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As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined. “But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. – Alma 32:40


A personal application of an LDS General Conference address originally delivered in October 2015 by Elder Vern P Stanfill of the Seventy.

“Not long ago, my wife and I decided that we should more fully experience the beauty of an area close to our home in northwest Montana. We determined to take our bicycles to the Hiawatha Trail, a converted rail line that crosses the beautiful Rocky Mountains between Montana and Idaho. We anticipated a fun day with good friends, enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

 

We knew our ride along the magnificent 15-mile (24 km) trail would include trestles stretching over deep canyons and long tunnels penetrating rugged mountains. So we prepared ourselves with lights strapped to our helmets and bicycles.

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Lights attached to our helmets

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Lights attached to our bicycles

Those who had gone before warned us that the tunnels were dark and that we needed REALLY STRONG LIGHTS. As we gathered in front of the massive stone opening of the Taft Tunnel, A CARETAKER EXPLAINED some of the dangers of the trail, including deep ditches along the edges, rough walls, and complete darkness.

“Some time ago I read a letter to a newspaper editor which was highly critical of the Church. I have forgotten the exact language, but it included a question something like this: “When are the Mormons going to stop being different and become a part of the mainstream of America?” About this same time there came to my desk a copy of an address given by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana. He spoke of a study made by “a commission of educational, political, medical and business leaders” dealing with the problems of American youth. The committee issued a report called Code Blue. That report, according to the Senator, concluded: “Never before has one generation of American teenagers been less healthy, less cared for, or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age.” …When I read those statements, I said to myself, If that is the mainstream of American youth, then I want to do all in my power to persuade and encourage our young people to stay away from it.” 

Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, May 1992, p. 69

Impatiently, we pushed forward into the tunnel. After we had ridden only a few minutes, the predicted darkness engulfed us. The lights I brought proved inadequate, and the darkness soon overwhelmed them. Suddenly, I began to feel anxious, confused, and disoriented.

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I was embarrassed to admit my anxieties to my friends and family. Although an experienced cyclist, I now felt as though I had never ridden a bicycle. I struggled to stay upright as my confusion increased.

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Finally, after I did express my discomfort to those around me, I was able to draw closer to the more powerful light of a friend. In fact, everyone in the group began to form a tight circle around him. By staying close to him and relying for a time on his light and the collective light of the group, we pushed deeper into the darkness of the tunnel.

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“As children grow in faith, they rely on their parents’ faith. They lean on our testimonies or borrow light from the light of our lamps of faith. But as they mature and face life’s more challenging problems, they must gain light of their own. Parents can help their children gain testimonies of their Heavenly Father and the Savior in many ways. For most, our example is the strongest teacher. As we use the Savior’s life as a standard for our behavior, we center our lives on him and show our children what power a living, vibrant faith can bring into their lives.” LDS Handbook For Families

After what seemed like hours, I saw a pinpoint of light. Almost immediately, I began to feel reassured that all would be well. I continued to press forward, relying on both the light of my friends and the growing pinpoint of light. My confidence gradually returned as the light grew in size and intensity. Long before reaching the end of the tunnel, I no longer needed the assistance of my friends. All anxiety disappeared as we pedaled quickly toward the light. I felt calm and reassured even before we rode into the morning full of warmth and splendor.

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“Just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…”

We live in a world in which we will experience challenges to our faith. We may feel confident that we are ready to face these challenges—only to find that our preparations have been insufficient. And just as my friend had warned me about the darkness, we are warned today. APOSTOLIC VOICES urge us to prepare ourselves with the powerful light of spiritual strength.

 

 

Likewise, we might feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, or confused spiritually when we encounter a challenge to our faith. Generally, the intensity and duration of these feelings will depend upon our reaction to them. If we do nothing, doubt, pride, and eventually apostasy may drive us from the light.

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I learned some important lessons from my experience in the tunnel. I’ll share just a few of them.

First, no matter how intense the darkness of doubt, we choose how long and to what extent we allow it to influence us. We must remember how much our Heavenly Father and His Son love us. They will neither abandon us, nor will They allow us to be overcome if we seek Their help. Remember Peter’s experience in the hostile waves of the Sea of Galilee. As Peter felt the cold darkness close around him, he recognized his dilemma immediately and chose in that very moment to call out for help. He did not question the Savior’s power to save him; he simply called out, “Lord, save me.”1

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“We want to treat all men kindly and with due respect; but we do not want to be governed by their religious views, nor put our children under their teachings. We want to look after the education of our children and see that they are placed under proper teachers and receive proper training, and not be placed in the hands of the enemies of the Church and kingdom of God… We believe in celestial glory, and we believe in terrestrial and telestial glory, or in other words, we believe that there will be a separation finally of the good and the bad. Now, we are engaged in gathering together, or separating ourselves from the world and building our temples and administering in them for the living and the dead, and we spend millions of dollars in the accomplishment of this object, that we may become united and linked together by eternal covenants that shall exist in all time and throughout eternity. And then, when we have done all this, we go and deliberately turn our children over to whom? To men who do not believe in the gospel, to men according to your faith, are never going to the Celestial Kingdom of God. They will get as big a glory as they are prepared for, but they are not going there. And you will turn your children over to them. And you call yourselves Latter-day Saints, do you? I will suppose a case. You expect to be saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God. Well, supposing your expectations are realized, which I sometimes doubt, and you look down, down somewhere in a terrestrial or telestial kingdom, as the case may be, and you see there your children, the offspring that God had given you to train up in his fear, to honor him and keep his commandments, and perceive that between you and them there is a great gulf, as represented by the Savior in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And supposing they could converse with you – which however they could not – but if such were the case, what would their feelings be toward you? It would be Father, Mother, you are to blame for this. I would have been with you if you had not tampered with the principles of life and salvation in permitting me to be decoyed away by false teachers who taught incorrect principles. And this is the result of it.” – President John Taylor (Journal of Discourses 20:107).

 

In our lives, the extended hand of the Savior may take the form of help from a trusted friend, leader, or loving parent. While we are struggling in the darkness, there is nothing wrong with relying temporarily upon the light of those who love us and have our best interests at heart.

 

 

When we consider thoughtfully, why would we listen to the faceless, cynical voices of those in the great and spacious buildings of our time and ignore the pleas of those who genuinely love us? These ever-present naysayers prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their mocking words can burrow into our lives, often through split-second bursts of electronic distortions carefully and deliberately composed to destroy our faith. Is it wise to place our eternal well-being in the hands of strangers? Is it wise to claim enlightenment from those who have no light to give or who may have private agendas hidden from us? These anonymous individuals, if presented to us honestly, would never be given a moment of our time, but because they exploit social media [OR THEIR POSITIONS OF TRUST], hidden from scrutiny, they receive undeserved credibility.

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Our choice to heed those who mock sacred things will distance us from the saving and life-giving light of the Savior. John recorded: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: HE THAT FOLLOWETH ME shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”2 Remember, those who truly love us can help us build our faith.

Just as I was embarrassed in the tunnel, we might feel too embarrassed to ask for help when we doubt. Perhaps we are one to whom others have looked for strength, and now we need help. When we realize that the light and the comfort the Savior can extend to us are far too precious to lose to pride, then inspired Church leaders, parents, and trusted friends can help. They stand ready to assist us in gaining spiritual assurances that will fortify us against challenges of faith.

Second, we must trust in the Lord in order to develop spiritual strength within ourselves. We cannot rely upon the light of others forever. I knew that the darkness in the tunnel would not last if I kept pedaling beside my friend and within the safety of the group. But my expectation was to be able to proceed on my own once I could see the light. The Lord teaches us, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”3 We must act, expecting that the Lord will fulfill His promise to lift us from the darkness if we draw near unto Him. The adversary, however, will try to convince us that we have never felt the influence of the Spirit and that it will be easier just to stop trying.

 

(c) Frances Maynard; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationabinaditrial

 

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf counsels us to “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”4 In my home ward, a young man recently said, “There are things I have felt that cannot be explained in any other way except that they are of God.” This is spiritual integrity.

 

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So if a sister testifies to her church leaders that she knows by the witness of the Spirit that homeschooling her children is the correct choice for her and for her family, even if they deny, doubt, question, mock and do everything they can NOT to support her, is this not also spiritual integrity on her part?

 

When faced with questions or tempted to doubt, we should remember the spiritual blessings and feelings that have penetrated our hearts and lives in the past and place our faith in Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the counsel given in a familiar hymn: “Doubt not the Lord nor his goodness [for] we’ve proved him in days that are past.”5 To ignore and discount past spiritual experiences will distance us from God.

Our quest for light will be enhanced by our willingness to recognize when it shines in our lives. Modern scripture defines light and gives a promise to those who accept it: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”6 Just as when we kept pedaling toward the light, the more we persist, the brighter His influence becomes in our lives. Like the light at the end of the tunnel, His influence will bring us confidence, determination, comfort, and—most important—the power to know that He lives.

