Monday, February 27, 2012

Service in the Ward

Yesterday my husband gave a talk in what could possibly be (depending on when he's released) his last talk for ward conference. He focused on service, specifically in the ward. I wanted to share this talk with you today. I realize there will be many terms and people in this talk those of you not familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will recognize. Feel free to ask if you'd like to understand more.

In a letter President Monson received, Sister Mori Farmer explained that her family had experienced difficult financial times. One week, the Farmers attended a family reunion, and when they returned they found a letter taped to the garage door. The note read: “We hope you had a great family reunion. While you were gone, we and about 50 of our friends had a great party at your house. We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the years of unselfish service you both have given to us. You have been Christlike examples of untiring service to others. We can never repay you for that—but just thought we’d like to say thanks. Signed, your home teachers.”

The Farmer family was shocked as they entered their house.

“Our home teachers had decided that they would fix our carpet while we were away. They had moved the furniture out into the front yard so the carpet could get stretched and finished. One man in the ward stopped and asked what was going on. He returned later with several hundred dollars’ worth of paint and said, ‘We might as well paint the house while everything is out.’ Others saw the cars out front and stopped to see what was going on, and by week’s end 50 people were busy repairing, painting, cleaning, and sewing.

“Our friends and fellow ward members had fixed our poorly laid carpet, painted the entire house, repaired holes in the drywall, oiled and varnished our kitchen cabinets, put curtains on three windows in the kitchen and family room, did all the laundry, cleaned every room in the house, had the carpets cleaned, fixed broken door latches, and on and on. … All of this had been accomplished between Wednesday and our return on Sunday.”

Those who served the Farmer family said they felt spiritually uplifted and humbled as they demonstrated the pure love of Christ by serving those who had unselfishly served others for years.

“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).

I have been a member of this ward for the last 13 years or so. I have served in a number of callings, have been a firsthand witness to the generous spirit that resides here. I have even been a recipient of this service, a few examples of which I will discuss later. Many have remarked over the years about the special Spirit that resides in this ward. I am convinced a major reason for this is because this is a ward that loves to serve.

A few weeks ago in a leadership training meeting that was broadcast by the general leaders of the Church, which many of us in the ward attended, a question was posed that received an unexpected answer. The question was, “Are Mormons Christians?” To this question Elder D. Todd Christofferson answered:

“You’ve said that the answers to life’s challenges and problems come from the gospel and applying the gospel, which means following the teachings and the commandments and the example of Christ. And I think that it’s in this Christlike conduct and service that we present our best and most persuasive argument of our own Christianity. I know that there are those who contend that we don’t fit their particular definition of Christian orthodoxy. So be it. But our example should be such that no one can deny that the Latter-day Saints love the Savior. No one can deny that the Latter-day Saints seek to emulate the Savior. And so we demonstrate, I think, by our actions. As the Savior said, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). I happen to live, by the way, in a wonderful ward where this is really the environment and the pattern of life.

“One quick example. Amy has five children, is expecting a sixth, and has had a lot of illness herself during this pregnancy. Tiffany probably has more children at home right now than anybody else in the ward. But Tiffany makes it a point, from time to time, of taking Amy’s children to be with her for a while and giving Amy some time alone to rest and recuperate. That’s a simple example, but I think if you multiply that hundreds and thousands of times, that’s what it means for us to be a Christian.”

Every day we present ourselves as members of the Lord’s Church. Whether at school, at the store, at home, or at Church we are what others look to as examples of what this Church stands for.

The Lord spent the majority of His life in serving others. There were times those acts of service were miraculous, attracting the attention of many. Other times the service was small, known only to a few. It didn’t matter how grand or small those acts of service were, each counted as a work of love. Each brought with it a marvelous warmth, not only for those who Christ served, but for Himself.

What can service do for the individual who chooses to serve? Elder Christofferson says, “The focus in service always has to be outward. We’re thinking of what we can do to help others, but there’s no denying that it has an effect on us at the same time. There’s something about empathy and compassion, I believe, that changes our perspective, that adds courage and strength, I think, to deal with our own needs. It refines us. It sanctifies us.”

President Thomas S. Monson repeats what the Savior said—that in order to find purpose in life, lose yourself in the service of others.

“Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives,“ he says.

He also said, “Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives.”

Many years ago a new missionary in England was frustrated and discouraged. He wrote home saying he felt he was wasting his time. His wise father replied, “Forget yourself and go to work.” Young Elder Gordon B. Hinckley went to his knees and covenanted with the Lord that he would try to forget himself and lose himself in the Lord’s service. Years later, as a mature servant of the Lord, Elder Hinckley would say, “He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity.”

