In my religion, we classify these decisions as “sins” but I’m going to use a different word. I want you to see sin differently. That is the reason I am being open and honest about this. Let’s talk about sin in a more realistic way. Sin is Pain. Over the past four years I decided to put myself through a lot of pain. This pain kept me from the temple; a place where I found so much peace and all of a sudden I was not allowed to go inside, let alone publicly pray in my own congregation… Sin really is pain. It causes pain. So let’s be more compassionate about how we look at pain because most of us are feeling a lot of it and it’s hard to find that motivation and love for ourselves so that we can allow the pain to heal and go away
I really liked her modified definition of sin as being pain. I think too often as a church we tend to think of sin as bad things that people do that are detrimental to others. But the truth is that most sin is most harmful to the person committing the sin, not to anyone else. There’s a scripture that I stumbled upon several years ago that has changed my view of the gospel. It was Doctrine & Covenants 59:4 and it reads (with my added emphasis) -
And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.
When I read that I think my jaw literally dropped. Crowned with commandments? Wait, you mean like the commandments are something we should want in our lives? The whole idea up front seemed absurd to me. Commandments were things we were told to do or not to do, they restrict us and make our life difficult. The whole challenge of life is to keep the commandments and that’s hard… isn’t that the point? Suddenly though I understood the commandments differently. We don’t get blessed for keeping the commandments – the commandments themselves are the blessing. I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before, but after reading this it seemed so obvious. Of course the commandments are blessings! What are we taught in 2 Nephi 2:25?
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
If God’s whole purpose is to help us to obtain a fullness of joy then it makes perfect sense that the commandments are meant to bring us joy, not to restrict us or cause us pain. I guess in some sense I’d understood that. I knew that I was happiest when I kept the commandments. I knew that the results of the commandments made me happy but I hadn’t made the connection that it was directly the commandments that made me happy. I guess I”m really thick but that took me awhile to really understand.
I was thinking on that with an experience that my little brother is going through right now. In the last few years he’s made some choices that have not always been in keeping with the teachings of the church. I don’t want to share too much of his story because I don’t feel it’s mine to tell, but as a result he eloped a couple years back and wasn’t able to be sealed to his wife on his wedding day or have a traditional wedding. However, in the time since then he and his wife have worked together and gotten themselves to a place where they are going to be able to be sealed in a couple of weeks. Since they didn’t have any sort of traditional wedding the first time around my parents have decided to celebrate their sealing day like they would have liked to have celebrated their wedding day under different circumstances. We’ll be going as a family to the temple, taking pictures, and having a reception-like party in the evening. Whatever you’d expect as part of a regular wedding celebration we’re trying to do for their sealing, because this choice and the journey they’ve made is a big deal.
I’ve heard the attitude this is inappropriate. That they missed out on that opportunity to have a reception because they chose to elope and that this is *not* a wedding and we shouldn’t be treating it like it is. I think these people don’t understand this concept of sin as being pain. Yes, I felt slighted to not be a part of my brother’s wedding the first time around. But you know who was really caused the most pain from that decision? My brother, not me. His decision didn’t take anything away from my wedding day with Eric, or make it so that our experience of being celebrated on that day was any less. His decision didn’t take away from the way that I was able to start my marriage with eternal covenants with the man I love. The decisions and sacrifices I made to do things the “right” way the first time around have brought me JOY, and lots of it. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. He only took those things away from him himself. There are plenty of ways that he has already cheated himself and had to go through a lot of pain to get to the place that he is right now. You know who knows that best? My brother. So, now that he’s gone through all of that pain and suffering, why would I want to deny him any part of the blessings that I was able to enjoy?
