Thursday, June 23, 2016

Breaking from the Status Quo

The scriptures are rife with stories of strange episodes where our hero comes face to face with a very difficult decision.  Do they follow the letter of the law or the spirit?  We find times when these horribly conflict and I cannot help but ponder not only how these people found the strength to follow the Lord, but why the Lord would ask it of His servants in the first place. 
 
Consider Abraham.  Murder was forbidden, and yet he found himself commanded to sacrifice his own child.  What emotions must have rushed through him, conflicting one another?  What of Jacob, who lied and cheated in order to all but steal his brother's birthright?  He knew he was to be the next in line, that God wanted him to be the next prophet, but he had to do things he blatantly hated in order to make it so.  What of Jesus Himself?  He healed on the Sabbath, He claimed the right to clean out the temple, and called Himself the Son of God.
 
But there is another story that intrigues me.  Let's look in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 4, for those who have a copy.  Enter Nephi - a teenage boy from Jerusalem who has devoted his life to the fervent and devoted service of God.  He glories in doing the right thing.  His father is apprised that the Babylonians are going to destroy the city and he is commanded to take his family and flee.  There is just one problem.  They don't have a copy of the scriptures.  A relative has a copy of the scriptures but he is a bad tempered fellow with no love of God but a great love of violence and money.  Nephi tries to ask for the book and this relative, Laban by name, rejects him.  Nephi tries to buy the book.  Laban insults him, runs him off, steals his money, threatens to kill him and still won't give him the scriptures.  Nephi's brothers are about to give up and they beat him with a rod to take some of the piety out of him.  Still Nephi returns to Jerusalem alone, praying to God for help and not knowing what he will do before he does it. 
 
He meets a man, dead drunk, in the darkened streets.  He recognizes the man as Laban and the Spirit constrains Nephi to kill him.  Nephi shrinks at first but the Spirit insists, telling him "It is better that one man should perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief."  This is war.  All things considered, Nephi takes the man's sword and slashes off his head, wears his clothes, gets the book, bullies a servant and then brings him along to join his brothers and parents in the wilderness. 
 
This is a man who delighted in doing the right thing, who was taught that lying, killing, theft and cheating was wrong.  And yet in the space of a few hours God required all of these things from his likely trembling but always willing, adolescent hands.  Nephi continues in the strength of the Lord to become a great leader, even a king, among his people and a prophet before our Master.  I cannot imagine that God in any way condemned his actions, but imagine the wrestle afterward within his own heart.  Even with heaven cheering him on, I cannot help but think that it took some deep prayer to be able to forgive himself, to convince himself that his hands were clean, and really gain a testimony that he had done rightly. 
 
My own experience with God and life has made me consider the story of Nephi with new eyes.  Our purpose here is to progress and grow, and when a person already has a passion for being morally strong, his next test might be to follow the Lord, even when it might seem or feel contrary to the standard commandments from childhood.  Are we here to follow the book or to follow the Lord?  It seems counterintuitive, but those who reach such a pitch are truly the super stars of the spiritual world, and I cannot help but think that God brings us to that point, asks us to jump off that cliff, that precipice over gaping hell, that we might more fully cling to him, become ever more wary of our actions and our egos and in order to give us, finally, our own ethereal wings to fly. 

Are We Not All Family?

Contrary to popular belief, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does in fact allow women to teach from the pulpit.  We are not called as bishops, but we are asked to preach quite frequently.  I received the invitation to teach on Father's Day and the following is essentially the gist of the talk I delivered.  Inasmuch as I purposefully did not write out the sermon beforehand, but relied completely on mere bullet points and it is unlawful to record our Sacrament services, I cannot relate it exactly. 
 
My brethren and my sisters, I am grateful for the talk just given because it flows directly into my remarks today.  I love the way Elder Bednar begins his talks and would like to begin by doing much the same thing.  He invokes the Spirit of God to be present before he speaks, and I would invite the Spirit to be here with me and with you that all of us may be edified together.
 
As I have pondered and prayed about this assignment it seems that the Lord has directed my thoughts toward one venue and disallowed me to consider any other means of address on this subject, so I will follow with how I feel impressed to speak. 
 
When I was a very young child, I remember looking at the tangible objects around me and the world around me and feeling that all this was very foreign.  I remember feeling that I came from another place, a better place, a place I couldn't quite remember but knew had existed.  I pondered these things deeply in my childhood and felt very homesick for a world from before my mortal birth.  I was noted to be rather a strange child, and those of you who know me today are probably thinking that not much has changed.  (giggles from the congregation)
 
I was about five when, in pondering these things, I felt a very familiar presence with me.  It was a presence I knew well, and felt I had spent many millions of years with this person in one on one activities.  It was then that I knew perfectly that God was not only the Master of the universe, but also very much my Father.
 
Joseph Smith indicated that when we meet God the Father the surprising thing will not be how different and strange He is, but how familiar He is to us.  I testify that I know perfectly that this is true.  He knows us and He loves us.  He knows us, not merely from our births into this world but He knows who we have been from long before this world was.  (Mormon) scripture indicates that He knew us when we were intelligences, before we were clothed in spiritual bodies and He knows us more intimately than all the world including all our Facebook friends together possibly could. 
 
