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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A little PR work....

Even thought Trevor is the one with the academic background in public relations, it seems like I am ultimately the PR person for our family. After word about Trev's current cancer status started to make its way around our Pleasant Grove neighborhood last week, Trevor said that I had better get ahead of it and let everyone know what was going on.

We've always found that this helps everyone feel aware of our situation, limits any misinformation and often forms fast connections among others who face or have faced similar trials.

And the timing was good, since I'd been asked to speak in church here on Sunday.

We had our LDS membership records transferred to the Timpanogas 6th ward a few months ago when it became apparent that we were usually here for the weekends, though we were often still in St. George during the week. We figured that we were already established in our St. George ward, but needed to get to know the area and community here, and being official makes that easier. I wish that we could just have duplicate records in both places since my heart will always belong to both.

I think the talk went well. I'd been asked to speak on the role of free agency in the plan of salvation--so to work a bit about Trevor in there took a few connective step, but I think it came together all right.

Trevor has been thrilled that only I was asked to speak--thinking he dodged a bullet until he realized that this would mean he'd have to wrangle both kids through sacrament by himself after having already taken his chemo doses for three days, so he called in reinforcements. Trev's wonderful parents and my darling grandparents came to support us.

So, here is the talk--it's long, so just hang in if you want to. I was also going to take the time to go through and cite all quotes with proper MLA style--but I'm tired and still need to jot down one more update about Trev for the 'ole blog, so read at your own risk and don't remind me that I was an English professor in a past life.

It occurred to me after Brother ------------- left my home, having just asked me to prepare a sacrament meeting talk for today that in my initial response I might have suggested to him that we follow the apostle Paul’s admonition found in 1st Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 34  where he advises, “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak.”

When I mentioned this to my husband later, Trevor suggested that it might not be the best choice in our new ward to challenge the bishopric to a scriptural debate.

And choice, after all, is what I’ve been asked to speak about today—more particularly the role agency plays in the great plan of salvation.

Trevor and I recently attended the funeral of a beautiful young women who succumbed to an all too untimely battle with leukemia.  Her passing was sudden and far too abrupt, as indicated by the short spread of the dates on her headstone.

Have you ever spent much time in a cemetery and considered what the most impressive part of a headstone is? Some are sculpted beautifully, some have clever or poetic epitaphs—I always tease Trevor that if I die before him I know he will engrave something like the following on my headstone: “Shoes for sale, call 2130577.”

But regardless of the words or masonry on a headstone, the most important part is really small, it is that little dash between the birth date and the death date. Just that little line.

There is a sweet poem by Linda Ellis that better captures what I mean. The first half of it reads:

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

When we think of the plan of salvation there are many parts of it that we know are certain—particularly those two dates that will be on all of our headstones—according to the plan, each of us on this earth are given a birth date, the opportunity to experience mortal life. And we are each also guaranteed a death date, the time when our toils and our labors and our joys here comes to an end and we return to our Heavenly Father. The way we return to our Heavenly Father depends entirely on how we choose to live and spend our dash, it depends on our agency.

In a 2010 Conference address Elder Robert D. Hales explained the role and meaning of agency in the Plan of Salvation:

Before we came to this earth, Heavenly Father presented His plan of salvation—a plan to come to earth and receive a body, choose to act between good and evil, and progress to become like Him and live with Him forever.
Our agency—our ability to choose and act for ourselves—was an essential element of this plan. Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress. Yet with agency we could make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again. For this reason a Savior would be provided to suffer for our sins and redeem us if we would repent. By His infinite Atonement, He brought about “the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice.” 4

In fact, from the very moment that our Father in Heaven rolled out this plan, we can see a sobering example of just how important our agency is. You all know how the story goes, after presenting this plan Lucifer stepped forward proposing an alternative plan, saying he would lead the children of men. When we read his exact words in Moses chapter 4 verse 1 be sure to notice Lucifer’s use of his agency, “Send me, and I will redeem all mankind, that not even one soul shall be lost; wherefore give me thine honor.” Lucifer used the agency we all exercised in the preexistence to offer this plan—but it is a plan, that in turn, would have denied each of us the opportunity to exercise that same agency.

So then Jesus Christ, our eldest brother, stepped forward to offer himself as a sacrifice, a savior of the world according to the plan already offered by our father in heaven. In Moses 4:2 watch how he humbly exercises his agency: “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”

Following Lucifer’s rebellion a great spiritual conflict ensued—what we often call The War in Heaven. During this conflict each of Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters –that’s me and you—exercised their agency to choose which side to fight and advocate for. We know that because we are here on the earth today that we all choose to follow Jesus Christ—but a third of our Heavenly siblings did not. And because of their choice to follow Satan they were cast out, denied the chance to receive a mortal body, live on earth and progress. Because of the way they used their agency, they lost their agency.

The same model applies in our lives on this earth today. If we exercise our agency to live according to the principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we will continue to progress, becoming more like our Heavenly Father in preparation for the next stage in our eternal journey beyond this life. But in our mortal journey the opposite is true as well—when we don’t keep the commandments or follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, our opportunities are reduced. Our abilities to act and progress are diminished.

Now, many in our world today simplify this dichotomy of agency, deducing that agency simply means our lives are ours to do what we will. In a 1956 Conference Address Presdient Stephen L. Richards—who was a member of the first presidency spoke to this sentiment saying, “Some think that they have freedom to do what they will. They seem to think that they have freedom to do with their lives as they desire. They ought to be taught the Lord’s words regarding life”…the words he refers to are the ones we find in 1st Corinthians chapter 6, verse 20 “For ye are bought with a price.”  President Joseph Fielding Smith elaborates on this explaining, “We have been bought with a price beyond computation—not with gold or silver or precious stones, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

When we know and remember the price of our agency, we can more easily recognize and remember the responsibility we have to exercise that agency in ways pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

So, up until this point of our discussion today we’ve talked about how we must make the right choices in life by the virtue of our own free will. But I would posit that the real nature of agency is even deeper than that. If agency is the vehicle of our individual progress along the course of the plan of salvation, it really isn’t enough to make the best, or the most right choices that we can…the attitude and intention that motivates our right choices matters just as much—if not more. After all, we know that as we read in Samuel chapter 16, verse seven: “ The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

If we turn back to Christ’s example, we can see this more perfect way of exercising our agency—because we know that our Savior always made the right choices—even when he was at his physically weakest following his fasting of 40 days and 40 nights when he was tempted by Satan over and over again in the Book of Matthew he always made the right choice. The mission of Christ was clear, and he consistently exercised his agency in ways that furthered that mission. But it isn’t just about what he did, it’s how he did it.

It is in Christ’s character that we can see the deeper employment and fullness of using our agency for our eternal progression. Because in all of the “right choices” that Christ made, he made them with humble and selfless love for our Father in Heaven and for us—the embodying of the two greatest commandments—“Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and to love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39).  Christ always exercised his agency with love. As a boy in Jerusalem he deliberately chose to be about his Father’s business. Even after long days of ministering he greeted children and their mothers with love when his apostles would have turned them away. He touched the lepers others feared and lifted the sinners that others shunned. His love and charity are perhaps no where more poignantly present that in his final mortal moments, when his enemies pierced his side with a spear and lifted a rag a vinegar to his mouth when he cried out in thirst—to all of which he simply said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

With this kind of love we don’t use our agency to go home or visiting teaching simply because it is one more right choice to check off our list—we go because we truly find love for the families and individuals we are given stewardship over. We don’t read our scriptures to fulfill a Seminary challenge, we read them because we love the words of our Lord. We don’t wipe little bottoms or read “Goodnight Moon” for the 1000th time because we are parents just trying to make it til bedtime, we gratefully and humbly remember that we have the privilege of raising God’s choice children.  We don’t face the trials this life promises us simply because we are told to endure—we seek to endure them well with love and grace, submitting ourselves to the will of our Eternal Father.

Life deals each of us a hand of cards, a set of circumstances—it promises each of us a dash. How we progress given our circumstances is a choice we must make every moment of every day that the dash which will inevitably appear on our headstones encompasses. 

In 2002 my sweet husband found himself facing circumstances that promised to impact the use of his agency for the rest of his life. Diagnosed with brain cancer Trevor underwent surgery to remove a large tumor from the left frontal lobe of his brain. When he woke up from that surgery, he was unable to move the right side of his body. Over the course of months he had to relearn everything—how to use a spoon, how to walk, how to play cello that he loved—painstakingly working to create new neuropathways to control reflexes as simple as waving his fingers. In 2007, the tumor was back—requiring another surgery, weeks of intense radiation and 14 months of taxing chemotherapy. On January 28th, we learned that Trevor’s cancer has returned more aggressively, and four days ago he stood in our kitchen and swallowed the first dose of chemo pills in what promises to be a difficult year. In my immediate circle of acquaintances I know of no one who could more easily take his life circumstances and choose to be bitter, downtrodden, and apathetic than Trevor. But this is never a choice that he has made. I can honestly say that though all of these events I have never heard him complain. He chooses daily to live in faith of our Heavenly Father’s great plan of salvation, the plan of happiness and not in fear of his adversity. His illness has never hindered his efforts to progress in this life because he knows who he is—a loved son of our Heavenly Parents whose life and eternal progression are so valuable that our Savior willingly by his own agency felt Trevor’s same pains and temptations to provide a way for Trevor to rise above them in the resurrection.

In a 1995 General Conference address Elder M. Russell Ballard teaches  that no matter the choice or trial we face, if we use our agency to live according to God’s plan we will find happiness and hope.

We mortals have a limited view of life from the eternal perspective. But if we know and understand Heavenly Father’s plan, we realize that dealing with adversity is one of the chief ways we are tested. Our faith is the source of inner strength. Through faith we can find peace, comfort, and the courage to endure. As we trust in God and his plan for our happiness hope is born. By focusing on and living the principles of Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness, we can separate ourselves from the wickedness of the world. If we are anchored to the correct understanding of who we are, why we are here on this earth, and where we can go after this mortal life, Satan cannot threaten our happiness through any form of temptation. If we are determined to live by Heavenly Father’s plan, we will use our God-given moral agency to make decisions based on revealed truth and the love of Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. 

When we understand the plan of salvation, there is no question about how the dash of our lives must be spent. At the beginning of my talk I shared the first half of Linda Eillis’s poem with you. In closing, I will share the second half:

think of these things long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
​the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before. 

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

May we all choose to spend our dashes living in love and faith as we progress along the plan of salvation is my sincere prayer and testimony that I leave you all with—in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

1 comment:

Bryan and Karalee said...

Beautiful! I love reading your blog, you are such a talented writer. You and your family have been in my thoughts often these past few weeks. Know that you are in my prayers, and that I am crossing my fingers for you and this upcoming year.