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.




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

I rarely do anything by halves and once every year or so I seem to get really really sick in a way that forces my zoom through life to a painful crawl. Two years ago it was 6 weeks of bronchitis. Last year it was the worst case of strep I've ever had. This time it was diverticulitis. I started feeling (for lack of a more ladylike word) gassy on Thursday. As in I really thought I needed to get rid of some but couldn't and it was incredibly painful. That feeling of bloat and stomach distension just kept getting worse until on Sunday, bent over with each painful step I took as I cradled my stomach, I decided maybe it was something worse. I went to Urgent Care first and since no one was in the lobby the doctor was behind the desk when I came in. He did me the kindness of asking me right there without checking me in what was wrong. Then he told me he didn't have the equipment to help me and that I needed to go to the ER. So when my family came home from church my husband took me down.

The only time I've ever been in the hospital is to give birth. I've never had a surgery and all sorts of frightening reasons for my pain were swimming through my brain. Add to that a past medicine interaction and general distrust of doctors and all was doom, gloom, and fear. Thankfully the staff on hand was incredibly sweet with me and explained every tiny thing they were doing. I first had to have some blood taken, then be given fluids to hydrate me which made me shiver half to death, and then I had a CAT scan done. I wasn't there above a few hours and the diagnosis was thankfully an uncomplicated case of diverticulitis. With a strong antibiotic and a liquid diet I should heal quickly.
 I have been doing so. What I didn't expect was the emotional difficulty. On this sudden liquid diet I was never sated and the usual unfortunate side effect of antibiotics meant that I was struggling to stay hydrated or to even sleep for very long periods between using the bathroom.

It was the end of day 2 of this liquid diet that my husband came home to a very hangry, very emotionally compromised wife. I told him I wanted to vent and that before I started in I already knew that others had it worse and I was petty and pathetic but I just needed to cry about my current pain and woes. I told him about how hungry and miserable I was but about how afraid I was to go off a liquid diet too soon and bring back so much pain if I didn't heal. There was much more said besides but suffice it to say, he listened to it all. Then he told me he thought it would be just fine to start on some soft foods. Then he asked me if he could mash me a potato and make some pudding from scratch since we had no mix. It was 9 at night and he'd just gotten home from work. So I cried some more because that sweet offering made me feel so loved right when I was feeling so very unloveable.

He's a good man. I know not everyone has such love and kindness in a spouse. I hope I can always remember to be the kind word or deed that someone might need.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." - Ian McLaren

President Russell M. Nelson challenged women belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. I started last week and created this printable to keep me on track. Feel free to download for personal use.

On a warm August evening in Bakersfield California in 1972 a mother took her four children for a walk. As they walked, a driver impaired by alcohol and angry at someone else decided to take his anger out on the innocent family. Everyone was able to jump out of the way in time except 2 year old Jerry, who was knocked out of his big sisters hand as she tried to pull him to safety. The youngest child and only boy, Jerry had been longed prayed for and treasured by his parents and sisters. Three hours after the hit and run, Jerry passed into eternity.

 His mother Dian later recalled: “During the year after Jerry left us, it was naturally a very trying time for all of us, and it was a most difficult adjustment to make. It was very lonely without him, at times almost overpowering, as if life just could not go on without his sunshiney face wherever we went. Jerry was a very different child. On the night he was born...I was so thankful at last for a precious son, and I spent the night in thanksgiving to my Heavenly Father. However, during this night a voice kept coming to me over and over again telling me I would not have this son very long. There was no vision, just the voice...in the next two and a half years it was to repeat itself many times...and at the very moment of the accident the same voice I had heard the night he was born, said to me “You knew you wouldn’t have him long.” I know that Jerry was supposed to be born at the time he was...he had a very special mission upon this earth. That mission was to unite our family.”

