Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wife Rule #150: To the Angels

The other day I awoke with thoughts and ideas floating around in my head--about Christmas time and the Savior's birth, and the good news brought by the angels, and all those loved ones who have enriched our lives and given us the gifts of faith, friendship, and love. I spent the next half hour trying to tie these thoughts together and write them down, and here is the result:

Beautiful Angels

Beautiful angels! They came to the family:
To Mary and Joseph and those whom they loved
To herald the coming of Jesus the Savior;
A message of peace to their hearts from above.
(Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:20-24; Luke 1:11-17)

Beautiful angels! They sang to the shepherds
The glorious message of peace on the earth.
With goodwill they hastened to see in the manger
The Christ child to find and adore at His birth.
(Luke 2:8-17)

Beautiful angels! In far lands proclaiming
Glad tidings of great joy to wise men and pure--
The prophecies spoken by those long before them
Fulfilled at His coming, their faith to make sure.
(Helaman 16:13-14)

Beautiful angels! In latter-days coming,
Proclaiming the Savior, His truth to restore
In heavenly fullness, His gospel returning
That again we may seek Him, and find, and adore!
(Joseph Smith History 1:30-34, D&C 110:11-16, Moroni 7:29-32)

Beautiful angels! Today they surround us;
Our hearts knit in love with these more common kind--
Our parents and siblings, our kind friends and neighbors--
Together we seek Him, together we find
In the love of “our angels” the Christ child we find!
(Mosiah 18:21)

As a fitting companion to these thoughts, I recalled these words spoken by Jeffrey R. Holland, a living Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“When we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. Some of them gave birth to us, and in my case, one of them consented to marry me. Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind.”
(Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Ministry of Angels,” October 2008 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

At this happy season, my wife and I sincerely want to express our thanks and love to the angels in our lives--both those whose celestial words we read in the holy scriptures, as well as those who, though mere mortals like the rest of us, nonetheless shine with celestial demeanor and whose service blesses our lives in countless ways during the everyday interactions we enjoy with you.

May God bless you for your love and may we all remember the King of kings and Lord of lords whose ministry and mission on earth was ordained for the express purpose of lifting our lives and transforming us all into celestial beings--into angels fit for the presence of God.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wife Rule #149: Thanks for Everything

To the subject of this blog and the love of my life:

It's been a long while since I've written about you, or our kids, or our lives together on this blog. I've composed many beautiful entries in my mind: from an account of our frosty, late fall camping trip among the red maples and the yellow aspens; to the festivities of Halloween and the success of our annual pumpkin party, the triumph of my porch decorations (a whole nest of falling spiders), and your supreme costume-creating skills; to our winter weekend spent eating Thanksgiving dinners with our families and hunting Christmas trees in waist-deep snow; as well as a hundred little things in between (including one very cute little thing who eats and smiles non-stop).

We've had a busy, crazy, wonderful, and stressful couple of months, and I want to thank you:

Thanks for loving me enough to pack up our little family of eight and sleep with us up in the mountains, packed like sardines into a pop-up trailer that is only built for six. As we learned while laying out the sleeping bags of the little ones, the game of Tetris would be a lot harder if the pieces squirmed around and kicked each other. I know it was hard with the baby there, but three peaceful days of doing basically nothing except cooking pancakes for two hours each morning, playing games each afternoon, sitting around fires each evening, and taking occasional walks through crunchy leaves wouldn't have been half so beautiful without you.

Thanks for supporting me in an extra busy time at work, when I have been less available during the day and more worn out each night when I return home.

Thanks for supporting me during what has felt like an extra busy time serving in our church. There is always more potential good to do than we could ever hope to accomplish. Thanks for recognizing that "wasting and wearing out our lives" (D&C 123:13) in the service of the Lord is the real reason we are here, and that we can accomplish so much more together than alone. I don't suppose we will ever have a break from serving the Master and I don't suppose I will ever want one as long as you are at my side.

Thanks for being a mother to six active, noisy, busy, and wonderful children. Each one bears the indelible stamp of your motherhood and the goodness and light you imbue them with radiates from them in the quiet times we have together. Thanks for helping so much to facilitate our daily routines of those things that matter most and help us keep our balance--family prayer, scripture study, dinner time, and all the other positive interactions we have throughout the day. I wouldn't be half the father I try to be without your constant example.

Thanks for being the most supportive, helpful, encouraging, and loving wife I could hope for. The constant grind of everyday life becomes bearable and even sometimes sweet because you are at the center of it. You make my day job more enjoyable because every minute that passes is one minute closer to the time I will return home to you. You make the mornings and evenings pleasant with your comforting presence. You make our home beautiful with your touch and style. You make my weekends wonderful with two days of togetherness. You truly make home a heaven on earth.

And most recently, thanks for spending hours today putting lights on the tree so that it would be ready for decorating with ornaments tonight when I got home. In the big scheme it could be considered a "little" thing, but when you're living at ground level with a hungry baby, children with lessons and parties to attend, a kitchen full of dishes, and a laundry room full of clothes to wash, I know it was a significant sacrifice to spend your time serving me in that way. My life is so much richer for all the "little" sacrificies you make every day that I seldom thank you adequately for.

I owe you so much, so much more than I can say. Please let this small expression of thanksgiving be just a token of the gratitude I feel so often, yet fail to express before it gets swallowed up in the churning rush of the tides of life. Thanks for everything.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wife Rule #148: There is No Confusion

There is a whole lot of confusion out in the world about the nature of women. In fact, I would submit that the vast majority of messages we receive from the world about a woman's role, value, and purpose are flat out wrong.

For example, there have long been widespread false beliefs that a woman is somehow inferior or subservient to a man. These beliefs have perpetuated unspeakable abuses and indignities throughout much of the world's history.

A particularly damning manifestation of this kind of disrespect is found in today's popular media, which more often than not portrays women as little more than creatures who exist merely to be sensually appealing to men. Far worse yet is the dehumanizing impact of pornography. These gross distortions not only deemphasize a woman's tremendous intrinsic value, but reduce her to a non-person--an object whose primary (or sole) purpose is for the gratification of the opposite sex.

Equally erroneous to these male-centric, chauvinistic views is the notion that a woman is superior to a man, that she doesn't want or need him, and that her highest potential is reached in spite of him.

A common aspect of this mistaken line of reasoning is the widely held belief that a woman's value is primarily derived from her degree of success in academic or professional pursuits--that these kind of worldly achievements somehow validate her true worth and that choosing a life as a full-time mother is a lesser accomplishment.

Then there are those women who have been so disappointed, disillusioned, disenfranchised, or distraught by the repeated abuses of men that they come to believe that their road to happiness involves avoiding men altogether.

As a father of four daughters, all of this concerns me deeply. I want for each of my daughters, more than anything, to understand her divine nature and reach her full potential. This goal and the means for achieving it are not to be found in the teachings of mankind. They are only found in the revealed words of God.

The prophet Joseph Smith once said, "If men [and women] do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 343).

Today's world is full of women (and men) who chase a mere illusion of happiness when the true prize is 180 degrees in the opposite direction. These problems are largely caused by a lack of understanding about the nature of God, and the resulting confusion about ourselves.

Our Father in Heaven is, first and foremost, our father. He fathered our spirits, that immortal portion of our selves that thinks and gives personality and life to our mortal bodies. We are literal spiritual offspring of God as the apostle Paul repeatedly taught in New Testament times (Acts 17:28-29, Hebrews 12:9, Romans 8:16-17). In these latter days, God revealed this truth anew to the prophet Joseph Smith when He declared that we are, all of us, "begotten sons and daughters unto God" (D&C 76:24).

The magnitude of the implications of this eternal truth are staggering! If my precious daughters could learn just this one truth--that they are royal daughters, literally descended from a Heavenly King who loves them unconditionally--their lives will forever be on a different and vastly superior course than the women they see celebrated in the world.

For their true course and destiny does not lie in a misguided path into the mires of mortality and the pleasures of the world, but rather is a starry trail onward and upward towards celestial heights where their Father lives.

And He is not alone there.

One of the most critical truths for my daughters--and every woman and girl in this world--to learn is that our literal Father in Heaven holds that title and honor in equal partnership with a Woman. Yes, we have a Mother there--a divine, celestial Being who is the very embodiment of perfect virtue, purity, and love, who is in every way the Equal, Partner, and Divine Compliment to our Eternal Father. There never was a father without a mother. And indeed, He would not be who He is without Her.

Just as our sacred bodies are fashioned in their--our Heavenly Parents'--own image, male and female (see Genesis 1:26), so are our spirits. Within each of us is a spark of divinity with the potential to grow in brightness until it is perfected and we become--quite literally--just like our Heavenly Parents (see D&C 50:24, Matthew 5:48). The only course nature knows is for offspring to strive to grow to be like their parents, and in the divine nature of a daughter of Deity, this holds true.

Again, once these truths about the nature of God--and hence our own divine nature as God's offspring--sink in, our lives are changed forever.

There is no more confusion about where a woman's worth is found; it is derived from the fact that we are what the prophet Spencer W. Kimball called "gods in embryo" ("The Miracle of Forgiveness", page 286).

There is no more confusion about standards of dress or modesty, or the gravity of the sin of pornography; our bodies, created in God's own image, are not tools or toys for our own selfish use; they are sacred and hold the very key to our becoming like Him.

