Sunday, December 28, 2014

Which Way Do I Face?

Hello, all! And Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! What a wonderful season, it is. (:

Whew! Been a while since the last blog. To be honest, I've stewed and stewed over posting for the last... wow! I just looked at the last spiritually-minded post I made (in JULY!) Okay! So, I've been slacking. But not just because of laziness--though, that most certainly is a weakness of mine that could've factored into the duration of my absence--but, no. More recently, I've wanted so much to post a blog on here to recharge my spiritual batteries! I gain so much from writing out my thoughts and reckoning my weaknesses so that I can gain a stronger resolve to strengthen those weaknesses and become more like Christ. However, I've recently been guilty of worrying about my surroundings, and how my thoughts might affect them. I know, I know, how very egocentric of me, but I worry some might see my posts as too preachy/didactic/ignorant/sappy/self righteous/brainwashed/old fashioned/"Utah"/et cetera, et cetera....

This fear has lurked in the back of my mind where I try to pretend it's not there and go about my business. However, I've realized that my own progression in the Gospel has been slowed, if not, reversed! I am not diligent in my scripture study, my prayers, or my patience/charity/love of others. Instead, I have ebbed and flowed in the habits I know bring me joy. I know that when I focus on following the teachings of my Savior, I am happier! My marriage is better! My job is more rewarding! I put exclamations at the end of these because even in studying to write this post, I feel like I've treated Stephen (and loved him) better today than I have all week (because I can be a Grumplestiltskins). Is that not proof enough that I should keep on keeping on?!

At any rate, I want to write again, if nothing but for myself, because it is one of those things that keeps me in line with everything else. Although, I attended my sister's ward a few months ago and she mentioned in her YW's class that she reads my blog, and that gave me some confidence that I can reach at least a few people. So I'm going to address the very problem that kept me from writing for so long:

fear and cynicism

First, the fear. I've already addressed this a little, but in church today, we talked about Elder Lynn G. Robbins' talk from October General Conference titled, "Which Way Do You Face?" He discusses at length the issue of overcoming fear of man when we know what God expects of us. It seems like such a biblical issue, doesn't it? Jonah feared preaching in the land of Ninevah, Peter feared the people who asked him if he was an Apostle of Jesus Christ's, Aaron lost hope that Moses would come down from Mount Sinai and built a golden calf, there are many examples that go way back. But this happens every day!

When I was younger, I used to be so proud to say, "I'm a Mormon!" I'd tell everyone I know. This was 1. Because I lived outside of Utah where Mormonism was a novelty. And 2. Because our church was known for humanitarian aid, Donny Osmond, and for sticking to our beliefs. Now, it's known for bigotry, discrimination, misogyny, homophobia, etc. Now, it's not always as easy to tell someone I'm Mormon because, frankly, I'm scared to face someone's judgment. I'm scared that people will accuse something I deem so sacred to be so foul. But, with this fear, I keep most of my beliefs to myself, and, in turn, ignore moments to share it, to ponder it, and to let it grow into something that is more than what it was. Elder Robbins says, “The true badge of courage is overcoming the fear of men.” I wholeheartedly agree. Which is why I'm sharing what is sacred and near to my heart. We must face our fears, because, as John Bytheway said, fear is nothing more than False Expectations Appearing Real.

Elder Robbins also discusses matters surrounding the leadership in our church, which is under considerable scrutiny. He says, “The scornful often accuse prophets of not living in the 21st century or of being bigoted. They attempt to persuade or even pressure the Church into lowering God’s standards to the level of their own inappropriate behavior, which in the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, will ‘develop self-contentment instead of seeking self-improvement.’” Oh! Elder Maxwell just puts it the best, doesn't he? And this is completely accurate! I am most offended at correction when it hits my core, when it strikes a nerve--when it is true and needed. We too often seek validation, justification, rationalization, and tolerance. Instead, we should be seeking motivation, purification, progression and challenges to better us as we meet them head on. We should not stay stagnant, but should ever be searching where we can improve.

Now, this process of ever searching can be a tiring ordeal, which is why we have help. I always forget that we have help:

The Holy Ghost (From the Church website)
The Holy Ghost works in perfect unity with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, fulfilling several roles to help us live righteously and receive the blessings of the gospel.

He reveals and teaches “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).

His communication to our spirit carries far more certainty than any communication we can receive through our natural senses.

The Holy Ghost can guide us in our decisions and protect us from physical and spiritual danger.

Through Him, we can receive gifts of the Spirit for our benefit and for the benefit of those we love and serve (see D&C 46:9-11).

He is the Comforter (John 14:26). As the soothing voice of a loving parent can quiet a crying child, the whisperings of the Spirit can calm our fears, hush the nagging worries of our life, and comfort us when we grieve. The Holy Ghost can fill us “with hope and perfect love” and “teach [us] the peaceable things of the kingdom” (Moroni 8:26; D&C 36:2).

Through His power, we are sanctified as we repent, receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, and remain true to our covenants (see Mosiah 5:1-6; 3 Nephi 27:20; Moses 6:64-68).

He is the Holy Spirit of Promise (see Ephesians 1:13; D&C 132:7, 18-19, 26). In this capacity, He confirms that the priesthood ordinances we have received and the covenants we have made are acceptable to God. This approval depends on our continued faithfulness.

The Savior taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). To the Nephites He said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20).

Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He may not always answer as we expect, but He does answer—in His own time and according to His will. Because He knows what is best for us, He may sometimes answer no, even when our petitions are sincere.

Answers to prayer come in many ways. They often come through the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost (see “Revelation”). They may come in the circumstances of our lives or through the kind acts of those around us. As we continue to draw near to our Heavenly Father through prayer, we will recognize more readily His merciful and wise answers to our pleadings. We will find that He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

The Enabling Power of the Atonement
We... need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us “get it” concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good. And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. There is help from the Savior for the entire journey of life—from bad to good to better and to change our very nature. (David A. Bednar)

PART TWO: Cynicism

This has been a big weakness of mine. As Maxwell put it, “Just as doubt, despair, and desensitization go together, so do faith, hope, and charity. The latter, however, must be carefully and constantly nurtured, whereas despair, like dandelions, needs so little encouragement to sprout and spread. Despair comes so naturally to the natural man!” And cynicism really is a form of despair. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Stephen Colbert. He says,
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”
Cynicism, when inhabiting the mind of someone who is "too clever" can be very dangerous, indeed. Maxwell elaborates, “One of the great risks of murmuring is that we can get too good at it, too clever. We can even acquire too large an audience.” It can turn any good thing into something not good enough. It can sap the exquisite joy from life's moments that are so ripe and full of rewards. It can turn any form of sincerity into a joke that makes us none the better for laughing at it. I know this. I know it, I know it... and yet I think this is one of my biggest temptations. So, for lack of a better method, I'm going to tackle my personal areas of cynicism by working through them with a different lens, perhaps a more accurate lens.

