Thursday, January 30, 2014

Beginning to Grin

“Why are you so happy?”

A question I’ve been asked several times throughout my life. A question whose answer I have always attributed to my religion.

When I was in junior high, and first gaining a real understanding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the beginning foundation of my testimony was formed from the results I received by living it. As a teenager I could stand up before my peers and give my testimony that I love this church because it makes me happy!

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are taught to steer clear of those things leading to addictions—No alcohol or drugs for us! No pornography. No sexual intimacy before marriage. All those things that if tried may successfully ruin a teenagers life… Mormons are taught to stay away from. We are also taught to keep the laws of the land. These things have helped me to live an upright, clean life, and have made me happy.

My happiness may come from service. In our church we are taught to love and serve those around us; to contribute to our community; and we receive “callings” or assignments where we give volunteer service to our church. When I am busy serving others, I have less time to worry about myself and my happiness grows as I can help others.

My happiness may also stem from having a plan. It is in my nature to always want a planned schedule or routine. I thrive off list making and subsequently checking those things off my list. I make goals to achieve my planned purposes. Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have been taught God’s plan. I know where I came from, what my purpose is on Earth, and where I am going. I have a plan—that gives me peace and contributes to my happiness.

We also are led by a living prophet.  Like the Biblical prophets of old, our prophet guides our church today and gives inspired teaching for how to successfully direct our lives in today’s world. I am not left in turmoil wondering what is right; I have been taught, I know God’s plan, and I am happy.

My happiness comes from knowing I am a daughter of God. As a teenager, each Sunday, I recited the Young Woman theme: “[I am a daughter] of my Heavenly Father, who loves [me], and [I] love Him…”1 I know I am of worth. I have been taught of God’s love for me; of my Savior’s complete love which prompted him to die for me (and each individual who ever lived). I am amazed, and my love and gratitude toward my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is overflowing.

This is not to say that “Mormons” are free from disappointment, difficulties, or hard times. We may still encounter disease, financial difficulty, divorce, depression, or death. But it is through the teachings of the gospel that we have hope. Our knowledge of God’s plan can aid our healing. It is through living the gospel that we are blessed, made stronger, and enabled to bear the burdens placed upon us. We have hope for a better future.

The testimony I gained as a teenager, that living this gospel of Jesus Christ makes me happy, is still my testimony today. I love God, my Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. I am eternally indebted to Him and will be forever grateful of the sacrifice he made for me! “Oh it is wonderful that He would care for me, enough to die for me!”2 In my humble gratitude for his sacrifice I try to do what is right.  I am still learning, ever more amazed, always grateful. I love this gospel, and I am so happy for my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2. Hymn 193 “I Stand All Amazed”

Published by: McKell

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Creating Meaningful Goals

About four years ago I decided that I needed a better way of approaching my New Year’s Resolutions. Almost every year I found myself scrambling in the final hours of December 31st to figure out what goals to put on my list.
One of my favorite things about the teachings of the gospel is their practical application in these kinds of situations. I'll start with two of the teachings I keep in mind when making resolutions:
  • -Our weaknesses can become our strengths.


  • -The Atonement helps to change us for the better.

I think it’s safe to say that part of the human condition is a regular battle with self doubt. Every time I create a new goal I have to try to overpower thoughts like this from my inner Negative Nelly: “I think we both know you’re going to tank.”  So, when trying to give Nelly the ax, it’s very helpful to have assurances from the Lord Himself that, not only can I kick my road rage problem, I can become a zen traffic guru, and the Atonement will take care of the parts of that that aren’t in my power to change. (I don’t really have a road rage problem, but you get the idea.)

A couple more teachings that help me with my goals:

  • -Our time is precious, so we should try to make the most of it.

  • -We learn and improve “line upon line”, meaning we take who we are and build on it little by little, not all at once.

In my zeal to make the most of a new year, I’m sometimes tempted to bite off more than I can chew. “By the end of the year, I’m going to become a master souffle artist, take up ballroom dance lessons, get up every morning by 6:00 a.m., exercise every day for at least an hour, stop a train with my bare hands, and end world hunger.”  If I create goals that are too many or too ambitious I’m going to throw in the towel, which is a sad waste of 365 days.

Here’s one of my favorite doctrines right from the scriptures:

“Men [and women] are, that they might have joy” 2 Nephi 2: 25.

That, coupled with this...

  • “Men [and women] should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will…
    “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward”
    D&C 58: 27-28.

...tell me that I can and should be proactive about putting lots of happy and positive things in my life. So, instead of creating goals that sound like this: “Quit being lazy, showing up late to everything, and looking like a slob,” I write ones that sound more like, “Do meaningful volunteer work at least twice this year, make a cheesecake that makes your eyes roll back in your head, and surprise a neighbor with a free car wash.”

I’ve thrown out the word “meaningful” a couple of times, if you’ve noticed. “Meaningful” is where I think creating goals can take some effort, but it’s effort well spent!

