Today begins the 25 days of service initiative of the LDS church. Anyone can join in and it's free. Let's bring a smile to someone's day every day this month and all year round!
I designed a calendar, free for your personal use just for this event. We're going to have our kids 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!

A talk I prepared and delivered in church, November 19, 2017

President Uchtdorf once said, “Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes! A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues.” One could logically say then that ingratitude is a catalyst to all unchristlike attributes! A thankless heart, the parent of all sin. And there are many who believe ingratitude is the root of all sin. Some argue in fact that ingratitude was the root of Adam and Eve’s transgression. Eve was surrounded by a glorious garden filled with every good thing to eat, plants to please the eyes and senses, animals to care for, and dominion and stewardship over everything. So it might seem that it wasn’t enough, for,  “...when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” - Moses 4:12

I personally think Eve recognized that she could learn more, be more if she ate that fruit, but does that mean she wasn’t grateful for what she already knew and what she already had? Alexander Graham Bell like many others, grew up communicating by letters. Does that mean that when he invented a faster, vocal way of communicating through telephone that he wasn’t ever grateful for letter writing? James Spangler was probably very grateful that he had a carpet sweeper to help pick up stuff off the floor, instead of bending down doing it himself, but when he realized the sweeper led to chronic coughing for him he invented the first electric vacuum cleaner with a bag. Some of the most useful, good things we enjoy have been created because people have thought, “There must be a better way.” Knowledge upon knowledge has been accumulated because people have thought, “There must be more to this.”

In an online article author Denise Cornell wrote, “Grateful is derived from the Latin gratus which means pleasing or thankful. Gratitude is a stand-alone sentiment - ‘this pleases me’ or ‘I am thankful’...Somewhere we took the deeply personal experience of gratitude and tacked on an implied admonition - Be Satisfied With What You Have. Now ‘this pleases me’ becomes ‘I have been pleased therefore I should never want to be pleased again’ or to put a fine point on it, ‘I am thankful for this food so I should not want more food in the future.’ It’s absurd. Gratitude is a sentiment...You can’t measure gratitude. Yet the depth of one’s gratitude (and the implied contentment with what one has) has become a standard by which we judge others - and ourselves.”

I often find myself thinking, oh it would be nice to have this or do this or learn this and immediately guilty thought sets in with things like: ‘You are already so lucky, or  ‘You have so much you’re so ungrateful to want more’’.  

Ms. Cornell goes on to say: “Honey, you’ve got it all wrong, gratitude isn’t the last stop. It opens the door for more...Gratitude is the great multiplier. It births big ideas and dreams. It sets us up, steadies us, and encourages us to seek more. Through the lens of gratitude we make better choices about what to pursue. Gratitude assures us it’s safe to push ahead. If our next leap is a bust and we land back where we started that’s okay because where we started is a place we’re already grateful to be...We can be both deeply grateful and wanting for more.”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we are taught from the very beginning that we are children of God and that we can become like God. We are encouraged to reach for our limitless potential. We are specifically admonished, as in the case of the parable of the talents, not to be complacent with what we have. That true gratitude toward God comes not in leaving our God given gifts untapped but in multiplying them and then using them to bless others. Gratitude is the lifeblood of positive action.

The first step in cultivating gratitude is strengthening our memory. Elder Eyring has taught, “...We so easily forget that we came into life with nothing. Whatever we get soon seems our natural right, not a gift. And we forget the giver...Remembrance is the seed of gratitude which is the seed of generosity.”

There’s a reason God has commanded scripture to be written down and has counseled us to write in our journals and to record family stories, because as humans we are really good at forgetting. Already I find that in my own life it’s easy to forget the difficulty of what it was like to scrimp and save as grad students and how very tiny our apartment was. We had 3 kids and 2 adults in 960 sq. feet of living space and we were happy. I have great memories of living there but of course it makes me even more grateful for my current home and income. Our circumstances have changed for the better since then but it is very important to remember that not all of the good things we obtain in life or the good things we learn come because of positive change.

