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Let Us Be Faithful

A couple Sundays ago, it was “fast Sunday.” As Mormons, once a month (typically the first Sunday) we refrain from eating or drinking anything for two meals. We do this as an expression of sacrifice–showing the Lord that we are willing to control the appetites of our bodies so that our spirits can be more receptive. Generally, we approach fast Sundays with a purpose–blessings we are seeking (whether for ourselves or for someone else), direction, answers we are in need of, etc. In addition to the fast, we take the money saved from those two meals and give it as a “fast offering.” That money is then used to feed, clothe, and provide temporal welfare to those in need in our immediate geographical location.

Well, this last fast Sunday began and I “opened my fast” with prayer so as to present my purpose before the Lord, and then I headed to church. The sacrament and worship service began and I contentedly listened to the sermons of testimony from my fellow church-goers (As is also customary on fast Sunday, the pulpit is open to the general membership to share their witness of Christ as they feel inspired.). At one point, I wanted to write down something someone had said, so I reached in my bag to get a pen, but instead found a package of SweetTarts. Happy day! Without thinking, I opened it up and popped all three in my mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

That’s when it hit me. I’d just broken my fast. Why my brain couldn’t register that fact 10 seconds earlier is beyond me (and totally annoying). My first thought after that was, Welp. So much for that fast. I didn’t event make it two hours. What will I have for lunch?

But then I thought, Krista. Okay, you ate something. Yeah, you broke your fast. But don’t throw the whole thing away over three SweetTarts. Keep fasting. You can still offer this sacrifice, despite its imperfection. Just start again. Continue reading →

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In Defense of Faith

Over the last few years, a handful of my dearly-loved friends have left the LDS (Mormon) Church for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, the recent disciplinary action taken against a couple of our members who have publicly spoken out on (and organized protests in response to) issues they think the Church is handling incorrectly or is just plain wrong about, the Church’s strong stance regarding gay marriage, feeling out of place as an “older” single in a family-centric religion, and frustrations with LDS culture.

A lot has been written from all the sides of all these issues, and while I do have opinions about Kate Kelly’s excommunication, gay marriage, women’s equality, finding one’s place as a “mid-single,” etc., this post is not that post. This post is an essay in defense of faith. Continue reading →

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How To Accomplish Great Things

After quite the Saturday morning, I spent the rest of the day preparing to speak in Church Sunday morning. I learned a lot in preparing for my assigned topic and thought I would share. If you have any personal insights, please offer them!

One of my favorite books is The Highest In Us by Truman Madsen. I received it as a gift in college and was immediately drawn into the truths Elder Madsen proposes. In the preface he writes, “The nightmare is all about us. And as we peer out at the world, whether by the aid of television or not, there is much of horror and of corruption. Yet, on occasion, quiet voices remind us, again all evidence to the contrary, that there are overwhelming possibilities locked within mankind.”

Have you ever thought about the possibilities locked within yourself? The abilities and achievements and contributions YOU could make to the world? To God’s eternal plan?

I, personally, think often about this. What will I contribute? Who am I becoming? What am I going to offer as my life’s work? What is my mission here?

I have always believed I had something important, something great, to do here in this life. And I have always believed the very same thing about those around me.

One day (July 24, 2004 according to the post-it note I wrote this experience on) as I sat thinking upon this belief–how and what I was to do–the Holy Spirit came to me and spoke to my heart, “Great things are accomplished by making yourself available to the Lord.”

Now this is not a deeply hidden mystery. It almost seems like common sense really. But on that day, at that point in my life, this truth was magnificent. Let me share it again. Great things are accomplished by making yourself available to the Lord.

Since that day, there have certainly been times that I have neglected this truth, allowing myself to be sidetracked by my own plans, wants, desires, weaknesses, and sins. But I have begun again (I love that we get to do that!) to try to live what I learned that day as I’ve recently felt an intense desire to better understand God’s plan for me, and how I can make the most of the time I have on earth.

So if great things are accomplished by making ourselves available to the Lord, the question then becomes, how do we make ourselves available to Him?

I believe the answer to this question is the key to unlocking what Elder Madsen called the “overwhelming possibilities within us.” The answer to this question is what Sister Elaine Dalton, General President of the Young Women organization of the LDS Church, asked us to return to. The answer, is what President David O. McKay said is worth more than our lives.

