Why I believe

I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve been a member since I was baptized at eight. I grew up in Utah and currently live in Arizona. I’ve experienced Mormon culture as I’ve participated in church. I want to talk about the  challenges and benefits I’ve experienced as a member.

Jesus Christ and Thomas
Jesus Christ and Thomas

Being a Mormon is challenging. There are plenty of doctrines and commandments to try to follow. I believe God expects me to continually improve. I not only do my best, I also acknowledge that my own efforts will never be enough. Only Jesus Christ has the power to overcome my human nature, so I must develop a relationship with him and learn how to connect with his limitless power. Sometimes I get bogged down in my “to-do’s” and feel distanced from God. Maybe I don’t know if what I’m accomplishing is really enough to qualify as my best effort and I wonder if I’ll still be good enough. I keep finding pride in myself and sometimes despair of my ability to be fixed. Some of the hardest times are challenges that seem to occur for no reason. I struggle to get through periods where I feel less enlightened, less connected to God, and less inspired. It’s hard to keep up the effort when my reasons to continue are based on trust and past experiences.

I may seem like a faithful Mormon, but I still struggle with the basics in the life I’ve chosen. I have a beautiful family of five children and a loving husband, which is my life’s dream. Despite this, I regularly feel overwhelmed, unable to keep up with the demands of caring for my family, including housework. Part of me still puts too much emphasis on outward appearances of success. If I seem to be accomplishing what I am asked I get asked to do more. I want to be able to accomplish more, but maybe I still struggle with doing what I’m working on now. I don’t feel like I regularly receive answers to my prayers, more often I go along and feel okay about my direction and once in awhile (if I pay attention) notice blessings along the way. I do feel the spirit of God in my home regularly, which is my most tangible connection to God. I would love to experience the peace and joy the gospel promises, but often I find myself reminding myself that life is mostly enduring.

One challenge of church membership I want to talk about is interacting with other members. The Mormon church welcomes anyone to follow the steps of faith, repentance, and baptism. Because all are invited, inevitably the members are anywhere on the road of discipleship. In the church, I’ve met some of the nicest people of my life. I see people that I admire and would like to emulate. But most of the members are regular people, sometimes shallow, easily caught up in appearances, with a tendency to gossip. Most members are so busy living our lives that actual deep friendships are rare. I tend to keep my own barriers to prevent a relationship being able to hurt me, which means if someone says or does something that hurts my feelings, I can brush it off. If I serve and expect something in return, I will probably be disappointed. When I am struggling, I wish there were more people out there to help lift me. Yet, the road of discipleship has always been lonely. It is not the yellow brick road with friends by your side. Since everyone is at a different place along their own narrow path, your challenges are usually yours to face alone.

So far, when my faith has ebbed and I feel unable to go on, there is still a conviction underneath that swells up again and carries me forward. I may not understand everything about my life direction, but any alternative I pursue doesn’t bring me the peace I seek.

PhoenixTempleStormy

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique. It claims things like being the only authorized church representing Jesus Christ on the earth, Divine inspiration and revelations, living prophets, angelic reception of priesthood authority, the imminent return of Jesus Christ, etc. The doctrines of the church are both fantastic and incredible, unbelievable to some and inspiring to others. For example, the church teaches that families are eternal. Our very concept of God is different, because we believe God is our literal Father and that we can someday live with God and be fathers and mothers in His extended family. Essentially, we believe in a God who is part of a relationship that connects Him eternally with us.

The demands and fantastic doctrines of the Mormon church can be hard to accept, yet they are the element that draws me in. Who would be so audacious as to say they were the only ones with authority to administer a church in Jesus’ name? Only a church who had been told so by God. Why would a church demand so much? Jesus said, “be ye therefore perfect.” Only God would. We struggle to realize happy family relationships, yet cling to the promise that happy families and healed relationships are one of the rewards of heaven. The unique ordinances of baptism and temples, as well as the doctrine of eternal families isn’t offered anywhere else. I don’t want to get into apologetics, and obviously there are lots of opinions about Mormon beliefs from inside and outside of the church. Still, I feel the spirit when I talk about these things, so for me they are true. The scriptures command baptism, and only baptism under proper authority will count. Despite the challenging nature of my beliefs, I believe that the rewards of this lifestyle more than surpass the demands. My own personal spiritual experiences have been positive, even sometimes overwhelming. To me, that is real.

Today I had a prayer answered. I have been praying to see how miracles still occur in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At our stake conference, Elder Gay shared his testimony that Jesus Christ lives and really directs this church. He shared an experience where he gave a blessing to a young man who had been in a motocross accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. Three weeks after the blessing, the young man was able to walk. He shared a few other experiences, all of which felt powerful to me and directly answered my recent request. No, I didn’t see a miracle. I may not be worthy of that. I hope to be someday. But I know that the leaders of the church are good enough to ask for miracles and see them happen.

