Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning About The Atonement In Japan

Last week after I posted my experience with learning something more about the Atonement, I received a beautiful letter from Yoko who has given me permission to share some of it with you. She began by explaining that she had attended my class on Living in Truth at BYU Education Week in August, and then said, “Your lecture on "Living in Truth" helped me greatly. I wish I had known about this concept earlier, but I can say "Living in Truth" has reduced my vexation by at least half.”
She then went on to explain that she was visiting her homeland in Sendai, Japan, last March when the great earthquake hit. She described the unbelievable devastation and deprivation that ensued and how everyone was suffering. She stayed and did all she could for a couple of weeks, but then had to return home to the United States where she continued to follow the news.

While at home she felt that even though she is 60 years old, she had to go back and help, so she returned and on the day she arrived another 7.0 earthquake hit and she worried that she would not be able to get to Sendai. She had taken a helmet, boots, gloves, food and everything she would need to sustain herself and to help others, but she couldn’t get into help unless she belonged to an organization. She contacted many organizations but while waiting to be accepted she visited the ward she lived in when she was baptized many years ago and discovered that the ward was headquarters for the relief effort. There she was finally given an assignment. But instead of being asked to do physical work at devastated areas, she was asked to give grief counseling. After a brief class where she was taught how to give hand massages with aroma oils as a tool to let people talk, she went to work.

I’ll let you read her words for the rest. “We visited people at many evacuation centers at different cities on the coast. My job was to listen to whatever the people wanted to say about themselves and their experiences of the quake and tsunami. All the people who were at evacuation centers lost everything including their homes and every belonging that they worked hard for. They were there with only clothes on their backs. Some people lost family members. I have never seen or heard so much grief and sorrow in my life. I gave them aroma massages and some of them really opened their hearts to me and told me how they lost their loved ones. One old lady told me that she lost everything plus her daughter-in-law. She and her 50 year old son were at the evacuation center and she said, ‘My son goes outside and cries every night.’ She told me her son, his wife and the wife's friend were running from the tsunami holding hands but somehow their hands were separated and only her son survived. I gave her extra long massage.”

“I loved her hands and couldn't let them go for a long time. I listened to so many people and their profound sorrows. I only could say to them in my heart while I was touching their hands, ‘You might not know Him but He knows you and your sorrow. He is touching you through my hands right now.’ I felt so much love for them. I knew it was His love for them. One other thing I want to tell you. At the end of three days doing this, my whole body was filled with so many emotions, grief, and sorrow. I felt I couldn't listen to one more person. I felt like my head was going to explode if I had to listen to one more. But I thought, ‘I came all the way from America, I can’t quit after only three days.’ I prayed for the strength and somehow kept going. But it was hard. Then the thought came to me that Jesus Christ had to suffer for who knows how many people, not only for sins but he felt people's sorrow, grief, all other feelings and emotions in Gethsemane. Sister Johnson, I felt like I was allowed to peek at the magnitude of His suffering at Gethsemane. My love and appreciation for Jesus Christ increased because of my experiences in Japan. It was real.”

Thank you, Yoko, for sharing. The Atonement is real. It is love, and you were part of that love.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sabbath Scripture-Sacrament

But whosoever drinketh of the water
that I shall give him
shall never thirst;
but the water that I shall give him
shall be in him a well of water springing
up into everlasting life.
John 4:14

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Love Lasts Forever

Yesterday was my parent's sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. The only problem is that Mom had to celebrate it alone because Dad left this earth a few years back. I knew Mom would be hurting and so I called her to see how she was holding up.

"It's a bitter sweet day," she said. "I'm thankful for the many years we had together, and I know his death wasn't an end but only an interruption--we will be together for eternity--but right now it's lonely withou him."

Then, as she has every year on their anniversary, she told me about the day they were married. They were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple by her grandfather, the president of the temple. "It was a grey, drizzly day," she said. "But Grandfather told us that what starts in a storm ends in sunshine." And that's the truth.

The room they were married in was later removed and an elevator installed in that space. My dad used to joke that their marriage had been going up and down ever since.

But it mainly went up! And now as I watch Mom anticipate being with Dad again, I am awed by the blessings of eternity made possible by an Atonement, priesthood authority, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of these things families can continue to go up and up and up--even though in mortality there are a few down days! That's the Good News!--Love lasts forever.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Caged No More

    "Fighting Truth"© by Patrea Johnson Heath

Years ago D8 sculpted this statue for me. I love it and keep it in a place where I see it often. It is a constant reminder of the vexation that makes life so miserable and how easy it is to avoid unnecessary pain by Living in Truth. In her sculpture the Pit of Illusion is portrayed as a jail cell, and the person inside is desperately fighting against the bars of the prison trying to get out while behind him the door to the cell is wide open.

Those of you who have read Good News! for awhile already know what this is about. When we fall into the Pit of Illusion life closes in on us and we feel as if we are in a cage that we desperately try to break out of. We bang against the cage bars (fight against Truth!) until we are bruised and broken. We shout for help, but hear no one coming to help us. In those claustrophobic times, life seems so dismal, but the problem is not the cage. The problem is that we are fighting against iron bars (Truth) that do not and will not bend. But if instead of spending our time trying to bend iron bars, we step back and accept the fact that the unbendable bars are there, and focus on what we can do inside those bars,
 everything changes.

If we take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask, “Is it true that this cage is ruining my life or is my pain coming because I’m fighting against this cage?” we begin to realize there are a lot of good options available to us. We can sing. We can dance. We can breathe in the wonderful aromas that waft through the cage. We can even reach through the bars and touch others. We can. . . well you get the picture. Despite the cage, the Truth is that there is still so much to enjoy and to do.

But the most amazing thing about accepting Truth is that when I step back
 and concentrate on finding ways to “enjoy” the situation in the cage instead of fighting against it,
I suddenly notice that Someone has been standing there all along holding open the door.
All I needed to do was stop fighting against the Truth,
turn around, and walk through the door.

I hope you find cage doors open today!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cast Your Burdens

So many of the Psalms speak to my heart. One of my favorites is “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Psalm 55:22). When you really stop to analyze it, that statement is all you need in order to be filled with hope.

First look at the word cast.  It means, “To deposit (a ballot) formally” or “To throw off or away.” So we can deposit our burdens with the Lord or we can throw them away. Both imply that we give them up completely, and walk away from them. In other words, we stop worrying about them.
Next look at the word sustain. It means, “To supply with sustenance or nourishment.” “To give support or relief to.” “To support the weight of.” “To bear up under.”

That last definition is especially insightful to me and takes us back to the original Latin word from which we get the word sustain, sustinere, which is a combination of sub-meaning “below” and tenere which means “to hold up.” Thus we see that the original literal definition is “to hold up from below.”

So to cast my burdens means I turn them over to the Lord so I am free from their cumbersome weight, but in addition to that since I have now put my trust in Him, he will now “hold me up” or carry me. Thus besides being unburdened, He takes me on as His burden and I have none not even my own support. He will sustain, nourish, support, and bear me up. What more could I ask for?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Atonement

Years ago when my Church calling was to write lesson manuals for the Church, I wrote several lessons on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and I thought I knew what the Atonement was all about. But since I’ve been teaching religion at BYU I’ve come to realize that I didn't know much at all and that I’m only now beginning to  understand it. It is much broader and grander than I ever realized before.

For example, yesterday I found out that one of my students had lost his mother to a heart attack last year while he was on his mission. As he told me about what had happened my heart ached for him, and as I left him I couldn’t get his image out of my mind. But it wasn’t the image of him telling me what had happened. It wasn't an image of sadness. Instead it was the picture of him sitting in my class happy and at peace and listening as we discussed the gospel—the picture of what I knew about him before I knew of the sorrow he had passed through.

As I was seeing this image of him, the thought came to me that without the Atonement he would never be able to recover from his mother’s death. Without the Atonement every sin would sink us deeper into darkness and despair with no hope of escape. Without the Atonement any tragedy or adversity such as death would be doom and gloom with no chance of recovery. Without the Atonement life would be a constant state of entropy with no possibility of growth or change--a state of constant regression into outer darkness. Without the Atonement happiness would be an unreachable, unattainable fiction.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is not just about paying for our sins. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is about making happiness, joy, growth, learning, love, and everything good possible. In short, the Atonement is our only hope. 

I am so grateful for it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Love Languages

A long time ago I wrote about love languages. For those of you who haven’t heard of them click here and it will take you to an explanation. 

Understanding the love language of the people close to us is important, but the exciting thing to me is that I’ve come to understand that God knows my love language.  In 2 Nephi 31:3 we are taught that “the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” That doesn’t just mean that He speaks to me in English and someone from Mexico in Spanish. It also means He speaks to me through the things I know about and study, through the things I see and do every day, and He speaks to me through my love language which is gifts.

