Saturday, January 31, 2009

Update on Goals

A good friend of mine put up a post the other day that reminded me of how important it is to keep striving for goals, even when it seems that I am failing.

And so I thought it would be useful for me to report on my New Years Resolutions, some of which are not going so hot but which I now definitely intend to keep working on. I am grateful for the experiences I have had this month, which reaffirm my belief in every person's ability to reach goals and make positive changes in their life. It just might not be as immediately as we would hope.

On reading the Old Testament:
I just barely started it this past week and so far, I've been able to get a handful of chapters in every day. But boy-oh-boy, it is very challenging. It is hard to pull the gospel principles out of the strange and truncated stories in the book of Genesis. I have found that a prayer before I start doesn't really illuminate the text but it does give me a sense of its sacred character and its importance in my life.

On my insurance's health program: Well, I gotta laugh at myself about this one. The cutback on refined sugars was really too sudden for me. I did great for about a week and then the serious cravings set in. So, I caved. The first ice cream pie could never have been the allowed 20% failure rate. It was the first in an avalanche of delicious treats and easily accessible goodies. Needless to say, I did not succeed in this particular challenge. But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying. We'll see what next month's challenge is.

On giving a harp recital: I am picking up a new song this month. It's the Bach-Grandjany Fugue No. 12. But, because of a long trip visiting my family, I haven't had time to finish learning it yet. That (and memorizing the Jolly Piper) will be my goals for next month.

On our gospel-sharing home: We invited our downstairs neighbors over for Family Home Evening this month. I was super nervous about it but it turned out to be a great success. We prayed together and then read a story from a book my brother, Brinton, gave us for Christmas (The 7 Habits of Happy Kids). We made cookies and then the girls played Phase 10 dice while the boys played Lego Star Wars, the video game. All in all, a very successful evening.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thomas S. Monson - Prophet of God

I was listening to the first session of the last general conference while I was doing the dishes this morning. For some reason, I decided to play the whole session rather than picking just one talk. That meant I got to listen to some of the parts I usually just skip (like the choir, the prayer, and President Monson's opening remarks).

I was scrubbing away at a filthy glass baking dish when, quite suddenly, the Spirit washed over me. I looked up from my work, a little confused. President Monson was describing the folkloric costumes worn by dancers at a celebration he had recently attended. I couldn't understand why I would feel so very strongly about that.

Then the Holy Ghost spoke to me in its penetrating but inaudible way. The words entered my mind with great force: "That man is the prophet of God." And I felt the witness of the Spirit, undeniable even though it is inexplicable. It feels like a burning in my chest, like a bolstering of my soul, and like a moment of clarity, lifting a haze of mortality I didn't even know was blinding me.

I know what the Holy Ghost feels like and when it speaks to me, I know that I can be as sure of its witness as I can of any other empirical evidence. And so, especially today, I know that Thomas S. Monson is the mouthpiece of God just as I know that there is snow out my window.

I am grateful for that unexpected witness, which I definitely count among the tender mercies of my Father.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Missionary Miracle

In November of 2008, I decided to take up an oft-cited and oft-ignored challenge regarding missionary work. One iteration of this challenge is from Ezra Taft Benson's prophetic general conference address from April 1988. He said, "The Lord needs every member of the church having the faith and the courage to set a date to have someone prepared to be taught by the missionaries. Would each member of the church prayerfully consider this sacred challenge?"

I've heard this challenge offered by many general authorities and local leaders in my lifetime. In November of last year I finally decided to take it seriously. I began to pray daily that by January 31st I would be able to share the truths of the restored gospel with someone and invite them to be taught by the missionaries.

That was in November. You can imagine how disheartened I was to be leaving on a trip to visit my family mid-January having not yet met my goal. I felt that I was waiting for a miracle and, having found out that my one non-member friend was in fact a member, it seemed increasingly unlikely. I must admit, my faith was flagging.

While visiting my mother's ward in Houston, TX, their high-counselor gave a talk that gave me new hope. He shared an experience that had me on the edge of my seat. He spoke of a very familiar challenge and said that he had, in the past year, set a date to share the Book of Mormon with someone. His date had been December 31, 2008. He said that when he set the date, he had no one in mind to share the gospel with and that the time given elapsed quickly. He said that he had been traveling on the 20th of December (just 11 days before the deadline for his goal) and found himself on an airplane flight sitting next to a young mother. He said that they struck up a conversation about history, which led to a discussion of religion. He said that he felt impressed by the Holy Ghost to share his beliefs with her and invite her to read the Book of Mormon. She responded very positively. He concluded by sharing his testimony that God had answered his prayers and helped him to reach his goal. He said that the woman had been prepared to receive his message and that when he had opened his mouth to talk to her, the Lord had filled it.