One obvious benefit I see from living the gospel is happy children. the strictness of living a life according to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ help me provide my children a happy childhood and values that lead to success. while I don’t personally feel happy every day, I have a two year old who daily says, “I love you mommy. You are the best mommy.” My 13 month old still thinks his world revolves around me. I can pick him up and hold him close and just soak in his sweetness. My other children are cute and obnoxious by turns, as children usually are, so sometimes I enjoy being with them and other times I can’t stand them any more and ask my husband to take over. My own parents were able to give me a happy childhood despite their own shortcomings, which I treasure. So while I don’t feel happy all the time, when I look back over the past, my life has been happy. I don’t have regrets and there are lots of positive memories. Following the gospel has allowed me to experience that happiness.

I love that God knows me better than I know myself, that He sees where I am, and plans for my success despite my imperfections. I love the principles that have changed the direction of my life. I love the bridge between the divine and the messy reality of human existence. I love Jesus Christ, whose message is eternally of hope. Hope for all mankind. Hope for those who are lost, or struggling, or trying and failing. Or seem good outside but still need so much help inside. I love the church despite all of the imperfections of the real people I worship with on Sunday. I believe The Church of Jesus Christ is what it claims: the only church directed by Jesus Christ and representing Him on the earth.

I’ve been inspired by Nikki’s thoughts at LDS Woman at the Well. Her words describing God’s love resonate with me (and evidently with thousands of others). I like her honesty. She shared this, which describes why I am a Mormon even though I find it challenging to live my religion:

“Living the Gospel demands a lot, but living “in the world” I found demands a lot more and it gives a lot less. It has an insatiable appetite with standards that are impossible to meet. Unlike finding completeness in Christ, who came in the fullness of Truth and Grace, the world offers us nothing.”

I am Mormon even though my faith has caused me to do the things I find hardest in my life. And I plan to continue on, working to overcome those things that challenge me with the help of Jesus Christ.

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Easter: Everything good happens because of Him

I look around at the world. The plants are blossoming, the world has been reborn as it is every spring. I think how God created this beauty, from the oceans and mountains to the molecular structures and biochemical processes of life. TulipsI notice my new baby. He has come alive. From complacent newborn he’s grown into a curious infant. He can scoot across the room and explore things that capture his attention. He brims with happiness over his new-found abilities. He freely shares his gushing happiness with anyone around.

I am surrounded by love. My children and husband gush over me. Tell me how much they love me. They notice my moods. Sometimes when I am quiet, they come up and give me a hug.

The message of Easter is all of this and more comes because of Jesus Christ.

Jesus-Christ-at-the-wellHe created the beautiful Earth and all life upon it. The purpose of this splendor simply to witness of His love for us. He implemented God’s plan for His children by creating Adam and Eve, our first parents, and beginning family units.

Jesus makes it possible for little children to be born into the world innocent. They are alive in Him. They exemplify the beauty of heaven that we cannot remember yet yearn to return to.

Jesus was born into the world to experience all of the pain of mortality. He felt all of the emotions, physical pain, spiritual stretching, and uncertainty that comes with life. He felt the weight of the sin of all mankind in the garden of Gethsemane and again on the cross. He died.

Then he took his body again and became a resurrected being. He overcame death. He overcame sin and all mortal imperfections. He uses his power to reclaim all of mankind and offer us the blessings He received. He loved us and did not forget any of us in His miraculous mission. He and our Father focus completely on us, their children.resurrected-christ-wilson-ongAfter this life is over, God wants to share with us “all that He hath.” (Luke 12:44). He wants to take the little fragments of happiness that we have experienced here and make them into an eternal reality. Jesus Christ made this possible. Everything from creating the Earth through redeeming God’s children is encompassed in Jesus’ divine mission that He fulfilled when He rose the third day.

He is risen!

If you like this post, consider reading Because He Lives: Meditations on Christ

A Phoenix Temple testimony

bountiful-utah-temple-winter-Jason-Carlton
Bountiful Utah temple in winter by Jason Carlton

I am impressed by Jason’s blog over at Temples and Testimonies. I enjoyed reading the inspiring messages there. His photos inspire too!

Here is my testimony of the temple. Thanks Jason for providing the impetus to write it.

When I first moved to Phoenix I immediately felt dismay over the distance to the temple. While not impossible, the 90 minute drive meant a visit lasted 6 hours, too long for me to attend if I had a nursing baby at home. The difficulty taught me to appreciate the temple more.

I felt ecstatic at the Church’s plan to build a temple in Phoenix. Then I had to find extraordinary patience as the planning and building phases took six years to complete.