There is no more confusion about the vital importance of sexual purity before marriage and complete fidelity within marriage; a companionship meant to be eternal should be entered into with complete respect and preserved with complete trust.

There is no more confusion about the purpose of sex; it is not for selfish gratification, but rather for the creation of life and the forging and strengthening of eternal bonds of love between husband and wife. It is the procreative power that plays a vital part in the highest and holiest roles of celestial beings.

There is no more confusion about the importance or nature of marriage; it is an essential institution which only has meaning between man and woman, and which every man and woman should seek with their whole hearts--for without it we cannot become as our Heavenly Parents. Truly one of the most important decisions we will ever make is to marry the right person in the right place by the right authority. It just may determine our eternal happiness.

There is no more confusion about the proper place of parenting among the priorities of life; if our Heavenly Father defines Himself by his role as the Father of humanity, and His divine parental position is only attainable through His partnership with our Mother, then the role of father and mother should be placed above all other earthly roles except the foundational spousal roles upon which they rest. No learning, career, fame, or fortune can or should replace the sacred roles of parenting; these all amount to short-lived vanity that will vanish away when our lives end. Our highest calling in this life and the next is to emulate our Heavenly Parents.

There is no question about how a man should treat his wife (and by extension, all other women); he should honor her as a daughter of God, a sacred companion, an equal partner, and the very key to his eternal progression and happiness, without whom he would be doomed to an eternity of a static life without posterity or meaningful progression. He should be anxious for her happiness and foster the development of her abilities--especially those divine attributes found in marriage and motherhood.

There is no question about how a woman should treat her husband (and by extension, all other men); she should honor him as a son of God and help cultivate in him--and expect from him--the very highest of behaviors and noblest of attributes befitting one who has joined with her in a divine partnership. She should help him remember that his highest, most important roles are with her, in their home, where they share equal responsibility as partners and parents.

There is no more confusion about the vital importance of virtue, honesty, integrity, industry, chastity, and every other godlike attribute we seek to attain; every one of these is an attribute of the Father and Mother we aspire to imitate.

There is no more confusion about the need for a Savior; if He calls us to perfection, and indeed He does, then we are doomed to failure without His atoning blood to redeem us from our sins, to raise our bodies from death, and to ultimately transform us into the sons and daughters of God we are meant to be. Only men and women who understand the true nature of the heights He aspires to raise them to can truly appreciate the depths of his condescension and the magnitude of what He has done for us. His grace is eternal and infinite. We can spend our entire lives in His service and never even come close to giving to Him what is His due as the Savior of our souls. We owe Him everything.

These are just a few of the things I hope--with all my heart--that my daughters discover in their journey to know God and thus comprehend themselves. The world provides a laboratory for our learning, but the source of eternal truth is above this world. That is where a true woman discovers her worth and inspiration.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wife Rule #147: Celebrate the Miracles

Our world abounds in miracles, and I had cause to enumerate just a few of them during the birth of our newest child.

She was born into a world of artificial light, artificial climate control, and a thousand other "non-natural" inventions that make our modern lives so comfortable. Everything--from the lights and the sounds of beeping monitors to the softness of the machine-woven sheets, to the I.V. tube supplying mother and baby with supplementary hydration, to the very air we were breathing--seemed to be filtered and shaped and molded by the miracles of modern technology, optimally suited for bringing a new life into the world.

This carefully crafted world of sheet-rock and paint, of smooth, shiny, tile floors, of tightly woven carpeting, indoor plumbing, and hand sanitizer dispensers attached to the walls, was the environment that welcomed our baby. She entered a man-made world propped up by electrical grids, fiber optics, silicon circuits, plumbing systems, and fossil fuels. It would be several days before she would first fill her little lungs with fresh, natural air.

Of course, when it comes to birthing, I wouldn't trade places with anyone in anytime of the world's history. I'm all for making the grand entrance of a new child as comfortable and safe as possible, and I am most grateful for all those who contributed to the environment and expertise we enjoy today.

Yet the biggest miracle of the whole process was not due to any of these hand-crafted solutions born of mankind's collective knowledge. When you strip away all the inventions of our hands, and reduce the Great Miracle to its most fundamental, raw form, it is found embedded in our marvelous bodies--bodies that are created in God's own image and carry His divine stamp of workmanship. This primeval, natural "technology" is as old as the human race, Adam and Eve being the first of our family to utilize it in bringing life into the world.

It began as microscopic processes worked at the molecular level to jump start the development of our new child. This amazing, invisible, incredibly complex, self-perpetuating machine was deliberately planted in a perfectly suited habitat within my wife's womb. Week after week, month after month, subtle yet significant changes occurred as the developing fetus took on the form of her father and mother, growing into "our own image" one cell division at a time.

When the time was right, my wife's amazing body turned on a switch that began a series of programmed steps which have been encoded into her DNA for just a few, critical uses during her lifetime. These involuntary impulses are uniquely suited to move along the process of birth, as the distended muscles around her abdomen contract sharply: pushing, pushing, pushing. Conscious control helps the process along in a remarkable harmony of voluntary and involuntary exertion.

At the point when the labor pains reach a fevered pitch and the cry of travail is high in the air, the artificial world around us dissolves and for a few critical moments all that exists are my wife, and the baby, and me, the observer. I witness this moment as some sacred, invisible boundary is crossed: the edges of Heaven and Earth stretch and extend until they momentarily touch, and then are pierced by the entrance of another soul into mortality.

As for the baby, in just a few seconds the amazing body she inhabits performs nearly simultaneous, once-in-a-lifetime changes designed to transform her from a being wholly dependent on another, into a self-sustaining system. Heart valves close and open, taking control of and rerouting the circulatory system; lungs fill with terrestrial air for the first time; a previously unneeded digestive tract begins churning, bringing powerful sensations that will be the main driving force of her behavior for months to come; eyes receive their first rays of unobstructed light and color; ears are taken from their environment of comfortable, rhythmic, underwater roaring into an alien and relatively quiet world of artificial humming and beeping mixed with new sounds of human life; lips and tongue search frantically for the source of nourishment that will keep this marvelous machine running at top performance; and vocal chords erupt for the first time in that characteristic but fleeting, tell-tale squall of new and vibrant life.

I am quickly brought back into our modern world as clamps are applied and I am handed a scissor to cut the child forever loose. Then she is whisked away for a few moments to be measured and wiped and poked and prodded and measured some more. The exact program they follow evolves as the years pass and technology advances and human knowledge increases.

But that most significant part of childbirth--the part signified by blood and water and spirit, and which takes place out of reach of human hands, solely within the realm of the bodies of mother and child, and which is governed alone by our Great Creator--is as old as eternity, and is still by far the most glorious part of the process. Whether in a primitive shelter thousands of years ago, or a modern sterilized hospital, that most sublime and wondrous miracle--the miracle of Human Life--marches on in splendor and majesty every time a mother descends into the valley of the shadow of death in order to bring a new life into the world.

I observe it--and celebrate it--in awe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wife Rule #146: It's Summer-time (and I am Tired)

I am tired.

Our little baby girl, Summer, seems to be a permanently attached fixture to my wife.

That means that she's busy all day, and up much of the night.

Except when she pleads with me and I stumble out to take the occasional turn for an hour or so, typically around four o'clock AM.

I've been back to work for a month now. The three oldest kids are back in school. Andrew started preschool. Charity started a playgroup. We have two piano players and three soccer players. Routines and schedules must be followed. Including early-morning schedules. Sleeping in is not an option, and I'm trying to exercise again.

Wonderful friends and family brought in a lot of meals after the birth, but even the leftovers are only a fond memory now. That means the family has been enduring repeat selections from Dad's "instant meal" repertoire: the kind I can scrap together with whatever food I thought to buy on the way home from work, the last time I thought to stop.

Because my wife is always feeding the baby.

Which means we're eating later. And cleaning up later. And going to bed later.

And I am tired.

The laundry is piling up. The house is getting messier, and I don't have energy to clean, or to get the kids to clean. My wife wants to clean, but spends nearly all of her time captive and immobilized.

She is often totally wiped out.

A few weeks ago I fell asleep during church choir practice. The sofa I was sitting on was a tad too comfy. They still laugh about it.

The lawn is growing. The weeds are happy.

But it's all okay. My wife and I are happy too. We have a healthy, beautiful baby girl.

And Summer smiled at me again tonight.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wife Rule #145: Sometimes One Is Enough

One of the great things about marriage is that there are two of you accomplishing what couldn't be done by one alone. Some things, like babies, are impossible to accomplish alone. Another great benefit, however, is the reverse: sometimes there are things that one person can accomplish for two. Husbands and wives thus fulfill complimentary roles, sort of filling in each others' gaps, enriching both partners.

I had such an experience the night I wrote the previous Wife Rule, the one where I waxed super-sentimental about my wife and newborn daughter. As I was sitting there, rocking my child in her sleep, feeling so full of love, my wife looked up from her reading.

"You're feeling all sentimental," she observed by a quick look into my beaming face. Then she continued, "I'm sorry I can't join you right now. I'd love to, but I'm reading about zombies."