1. "Ignorant People"
I put this in quotes because who am I to deem people ignorant? But, I struggle with being cynical about people who seem less apt than me at a subject I believe in. Part of this comes from my passion for the subject at hand, but most of it comes from pride. For example, I love going to church. I love listening to good speakers and feeling rejuvenated while studying the words of God. However, I do not love sitting through a jokester on the stand who thinks he/she is there to make people laugh rather than to deliver words of God. I do not love people who teach straight from the manual and do not budge to make room for students in every stage of discipleship who might learn better from a more tailored lesson. I do not love listening to the tenth comment made by the talkative, opinionated, loud person in the front who wants everyone to know that he/she knows a lot. I want to go to church to learn. But, as a man in our stake presidency said in a Christmas fireside last week, we do not go to church to learn. We go to worship. And part of this worship consists of treating others as our Savior would treat them.

My stake leader went on to quote from "The Crucible of Doubt," written by Terryl and Fiona Givens. I haven't read this book, but I want to now. This is what he referenced:
We know that the main purpose of Sabbath observance is to partake of the Lord’s Supper. But we sometimes grow frustrated with all the peripherals. Lessons and talks are to some Mormons what cafeteria food is to teenagers–not just in the way they can be bland and boring, but in the way that they sometimes bring us together in mutual griping rather than mutual edification. But what if we saw lessons and talks as connections to the sacrament rather than as unrelated secondary activities? What if we saw them as opportunities to bear with one another our infirmities and ineptitudes? What if we saw the mediocre talk, the overbearing counselor, the lesson read straight from the manual, as a lay member’s equivalent of the widow’s mite? A humble offering, perhaps, but one to me measured in terms of the capacity of the giver rather than in the value received. 
Wow. I love looking through this lens. It makes so much more sense with my spirit that church is not a place to be prideful (nowhere is, in fact), but to worship together. It's as Elder Maxwell said,
When people “leave their nets straightway,” they come as they are—though in the initial process of changing, their luggage reflects their past. Hence, discipleship is a developmental journey that requires shared patience, understanding, and meekness on the part of all who join the caravan. Together we are disengaging from one world and preparing ourselves for another and far better world.
2. Clich├ęs
For some reason, I find it harder and harder to be affected by something I deem unoriginal. I always need something new and exciting to keep my attention, otherwise, it's easy to brush away an experience with the thought, "Don't get too into this like a high school girl who doodles the words, 'DREAM BIG' all over her binder." No, really, I've had thoughts like this, mostly because I was that girl in high school who liked to revel in what now seems like stupid things. In fact, I had a whole list written out of my favorite things. I found it in my files with the title, "Fancies," and have included it below for your viewing pleasure.

Now, my first reaction to this list is, "Ugh." However, why should I be so ashamed of things I legitimately loved when I was 15? Why should I ever look down on something just because it seems hackneyed or trite? It's a feeling! Feelings have been around since the beginning of time, and they've always been honestly felt. This is especially true of my testimony and feelings about the gospel, which brings me to my final cynical target...

3. Spiritual experiences
Don't get me wrong, I don't make it a habit to diss on people's spiritual experiences, but I've definitely adopted an attitude that deems ("Deem" is apparently the word of the day) some spiritual experiences to be "better" than others. I remember the moment I gained my first shred of self-sustaining testimony. I was 9 years old and my family and I were on a road trip. Our tire blew out while we were in the middle of nowhere and gave us all quite a scare. We didn't know if we'd make it to the next town to reach a mechanic and get the tire changed. I prayed that we would make it to town, and we did. Thus, I felt the Spirit give me peace and reassure me that God was looking out for us. It was a simple testimony, but I was sure of it.

Today, that experience may not communicate that principle to me as powerfully as it did. It might seem too simple, or too flimsy of an experience to sustain me to keep making the right choices. Similarly, when I hear people express gratitude for being there to see a streetlight turn off and see it as a sign that God is mindful of them, my first instinct is to scoff. I think, "That's what has fueled you in these turbulent times?" But, good gracious! Our God speaks to us all in ways that lift us up. Some ways are simpler than others, but we are all experiencing this mortal journey. We are all finding our way back to our Heavenly Father. We must not be so calloused as to rank the method with which our Father communicates to us what we need to hear!

It is during these musings that I wonder if these aspects of cynicism might be particularly tempting to people in my generation, especially those of us who are in the height of self discovery and have yet to find a path that demands more of ourselves than what is comfortable. Take having children, for example. A friend of mine (who has the best Instagram feed) posted something very insightful about her twin boys. She said,
"Sometimes I feel frustrated that my kids aren't more awestruck by things like the Grand Canyon- but the truth is, to them everything is amazing. The Grand Canyon isn't more magical or exciting than leaves changing color or finding a worm in the garden. The whole world is beautiful, incomprehensible, and full of wonder. The Grand Canyon is cool, but so is everything."
This makes me wonder if some of these opinions I battle will dissipate when I give of myself to something that requires more passion, service, and work than I know myself to have. Perhaps I will be less cynical when a child of my own discovers a street light turning off, or when they utter simple prayers that matter. I hope for this, but I still would like to start combating my follies now in case they do not change with the tides of life.

So, now I end with sincerity, and with new resolve to overcome my fear. Do not scoff at sincerity and the expression of it. Don't be afraid of the reaction of others to your sincerity. The gospel is sincere. It is real. In order to change you for the better, it requires of you real feelings of passion, devotion, and love. As President Monson cited from Sarah Ban Breathnach, “Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend.”

Although fear and cynicism are things with which I struggle greatly, I can already feel twinges of excitement as I think about my life ahead, how many truly beautifully and sincere experiences can touch me if I open my heart to my God and dive in head first.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Shark Week Slide Sneak Peek!

So! As you know, I am an avid shark week fan! This year, Brenna and I wanted to top last year's party, so we came up with a brilliant idea! I figured I'd post the project just in case anyone else wants to get creative and do this in the next week as well! It's fast, easy, and fairly cheap!

First, let me show you the plan we had in mind:


Our set designer from Studio C drew this up for me and I was so excited to get to work on it! After discussing the plans with some plumbing guys, here's what we decided we needed.

1.  30' of 3/4" Pex piping (PVC would be too rigid to hold the arch shape).

2.  3/4" fasteners. We needed four 90 degree elbow fasteners for the corners, and seven tee fasteners for each joint in the middle and then for a place to fasten the hose on the edge.
90 degree elbow fastener
Tee fastener
3. Pipe cutters, a drill, and a 1/8" drill bit 

4. White shower curtains and gray fabric (we used some old Ikea curtains)

5. Scissors, ruler, fabric tape, tent staples, a hammer, and painters plastic

(For the fabric tape, we used Peel n Stick, which apparently works fine when it gets wet)

6. Black spray paint and a cardboard stencil

To make the frame of the shark, we needed each length side of the arch to consist of four 2.5' pipes, connected down the middle with five 2' pipes.

We then used the connectors in the corners and middle joints and on the side to connect the hose.

It ended up looking like this!

If the fasteners slip out of the piping, you might need some teflon tape to wrap the fasteners so that they're a tighter fit. You can see how wrap the fasteners here. (:

Stephen drilled some holes throughout the frame. REMEMBER NOT TO DRILL ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE PIPE. Only drill halfway. This way, the water can spray down on the people sliding under it! Here is how we spaced the holes:
Remember, the holes are tiny, so they don't take up as much room as the diagram. You can make fewer holes if you want, but don't do more, otherwise it will affect the water pressure.