I felt tingles up and down my spine. Here I was, about to fly home to Utah on the 20th of January (just 11 days before the deadline of my goal). The Spirit whispered to me in its piercing voice, And so it will be for you.

Because I am writing this post, I am sure you can guess the ending. But it is still a wondrous miracle to me. I was on the last leg of my plane flight, about to take off and sitting in a completely empty row, when a man rushed up and sat down next to me. He joked about having nearly missed his flight over a Bloody Mary in the Admiral's Lounge. He was course and intimidating. Surely this could not be the man I was supposed to bear my testimony to. Surely he could not be the answer to my prayers, the person I would invite to hear the missionary's message. I must have misunderstood the Spirit's prompting because there was no way this man and I could have anything in common from which to start a conversation.

But he was a talker. He asked me if I was going home and did I live in Utah? I told him I was from Salt Lake City. I do not kid when I share his words. He said, "Oh, so you must be a Mormon. Tell me about your church." I think my heart jumped up in my throat. I had been too timid to initiate the conversation myself but God had surely prepared this man to restore my faith, just as He prepared me to share truth with him.

I told him about the first vision and the restoration of God's true church. We talked about the reality of the apostasy and the wonderful truth of continuing revelation through modern prophets. We backtracked a bit and spoke about the reality of God's existence and the necessity of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He believed in a loving God but struggled with the concept of a divine Redeemer. I had the opportunity to share my testimony about Jesus Christ with Him and we discussed the concept of truth that is spiritually known. He was very affected during that part of the conversation.

When the three-hour trip was over, I invited him to visit some of the sites in Salt Lake, particularly temple square and welfare square. I told him that there would be representatives from our church there who could teach him further about the truths we had discussed during our flight. I fulfilled my challenge to invite someone to listen to the missionaries.

I do not know what has happened to him now. I do not know what will happen with him in the future. I do know that the Lord helped me to fulfill my goal. I do know that God wants me to take very seriously and optimistically His commandment to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and His restored church.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A New Year

Obviously, this post is a little belated. But I've been ruminating on the topic of new beginnings for a week or so now and those musings have finally resulted in the urge to write. So we have this post about the new year a week after its time.

I am very excited about 2009. I usually am really stoked when the year turns over. Nothing seems as auspicious as setting a goal with a bran-spanking-new year stretching out, unblemished, before me. I never feel quite as empowered or so granted the gift of renewal as I do upon waking up on January 1.

That gift of potential change is manifest in goal-setting. I believe in New Year's resolutions. Even if I fall short of my year-long goal, those resolutions embue an otherwise cold and dreary January with optimism and hope. And sometimes I have even had the surprising joy of remembering a goal I made the year before and seeing how closely I was able to realize it. Sometimes December 31 is a time to celebrate changes that have already taken place, just as January 1 is a time to celebrate changes that may occur.

My New Years Resolutions this year are ambitious, but attainable. I want to share them here, in this pseudo-permanent and definitely public forum, to encourage myself.


1. This year I want to read the Old Testament. I've never read it cover-to-cover before and I know that it would be a valuable experience. I believe the Bible is the word of God and I think it's time that I remedied my neglect of the first half of that holy book.

2. This year I want to complete my insurance's health challenge program. They set reasonable goals (meaning an 80% instead of 100% expectation) and offer a cash reward for completing them. This month's challenge is to replace sugary snacks with fruit and vegetables 80% of the time. I'm excited about pitting myself against that beastly goal.

3. This year I want to give a harp recital. The real thrust behind this goal is to encourage myself to practice and learn new music. Performing is more the reward.

4. This year I want to implement Elder Ballard's 2006 General Conference address, "Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home" by inviting a non-member over to my house once a month. As I only know one non-member family right now, this will probably be the biggest challenge for me.


I believe in man's power to change. This is the greatest manifestation of God's gift of agency in our lives. Because we are free to choose, no one is stuck in a cycle of repeating past mistakes. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone can repent and start anew. Because of His eternal and infinite sacrifice, we can access divine power when we desire real change in our life.

I am grateful for Christ's Atonement, the greatest gift of Christmas and the hope for a happy new year.