In June we spent time as a family in Nauvoo. It was so serene and incredible. We
were able to walk the streets, have one on one time with each kid, get custard, watch Sunset by the Mississippi and Just Plain Anna Amanda, connect with missionaries, walk the trail of Hope and listen to the vignettes by firelight and fireflies, visit the Smith family cemetery, walk around the temple, take a wagon ride, and just BE in Nauvoo without a care in the world.
It was extra special for me to walk the Trail of Hope vignette with Samuel as Brad stayed with
Marie in the distance (because she was restless). We were able to go from actor to actor,
listening to their particular story of leaving Nauvoo and traveling west. They told their 5 minutes
each by firelight as the sun was setting. It started at around 8:45pm for us, and by the end it was
pitch black outside. I felt so astonished once again at the sacrifice of the early saints. They really
just walked into the unknown-and literally “walked”. Hearing each story of faith was just
overwhelming, to then question if the saints would be willing to do something like that
today-would I? Walk out into the unknown with my children, crossing the plains??? It is very
hard to see myself doing such a thing. But then I had to stop myself and ultimately came to the
realization that I cannot compare life now with life then. They are different, but in the end -am I
keeping my covenants? I guess that’s all I need to worry about. I can still honor the saints and
love them and look up to their ability to walk in the dark, but it is going to be an uphill battle if I
want to figure out if I could do it just like them.
It was magical walking down Parley street with Samuel, he was riveted at each performance,
and at one point when the fireflies came out- right in the middle of the actor’s portrayal he yelled
out - “fireflies!”, he really is my son, we both love those magical creatures.
I loved the walk down Water street, with Marie sleeping in the stroller, Brad was down at the
edge of Parley street skipping rocks on the Mississippi with Samuel and I had my time alone to
stroll. I was able to just fully be present in Nauvoo and the quiet of Joseph and Emma’s home. I
tried to imagine myself there with them, how it would feel to walk up to the mansion house and
say “hello”, once again I couldn’t imagine it-and I had to be ok with just feeling a gratitude and
love for them and this place.
I wasn’t there in Nauvoo in 1839 or 1846, I am here in Nauvoo now, in the 2017s. My experience
isn’t the same as the early saints, I don’t have to walk across the country or sacrifice the
well-being of my children for the gospel’s sake. But I do sacrifice my time, talents, and abilities,
and everything with which the Lord has blessed me- for what I am asked to do in building up the
kingdom of God on earth. Some of that sacrifice is just plain old, day to day motherhood.
It’s not a measurable sacrifice, nor is it something formal or put on display. It’s just waking up
and being there, and trying harder the next day, and working to have energy and to be well-for
them, because they need you more than ever and more than anyone. That is my trek across
the country, it is the morning till night, day after day of loving these children and working to be
better at it.
I am grateful for Nauvoo. That it will always be there . That God chose me to be a part of it in my
day and age. It is a living, breathing, entity, and not stuck in 1846. There is a Nauvoo today, and
it has a purpose for the 2017s. We remember those who were there, we love them, they are
everything to the church, but Nauvoo I found this trip, is here right now-today-and it is relevant
and brings me the peace and sunshine I need to be the mother of this generation and of these
very special children.
I was reading my scriptures the other day and had flipped to one of my favorite verses, Phillipians 4:13. I was reading the chapter and came across a verse that usually doesn't get as much of my attention:
I think it would be awesome to be content with whatever my circumstances in life! So! I went searching for some more words on the topic. I came across a couple of talks that had great insights.
Neal A. Maxwell hits it out of the park with this talk
Another favorite is this BYU Devotional given by Mary Ellen Edmunds.
Elder Maxwell speaks a lot about being content in our "allotment" in life, allotment generally referring to our circumstances. Our responses to what has been given to us, the choices we make based on our personal circumstances, are what matter.
This quote particularly stuck out to me:
"Being content means acceptance without self-pity."
Kind of a doozy, eh? My baby sister is about to start high school and I'm about to start school as well (again! another master's degree! because why not?! #allthemaster'sdegrees #andhogwartsgraduationrobes) So! We've had some good conversations lately. She had some really difficult things happen in middle school (turns out middle schoolers are still the worst) that are still affecting her life. There are things that I wish were different about my life, too. It's hard to not feel sorry for myself when I compare the "worst" parts of my life with the best parts of other people's lives. And whether we are entering high school or established in our careers or in whatever state of life we are in, that comparison is never going to make us happy. Finding contentment within the circumstances, or the unchangeable aspects of our lives, is a task!
