Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Presentation from BYU Women's Conference Last Year

Topic: Define Ourselves by Divine Qualities: Measuring Our Worth the Lord's Way:  Worldly influences shape our idea of beauty and womanhood causing us to compare ourselves, set unrealistic goals, and spend our energy on counterfeit sources of self-worth.  How can we recognize these false standards?  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, "I want you to be proud you are a woman.  I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you really are."  Where does genuine self-worth come from?  How can understanding our divine worth strengthen our self-worth?

On the day that I received the invitation to speak here, I was also notified that we had been selected to adopt a daughter.  Sophia is three and was born in China.  She was born without a left hand, meaning her arm stops below her elbow.  This was caused by amniotic fibers getting wrapped around her developing arm while she was in utero.  Those fibers and her growing form fought for space and control and eventually the fibers won.  Her forearm and hand weren't able to develop.  She will forever bear the signs of that battle before she was born. 

Things aren't easy for girls born in China.  Things are even worse for disabled girls born in China.   On the day she was born, she was abandoned - written off as not worth it by a society that places emphasis on healthy, male children.

But Sophia is tenacious.  To survive orphanage life, you have to be.  She's a fighter and that's what kept her alive and it carries her through her daily life.   She is happy and cheerful.  She sings and dances and bounces with joy most of the time. Watching her struggle to pick things up or pull herself up, it's obvious that she's completely unaware that she's missing a hand.  She doesn't know she's different and she doesn't know what life would be like with two hands, so she's really not fazed by missing one.

As she grows, Sophia will be notified of her differences - in glances, in whispers and blatant comments from others.  As her mother, I worry that she'll lose that innate cheerfulness and that she will become preoccupied with why she's different; why she was adopted; why she was abandoned; and why God didn't see fit to give her another hand.  In the meantime, we're just rejoicing in having her dynamic personality in our home.  My son is thrilled to be a big brother and I don't think my husband will be more pleased this year than he was when he taught her that the correct response to the question "who are you" is the answer "Daddy's girl". 

Sometimes it’s easier for us to look at someone like Sophia and think that “Oh, I’ll bet God gave her that body so her eternal spirit could learn something special” than it is for us to remember that the same statement is true for each of us.  My body is a custom-built teaching environment for my soul.  God sent me to this earth in a body that allows me to experience the world differently than anyone else around me.  My height, my scoliosis, my infertility, my mental health, my FMS, my relationships, and my experiences all combine together to create the incubator that Heavenly Father knew was best for my spirit if I let Him use them for my good.

The funny thing about Earth Life is that we're here to try to remember, to try to figure out what Heavenly Father already knows about us.  The God of the entire universe, He who knows the beginning from the end, did not send us down here to fail.  He sent us here with perfect knowledge that we could do this, that this test was not only achievable but that it is in our eternal best interests.  He knows that we are absolutely capable of succeeding.  He's so confident at our chances for success that He authorized eight year old children to make eternal covenants with Him.  They can’t even blow their own noses and He lets them make covenants.  He knows we can do this.  We, personally, need to find that out for ourselves. 

Long ago, before we were born, you and I were also involved in a battle.  Our bodies are the sign of that battle – they’re a token of what we endured, what we fought for and what we won.  We don't remember the details but 1/3 of our spiritual siblings were cast out.  CAST. OUT.  That's not "kindly shown the door and asked to take their bad attitude elsewhere."  CAST. OUT.  I don't think it's possible for us to fully grasp what it meant for them to choose to follow the other plan.  But the part you should keep in mind is that you are here.  You have a body.  You won.  Your body says that you, too, are a fighter; you're a warrior and you can do this.

I don't know the details of that battle in heaven, but I do know that Satan is forever trying to bring us down to his level make us “miserable like unto himself”.  Our bodies are one of the tools he tries to utilize.  The very symbol of our triumph incenses him and he attempts to thwart our forward progression.  In the universal spirit of balance, Christ is the Rock of Our Salvation and Satan is the Wet Cement of our Doom.  Somehow, even though he has never had a body himself, he seems to be able to target our thoughts about ourselves and our bodies to try to break our will and have us surrender, stop, or quit.  He makes it an easy mental leap from “there are things about my body or life that I’d like to change” to “I have no worth.”

Perhaps he's still smarting over not "measuring up" the first time, but Satan would like us to focus on perceived measures and feel that we're “not good enough”.  The world we live in, like Satan, is preoccupied with measures - the size of your paycheck, the size of your waist, the size of your house are all used to indicate success and worth in Satan's world.  The messages of what the world thinks we should be doing or who it thinks we should be are loud, frequent and pummel our very souls. 