Why do we insist on the attitude of the righteous brother from the parable of the prodigal son? He chose to remove himself from the celebration because it wasn’t fair that his father was celebrating his unrighteous son’s return in a flashier way than the steady righteousness of his other son. But what do we learn in that parable from the Savior himself? In Luke 15:31-32 we hear the response of the father -
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
The righteous son hadn’t missed out on any blessings, he already had all that his father had. But for some reason he felt slighted that his father would celebrate the other son’s return to the fold. I think many of us still hold that same attitude. I think as a church, and as people in general we need to stop thinking that we need to punish people for their sins, or make them realize what they missed out on. We need to realize that sin *is* its own consequence. God doesn’t need us to judge people or make them feel less than worthy, he needs us to love each other and celebrate when we do something right. In President Uchtdorf’s most recent conference address he extended this invitation:
To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
I think the subtext to those who have been faithful members in the church is – make that place. Do everything in your power to make those who haven’t always been on the straight and narrow feel loved, accepted and welcomed. Do not make them feel ostracized for the things they’ve done wrong – they already know! No one in this church, or on this world for that matter, is perfect. So don’t feel like you need to make it any worse for someone because of their particular failings. You know your own shortcomings and I doubt anyone needs to tell you of the pain they cause you. So please don’t exacerbate anyone else’s pain by making them feel unworthy of the blessings they’ve worked so hard for. It may not be the same way that you got there but it doesn’t make their journey any less valid. In the words from another favorite talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland -
Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?”
The next time you feel slighted because someone is getting a blessing that you feel maybe they don’t deserve or haven’t worked or sacrificed for the way you did, I want you to apply President Uchtdorf’s iconic advice from Conference of April 2012-
Choose to love others and to be grateful for the commandments that you’ve been blessed to keep. Be grateful that you didn’t have to go through the pain of sin that others have had to go through, and rejoice for those who have made their way back into the fold.
Ok guys, not to toot my own horn or anything, but the resources that I’m handing off to you in this post are sheer and utter brilliance. There. I said it. TOOT!
But seriously, as I was preparing these files to share them I was actually sad that I won’t ever get to really use the finished product for myself. I put a TON of work last year into making this whole process easy and seamless for this year and I’d forgotten just how easy I had made it. So I hope this saves someone some work!
So here it is. I put together reminder wristbands for opening exercises assignments and conducting sheets which you can pre-populate for the entire year by simply filling out one simple Excel sheet. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. You don’t have to use both the wristbands and the conducting sheets, you can use just one or the other but since they both feed from the same spreadsheet I thought it would be easier to put them both together in one post.
I went with wristbands for our reminder papers because it’s the easiest way to make sure that the reminders actually get home, especially for Jr. Primary kids. I take our wristbands, cut them out and tape them to the kids wrists (although I don’t always make the Sr. Primary kids have them on their wrists, I think they probably feel too cool for that). It has all the information their parents need, but I still send the follow-up email just in case. The conducting sheets are pretty basic, I went with a half-sheet format because (as I’ve said before) I hate paper and don’t like to waste it. I didn’t think we really needed a full sheet of paper every week that said most of the same things so I went pretty minimalistic.
So here’s how to put these together. Download the files by clicking here. Start with the excel spreadsheet and assign out all of your talks, scriptures etc. for the year. I left all the weeks in but you will want to delete the rows that correspond to General Conference, your stake conference weeks and any other week that you wouldn’t have opening exercises (maybe your Primary program Sunday?) Then start making your assignments. You can fill this in manually, but there is an easier way. If you have the MLS data from doing the birthday cards you can use that data to help populate this document. My personal philosophy is that every child should be given the chance to have all of the different assignments. I was a very shy child (ok, I’m still relatively shy actually) and I would have *never* volunteered to give a talk or a scripture, or been likely to be picked out as someone who’d do a great job. But because I was given the assignment to do these things at different points in my Primary career I got better at them. I think that’s one of the great blessings of church membership is being given assignments we are not qualified for so that we can learn. Anyways, you can go through and manually select which kids you think should have each assignment each week, but I felt like Excel could have as much inspiration as I could, and do a better job making sure each kid got an assignment. So here’s how I sorted out the assignments -
That’s it! You now have a randomly sorted list of your Jr. Primary kids. What I did is take that list and divided it into three parts and pasted one part into the talk column, one into scripture and one into prayer. Then at the points where I ran out I just took the kids who had a prayer in the first part of the year and put them in the talk column for the next part of the year, scriptures to prayers and talks to scriptures. You can do that as many times as you need. Then do the same for your Sr. Primary kids. I tried to go through and make sure that I didn’t end up with siblings all having assignments during the same week, or giving all of the talks in a month or anything like that. Also, make sure you look through your Sr. Primary assignments and take out the kids who are graduating after they’ve gone on to Young Men’s or Young Women’s, but this should give you a really good start.
