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s the easy part — when I see my image reflected in it.”
NOTE FROM KAY: I verified that the information in this story was true. I contacted a silversmith at www.silversmithing.com and asked if there were any untruths in the silver-smithing parts.
I received the following response from Fred Zweig: “I am familiar with the verse from Malachi. The similarities of actual refining and the chapter and verse from the Bible are accurate. It is important not to overheat the silver when refined in this process and clean molten silver will shine with a mirror-like quality when it is ready to pour. The high temperatures do volatize the impurities and form on the surface as dross. It is important to be attentive to the molten metal as it does it no good to overheat it. It may not destroy the silver, but silver has an affinity for absorbing oxygen and this can make it unworkable.“
Silver = a thing of intrinsic value; a value which becomes even greater once purified
Fire = a symbol for sanctification, which sanctification is done by the Holy Ghost. Somewhat related to that is the fact that oil is also a symbol for the Holy Ghost (think oil in your vessels, like unto conversion in your hearts… think 5 wise virgins).
Of course, I also thought of verse 5 of the hymn, How Firm A Foundation, which speaks of fiery trials, flames, dross and gold. But more on that, later.
In remembering this story, I was also reminded of another allegory. It is one that Heavenly Father taught me during my days living in domestic violence shelter transitional housing. At that time I was basically fleeing everything that I feared and feeling very glad, very safe there. I was not wanting to think about ever leaving there, EVER, though I knew the clock was ticking on my two-year time limit. Once again, Heavenly Father chose to use a Dr. Seuss story to help me understand a gospel principle, just like he has done with The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hatches an Egg, Horton Hears A Who, The Sneetches, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. Maybe it because I was reading Seuss all the time to and with my kids. In any case, he used Willard’s favorite, Green Eggs and Ham, to touch my heart, to woo me, to convince me again that he loved me; that everything that had happened to me was not because He despised me, hated me, or wished for nothing but my suffering, misery and destruction. That was the other guy. So quit running away from me, Katie. In the famous tale, Green Eggs and Ham, the complaining character, who I will call Ted does not realize that Sam loves him. Ted views Sam as a nuisance and a bother. Though Ted has never tasted what’s on the plate, he is still suspicious of everything Sam is trying to do and baffled by his persistence. Sam will never force him to eat those eggs, but in the words of the hymn, “He’ll call, persuade, direct aright, And bless with wisdom, love and light; In nameless ways be good and kind, but never force the human mind.” Sam is like our Heavenly Father, always and ever inviting (D&C 121:41, Helaman 13:38-39). In a way, he is also asking, “Do you love me? Always? Everywhere?” Once Ted understands the truth, everything changes. He becomes ever-willing. He becomes a Sam, too (1 Nephi 8:11-12, Mosiah 18:9, Romans 8:38-39) It is interesting to me that the turning point happens in water (Mosiah 18:8-11).
HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION
The remainder of Elder Hallstrom’s address describes his wonderful experiences visiting the Saints in Africa. “The sixth and last country we visited was Liberia. Liberia is a great country with a noble people and a rich history, but things have not been easy there. Decades of political instability and civil wars have worsened the plague of poverty. On top of that, the dreaded Ebola disease killed nearly 5,000 people there during the latest outbreak. We were the first group of Church leaders from outside the area to visit Monrovia, the capital city, since the World Health Organization declared it safe to do so after the Ebola crisis.” Wow. Talk about refiner’s fire.
“On a very hot and humid Sunday…every available chair was set up, totaling 3,500 seats. The final count of attendees was 4,100… it was not easy for the Saints to gather… Most arrived several hours before the appointed meeting time…As we entered the hall, the spiritual atmosphere was electric! The Saints were prepared to be taught.” Obviously, they wanted it (Matthew 5:6). They were an audience of Sam-I-Ams.
“When the speaker quoted a scripture, the members would say the verse aloud. It did not matter – short scripture or long; the entire congregation responded in unison.” These Saints knew their Green Eggs and Ham. This reminds me of a wonderful quote by Confucius that I just found “Those who know the truth are lesser than those who love the truth, and those who love the truth are lesser than those who live it.”
