Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Five S's

A few weeks ago, a gentleman spoke in church about an aspect of his job. He's an operations and efficiency manager at a fairly large corporation. His employer expects everyone in the company - from management to the lowliest employee - to utilize what they call "The Five S's" to improve efficiency.

With some thought, the gentleman from church was able to apply that system to believing in God and having His presence in our lives. I loved his viewpoint so much, I took thorough notes so I could share my thoughts with you.

1. Sort

The first step is to sort out what is needed and what's not. We are to remove those things that have no value. Refocus, evaluate, and declutter.

What in your life has no spiritual value? Certain television shows? Music? Books? Games? What about other activities? Shopping on Sunday? Eating or drinking things that aren't good for you? Habits or hobbies that detract from the Spirit?

This can include people who add no spiritual value to your life. Are there those who drag you down rather than lift you up? Those who encourage you to drift further away from where the Lord wishes you to be?

Remove those things that do not bring you closer to your Heavenly Father to allow room for those things that will bring you the most everlasting joy.

2. Straighten

Once you've sorted, you must straighten what's left. Arrange, organize, and set things in order. Set expectations, goals, and guidelines.

Decide where you stand. Know what you're willing to do and what you won't. Make the time to pray, study your scriptures, write in your journal, and spend time with your family. It takes a conscious effort to make these things a habit.

Determine where you want to be spiritually. What do you want to believe, to know? If there's someone you admire and look up to, what steps can you take to be more like him/her? Make a plan. Set it in action.

3. Shine

Clean and maintain your surroundings to enable the ability to identify defects and abnormalities. In other words, repent and forgive. 

Let go of your guilt, make amends. Kneel in fervent prayer and beg forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. Wipe the slate clean. Drop your baggage. Become clean and pure once more.

Forgive others. Give up your hard feelings and resentment. Allow others to become clean in your eyes. Unburden yourself from the heavy load anger carries. 

4. Standardize

Revisit the first three S's on a regular basis. Attend church meetings every Sunday. Partake of the Sacrament to renew your baptismal covenants. Spend time each week, month, and year reviewing your goals and examining your life. Make self-examination a constant in your life.

When you find yourself lacking in one area, set a new goal and start again. The Lord doesn't expect perfection. He wants you to do your best. Keep trying. Don't give up.

5. Sustain

Continue to improve every day. Look for ways to better yourself - not just spiritually, but in all other aspects of your life. Be disciplined and actively engaged. Forward momentum, no matter how small, is better than remaining stagnant or sliding backwards. 

Something I've learned as a writer is to begin with the end in sight. If you do this, everything else will fall into place. Keep the goal of eternal life firmly fixed in your heart. When difficult times descend upon you and choices have to be made, belief in our Savior, Jesus Christ, will help you through and lead you to the other side.

And, as always, remember that believe is a verb. A verb is an action. Therefore, to believe is to act.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving - The Christmas Prelude

For years, I've protested starting anything Christmas related until after Thanksgiving. No tree, no visits to Santa, no Christmas music. Let Thanksgiving have its due!

This year, however, I realized something that changed my outlook and may alter how we celebrate the holiday season in the upcoming years. Thanksgiving and the reason behind it is the perfect prelude to Christmas.

How better to celebrate the birth of our Savior than to express gratitude for all He has given us?

We live in a time when letters to Santa outnumber act of service, retailers open earlier and close later to accommodate holiday shoppers, and people brawl to get this year's hottest items. "I want" and "Give me" are shouted while "Thank you" is murmured or not spoken at all.

This year, instead of focusing on the presents and decorations, let's start celebrating with an attitude of gratitude. 

Let's be grateful for what we have; focus on what's in front of us rather than what's on the store shelf. Give rather than receive. Share of our abundance.

Praise the Lord for giving us the ultimate gift - the gift of eternal life. Thank our Heavenly Father for sending His Only Begotten Son to save us from our sins. Give thanks for that glorious morn when Christ was born to a young virgin in the city of Bethlehem. 

For without that first Christmas, there would be very little to be grateful for indeed.
"If thou art merry, praise the Lord with sing, with music, and with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and Thanksgiving." - Doctrine and Covenants 136:28
 "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto they name, O most High." - Psalm 92:1 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Am Strong. And I Am Not Alone

"I Am Strong. And I Am Not Alone."

I've been struggling lately. 

Over the past few months, I've taken on several new responsibilities - each with a special place in my heart and none of which I care to let go. I was, and still am, juggling it all without too many problems. I was simply feeling low and sluggish.

This morning, I woke up, got ready, and went to church. Instead of coming home feeling edified and uplifted, I felt more weighed down than ever. Even overwhelmed and uneasy. So I went for a drive.

I've been feeling the need to get away by myself for several weeks now. To give myself a chance to renew and refresh. It happens every once in a while and I usually indulge long before I boil over. I was long overdue.

Usually, my drives are random, taking me along back roads or to empty parking lots to clear my head. Today, I felt prompted to go somewhere specific - the Brigham City Temple. I was also prompted to go straight there instead of meandering along like I usually do.

The drive itself was unremarkable. I pulled into a parking spot on the street to the south of the temple. But I felt the need to stay in the car. So I pulled out my journal, intending on writing out my thoughts while it was quiet and still.

My previous journal entry caught my eye. 

"Last night, I had a dream. My home was destroyed by a tornado I had successfully avoided. Toys and other belongings floated down from the sky and littered the yard. I was devastated. My beautiful home had been reduced to a mere framework of splintering timbers and rubble.
"While at the hotel, a nearby volcano exploded, sending a pyroclastic cloud our way. But the strength of the walls and windows kept us safe. As the last of the cloud diminished, the windows failed, but we were not harmed.
"I calmly began cleaning up and putting things in order.
"What struck me most about this dream is my action, not reaction. I've had natural disaster dreams in the past. Running from funnel clouds and not finding a safe haven. Or trying to outrun lava floes that keep emerging from under my feet. It's always a sign of loss of control, a chaotic presence in my life.
"This time, however, I didn't run. I stood my ground. I was prepared. And once the danger passed, I began to work to make things right again. Even the loss of every one of my earthly possessions couldn't stop me.
"I had been feeling disorganized and confused. Even overwhelmed. But now, I feel a peace I haven't felt in some time. A knowledge that no matter what happens, I am strong enough to press on. I will not crumple and fall.
"And, just like in my dream, I am not alone. When all had been lost, my friends and family were there to help me pick up the pieces.
"I am strong. And I am not alone."
Those words, written in July, echoed through my head. Just as in my journal entry, I had been feeling disorganized, confused, and overwhelmed again. I needed a reminder that I am strong. I am not alone.

That simple act, those simple words, buoyed me up and gave me the spiritual cleansing I needed. It renewed my strength so I can stand tall and fulfill my potential.

Thanks to the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit, I was once again reminded.

I am strong because my Heavenly Father guides me. He sends His servants and the Comforter to strengthen me in my weakness

And I am not alone because He, our God and Eternal Father, cares about me and my happiness. He is watching out for me.

"The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation." - Psalms 118:14

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trust In the Lord

Trust in the Lord -

As a parent, I often do things my children don't understand. They question why they must go to bed at 7:30 or brush their teeth every day. Why do I make them eat vegetables when sweets taste so much better?

The older my boys get, the more they understand why I insist they wash their hair at least twice a week and get out of bed at a certain time. They learn the benefit of doing their homework right after school and having a clean room.

But when these things were first introduced, my children questioned and doubted my intentions. Why pick up blocks when they'll be played with later? Why make the bed when they'll just mess it up again? Why do chores at all? Or homework? Or anything?

They can't see the bigger picture - the one where I'm trying to maintain a house of order, to keep them safe, and to give them the tools they'll need to succeed in life.

In the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we're often asked by our Heavenly Father to do and accept things we don't yet understand. We may question our Father's intentions and wonder why we're asked to accept difficult concepts.

In this way, we're much like little children.

Why must we pray and study our scriptures every day? Why should we attend our church meetings every week when other activities are more fun? Why does the gospel seem so strict and unrelenting?

Following God's commandments can be difficult at times. Especially when doing so is unpopular or contrary to what the world believes. But our Heavenly Father sees the bigger picture and, working through His living prophets, guides us as He seeks to build a house of order, to keep us safe, and to give us the tools we need to succeed and return to His presence.

In these times of trial, when our faith and belief can be tested to their limits, we must remember that we are aware of just a small portion of the marvelous Plan of Happiness. Someday, when we've had a chance to spiritually grow and learn, all things required of us will make sense. We, too, will see the bigger picture and know how all the pieces fit together.

But for now, we must be as little children and trust in our Heavenly Father. We must trust that He loves us, His children, and only wants us to be happy on an eternal scale.

Trust in the Lord -
Proverbs 3:5-6

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Little Miracles

Little Miracles -

I adore baby snuggles. Especially from tiny babies who nestle right in and weigh almost nothing. Sigh...

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to snuggle my cousin's three-week-old baby boy. Oh, my heavens. He was tiny and sweet and so perfect. A true miracle. Just like my own three boys.

Little Miracles -
Love my snuggles!

I don't say that lightly, either. That little baby spent some time in the NICU before coming home. And before that, his parents waited for him for several years. In a world where so many people wait forever for a little one to join their family, he truly was and is a miracle.

My oldest was a miracle, too. When I was 35 weeks along, my OB/GYN noticed my blood pressure was elevated to a concerning degree. He put me on bed rest. A week later, not only was my blood pressure 160/110, I tested as preeclampsic. I was induced and my first little miracle arrived. He was only 4 lbs, 11 oz. - nothing but skin and bones. But he was healthy. We were able to go home together after spending just one extra day at the hospital.

Little Miracles -
My tiny little baby is now taller than me.

We waited eight years for our next miracle to come. At that point, we had given up hope ever having a second child. Our oldest was a wonderful kid and if he was going to be our only one, we couldn't have asked for better.

When I learned I was pregnant, I cried for nearly two hours. After years of disappointment and heartache, our dream finally came true. As my due date approached, my darn blood pressure started to protest again and I was induced. My second son made his appearance - a true Gerber baby. Big cheeks, perfect complexion. And 8 lbs, 2 oz, despite having come 2-1/2 weeks early.

Little Miracles -
He's still ridiculously cute.

His little brother came just two years later. Once more, blood pressure issues required inducement. At 36 weeks, he was 6 lbs. 8 oz and healthy as can be.

Little Miracles -
My mischief maker. You can see it in his eyes...

Not wanting to tempt fate, we decided our family was complete, which was a good thing. Not long afterwards, I experienced health problems that led to a hysterectomy. During that ordeal, we learned that due to the shape of my uterus, it was a miracle we had any children at all - let alone three healthy boys.

We know we are blessed. Miracles do happen and they happen every day. For Heavenly Father is a God of miracles. He loves each and every one of us and knows our needs and wants. All we have to do is believe.

23. For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith. (2 Nephi 27:23)