Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crossing the Red Sea

The other day I was studying in the book of Isaiah and read a verse talking about when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. For those who are unfamiliar with this, Moses was an ancient prophet called of God to lead the Israelites out of slavery under the Egyptians to Israel--their promised land. As part of their escape, they needed to cross the Red Sea swiftly to avoid capture by the Egyptians. God inspired Moses to stretch his hands out and part the Red Sea by God's power so that a path appeared between two walls of water, by which the Israelites could safely, and drily cross (see Ch. 14 of Exodus).

As I sat thinking, I thought of how much powerful symbolism there is in this miracle. The Israelites were just beginning their journey of growing to truly follow God. The first ordinance in following God is baptism. Because the Israelites passed through water at the beginning of their journey to the promised land (symbolic of a journey to God/Heaven) we can see this as a symbolic baptism. Baptism is a rebirth--a cleansing of sin and a commitment to follow God. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 10 when he says, "...all our fathers...all passed through the sea; And were all baptized...in the sea." (verses 1-2). Speaking of being born again, a Book of Mormon prophet--Alma--writes, "And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and his daughters;" (Mosiah 27:25).

So, the passing of the Red Sea was like a symbolic baptism. I also find it interesting that the path across the sea was a narrow path created of God--the only path to safety. This is like the strait and narrow path Christ often teaches of ("...strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life..." - Matthew 7:14). Christ has created the path for all of us to follow, baptism is a part of it, and trusting Him--having faith--is also key. I'm sure it must have been very scary to walk along a narrow path walled with waves of the sea. And yet the people were safe. Christ creates a path for us all to pass safely through any stormy seas of life--but the path is specific and we have to stay on it to be safe and to get to the right place--eternal life with God and our families in Heaven.

Another interesting thing to me is that after the crossing of the sea the Israelites' journey was not over. They then began a long time of having their faith tested and of learning to follow the Lord as they traveled many years in the wilderness, relying on God and moving toward the promised land. This is just like our life. Baptism and faith begin us on the narrow path, but the path is long because it is a journey meant to change and prepare us to be worthy of the promised land at the end. We have a wilderness of learning and trials to go through, but as with the Israelites, God will be with us and even bring us sweet manna when we think there is no food in sight.

Now I have to go to work! I think I'll come back to this and write a bit more later though :) Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts! Love, Sierra

Ok, here is one more thing I wanted to add. This is one of my favorite verses from the Book of Mormon and I feel it provides a great conclusion to this thought (or, rather, a beginning?).

"And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." (2 Nephi 31:19-20)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fences: Foes or Friends?

Are there any fences in your life? What are they for? Are they to keep things in or keep things out? What about fences God puts up?

Today during the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (watch it online! http://new.lds.org/general-conference?lang=eng) one of the speakers, Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, shared a quite poignant analogy about a fence. He told about his boyhood growing up on a ranch. One of his chores was to watch the cows to make sure they didn't break through the fence into the neighboring wheat field. If the cows ate the wheat, they would become bloated and eventually suffocate. Elder Arnold told about one cow that was determined to get at the wheat. She was always trying to poke her face through the fence. One day, she managed to break through and by the time Elder Arnold caught her, she had already eaten a large quantity of wheat and had begun to swell. He was so upset and wondered why she had to do it. He ran for help, but when he returned she had already died.

Elder Arnold then drew a parallel: how many of us are just such a cow? We see God's commandments as a fence separating us from the seemingly delicious wheat just a field away. And yet God knows that that wheat will only harm us--even kill us. The fence is not a foe, but a friend and a protector. If the cow breaks through to the wheat she may think she is free, but in reality her freedom is lost as she is destroyed by the wheat. It's the same with us. Our greatest freedom comes when we stay away from the fenced-off areas of morality. Elder Arnold said that in the realm of righteousness and wickedness the grass is never greener on the other side for "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10 in the Book of Mormon).

This analogy struck me so strongly. I remember being so angry as a young teenager, feeling like God's commandments were keeping me away from really living. In reality, they were allowing me to truly live and kept me from death--spiritual death and maybe even physical death. I work at a law firm right now and see so many people whose lives have been destroyed by drugs, alcohol, and other things I used to think were "really living." Those things take away our freedom like nothing else. Sin enslaves; obedience to God expands and sets free. I've never felt freer or happier than when I am striving with all my might to follow God. It's amazing! You can actually feel your spirit expand as you do what is right and realize you are becoming stronger. You become free from anger, offense, and all the other things that really just enslave peace and progress.

Sometimes I almost laugh--or cry--to think how silly we are sometimes in kicking against the one being who loves and knows us better than anyone and whose entire goal is to show us the way to be the absolute happiest we can be.

