Jesus Christ – The Prince of Peace

The other night I watched the 2013 Christmas Devotional and was inspired by this talk from Apostle Russell M. Nelson. I was especially inspired by his message that personal peace can be experienced by everyone, thanks to the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ. He said the gift of real and personal peace can come to those:

  • whose lives have been ravaged by war
  • who are not feeling well
  • who suffer in sorrow
  • whose labors are heavy
  • who mourn
  • who earnestly seek the Prince of Peace
  • who choose to walk in the ways of the Master

This is wonderful time of year to celebrate and remember the birth and life of the Prince of Peace. If we are burdened or troubled, He can bring peace to our souls. Likewise, we should seek out opportunities to bring peace and good will to those around us.

Why I Became a Mormon: Raynelle’s Story

I was baptized on August 17th and that day was a very good one.  I felt I had been on a long journey and that day was the start of a new life and a new me.  My conversion did not take very long since what I came to know about the prophet Joseph Smith and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ rang true to me.  My way of engaging with the world had already begun to change during the time I spent investigating and August 17th marked the completion of that transformation.  Upon being baptized, a new sensibility overcame me, and of my 5 senses, the one I had perhaps neglected the most, my sense of hearing, became more active.  I found myself more tuned in to the “still small voice”.

My grandmother, a dedicated Christian and wise woman, started to teach me about the Bible when I was about 4 years old up until age 6.  Thankfully, I had a very good memory.  My family consists entirely of Christians but we all attended different churches.  I was baptized in an Episcopal Church shortly after my birth and remained (de facto) Episcopalian until my recent conversion.  At 6 years old, I left my extended family and moved to the U.S. to live with my mother and sister.  My mother, a single parent, had sent me to live with relatives for a few years while she got situated.  Upon returning to my mother, I picked up with school where I left off but did not continue to regularly attend church on Sundays.  Since my mother regularly held 2 jobs, church was not a regular part of our lives but I continued to belief in God and Jesus Christ (what I had learned from my Grandmother) and surveyed the Bible privately throughout the years.

I moved to Minnesota from New York City in late October after realizing that my life did not include the elements I valued most; personal peace, time with my family and a tangible sense of purpose.  I also realized that the picture of what I believed my life should be had turned into bits and pieces of an un-compelling picture that I no longer recognized.   Prior to this realization, a year earlier, I was enrolled in an MBA program at NYU where I  believed that through my pentathlon of work, classes, group assignments, networking, stress and sleep deprivation for 2 years, I would come out the other side graduated and ready to dive into a new purpose-driven professional life.  Though God’s presence had gradually been fading from my life since the days of learning spent with my Grandmother, this time was the absolute lowest point of all.  By the end, I had forgotten everything except how to pray.  So I started to pray again but did not receive any immediate answers.

My mother, sister, and nieces had moved to Minnesota a few years earlier and I knew they really liked it. After praying for over a year and receiving no clear answers, I decided to leave New York and join my mother, sister, and nieces thus fulfilling the need for us to be closer while also sorting out my next steps.  I eventually found a job in Minnesota which called for a lot of travel between the East Coast and Minnesota and settled in a bit.

One day on a flight into Minneapolis Airport, I met a man who is exactly my age.  We were both seated in the exit row.  Upon arriving at my seat, I was surprised to find him there as I had become accustomed to being seated in the exit row on those flights, where there was usually no one else in the entire row.  We greeted each other with an enthusiastic “hello” and looking back I think it might have been because we were both excited about our exit row duties.  We talk about a wide range of things, work, travel, books, and the two things I had explicitly been advised not to talk about with strangers; religion & politics. I learned that my exit row neighbor is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints and I was curious to learn what it meant given the positive impression he already made and considering that I had never met a Mormon.  I expressed interest in reading the Book of Mormon so he offered to have it delivered to my home by missionaries in my area, advising me to be sure to ask them very tough questions about its contents.  I accepted the offer (and advice) and was contacted by the missionaries a few weeks later. Eventually they visited with the Book of Mormon in tow and I began lessons every week from that point forward.

Learning about the Mormon religion involved meeting the missionaries for lessons, privately reading the scriptures, praying regularly, attending church on Sundays, participating in “family home evening”, attending General Conference, meeting church members, and hearing from recent converts.  Through these experiences and upon attending church and meeting members of my local Medicine Lake Ward, I came to believe more strongly in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  My conversion took place relatively quickly as I felt I already knew some of the teachings and just needed reinforcement.  I received more than I could have imagined on my baptism day and the day following when I was prompted to receive the Holy Ghost in the presence of the Ward.  The uneasiness I once felt disappeared immediately, I began to see my way to the right path, my relationship with my family improved (my mother eventually decided to convert also), my life has improved, and I am more prepared to take on the great challenges and surprises ahead.

I have been grateful for the promptings I have received as I continue to study the scriptures and pray to know the truth in my own heart.  I am especially grateful for ward fellowship.  As I pray daily for guidance, strength, understanding and to know the truth about God’s Plan as it applies to my life, decisions have become easier and my purpose, clearer.


Why I Became a Mormon: Josie’s Story

My high school days were coming to a close in the spring of 2012. I was saying goodbye to a chapter full of wonderful memories and anticipating what was to become of my future as a college student. But then, as reality began seeping in just shy of graduation, fear began to consume me. I was not quite ready to say goodbye to my life in Brooklyn Park and I soon clouded my thoughts with regrets. My fear for the future stemmed from the knowledge that nothing would stay the same once I leave. I could not quite wrap my finger around what I truly wanted or felt I needed but I wondered whether I could be any happier than now.

To get my mind off the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ my best friend, Devon, invited me to a basketball game. I kindly declined his offer and asked for a rain check but he simply told me it was his last game of the year. My gut feeling was to spare an hour or two away from homework but I could not afford it. Minutes before the game began, I changed my mind and Devon was sure I would not regret it. As we arrived at the building, I realized this game was taking place in the gym of a church. I had no idea what to expect. To my surprise, everyone who greeted me was so nice and seemed so happy. I was puzzled. I wanted to ask them, Why are you so happy to meet a stranger? I could not understand.

After the game, I had so many questions for Devon. I felt so different, so light and happy. Words cannot describe the beautiful emotions I experienced. All I knew was that I did not want to let go of these new feelings I had recently discovered. I did not learn until later that night that my best friend was a Mormon.

The following week, my conversations with Devon were spent talking about the Church and gospel. I had never heard of these terms before and my interest in learning more grew and grew. He then invited me to attend seminary and I was surprised that I recognized half the faces in the class from school. I also started attending church on Sundays and Sacrament Meeting soon became the highlight of my week! So many kind individuals befriended me in the course of only a few weeks.

Josie wih friends

My incredible friends who share the same love for the gospel as I do!

Soon enough, Devon was off to Utah to attend a summer semester at Brigham Young University (BYU) before his two-year mission. At the time, I was not sure if he was the reason I had the desire to attend all these LDS events and meetings, but I remember vividly the day I walked into the chapel for Sacrament Meeting by myself and I felt this peace reside in the pit of my stomach before it enveloped my whole being in a matter of seconds. I was confident I was in the right place at the right time.

I began meeting with my original missionaries once a week for the duration of the summer with another good friend, Ethan. The meetings with the missionaries brought an excitement of learning about our Heavenly Father and the Plan of Salvation, which I learned was meant to bring happiness to all His children, including me. I also learned that the Atonement of Jesus Christ has given us the opportunity to repent of our sins and that His perfect example allows us to love one another fully. This new understanding filled me with even greater faith and peace.

Around my 18th birthday, my missionaries invited me to get baptized. I did not know how to respond so I told them that I wanted my parent’s support before accepting. That same night, I talked with my parents about the impact the Church had made so far in my life and about my desire to live the gospel. They were positive that my interest in the Church was a phase so they told me to think about what I was doing before I made any big, life-changing decisions. I knew their answer was ‘no’ so I continued to pray and read The Book of Mormon in hopes that they would change their mind. I asked them again weeks later only to get the same answer. I trusted Heavenly Father so I patiently waited for answers. I was sure that they could see the changes of my heart and again I asked, but for the next three months, their response was still ‘no.’

Disappointed, I tried to see things through their perspective and it made me feel terrible as a daughter. I felt like I was being disobedient if I persisted in going against my parent’s wishes. So, I decided that baptism was not going to be a part of my future anymore. I played it safe and went back to practice my family’s faith, Shamanism. September rolled along and I left home to move up to Duluth to further my educational career. By this time, my best friends had left on their missions.

For the first few months of college, my desire, and specifically my confidence in the truth of the restored Gospel, began to fade away at such a rapid pace. I truly felt alone on this spiritual journey once guided by my best friends. By November, I decided it was time to retire my interest and move forward with my life away from the Church. It was the hardest decision I ever made and the idea of giving up seemed so foreign to me, which made it even worse.

I felt it was only appropriate to write of my decision to Devon who was now on his mission. I cannot recall exactly what I told him but it was along the lines of thanking him for the time he spent sharing the gospel with me and showing me the love our Savior and Heavenly Father have for all Their children. I also included in this letter how much I dreaded informing my parents that they were right all along – that my involvement in the Church was simply a phase that would come to an end.

I wrote this letter the Monday before Thanksgiving because I was going home for the holidays the next day and I thought it was only right to tell my parents in person that I would no longer participate in any LDS activities. As I dropped this letter at the post office that Tuesday afternoon, I went straight to my mailbox to retrieve my letters, only to find a package – to my great surprise – from Devon.

