Monday, April 14, 2014

For My Yoke Is Easy And My Burden Is Light

On January 24, 2014 I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a beautiful day, the best decision I have ever made, and my life is changed for the better. That being said, life is not easy but living a life according to my faith and keeping an eternal perspective makes each day exponentially more valuable, worthwhile,and enjoyable.

This past week, I was asked to give a talk during church at the Young Single Adult branch in Schaumburg. Rather than rewrite the talk for the blog, I simply copied and pasted my talk because I am excited to share it with you and I think that rewriting them may detract from some of the original message.

Enjoy!

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I was asked to speak today on General Conference on something that touched my heart or stood out to me. Since this is the first General Conference I have watched since my baptism, I felt like a kid at a candy store. After each talk I was saying, “That one was great! And that one was great!” And turning to the Sister Missionaries, “Are they all this good?!” Needless to say, I had a really hard time try to pick out what to speak on this morning. But finally made a decision.

Elder David A. Bednar, one of my favorite apostles, spoke on Sunday morning just before our prophet. His talk, “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease” truly spoke to the questions in my heart addressing such principles as obedience, blessings, afflictions, spiritual growth, faith, and the atonement of Jesus Christ. (Click here to hear, watch or read the full talk.)

In his talk, Elder Bednar uses a pickup truck to explain how carrying a heavy load gives us spiritual traction to press forward with faith in Christ and avoid getting stuck. A man, who had recently bought a new pickup truck decided to go up into the mountains to chop firewood for his family. As he arrived at the site, it began to snow and consequently, his new “super manly” truck…got stuck. Unsure of how to handle the situation as his wheels spun in the slick snow, he decided to get out and chop up the wood. Once he had loaded it all onto the truck bed, he hopped in driver’s seat once more and tried to move the car and it moved! The heavy load of firewood provided enough downward force to provide traction for the truck to get moving again and for the man to return safely home.

A beautiful story, of course. But I think it takes a lot of thought and consideration to realize what that really means for us. A truck bed doesn’t really have a choice to accept or reject a load, but we as children of our Heavenly Father, do have a choice to take on our own individual load and we are blessed with agency so we can choose what that load includes.

Elder Bednar explains, “Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints.” It’s hard to know if we are carrying the load we are supposed to carry, or if we are heaping difficulties upon ourselves that our Heavenly Father never meant for us to carry.

How can we tell the difference? Elder Bednar offers two questions to help us prayerfully assess our loads.
  1. Is the load I am carrying producing the spiritual traction that will enable me to press forward with faith in Christ on the straight and narrow path and avoid getting stuck?
  2. Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?


If the answer is no, then perhaps we need to let that particular load go so that we have the ability to pick up the loads that we do need in order to press on and ultimately return home to Heavenly Father.



Now carrying a heavy load, not exactly the most appealing proposition. If you think about how long our lives often feel, and how heavy a weight feels after holding it for a while, carrying a load, spiritual or otherwise throughout our lives on earth can appear rather daunting, or even impossible. But, Elder Bednar carefully explains in two parts why carrying a load is not only possible, but essential.

“Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load,” he says, “But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness.” Without it, we would not have that spiritual traction but rather simply spin our wheels, going nowhere. So how can we carry such a heavy load?


The Savior invites us to rely on him entirely, yoking ourselves to him and with him through our baptism. As we pull our load next to Jesus Christ during the journey of mortality, we can experience how His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

In the Book of Mormon, the Lord spoke to Alma and his people when Amulon commanded them to stop praying or else be put to death. The Lord said, “And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs.”

That sounds like a glorious offer – easing the burden? It is! But Elder Bednar emphasized that we should understand how Heavenly Father eases that burden off our backs. In Mosiah we read that, “the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” Heavenly Father does not lift off our burdens, but rather makes us stronger, helps us to grow and continue along his path.

Growth, however, is not easy. When I was a kid in elementary school, I got terrible growing pains in my legs. I remember crying at night, not understanding why I hurt. My mother would come into my room and explain to me that my legs were growing so that one day I could be as tall as her, much like a flower grows taller and taller out of the ground. But since was a little girl, and not a flower, the growth would sometimes hurt. But she promised that the pain would end and I would be happy that I made it through my growing pains when I grew up.

She was right. The growth, not enjoyable. But the result, the reward? Very much worth the sleepless nights.

Now there is a difference between something rather passive like enduring growing pains, and the ways in which the Lord strengthens us and encourages us to grow, which are almost always very active, relying heavily on our choices, actions, our agency. Elder Bednar urged us to remember “because our individual load needs to generate spiritual traction, we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most.”

If the man in the story with the truck had chosen to load packing peanuts, he would have had a lot of stuff on his truck bed, but it would not have provided the traction he needed to get the truck out of the slick snow. If he had loaded stones onto the truck, sure, he would have gotten the traction to get home to his family, but the stones would have been worthless to his family in terms of providing fire and warmth. But the wood was perfect in that it provided both the weight to get traction under the truck's wheels and the resource to make a fire and keep his family warm.


Making the right choice, choosing to take on various loads and burdens, can be difficult choice. Sometimes we feel alone. I am the only one of my family, coworkers, and college friends who is a member of the church. My family is close and has always been generally comfortable speaking about our faith. But now that I know about and believe in the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, the restored church, the prophet and apostles, conversations sometimes become difficult, and sometimes painful. I find myself wondering if anyone could understand how my heart breaks.


Elder Bednar, in this talk, further clarified what this means, explaining that “the Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities—but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us.”

Jesus Christ understands everything. There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, and no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first.

Before conference, I wrote down five questions. I had full faith that my questions would be answered, in one way or another, but I expected five distinct responses. Instead, one simple command from the first day of conference answered all five succinctly and perfectly. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

I went to bed that night thinking, “Ok God. I’ll keep your commandments. But this feels like it might be a little much for me to handle all at once.” I was nervous about the future and what that meant in terms of the decisions I would have to make in terms of my career, holidays with family, selecting my priorities.

But then when Elder Bednar spoke, it made sense. We can handle the burdens which are put upon our shoulders because Heavenly Father loves us, his son Jesus Christ gave his life for us that he could feel what we feel and know how to support and strengthen us through every trial, both large and small.


I would like to bear my testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ is the true, restored church of Jesus Christ, restored by the prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is true and we are blessed with a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson. And I testify that our Savior and redeemer Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to atone for the sins of all mankind. And I share all this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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If this talk sparked any curiosity about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church), here are the two church websites you can visit for more info online:
Or if you would like to join us on Sundays and check it out for yourself, please join us! Everyone is welcome. Click here to find the church closest to you! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Someday We'll Find The Rainbow Connection




This morning a friend of mine texted me to tell me he found the Muppets Original Theatrical Soundtrack CD in his car. So lucky me, I immediately got The Rainbow Connection stuck on repeat in my head for the next eight hours. In an attempt to assuage my need to get rid of this earworm, I have written a post dedicated entirely to the strange and stranger myths that have attempted to explain or justify the existence of rainbows throughout history.

That being said, I wasn't too invested in the topic and so a large majority of this information is pulled directly from Wikipedia. Please consider this my citation of everything below. Enjoy!

What Is a Rainbow?

Rainbow said go to war?
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia and is amongst the earliest surviving works of literature. In a Victorian translation of the poem, King Izdubar sees "a mass of colors like the rainbow's hues" that are "linked to divine sanction for war." (Violent rainbows?!) And later on the king sees the "glistening colors of the rainbow rise" in the fountain of life next to the Tree of Immortality.

Rainbows were a bridge to the Norse gods
In Norse mythology there is a burning rainbow bridge (Bifröst) that reaches between the world (midgard) and the realm of the Gods (Asgard). In the Norse compilation called the Prose Edda, the King asks the enthroned figure of High to tell him what exists between heaven and earth and High explains that the gods built a bridge between heaven and earth of three colors that is very strong.

Rainbows = Greek Goddess Iris
Iris is the personification of rainbows and messenger of the Gods in Greek mythology. She links the gods to humanity. She is one of the goddesses of the sea and sky; she travels with the speed of wind from one end of the world to the other and into the depths of the seas and the underworld.


Rainbow Snakes? (Read: Aussies Are Weird)
In Australian Aboriginal mythology, the rainbow snake is the Creator in the Dreaming, which is the infinite period of time that "began with the world's creation and that has no end. People, animals, and Eternal Beings like the Rainbow Serpent are all part of the Dreaming, and everyday life is affected by the Dreaming's immortals," in almost every Australian Aborigine tribe. In these tribes, of which there are over 50, actual rainbows are gigantic, often malevolent, serpents who inhabit the sky or ground. This snake has different names in different tribes, and has both different and similar traits from tribe to tribe. (Wikipedia)

Rainbow = Reminder of No More Noah Length Floods
In the book of Genesis in the Bible, after Noah saved the animals and his family from the great flood, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a covenant with the people that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood.


Rainbows Shoot Lightning
The rainbow as the heavenlyarcher's bow dominates ancient Hindu mythology. Indra, the Hindu god of thunder and war, uses the rainbow to shoot arrows of lightning to kill Asura Crta, a premordial demon-serpent.

Ahh! Rainbows Eat People!
For the Sino-Tibertan language speaking ethnic groups in Burma called Karens, the rainbow is considered as a painted and dangerous demon that eats children.


Rainbow Experience Initiates New Religious Members
The Fang people of Gabon in Africa are initiated into the religion by a "transcendent experience when they arrive at the rainbow's center, for there they can see both the entire circle of the rainbow and of the earth, signaling the success of their vision." The Fang also prohibit their children from looking at the rainbow.

Caution: Rainbows Can Change...Your Gender?
In Bulgarian legends, it is said that if you walk beneath a rainbow, you will change genders: if a man, you'll begin to think like a woman, and if a woman, you'll begin to think like a man. While most Bulgarians don't believe in the superstition, some of them tease each other and joke around.

Pot O' Gold at the End of the Rainbow
In Ireland, a common legend asserts that a "pot of gold" is to be found at the end of a rainbow, for the person lucky enough to find it. This treasure is, however, guarded by a Leprechaun.


Close Your Mouth: You'll Catch a Disease from the Rainbow!
In Amazonian cultures, rainbows have long been associated with malign spirits that cause harm, such as miscarriages and (especially) skin problems. In the Amuesha language of central Peru, certain diseases are called ayona’achartan, meaning "the rainbow hurt my skin". A tradition of closing one's mouth at the sight of a rainbow in order to avoid disease appears to pre-date the Incan empire.

Rainbows Unite Star-Crossed Lovers
In a Chinese folktale, Hsienpo and Yingt'ai are star-crossed lovers who must wait until the rainbow appears to be alone together. Hsienspo is the red in the rainbow and Yingt'ai is the blue.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Be Careful What You Ask For: The Power of Prayer

"Prayer is powerful" sounded like a dumb cliche to me as a kid. I actually disliked the concept because I felt like people were trivializing God. Asking God for something in a prayer and hoping it would happen felt too much like asking Santa for Christmas presents. My parents taught me that even though we exchange gifts during holidays, it is more important to work for and earn things so that you understand their worth and value better.

This logic told me that I shouldn't be able to just ask God for things; I had to work hard enough to earn them. But I also understood that I was human and flawed and incapable of being worthy of pretty much anything God could give me...so my logic had a big hole in it. And being stumped, I continued to pray because there wasn't really any other choice. I asked God for help when I needed it, but all the while I felt guilty that I was asking someone so perfect to help someone so imperfect. I didn't think it was fair for me to ask God for help, because he needed to focus on the people who reeeally needed his help - the homeless, the hungry, the enslaved, the kids' whose parents didn't care and got into trouble, the unemployed, the friendless, etc. etc. etc.


Fortunately as I got older I learned more about the true nature of prayer, little by little. And finally in high school I began to develop a new perspective on prayer. I think it may have been what I heard during youth retreat talks or Sunday sermons or perhaps the Holy Spirit just guided my thoughts with a little more persuasion. However it happened, I am grateful because I began to understand that prayer isn't a greedy little child doing a "gimme gimme" speech, but rather a very honest and raw conversation with our Heavenly Father. And Heavenly Father doesn't have a limit to what he can do. Asking for guidance in my life doesn't take away from the love he can provide to anyone else. Rather, it actually increases his ability to do so by using me as an instrument of his word. (Now it sounds so simple and I wonder why I couldn't figure it out earlier.) So long story short, when I began to pray with the perspective that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father and he loves me and wants to help me accomplish things that are in my best interest, I no longer felt guilty that I had to ask for help, because I understood that he understood that obviously I need a little a lot of help and it was entirely in his power and his desire to do so.