I believe the answer, is Virtue.

The word virtue comes from a Latin root meaning strength, courage, and excellence. Today the word virtue means moral excellence, goodness, chastity. It also means an effective force, power.

Such interesting definitions, wouldn’t you say?

Let’s take a look at the very first definition, “moral excellence.” To be moral means to understand the distinction between right and wrong and then live by those rules of right conduct, rather than on legalities or customs.

To be excellent means you possess outstanding quality or superior merit.

So to be morally excellent, or virtuous, means you have the outstanding quality of living by rules of right conduct. It means you have a superior understanding and ability to make choices based on the distinction between right and wrong rather than on legalities or customs.

Sister Dalton described it as “‘a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.’ It encompasses chastity and moral purity. Virtue begins in the heart and in the mind. It is nurtured in the home. It is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions.”

So what does this mean for me? Or for you?

First, let me ask, what are the patterns of thought and behavior by which you live? How do you treat and speak to your family? How do you serve in your Church capacities? Are you an honest employee? What media and entertainment do you partake of and bring into your home? What sort of language do you use? How do you respond to counsel? What do you do when a prophet or apostle, or God for that matter, asks you to do something?

May I share a recent personal experience? I love music. I love all different genres and styles. But I’ve felt a prompting of my conscience for a while that I needed to clean out my music. Now don’t jump to conclusions that I had an iPod full of smut. I don’t, and didn’t. But there were a few songs, that I loved to run to and to dance to, that had a great beat, melody, and production, but they insinuated immoral situations lyrically that I shouldn’t have been listening to. But I kept avoiding the prompting…because well…I liked my music. And change is hard.

Now simultaneous to these thoughts about cleaning out my music, Frit and I began training for the triathlon. Anyone, who has trained for a physically brutal event like this can attest to the fact that it consumes your life. We ate, drank, and slept triathlon. And as I trained, whipping my physical self into shape, I found a greater desire to do the same for my spiritual self. I was stepping it up in my exercise and nutrition plan and felt my spirit asking, almost begging, for the same stretching and pushing. Additionally, those thoughts of life and accomplishments and making myself available to the Lord began to appear in my mind.

So, I put together a spiritual training plan similar to my physical training plan. It’s a difficult plan, one that stretches me and forces me to make this aspect of my life a focus. One element of the plan is to read, listen to, or watch, one General Conference sermon every day. In preparation, I downloaded the most recent Conference onto my iPod.

Well, last week as I was on the train to work, I was listening to music and the screensaver on my iPod appeared. It’s just the generic one, where album covers from your playlists bounce around the screen. Different artists bounced around, and then Elder Holland’s face appeared, and then LL Cool J, or Nelly, or someone. And I felt immediate discomfort—discomfort knowing that those two things couldn’t exist in the same sphere. I couldn’t live in both worlds. I couldn’t, and can’t, expect to enjoy the fullness of the Spirit and some of the music in my iTunes library. But change is hard. And I said to myself that I’d clean it out soon, but not that day.

Then Frit and I completed the triathlon. It took me two and a half hours to complete the course and the experience was physically excruciating at times. At one point I really didn’t know if I could keep going. There were killer hills on the bike route and the run and I’d never trained on hills (which is a whole other gospel lesson in and of itself). But as I ran past the finish line with everyone screaming for me and knowing that I’d done it, I knew that I’d never again be able to say, about anything, “I can’t do this.” Because I’d just done that race.

So when I sat down in front of my computer this weekend staring at my iTunes, making a list of the dozen or so songs that needed to be deleted, feeling ridiculous that such a task was as hard as it was for me, I thought of my race. I thought about the finish line. I thought about that moment when my legs were shaking at the top of a hill and my lungs couldn’t find enough air and I turned to Frit and said, “I really don’t think I can do this,” and she said, “Yes you can.” And then I did. I thought of my belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I thought of Elder Holland’s face and how it’s his world that I want to live in. I thought of all the other right choices I’ve made in my life and how I felt after making them. I thought of my Savior and how much I love Him, and how much He loves me. And I remembered that I’ve done hard things before. And I pushed delete.