This Church is a Church of service. Just this last week our youth were able to take a tour of the Humanitarian Center, where they could see first hand some of the service this Church renders not only on a world-wide basis, but for those who are employed there locally. As the leaders of the Granger 6th ward over the youth, we have asked these young men and young women to perform at least six hours of service between now and June 14th when many of them will attend Youth Conference. That means a half an hour of service every week between now and then. One half hour of service. Such a short amount of time that will yield so many blessings.

What if we were all to commit to this? One half hour of service a week. For many in this ward it will come naturally as they all ready give acts of service to others, acts which go unnoticed by many as they are done quietly.

One sister used to write notes to an older, and greatly loved, member of the ward. Another goes around to many of our sick sisters and willingly takes their laundry to do. A couple in the ward has been helping out wherever they can financially those who are hurting. Many members of this ward have been blessed with meals brought in by loving friends, even when it wasn’t asked for. There are several out there who willingly drive those who cannot to places they need to go.

As a bishop I have seen great and marvelous things performed by members of this ward for members of this ward. I have witnessed the love that passes between you all due to the acts of service given. I have witnessed the pure love of Christ. His image has truly been in the countenances of many here.

Another part of service that many pass over is a willingness to allow others to serve us. For many of us this is difficult. We are embarrassed at needing help, or feel as though it is a burden on others to help us when we are capable of doing things ourselves. But when we deny others the chance to serve us, we are denying them the opportunity to share that Christlike love, and receive the blessings that would be given to them.

A Sister Randall shares her experience with this:

“It was with awe that our children first heard the story about a family who gave away their entire Christmas—tree, food, and gifts. It all began when their neighbor’s home burned early on the morning of Christmas Eve. When the children heard of their friends’ situation, a family meeting was called and they all agreed, without exception, that they would share their Christmas.
“The day’s activities soon centered around switching name tags on gifts and boxing up Christmas goodies, turkey and all. And at the last minute, they even took the tree! When they gathered back home after delivering their project in secret, they had feelings
of excitement and love.

Questions came from our children: “Wasn’t it hard for the first family to give?” “Wasn’t it difficult for the other family to receive?”

“A short time later we had our own opportunity to be receivers of service. After living in a community for only one month, it became necessary for me to stay completely down for two months while expecting our eighth baby. Our first reaction was that we could handle this challenge all alone. The children were used to helping and had regular jobs around the house. However, we soon recognized that despite careful planning and added responsibilities, we needed help.

“Even after years of teaching and hearing lessons on serving others and accepting service, we found that to actually let someone help us was difficult to do. But, as we allowed them to help us, we soon found our hearts full of thanks for their thoughtfulness.

“A retired couple came by and picked up the youngest children for a morning outing. Our bishop organized a sacrament meeting and brought it in our home. Several busy sisters came by regularly just to chat, because they knew that I enjoyed adult company. A couple prepared and brought in a candlelight dinner to share with us for a date night. A batch of white shirts disappeared and then reappeared, freshly ironed.

“The phrase “Call me if I can do anything” took on new meaning. We learned that you will rarely take someone up on such an offer. Instead, we witnessed people who came by saying, “Is it the kitchen you want cleaned, or would you rather have me vacuum?” Many were good examples to us as they not only thought of helpful things to do, but did them.

“Another thought came forcefully to mind. Any time service was rendered they could probably have been doing the same thing for their own family at home. Yet a large family brought a canister of homemade ice cream to us. A lovely lady made our daughter’s eighth grade graduation dress. A sweet friend brought fresh loaves of homemade bread by the armful each week, insisting that our family was used to homemade, not store-bought, bread. One of our grandmas left her home and came to stay with us for two weeks.

“A line from my journal says: “If only I can remember the same gift of kindness to others when I am well.” Service had become a living principle, and we felt an overwhelming desire to be able to serve others.

“Then we could truly answer our children’s questions. “Is it hard to give?” Yes. It’s a sacrifice on someone’s part. “Is it difficult to receive?” Yes. But we love those who serve us and those we may serve.

Next month our family will celebrate the 12th birthday of our son. Most of you have heard us talk about him, but many of you who are new may not. When our oldest was only two my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He lived an hour and twelve minutes. The next few days were a blur. Had it not been for the service of family and ward members I honestly do not know how we would have made it through that time.

Bishop H___ and his wife, along with a good friend of my wife’s, stopped by that evening. Bishop and I gave my wife a blessing. Her friend brought to us a picture we have cherished since that day. My father was by my side as I planned my son’s funeral, with the help of a wonderful friend in the ward, Brother N____. Bishop H____ conducted the graveside service, where many friends, family, and ward members stood by our sides, offering love as I have rarely felt before.