Josie's pic from Devon

The photo of Christ I always keep close to me

In this package, Devon had sent me a personal letter and a Book of Mormon with my name engraved on it. He inserted a photo of Christ and the note attached to this particular photo said, “I always have a picture of Christ with me because it helps me always remember Him and keep Him close to my heart. So I thought you could do the same thing. I chose this one because just like he healed that girl, he can heal you from all your pains. Plus, he helped her reach her potential, the same way He will for you. And of course it is about Daughters of God.”

As I finished reading the remainder of the letter, I was at peace with myself for the first time in months. I knew what I needed to do. This personalized message delivered at exactly the time I needed it gave me a renewed testimony that my Heavenly Father loved me, and that He was aware of my struggle. When I saw my name on the Book of Mormon, I knew just how personal this gospel was for me and that I was meant to live it. Tears were streaming from my eyes but it was of sincere joy and gratitude. I decided I needed to build a firm foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father by being baptized. I still get a little choked up remembering this, because through the power of the Holy Ghost, I gained my first testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact the only true church on earth today and that the gospel has been restored.

(I would later learn from Devon that he felt prompted by the Holy Ghost in the MTC to inform me how important baptism was. He wanted to do something nice for me so he bought me an engraved Book of Mormon. Then there just seemed to be a problem every week he attempted to send it for a total of three weeks but he felt so strongly that he needed to send it right away. As we both look back on it, it was definitely from the Spirit because it came at the perfect time.)

That night when I arrived safely in my family’s home, I never ended up telling my parents that this all was a phase and that I will no longer seek a future in the Church. Instead, I shared to them why Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness mattered to me. They still held their ground on my decision to be baptized, thinking that I was too young to make any kind of rational decision. I informed them that baptism would continue to be part of my plans, if not now, then in the future. My parents loved me and only wanted the best for me. They were concerned I had a false impression of the Church. I reassured them that for the past eight months, I had the power to choose and think for myself of the things I learned from my missionaries and the scriptures. My inquisitive nature led me to ask myself why I was willing to sacrifice the life I grew up in for one that challenged who I wanted to be as a person. My answer was simple: I love the gospel and Church. I want to live righteously under the guidance of Heavenly Father and through the example of Christ. I want to be truly happy.

However, I still struggled immensely for several months with wanting my parents’ support. Could I forgive myself for disobeying my parents? Was baptism worth losing all communication with my family? How would I live with the consequences of my choices after baptism?

Josie with Elders

My missionaries who supported me throughout my spiritual journey

My answer came in a scripture one evening that put an end to all my questions and fears. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). Baptism was no longer a hypothetical situation, but a new reality I was going to take on. By the end of February, I prepared myself spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for this new chapter of my life. I was set on April to be baptized and I could not be any happier.

As my baptism was inching closer and closer, opposition struck at every corner of my life. I knew I would have to tell my parents of my true desires despite being disowned by them. I became well-aware that my parents would stand firm in their own right and I did the same in my faith. I was able to find the courage to tell them in a letter that I knew this was the right thing to do. It was important that they knew I would become a better person and daughter through the gospel. My decision would not change the love I had for them as my parents, but rather show me how to love them even more. With much hesitation, they gave me permission to get baptized and said they respected my tenacity. I remember that one ‘yes’ from my parents left me jumping for joy and nothing would be the same again from then on. I was content with change. Days later I would learn that they planned on attending my baptism as well!

Josie's baptism

My baptism, the beginning to a lifetime of happiness

My baptism finally came around. My smile that day did no justice to the feelings I had when I was baptized!!! I felt truly loved and supported to have my family, friends and members witness a part of my spiritual journey, one that would bring me closer to Heavenly Father and Christ. I knew how important this was for me and was glad they understood that too. It was uplifting to feel the Holy Ghost’s presence and I was comforted to know that I made the right choice all along. The next day I was confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and it was then that I realized I could be happier than I thought a year earlier.

It has been seven months and counting since becoming a member and the blessings have been immeasurable. My relationship with my parents and family has grown stronger in love and appreciation. They have come to know that the gospel and Church has done immense good for me. Some of my siblings have followed my example and taken up an interest in the Church I love so dearly. I am grateful to have been surrounded by so many honest and loving friends who lived their faith in ways that helped me feel the truthfulness of the words of God He gives to each individual.

I always ask myself when I look back on this precious memory, what were the odds that I would receive Devon’s package on the very day that I was determined to give up on the Church. It was such a tender mercy from the Lord that taught me I did not need to worry about the future and that I would be in good hands. I have learned to rely on the Lord and act accordingly to what I know now. I know faith in Jesus Christ points toward the future and precedes miracles. I love being a daughter of Heavenly Father because His love has shown me the way to reach my potential. I am grateful for my experiences because it has helped me develop courage to keep my testimony burning brightly in the face of adversity. I strive to live the gospel every day because I know this is His church.

