After discovering this cute poem I decided to design a handout for it. The handout is 5x7 and has enough white space to tape a full sized candy cane to.

Click on the image below to download. Free for personal use.




Look at the Candy Cane
What do you see?

Stripes that are red like the
blood shed for me.

White for my Savior
so sinless and pure.

"J" is for Jesus, my Lord
strong and sure. 

Turn it around and a
staff you will see.

He's the Good Shepherd 
that's calling to me.

Join with us in 25 days of service leading up to the celebration of Christ's birth! From the website:

 #LightTheWorld is an invitation to transform Christmas into a season of service. Join us as we follow the example of Jesus Christ by ministering to others one by one—just like He did.

You can download a calendar from the website that is already filled out with service prompts or you can write your own ideas into the blank calendar I've created. I designed this calendar, free for your personal use just for this event. Just click on the calendar below.

This one is especially engaging for kids. Perhaps they can write down one small act of service they can do for someone every day this month leading up to Christmas and then they can put a sticker on each block when it's been accomplished. Merry Christmas!






   
An address given in the Dripping Springs Ward August 24, 2019 by Summer Owens


Six years ago my husband finally finished school. After 13 years of marriage and four children this was a truly momentous event. With a job secured and our first home under contract I looked forward to fulfilling a long time dream; that of delving into woodworking. A little while after we moved to Austin I began reading all about woodworking. I researched what tools were best to start with and scoured free plans on the internet to decide what I would build first. I gained a basic understanding through my study, but I learn best through observation and trial and error so I know that things would click once I actually got started. Eventually I settled on building a sofa table and after that first project I was hooked. Building fulfills my need for creativity, organization, and function. Over the past few years I’ve built everything from beds to cabinets, but there are three things I need to know no matter what I’m building. And each of these can be correlated to the gospel.

 First - Know your task. Before starting on a build I need to decide what to build and have an idea of what the finished product should look like. When we entered the waters of baptism each of us covenanted to take on the task of becoming like Christ. He is what the finished product looks like. Complete, of unmatched quality, perfect.

 Second - Know what materials you need for the task and gather them. If I want to build a table I need wood, wood glue, screws, nails, etc. We’ve already been given all the materials we need to become like Christ. We each have a physical body, a conscious mind, and a unique identity. But the materials alone do not constitute being like Christ anymore than a pile of wood and screws constitutes a table. The potential is there but materials do not build themselves.

 Third - Know what tools you need for the task and most importantly use them. The tools are the means to shaping the materials. But the tools will not function without a hand to wield them. We build ourselves into fledgling imitators of Christ as we act in faith to employ the tools of prayer, scripture study, service, repentance, and others.

 Sister Becky Craven, 2nd counselor in the Young Women General Presidency has taught, “There is a careful way and a casual way to do everything, including living the gospel. As we consider our commitment to the Savior, are we careful or casual?”  1

 A few years back I decided to build an arbor for our garden so the tomatoes and green beans would have something sturdy and pretty to climb. This was a project I had to drag my husband into helping with because of the large and heavy cuts of wood. We worked together, he mostly holding beams in place while I used my drill to secure them. After a few hours in the hot Texas sun I was sweaty, I was tired, and I became impatient to be done. In my haste my hand slipped and I ended up drilling into the soft skin between my thumb and index finger. Thankfully my carelessness at that moment didn’t result in permanent or devastating damage but since I work with a number of potentially dangerous tools on a regular basis a life changing injury is a distinct possibility and one that I try to remain mindful of. If I forego my safety glasses, use the wrong tool for the job, or get hasty with a saw I leave myself vulnerable to injury.

 The tools used to build Christlike character may not be able to injure us directly but inattentive use or complete omission of them will leave us vulnerable to sin and loss of faith. Often neglect or omission of safeguards and tools, whether spiritual or physical, is due to insufficient understanding of their purpose or lack of belief in their power. For example, the purpose of a dust mask is to protect me from respiratory illness. I believe in it’s power to do that so I wear one when sanding. The purpose of a woodworking plan is to guide the builder through a series of steps to create a top grade product. If I believe in its power to do that, then I follow the plan carefully. I complete each step in order, using specified materials and tools, culminating with sealing the wood.



The purpose of the Plan of Salvation is to guide each of us through a series of steps to create a celestial grade product or existence in the hereafter. If we believe in its power to do that then we should follow the plan carefully. We complete each of the gospel ordinances in order, using specified tools meant to both safeguard and actively refine us, culminating with the temple sealing. But our task is not complete even if we perform all of the necessary ordinances. Just as regular maintenance is required to preserve and protect wood from weathering over time, regular maintenance is required to preserve the integrity of our character over time.

 Sister Craven has encouraged us to ask ourselves: “Are we careful in our Sabbath-day worship and in our preparation to partake of the sacrament each week? Could we be more careful in our prayers and scripture study . . . Are we careful in our temple worship, and do we carefully and deliberately live the covenants we made both at baptism and in the temple? . . . Are we careful in how we minister to others and in how we fulfill our callings in the Church?”

 Sabbath-day worship, prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, repentance, service. The same tools we use to act in faith initially are the tools we use to preserve faith continually. Since faith is the foundation upon which Christlike character is built and Christlike character qualifies us for the responsibilities of eternal life, maintaining faith is a vital part of the plan of salvation.

 All faith begins with hope. Hope is the desire that someone or something can be trusted. Trust is the decision to act on that hope. Confidence is the assurance we gain as our trust is rewarded and motivates continued faith.

 Often the most difficult part of maintaining faith occurs because we fail to recognize the rewards or blessings of our faith. If we hyperfocus on receiving exactly what we’ve asked for we may be blinding ourselves to what we’ve been given. We are allowed and encouraged to hope and ask for things that we want. Indeed we are taught that there are certain blessings God is willing to grant but that are made conditional upon our asking for them. 2 
But we must remember that faith is not a tool used to change the will of God. It is a tool meant to align our will with God’s. True faith is being able to say as Jesus did, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) and open your mind to other possibilities through which your faith may be rewarded. God did not remove the bitter cup from His Son but He did send an angel to strengthen Him in his agony.

 We all struggle with times of agony that may result in our pleading with God to take something away. One source of agony that has been with me since I was a small child is mental illness. I pleaded with God for many years that it would be taken away. When it wasn’t I believed that I must not have enough faith, when in actuality it was simply contrary to His will that it be removed. It was due to the fact that He did not remove this trial that my understanding of faith was refined which enabled me to recognize all the ways He had blessed me. Christ has taken my weakness and helped me to bear it. He has seen what I have learned from it and prompted me to share my experiences to help strengthen others. I’ve seen guilt swept away when people realize that while despair can come from sin, it can also come from mental illness in good people. I’ve seen hope kindled when others realize that not feeling the spirit doesn’t necessarily indicate being unworthy or unfaithful. The Savior himself was once subject to such distress when he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I’ve seen faith renewed as others learn they can recognize the Holy Spirit outside of emotional response. I’ve seen individuals empowered as they recognize that their will need not hinge upon what they feel or cannot feel. I never imagined that a burden so dark and so painful could produce such beautiful fruit. But with Christ all things are possible.



 In Matthew chapter 11: verses 29 and 30 Jesus extended the following invitation: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Yoking ourselves with Christ means consistent re-evaluation, refocus, and repentance. But it also means we have consistent help and encouragement.

 Brothers and Sisters mortality is where we build the foundation upon which the quality of our salvation relies. We have been given a plan and all the materials and tools needed. Christ is not only our model, He is the Master Builder and we have been invited to apprentice to Him. He asks us to take that first step of faith and then continue in faith with intention through all the certainty and uncertainties of life. We will make mistakes as we learn but He is not there to shame, laugh at, or abandon us because of them. He loves us and He loves our honest efforts even when they fall short. 

Sister Craven has reminded us: “Although we may not be perfect, brothers and sisters, we can be worthy; worthy to partake of the sacrament, worthy of temple blessings, and worthy to receive personal revelation.”


[1] Careful versus Casual by Becky Craven

[2] Bible Dictionary: Prayer


Suggestions for additional study:

Reflections on Discipleship by Gaye Strathearn

Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father by Neal A. Maxwell

Have you Been Saved by Dallin H. Oaks

Consecrate Thy Performance by Neal A. Maxwell

In a World full of Choices by Gaye Strathearn

According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts by Neal A. Maxwell

An address given in the Hamilton Pool Ward August 18, 2019 by Summer Owens


I grew up following my dad around the house hoping to participate in whatever project he had going on. Ours was a do it yourself household. Something was always being worked on and I wanted in on the action. To my dad’s credit he never denied me when I asked if I could help. Over the years under his tutelage I used power tools, laid flooring, painted walls, repaired shingles, and did all sorts of odd jobs. I never felt limited by age or gender and his patience helped me develop an insatiable curiosity about how things are built and how I can repair or improve them. My mother was the same. She always took the opportunity to teach me when I expressed interest. She taught me how to bake, how to can, and how to plant and care for a garden, in spite of her busy career as a computer programmer. Both of my parents helped cultivate in me a tenacity and confidence in my ability to learn. And when it comes to new situations or tasks I usually feel, if not fully qualified, at least capable of quickly becoming so. This can do attitude has been a great blessing and strength in my life but it has also occasionally caused trouble. As regarding the concept of grace, for instance.

 In a speech given at BYU, religious scholar Stephen E. Robinson described a time early in his marriage when his wife Janet seemed to be, as he called it, “dying spiritually”. When she finally opened up to him she exclaimed that she just couldn’t do all of it anymore. She started listing the ways in which she was failing and comparing herself to others. She concluded by telling her husband that she was not perfect, never would be, and would never make it to the celestial kingdom. In relaying this story Brother Robinson then wrote, “Who would have thought...after all we had read and done in the Church...that Janet did not know the gospel of Jesus Christ?... She knew why Jesus is a coach, a cheerleader, an advisor, a teacher... the head of the Church, the Elder Brother, or even God…. but she did not understand why he is called the Savior. Janet was trying to save herself with Jesus as an advisor. Brothers and sisters, we can’t. No one can.” 1

Like Janet, it took me many years to recognize that living the gospel is not a Do It Yourself project. I knew that because of the Savior’s grace all men and women would be raised to immortality but I had a hard time reconciling grace with exaltation. How do we resolve the idea that we don’t earn eternal life when we are taught that works are necessary to salvation? For me, coming to understand the conundrum of grace versus works, was a matter of viewing it in light of one word: qualify.

To qualify for something one must achieve the skill, knowledge, or ability for doing or being something. Becoming qualified for exaltation, doesn’t entitle us to it, but it does give us the opportunity to receive it whereas if we never even qualify for it we cannot receive it. Not because of some arbitrary punishment God has made up, but because He will not counteract our will. If we don’t use our agency to live celestial laws then we don’t actually desire celestial glory. Nor do I personally believe we would find joy living in a place whose laws we could not keep and whose ideals we do not agree with. Hence D&C 88:22 which reads, “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.”



It really is true then that we are judged according to the desires of our hearts. Our actions demonstrate what we desire and in turn build the competency needed to qualify for the responsibilities of exaltation. (D&C 137:9) The catch is that in spite of our best desires and actions, we can’t qualify for it, let alone earn it. We must achieve nothing less than perfection and we never can. But this is where the concept of qualification becomes so beautiful. The word qualify has an additional meaning. In the legal sense, if you qualify an agreement that means that you will modify, limit, or restrict your agreement by presenting exceptions. We actually can qualify for exaltation but we can only do so with and because of the Great Qualifier, the exception God agreed upon to the demands of justice, even Jesus Christ. Said he, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;” (D&C 19:16)

 Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught: “Christ died not to save indiscriminately but to offer repentance. We rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” in the process of repentance, but acting to repent is a self-willed change. So by making repentance a condition for receiving the gift of grace, God enables us to retain responsibility for ourselves." 2

Repentance is a gift that preserves our agency and works to qualify us for greater things, yet it is widely misunderstood. It is not a punishment and if it feels like one we may be enacting penance instead of acting to repent. Guilt is not meant to be used like a crowbar to beat ourselves in a misguided attempt to atone for our own sins. It is meant to leverage us toward Christ. Do you realize that when you set yourself up as an exception to the Lord’s redeeming power, you have set yourself up as being wiser than He? The moment I realized this was perhaps the most humbling and liberating of my life. It allowed me to experience repentance for the first time as a precious gift that could restore my peace and joy. It enabled me to separate the sin from the sinner and believe that though I don’t always make the best of choices, that doesn’t make me the worst kind of person. It allowed me to finally accept His forgiveness and believe it. The berating, rebuking, and lambasting of myself for every mistake dissolved and in its place was hope, something infinitely more productive. I cannot adequately express the joy I have since found in living the gospel and in my relationship with and love of my savior.



While we may not always commit sin that requires priesthood help, we all have need of regular repentance. President Nelson has taught: “While the Lord insists on our repentance, most people don’t feel such a compelling need. They include themselves among those who try to be good. They have no evil intent. Yet the Lord is clear in His message that all need to repent—not only from sins of commission but from sins of omission…. Repentance is conversion! A repentant soul is a converted soul, and a converted soul is a repentant soul.”  3

 The provision of the sacrament indicates it is expected we will sin. But that fact does not absolve us of the responsibility to try not to. As we complete necessary ordinances, attempt to avoid sin, repent when we don’t, and actively work to develop Christlike character we claim Christ as our advocate and He is bound to honor our claim. For he has said, “...I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation. I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say…” (D&C 82:9-10)

Brothers and Sisters, this is the good news of the gospel. That we really are free to choose for ourselves. That if we choose Christ He makes up where we lack. Just as parents guide their children in learning the skills and confidence necessary for adult life, Christ will guide us in learning the skills and confidence necessary for eternal life and our hearts will be purified in the process. What may begin as acting with the hope of celestial reward becomes acting with the hope of rewarding others, regardless of whether it will do anything for you. You will work to expand your understanding of doctrine so you can teach. You will reinforce and share your testimony hoping it might provide kindling for someone else’s. You will strive to offer forgiveness to the repentant. You will know from whence you came and whose you are and that will empower you with a confidence born of humility to affect much good within your family and your community.

I know Heavenly Father exists and that he loves his children. I know Christ lives, that he died for me and lives for me. I have experienced for myself the joy that comes from following His commandments and trying to live like Him. I share this witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Believing Christ: A Practical Approach to the Atonement by Stephen E. Robinson

[2] Free Forever, to Act for Themselves by D. Todd Christofferson

[3] Repentance and Conversion by Russell M. Nelson



Suggestions for additional study:

We Can Do Better and Be Better by Russell M. Nelson

The Divine Gift of Repentance by D. Todd Christofferson

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

The Meaning of Repentance by Theodore M. Burton

In the Strength of the Lord by David A. Bednar

Humility - The Beginning and End of the Virtues by Kent Dunnington

The Miracle of Repentance by D. Kelly Ogden

Defining the Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister



 
A lesson on faith based on Juan Pablo Villar's General Conference Address.

Many muscles require exercise in order to be in condition to perform our daily activities...Our muscles grow only when we use them.I have come to realize that spiritual gifts behave in the same way. They also need to be exercised to grow. The spiritual gift of faith, for example, is not just a feeling or a mood; it is a principle of action that frequently appears in the scriptures linked to the verb exercise.” - Elder Villar   

To use our muscles resistance is required. Every day we resist gravity by standing up, walking around, and lifting things. To build muscle we need more resistance. We might run instead of walk or lift heavier amounts of weight. Whatever the resistance is, when it's greater than what your body is commonly used to, the process of building muscle occurs. Specifically, muscle is built because tiny tears form in the muscle tissue when you exercise. These tears are then repaired, forming new muscle strands that can better cope with similar activity in the future. Have you ever heard of getting shredded? Well, you are literally shredding your muscles when you exercise them.

Take a look at the following vintage scientific illustrations and ask yourself what they have in common.



SEEDS


CATERPILLARS


EGGS

To reach their full potential all must resist the forces pressing against them. A seed must be buried before taking root. But it doesn’t only hold the soil at bay. It actively pushes back on it and up through it and must do so before it can become a plant. A caterpillar must be enclosed in a chrysalis and literally reformed before it can emerge as a butterfly. A chick has to break out of its egg before it can grow wing feathers and learn to fly. And muscle tissue must endure tearing before it can be made stronger.
Strengthening ourselves spiritually also requires us to resist forces that threaten our faith. Resistance is key because the threat to our faith lies not in the nature of the force itself but in our response to it. As we choose to exercise faith through trials it becomes easier to maintain faith through trials. Why do you think that is?
It’s at least partly due to strengthening our mental muscles. Think of your brain as a jungle through which you're trying to make your way. If you're forging a path through it for the first time, you're encountering dense foliage as you go along. Some plants you pull out, some you break until you're through. The next day you take that same path and break more plants and branches. Every day that you walk that path you compact the soil more and tear out more foliage. Eventually, use after use, you've worn that path well. It is clear of plants and easy to travel. Neural pathways in our brains create patterns of thought. The more often we follow certain thought pathways, the more established and easy to travel they become. This is how habits are formed.
Delbert L. Stapley taught, "Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves...Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice."

Faith is a habit. It’s something you cultivate and preserve. How do you train the habit of faith?
"Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which Christianity looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.” - C.S. Lewis


Humility and Faith

Humility is the motivation for faith. Its acknowledging that you don't know or understand everything but that you hope Christ does and therefore turn to Him. Humility is essential for starting our in faith and continuing in faith.

If we seek more patience, we may find ourselves needing to practice it while waiting for a response. If we want to have more love for our neighbor, we can foster it by sitting next to a new face at church. With faith it is similar: when doubts come to our minds, trusting in the Lord’s promises will be required to move forward. In this way, we are exercising spiritual muscles and developing them into sources of strength in our lives.” - Elder Villar
We aren’t perfect. Hopefully we have enough humility to recognize that and look to our Savior. Nor are we irreparably broken. Hopefully we have enough humility to recognize that and look to our Savior. Do you realize that when you choose to believe you are irredeemable you have set yourself up as being wiser than He? Our Savior is a far more merciful judge to us than we would be. 
"Some people confuse self-loathing with humility. But it's a counterfeit or false humility Because the truth is that self-loathing and self-glorification really aren't that different. They both share the same root, namely obsession with oneself." - C.S. Lewis
In the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pottery is mended with gold. The cracks, instead of being hidden, are highlighted to show respect for the vessel’s history and showcase the beauty of a broken thing made whole. What if we could learn to do the same? To celebrate the person we have become, not despite our struggles but because of them?...Our moments of brokenness inspire us to turn to the Savior for healing, to humble ourselves, to rely completely on Him. They allow us, bit by bit, to become more like Him.” - Reyna I. Aburto

Ether 12:27 reads: "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."
What weaknesses has the Savior helped you make strong? 
"Let's accept the invitation of President Russell M. Nelson and intently come unto the Savior by identifying those muscles that need more spiritual activity and starting to exercise them. This is a long-distance race, a marathon, rather than a sprint, so do not forget those small but constant spiritual activities that will strengthen those important spiritual muscles. If we want to increase our faith, then let's do things that require faith." - Elder Villar