Joining the Lord’s Battalion of Women

Joining the Lord’s Battalion of Women
Joining the Lord's Battalion of Women - My experiences from following a prophet of the Lord

In October 2018 General Conference President Russell M. Nelson, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints spoke to the women of the church and gave us some specific invitations to become more direct participants in the gathering of Israel. His invitations were –

  1. Participate in a 10-day fast from social media and any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind.
  2. Read the Book of Mormon by the end of 2018.
  3. Establish a pattern of regular temple attendance.
  4. Participate fully in Relief Society.

I have been working on participating in those invitations and last night I completed reading the Book of Mormon just in time to be done before the end of 2018! I felt like I ought to take some time to reflect on that experience in particular and then today President Nelson posted on Facebook and invited the sisters to leave him a comment sharing our experience with him. So I thought I might as well make it a blog post since we know that I won’t be able to keep my thoughts that short anyways, and so that I have it preserved for posterity. I’ll take each point in turn.

Participate in a 10-day fast from social media and any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind.  Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised to know that this was not the easiest challenge for me to accept. I don’t think I consume much negative media – most of the music and videos that I watch and listen to are kids YouTube videos with nursery rhymes and such to keep baby David happy. The only “negative” aspect of those videos are just that they might start to make me crazy from repetitiveness but they’re not going to inspire any sort of impure thoughts. However, I’m a huge fan of social media. I’ve moved many times during my life and I don’t live particularly close to my family. Social media gives me a great way to share life experiences with people who I love who I might not be able to see in person very frequently. I can keep up with friends who live half way around the world. I love having a place where I can document things that are happening in my life and my children’s lives in little bite sized snippets. It’s how I keep up with my local community and get ideas and support for homeschooling, cub scouts and many other things that I’m involved in. The people and groups that I follow aren’t ones that I feel have a negative influence on my life – quite the contrary. So, it would be easy for me to have said, eh, this invitation isn’t really for me.

However, I do have one problem with social media. It is definitely a place that is easy for me to get sucked into and I can easily spend countless hours scrolling through my newsfeed instead of focusing on the tasks and people immediately around me. The media itself is fine but as far as a “good, better, best” determination is concerned – it sometimes is “good” and gets in the way of my doing what is “best”. It helped me a lot when my mom pointed out to me that what President Nelson asked of us wasn’t to give up social media forever, nor did he declare that it was evil and bad and we should never use it again. Clearly that was not his intention if he is now reaching out to the sisters on that same platform to get feedback! However he asked for us to “fast” from social media. Just like we would fast from food – it doesn’t mean that food is bad, but sometimes we need to step away from it and allow other things to fill in that space.

I actually ended up taking the social media fast challenge twice – once over the summer when he gave the challenge to the youth, and again in October when he issued the challenge to the women. I decided that for me it meant deleting Facebook off of my phone as well as Pokemon Go for the 10 days requested. I set some specific guidelines for myself I was allowed to look at my Facebook memories, or post to Facebook if there was something memorable that my kids did or an insight I had. Those particular functions of social media have sort of taken the place of keeping a journal for me and I don’t think the intention was for me to stop journaling. But I didn’t allow myself to check through my notifications, scroll through my newsfeed, or participate in any of the groups that I normally participate in.

The first time I took the challenge I sort of cheated and selected a week when our family was out of town and happened to be where there was poor internet anyways. There was plenty going on to keep me distracted from needing or desiring social media so it was pretty easy and I can’t say I missed it much. However, in October I took the challenge again and it was during just a normal week in my life. I was surprised to realize how many times in a day I would pick up my phone for no apparent reason. I realized that those were all times that I would normally fill in the gaps with Facebook, even if I didn’t have any particular reason to be on Facebook at that time. I always feel like I am so busy and can’t get everything done that I would like to in a day, but somehow I had all of this time where I was just biding my time on Facebook. To be fair, a lot of that time is while I’m sitting around nursing a baby, or motivating kids to clean their rooms, or waiting in preschool pick up lines – but it was still a lot of time.

