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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Talk - Our Own Personal 9/11 Experiences - "Face the Future with Faith"

When I realized that we’d be speaking on 9/11, at first I felt a little worried. But upon reflection, I saw how perfectly it related to our assigned topic.

I still remember that fateful Tuesday, September 11, 2001 when we first learned about the terrorist attacks. We lived in Northern California and our oldest child, Zach, was in kindergarten. Our alarm clock went off, in radio mode, and as I half consciously went to hit snooze, I heard something about a plane hitting the WTC. I jolted up in bed and turned on the TV. I called my parents and said, “Turn on the news.” My dad asked me what channel and I replied, “Any channel.” My heart sank even further as we learned more and more details about the tragedy and saw the second plane hit. At the time, Thane commuted to work in San Francisco on the BART public transit system, but he stayed home that day because we were afraid the bustling city of San Francisco could be a terrorist target too. When we took Zach to school, all us kindergarten parents stood around and talked about the horror of this event. We were all scared of what might come next. We were in mourning for all those who were suffering, dying, or losing loved ones. We were bound by a collective grief and fear. But I remember the unity I felt with my family, friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans.

As I was preparing for this talk, a realization came to me. Every one of us have “9/11 experiences” in our own lives. Some of us may have health challenges. Some deal with wayward children. Others deal with divorce, death, unemployment, addictions. The point is, we all have challenges.

When dealing with these personal 9/11 experiences, there is a difference from the day the world stood still for all of us together as we faced a common tragedy. In our personal 9/11 moments, we may feel very alone in our fear and sadness, we may feel embarrassed, abandoned, downtrodden, worried, and scared.

David A. Bednar witnessed: “There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, ‘No one understands. No one knows.’ No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life.

My talk today is based on Elder Russell M. Nelson’s Conference Talk “Face the Future with Faith.”

Elder Nelson started his talk by telling of his grandson who was reaching for the TV when he saw his grandpa speaking at General Conference. He said, “In a few years this boy will be an elder endowed in the temple and ready for his mission. Later he will be sealed to an eternal companion of his choice. Can you see him one day as a husband and father, with children of his own?”

Elder Nelson then went on to say that as prophets and apostles, they are concerned not only for their own children and grandchildren, but for each of God’s children. He said, “All that the future holds in store for each sacred child of God will be shaped by his or her parents, family, friends, and teachers. Thus, our faith NOW becomes part of our posterity’s faith LATER.

Ten years ago on 9/11, my oldest son was in kindergarten. Today he is a sophomore in HS. I can imagine a time shortly down the roads of time where Zach will be going to the temple, serving a mission, and becoming a valiant husband and father in his own family. Time is a fleeting thing so I feel the pressure to teach my children the important things in life before they move on. If we can teach our boys to face their futures with faith, I will consider it a job well done.

Our ever-changing world is full of opposing forces. Evil will always be in opposition to good. Satan wants us to be miserable like him and does his best to destroy our happiness. We also face risks in life such as illness, injury and accident which will always be present.

In the talk we read, “We live in a time of turmoil. Earthquakes and tsunamis wreak devastation, governments collapse, economic stresses are severe, the family is under attack, and divorce rates are rising. We have great cause for concern. But we do not need to let our fears displace our faith. We can combat those fears by strengthening our faith.”

Teach the Children to Develop Faith

Elder Nelson advises us to start with our children. As parents we bear the primary responsibility to strengthen their faith. He tells us to let them feel our faith, even when sore trials come upon us.

I loved these words of advice from Elder Nelson, “Let your faith be focused on our loving Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Teach that faith with deep conviction. Teach each precious boy or girl that he or she is a child of God, created in His image, with a sacred purpose and potential. Each is born with challenges to overcome and faith to be developed.”

Teach of faith in God’s plan of salvation. Teach that our sojourn in mortality is a period of probation, a time of trial and testing to see if we will do whatever the Lord commands us to do.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught that mortality is a school where we learn from our experiences, both good and bad: “Life is a school, a place for us to learn and grow. We, like Adam and Eve, experience ‘growing pains’ through the sorrow and contamination of a lone and dreary world. These experiences may include sin, but they also include mistakes, disappointments, and the undeserved pain of adversity. The blessed news of the gospel is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ can purify all the uncleanness and sweeten all the bitterness we taste. By confronting the sad or happy consequences of our choices, we can learn through our own experience, as [Adam and Eve], to distinguish the bitter from the sweet.”

I can remember a time when I was driving my son to preschool in another town. I always took the same route to school because I was not that familiar with the streets in that area. As I was driving my normal path, I came to a large DETOUR sign blocking the road. I was forced to turn right. After I turned, I noticed there were no signs telling me where to go next. I felt nervous because I was away from the road that I knew would get me to the school. I said a silent prayer and then started heading in the general direction toward the school, hoping for the best. I was determined to make it to the school and not get lost. I finally did make it to the school (and I wasn’t even very late). This experience reminded me of life. We have been taught what path will lead us to our Heavenly Father. Sometimes we may take a detour in our life due to circumstances or choices. When we find ourselves lost and looking for the way back, we need to pray with faith for guidance and pray that the Spirit will help us know what to do. The most important thing is to remember how much we are loved and how much happiness is there for us when we exercise our faith and try to stay on the straight and narrow path.

Teach the Children about Obedience

We also need to teach our children about obedience. Heavenly Father has given us commandments to bless us and bring us joy. There will always be people in the word who pick which commandments they will keep and which they will ignore. Elder Nelson calls this the “cafeteria approach to obedience.” He says, “This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments. It takes faith to obey them, and keeping His commandments will strengthen that faith.”

The adversary keeps reminding us of whatever we have done in our past. He wants to keep us in bondage through our feelings of shame and regret.

An insightful story that supports this principle is the “Remember the Duck” Story. “There was a little boy named Johnny visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck between the eyes and killed it. He was shocked and grieved. In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see his brother watching! Butch had seen it all, but he said nothing. After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Butch, let's wash the dishes." But Butch said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen." Then he whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes while Butch went off and played. Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry Grandpa but I need Butch to paint the fence." Butch just smiled and said, "Well, that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." He whispered again, "Remember the duck?" So Butch went fishing and Johnny painted the fence. Later --- Several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Butch's --- he finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to his Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck. His Grandma knelt down, gave him a big hug and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing. But because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Butch make a slave of you until you told me."

Satan wants us to be secretive about our sins and mistakes. God is standing at the window of our lives and, just like the grandma in this story, He sees all that we do. He’s waiting for us to come to Him. How sad that we allow ourselves to be enslaved out of fear or unwillingness to confess our sins. We obtain serenity and peace of mind as we are willing to let go of our guilt and receive the healing grace of Christ’s Atonement.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled us to “avoid backward glances toward the darkness and remorse of the past.” And to remember: “God doesn't care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are, and with His help, where you are willing to go.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated: “There are some who believe that because they have made mistakes, they can no longer fully partake of the blessings of the gospel. How little they understand the purposes of the Lord. One of the great blessings of living the gospel is that it refines us and helps us learn from our mistakes. We ‘all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,’ yet the Atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to make us whole when we repent.”

We all make mistakes and need the Atonement. If there is something in your life that is not in harmony with the gospel, I encourage you to change. Talk to the bishop if needed and get back on track.

I love the analogy relating sin to the stomach flu. When we have the stomach flu we feel awful inside, gurgly, pained, ill-at-ease. In that state I have thought, “If I could just throw up, I know I would feel better.” This is like sin. When something is off in our lives and we are sinning, we feel spiritually sick inside. We know we’d feel better if we could just get rid of our hidden secrets and sins. In this analogy, we can go into the bishop’s office and figuratively vomit up our sins. We can ask for help and start the healing process so we can be whole and happy again. (Sorry for the gross analogy bishop, and hopefully no one will take the advice literally).

Satan wants to keep us in bondage through our feelings of regret and shame. Heavenly Father and our Savior want us to receive the healing grace of Christ’s Atonement.

Conclusion – Life is Good, Be of Good Cheer

A while back I noticed a bumper sticker on the Jaguar car stopped in front of me when I was dropping off my son at school.

It said "Life is Good."

That started me thinking. I wonder why the owner of that car thinks life is good? Is it because they are driving a Jaguar? Is it because they have a great job? Riches? A nice home? A "perfect" child? A healthy body? Lots of friends? Few problems/challenges? Power? Fame? Life of leisure?

I agree that life is good, but what is the REAL reason that life is good?

Life can be "good" without a Jaguar, great job, tons of money, a nice home, perfect kids, health and tons of friends. I agree that lots of these things, such as a home, health, and sufficient income can certainly make our earthly journey easier and more comfortable, but they are not the source of true happiness.

The real reason LIFE IS GOOD is because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Having faith in our Savior and learning to utilize the Atonement in our lives is the key.

I’ve heard it said that “A trial is just a hard blessing.”

So during these times that seem full of economic upheaval, natural disasters, attacks on the family, loss of values, greed, materialism and self-interest, I am here to tell you that life can still be good. Have faith, not fear. Do right, not wrong. Repent when you make mistakes.

As we face the future with faith, we can each be blessed with that feeling of “Life is Good” even in the midst of our hardships.

I will close with these words of President Monson: “I testify to you that our promised blessings are beyond measure. Though the storm clouds may gather, though the rains may pour down upon us, our knowledge of the gospel and our love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior will comfort and sustain us and bring joy to our hearts as we walk uprightly and keep the commandments. My beloved brothers and sisters, fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.”

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