I know that sounds very materialistic, and for a long time I wouldn’t admit that to anyone, but it is true. I feel loved when people give something to me. It doesn’t have to be anything big or costly or even a material object. I love the gift of a smile! And the gifts mean the most to me when they come from the givers heart. I remember speaking once when a woman came up afterward, hugged me, and with tears in her eyes took a bracelet off her wrist and said, “I want to share something with you now.” It wasn’t an expensive bracelet, but oh the meaning it has for me. I still have that bracelet and look at it often with fond memories. I think that is why gifts are my love language—whenever I see them again all the feelings of love come back to me.

But I’m getting side tracked. What I really wanted to say is that daily God sends me gifts that confirm His love for me. This morning He set a special one. I arrived at work about 6:15 in the morning, opened my car door, climbed out, locked the car, and when I looked up there was a small deer about ten feet in front of me watching me get out of the car. He (or she) stared at me for a moment as if to say, “Good morning, Sherrie!” and then bounded off, and to my surprise two more deer came out of the shadows and followed him down the dark road. I’m still smiling and feeling the warm-fuzzies from that special gift!

But this isn’t just about me. Identify your love language and then pay close attention. I guarantee you that God is sending you love every day through your love language.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Giving and Getting

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he says, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). It is interesting that Paul says that the law can be described in one word and then gives a whole sentence. But I think he does this for emphasis. He uses a sentence, but wants us to understand that it is one word in that sentence that is important: love. We are to love our neighbor, but Jesus later gave a new commandment that we aren’t to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but we are to love each other as he loved us. (See John 13:34).

One of the ways we can fulfill this commandment is to make sure that anyone we encounter goes away with a gift. That gift can be a smile, an encouraging word, having had someone listen to them, a compliment, or any number of kind gestures or words. The surprising thing is how much fun it makes your own life to contemplate as you encounter anyone on what you can give them. The real joy comes when you approach a clerk in a store or a stranger who looks overburdened or sad and smile or say something nice and then watch as their countenance changes.

 I’ve never figured out who gets the most out of this giving—me or the other person. All I know is that it fills my day with love!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sabbath Scripture-Cheer Up!

These things I have spoken unto you,
that in me ye might have peace.
In the world ye shall have tribulation:
but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Justice for All

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains that “According to the terms and conditions of the great plan of redemption, justice demands that a penalty be paid for every violation of the Lord's laws” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p.406). Usually when we talk about the law of justice we stress the fact that when we break a commandment we’ve incurred a penalty that must be paid. Then we speak about the great companion principle mercy whereby the Savior will suffer the penalty for us if we will repent. That is all good, but there is so much more to the law of justice.

While justice does involve penalties, it also means that at some point restitution must be made to all who have suffered unjustly. Alma explained this principle to his son Corianton: “The plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2). This means that if through no fault of our own we are hurt or caused to suffer in any way, the law of justice demands that we be recompensed.

As Alma goes on to explain, “It is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good” (Alma 41:3). What we learn from this is that if we are hurt in any way through no fault of our own, we will be compensated. We will be restored to all that is good. Jesus Christ will make everything fair and just! We just need to trust in Him.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Here Am I"

In the book of Abraham we read of the premortal council when God the Father presented His plan of salvation to us. During that council God said, “Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27).

The Hebrew word that is translated “Here am I” in these verses is hininee. And it means more than just “I’m here.” It is the kind of word a servant would say to a king when beckoned. It means “Whatever you want me to do, I will do. That’s why I’m here.” In the Old Testament we find the word hininee over and over again. Abraham says it to God (Genesis 22:1), Isaac says it to his father Abraham (Genesis 22:7), Jacob says it to the angel God sends to him (Genesis 31:11), Joseph says it to his father Jacob (Genesis 37:13), and Moses says it to God when God calls to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3:4). It is what Samuel said to Eli when awakened in the night (1 Samuel 3:4), and what Isaiah said to God when called to be a prophet (Isaiah 6:8).

All these examples urge me to turn to the Lord and say, “Hininee! Here I am ready to serve and do what you want!” But there is one use of the word in the Old Testament that is different, a usage that touches my heart very deeply. In Isaiah chapter 58 the Lord chastises the people who are complaining that God has refused to answer their prayers. He tells them that the reason He has not answered is because they are not resting from their own pleasures on the Sabbath day and that they are not caring for the poor when they fast. Then He says, if you will rest from your own pleasures on the Sabbath and care for the poor when you fast, “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here am I” (Isaiah 58:9).

Every time I read that my heart warms. The Lord is calling to me, “Hininee. Hininee! I am here to help you. What do you want Me to do?” As Isaiah goes on to explain, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:11).