One small act of kindness during that time, one which has meant the world to me, was done anonymously. A sister in the ward had crocheted a beautiful white baby blanket which was given to our son to be wrapped in as he was buried. Such a beautiful gift done with a beautiful talent. It may not have been a huge sacrifice on her part, but the love behind it touched my heart more than she can know.

One of the greatest ways I have been able to serve in this ward has been to visit with the members, especially those in the hospital, who are sick or otherwise afflicted. It has required much sacrifice both on my part and that of my family, but it has brought so much love into our home, into the lives of those I am able to visit, and the blessings we all have received have been wonderful.

As your bishop I encourage you to continue in the service you render to the members of this ward. I encourage you to speak up if you need help, especially to our youth who need the opportunities and the blessings from giving service. Even the littlest of children can give service to those in need. It is important to teach them this from a young age. Why? In the words of President Marion G. Romney, “Service is not just something we do to get into heaven, but service is the way of life in heaven. You know, it’s God’s way of life. It’s what we do there.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What Kind of Home Will You and Your Family Build?

My hubby and I were chatting about things the other day and decided something needed to be done about how the kids were NOT making home the tidiest and happiest of places. The more we prayerfully considered what was going on and what to do about it, an idea popped into my head.

I didn't want to sit there and dictate to the kids what we were seeing, what was wrong, and what was GOING TO HAPPEN!!! Grumbling would have been heard throughout the land. Instead a story began to form in my mind and, using a talent God gave me, I began to write a funny story to help illustrate to the kids not only what was happening, but would hopefully encourage them to come up with their own ideas on how to make our home a happier place.

A few friends asked me to share my story, and so (with a few changes) I decided to share it with everyone. Some of the main problems we were facing is my daughter's addiction to Facebook, my boys' addiction to video games, and the littlest's need to be shrill and demanding because no one pays any attention to her. So that is what my little Princes and Princesses face in the story.

I would highly encourage you to look for creative ways to positively deal with the problems in your home. Just like in the story, we sat down as a family and came up with some goals to try and make things better here. In a few weeks we will sit down and see how it's going, see what's working and what isn't, and then make any necessary changes.

And now, enjoy the story.

Once upon a time there lived an awesome and royal family in the Kingdom of Best Valley. This family had the following members: Queen Ma and King Pa Balker, their oldest Princess Alec (they thought she was going to be a boy and the name stuck even after she turned out to be a girl), Prince Paulina (who was named after his grandpa but after what happened the first time, and thinking he was also going to be a boy, they opted to try a girl’s name), another Prince Brianne (after two other kids they decided not to break the pattern and gave their next son a girl’s name), and Princess Banana (Queen Ma Locker ate an awful lot of bananas during that pregnancy and thought the name Banana could be for a boy OR a girl).

For many years the royal Balker family lived in mostly love and almost always harmony. They enjoyed going on outings together and worked sorta hard to keep their castle tidy and neat. They enjoyed reading books as a royal family and could often be seen doing works of service for those in their kingdom.

As the Princes and Princesses grew older, however, something sad began to happen. The time the family spent in these wonderful activities became less frequent. King Pa and Queen Ma spent more and more time on errands for the kingdom, trying to keep everything in working order, and when they weren’t working, they were found to be increasingly hidden away in the royal bedchamber, tired from all their efforts.

Princess Alec had found a new and addicting hobby called Flacebooker where she could easily access other princes and princesses in surrounding lands! She could, and often did, spend HOURS conversing with those she rarely had access to before. The Royal family began to see more of the back of her head rather than the front of her Flace, uh, face.

Prince Paulina had long been a huge fan of buttons. Not the sort that keeps your clothes from falling right off you, but rather those that made magical things happen. Some buttons would make the made-up doings of other people in other lands appear on a screen that he could watch and laugh about for hours on end. Which he did. A lot. And if someone dared to tell him it was time to stop there would be great wailings and gnashing of teeth from the young prince until Queen Ma and King Pa would often think about getting rid of his access to these pretend lands.

Both Paulina and Brianne had a great love for the buttons that made other creatures in pretend lands move across the magic screen, doing their every bidding. Prince Brianne especially loved the two devices that let him push these sorts of buttons: the Woo and the PlagueStation. He had also developed a recent love of a food called Poppern, a crunchy and sweetly air popped delight he could live off of if given the opportunity.

Last, but certainly not least, was little Banana. As everyone became intent on doing their own thing she was neglected more and more. Her voice became louder and shriller in the hopes of being heard by those who were too busy to pay her any attention. She began to spend a lot of time in her royal bedchamber playing with toys that felt more her family than the real members. She was also placed frequently in front of movies in the hopes of keeping her entertained so others could do their own thing.