Back to four years ago. To fix my problem, I decided to take a week or two to ask myself
what kinds of skills, knowledge, possessions, relationships, and memories might I like to take with me into my old age? It was a powerful exercise that helped me prioritize my efforts and direct my focus.

Here’s a combination of some (not all) of things I came up with back then and things I’ve come up with more recently:
  • -Journals
  • -An active mind
  • -An active, healthy body that can do most of the things I’d want it to do
  • -A basic knowledge of world history (so that I can better understand my place in it)
  • -Lots of relaxed days with my family like people used to have before we all became overachievers
  • -An ability to make killer artisan breads
  • -Many creative endeavors
  • -Lots of fun family traditions
  • -A heaping pile of great books
  • -Some formal education beyond my bachelor’s degree
  • -Steady service
  • -A husband who knows I wouldn’t trade him
  • -Kids who are sure I love being their mom
  • -Healthy retirement funds
  • -Peace of mind over the effort I’ve given to the Lord

(Got around to starting that artisan bread goal last year.)

It’s a big, broad list, and it’s supposed to be. It’s meant to be used as a reference point for making smaller goals each year, and I don’t even touch half of these things at a time. That doesn’t mean that I let all but the two focus areas of my life fly out the window, of course. It just means that a few areas will get special attention.

Here’s how I might make mini goals out of some of those big guys:
  • -When possible, limit my personal computer time to when the girls are napping or in bed.
  • -Finish reading Jane Eyre and two other classics.
  • -Experiment with three new sourdough bread recipes.
  • -Have two picnic/berry-picking family days this Summer and one campout.
  • -Get to church 5-10 minutes early to prepare spiritually for the meeting.
  • -Show more interest in Hubby’s love of B-list movies.
(One of those “creative endeavors”: turning a drink dispenser into a lamp.)

Another thing about the big list is that it’s very meaningful for me, which makes those little offspring goals much more meaningful, which makes me soooo much more likely to follow through with them to some respectable extent.

An example and then I’ll zip it.

Half the U.S. population makes a New Year’s resolution to lose 20 lbs, or something along those lines. It’s probably a worthy goal in a lot of cases. But unless it’s backed by a meaningful purpose, it sometimes doesn’t get done or get done the right way. This is how it plays out in my mind:

Purpose #1- To look hot.
Steps to achieve goal:
-Eat 900 calories a day
-Lose your mind
Eat an entire cake
-Try to regroup
-Hope for the best

Purpose #2- To have a capable, healthy body.
Steps to achieve goal:
-Travel 313 self-propelled miles (A goal from last year. Came pretty close!)
-Eat breakfast early enough for it to count as breakfast (A goal for this year. So far so good!)
-Put veggies in all kinds of stuff
-Get to sleep before midnight
-Enjoy the peace of a steady mind and healthier body

Wishing you a very happy and meaningful New Year. (Zip.)

I'm a Mormon.
Published by Guest Blogger Janna

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Importance of Setting Goals

I once had an object lesson in Sunday School as a teenager that went something like this:
The teacher presented to us a large clear container. First, he had someone pour in water. Next, someone poured in some sand. Lastly, he asked someone to fit in some large rocks. Needless to say, there wasn’t room for the rocks and there was a big overspill.
Then, in a new container, the teacher had someone place the rocks first. Then someone poured sand in, filling in the spaces. Lastly, water was poured over top, and everything fit quite nicely.

The objects were things we needed to do each day. The rocks represented things such as prayer and scripture study, the sand represented schoolwork and skill development (sports, instruments), and the water represented ‘fun’ extras, such as video games and TV. When we prioritize our time and first do the necessary tasks in life, there is more room for everything else. However, if we set more importance on less meaningful activities, there is often not time or room enough for the vital tasks.

I believe that prioritizing is directly related to setting goals. If we just spend each day aimlessly doing whatever we please, then we will find more often than not, that our time has wasted away with little to show for it. However, if we can manage to decide what it is we would like to achieve, and hold ourselves accountable-- that is another story altogether. We gain control of our lives by gaining control of our time. 1

Church Apostle M. Russell Ballard advised,

First, think about your life and set your priorities. Find some quiet time regularly to think deeply about where you are going and what you will need to do to get there. Jesus, our exemplar, often ‘withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayer’ (Luke 5:16). We need to do the same thing occasionally to rejuvenate the Savior did. Write down the tasks you would like to accomplish each day. Keep foremost in mind the sacred covenants you have made with the Lord as you write down your daily schedules.
Second, set short-term goals that you can reach. Set goals that are well balanced-- not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting. 2
     The scriptures have also advised us to be mindful of goals and time.
Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known. (D&C 60:13)
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:28)
      Setting goals helps us to be more aware of ourselves. We can assess strengths and weaknesses, and improve on the latter. We can have a guide for making decisions. We can feel a sense of accomplishment when we succeed. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the picture-- when we fall off track or fall short of our desired result. More often than not, you will find that at some point, you will veer from the path you have marked for yourself in achieving a goal. Once you realize what has happened, you may feel discouraged or even feel like giving up. But all can be made right again; it may be necessary to take corrective measures to re-align. This is not unlike spiritual sin-- you must correct the wrong, and do your best to get back to where you need to be.