For the conducting and sharing time columns I’m going to assume that your ward does like my ward and has a rotation that doesn’t change too much from one month to the next. To avoid having to type everyone’s names in 52 times just enter the first three or four weeks’ assignments (or whatever gets you through a full rotation), select the filled in boxes and then use that nifty black box again to fill that pattern in through the rest of the year! Oh, and remember my hatred of paper? I’ve formatted this file so that if you delete at least 5 rows (2 General Conference weeks, 2 Stake Conference weeks and 1 Primary Program practice), it will print one page for Jr Primary and one page for Sr. Primary – not bad for a full year’s schedule!
Ok, so once you have all that filled out, save the file and you’re ready to move on to the wristbands. Note: even if you don’t want to use my wristbands and just want the conducting sheets read over this part, it has information you’ll probably want later. Open up the wristbands file and connect to the excel file, just like we did with the birthday cards. Be sure that you select the worksheet labeled “Assignments” and not the one labeled “Themes” – it should be the one selected by default anyways, but just in case. At this point you’re pretty much set, except for one thing – when I made these wristbands I had my contact information for the parents printed on each wristband. Since I don’t really want all of the parents from every ward that uses these to be calling me if Suzie won’t be there to give her talk, I replaced my information with dummy text that says “YOUR NAME AND INFO HERE”, so I should probably show you how to change that. It’s actually really easy -
That was it, not so bad right? So, on to the conducting sheets! These should be so stinking easy at this point it’s ridiculous. Open the Publisher file, connect to your excel file (again, make sure you select the sheet that is labeled “Assignments”) and you could be done! The one thing that you’ll probably want to change though is that I put the start/end times for our singing/sharing times that you’ll want to change. Use the same steps to get to the template as you did for the wristbands and you can change anything you would like :)
I could have made everything a little more full featured by adding in a column where you could add graduations and baptisms, or pre-fill the musical numbers but I wanted to make things super easy and generic. I figure you’re usually pretty aware of baptisms and graduations so they’re easy to pencil in when you’re getting ready to conduct. We also just would pick our reverence child when we’d get to opening exercises and just pick someone who was sitting nicely (or perhaps who might need some motivation to be sitting nicely ;) ). The musical numbers also weren’t assigned out at the beginning of the year, we always intended to just have people sign up, which is why the wristbands are just blank as well as that slot on the conducting sheets. I’m sure everyone’s ward has a slightly different way of doing things but having a prayer/scripture/talk seemed to be pretty standard format so I stuck with those and I’ll let you figure out the rest.
You should now be ready to put together everything you need on a weekly basis for a full year’s worth of primary! What I did this last year was take the wristbands (for the following week) and paper clip them along with the birthday cards to the conducting sheets. Then it was all put together on Sunday to just grab out of our basket and go. It was a huge project to print and cut and paper clip all of these weekly packets, but it was SO worth it to have a stress-free Sunday each week!
I have a few more resources that I need to finish putting together, but I’ll have to redesign them as they used some artwork that I was told I did NOT have permission to re-post, even with attribution. So, it might take me a little while to get those up since I lack artistic talents. I’m also thinking that if anyone is interested I could post PDF versions of all of these mail merge resources for people who are more comfortable just filling things in with a pen. Until then, I hope you enjoy what I’ve posted so far!
