Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Built on the Rock

When I was growing up, my favorite song to sing in primary was (and could still be ;) ) "The Wise Man and the Foolish man" I loved making the actions to the words. I recently read Matthew 7 the other day and read the scriptural inspiration for this song as Christ taught it to the people on the mount.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 

"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
 "And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

I realized as I read this passage that the rains descended, the floods came, and the winds blew not only on the foolish man's house, but the wise man's house as well. Contrary to what we may want to believe, building our lives on the teachings of Christ does not guarantee an easy life. Not at all. A wise father once told his children,

And now, my sons [and daughters], remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

While we live the principles we learn by diligent scripture study, we are still going to face many challenging times.We have a magnificent promise by our loving God - We will stand firm. We CANNOT fall!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Shining Beacon

It was very dark evening as I left a friend's house late one night. He lived out in the wilderness boonies of southeast Idaho. I'll be the first to admit it - I'm a little directionally challenged. I've ended up in many places I've never intended to be so many times I stopped telling myself I was lost. I was only enjoying a surprise improptu adventure!

Even before leaving my friend's driveway, I looked around to gather my bearings and glanced towards town and saw the dot of light from the Rexburg Temple. I only lived a minute's drive away from the temple and I thought to myself, "That's the direction I need to go. I felt pretty confident in myself as I pulled out onto the road towards home and made my first turn towards town. Or so I thought.

After driving for about fifteen minutes I was pretty sure I should have been home by then. Or at least seeing some gas stations. Instead I was driving aimlessly in the river bottoms area. I realized I was completely lost. I had no idea where I was. My phone, therefore my gps, had lost service. I was alone, it was late, and I was a little scared. I wondered how I could have gotten so off course! I continued to drive around and make turns, continually watching for the light of the temple through the trees. I had become so lost that I didn't have the slightest idea of which way the temple, my light and destination, had gone.

As I drove around I realized when I had made my mistake. I had taken my sights off of the temple right after leaving my friend's house. The road I thought was fairly straight curved more than I thought and so the very first turn I made took me the opposite way I needed to be heading.

I finally glimpsed the temple through a break in the trees. What a relief! I quickly turned around and started going back towards town. As I drove, I kept my sights on the temple and I mentally kept it's location in check when I couldn't see it. As I constantly kept myself aware of the temple I made it back safely back home in no time.

What a metaphor for life! We are all away from our home, trying to find our way back to our Father in Heaven who loves us. We need directions. We can't make it back on our own. That's the truth of it. We may think we know where we are going and we are moving and going somewhere. But where? Are we getting closer to God? Or wandering around?

Because of our loving and merciful Heavenly Father, we have been given a light to constantly shine to guide us back into the presence of our Father - The Light and Life of the World - our savior and redeemer Jesus Christ.

"Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you." 

His example and his teachings light the path that return to him.  He has given us many ways to glimpse home as we wander through our wilderness of light: His word, as in The Book of Mormon and The Holy Bible. The teachings of his servants the prophets. Even ourselves, as simple as we are, have been given the opportunity to shine for each other as we follow Christ and reflect his light.

"Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold, I am the light which ye shall hold up."

I know that our Savior lives, loves us, and is leading us home. As long as we are willing to seek Him.

Shine on. Shine so that others may know Him through you!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Feeding our Faith

This past weekend the prophets and apostles spoke to the world during General Conference. The addresses given by the speakers are incredible. Mostly because the topics they speak on are not assigned. As Elder Hales said, 

"These conferences are always under the direction of the Lord, guided by His Spirit. We are not assigned specific topics. Over weeks and months, often through sleepless nights, we wait upon the Lord. Through fasting, praying, studying, and pondering, we learn the message that He wants to give."

This is God's Conference. We are learning the things that he needs us to remember and heed most in these times. Some may say we don't learn anything new. And maybe we aren't learning any new doctrine. The topics are basic and simple.  Perhaps that is because we still need to be reminded of the things we already know, yet struggle to live daily. 

President Uchtdorf said something that has continued to pass through my mind these past few days since conference:

Beautiful. So simple. Like Nephi, I also delight in plainness. My soul also delights in fatness. I wish we had more in common though. He's pretty amazing. But I digress...