That being said, I began to grow up and became acquainted with life and all its chaos.  Sometimes life is full of unexpected trials and sometimes we do not know which way to go or which way our life will take us.  I have been praying much the last two weeks, unsure of which way my life would go, but even though I don't know, I know that our Father does.  He gives us trials that He knows we need.  He knows who we have been for forever in the past and He knows who we can and will be in the eternities in the future, and every trial He gives us is designed to be exactly what we need. 
 
Now, today is Father's Day, and we honor our fathers.  They work so hard and they leave their families for forty hours a week and sometimes longer in order to work.  This is wonderful.  It is noble.  It is heroic.  But when our Heavenly Father goes to work, what does He do?  My brethren and my sisters, we are His work and His glory.  Our progression is His work, and I am continually amazed that He would even care about how we progress and improve, but He does.  We are everything to Him.
 
As I have prayed about what gift we can render our Father today, my thoughts have been led to one idea and I invite you to join me.  This Father's Day, let us remember who we are.  Let us remember a little more that God is our Father, that we are brothers and sisters, and when we interact with each other, let us remember that we are all one eternal family, for that is exactly what we are.  When we say "Sister Driggs", "Sister Richardson", or "Brother Hopkins" (gesturing toward these people) or whoever it may be, let us mean it.  They are our siblings.  We are all family. 
 
I know not only that Heavenly Father lives, but I know our Father.  I love Him.  I know perfectly that He loves His children and is involved in everything we do.  I know perfectly that the doctrines of this Church are true, and I leave this with you in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.

Abortion and Autism

I have heard increasingly frequent reports of parents who decide to abort their unborn child upon the discovery of some special need or other in the fetus.  I have prayed much on how to address this and to keep my fiery nature, sometimes sharp tongue and very passionate feelings balanced with compassion and understanding toward those adults considering taking this step.
 
My friends, let me speak peace to your mind.  I know that it must prove overwhelming to discover that your child has what we generally term a disability.  Allow me to share with you my own experience in raising an autistic child. 
 
Tests during pregnancy did initially tell me that something was unusual with my daughter's brain development.  Further tests conflicted with each other and the doctor assumed she would be neuro typical.  But from the beginning I could tell there was something very marked and different in my firstborn.  I could feel her excited spirit.  I could tell she had a passion to take this world by storm and turn it upside down.  During pregnancy she kicked me so hard that a bruise the size of a silver dollar appeared on my waistline.  Her active antics and some external factors sent me into preterm labor a few times over and the hospital nurses nicknamed her "the wild child." 
 
 She was bright and watchful from the beginning and it wasn't until later that I realized something was wrong.  At first the doctors blamed me for her hysterical meltdowns.  I was the bad mom, the unfit parent because my daughter would scream hysterically, kicking everything in sight and even hurting herself for hours every day.  She could readily say nouns but nothing else and in the end a team of specialists had to teach her to speak in sentences. 
 
It was difficult.  It was challenging. I surrendered to the idea that she might never learn to potty train and prepared myself for a teenager in diapers. 
 
But to my surprise, toilet train she did.  Her first sentence, stuttered out in her precious little baby voice was "Pwease hewp me (please help me)."  You may imagine that the moment she uttered those three magic words I fell into uncontrollable tears.  I would help her.  I would believe in her.  I would do anything for her.
 
Julia has touched many lives in her short ten years on this earth.  She has survived being hit by a semi on the freeway, she has shared her beautiful testimony of God and her Savior Jesus Christ with many people, and she has proven both a blessing and a challenge to many of her teachers.  She has knit hearts together in service in a way no one could have imagined.  Her spirit has melted walls of stone and sliced through hearts of granite.  She used to have a team of specialists to teach her to control her body and use her fingers.  It took two years to learn to consistently hold a pencil appropriately.  Today she stands as the most advanced student in her martial arts class and against all odds has taken to piano and music with a passion that surprises and delights all who hear her.  She enjoys sewing clothes for her stuffed animals and has served as a model for several beautiful paintings.  She used to melt down when around other kids.  Today, though she still needs her space after a while, she has friends over nearly every day and is studying with all her heart to become a good babysitter someday.
 
My friends, what we call disabilities are really some of the greatest blessings bestowed upon humankind.  Julia knows full well that she has been blessed with autism and she loves it.  She reports that having autism makes her feel full of light and happiness.  She knows who she is.  She is a daughter of God, a daughter of light, and each day proves that autism can be a joy beyond anything a parent might have comprehended.  She has learned to control herself so much that now she throws fits much less than most children who we generally term "normal."  Beyond that, she has become used to the idea that improvement is part of life and she is excited to continue to improve and develop in a way most children would never consider. 
 
I implore you for your own sake, gentle reader, do not throw away one of the greatest blessings you can possibly have.  A child with what we call disabilities is a joy and a reward in himself.  Face this decision not with fear but with faith and love.  I promise you that if you will see it through it will be the best choice you will ever make.