Follow the Prophet–At Home

When I was young general conference was held on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. One of my strongest memories as a young girl was coming home from school on the first Friday in October and April and seeing my mom sitting on the couch, sometimes folding clothes, and watching conference.

Although neither of my parents were raised in homes where following the prophet was emphasized, they made following the prophet one of the pillars of our home.

When I was young, there was one of many big pushes to have weekly family home evening. In those days the Church gave each family a manual and each ward in a building was given a different night of the week to hold family home evening. Some wards had Tuesday, some Wednesday, and some Thursday. My parents immediately began home evening. We had a song, a prayer, a lesson, and a treat—week after week. When my dad became bishop, he asked the members of our ward to not call him on family night unless it was an emergency. Those nights were always sacred.

They had similar reactions to other words of the prophets. We had family prayer and family scripture study. I can’t say that we as children loved this, but it is what our family did. I don’t think I realized there was any other option.

I remember one day my father decided to not follow the prophet. We often had my grandmother over for Sunday dinner. She loved whipped cream on jello. One particular Sunday we forgot to get the cream. The ox was in the mire. My dad went to the grocery store. He was elder’s quorum president at the time. When he came home, he was particularly quiet (an unusual state for my very fun-loving dad). Later, after my grandmother had left, he called us all together. He told us that at the store he had seen almost every member of his elders’ quorum. And they saw him. He said he had been a poor leader for all these men who needed the Sabbath day. He committed to us that he would never shop on the Sabbath again. And, except for one time, he didn’t. That one time, we had gone to visit cousins in Minnesota. We arrived early in the afternoon on Saturday. Just a few hours later, we learned that my grandpa, my mom’s dad, had unexpectedly passed away. We were a two day’s drive away from Salt Lake and had to be home by Monday. We jumped immediately into the car and headed home. We drove through the night. Dad had to stop and get gas. He did so (back in the days when an attendant filled up your car), but didn’t buy any treats or purchase anything else. In that situation, the ox truly was in the mire, but my dad never let his oxen stray to the mire again.

When I was in grade school the prophets began to emphasize dressing modestly. It seemed sort of obvious. But within a year mini skirts became the fashion rage. In one year in my school pictures the skirts (we had to wear dresses) went from a modest knee length to a foot above the knee. In my family the skirts didn’t change. I was ridiculed continually at school for my lack of fashion, but I learned the value of following the prophet even when it meant I wouldn’t fit in.

Did following the prophet remove all the trials from our life? No. It did not keep my parents from having a mentally handicapped child. It did not keep my sister from leaving the Church for a number of years (but it did help bring her back). It did not keep one of my sisters from being sexually assaulted in high school. It did not keep several of us from debilitating migraines. It did not keep us from depression and anxiety. But it did give us the strength to deal with these trials, it did help us to see things more clearly and to have hope, it did give us habits that kept us going through hard times when we might have been tempted to give up. And it did give me a testimony of following the prophet.

I think we all have tender feelings for the prophet of our youth. The prophet of my youth was Spencer W. Kimball. In 1976 I began my studies at BYU. The first devotional at BYU was always the prophet of the Church. I remember standing as President Kimball walked in and receiving a witness—again—that he was truly the prophet of the Lord. After the devotional I was invited with 95 other students to meet in a smaller meeting with the prophet. He talked to us from his heart. He told us to get our educations, to be diligent in our learning. Then he pointed his finger at us, and said, “And when you’re done, you go home and build your families. You love and teach your children. You use what you learn here to raise children unto the Lord.” I felt that I had been given my marching orders. As we left the room, he shook each of our hands. He was a short man; he had to look up to see my eyes, but I have never felt so in the presence of one of the Lord’s mighty men.

In 1980, I graduated from BYU and went to Washington, D. C. to work with the Senate Republican Policy committee. That summer the MX missile was a big thing, and I was given an assignment to research various aspects of it. The MX missile was a mobile missile that was supposed to be located in deep holes in Utah. Every so often the missiles would be moved to another deep hole, so it would be hard for the USSR to target them. I came away convinced the MX missile was a good thing.

In the fall of that year I started teaching 8th grade at a middle school in Riverton. In October conference, President Kimball said that the Church was against the MX missile, that it was not right to have such a missile so near the headquarters of the Church. I was stunned. I had been so sure it was a good thing. I realized for the first time just how wrong my thinking could be, how easily I could be led astray. I understand that the Lord’s ways were not my ways, and his thoughts were higher than my thoughts. I felt profoundly grateful for a prophet, who could and would direct me so much better than I could.

That same October President Kimball said something in general conference about the family that I have never forgotten. “Furthermore, many of the social restraints which in the past have helped to reinforce and to shore up the family are dissolving and disappearing. The time will come when only those who believe deeply and actively in the family will be able to preserve their families in the midst of the gathering evil around us.”

