A Simple Message

Joining the LDS church 32 years ago was a big decision, not one that I considered lightly. I knew that if I converted to what many call “Mormonism,” there would be some backlash and downright discomfort on the part of many. And yet, I knew what I knew with my head and felt what I felt with my spirit and heart. How could I deny such a force?

I said yes and have never looked back.

Today in church I pondered for the umpteenth time what it is that’s so off-putting about Mormonism. Is it because it’s strange and peculiar for those in the Bible belt? Are its precepts and guidelines too demanding? Is the way too straight? It could be that many (most?) people don’t believe there can be prophets on the earth today.

Now Moses…that was a man, a prophet with name recognition and credibility, one who saw God face-to-face and who gave us the Ten Commandments. Even people who don’t live by these directives give lip service to their usefulness and credit to the prophet who wrote them on stone.

And of course Moses isn’t the only one. To name a few, there are Joshua, Isaiah, Samuel, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. If I’m mentioning Moses, then I must include his sister Miriam who has long been accepted as a prophetess. And there’s Anna, an elderly New Testament prophetess who instantly recognized the Messiah though he was but a babe.

But what 2015? Doesn’t it make sense that the world is in need of prophets today, ones that understand current issues and challenges? Pornography, drug addiction, gender issues (and transgender ones), mass killings, broken homes, hungry children, homelessness, and a myriad of other contemporary problems plague our society. Couldn’t this ol’ world benefit from the words of a prophet?

I think yes. That’s where Thomas S. Monson, President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comes in. His message is simple. Love one another. Follow the example of the Savior.

Here are some of his words I used in a lesson this morning: “Love should be the heart of family life, and yet sometimes it is not. There can be too much impatience, too much arguing, too many fights, too many tears. I would hope that we could strive always to be considerate and to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us. Let us not demean or belittle Rather, let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do now destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.”

I’m not trying to stir up contention. I’m a lover, not a fighter. It’s just that as I consider the recent horror that took place in Charleston, I’m reminded that love is the answer to every question. Rich or poor, black or white, American or Haitian, we are all children of the same Creator. He loves us all and expects us to do the same. After telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves, Christ remarks that there is no greater commandment.

President Monson says we cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey, and I concur. I want to be a forgiving, compassionate, turn-the-other-cheek type of gal, and that’s the kind of instruction I pretty much always get at church.

Don’t Be So Backwards!

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about my mother more the last few days She’s in my heart and on my mind every day of my life, but lately I’m even more aware of her influence—the things she taught me and my siblings, the way she lived her life, her beautiful singing voice, the love she showed to all within her sphere, the adoration and downright awe she felt towards her grandchildren, her ability to turn a house into a home, her love of the twittering little birds, and the list goes on and on and on.

Not to say she tolerated any misbehavior or slackness on our part. “You better straighten up and fly right, “ was something I often heard directed towards me—and my brother, Mike, too. Ann and David were either less mischievous than we were or they were masters at appearing that way. It never occurred to me that Mama’s expression was weird; I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Here’s another phrase my mother tossed my way whenever I didn’t want to do something she thought would be good for me, something that involved getting out of my comfort zone. “Don’t be so backwards,” she’d say. While I didn’t mind the flying right phrase, I detested the backwards one, maybe because I knew she was right.

I’ve been thinking of that “nudge” from my mother today while preparing for a lesson that I’m teaching tomorrow. It’s on the scriptures and just how powerful they are in helping us live better lives. When I say “better,” I mean dozens of things like getting through grief, showing love, not being offended, having courage, being kind, turning the other cheek, and realizing the power of choice in overall happiness or miserly.

This morning, I reread something I wrote about Queen Esther in Eve’s Sisters a few years ago.. Esther showed such courage in her young life, and her boldness saved the Jewish people. I like to think of her posture, chin up and back straight, as she said, “If I perish, I perish.”

We might not have the power to save our people on such a grand scale, but we all have people we can help. We can all fast and pray and get more in tune with the Spirit. We can all fight the good fight and be assured that no matter how scary things appear, life can “turn on a dime.” In less than a week, Esther went from being a pampered recluse who hadn’t been summoned by her husband in thirty days to becoming Queen Esther with a capital Q.

I hope that somehow my mother knows I took heed to the things she taught by word and deed. For the most part, I stand straight and fly right. And I’m a lot bolder now, more willing to shed the backwardness and step out of my comfort zone. I love listening to little birds too. And I’m in awe of my children and grandchildren.

