Friday, May 31, 2013

"What happens when we die?" By Monica Stopczynski

As a child I had asked in my religion class, "What happens after you die?"  My teacher could not answer this question and at 7 years old I still remember asking her over and over again until she kicked me out of the classroom.  It was an experience that bothered me and stuck with me throughout my life.  That was my first question to the missionaries when I met with them and when they gave me a detailed explanation I felt such a burning desire within my heart that it was true.  I knew at that moment that I would join the Church!
 As I finished taking the discussions I will never forget a special experience the missionaries gave me.  They came over with a few members to teach me one evening and they instead blind folded me and I was put in a car with one of the members.  We drove for a little while and then they helped me get out of the car and had me positioned where they wanted me.  Then, slowly they removed the blind fold and I was standing in front of the most beautiful site I had ever laid eyes on! It was the Columbus, Ohio Temple!  It was so powerful and the Spirit was so strong!  We then had my discussion that evening in the building next to the Temple. 
 Now just about 12 years later I still remember my feelings at those moments when I was learning about the Gospel and being baptized.  It was such a wonderful clean feeling to know at that moment when I was baptized I was perfect in the eyes of my Heavenly Father!
  I have now been sealed in the Temple to a wonderful Priesthood holder and we have 4 children with our 5th coming this summer.  Last year we got to watch as our oldest made the decision to be baptized.  This fall we will watch our second oldest make that same choice.  I cannot imagine raising my family without the Gospel leading and guiding my parenting decisions.
 I am so eternally grateful to the two young men who made the decision to serve missions and to teach me.  I have a special place in my heart for them both and I am grateful for all missionaries who make that unselfish decision to serve our Heavenly Father and help people like me find the Gospel!

Thanks, Monica!

CLICK HERE to read more testimonies on my site for Hug a Convert Day and click the button above to read the testimonies on the official home of Hug-a-Convert Day!
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Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The Church Saved My Life" by Vicki Rawls

Today, we have the pleasure of hearing from my good friend Vicki Rawls.  Vicki is a buddy, a sister, and a mentor to me.  Here is Vicki:

Growing up in Minnesota , I was raised Lutheran. I learned the books of the Bible through songs. I was an angel in the Christmas  play at our little country church. I would go into our grove and ask God things. I felt comforted and happy with the feelings I had . I did have very different thoughts then most of my family . I did not dare to discuss them with others.
When I was about 10 we moved to California. We bought a house very near the Lutheran church . My family would walk to church each Sunday and back home together.

When I got to a certain age there were confirmation classes. I asked many questions at that time. I struggled with, who I was, where did I come from, and what was my purpose.

In answer to my questions, my pastor would say, "We are not meant to know these things," or, "We don't need to know these things." 

Well I did need to know those things.  I began to question if there even was a God. 

I was confirmed a member of the Lutheran church.  How could I fail the test?  They gave us all the answers.  

I made some very bad choices in my early teens. Consequences occurred.
I was married at fifteen giving birth to a darling girl child three weeks after turning sixteen. 

I was lonely a lot of the time.  My husband was gone away in the military.   I still had so many questions. 

I bought into the idea that more than one child was wrong and not earth friendly, even a threat to mankind's very exsistence. 

When my daughter was about four years old and she would be next door playing I would hear a baby crying in my home. I would go to where the cry came from but there was no baby. This occurred many times in a few weeks time. I told my husband, I don't know why but I needed to have a baby. I couldn't shake that very heavy feeling. Our marriage was not good, things had happened that did not make me feel secure.  My self esteem was very low.

I was pregnant within a month or so. It felt very right. Another daughter was born and she was perfect as was my first.  When the girls were about  3 and 8 I filed for divorce. It was tough, but we eventually got back together .

A few weeks later "Elders" from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came knocking on our door.   Each time they did we would send them away with a wee bit of hope in their step. 

Finally my husband said next time we will let them in and that will be the end of it. He thought he could stifle them, because he knew the bible so well. Well they did come back and with them was a man dressed in regular clothes. We invited them in. 

During the lesson, I discovered this guy had taken my sister to her senior prom. They had only went out the once so it wasn't like they liked each other or anything , it just sort of made me feel more comfortable with him there.  

That night after they left I had that similar feeling of heaviness as when the "baby cried." I needed to hear more . We took all of the lessons, I threw out my smokes and booze and attended meetings. My questions were all answered. I know who I am , what my purpose is and where I am going.   Soon I was baptized into the Church.

I have never looked back. I have never doubted the truths I have been taught. 

In a real sense the Church saved my life.  The little girl who would pray in her grove had felt the Spirit again and knew it to be real and good. 

I love my Savior.  I always knew he was my brother.  I always knew he was my Savior. I also always knew He and Heavenly Father were two separate people.  Now all of this was confirmed to me.

I changed the way I think about things.  I am so grateful for the ward we were baptized into. There could not have been a better  bunch of brothers and sisters to help me feel excepted and needed. I have many eternal friends all over the world because of my membership in this church.  I will never be lonely again.

Thank you, Vicki!

CLICK HERE to read more testimonies on my site for Hug a Convert Day, and click the button above to read the testimonies at the official home of Hug-a-Convert Day!
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"What is the true church?" by Amber Buehler

As I mentioned in an earlier post, MMM is hosting his 2nd annual "Hug-a-Convert Day" this Sunday.  

When I originally read his post, I was like, uh, what is this?  I don't get it?  In my mind, if you are a member, you are a convert, because everyone goes through a conversion process, whether or not you were baptized at the age of eight.  I honestly don't think much about the term "converts" which in our church culture is loosely used to refer to someone who is not born into the church.  I think that's because I live "in the East" where many, many members find the church later in life.

I thought, "I bet 50% of our ward are probably converts."  But when I sat down and scanned the ward list, I realized that close to 95% of the members of our ward are indeed "converts," which is perhaps why I don't think of converts as being some sort of minority group within the church.  

To me, converts ARE the church.

And EVERY Sunday IS "Hug-a-Convert" Day, because every time I embrace a friend, I am encouraging someone who has most likely embraced the gospel even though they do not have a framework of support for such faith outside of church.  I realize that it can be a hard road to walk, but where I live, it doesn't have to always be a lonely one, because we are pretty much all in the same boat.

I don't have family living close-by to run to when I am discouraged or to eat Sunday dinner with to help build me up to face a new week.  But when I hear the testimonies of my friends in sacrament meeting each month or at General Conference Book Club each week, it strengthens me more than I think they realize.

So, today, I'm going to share the wealth with you and hope that you will feel encouraged too by the testimony of my friend and fell0w ward member Amber Buehler.  In the coming days, I will share more testimonies from members of my ward.

Here is Amber:

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

I was brought up in the church and was baptized, but when I was about 14 years old my family fell away from the church. 

It wasn't until I had my first child and went to my husband's church to have our baby boy baptized that I realized something was different. It was not the same thing I was taught when I was a child. 

That night I went home and got on my knees and prayed, something I had not done for a long time.  I asked the Lord, "What is the true church?"

The next day, two missionaries come to my door.  This time I did not turn them away. I let them into my house and listened to what they had to say. 

I felt the spirit that day.  It was the same feeling I felt when I was a child.   

After a few weeks of taking lessons from the missionaries, I went to church for the first time in years.  And after sacrament meeting was over I saw a familiar face in the hall of the church.  It was my branch president from when I was a child!  This man was also friends with my grandfather when he was living.  Since my family and I had moved several times to different areas since then, seeing him was a complete surprise. 

I went up to him and told him who I was, and he remembered me.  I left that day feeling really good about the church. That man and his wife became my home teachers.  

At first, my husband, who is not a member, would go to our room until they were done visiting.  Then, he began to listen to them.  They didn't talk so much about church with him, but more about hunting, which sparked his interest.  They showed their kindness to him. 

My husband to this day is not a member, but I pray that one day he will open his heart to the spirt and know that this is the true church. 

We moved again about a year ago, and I now attend a different ward .  The members of my new ward were so kind to me, and I became instant friends with many of them. 

For the first time in my life I bore my testimony in church.  I was so scared, but it felt right. 

I pray every night for my family to come back to church.  I know that the Lord answers our prayers, because my dad started to come back to church. I pray that rest of my family will follow. 

It is not easy for me, having a husband that is a not a member of the church, but I can not make him leave his church, nor would I want to.  Sometimes, it causes challenges with raising our two boys.  I let them decide if they want to go to mommy's church or daddy's church, but I feel that if I continue to do what's right, my husband will see that and one day join the church. 

I want to leave this testimony with you, that I know this church is true, and I am thankful for the blessings and happiness that it brings into my life.

Thanks, Amber, for sharing that beautiful testimony.