In the last General Young Women’s Meeting, Sister Mary N. Cook said, “You must establish patterns of virtue that will keep you on this path throughout your life.”

Patterns of virtue. Patterns of making choices based on what is right. In a special pamphlet for LDS youth called “For the Strength of Youth,” which is just as much for me as it is for the teenage girls I teach every Sunday, it says, “Have the courage to walk out of a movie, turn off a computer or television, change a radio station, or put down a magazine if what is being presented does not meet Heavenly Father’s standards.”

Elder Madsen, later in his book, writes, “One supreme compliment to a member of the Church is, ‘He is active.’ But so are falling rocks and billiard balls. The word the Lord uses, and the question derived from it is, ‘Are you a lively member?’ Are you alive? It is no longer a question of whether you have been through the standard works, but whether the life and light in them has somehow passed through the very skin of your bodies and enlivened you. It isn’t whether you say your prayers in a proper fashion and position and time, but whether you open up honestly what is alive and more or less dead within you to the Source of live and stay with it and with him until the return wave of life enters you.”

It is Virtue that makes us lively. It is right choice upon right choice, based on right motives, that enlivens us and transforms us into a vessel through which the Lord can work mighty things and great accomplishments.

We do not live in a world of grey, although the world would tell us it is so. But matters of morality, honesty, chastity, modesty, gender, and integrity are black and white. Period. And Virtue is the power, both literally and figuratively, to make the distinction between what is black, and what is white.

“Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength. They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost. President Monson has counseled: ‘You be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow. There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness—and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so’” (Elaine S. Dalton, A Return to Virtue).

What can each of us do to return to virtue? As Sister Cook said, “the course and the training program will be unique to each of us.” But as I’ve looked at my own life, a particular article of my LDS faith has played and replayed in my mind:

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

I have since begun to measure my music, my literature, my movies, my work ethic, my desires, my Church service based on those qualifications. And if it doesn’t measure up, I have begun to delete it from my life. (Please note, I am not perfect at this.)

But it is what ends that article that stands out to me most. Those last five words: We seek after these things. I have come to understand that it is not just what we rid our lives of that makes us virtuous. It is what we seek after.

And that which is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy will not be found on Access Hollywood or in the pages of Cosmo or on primetime television. Please don’t misunderstand. There is absolutely a place for entertainment and enjoyment (and believe me I have plenty of favorites) but not at the expense of our personal Virtue. Just as Virtue is gained by patterns of right choices, it is lost by patterns of bad choices. And each pattern begins with one choice.

In closing may I read another excerpt from Sister Cook’s talk? She says, “It is the cleansing power of the Atonement that makes it possible for us to be virtuous. We all make mistakes, but ‘because the Savior loves you and has given His life for you, you can repent. Repentance is an act of faith in Jesus Christ. … The Savior’s atoning sacrifice has made it possible for you to be forgiven of your sins. … Determine to partake worthily of the sacrament each week and fill your life with virtuous activities that will bring spiritual power. As you do this, you will grow stronger in your ability to resist temptation, keep the commandments [remain clean], and become more like Jesus Christ.’”

May I encourage you, as the Lord has encouraged me these last few weeks, to make yourself available to Him by cleaning out that which is unvirtuous and seeking after that which is lovely and of good report. In doing so, He WILL help you accomplish great things. He WILL help you live a life of value and worth and strength. That is my witness.

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The Way

Allow me to ask a question. I hope you’ll give the answer serious thought.

Is there anything in your life right now that you’d like to change or have different?

Perhaps you are seeking an answer? Or maybe forgiveness? Or are you holding onto forgiveness that needs to be extended? Maybe you are trying to win the battle with an addiction. Maybe you are trying to reach a difficult goal. Maybe you are seeking greater joy or peace or harmony within your home, family, or self. Maybe you are making big life decisions and are wondering which path to take. Maybe you want to pursue a different profession. Or maybe you are trying to overcome a fear. Perhaps you would like more good friends. Maybe you are wondering when the ache in your heart will finally dull and go away. Maybe you are wondering when the tears will stop. Maybe you are in a relationship that needs healing. Maybe illness and fatigue are currently a part of your daily life. Maybe you are seeking a certain blessing to come your way. The list of changes we each might like to see in our lives is endless.