And as I progressed in my spiritual journey, I began to notice when my prayers were answered. In 2011, I asked for guidance, and he opened my eyes to Philippians 4:13. In 2012, I asked for truth and he introduced me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 2013, I asked for an opportunity to grow closer to my cousin and now I'm taking care of her kitten until she moves which gives us a chance to hang out and bond. And this morning I asked for the opportunity to share Heavenly Father's love with those around me...and started my week off with this chat with my friend and coworker just ten minutes after getting into the office this morning.


I was actually most surprised that she knew were both the church and temple are! And then it made me happy that she thought of the LDS church in a positive light. And additionally that joining the church strengthened our friendship. And now it looks like I may have the opportunity to share the Gospel with her. Praise be to God!

So moral of the story is...be careful what you ask for. If you lift up your soul in prayer and share with Heavenly Father how you are feeling and the trials you are facing; if you lift up your heart and express gratitude for everything he has given you and ask that your ears and eyes might be opened; if you pray in Christ's name for strength and support; if you are ready to hear His answer...

He will answer you.


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Want more information about the power of prayer? Below are several resources with great information and insights, including a printable poster, and article for kids, and several conference talks, including one from our Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Into Marvelous Light I'm Running

As I prepared to go to church this morning, I had a lot of songs running through my head. I knew most of them from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Drake University where I got to play keyboard in the worship band. One of my favorites showed up in the mix, Marvelous Light. Along with the others that I now have on an Intervarsity playlist on Spotify.

I have not written a blog post for the last year (save the remaining nine days), because I did not know what to write. I was in a time of transition and I was wary that I might post something that I would disagree with only months later. Now that I have my feet on the ground and I'm heading in a definite and positive direction I am excited to begin sharing my thoughts once again.

In my past, especially during this hugely transitional phase, I couldn't see how or more importantly why Heavenly Father was working in my life. I often felt like my life was a giant hedge maze. As if God created this intricate pathway for which only he had the secret map and I was just one of many trying to make it to the end without freaking out. I vaguely remembered the beginning and the end, but after awhile I would feel confused, frustrated, alone and I'd walk in circles, attempt to jump high enough to see over the hedge, and follow other maze goers who looked like they knew what they were doing to no avail. And then finally I would make a tiny bit of progress and celebrate that small accomplishment with all my soul. And then the process would repeat...lost again.

But when I read this passage in Doctrine and Covenants, it made sense and the the feelings and promptings from the Holy Spirit I had begun to feel were confirmed through scripture.


"For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round." D&C 3:2

I know now more than ever that our Heavenly Father is a God of order and that although many times the full plan or reasons for pieces of our lives don't make sense, the big picture is always, always clear. Thanks to modern day prophets and the scriptures, I know why I am here, why we are here. I know how I am supposed to live and what God asks and expects. I know that sometimes I'll make mistakes and sometimes I won't listen, but I know that because I have taken on the covenant of baptism, I have access to the Holy Spirit and can communicate constantly with our Heavenly Father, who helps me through this life and gifts me with blessings as I am ready and ask.


The other side of this coin is what Heavenly Father asks of us. 

"...I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." 1 Nephi 3:7

Heavenly Father asks us to do big things and important things. Even though they usually feel small and trivial, following the commandments and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and of equal if not greater importance, acting upon the words, feelings and thoughts we receive from our loving father, impacts our eternity beyond comprehension.

"Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day." D&C 4:2

This afternoon during our Relief Society meeting, our discussion turned to talking about how we live our lives on earth to be prepared for the day when we leave this life and at peace with the work we have done and the contributions we will leave behind. It is important to live your life as if you will later watch it on TV. I don't think we should live our lives to "look good," but if you can imagine existing in heaven with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, having the full knowledge of the Gospel and all eternal truths, will you want to see the actions you are taking now and the efforts you made, or lack thereof?