Next is the fun part! We laid out the gray fabric (these had previously been used as drop cloths, so there's paint on the underside (: ) underneath the piping, holes facing up, since this will be the under side of the shark and the water will spray down onto the people sliding under it!

Using fabric tape, we fastened the fabric around two of the edges of the frame, leaving holes for the stakes.

Next, we cut teeth out from a folded white shower curtain so that we were cutting two at the same time that were connected at the fold. We measured about 6" at the top of the teeth, but you could do wider.

We then wrapped the teeth around the pipe where the holes were on the lengthwise side and taped them to the pipe under the tooth seam using double sided tape. Now with the holes facing out the open side of the fabric, we can have a sprinkler system coming out of the shark's teeth!

Then, we cut the gray fabric around the teeth and sprinkler connector. After that, we fastened the other two sides of the frame's fabric, pulling it as taut as we could so that the fabric wouldn't sag.

Next came the eyes! Sharks have black, lifeless, circular eyes. Super creepy, but super easy for a project like this! We just took a cereal box and made a circular stencil with spray paint, and voila!

Now the only thing left to do is to plug the hose in, using our handy male connecting hose adaptor, turn it on, and we have a shark arch for the slip and slide!!!

I'll post more pictures when we actually use it for the party, but for now, all you shark lovers can try it for yourselves! (:

Thursday, July 31, 2014

For Those Who Need Some Hope Today (aka everyone) (:

Today is Thursday, which means Stephen and I are focusing on reaching out to those who may have moved away from the hope of the gospel. Thus, I decided to write this post because I just read a fantastic Neal A. Maxwell talk yesterday! Imagine, a Maxwell talk I haven't read yet. (: It is called "Notwithstanding My Weakness" I love this talk because it addresses those who are trying, but not quite succeeding on the journey towards becoming more like Christ.

I feel like in my efforts to follow this project of obtaining Christlike attributes, I have come to realize just how short I'm falling of my goals. However, I need to remember that it is better to see the distance than to be on a completely different mission.

I also think that those who are genuinely trying to understand how they feel about the church can take a leaf out of this talk. There are many of us who want to figure out how we feel and what we'll do when confronted with difficult subjects like gay marriage, women and the priesthood, excommunication, and many other areas on which the church has chosen to hold a firm though unpopular stance.

For those who are pleading for answers, or for those who, rather than being “anxiously engaged” are being “over-anxious and thus underengaged,” let me draw your attention to 14 habits Elder Maxwell suggests:
1. We can distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.
I struggle with this constantly! As soon as I see that there is work to be done, I immediately get mad at myself. But this shouldn't be! We are all imperfect. We all have a ways to go. As Maxwell says, "this feeling of inadequacy... is normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance." The point is not to let that distance deter us, but motivate us! Think of all the wonderful experiences you have ahead of you! How many moments can you remember when you've reached a godly goal and you've felt the Spirit tell you, "You're doing well."? I can personally say that I've had that precious experience several times in my life and it is a cherished moment I look forward to having again. Know that God is not as condemning of your flaws and doubts as you are. He is waiting with open arms to invite you into His embrace.
2. We can contemplate how far we have already come in the climb along the pathway to perfection; it is usually much farther than we acknowledge. True, we are “unprofitable servants,” but partly because when “we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10), with every ounce of such obedience comes a bushel of blessings.
Again, don't be too hard on your progress if you think you're going too slowly! Be sure to motivate
yourself without becoming disheartened. Every time we make progress, we are blessed! That doesn't mean we've stopped making progress, it means we have a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to be happy and wants to let us know when we're doing good things.
3. We can accept help as well as gladly give it. Happily, General Naaman received honest but helpful feedback, not from fellow generals, but from his orderlies. (See 2 Kgs. 5:1–14.) In the economy of heaven, God does not send thunder if a still, small voice is enough, or a prophet if a priest can do the job.
Look for help in every aspect of your life. If you hunger for answers, for peace, for guidance, the Lord will give them to you when you yearn to find them in every sermon, song, and prayer.
4. We can allow for the agency of others (including our children) before we assess our adequacy. Often our deliberate best is less effectual because of someone else’s worst.
Now, this does not mean to blame others for our shortcomings, but, we must be patient with ourselves when our progress is sometimes halted because of another's agency. As Maxwell said, “When people 'leave their nets straightway,' they come as they are—though in the initial process of changing, their luggage reflects their past. Hence, discipleship is a developmental journey that requires shared patience, understanding, and meekness on the part of all who join the caravan. Together we are disengaging from one world and preparing ourselves for another and far better world.”

Sometimes this means we have to endure another's agency, and this may seem like a roadblock, but perhaps it is only a detour gathering different kinds of experience than we'd originally sought for.
5. We can write down, and act upon, more of those accumulating resolutions for self-improvement that we so often leave, unrecovered, at the edge of sleep.
This is HUGE! The Holy Ghost will not visit us if He thinks His counsel will go unheeded. Thus, when we receive promptings to improve ourselves, we must listen and then go and do! How can we expect God to answer our concerns and pleadings if we do not take the time to put His other promptings into effect in our lives?

When you have a feeling you should serve someone/better a quality/understand a gospel principle, DO IT. Write it down and make time in your life to get it done. I promise, you are not too busy!
6. We can admit that if we were to die today, we would be genuinely and deeply missed. Perhaps parliaments would not praise us, but no human circle is so small that it does not touch another, and another.
The love we need from others exists! I promise you have connections to people who love and care about you! Do not become "mired in the ooze of self pity" by thinking that nobody cares. This is a toxic mindset that will "cannibalize all other concerns." Think outside yourself. Know that you are loved and move on to loving others!
7. We can put our hand to the plow, looking neither back nor around, comparatively. Our gifts and opportunities differ; some are more visible and impactful. The historian Moroni felt inadequate as a writer beside the mighty Mahonri Moriancumer, who wrote overpoweringly. We all have at least one gift and an open invitation to seek “earnestly the best gifts.” (D&C 46:8.)
Comparing is a devilish tool used to stop our progress in helping our brothers and sisters! I was thinking how important it is that I not compare myself to my other coworkers, no matter how hard it is when our job is to write the best material that will make it on to Studio C. It's hard not to compare yourself when you feel like you haven't written as good of material as someone else. What I've come to realize is that I write well, I don't write the same as my coworkers, but that is a good thing. And, what's more, I don't need to base my self worth on how well I write sketches! My self worth is infinite.

My talents can also extend past sketches. I love to write novels, too! I love to write blogs and act comedies and dramas. I love to throw parties and decorate our house and teach lessons in church.There are many things that make up my interests and strengths. As Maxwell said, "Some of us neglect to develop multiple forces of satisfaction. When one of the wells upon which we draw dries up through death, loss or status, disaffection, or physical ailment, we then find ourselves very thirsty because, instead of having multiple sources of satisfaction in our lives, we have become too dependent upon this or upon that." Develop multiple sources of satisfaction so that you do not place too much emphasis (and thus, comparison) on the talents/interests you treasure.
8. We can make quiet but more honest inventories of our strengths, since, in this connection, most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming “outside auditors.” He who was thrust down in the first estate delights to have us put ourselves down. Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself.
Let's be honest with ourselves. We're not perfect, but we are trying. Do not let setbacks hold you back. As Jeffrey R. Holland so passionately stated, "When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal."