I hope this didn't sound too much like a rant :) Now that I'm sitting here I reflect and think of how beautiful it is that God builds fences. But they're only fences if we're wanting to go to the other side. However, it's not really that the fence is separating us from another side. The fences we sometimes want to cross lead into tiny, miserable pens that are really the fenced in places. We are on the outside of the fences with infinite space to grow, expand, love, explore, create, and become like Our Father in heaven. The fenced in places are like tiny specks--little fenced in spheres within an infinite sea of potential. Who would want to go there? Why would we want to dwell in one of these little places and close off growth and opportunity when God wants to give us everything and keep us free? He loves us and I know he knows what's best for us. Just like any rebellious teenager, we have to come to realize that and open our eyes to what the fences really mean and what they show. They don't show cruelty, but infinite wisdom and love. God will let us go into those little fenced in places if we insist--He's given us the freedom to choose--but He puts up fences to let us know where the quick sand lies--He gives us warning signs because He loves us and wants us to remain free and move forward in ever growing happiness. 

Maybe I've gone on too long and no one will read this :) But it was enough that it helped me sort out my thoughts and feelings. For any who are reading, I bear to you my testimony and witness that God loves you with a love beyond measure and is your Father. And that if you listen to His words, He will guide you on the path of life that leads straight to Him and to never ending happiness and progression with your families forever. This I write, in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

ps - one other thought I want to add: think of how much care a farmer takes in putting up a fence to keep his cows safe and well. Our God does the same, putting in so much care to guide us. Let's be grateful and rejoice! Not gripe and grumble :) That goes for me, too! Thanks for reading! You get a golden star for making it all the way to this line!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Win a Smile in 5 Minutes or Less :)

How? Just go to http://www.youtube.com/user/MormonMessages or search "mormon messages" on youtube.com! I love this channel! My church produces short inspirational movies about all kinds of topics like hope, forgiveness, Christmas, and more. You can also find little movies about different humanitarian projects and interviews with people who have unique stories to tell. I love to watch these to get a little boost or a glow in my heart now and again :)

Here is one of my very favorites (this one made me cry!--it's about a boy who learns to make a better choice): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naqX9iYE0V0

ps - the image is the official logo for the youtube channel :)

I hope you enjoy it!

If you can't find it with the link, it's called "Gordon Hinckley - Lessons I Learned as a Boy"


Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Merry Heart

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)

I love remembering this! I've found it to be so true :) I think it works especially well when we try to keep a positive attitude for the sake of someone we love. My grandmother, Theresa, has done an amazing job of this. She lost the love of her life early--when I was only seven--but she has kept going and absolutely filled her life to the seams with love and service for others--often feeding an army's worth of people several nights a week and doing all sorts of other good. I admire and appreciate her so much :) I know there are so many others who also take the medicine of the heart, and thereby fill our lives with sunshine. Thank you to you heroes, known or unknown!

(image from Wikipedia)

PS - Here is a great talk about the benefits of a positive/peaceful attitude and of laughter. One good quote from it is:

"Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training [in life]. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others. Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others."

Here's the link to the talk:


Friday, May 21, 2010

Running with Patience?

When I was in high school, I ran cross country. It was the first time in my life that I was actually good at a team sport. (Probably because this one didn't involve any balls... Also, it was a place for my skinny legs to excel for once!!) Anyway, I loved it! It was a lot of hard work, a lot of hours, a lot of early mornings, and a lot of--yep--sweat. It was also a lot of peace, endurance, and friendship-building :)

Besides building friendships and fitness, this sport was wonderful for my mind. It helped me realize how important our thoughts are for success. In a race if I started thinking negative thoughts, running became harder and I ran slower. If I kept a peaceful, positive, focused attitude I could do amazingly more than I expected. Something interesting about cross-country is that you have to pace yourself. If you run too fast at first, you run out of energy before the end. You have to control yourself and know yourself so that you do your best, but don't do more than you can handle.

I've never run a marathon, but I assume it's the same but even more so. Patience, steadiness, and a peaceful mind win the race. I think life is a lot like that. Just continuing forward and finishing something long and trying brings joy and satisfaction. All of this links to...the scripture below!

1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
(Hebrews 12:1-4)

Life is a long race, but our Savior has already run it and can help us and cheer us along the way. Though it's long, we can run it with friends :) We can also enjoy getting stronger, gaining control of our thoughts, and seeing all of the beautiful and changing scenery as we pass along.

Does anyone have any thoughts to add?


PS - This is a photo of me and some of my friends from my high school cross-country team! As you'll notice, I didn't win a medal but that's ok--in the race of life everyone who finishes the race well will be happy and rewarded :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Some Inspiring Messages

Happy spring everyone! As I walk about,my senses are filled up with blossoms--sight and smell and sometimes even touch. It is lovely--it makes one have to stop and breath in deeply and fully--aah! I love spring and fall for all of their dynamic changes; they are so exciting and curious to me :) There's another interesting thing brought about by spring: graduation. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the commencement exercises here at BYU and the experience was very inspiring (especially as it will likely be me in cap and gown this time next year).

Our key speakers were both general authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first was Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the second was President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counseler in the Church's First Presidency. Both of their messages were excellent. One of the strongest messages I took from Elder Nelson was the fact that our educations and careers do not define us--they are means to an end rather than ends in and of themselves. Our purpose here is to become better--to become who God wants us to be. We are not lawyers, doctors, janitors, or chefs: we are children of God. Our educations and careers can help us to grow and learn but they should never become our only focus. I thought this was good advice when so many seem to define themselves now by degrees and careers. My friend brought up an interesting point to tie to this. We are in a history class together called "Freedom and Rhetoric" that focuses on history from the Reformation to the present time, looking specifically at the ways in which the concept of freedom has been fought for and expressed through words. Anyway, we recently studied Jane Austen's "Persuasion" and saw different photographs of places she had been in her life. One photograph we saw was of her grave at Winchester Cathedral in England. The memorial, placed by her brothers (she never married or had children), read something to the effect of her being a loving, kind, and devoted sister and friend. Our professor pointed out that nothing was mentioned about Jane's writing. After class, however, my friend noted to me that he would never want someone to write on his grave, "Here lies a man who did much research in mathematics and physics." He would want to be remembered as a loving husband and father. As he pointed that out, I realized he was right. What really matters when we die? What is most fulfilling? Though our deeds may be great, what matters most is our connections to others, our interactions with our fellows, our relationships with our family, and our closeness to God. This reminds me again of the Savior's teaching on the greatest commandments: to love God and love our neighbors (Matt. 22:36-40). We should always be living our lives to fulfill these commandments, whether that life be as a musician, mother, writer, or mixture of all three.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was something President Uchtdorf said. He stated, "We must be willng to work hard--this is what brings opportunities." He then spoke on how using time wisely, continuing to learn, and being worthy to have God's Spirit with us are some important keys to living effectively and successfully. I felt the truth of his words and a desire to use my time better and to be willing to work hard. I think the word "willing" is key. Work is only as awful or as wonderful as we think it is. I want to choose to recognize that I feel better about myself and more fulfilled when I work hard, though it may be difficult at times. Speaking of that, it's time for me to go to work! I'll just end this thought with a scripture from the Book of Mormon and then a little caveat from Paul and one from King Benjamin.

"Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors." - Alma 34:31-32

"...Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12: 1-2

"And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order." - Mosiah 4:27

Okeedok! I hope that wasn't too rambling and that you can glean some bits of pearl from my long speech. Have lovely days!

Love, Sierra

PS- This photograph is the official photo of the First Presidency of the Church. The man sitting is God's current prophet, Thomas S. Monson. The taller man standing is his first counseler, Henry B. Eyring, and the other is Dieter F. Uchtdorf. If you are curious about what the First Presidency is, here is a little news article: http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/church-releases-new-official-portrait-of-first-presidency

PPS- I found Jane Austen's actual epitaph! Here it is for all who are interested:

In memory of
youngest daughter of the late
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County.
She departed this Life on the 18th July 1817,
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.

The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her, and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.

Their grief is in proportion to their affection
they know their loss to be irreparable,
but in the deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dinners at Home

I love eating with my family :) I love elbows on the table. I love sitting next to my left-handed brother and dodging arms with him as we eat. I love being in a little circle facing faces that are dear to me. I love the food my mother prepares. I love hearing about everyone's day. All of it--even the spilled milk (which I don't think has ever been cried over). There's something so warm about coming together--it's a symbol of unity each day. It's like planets in their own orbits coming at least once daily into line.

Christ loved eating with people, too. He did it all of the time, even with thousands. Throughout time, eating together has been a symbol of unity and communion--it means sharing the substance of life with others. In my New Testament class, we also learned that eating with others in the time of Christ implied a certain type of covenant (or promise): the host promised protection and the guest promised loyalty. When Christ instituted the last supper, such a covenant was made. Yet, the disciples abandoned or denied Christ and broke their part of the covenant. In the last chapter of John, Christ meets with the disciples again to eat: to make a new covenant. He instructs the disciples to go out and share the gospel with the world and this time they prove faithful.

When we take the sacrament we are covenanting with God to follow Him and keep His commandments. Likewise, perhaps we covenant in some small way with our families as we eat with them--we promise to protect and be loyal to one another, just as people did of old. Let's come together more and be one. Let's protect one another better and be more loyal both to each other and to God. Let's be a covenant people.

*This is a family photo from a road trip some of my siblings (the youngest was still a little baby) and I took with my dad. We're not necessarily at a table, but we are eating together! Eating cereal on the top of a van is a pretty fun bonding experience :)