Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Shredding for Service

I volunteer at the Adult Education Center where I teach English classes twice a week. I love my students and I'm amazed at how hard they work to learn a difficult language. They don't give up!

This experience has honed my teaching skills and improved my grasp of the language. The greatest benefit, however, is the determination and hope that fills my soul every time I'm around my students. It's impossible not to be inspired when you're surrounded by determined, hopeful people.

Once I showed up to an empty classroom! In my eight months at the center that had never happened before. Determined (there's that word again) to make the best use of our time, my companion and I asked the administrators if we could take on another project.

Okay, maybe we had a little too much fun

That's how I found myself sorting through and shredding thousands of folders of expired paperwork. As a child I actually asked for a paper shredder for my birthday (don't ask questions), so this chore was really no chore at all.

Though I was performing a menial task I left the center feeling the same way I do after a structured service project—fulfilled.

As a missionary I've painted houses, coated rooftops, raked leaves, chopped wood, visited widows, baked cookies and offered an encouraging word. Here's how some of you serve in the community—

  • Patsy: Cleanup after the [Nashville area] tornadoes
  • Misty: I have been running a crisis line for the past decade and many times have had to put people on overnight suicide watch. The fact that they are all still alive and many of them now thriving is very humbling and definitely leaves me with warm fuzzy feelings
  • Catherine: Being a block parent
  • Wade: I help serve everyone I meet by trying to be the best example I can be and helping them with anything they need help with. I just try to show others how much I care about them. Most of the time my service to others goes unnoticed, but I think just being there for people is service in itself

The Book of Mormon teaches us that service provides immediate and long-lasting rewards and reminds us why we ought to serve—
When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17)
Look for an upcoming post full of more ideas on how you can serve someone today. Leave your ideas in the comments below, and I'll be sure to include them.

The Savior's Call to Serve, President Thomas S. Monson
Opportunities to Do Good, President Henry B. Eyring
The Sanctifying Work of Welfare, Bishop H. David Burton

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mitt Files — Families Are Forever

This is the second in a series focusing on Mitt Romney's spiritual beliefs. As a full-time representative of Jesus Christ I am called to invite others to come unto ChristFeel free to contribute to this discussion, but keep comments focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. View earlier Mitt Files here.

Marriage in the temple seals
families together forever
Perhaps you've noticed that family is pretty important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe that true happiness comes from keeping God's commandments, and those values are best taught by a loving mother and father in the home.

In a groundbreaking proclamation issued nearly twenty years ago, modern prophets and apostles extolled the importance of family and warned against the disintegration of the family unit. That proclamation reads, in part—
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities...
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. (Excerpts from The Family: A Proclamation to the World, Sept. 1995)
Because we believe we can live together with our families if we are faithful to covenants, we make and keep covenants in the temple. We strive to keep God's commandments. We work to develop positive relationships with family members. We learn to work, to live, and to love. And we look for opportunities to serve people around us, recognizing that the most important thing we can do is to follow the Savior's commandment to love Him and to love our neighbors.

My wonderful family! Me, Dad, Mom, Harrison
Audrey, Austin, Derek

I love my family. They mean everything to me. They are my friends. My parents and siblings have helped to create a home centered on the teachings of Jesus Christ. My home is a safe haven, a home filled with love truth and good memories.

A cherished hymn expresses our feelings about family so well—

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them
through all eternity.
Families can be together forever
through Heavenly Father's plan.
I always want to be with my own family
and the Lord has shown me how I can.  

What does family mean to you? What are you doing to make your family better today?

Happiness in Family Life
The Importance of the Family, Elder L. Tom Perry

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mitt Files — God Loves Everyone

This is the first in a series focusing on Mitt Romney's spiritual beliefs. As a full-time representative of Jesus Christ I am called to invite others to come unto ChristFeel free to contribute to this discussion, but keep comments focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. View additional Mitt Files here.

God is our loving Heavenly Father. That is simple, pure, unconditional truth. Because He loves us He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to teach us, to guide us, to heal us, and ultimately to suffer and die for us. We'll talk more about that later.

God loves each of us—His children—with the perfect love of a perfect Father. He wants us to enjoy happiness and success, and He wants us to return to live with Him someday.

Though He created all things, God loves us individually
He is pleased with us when we do good things and rejoices in our accomplishments. He is also aware of our weaknesses, disappointments, fears and failures. He will help us through our challenges, and He has provided prayer as a means to communicate with Him and receive His direction for our personal lives.

Once when I was feeling discouraged I knelt on the hard, cold bathroom floor of a missionary apartment in Spring Hill, Tennessee. I poured out my feelings to Heavenly Father. I talked with Him about my doubts, my fears, my weaknesses, my shortcomings, and my feelings of inadequacy. After exhausting my laundry list of self-criticism, I felt His comforting Spirit surround me. I felt calm. I felt hopeful. And I felt a renewed desire to get up and try again.

I had had similar experiences with prayer before and I have had many since, but that lonely night stands out in my mind as a personal testament of God's love for me. He loves you with the same unconditional, all-consuming love.

When we look for evidences of God's love in our lives we are sure to find them. We are likely to find more of His love and influence if we thank Him for what we already have. I felt God's love on Sunday as I listened to an organist playing the beautiful strains of I Know That My Redeemer Lives.

What has God blessed you with? What are you thankful for? Will you start looking around for answers?

Thanks Be to God, Elder Russell M. Nelson
He Truly Loves Us, Elder Paul E. Koelliker
The Race of Life, President Thomas S. Monson

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Does Mitt Romney Believe?

"I'm voting for your guy!"
"Please tell my neighbors to pray for Mitt Romney."
"Do you have any Romney bumper stickers?"
These are just a few of the things I hear as I traverse the streets of conservative Williamson County, Tennessee. Regardless of their opinions of the man, people associate Mitt Romney with missionaries. He's Mormon; we're Mormon.

I am, quite frankly, excited about the increased attention toward the Church. Good publicity is always good, and bad publicity (of which there is much in any political race) backfires. I represent a missionary church, a church that believes in its divinely-inspired responsibility to carry the gospel to every man, woman and child on earth.

So I'm grateful that people know Romney and Reid and Donny and Marie are Mormons.

But I also hope my friends associate them and us with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the church to which we Mormons belong. We are Christians. We believe in Christ. We love Him, we serve Him, we follow Him and we worship Him.

People routinely ask me to teach them about Mitt Romney's beliefs. Perhaps you, my readers, have questions similar to what they're asking. In an effort to address those questions, I'm starting a new series—we'll call it "Mitt Files"—in which I'll talk about the basic tenets of Romney's faith.

Allow me to set some rules for this discussion (and I really hope it will be a discussion; feel free to chime in by making comments)—
  1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages its members to be active in the political process
  2. The Church is politically neutral. It does not endorse, support or fund any candidate of any political party
  3. This blog is not an official Church website. Links to official Church websites are listed under the heading labeled From the Source
  4. Full-time missionaries—like me—are called to represent Jesus Christ. We invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. The Mitt Files will not be a platform for party politics but rather a forum for discussing faith and family values
I'll post new entries regularly starting with a discussion about God, our loving Heavenly Father. Posts will be listed under Mitt Files, and an appropriate heading will soon appear at the top of this blog so that you can easily access these discussions.

Please contribute, but keep comments centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ—not on Romney's platform or anything else.

I'm looking forward to learning with you!  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Letting Go and Moving On

One of the difficult lessons in life is learning to let go. Sometimes we must let go of appealing, longstanding fears or doubts which box us in a comfort zone and prevent us from reaching our potential through selfless service to others. Sometimes we must let go of friends who try to hold us back from accomplishing amazing things. Sometimes we must forget memories which impishly strive to hold our future hostage. Occasionally we are called to abandon incorrect ideas or beliefs which stifle meaningful progress.

And, perhaps most difficult of all, at times we may even have to drop some hopes and dreams—good things—which could get in the way of better or best things.

I'm learning all of these lessons now on my mission. Two or three years ago I never even considered that such lessons exist. Serving a mission forces me to grow up quickly—not a bad thing, just difficult.