I tried to channel some of that time into opening up my scriptures app instead, although I found that frequently I was still doing something that required too much of my attention for scripture study. I did find that I could use that time to message people individually that I might not have reached out to otherwise, or complete other tasks that could be accomplished with my phone. I heard some people say that they spent a lot less money while on their social media fast because they didn’t see advertisements for things that they wanted but didn’t need… I had the opposite experience. While I was sitting there I would think of the Sunday shoes that I needed to order for Danny or some blankets that I wanted for our newly completed basement… Amazon greatly benefitted from my ability to focus on the tasks I had at hand 😛 That might seem like a negative thing, but it actually really was a blessing because I got those things done during time that was otherwise wasted and was able to make better use of my other time.

From this experience I was able to go in and adjust what groups I follow and actually unfollowed some groups that – while very positive – were taking up too much of my time. I’ve also been more aware of how frequently I pick up my phone just to kill time. I’m thinking I will make social media fasts a regular part of things I do – just to take a few days or a week off every so often to clear my mind a bit and allow other things to fill in some of that space. Just to help me keep it as a more balanced part of my life rather than allowing it to take over.

Read the Book of Mormon by the end of 2018. As I mentioned earlier in my post, I finished the Book of Mormon last night. One of the things that stuck out to me with President Nelson’s challenge was his invitation to “mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior.” I have been a member of the church for my entire life. I cannot even tell you how many dozens of times I have read the Book of Mormon, studied it in church/seminary/institute, watched the Hill Cumorah pageant, watched the Living Scriptures videos, read the simplified versions, taken BYU courses on it… this wasn’t my first exposure to the Book of Mormon by any means. But I started reading with that challenge in mind and marked any verse that referred to the Savior. I made it about 3 chapters. It was seriously just about every. single. verse.

Friends, I knew that the Book of Mormon was another testament of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen the cover, it says it right there. I know that the climax of the book is when He appears to the Nephites in 3 Nephi and there’s a lot of talk about missionary work and visions and stuff. But did you know that the WHOLE book is ALL about Jesus Christ? Yes, even those chapters in Alma where it seems like all they talk about is war strategies. The WHOLE book. I kind of knew that, but reading through the book and looking for all the mentions of Christ it blew me away that He truly is the center of all of it. The book isn’t about slaying Laban, or building a boat, or burning prophets, or cutting off arms, or stripling warriors, or wars upon wars upon wars. It is about Christ. It is about how He talks to and leads His people. It’s about the love that He has for them. It’s about the changes that people can make when they turn their lives over to Him. I don’t know how I had never seen it that clearly before, I think I’m so familiar with the book that it’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. If you haven’t had a chance to read the Book of Mormon, or if you have read it and think it’s a story about the Nephites and the Lamanites, I urge you to take President Nelson’s challenge. Read the book. Look for Christ. He is everywhere in it.

I know this post is already too long, but I wanted to share some of the other more tangential thoughts that I had in some of the stories of the Book of Mormon. Feel free to skip the next little bit if you only want to read about the challenge itself (I’ve bolded the next part of the challenge so you can skim to there or click here), I just wanted to record these other thoughts while I was thinking of them.

