Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WAR! What Is It Good For...

Okay, so this post isn't completely about war, but the title was catchy and ironic, so I got attached and couldn't give it up.  This was intended to be a short post on my thought while reading Alma 43, it was going to be only on verse 9, and it has grown into many different things that encompass more verses and chapters of Alma. I'm trying to keep it organized, even though all things do eventually tie in together.  
Alma 43:9; "And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies; and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires."
I think what people fear most in day-to-day life is when their basic rights are trivialized and threatened, anytime their rights and privileges, freedoms and those of their family are in jeopardy.  In today's society, this has increased as the adversary has used his cunning to make our enemies more stealthy, hiding them in seemingly harmless things: music, television shows, even books and politics (and even simpler things and places).  We are often coaxed into believing that we are safe, while allowing a "gray area" to exist in our lives.     

There is a great need to take inventory of what and who our real enemies are, to be mindful of the sins that Satan sugarcoats.  He feels no remorse for it.  In fact, it gives him happiness to lead us to sin and away from God, while we take a seat, smile and wave at him, allowing, and sometimes acting in ways that encourage it to happen. Satan is an expert at keeping lines blurry.  The adversary WILL try to confuse us, try to convince us that we don't know, or don't understand, the difference between right and wrong. It is our responsibility to be aware of the ways he is trying to capture us.  We cannot afford to be jaded. The further we distance ourselves from Heavenly Father, the more balloons Satan brings to his party, the more he dances in celebration.  

We cannot allow ourselves to be tricked by the devil and expect to receive revelation for ourselves or children, blessings, or even to expect that we will maintain the proper sense of direction needed to function in day-to-day life.  This world has become fast-paced and while we intend to use it's technological advances to our benefit, Satan promises to use them to his.  Don't get caught in his trap.  Don't take your eyes off the prize.               

In current events, I think the adversary intends to confuse us when it comes to choosing a political leader.  Satan has clouded things in modern society, making us feel like certain things are okay, when they, quite frankly, go against the word of God. Those who serve in a position of leadership who don't protect those they govern from the enemies of the land, or don't give them the chance to lawfully protect themselves, will be held accountable. Those who don't lead honestly, with integrity, with the safety and livelihood the people in mind, have failed as leaders.  

If Romney doesn't win the presidency in 2012, then I really do believe that the second coming is much closer than many think. And the tests will be even more difficult for us.  To think of what another four years under President Obama would bring this country, and how it will affect us globally, in trade and commerce, immigration, etc., is terrifying.  The situations that will ensue will speak clearly and loudly of the last days. 

That's why it's important for all of us to make sure we're on the right track, keeping covenants and recognizing the protection that comes from that.  The war chapters in the Book of Mormon enable us to see how we can find happiness in our lives, by living righteously, even when wickedness is rampant.      

In the October 1986 Saturday Morning session of General Conference, President Benson said that in the Book of Mormon "we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming."  He continued, "From the Book of Mormon we learn how disciples of Christ live in times of war. From the Book of Mormon we see the evils of secret combinations portrayed in graphic and chilling reality. In the Book of Mormon we find lessons for dealing with persecution and apostasy. We learn much about how to do missionary work. And more than anywhere else, we see in the Book of Mormon the dangers of materialism and setting our hearts on the things of the world. Can anyone doubt that this book was meant for us and that in it we find great power, great comfort, and great protection?"

Our pleasure in life should come from leading a life that puts Heavenly Father first: taking care of our families, working with purpose, serving others, etc. This includes being joyful about defying the adversary.  Choosing good over evil should be celebrated. Repenting and forsaking sins should be celebrated. Personal victories over sin should be celebrated. The celebrations need not be boisterous, but in your heart, rejoice that you have chosen Heavenly Father's way over Satan's.  The adversary will always be against us, but Heavenly Father is for us. We have to make the choice daily, and consistently, to be better, to love defying the devil because we love Heavenly Father. 

So go out there. Do the right thing and LOVE doing the right thing! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Conversion: Part 1

****Friends, here is the condensed first part of my conversion story, and it really, really does start way back in the beginning.  I'm including pictures that are relevant to the story: any religious pictures referenced are the ones I actually looked to as a child, and any pictures of myself are posted at the corresponding time/age of that segment of the story.  Thank you for giving me a reason to finally sit down and start writing this out.  Thank you for being interested. ****

When I was a little girl, I used to go to church with close family friends who had once been our neighbors.  They had lived next door to us when my family lived in the house we lived in when I was born, on Orange Street in San Bernardino, CA.

