Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Am A Child of God

"Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (Acts 17:29)

"I am a child of God / and He has sent me here" ("I Am A Child of God", Children's Songbook p.2)

"I understood who I was: a daughter of God"
Guess what? You are the son or daughter of Divinity! God is your Father and Heaven, the Father of your spirit. And because we are all sons and daughters of God, we are also all brothers and sisters.

Everyone loves their brothers and sisters (even if the drive you crazy sometimes). The same should be true of everyone you meet, because they are your brothers and sisters as well. It is important that we recognize that. When we do, we begin to see people the way He sees them, and He is no respecter of persons--in other words, He doesn't love one person more than another. All are equal before Him, equal and unique.

Because we are all equal in God's eyes, we also ought to be equal in each other's eyes--that is, don't esteem anyone higher or lower than yourself. Don't judge them for appearance or behavior. Everyone has trials they are going through, and we never know the full story. How would you feel, if you were going through a really tough time and it affected your attitude? Or you were badly injured and it left a permanent, visible scar? How would you feel if because of this outward appearance, people were prejudiced against you, or assumed you were just unfriendly and aloof, and so nobody wanted to be your friend? Or nobody supported you during this trial?

I am sure that you would feel pretty awful. Lonely, unlikable, inferior even. Well, guess what? When you judge others based on outward appearance or behavior, you are causing them to feel those things. And instead of helping them through this hard time, you ignored them, or even gossiped about them. Stop and think for a minute--would you do that to your brother or sister? If this person were part of your family, would you judge them and treat them this way? I imagine most of you would answer, "Of course not! They're my brother/sister, and I love them!" But you know what? That stranger you just cataloged as a druggie and unlovable is also your brother or sister.

This last week I had an experience that made me realize just how important it is for us to recognize others as our spiritual brothers and sisters, and loving them as such. And just how much that simple thing--trying to see others as their Heavenly Father sees them--can change the way you view everything else.

On Wednesday, my companion and I had a really good lesson with an investigator.. But what made it so amazing for me was, halfway through, his mom, who was sitting in on our lesson, decided to sing us a song. This may not sound like a big deal, but let me tell you about her. She's had a stroke, and so she can't hear at all, and she can't talk very well (as a result, she can't sing either). The stroke also left the left side of her face kind of sunken and saggy, and her eye is red and dull--though the other side of her face is completely normal. Manuel told us that the neighborhood kids who saw her were afraid and called her a witch and other mean things. She may not have heard it, but that didn't make it right.

When she decided to sing, at first I was a little skeptical and was sure it would sound like screeching. Honestly, it kind of did, and I couldn't understand anything she said. But she was so enthusiastic about it that I couldn't help smiling. I also found myself watching the other side of her face, where it looks normal. Her eye was sparkling and bright and she was smiling. And I suddenly realized that it didn't matter what her physical condition was right now. She was still a beloved daughter of God, one of His choice daughters. And in the resurrection, she would be restored to the beauty I saw on the right side of her face.

Suddenly I felt a surge of love for her that I knew came from God. I recognized her as my sister in spirit. And since then, I can only see her bright, sparkling eye and her big smile every time she sees my companion and I. In short, now I only see her as a beautiful and loved daughter of Heavenly Father. I

As a result of this experience, I try to see everyone else the same way. It takes a little effort sometimes, mostly because I didn't have a so-called miraculous glimpse through God's eyes at them the same as I did this older woman. But I know that as I pray for help and make an effort to do it, I will begin to have the same love for everyone else as I do for this woman.

Tender Mercy: I think the above experience counts :) But I also got Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Godiva chocolate from the members we ate dinner with on Tuesday, for no reason other than they love us. This just happens to be my ultimate favorite combination of flavors :D

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Power of Music

"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads" (D&C 25:12).

Music is so powerful. It can make us happy or sad, excited, angry, or content all with just a few notes.  I'm sure you've noticed this, too, how music can change your mood. Because of its power, though, it is even more important to be extra careful what type of music we listen to, because it can affect our lives for good...or for evil. Because once we memorize a song, the lyrics can pop back into our heads at any moment, and if those lyrics or the rhythm are not conducive to the Spirit, we cannot focus on what is most important.

Music happens to be a huge part of my life. I love to sing and I love to listen to music. Before my mission I don't think I went a day without listening to it. I noticed the difference in the songs I listened to. Some of them made me really happy, others helped me concentrate on homework and others were simply distractions. Each song brought a different spirit.