Satan will try to make you agonize over that of which you've already repented. Do not let him. Instead, let the peaceful, joyful love of Christ fill your heart and let you know that you are making progress.
9. We can add to each other’s storehouse of self-esteem by giving deserved, specific commendation more often, remembering, too, that those who are breathless from going the second mile need deserved praise just as the fallen need to be lifted up.
This is a big one. We may need comfort and encouragement ourselves, but I think we can gain a lot by offering it to others.
10. We can also keep moving. Only the Lord can compare crosses, but all crosses are easier to carry when we keep moving. Men finally climbed Mount Everest, not by standing at its base in consuming awe, but by shouldering their packs and by placing one foot in front of another. Feet are made to move forward--not backward!
Don't stop. Don't take a break to look at your state and wonder if it's worth it to keep going. Keep going. As Brad Wilcox beautifully put it, "I testify that God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus’ grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Oh, young people, don’t quit. You keep trying. Don’t look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don’t search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and, as you do, I promise you will feel the enabling
power we call His amazing grace."

The more you move, the more you will feel power helping you move forward.
11. We can know that when we have truly given what we have, it is like paying a full tithe; it is, in that respect, all that was asked. The widow who cast in her two mites was neither self-conscious nor searching for mortal approval.
This, in a sense, is similar to the advice not to compare. Your best may not seem as helpful as some, but in turn, it may seem better than others. It does not matter. It is your best.
12. We can allow for the reality that God is more concerned with growth than with geography. Thus, those who marched in Zion’s Camp were not exploring the Missouri countryside but their own possibilities.
I take this to mean that God is more concerned with our eternal progress than with our temporal situation. Of course He wants us to be happy, but our life is measured not by temporal milestones (e.g. getting a job, buying a house, having a child), but by Christlike "traits that mark the trail to be traveled" (Maxwell), (e.g. developing charity, understanding how to effectively use the Atonement, feasting on the words of Christ).
13. We can learn that at the center of our agency is our freedom to form a healthy attitude toward whatever circumstances we are placed in! Those, for instance, who stretch themselves in service--though laced with limiting diseases--are often the healthiest among us! The Spirit can drive the flesh beyond where the body first agrees to go!
Of course, this is always a sticky subject to raise when we deal with attitude. I do not, by any means, want to downplay depression. Quoting President Uchtdorf, "Allow me to be clear: severe depression and thoughts of suicide are not trivial matters and should be taken seriously. I urge those who suffer from depression or thoughts of suicide to seek help from trusted professionals and Church leaders. If you know someone who is thinking of suicide, be a true friend and make sure he or she gets help.
Please know that we love you and want you to be successful and happy in life."

"That being said, most people have felt sad or inadequate at one time or another. It's natural to have times of self-doubt or unhappiness.... Think of where you came from. You are sons and daughters of the greatest, most glorious being in the universe. He loves you with an infinite love. He wants the best for you. Do you think our Father in Heaven wants you to feel depressed and sad? He wants no such thing. He has provided the commandments, which are the royal road to a life of purpose, peace, and joy. All we need to do is follow it. Knowing and living God's commandments really do lead to fulfillment and to joy."

Heavenly Father wants you to have joy. And that means doing what you can to experience that joy. Don't dwell on unhappy thoughts, feelings, or situations. Do not be a creature of circumstance, but, rather, a creator of circumstance! We are immortal beings with agency! We can choose to respond to every incident in our lives with as much or as little perspective as we want. Choose peace. Choose hope. Choose joy.
14. Finally, we can accept this stunning, irrevocable truth: Our Lord can lift us from deep despair and cradle us midst any care. We cannot tell Him anything about aloneness or nearness!
Please please please. I urge you to come to your Savior. "Draw near unto [Him], and [He] will draw near unto you" (D&C 88:63). The Atonement of Jesus Christ has made it possible to emerge from any lulls, trials, or doubts with a stronger relationship with your Father in Heaven and with your older Brother, Jesus Christ. He knows your needs. He knows your weaknesses and the intent of your heart. Come to Him in earnest prayer. Allow yourself to feel of the light and joy His Atonement brings. I promise, if you come to Him in sincerity, you will feel of His love. And together, you can become much stronger, happier, and better than you ever tried to be on your own.

This gospel is true. Our Savior is there. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving. And He is pulling for you. This truly is a gospel of joy. Of love. Of hope.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Brightness of Hope

Hello there!

We are on week two of our project of obtaining Christlike attributes. Our progress last week was... well, we did better than the first time we started this project! Not every day was perfect, but we kept our goals in mind throughout the week. One valuable insight I learned last week as Stephen and I discussed how to become better acquainted with Christ was that one of the quickest and most effective ways to know Christ is to use His Atonement. Every time we repent, we learn of Christ's compassion, kindness, and generosity. We feel of His love, hope, and encouragement. And, hopefully, we in turn become more forgiving, grateful, and obedient. The repentance process, when used everyday, can become our most intimate connection with our Savior.

Concerning the day we were to focus on giving dedicated service, I realized that one can give service even if one is extremely busy. We were filming on Thursday and Friday of last week, which consists of rushing to and from stations to get your costume on, get your makeup done, take your props, and perform onstage. Then the process starts all over when the sketch is finished being filmed. It's a busy day! And, what's more, it's a day full of other people serving you. I thought it ironic that on the day I'm trying to focus on service, I am being pampered by a team of talented crew members. Even the term, "Talent" evokes an image of a spoiled Prima Donna. Yet, in the middle of all this, I realized that I can be kind. I can compliment someone on their quality of work. I can congratulate a castmate on a great performance. In the middle of all this busyness and seemingly selfish work, I came to understand that even the act of thinking of others instead of myself not only makes me want to do more for others, but helps me be happier with myself as well. I had a lot more fun filming this last week than I have in other performances because I was more attentive to helping my team. Perhaps that can apply to our team in life as well. When we focus on our family, our friends, our coworkers, our ward members, we are happier. We can still attend to our own needs, but that mindset of looking past ourselves for opportunities (big or small) to uplift and serve will make our mindset that much more like Christ's, and that brings more joy than any self-centeredness could ever produce.

Ultimately, our week-long focus on faith helped us review the essential basics of gospel living. Diligent scripture study, sincere prayer, vibrant gospel discussion and practice--these are the building blocks of faith and testimony and, as long as we attend to them carefully, we can develop relationships with Christ and with our fellow human beings that are truly enlivening. We are all essentially on the same journey, so coming to understand how we can help ourselves and, in turn, bless others is an important gospel principle to put into practice.

So for this week, Stephen and I are tag-teaming this post to focus on the Christlike attribute of hope. In Preach My Gospel, hope entails the following--

About the Attribute
It is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you. It entails confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance. It believes and expects something will occur. Hope conquers discouragement. With hope, we know we are God's children.

