Saturday, April 19, 2014

Listening to Spirits

Every once in a while, I find myself being sort of half way to thinking about blogging about something, just because I have to blog about something, when suddenly, I have a jaw-droppingly eye-opening revelatory event, which I feel that I just HAVE to blog about right away. Elder Nelson can wait another day or two. Right now I need to blog about a tree.

Just a few minutes ago, I was getting some breakfast and quoting a Disney movie to myself (which is what I do sometimes when I talk to myself), and it suddenly struck me how much truth was in what I was quoting. In Disney's 1995 film, Pocahontas, the title character tells a sentient tree a dream she had had about a spinning arrow, and this conversation (taken from Wikiquote) followed:

Grandmother Willow: Hmm. Well, it seems to me, this spinning arrow is pointing you down your path.
Pocahontas: But, Grandmother Willow, what is my path? How am I ever going to find it?
Grandmother Willow: Your mother asked me the very same question.
Pocahontas: She did? What did you tell her?
Grandmother Willow: I told her to listen. All around you are spirits, child. They live in the earth, the water, the sky. If you listen, they will guide you.

The mind-blowing thing is that there are spirits all around us, and they are trying to guide us. I don't know about them being in the earth, water, and sky, and I highly doubt that all spirits are trying to guide us down the same path, but I do believe that there are spirits around us, and that many of them are trying to guide us each down our the path that God has laid out for us. They trouble that they face is that all they can do is whisper. They need us to listen intently, and to listen to the right spirits rather than the wrong ones.

It's comforting to think that we're not alone in the world, and that when we need guidance, we can get it if we listen. I, like Pocahontas, would like to know what my path is. Perhaps I should follow Grandmother Willow's advice and listen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

President Eyring's Pamphlet

I was about to skip President Henry B. Eyring's Saturday Morning message, A Priceless Heritage of Hope, because I couldn't remember what was so good about it, but then I checked my notes and was reminded that he had said this:
Whoever you are and wherever you may be, you hold in your hands the happiness of more people than you can now imagine. ... Wherever you are on the path to inherit the gift of eternal life, you have the opportunity to show many people the way to greater happiness.
Then President Eyring told a story about how his great grandfather became a penniless orphan, moved to St. Louis, found a pamphlet written by Parley P. Pratt, and became a Mormon. This blessed not only the life of President Eyring's great grandfather, whose name was Heinrich Eyring, but also the lives of his family members, including President Eyring. President Eyring went on to become an Apostle, giving many talks in many General Conferences, improving thousands (if not millions) of people's lives, including mine. As a penniless orphan, Heinrich Eyring could never have known that his life would go on to bless the lives of millions.

There is, I believe, a sort of ripple effect. Whenever we do something, it never only affects just us. Just as Heinrich Eyring never knew how many people he'd end up influencing, the same could be said of whoever left Elder Pratt's pamphlet wherever Heinrich found it, whether that was in a garbage can or on a pedestal in a library. Over the past year, I've left hundreds of blog posts scattered across the archives of the internet. Could it be that even one person might convert to Mormonism as a result of having read one of my posts? Could one of my blog posts later be read and taken to heart by a future Apostle? (Somehow, that makes me even more subconscious about my frequent typographical errors, not to mention my desire to write blog posts that are inspiring.)

And bloggers and pamphlet writers aren't the only people who have immeasurable influence on the world. Think of mothers, for crying out loud! They each raise a handful of children (some, multiple hands full) which then go on to influence their friends, classmates, coworkers, and children, who the go on to influence their friends, classmates, coworkers, and children, and it never stops! Granted, the amount of influence a person has on their classmates and coworkers tends to be limited. Their influence on their friends is usually greater. But the influence a person has on their children is usually very strong. I think mothers deserve most of the credit for almost all of the good in the world.

What's important is that we remember to use our influence (once we've acknowledged that we actually have an influence) to improve the happiness of others.

I could write sad poetry. I could write depressing stories. I could rant for days about the apparent meaninglessness of life, or forward the semi-logical arguments of atheists who make youtube videos. In all honesty, I've seen a few atheistic youtube videos that I've been tempted to blog about. But I don't. I don't try to spread misery or plant doubts, especially not on my blog. Why not? Because I'd rather spread happiness and plant faith, especially in myself. If I'm going to have any influence on others, I'd want it to be an influence for good.

President Eyring said that we hold the happiness of an unimaginable number of people in our hands, and I believe him. If that's true, then we each have an unimaginable amount of influence for good in the world. Let's not let it go to waste. Let's not pass up opportunities to enrich other peoples' lives, and let's especially try not to spread misery and pain. (Though, if you do have pain, it might still be good to talk about it. Healing is a very beneficial thing, for both those who are healed and for the healers.)

We can all do our part to make the world a better place. And who knows? Maybe one of us will share the pamphlet that inspires the next President Eyring.

P.S. I'm so glad I chose not to skip this talk.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whirlwinds of Adversity

In the rant I didn't share yesterday, I asked myself why life has challenges, and part of the reason, I already knew, is to make us stronger. Trying to pull myself back into the short-lived habit of blogging from General Conference talks, I want to share a quote from Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk, Spiritual Whirlwinds, which spoke on this subject.

In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger. As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things. First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther. Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind. These stronger roots and branches protect the tree from winds that are sure to return.

Like those trees, we grow stronger as we face and overcome adversity in all its forms. God's purpose in making life as hard as it is isn't because He enjoys watching us suffer, but because He wants us to grow, and facing tough challenges may be the only way we can do that. Life is hard, not because God doesn't really love us, but because He really loves us.

You are infinitely more precious to God than a tree. You are His son or His daughter. He made your spirit strong and capable of being resilient to the whirlwinds of life. The whirlwinds in your youth, like the wind against a young tree, can increase your spiritual strength, preparing you for the years ahead.

It is because of God's great love for us that He is willing to face short-term hardship, knowing that the results will be, or at least can be, long-term strength. He has the patience and spiritual fortitude to look past our brief pain to the goal of our eternal glory. He knows that the realization of that goal is worth nearly any sacrifice, so according to His wisdom, which I admitted yesterday is greater than mine, it's in my best interest to have a few challenges in my life. Joy. (That "joy" was sarcastic, by the way.)

Adversity isn't a desirable experience, and the scriptures admit that. Hebrews 12:11 reads, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." In other words, yeah, adversity stinks, but if it helps us be better people, it's worth it. God knows that better than anyone, so He throws at us as much adversity as we can handle, knowing that facing adversity will help us grow to become more like Him.

I don't really enjoy facing challenges, but I don't really enjoy feeling weak, either. Every time I make a decision, I either try to avoid the challenge and endure the weakness or I face the challenge and reduce my weakness. The latter sounds much more noble and rewarding, so it really should be a no-brainer, but facing challenges is, by definition, hard. I guess that's the point. If it wasn't hard to face adversity, then facing adversity wouldn't make us stronger, and there would really be no point to it. I have to face my challenges and gain strength through overcoming them. It's the only way for me, or anyone, to achieve the destiny God has lain out for us - joy. (And I'm not being sarcastic this time.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Choice of Obedience

I tried to blog this morning, but it ended up being a rant - too long to be worth reading, too angry to be spiritual, and too personal to share. Ergo, I'm going to try to find something slightly inspirational on Facebook or Youtube, share it, comment on it, and call that my blog post for today.

While looking for an image/quote to blog about, I found an image/quote I said I'd eventually blog about. Go figure.

Whenever I don't know what to do, I try to find out what God wants me to do - not because I'm a mindless automaton, which I'm not, or because I desperately need guidance, which I do, but because God wants what's best for me and He knows how I can get it, even when I don't even know what's best for me, let alone how to get it. Essentially, I trust His judgment much more than I trust my own.

Elder Perry also mentioned power as part of the equation. I'm not sure how God's omnipotence fits in with our choice to be obedient, unless it's that when we choose to do what He asks, He often helps us, enabling us to do more than what we could do with our limited power on our own. Or in other words, we achieve more when we follow God than when we try to do things our own way, and that makes sense just from a teamwork standpoint, even without considering that the other member of this team is God.

Obedience is a choice between what we want to do and what God wants us to do, which is sometimes a difficult choice to make, especially in the moment. What we need to remember is that what we want isn't always what's best for us, but God is wise enough to know what's best for us and is kind enough to give us the directions we need. His suggestions/commandments may not be popular or appreciated, but they're always the right decisions to make and they're far less likely to lead to regrets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Leaf - A Lesson in Less-Subtle Temptations

Yesterday, I told you that this morning, I'd be blogging about Spiritual Whirlwinds, but right now, I want to blog about something else.

A few days ago, I saw a leaf floating a foot or so above the ground, twirling in the breeze, but never falling to the ground. At first, I was curious about this anomaly, and almost went to take a closer look, but then I realized what it was - the leaf was suspended in a spider's web. As I walked away from the window, I thought about how the leaf gave an obvious indication of the presence of the web, yet I was still drawn toward it anyway. You would think that remaining invisible would have given the web a better chance of catching its prey, or at least tricking me into walking into it, but it turned out that curiosity was almost an effective bait.

Because of Satan, we are frequently faced with temptations, which usually rely on subtlety and non-detection to catch unsuspecting victims, But sometimes, even when non-detection fails, the traps still manage to catch some of us because we grow curious about them. Some people have "experimented" with alcohol, smoking, drugs, and pornography despite knowing that these things are generally considered vices and are frequently addicting. We know that the webs are there, and we know that they're webs, and yet there's still some pull to go toward them.

Granted, once I realized that the leaf in the web was a leaf in a web, my desire to approach it diminished, but with the webs meant to catch us, that's not always the case. People see others that are smoking, drinking, and generally "having a good time," and are drawn to that lifestyle, despite those choices' known drawbacks. Satan's traps are often sneaky, but they can still be effective when they're lying in plain sight. I plainly saw the leaf, and didn't want to be the leaf, but if I thought the leaf was having fun in the web (and its twirling did look kind of fun), and I thought I could have fun by hanging onto the web, too, I might have been tempted by it. And right now, I'm thinking that that's pretty scary.

Satan has devoted his life to tempting others to commit sin, and he has gotten pretty good at it. Subtlety is a favorite method of his, but when that fails, he piles on the bait. Sometimes he piques our interest with offers of fun or pleasure, and sometimes it's mere curiosity that draws us in. In either case, we need to see his temptations for the traps they are, and avoid them, no matter how fun or interesting they look.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Habits and Benefits of a Christ-Focussed Home

This morning's talk is Protection From Pornography--A Christ-Focussed Home, by Sister Linda S. Reeves. As I rewatched the talk this morning, I tried to look for something I could share here on my blog, knowing that it's not likely that many of the people that I know read my blog struggle with pornography. (Incidentally, if you do struggle with pornography, you may want to read the full talk. There's a link to it above.) Fortunately, I found a paragraph containing wise counsel that pertains not only to pornography, but to other challenges as well. Sister Reeves testified: 

Brothers and sisters, because I know from my own experiences, and those of my husband, I must testify of the blessings of daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening. These are the very practices that help take away stress, give direction to our lives, and add protection to our homes. Then, if pornography or other challenges do strike our families, we can petition the Lord for help and expect great guidance from the Spirit, knowing that we have done what our Father has asked us to do.

 Daily prayer and scripture study is, thankfully, a practice that has been in place in my home as long as I can remember. Family home evening is a little harder, since we're not always all home on the same evenings. But it has always been somewhat strengthening to me to walk passed Mom's room in the evening, and see her kneeling in prayer or hear her listening to the scriptures on her computer. It's good to know where she gets her spiritual power, and it serves as an example to me of how I can gain spiritual power as well. Our prayers aren't always spectacular, and we don't always understand everything we read in the scriptures, but just by having that daily routine, I think we gain some of the spiritual blessings that Sister Reeves listed.

Prayer, scripture study, and family home evening help families increase their spirituality and unity. They build a foundation of faith that can be a strength to us when trials and temptations come. Tomorrow morning, I'll be blogging from Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk, Spiritual Whirlwinds, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about the importance and benefits of strong foundations then, but for now, what I want to teach is how to build one, and that it's not too late to start.

With Sister Reeves, "I cannot [fully] explain the power of this great book [the Book of Mormon]. I only know that, coupled with prayer, the Book of Mormon carries the power to protect families, strengthen relationships, and give personal confidence before the Lord." I want to develop the habit of reading it more frequently and studying it more deeply. I want to learn more from it and absorb more of its spiritual power. I know that, by doing so, I can gain the strength to overcome my personal challenges, and so can you. Daily prayer and scripture study isn't always easy. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice sleep or recreational activities for it. But as you give your time to the Lord, He will give His promised blessings to you, and those are blessings that are worth spending the time it'll take to get them.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sting of Death

I don't know if this is a coincidence or really good timing on God's part, but last night, I saw a production showing the scenes that followed Christ's resurrection, and this morning, I read and listened to Elder Carlos H. Amado's talk, Christ the Redeemer, which talked about Jesus' power over death.

In light of those two inspiring messages, death doesn't seem so bad as we often think it is. When we die, we lose our bodies, but we get them back, better than ever, when we're resurrected. When we die, we become separated from our loved ones, but we'll be reunited in heaven. When we die, we're forced to leave this beautiful earth, but even the lowest kingdom of heaven, the telestial kingdom, in which are found "liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers" (D&C 76:103), is described as having glory "which surpasses all understanding" (D&C 76:89), so even the worst place any of us might end up when we die will be better than here (unless one of us manages to pull off a sin at the same level as Judas Iscariot, which I'm pretty sure would be impossible for any of us).

Thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, most of the pains of death are only temporary, apart from the probably permanent move from one place to another, and thanks to the mercy and goodness of our Heavenly Father, the place we will move to will, in all likelihood, be much better than here. The worst pain of death that remains is the temporary separation from our loved ones, but like all trials of mortality, as soon as it has ended, we will have the perspective to see that it really wasn't so bad as it felt. Death may seem frightening, painful, and tragic now, but in reality, it is but a passing from one world to another. And the world to which it takes our loved ones, and to which it will eventually take us, is glorious beyond all description. "And the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ" (Mosiah 16:8).