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My daughter, a homeschool graduate – seminary graduate – scripture chase senior competition champion – and Young Women’s Medallion and Honor Bee recipient, heading out on her full-time LDS mission in November 2017.

Third, there is no darkness so dense, so menacing, or so difficult that it cannot be overcome by light.  [Even if that dense, menacing and difficult darkness comes from within the Church itself.]

Elder Neil L. Andersen recently taught: “As evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory spiritual power for the righteous. As the world slides from its spiritual moorings, the Lord prepares the way for those who seek Him, offering them greater assurance, greater confirmation, and greater confidence in the spiritual direction they are traveling. The gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a brighter light in the emerging twilight.”7

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“Largely because of television, instead of looking over into that spacious building, we are, in effect, living inside of it. That is your fate in this generation. You are living in that great and spacious building… You who are young will see many things that will try your courage and test your faith. All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Let me say that again: All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Be careful that you do not fall into the category of mocking.” – Elder Boyd K Packer

Brothers and sisters, we have not been left alone to be influenced by every whim and change in the world’s attitude, but we have the power to choose belief over doubt. In order to access the promised compensatory spiritual power, we must choose to heed PROPHETIC counsel, recognize and act upon SPIRITUAL promptings, be obedient to GOD’S commandments, and seek PERSONAL revelation. WE must choose. May we choose the light of the Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

  1. See Matthew 14:25–31.

  2. John 8:12.

  3. Doctrine and Covenants 88:63.

  4. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 23.

  5. “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” Hymns, no. 19.

  6. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24.

  7. Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous” (Brigham Young University Education Week devotional, Aug. 18, 2015), speeches.byu.edu.

 

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Blogger’s Epilogue:
This blog post is dedicated to a certain stake president and branch president who ecclesiastically persecuted my family on the issue of homeschooling during a time of great financial hardship. In 2010 we were new to the state, new to the stake, my husband was physically disabled by an injury and I was heavily pregnant. The only affordable rental we had been able to find was in a small community 40 minutes away from Kalispell, the Flathead County seat.  Following a pattern of consolidated schools, everyone in Flathead County sent their children on the long bus ride to Kalispell for high school and early morning seminary, which was held at the Kalispell Stake Center.

However, we were homeschoolers. We pled with our local and stake leaders to allow our oldest daughter to do seminary remotely on the computer or to establish an early-morning seminary in our local branch building. We explained how we could not afford the gasoline or the abuse on our only car in order to comply with their demand that we make an 80-minute commute five days a week for a one-hour class. We told them what a priority being a seminary graduate was for our daughter, not only for those high school years of her spiritual growth, but also as a needed requirement to serve a full-time mission.  We were refused our request on all counts.

Though there is NOTHING in LDS doctrine against homeschooling (but PLENTY in support of it) my husband and I were upbraided at the branch and stake level for our choice to homeschool. Our stake president told me, unkindly and rather arrogantly, that it was high time, in his opinion, that our daughter attend public school. He said something to the effect that this would be for her own good.  Yes, for our daughter’s own social and spiritual development it was necessarily that she establish an independence from us; finally cut the apron strings binding on her mind and emotions too tightly, so to speak. My branch president cornered me in his office for nearly an hour, alone and without my husband, trying to pressure me to recant on my spiritual integrity – claiming that he knew it was me behind it all, and if I would only change my mind about homeschooling, so would my husband. Couldn’t I see what a harm it was to raise my children in an unrealistic greenhouse? They would only go out into the world, go into shock, and wither and die!

As hard as we struggled to maintain our position and as often as we testified that we were led by the light of the Spirit to make our choice to homeschool, we were told by our leaders that the problem was not them, the problem was our unwillingness to cooperate and comply.  I feel like my husband experienced further financial shaming at the hands of his priesthood brethren. And just as we feared, the lack of true ecclesiastical support led to our daughter’s freshman year of seminary attendance being incomplete.

When my husband found a new job we had to move away, but were gladdened by the fact that there was an early morning seminary class available in our new town. What puzzles me, though, is that almost immediately after our departure, an early morning seminary teacher was called from that very branch and behold, seminary started to be held in the very place and manner that had been denied to our daughter. As for our daughter, she spent the entire summer of 2012 working with a kind sister seminary teacher, completing the make-up work required to patch up her freshman year so she could still be a seminary graduate and thereby remain qualified to serve a mission.

