Tuesday, October 17, 2017

My Recent Talk

I recently spoke in sacrament meeting and wanted to preserve/share my talk here. Somehow what wasn't quite a 15 minute talk in church . . . looks monstrous all written up. But in speaking, I could say things somewhat more succinctly, tell stories more easily, and, . . . I was working from an outline at the podium, so I likely skipped a smidgen here or there. In any case. My talk:

My sister-in-law recently shared a quote with me. It was from a woman, not of our faith, who was a psychiatrist in a women's health clinic on a college campus. She worked with some women with some serious struggles and was affected deeply by a client’s suicide. In speaking to a friend she said, “You know, I cannot save them . . . All I can do is . . . plant myself at the gates of Hope. Sometimes they come in; sometimes they walk by. But I stand there every day and I call out till my lungs are sore with calling, and beckon and urge them in towards beautiful life and love.”

When our bishop asked me to speak, he wanted me to talk about prophets and apostles and about how listening to and following them has blessed my life. That list is pretty endless – in fact, I've been being blessed by people following the prophets since long before I was born; by my ancestors and Mike's ancestors leaving their countries and everything they knew – suffering death and loss of loved ones and poverty to accept the gospel and come here; by my own grandpa leaving the polygamist colony he grew up in; and by my own dad, who grew up in an inactive home, hearing the call of the prophet to serve a mission, marry in the temple, and become active in the church. So prophets have been blessing me since long before I even came here.

But, as I thought about the topic on a really personal level, I kept coming back to thoughts similar to what was expressed in that first quote because, for me, the prophets and apostles have always stood at the gates of Hope. They have called and beckoned and urged me in until the hope that they have seen has begun to become my own.

President Uchtdorf said:

“There may be times when we must make a courageous decision to have hope even when everything around us contradicts this hope. Like Father Abraham we will 'against hope believe in hope'. Or, as one writer expressed, 'in the depths of winter, we find within us an invincible summer.'”

The prophets and apostles have helped me to discover and believe in that “invincible summer”.

Several months ago my little Hans had just begun army crawling. He couldn't get more than about a foot in any direction. Anyway, on one particular morning at this time, I decided that I was going to get my little boys' bedroom clean. If any of you know my son Jesse, you can maybe imagine what his room looks like. There are motors taken out of nebulizers and electric pencil sharpeners, and light bulbs, and gears and cardboard cut up everywhere and fashioned into computers. So, it's a big job. And I was determined to get it accomplished that morning. My older kids were at school, so I put a show on for my two little girls, dumped a big pile of toys in front of Hans, and I got to work – and nothing was going to distract me until I brought order to that room. I worked away on it for about twenty minutes and was making good progress when I suddenly just had this quiet little thought that I needed to go check on Hans. I didn't want to of course because I was getting this done, but I did step out the door to call, “Summer, is Hans OK?” She replied, “I don't know.” She's only three, but he had been right in front of her, so I thought, “Hm, I better go check.” I ran down the stairs, turned the corner, and Hans's scooting skills had just taken off. He'd made it through our living room, around a corner, and he was – not just kind of close to the staircase leading to our basement – but he was at the stairs with his torso over the edge – reaching for a toy on about the third stair down. One more push with his little feet and he would have tumbled.

Now, I don't know that it would have been devastation. To be honest most of my kids have fallen down some portion of a staircase at one point or another. But, for whatever reason, it wasn't OK, it wasn't a good thing, and the Spirit intervened and told me to go get my little boy.

There were a lot of lessons for me in this little experience, but the thing that stood out to me the most was just this feeling of awe and kind of a marveling that God – who has worlds without number and governs this vast universe . . . was aware of exactly where I was and where my little Hans was and just what we were doing at that exact moment. I just kept picturing my little army-crawling Hansie in relation to EVERYTHING and feeling this overwhelming and renewed sense of comfort and trust that our Heavenly Father really does know and love his children and that what our prophets have said about him being constantly aware of us – where we are, what we are feeling, our worries and fears, and hopes; and about Him being in the details of our lives is true.

Now I know that hearing stories likes this sort of begs the question, “Why doesn't He always intervene?” Why does he often figuratively or literally allow us or our loved ones to fall down those stairs – sometimes to disastrous consequences? I think we can even be tempted to feel a little bitter when we think of the small things where he has intervened and compare that to the horrible things where he hasn't.

There is a quote from Boyd K. Packer that I really love. He says, “Do not suppose God willfully causes that which for his own purposes he permits.”

I love “for his own purposes” and I think that word “permits” is a huge key because he doesn't cause terrible things, and he never takes our agency. But we know that he DOES intervene in our lives. And if we don't know that, then we haven't been paying attention – in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones, or in the stories in the scriptures – because he very often warns us of danger, stops us from going down certain paths, closes windows, opens doors, or sends angels and mortals at crossroads in our lives. I think many of us have even been saved from sin and serious error – or stopped from continuing in that wrong path – by the Lord intervening at the right moment.

So, when he doesn't intervene, we must believe that what the prophets and apostles and scriptures have said about all things working for our good to be true. We must believe that he sees how he can bring about his purposes in our lives.

There are so many great examples of this, and I wish we were in a classroom and could bring up personal and scriptural stories where he has and hasn't intervened and what that has meant. One that I have been thinking about lately occurs in the book of Mosiah. In chapter 23, Abinadi has just warned wicked King Noah and his priests to repent. Noah, of course, has had no interest in repenting, but Alma listened. He repented, and wrote down what Abinadi taught, and began preaching the gospel and baptizing until soon there were about 400 people who were gathering together and learning and increasing in light and knowledge of God and his truths. Noah finds out about this and sends an army to destroy Alma and his people. But the Lord intervenes. He warns Alma that Noah is coming and tells them to leave, and they escape this destruction.

So it's interesting to me that several verses later, when they have found a new land, and they are thriving and happy, and a Lamanite army is in the land, the Lord doesn't do the same thing. He doesn't stop this army from discovering Alma and his people and from bringing tremendous hardship and misery on them. But through that, not only did they develop tremendous faith, but it got them to leave this place where they were comfortable and get back to where the Lord needed them – which was with the other Nephites who they hadn't seen for several generations, and where the Lord had important work for Alma, and for his son Alma to do. But also, it gave all of us some of the most beautiful and comforting scripture reassuring us that Christ can lift our burdens and make our trials light.

In our own lives it sometimes feels impossible to believe that certain wrongs could ever be turned for our good, but it's important to understand and believe that Heavenly Father sees all – that he's not limited to the linear, mortal perspective that we are. I'm constantly gathering scriptures and quotes about this because it comforts me to know that there is nothing that will happen in my life that will catch him off guard. There is nothing that will occur that will have him saying, “Shoot. I know I made her a lot of promises of eternal happiness, but I didn't see that coming. So . . . things are pretty much ruined for her now.”

In the scriptures he tells us “all things are present with me”, and that he “knoweth all things”. He tells us, “I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.” We are assured that “he knoweth . . . all things which shall befall us” and that “past, present and future . . . are continually before the Lord.” (Moses 1:6, 2 Ne. 9:20, Abraham 2:8, Hel. 8:8, D&C 130:7)

President Uchtdorf tells us, “He knows what your future holds.”

And one of my very favorite quotes from Elder Eyring says:

“There is a God. He is our Father. He really knows us. He knows the future. I don't know how He knows it in such detail, but He knows the future. He knows every challenge ahead of you. He knows every opportunity ahead of you.”

He also says:

“Because you are so valuable, some of your trials may be severe. You need never be discouraged or afraid. The way through difficulties has always been prepared for you.”

I love that comfort that he sees all and has already prepared the way through for us.

Still, at times, I know it can almost seem blasphemous to suggest that certain terrible things He could ever use towards His purposes in our lives. But we need to remember that He doesn't cause evil; but that this is exactly why Satan can't win – why his power is so minuscule compared to Christ's. Because anything Satan does to us here – whether it's horrible wrongs against us or even tempting us to sin, when we turn to God, he can take all those things and turn them to our glory. And nothing is exempt. No matter how hard it might be for us to see that possibility.

That's his infinite atonement. That's what infinite means. His atonement transforms us. It heals us. So that nothing that befalls us here – or even that we wrongly do – he can't turn for our good and the good of others.

I think all the time about Joseph of Egypt. We see his story from this comfortable future vantage point where everything worked out great: he became this powerful leader, he saved his family, and he eventually saw his father again. But, when we look at it from that perspective we miss the terror of what he had to actually live through – trying to choose faith over fear and living day to day through it with out knowing the end; just like we have to do with our lives.

You know, he was only 17 when he was torn, unexpectedly, from everything he knew and everyone he loved – with no way to send word to anyone back home. He was sold to slave-traders, by his own brothers and sent to a country where I doubt he even knew the language. And once things finally started getting a little better for him, the lies and wicked choices of another person sent him to an Egyptian prison – which I can't imagine would be a pleasant place. And it wasn't as if he were there for a few days. He was there for over two years, two years without knowing that anything would ever change, without knowing that he wouldn't spend the rest of his life in an Egyptian prison.

And the Lord COULD have intervened. Easily. He could have prompted Jacob not to send Joseph to go check on his brothers that day. He could have sent a servant or neighbor along at the right moment to see what was happening. And I know He grieved at the terrible things Joseph's brothers were doing, and at the pain and fear he knew Joseph would have ahead, and at the horrible sorrow his dad would feel believing that his son was dead for years and years.

But He didn't intervene. He didn't intervene because He saw what this would allow and what and who He could make Joseph into through this experience.

Brothers and Sisters, the most supreme act – equal or next to the suffering in Gethsemane, our Savior's dying for us and subsequent resurrection – was only brought about after and through betrayal, lies, false judgments, beatings, and a horrific death inflicted on him by others.

Our Savior knows better than anyone else of His power to turn even the most awful things to good. He knows that he has the power to transform even the most horrible things so that they lead us to learn of hope, to trust in Him, to understand the power of forgiveness, and to ultimately be made glorious and full of joy.

He is aware of us. Every moment. Just as he was of my little Hans at the top of the staircase that morning. He does intervene in our lives. He saves us from hardship, disaster and pain far more often than we even know.

But when he does not, when he doesn't: send an angel to tell our child to repent like he did for Alma's or send someone to stop an abuse or disaster; when he does allow us to fall down those stairs . . . He will not leave us there. He won't allow either life and the natural disasters and diseases that are part of that, or Satan and his minions ultimate control.

He gives us agency. He allows us choice. But whether now or in a time to come, we will see, as President Benson has assured us, that “He will not leave one thing left undone” for each of us.

The sooner we turn to Him and look to Him and listen to the countless calls from himself and his prophets both ancient and modern to fear not – no matter the storms – the sooner He can fill us with hope and peace and the light we need to press on through whatever will come in our lives – trusting that He can make it serve his purposes for us and for those we love.

There is a scripture in Rev. 2:10 that says, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.” He doesn't quantify that. He doesn't say, “Fear the things brought about by others sinning against you”.” Or “Fear the things brought about by your loved ones making poor choices.” He says, “Fear NONE of those things which thou shalt suffer”.

This plan that I chose – and that you chose – James E. Talmage called “infinitely superior” to any designs or plans of Satan's. Not just a little better. We chose a plan that is infinitely superior. I know this is true. I've gained this testimony not only by living through my own experiences where things didn't look as if they could ever possibly be turned for good, but also by listening to and trusting the words of our prophets and apostles until their testimonies of our Savior and the infinite hope that he always holds out to us, has become my own testimony. I treasure it. And I offer it to all of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Linn said...

All I can do is sit here speechless. Because this is masterful and beautiful and I feel privileged to have read it. When you are asked to speak in church again, can you text me? I'm serious. I would give anything to hear this directly from you. Wowzers.

Beautify Pacify said...

Dearest Nancy, I am quite far from the word of the Apostles, I do not read the Bible, I am not knowledgeable in the Scriptures. But I get a part of this though. And it is amazing that I do! I get that you are a person that shows all the benevolence and good that lies in the human spirit.I get that we do get saved, so often. Your little Hansy crawling towards danger and being stopped at the right time: how many times have I felt or witnessed that. And how many times have I thought, from the bottom of my somehow miscreant heart and soul, that we are protected and watched. And I get that we must not fear. Because I have had this feeling so often: that things can't happen without a plan, that hardship often paves the way to something else. Because all humans strive and fight and often get something else in return: a different life, a better heart, a stronger soul...Keep shining your beautiful light Nancy; this is an uplifting talk that you have written, and it reaches out beyond the circle of your immediate friends and fellow believers.

Kara said...

💙beautifully written and portrayed.

Nancy said...

As ever -- thank you Linn! So much. And I'm touched that you would want to hear me speak (though I get flustered and talk embarrassingly fast when I speak and the last time I even did was six years ago . . . so it may be awhile before it happens again :)). All the same, I'm touched by your faith in me -- that I'd be able to tap into the spirit and share something worth hearing. That's what I always pray. So thank you!

Nancy said...

Oh Val. Your comment was more beautiful than that whole talk I put together. It makes my soul feel like flying when I hear/see this light and common hope and truth that seems to undeniably spread through all of humanity. So many close themselves off to it and I marvel that you so naturally just feel and sense the good at the root of all this living. Hope you are well. Love to you!

Nancy said...

Thank you Kara! 😘

Marilyn said...

Oh, this was the best of all. I was so anxious to read it, and kept meaning to text you and nag you to send it, so I was so happy to find it here! :) I love this talk. So wise and perfect, and it still sounds like YOU! I love the way you can speak eloquently without sounding stilted. I love that little story about Hansie and the stairs. And the compassionate, faithful viewpoint you found for dealing with the "but if not" situations. I feel like I should just print this out and read it through about once a week, to remind myself to fear not. And to hold on to hope.

Such a beautiful talk. I love you!

Nancy said...

And of course, talking with you, Marilyn, has helped, as always, flesh out and develop so many of my spiritual thoughts!

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