One thing that struck me as I was reading in Helaman about the Nephites that were awaiting the sign of Christ’s birth was just the timing of everything. If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon here’s a quick recap – a prophet comes and tells the people that in 5 years there will be a sign of a day, a night and a day where the sun will not go down which will indicate that Christ was born in Jerusalem. The time goes by and when about 5 years is up some of the people still believe and are waiting for that sign but the people in power have decided the time is up and that they’re going to kill all of the believers the next day unless the sign appears. The leader of the believers prays and is told that the sign will come the next day and that Christ will be born – and so it happens. This got me thinking about what was happening at the same time in Jerusalem – Joseph is taking his wife Mary to Bethlehem even though she is great with child and they don’t have a place to stay. This is 100% speculation, but I thought – what if it really wasn’t time for Mary to be having the baby yet? Would Joseph have really taken her on a long journey if he thought she was likely to have the baby during that time or would she have more likely been left at home in the care of her mother or whoever else? Perhaps Mary was only 36 weeks along in her pregnancy and they thought they still had time. What if the whole reason we have the nativity story we have – with a baby in a manger, no room in the inn, and Mary laboring on the back of a donkey while travelling long miles – is because Jesus knew that he needed to make an early entrance into the world to save those who believed in Him, even though they were a world away from where He would be born. Perhaps not only was his death an act of salvation, but the very event of his birth was timed just so to save the lives of those who believed? Again, I really don’t know if that was the case or not, but knowing the mercies of God and how he cares for his people, I could believe that it might be.

I also thought a lot this time through about Mormon abridging these records after everything that he had seen with the Nephites right down to their destruction. When I was reading Helaman 2:13-14 I thought about how Mormon must have felt writing about the Gadianton robbers who would prove to be the overthrow of the whole Nephite civilization. The very destruction of the Nephites that he was witnessing he attributed to the secret combinations and evil doings of these Gadianton robbers. I could just imagine him abridging these records and wanting to reach back through time and wring Gadianton’s stupid neck. To know that the actions of someone who had lived nearly 400 years earlier was the cause of so much wickedness and suffering among your own people must have been just maddening.

I thought of it again as I read through Moroni’s abridgment of the records of Ether and how secret combinations had overthrown that civilization. One of the things that stuck out to me was that the book covers a time span of around 2000 years but only takes up about 30 pages of the book – as opposed to the rest of the Book of Mormon which spans about half that time and takes nearly 500 pages. I know Moroni says he didn’t have ore, but as I read it this was sort of what I imagined him thinking, “This guy takes power, these guys were ok, these guys were pretty good… and then they sucked again, and then got a little better, and then worse. Then we killed all the people and everyone was in prison, and then we broke out, then back in prison… bad guys, good guys… yaknow what, I just don’t care anymore! People just don’t seem to learn.  The more things change the more they just stay the same. AAAAHHHRGGGGHHHH!!!  We just did that whole stupid game over again!  My people are idiots!  We even had their history and we could see it didn’t turn out well, but did we change things?  Noooooo, we just did the whole stupid play over again!” I can only imagine his sheer frustration that all of the good things that his people had done and all the miracles, had once again come to naught because the people refused to learn from history. They say those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. It struck me that this is a very important part of why we study the scriptures – so we can see the same patterns setting up in our own societies and try to stop it. It has made me more conscientious of seeing similar patterns in our own governments and societies. Are we propping up Gadianton’s robbers or are we rooting them out? Are we seeking out leaders who have the Spirit of the Lord to guide them? Do we value our liberty and peace above all else, to the point where we are willing to fight for it?

One last thing that I read that I’d never noticed before was in Ether 4:5-6 it says that the records of the Jaredites will not come forth in the latter days until the Gentiles (us) become clean before the Lord. I always knew those records existed and were sealed. I don’t know how I’d missed before that we will get those records but that we haven’t yet proved ourselves worthy of them. I’m not sure exactly what we need to be doing to prove ourselves ready for those records, but I think it’s a goal that we should probably be putting some effort towards figuring out how we do that. I wonder if we have gotten too complacent as a people and we are as guilty as those who ignore the Book of Mormon because they say “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.” The Lord has been pretty clear with us that there are records of his people from all around the world. Shouldn’t we be doing more to seek out those records that they might become one in our hands? I love the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price – but wouldn’t it be great if we were able to have the perspective of even more societies and their dealings with God throughout time?

