Sunday, August 27, 2017

We Each Belong to and Are Needed in the Family of God

Do you ever find that teaching youth is unpredictable?  For a variety of reasons, I do.  Also, I always go into lesson preparation thinking I am going to teach them something, and most often come away being taught a lesson myself that I didn't know I was due to learn.  Today was no exception.

I have in the past also experienced, especially in Young Women, that lesson time is often sacrificed for announcements and singing of special hymns and get-to-know yous and birthday spotlights.  Today, my first time teaching as the new Beehive Advisor in our ward, was also no exception.

I have to note that the "special hymn" they are learning is "I Walk By Faith," which was a song that I learned as a youth. (How many of you are familiar with this song??)

This made me chuckle, because I know the song so well that I was probably the only one who didn't need a song sheet.  It made me cry too as the words rang true for me, especially lines like, "And some day when God has proven me, I'll see Him face to face, but just for here and now I walk by faith."  

How many times over the last 25 years have I had to walk by faith (especially in my 20's as I made so many important choices for my life!)?  The Lord has certainly proven me, beyond what I could have ever anticipated when I originally sang this song. 

And I know He is proving me still.  Although I haven't literally seen him face-to-face, I have certainly come to know him better through my own personal tests, and trials.  Thinking back on these hard moments, knowing that the Savior walked with me through them, made my eyes water even more. I also cried (and laughed) because those high notes are no easier to reach now than they were back when I sang it as a youth, in case you were wondering!

About the Lesson:

For the lesson, which I taught to the Beehives, we focused on The Family Proclamation

There was a lot to cover given that I was told they hadn't had all of the lessons for this month for some reason, also our time together seemed so short.

On the spot, I felt it was important to focus on these few things: 

1) The family is very important to God's eternal plan.

2) Learning & living according to the doctrine taught in the family proclamation can answer our questions and help us form a happier and eternal family.

3) No family is perfect, but we are all part of the family of God.  

4) It is our duty as daughters of God to reach out to and love ALL people regardless of their family circumstances or beliefs.  It is also our duty to learn from and support one another and empathize with others and their struggles and experiences.  We can and should do this while standing by the doctrine of family.

To help us think about this more, we read this quote from Sister Carole M. Stephens, "The Family Is of God.":

She says, "Elder Richard G. Scott explained that “we were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched.”5 That stretching comes in as many forms as there are individuals experiencing it. I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
"So right now some of you are thinking, “Well then, Sister Stephens, you just don’t understand!” And I answer that you may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,”6 who experienced all and understands all. And in addition, I have experienced all of the mortal tests that I just mentioned through the lens of a daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.
"Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
"When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”7—in part through us as we follow Him.
As daughters of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we then “act according to those sympathies which God has planted” in our hearts.8 Our sphere of influence isn’t limited to our own family members."
After discussing the first few ideas, we briefly played the Family Proclamation Trivial Pursuit Game (which you can find here).  It's something that I made up years ago, but I didn't even think about it until a blog reader asked me a question about it last night (so thank you, friend!)
Although, we really ran out of time to really play it, it was a good way to get the girls reading, talking about, and sharing with each other about the Family Proclamation, the ideas contained therein, and about their own families.  I think we'll probably play it again for an activity some time in the future.  
I reiterated again at the end of the lesson how important it is for us to love and include people of all different circumstances, family make-up, and background (in and outside of the church) and to go out of our way to help others feel loved, because everyone around us belongs to the family of God.  And how important it is for us all to know and understand and gain a testimony of the Family Proclamation, so we can use it to guide our decisions in life and teach it to others.

So that was it, not too eventful, but I just found it interesting that I was guided to teach showing love for others regardless of their family structure as the biggest point in the brief time that we had.  I think, from the looks on some of the girls faces, this message was comforting for some of them too.

More Thoughts on Inclusion

Speaking of inclusion in church, I haven't recently thought too much in depth about this or considered the plight of someone who might feel like they are on the outside.  If someone is on the fringe, I try to put my arm around them and pull them in, but I'm not sure I've always validated their particular concerns. Perhaps because it feels like someone always has a reason to feel left out.  However, I had a few experiences today that has called my attention to this.

I have always felt like I belonged in church.  In The true Church.  I am not one who has ever questioned whether or not I belonged socially or culturally or doctrinally in the church, but I know people do.