You and I have been warned about these things.  We sat through the YW lessons and we got that message.  We learned that the world would have us be prideful and that this keeps us from the Lord. 
We, as good Mormon women, know that it's wrong to judge others or to treat others as if they are inferior.  All that "putting yourself up on a pedestal" and thinking you're better than everyone else - we won't do that.  That's clearly wrong.  We know that's pride and self-centeredness.   We've all read The Book.  We know how well that turned out for the Lamanites. 

Yet here’s where Satan's sneaky subtle means catch us.  He would have us veer so far from being prideful that we actually start to focus on what we don't do well - you know, just to keep ourselves humble.  We tell ourselves that we need to remember our flaws to prevent ourselves from getting prideful.  In fact we honestly think we're doing the RIGHT thing by starting this list of our flaws and weak spots.  Funny how easy it is to add to that list of what we don't do well.  Maybe we aren't the shape we want to be or we don't read our scriptures as studiously as we know we could.  Maybe we can't get over our hang-ups with Visiting Teaching.  Gradually you start to notice when other people receive praise for something.  Maybe you keep a little mental tally of whether or not you are also praiseworthy in that area.  Maybe you find yourself listening a little closer to the testimony meeting, to see if the sobbing sister going through a tough time will mention that YOU, YOU helped her and when she doesn't you wonder why your service didn't find merit. 

Next Satan has us notice what others have that we lack.  Maybe it's a better job.  Maybe it's a husband. Maybe it’s a child.  Maybe it's a healthy body.  Maybe it is seemingly instantly answered prayers.  "I'm obedient.  Why don't I get what I want?”  We tell ourselves that if God loved us he'd give us what our hearts desire and bless us like he blesses Sister So-and-so.  We continue to use that sense of "measuring up" to count our blessings, or our perceived lack thereof, and try to use that to explain to ourselves how God must work- not realizing that we’re measuring Him with Satan’s measuring stick of “having equals worth”.  We look at what we want and compare it to what we don't have and find it's easy to tell ourselves that He hasn't answered our prayers because if He loved us He’d do it our way.

Then Satan has us recite that mental list to ourselves a few times. And it's funny how when you're looking for an excuse, any one will do. 

Next, we're recognizing how significant people in our lives always take advantage of us and how we're always the one left cleaning up after everyone else and how no one really understands or appreciates us anyway.  Slowly, the list of perceived wrongs seeps into our thoughts, and then our vocabulary.  It taints, poisons, and sours the way we think about ourselves, and others, and soon the way we think about God himself.  It no longer seems like a large leap of logic to hear yourself say, "God does answer prayers - just not mine.  God does reward righteousness - just not mine.  God does love his children, but he's disappointed in me.  After all, I'm disappointed in me, why wouldn't he be disappointed in me".  

So how did we make the leap from lessons in humility to spiritual chains?  How are being humble and lacking confidence different?  Elder Glen L. Pace taught that when we focus on our weaknesses – when we "wallow in weakness", if you will, we do not “allow weak things to become strong".  "Our condition is frequently misdiagnosed as humility when, in reality it is a lack of confidence". Humility is recognizing our utter dependence on the Lord.  We are aware that we do things well, that we have talents, but we don't become prideful about it because we know that everything we have is a gift from Him.  Similarly, we recognize that we have weaknesses but we realize that the Lord can help us turn those weaknesses into actual blessings; therefore we don't overly focus on them either.   As C.S. Lewis said, ‘Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less often.”  And to quote Thomas Harris, the humble realize that "the feeling of being okay does not imply that a person has risen above all his faults and emotional problems.  It merely implies that he refuses to be paralyzed by them."  They realize that if it seems they’re being short-changed then there really must be more coming beyond the horizon of their current perspective.   The humble realize that there is a greater plan and that it will be OK because the Lord Never Cheats Anyone.  He literally cannot and the humble have faith in that. 

Lacking confidence, on the other hand, is to have low feelings of self-worth.  It's focusing on what we can't do, don't have, or haven't mastered.  We forget that we are "daughters of a Heavenly Father" - we're Heavenly Father's girls - and He loves us.  I don't mean that in a distant, noble, "He loves me because He created me and therefore He has to love me.  Otherwise it wouldn't be very godly of Him" sort of way.  I mean it like a "Daddy's girl", sort of way.  I mean it in a "rejoices in every small triumph, weeps with you when you weep, hopes you remember to call home daily" sort of way.  And just as no mother would withhold love from their newborn because they're can't seem to pass the AP Physics test, our Heavenly Father does not "start" loving you when you achieve a certain level or when you check off a certain number of "obedience points".  He loves you now, where you are, for who you are now, who you've always been, and who He knows you have the power to become.