Alright, enough tangents… let’s get back to the invitations from President Nelson –

Establish a pattern of regular temple attendance. I will admit that I have not yet done as well with this as I would like. I have made it to the temple twice since this challenge was made with the help of my mom (thanks Mom! You’re the best!), which is more than I had been making it. But those were both more of one off attendances rather than a “pattern”. I know that what I need to do is set a recurring temple date and stick to it. I’ve been meaning to ask my in-laws if there might be a particular day/time that would work for them to watch our kiddos so that we can have it set on our calendar as a preset time that we go. I know once something is on the calendar it’s harder to take it off than it is to shoehorn something in during the month when things already feel so busy. I love going to the temple. I’m always touched by the love that our Savior has for us and the feeling of connectedness to all the people who have come before me and put me exactly where I am today. I want to do more to pay back all of their sacrifices. I just need to get out of my own way and do it.

Participate fully in Relief Society. President Nelson gave us two specific tasks for this invitation, to read the current Relief Society purpose statement as well as the Relief Society declaration. I will admit that before President Nelson’s talk I didn’t really know that those two things existed, let alone had read them before. Also, I’ve been caught up in the other tasks that we were given and hadn’t taken the time to read these two documents before now. So I did so this afternoon (no time like the present, right?).

I can’t say that I learned anything new as I read through those two documents, however I was given a very strong confirmation of the things I already knew about Relief Society. I am so proud to be part of such an amazing organization. I think that too often we have dismissed the work of Relief Society as being “just making casseroles and centerpieces”. If that’s what Relief Society is then we are shortchanging ourselves! We as women have a vital role within the church and not only is there a place for women in the church but the church cannot be whole without us!

I think too often we look to the priesthood as being the power of the Lord on the earth. However, it’s really only half of the way the power of the Lord is manifest on the earth. Our unique womanhood is not only the power to create and care for babies – that is an important but very small part of what we do as women. We must not let anyone make the work of women seem small because it is not. We have been called to become learned in the scriptures, and have a personal relationship with the Spirit. We build homes and are to celebrate the unique joys of womanhood – not just motherhood, but those things that make us different than men. We are different from men and it is that difference that makes us so crucial to this work. It’s not that one is better than the other but the very play between our differences allows both of us to see things through varied lenses and offer altered perspectives. We sustain the priesthood – but they also sustain us. We need BOTH men and women in this church! We are called to do good works and love life & learning. We are critical in standing for truth and righteousness. Women build communities that are strong and it is our duty to build those communities on righteous principles to lift where we stand. Everything we do as women is to strive for exaltation – not only for ourselves but for those around us. How blessed I am to be a part of Relief Society.

Unsurprisingly, my thoughts on President Nelson’s challenge are long. I just want to say how grateful I am for the invitation to raise myself to a higher standard and put myself out as a part of the Lord’s army. I embrace the opportunity to volunteer myself as one who is willing to be a part of His great work. I want to share my testimony that I know that President Nelson is a true prophet of the Lord. It is clear that it is a calling that he has given himself to fully and I am so grateful for his willingness to guide us in our day and listen to the Spirit and challenge us to be better. I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and I know that He loves each of us beyond measure. If you haven’t felt of that love or know this for yourself, I would invite you to “come and see”. His promises are there for you every bit as much as they are there for me. He loves you and wants for you to come closer to Him. Thank you President Nelson for inviting us to be a part of this work.

The Old Testament vs The Book of Mormon

My son Sam was “feasting” on the words of Christ 🙂

About a year ago I found a list of books on Facebook.  There were 100 books in the list and it had some attention catching phrase like “The BBC thinks you’ll only have read 4 of these books”.  I consider myself fairly well read, or at least someone who loves to read, so I decided to go through the list and see how I compared.  I had out-read whatever their low-ball estimate was, and there were quite a few books on the list that I had no desire to read.  However, there was one book that I felt ashamed that I couldn’t quite check off – The Bible.  I’ve read *from* the Bible my entire life.  I’ve attended Sunday School since I was 3, all 4 years of seminary, taken institute and religion classes at BYU – you would think I’d be able to check that book off without a problem.  However, although I’ve read the New Testament front-to-back over and over and read a lot of things from the Old Testament, I’ve never actually read the Old Testament cover-to-cover.  I didn’t feel good about checking off the book without having actually read every individual page of the Old Testament.  So I challenged myself to read the Old Testament.  I decided to read along with the CES Institute manual to help me really get something out of it but my main goal was just to start at Genesis and end with Malachi.

Well after reading the Old Testament for over a year I’ve finally made it through… Deuteronomy.  As I finished that section of the Old Testament I felt like I’d reached a milestone -after all, those first 5 books of Moses are the Torah right?  So completing that much should count for something!  As I looked at my reading chart, and my Bible with the intention of moving on to plow through Joshua I felt exhausted.  Now, it’s not like I’ve been pushing through the Old Testament at a rapid pace – in over a year I barely made it through the first 5 books – But as I considered moving on the idea was just wearying.

That’s the best way I can describe it, the Old Testament is wearying to get through.  It’s written for a different time and in a language and style that isn’t exactly native for me.  The culture surrounding all the stories and events is foreign to me.   The Law of Moses has many correlations to the laws of the gospel that we live today, but they aren’t always clearly stated and all the symbolism just takes a lot to muddle through.  It’s interesting, I’m always fascinated to see how different peoples think and process the world around them.  It’s so interesting to think of the gospel as it was practiced back then and think of what the differences are to today’s world and why they did things one way, we do them another, but we’re all working to achieve the same ends.  But it still takes a lot of work to get from point A to point B.

So I decided tonight that I was going to go back to reading the Book of Mormon.  Our stake leaders recently challenged the members in our stake to read the Book of Mormon again.  I had ignored the challenge for the time being because I really wanted to make it through the Old Testament.  I felt that was a worthy goal and since I’m in the Primary and can’t attend Sunday School (where I think the current curriculum is the Book of Mormon this year) I didn’t feel bad about postponing.  However, as I opened up my scriptures (ok, really just pulled them up on my phone) and just started reading the title page of the Book of Mormon I felt – peaceful.  Like I was home again.  I can’t exactly describe the feeling that came over me but it just felt so right to be back in this particular book of scripture.

I once had a friend pick up a copy of the Book of Mormon that we had in our car and she started to read it a little bit.  She made the comment that it was so easy to read, and that’s how I felt.  Just natural and easy, peaceful and good.  I wish I had adequate words to describe the feeling, but really the feeling was “this is true.”  I already knew that, I’ve known that the Book of Mormon was true for many years, based not so much on any one particular experience but many different confirmations of its truthfulness through the years.  As I try and live its precepts I can feel the power that is given from so doing.  I’ve taken Alma’s challenge to try an experiment upon the words, and the experiment works!   As I live the gospel, I am happy, I know that the things I am doing are right and I feel at peace.  When I act contrary to these teachings I can feel that state of happiness and peace taken away from me.  The gospel makes everything in my life make sense and taking the gospel out makes it so nothing makes sense.  But the feeling at this moment was powerful – peaceful and quiet, but powerful.  I’ll make it back to the Old Testament and make my way through the rest of it, but I’m so glad to be back in the Book of Mormon again.

I just want to share my testimony that I know that the Book of Mormon is true.  That, as the Prophet Joseph Smith declared,” the Book of Mormon [is] the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man [or woman will] get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  There is no way a boy of as little education as Joseph Smith had could have come up with this book of his own accord.  The truths it teaches are not of man, but of God. I testify this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon I would encourage you to do so.  You can get a free copy by going to Mormon.org, and either get a physical copy from the local missionaries, or you can listen to it or read it online from that site as well.  I promise it will change your life for the better.