My dad sent me a picture of a tree in our backyard in Idaho this week. This Russian Olive tree has been around a lot longer than I have. It was torn apart due to the infamous Idaho winds. My dad explained the demise of the tree:

"This tree has seen winds this high before, but not from the direction they came from last Monday. Isn’t that a little like life? We can usually handle the temptations from Satan when they come at us in the same way, we get pretty strong in being tempted. But this tree hadn’t been tested from a different direction and it went down. Luckily we are smarter than trees and can choose the right. But that doesn’t mean that the adversary doesn’t try to get to us from different angles. Unlike the tree, we can think and make choices and re-position ourselves to withstand his wind." 

It reminded me that it is what we do with our doubts that make or break us. In this gospel we are encouraged to ask questions. "Behold, this is my will; ask and ye shall receive." Yet, the adversary is also ready and waiting to give us his version and deceptions. He will tempt us in new ways and from different angles. If we aren't prepared in the strength of our faith the adversary will have a feeding frenzy on our doubts. 

Always remember these words to live by - "Doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith". Feed your faith, starve your doubts. This gospel is true, and nothing I don't know will tear me away from what I do know. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Spirit Hungered. My Tummy Growled.

Fast Sunday is coming up soon. I always initially have a hard time with the first Sunday of the month.  The night before I lay in bed thinking that when I wake up in the morning I am going to skip my favorite part of the day. Then my second favorite part of the day. Eating brings me joy. It's in my Top 5. (Gospel, Family, Food, Laughing, Learning).

Fasting is one of those things that I have done because I've been taught by good, faithful parents to do so.  I did it to be obedient, not because I had a testimony of it. In my mind it strikes me as being backwards. Going without food brings more spirituality than with? The results of my fasting is usually hunger, headaches, and grouchiness. NOT exactly a spiritual experience.

A couple years ago I decided to fast about fasting. After praying I reached over and picked up my scriptures, randomly opening up to a page. (I know you always hear these stories. Look! It really happens! To normal people :) ) I opened up to 3rd Nephi 12:6: "And blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost."

I have always taken this passage of scripture to be symbolic. Reading it then I took it literally as well. As I said, I fasted because I wanted to be obedient. I went hungry and I didn't submit to my tummy growlings to be righteous. As a trial of my faith. I didn't know why but I did it anyway. I know the Lord recognizes my desire to be faithful. Similar to when Adam answered the Angel's inquiries as to why he performed sacrifice. "I know not, save the Lord commanded me" (Moses 5:30).
This gospel is a gospel of mastering the natural man. Every prophet, apostle, and disciple of Christ teach about loving others, forgiving them as well as ourselves, and giving the benefit of the doubt. One of my all time favorite scriptures is found in the epistle of John, "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world". {You're probably thinking that I've taken one of my frequented vacations in tangent-ville. No worries. It will all connect. It's the gospel. It ALL connects! ;) }

He's talking to us, isn't he? Yes! Because WE are divine. We are also of this world. Our divine spirit is enclosed in our mortal, natural man bodies. We are taught in this scripture we can and we WILL overcome our carnal appetites. We fast to prove to ourselves that we ARE stronger than our natural man. (To a point, I wouldn't attempt it beyond a couple days unless I absolutely had too. 2 meals or 24 hours is good enough for this girl.)

Our carnal appetites don't just end with food. There's a long list. By this simple once a month demonstration I prove to mostly myself (because God already knows what I'm capable of and it doesn't matter what other people think) my ability to master myself. My ability with His help, to come off conquerer! President Uchtdorf said, "We must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord's way".

Through this simple act of faith and small sacrifice, I demonstrate to Heavenly Father my willingness to obey and to put my natural man desires on hold. To show him I have faith in his way and his knowledge, not just mine. And then... he blesses me! Through something so simple.

When we fast,  we are starving the natural man in each of us to feed our spirits. Because we have the power to shun evil and feast upon righteousness.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Who We Really Are

There are a couple of things I could always count on as a child. My mom catching my brother and I every time we would sneak twinkies out of the pantry, my older brother's teasing, and visits to Wyoming every summer to visit my Grandparents. I LOVED visiting my grandparents. Swimming lessons, ice cream on Friday nights, playing with cousins, and watching movies that could only be found in my grandma's basement. Although I would look forward to being in Wyoming with my grandpa and grandma, I did NOT look forward to the drive. Not only was it was 6 long and dreary hours, but we had to spend most of them driving through Yellowstone National Park. I hated it. Completely dreaded the drive.  To this day all I think of when I see red twizzlers (a staple for the ride from Idaho to Wyoming) are stinky hot pots and geysers, and the dizziness I felt looking out at the blur of brown and green as we passed thousands of pine trees. Blech. To me, the national park was common. And boring.