Cunningly Satan hides that fact that pride and lack of self-worth are both rooted in self-centeredness and in an essential disrespect for God's Eternal Plan. Both deny the power of God and his ability to work good in our lives. Those who lack self-confidence become the victim of their own self-talk. They think that putting everyone else besides themselves up on a pedestal, while finding all the ways they personally don't measure up is not anywhere near the sin of pride when, in reality, both views are both embedded in self-focus:  one for what we do well, and the other side for what we think we do poorly.  And those minutes spent feeling sorry for ourselves are minutes that we will never get back for progression or forward motion or peace. 

In the spirit of measuring and distracting us from God’s Eternal Plan, Satan has us think the “lack” in this tiny part of our eternal existence is the most important thing.  He would have us focus no further than what we are “not”.  In reality, God turns all things for our good, inasmuch as we’ll let Him.  We mere mortals have a very different definition of affliction and “lack” than Heavenly Father does.  Even if we live to be 100 years old and even if we are in physical pain and even if we live alone each of those 36 thousand days, the physical pain and the loneliness isn’t the important part.  What we need to be delivered from is whether or not our reactions to, and our thoughts about, those days create a spiritual struggle that keep us from our Heavenly Father.  It’s the heavy heart, the tendency to complain, the “poor ol’ me” syndrome that’s more important.  In the Eternal Picture, it’s not as important that my life is comfortable as it is that I learn from what my life gives me.  The actual eternal damage from afflictions isn’t physical; it’s spiritual.   

While Heavenly Father and our Savior love us no matter what, the Holy Ghost cannot accept invitations to personal pity parties.  He cannot.  He cannot abide such falsehoods.  He must be where there is light and truth and honor and a serious case of the "poor old me's" is none of those.  We may find that the home we have built for our thoughts in our hearts is in such a location that we can no longer see the truth of who we are from the doorway. 

But the purpose of this life is to learn how to make choices, including how we feel about ourselves and our circumstances.  We are here to learn, and that includes how to control our thoughts.  It is never, ever too late to choose a new path or choose a new line of thinking. 

In John 9 - the Savior walks by a man who was blind from his birth.  His disciples ask him who sinned, the man or his parents, that caused the man to be born blind.  Now, mind you, it's like the disciples think he's deaf!  The man is sitting RIGHT THERE and, since he can't see anything, he's listening to everything.  And the Savior says, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be manifest in him" (See what He teaches there… things aren't perfect because God needs us to allow Him to use those things to help us become stronger.  Why is it easy to see that fact when it involves someone else - like my Sophia's lack of a hand or this man's blindness - then we can see that those trials are "a blessing from God" but when it's our own life and our own "lack" we feel picked on and slighted by the God of the entire universe?) 

Anyway… "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.  When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground." 

What a lovely word… "spat".  It's like onomatopoeia in that it sounds like what it is. "SPAT!"   Now remember, this is Christ.  He could heal this man anyway He wanted to.  But this man is blind, and as you study the rest of the chapter, you see that this man will need to testify about what was happening.  So Christ did this healing in a way that allowed the blind man participate in the healing.

 "… He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle…"

Now I don't often go around making clay out of spittle, but I'm going to guess that was a lot of spit.  Spat!  Spat!  Spat!  How close in proximity to the blind man do you think Christ was when He did that?  Do you think the blind man had been spat upon before?  Maybe the man started feeling his face to try to wipe off what he usually finds when he hears that sound… spat.  Was there a smell to the newly wet dirt used to make a clay?  That had to have an odor of some sort, right?  Now maybe the man smells something.  “What is going on?”

"…made clay of the spittle and he anointed the eyes of the blind man”… so this man, sitting, hearing these men say this not so nice things about him…hearing the fantastic response from the Savior...hearing the spit again and again, maybe…smelling the wet dirt…feeling the wet clay on his eyes…  How do you think that touch felt?  Did the Savior press it in there or just set it on his eyes? Do you think the blind man reached up and touched the Savior's arms to try to find out what was going on?  How did they feel?  What did the wet clay feel like?  How much was there?

 “…and then said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”… and the man is healed.    