Sometimes one of us is enough.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wife Rule #144: It's a Grand Night for Singing

I got an early start this morning and had fed the kids breakfast and begun the process of draining the kiddie pool out back (so I could move it again and kill a new spot of grass) before it was even nine o'clock. I got the kids started on their morning chores, mowed the lawn, tightened up the badminton net, trimmed the roses, pulled a weed or two, and enlisted the kids' help in washing the algae out of the pool before beginning the refill.

By 10:30 we were on our way to the new public splash pad, where I enjoyed a full hour of wading in the current and taking snapshots of the kids as they splashed in the various fountains and taunted each other. Charity was startled by the first gush of spray as the system turned on shortly after our arrival and never entered the water again, but still managed to have fun playing on the grass. She was just as cute in her pink tutu swimming suit (with ruffly skirt!) out of the water as she would have been in.

Afterwards we stopped at the shaved ice shack and ordered six small cups (including one in a pink flavor called "Barbie" for you-know-who, which ended up fully spilled into her car seat by the time we arrived home). We also stopped at the hardware store to pick up a few items for a bathroom counter repair I've needed to make for several months now. We even got the mail.

Lunch was a snap though it took me a while to get it ready, and afterwards I started on the counter project until it was time to put Charity down for a nap. Then the four older kids and I walked over to the park and played the 18-hole Frisbee golf course (9 separate posts, played once in each direction).

By the time we got home it was too late to finish the counter, but early enough to shower (finally) and snag a fifteen minute nap before the preparations began for dinner. A few unexpected phone calls later and the day was spent. Of course, that didn't mean work was over. Dinner, clean up, and our traditional Monday family night, followed by a chapter aloud in the novel we have been reading together, and then the routine teeth-brushing, prayer-saying, storybooks, and tucking-in fully exhausted the rest of the day.

I never made it into the office. I am on paternity leave.

(insert cheers and congratulations here)

It's a welcome chance to catch up and keep the kids occupied and occasionally away so that my wife can catch a little rest and quiet time with the new wee one.

Now it's dark outside and the chaos and bustle of the day is over. I finally find myself with the opportunity to hold our new arrival, who has been freshly fed and changed and is actually still awake. And for once there's not even any competition or complaining about turns or fairness from the other kids, who normally inundate the poor little thing with a suffocating amount of love and attention, but who are all currently in their respective beds.

So I sit down with my new daughter in the rocker for a little one-on-one Daddy Time. She is dressed in a fuzzy sleeper with a pastel pattern of something cute and babyish. Her eyes are wide open, and she seems to have an unusual interest in the male half of her parentage. It's a good thing too, since I did contribute to the effort of getting her here, at least a little bit.

I begin to rock and sing to her (for what else is a Daddy to do?). The first tune that comes to mind is one I have sung as a lullaby for years now, I'm trying to be like Jesus. While I softly deliver the melody in a baritone key, she looks intently into my eyes.

She has the deepest blue eyes--I would say almost black, but her pupils are still distinct, surrounded by midnight blue. Her long, dark-brown hair falls in subtle curls on her forehead. It's well over an inch long and still has the pink miniature bow glued into it that the nurses at the hospital nursery put in after her first bath. They loved having a baby there whose hair they could style, and though they never actually said it, I could tell they thought she was the cutest baby they'd seen in a long time.

She seems to enjoy the first song, so I start into another: I am a Child of God. As I repeat the well-loved lyrics "I am a child of God and He has sent me here; has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear," I almost discern a slight smile on her lips. She has the same pleasant, little rosebud mouth with a full lower lip as her big sister Charity--which means that she can make that same irresistible pouty face and receive big-lipped kisses from Daddy (I've already tried that out. Several times).

And speaking of kissing, we can't overlook the beautiful, flushed cheeks that grace her mouth on either side, of such perfect proportion as to cast her little round face to the aspect of a cherub. Many times I have bestowed my gentlest kiss on those cheeks, and in special rare instances (subject to availability, limited time offer, can change without notice, etc.), when she rears back her head for a stretch I have buried my lips in the super-soft creases of the skin in her tiny neck.

As I study her face, it does seemed imbued with a heavenly glow--of innocence, of freshness, and of complete trust and dependence. Her eyes, still fixed intently on mine as I rock her and sing, seem to see through me, penetrating to the very depths of my soul, and communicate a clear message: Love me. Protect Me. Shelter Me. Teach me.

These thoughts mesh perfectly with the lullaby as I finish the last chorus: "Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday."

There is a soft smile in her eyes and they begin to close as I start into the next number, O My Father. The words of that hymn so perfectly describe the journey this precious little soul has just made, traveling from "a more exalted sphere" into this simple, happy life with her mother and me (and her five noisy siblings). I sing all four verses to her, leaning in close, expelling just enough breath to produce the notes. By the end her eyes are closed. She never looked away; she drifted into pleasant slumber still fully engaged with me.

I look down at this babe in my arms. My hand is stretched across hers, completely covering most of her arms and chest. She startles a bit as I move it, and wrap her fingers around one of mine. I study the marvelous detail in her baby hands--such perfect little fingers with their infinitesimal joints and nails. Her body is truly a gift--a glorious creation from a loving God.

She is asleep, but I finish my serenade with the classic song Stardust, for its outstanding melody and the pure joy of singing.

When the last hum has died away, I continue rocking her in the silence. I cannot tear my eyes away from her. I study her perfect little body again, offering a silent prayer of thanks to the loving Father who brought her here safe and whole. I marvel that He would share this sacred experience--fatherhood--with me, and lend me one of His pure, choice children for a few precious years here on earth.

She lets out the slightest sigh, and brings me back to this room. I look over and see my wife reading on the couch, her beautiful, soft face illuminated by warm, yellow lamp light. Suddenly I sense the overwhelming fullness--the atmosphere seems thick with the pure, celestial joy that must surely be a shadow of the sweetest glories our Heavenly Parents enjoy. I thank her--my wife--for giving me this chance. For giving me a chance at all.

I sit there, mesmerized and completely entranced: my daughter in my arms, my wife a few feet away, and my heart full to the point of spilling over. I am lost again, drifting away somewhere between a dream and a poem. A pleasant, sublime heat rises in my chest and swells up to my face. I stare at the perfect, glorious child nestled within my arms and a single tear wells up in the corner my eye and is released, tickling my cheek as it descends towards this pure, celestial being.

I am a father. Again, for the sixth time now, I am a father!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wife Rule #143: We're Just Normal Folks

Despite the way I sometimes gush over the many virtues of my wife on this blog (and they are real), to be totally honest, my wife and I are both pretty regular folks. I don't mean to belittle her in any way by saying that. It's just that there will always be many--probably millions--of people who are smarter, more talented, better looking, more wealthy, more influential, more admired, and so forth and so on, than us. And at the end of the day, I recognize that our time on this globe will come and go and only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the people in this world will even have known we were here.

I'm okay with that.

I was talking with an old friend last week who, during the course of the last decade since we have had any contact, has lost his faith. He no longer believes in the same things I do. He claims he no longer believes in God. We were talking about life and goals just a little, and he spoke of "trying to leave his mark" on the world. I suppose that when you deny the reality of an afterlife, there's no purpose left in this brief life but to "leave your mark" here. You're born, and just a few years later, poof, you vanish forever. No wonder he clings to the notions of worldly honor and importance, no matter how short-lived.

I understand how he feels, just a bit. I have been there. In the ambitious vanity of youth I once thought I was really something, and must be destined for something really great. My wife caught just a little of that bug in her earlier years, too. We were both high achievers, and the thought of just being "normal" wasn't really in the cards as we each looked toward a future of limitless possibility.

But with our youth largely in the rear-view mirror now, we have something that usually--okay, often--all right, sometimes--drives such ambitious (and to be brutally honest, selfish) thoughts from our minds: we have each other. We have a common goal and through experience, a much deeper understanding of our Heavenly Father's plan for families. According to the knowledge in our heads and in our hearts, nothing else really matters.

And I mean that: nothing matters in this life except doing all that is necessary to get our family--our personal family first, followed by our extended family, and finally the worldwide family--back home to God.

So why, during even our brightest moments of eternal clarity, do the vain ambitions of this world still linger in the wings, waiting for their chance to take center stage again? Why the hunger for the temporal, when the eternal hangs in the balance?

Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau? Though they were twins, only one could have the birthright and the accompanying blessings and responsibilities. Esau came out first, with Jacob only moments behind; but the birthright belonged to Esau. It was Jacob, however, that valued the birthright and what it truly meant as the one to take on his father's name and role and care for the family. So he devised a plan to assist Esau in forfeiting the birthright: he simply waited until Esau was hungry enough, and then offered to let Esau "sell" his birthright for a mess of pottage. And Esau took him up on his offer, giving away a priceless right and responsibility for a moment of temporal gratification (see Genesis 25:24-34).

A mess of pottage. A meal. A quarter-pounder with cheese.

But isn't that all that this earth life is? Even the most famous, the most influential, the most wealthy, and the most powerful people in this world die, usually within mere decades of the flowering of their personal empires. When they do, their earthly power and wealth vanish instantaneously as they take their last breath. It is, all of it, nothing more than a mess of pottage.