CLICK HERE to read more testimonies on my site for Hug a Convert Day, and click the button above to read the testimonies at the official home of Hug-a-Convert Day!

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

German Translation of God Gave You a Body

When we first published God Gave You a Body as a free download last year, we immediately received requests from Primary presidents and concerned mothers in Germany to have the book translated into their native tongue.

Today, we are so happy to bring you "God Gave You a Body" in German!!

We would like to express special thanks to Kristin Pfister whose translation we used for this version.  And thanks to others who submitted translations as well.

Please share this with all and anyone who might benefit from this labor of love from Jessica and from me to all of the children of the world.

And if you are interested in seeing this book published in your native tongue, and can assist with translation and/or proofreading, please let us know.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Refreshing of the Flags by Nathan Gee

The following post was written by my good friend Nathan Gee:

I recently had the privilege of joining my son with his Cub Scout pack, as well as several other cub, boy, and girl scout groups at the cemetery for the annual refreshing of the flags on the veterans' graves.  

The instructions were simple enough, find all the old, weathered, flags at the grave markers and replace them with a fresh US flag to ensure that all the veterans were appropriately honored for Memorial Day. 

The boys loved it.  They raced from grave to grave, trying to be the first to the next grave.  I lagged a little behind, holding the old flags and keeping a supply of fresh flags.  

As I walked, I saw names come and go.  Some were honored by parents.  Many were laid to rest next to a spouse.  Some obviously died in combat while many lived full lives.  Some had their position in the military engraved on their tombstones, others tombstones made no mention of their military service.  Most of the flag-holders placed next to the headstones indicated active military service in a time of war.

I wondered of the stories that may have accompanied the names.  Did they actively enlist?  Were they drafted?  Was their service a source of pride they frequently remembered, or was the greatness of their sacrifice lost, buried beneath the nightmares of the horrors of war?

My grandfather was a World War II veteran.  We visited him every Sunday evening until I moved out of the home.  During all those many visits, I only recall a time or two where he spoke of his experiences in the war, and he spoke soberly when he did.  

His silence on the subject was totally lost on me at the time, but now makes me wonder at the cost of war that we often conveniently forget.  We send young men and young women, often fresh out of high school, to fight to solve the problems of the world.  We imagine the honor of defending freedom will be adequate to carry them through the emotional trials that may follow their sacrifice.  My mission president explained once to me, "War is hell." We are truly asking our youth to march into hell with the hope of bringing about a greater good.   

This Memorial Day I pay tribute to these veterans who served my country.  Some fought during times of war, some rebuilt during times of peace.  Some laid down their lives, others were survived, but with significant physical injuries; everyone was changed.  

Thank you for your service.  Thank you for enduring what I have not, and what I can not imagine.  I will gladly replenish your flag as a small token of remembrance to you.
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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Russia Rising to Protect Children

World Congress of Families – Day 2 (Continued)

A report from Angela Fallentine:

As I reported previously, Russia is rising and they are becoming a force for good around the world. This also includes hosting World Congress of Families 2014 in Moscow at the Kremlin. They expect 5000 representatives from 80 countries and from around Russia to be a part of this historic Congress. 

Isn’t it incredible and ironic that where there once was Communism, there will now be the world’s largest pro-religion, pro-family Congress? As I said before, Russia is rising!

I wish I could describe the feelings I had of the goodness of the Russian delegation. They are intent on protecting and defending traditional marriage and children and have been working tirelessly to do so. 

They inspired us! One of the presentations was lead by Alexey Komov and a young Russian aristocrat and prince named Hilarion (last name unavailable at the moment). In an effort to combat child pornography on Russia’s Internet, they worked with several organizations and volunteers in Russia to form the Safe Internet League.

The Safe Internet League notes these disturbing statistics from the past decade:
  • Sexual content involving children on the Internet has grown 2,500%
  • In the same period, sexual violence against children increased 3,000%
  • The United Nations reports that the United States, Russia and Thailand lead in the growth of illegal web content (promoting pornography, prostitution and drug trafficking)
  • Almost 20% of Russian Internet users are children under 15-years-of-age. More than 4 million Russian children (ages 7 to 15) have unlimited access to the Internet, 24 hours a day.
  • Close to 90% of Russian parents with children 6 to 12 years of age, are unaware of the risks associated with the Internet or how to protect their families from the same.

The Safe Internet League have created a grassroots movement including “cyber guards”, who recently uncovered Russia’s largest internet pornography ring. They are shutting down and blacklisting harmful sights on a daily basis while providing free internet filters for the families of Russia. Hilarion said that they “do not want to put their children in a sea and tell them to go swim with the sharks.”  I loved that analogy and think it can be used with any number of issues with protecting children!

These free internet filters started just recently (April 2013) and they found 500,000 sites that were safe for children. Their end goal? To have 3 million sites that are safe for children. How do they do this? It’s called “White Internet” and they are building an algorithm to control and shut down pornography sites.  Alexey Komov concluded that, “There is a sickness around the world and we hope that we will be the cure.”

Enjoy these other updates from Angela on the World Congress of Families:

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

I've got so much faith in you.

The best part of Motherhood for me is being able to surprise my children.  I mean really do something that they just don't expect me to do and at the most unexpected times.

I got to join Guy for the presentation of his animal project at school this week, and it was like 95 degrees out (or more).  We were to bring a picnic lunch to eat with our children outside before going in to see the projects.

Well, Guy had a (pretty lame, in my opinion) lunch packed...water, an apple, a pb&j sandwich, hastily thrown together.  The usual.  And as I was running out the door (late) to drop the other two kids off at a friend's house and then to get to school, I realized how hot it was, so I ran back inside to grab myself an ice water and OOPS, somehow a half gallon of ice cream slipped into my bag...with a box of extra disposable spoons.

From what I could tell, the other parents brought wonderfully prepared lunches, etc, but I doubt anyone there that day could have been quite as happy as Guy and I were eating our half-gallon of french vanilla...except maybe these guys who we shared our secret stash with!

Sitting in the shade of my umbrella chair, eating ice cream with Guy and talking about what he'd like to do this summer will forever be one of my favorite memories.  Having him all to myself for a little be able to tell him, "I've got so much faith in you," was just priceless.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Calling All Converts
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Middle-aged Mormon Man is holding his annual "Hug a Convert Day" this June 2nd, and he is looking for people to share the story of their conversion.  

It's funny...I feel like every day is "Hug a Convert Day" around here.  I haven't taken an official survey, but I'm pretty sure a majority of my Mormon pals in PA were baptized after the age of eight.  

Anyway, if you have a story to share, please email it to MMM or to me, as I will be putting together a post on conversion stories on that day too.  (But don't send it to us both...that might get confusing!)

PS - Sister Jean A Stevens of the General Primary Presidency was here speaking to us in Harrisburg PA this week...She unknowingly celebrated "Hug a Convert Day" early ;) ...pictured here with my friend Kimberly!

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Modern French Revolution

Report on the World Congress of Families, Day 2
The Modern French Revolution

A brilliant story has the delegates at the WCF buzzing. I mentioned the French rally’s for marriage and family briefly in the first day’s report but I have some more detail that is absolutely fascinating and worth going into detail. As many of you may know, a gay marriage and adoption bill is being presented to French Parliament but the people took to the streets in protest in unprecedented numbers (1 million people marching Paris at EACH rally). In fact, these rallies are historic in that they are the largest in French history, and likely world history for this particular social issue. Maxime Legoce, a young Frenchman had the opportunity to speak with in between sessions, was a significant player in the French rallies in Paris and around the world. He gave several speeches on his experiences and one was titled, “The French Movement for Defending Marriage and Leadership in the 21st Century.” I hope my reporting does it justice, and more importantly, I hope Maxime’s morally courageous story of the La Manif Pour Tous (“Demonstration for All”) pro-family movement gets shared around the world. It is inspiring!

The organizers of these highly successful rallies in France, along with other French citizens around the world, were predominantly made up of young people. This is fascinating not only because they are young but also because they live in a relatively agnostic and secular country. When people heard about these pro-family movements around the world, they were shocked and couldn’t figure out why the French youth would be so passionate about marriage and the family unit. But this is proof that there is much “hope smiling brightly before us” with the rising French generation.

Why were these high school and university age youth the driving force for protesting gay marriage and gay adoption? The answer lies in the history of their parents. The May 1968 French “Sexual Revolution” created a generation of mass divorce, abortion, broken homes and families, euthanasia, drop in education and so forth. The young people of 2013 have experienced firsthand these negative social “freedoms” did to their families and home life. They were damaged by their parents’ and grandparents’ destructive social behaviors that they wanted to get rid of it. With the mass divorce, these children felt that they were the victims and needed to take action. They are taking a stand against the very things their parents fought for in the 1960’s.

How did the cause for marriage and family in France gain so much support and traction? Maxime said that the movement was all carried out through the power of social media and people who were passionate about this cause. Here are a few things they did that made it so successful:
Social Media: Very low cost advertising and potential to go viral very quickly. Where we used to have to place ads in the newspaper or on television at great financial expense, they are able to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other French social media outlets to get the word for countless rallies and demonstrations of support very quickly to a lot of people. The “La Manif Pour Tous” Movement Facebook Page is highly successful and there are a lot of neat photos that inspire people to get involved.

1.  They used creative ways to engage people. For instance, one movement included encouraging everyone to change their Wifi name to “No Gay Marriage”. Whenever neighbors would be searching for Wifi access or logging into their system, anyone made this change would show up. Maxime said he changed his one night and the next day, his neighbors all changed theirs. It created an underground resistance movement.

2.   They had a very easy to remember, non-religious slogan to reach all people across the board: “1 Father, 1 Mother = That’s Marriage”, “Father, Mother, Children, It’s Natural!” and also “La Manif Pour Tous which means The Demonstration for All” and this is a play on words for the pro-gay marriage side whose slogan is “Marriage for All”.

3.  Blogging. There is a huge network of Catholic bloggers around the world that are all organized under the “Catholicsphere” (a narrower version of the “blogosphere”). 

4.  They made it cool to show their pro-family T-shirts, sweatshirts, bumper stickers, flags, banners etc. 

5.  For people who were physically unable to come to Paris to march, they created the first ever E-march online. This was absolutely brilliant in that they used geo-localization with IP addresses to create a heat map of all those virtually attending the rally online (pictured below).

6.     They encouraged everyone to go viral fast and furiously with any updates or information on what was happening on the ground during the rallies. For instance, the media and police said there were only about 300,000 people (only? That still seems huge!) at one of the rallies where they absolutely had over a million people total. Everyone was tweeting or Facebooking images to debunk this false information by the pro-gay marriage media. 

7.  Technology Allows For Immediate Reactivity. Prime example: at one of the rallies (all peaceful mind you), police decided to take 70 people into custody. What did they immediately do? They tweeted photos of them in the police vans and posted pictures on Facebook asking for help. By the time they reached the police station, there were already supporters there. The supporters grew and within only two hours, the police released all 70 people.

Another interesting thing happened with the police and the media manipulation. The photos they showed on the news were doctored to show far less people supporting the pro-family rally. However, as soon as these photos showed up on the news, people started submitting real time photos proving that not only did the media edited out tens of thousands of people, but they also photo shopped existing trees and lamps and parts of the boulevard, which automatically proved they were trying to cover up the real numbers at the rally.

One part of their rallies that was highly effective was their use of “flash mobs” using car parades. They would randomly pick and then list a certain street online for supporters to jump in their cars and drive down the street waving pro-family flags. Other rallies would be huge signs draped over the many bridges of Paris or in front of hotels or government buildings where members of Parliament are scheduled to visit. The La Manif Pour Tous movement call it the “welcoming committee”. 

      8.  Technology Supports Generosity. Not only were supporters able to donate money to the cause, but they were able to use social media to donate things and services to help make it easier for people able to attend the rallies. For instance, people living in Paris would offer accommodation for those who lived in the country and didn’t have the money for a hotel. Other people would offer carpooling to the rallies, while others would offer babysitting or meals. The kindness of strangers quickly turned these people into friends. That’s the beauty and generosity of the human spirit!

I know I wasn’t the only one at WCF who was touched by Maxime’s story and I hope that we can use these powerful tools for future rallies and events. I know there are great opportunities here for learning and implementation. I hope we can have more Maxime’s and La Manif Pour Tous movements around the world where gay marriage and adoption bills are coming into the picture. Let’s share my new friend’s story with everyone and also remember it when we start hearing of whisperings of gay marriage bills (or other social issues) coming to our states and countries. Let’s act and follow the example of the French and this brilliant and successful movement.

Here is an inspiring short clip with footage from the rallies (it made me want to go to France to support them on May 26 for their next rally!) :

Here is the website. It’s a fantastic template for others who want to start movements in their state or country:

Candlelight vigils every evening by high school and university students are held 24/7, with people taking turns supplying food, water and bathroom breaks. Thousands upon thousands of young people gathering each night to peacefully protest by singing, reading poems and lighting candles:
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