Thursday, May 17, 2012

He Truly Loves Us

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

He Truly Loves Us, by Paul E. Koelliker
Of the Seventy

29 times! This talk was like a gold mine!

When we watch general conference, we encourage our children to participate by listening to a word they collectively choose for each session. Each time they hear the word, they get a piece of candy (like an M&M). They chose "love" for this session, and Elder Koelliker did not disappoint.

Can you find all four children in this general conference scene?

In the short time that he spoke, he said "love" 29 times! My children loved it! (See what I did there?)

Can you guess what his talk was about?


No, wait. Love!

(But he did start out talking about missionaries.)

My wife lived in Japan for three years while her father was the mission president of the Japan Tokyo South Mission. In talking to her sister about her experiences there, my wife related to me that her sister thought she (my wife) "totally" wanted to serve a mission. (NOTE: we met, fell in love, and were married before she could serve a full-time mission.) My wife's reply: "I still want to serve a mission!"

Elder Koelliker said

Missionary experience is like a mini-life packaged in 18 to 24 months. They arrive as spiritual infants with a serious appetite to learn, and they leave as mature adults, seemingly ready to conquer any and all challenges placed before them.

While my wife was robbed of her chance at a mini-life (so far) by choosing to marry me, she might agree with me that with welcoming each of our children into our family--and striving to raise them in love and righteousness--is like an additional mini-life.

One mini-life for each child.

No wonder we're so tired!

Despite our fatigue and early bedtime, we are filled with love. (with amazing children like we have, how couldn't we be?!)

The Father’s plan designated the pattern of the family to help us learn, apply, and understand the power of love.

Now that we're filled with so much love, we more fully appreciate what Elder Koelliker taught about the Holy Ghost:

What is the ultimate means by which we can enjoy the gift and power of the Holy Ghost? It is the power that comes by being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. It is our love for Him and our fellowman.

Just like "the feeling of love from our Heavenly Father is like a gravitational pull from heaven," the love in family can have a cohesive effect where each family member loves being together, wrapped in love. As the force of family love is seen by others looking in, they may want to know more about the Father's plan (the gospel) that helps such love flourish. When this happens, families may have opportunities to share the gospel in a mini-mission environment.

And if a mission is like a mini-life, a family's mini-mission might be like a mini-mini-life.

All because of love.

Which reminds me of M&M's.

29 of them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Converted to His Gospel through His Church

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Converted to His Gospel through His Church, by Donald L. Hallstrom
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

I would like to bear my testimony that I know the Church is true.

These words were heard a lot more often from small children in testimony meetings when I was growing up. Back then a parade of young people would go to the pulpit and share words that were whispered in their ears by parents or older siblings. These were fun times, especially when things were mispronounced ("bury my testimony") or the speaker didn't want to say what they were told ("No, I don't want to say that I love my brother!").

My daughter sharing her testimony at home

Nowadays testimonies of small children are fewer and farther between (I think there may have been a request for them to be shared in family home evenings, not fast and testimony meetings so others would have more time to share testimonies--or so there could be more uncomfortable silence spells).

In testimony meeting last week, I remembered Elder Hallstrom's talk whenever someone mentioned the words "Church" or "gospel." When saying that they know the Church is true, I would try to remember what the difference between Church and gospel were exactly, as taught by Elder Hallstrom. For there is a difference.

The gospel is the glorious plan of God in which we, as His children, are given the opportunity to receive all that the Father has.

The Church, on the other hand, is the organization established (and reestablished) by Christ with leaders, meetings, and humanitarian service: "The purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel."

I didn't share my testimony last week (from the pulpit, at least). If I did, I don't think I would have said, "I know the Church is true" like I did so many times as a small child. I don't know what I would have said, exactly, but I think it would have been something like, "I know this Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. I know that God lives, loves us, and has a plan for us. I know that Jesus is the Christ."

See what I did there? It looks like I tried to marry "Church" and "gospel" by expounding their use to overlap a bit.

I'm grateful for what I learned from this talk. I hope I can remember the difference between "Church" and "gospel," as well as remember the importance of each. Armed with Elder Hallstrom's words, I think I will remember.

It's sort of like I'm a small child again, with words whispered in my ear, "the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel."

The main difference being that I'm more willing, now, to admit that I love my brother.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Teaching Our Children to Understand

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Teaching Our Children to Understand, by Cheryl A. Esplin
Second Counselor in the Primary General Presidency

As full-time missionaries, we would sometimes visit families who had stopped coming to church but who had children who were eligible for baptism. These could be great opportunities to show love to a whole family and help them come back to church. However, I met some missionaries who used a scripture to get the "job" done quickly:

And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents (D&C 68:25).

These manipulative missionaries, more concerned for numbers than in being representatives of Christ, would pressure parents with the "sin be upon the head of the parents" line to quickly get the child into the waters of baptism. Too often, these families did come back to church, but only for the baptism and they were not seen in meetings afterward.

I once asked one of these less-effective missionaries for advice on helping a family come back to church. Their response was, "All you need is 68:25; make the parents feel guilty and move on."

Intrigued, and quite disgusted, I read the scripture I quoted above. The part that stood out to me was that I needed to help others "understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost." Doing this helped families come back to church, and more than for one event!

Sister Esplin likewise focused on the understanding portion of the scripture; she didn't even mention the "sin be upon the heads" part. She taught about creating "an atmosphere where our children can feel the influence of the Spirit and then recognize what they are feeling," about teaching spontaneously, and emphasized the importance of being examples.