A few years ago I took a geology class. It opened my eyes to what a treasure Yellowstone really is. I was amazed. My professor took us on a tour of Yellowstone, stopping the bus often as we drove through the park to allow us a closer look at the wonders that were almost right out our back door. All these years I spent dreading the ride through this forest, not realizing the treasure it is on our earth. People from all over the world travel by bus and plane just to spend a few hours to enjoy the scenery there.

I have spent my life learning and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Since birth I have been taught very basic simple truths about who I am, why I am here, and how much our Father in Heaven loves me. To me, this knowledge was common sense. Everyone knew what I know.

Six months ago I embarked into my mission adventure. I quickly realized what a treasure the gospel and its teachings are. I found out that though it is simple, the things I know are not common. I have the jewels of the most worth.

I know I am a daughter of God with the potential to become like He is. I lived with him before I came here. He loves us more than we can even comprehend. This earth was created specifically for each one of us to progress towards the divine destiny He has planned for us. His plan is made possible because of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Simple, right? Yet, reality shifting.

This knowledge has affected the choices I have made all through out my life, whether I realized it or not. I don't think I ever consciously even thought about it. It became a part of me.

Deep in the heart of humanity is a homesickness that many feel yet do not understand. The adversary is doing an excellent job at helping us to forget simple truths. Because if the adversary can persuade us to forget who our Father is, we forget who we can become. Our choices reflect our understanding of this simple treasure of knowledge. This is knowledge of hope and happiness.

I am Sister Ashcraft, daughter of God. :) "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I shall preach the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:9).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fairy Tales and Scripture Reading

How many of you have heard, "Reading the scriptures will change your life"?

I have. Lots. Throughout the years I would at times skeptically wonder, "Really? Reading a couple words on a page is going to make my day better? It's going to change who I am? What I want? What I see? I don't get it."

Many latter-day prophets have promised that a careful reading of the Book of Mormon can do nothing short of generating many miracles.

I thought it sounded like a fairy tale. Magic. Read....>Poof<!! Instant better day! Just by reading a couple pages out of some book. Then again, it's not just 'some book'. I've come to realize it's THE book. I've heard variations of this promise throughout my life. Just enough times to take the challenge. I put it to the test. You know what I discovered? Fairy tales are more than real.* And this promise is secure and tight. It works!

I was confused, yet pleasantly so, when my days WOULD go better when I read the Book of Mormon. I couldn't figure it out. I was baffled and befuddled. I really DID become a better, happier version of myself. I loved others more. My perspective shifted. If I wasn't paying close attention I may have even missed the subtle, yet ironically enough, drastic change in myself. That left a big question to be answered...How?

I pondered upon these things for awhile. I know I don't understand it perfectly, but I do know that it's not magic. It's something better. It's the light of Christ. When we read The Book of Mormon, we are inviting into our lives the words of Christ, which in turn bring his power. Little by little, bit by bit. The power to change all of my spiritual anatomy problems including my hard heart, my stiff neck, my deaf ears and my blind eyes. It changes what I see, because it changes me.

The scriptures are jam-packed with how powerful the word of God is. My favorite example is in Alma 31:5:

"... preaching of the word... had a more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else..."

Yep. That is pretty powerful. There's more. Just to name a few, in Helaman 3:29, "whosoever will lay hold upon the word of God" will be able to cut through the countless deceptive snares of the adversary. Jacob teaches us the word of God heals wounded souls. Psalms 119 says the word will show our feet where to go. Nephi testifies that the word of God will teach us all things we should do. Paul writes in his letter to Timothy that it is through the word of God that men become perfected. Helaman shows the way in Helaman 15:7-8. Because God's word leads us to act in faith to repent. Repentance is the process our hearts are changed. Repeating this process over and over again allows us to become firmer and more steadfast in the faith.

Amazing. I could go on all day. I won't though. {I think I heard you just breathe a sigh of relief.} We both have got to get moving and acting upon the word.  :)

I love God's word! FEAST upon the words. And never hunger.

* " Fairy tales are more than true. Not because they tell us dragons exist, but they tell us dragons can be defeated." - Neil Gaiman