Today, as I was introducing myself to the girls, I asked them to guess where I was from.  Their guess: Utah.  Nope, I said, I'm from Ohio.  I grew up just two hours from here.

Next, I asked them to guess where I went to college.  BYU, they answered.  Nope, I went to a school in Ohio called Miami University (which is also where Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers QB went...we now live in Pittsburgh).  

Then I showed them a picture of the temple I was married in.  Any guesses as to which temple it was?  They guessed the Salt Lake Temple.  It's the Washington, DC temple.

I don't fault them (mainly because I think most of their families are transplants from Utah), but it definitely took me by surprise that the girls could only fathom that I'd be from Utah...Utah all the way, no other guesses.

I am from Ohio.  I have lived in Pennsylvania for 12 years of my married life and all of my children were born here (they also found this shocking).  I consider myself from the East.  My temple has almost always been the DC Temple.  My career was mainly entered on the East Coast, and as I said before, I was educated here.

I started to seriously wonder why their only answers were Utah.  I started to feel very outside...outside of this group of girls anyway.  And I've never really felt that way before.

Later, I had an interaction online which spun wildly away from the main point of the discussion.  This person's point (in my perception) was that there is a homogeneous way to talk about a certain topic in the gospel and that it is basically the same the world over.  When I tried to explain that in my personal experience, I talk about it differently and my fellow ward members might speak differently/use different words and that was ok.  In our discussion, I felt totally dismissed.  I was probably wrong.  He was maybe technically correct.  Probably the whole Mormon world says it one way and only I say it so weirdly different.  But even so, I felt even more on the outside in a discussion of a point that was totally not important.

And being made to feel like an outsider for the second time in one day, it's just not what my fragile little, overly-emotional, pregnant heart needed today.

So, maybe this vague story means nothing to anyone reading this, and I know that other people have much more serious factors causing them to feel like they are on the outside looking in, but it made me think more seriously about trying to use my words to include people at church.  

For whatever reason, there are certainly many people who don't feel like they belong, don't feel like they are in the club, don't feel like their life matches the shiny, happy, outer coating that we might perceive is on display each week.  And while I want to think I have always tried to include others, these silly examples make me think I can do better, go even more out of my way to show that I love and accept others just as they are.  (I could probably also practice this more with my own children~)

This is certainly a strength I have witnessed in and admire about others in the church.

I'm hoping I can work harder starting now to make sure everyone feels like they least when they are around me.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

New Relief Society Curriculum Announced for 2018

I'm not even sure I can put into words how excited I am tonight to read about the Church's announcement of a switch of the Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum to studying General Conference messages in the "Come Follow Me" or "Teaching in the Savior's Way" style.

I don't get overly hyper about too many things, but THIS. MAKES. ME. SO. HAPPY.

If you'll remember, about six years ago, in the spring of 2011, my ward friends and I started a weekly, in-person General Conference Book Club.  (I blogged about our club here and here and often on my blog in general.  Thanks to my blog friend Stephanie whose online conference club inspired me all those years ago!)

This was the start of a beautiful thing: learning from the words of our current prophets, sharing testimonies with my friends/sisters, and coming away feeling strengthened and supported in my resolve to live the gospel.

We did this basically every week for six years.  Six years.

It was a game-changer for me.  

In the eternities, I will look back at this time and say, "These are the years I grew the most."  I grew most in my testimony of living prophets and the truth of their teachings.  I grew the most in my ability to honestly assess myself and how closely I was trying to follow their admonishments.  I grew in my ability to understand the perspectives of other women around me, to empathize and have compassion for their unique situations.

Beyond anything, through trying to put their teachings into practice, I grew to love the Savior and his servants here on the earth today.

This weekly gospel study was one of the biggest things I missed when we moved to Cranberry about 8 months ago.  I missed this spiritual boost and bond that I had with these women...a bond over the teachings of the modern-day prophets.

That's why when my new ward bishopric asked me to serve as the Teachings for Our Time teacher in Relief Society, I recognized it as a tender mercy.  The Lord was allowing me to still have a small piece of that General Conference Book Club experience with my new ward sisters.  This is also why I briefly lamented recently when I was released from this short-lived calling (and called into the YW), but I am now super excited for all of the men and women of the church the world over to move into this new chapter of gospel learning.  

It is truly inspired and WILL change lives.  It is what we need right now.  It will empower all of us.

You can read the full announcement at the church website, but here are a few highlights:

The new course of study includes:

  • Learning from general conference messages.
  • Studying special topics selected every six months by general leaders of the Church.
  • Counseling together as priesthood quorums and groups and Relief Societies.
The new materials for adults, which replace the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series used from 1998 to 2017, do not affect Sunday School classes.

Hopefully you guys are all looking forward to the change as well!

You know, it's funny, but as my time in Lewisburg was winding down, I kept questioning whether I should or needed to keep up the club.  I kept feeling like maybe the club had run its course and served its purpose.  Now I know why I was feeling that way...because for me, it did.  And the Lord knew what was coming in the future for his church. I love how the spirit can direct us as to what is coming next.  Sadly, I won't be in Relief Society to see how this plays out, as I will be in Young Women teaching the Beehives, but I'll rely on my friendly blog readers to keep me posted!

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Fun

Normally, I relish all the time I have with my children and take advantage of every moment we can make a memory together when they are not in school, but since I am pregnant with baby #6, adjusting to a new town, and barely keeping up with my other five children, the event of the summer --the total solar eclipse--which some have called amazing, spectacular, awe-inspiring, and nature's once-in-a-lifetime show, only got a quick passing glance from us.

No, we didn't get special glasses to watch the eclipse.  I just barely managed to cut up cereal boxes to make eclipse viewers that morning.  And honestly, it was cloudy over us the whole time until right at the peak when the clouds broke a little bit and we got to see about five minutes of a moon-shaped shadow in our eclipse cereal box viewfinders.

Later that evening, I couldn't sleep.  I was thinking about our family's life together which looks nothing like it did a year ago and, I was thinking about the eclipse and feeling like a loser, because we had this "once in a lifetime" moment that we played really low-key.  Judging from the social media posts of friends, who traveled across country in some cases, to be in the direct line of the total eclipse, our experience might have left something to be desired.  Had I missed an opportunity here?  

I was slightly relieved earlier in the day to hear that there will be another total solar eclipse in less than seven years from now, and that our area will be in the path of the eclipse this time!  I was excited to hear this, because it meant that maybe we'd get a second chance to do this next eclipse up right!  Then I realized that seven years from now my three oldest children will be a senior, junior, and freshman in high school respectively. My two younger kids will be ages 10 and 8.  Would they even have an interest in sharing such an event with me at that point?  I felt like my family's little life together was flashing before my eyes, and I didn't like it, not at that pace, anyway!

Suddenly, I wasn't looking forward to the next eclipse of the sun at all, because it meant their childhood, and our time together, would be over!  Bummed all over again, my middle-of-the-night pregnancy thought process was getting me really depressed and distressed.

I thought about it more.  I thought about those pesky eclipse glasses that I failed to get, and how one could only really see the eclipse as the "once in a lifetime event" that it was if one was looking through the right lens.  

And then I realized: I don't have to wait 7 years for a special event, I have once in a lifetime events happening in my life every single day...if only I can learn to view these events through the proper lens: a lens of faith, a lens of eternity, a lens of being completely present in the now.

I immediately tried using that "lens,", starting with my 4-year old daughter climbing into bed with me the next morning.  Although, her wake-up calls usually come too early for my liking, I tried to relish it, and recognize it for the prize that it is.  You never know when a moment like that will occur for the last time.--or the first and the last time.  I tried to remember that through my fatigue when my other daughter came in after having a bad dream in the middle of the night.  I tried to appreciate and watch the next day as my toddler-aged son tried on everyone's shoes and scattered them to the four corners of the house--which is his favorite thing to do right now.  I tried to just slow down and enjoy these moments as the "once in a lifetime events" that they truly are for me.

So many times, the day-to-day happenings of Motherhood can become so happenstance.  They can seem so monotonous that we might mistake them for commonplace, when really they are our own personal once-in-a-lifetime moments.  And if we aren't looking, or aren't seeing them through an eternal lens, we might miss them entirely.

Now that I've got my eternal perspective, Motherhood lenses on again, I'm hoping to soak up as many of these moments with my children as I can in the coming weeks, months, and years, and to stop letting my pregnant state be a total eclipse of the fun that we have left together!

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