This will be a pretty short post, but I wanted to share this. I’m pretty picky about formatting and paper. Mostly, I don’t believe in paper and like to avoid using it whenever possible. But when I do actually print things out I like them to fit nicely on a single piece of paper. So, last year I found these lesson schedules on Sugardoodle that were AWESOME. The lady who had put them together had obviously spent a lot of time getting all the information in there. However, they didn’t fit on a single page, so I spent considerable time to make it fit on a single page (like I told you – picky). After taking all that effort to get those schedules formatted just so I wanted them to be usable for more than one year! So, even though it was totally not going to benefit me personally, I spent a couple hours yesterday morning updating the documents with the dates for next year and the different manuals that are associated with them. Obviously they will have to be adjusted to fit each ward’s individual schedule for stake conferences or primary program practices, but I think this should give you a good start. Oh, and for the older classes the names of the lessons are linked to the actual lessons on LDS.org. So if you want to just upload the schedule to a Google Document and share that with your teachers they can just click to get to the manual instead of having to look up the lessons. Hopefully that’s helpful to someone.
Ok, so I’m sorry that this installment doesn’t have any cool downloads associated with it, but this is just a tip that I have for those running the Primary. I hate calling people. Like really, really, really hate it. I always feel like I get flustered or call at the wrong time and they’re eating dinner or whatever. I just don’t like doing it. So I decided early on in my secretarial career that I would just email my weekly reminders out to people. Personally, I like getting emails better too because I’m reading them at a time when I have access to my calendar and no one else is vying for my attention and it’s more likely to be remembered.
So, since I was sending out 6 emails every week with the same information I found an easier way to do it. I looked for a little while to see if I could find an automated emailing system that would just automatically blast out my reminder emails on Sunday night for me without my having to think about it, but no such luck. What I did come up with was that I could create canned responses in GMail and just fill in the blanks each week. At the beginning of each month I have to remember to replace the text in the scripture and the talk email with the new scripture and theme for the month, but that’s really not that big of a deal. Instead of having to think of what to say each week I just pop in my canned responses and I can send out all 6 emails in about 5 minutes.
I was going to include a tutorial for how to do this in GMail, but I decided to Google it and WikiHow had already put together a much better tutorial than I could, so I’ll just direct you there :) But I will include below the canned responses that I have so that if you want to copy them verbatim and use them for yourself, or use them as a baseline for what you want to put in your emails you can feel free. The only caution I have with using these is to make sure that if you’re emailing a single parent I always try to be careful about making sure that it doesn’t still say “Brother & Sister”. Anyways, without further ado, here are my canned responses:
Hi Brother & Sister ___,
Just wanted to send you a quick reminder that _______ is assigned to give a talk in Primary on Sunday. This month’s theme is We Are to Thank God in All Things.
Please help your child to be prepared to fulfill this assignment. We always welcome the parents of kids who are participating in sharing time to come and assist their child or be there to watch. If you won’t be there on Sunday or if you have any questions, please let me know!
Hi Brother & Sister ___,
Just wanted to send you a quick reminder that ___ was assigned to give our scripture in Primary on Sunday. This month’s scripture is “He commanded them that . . . every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God” (Mosiah 18:23).. Your child does not need to have the scripture memorized, just be willing to read or repeat the scripture at the front of the room, and then lead the rest of the primary in reciting it together.
Please help your child be prepared to fulfill this assignment. We always welcome the parents of kids who are participating in sharing time to come and assist their child or be there to watch. If you won’t be there on Sunday or if you have any questions, please let me know!
Hi Brother & Sister ___,
Just wanted to send you a quick reminder that ___ is assigned to give our prayer in Primary on Sunday. Please help your child be prepared to fulfill this assignment. We always welcome the parents of kids who are participating in sharing time to come and assist their child or be there to watch. If you won’t be there on Sunday or if you have any questions, please let me know!