When I began to really believe in Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father

A long line of people had formed to come and pay their respects. As an 11-year old standing next to my recently widowed mother, with her standing in front of my dad’s casket, there was a lot about the situation I didn’t fully grasp. (Does anyone ever immediately grasp something like death?) I stood there in new khakis, a blue blazer, and a tie – all purchased for the occasion – not really knowing what to do as these people came and greeted us. All I knew is that standing right there next to my mom was where I was supposed to be. That was my duty.

Up until this point in the evening, I had felt amazingly strong. I didn’t feel a whole lot of sadness, nor did I feel a deep sense of loss. But to say I was numb isn’t quite right either because I remember feeling some type of strength with me. I felt capable of standing tall as I shook hands with people even though I knew why we were all there.

Then I saw my friend. My best friend, really. He was with his mom and dad, all taking small, gradual steps as the line made small, gradual movements forward. When my friend was about 20 feet away, I saw just how hard he was crying, and that he was trying – bless his little boy heart – to avoid eye contact with me in what I’m sure was a brave effort to somehow – in his little boy mind – spare me additional pain.  

Eye contact or no, when I saw his tears, something within me changed and changed fast. All of a sudden, the strength I had felt that evening immediately left. My shoulders must have physically sagged because I remember very quickly seeing the situation for what it really was – a tragic, shocking event that would change my life and the lives of my family forever. A profound sense of sadness and loss overcame me. I too began to cry – sob, really – and my mom’s sisters quickly rallied around me and took me to a nearby seat where I buried my face in my hands and bawled

I don’t remember how long I was there on that seat. I don’t remember what anyone said to me. All I remember was that after a time – maybe a few minutes, maybe up to a half-an-hour – I felt as if the strength came back. I was aware of the profound sadness I had just felt, but I was no longer bound to it. Instead, I felt my shoulders square up and I resumed my place standing next to my mother. For the rest of the night and really, for the next several months, I felt strong. I felt capable. And while I didn’t feel exactly happy or joyful, I at least felt a deep sense of peace and calm.

But something else accompanied the return of that strength that night. My 11-year old mind remembered the story of Jesus on the cross asking Heavenly Father why He had forsaken him. And suddenly I understood. I learned in my heart that night, in the smallest of ways, how it feels when God withdraws. I sensed how Jesus must have felt (even more profoundly so) on the cross. But I also felt the real strength God’s presence provides and just how incredibly powerful and uplifting it is. I felt like Heavenly Father said to me, “Anthony, now you know that I am with you and that I’m giving you strength through this.” It made a huge impression on me and awakened me to the source of that strength I had felt for several days.

I’ve since wondered if what I experienced was nothing more than a child moving through the grief cycle as he processes the many emotions he encounters with the death and funeral of a parent. I’ve wondered if I’ve superimposed a religious interpretation on a very natural, perhaps even neurological process as I witnessed my friend’s reaction to the reality of my family’s situation. I think I’ve been open to that possibility. But the feelings I had that night were more than just mere emotional strength, as important as that was. Rather, I was given a personalized message from an all-knowing, loving God that He was seeing me through this. He used a familiar experience from Christ’s last mortal day to teach me about what the Savior experienced. And I’ve always remembered it.

From that moment on, I began to more authentically believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. I could really believe in Him as my Savior. And I had greater confidence in the reality of a listening, attentive, and personal Father in Heaven, a confidence that in turn has grown throughout my life. In short, I gained a witness that night of a God who mercifully allows us to suffer but lovingly enables us to overcome.

He lives. Time to believe.

Throwback Thursday: Elder Hales on Responding to Accusers

elder-hales-in-an-interview-paast-bioLately, I’ve been impressed by the sermons of Robert D. Hales. From an address entitled Christian Courage in October 2008, he taught the importance of being Christlike in our conversations with others:

This is especially important in our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.

I imagine the same is true when we engage in contentious debates with fellow Latter-day Saints or anyone else for that matter. After all, regardless of the subject matter or the parties involved, the spirit of contention has only one source.

I’ve had more than a few conversations with others who have been critical or dismissive of my beliefs. These interactions have made me think about how I could best respond, and often, I want to do and be better. Here are some additional takeaways from Elder Hales, all direct quotes:

  • Remember that Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by the world.
  • The Savior responded differently in every situation.
  • When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior.
  • “The world hath hated [my disciples],” Jesus said, “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
  • True disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition.
  • As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter.
  • And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.
  • As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication.
  • Without guile, true disciples avoid being unduly judgmental of others’ views.
  • As the Savior demonstrated with Herod, sometimes true disciples must show Christian courage by saying nothing at all.
  • We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ.
  • …to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage.

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