     Probably not unlike many of you, I often have a goal to be physically fit. When I make my goal so broad as that, I rarely take the steps necessary to get in shape. However, if I have a goal in sight, the daily breakdown is much easier. For example, after B was born, I decided I wanted to run a half marathon. I broke down each week into the number of runs I would need to do, and how long each should be to build my strength until I could run the entire 13.1 miles. Prior to that, I do not think I had run more than a 5K. However, I did it! Breaking goals down into smaller steps helps to make them more attainable.

     Some important things to consider when setting goals are the parties to which you are responsible in your life. Previous Church President Gordon B. Hinckley suggested that there are four main groups, in order of importance: 
  • 1. Your family
  • 2. Your employment
  • 3. Your Church
  • 4. Yourself
     He recommended deciding how much time to allot to each, and then sticking with it.

     Lastly, may we follow the advice of another prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, who once said,
Every accountable child of God needs to set goals, short- and long- range goals. A man who is pressing forward to accomplish worthy goals can soon put despondency under his feet, and once a goal is accomplished, others can be set up... 
Of Jesus' preparations for his mission, the scripture states that he 'increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.' (Luke 2:52) This encompasses four main areas for goals: spiritual, mental, physical, and social.  
'Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?' asked the Master, and he answered, 'Verily I say unto you, even as I am.' (3 Nephi 27:27) Now, there is a liftetime goal-- to walk in his steps, to perfect ourselves in every virtue as he has done, to seek his face, and to work to make our calling and election sure.3

Published by Jen
1. The Gospel and the Productive Life Teacher Manual Religion 150. 2004. p. 11-14.
2. Ballard, M. Russell. Conference Report. April 1987. p. 15-16.
3. Benson, Ezra Taft. Do Not Despair. Ensign. October 1986.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year’s Resolution: Be Happy

After we excitedly count down to the New Year, ringing it in with banging of pots and pans, the next tradition to follow is making New Year Resolutions.

What is on your list? I’ll bet it might be to:

-Lose weight/ Get fit
-Eat more healthy
-Get a better job
-Finish your education/Learn something new
-Save money
-Get organized

… and I’ll venture to say, at the heart of each of these goals is a desire to be more happy.

This month we will examine goal setting and our desire for happiness. “And it came to pass that we
lived after the manner of happiness.” [2 Nephi 5:27]. What is the pattern of happiness? And how do we find lasting happiness?

Some things that make me happy are:

-My family
-A clean house
-Achieving my goals
-The sure knowledge (testimony) I have of the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Which of these brings lasting happiness?

Vacations end; if I’m living in my house it inevitably will need to be cleaned again; all fun celebrations wind down; and eventually my muscles will burn out from exertion. So I am then left with: family, accomplishing [righteous] goals, and the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fun does not equal happiness. Church Apostle, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa said, “Both fun and happiness are fine, but certainly happiness is the most worth seeking. Happiness can encompass fun as well, but fun alone will not assure us true happiness.”1

Pleasure does not equal happiness. I feel pleasure dishing a big bowl of ice-cream, and eating it makes me very happy… but it is not a happiness that lasts because eventually that bowl will run out, and it might even result in a stomachache from sugar overload.

Many of those things on my list are selfish… most of the time when I find true lasting happiness is when I forget myself and I am serving a neighbor or family member. Service brings happiness.

Work can equal happiness. Church Apostle, Elder W. Eugene Hansen said, “Often it is [the experience] of work and sacrifice… for a worthwhile purpose that produces the most satisfaction.”2

Following God equals happiness. “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember,
remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.” [Mosiah 2:41]

“We are happy as we pray every morning and every night, when we can feel that the Lord hears
us and is always willing to bless, forgive, and help us. We are happy as we feel the promptings
of the Holy Ghost in our lives—as we feel the Spirit when we have to make important life
decisions. We are happy as we go home after a stressful and tiresome day at work to the
arms of our families, as they express love and appreciation for us. We are happy to talk to our
children, to enjoy the family, to get together on family night. In short, we can feel happiness
every day in our lives through little things we do, and we are fully happy as we keep the
commandments of a loving God who cares about us.

“True happiness comes from keeping the commandments of God. We are taught in 2 Nephi 2:25
that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy,” or, in other words,
that they might be happy.”1

What we want most is to find happiness in our lives. This is what God wants for us as well. As we
explore this theme during the month of January, we hope to find, through the help of worthy goal
setting, how we can achieve true, lasting happiness. And, could we discover a happiness formula that
will work for everyone? Stay tuned this month.

Published by McKell

1. Church Apostle, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa, “Fun and Happiness”, Ensign 2002
2. Church Apostle, Elder W. Eugene Hansen, “The Search For Happiness”, General Conference of the Church, 1993