So, that’s it! Hopefully someone finds this tip useful :)
On Sunday I was released as the secretary from our ward’s primary presidency. It came as a bit of a surprise since we had thought we were going to be in for three years and were just getting geared up for our third year. But apparently it was our time to go on to other things – hopefully it means that we were doing things so right and awesome that it was time for us to grow in other capacities and not that we were failing so miserably that they needed someone else to take over ;)
Anyways, last year I started putting together all of my resources in a hope that I could make them so easy peasy to use this year that I didn’t hardly have to think about it. So now I have a bunch of resources to make my life easy, and I don’t need them. So I thought I would share them with all of you and hopefully make someone else’s life easy instead :) We have a primary with over 120 kids (plus 45 kids in our nursery) so anything I could do to make things run super smoothly made a huge difference in our ward.
One thing that I decided to do at the beginning of the year was to put together all of our birthday cards, conducting sheets and opening exercises assignments wristbands for the entire year and have them all set to go in our cabinet at church. It was a LOT of work at the time (and of course, the week that I finally got everything finished was the week just before they split our ward – so I had to reshuffle a lot of things again :P ), but it helped SO much with keeping our primary running smoothly. Plus, it made it so that if there was a week that I was out of town I wasn’t racing to get things finished at the beginning of the week and passed off to the right counselor – everything was already in place and they just had to pick up the little packet when they got to church on Sunday and there was no frazzle in my absence.
So, I thought I would start by sharing the birthday cards that I made for our kids, and the spreadsheet that I used to generate them so that I wasn’t custom making 120+ cards. We decided to give each of the kids a birthday coupon that they can show to the bishop to get a treat on the week of their birthday. We thought this was a good way to let the kids get a chance to meet with the bishop for a brief second and let him wish them a happy birthday. It just felt more meaningful than handing them a piece of candy during sharing time. Here’s a preview of what it looks like -
If you’d like to take advantage of these templates but don’t know how to do a mail merge, don’t be intimidated! I’ve tried to make this as easy peasy as possible so that, even without much technical skills, you can quickly make these birthday cards too :) I promise it’s not nearly so scary as it sounds or looks, I even tested the steps out on my much less technically inclined sister (thanks Taylor!) and she didn’t have any problems with it. I hope you’ll give it a try! Here are the steps you’ll need to take -
If you want to pull this data from MLS it’s actually pretty simple. I would include screen shots but since I’m no longer secretary I don’t have MLS access to get the screen shots. But to the best of my memory this is what you’ll need to do. Go into MLS and find the Custom Reports menu item. Then make a new report that filters for just primary children, and include the fields first name, last name, birth month, birth day (not the full birthday just the number of the day the child was born), birth year. I don’t think they have a field for Jr vs Sr Primary, but if they do then add that in as well. Run that report and I would recommend sorting the report by birth day and then birth month (just click on those field titles in those order to order the report). Under the File Menu there should be an option that says “Export” or “Export to CSV”. If you export the report as a CSV and either email that to yourself or pop it on a USB drive, you can take that home and copy the information and paste it straight into your excel spreadsheet rather than having to type it out yourself, just don’t overwrite the header row or your first card won’t print out and you’ll be frustrated.
That should be it! You should now have birthday cards for all the kids in the ward! That wasn’t so scary was it?
Or print them by going to Print and selecting “Print All Records”. Or you can enter in which records you want and print them out a few at a time (I did this when I did them the first time because I was always worried about printing 30 pages and having run out of one of the colors of ink after page 5 and having wasted 25 pages of cardstock!)
Hopefully this saves someone lots and lots of time, or lots of people a little bit of time :) If you want to change what I’ve done please feel free to do so! The layout is all controlled on the master page, which keeps you from having to make changes to each individual card, and also keeps your file size a little smaller. You can access to Master Page by going to View -> Master Page
If anyone has a cute template that they would like to share I’d be happy to post it here, or you’re welcome to post it on your own website. If you use my mail merging-ness I would appreciate a link back to this tutorial. And let me know, I’d be happy to link to you as well!
If I haven’t scared you off with the complexity of a mail merge then tune in for the rest of the series where I will provide downloads for door signs, binder covers, conducting sheets, and reminder wristbands! As well as including all my other tips and tricks of the trade from my couple of years as a Primary Secretary :)