God created this world to be the place of testing and trying for His children, with the sole purpose of allowing us to exercise our agency to choose Him and His plans for us over all else. He sent us away from home, out into an enticing world of distractions and temptations, so that we could have the chance to truly "test our metal." His plan calls for the extension of family ties into eternity, that we may emulate Him in every respect, "grow up" to be like Him, and carry on His work forever. He knows what true joy is, and He knows that it can only be attained by living the kind of life He lives. Of course He wants to share that with His children. He wants to give us the birthright. Will we take it, or exchange it for nothing, for pottage?

So what if my wife and I are perfectly, remarkably, normal? It simply doesn't matter. The scope of our potential together--and the potential of every single husband and wife in God's plan--is infinite. Infinite! As infinite as the life of the soul is, so is the joy of those who attain the purposes God created them for. As infinite as the love of God is for His children, so will be the love that a single couple can attain to, and share, and shower upon their own eternal families, worlds without end.

And best of all, there isn't just one birthright. The blessings are there to claim for all who will. So in reality, there is no competition. There is no shortage of reward. There is no reason that every one of God's children cannot have what my wife and I are striving to obtain. Jesus paved the way for us all. The way is open and free for all.

So when we "get in our right minds," of course we are happy to be nothing more than normal, average folks. There is a spark of divinity in normal, average folks that given the right care, will fan into an all-consuming fire of purity and goodness and light and life that knows no bounds and never ends.

Eternal life--merely an extension of the best parts of family life we enjoy here on earth--was made for normal folks like us.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wife Rule #142: Give It Up (Or, Rumination on Socks)

The Sock War is raging: the battle's begun,
The odds stacked against me, it's now six on one.
The front is our home; sock-mines litter the field.
Each stocking a stinking, curt weapon to wield
Against my poor saneness, forlorn and alone,
The casualties mounting, and no one has won, yes,
With casualties, no one has won.

Why bother with socks? Reason gives them no sway.
My cotton-clad feet stand aloof in display
Of sound sense and judgement, of propriety while
Their barefooted, bohemian, naked-foot style
Prevails in our household; itself not a crime
Were it not for the sodden, soiled socks left behind, yes,
The sodden, soiled socks left behind.

They cling to the couches, flung carelessly there.
They clump in the cracks of our best reading chair.
They litter the hallways, the closets, the stairs.
They migrate great distance, though never in pairs.
They pile up at doorways, for who could suppose
Wearing footwear outside? For that matter, why clothes? Yes,
For that matter, why-the-heck even clothes?

Look here, there's a stocking; another is there.
Look around and you'll see dirty socks everywhere.
(Except when we're rushing to leave, and we're late;
Then each stocking's mysteriously missing its mate.)
And the laundry rolls on in its regular round
But when folding and pairing, no pairs can be found, yes
When pairing no pairs can be found.

So the war rages on, with no allies for me;
Even my normally-sensible wife won't agree.
With her love of the breeze, her zest for aeration,
Her sympathies lie opposite my frustration.
So the foot cannons fire, fetid fumes fill the air,
And surrounding me lie littered socks everywhere, yes,
Surrounding me, socks everywhere.

I'm simply outnumbered. I've lost. I'm too few.
What's a sensible, sock-wearing man now to do?
So I'll lay down my weapons, emerge from my trench,
And remove my own stockings, unleashing my stench.
And to prove my good will, though they'll faint from the shock,
I'll run up the white flag:
My old, smelly sock.
I'll give them my old,
Peeled-off, partially-rolled,
Dingy white, golden-toed,
Thinning, soil-stained, brown-soled,
Filled with stenches untold,
Chilling sight to behold,
Filthy squeamish,
And greenish,
And covered-with-mold
Give it up for my old, smelly sock!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wife Rule #141: Love the Little Things

She screamed at me last night, and was still sobbing when I shut the door, leaving her alone in the dark. It didn't sound to me like a sincere cry, but one of those meant only to manipulate another into giving in.

I wouldn't give in, for her own good. But I still hate ending a day that way.

This morning, as I was shaving, she tentatively opened the bathroom door. When she saw me glance her way approvingly, she entered in, all smiles and sunshine, like a fresh, morning breeze. She never spoke, but she communicated plainly. Her blue eyes connected with mine, a look of pure love shining from them, her mouth drawn into a wide, beaming smile. She was happy, so happy, to see me--just as I was to see her again, after a whole night apart.

As I turned to comb my hair, she reached into the drawer. When I next glanced down at the counter, the toothpaste tube had been placed carefully next to my toothbrush, waiting for me.

She is always anxious to serve.

She never holds a grudge.

She melts me with her smiles.

And she is barely two years old.

I love being a dad (and I have my wife to thank for it).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wife Rule #140: I Like Your Sweater

"Heya Loose... nice...sweatah"

So goes one of the least effective pickup lines ever read by an actor on the big screen, as masterfully delivered with a thick Brooklyn accent by Joe Fusco, Junior, in the classic 90's movie While You Were Sleeping. The object of his affection was Lucy, the pretty protagonist as played by Sandra Bullock. Poor Joe Junior, with his greasy undershirt and overextended gut, never had a chance.

This line came to mind as I was in our closet this morning and noticed a cream-colored sweater lying neatly folded on one of my wife's shelves.

When I was making my first lame attempts with my future wife to begin some type of relationship, or to just try to have another conversation, or merely to "get a foot in the door" in her attentions--you know, the part in the love story where the nerdy guy tries desperately to come up with something to say to the pretty girl, when in fact, his mouth has gone dry and his knees are wobbly and his mind is completely blank--I unwittingly channeled Joe Junior and out popped a compliment about her sweater. Never mind that I had not yet seen the movie, nor that her sweater was actually rather plain (as she laughed about with her roommate later that day). It was the best I had at the moment.

For the record, it was a burgundy, textured sweater with a high neck that did bring out the blue of her oversized eyes and the glimmer of her golden locks, and she did look great in it.

But in my spluttered compliment I undoubtedly gave too much emphasis to the sweater. It was really her. It was always her.

Nonetheless, a sort of "sweatah thing," however ill-conceived it was, was born. I always enjoyed the way my wife-to-be looked in a nice sweater. So naturally, after my wooing attempts proved successful and she had promised herself to me for life, it wasn't too long thereafter that I bought her a sweater.

It was my first--and last--attempt to ever buy her clothes.

After twelve years of marriage I am now wise enough to know that it is entirely possible that I could seriously mess up the simple task of buying her socks (what's wrong with men's athletic tube socks? I wear them every day). It's Barbie's job to dress Ken, not the other way around.

But in my honest-to-goodness newlywed naivety, I did buy her a sweater. I did. I liked the color. I think it was even on sale.

She has given it a token wear a few times over the years, but I don't think she ever took to liking it much, any more than Lucy ever took to liking the idea of a romance with Joe Junior.

But she still has it. She hasn't yet been able to give it away. It stays there, folded neatly on her shelf, a constant, sweet reminder of our first months and years together--a token of that precious time when we didn't have much, but we did have each other, and we did have love. And our honest attempts to show that love, however flawed they might have been, were as sincere and as pure as anything we have ever done.

And because of that, my love, I still like your sweater.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wife Rule #139: Pay Homage to the Everything Fairy

You know those stories of magical beings who come to your home in the middle of the night and do things for you? They accomplish tasks such as mending shoes, delivering presents, collecting old teeth, cleaning the toilets, etc.?

Well, there's one of those who, it turns out, comes to my home every night: the Everything Fairy.

Until tonight.

She's currently in Missouri, having flown there by commercial pixie dust just earlier this afternoon. I think this may be the first time she has gone without taking any of the kids with her. Truthfully, it's kind of funny how much I already miss her. Yes, of course I miss her soft lips and warm embrace, but all of a sudden I feel very conscious of all the things she does around here that I have blissfully taken for granted for far too long.

She wrote out a partial list of them and stuck it to our fridge before she left. The list includes "Water Plants," "Get Mail," "Afternoon Chores," "Soccer Practices," and other such things that you would expect. But it only took me about 10 minutes after arriving back home after dropping her off at the airport to realize that it's a rather shallow and incomplete list of all that must be done to replace the Everything Fairy, even for just a few days.

Here are a few more items that should be added to the list:

* Discern what things to save and what to throw away of the papers the kids bring home from school
* Have answers to any questions from any of the kids other than "Hmmmmm. We'll have to ask your mother."
* Provide food more nutritious than Little Caesar's Pizza and Cap'n Crunch for dinner
* Be able to calm the Mommy's girl when she freaks out upon seeing Big Brother's belly button in the bathtub
* Stay coherent even when it's late and actually get the kids to bed somewhat close to their bed times
* Have enough sense to push stop on the CD player after the CD has repeated for the 3rd time
* Pick up that dang little sock that's been in the middle of the carpet all evening--it ain't going anywhere on it's own (I've always wondered; now I know)
* Get me to bed on time rather than rambling pointlessly on this blog
* Make our house feel a little more like a home

So, my lovely Everything Fairy, here's to you. I appreciate you better now than I did yesterday, and I'm sure I'll appreciate you much more tomorrow than today. By the time you return, you'll likely be swimming in drippy pools of appreciation.