Sometime during the first six years of my life they had moved to a house on a big piece of property over by Cal State San Bernardino.  When I turned six years old, my dad was laid off and despite my parents search and struggle, we needed help.  These former neighbors had remained our close friends and they quickly stepped up to help.  They let us live in a 5th wheel on their property behind their house.  It was a humble situation really, but as a child I didn't know the difference.    

These neighbors has always been known to me as an aunt and an uncle though they were not blood relations. They were raising their grandchildren at the time so there were children around to play with.  They always asked me if I wanted to go to church with them. Of course I wanted to.  I loved church and had always loved going to church.  I'd always kind of been obsessed with churches.  I didn't know much about any religion in particular, but I had been to Catholic masses, Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist services all before second grade. When the question was, "church?," my answer was an easy and unconditional, "yes!," always with a hopeful, tentative glance at my parents.

My mother was raised Roman Catholic, in a convent even, and my father was raised Lutheran. Neither one cared much for their religions, both having gone to parochial schools, and this only seemed to pique my interest more.  I had been raised with religious symbols in our home and I had always had pictures of Jesus.  I was given children's bibles as gifts and had video cassettes of animated bible stories. One of my favorite toys was my Fisher Price Little People's Noah's Ark.  (I'm getting Adelaide one for Christmas :)  I'm not sure if I think my situation was ironic or not, that seemingly indifferent parents placed me in an environment bound to lead to questions...when they had no desire to be active in any church setting.  Thankfully, regardless of their desire, they always allowed me to attend any church service I wanted with those who invited me.   

So I did go to church with Aunt Sherry and Uncle Don, who happened to be LDS.  This didn't mean anything to me until about four years ago but more on that later.  To this day my mother maintains that she was okay with me attending church with them because "the Mormons" are big on family.  Regardless of her reasoning, I'm okay with it.  It's brought me here, along with other circumstances that I'll discuss later.

As a child in Primary, I never understood the Word of Wisdom, the Sacrament (I knew what the bread & water symbolized, but the words were bigger than me), or who the Missionaries were, but I knew that it all added up to one man and his Father and that everything about him was good.  The people I went to church with loved the same man that I had grown up seeing in pictures in my room and tucked away in my Precious Moments bible:

I didn't always know why Jesus was so wonderful, I couldn't comprehend many of His teachings or parables.  I just knew that I was supposed to love Him, so I did.  That simplicity has allowed me to understand why Heavenly Father wants us to be like children and why children are so important in the Gospel. In fact, this principle was impressed upon me even greater the following year when we moved again and I started attending a Baptist church.  They had an amazing youth program and I used to sing with them and learn with them, I was even Mary in the Nativity during the Christmas play (recovering from chickenpox, no less!).  One week I had a scripture to learn: Matthew 19:13-15.  That scripture has always stayed with me, because I knew that Jesus wanted the children to come to Him for celebration, help, sorrow and in happiness, to be led and taught by Him, to be blessed by Him, to allow us to return to Him and our Father. 

A year later, as I turned eight years old, my father got a job in Baker, CA and we moved yet again. With a population of 735 people, there wasn't an LDS church for at least an hour (Barstow) to attend.  I was 8 years old, I hadn't even known that I had attended an LDS church.  At that age, church was church and I though everyone loved Jesus.  I didn't understand the differences in denominations.  

While there wasn't a meetinghouse for at least 60 miles, I do remember having a missionary discussion at a friend's house after having a sleepover.  In the back of my mind I recognized them but we were kids and we spent a lot of time on our own.  We were in a rinky-dink town in the middle of nowhere; we were probably good practice for the missionaries. I don't know how they ever thought they could get us to a church an hour away, but I appreciate that they tried. 

Church became a fleeting thought for me shortly after that.  About seven years later, when we were 15 my best friend Michelle, who is Catholic, began studying for her Confirmation.  By this point I lived with Michelle and her family and they were amazing.  I just loved (and still love!) them.  They included me and never made me feel like the pain in the butt that teenage girls are (especially since I was/am a know-it-all!).  