The Savior could have chosen any way at all to heal that man.  There are no inherent healing proprieties the combination of spit in dirt.  Certainly clay does not restore sight.  Christ could have said, as he did on other occasions, "go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole".  But this man needed a testimony of the Savior, as you see in the rest of the chapter, and so, to prepare that one man for what was to come for him, the Savior chose a very intimate method for his healing and a very unique way for the man to participate in his healing. 

Thus it is for each of us.  There is spiritual spittle, if you will, to shed light on our every blindness.  There is tenderly placed clay for each affliction, if we chose to let the Spirit show us is it there. 

So what do we do if we can’t feel the clay on our own spiritual afflictions?  If that is the case, there is hope. 

In Helaman 5, the story is told of Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, who were cast into prison.  A group of Lamanites came to slay them and, to their surprise, Nephi and Lehi were surrounded by fire.  And the scriptures tell us that the Lamanites (Hel 5:28) "they were overshadowed by a cloud of darkness and an awful solemn fear came upon them."  Does that sound like what we've been talking about at all?  Does Satan's plan to let us talk ourselves down to an immobility of spirit sound at all like a “cloud of darkness” and maybe even “an awful solemn fear”?  The scriptures go on to say in vs. 34 that they “could not flee” because of the cloud of darkness, and also they were “immovable because of the fear which did come upon them.”  Does it ever feel like you can't move forward?  That you can't change the way you've been feeling about yourself?  That you can't break the weight of those thoughts and emotions?

The scriptures continue and explain that there was a man in the group who had been a member of the Church but fell away.  And in vs. 36, "And it came to pass that he turned him about and behold he saw through the cloud of darkness."  Isn't it interesting that they included the phrase that “he turned himself around” before he could see through the darkness.  He had to repent, to change, to turn, in this case literally, "before he could see through the darkness” brought on directly by his choices to attempt to slay Nephi and Lehi. And it says in vs. 37 that the man “did cry unto the multitude that they might turn and look” and then watch what happens, "And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look"

Who gave them that power?  Did the man do it?  Did Nephi and Lehi do it?  No, it came from the Lord. And in vs. 40, like so many people in the scriptures who experience a change of heart say, these Lamanites said, "What shall we do that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?"  And what answer are they given?  "You must repent… until you have faith in Christ, and when you shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you."  

Repent??  Does that mean I'm bad?  Isn't that a bad thing?  NO. In fact, it's a commandment to repent, so if you don't repent, then you'd have to repent of not repenting and that just gets cyclical and no one really wants to go there, right?  This is why He provided a Savior - a Savior who wants to annoint your eyes that you may see yourself the way He does.  The Lord can give you the power to turn - to turn your heart, to turn your thinking, to turn the way you feel about yourself - into a way that allows you to not be paralyzed by being human.   

We seem to forget that we're mortal and that the dirt and the rocks and the trees were designed to always exactly fill the measure of their creation, but for us, He expects more.  He needs us to fail so we can rise up again.   We need to make choices so that we can see that we can choose rightly and we can hold to a course that we do deserve what He offers us (which is “everything He has”, for those of you playing along at home).

Years ago as a missionary, my companion and I were put into an area where two senior single sister missionaries had been proselyting.  They were both going home and we were moving into their area.  Our mission president had them stay an extra week to acquaint us with the area.  So my companion and I slept on the floor of the front room for that week.  We younger sister missionaries had to be up before the senior sisters.  Every morning I would try so hard to not wake Sister Anderson as I would head to the bathroom.  And every morning I would hear her soft voice say, "You can turn the light on, if you want to."  It became a game of sorts for me, to see if I could get through my morning routine without waking Sister Anderson but every morning I'd hear her soft statement, "You can turn the light on, if you want to."  I've come to know that this a great truth.  My "want to" decides if the light is on in my heart and my life, or if it is not.  The Lord does not force obedience… that was someone else's plan.  I can turn the light on, even in how I feel about my own self, if I want to.  He is the switch for that light.  “Ask and ye shall receive”.  And don’t hesitate to include a medical professional in that asking and seeking.  Medicine is a blessing of the age in which we live.

A final story.  Right after I returned from my mission, I had the opportunity to serve at the Open House for the Mount Timpanogos Temple.  When I showed up for my volunteer shift, the worker that was coordinating which volunteers would be in which locations asked me if I was married.  I must have been a little too obvious with my, "No!  No!  I just got home from my mission!" because he kind of smiled at me and said, "I know just where we're going to put you."  He led me to the Bride's Room in the temple… and turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I think you'll find this room to be quite comfortable for you."

He explained to me some features about the room, the beautiful stained glass window and the chandelier, just in case someone asked questions.   Then he said, "Before I leave you to your post, I want to tell you something.  Come with me."

That temple’s Bride's Room has "eternity mirrors" on the walls, reflecting their image back and forth seemingly forever.  He stood in front of the mirror and gestured for me to stand beside him.  

I have to admit, I probably rolled my eyes a bit internally. I was sure I knew where this was going, but I took my spot next to him and looked at our image in the mirror.

"What do you see?" he asked.

"I can see forever..." I said, while thinking, "Yeah, I've heard all the Young Women's Lessons.  I know what you're going to say."

He said, “Can you really?  Can you see me forever?"

I looked at our image again and said, "Yes, I can see you forever."

"Can you see YOU forever?" he asked.

I looked at the mirror again and was surprised with my own answer.  "No." I said.  "I can't see me forever."

He smiled knowingly.  "Oh, really?  Why can't you see yourself forever?" he asked.

I looked at the mirror again and studied our reflection.  "I'm standing in my own way." I said.

"Exactly", he said.  "YOU are standing in your own way."

He continued, "THIS is what I want you to remember about the temple, about mirrors, and about eternity. We create eternal marriages because we all need someone who can help when our own vision is blocked.  We need an eternal companion because we forget who we are.  We forget that we're our Heavenly Father's sons and daughters.  We lose sight of our own potential and our path.  Just as you can see me reflected forever, we all need someone that can see who we can become and our capabilities; someone who can remember who we really are when we, ourselves, forget.  

“However, if you don't get where you want to be - if you don't reach your full potential, it will be because YOU stood in your own way.  You are responsible for your choices and what you do with your life.  You have no one to blame but yourself if you don't become your best self.  Others are there to help you along the path, but the travel is up to you."

We may not all marry in this small portion of our eternal existence but the Lord never cheats anyone.  We ALL have One who knows us perfectly, who knows exactly what we are, what we were, what we always have been and what we'll be.  Before you dare think “that doesn’t count” remember that’s the God of the Universe to whom you are referring.  When we forget who we are, when we lose sight of our own potential and path, there is One there who is waiting for us to want to turn on the light, who will anoint our eyes, and who will help us turn our hearts until we, too, can see ourselves as Heavenly Father's girls. 

Remember that he could have chosen any name or title for Himself.  He could have forbidden us to mention His name at all.  Instead He chose for you to call Him Father.  He hopes and wants you to speak to Him, invites you to discuss concerns, and potential solutions with Him – multiple times per day.  You, as His daughter, have those membership privileges.

In the words of Neal A Maxwell, "It’s extremely important for you to believe in yourselves, not only for what you are now, but for what you have the power to become. Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now, but that will be revealed later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures… the Lord will unfold your future bit by bit."

I know this earth life is painful.  I know it's hard, but you’re Heavenly Father’s girl and you can do this.  At the end of the day, I know the Lord Never Cheats Anyone.  Ask and ye shall receive.  He will help you turn the light on in your own life.  I testify that this is true.

So many little things I haven't blogged about

Miss Sophia turned 4 in January.  We just had the grandparents and our neighbors over.  She was so thrilled with every present.

My parents gave her a doll cradle and when she unwrapped the bundle and saw what it was, she nearly squealed as she said, "It's a baby laydown!" and ran to her room to get a baby doll to put in it.  So cute!


The other night, Nathan came up to me and said, "I know she's out there, Mom."  I said, "Who?" and he said, "The girl I love."

He's so very sweet with his sister and they play together really well.  He's also just a funny kid.

The other day I was doing some school work on a Saturday morning.  I was aware that Nathan was spreading out this blanket of his on the floor and that he seemed to be redoing it a lot, but I wasn't really paying attention.

I was then vaguely aware that he put his hoodie jacket and a pair of shoes and a couple of toys in the blanket and then he spent about 10 minutes folding and unfolding and refolding them into the blanket.

Then, I was a bit more aware when he said, "Well, see ya!' and headed out the door.

I sat there, stunned for a moment, as I realized that he wasn't folding... he was PACKING.

So I went to the door and out to the street.  He was headed down the road, was already a couple houses down, with his carefully wrapped bundle under his arm.

I called him back home.

"What are you doing, Nate?"

With excitement in his eyes, he said, "I'm going off to have an adventure!"

I explained again about how Mamas always need to know where you are and that you really do have to ask before you choose your own adventure like that, but that I was proud of him for thinking through what he'd need for his little journey.