What We Can Do
M- Become acquainted with God's promises to us.
T- Go through the day with optimism and enthusiasm.
W- Work through trials with confidence and assurance all will work for our good.
TH- Reach out to all who have moved away from the hope of the gospel.
F- Lift up the hands which hang down. (Service)

You'll notice similarities between this week's focus on Hope and last week's focus on Faith. Service, strengthening our testimonies, and strengthening our relationship with God will probably come up a lot in these next several weeks. There's a reason we learn the same things at church every week, it's because they're true! And with how many times we've heard the lessons about the basics, we could still improve practicing them. The point isn't to learn/do something new, it is to rejuvenate our souls to the familiar concepts of the gospel. We can become stronger and more faithful as we consistently feel the Spirit touch our hearts when we do these simple tasks. The gospel is not complicated, but it requires diligence, and that diligence can be nourished through the refreshing lens of the Spirit.

To encourage everyone to attend to these homework assignments every day, let's discuss a little more about the principle of hope. It's a rather nebulous one, isn't it? We use that word every day, "I hope it doesn't rain." "I hope we don't get too much homework." "I hope I'm getting my money's worth at this restaurant." But in the context of the gospel, what does it mean?

On, they define hope as, "The confident expectation of and longing for the promised blessings of righteousness." I find it interesting that hope is not only the expectation of promised blessings, but also the longing. That longing involves the optimism and enthusiasm mentioned earlier. To long for the blessings of Christ, we must be well enough acquainted with them and understand their implications to feel confident and excited enough to do whatever is required to obtain those blessings.

The church's website goes on...
When we have hope, we trust God's promises. We have a quiet assurance that if we do “the works of righteousness,” we “shall receive [our] reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). Mormon taught that such hope comes only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ: “What is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” (Moroni 7:41).
Again, we receive hope through the Atonement. As we experience this very hands-on demonstration of Christ's gospel, we come to more fully understand just how hard He's working for our salvation.

In this world, we are currently facing much despair. It is easy to see something we don't understand and deem it unjust, uninviting, or unfashionable. Yet, how can we demonstrate that we are willing to stand as a disciple of Christ if we create backlash at every test we encounter? Neal A. Maxwell put it well when he said, "Just as doubt, despair, and desensitization go together, so do faith, hope, and charity. The latter, however, must be carefully and constantly nurtured, whereas despair, like dandelions, needs so little encouragement to sprout and spread. Despair comes so naturally to the natural man!"

Let us discuss each way that hope can strengthen us, and hopefully, we will face this week with confidence, trust, and joy in our perfect Savior. This joy will then aid us in following His commandments, and doing whatever is needed to demonstrate our discipleship.

Hope Can Strengthen Us During Hard Times
Hope can be a powerful resource when we are going through trials, regardless of their intensity. We will inevitably face things that discourage as, and some things that outright crush us, but hope is a balm that we all have significant access to through the gospel. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf juxtaposes these principles perfectly in his talk, The Infinite Power of Hope:

The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward. 
Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and of fear.
I certainly want to fill my life with hope in times when I could easily feel despair.

Hope Can Rescue Us From Sin
When we make mistakes, Satan feeds off of that feeling of falling short. When we have fallen, he does not want us to get up. He discourages us, and makes us feel as if God were too perfect to attend to our needs. However, this cannot be further from the truth! Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ see us not only for who we are, but for who we can become. This eternal vision allows them to have a never ending optimism and hope for us which can encourage us no matter what. Elder John H. Groberg illustrates this principle:
Just as discouragement and depression feed on themselves (can’t you just hear Satan saying, “You can’t do it, you are no good, you’ll never make it”—sometimes he says that right to your heart, and sometimes he uses others as his agents), so does hope regenerate itself. Can’t you likewise hear the Savior saying, “You can do it, you can make it, you are worth something. I laid down my life for you. I love you. I redeemed you. I paid for you because I know you can make it. You can come home. Trust me. Follow me.” Again, sometimes he speaks directly to our hearts and sometimes uses others as his agents. But there is always hope in him.
Above all, we should have a vibrant hope in Christ's Atonement. This is the supreme tool of salvation, but should also be the supreme source of our happiness and hope in life. Steven E. Snow stated:
Our hope in the Atonement empowers us with eternal perspective. Such perspective allows us to look beyond the here and now on into the promise of the eternities. We don’t have to be trapped in the narrow confines of society’s fickle expectations. We are free to look forward to celestial glory, sealed to our family and loved ones.
I know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is more important to me than any single event, trivial or significant, because it grants me access to the richest blessings of this life and the next. I am sealed to my precious family and have great hope in our eternal nature. Why should I let frustrations or limitations or sin hold me back when hope in the Atonement can set me free?

Hope Can Save Us From Our Gospel Doubts
This is a biggie. At this time in the church and even during this time in our lives when we are independent, self-sustaining adults who need to nourish ourselves if we want to have strong testimonies, it is important to have faith and hope in this gospel that will sustain us through times of doubt and misunderstanding. Elder Maxwell illustrates this journey of uncertainty in an interview in Tambuli in 1984.
Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now, but that will be revealed later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time when instead of just talking about prophecies that will sometime be fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit. ("Friend to Friend")
We live in a time where doubt and despair run rampant. In some people's minds, the Church no longer evokes a sense of service, joy, and family. Now, it also carries the connotation of bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance. It seems like this has all happened recently, but we know that truth has been twisted for a long time: "Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (2 Nephi 15:20). Elder Richard C. Edgley comments on this scripture in terms of our day:
This is what we face today. The righteous are accused of being intolerant and without compassion. Those attempting to live the time-honored teachings of Christ are often considered out of touch and uninformed. Those staying true to our most sacred principles are ridiculed and sometimes even persecuted. And much sin has now been accepted as mainstream, enlightened, and good. And you can name the sins.
From the beginning Satan has attempted to destroy our hope in Christ by thwarting the plan of salvation—or the great plan of happiness as referred to by Alma (see Alma 42:8). And Satan’s work continues even today. He doesn’t take the whole congregation all at once, but he works on each individually—one by one. He will be there during personal or family tragedy. He will be there when we are discouraged or despondent. And he will be there during the hours of confusion and questioning. He is the ultimate pessimist. He is the instigator of much discouragement. He is the father of all lies. He will use the Internet and the media, and he will use the already confused or misguided. He has his soldiers, both seen and unseen. 
I review this rather dismal background not to further add to discouragement and disillusionment but as a warning as we face the forces in today’s world. And yet we have every reason for optimism. We are the people of hope. We are the disseminators of hope. This is our mission. Based upon our faith, we have hope in things seen and hope in things unseen but felt. We have hope for the now in our lives. We have hope for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. And we have hope for the eternities that lie ahead. Our hope is based upon truth, knowledge, faith, and revelation given to us by the Holy Ghost. And our victory over the obstacles of life comes from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and our sure knowledge of His plan. 
Is this not just a perfect description of what we are facing and how we can overcome it?! I have many friends who are questioning whether this is the church for them. Obviously, there have been various news stories shedding bad light on the LDS church. The church has been accused of sexism, racism, homophobia, and having no sympathy for single adults. Of course, you can always find what you're looking for if you want to mark the church as prejudice, but there are experiences I have had with this gospel that I cannot ignore. I do not know everything. I don't know why women don't have the priesthood, I don't know why some people are born on this earth with an attraction towards those of the same sex, I don't know a lot of things. But I do know that I have received spiritual confirmations that God lives, He loves me, and when I follow the teachings this church has set out, I feel joy that doesn't come from anywhere else. It is these things that fuel me in my hope and faith in this gospel. And the more I pray with an open heart, the more I feel that they are true.

So, with that spirit of hope, we are going to study hope even more! I want to feel hope engrained in my heart and soul, and I want to inspire it in those around me. With hope, we can survive trials, sin, and doubt. We can look above the fog of our temporal circumstances with the wisdom and enthusiasm of eternity. Become acquainted with your Savior! He has paid the ultimate price for you. As Brad Wilcox put so lovingly, "I’m pulling for you. And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Be Not Weary in Well-Doing: Faith

We-he-hell. Hello! It's been a while. I don't mean to sound like a forgetful, apologetic teenager writing in her diary (okay, try twenty-something girl writing in her diary) but I'm sorry for the gap in posts. Perhaps you didn't notice any dry spell, but the lack of posting has been weighing on my conscience because this is where I form my spiritual thoughts. This is where I sort out my convictions. This is where I make my commitments to God and my Savior. So, lucky you! You get a guilt-ridden, bloated, but highly enthusiastic post about picking back up after our moments of lacking. Get ready. It's a long post, but I feel like it's worth it and highly tailored to the many like me who need a swift kick in the pants to get up and start moving in the Gospel.

I think the best description of what I want to convey in this post comes from Dale Sturm, a religion professor at BYU-Idaho:
When our hearts are full and we are filled with confidence, even the hard things are easier to do. I suspect that many within the sound of my voice have, at one time or another, felt the conviction that comes with strong spiritual experiences; the conviction that brings “the mighty change . . . in our hearts, that we have no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually.” You have heard a talk or a sermon or a lesson; you’ve been listening to uplifting music or studying the scriptures; and you have felt well up in your heart the thought, “I don’t ever want to do anything bad again. I only want to be good.” And for a while thereafter, it was easier to do right and to act in faith. But as C.S. Lewis wrote and Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted more than once, “The cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning.” I think Elder Maxwell loved that phrase so much because it reminds us that frequently we have to get through trials to get to blessings. But maybe just as frequently—maybe more frequently—what we have to get through is nothing more dramatic than Monday morning. What we have to get through is the mundane, the common, the relentlessly routine to get to the blessings. Sometimes the trial is actually in the insistent ordinariness of the day-to-day.
One thing Stephen and I have done to combat this whirlwind of routine is to study one Christlike attribute each week. We have used great study aids like Preach My Gospel, and the Come Follow Me Study Guide to outline what we should study each day, and (more importantly) what we should do to incorporate our studies. We started this two weeks ago and it sounded like such a great idea! ... Until we got caught up in work and other unimportant things and the whole study session kind of fell off the map. So we're trying again! This time, with a particular emphasis on getting through the day-to-day so that we can rejuvenate our hearts with the gospel of Christ and let the joy and light of Christian living drive our actions to become better and better. We have decided to record our studies on this blog to motivate ourselves to continue studying, and to hopefully help others who may feel in a similar rut. Thus, we are framing this post with the notion that we all have our lazy days. We all have our distracted moments. We all have our unmotivated spells. The trick is to push through them with FAITH! Which, incidentally, is the first Christ-like attribute we are studying.

So, I'm going to outline for you our study plan this week and what we hope to get out of it, and then on Sunday, Stephen and I will go over how the week went. Sound good? Then let's get started.

The Game Plan
Stephen and I will focus on one Christ-like attribute each week. We've gathered the attributes from chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel. They are faith, hope, charity/love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence, and obedience.

For this week on faith, let's outline a little about the attribute and what we can do to demonstrate that attribute (also taken from PMG):

About the Attribute
You trust in Christ and are confident He loves you. Faith leads to ACTION/work, not doubt/fear. Faith gives us access to God's power. You receive answers to prayers and personal inspiration to guide you in the Lord's work.

What We Can Do
M- Diligently study scriptures
T- Become better acquainted with Christ (search the scriptures to learn of His ways, commandments, and love for all)
W- Diligently pray
TH- Give dedicated service
F- Obey Holy Ghost's promptings and commandments

Today is Tuesday, so Stephen and I will focus on becoming better acquainted with Christ. Feel free to use this as a template for your week if you're looking for scripture study helps. Now let's look at the principle behind this mode of study....

Faith is a Decision
I quoted above from Dale Sturm's talk, “Faith is a Decision.” I have posted multiple times about this concept in the past, probably because I have so often needed course corrections or refueling in my path to perfection. I think the underlying quality we need to address in these moments of course correction is faith. Most of us immediately think of faith as believing. "I have faith that this church is true." But as a foundational quality, faith is so much more than belief. As Brother Sturm says, quoting Neil L. Andersen
“Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision.” At least one of the implications of that statement is that faith can be present even in the absence of powerful feelings. Faith is a decision. It is a choice to act on what we have been taught and we know to be right even when we don’t feel like it; it is moving forward and pushing on even when we are not feeling—and it may have been some time since we felt—the strong convictions of the Spirit. In fact, deciding to act in faith, even when we are not feeling very faith-filled, sometimes brings heaven’s most remarkable blessings.
Now, I know that one of Satan's most beloved tactics in leading us astray is not to tempt us to have feelings of hate for the gospel, but instead to tempt to have feelings of apathy, numbness, a lackluster attitude toward this amazing and perfect plan our Heavenly Father has created for us. Besides, as Neal A. Maxwell said, “Life cannot be made up all of kettledrums and crashing cymbals. There must be some flutes and violins. Living cannot be all crescendo; there must be some dynamic contrast” (Patience). The key is to “use, rather than to protest, these seeming flat periods of life, becoming filled with quiet wonder over the past and with anticipation for that which may lie ahead, instead of demeaning the particular flatness through which we may be passing at the time.”

How to Use Our Moments of Flatness
I want to address this in very practical and every day specifics, mainly because during our flat periods, we are less motivated to search for applicable doctrine in our studies. I know that when I am unmotivated to progress in my testimony, I am definitely not looking “for His message in every sermon, song, and prayer” (Eyring). Rather, I am waiting to be knocked over the head by a giant sign that says, "WHITNEY, STOP DOING _______ AND START DOING _______!" Unsurprisingly, God expects a little more from us in our quest for motivated gospel progression, and thus, He will not force us to find the principles that will lead us to happiness. It is we who must lead ourselves so that when we find peace and joy, we will continue to develop the practices that got us there.

DON'T fill your time with too much pointlessness (including excessive sleep)

This is a biggie for me. We even justify it in my field of work. I write comedy, thus, I need time to play. This is true to a point, but there comes a threshold when my constructive creativity-fostering time turns into laziness. I'm going to write some harsh words, but we need them. I need them. And remember, "The wicked take the truth to be hard" (1 Nephi 16:2).

Elder Henry B. Eyring gave a wonderful talk titled, "Act in all Diligence." He addresses this matter by first citing a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen” (D&C 107: 99-100).