So, this blog post is dedicated to you two priesthood leaders and to all men like you…. and to the LDS families who choose the light in spite of you. I won’t name the branch president, but the stake president was none other than Vern P Stanfill.

#OutThem

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Matthew 12:37

“The most important thing in life is to find out what is the Will of God and then go and do it… [However,] I warn you, doing the Will of God is very often like walking in a dark tunnel. But then comes the moment of blinding light, and you know you were right and are on the right track.” – Baroness Maria Trapp

Partial source: Ebb Tide, Vol. 19 No.4 (Apr 1965), p.1, 6.  Published on Mar 31, 1965. I think the full quote is in her book, Maria: The True Story of the Beloved Heroine of the Sound of Music. (1972). I wrote it down when I read it.

 


UPDATE MAY 2020:

On May 2nd, my husband was triggered by a comment made on social media. He is a man of few written words, but when he does take the time to compose something, it is always because the topic is of such great importance to him that it’s worth the time and bother. I am preserving his version of the story as he wrote it here on this blog because I know it will get lost in the flood of Facebook… and because I value and treasure what he has to say. Bonus: it serves as a second witness! Please note that I have used pseudonyms for everyone but him.

GERTRUDE BLUE:
Male leaders in the church are human. We don’t have to do everything they tell us to. That is why the church emphasizes personal revelation. EVERYTHING we do in the church And in our marriages is a choice. The church is a system. The PEOPLE in it aren’t perfect, and Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father (whom we seek to emulate) are.

SAMANTHA SPYE:
Gertrude, that’s exactly what the church leaders want you to think. But in the end, you are wearing garments because they told you to—no woman makes an informed choice to wear men’s underwear.

KJERSTIN MUTTERSDOTTER:
Samantha, totally agree. Even Relief Society isn’t a women’s organization – It’s a MEN’S organization FOR women. Go back to the inception, Joseph Smith replaced womens’ original plans and ideas with his own.

TRIENNE WOODWARD:
The leaders say they are prophets and you should always do what they say. You are supposed to obey your priesthood leaders. If you don’t you are seen as unfaithful and may lose your temple recommend or at least the respect of fellow ward members. If you do what they say and something bad happens it is your fault, because leaders aren’t perfect and you didn’t have to do it. It was your choice. This is abuse and statements like yours are simply victim blaming.

JEFF MOORE:
You can have all the personal revelation you want, but if it contradicts a Church leader then the Church leaders revelation trumps your revelation. Therefore if you don’t do exactly what Church leaders say, you are sinning and need to repent. This is not my current belief, but how it is in the Church.

RHONDA COSCARELLI:
JEFF MOORE, my parents’ bishopric pulled that guilt thing on them when they turned down a calling that would have been detrimental to their health. Their own informed choice and personal revelation wasn’t enough, because the bishopric had been inspired to call them, they were being disobedient and unfaithful by turning down the calling (which just happened to be a calling nobody else wanted). The first counselor actually yelled at my stepdad and tried physically blocking him from leaving the bishop’s office.

JEFF MOORE:
RHONDA COSCARELLI, I haven’t had it with being given a calling because I was one of those people that always accepted them all, Over the last 15 years I have had issues with every Bishop, about half the Stake Presidents, and other Church leaders. Most of the time its because my wife no longer takes crap from anyone and they haul me in because they think I need a little encouragement to “control” my wife. They don’t like it when I support her. The most glaring issue was when my oldest daughter was in her first year of seminary. I had hurt myself, so I could not do what I am trained in and was under-employed. I was driving her 30 minutes to seminary, sitting there while she was in class, driving the 30 minutes back, then driving the 30 minutes again back to work. We asked for some relief. I wanted to either teach my daughter at home or have a seminary class started in my local ward. (I was a former seminary teacher) I was told that all the youth had to go to the Stake seminary class no exceptions and that my problem really stemmed from the fact that I was homeschooling my daughter. My Bishop was mainstream and was VERY anti-homeschooling. I had done my homework and gotten personal revelation, I wasn’t budging on the homeschooling. (If I sent my daughter to public, I could put her on the bus) I went round and round with the Bishop. Then I went round and round with the Stake President. They were the ones who spoke for the Lord, and I was wrong for homeschooling my daughter in the first place. They gave me gas money but would not do anything more. The months went by and I healed and got a job in my former occupation and moved to another town for it. The year after I move they started a seminary class in my former local ward and my former Stake President was made a Seventy.

 


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