“Then Elder Bednar spoke…Clearly with spiritual direction, partway through his remarks, Elder Bednar stopped and said, ‘Do you know ‘How Firm A Foundation?’ It seemed that 4,100 voices roared in response, ‘YES!’” I am reminded here of a visit that Elder Bednar paid to the Lansing Michigan Stake when we lived in Michigan a few years ago. He also asked us to sing this hymn, and I believe he asked us to sing the same verses as he requested the Saints in Liberia to sing: “verses 1, 2, 3, and 7“. But before we sang he asked us if we understood who was speaking in verse 7. I have sung this congregational hymn most of my life, and for some reason, even though I know it is the Lord speaking in the first person, as the person “I” in verse 3, I had the notion in my head that this all changed in verse 7. It put a peculiar sort of pressure on me. After all the other verses about the Lord’s power and greatness, would I be able to measure up? This must be a common misconception among the Latter-day Saints, because Elder Bednar corrected it. He bore powerful witness to us that the voice speaking to us the promise in verse 7 was, as it had been in all the other verses, still the Lord’s. And when we saints of the Lansing Michigan Stake in Zion finally arrived at singing verse 7, I just wept. The joy and power of that moment have stayed with me always. Funny thing, though… knowing the truth about this hymn also awoke in me the desire to reciprocate those verses, and croon them all back as if I would do the same for him, if I could, throughout his earthy ministry. It reminds me of a song by Kenneth Cope.
“In today’s world, no matter where we live and no matter what our circumstances are, it is essential that our preeminent identity is as a child of God.
- Knowing that will allow our FAITH to flourish,
- [Knowing that] will motivate our CONTINUAL REPENTANCE, and
- [Knowing that] will provide the STRENGTH to “be steadfast and immovable” throughout our mortal journey.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” – Elder Donald L. Hallstrom
In reading his conclusory statement, it struck me again, how Elder Hallstrom’s talk meshed with the prophet Joseph’s teachings:
First, the idea that He actually exists… will allow our FAITH to flourish
Secondly, the correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes … will motivate our CONTINUAL REPENTANCE, as we keep trying to be like Him.
Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will… will provide the STRENGTH to be “steadfast and immovable throughout our mortal journey.
Like Elder Hailstorm, I have also noticed that sometimes the Saints seem to get too comfortable with things with which they are familiar; like they do with the hymn, I Am A Child Of God. It’s almost as if they don’t hear them anymore. I’m thinking of comfy old worn slippers, and I’m thinking that sometimes we need to find a way to give ourselves a refreshed and renewed replacement pair. Maybe this is part of what Elder Hallstrom was trying to convey, too. Some bishops and branch presidents can be real jerks of micromanagement when it comes to sacrament meeting hymns: not allowing the choristers and organists to do anything in the fulfillment, let along magnifying of their callings. They are treated like mere arm-jerking robots and mindless player pianos, while his royal Melchizedek selects all the hymns and special musical numbers himself, like some dictator on a throne. Some congregations I’ve lived in have been so mired in tradition that the people are resistant to any changes that would threaten decades of the status quo. For example, folks that happily, stubbornly singing the Top 40 and that’s it.
However, I knew a chorister once who was allowed to do her calling, even cherished, valued and praised for it. She had the courage and creativity to magnify it by daring to interact with and even teach the congregation. Every so often she would ask us to open our hymnbooks to a certain familiar hymn, but then she would inform us that we would be singing that hymn to a different melody. She explained that the reason why we were able to do this was because both hymns had the same meter. For example, try singing More Holiness Give Me, Hymn 131, to the tune of Away In A Manger, Hymn 206. See? Singing this suddenly new but still old song is fun, but strange too! When the chorister did this, I would always realize that I did not know the hymn as well as I thought I did. I also saw thing in the lyrics that I had overlooked before but now the new melody brought them to my attention. I wish we could do this with I Am A Child of God, but its meter is irregular. Maybe it would wake some people up. I do love the countermelody, though, which is published in the Children’s Songbook, and can be sung along to it.
My favorite non-LDS Christian artist is Fernando Ortega. I affectionately think of him as a “Dry Mormon”, that is, his beliefs are already so akin to LDS thought that the only thing he seems to lack is to actually join and be baptized. My family and I were delighted, one day, to discover while listening to a new album that he sang How Firm A Foundation to a different melody than the Mormons do. The arrangement is cheerful, beautiful and even has a Celtic flavor to it. We like to sing it together in the car. I hope you enjoy it, too.
WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD!
“Nothing will surprise us more than when we get to heaven and see the Father and realize how well we know Him and how familiar His face is to us.”
– Ezra Taft Benson
One last story, this one from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland again. He originally gave this talk to temple workers, but an edited version of “I Stand All Amazed” was published in the August 1986 Ensign
“I recall just a few years ago seeing a drama enacted at the Salt Lake Airport. On this particular day, I got off an airplane and walked into the terminal. It was immediately obvious that a missionary was coming home because the airport was astir with conspicuous-looking missionary friends and missionary relatives.
I tried to pick out the immediate family members. There was a father who did not look particularly comfortable in an awkward-fitting and slightly out-of-fashion suit. He seemed to be a man of the soil, with a suntan and large, work-scarred hands. His white shirt was a little frayed and was probably never worn except on Sunday.
There was a mother who was quite thin, looking as if she had worked very hard in her life. She had in her hand a handkerchief—and I think it must have been a linen handkerchief once but now it looked like tissue. It was nearly shredded from the anticipation only the mother of a returning missionary could know.
There was a beautiful girl who—well, you know about girls and returning missionaries. She appeared to be on the verge of cardiac arrest. I thought that if the young man didn’t come soon, she would not make it without some oxygen.
Two or three younger brothers and sisters were running around, largely oblivious to the scene that was unfolding.
I walked past them all and started for the front of the terminal. Then I thought to myself, “This is one of the special human dramas in our lives. Stick around and enjoy it.” So I stopped. I slipped into the back of the crowd to wait and watch. The passengers were starting to come off the plane.
I found myself starting to bet (Church-approved betting, of course) as to who would make the break first. I thought probably the girlfriend would want to most of all, but undoubtedly she was struggling with discretion. Two years is a long time, you know, and maybe one shouldn’t appear too assertive. Then a look at that handkerchief convinced me that the mother was probably the one. She obviously needed to hold something, so the child she had carried and nurtured and gone down into the valley of the shadow of death to deliver would be just what the doctor ordered. Or perhaps it would be the boisterous little brother—if he happened to look up long enough to know the plane was in.
As I sat there weighing these options, I saw the missionary start to come down the stairs. I knew he was the one by the squeal of the crowd. He looked like Captain Moroni, clean and handsome and straight and tall. Undoubtedly he had known the sacrifice this mission had meant to his father and mother, and it had made him exactly the missionary he appeared to be. He had his hair trimmed for the trip home, his suit was worn but clean, his slightly tattered raincoat was still protecting him from the chill his mother had so often warned him about.
He came to the bottom of the steps and started out across the apron toward our building and then, sure enough, somebody couldn’t take it any longer. It wasn’t the mother, and it wasn’t the girlfriend, and it wasn’t the rowdy little brother. That big, slightly awkward, quiet and bronzed giant of a man put an elbow into the ribcage of a flight attendant and ran, just simply ran, out onto that apron and swept his son into his arms.
The oxygen summoned for the girlfriend could have now been better directed toward the missionary. He was probably 6′2″ or so, but this big bear of a father grabbed him, took him clear off his feet, and held him for a long, long time. He just held him and said nothing. The boy dropped his briefcase, put both arms around his dad, and they just held each other very tightly. It seemed like all eternity stood still, and for a precious moment the Salt Lake City Airport was the center of the entire universe. It was as if all the world had gone silent out of respect for such a sacred moment.
And then I thought of God the Eternal Father watching his boy go out to serve, to sacrifice when he didn’t have to do it, paying his own way, so to speak, costing everything he had saved all his life to give. At that precious moment, it was not too difficult to imagine that father speaking with some emotion to those who could hear, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And it was also possible to imagine that triumphant returning son, saying, “It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
Now, I don’t know what kind of seven-league boots a father uses to rush through the space of eternity. But even in my limited imagination I can see that reunion in the heavens. And I pray for one like it for you and for me. I pray for reconciliation and for forgiveness, for mercy, and for the Christian growth and Christian character we must develop if we are to enjoy such a moment fully.”
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” – Hebrews 12:1