You hurry on back home, y'hear?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wife Rule #138: She is my Universe

There are a great many distractions and temptations in this fallen world where we live. It was meant to be this way. Living in this condition tests us to our very cores and helps us to know, to the deepest degree, whether we will prize and prioritize that which is most precious above all, when there seems to be a million other things clamoring for our time and attention.

Sometimes it is refreshing to "get above it all," to a place where the haze and confusion clears and where we can see to far-off, and far better places. I visited such a place this past weekend.

My wife and I returned to where we were married, to the temple where our kingdom began. We remembered that day, and in so doing we renewed our vows to each other and to the God whose authority binds us together as husband and wife for all eternity. And this thought came into my mind:

She is my universe.

Yes, indeed, she is my universe. A commitment of love, friendship, loyalty, and fidelity between a husband and wife that has no end does, in effect, rule out any and all other lesser priorities, distractions, and temptations.

She is my universe.

Our wedding vows have no end. We were married in a place and by authority that transcends this dim, mortal existence, into far brighter and better spheres. Our union will go on forever, if we will choose to make it last forever. The sometimes happy, sometimes arduous journey my wife and I are on, if we prove faithful, leads to an ever-expanding kingdom that literally has no end.

God has laid the path before us. The immortality of the human soul is a fact and a forgone conclusion; the quality of life we will live is highly variable, and is completely up to us.

If I allow her to truly become my universe--so that our marriage and family becomes central to every goal I make and every endeavor I undertake; so that my love for her supersedes all other interests and distractions in life; so that she becomes the preeminent figure in my world, excelling all except the God who gives us life and salvation and enables our hope for an eternal union; if I look ahead to the potential of every husband and wife so joined by eternal authority--there really is no end to what we can create together. There is an entire, infinite universe embedded in the souls of two people who love each other with their whole hearts and who follow God's laws relating to that love. Our universe is waiting, wanting to unfold, and all wrapped up in our vows to live in love together.

When I have such thoughts in my head, and such feelings of divine love and anticipation in my heart, she truly becomes my universe.

What a wonderful way to begin the rest of forever.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wife Rule #137: I'll Take the Minivan

I can't really say
That I traded in my sports car for a minivan
Because I never had a sports car
We had each other and bills and a baby
before we even finished college

When the fourth baby came
We traded in our sensible, family sedan
(It was gray because that's what was in the used car lot)
For a minivan
But baby, it's still hot

Tonight it was filled to capacity
With a raucous chorus
Singing the tune (more or less)
Of a favorite family song
Even the baby,
Number five,
Was cooing along in rhythm
A rear-view mirror full of joy

Without you,
My Love,
There would be no chorus
No favorite family song
And certainly no minivan
Only traffic in the rear-view mirror
Of (perhaps) my sports car
And an empty seat beside me

So next time you ask me which car I'll take
I'll take the minivan

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wife Rule #136: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Epilogue: Why I Wrote This

And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent....
--1 Nephi 8:37

My precious daughters and sons, when I first wrote this, most of you were too young to read it--not too young to comprehend most of the concepts, for they are simple enough for children, but the language I used and the quotes I cited were generally above your reading skills at the time. So you may wonder why I wrote this. I want to tell you.

First of all, I knew when I wrote this that you would not always be so young. Like the prophet Enos, each of you would, at some point in your life, have an experience wherein your "soul hungered" (see Enos 1:4) to know and understand the things of eternity. When that critical time came, I hoped by writing this ahead of time, that these words might play some part in allowing you to say, as did Enos, that "the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart" (Enos 1:3).

Second, it is the right and duty of a father to teach the truth to his children. Despite the countless prophets, teachers, and parents before me who have known and written about these truths, there is something intrinsically valuable in hearing these words from the mouth of your own father. I know this from firsthand experience, as my own father's testimony has played a critical and continuing role in the development of my understanding and appreciation of the truth. By writing down this abbreviated summary of the most plain and precious truths I know--those which give context and meaning to everything else in life--I am following in this great tradition. Since the days of Adam, the great patriarchs each took care to pass along the knowledge they possessed to their children. I follow the example of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Israel, Moses, Lehi, Nephi, Benjamin, Alma, Helaman, Mormon, and countless others in doing so. It is my right to do so, and it is your right to hear it.

Third, I wrote this to follow the counsel of modern day prophets who have asked us to share our testimonies with the world (see Elder Ballard's words on the subject, in “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet,” Ensign, Jul 2008, 58–63). The miracle of the Internet allows any lowly guy such as your father to publish his beliefs to the world. My few drops of truth might help just a bit to balance out the vast sea of misinformation about God's plan and His truth that exists in the world. It is even possible that someone will find these words and be touched by my testimony enough to want to learn more about how to begin the process of coming closer to Christ. Impacting even one soul--especially yours--would make the effort to write all of this worth it (D&C 18:10-11).

Fourth, I want to provide an example for you. Your mother and I have something very special--and unfortunately, unusual--in our marriage. We love each other completely. We love you completely. We have been loved by our parents completely. And we love the Lord completely. So much of this love flows from understanding--and choosing to follow--God's plan for families. Too few understand this plan, but it was not meant to be so. Every one of God's children--including you--was meant to have all that He has. But in order to achieve God's goals for us, it is essential to understand what those goals are and how to attain them. I hope to point you in that direction. I want you to each have all that your mother and I share, as well as the infinite increase above what we now enjoy, which is attainable only through God's grace and by following His plan.

And lastly, perhaps the most basic reason of all for writing this is that the truth of God is in my heart. I simply cannot help but to let it out, to make some attempt to share what I have. The prophet Jeremiah described very well how I feel about this: "[God's] word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jeremiah 20:9).

And so it is. The truth of God--His eternal laws, ordinances, plans, attributes, goodness, grace, justice, and mercy--burn in my heart like a fire that would consume me if I kept it to myself. I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ came to save, purify, and perfect--to transform into godly beings--as many as will use their agency to follow the path He laid before us. I know that our Heavenly Father has prepared a plan for families to be eternally united in happiness which is beyond our mortal understanding. I know that He has called prophets in the latter days, beginning with Joseph Smith, and given them the priesthood and the very keys to the kingdom of God, including the power to seal families together forever. I know that this power has continued in an unbroken chain to the present day, and that it exists only in the true church of Jesus Christ, wherein can also be found the whole of the truth that God has been presently revealed for the salvation of mankind. I know that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and our other scriptures contain this truth. I have known much of this since my childhood, and you can know it too.

Moroni promised that "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:4-5). There is no other way to know the truth; our minds are simply too small to reason the "big picture" out without God's help. Go to our Heavenly Father in prayer. Ask him to reveal anew the truth of His plan to you. You will come to know that you are a child of God. You will have, kindled in your heart, the fire of truth. It will change your life--your future marriage, your family, and the way you look at yourself and every other person on earth--forever.

I know this because it has changed me, and continues to do so, as I strive to draw ever closer to Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven, as well as to my wife, your dear mother. This is a quest that will go on forever, worlds without end.

Part twelve of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wife Rule #135: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Eleven: The What-About's, the What-If's, and the Justice of God

The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.
--Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:540.

The story of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly a marvelous work and a wonder (see 2 Nephi 27:26). The doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are are beautiful beyond description. The blessings available to individuals and families in the latter-day temples are of unspeakable worth. When the truth of this latter-day work sinks into the soul of a person, that person is changed forever: priorities which may have been haphazard come into sharp focus; the great picture of eternity begins to reveal itself; the veil begins to thin; and man's great questions--Who am I, Where did I come from, Why am I here, and Where am I going--begin to be answered, giving rise to even grander questions and ponderings never before imagined; for without the gospel framework such a person never could have conceived of such glorious precepts and principles and implications.

And into the heart of such a person comes an unmistakable conviction: all must know!

My children, I feel this conviction. I feel it deep in my soul. Every line and precept added to my understanding only increases my anxiety to share what I know with my own family and with the world, my extended family.

For that is what the world is: one great family. Every person on earth--no matter how young or old, no matter how rich or poor, no matter how near or far, no matter how common or strange, no matter even how good or evil--is a beloved child of God. Each is created in His divine image. Each has divine potential. And each has already accepted the plan of the Lord Jesus Christ in a former life, now hidden by the veil of forgetfulness that enshrouds us here, accelerating our learning and growth. Each only needs to be reminded of the truth they once knew, and that familiar, comfortable Spirit of understanding will slowly, gently coax their minds and hearts open until they allow Him to fully illuminate their souls.

This knowledge is encouraging when we face the daunting task of trying to communicate the precious things of the Spirit to a world that is consumed with the flesh. We mortals are all on the same side. We were all meant for the same glorious end. All must know. It is only fair that all be given the choice to accept or reject the truth. And so we go forth.

The missionary work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is every bit the marvel that ancient and modern prophets foretold. I was part of it--one of fifty thousand full-time missionaries in my day. You children will each be part of it too, whether serving a full-time mission as the boys and perhaps some of the girls will, or whether simply letting your light shine to the world as you strive to be an example of the believers (Matthew 5:16, 2 Timothy 4:12).

If you take upon yourself the lifelong mantle of a missionary, the world will be so much the better for you having been here. You will never regret your efforts to share the truth of the gospel.