Elder Eyring then goes on to say,
We are to learn our duty from the Lord, and then we are to act in all diligence, never being lazy or slothful. The pattern is simple but not easy to follow. We are so easily distracted. Studying the daily news can appear more interesting than [a church] lesson manual. Sitting down to rest can be more attractive than making appointments to visit those who need our... service.
When I find myself drawn away from my... duties by other interests and when my body begs for rest, I give to myself this rallying cry: “Remember Him.” The Lord is our perfect example of diligence in... service. He is our captain. He called us. He goes before us. He chose us to follow Him and to bring others with us.
I always feel like I get more done when I'm busy than when I'm free. Now, remember, this does not mean to cram your schedule full of matters so that you are too hectic to do any one thing well. As President Uchtdorf wisely noted,  “I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished. I can’t see it.”

We must remember to have balance. We must remember that while watching a movie is fun, but is it as helpful in our spiritual growth as reading our scriptures, visiting a ward member, or developing a talent? Manage your time. Create a daily schedule if you have to. I posted about this same sort of situation last year when I felt in a funk with my time management. I ended up making a sort of chart that looked like this:
Perhaps it is time to make another one. Don't let sleep, idleness, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Netflix, or any other distraction get in the way of you feeling true happiness! Have you ever felt as happy winning a game of Quiz Up as you have when you've felt the Spirit testify that the Lord is pleased with your efforts? Yet we continually forget and spend our time on frivolous matters. Stop. And make way for the Lord in your life.

DO study your scriptures and pray regularly
I can't emphasize how vital these practices are to a healthy and active testimony of our loving Heavenly Father and His wonderful gospel! Every bishop will tell you that when someone confesses to serious sins, almost every time, they will admit to not reading their scriptures or praying. What does that say about scriptures and prayer?! They are VITAL to our spiritual well being, and yet, are often the most flimsily treated commandments. I say these things with more vigor and vim (defined) to myself than to anyone else because I know these are two areas that are easily skimped in my own life.

Elder David A. Bednar gave a fantastic talk at Ricks College in 1998 titled, "Understanding the Importance of Scripture Study" in which he outlined three reasons why studying scriptures is so important:

  1. Studying the scriptures is important because of the covenants we have made. 
  2. Studying the scriptures is important because of the direction we need in our lives. 
  3. Studying the scriptures is important because scripture study is a preparation for and prerequisite to receiving personal revelation.
In response to these reasons why to study, Elder Bednar also gave six aids on how to study effectively:

  1. First, pray for understanding and invite the help of the Holy Ghost. The things of the spirit can only be learned by and through the influence of the Spirit. Each time we begin a session of sincere scripture study, an earnest and humble prayer in which we petition our Heavenly Father in the name of his Son for the assistance of the Holy Ghost will greatly improve our learning and our understanding. 
  2. The second principle is work. Gospel knowledge and understanding come through diligent study of the scriptures and the tutoring of the Holy Ghost. The combination that opens the vault door to hidden scriptural treasures includes a great deal of work--simple, old-fashioned, hard work. A farmer cannot expect to harvest in the fall if he does not properly sow in the spring and work hard during the summer to weed, nourish, and cultivate the field. So it is for you and me. We cannot expect to reap scriptural insight unless we pay the price of regular and diligent study. Casual strolling through or dabbling in the scriptures will not yield enduring gospel understanding. As Elder Maxwell has noted on several occasions, we are to "feast upon the words of Christ--not nibble" (Plain and Precious Things, p. 3). And the scriptural treasures we seek in our lives cannot be borrowed or loaned or obtained second-hand. We must each learn to open the vault door by applying the principle of work. 
  3. The third principle is consistency. Given the hectic pace of our lives, good intentions and simply "hoping" to find the time for meaningful scripture study are not sufficient. My experience suggests that a specific and scheduled time set aside each day and, as much as possible, a particular place for study greatly increase the effectiveness of our searching through the scriptures. 
  4. The fourth principle is to ponder. Please turn with me to Chapter 4 in 2 Nephi. Nephi is describing the things of his soul: And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.   Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. (2 Nephi 4:15-16)
    The word ponder means to consider, to contemplate, to reflect upon, or to think about. The process of pondering takes time and cannot be forced, hurried, or rushed. As described by Nephi in the verses we just read, pondering is very much related to our covenant responsibility to "always remember him."
  5. The fifth principle is to look for connections and patterns and parallels in the scriptures. Rather than simply tell you about this principle, I would like to use an example. Please turn to Mosiah, Chapter 3. We are going to read verse 19. I suspect most of us can recite this verse from memory. As I read, I want to draw your attention to the very last part of the verse. "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ..."
    Now this is the part I want to emphasize. The verse thus far has described the process of putting off the natural man and becoming a saint through the atonement of Christ. As that process takes hold in our life, this is what occurs: "... 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" (Mosiah 3:19).... There are layers of meaning in the scriptures, brothers and sisters. As we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, those meanings can be revealed to us.
  6. The sixth principle is to write your thoughts and feelings. Recording what we learn and writing about what we think and feel as we study the scriptures helps us to revisit the same spirit that brought the initial insight or revelation and invites even greater understanding than was originally received. Recording our learnings and writing about our thoughts and feelings is another form of pondering and of always remembering him and is an invitation to the Holy Ghost for continued instruction.
Whew! Seem like a lot? Well, if it helps, just copy and paste the previous section, print it out, and tape it to your wall or somewhere you see everyday. As you focus on your scripture study, use each of these principles (maybe one a week, maybe all at once) to enrich your experience in the words of God.

Similarly, prayer is an invaluable tool we all too often take for granted! How can we pray better? One simple solution is the location and method. President Kimball noted the need for privacy in our prayers. He said, “I have long been impressed about the need for privacy in our personal prayers. The Savior at times found it necessary to slip away into the mountains or desert to pray… We, too, ought to find, where possible, a room, a corner, a closet, a place where we can ‘retire’ to ‘pray vocally’ in secret” ("Pray Always").

When we can pray vocally, we can pour out our hearts to God. We can speak with Him not as if He is far away, but right next to us, because we will feel of His presence. In turn, we can learn His will and feel His immense love for us. Do this every day, in your own sacred grove, and you will feel a love and closeness with Heavenly Father that you have never felt before. That is the essence of prayer. Not the words we say, but the feelings we have when we achieve a closeness with our Heavenly Father. As President David O. McKay said, “Prayer is the pulsation of a yearning, loving heart in tune with the Infinite. It is a message of the soul sent directly to a loving Father. The language is not mere words.”

Another tool for prayer (as Elder Bednar mentioned with scripture study) is that it needs to be consistent. As 2 Nephi 32:9 says, we are to “pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”
When we are consistent, we can consecrate ourselves and be more effective instruments in the hands of our Heavenly Father. There is no better feeling than to know that you are in the right place, doing the right things, and that your soul is expanding and singing the song of redeeming love.

DON'T let work and the "cares of the day" take precedent
I don't mean to minimize real trials that test and try us (although, these burdens may also be lightened with a little gospel perspective). What I am referring to is the nightmare Stephen and I are currently tackling because one government worker from Colleyville, TX (who is a child of God, I must remind myself) never documented that Stephen brought proof of driver's insurance to the county courthouse two years ago, and thus, forever damaged his record for being an "uninsured driver." I could go on and on about this particular cluster-cuss of a situation, but that's not the point of this post. (: The point is, we all have those frustrating things--mortgage payments, job security, family drama, pressure from your church calling. The cares of the day will come steadily for all of us, but it is vital that we do not let these tear us away from what truly matters.

Neal A. Maxwell (who else?) addresses this in several talks. The first I mention is one in which he likens our shortcomings to those of Laman and Lemuel. He cites this weakness when he says, “Easily riled and quick to complain, [Laman and Lemuel] could scarcely remember their last rescue long enough to meet their next difficulty. Instead, lacking gospel perspective, the situational cares of the day, like worry over a broken bow, of all things, dominated the things of eternity” ("Lessons from Laman and Lemuel").

How often are we consumed with worries over the seemingly impassable roadblocks of our lives, when with the perspective of the gospel, we may see that they are actually small, harmless potholes? It is easy to think a matter is huge when we put on blinders of worry that keep us from seeing each day with eternal perspective.

Maxwell then offers solutions to this problem. The first is knowing that the Lord loves us. As he mentions in "The Pathway of Discipleship,"
If we can get that witness for ourselves that we are his and that he loves us, then we can cope with and endure well whatever comes in the varied tactical situations of life. Of course, there are going to be puzzling moments. Nephi, paralleling what Brigham Young said, had this reaction when he was perplexed: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). We cannot always fully or glibly explain everything that is happening to us or around us, but knowing that God loves us is absolutely crucial. Then, as immortals possessed of immortal principles, we can overcome the mortal trials and we can put the pressing things of the day in precious perspective.
We can know this through simple prayer, scripture study, and an inventory of all the gifts God has given us--His Son, our agency, a promise that we will receive "All that [He] hath."

Maxwell also emphasizes the importance that we not only know the Lord loves us, but that we also know the Lord Himself:
To the extent that we are not willing to be led by the Lord, we will be driven by our appetites, or we will be greatly preoccupied with the lesser things of the day. The remedy is implicit in the marvelous lamentation of King Benjamin: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13). For many moderns, sad to say, the query “What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42) would be answered, “I really don’t think of Him at all!” ("Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father")
It makes sense, doesn't it? Of every quality of Christ's we gain a testimony, we will  have that much more incentive and love to follow His words and teachings. The more we know Him, the more we will want to be like Him. And that process transcends all the displeasures of the day.

DO make time for the temple
Pleeeeeease. Go to the temple. As President David O. McKay said, “I believe there are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning of the power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives” (Truman G. Madsen, "The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth").

I promise that consistent temple worship will provide clearer guidance for your daily troubles, as well as a more eternal and exalted perspective as we realize what is truly important in this life: to return to Heavenly Father and to take as many people with us as we can.

 I want to relay one sacred experience concerning prayer and temples that has fantastically changed my life.: Two years ago, I was feeling very unsure and frustrated about my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree, and Stephen and I were actually in the middle of a breakup at the time. I was very lost. So I turned to the Lord. I asked Him for revelation every day, and every day, I hungered for it. I searched for promptings from my Heavenly Father, and it got to a point where every day, I received revelation. Sometimes it was little things—write a note to your Relief Society president, work on being patient today, consider your blessings. But after months of this hungering after revelation, I began to sense a bigger prompting. It came to me clearly one night in the middle of July: “Prepare to make covenants in the temple.” Now, I had wanted to do this for some time, in fact, every time I moved to a new singles ward, I’d ask my new stake president, but they had all refused because I was under 25 and wasn’t going on a mission. But I knew this revelation was true. I didn’t know how, but I knew it would happen. So I read every church book I could, I studied the scriptures, and I prepared more than ever to enter the temple. Two months later, Stephen and I started dating again, four months after that, he proposed, and eleven days after he proposed, I was able to enter the temple to receive my endowments. I had no idea Stephen and I would ever get back together, which, I’m so grateful we did, but I knew I would be entering the temple, and, after coming closer and closer to my Heavenly Father through praying and listening, I was able to prepare to make it one of the most sacred and holy experiences of my life.

You as well can have sacred and holy experiences in the temple. It is literally God's house, and He will visit you in clear and personal ways to ensure you are the most effective instrument you can be in building up His kingdom.

DON'T think about yourself
President Uchtdorf noted, humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, but, rather, less about yourself. Of course! When we think about ourselves all the time, we are always focused on our own well being, which, counterintuitively, means our well being will not be healthy. Elder Maxwell wisely said, “If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be.”

This is especially true to me when I am concerned with my status at work. I have mentioned before how easy it is to compare and compete with my fellow writers when we are submitting scripts to our show. When I've gone two or three weeks without writing a real winner, it is easy to feel discouraged, useless, and envious. However, that will not make the show better! Every time I realize this, I feel so silly for wasting so much time in self-deprecation and pity parties. Elder Maxwell described the process as becoming "mired in the ooze of self pity" ("Meek and Lowly").

Let us break free from this ooze we let ourselves slip into when we are consumed with our well being! When we are meek and lowly, when we stop thinking about how well we compare to others, when we recognize that God loves us INFINITELY and that our worth does not change in His eyes, we can then make ourselves useful and do good!

DO think about others
Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave a wonderful talk about the process of conversion. In it, he stated,
To be converted, you must not only open your heart to a knowledge of the gospel and the love of God, you must practice the gospel law. You cannot fully understand or appreciate it unless you personally apply it in your life. Jesus said that He came to serve, not to be served. So it must be with you. You must look outward and care about others. You can be compassionate; you can be friendly; you can share; you can help others in a hundred small ways. As you do, the gospel of Jesus Christ will become a part of you. ("When Thou Art Converted," emphasis added)
I know that the times I am most happy are those when I am fixated on helping those around me. When I am always concerned with my brothers and sisters, I am less bogged down by my own trials. I am less discouraged by my own shortcomings. I am less halted by my own distractions. In addition to prayer and scripture study, this could be the most important way of getting out of the funks in which we've put ourselves. When you serve others, you take on the mindset that is most like our Heavenly Father's.

WHEW! I am sorry for such a long post. But I'm not. Because I've learned much from my research, and this is just the thing I've needed to jumpstart my enthusiasm for the Gospel and for my own progression in it! Feel the light and joy and peace that lift you up when you make good decisions! Recognize that that is the way of the Lord! I want to end with a focus on this happiness that comes from righteous living. As it says in Mosiah 2:41, “Consider on the BLESSED and HAPPY state of those that keep the commandments of God. For . . . they are blessed in all things . . . ; and if they hold out faithful to the end . . . they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.”

Sheri Dew muses on this scripture, saying, “Satan no doubt bristles at this principle, for happiness is something the ultimate narcissist will never experience. I have yet to meet the man or woman who is happier because he or she was dishonest or because they were addicted to something or because they were immoral. The Lord blessed us with covenants that keep us on the straight and narrow path because this road less traveled is actually the easier road. It is so much easier to be righteous than to sin.”

Friends, I promise you, the path of the gospel is so much easier, freer, and more joyful than any lost and stumbling trail we may blaze on our own. Kick yourself in the pants, light a fire under your bum. Get reading, get praying, and GET MOVING! Our loving Heavenly Father and His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, are waiting to bless you with unfathomable joy, peace, and power that come from the faith to follow them.


Skittles on the left. Ahab on the right

By the way, we got two goats named Skittles and Ahab (pronounced "EY-HAB" from Moby Dick). They are my pride and joy and I love them. (: