Brothers and Sisters,
I'm excited to speak to you today. We feel very blessed to be a part of the Coyote Springs ward. We've felt very welcomed and are grateful for the many families that have gone out of their way to help us. We look forward to continuing to getting to know each of you better.
The story of our family starts with my wonderful wife, Emily. We were friends in high school. We both grew up in Bloomington. We had a class or two together, and had the same circle of friends, did a few dance dates, but never seriously dated then.
One of the best experiences of my life has been serving a full time mission. My mission has had a tremendous impact on my life and gave me a desire to raise a family in the gospel. After completing my sophomore year of college after I returned from my mission, I came home for the summer. Unlike my friends, all of my lofty summer plans didn't work out -- I was rejected as an EFY counselor, didn't have an internship, and the study abroad program didn't pan out. I reluctantly returned home.
Turns out Emily had a similar summer plan fall-through, and she returned home from USU. All of our other mutual friends were off doing exciting things and we were home for the summer with no plans other than working to save money. So we started hanging out, strictly as friends (because we were both tired of dating). Sparks flew and by the end of the summer, we were engaged. I look back and thank the Lord that my plans fell through so that I could meet and marry Emily. She is a real inspiration to me and really fun to be around.
While we were dating that summer, we decided to take a road trip to meet each other's extended family in Salt Lake. Being of the nerdy type, we decided to set a goal to memorize The Family: A Proclamation To The World on our trip. We would repeat sections of it over and over while driving, trying to commit it to memory. We succeeded, although Emily has managed to retain it better than I have.
There's a beautiful part of the proclamation that I want to speak about that can benefit all families everywhere. It is, "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities."
I want to share a few thoughts and testimony about these things.
I am blessed to come from a great family. My parents are good examples of righteous living and I see the fruits of their strong marriage. I'm blessed to have a good sister and brother, and am thrilled I can now live across the street from him.
I don't know how people get through life without a knowledge of the gospel or the support of a good family. Life is full of challenges and stretching opportunities, because a loving Father in Heaven knows us and what our capabilities are. Mortal life is our opportunity to gain the experience we need so that one day we can be like Him, with a fullness of joy. I'm extremely grateful that our Heavenly Father has provided a Savior, which is central to His plan.
I like this quote from Sister Stephens in the last general conference:
Elder Richard G. Scott explained that “we were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched.” That stretching comes in as many forms as there are individuals experiencing it.
I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother [or father]. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
Although I may not completely understand your challenges, I've been through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees. Through them I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,” who experienced all and understands all.
I went through a very difficult trial last summer relating to my work. I was stressed and stretched. Without going into detail, it was a difficult struggle for me that drove me to my knees for several months. I learned to trust in deeply in the Lord and rely on Him.
At that time in my personal gospel study I was reading reading the Old Testament. During this time of trial I came to the book of Isaiah. I read verses like these:
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
they that await upon the Lord shall brenew their cstrength; they shall mount up with wings as deagles; they shall erun, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
...and many other scriptures that gave me hope. As I did my best to turn myself over to the Lord, he blessed me with a miracle I couldn't have ever imagined possible and was saved from my difficult situation. I came to learn that I can trust in my God, that he is aware of all of us, and has all power. My faith was strengthened. This is the kind of faith that can help families through various struggles and be saved through God's grace.
Sister Stephens concludes her message with this:
Our opportunity as covenant-keeping sons & daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”-in part through us as we follow Him.
I also want to share a thought or two about forgiving and learning to appreciate the imperfections of our family members.
The gospel road requires that we forgive, especially in families. Forgiveness isn't always easy.
There's a story I remember from President Monson that he shared in general conference a while ago about an old, gray-haired farmer who had a magnificent oak tree in his yard. One dark and stormy night, he heard a huge crack, and another loud crack, and then a crash. When he went to investigate, a huge branch of the giant oak tree in his yard had split off in the storm. It unbalanced the tree so much that the other half split off. No branches of the mighty oak tree were left. The storm wasn't that severe to have damaged that oak tree.
Puzzled why the tree which looked so healthy and strong couldn't stand up to the mild wind storm, he looked further. By the part of the big branch that had fallen off was a metal wedge. And then the farmer remembered...
When he was a boy, those in the area moved the saw mill out of the valley to anther area. He could explore the south pasture and find all sorts of interesting things left behind. One particular day, he found a wedge. A wedge was used to fell trees. A feller would make a cut in the tree, and pound the metal wedge into the tree with a sledge hammer to speed up the process of cutting down a tree. As a boy, he remembered picking up the wedge he had found. His mom had called him in for dinner, so he placed the wedge on the branch of the then small oak tree, with every intention of putting it away properly after dinner.
Well, the wedge stayed on the tree. When the man grew to his teenage years, then as a young man, then as grown man with a family of his own taking over the family farm, that giant oak tree grew its branch around the metal wedge. It had swallowed the wedge and the wedge was hidden inside the tree so you couldn't see it anymore. The fibers connecting the branch to the trunk were not strong or sufficient the night of that storm because the wedge was in the way.
This story about the wedge in the tree is a metaphor for what can happen to relationships when offenses aren't forgiven. I take this to mean that we need to work hard to make sure we remove tiny wedges that could drive people apart as quickly as we can before it turns into a hidden wedge.
You may know of people that have managed to remove wedges with the Lord's help and have found relief, happiness, and joy as a result.
When I was young my family lived in Japan. My father had started a business with a partner, who was also a convert to the Church and a member of our ward there. I don't recall all of the details, but a problem developed and the business partner had to be fired. The business partner retaliated, which caused a great deal of grief and turmoil for not just my family but it damaged the company and affected many people in the company. Somehow he threatened to get the Japanese mafia involved, threatening other members of the company. Needless to say, things were not on the best of terms between that man and my father.
More than ten years later, my family came to Japan to pick me up from my mission. We had the opportunity to travel a little bit and visit the area in Japan where I grew up. My Dad had reached out to members of the ward from my childhood for a reunion and party. My father made a special effort to invite that old business partner. He wanted to forgive and make it clear that he no longer held any ill will. The man and his family came to the party. No hidden wedge was left to cause further feelings of anger. Love and acceptance prevailed.
President Monson said:
The spirit must be freed from tethers so strong and feelings never put to rest, so that the lift of life may give buoyancy to the soul. In many families, there are hurt feelings and a reluctance to forgive. It doesn’t really matter what the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to injure. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals. George Herbert, an early 17th-century poet, wrote these lines: “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven, for everyone has need of forgiveness.”
Beautiful are the words of the Savior as He was about to die upon the cruel cross. Said He, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
The Lord sacrificed his life that he can lend us the gift of forgiveness. We likewise need to forgive others, especially in our families. Void of wedges to drive relationships apart, the fibers of our love can grow and knit together to form great strength.
Another nugget from the Proclamation To The World on that we memorized on that road trip with my sweetheart Emily years ago is this:
"The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally."
I am thankful that we live at a time and in an area where we have access to temples. I have a testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon and of the restored gospel. I'm thankful for priesthood authority that make eternal families possible. I know that Heavenly Father loves us and like a perfect father, coaches us and encourages us along. He is involved in the details of our lives, and is someone we can trust completely.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen!