Friday, April 17, 2015

Every Other Item

Earlier today, I wrote up a list of things I wanted to accomplish today. As I checked my list just now, I realized that, as of the moment I publish this blog post, I will have checked off only every other item, literally. Today, I accomplished only about half of the things I wanted to. Granted, this wasn't a complete list, and I accomplished many good things before even making the list, but there was still a lot left undone.

The reason I accomplished only half of what I wanted to do today has a lot to do with what I plan on blogging about tomorrow, when I continue blogging about Elder Oaks' talk about the Parable of the Sower. The short explanation is that I got distracted. I recently obtained a good book, and I spent most of the day reading it. Yet, remembering an iconic Elder Oaks talk, there are some things that are good, while there are others that are better. Reading the book was arguably a good thing, and it was what I wanted to do at the time, but now I wish I had done other, better, things instead.

My half-completed to-do list will roll over into tomorrow, which already has obligations of its own, and whatever I don't get done tomorrow will roll over to the next day, or the day after that. Thankfully, there are no time limits on many of these items, but they all need to get done, and most, if not all of them, could have been done today, had I not been stuck in a book. I feel like I hadn't used my time wisely - that I could have done better, and done more, if only I had had more focus.

But there's no use saying "if only," is there? All I can really do now is spend a portion of what remains of the evening crossing another item or two off the list, and then try to do better tomorrow. That's one comforting thing about the afterlife, one of the subjects of the book I read - there is always a tomorrow. And yet, we are warned that there will come a "night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed" (Alma 34:33). There are some things that just can't be put off forever. We would do well to do them today.

I still have a few things I need to do today, and I can start by publishing this blog post and getting back to work.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Roots of Testimony

Elder Dalin H. Oaks gave a talk he titled "The Parable of the Sower," though he said that "The Savior’s examples could cause us to think of this parable as the parable of the soils." Indeed, far more time in the parable is spent on the soils than the sower, so I've always wondered why it's called the parable of the sower rather than the soils. But I digress.

The first kind of soil Elder Oaks talks about in detail is the stony ground. The seeds that fell here were unable to grow because, as the Savior explained, "it had no depth of earth: but when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away" (Mark 4:5-6).
Jesus explained that this describes those “who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness,” but because they “have no root in themselves, … when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16–17).
 The root in this parable refers to one's testimony. Elder Oaks went on to say that there are many reasons why a convert, or even a life-long member of the church may be lacking in testimony, and he made it clear that "spiritual food is necessary for spiritual survival." Without a strong testimony, we won't be able to endure the storms of life with our faith intact. "In an age dominated by the Internet, which magnifies messages that menace faith, we must increase our exposure to spiritual truth in order to strengthen our faith and stay rooted in the gospel."

We need to make sure our hearts are open to spiritual truths so they can take root in us and strengthen us against the challenges of mortal life. If we are to endure to the end, our testimonies will need to be as strong as we can make them. Thankfully, it doesn't take much time or effort to do the daily things necessary to keep our testimonies strong. Daily morning and evening prayers and daily scripture study is a great start. Regular fasting and worship will help a lot. But here's the trick - It's not so much what you do that will strengthen your testimony, but where your heart and mind are when you do them. When we take the Sacrament each week, are our thoughts focused on the Savior, or are we thinking about other things? Do we take time to ponder the scriptures we read? Are our prayers sincere? It may be that we are already doing all the right things, but unless we're doing them with the right heart, they may not be doing us much good.

On the positive side,we can be doing things that are (or seem to be) totally unrelated to the gospel, such as going about our daily lives, but if we reflect on spiritual things while we go about our business, we can use that time to continue to nourish our spirits and strengthen our roots, even as we perform mundane tasks.

Whether we're actively doing things to strengthen our testimonies, or whether we're working on more temporal goals, we should try to think of the Savior as much as possible in order to make sure our testimonies grow and remain as strong as we'll need them to be. The world, for the most part, is a desert when it comes to spirituality. To endure in this desert, we're going to need strong, deep spiritual roots.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"As a Hen Gathereth Her Chickens"

As we were reading 3 Nephi 10 for family scripture study, Mom pointed out to my brother and I that Christ said that He would gather the house of Israel "as a hen gathereth her chickens." She asked, "How does a hen gather her chickens?" Then she answered, "She calls and they come." If chicks don't come when their mother hen calls them, there's not much the hen can do to protect them. Similarly, God and Christ would like to offer us some protection from the fallen world we live in, and more especially from ourselves, but unless we answer their calls by repenting and keeping the commandments, there's not much they can do to protect us, especially from our own sins. We have the agency to choose right or wrong. God has taught us the difference, and given us consciences so we can feel the difference, and encourages us to choose the right. After that, it's up to us. We can choose to follow Christ, or we can choose not to. Our choice is the only factor that determines whether we end up under the protective wing of a mother hen or under the deadly talons of a diabolical hawk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ascending Together - Complete, Don't Compete

My favorite part of Sister Burton's talk is when she talks about how men and women were made to complement each other and complete each other, rather than competing with each other:
In a chapter about families, the Church handbook contains this statement: “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.” Please note that it does not say “compete with each other” but “complete each other”! We are here to help, lift, and rejoice with each other as we try to become our very best selves. Sister Barbara B. Smith wisely taught, “There is so much more of happiness to be had when we can rejoice in another’s successes and not just in our own.” When we seek to “complete” rather than “compete,” it is so much easier to cheer each other on!
In our society and in human nature, there is a tendency toward pride and competition. Pride says that if there is a winner, there must be a loser. Some people pit men against women, claiming that men are "better" than women, or that women are just as good (if not better) than men at everything. In reality, men and women were meant to work together, not against each other. In fact, that's the only way any of us "become our very best selves."

Like the two angels from yesterday, none of us can succeed on our own. We all need help from each other, or at least the Savior, to meet our potential in mortality, and we will each eventually need an eternal companion in order to reach our eternal potential. Then, rather than tearing each other down, we should all be trying to lift each other up. If we do, we can truly ascend together all the way up to the Celestial Kingdom.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ascending Together - Left- and Right-Winged Angels

Sister Linda K. Burton's talk, We'll Ascend Together, speaks of how the roles of men and women compliment each other. Men and women are not the same. In fact, there are many key differences that affect our roles in God's plan. Yet, our differences were carefully designed so we could balance out each others' strengths and weaknesses and support each other in marriages and in families.

Some people in our culture are placing less importance on the distinction between men and women. Some argue that a person should be able to choose whether he or she is male or female. Some say that marriages do not require one man and one woman, but could function equally well with two men or two women. After all, if men and women are equal, one should be interchangeable for another, right?

I believe that men and women, while being equal in many ways, are also unequal in some ways. Some of these inequalities are biological and measurable. Others are spiritual and intangible. As far as I'm concerned, it's enough to say that men and women are different, and their traits vary from each other in such a way that they compliment each other, compensate for each others' deficiencies, and support one another.

The proverb from which Sister Burton's talk takes its title reminds me of an image of two angels, each having only one wing. Since one angel had their left wing and the other had their right wing, the two were able to fly together by leaning on one another and flapping simultaneously. This arrangement only worked because their wings were on opposite sides. Can you imagine a bird or an angel trying to fly with two left wings or two right wings? If two left-winged angels leaned on each other and flapped at the same time, I think they would fall over or, at best, fly in circles. When two opposite-winged angels pair up, however, I can actually imagine them being able to take flight together.

In a similar way, men and women were made to lean on one another, support one another, and lift each other up. No, men and women are not the same, but that doesn't mean that either is less valuable or less essential than the other. Winged creatures need both a left and a right wing to fly. Only when a man and a woman work together in harmony can a marriage truly soar.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

True, Enduring Love

Those who were paying attention in the Saturday Morning Session of this General Conference may have noticed a particular theme to many of the talks. In fact, three out of the six Saturday Morning Session talks were about  marriage, parenthood, and families, including President Boyd K. Packer's talk, The Plan of Happiness. President Packer's focus on that message is that love that lasts through the ages is sweeter than young love that is yet to be tested:
And if you suppose that the full-blown rapture of young romantic love is the sum total of the possibilities which spring from the fountains of life, you have not yet lived to see the devotion and the comfort of longtime married love. Married couples are tried by temptation, misunderstandings, financial problems, family crises, and illness, and all the while love grows stronger. Mature love has a bliss not even imagined by newlyweds.
This message flies in the face of many movies, including the old Disney classics like Sleeping Beauty. In Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora is cursed with an eternal sleep from which she could only be woken by "true love's kiss." That kiss came from Prince Philip, who had met Princess Aurora no earlier than the day before, and had spent no more than a few hours with her. The idea that true love could be developed in the span of only a few hours is laughable, and Disney certainly poked fun at that idea in their recent movie, Maleficent.

However, the movie in which Disney most clearly highlighted the difference between true love and romantic infatuation is their slightly-less-recent movie, Frozen. In Frozen, Princess Anna is cursed so that she'll soon turn to solid ice unless the curse is broken by an act of true love. It is suggested that a true love's kiss could break the curse, so Prince Anna goes to Prince Hans, whom she had known for only a few hours and whom she had felt an instant attraction to. It's something of an understatement to say that that plan didn't work out. Plan B was to kiss Kristoff, with whom Anna had spent more time and with whom a more sincere relationship was forming. However, if you watch the sky carefully as the movie progresses, you'll notice that Anna and Kristoff had spent no more than a single day together. It is not revealed whether a kiss from Kristoff would have counted as a "true love's kiss" because the curse was ultimately broken by a love more like the one President Packer described, one that had been tried by misunderstandings, hardships, and family crises.

Just as a person grows stronger by facing hardships, a relationship grows stronger when people who love each other face hardships together. Young love is a beautiful thing, but we've been told by one who knows that enduring love is even better. His message was that we should keep ourselves clean, pledge ourselves to each other, and work together to make our relationships last. This, unfortunately, is not always possible, but to those whose marital or spiritual status is less than ideal, President Packer offered these words of comfort:
God is our Father! All the love and generosity manifest in the ideal earthly father is magnified in Him who is our Father and our God beyond the capacity of the mortal mind to comprehend. His judgments are just; His mercy without limit; His power to compensate beyond any earthly comparison.
His love for us has endured through all the ages of the earth, and it is the strongest, purest love the world has ever known. It is at least the equal to the love of Christ, who suffered tremendously and died for us. If any love has ever been true, His is. And the best love we can have for each other is the kind of love He has for us - not the short-term excitement of a storybook romance, but the kind of love that endures.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Deciding it Was a Good Day

I don't think this quote is from this General Conference, but it's relevant to something I could blog about, so I think I'll share it anyway.

Today was a good day, partly because I decided that it was a good day.

It started with some homework, but it was quick and easy, so thank goodness for that.

I'm waiting on two of my teachers for information about upcoming assignments, but since I don't have to (or can't) do those assignments until I get that information, not hearing from my teachers means that I don't have to worry about those assignments yet.

I went on a errand and had bike trouble, but it safely alerted me of a potentially dangerous problem, enabled me to discover an alternate transportation option, and the timing may work out to get a good new bike for cheaper than I'd have expected.

I watched a movie that wasn't quite as good as I expected, but it had some good parts, so I should really focus on that.

Mom and I went to a meeting that ended up not happening, and we could have been bitter about time wasted in traveling, but instead we used that time to talk about the movie we had just watched, what was good or bad about it, and how we might have changed it.

With the unexpected free time we were given, we mowed the lawn and pulled weeds, which, while not one of my favorite chores, wasn't too terrible, and it improved the appearance of our yard.

For dinner, we had hamburgers and I had mine with cheese. The cheese melted all over the burger and made a mess, but it still tasted good, and Mom assured me that it probably wouldn't be too hard to clean up.

And right now, the computer is being very slow, probably too slow for a youtube video I wanted to watch, but at least it seems to be working well enough for me to blog, and I can always watch the video later.

All in all, it was a decent day. It could have been better, but it was still alright. And part of what made this a good day was me deciding that it was a good day. And you know what? No matter what happens tomorrow, tomorrow will be a good day, too.