This past fall, I had the privilege of attending the Phoenix Temple open house with my entire family. Many of my friends volunteered in the open house and shared their inspiring experiences with me. I’ve felt longing for this House of God, and now joy at being able to go inside and worship there.

I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers saving ordinances restored from ancient times. Through these ordinances, available in temples, my family has a chance to be together eternally. I have never found a more beautiful piece of truth; one that inspires me to keep trying even when life is hard. My husband and children bring so much happiness to my life. And the gospel teaches us the principles needed to achieve that happiness. It’s amazing!

-Holly

Two Testimonies

Today I want to share a testimony with you.

Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me. (Alma 5)

sunrise-darkness
source lds.org

This beautiful testimony points out that all testimony results from revelation through the Holy Spirit. “Through revelation, the Lord provides individual guidance for every person who seeks it and who has faith, repents, and is obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (lds.org) A testimony is a beautiful combination of insight received through revelation and faith in things we don’t completely understand.

That is one reason it is difficult for detractors to understand how we can believe. To those outside of the realm of faith, belief in Jesus Christ seems foolish. (Alma 30:13) I feel very fortunate I’m taught God’s plan in a way that is simple and easy to comprehend. Millions have lived and died wondering whether God could save His children.

I like to consider what atheists have to offer. There is only one version of the ultimate destiny of mankind for those who don’t believe in God: annihilation. Whether through self-destruction or using up all available resources, the earth and its amazing creations end in death.

Belief in God offers a counter ending. God, who created and knows all things, made us for a purpose. He has enough foresight to make sure there is enough (and extra) for our grand experiment. Like a loving Father sending his young children out into the world to prove themselves, He created a laboratory where we could experiment and explore our potential. We prove ourselves in our daily actions, a lifelong test that is so much harder than any written or verbal examination.

I love that our church pushes each member to continually improve. There is no simple salvation for a trite pledge. We have to live what we believe. It only makes sense: God can’t be fooled by “cheating” on the test of life. He is wise enough to make succeeding questions adapted to our responses, showing us the holes in our logic. And he doesn’t close the examination until we’ve had time to revise our answers.

the-second-coming
source lds.org

As time rolls on, God’s kingdom grows stronger in opposition to the expanding forces of Evil. “We will witness increasing evidence of Satan’s power as the kingdom of God grows stronger.” (Elder James E Faust) “The solution of the great world problems is here in the Church of Jesus Christ. Ample provision is made not only for the needs of individuals, but also for the nation and groups of nations. I realize that it is a great claim. … It is simply the application of God’s plan to the world problems.” (Elder L Tom Perry)

I want to share my own testimony. I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s kingdom on the earth. It contains all of the pieces of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathered in completeness with authority to provide ordinances of salvation to all of God’s children. The good are being gathered together, as we participate in the final battle against darkness. I know Jesus Christ will come again at the culmination of this battle. Good will be rewarded and evil will be defeated. It is so simple, yet in thousands of years of earth’s history, men haven’t been able to come up with anything to compare with it. I know it’s true. Like Alma,

“God hath made it manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Faith and Doubt

Have you every thought about Faith? Here’s an interesting thought I realized: Faith includes doubt.

Faith is an imperfect knowledge. It is believing something is true enough to act on it. But you don’t know for sure. For example, I have faith in Jesus Christ. I believe He is a real person. But I’ve never seen Him. I probably won’t until after I die.

So because you don’t know something you have faith in, there is also doubt there. I mean doubt as “a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.” Our lives are intended to be a test, to see what we really believe in. We demonstrate how deeply we believe something by our actions.

choose-to-believe
Children have simple yet beautiful faith.

In religion, there are always questions about how we believe in things we don’t know for sure. I think part of the answer lies in the different nature of testing spiritual evidence.

Secular doctrines have the advantage of convincing, tangible evidence. We seem to do better in gathering data on things that can be counted and measured. Doctrines which originate in the light, on the other hand, are more often supported by intangible impressions upon the spirit. We are left for the most part to rely on faith. But, in time, the consequences of following either will become visible enough.

-Boyd K Packer, The Shield of Faith

Our experiment in faith won’t end until after our mortal lives are over.

Until then, faith and doubt will exist in each of us in varying proportions. Acknowledge what you doubt–you can’t work on improving until you’ve identified a weakness. But don’t let doubt discredit the reality of faith.

comeuntomeJerryAndersonsculpture
Sculpture by Jerry Anderson

Here are some thoughts on the subject by Elder Holland:

“Belief is always the first step toward conviction.”

faithpic
from http://simplybeffie.blogspot.com/

“Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”

“The issue…is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”

“In this world, everyone is to walk by faith.”

“Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”

So, in the question of faith versus doubt, choose to believe.

 This post in response to a post I read over at Normons.