We had a touching experience with this recently: after arriving home from her grandmother's funeral, my wife was telling our family about the tender experiences she had during the services that warmed her heart. Suddenly, we realized that our six-yr-old daughter had tears streaming down her cheeks. While her older brother asked, "What's wrong," we knew that she was experiencing the powerful feelings of the Holy Ghost. The narrative was paused as we helped all of our children feel and recognize the influence of the Spirit. It only took a few seconds, but it helped us all to share something meaningful together and hopefully cement a useful understanding for the future.

As I read Sister Esplin's talk, I thought of a song. No, it wasn't "I Am a Child of God," like she quoted at the end of her talk, but a song by Taylor Swift, "Never Grow Up."

We borrowed the Speak Now album from the library and I put it on last evening as we were cleaning up before bedtime. I was having an especially great time watching my one-yr-old bounce and dance around each time I put him on the floor. My wife asked about "Never Grow Up," so we did. Sure, no one cried or had a recognize-the-Holy-Ghost moment as we listened to the song, but we did dance a bit (a little slower than before) and give big hugs and kisses to our growing-like-weeds brood.

I love many things about having small children. As much as I would love for them to never grow up, I know that they will. Probably sooner than I think! In our family we try to have fun together, and part of our fun routine is helping each other "understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost."

It's great: we have lots of fun and an all-around good time! And my wife and I don't have to worry about any sins being on our heads. Except for our own.

Well, mostly mine, because my wife is mostly perfect.

Here's the "Never Grow Up" video if you're curious:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them, by Boyd K. Packer
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I teach a class of nine-yr-olds. They're not afraid of sharing the inner-workings of their families--a fact I'm sure many parents wish wasn't true! In a recent lesson, I talked to them about fairness. Using an example from our own family, I asked what they would do or say if their sibling came home from church with a delicious-looking cupcake from their class, and that the brother or sister didn't want to share.

Their universal answer: "It's not fair!"

I asked them what, if anything, their parents would do or say to such an outcry.

Their parents' universal answer: "Life's not fair."

I was comforted to know that other families deal with some of the same challenges that arise in our family, particularly the fairness issue. While we listened to conference together as a family, my wife and I looked at each other and quickly restated something that President Packer said in a "See, we're not the only ones who say this" sort of way:

It is not easy, but life was never meant to be either easy or fair.

I should note that two paragraphs earlier, President Packer said, "It is the challenge of mortality to be a worthy and responsible parent." I think that teaching children that life isn't fair (and that it's not meant to be easy or fair) is part of trying to be a worthy and responsible parent.

But it doesn't make the lesson go down any easier.

Full disclosure: my daughter is in a class at church where she often gets treats to bring home. Whenever her brothers start in on their "it's not fair" routine, to her credit, my beautiful daughter will often smile and say, "it's okay, I was going to share it with you!"

Just in time for Mother's Day is this gem from President Packer:

One of the great discoveries of parenthood is that we learn far more about what really matters from our children than we ever did from our parents. We come to recognize the truth in Isaiah’s prophecy that “a little child shall lead them."

Sorry, Mom; I guess my children are more important than you were. (But remember that I was more important than your own parents in teaching you, although I'm sure it was through difficult courses that the learning came!)

I know, that quote has more to do with learning through doing (and the inherent mistakes) than in the quality of mothers vs. the quality of their grandchildren. But it's important to remember that the reason why I personally can learn so much from my children is because I had such a great mother! (And my dad is pretty great, too.)

So, in summary, family is important, church is important, and family-friendly church is a great combination. I liked the instruction that President Packer gave:

Priesthood leaders must be careful to make the Church family-friendly. . . Family time is sacred time and should be protected and respected. We urge our members to show devotion to their families.

So the next time you find yourself sitting near our family at church and wonder why I seem to be having such a hard time keeping my children under control, remember that my children are busy helping me learn something.

And also do what you can to get the meetings to end on time (or better yet: early). After all, long meetings with small children just aren't fair.

(See, I'm learning from my children already: "It's not fair!")

Friday, May 4, 2012

As We Gather Once Again

This entry is part of my general conference application series.  

As We Gather Once Again, by Thomas S. Monson  
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Despite the importance of dreams in many scripture stories, I don't put much emphasis on my dreams for some reason. I guess I don't think that my apparent fascination with sleepy-time flight has much relevance to the awake hours. However, I had a vivid dream the other night that got me excited:

In my dream, I was happily reading the Ensign issue with the general conference proceedings. I remember the big smile on my face and how content I was to review the messages I had watched a few weeks ago. When I woke up, I was sad to realize that the magazine hadn't yet arrived, and I determined that I wouldn't wait months to review the talks (like I've been doing in the past year or so).

So here I am, happily reviewing the talks. Now. Not three months from now where I have to sprint to finish them all days before the next conference occurs.

Just like when they were broadcast live, I "have come to be instructed and inspired."

Bring it on!

Oh, by the way, here's something else I did early rather than late: I harvested the talks' words and made a word cloud to see what I might look forward to learning about. Do you see any recurring themes that interest you?

I admit that it doesn't look like there is much unexpected in the word cloud. Instead of being disappointed by the lack of anything unexpected, I'm excited to see what small things catch me unaware--because the infrequent occurring things wouldn't make it to the cloud anyway.

And you know, it's by small and simple things... (See Alma 34:6)