That is why, as missionaries, we are only allowed to listen to songs that bring the Spirit and direct our minds toward Christ and toward our purpose. Other songs are simply distractions. That doesn't mean we can only listen to hymns, but I can't listen to some of my favorite Lifehouse songs. To illustrate the way different types of music can affect you, here are two experiences I've had recently.

First, as a missionary we are allowed to use Facebook and blogs (like this one :) ) as well as other social media to help others come unto Christ. For this, we need access to the internet. The lobby of my apartment complex offers free wi-fi and computers are available for the residents, and so that is where my companion and I go when we want to do our online proselyting (aka Facebook and blogs). Music always plays through the speakers there. It's the same type of music I listened to before my mission. None of it is inappropriate, per se, nor is it loud either in volume or rhythm, but when that music is playing, it is harder for me to concentrate on what I'm doing. Once, a song came on that I liked, but I couldn't concentrate at all while it played because of the rhythm and volume, so we had to ask the manager to turn it down or off so we could do our work. When an inappropriate song comes on, I feel the Spirit disappear instantly. And usually it takes effort to bring it back.

In contrast, for our mission Christmas activity 2013, we were privileged to hear Freddy Ashby and Clyde Bawden perform some Christmas songs and hymns for us. Not only was amazing talent showed from both of them, but the spirit they brought while singing about the birth of Christ and of His Atonement gave me goosebumps, and I wished I could have heard more than the hour they performed. The Spirit was so strong and reaffirmed my testimony of my Savior, and also reminded me what my purpose as a missionary is: to help others come to know Christ and feel joy in His Atonement just as I do. The music moved me to ponder even more deeply on my knowledge of the Gospel and on my Savior, and the reason for the Christmas season.

The contrast between these two experiences is as stark as black and white. With the first, the Spirit just wasn't there. With the second, the music, the lyrics especially, reinforced my testimony. I left that performance with a greater desire to serve and to improve myself.

I encourage you all to be selective of the type of music you listen to, because it really can change who you are. I hope you will go through your playlists and reevaluate the type of music you listen to. This doesn't mean you have to change your entire playlist to hymns, because a lot of songs out there are amazing. Just be careful, because what enters your mind cannot be erased. So fill your mind with good things.

Check out this article from the September 2013 New Era:

Tender Mercy 12/13/13: Just a short one this time. On Monday, while my companion and I were working at the Christmas lights at the Mesa temple, two volunteer hosts working alongside us brought us some hot chocolate. We were very glad of it because it was freezing that night.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Love and Light

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Do you realize just how vast and unimaginable our Father's love is for us? Probably not. But it is true: our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He has provided us every possible resource to help us return to Him again. And He always gives us signs of His love, no matter how big...or how small.

Our Heavenly Father loved us enough that He was willing to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son to suffer and die for us that we might have even a chance to return to Him. And our Savior had that same incomprehensible love for us--individually!--to be willing to suffer unimaginable pain on our behalf to make it possible for us to repent and be relieved of the burdens that accompany this mortal experience.

This Christmas season is a chance for us to try and return some of that great love our Father in Heaven gives us. While we will never be able to give Him half of what He has given us, we can show our appreciation and love for Him through service to others, even in the smallest ways. We can also demonstrate our love by recognizing the true meaning of Christmas and the symbols we associate with this season.

One of the biggest symbols we see at Christmastime is light. Nearly everyone decorates their house and Christmas tree with beautiful multicolored lights, but why? To most people it is simply a decoration. But there's more to it than that!

This is what the lights we use during this time should symbolize in our minds--our Savior. He is the Light of the World, and through Him each of us can experience in a very personal way that great love our Savior and our Father in Heaven have for us. We acknowledge this love by remembering the reason for the season--our Savior and His Atonement--and take some time to draw nearer to Him and to our Father in Heaven.

For those of you in or near Mesa, AZ or Salt Lake City, UT, take an evening to come to the lights at the temples, and feel of the wonderful spirit that comes when you combine the beauty of those strings of bright, colored lights and the proximity of a temple of the Lord. For those not near either of those places or are unable to attend, take a minute to look at your beautiful Christmas tree or go to another community display of Christmas lights or nativities, and remember why you are celebrating this time of year.

Take a minute to remember your Savior. And take a minute to remember His love.

Tender Mercy (12/07/13):
Just a little thing this time. My companion and I went for a walk in the park next to our apartment complex just at dawn for our exercise time last week. It was chilly, but refreshing. And I got to wear my hoodie:) As we rounded the far side of the park to start heading home, we found ourselves facing east, and the sunrise was absolutely beautiful. It was pink and gold and orange, and the clouds were lit magnificently by the rising sun. After seeing something as magnificent as that, how can anyone doubt the existence of a loving Heavenly Father?