Thursday, March 29, 2018

Easter Advent Activity

In our house, we try to make sure Easter is more about Jesus than the Easter Bunny. Don't get me wrong, we like the Easter Bunny as much as anyone, but he's not what Easter is all about.

Our kids are still pretty young, and we still enjoy some of the basic traditions, like egg hunting and basket finding, but we also try to focus on the Savior as much as possible.

In our baskets, we've asked the Easter Bunny to bring things that help our children understand or learn more about Jesus or that will help them make Sunday a more reverent day (in addition to the candy, because, let's be real, the candy is just awesome, too).

But we also do other things as well, such as this Easter Egg Advent Activity. It's such a simple, easy way to teach our children about Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Our kids love participating and learning a bit more. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as you want. The trick isn't in how fancy it looks, but that they learn about Jesus.

I honestly cannot remember or find where I originally found this idea (if it's yours, let me know!). So I just typed it up and you can find instructions and the printout here.

A couple of other ideas for trying to keep Easter focused on Jesus is this FHE lesson from A Year of FHE, with printables for both young and older kids. We also love making these Empty Tomb Rolls or Resurrection Rolls. They are yummy and easy, and another very visual way to explain how important Christ's empty tomb is.

What are some of your Easter traditions? I'd love to hear!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Eclipsing the SON

NOTE: Elder Gary E. Stevenson spoke about this very thing in General Conference this October! Click Spiritual Eclipse to read his more eloquent and much better thoughts on being eclipsed spiritually. 

Were any of you able to view the Solar Eclipse on Monday? My little town was right in the path of totality, so we were among the lucky ones to view the total eclipse right from our backyard. It was phenomenal! I don't think I have words adequate enough to describe how unbelievable it was. Whoever invented the word "astronomical" probably did so right after seeing a total solar eclipse.

Don't mind my sub-par phone eclipse photos. I did the best I could. :)

My mom, who was also here for the eclipse, kept saying "I can't believe how dark and cold it got when the moon covered the sun!"

While I was watching during totality, I was immediately struck by a spiritual parallel, that started with the question, "do I ever let something come between myself and the Savior?"

It made me realize that even little things (as the moon is minuscule in comparison to the size of the sun) can "eclipse" our view of the Savior. They can cause the light we see by and the warmth we feel to be changed. Our very perceptions can be changed (in my neighborhood, a few dogs started going crazy when the sun was fully eclipsed).

I've been thinking a lot about those things that we allow to "eclipse the Son" in our lives. Maybe things like fear, anger, procrastination, holding a grudge, getting our priorities mixed up are all things that can "eclipse the Son" in our lives. What do you think can cause you to eclipse your relationship with the Savior and Heavenly Father?

I know that when we keep ourselves in proper alignment with the Savior and remember to look to Him, we will always be able to see things clearly and feel the power that comes from His Atonement. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Learning to Become a Father

Yesterday in Sacrament meeting, our ward choir sang, "Teacher, Do You Love Me?" from the Primary Children's Songbook. We changed the word "Teacher" in the song to "Father," in honor of Father's Day. As the choir director, I had invited some children of the ward to join with us, and they along with some teen members of our choir, sang the first two verses of the song.

Father, do you love me?
Father, will you care for me?
Even if I turn away, or disobey, or go astray,
Then will you love me still?
Father, will you teach me?
Father, help me choose the right.
When I do not understand the Lord's command, please take my hand
And lead me safely with his light.

The women in our choir then joined in for the bridge.

I need your love, I need your light
To show me how to be like Jesus.
The Savior's love will light the path
To lead me safely home.

Finally, the men sang the next two verses, with the entire singing for the final bridge.

Oh yes, my child, I love you.
My child, I'll always care for you.
And with the Savior as our guide, I'll share the light I feel inside,
And you will feel his love for you.
Oh, yes, my child, I'll teach you.
My child, I'll help you choose the right.
And when you do not understand The Lord's command, I'll take your hand,
And he will lead us with his light.