Though religion hadn't been a thing I had really thought about since that lone missionary visit (minus the 3 out of 7 days I once attended of Vacation Bible School, where I initially didn't realize it was only 7 day long... *ahem*), I still prayed in my heart constantly, asking for Heavenly Father's protection when I had to walk home in the dark, or when I was afraid, or even just saying "thank you" for what I did have. (Only recently have I realized, but those fervent prayers under the stars were answered again and again and again, like Angel's wings covering me, a steady hand guiding me when I was unsure, and their power extended long after my prayers fell silent. ) 

When I attended Mass with Michelle (in Spanish, mind you) it was because I knew it would be boring for her and I didn't want her to have to do it alone. I did, at one point, consider fully converting to Catholicism, baptism and all, just so I could have the same religion as her. I wanted us to have the same everything, she was as close to me as a sister.  She still is, even though we don't live together, or even very near one another anymore, and we did drift apart a bit as we left high school, but all of my best memories from third grad on until graduation include her. I think the brief religious experiences we did share together had an affect on my path into religion before I even knew it.  I think more than anything, I respected the commitment that she expressed by completing the rites of her religion.  I wanted that, but I wasn't sure how exactly, or where, to find it.  

When I graduated high school at 18, I moved to Florida.  Very literally, when I graduated high school.  Graduation night I hopped on an airplane with my sister and moved to Pensacola to go to UWF and play volleyball.  

I had very few religious experiences there, I went to mass once with my sister (on Easter I think...?) & I had a teammate who was very Christian and my coach was also Christian, and they seemed to be the type to live their beliefs pretty loyally.  I appreciated that.  My roommate also seemed to have Christian beliefs; she had lost her mother to cancer a few years before and she was a really strong person.  I still really admire her though we no longer keep in touch.  I also tried going to church once with a guy in my dorm who I'd had a conversation with about wanting to go back to church.  He was Catholic so we went to mass at a church he'd been going to by campus.  After one mass there, I couldn't hold interest.  There was nothing that was taught there that made me feel better or want to be better.  So I gave up on that leg of my search.  

I moved home to California and got back into the swing of things with my old friends.  I worked at the Starbucks there for a year, having fun and living life.  I (finally, and very late) got my driver's license and continued my search for Christ, and ultimately for peace.  (I'm not entirely sure that getting my DL & searching for Christ are actually related, but just go with it ;) 

One night I was hanging out at my Starbucks with my bible, studying. I was going to actually try to read the whole thing finally, instead of just pieces here and there.  A man approached me and asked about it.  I explained that I had no particular background in an organized religion but that I knew of and loved Christ as the Savior; I just didn't know where to start.  He told me what he told his daughter who was my age:  "Start every morning with a Psalm.  When you complete that start at the beginning of the New Testament and work your way through it.  It doesn't have to be a race, you're not trying to beat anyone, you're trying to learn." Then he gave me a copy of the New Testament (something like a NKJ version). I got started with Psalms that night and I never saw him again.  

A few weeks later, in a similar situation, I met a guy a little bit older than me and an old man that he was with.  He told me I had a brightness about me and started asking me what seemed to be spiritually based questions.  I'm usually really weirder out by encounters like this, but they both ended up being really nice. The two men lived several hours from each other, but they were "meeting in the middle,"in Baker, so they could visit without making the long trip alone.  

As our conversation continued the younger man asked if I knew what the light of Christ was and explained that each of us had it.  Certain things started clicking for me, finally.  Maybe this explained why I felt like I was meant to fulfill something bigger than I was currently: I wasn't living up to the light of Christ that I had. When I moved to Las Vegas 6 months later, I dated the younger guy and we had a very good relationship for several months until one day, it just wasn't what we wanted anymore. He was a good guy and he and his friend taught me a lot, and though what they taught me wasn't my end result, they got me on the right track, got me asking the right questions and they were an integral part of my journey.  

My search continued...          