"Developing greater contentment within certain of our existing constraints and opportunities is one of our challenges... Neither should we pine away, for certain things outside God’s givens ... because there is so much to do within what has been allotted to us. "
A real "epiph" (as we like to call them) happened when I read that. I have a tendency toward thinking if I just accomplish x/y/z, THEN I will be doing something meaningful. Or THEN I'll be working at full capacity or doing something important. We don't have to wait to be content. Who even knows what I'm waiting for. There is plenty for me to be doing right now to help others and improve my own life if I would just open my eyes. And when I DO open my eyes, I am content.
Sum up! It's our choice when it comes to contentment. Mary Ellen Edmunds reaffirms, "Contentment comes from within much more than it comes from without." Three things I think we need to focus on to be content:
1. Be grateful for how our life looks in this moment (helping others/service usually helps with this!)
2. Have faith that there is a purpose and point to the current circumstances of your life
3. Don't get too caught up with the day-to-day. Honestly, will this really matter in a week/month/year?
And! If all else fails - read this Kanye quote and recognize the realness :)
Love you too much!
Happiness consists not of having, but of being; not of possessing, but of enjoying. It is the warm glow of a heart at peace with itself. - William George Jordan
Nearly seven years ago in Burlington, Iowa, I spent a day knocking on strangers’ doors and asked those who answered if they wanted to learn more about Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for His children. At that time, I was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Illinois Nauvoo Mission.
This particular day in Iowa sticks out in my mind because it wasn’t a normal day for me. You see, as a missionary in the Illinois Nauvoo Mission, I was stationed full-time at the church historic sites in Nauvoo. There I gave tours in the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center and other nearby sites. The purpose of my day trip to Iowa was to help sisters newer in the Illinois Nauvoo Mission prepare for their upcoming “outbound assignments,” where they would spend a few months in another state serving as proselyting missionaries. I had previously completed my outbound assignment in the Colorado Denver South Mission.
On this day in Iowa, I was nearing the end of my missionary service. During the drive to Iowa, I silently prayed to God and asked Him to accept my missionary service as an offering of my desire to use my hands and heart to always serve Him.
As I knocked on the very last door that day in Iowa, my heart filled with love, anticipation, and joy in regards to my future. No one answered the door, but as I stood on the doorstep, I felt in my heart that I was standing on the doorstep of motherhood. I felt deep down in my soul that my service as a missionary was acceptable before God and that my next major role in life would be to be a mother.
This was a tender and sacred experience, which I kept close to my heart. After I returned home from my mission, I graduated from BYU and moved to the Washington D.C. area where I had grown up. Months went by and then years went by without ever finding that “special someone” to marry. Sometimes I would think back on my experience in Iowa and wonder if I had conjured up those feelings I had on that doorstep. However, I still felt that the experience I had on that doorstep was a personal witness from God that His divine plan for my life included motherhood.
About five years after my mission concluded, I fell in love and married my husband in the Washington DC LDS Temple. Ironically, he was born and raised in Iowa. And now, nearly seven years since concluding my missionary service, I am pregnant with a baby boy.
If someone would have told me after my experience in Iowa that it would be seven years until I became a mother, I would have been very surprised. I would have thought based upon my experience that marriage and motherhood would come more quickly. However, I have learned that God’s timing is not our timing. Spiritual witnesses come to us in His time and in His way, and the actual manifestations of those witnesses also come in His time and in His way.
Last night, as my husband and I were reading in the scriptures, we read this verse from the Doctrine and Covenants, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers,” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:10).
Being humble means that we trust in the spiritual witnesses we receive. And even when we don’t see the physical manifestations of those spiritual witnesses, we still continue to believe and allow God to guide our path. I am not perfect at this, and I am certain that it is something I’ll need to work on for the rest of my life.
As I look back on the last seven years, I am so grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had, and I know that they were requisite experiences meant to mold and shape me into the person and mother God wants me to become.
After writing my last blog post, I think I felt so relieved that I finally got the things I’ve learned recently down on paper because it meant that my brain finally had capacity to absorb more (I’ve got a big head but a small brain). As a result, I’ve been reading a lot.
Over and over again recently I’ve been reminded that life is hard. We’re all dealing with stuff. For some, it’s feeling like they didn’t succeed as parents. For others, it’s struggling with infertility. For me some nights, it’s loneliness. Point being, we’re all dealing with pain in some shape or form and sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair. My pain may be different than your pain. You may struggle to understand mine and I may struggle to understand yours but sometimes I wonder if we would benefit from uniting as people who suffer rather than focusing on our differences and maybe if we could find unity in that, we could also find comfort in understanding the necessity of suffering.