When December 31, 2007 arrived, I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions just like I always do every New Year’s Eve. I’d been thinking about them for a while, and there were lots of things about my life that I wanted to be different. But when I sat down to write them there was only one resolution that mattered. I had examined my life much in the preceding months and I had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I wondered where the bright-eyed, idealistic college graduate had gone, along with all the plans and goals and ways I was going to change the world. I couldn’t see the perfect-faith-filled returned missionary anymore. By no means had I become a horrible person, but I wasn’t who I had been in years past, and I hadn’t become who I thought I would once I “became a grown up.” Life had happened. I’d gotten a real job with real stress and heavy demands. I’d accumulated bills and responsibilities and busyness. And the busier I got, the less I seemed like me. And it seemed like the farther I got from “me,” the farther I got from heaven too. So come January 1, things were going to change. But like I said only one resolution mattered. And so I wrote:

This year I will know the Savior better.

In the weeks that followed, I tried to put a dedicated emphasis on that goal. I reimplimented habits like daily scripture reading, regular prayer, and reading the lessons for each Sunday. And I felt better about life in small measure. But I still felt as though I was far. The intensity of the Spirit wasn’t permeating my life like it had just a few years before. And so, I continued to clean out the cobwebs. I identified things that had crept into my life which were making it difficult for me to always have the Spirit– things like sins, weaknesses, imperfections, and grudges. I began to offer them up to heaven with the humblest heart I think I’ve ever had. I was so saddened by the weeds I had let overtake my heart.

I think I knew I needed change for a long time, but when I’m honest about why I didn’t do it sooner, it was because I was scared–scared to give the Lord this tattered, broken life. I was afraid piecing it back together would hurt beyond what I could bear. And I think I was also ashamed. He’s the perfect God of the universe. How could I ask the Lord to fix me, change me, remake me? How could I offer Him anything less than something beautiful? And so for a long while I tried to rid my life of the busyness and weaknesses on my own, while trying to add back in the joy, service, and dedication–again, on my own. But with the approaching New Year, the pieces began to come together. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. And I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to know the Savior more. It’s never mattered more. And I think that’s because I’ve never been more acutely aware of my need for Him. And I told the Lord so. I would do whatever it took. I didn’t care how badly it hurt or how long it would take. I wanted my life to be different. And I would do whatever He asked.

And as I did so, I felt things changing little by little. I found myself happier and more peaceful. Less burdened and more fulfilled. But something was still not right. Like I had hit another wall, where I had offered everything up–my desires, my sins, my weaknesses–but I still wasn’t feeling complete in the process. I kept praying, “What else do I need to do? What is the way to finally achieve what I’m seeking? I’m so close I can feel it. But I feel like there is one last thing. Is it just that I need to give you more time? Do I need to be patient? Or do I need to do something else? Just tell me and I’ll do it. You know I will.”

Now, you must know that I have always been my own worst critic. And, though I would never allow another person to believe this about themselves, I’ve always thought that I needed to “do more,” “work harder,” “run faster” in order to receive the blessing or find forgiveness. I think many of us feel this way simply because we’re so much more aware of our own imperfections. We tend to be hardest on ourselves.

In fact, I’ve often been known to say in prayer, “I haven’t suffered enough for this. If you need to punish me a bit more, I understand.” Or I’ll think to myself, “I need to do this and this and this and this, before I ask for help because certainly I can’t kneel before God if I haven’t read my scriptures, served my neighbor, gone to the temple, and completed my visiting teaching.” And in regards to this particular resolution, I think I’d been telling myself that the way to get past the wall is to read more, serve more, try harder. I kept asking, “What more do I need to do?”

But lately, I’ve found myself reminded of the lesson the Lord has tried to teach, and re-teach me my whole life. And I think it’s probably the lesson He’ll continue to have to teach me, as I’m obviously not very good at learning it.

Thomas asked, “How can we know the way?”, as he sat with his fellow apostles and their Lord after the supper on the memorable night of betrayal. I revisit the question I began with: Is there anything in your life right now that you’d like to change or have different? If so, “how can we know the way” to do so?

“Christ’s divine answer was: ‘I am the way…’ (John 14:5-6). And so He is! He is the source of our comfort, the inspiration of our life, the author of our salvation. If we want to know our relationship to God, we go to Jesus Christ. If we would know the truth of immortality of the soul, we have it exemplified in the Savior’s resurrection…He is the one Perfect Being who ever walked the earth; the sublimest example of nobility; Godlike in nature; perfect in his love; our Redeemer; our Savior; the immaculate Son of our Eternal Father; the Light, the Life, the Way” (David O. McKay, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 2003, 3-4, 5).

And so it is. At both the beginning and the end of my long list of “look what I’ve done Lord to change my life” there stands One. And ultimately, only He can change it. When I face the wall in front of me, it is He who says, “Thy walls are continually before me” (1 Nephi 21:16).

When we are lonely, it is He who says, “and lo, I am with you, even unto the end” (D&C 105:41).

When we are burdened, it is He who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:30).

When we wonder which direction to go or choice to make, it is He who says, “Trust in [me] with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge [me], and [I] will direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

When we are seeking greater peace in our homes, families, and hearts, it is He who says, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23).

When we are saddened, faced with fear, hurt or illness, it is He who says, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (John 14:18).

When our world swirls around us, it is he who “arises, and rebukes the winds and the sea; until there is calm” (Matt 8: 26).

When we don’t feel strong enough to handle what we’ve been given, or face what is ahead, it is He who is our “strength and [our] song” (1 Nephi 22:2).

When we are out of breath, it is God who “breathed … the breath of life” into Adam (Moses 3:70).

When we feel dead, it is He who said, “I am the life” (John 14:6).

When we want, it is He who says, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 6: 7).

When we feel condemned and ashamed, it is He who says, “neither do I condemn thee” (John 8:11).

When we feel we need to suffer more for our sins, it is He who says, “I have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer” (D&C 19:16).

When we hunger, it is He who says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48).

When we thirst, it is He who says, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14).

When the present seems dark, it is He who says, “I am the light” (3 Ne. 18:16).

When we don’t know the way, it is He who says, “I am the way.” (John 14:6).

“Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion and Atonement, I promise you He is not going to turn His back on us now. When He says to the poor in spirit, ‘Come unto me,’ He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way” (Elder Holland, “Broken Things to Mend,” Liahona, May 2006, 69-71).

There is a journey we are all making. Some of us have the ability really run it. Others of us are slower. Sometimes we walk. Sometimes we’re frozen still, not knowing how to get to the end, or maybe scared to get to the end. But I testify that there is One who stays beside us. He knows the way because He is the way.

His life He gave, once for the world.
Collective majesty.
But today, in quiet moments,
He gave the world to me.

That little poem came to me as I contemplated this Man, this God, my God, my brother, my breath, my light, my life, my way. At every moment of our lives, and I truly believe that it’s every moment, we simply have to let go. We can clean out our lives. We can organize our homes. We can speak kind words. We can pray and read our scriptures and be good people. But at the end of all that, when we stand in front of the wall, or just before the finish line, at those simplest and truest places, it’s He who gives us the world. And He gives it over and over and over. And He loves that! He is the author and the finisher of all things. He is the way. And all He says is, “Come.”

I hope today we can all Come to Jesus–quietly and honestly. That we can bring our fears and our baggage and our sins and our broken lives and give them to him and not take them back and just … believe. Believe that He can not only fix them, but that He wants them.

There is a song I love that says:

Broken clouds give rain
And broken ground grows grain
Broken bread feeds man for one more day

Broken storms yield light
The break of day heals night
Broken pride turns blindness into sight

Broken souls that need His mending
Broken hearts for offering
Could it be that God loves broken things?

Broken chains set free
Broken swords bring peace
Broken walls make friends of you and me

To break the ranks of sin
To break the news of Him
To put on Christ till His name feels broken in

Broken souls that need His mending
Broken hearts for offering
I believe that God loves broken things

And yet, our broken faith, our broken promises
Sent love to the cross
And still, that broken flesh, that broken heart of His
Offers us such grace and mercy
Covers us with undeserving

This broken soul that cries for mending
This broken heart for offering
I’m convinced that God loves broken things
Praise His name – my God loves broken things
(Broken, Kenneth Cope)

I am broken. And I am His. However imperfectly I do that, and believe me, imperfect it is. But I am broken, and I am His. And I know He loves broken me.

 

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