Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Refiner's Fire

Recently, I have had the opportunity to visit many sick women in our congregation. One such sister recently passed away. She had been battling increasing health problems for years. Her doctors could never quite figure out what was wrong, and so she had to go in for test after test, change medication after medication. As with many physical illnesses, this constant uncertainty and pain became an emotional and financial strain for her and her family. Why did this sweet woman have to go through years of ailment only to pass away suddenly? Why does a loving Heavenly Father, who is supposed to love us enough to give us everything, also allow us -- and sometimes plan for us -- to suffer?

If we look to the scriptures, we know it cannot be punishment for wrongdoing. Look to Job, a man who was "cperfect and dupright, and one that efeared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1, Old Testament). He was smitten with all manner of afflictions. But surely he didn't deserve them. Let us also examine the lives of the Apostles. We read in Acts that many of the Apostles were beaten, stoned, and finally slain because of their exceeding faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. How could these men, who had given up everything to follow their Lord, deserve such tribulation? Furthermore, in the relatively recent year of 1813, a 7-year-old  boy named Joseph Smith, who would later be called as a prophet much like Job, was the victim of a life-threatening infection in his leg. Although this infection was eventually overcome through an experimental surgery, Joseph Smith's life, especially after he was called to be a prophet, was rife with adversity. These adversities included physical harm, public persecution, the death of children, and unfair incarceration. That is not even to touch upon the wars, crimes, and atrocities happening around the world.

Many people have one simple question: If there is a God, and He truly does love us, why do these things happen?

In order to answer this question, we'll have to back up a few years...or millennia. Back to before the world was even created. Did you know that before we came to this earth, we actually lived with our Father in Heaven? Not only that, but we knew Him, and He knew us. And He loved us, more than we would ever be able to imagine. Because He loves us so much, and because He is all-powerful and has the capacity to do so, He created a plan so that we could have everything He does. Do not our earthly father want that as well? That we may have everything he has and more? Our Father in Heaven feels the same way. Thus was presented the Plan of Salvation.

"The plan of salvation presented to and accepted by us in our premortal state includes a probationary period on earth, during which we experience opposites, make choices, learn the consequences thereof, and prepare to return to the presence of God. Experiencing adversity is an essential part of the process. Knowing this, we elected to come into mortality." Ronald E. Poelman

I feel like this topic is too in-depth for one post, so my next couple posts will be about the role of adversity in our lives and how they can actually make us better if we live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because that is why we have them. To help us reach our potential.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tender Mercy Tuesday

Answers to prayers (and tender mercies) often come in the form of other people. One such example occurred in my life not too long ago. How grateful I am for prayer and the Christlike actions of others!

This particular tender mercy starts on a dark and dreary Friday night. Actually, it wasn't too dreary, but it sure was dark. We were driving on a narrow stretch of road that was surrounded by empty factories. Up ahead was an even narrower neck of road that sloped up to cross a line of railroad tracks and then back down again. This, combined with the curve of the road, makes it difficult for the driver to see the pavement as he/she drives over the tracks. The neck is also so narrow that it is inadvisable for two cars to drive over it at the same time.

Anyway, we were driving on this road  we came to these railroad tracks. I slowed down as I saw a truck coming in the opposite direction, but, having reach the critical point first, I continued driving over the tracks. However, the oncoming truck kept coming as well. Not too panicked, because I had driven over that narrow neck of road at the same time as another car before, I continued driving, but tried to move over to the right as far as I could....which ended up being too far. All of a sudden, my companion, Sister Trevino and I felt and heard a series of violent bumps and bangs. We had gone off the road and onto the tracks! We were over the tracks in only a moment, but we were terrified it had hurt the car. As we cleared the narrow neck of pavement and the street widened, we pulled off to the side and inspected the car. Instantly we heard the sound of air escaping from the back right tire. With dread, we inspected it. Sure enough, the rim had been bent by the pernicious train tracks, and our tire was quickly going flat.

You can probably imagine what happened next. We valiantly tried to change the tire whilst calling everyone possible to help us. Fortunately, the head of our congregation, known as a bishop (to whose home we had been heading in the first place), came to our rescue and we got the temporary tire on without too much trouble.

But wait....was that the tender mercy? That was nice that it?

Our wonderful bishop coming to help us out was a tender mercy in itself, you're right. But Heavenly Father was even kinder to us still.

The next evening, Saturday, we had dinner at a member of our congregation's home. We related the story for entertainment, but they expressed concerned about the tire. We couldn't just leave the temporary tire on, they said. It wouldn't last that long. This worried Sister Trevino and me. Neither of us had dealt with fixing cars or anything like that. We also had very strict missionary rules and the car was owned by our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We were unsure about how to proceed with getting a new tire for the car.

It was then that the father of the home piped up. "Would you let me see the tire? You say the rim is bent? Maybe I could hammer it out."

"Are you sure? You don't have to --"

"Yeah, let me try. It might not fix the tire completely, but we can see, can't we?"

We led this sainted brother out to our car, unloaded the original tire from the trunk, and left him to inspect it. We left the home, leaving the tire in his hands, not too long later.

The next day was Sunday. As we prepared for and attended church, I began to worry more and more about replacing the tire. I had never dealt with car repairs myself  before (I'm only 21! I had always been content to let my dad take care of these things). I wan't sure who to call, where to go, or how to go about it. We had already driven quite a bit on the temporary tire by this time. We would have to get it replaced soon.

I was standing by the door of a classroom in our church building when the member from the night before came up to me. "Can I have your car keys?"


"I think I fixed your tire. I'll put it back on and put your other tire back in your trunk and get it all taken care of before the end of church."


"Of course! I'll just need your keys to open the trunk."

I handed over my keys and continued going about my normal Sabbath business. After church, this man came up to me again. "Sister Neilson, you should be all set. I hammered out the tire last night and changed it and then pumped it up. Try it out a little in the parking lot, but I think it should be okay."

We could hardly believe it. We discovered that this man had worked on our tire all through the night so that he could have it ready for us by Sunday. He then changed our tire and fixed it during church so we wouldn't have to stress about it at all. What a blessing it is to be around such wonderful people, people who are willing to expend time and energy to receive absolutely nothing in return, just because they can see someone else in need. Much like Christ, who healed on the Sabbath, which one can only imagine took a toll on His energy as well.

I said many a-prayer between the time we went over the tracks and the time it was fixed. The kindness and charity of this member of our congregation was most definitely an answer to them.

What a wonderful example of Christ this man was to us and a wonderful tender mercy.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Testimony Hill

It was a sticky hot day here in the South and Sister Manes (my companion) and I were right in the middle of a Bike Week. Yes, a Bike Week is exactly what it sounds like -- we do not have use of a car, so travel is either bikes, walking, or kind members of our congregation. Not only do we as missionaries have the opportunity to build our knowledge and love of the Lord, but our leg muscles as well. In skirts. No distance is too great, no humidity too dense, no road too narrow, nor mosquito too pesky to stop us from fulfilling our purpose to bring others closer to Christ. Yeah...that is what we tell ourselves. I'll confess, I've whined once or twice during a bike week. But they build character. Anyway, Sister Manes and I were on our bikes. We had an appointment to get to. We perhaps were a little bit late. And we needed to figure out how to get there. Sister Manes pulled out her trusty GPS, typed in the address, and we were off.

Yeah, our bikes are pretty special.
We had been biking for only a short distance when we realized that there was a rather steep hill ahead of us. In fact, it was the steepest hill we had ever biked. And to make that realization even more inviting, the road we were on was quite narrow and relatively busy as well.

At this point, I could do one of two things: jump off my bike and labor up the hill whilst rolling my bike along beside me (off the side of the road), or bike up it. Perhaps it would have been wiser to choose the first option (I'm sure the drivers behind me would have preferred that). But that felt to me like defeat. I was going to conquer it.

I didn't look down as I shifted to first gear. I didn't look up as I came the hill's foot. I didn't look behind me as I pushed down on the pedals, each pump getting harder and harder. And so I rode.

Panting, muscles protesting, I continued up the slope. Cars were lining up behind me and I'm sure drivers were cursing my name, but I paid them no mind. Just a few more pumps...I was almost to the top....Yes! I was at the top! Wait...I expected my required efforts to ease as I rounded what I thought was the top of the hill. But it only took a few more pedals for me to recognize that I was still having to work just as hard to move the bike forward, even though it looked like I had crested the hill. Looking forward, I realized that although the slope had decreased quite a bit, I was still not at its crest. I was completely out of breath, my legs were out of energy, but I had set out to conquer that hill. So I forced my legs to push on the pedals once again. I focused on the spot I thought was the real crest, and continued on. Gasp, pedal, gasp, pedal, gasp, pedal was the pattern in my head. And then, with one last magnificent push, I was at the top. I had conquered the hill.

Alright, Sister Neilson. That was quite a dramatic story, especially for just biking up a hill. But what does it have to do with this whole "Family matters, Gospel of Jesus Christ" thing? You told us they were a progression.

Well, let's evaluate what we've been through so far:

Faith (in Jesus Christ and His Atonement), Repentance (picking up sticks), Baptism (math equations), and the Holy Ghost (colleges and majors). All of these steps lead to each other. Christ has given us one last step in order to allow us to access His Atonement and thus return to live with our Heavenly Father. That is enduring to the end.

The prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon testifies, "Wherefore, if ye shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day. And thus it is. Amen" (1 Nephi 22:31). Furthermore, in the New Testament, Matthew 24:13 says, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." In James 5:11 we read, "Behold, we count them happy which endure." If we exercise faith unto repentance, follow Christ's command to be baptized by proper authority, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and do these things everyday in some form for the rest of our lives, we "shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 2:20). Sometimes the slope may seem steep. Sometimes that last little bit to the crest may seem impossible. But as we put our efforts, faculties, and desires towards following our Savior, we shall be happy, as promised in James. Following Christ is not just a one time deal. We must continue to work, continue to love, continue to strive. It is only through consistently applying His gospel that we can be fully redeemed of our sins and live in His presence again.

We later named that hill "Testimony Hill." I never regretted putting forth that extra effort so I that I can write that I beat it. And built my testimony in the process.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gift of the Holy Ghost: Healing and Help

Not too long ago, in a place not too far away (relatively speaking), I was sitting at a computer, looking up college majors at Brigham Young University. At that time, I was a student at Utah State University. I had chosen to attend Utah State right out of high school for a couple different reasons, but in reality, I had always wanted to go to BYU. I had immensely enjoyed my three semesters at Utah State, but my dream of going to BYU was starting to gnaw at me. Around Christmas time, out of curiosity motivated by mild frustration, I started a superficial exploration of what I'd have to do to transfer to BYU. Scrolling through the majors offered, I saw that BYU offered a linguistics program, which I had been interested in studying early on in my college years. I hadn't pursued it because it had not been offered at Utah State. As my eyes lingered on that particular line of that particular page of that particular website of that particular university, I felt something. Briefly, less than a second long, I felt something like a drop of warmth, peace, and confidence. It dipped through my body, and then was gone.

Although I had not recognized it right then, I have come to realize that that was the Holy Ghost.

In Galatians 5:23-23 it reads, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." In The Book of Mormon we read of a man named Nephi, who was trying to procure a record of scripture for his family. In 1 Nephi 4:6 he writes, "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do." Furthermore, we read in 2 Nephi 32:5, also in The Book of Mormon, "For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do."

"Enter[ing] in by the way" is being baptized, as we discussed in a post not too long ago. After the cleansing gift of baptism, we are able to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which bears record of truth, gives us guidance, strengthens us, and does many more things for us. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is another step in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the subtle promptings of the Holy Ghost is a life-long, daily pursuit. When we follow the Spirit's promptings, we are doing God's will. When we do God's will, there is no way we can go astray.

After exploring tuition costs, programs offered, credit transfers, etc. I made the decision to transfer to BYU. Although I have yet to enter the linguistics program (serving a mission has postponed that for a little while) I am excited and confident that this is the path Heavenly Father wants me to take.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tender Mercy Tuesday

Our Heavenly Father is always blessing us in ways that are so subtle, sometimes we don't recognize them unless we are looking.

A while ago when I was in Concord, North Carolina, I was living with three other sister missionaries. You must understand, we missionaries have a lot of rules. They are good and protect us....but we have a lot. Anyway, some of those rules include only e-mailing our families on Mondays and doing so at computers where companions can see each others screens -- so basically next to each other. For the past several weeks we had had difficulty finding even two computers side-by-side. This made it so one companion had to sit impatiently while the other hurriedly took care of their e-mailing and such. Then we'd have to switch. It was made even more frustrating because we had other errands to run as well, and, because all four of us (two companionships) shared a car, all four missionaries had to be finished  with our e-mailing before we left to do other things. With companions having to wait on each other, it cut deeply into time we could use otherwise.

This particular Monday was one of my last in Concord. I really didn't want to have to anxiously wait for a computer to be able to communicate with my family, and I had to use my remaining allotted time to pack. Before getting out of our car outside the public library in Concord, we missionaries prayed like we usually would whenever we go anywhere. We prayed that each companionship would be able to find computers side-by-side, so we could just focus on and enjoy communicating with our families.

As we entered the library and walked around the bookshelves to the public computers, what did we see? You better believe it. Four wide open computers all in a row. Not only could we e-mail our families all at the same time, but both companionships could be right by one another. What a beautiful tender mercy that our Heavenly Father bestowed on us that day.

It wasn't going to kill us to have to take turns, but Heavenly Father was kind enough to allow this small blessing. Be on the lookout for your own!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

To Fulfill All Righteousness

Have you ever been in a math class (algebra, geometry, calculus, oh my!), watching your teacher work out a a particular type of problem on the whiteboard, and been completely mystified as to why he does a certain step? "Subract the five and then add it to the other side of the equal sign," or something like that? Forehead crinkled, tongue between teeth, you do your best to follow your teacher's example, still confused about why you have to subtract the five from one side of the equal sign and add it to the other. But as you get to the last step, and look back up at the whiteboard to make sure you got the right answer, you say to yourself with pleasant surprise, "Wait a second--that worked! I got the right answer by doing what my teacher told me to. Wow, I guess that step was necessary to get the correct answer!"

We can relate this parable, mundane as it is, to the example that the Greatest Teacher set for us. Our Savior Jesus Christ  has worked out all of our problems for us. He not only knows how to solve our problems, but has felt them Himself and has shown us the steps to overcome them. Sometimes we are not sure why we have to do certain things. But as we follow His example in faith, we come to understand the reasons behind the things He asks us to do.

As with all of the best teacher, Christ has done more than just write the process on the board. He went through the process Himself. One of the essential steps that Christ walked us through in the equation leading to eternal life and being with our families forever is baptism by the proper authority of God. This is demonstrated clearly in Matthew 3:13-15 of the New Testament:

   "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him."

Jesus sought out John the Baptist specifically to be baptized. This is because John had the priesthood authority of God; the priesthood being the power and authority to act in the name of God. John initially protests but Jesus answers that His baptism is necessary to "fulfill all righteousness" -- in essence, to show us what we need to do to return to our Heavenly Father and be with our families. This act is very instructive. Not only do we need to be baptized, but in the proper way (by immersion), and by the proper authority (the priesthood authority of God). Here is a short video that depicts Christ's baptism.

Baptism is the next step in following the path Jesus blazed for us. It is by exhibiting faith and exercising repentance that we come to understand and gain the desire to be baptized. It is through baptism that we are able to open the gate that allows access to the Atoning sacrifice of our Savior.

Even after we are baptized, however, we cannot "cease to labor" (Moroni 9:6, The Book of Mormon). In fact our baptism by water is not even quite complete: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).

Being "born...of the Spirit" is the next step to find our Celestial answer and being with our family forever.

We'll talk about that soon. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pick-Up Sticks

The second principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is repentance, or change to align our will with our Heavenly Father's. Repentance, of course, entails discontinuing sins or wrong choices that we may be making, but also includes improvement, progression, and change. Repentance was explained to me by a wonderful woman, living in Concord, North Carolina. We will call her Lori.

One Thursday in June, a powerful storm swept through the Charlotte area. My missionary duty was in Concord at that time and my missionary companion and I gaped as we went out the morning afterward. Traffic lights were out, power lines were down, but mostly trees -- tall, wide, and otherwise -- had fallen and split everywhere we looked. Some had even fallen on houses, making them not just unfit, but downright dangerous for habitation. The effects could not be cleaned up overnight, so the Saturday after the storm, my companion and I decided to help. Although we were dressed in what we call our 'proselyting clothes' (skirts and dress shoes), we walked up and down neighborhoods, asking if we could help. No one, of course, would allow us to. We were just two girls in skirts and flats. How much could we help anyway? Especially with those huge purses. And what was up with the blue books and name tags?

Finally, after hours of not helping, frustrated at being denied the chance to do manual labor, we drove to another part of town and, seeing a middle-aged woman picking up sticks in her yard, parked, prayed, and purposefully stepped out of the car. She would allow us to help her.

We walked right up to her and said, "Hello! We see you are cleaning up sticks from the storm. So are you just putting them over there in that pile?" And then we started picking up branches, sticks, and twigs that had fallen because of the storm. Sometimes it is better not to ask for permission.

We ended up spending over an hour with that woman, who was, indeed, Lori. She was very sweet and talkative. She asked us all sorts of questions about our missionary work. She was a devoted Christian and her daughters actually had a few Latter-day Saint friends who had served missions like us. After picking up most of the sticks, she invited us in for a water break. We continued our wonderful conversation and talked all about family and how Christ helps us stay on track. We could not have felt more at home. This led to another visit about a week later, in which we invited a member of our congregation to join us.

The member we brought and Lori hit it off at once. We talked a lot about our purpose in this life, which is to learn, grow, and progress, and more about families. We talked about how difficult it can sometimes be to change, and also that often times change, or repentance, is not so much not sinning, but many times improving ourselves. "It's a lot like picking up the sticks from the storm," she said. "Once you pick up the big branches, you start seeing the smaller sticks and then you can pick those up, but you don't really see the small twigs until you've dealt with the big branches."

What a beautifully simple way to illustrate the journey of our lives. Many of us do have big branches that we need to dispose of, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to be forgiven of those things. But many of us don't have an inclination to commit big sins. We've taken care of the large sticks, so now our job is to recognize those small twigs, and work on picking all of those up.

Repentance is a life-long process. Recognizing sin and striving to change, asking for forgiveness for our shortcomings, and recognizing that the Savior is the only one who can save us is critical to following the path that Christ has set for us.  What a blessing that we have this knowledge, so that we can transform into the person our Heavenly Father knows we an be.