I started studying suffering this week and while it started in a somewhat deep place, it ended with a middle school commencement address. And I felt like it might be worth sharing because maybe you’re feeling some of the same things I’ve been feeling. If not, it’s totally fine. It’s not you, it’s me.
Without getting too deep into LDS doctrine, as Mormons we believe that prior to this life, we chose to come to earth. We were presented two separate plans. One, Satan’s plan was that not a single soul would be lost because we would have no ability to choose. But we chose the Savior’s plan which was that we would come to earth and would be given the opportunity to choose for ourselves. We believe it is as we make choices and overcome opposition that we are able to become more like our Heavenly Father and that this becoming is the point of our existence. As Francine R. Bennion said, “Nobody is manipulating every human decision that would affect every human experience. If God did, we would have the kind of existence now that Lucifer offered permanently.”
We chose agency and as a result, we, in a sense, also chose suffering. We understood prior to coming to earth that in order to become what we were meant to become, we had to make decisions, learn from both the good and the bad, and respond to the decisions of those around us. In short, it’s this agency that makes life so dang good and also so frustrating at times.
Sometimes our own personal decisions make life hard and sometimes it is the decisions of others that make our lives hard but regardless of the cause, suffering is part of this life.
But why? How can a God who loves us bear to watch as his children suffer? Does he not care or is it because God himself has suffered and understands the value found in suffering? I’ve already mentioned Francine Bennion once, but this week, I read a talk she gave in the book, “At The Pulpit” and it absolutely blew my mind. The talk addresses this subject of suffering and while personal experiences sparked this exploration for me, Bennion’s talk fanned the flame. Bennion tells of a conversation she had with a group of BYU students who were discussing Voltaire and “the best of all possible worlds,” when one suggested that heaven will be a place where “everyone will be—happy. There won’t be any unkindness. No one there will be rejected or abused, or laughed at, or ignored.” Bennion then asked, “Oh, are you suggesting that God experiences none of these things now?” To believe this when we hear people take the Lord’s name in vain on a daily basis or when religious beliefs are mocked worldwide is asinine.
No, I think it is because of personal experience that God knows the development that occurs amidst our suffering.
This week, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts spoke at his son’s ninth-grade graduation, and while he spoke from the perspective of a loving earthly father, I couldn’t help but think that his words seem to echo divine truth.
“Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty,” he said. “Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
“And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
Suffering is what we came here to experience. It is through opposition that we discover the true goodness and beauty of life. It is through our own pain that we develop empathy and other Christlike attributes.
Spencer W. Kimball said, “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”
Certainly we will experience heartbreak as we suffer the consequences of other’s decisions but I trust in the promise found in “Preach my Gospel” that “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” We may not be able to understand how it will all play out but it will be made right in a way that we can’t currently comprehend. I have always heard that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite but I don’t think I really understood the significance of this statement until I read the following statement by Bennion, “As I think of the Atonement of Christ, it seems to me that if our sins are to be forgiven, the results of them must be erased. If my mistakes are to be forgiven, other persons must be healed from any effects of them. In the same way, if other persons are to be released by the Atonement, then we must be healed from their mistakes.” This is not scripture but it rang true in my heart. The Atonement of Jesus Christ will make everything right. It will cure all pain. Maybe not in this life but eventually it will. On and on, forever and ever, the Savior’s Atonement will go on healing the suffering that we experience.
So what do we do in the meantime? Maybe we try to love a little better and a little more. Maybe we could try harder to remember that everyone around us is dealing with some pain and God’s heart aches for them. We can show our love for Him by loving His children. In a talk called “Latter-day Saints and the Problem of Pain,” David Holland tells of advice his father once received from Neal Maxwell, a former leader in the LDS Church, who said after reading a draft of a talk Jeffrey R. Holland had written, “Jeff, there is one place in the talk where you have been insufficiently careful of the pain in people’s lives. There are scars that go unnoticed, but you must see them. You must tread with caution on the hallowed ground of another’s suffering.”
I think our becoming will depend not only on our ability to cope amidst our own suffering but will also come as we see the scars that are not visible to the eye, as we seek to relieve the suffering of those around us. I guess ultimately my hope would be the same that Francine Bennion expressed before I was ever born:
“God is love, and our becoming so is what matters. I pray we may gain courage and faith to affirm the choice we made, to remember that we are active and alive and meeting suffering because God knew we could and because we believed we could. ...Let us love each other, mourn with each other, and sacrifice fear for courage. Let us seek reality and truth, forgiving ourselves and each other, learning to help ourselves and each other as we can. Let us become more like our God, who is good.”
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