I think that is part of why family, both living and dead is so important to the gospel and so important to cultivating gratitude. I am a huge genealogy geek and have been since I was 14. Over the years as I’ve research and learned about my ancestors I’ve gained greater perspective in my life because of things that they went through and the experiences and examples I’ve learned about have had a greater influence on me because it is my history. The history of people whose blood runs through my veins! We are truly living in the most miraculous time and place on this earth. People live longer, dying in childbirth is now uncommon, instead of 43% of the world children dying before the age of five it is now 4.3%. As I learn of so very many who loved and lost and how things have changed over the centuries, I feel very grateful for the time period and the place I live in. And it certainly is important that we recognize the many blessings we have. That being said I want to make it clear that I do not believe that recognizing how good we have it means we’re never allowed to be unhappy or even ungrateful. We are human, and negative, angry, gut wrenching  emotion should be expected, acknowledged and permitted without guilt. As President Uchtdorf said: “Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances.”

Knowing the plan of salvation gives us hope and times of peace but that doesn’t mean that we should never be angry or sad when dark things happen in our lives. Our Savior wept when he knew that his friend Lazarus was dead. Both for that separation and because he mourned with Lazarus’ family. I think the purpose in knowing about and remembering what others have gone through is not to beat ourselves into feeling guilty because our problems may not seem as hard, it’s to draw strength from their example to get through the things that are hard for us. For me, knowing my personal family history has positively affected many aspects of my life even though not all of my family history is positive.

I’m not grateful that my great grandparents were alcoholics. But I am grateful that my grandmother saw the way it changed them and decided never to follow their example in that regard. Her experience and the sadness with which she spoke about that “old devil alcohol,” as she called it, profoundly affected me. I knew I would never try it either.

I’m not grateful, and my grandparents, mother and sisters aren’t grateful that they lost their only son and brother, when he was just 2 years old. But we are grateful that because of that devastating loss my great grandfather started asking questions about life after death and he soon afterward joined the church and was sealed to his wife after 55 years of marriage.

I’m not grateful that due to a medication interaction many years ago, I was rendered completely unable to care for myself or my family for over 3 months, but I am grateful that it was the catalyst for an answer to a 14 year old prayer.

When speaking of gratitude I believe it’s important to separate the experience from the lesson learned. I’m just not grateful that the aforementioned things happened but I am grateful for good things that came as a result. I don’t personally believe that those sad circumstances that begat growth and gratitude in me and others happened because God orchestrated them for that purpose. I believe that like any loving parent, our Heavenly Father doesn’t want bad things to happen to us and that he grieves with us in the difficulties we go through in life. But His purpose at this juncture is to rarely  intervene but to let us experience what comes our way and hopefully grow in positive ways through whatever befalls us.

I’m so grateful for the gospel and I have a testimony of the truthfulness of what has been revealed, but I also hope and pray regularly for continuing revelation. I’m so grateful God has given us the privilege of doing family history. God truly gives no commandment without preparing a way for us to accomplish that it. Many of your ancestors, whether you knew them or not are with you through every hardship and every joy and ready to guide you when you decide to learn about them and find them. They love you so much and so do your Heavenly parents. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Today to open our lesson I asked sisters to tell me what words come to mind when they think of Hurricane Harvey. Some of the responses included: Service, Disaster, Rescue, Wet, Community, and Destruction among others.

Several sisters raised their hands when asked if anyone hey know had been directly affected by Harvey. This disaster is in the forefront of many of our minds. My Grandpa and his wife, my aunt and uncle and their son, and my great Uncle all live in Cypress which is in Northwest Houston. My grandpa and aunt flew out of town for a family reunion on Thursday morning when Harvey was a small tropical storm. Overnight it intensified into a category 2 hurricane and we all know what happened after that. As predictions for historic rainfall were coming in I texted my Uncle and told him everyone could come and stay with us. My Uncle thanked me and told me if flooding happened they could move things upstairs. He was determined to ride out the storm. He kept that determination even when, after 30 years of living in his home on Cypress Creek, floodwaters breached it for the first time. He and the dogs moved on upstairs and hunkered down. When talking with my kids about it last Monday I asked them why, when so many others were panicked and calling for rescue he wasn’t. One child said, “Because he thought he would be safe”. I said,“Ok, but WHY did he think he would be safe?” It was because he had what he needed to survive upstairs until the waters receded. He was prepared. Then I asked them if all the other people who needed rescue were unprepared? I explained that that was not necessarily the case. What if my uncle had been living in a single story home and the flood carried away his necessities and threatened his life?

Thankfully all of my family members stayed safe through this event. My uncle’s preparations weren’t for naught and they helped him feel confident in staying in his house and letting others in more dire need be rescued. Sometimes, however things don’t work out so well.

A story was shared in the February 2017 ensign about the Ashton family:

“The Ashton children were sitting in sacrament meeting when the bishop announced the meeting was canceled. A fire in Southern California was sweeping toward ward members’ homes...With the Ashton parents, Tom and Sheila, and some of the other children out of town, it was up to the teenage siblings to take charge and keep the younger ones safe...they decided they would stay at their aunt’s house in a neighboring city...The next morning, they learned that their home and eight-acre avocado orchard had both been destroyed by the fire...The Ashtons had been prepared for nearly any natural disaster. The house was built to remain stable in an earthquake, and they had plenty of food storage to sustain them during an emergency...But all those things were lost in the fire, and the Ashtons were left only with their faith.”

So all the preparations they had done seemed to be for nothing when the fire burned it to ashes. However, fellow ward members who had not been affected by the fire and who had listened to council to prepare for times of physical emergency, were able to use their surplus and preparation to assist the Ashton’s. We then watched the following church video:

I love the part in this video where the young man talks about having all his buddies around him. He’s part of a team and whether they win or lose the game he wants to be able to look at them and tell them that he gave everything he could.

Well we are also all part of a team. Just like members of the Ashton’s ward were able to draw from their own stores of food and money to help the the Ashton’s  we can do the same to help others if we have prepared. Being able to help someone in that way is such a privilege and a blessing. In the same vein, while we cannot create testimony in another person, we can be willing to share our own and that might strengthen someone who is struggling spiritually. But it’s hard to share of ourselves, physical or spiritual if we don’t have anything to draw from.

If you’ve done any amount of personal prep you know that you don’t just buy a bunch of food, shove it in a closet and forget about it until it’s needed. Packaged foods have expiration dates and it’s important to rotate, use and replenish certain supplies to keep things fresh and useable. Just as we need to rotate and replenish our stores of food, we need to constantly nurture and replenish our stores of spiritual fortitude. President Henry B. Eyring has warned us that faith has a short shelf life.

Just like those young men in the video have to work every day to stay physically fit, and prepared for game day, we need to work every day to stay spiritually fit in preparation for the storms of life. It doesn’t matter how righteous you are, how good of a life you’ve lived, none of us are exempt from trial. I don’t personally believe God picks and chooses specific trials to happen to us but I do believe He allows those things to happen because we agreed to that as part of His plan and he knows that we can emerge stronger, wiser, and more compassionate for it. But whether we actually do is entirely up to us.

 “Qualities of spirituality do not come without effort. Like any other talent with which we are blessed, they must be constantly practiced.” - Barbara Winder

Like the young men in the video stated, “You gotta take it a day at a time, you can’t be where you want to be in one day” and the other said, “If you didn’t do it, you can’t do it on game day. You gotta do it months and years before.” The parable of the 10 Virgins talks about being ready for Game Day, so to speak. Those who were ready for Christ had been constantly replenishing the oil in their lamps, never letting it run too low or run out. Some of the things we can do every day to fill our lamps include:

  • Practice
  • Perservere
  • Show gratitude
  • Personal Prayer
  • Scripture Study
  • Family Home Evening
  • Temple Attendance
  • Payments of Tithes
  • Patience with others
  • Acts of service
  • Set goals


I know my faith has helped me through times of trial, large and small. The fact that I have to exercise faith means I don't have a perfect knowledge but I have enough experience with feelings I can't deny that I can overlook what I don't understand and wait patiently for more light and knowledge. Faith isn't something you just have, faith is something you must constantly replenish. If you're not praying day and night, if you're not reading the Book of Mormon on a regular basis, I challenge you to begin. Those are two foundational pieces of building and maintaining a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Suggestions for further study:

From a lesson I taught in Relief Society April 9, 2017

Adam and Eve were given two paradoxical commandments. They could not create children without "having their eyes opened", and they could not have their eyes opened without eating of the fruit. After Eve chose to eat the fruit Adam might have chosen to follow the commandment not to eat of the tree. But he didn’t. He chose his wife. Thus began the saga of the human family and today I want to talk about all of the joy and heartache family life brings and how we can be better children, sisters, aunts, mothers, or grandmothers.

So let me first tell you a little bit about my family. I am the oldest of 5 children. I have two brothers and two sisters. Growing up we did plenty of squabbling, yelling, clawing, hitting, and tattling. We also did lots of giggling, talking, hugging, playing, and secret keeping. My younger brother and I were really good friends. When we were very young we shared a room and I remember trading late night back scratches while we talked ourselves to sleep. As we got older I still hung out with him and his friends a lot. We played nintendo, roller hockey, and would roller blade to the local Blockbuster for movies and candy.

I was not so close to my younger sister. I was always annoyed at her for tagging along and wanting to be part of everything. My brother and I would often exclude her from our adventures. It wasn’t until we were 18 and 14 that my sister and I started to develop a friendship. And then shortly after that, I got married and moved across the country. I truly regret how selfish and unkind I was to her but thankfully she hasn't held that against me.

My other brother and sister were much younger than me so I got to change their diapers, feed them bottles, watch them learn to crawl and walk and generally adore them.

My sibling, parents and I all share different relationships, and all of those are filled with happiness and regrets. Even though things weren’t perfect we were informed of and involved in each other’s lives.

As we began to mature into teenagers and young adults we started forming our own ideas about things like politics, religion, health, and happiness. And over the years it became apparent that our ideas were sometimes very different. From drug use, alcohoism, atheism, religious indifference, and divorce to marriage, children, college education, small business ownership and religious devotion, we’ve all made some very different choices in our lives. But one thing we will always have in common is that one word: FAMILY.

And it drives me to keep trying to stay connected with them, even when it’s difficult. I came to a realization of how important those relationships are to me when I was conversing with a sibling who has some very different ideas than I. I don’t remember the particulars, but I know that the conversation declined to the point where the spirit suddenly rushed out of the room. It was as though a gust of wind had extinguished it in an instant and I felt like I was being egged into saying something vicious. In that moment, quick as it was, I knew I was on the brink of a life changing choice. I thought of my sibling and of whether it was important to be right at the cost of our relationship. Even though I was frustrated and hurt I decided right then that I had to get over it, that it really didn’t matter. As I replied calmly and with kindness it was as though the flame of the spirit flickered back to life and that oppressive, nearly tangible darkness lifted. The spirit confirmed to me in that moment that nothing will ever be more important than doing my best to maintain family relationships.

Ask yourself this question: In what ways do you act differently toward or think differently about family members, than you do about others?

For me, it's often easier to judge my family the most harshly. I think we feel like because we were raised with, or are raising or living with them, we know their circumstances, thoughts and, motivations and somehow that’s justification to be offended, bitter, unkind, or critical toward them.

“At no time did Jesus Christ encourage us to spend time participating in damaging, destructive criticism.  - Marvin J. Ashton

Quote 2: Ephesians 4:29 reads: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good and edifying that it may minister grace unto the hearers”

In his talk, What Are You Thinking?, Elder W. Craig Zwick said, “What does the phrase “no corrupt communication” mean to you? We all regularly experience highly charged feelings of anger - our own and others’....All of us, though covenant children of a loving Heavenly Father, have regretted jumping headlong from the high seat of self-righteous judgment and have spoken with abrasive words before we understood a situation from another’s perspective...The writer of Proverbs counsels, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” A “soft answer’ consists of a reasoned response - disciplined words from a humble heart. It does not mean we never speak directly or that we compromise doctrinal truth. Words that may be firm in information can be soft in spirit.”

President Uchtdorf, in his talk, The merciful Obtain Mercy, talked about how strained and broken relationships have existed since the beginning with Cain who allowed malice and bitterness to canker his heart. Who fed his hatred until he murdered his own brother. I don’t think most of us are in danger of allowing our feelings to go that far, but we truly are only poisoning ourselves when we stew over our feelings of anger and hate.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about how to prevent those feelings from ever culminating like that, and a huge part of it is proper communication. In a 1976 General Conference address Marvin J. Ashton suggested ways that we can make our family communication more effective.

A willingness to sacrifice

“Too early and too often we sow the seeds of “Can’t you see I’m busy? Don’t bother me now.” When we convey the attitude of “Go away, don’t bother me now,” family members are apt to go elsewhere or isolate themselves in silence. All family members on some occasion or other must be taken on their own terms so they will be willing to come, share, and ask.” - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to listen

“Listening is more than being quiet. Listening is much more than silence. Listening requires undivided attention. The time to listen is when someone needs to be heard.” - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to vocalize feelings

“Too often we are inclined to let family members assume how we feel toward them...We must learn to communicate effectively not only by voice, but by tone, feeling, glances, mannerisms, and total personality.” - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to avoid judgment

Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!”
A willingness to maintain confidences

“Be worthy of trust even in trivial questions and observations. Weighty questions and observations will only follow if we have been trustworthy with the trivial." - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to practice patience

“Pure religions encompasses patience and long-suffering. A father recovering from the wounds of alcoholism has often said, “I am making my way back because my family would not give up on me. Everyone had written me off except my wife and children.” How sweet are those words: “I am making my way back because my family would not give up on me.” - Marvin J. Ashton

Now of course loving family members, especially those who might be more difficult to interact with does not require that we suffer at their hands. Emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, dangerous addictions and the like may necessitate creating distance, and in some cases cutting ties for however long is necessary. And sometimes no matter how hard you try good communication, the other party may not be interested in putting as much effort. I know that our Heavenly parents are pleased when we do our best to love our family members.

There are some old photo repository's on the internet which I might submit this to eventually but for now I'll add it in a post here and maybe someone who is looking will find it via google. It was taken sometime around 1930 in Minneapolis, Kansas, and the reason I have it is because my husband's grandmother is among those pictured. 

First Row: Bonnie Dee FORSBURG, Edith GEORGE, Unknown, Audrey MERRYFIELD, Charlotte CZAPANSKY, Unknown, Melvin ZUCKER, Maurice MILLER.

Second Row: John ANDERSON, Lorraine BREWER, Unknown EVERLY, Theda FETTERS, Isabell Unknown, Unknown PORTER, Unknown EVERLY, Marsha CZAPANKSY, Unknown, Leo FORSBURG

Third Row: Georgia Fern BEAR, Betty BREWER, Allan Ray NEELY, Unknown, Virginia TRUMP, Helen MERRYFIELD, Wilma Lou GEORGE, Anna Marie MILLER, Marjorie ZUKER, Mary Margaret ANDERSON

Fourth Row: Shirley PORTER, Mary E. BEAR, Mildred GEORGE, Mr. LUMBER (Pastor), Mrs. Lumber, Phyllis FETTERS, Virginia STRATTON