Revelation is a cyclical process
We must rely on the Spirit to know how to abandon fears, which friends to unfriend, which memories to forget, which beliefs to change, which dreams to deflate. And then we must replace the void once filled by negativity with wholesome, positive thoughts, actions and people.

In place of fear, what item of faith or hope can I adopt in my life? Who will I befriend? What memories will I create. Will I allow my beliefs to be determined by faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, or something else? And will I courageously modify my dreams in an effort to do God's will, not my own?

These are the important questions. Elder Richard G. Scott teaches us how to find answers:

  1. Fast
  2. Pray to find and understand helpful scriptures
  3. Capture everything the Lord is willing to give you
For more reading material, check out these helpful addresses from President Thomas S. Monson, who is masterful at teaching about finding joy and meaning in the journey of life. President Monson is the Lord's prophet on earth today. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Have I Done Any Good Today?

I love birthdays.

I turned 22 two days ago (how's that for a tongue twister?). I can't remember ever taking part in a more meaningful celebration. That's because friends and family from all over the country were celebrating with me.

Eddie, Edward Cullen and I
with a sectioned strawberry cupcake
My companion, Elder Hussey, and my Spanish brothers, Elder Lewis and Elder Fisher, pitched in to surprise  me with a fashionable Cross pen. Another group of missionaries presented me with a strawberry cupcake—candle and singing and all—complete with a musical, Twilight-themed birthday card. (There is no correlation between the card and my taste in entertainment)

A friend dropped in to give me a dozen neon-frosted cupcakes. At dinner, another friend surprised me with a piece of Hershey's chocolate pie, adorned with candles and accompanied by another refrain of "Happy Birthday". Next day a letter from Grandma and package from family arrived. They sent me—among other things—a new tie; a t-shirt emblazoned with the words Manti, Utah; cash; candy; and lots of love.

Why am I telling you this? Because it made my day!

More cupcakes! Aren't they attractive?
Birthdays come just once a year, but kindness is in vogue everyday. No, Mom, I'm not suggesting you need to mail me another package. And no, friends in Franklin, I'm not lobbying for more groceries and goodies.

I just want to applaud you for bringing a lot of good into my life. On special days and normal days—amid cupcakes and candies and Cross pens or without them—you make me feel important and loved. That's what the Savior would do. He went about doing good and so have you.

So I ask myself, have I done any good in the world today? Here to remind me and you of that daily duty is Will Thompson, author and composer of the jaunty hymn from which this post derives its name. Alternatively, check out this eclectic arrangement by Alex Boye and Carmen Rasmussen Herbert.

The Virtue of Kindness, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
The Merciful Obtain Mercy, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
What Have I Done for Someone Today?, President Thomas S. Monson

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In Franklin, Faith Trumps Fleetwood Mac

A popular Latter-day Saint hymn declares "Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven."

Every now and then I'm reminded of sacrifices I've made to serve the Lord for two years as a full-time missionary—sacrifices like not getting to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics in London or not getting to attend a Lindsey Buckingham concert at the Franklin Theatre last week. (To keep me focused on my missionary purpose—inviting others to come unto Christ—I avoid all forms of worldly entertainment for the duration of my service).

I know these sacrifices seem pretty small, and they probably are. Nevertheless, the facts are these: I love Fleetwood Mac and I love the Olympics, and prior to my mission I would have struggled to find many things of greater importance to me.

I still love Fleetwood Mac and I still love the Olympics; I always will. But my love for music and sports and entertainment pales in comparison to my love for the gospel of Jesus Christ. A three-minute Mac song urging me to "go my own way" is just not as satisfying as a thirty-minute, Spirit-filled lesson in which I urge my friends to go the Lord's way. Watching Michael Phelps win another gold medal is not as rewarding as observing a friend find gold in the scriptures.

I have found greater joy in living and teaching the Doctrine of Christ—faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end—than in anything else. You can, too. Click on some of the links below and start your journey toward joy and fulfillment.

Finding Joy in the Journey, President Thomas S. Monson
The Path to Peace and Joy, Elder Richard G. Scott
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Elder L. Tom Perry