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recurring themes...'s only been a gazillion years since I updated this blog.  My apologies to my two followers! ;)          
I've been trying my best to participate weekly in a Twitter chat with several LDS Twitter friends about general conference talks (for the details on this and if you'd like to participate, please click here).              
This week the conference talk we will be discussing is How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life by Richard G Scott.   I don't believe in coincidence.  Today in RS our lesson was number 11 from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Revelation from God to His Children.  This seems pretty inconsequential, right?  Well, to some, maybe.  But this is not the first time since the weekly #LDSConf chat on Twitter started, that it has been connected to several other lessons, or "themes," if you will, that I have been subject to, whether through personal study, reading, participation or counsel. If the Twitter chat was Church affiliated, I'd say, well there you have it. But it's not, so I take that as Heavenly Father telling me, "Hey, you!  Yes, Ashlie, YOU!  LISTEN UP!"  Which is never a bad thing because I need all the help and divine inspiration I can get.                                                                                          
I promise this will tie in here to what I really want to say in just a moment :) 
When I was just baptized, I worked at a bar serving food.  It wasn't spectacular money, but I made enough to pay my rent, clothe myself, put gas in my car and get myself to church.  I had what I needed and then some.  I was happy.  But, I knew the environment in which I worked was not conductive to the Spirit and I knew a change could not be procrastinated.  Besides, I wanted the change to be on my terms and I didn't want to be compelled to find a new job by more desperate circumstances (aka, my boss was already on my case about customers talking about religion with me-and I never ONCE initiated the conversation!). About a week into my job search I had a very promising interview where, if I got the position, I would be helping to supervise the opening of a new branch of this business.  I felt so great about it, I just knew I had the job.  I also had tickets to my first ever General Conference and I wasn't missing that for anything less than a horrific flood. 
Eventually I was asked to complete a background check and drug testing for the new job and my boss asked when I could start.  I said, "I'm available any day, but this weekend (that of Conference) is non-negotiable.  I have a church conference that I cannot miss."  her response was definitely not one I had anticipated: "Well, I wish you would have told me that earlier, before the money was spent for drug testing and the background check, because I know that we will definitely need you that weekend to start opening the new store." 
My heart sank!  Here was my new job staring me in the face and I had to tell them no if they couldn't accommodate this one, measly weekend for me!  I told the woman, as graciously as I could, that I was sorry, but I understood if they needed to go with another candidate, because this is not something i can waiver on.  I hung up with her and, as I had been driving, I pulled my car over and before I could help it, tears were pouring out of my eyes. That had been my only solid job lead so far, and it had been mine!  My victory had been short-lived.
When I could get myself together enough to drive the few miles to my house, I said a prayer and I got on my way.  When I got home I started reading my scriptures, stopping a few times to plead with heavenly Father to help me find a new job so I could quit working at the bar.  I knew He would want me in a better environment. It was only around four in the afternoon when I'd gotten  home, but I remember getting extremely tired and not being able to help falling asleep really early, around 5:30 PM.                  
When I woke up the next morning I felt peaceful.  I felt like I should keep trying and Heavenly Father was going to take care of me.  I knew that He knows what He's doing and I shouldn't be afraid that I didn't have the answer when I wanted it because He does have the answer and He'll give it to me when it's best.  That day I went about my business.  It was my day off so I needed to get caught up on laundry and so many other things.  Even though I was bummed about not getting the job, my heart no longer felt heavy.  
That afternoon I went to a store to get a gift card for my friend's son's birthday and as I was getting into my car, my phone rang from a number I didn't recognize.  I never answered those calls but I instinctively felt that I should make an exception this time.  When I answered the call I was surprised to hear my would-have-been boss's voice on the other end.  She said, "Girl, someone must be looking out for you.  I just got off the phone with the crew setting up the new store and our opening is going to be pushed back two weeks, I would really like you to have this position, are you still available?"

My jaw dropped and my heart sang.  Heavenly Father made it work for me.  He was mindful of little, insignificant me and because I'd prayerfully made a righteous request, while doing what I was supposed to be doing, and putting my Faith in him, He supported me.  He found a way and He kept his promise.  He did not abandon me. 

And He has been with me since.  I share this story with you because it is probably the largest testimony building experiences I've had as a member of the Church. Though it seems so small, in my struggle at that moment in my life, it was dramatic and bigger than life.  Heavenly Father knows who I am and He never leaves my side, even though sometimes I'm a horrible daughter and don't do what he asks of me.              
If there is one message I could share, if I knew it would permeate the heart of every person who heard it, it would be that Heavenly Father KNOWS and LOVES you SO deeply.  Just because we don't understand the plan or His reasons are unknown  to us, does not mean they do not exist, or that they are irrelevant.  On the contrary, they are the most relevant things in our life, they are simply meant for our understanding at a later time in our life.   

That's all the rambling that I'll do tonight, since Adelaide is not attempting to crawl across the keyboard {I think she's subconsciously yelling, "I CAN'T BE TAMED!"}  

If you've read this whole thing, YOU ROCK, because I know it's long!!!  Thank you in earnest for being here!   


P.s. The Teichert painting, "Rescue of the Lost Lambs," is one that hangs in my in-laws cabin in Midway, UT and it is one of my favorite.