I was single at the time, but those words struck me. I have never forgotten them. Later, when I had my own family, we memorized them. I believe the time has come. We must believe deeply and activity—that is we must be willing to act—if we want to preserve our families.

When Brian and I were engaged, we spent hours discussing what kind of home we wanted. We decided was wanted following the prophet to become one of the foundations of our home. When we were growing up, we had heard again and again from the prophets about three pillars of family spirituality: family home evening, family scripture study, and family prayer. Before we were married, we decided we wanted these three patterns to be part of our home. We started on our wedding day and have continued ever since.

We believed in the promises of Marion G. Romney. You are familiar with these words: “I feel certain that if, in our home, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children—

Wait! What do we have to do? Just read prayerfully and regularly—that’s all—prayerfully and regularly? Yup!

We will get these blessings:

  1. the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein.
  2. The spirit of reverence will increase
  3. Mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow
  4. The spirit of contention will depart
  5. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom
  6. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents.
  7. Righteousness will increase
  8. Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives
  9. Bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness.

Brian and I hung on these promises. We believed them, and we wanted them. We did our best to follow these homely spiritual practices.

Teaching the gospel in our home has been a focus of everything we have done.  However, scripture study, family home evening, and family prayer with our seven children were not picture book experiences in our family. We’ve had our share of family arguments, pushing and shoving, blankets over heads during family scripture study, giggles and wrestling during family prayer, rolled eyes, sleeping teenagers, moans and groans, reading on the bedrooms floors of children who we could not wake up. But we persisted.

When our seven children were young, it was pretty easy to gather together and read. The kids wiggled, they jumped on couches, we had to keep grabbing them and bringing them back. But we read prayerfully and regularly.

At night we would read them the same scripture story over and over as they were lay in the beds. We read the same story until they could fill in the blanks any time we stopped. They loved it because we were letting them “stay up late” (til all of 7:30)

As they got older, we read in the morning. The children dragged their blankets up with them and pulled them over their heads. They argued about who got to sit by the fire in the winter. We tried reading one verse a piece; three verses a piece; one person read everything for that day. When our youngest could not drag himself out of bed, we read on his floor. Memorizations were an important part of our daily devotional. Over the years we memorized hundreds of quotes, scriptures, and poems. Sometimes we sang a hymn.

Family prayer often erupted in giggles—or arguments—or wrestling sprees.

Years ago all our family was gathered for general conference. Elder Bednar talked about family home evening. He talked about his boys, arguing: “He’s breathing my air.” All my children burst out laughing. We could relate to that kind of fhe.

As teenagers got busy, we tried various ways of holding family home evening. I remember one semester, one of our daughters wanted to play in the Utah Valley Youth Symphony. Practices were held on Monday nights until 7:00. We discussed it as a family and decided that I would be at the school to pick her up right at 7:00, rush her home, and we’d start our lesson right as she walked in the door. Finally, we realized this was not working. She gave up orchestra and we went back to our usual Monday night brawl. She had to sacrifice something that seemed so important then but means so little now. FHE, however, is an important part of her life, even though she doesn’t have her own family.

Now, I did not have children with ADHD or with autism. I didn’t have children who rebelled. I did not have to contend with those difficulties in establishing gospel practices. But I do have a testimony that it is possible to do what the prophets have asked us to do. There is some way for each family to follow the prophet. It will look as different from our way as your family looks from our family.

These practices have blessed our home and our family more than I can express. We have not been without troubles and problems, some of them serious, debilitating problems that have kept us up late at night and cost us many tears, but the foundation of those practices has kept us from falling completely apart when these difficult trials have threatened and continue to threaten us, when they have surrounded us with the mists of darkness that Lehi talks about in his vision of the tree of life. These practices have helped us to hold to the rod and move forward. Our family motto is “Stay by the tree.” We have so far been able to stay by the tree because we have followed the prophets in these things. [In my mind, this is our motto.]

In the last five years we have seen a huge acceleration in the emphasis the prophets have put on the family and in the family taking responsibility for our own growth in the gospel. Think for just a minute about what the prophets have asked us to do during that time:

  • Sabbath Day (think of the significance of this emphasis given the changes we’ve been directed to do)
  • Come Follow Me for youth
  • Ministering
  • Changes in Melchizedek Priesthood quorums
  • Two-hour church–home centered; church supported gospel study
  • Young men priesthood ordinances and both YM and YW temple opportunities

The speed of these changes almost leaves me breathless as I try to keep up. To do this will not be easy. We will have to sacrifice. Sacrifice for the gospel and our families is nothing new. Think of what Lehi had to sacrifice to have scripture study in his home. He had his life threatened. He had to leave his home, his money, the future comfort of his children. He had to send his sons back to a dangerous city, and Nephi had to kill a man to even obtain the scriptures. I wonder if the promised land would have been a promised land without those brass plates.

Our sacrifices will look different. We may have to give up binge watching the latest season of our favorite TV show, an hour or two in the gym, a vacation, lunch with our friends, and time on social media. We may have to cut back on a hobby or activities we feel our children must be involved in. For me I have to be careful about how much time I spend studying for school or reading books (which is my version of binge watching).

For me and Brian, this new emphasis has been a bit of a challenge. We have had to counsel together and try to find ways to implement Come Follow Me as a couple. It’s been a little hard. We’ve had to just try. We are still counseling about it, but we are trying, and we are committed to keep on trying. Because these sacrifices are not too much to ask.

We are told that we must accept the words of the prophet in all patience and faith. I have always thought of this patience and faith as applying to how we believe the prophets. They may say things we don’t like, so we have to have patience and faith and do them anyway. But as I have prepared for this talk and seen my own struggles as we attempt to implement Come Follow Me in our home, I have thought that we need to have patience with ourselves as we try to follow the prophet. We need to have faith that we can follow the prophet, enough faith that we will keep on trying. And we need to have patience with ourselves as we stumble around, enough patience that we don’t give up.

I trust that God will help us as we open the door to His influence. Christ showed the way. He went about doing good, he gave us an example, and he suffered and sacrificed in our behalf. Because of Him, we can succeed. The older I get, the more I realize how little I bring to the table. All that I am is because of Him. I hope we all turn to Him, giving up what keeps us from Him, and accepting His spirit, and His healing, hoping, changing and transforming power. These new changes in the Church are designed to help us do just that. Let’s take full advantage of them.

 

 

 

“No Other Name”

Much of the work done in this world is meant to save and enrich. First responders enter fiery buildings, administer first aid, and search for and rescue those who are lost. Doctors help us regain and maintain physical health. Psychologists teach us to understand and heal the ways we see and think about the world. Educators make the world more lively and interesting and give us skills to join the world of work.

But, all these are nothing!

There is only one who really saves and enriches—Jesus Christ. Beside him there is “no saviour” (Isa. 43:11). His is the only “name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17). Under His head we “are made free” (Mosiah 5:8). There is simply “none other name given whereby man can be saved” (D&C 18:23).

Carl Block, “Christ in Gethsemane”

Without Christ, without the wonderful plan of happiness—which He makes operative—without his great and atoning sacrifice, nothing—nothing—else would be possible. All the many ways we find help in this world are made possible only through Christ. Technology, psychology, education, medicine, art, literature, music, service—all these and many others—could not enrich and bless us if it were not for Christ. He makes these blessings efficacious and purposeful in our lives. His is the only name! His is the operative name.

In the temple last week I was struck again by the depiction of the creation of the world. I thought of things I enjoy creating—pieces of writing, blankets for my grandchildren, good food (seldom), curriculum for people I love—and compared them to the creation of the world. They don’t come close. God and Christ created the world with complete dedication to us. They created it to fulfill our natural needs and to delight us. They spent much time doing so. They made it better than we needed it to be—simply because they love us. My creations are not that beautiful—nor that selfless. But they remind me of Him—who created a plan for my salvation, my happiness, and my redemption. (See Alma 42:5, 8, 11.)

Given all that He has made possible for me, how can I not give Him all I do, all I think, all I say, all I am, all I become through Him? “Carole M. Stephens, former First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, said: ‘Elder Robert D. Hales taught, “When we make and keep covenants, we are coming out of the world and into the kingdom of God.’

“We are changed. We look different, and we act different. The things we listen to and read and say are different, and what we wear is different because we become daughters [and sons] of God bound to Him by covenant” (Visiting Teaching Message, “Living a Consecrated Life,” Ensign, August 2017).

Making and keeping covenants allows Christ to create us anew. We are not then only made in His image but in His character. We are not defined by money, fitness, housing, achievements, popularity, clothing, intelligence, competition, or status but by the love we know Christ has for us. We feel secure in that love, and we want to do anything—anything—that He asks of us. Our grateful hearts eagerly give up activities, clothing, ideas, media, fear, and negativity that are not compatible with being near Him and with Him. Our hearts naturally turn to others as He makes us a fit instrument in His hands to heal, lift, save, and preserve others with whatever gifts He has given us. Those gifts will become instruments of His grace. And once again, His name will save!

How I love Him! How He loves me!  I “love him, because he first loved” me (1 John 4:19).

Reading

I don’t remember ever not loving reading. Reading has always been one of my favorite activities. I may even be a compulsive reader. I once saw an advertisement for a tote bag. On the front it read,” A day without reading is like a day without . . . . Oh, never mind. I wouldn’t know.” That’s me exactly.

I once had a dream. I dreamed about a mermaid who fell in love with a human. She gave up her voice in order to become one. Every time she took a step, her legs burned like fire. The human fell in love with someone else, so she gave him up and became a spirit. I knew all the details of the dream. It was such a wonderful story. I always meant to write it and sell it. It wasn’t until many years later that I read “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen and realized it was my dream. I must have heard the story somewhere and either dreamed about it or thought I had dreamed it. I was so disappointed. (My love of that story partially accounts for my dislike of the Disney movie. My other reason for disliking the movie comes from the awful thematic content!)

My fourth grade teacher—Mr. Nelson—triggered a huge growth spurt in my love of reading. He gave each of us a file folder with a number of challenges for the year—memorize all the state capitals and the presidents of the United States; pass off certain math facts in a limited time; complete mental math goals; read an issue of the National Geographic; do 5 oral book reports; memorize poetry; do oral reports on a country, president, science subject, and 40 news reports; get 115 100% scores on spelling tests; and finally, make a list of all the books we read during the year. I was on fire. I read and read and read. I could read two of the Childhood of Famous Americans series in a night—200 pages a piece. I read Little Women, The Boxcar Children, Schoolhouse Mystery, Dolly Madison, The Velvet Room, Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, Jane Addams, Miss Hickory, Miracles on Maple Hill, Follow My Leader, Pocahontas, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Homer Price, Call It Courage, etc. To “graduate” from 4th grade summa cum laude, we had to read 7000 pages. I was determined to make that goal. But once I met the goal, I couldn’t stop reading. By the end of the year I had read 23,683 pages!

Miss Buss, my sixth-grade teacher, knew of my love of reading. She kept suggesting to me that I read Little Britches by Ralph Moody. Little Britches!—didn’t sound very interesting. I didn’t read it. Finally, Miss Buss tricked me. She started reading it aloud to our class. I was hooked. I checked the book out of the library and finished it ahead of the class. Then I read the rest of the series. Ralph Moody is still one of my favorites.

We had a bookmobile that stopped in our neighborhood. It was a library on wheels—a big truck-like vehicle that you could walk around inside. It was lined with books. I met the bookmobile every week with my library card and checked out enough books to last me the week.

Later I discovered the classics. I read them voraciously. In school my teachers assigned us books to read. I read them, then during the summer I read everything else the authors of those books had written—all of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Somerset Maugham, John Steinbeck, and much of Theodore Dostoyevsky and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

When I went to college, my parents thought I would major in math. But I knew I couldn’t give up books. I majored in English.  I still read–almost every day. I have started recording my books on Goodreads. I wish I had a list of everything I’ve read.

One of my favorite activities was reading books to my children. We had story time every day after lunch. We read for at least an hour. When the children were young, I often fell asleep while I was reading to them. We read many books, including many of my fourth-grade favorites. Books line our walls and there are bookshelves in every bedroom. Books are my favorite gift—to give and to receive. I think I’ll go read a book.

Jump Ropes and the Hope of America

Every year my elementary school—Ridgecrest Elementary—awarded one sixth grade girl and one sixth grade boy a Hope of America Award. I wanted this award, but there was really nothing I could do to earn it. It was given by the Kiwanis club, and the sixth-grade teachers and the principal nominated the winners. You just had to be good kid and do well in school. Still I thought it would be neat to get this award.

During that year one of my favorite recess activities was jump rope. A group of my friends loved to play doubleDutch jump rope with two long ropes. The people on the ends held both ropes and twirled them in opposite directions.

Double Dutch Jump Rope

The “jumper” ran in between the ropes and jumped them as they alternately came around. As soon as we were dismissed for recess, my friends and I ran to the playground equipment bin to get the ropes. Unfortunately, the sixth grade had only two long ropes, so sometimes other people beat us to the bin and we didn’t get the ropes.

One day we had the brilliant idea of hiding the ropes. In our school we hung up our coats on hooks outside our rooms in the hall—a perfect hiding class. After recess I took both ropes and hid them underneath my coat. We did this for several days.

But then, one day, the unthinkable happened. The two sixth-grade teachers decided to inventory the playground equipment. They took out all the equipment and counted it. They were two long jump ropes short. I felt terrible. I knew I had done something wrong. And, remember, I had to be a good girl to even be considered for the Hope of America award. I wanted to just sneak out at recess and bring the ropes back in without letting anyone know what we had done. But I knew that was wrong too. So, I went to my beloved teacher, Miss Buss, and told her that I had hidden the jump ropes and where they were. She let me go get them and put them back in the playground bin. I didn’t jump rope at recess again for weeks. And I gave up on the Hope of America award. Still, my teacher was kind to me, and I was glad I didn’t have to keep feeling so guilty.

The Hope of America award was given at a special assembly at the end of the year. I walked into our large gymnasium, where hundreds of chairs had been set up, and sat down with my class. To my surprise, I saw my parents in the room and wondered why they were there. Moments later, I heard my name called as the girl who would be awarded the Hope of America. The award read “Presented with honor to Karen Thomas who has demonstrated during this school year the capacity for leadership, the ethical and moral character and the outstanding academic accomplishment which represent Hope of America.”

I still have the award. It. At the beginning of the year, I wanted the award just because it was an award, but at the end of the year, when I actually received the award, it represented to me the importance of courage and of doing what is right. It showed me that weaknesses did not signal failure and that character was more important than other measures of “success.”

 

She Was Praying for Me

It was Christmas of 1979. I was a senior at BYU. I had almost no money, so I decided to type up my great grandmother’s—Grandma Creagh’s—personal history for my family. I had not really liked this grandmother while she was alive. I was only a little girl and she didn’t like me to be noisy. I always thought she was kind of grouchy. But as I began to type up her history, I learned about a different woman. I met someone who loved to pretend and had a wonderful imagination. She loved to write poetry and to sing. She sang in the Mormon Tabernacle choir and at the old Saltair—a theater near the Great Salt Lake where light operas were performed. She worked in the temple and loved it. And she had an interesting love life. She married a man from a good family but who was not good himself. After the birth of her three sons (one of whom was stillborn—a twin to the oldest son), her husband became an alcoholic, and she divorced him. As I wrote her history I felt very strongly that she wanted me to be careful about who I married. She was telling me not to make a mistake. Well, I didn’t get married very soon after that. I did my student teaching, graduated, and taught eighth grade for three years. During that time I met and became engaged to a man named Mark Mills. I thought I was in love with him, but as our engagement progressed, I became very nervous and uncomfortable. Some of his standards I really struggled with. People told me I was too picky. They said I was just nervous by nature and should ignore my feelings. I would go to the temple and feel peace, but I’d come out and feel awful again. Finally, two weeks before we were to get married, I called it off. It was very difficult, but that night as I was driving back to my home (I lived with my mom and dad at the time) I felt very strongly that Grandma Creagh had been praying for me, praying that I wouldn’t marry this wrong person. It was a very sacred experience, one that brought me closer to my great grandmother and to the Lord. I felt a connection to my great grandmother that continues to this day. I look forward to being with her again.

Sisters

My sister Kathryn is 19 months younger than I am. My mom tells me that when I saw her, I said, “Put her back inside your tummy!” I wasn’t exactly thrilled. One day I rocked her so hard in her little cradle that she spilled out of it.

In spite of that inauspicious beginning, I love my sister. Kathryn and I are different in many ways. Kathryn was always a tomboy, and I loved baby dolls and playing house. I wasn’t always happy to have to do active things, but I wanted to be with my sister, so I often gave in. (She gave in sometimes too.) When we lived on our home on 16th east, our road ended in a dead end. At that dead end was a wonderful apple tree. We loved to climb the tree—and to eat the apples. Unfortunately, they were very green, and we became pretty sick. We knew they would make us sick, but we ate them anyway.

Later, we moved to our last family home at 1394 E 7340 So. We were in a brand-new part of our subdivision. At first, not even the roads were finished. We lived on a dirt road. Soon other homes started appearing. And for each new house a deep hole was dug, and all that dirt from the hole was piled into what appeared to us to be mountains. Kathryn and I and Jim and Joanne loved those hills. We climbed them and played on them. We dug holes in them. We got on opposite sides near the top and dug into the hill until our hands met. It was always so exciting when we could grab each other’s hand.

A few lots away behind our home was a small grove of scrub oak. Kathryn and I pretended it was our secret forest. We found little glass bottles, wrote messages to each other, put them in the bottles, and hid them in the forest. We spent hours finding new places to hide the bottles and just playing in our forest.

Further behind our house the land dropped off into a valley. At the bottom of the hill leading to the valley was a stagnant pond. We loved that place. The four older children would ask Mom if we could go “over the hill” (a mile or more away) then we’d head down into the valley. We never worried about getting lost or drowning in the pool. People didn’t worry about those things then. The pond held magic—dragonflies and pollywogs or tadpoles. We took quart canning jars to the pond. scooped up the little tadpoles, and took them home with us. Once home, we got a box, put a shallow dish of water in the box and built a dirt floor around the water. Then we waited and watched—for weeks. Soon little back legs appeared, then little front legs. As the body and legs grew bigger, the tail grew shorter until it finally disappeared and a finger-sized toad appeared and made its way out of the water. We kept them a bit longer until they were about half the size of an adult toad. Then we released them into the garden. (Our yard had lots of toads. None of us were afraid of them. We loved to catch them and hold them.) Watching these toads grow is one of my favorite childhood memories. I always wanted my children to have the same opportunity, but it never happened.

As Kathryn and I grew older and got into junior high and high school, we didn’t do as much together. We were interested in different things. I loved academics and she did well in school but really loved gymnastics. She was good at it. People were often surprised to find out we were sisters. We shared a room in the basement. My half was messy and her half was clean. I think I drove her crazy. Sometimes at night we stayed up late playing Monopoly. We were the only ones in the basement, so if we heard someone on the stairs, we pushed the game under one of our beds, turned the light off, and hopped in bed. Our games would go on forever, because neither of us could stand for the other person to lose. We kept loaning each other money.

Finally. I went to BYU and the next year she went to Ricks College. I sent her “care packages” with fun little things and candy so she wouldn’t be lonely. After she graduated from Ricks she came to BYU. We didn’t see each other much, but at Christmas we got together and made sugar cookies to give to friends. I was living in the German house at the time, and we had a nice kitchen in the basement (two kitchens in the house) and we had a fun time with the cookies.

We both graduated that next April—I with my bachelor’s degree in English and Kathryn with an associate’s in family history. She got married that summer to David Carlton Moon and soon had Kelsey. I loved babysitting Kelsey and letting Kathryn and Dave take a break from their little apartment in Wymount at BYU.

Kathryn has become one of my heroes. She is compassionate, generous, industrious, humble, and diligent. The Lord richly blessed my when He gave me such a sister.

 

 

 

“You Already Know”

During my seminary years I participated in Seminary Bowl. Seminary Bowl was a quiz game that consisted of four quarters including questions about the subject of study during that year. The moderator asked a question and the first one to hit the buzzer got to answer. Each questions was followed up by a bonus questions that the team consulted about and then answered. Each quarter also included finding scripture mastery scriptures. The moderator gave a hint about the scripture. The first team to have all four members lift their scriptures with their finger in the correct scripture won the points for that scripture. A team could consist of any number of people, but only four played at a time. We competed against other schools of the same or similar size as ours.

I loved Seminary Bowl. My team met three times a week after school in the seminary building to study, practice scripture mastery and to simulate games. I loved my teammates, and I loved studying the gospel. My team traveled to other schools and other teams traveled to ours. My team was usually either first or second in our region. (There were lots more guys on the team than girls.)

One day in the middle of our Church History/Doctrine and Covenants year, I thought, “I ought to find out if all this is true.” I had never really asked before. I just lived the gospel and obeyed the commandments, but I didn’t think to ask if the Church was true or if Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon true.

I thought about this for some time and decided I would just ask the Lord. I knelt by my bed that night and prayed to know if everything I had been taught and had been living was true. I didn’t get a light or a warm feeling, but I heard the words in my mind, “You already know it is true.” I realized then that I did know. I didn’t need an overwhelming answer. I’d had my answer for a long time. I still have my answer.

The Furry, White Coat

In my 4th or 5th grade year, my parents bought me a new winter coat. I walked a mile or so to school every day and needed something to wear to keep me warm and dry. My Mom and I went to the Cottonwood Mall and searched through store after store. Finally I found the perfect coat. It was knee length, made from off-white faux fur with darker, thicker fur around the cuffs and hood. It buttoned down the front. I loved the coat. During the fall (when it wasn’t cold enough to wear it to school) I took it out of my closet almost every day and tried it on.

Finally, the great day came! It was cold—and snowing. I could even wear the hood! I donned my beautiful coat and walked to school. I felt like a princess!

My euphoria lasted about a week. Every day I loved wearing my coat. But the next week, the unthinkable happened. A girl in my ward, just four houses away from my home, showed up at school with the exact same coat. I was devastated—and very mad! How could she buy my coat? It was my coat. I refused to walk with her to school and spent the day in a dark mood. I soon made up with my friend, but after that, the coat was never quite the same. It was the same coat, but I was not the same.

Looking back on this experience, I can see that I was full of pride. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: ‘Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.’ (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” General Conference, April 1989).

I was pitting my coat against my friend’s coat. If she had the same coat I had, then my coat was no longer “better.” It saw just the “same.” I could not be superior! At least part of my “joy” in the coat had been that no one else had it, not in the coat itself—a classic example of pride.

Thoughts on Eve

Have you ever been asked to do something that you know nothing about? Imagine that you have been living in a beautiful garden, after having come straight from the presence of God, but also having forgotten everything you learned while you were with Him. Now you have made a decision to leave the garden so that you can know good from evil and have children. You find yourself in a lone and dreary world.

We are all familiar with this story of our mother Eve, but we don’t often think about what the rest of her life was like. There was so much she didn’t know and hadn’t experienced. She was the first woman to have a baby. She was the first woman to experience colic, sleepless nights, and long days. She was the first woman to deal with hormones and morning sickness. She was the first woman to see death. So many firsts—of joy and sorrow.

Her husband Adam lived to be 930 years old; as far as we know her years were comparable. How many children did she have during those years? How tired did she get? How many problems did she face?

And she and Adam did all this alone. She had no peers; no other women of her generation, and more importantly, no earthly mother. She had no one to walk along the canal with, no one to trade babysitting with, no one to bring her a sodalicious when she was exhausted (and surely she was).

She had no mother to call when her baby had an ear infection or she wasn’t sure how to handle a particular child or she forgot how to cook the turkey for Thanksgiving. I’m sure her daughters eventually became her friends. But mothers never forget that they are mothers.

Imagine how she felt when one of her sons killed another of her sons. Did this act bring her close to her grave as Laman and Lemuel’s did to Sariah? Was this the first time she had seen death or had she seen children die of disease or accidents? How did she feel when she saw many of her children turn away from the truths she so diligently taught them? Scripture records that many of her children loved Satan more than God. Many of us know the pain of a rebellious child, and she saw generations of it.

But Eve remained faithful. She did not give up. She did not give up on herself, the Lord, or her children. We know she has been exalted. Joseph F. Smith saw Jesus minister in the spirit world to “our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God” (D&C 138:39).

How did this happen? How did Eve face and overcome all these trials for so many years? How did she remain faithful in the face of such adversity? Why didn’t she turn away from God? Before we explore the answer to these questions, I want to look at another woman I admire. Her name is Bonnie.

Bonnie was 6 years old when she heard her mother telling her dad that she was carrying another man’s child. That Christmas Eve her mother left. Bonnie was raised by her father and her grandmother. Her father was not interested in the Church and didn’t promote activity among his children. He was a train engineer; often away from home. The home was dirty. If Bonnie got up during the night, she stepped on bugs with every step. And her home was full of contention. Two of her sisters chased each other with knives and threatened to kill each other. Her older sister had two illegitimate children who lived in their home. Her sister did not take care of the children. Bonnie would come home after school and change diapers which had not been changed all day and feed children who were crying with hunger.

Her grandmother was a saving grace. She worked in the Salt Lake temple and taught Bonnie the gospel. And she introduced her to the piano, giving her music that even today comforts her. Somehow, she stumbled through these early years, maintaining some activity in the Church. At age 17 she married her sweetheart Gordon in the temple. Gordon’s father had died when he was 6 years old. Bonnie had not been reared by a mother and Gordon had not been reared by a father. Statistically, the odds were stacked against them. They should have failed.

And indeed, things at first were a little rocky as far as their commitment to the gospel. Every Sunday they went to church, but after church they went to Lagoon and tried to win dishes for their home.

Gordon had a hard time finding good work, so when he finally found a job in Wyoming, they were overjoyed and excited to learn about their new home. Every Sunday after Sunday school (not block system) they’d take off and go driving to see the area. One Sunday, Bonnie asked a life-changing question: “Do you know how many weeks it’s been since we went to sacrament meeting?” When she told him it had been six weeks, he was shocked. The two decided that they would not miss sacrament meeting again. As far as I know, they didn’t.

They went on to have 7 children. The youngest one is intellectually handicapped. The other six married in the temple, and although they have had their share of life’s challenges—some of them very serious—they are all true to the covenants they have made. So far 24 of their 29 grandchildren have been endowed. Gordon and Bonnie had daily family scripture study and family prayer, and weekly home evening. They accepted callings and served two missions. Their handicapped son still lives with them. Gordon is now in his 80s and suffers from Alzheimers. Bonnie carries on, taking care of her handicapped son and her ailing husband. It is tiring work, but she does it with grace and often gratitude. She regularly sends letters to her children bearing her testimony of God’s goodness and of her love for them. Bonnie reminds me of a scripture in Isaiah 58. It describes the blessings of those who are faithful: “thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” Bonnie laid the foundation for many generations, and restored the paths of the gospel for her posterity to walk in.

Bonnie is my mother. I’ll be forever grateful to her for the blessing she gave me and now my children and grandchildren. How did she, a girl from such a dysfunctional family become a woman so committed to the Lord? How did she change the path of her family so dramatically?

One of the qualities I admire in both these women is their relationship with the Lord. Both of them turned often to Him in prayer. Scripture tell us that “Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord.” They prayed—often and fervently—and He answered. Prayer was their lifeline and their comfort. Prayer brought them to God and prayer helped them become like Him.

I’m sure Eve felt deeply this call to pray. Remember all that she suffered? All that she did not know?  I can imagine her on her knees pleading with the Lord—often, continually. I’m sure she often sought the Lord’s guidance. Think of how much she had to learn! And no one to teach her but the Lord.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” My mother often felt like this. As she struggled to teach her family in a gospel tradition that was new to her, as she struggled to overcome habits and feelings that were part of her early years, she always sought the Lord in prayer. I often found her on her knees, pleading with the Lord.

Where would we be without prayer? Prayer strengthens our faith. It gives us answers and comfort. It connects us to the love of our Father.  It makes us one with Him and His desires for us. Elder Uceda said in the last conference: At the very moment we say, “Father in Heaven,” He hears our prayers and is sensitive to us and our needs. . . . Love and mercy are with Him the very moment you say, “Father in Heaven.”

One day last July, my husband and I were driving to BYU to receive a call from a stake presidency in a YSA stake there. We felt excited and more than a little nervous. On the way I received a phone call from my son who lives in Texas. His wife was miscarrying the little child she was carrying. They were alone with no family nearby and they were heartbroken. I was heartbroken with them—and very helpless. On the way home from the interview my daughter called from Las Vegas. She had gone there with a group of friends to celebrate a friend’s birthday and had attended a concert. The concert was so bad that she could not bear to stay. She left and called me. Her friends had stayed in the concert. I tried to keep her on the phone with me but her phone was dying. She was alone—a single woman—in Las Vegas. I felt grateful for her courage and scared to death for her safety. And again, I felt helpless. So many different emotions. I thought there was nothing I could do. But I was wrong. I could pray. I could plead with my father, who is also the father of my son, daughter-in-law, and daughter. I could ask him to send angels to bless and comfort my children. He gave me—and my family—His love and mercy the moment I said, “Heavenly Father.”

Just a few weeks ago I was listening to one of my daughter’s musical videos on YouTube. As often happens, the next video started before I caught it to stop it. I heard the voice of a young woman, a member of the Church who is gay. She told of her denial, her struggle, and finally her thoughts of suicide. Surely, she thought, the Lord would rather have me die than sin, wouldn’t He?  Her therapist, with tears in his eyes, told her to ask the Lord what he thought about her attraction to women. She agreed and went home to ask what she said was the most heartfelt prayer of her life. She did not receive an overwhelming answer, but she did feel peace. She felt that God loved her and that it wasn’t her fault and she didn’t choose this situation. These feelings prompted her to ask, “How am I going to be able to do this?” The answer came simply and clearly: “Just stay with me.”

What a powerful message. “Just stay with me.” We mustn’t let busyness or fear or indifference or anger or sin or discouragement keep us from the Lord. Everything is better when we are with Him. Our whole purpose is to come unto Him. I testify that prayer is one powerful way to come to Him. Testimony.

(Talk given at Stake Conference–January 22, 2017)

Umbrellas and Elevens (Not Elevenses)

When I began to go to school, kindergarten was held for six weeks in the summer before your 1st grade year. Because my birthday is in October, I started kindergarten a mere four months before I turned 7.* My dad at that time had just started working for General Mills. They often had contests or promotions and the employees got prizes. One of the promotions was a large, long umbrella. My dad got several of them, and I loved carrying one of them to school (in the middle of summer in Utah. I rarely needed it. I just took it anyway).

My school, Mountain View Elementary, was at the bottom of a big hill. The kindergarten class was on the east side of the building. While kindergarten was in session no other grades attended school. Outside our rooms was a playground with a large slide and swingset. One day I arrived at school and began to play on the slide. (We wore dresses to school, so I had to hold my skirt down while I went down the slide.)

I was soon distracted from this pursuit by a bunch of boys in my class. I don’t remember if they started teasing me or I started teasing them, but pretty soon I was poking them with the pointy tip of my big umbrella. The boys were mad. They ran into the school and told the teacher. I was terrified. I was—I thought—a good girl, and I didn’t want to get in trouble. It seemed an inauspicious beginning to a long educational career. (Of course, I didn’t think about it that way then. I just didn’t like being in trouble.) To avoid any unpleasantries back in the classroom, I left my umbrella outside, hanging on the door handle.

At recess I rushed outside to rescue my umbrella. It had disappeared! I was devastated. I loved my umbrella, and I didn’t want to have to tell my mom and dad what happened. I spent the rest of my short half-day class worrying about my umbrella. As soon as school let out, I went outside. I saw some older boys on a nearby street. They had my umbrella. I don’t remember if I talked to the boys, or my friends or teacher did, but I got my umbrella back. I was so relieved!

About that same time I made a marvelous discovery about numbers. I don’t remember if I was at school or if my mom taught me this wonderful property. I could count quite high, but this particular day I learned that 11 came not after 10 just as some arbitrary next number. Instead 11 was part of a marvelous design. It was starting over again with a “1”. Twenty-one and 22 did the same thing. So did 101. I could count as high as I wanted if I just kept starting over. I still remember this property of numbers clicking in my mind. I still see that day as a bright one, full of light. That day symbolizes me the joy of learning and discovery. It was a precursor of much joy to come.

*I attribute this late start to much of my success in life. As a young school teacher I read a book called School Can Wait, published by BYU Press. It was a report of a meta-study about early school. The book presented many conclusions, but one of the ones I remember most was this one: the later a child is exposed to a peer group, the less likely they are to be influenced by that peer group when they are in their teen years.