But a just God could not rest knowing that even with all of His disciples striving to share the gospel message, a majority of this complex, crazy world will still never hear the full message in mortality. Certainly it is a privilege and blessing to hear the truth now, when sacred ordinances such as baptism and family sealings can be received, and covenants can be made and kept. But what of the vast throngs--the billions--who lived and died in ignorance of these exalting truths?

Thus the Lord has given priesthood keys to the latter-day prophet to oversee the great work of salvation for the dead--a work enormous in scope and imperative in importance, yet lost from the knowledge of the world for centuries between the time of Christ and the restoration of all things in this final dispensation.

The Bible has traces of this doctrine; precious evidences preserved over the centuries include Paul's use of baptism for the dead as an argument for the reality of the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:29), and Peter's teachings of the missionary work in the Spirit world (1 Peter 3:18-20). But the broader meaning of these passages was obscured until the full picture was again restored through new revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith and his successors (see, for example, D&C 128 and D&C 138).

The latter-day temples of the Lord are for receiving ordinances and making covenants--but not only for the living. So important are the requirements to be baptized and confirmed (John 3:5), to be endowed and sealed as couples and families (D&C 132:15-21), that God has provided for the living to act as proxy for the dead in receiving these ordinances in the temples. Thus, we can stand in the place of our ancestors--our brothers and sisters--who never had the opportunity to receive the fullness of the gospel in mortality, and provide a way to escape from the limitations placed upon their agency by never having entered into these ordinances and covenants.

Of course, the choice remains theirs, whether to accept or reject the work we have done for them. Our role is to search them out, to discover family relationships, and to perform the ordinances. This unlocks the door for them, allowing them to use their agency to receive the blessings of exaltation should they choose. Thus we find further fulfillment of the prophecies that the hearts of the fathers and the children would turn to each other (Malachi 4:6) and that saviours would stand upon mount Zion (Obadiah 1:21).

Isn't that the divine likeness we take upon ourselves--that of the Savior--when we vicariously stand in the place of another to do that which he cannot do for himself: to receive ordinances that satisfy the requirements of the law? Isn't it wonderful to emulate the great vicarious work that the Savior of mankind accomplished when He stood in our place to receive our punishments and satisfy the ends of the broken law? Can you begin to see why temple work is a holy, sanctifying work? Can you see why it purges our selfishness and sinful nature from our souls?

When we do vicarious ordinance work in the temples, we act in harmony with the spirits of faithful, deceased elders in the Church who are now, even as you read this, preaching these same truths to those who have passed on and are now in spirit prison. This prison is not constructed of cement or steel or stone, but of ignorance, rebellion, regret, and missed opportunities--opportunities which you can now provide in the temples of the Lord. You, in a very literal sense, hold one of the keys to the door of this prison for those within your power to discover and liberate through temple work.

Thus, God has provided a way that all may partake of the ordinances of the temple; that all may be sealed as husband and wife, as parents and children; that all may be bound together eternally in love and life that never ends; that all may have the hope that your mother and I share, and which gives us such great joy now and in the future. All may love as your mother and I love each other.

God is perfectly just. He makes no mistakes. He forgets no one. None of His children will "fall through the cracks" and be denied a fair opportunity to accept or reject these ordinances, no matter when or where they spent their brief sojourn on earth. This work for the dead will continue, as Joseph Smith said, until these glad tidings have "sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done." The gospel plan is all-inclusive.

But what about the covenants? Receiving the ordinances is only a part of the process. It takes wise, consistent use of agency to progress into the people we were meant to be. The covenants must be kept, and that is where each soul's individual responsibility complicates things a bit.

What if we fail? What if our families fail? What if your spouse doesn't keep his or her side of the bargain? What if you find yourself as a single parent? What if, despite your best efforts, you never marry? What if your children let you down? What if your parents let you down?

And what about those who die unmarried, who spend a long life alone? What about those whose mental, emotional, or physical handicaps preclude marriage or family, or make it hard to trust in a loving God? What about those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender disorientation? What about those who are abused or neglected, who are battered and broken by their fellow humans' poor use of agency, until they become jaded and skeptical of marriage and family and all that is good?

What if, my children, the trials and tribulations and temptations of life hit you so hard and sternly that you are shaken to the very cores of your souls? What if those you rely on and trust seem to be falling around you? What if you feel that you stand alone, that your convictions are threadbare? What if, as the Lord posed to the prophet Joseph, "the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee?"

Here is the Lord's answer: "Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 122:7-9)

Experience. For thy good. God shall be with you. Hold on thy way. Never turn your back on the Lord, no matter what. He has thought of every possible problem and has provided a way to escape, because He experienced each and every one of our burdens when He suffered an infinite atonement for us (see Alma 7:11-13). His sacrifice is not only for our sins, but also for the effects of others' sins on us, and all the negative effects of living in a fallen world. He knows our situations. He knows our needs. He has covered it. All of it.

Through His prophets, the Savior has promised us again and again that no blessing will be denied to any worthy individual. The prophet Howard W. Hunter explained:

"The atonement that Christ wrought was in behalf of every individual. However, each must work out his or her own salvation, for we are not saved collectively. The worthiness of one’s friends or family will not save him or her. There must be an individual effort. While it is true that worthy couples will obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom, each man and each woman sealed in an eternal relationship must be individually worthy of that blessing.

"An eternal marriage will be composed of a worthy man and a worthy woman, both of whom have been individually baptized with water and with the Spirit; who have individually gone to the temple to receive their own endowments; who have individually pledged their fidelity to God and to their partner in the marriage covenant; and who have individually kept their covenants, doing all that God expected of them.

"May I hasten to add that no blessing, including that of eternal marriage and an eternal family, will be denied to any worthy individual. While it may take somewhat longer—perhaps even beyond this mortal life—for some to achieve this blessing, it will not be denied."
(Howard W. Hunter, “The Church Is for All People,” Ensign, Jun 1989, 75)

I cannot write here exactly when or how these blessings will come to the faithful, because I don't know the details. It may be as different a way for each individual as his or her circumstances require. But this I do know: the blessings will come to the faithful. As the prophet Spencer W. Kimball encouraged, "please know that our Father in Heaven is aware of your anguish, and that one day he will bless you beyond your capacity to express." (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 103.) There are no circumstantial "what-if's" or "what-about's" that take a precious, beloved child of God beyond the reach of His compassion and power to save. Only we can deny His saving grace by using our own agency; and if we choose to do so, our Father will be ever reaching after us, beckoning us back to Him.

If we prove faithful--faithful in receiving the Lord's ordinances, keeping our covenants, following the Savior with our whole hearts, and utilizing His grace in our lives--then when all is said and done, when the troubles of this life are but a distant memory, when the last specs of dirt and grime have been purged from our souls, we will at last understand what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)

My children, you have the truth. You have a Savior. You are free to choose your path, regardless of what anyone around you may choose. Your agency is fully operative and you can claim our Father in Heaven's highest blessings and secure a glorious eternity. Don't let anything or anyone get in your way.

Your mother and I will do all in our power to prepare you to achieve the fullness of your potential. We love you. You are precious to us. God loves you. Now choose to love yourselves enough to seek the Lord and follow His path, all your lives. Lose yourselves in the Lord's work. Make use of what you have been given to bless others. Proclaim the gospel. Search out and redeem the dead. Serve diligently in the Lord's church. Care for the poor and needy. "Wear out" your lives in the love and service of God and our fellow brothers and sisters (D&C 123:12-13). The world needs you. Be part of the solution. Commit yourselves to the Lord's team--the only team that will be left standing when the Great War is finally over, when the Savior comes again to rule and reign on Earth in glory, which He surely will.

Let's make sure that our whole family returns to our Father who created us--and that means you helping your very imperfect earthly father. And let's bring as many of our brothers and sisters back with us as we can. If we give God our very best efforts, repenting when we fail, then when the great judgment day comes we will each look Him in the face with the confidence of an obedient child. And with covenants fulfilled, we will enjoy eternal life with Him as a family, forever: your mother and I with our parents, grandparents, and so on, and each of you with your spouses and children and so on, in a never-ending chain of love and family that extends without end. And that, my children, is a goal worth living and giving our all for.

And that is why I love your mother.

Part eleven of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wife Rule #134: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Ten: The Temple and Eternal Families

I love to see the temple.
I’ll go inside someday.
I’ll covenant with my Father;
I’ll promise to obey.
For the temple is a holy place
Where we are sealed together.
As a child of God, I’ve learned this truth:
A family is forever.
--Janice Kapp Perry

So, my precious children, after nine whole chapters of patiently enduring my thoughts, it comes back to the subject of this song--"I Love to See the Temple"--where Sister Perry eloquently states in two short stanzas the entire crux of my passion.

You have sung this song since you were very young. You were blessed to grow up in the shadow of one of the Lord Jesus Christ's magnificent latter-day temples. When we would drive past the temple as a family, sometimes we would sing these words together. We did it for a reason: there is a message in it that your mother and I hoped would sink deep into your hearts.