I need your love, I need your light
To show me how to be like Jesus.
The Savior's love will light the path
To lead us safely home.

We hadn't had very many men attend our practices, and I was feeling a little nervous that the desired effect would be lost if we didn't get more men to sing for the musical number. We had a couple choir members do some "recruiting" and the entire Young Men's group ended up joining us for the musical number. As they hadn't practiced with us, they didn't know there were different "teen" and "men's" parts and they sang when their leader sang. But what those young men did touched a spiritual chord within me and I was tearing up all through the song.

It struck me as significant that these young men, who are not yet fathers, were filling the "father" role in our song, almost as if they are recognizing that they have a divine heritage to be fathers and that they are preparing now to fill that divine role.

As these young men learn to fulfill their various priesthood responsibilities, they are preparing to fulfill their divine mission to become fathers with nobility and righteousness. Even if they didn't mean to, I am grateful that they taught me how important it is to begin young to prepare these young men for their eternal role of fatherhood.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Trap of Perfection Parenting

This post is dedicated to moms. Young moms; experienced moms; tired moms; feeling-rested moms (what is your secret???); "I'm-doing-okay" moms; "this-is-the-worst-day-since-the-beginning-of-ever" moms; all moms

Motherhood is hard. Probably most women, on the verge of motherhood, have some idea of how hard it will be and think they are prepared. I sure thought I was. But I was not prepared, not really anyway. I'm not sure that anything short of raising children can fully prepare you. 

Any parent you know who has it all figured out is either lying to you or they are perfect. I am far from a perfect parent. I make mistakes every single day--usually all day long. We all make mistakes. I am beginning to think that parenthood is the ultimate school for becoming as God is--and sometimes, school is just hard.

Sometimes we are pretty sure we are messing up our kids for life. Sometimes we wake up with our patience spread thin as egg shells. Sometimes we don't do that art project they're begging to create; OR we just don't have it in us to play dolly princess one more time; OR we lose our cool when they needed us to lose our judgement and just give them a hug. And then we feel terrible because, once again, we failed at Perfection Parenting.

In pop culture this is usually called "mom guilt." If we look at it in terms of spirituality, we might recognize these thoughts as an attack on behalf of the enemy. I was once told by a professor that one of Satan's most effective and favored tools is discouragement. If he can make you feel discouraged, a big part of his battle is over. Discouragement is an effective tool against God's plan because when you are discouraged, you don't want to keep going. You might think, "what's the point? I'll just mess up again. May as well quit now." But the Lord's plan involves a lot of picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, apologizing, and trying a little harder next time. 

YOU are a powerful woman because you are a woman of God, a daughter of King, with divine DNA flowing through your being. YOU are a powerful woman because you are a mother. You have been entrusted with the most important task any human being has been given: raising those precious little spirits you've been sent and bringing them up in the light of the Lord. Satan sees how much power you have and he doesn't like it. He doesn't want  you to be powerful or influential. And if he can convince you that you aren't good enough for any reason, he's put a serious wedge in your ability to raise those sweet children up to their Father in Heaven. If Satan convinces you to live in guilt, he is keeping you from living in the spirit. 

So today, I just want to echo what Elder Holland has said (see quote above): You are doing better than you realize. A loving Heavenly Father gave you this job, this calling (and I do believe it is a calling). President Monson has said, "Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies." He spoke these words to the priesthood brethren in a General Priesthood meeting, but I believe they are a promise that applies to every calling, including motherhood. This thing that you're doing is hard. It is. I'm right there with ya. But you've got this because you have an all-powerful Being and His angels on your side. Don't let yourself fall prey to the trap of perfection parenting. Don't give in to the "mom guilt." When Heavenly Father sent His children to you, I don't think He expected you to raise them perfectly, but to raise them with love and the spirit. He expected you to be YOU and give them what only YOU can. YOU are exactly the person those children need in their lives, right now, this very moment. YOU are their mother for a reason. YOU are the mother Heavenly Father wanted for those children and He knows you have what it takes. He knows you'll give them exactly what they need. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, apologize if you need to, and move forward with faith and trust that Heavenly Father will see you through this duty. Because He will. Just ask Him and He will be there. You've got this, mamma. You got this.

And just as a side note, I'm pretty sure ice cream was created for the sole purpose of helping you unwind and feel good after a long day. It's a good thing. So no guilt from eating that ice cream, either. Deal? 😉

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jesus Loves Me

Yesterday I finished reading the book, "Eliza: The Life and Faith of Eliza R. Snow" by Karen Lynn Davidson and Jill Mulvay Derr. It's a great book, an easy read, with an inspiring subject. Eliza is truly a person to emulate and I loved learning more about her. One of the things I loved reading was her poetry.

I really enjoy poetry. I'm no English expert and there is a lot of poetry I don't understand, but I still enjoy it. I have a few volumes of poetry on my shelf that I read from time to time. But one particular volume is dear to my heart. It is a one inch, three ring binder and is bursting at the seams with poems--that I wrote. I began writing poetry almost 20 years ago. The very first poem in my binder was written in 1997. I began writing poetry as a means of expressing my innermost feelings. Most of the poetry in this binder has never been read by another person.

I apparently go through bursts of writing, as there are clusters of poems all composed in the same year or two period and then there are breaks of time where no poems exist (at least not in my binder). I've recently begun writing poems again and I've decided to share some of these new poems on this blog, in addition to a few of my old ones.

To begin this poetry label, I thought I'd share my very first poem. I was only around ten years old when I wrote this poem! My notes included with this poem say, "This is the first real poem I ever remember writing. I was about 10 years old, and it was late at night when I was overwhelmed by a feeling of love! This poem is the result of that night, when I felt the love of my Savior, Jesus Christ!" Aside from a few small edits, this poem is as it was originally written.

Jesus Loves Me
Jesus loves me and I love Him!
He died for us to be with Him once again.
If He did not love me then He would not have come,
and died for us to go to the place we long came from.
Now because of Jesus' love, we can always do what's right
and live with God again in His heavenly love and light.
With His example for all of us we should all love too.
So let us try to love each one as much as He loves you!
(C) Jessica Harwood, 1997

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fear and Talents

I have been thinking a lot about talents lately and what it means when we hide those talents. I have in recent months learned a lot about hiding my talents. One of my talents is that of singing but I have not done all I should to develop and share this talent. Many months ago I came across an opportunity to audition for a sacred music choir in my area but had chosen not to do so. Then one evening, for reasons I cannot remember, this audition opportunity came up in a conversation with a friend of mine. She emphatically told me that I should audition and said, "I want to. It would be a good experience." This comment struck me. Here I was, a person who has been vocally trained by gifted instructors, who has had years of experience with singing, and I was too afraid to audition because I was afraid of the outcome. My friend humbled me and I realized I needed to repent. I realized that even if I were not get accepted into the choir, I wouldn't be making an effort at development if I didn't try--and perhaps that not trying is what would displease my Heavenly Father most. So I practiced, scheduled my audition, and went. I was accepted. I'm now going on ten months in this choir, with one concert under our belt, and I cannot begin to express the blessing it has been to me in my life. And as a choir we have received much feedback about the blessings others reaped from attending our concert. I'm ever grateful for my friend (who was also accepted in the choir!) for teaching me about hiding talents.

We have all been blessed with talents for the purpose of blessing and serving the lives of others. If we are keeping our talents dim by hiding them under a bushel, then we are missing great blessings available to us. Sometimes we shy away from talking about the things we do well. Talking about what we are good at it not a bad thing.

One problem created by not recognizing and sharing our talents is the creation a kind of false humility. There is a fear that we will come across to others as boastful if we talk about the things we are good at. In an effort to be "modest" we even go to the opposite extreme of putting ourselves down, mocking our lack of specific talents or pointing out our imperfection in the talents we do have. We aren't meant to have every talent nor are our talents meant to be perfect.  Talking about what we're good at is not bragging. There is no vanity in truth, only in trying to elevate the truth that is for you above the truth that is for others. When we use our talents with the Spirit of God, we will not become boastful because we will be using them for the right reasons.

My second point is we deny truth and blessings from God when we do not acknowledge and share our talents. Many are familiar with the parable of the talents. In the parable, the servants who increased what they were given were blessed to be rulers over many things and to experience rest and joy. They were blessed because they used what they had been given. It is a truth that all men (and women) are blessed with gifts. If we say we do not have any gifts or talents, we are denying truth. I also feel like it makes God feel sad. Elder Marvin J. Ashton has said:
One of the great tragedies of life, it seems to me, is when a person classifies himself as someone who has no talents or gifts. When, in disgust or discouragement, we allow ourselves to reach depressive levels of despair because of our demeaning self-appraisal, it is a sad day for us and a sad day in the eyes of God. For us to conclude that we have no gifts when we judge ourselves by stature, intelligence, grade-point average, wealth, power, position, or external appearance is not only unfair but unreasonable. . . . It is up to each of us to search for and build upon the gifts which God has given. We must remember that each of us is made in the image of God, that there are no unimportant persons. Everyone matters to God and to his fellowmen. ("There Are Many Gifts," CR October 1987)
My final point, and the one that has stopped me so often in the past, is the element of fear that comes in denying our talents.The third servant in the parable of the talents chose not to increase what he had been given. He chose to bury it, to forget about it, and his subsequent reward was to be chastised and sent away. What I think is interesting is what the servant told his master. He said, "I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." (St Matthew 25:24-25, emphasis added)  
Fear does not come from God (2 Timothy 1:7)The adversary wants us to be afraid. He wants to be afraid that we will mess up. He wants us to fear our ability to measure up because if he can make us afraid, he can stop us from progressing. Progression is a great eternal truth; when Satan keeps us from progressing, he keeps us from moving toward God.

God does not want us to be afraid. He just wants us to recognize and use what He has blessed us with. He hasn't asked us to perform our talents perfectly, but to improve them and share them. A few weeks ago another friend told me that she had recently been feeling like she didn't have any talents so, rather than bemoan her perceived lack, she chose to make a list of the things she is good at and work on them. This inspired me so much! Our talents don't have to be obvious things, like music, sports, or arts. Maybe you have a talent for kindness or being positive or being able to see the needs of others. Maybe something you're good at is problem solving or decorating or understanding politics. My challenge to everyone (myself included), is to start making a list of things you are good at. If you can't think of anything, I encourage you to make it a matter of prayer. It's a prayer I believe wholly that God will answer, for He wants you to see and develop the good things He has given you.

Please share with me one of your talents. Tell me what you're good at! Let's start the discussion and find ways to share with one another our talents. Let's stop hiding our candlesticks under the bushel of fear.

 If you'd like to see something inspiring and be reminded of your divine gifts, I encourage you to watch this short video:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I Am a Child of God

Many months ago, my brother told me about a conversation he had had with a friend. The friend had asked my brother this question: "If you were the most powerful person in the universe and could change anything about the world, what would you change?" My brother and his friend hypothesized about the various evils and injustices of the world, choosing something and then deciding that something else must surely be more evil and if we rid the world of that evil, it would most definitely be a better place.

Then one day I was thinking about this exact question. What would I choose? Somehow, choosing to eradicate a certain evil just seemed like the wrong approach. As I pondered more, this quote by President Boyd K. Packer came into my mind:

"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. 
"The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. . . . That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel."

This was why I felt that eliminating specific evils from the world wouldn't work. It is doctrine which changes behavior. We learn this truth in the Book of Mormon, when Alma went on a mission to the Zoramites.

"And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God." [Alma 31:5]

As I made this realization, that true doctrine was the answer to really changing the world, the primary song "I am a Child of God" filled my mind and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the thought that this was the answer. I knew that if I were asked what I would change in the world, this song and the doctrines in them were my answer. If it were possible to imbue into the hearts of every man, woman, and child on this earth their divine heritage, the injustices and evils of the world would become changed through the people. They would be eliminated! The world would become a better place if only people knew who they were--Whose they were. Can you sense what a powerful doctrine this is? Can you feel the strength that comes from knowing your divinity? Can you glimpse the ramifications for your own future, not to mention the futures of your children and grandchildren, if you truly knew and lived the doctrine that you are a child of God? I feel that I can only barely glimpse the power of this myself--but that faint glimmer of understanding is there and I want to see and feel more of it.

I've found this quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley, which illustrates perfectly what I mean.

"It is not asking too much, is it, to take a few minutes of each day to speak with your Father in Heaven when you know that you are a child of God?
"If you really know that you are a child of God, you will also know that He expects much of you, His child. He will expect you to follow His teachings and the teachings of His dear Son, Jesus. He will expect you to be generous and kind to others. He will be offended if you swear or use foul language. He will be offended if you are dishonest in any way, if you should cheat or steal in the slightest. He will be happy if you remember the less fortunate in your prayers to Him. He will watch over you and guide you and protect you. He will bless you in your schoolwork and in your Primary. He will bless you in your home, and you will be a better boy or girl, obedient to your parents, quarreling less with your brothers and sisters, helping about the home.
"And thus you will grow to be a strong young man or woman in this Church. You will also be a better member of the community. . . .
"Never forget, my dear young friends, that you really are a child of God who has inherited something of His divine nature, one whom He loves and desires to help and bless. I pray that our Heavenly Father will bless you. May He smile with favor upon you. May you walk in His paths and follow His teachings. May you never speak the evil language that boys and girls are inclined to speak at school. May you ever be prayerful unto Him, praying always in the name of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. May each of us resolve to always follow Him in faith. May life be kind to you, for you are indeed a child of God, worthy and deserving of His love and blessing."
["You Are a Child of God," CR April 2003]
If I could teach my children only one thing, I would choose this: They are Children of an Almighty God, who loves them deeply. He cares about them and their choices. He will always be there for them; He watches over them. He is their Father and because of this they have a divine heritage, which, if nurtured, will grant them happiness and fulfillment.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Primary Programs & Children's Testimonies

When I first decided to revive this blog, I couldn't remember why I had stopped writing in it the first place. There are many reasons, of course, but a major one is just the time! I've literally sat down to write in this blog three times since last week but someone needs my attention, the computer has to reboot, the laundry is suddenly done get the picture. I've also been doing some food preserving lately. We've done three different jam varieties, corn, pears, applesauce, and dehydrated apples. I have a whole new respect for my grandmother's and mother's generations, who preserved food all during harvest. Man, it takes a lot of time!

But for the topic at hand. My children had their primary program on Sunday. I look forward to the primary program all year and I'm always just a little sad when it's over, knowing we won't have another one for a full year. I love watching the children. The smiles, the shy turns of heads, the exuberant (or barely voiced) songs, the parts so diligently memorized and forgotten, and most especially the testimonies.

One of the things I love most about children is their zest for life. They wake up happy in the morning; they make friends; they forgive and forget; they go to bed happy--and then they do it all over again. That zest and excitement for life is so eagerly applied to their love for the gospel. It's an infectious love! It would be nearly impossible to attend a primary program, to listen to those children sing "I Love to See the Temple" or "Scripture Power" and not notice & be affected by their testimonies of the words they are singing.

The spirit was definitely present at this meeting. Every moment the presence of the Holy Ghost could be felt but I want to specifically mention a couple songs. One of the songs the children had prepared was "Praise to the Man." This is a powerful song anyway but I was so struck by the children singing it. The first verse was sung by a small group of the oldest boys in primary, as well as all the boys who have left primary this year to join the young men as deacons. Oh! I wish I had words to express the feeling I had when those boys started to sing that song. It was so powerful! I had chills and goosebumps.

Another amazing song was "We'll Bring the World His Truth." The change was almost physical, felt throughout the entire chapel. You could just tell there was something about this song that touched the hearts of the members of my ward--myself included. As I was listening I realized it was that song that put the desire to serve a mission into my heart when I was young. The Lord's plan for me was different than my own (hence getting married instead of serving a mission) but this song made me want to serve a mission so badly! I could see in the eyes of some of the children singing on Sunday that they felt the same way! And the presence of the Holy Ghost was unmistakable. It was beautiful!

Our children have such powerful testimonies and when they all combine their testimonies together, it can create a life changing, deep, spiritual feast. I hope I am never too busy to listen to the testimonies of my children. I hope I am never too impatient to wait for them to share their best with me. I hope I am never too proud to remember my children are my greatest teachers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Temples & Covenants

As I said in my last post, Dan and I attended his niece's sealing in the Rexburg Temple just a couple weekends ago. It had been a long time since I'd been to the temple! Our temple has been under renovation for a year and a half, and I've had a nursing baby until just recently, so driving to another temple and waiting and doing the work there just didn't feel like it was in the cards for me for awhile. In fact, we realized the Sunday before the niece's wedding (she was married on a Saturday) that my recommend expired at the end of August. Of course her wedding would be only three days later! I scrambled and called and texted and managed to get last minute appointments with members of my bishopric and stake presidency. I was feeling so happy to have that recommend renewed! Not only because it meant I would be able to attend the sealing but because I just felt so peaceful, so assured, so happy to have that recommend in my hand.

The questions asked in a temple recommend interview are the same at both the ward and stake levels. I suppose these questions could feel redundant; after all, when you go in for your stake appointment, you've only just been asked the same questions by the bishopric. But I love every single question in that interview. As I answered the questions being asked to me (during both interviews), I felt an overwhelming warmth spread through my chest and an incredible happiness in my soul. It was like I was bearing my testimony to those men, telling them that I do believe in God, my Heavenly Father; I do have a testimony in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and Him as my Savior; I do support and sustain the prophets and all the leaders God has called. I wish I had the words to describe how wonderful it felt to say YES! I do have a testimony! Each interview lasted fewer than five minutes, but each time I felt a witness of the Holy Ghost and a reaffirmation of my testimony. It was a beautiful experience for me.

At our niece's sealing, I again felt the spirit so strongly! Oh, how I love being in the temple! The sealer took the opportunity to talk to the couple (and everyone else) about the covenants and ordinances we make as members of the church, with the covenant of baptism being the first. He mentioned that, in the temple, the floor where we perform proxy baptisms is the very bottom, symbolizing that baptism is the bottom rung of the covenant/ordinance ladder, the first step we must take on our journey back to God and the Celestial Kingdom. Then he talked about how every other ordinance and covenant we make is built on one another. The order of the ordinances and the wording of them became so much clearer to me in that moment! Because of the sacred nature of the covenants and ordinances in the temple, I won't go into details about those things, but it was a very clear experience for me. Each ordinance is necessary, vital, as we move up the ordinance ladder, but then it isn't truly complete without the next ordinance. And every single ordinance, every thing we teach and learn as members of the Church, is to get us to the top floor, to the ordinance of the Sealing. Family is the ultimate goal. Every single thing leads us to families and the creation of our own family. Everything! What a powerful, beautiful truth this is! Every single thing we do in life, everything God wants for us and asks of us, leads us to the ultimate happiness--because there is truly nothing that brings more joy than our families.