The Royal Balker family could not see that anything was too wrong at the moment, but Someone else did. He was the seventh member of their family, a prince by the name of Dalevid who had all ready gone on to the great Kingdom in the Skye, but who could see what was going on with his family below. And what he saw worried him. He wanted his family to come and live with him in the Kingdom in the Skye, but if they kept going down this path that might not happen. So he began to send down little whisperings and nudges in the hopes his parents would hear.

Happily, they did. The King and Queen began to take a closer look at what was going on and didn’t like much of what they saw. The castle was a mess. Clothes were strewn everywhere. There was clean laundry that sat in the basket for days before anyone thought to do anything about it. In the royal bedchambers there were dirty clothes all over the floor, even - much to the Queen’s dismay - right next to the royal laundry hamper. The Queen found a dirty sock in a much traveled hallway and wondered what would happen if she did not pick it up. The answer was: nothing. No one else, not even the owner of the sock, picked it up and placed it in a hamper.

There was clutter everywhere. Instead of using something and putting it back in it’s rightful place, things were left wherever they’d been used: on a table, a floor, a couch, a bathtub, a sink, or a bucket. Used up bags, wrappers, containers, and dishes could be found on just about every surface. Crumbs began to make their way into everyone’s socks, until Queen Ma felt ready to send a giant cyclone through the castle in the hopes it would suck all the crumbs away. But cyclones are not meant to be used to clean, and would only have reduced the castle to rubble. So she nixed that idea.

As Queen Ma and King Pa began to take stock of the mess, the two of them agreed to start doing better about picking up after themselves and their children. Their thought was, if they began to do it their children would follow their examples and help right along. Unfortunately this is not what happened. Instead the more they worked to clean and help out and pick up, the lazier and messier their children became. With Ma and Pa doing their work, they had more time to do their own thing.

So now instead of sweeping up once or twice a week, Queen Ma and King Pa would sweep up once or twice a day. The laundry would often pile up so high from improper room cleanings Queen Ma would find herself incredibly overwhelmed with the amount and not want to do it at all. King Pa would come home from a long day at work and visiting with Kingdom members only to find his castle in chaos, and would become so frustrated he would want to do nothing but hide in his room and escape in a good book.

The King and Queen noticed other changes as well. Their beloved Princes and Princesses argued a lot more. They wanted to spend less time together and more time away from each other. The royal children began to care more for other people and pretend places than they did for their own family. And so the King and Queen knelt down to ask their Father in the Kingdom of the Skye what they should do.

Their Father began to send down promptings and ideas to the two distressed parents, and on one particular Sunday after a day of Worshipping at church Queen Ma and King Pa had some answers. They gathered their precious children together one night and asked them a question: What sort of castle should we build? At first the children thought they were going to build a brand new castle.

“One with a giant room filled with magical buttons and loads of Woo’s and PlagueStations!” shouted the Princes.

“And my very own room where I can spend the whole day with my friends on Flacebooker!” yelled Princess Alec.

The King and Queen looked dismayed. This wasn’t going as they had hoped. There was one surprisingly quiet voice among the group. Queen Ma and King Pa noticed little Banana over in the corner looking very sad indeed. “What’s the matter Banana?” they asked.

“I don’t want a new castle. I like this one,” she said.

“What do you like so much about it?” they asked.

“I like the kitchen where we sit down and eat together and talk and laugh. And I like this room where we play games and throw Brianne’s teddy bear back and forth. And I like my room where my sister and I sometimes lay down and giggle together. And I like the Prince’s room where we play and have fun. And I especially like your room where we sometimes laugh together and where you let me sleep when I’ve had a bad dream. I don’t want another castle.”

The room grew quiet. King Pa took Banana in his arms and held her tight, trying to quiet her cries. Queen Ma looked at her other children and said, “I want a castle where we help each other, where we play together, where we work together to make this a beautiful place. I want this to be a place where the spirit of our Father can reside, and He has said He can only be in a clean and orderly place.

“King Pa and I have been trying to make this a cleaner and happier place, but we can’t do it ourselves. We shouldn’t have to do it ourselves. We need your help.”

The Princes and Princesses were surprised. Ma and Pa needed their help? They thought their parents had it all under control. But now that they stopped to look at the King and Queen, they could see how tired the two of them were. And so the family sat down to make some goals on how to make their castle the sort where their Father’s spirit could be.

It took some time, and a lot of work, but eventually the castle in the Kingdom of Best Valley began to be a house of order and cleanliness. Those who entered in could feel the spirit of the Father in that castle, and it made them happy. The Royal family made an effort to spend more time together and less time on other things. Even Queen Ma and King Pa did their best to make time for their children, and to spend that time doing what was right. Even Brianne managed to eat something other than Poppern. Up in the Kingdom in the Skye both Dalevid and Father were happy with what they saw.