Holy places have always been part of true Christian worship. From the creation of the Garden of Eden, where God walked and talked with Father Adam and Mother Eve; to the tabernacle in the wilderness, where Moses conversed face to face with the Savior; to the splendor of King Solomon's temple, built to the Lord in the Israelite's promised land; to the restoration of this temple over the passing centuries as required from time to time; to the claiming of the temple at Jerusalem as "my house" by the Savior when He visited it in mortality; till at last, in these latter days, the Lord again commanded His people to build a house to His name:

"Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God." (D&C 109:8, see also v 2-9)

The reasons for the temple listed here were but prelude to revealing the further purposes of the temple. In addition to the tremendous blessings promised above, priesthood keys were bestowed upon the prophet Joseph Smith by heavenly messengers in the first temple at Kirtland, Ohio, after its completion. While praying in the temple the following vision was given to the prophet and one of his companions:

1 The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
2 We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
3 His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
4 I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father....
6 Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name.
7 For behold, I have accepted this house....
11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.
(D&C 110:1-4,6-7,11-16)

It was the bestowal of these priesthood keys--the keys to gather the Lord's people, to take the blessings of the gospel to all people, and to turn the hearts of the fathers and children who constitute the whole family of Adam to each other--that set in motion the highest and holiest purposes for building latter-day temples.

These keys are closely linked with the power that the Savior bestowed upon Peter: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

It is the key to this power--the power to bind or loose on earth and in heaven, or the sealing power--that was among the highest of gifts bestowed upon Joseph Smith as the prophet of this final dispensation. I think it is safe to say that this sealing power is the reason why all other keys and authority were ultimately given. The binding together of the human family is the grand purpose for the earth and our living in it; without this binding power and the turning of our hearts to the blessings that flow from it, the "whole earth would be utterly wasted" (D&C 2:3).

But why? Why is it so important for families--especially for husbands and wives--to be sealed together in eternal bonds?

Isn't it natural for the God and Father of us all to desire that His family, consisting of the entire human race, should be organized according to His pattern? Isn't it marvelous that among all the precious gifts God has given us for our progression--a beautiful world to live in; marvelous bodies to grow with; the freedom to use our agency and advance; a Savior to provide escape from our sins and from death; and a Church with prophet leaders to teach us law and administer God's ordinances and covenants to us with authority--that God also desires that our progression reach literally to the heights and depths of His celestial pattern of life? Our Eternal Father and Mother desire those blessings for their children which can only be shared as a couple--as husband and wife--and which bring the highest of joys and glories possible. Doesn't Almighty God, among all the titles He could be called, choose to be addressed by His children as our "Eternal Father?" Can you see that the summation of His grand work and glory is to bring us to the same condition in which He dwells, to make eternal fathers and mothers of us all, to share with His children the blessings and glories of eternal life?

The continuation of marriage and family ties throughout eternity is the very purpose of our creation. The blessings and challenges of an endless posterity is the work that gives meaning to existence. The concept of family is truly at the center of everything God is and does.

These highest of blessings are so sacred that the sealing ordinances that initiate the process are only bestowed upon God's children who are ready and willing to accept the accompanying responsibilities that go with them, and are only given in the most sacred of all places. The Lord has designated His holy temples as these sacred places in the latter days, just as in former times, and thus it is that the temple is at the center of the purposes of the latter-day church of Jesus Christ. In the temples we receive our ordinances with sacred covenants to live worthy of the blessings we are promised. To become like our Heavenly Parents, we must learn to live and love like Them--something that can only be accomplished through our own experience, by using our agency--and our covenants help us along the way. We are reminded of these sacred responsibilities and blessings each time we return to the temple, and are fortified in our resolve. We use our agency to both keep our covenants and allow the Savior's grace into our lives, and in partnership with Him we slowly but surely cast off our weakness and reach towards perfection and eternal life together, as a family.

It is only through receiving God's sealing ordinance--and keeping the covenants associated with it--that families can be organized according to God's eternal laws and enjoy everlasting ties, reap eternal love, and fulfill the highest purposes of human potential.

Can you see why your mother and I look back to the day we were sealed in the temple as the greatest day of our lives? Can you see why we hope you will look forward to the day you receive these blessings and covenants for yourselves? Our sealing in the temple has everything to do with why your mother and I love each other like we do. We are married for eternity. There is no end to our commitment to each other, to you children, to our God. Can you see how having a goal of eternal union will strengthen every marriage in mortality? Can you see how the little wrinkles in a marriage fade into insignificance when viewed against the glorious possibilities ahead? Can you see how absolute chastity in preparation for marriage, and absolute fidelity after marriage, are no-brainers? Can you see how being eternally bound as husband and wife, as parent and child, swallows up the sting of death when family members are temporarily separated? Can you see how an eternal perspective on family dictates clear priorities in this life; how the most important work your mother and I will ever do is here in our home, with each other, and with each of you? Can you understand why above all other roles in life, the ones we cherish most are husband and wife, father and mother? Can you see what marvelous, motivating goals your mother and I share? Can you see how viewing a beloved spouse in the light of his or her eternal potential, and his or her eternal impact on your potential, will widen your heart to eternity and increase your love, unbounded?

I love the words of Parley P. Pratt, an early apostle in the church and friend of Joseph Smith, who explained the impact of this beautiful doctrine on his marriage:

“It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the very foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness....

“It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore....

“I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling.... I felt that God was my heavenly Father indeed; that Jesus was my brother, and that the wife of my bosom was an immortal, eternal companion; a kind ministering angel, given to me as a comfort, and a crown of glory for ever and ever.”
(Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (1938), 259–60.)

Yes, my children, I love your mother. The love we share emanates from God and beautifies our lives together as we consistently choose to obey His laws related to love. Thus, love is ultimately a choice that we have each made through use of our individual, God-given agency, motivated by our understanding of divine law and our shared, eternal goals—goals that are outlined in the divine ordinances of the Holy Temple, and which are achieved through keeping temple covenants. Sadly, many in the world never come to understand this vital relationship between God, agency, and love—they believe that love is merely something you “fall into” and perhaps later “fall out of.” They think of it as some kind of cosmic Fate that operates on the souls of men and women, independent of choices they make. Thus, when the familiarity of routine sets in, or when the opposition inherent in this fallen world inevitably comes, without conscious a choice to love, relationships will wither and die. But that is not the way it will be with your mother and me.

In my love for your mother is wrapped up all my hopes, dreams, and aspirations for this life and eternity. Our marriage and our family, including each of you, have already brought me joy beyond anything I could have anticipated. In the common, every-day happenings in our home I have glimpsed the glories of eternity. I am so grateful we are sealed together, as father, mother, sons, and daughters. I intend to spend the rest of my life keeping the covenants I made the day I married your mother. I want each of you close to me forever, as we continue on with each new phase of our unending existence. I want to witness your growth and triumphs. I want to honor my parents by becoming all I can be. And I want to become the king your mother deserves as her companion, just as she strives to be a queen for me.

I love the Savior Jesus Christ. It is through Him--and only through Him--that even a glimmer of hope for these glorious blessings is possible. Never forget that. Never forget that you owe everything to Him. Serious discipleship is the only option that makes any sense. Obey Him. Worship Him. It is His right. He is the only way.

I love God our Eternal Father. It is because of His selflessness, His generosity, His desire to perpetuate the glory and joy that He enjoys, that we exist. He loves us unconditionally and infinitely. He wants the best for us. He gave His only begotten Son in the flesh for our salvation. He will always be there for us--always.

These things are true. I know them through the witness of the Holy Ghost. The truth of it burns in my heart even as I write this for you, my precious children. God lives and has a plan of salvation for the human family, and you know where to find it and what it is. You know the truth that will set you free.

But what about the others?

Part ten of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wife Rule #133: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Nine: The Latter-day Restoration

Awake and arise, O ye slumbering nations!
The heavens have opened their portals again.
The last and the greatest of all dispensations
Has burst like a dawn o’er the children of men!

The dream of the poet, the crown of the ages,
The time which the prophets of Israel foretold,
That glorious day only dreamed by the sages
Is yours, O ye slumbering nations; behold!

Oh, lift up your voices in song and in story.
Let banners of peace in all lands be unfurled,
For truth, heaven-born, in its beauty and glory
Is marching triumphantly over the world.

--Theodore E. Curtis, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 8

The fulfilment of all the promises the Lord has made to His prophets through all the dispensations of this world was to be commenced in the latter days, with the restoration of His true and living church (see D&C 1:30) through a latter-day prophet. Thus, the Lord continues his pattern, established with Father Adam, of bestowing divine truth and keys of priesthood authority upon a chosen servant, who will then be able to spread the blessings of the Gospel to all who will listen and obey, setting in motion anew God's great plan of salvation in its fullness. With the backdrop of centuries of apostasy and spiritual darkness, this promised day of restoration has been anticipated with joyful reverence, being called "a marvelous work and a wonder" (Isaiah 29:14 and 2 Nephi 25:17).

The miraculous accomplishment of the Lord's work in this latter-day dispensation, wherein He is literally and spiritually gathering lost Israel home again to their promised lands in preparation for the return to earth of the Savior Jesus Christ, is so great that the prophet Jeremiah foretold that it would change forever the way we view the Lord. No longer will He be called the Lord that brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, but rather the Lord who gathered Israel home from their literally and spiritually scattered condition (Jeremiah 16:14-16).

The world was many hundreds of years in preparation for this glorious day, however. After the death of the apostles, corrupt political leaders seized control of what was left of the early Christian church and changed doctrines and ordinances for a variety of reasons, including political expediency and power expansion. Multiple schisms occurred as power-hungry church leaders fought for control, further obfuscating the truth on many doctrinal points.