Hospital for Sinners

I’m looking forward to going to church today. Boy, do I need it! Whoever said it was a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints nailed it. I go, not because I’m a Miss Goody Two Shoes, but because I need help remembering and applying all the things I need to do to feel peace…and to live a happy and effective life. There’s often a difference between what He says for us to do and what I actually do, and attending church with like-minded individuals helps me to try a little harder.

He says to love one another. We love those who are most like us, those of a similar social class, religious affiliation, race, and ethnicity. If someone is a Hindu, Jew, or Greek Orthodox, and we are Christians, well, you know what I’m saying. Woe unto those people for being so ill informed and heathen. I seriously do not have a problem with this one, but I have seen it over and over and over again in other Christians. If anyone reading this ever sees me demonstrating (by word or deed) intolerance or prejudice, please call me out on it.

And about that love thing, we often find it easier to love those who love us. If someone ignores us, hurts our feelings, or fails to appreciate us, then that person must have a problem! He or she is therefore unworthy of our love. To take that a step further, some people are so busy loving one another outside of their own homes that they have very little left to offer their own families. I’ve been guilty of this.

He also says to forgive one another. Seventy times seven and all that. But that’s hard to do. In fact, it’s evidently so hard that a member of our bishopric in Camden gave a talk about it last Sunday. Brother Adams reminded us to be humble, meek, and lowly of heart, and among several other scriptures, read Matthew 6: 14-15:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

That’s scary stuff! If we don’t forgive, then neither will He.

And how can anyone who knows anything at all about Christ remember His betrayal in the garden and his words from the cross? “Father forgive them.” If I had been in His position, I definitely would not have been so benevolent. But I’m trying. Just about anyone who knows me has heard me say that the combination of religion and psychology have saved my life (figuratively) many times.

I’m reminded of David A. Bednar’s statement that we choose to be offended. It’s a personal choice. As a person who loves cognitive psychology, I can see the truth in that. For my own mental and emotional health, I choose to turn the other cheek, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not to take things personally. Not doing so is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Crazy, huh? And yet, I’ve been there, done that. It’s no fun.

I’m wondering how many stories there are in the scriptures about love and forgiveness. Christ and his mistreatment and suffering top the list. Then there are the prodigal son, Joseph and his brothers, and Jacob and Esau. And yet, sometimes we look right over these and other stories and think they are for OTHER PEOPLE. As most intro psychology students can tell you, we just don’t see ourselves the way we really are. It’s a protective mechanism.

No rat poison for this gal. I refuse to be offended and plan to look for the good in everyone I meet–and to try to love them in the best way I can. That doesn’t mean taking them in to raise. It means “in the best way I can.”

 

 

Cafeteria Religion

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If you’d spied my sister and me in Chick filA one afternoon last week, you’d probably think we were just a couple of “older ladies” enjoying a meal together, perhaps sharing anecdotes about our children or reminiscing about the past. We did a little of that, but we also had a serious discussion about cafeteria religion, the kind in which people take what works for them and conveniently ignore the rest. Examples abound. I’m familiar with them because I practice that type of religion myself. Just about everyone does, even those who think they’re nearly perfect.

Here are just a few examples of cafeteria religion that we discussed.

*There are those who say keep the Sabbath holy, but then they justify dining out, shopping, or going to the movies. I know because I’ve done this before. “I deserve to go out to eat because I work so hard during the week, and Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest (for me, that is…not necessarily for those working in restaurants).”

*Then there are those who give lip service to “love one another” but they look down their noses at people of a different social class, skin color, or ethnicity. They might even put their homes on the market if one of those people move in down the street..or horrors, next door!

*And let’s don’t forget those who give enormous sums of money to their churches, even exceeding the ten percent tithe, but they’re hateful, rude, and snarky to the people who work for or with them.

*There are those who “tsk tsk” those who are have fallen away from the straight and narrow and completely ignore the “judge not” instruction.

I hope this isn’t coming across as an accusatory blog. It’s just that I heard an excellent talk in church in Myrtle Beach a couple of weeks ago that fit perfectly into the cafeteria religion conversation that my sister and I had, and I can’t get the talk out of my mind. The speaker read the account (John 20:17) of Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene after He was resurrected. “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

To me, the connotation is that God is His  father and her  father and even our  father. Our father is not just the father of Southern Baptists but also Jews and Buddhists and Hindus. He even loves the atheists and agnostics. In fact, perhaps he has a special love and concern for them. Who knows? None of us can really presume to know the mind of God. We are His creations and not His equals.

That’s it,  my musing for the day. I, like you, have issues and am sometimes guilty of picking and choosing which commandments and/or guidelines I want to follow. What about you?

Laughter, Birds, and Appetites

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This morning I’m thinking of several individuals who are struggling with challenges, some of them physical and some of them emotional. I know that prayers are being offered on the behalf of these people, and in some cases I think the prayers are for a complete and immediate healing. We want miracles, and we want them right now!! We Americans are especially desirous of immediate gratification.

But I’m not sure that God works in the immediate way but rather on His own timetable. Maybe that’s because He sees the big picture while we see only what’s right in front of us in the here and now. I think He always answers prayers but not necessarily in the way we want them answered. Then too, I believe that He knows what we need and want, but He still likes for us to ask Him in faith.

This brings me to a recent flash of insight. In Relief Society Sunday, the teacher based her lesson on a conference address by Jeffrey R. Holland found in the May 2013 Ensign. From just a few verses of scripture (14-28) found in the 9th chapter of Mark, Elder Holland brought out several layers of meaning that I’d never really noticed, and our teacher did an excellent job of bringing our attention to them.

In the story Jesus came upon a group of people who were arguing with His disciples. When Christ asked about the cause of the conflict, a man came forth and said that he had asked the disciples for a blessing for his son, an afflicted child who was foaming from his mouth, thrashing on the ground, and gnashing his teeth. In verse 22 the distraught father begs, “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

The lesson makes several insightful and valuable points, especially concerning faith. The father “straightway” cries out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (verse 24), and Jesus heals the boy. Note that without hesitation, the child’s father asserts his faith and then he acknowledges his limitation. Elder Holland reminds his listeners to remember the example of this man when assailed by doubt, despair, or troubles. “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”

I was sitting in class Sunday taking this in and pondering its truth when a member of the class said something I had missed. She said what she especially liked is when the heartsick father used the words: “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” He doesn’t ask that his son be healed completely and immediately. He asks for a glimmer of hope, a little respite from the exhaustion of watching over the boy continually, a partial blessing, a little lifting of the burden carried by the boy’s mother…any thing.

I felt like a light bulb came on! Sometimes people turn away from God because of what they perceive to be unanswered prayers when maybe they’re asking for the wrong thing. Or maybe they aren’t noticing the many ways they’re already being blessed. In applying this lesson to the situations I was thinking about, I thought of so many applications of any thing:

  • Some discernment to figure out what’s going on.
  • Help for all of US, not just little old me with my worries and heartaches. As one of my sisters-in-law and I discussed recently, caregivers need support too, not just the patient.
  • Some compassion and caring from others. As a class member brought out, help comes from friends and other earthly sources, but it’s often orchestrated divinely. A phone call, a note, or a visit are all nice.
  • Laughter. Sometimes just thinking about the laughter of my children can lift my spirits. Hearing it up close and personal is better, of course, but sometimes I can settle for any thing.
  • Mother Nature…considering her ways and the lessons she teaches. When my mother was suffering from cancer, she took delight at watching and listening to birds, especially those who heralded the beginning of the day.
  • An appetite. This is a serious one, Folks. Anyone who’s ever been too sick to eat knows what a blessing it is to actually want to eat and to be able to. I recall my mother struggling to eat some fruit during the last week of her life and realizing then that I would never take the desire and ability to eat and gain nourishment for granted again.
  • Hope and the knowledge that things are not always going to be the way they are right now.

In the story in Mark, Jesus heals the boy. In our lives, dramatic healings of relief from sorrow, suffering, and pain aren’t usually so immediate and complete. However, I’ve changed my thinking to asking for any thing for us—some hope for tomorrow, a sweet cold Frosty, or a hug.

“Yes, June, I Have”

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I love Queen Esther. Since she’s become one of my role models, I have no problem being brave and doing what it takes to appear before the king (or anything symbolic of a king). Although I might be daunted by critical readers, difficult people, or possible rejection, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! I just put on my equivalent of a queenly robe and whisper, “If I perish, I perish.”

There are at least half a dozen lessons I learned from Esther, and with limited success, I attempt to put them all into practice. Yesterday after my talk in church about Esther and some other women of the Bible, I learned that many of the little girls (princesses) in our ward (church) have Esther as their role model. One of them, little Tia, even drew me a picture of her that I now have on my refrigerator. I gleaned two things from that drawing: these little girls are on the right track and children listen to talks in church. About the former, if they already know about courage and loyalty and timing, what will they be able to achieve as they mature into their queenly lives?

But back to the major subject, the woman in the Bible that I have a problem emulating. It’s Hannah. Remember her? She’s the woman who wanted a child so badly that as she fervently prayed for one, Eli saw her and mistakenly thought she was drunk. Hannah assured him that she was completely sober and told him that she was praying for God to send her a male child. If that happened, she would willingly turn the child over to God.

Eli told her to go in peace and promised Hannah that her petition would be answered. Soon thereafter, Samuel was born, and when he was still a young child, Hannah brought him to Eli and left him there. According to 1 Samuel 2:19, Hannah saw her son once a year after leaving him in the temple with Eli. Can you even imagine that? It’s not as though he was an adult. He was just a little boy.

I don’t think that I’m quite as trusting, giving, or selfless as Hannah was. When my children were little, I hovered over them like a mother hen, and even now I’m aware of their goings-on, interests, friends, and activities. I think God entrusted my children to me and that He intends for me to take that trust seriously. At the same time, I’m wondering if this story of Hannah and Samuel has a latent meaning for me, for us.

Fortunately for me, my three children are all young adults with their heads on straight. They’re responsible, kind, hard working, smart, and healthy. I threw in the healthy adjective because that’s something I don’t have to worry about—at least not today. They have their “moments,” the times when they’re down, discouraged, anxious, or stressed (they are human, after all), but they know how to figure things out. They know how to ponder and pray and then press on.

Yet still, I wonder and worry. At times I recall my friend’s earnest question, “Jayne, have you turned your children over to God??”

“Yes, June, I have. And yet…”

Well, you can see what I’m getting at. I need to develop some of Hannah’s faith. What about you?

Insight from Dr. Peck

One of the many things I admire about t he writings of Dr. Scott Peck is that they make me think. His words make me look at things in a way I’d never considered before. While I could go in any number of directions with this, I’m zeroing in on some insight he had when in conversation with a Christian couple.

In town for a speaking engagement, Dr. Peck was staying in the home of this couple, and upon his arrival, the two of them began giving him the low-down on many of their friends and acquaintances who would be in his audience. I guess their feeling was that if he knew a little something about these people, Dr. Peck would know how to best address them.

As the conversation progressed, however, he began to feel uncomfortable with all of the information he was being inundated with. He was told about who was had been having an affair with whom, who was divorced, and other such juicy tidbits.

“Wait a minute,” Dr. Peck thought. “Aren’t these people supposed to be Christians?”

He became upset, irked, irritated, and finally angry. One of the basic commandments is “Thou shalt not steal,” and yet these two people were breaking that very basic commandment. No, they weren’t stealing money or merchandise, but rather the reputation and good name of their “friends.”

How can someone who calls himself a Christian do this? How can a genuine follower of Christ not know that rumor mongering, gossiping (even if it’s true), and backbiting are unacceptable and inappropriate? Aren’t they just as guilty as someone who’s committing adultery or taking the Lord’s name in vain?

Speaking of the latter, Dr. Peck discerned that the couple was doing that too. When you say, “I’m a Christian,” and then behave and speak in uncharitable ways, then you’re taking His name in vain. Like Dr. Peck, I can easily see that the commandment means a lot more than avoiding vulgarisms and profanity.

Memories of Scott Peck’s insight surfaced last night as I recalled a conversation with my former mother-in-law. She told me about a couple who had been Mormons but were now members of another Christian religion. Apparently the duo was on a talk show laughing and talking about the Mormons and how misguided they are. They even went so far as to ridicule sacred temple ordinances and symbolism.

Huh? I don’t know who these people are, and I don’t know their motives. I do know, however, that they’re about as far away as people can get from being Christians. Have they asked WWJD? Are they trying to promote a book? Get on a lecture circuit? Garner publicity? Destroy the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Or maybe they just wanted a day in the sun, a brief the moment of being in the spotlight.

Whatever their agenda, nothing they or any other mortal can do will stop the growth of the LDS church. Ultimately, the only people they’re really hurting are themselves and their reputations as Christians and trustworthy individuals. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

I’m wondering what their current congregation is feeling about now. I’m betting that they’re feeling a bit anxious wondering if they are going to be the next target.