 Dian was my grandmother, Jerry was my uncle, and the 3 daughters who survived the incident were my mother and aunts. Only a few months after Jerry died, my great grandfather, Heber Danner, who had been deeply affected by his grandsons death, began studying the gospel, something that no latter-day saint associate in his 71 years on earth had convinced him to do. Almost two years to the day that Jerry died, Heber Danner was baptized into the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

 Having been born into and raised in this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, baptism and other ordinances are something I’ve long been familiar with. But being familiar with a concept doesn’t always imply understanding of a concept. While I certainly felt happy on my baptism day as a young 8 year old, my understanding of baptism and why it is necessary to salvation came later. There were times during my adolescence that I wondered, shouldn’t it be enough for God that I am a spiritual person trying to live a good life? Why would ordinances be necessary for eternal life? As I learned more about Jesus Christ and gained a testimony of his divinity, I knew from his own example in the book of Matthew that baptism by immersion was necessary. And more importantly, baptism by immersion by one sanctioned by God to do so. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that "all the ordinances, systems, and administrations on the earth are of no use to the children of men, unless they are ordained and authorized of God;” Though I had already been baptized, as I studied the Book of Mormon and the Bible, I gained a testimony that the priesthood of God which authorizes mankind to act in His name is found on the earth today, within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and that baptism into this church is the first step toward a Christlike life and eternal life hereafter.

Elder David A. Bednar has taught: “The baptismal covenant includes three fundamental commitments: (1) to be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, (2) to always remember Him, and (3) to keep His commandments. The promised blessing for honoring this covenant is “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us].”

 After baptism partaking of the sacrament gains new meaning. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “This (meaning the baptismal covenant) is the identical covenant made in the sacramental ordinance. That is to say, it becomes our privilege every time we partake of the sacrament to receive anew the promises and blessings first offered to us in baptism.”

 The ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, however wonderful and sacred they are, are only the first steps in leading us toward eternal life, not the final goal.

 Elder David A. Bednar taught: “...Scriptures help us understand that the process of taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ that is commenced in the waters of baptism is continued and enlarged in the house of the Lord. As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple. As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple. We pledge to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments as preparation to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple.”

 Three years after Jerry’s death and one year after Heber Danner was baptized, my grandmother Dian recalled: “In August of 1975 we headed to Idaho...[Heber and his wife Ellen] were going to be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary by going to the Idaho Falls Temple to be sealed for time and all eternity...It was a glorious day for all of us.”

 As Heber was baptized he looked to the temple and the promise that he could be sealed to his wife, and then they together could be sealed to their son, who in turn had been sealed to his wife and children, which included Jerry.

 Baptism opens the door but it does not carry us across the threshold to eternal life. The most important part of baptism, the one that helps prepare us for and propel us toward temple ordinances, becoming like Christ, and receiving eternal life is the gift of the Holy Ghost. In John chapter 3 verse 5, Jesus taught: “...Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

 After baptism and upon renewing our covenant through the sacrament each week we are promised that we MAY always have His spirit to be with us. But we must do our part. Being born of the spirit is not a one and done event. It is a lifelong effort and failure is part of the plan. Why else would we be given the sacrament continually if it was not expected that we would need frequent cleansing from sin? Mother Theresa once wisely said, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” As long as we keep trying and repenting as needed with real intent we will be blessed with the Holy Spirit in our lives and that spirit is necessary in our journey toward eternal life. The Lords prophet on earth today, Russell M. Nelson has made it clear: “If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation...In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost...the heavens are open and...God speaks to his children!”

 But the prophet did not simply give us this admonition with no guidance on how to achieve it. He has urged us: “Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.”

 There is of course, one thing more that we must have in order to gain eternal life and that is the grace of Jesus Christ. The late Modern American philosopher Dallas Willard was once asked if he believed in total depravity. “I believe in sufficient depravity,” he responded. When asked what he meant he expounded, “I believe that every human being is sufficiently depraved that when we get to heaven, not one will be able to say, ‘I merited this.”

 We emulate the Savior not because we believe we can earn his grace but because we are truly converted to and love him.

 In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: …”if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him...Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”