Centuries later, enlightened reformers such as Martin Luther began to recognize that these churches, which claimed to be the true Christian church, no longer resembled the church that Christ had organized. Luther and other brave reformers risked--and often gave--their very lives for their conviction that the church had gone astray and needed to return to Biblical Christianity.

The advent of the printing press and translations of the Bible into modern languages, such as Martin Luther's German edition and John Wycliffe's and William Tindale's English editions, provided widespread availability of God's word for the first time in centuries. This explosion of available truth further exposed just how far the Christian church had drifted from the truths and practices that Christ taught--and some of these valiant men, such as Tindale, paid for this exposure with their lives.

But the truth, once unleashed, proved to be a hydra that could not be contained. From the legacy of these brave reformers sprung centuries of efforts to remodel Christianity back to what it once was. The only problem was that there were nearly as many different ideas about exactly how to fix the Christian church as there were people interested in fixing it. These differences in opinion were further exacerbated as political and religious freedom began their glorious march across the globe, including the establishment of a whole nation founded on the fundamental belief that each person should not be forced to conform to any established religion, but be entitled to worship--or not--as he chooses.

In this new land, the United States of America, the establishment of new Christian sects proceeded rapidly, until there were literally hundreds of different churches. Each had its own unique doctrines and practices, and each had a sincere desire to follow the Savior, but none had divine authority or prophetic revelation. The very existence of these countless churches, when the apostles clearly taught "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) was ample testimony of the great apostasy away from Christ's original church. Never had the world been farther from the "unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13). Never had there been more evidence that the great "falling away" from the truth had occurred (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Never had there been more need for apostles and prophets (Ephesians 4:11) than there was in the early nineteenth century.

It was at this time that a young, unlearned farm boy from a poor family began an earnest quest to find the truth. Joseph Smith's parents had suffered years of economic failures that forced them to move from place to place until they ended up in Manchester, New York. By 1820, Joseph's interest in finding and joining with Christ's true church was excited by the general uproar on the subject of religion in the area. Joseph correctly reasoned that two preachers holding opposing viewpoints about religious doctrines could not both be entirely right. He wondered how a young, ignorant boy such as himself was to find out the truth about which church to join.

Probably at the suggestion of a preacher from one of the many churches Joseph frequented, he turned to the words of the prophets--the scriptures. In his own words:

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
(Joseph Smith History (JS-H) 1:11-13)

So it was that on a beautiful spring morning in 1820, fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith retired to a secluded grove of trees near his family's home, and knelt down to ask God which church he should join. His youthful faith was pure and he fully intended to obey whatever instruction he received.

Satan, who has opposed the agency-giving light and truth that prophets have dispensed from the beginning, and sensing that Joseph was destined to become a serious "disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom" (JS-H 1:20), threw all of his terrible forces at the young boy, causing great fear to come upon him and binding his tongue so that he could not speak.

16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time....
(JS-H 1:16-20)

Thus it was that a young, obscure boy was called upon from heaven and given commandments by direct revelation from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in a personal appearance unmatched during centuries of spiritual darkness and confusion. Thus it was that the heavens were opened again and a prophet of God was called in the last days of the earth, commencing the great preparation of the world for the second coming of the Savior.

There was no deception in the sacred grove, as some unbelievers have contended--Joseph felt and discerned clearly the polar opposites of Satan's hatred and God's love, as one attempted to destroy him and the Other delivered him. There was no mistaking the divine calling of a new prophet for a new dispensation. Joseph Smith, like Enoch, Samuel, David, and others before him, was prepared from the foundation of the world to be a prophet to the nations in the latter days, even if called in his youth.

My dear children, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the reality of Joseph Smith's first vision. The light it sheds on the world is of everlasting value. Its implications are of eternal worth. And it really happened--to this I testify!

The world has, in the Bible, a priceless collection of inspired gems of truth about the reality of the Savior and His doctrine. These gems of truth, to fully enable our agency and facilitate our salvation, must be organized and fit together into a single, coherent system, or Church. But this organization must be according to God's divine designs, not man's. The highly fractured state of Christianity today, nearly two thousand years after the last epistles of the New Testament were written, is plain evidence that the Bible alone is insufficient to unite the people of the world under a single banner of faith. The Bible, while full of precious truth, has been interpreted differently by each sect. It is clear that new revelation through a living prophet--one who could proclaim the truth with authority from God--is the only way to resolve the questions and disputes that have so long fractured the Christian world, and restore that portion of the truth which was changed, or lost, or never included in the set of writings that constitutes our present-day Bible.

Neither can the Bible alone bestow divine priesthood authority on anyone. This takes a direct calling from God, as Paul observed: "no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (Hebrews 5:4, see 1-4). And how was Aaron called? By direct revelation from God through the prophet Moses (Exodus 28:1). How was the prophet Moses called? Directly by the voice of God Himself. It has been this way from the beginning, and the pattern has not changed!

But how can we know that Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God? How can we know--among the bewildering array of Christian churches out there, currently totalling over 38,000 different sects--which church is divinely sanctioned, or whether any are at all?

The answer has always been the same: through the power of the Holy Ghost. God's method of communicating with us is the same way he has generally communicated with His prophets (see D&C 8:2-3)--we are just as entitled to inspiration as they are. Surely a loving Father who knows that the progression of His children depends on how well they can identify and follow divine truth, or law, would ensure there was a reliable way to sort out truth from error.

To assist in this quest of eternal importance, God has given us a powerful tool--the Book of Mormon. Three years after Joseph Smith was first called of God in the grove, an angel named Moroni began a series of heavenly visitations (see JS-H 1:27-54). Just as Adam, Abraham, Jacob, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, John the Revelator, and others were assisted and taught by angels in their ministries, so was young Joseph. These visits culminated in the angel bestowing an ancient record to Joseph that he, Moroni, had finished writing and sealed up centuries before, as a prophet-historian in the land where Joseph now lived.

Over a miraculously short period of time, Joseph Smith translated this ancient record through the gifts of prophecy and revelation. The Book of Mormon tells brief histories--as written through prophets' eyes--of several nations of people brought by the Lord to the Western hemisphere over a period of about a thousand years. It shows God's dealings with these people, and how their use of agency for good or evil brought about their salvation or damnation. It expounds upon the blessings and covenants of the Lord relative to the inhabitants of this land as well as the whole house of Israel. Most importantly, it contains the testimonies of numerous prophets of God that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title Page)--including an account of the personal ministry of Jesus Christ to the people of this continent after His resurrection. It was compiled by prophets with a view of our day--the latter day--and written with us as the intended audience. It is of inestimable worth.

The Book of Mormon--that remarkable book--has influenced my life for good more than any other book. As I have told you before, my precious children, it is from reading the Book of Mormon that I first felt the unmistakable witness that Jesus Christ lives and that He is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. It is from reading that book that I first came to know that God loves me and that He has a divine will and plan for my life. It is from reading that book that I first gained my witness that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. It is from reading that book that my love of the Bible, and of all truth, has blossomed and grown. It is from reading that book that springs my entire testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days. Indeed, that book is the "keystone of [my] religion" (see Joseph Smith's quote in the Introduction). It is a gift, directly from heaven, that came to us as a single, seamless revelation of the precise truths we would need in the latter days to combat Satan and fortify our faith in Christ. It is a miracle you can hold in your hands. It teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ in beautiful purity and simplicity. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true! I know it is, and you can too! Read it with faith, ponder it with gratitude, and pray about it with sincere intent to act upon the revelation you receive, as Moroni directs (see Moroni 10:3-5), and I promise you that you will know through the covincing witness of the Holy Ghost, as I do.

Prior to organizing Christ's latter-day church, Joseph Smith had received divine priesthood keys from angelic visitations of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, who held the keys in the ancient Christian church. Being now endowed with authority to do so, just months after the English edition of the Book of Mormon was published came the official organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830. During the first meeting of the Church, Joseph Smith was sustained as the first prophet, seer, and revelator in this, the "dispensation of the fulness of times" (Ephesians 1:10).

But the translation of the Book of Mormon, and the subsequent organization of the Church, did not mark the end of the revelation of divine truth. Like all other prophets before him, Joseph continued to receive revelations during his service as the Lord's prophet. Over a hundred of these precious gems of truth are compiled into the Doctrine and Covenants, and others are included in the Pearl of Great Price. I know that these two volumes, combined with the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible, constitute the core of an open and ever-expanding canon of scriptural truth given through the gifts of prophecy and revelation to the Lord's continuing line of prophets. Never has so much of the word of God been so available to so many people as it is today; we are truly blessed!

Nor were the visits of the ancient apostles to Joseph Smith the end of the bestowing of priesthood keys. One of the most sacred of the revelations records the visitation of numerous ancient prophets to Joseph, each of which bestowed upon him authority and keys to conduct the work of the Lord in the latter days (see D&C 110).

But why? Once the authority to organize the Lord's true church, and to baptize and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost was given, what else was there? Well, in answering these questions lies the very key to the reason why I love your mother so very dearly, and we find ourselves on the threshold of the grand conclusion of my thoughts on the subject.

Part nine of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue