News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pittsburgh Stake Conference

Stake conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bi-annual meeting for members of a stake, which is an administrative unit composed of multiple congregations. The Pittsburgh Stake includes members from the city of Pittsburgh, the Monroeville area, McKeesport, Monongahela, Uniontown, Greensburg, as well as locations between these municipalities. Also included in the Pittsburgh Stake are young single adult and Spanish speaking members residing in a multi-stake area, which includes the aforementioned areas plus areas in the Pittsburgh West and the Pittsburgh North Stakes. All people in the community, members and non-members alike, are welcomed and invited to attend stake conference.

Speakers for Saturday evening’s session on February 20th, 2016: Sister Dee Stalvey from the Monongahela Ward, Bishop Paul Custer from the Pittsburgh First Ward, Brother Elihue Chapel from the Oakland Young Single Adults Ward, who shared his testimony, Brother Brandon Jones from the Oakland Young Single Adults Ward also shared his testimony, Sister Rosemary Johnson of the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission, President Bradley Johnson, mission president of the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission, and President Erich Peterson, stake president of the Pittsburgh Stake.

Speakers for Sunday morning’s session on February 21st, 2016: President George Cavalier, second counselor of the Pittsburgh Stake, Sister Gabrielle Hollander from the Monongahela Ward, Sister Amy Manuele from the Pittsburgh Third Ward, Sister Jill Allison from the Oakland Young Single Adults Ward, Sister Lorraine Swift and President Steven Swift, president of the Washington DC Temple, and President Erich Peterson, stake president of the Pittsburgh Stake.

The following are summaries of talks and testimonies by the above speakers, with the exception of President and Sister Johnson and President and Sister Swift, who's summaries were written by Sister Peterson.  

Sister Dee Stalvey

As director of Public Affairs for the Pittsburgh Stake, Sister Stalvey centered her talk on Public Affairs work in the stake, “softening the rocky soil,” and the new JustServe priesthood initiative.  Sister Stalvey noted that the primary message of Public Affairs is that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and Public Affairs works to ensure that community leaders, the media, government officials, and non-members, understand this. Public Affairs serves under the inspired direction of the stake presidency, and the primary goal for our stake is to find good opportunities to develop good relationships. The efforts of Public Affairs always is for others to understand us better so that we may all carry on our work to spread the gospel across the world. 
The new JustServe initiative helps in this regard since the partner agencies and the community members who we work with side-by-side in service will get to know us better, will understand us better, and will want to work with us in serving our brothers and sisters in our local communities. Sister Stalvey said that JustServe is already softening the rocky soil as partner agencies have forwarded messages regarding our “caring”, “helpful”, and “awesome” members
As well, Sister Stalvey noted that the rocky soil also means that Heavenly Father has entrusted this place, this time, and this work to us; therefore, in this regard, the rocky soil is a blessing. It helps us to learn and to grow and to share our testimonies, which are all great things as we go through this life and plan to share eternity with our Heavenly Father, our Savior, and our families. 

Bishop Paul Custer

Our stake presidency has invited us all to hold a family council to discuss a family mission plan. Before this invitation I would not have considered our family a missionary oriented family. However, acting in faith, we held the family council. To my surprise, each person in my family was interested in doing something different. Some wanted to pray for the missionaries, some wanted to reach out to the new members and investigators, and some wanted to invite friends over to meet with the missionaries.

Elder Randall K. Bennett taught us in this last general conference:

“Whenever we willingly act with faith in Jesus Christ and take another step, especially an uncomfortable step requiring change, we are blessed with strength.

“[T]he Lord will guide us to—and through —our next steps. He will more than match our efforts with His power if we are willing to keep trying, repenting, and moving forward with faith in our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

“Spiritual gifts are promised not only to those who love God and keep all of His commandments but also, gratefully, to those of us who ‘[seek] so to do.’ Strength is given to those who keep seeking and trying.”

After a few months of reviewing our efforts, which still aren't the best efforts we can offer, some of the comments from my family members about our missionary efforts included:

“I felt inspired to reach out to an investigator at an activity, and texted her on her birthday to wish her a Happy Birthday.”

“Instead of just saying that we were going to be out of town, I told a friend we were going to the temple in Washington D.C.”

“Noticing a family in our neighborhood who had very little, I reached out to them with some extra clothing that we had in the house.”

“I told a friend that I could not participate in activities on Sunday because our family was trying to keep the Sabbath Day holy.”

“I like having the missionaries over. I learned that the Garden of Eden was actually located in Idaho, and that the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was actually a potato.”

Other than the last story (which really isn’t true, by the way), one of my favorite stories is from my daughter, Madi, who is preparing to go on a mission. As I was driving her into school one day I could tell that she was struggling to complete a text to one of her friends who is not of our faith. I asked her what was going on and Madi responded that she was having a “scripture war” with her friend. A “scripture war” I asked? “Yes, we are trying to share the ‘best’ scripture with each other each morning.”

We can all do something in the missionary effort. Our efforts will be matched, and exceeded by the Lord.

Brother Elihue Chapel

When I was younger, I was taught how to play poker by someone I looked up to like a big brother. He was kind of a bully big brother, though, so he didn't tell me all of the rules before we played. The extent of my instruction was: "If you get anything, you'll probably get a pair. If you don't get a pair, just fold your hand." I made one bet on our first hand and then folded. He was curious about my hand so I told him. "All I had was a pair of ones and another pair of ones." As soon as I said that, I slapped myself on the forehead, realizing that I had thrown away four aces without noticing it. 

I was just like that coming into the church. From the outside, the church seems like a strange thing. Indeed, I had heard of it long before I ever considered joining. Only now do I realize that I've been looking at four aces all along - and only because there were people willing to explain the rules to me. The warmth and beneficence of every individual member and the missionaries especially, are the best way to overcome that foreignness new members like me experience. The life of every member is a testimony of the gospel, which is impossible to hide.

Brother Brandon Jones

Let me ask you something: Do you love God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit? Do you only love one or two of them? Well that is impossible because they all work as one. When growing up I always thought if I focus on one, maybe two, that I would be alright, but no, that’s not how it works. You have got to accept all three of them into your heart to receive the full blessings. In other words having them with you will keep you going and will keep you strong. They will help you have a strong body and a strong mind. Your body is a temple and your heart is what keeps it together. When you pray, he already knows what you’re going to say, but he still loves to hear his children’s voices. Let's all remember for a moment what Jesus Christ did for us, and what he gave us. He gave us life. A life that should not be wasted. Now, yes, we will make mistakes, we will sin on purpose and accidentally. That is when we need to realize what we did and ask for forgiveness and try our very best not to do it again. They will always love and be there for us, and when we need them they will be right by our side. Having them in my life has been such a beautiful blessing, and if you accept them into your life, it will be the best decision that you will have made.

Brother Jones then shared his own baptismal experience and how he felt when he did baptisms in the temple. It was a phenomenal experience for him, which brought great joy and power.

Sister Rosemary Johnson

Sister Johnson shared experiences that happened in conjunction with the recent tragedy in the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh mission: Four beloved sister missionaries were driving in their car when a school bus ran a stop sign and drove into it, killing one sister and injuring three others. The sister who passed to the other side of the veil was Sister Sadie Danielle Wells, and the three sisters who were injured are Sisters Young, Douglas, and Faamaile.  “Many miracles have come about through this tragedy”, Sister Johnson said, “The Savior has truly touched many people through Sister Wells”. One such experience was the feeling the first responders to the accident had when they encountered the young missionaries. These workers shared how heavenly and holy the sister missionaries were just after the accident had happened. It impacted them significantly.
Sister Sadie Danielle Wells was transferred to the ultimate area; Heavenly Father's side of the veil, perhaps to fulfill a special assignment in teaching the gospel there….When Elder Bennett of the Seventy heard that Sister Wells had left us he said ‘We know that she is anxiously engaged in the work of salvation on the other side of the veil.’  “ 
Another special experience was the attitude and behavior of the Wells family in the wake of the tragedy: They showed concern and forgiveness towards the bus driver that hit the missionaries. No charges were pressed. Sister Johnson asked for prayers for Sister Wells' family as well as the other three sister missionaries, who still have long recoveries due to their injuries.

Sister Johnson’s talk centered on the comfort and strength provided by the Lord to those who suffer such a tragedy, and to those who care about them.

President Bradley Johnson

Words from President Johnson’s talk: “Sister Young has a long recovery. She has had seven surgeries. The ventilator has been taken out…They (the injured sister missionaries) need our prayers….Sister Wells was an incredible missionary. She shared (the gospel) with everyone she knew. Her parents have set an example unlike anything I’ve ever seen…. (The) bus driver ran a stop sign at high speed….The Wells family handled it in an exemplary way…(When they visited Pennsylvania) they thanked the missionaries, and her mother said they had a deep love for the people of Pennsylvania and the kindnesses shown to her. When a missionary dies the whole church mourns. The Harrisburg Stake and (the people of) Hershey have given baskets, loaned cars, money, anything. The mother of Sister Young has been the recipient of all of this love and gifts from the members. She said she has felt the absolute pure love of Christ this week….They reached out to the driver of the bus. He is in our thoughts and prayers, and may he feel the succor and relief of Jesus Christ. Brother Wells requested no charges or prosecution for him. The driver allowed President and Sister Johnson to come and talk to him. He and his wife were moved. He was staring at life in prison for manslaughter, but that was not going to happen. All the families are examples of forgiveness. Elder Bednar spoke at the funeral to the eleven year old sister of Sister Wells. How could a tragedy like this happen to Sister Wells – who is doing everything right and serving (the Lord)? Elder Bednar said “I don’t know, but I know that God knows. She was taken where the Lord needed her and she is indeed doing missionary work on the other side of the veil.” President Johnson has felt more power these last two weeks than at any other time of his life. President Johnson prayed that all would remember what membership in this church has meant to each of us.    

President Erich Peterson

 In the early sections of the Doctrine & Covenants the Lord spoke to early saints who had desires to do missionary work.  Although they did not have all the tools and knowledge to share the gospel, (the Book of Mormon had not been published yet), they knew the heavens had opened, they knew that the gospel was coming forth, and that God had a called a prophet to open this last dispensation.  We too can have desires to share the gospel, whether we feel we know how to do it or not.  But what does help each of us gain a greater desire to share the gospel?  Do we begin to feel guilt every time we hear a talk or lesson on member missionary work?  Perhaps the reason why we feel this way is that sometimes we are asked to do things that we do not know how to do.  When we are told WHAT to do, without being told HOW to do it, this can unintentionally create a feeling of guilt rather than motivation. However, if our WHAT to do is combined with a HOW to do it, then a feeling of “I can do it” starts to emerge.  In my experience, when you get a group of latter-day saints who know HOW to do something and they are asked to do it, look out, because it’s going to get done, which is why we are known for being able to put up and take down chairs and tables faster than anyone else (we know how to do it).
I remember before my mission, I wanted to share a Book of Mormon with a friend, to share the gospel, or to invite someone to hear the missionary discussions, but I did not know how to do it. I was stuck.  I recall how excited I was on my mission to have finally learned how to do these things.
So, to the wonderful and faithful members of our stake, if you have desires to share the gospel, your ward mission leaders and full-time missionaries have been equipped and trained to share four member missionary lessons with you in your home that explain HOW to do member missionary work.  They are outlined as follows: 1. How Everyone Can Participate In Some Form of Missionary Work.  2. How to Identify Someone Whom the Lord Has Prepared in Your Life to Hear the Gospel.  3. How to Extend an Invitation, and What to Invite Someone To.  4. How the Book of Mormon is the Keystone to Conversion, and  How To Share It With Someone. In short, if you have desires to share the gospel and do not feel you know HOW to do it, we can help get you there. I close with two scriptures with great promises and perspective.  The first is found in D&C 84:80&88 “And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint . . . and whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face.  I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”  The second is in Jacob 5:71-72 “And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them (his servants, which are all of us): Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might.  For behold, this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.
I testify that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel - and those laws and ordinances are found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By sharing the gospel, we make available to others the full measure of what Christ has done. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

President George Cavalier

What it means to me - taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ

As a 19 year old young man, "my missionaries", Elders John Close and Greg
 Nissen, taught me to study from the scriptures daily, to apply those eternal principles and teachings into my life as if they were written directly to me, and to always “liken the scriptures unto myself.” Since those days, I have tried to apply those inspired principles into my life.

I have enjoyed learning, in my daily studies, of Christ’s teachings to his apostles, to the scribes, sadducee's and pharisees, to the ancient
 Nephites, to the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, as well as to other people striving to live a Christ-centered life. I realized that I have great sympathy for the eleven remaining apostles immediately following the death of the Savior of the world.

The shortness of time the apostles had to be with the Savior, to learn from him, and carry on after his pending death, was supposed to be long enough for them according to the Lord. But, of course, to them he hadn’t been with them nearly long enough. Three years isn’t long to call an entire Quorum of Twelve Apostles from a handful of new converts, purge from them the error of old ways, teach them the wonders of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then leave them to carry on the work until they too were killed.

Christ had taught them about his upcoming death, but his disciples would not or could not comprehend such a wrenching thought (Mark 9:31-32). Following Christ's atonement crucifixion and resurrection, his disciples were looking for an answer from the senior apostle Paul, as to what they should do next since their Master Teacher was now gone. Paul too was concerned himself, and thought they should go back to their former lives, rejoicing at what they had been privileged to experience in the previous 3 years with Jesus Christ.

However, their experience with their former lives as fishermen was similar to their first experience just 3 years earlier... not a single fish was brought in! As morning approached, a "stranger" called out to them asking, "Children, have you caught anything?" Once they answered they had taken nothing in, the stranger told them, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship and ye shall find." After they followed the stranger's instructions, "They were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes." With these few words, a flood of recognition was brought to their minds and hearts... the apostle John stated the obvious, "It is the Lord!" and over the side of the ship went the irrepressible Peter.

After a joyous reunion with the resurrected Jesus, Peter and the Savior had a very poignant conversation which changed Peter's life as a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ and more importantly changed him personally. Jesus Christ asked him 3 times, "Peter, do you love me?" Peter answered the Lord, "Yea, Lord thou
 knowest that I love thee." (See John 21:15-17). 

I used a personal (and non-scriptural) interpretation of what possibly transpired of that conversation between Peter and Jesus Christ and it possibly went something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish?
What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”

To all the apostles; he might well have said something like: “Were you all as foolhardy as the scribes and pharisees? As Herod and Pilate? Did you, like they, think that this work could be killed simply by killing me? Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all, and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?”

I am not certain just what our experience will be on judgment day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask each one of us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” (See Luke 10:27; see also Matthew 22:37–38), and if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said in John 14:15. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before. The crucifixion, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ mark the beginning of a Christian life, not the end of it.

Please remember, the call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand.

I include in that call to fixed faithfulness, every returned missionary or anyone who has ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well.

Finally, whether it is in the lives of the original apostles, in our own lives, or in the lives of our full-time missionaries like Sisters Douglas, Faamaile, Young, and especially our dear Sister Sadie Wells, for every one of us, I answer with my heart and my soul, “Yea, Lord, we do love thee,” and having set our “Hand to the plow,” We will never look back until this work is finished and love of God and neighbor rules the world. This is what I know it means to me to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and testify of it, in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

Gabrielle Hollander

Keeping the Sabbath Day is an incredible blessing! It brings us closer to our Father in Heaven and strengthens our testimony! Every time we commit one day to the Lord, we are getting stronger and stronger against Satan and his followers. Please remember that keeping the Sabbath Day holy will keep you unspotted from the world. Being "Unspotted from the world" is an invitation and a promised blessing, and as we avoid worldly distractions on the Sabbath Day, we are blessed with protection from obsession with worldly things."  

Sister Jill Allison

I am blessed to speak at stake conference about how my life has been blessed by temple baptisms. I am a convert to the church since 2008, the only one of my family.  ...Learning of the restored gospel has been the greatest blessing I have ever known… it was when I learned that our families are eternal, that we can be together forever, that my mind was inspired to have faith to believe in the gospel.
In 2000, I lost my father. I lost all hope. Years of sadness consumed my life. I had lost all faith in everything. I was almost inconsolable. Prior to his death, I often found myself in a different church every week out of pure curiosity. I always wanted to know more. I loved to hear of this Savior of my sins, and how I should accept him into my heart, but I never fully understood and accepted it. When tragedy struck, I took all of those experiences and refused to acknowledge them. I didn't have an eternal perspective. Nothing could shield me or comfort me. I could find no meaning or purpose. Years passed and I started to question the meaning of my life. Then in 2008, after being found through elders knocking on my door, I finally had found the truth and comfort I sought as a child. I had found my meaning and eternal perspective. I learned of the glorious temples wherein we strengthen our testimonies and love of God, and how we can extend that invitation to all of God's children - that those who did not have the chance to receive it could have the opportunity, and that was the least that I could do for my father, having the hope to see him again. A dear friend of mine, Jamie, took my father’s name to the temple, where he could have his chance to accept the gospel. The man who was baptized for my father was like a father to me, reminding me that we all are part of an eternal family of our Heavenly Father. Then my dearest friend James continued his work in the temple. One day we were being reminiscent of it and he told me that beyond this small existence, we will be able to see those whom we have performed temple work for. He can't wait to one day meet my father on the other side, where we will be joined together again. It gives me the sweetest comfort to know and believe that we are all connected in purpose through the purest love that there is.
I have also been blessed to be a part of this work for others, giving another person what has been given to me. Last week I was in Manhattan for my dear friend Noël Peterson’s wedding. Before the ceremony, I had the opportunity to join in a baptismal session at 7:00 a.m. We were arriving in NYC at 6:30 a.m., so I knew time was not on my side. As my friend Alec and I hastened to get to the Manhattan temple, we were quite late; I feared we had missed it. The rush of the city, as well as my worry, disappeared when we entered into the House of the Lord. I have learned that anytime I walk into a temple, it feels like home, and I am at peace. To my astonishment, being almost an hour late, I was able to be a part of confirmations and be baptized by proxy for several of those who had not had the opportunity. I remember often thinking about how long I had lived without the gospel, roughly 19 years, thinking, wow, that is so long! And now I think, when being baptized for a sister in particular, how long did she wait to receive these glad tidings of great joy? Those 19 years were but a small moment in the scheme of eternity. When I go down into the water, I always say in my mind, "This is for you." Those experiences I have in the temple bring me so close to our Heavenly Father that I never want to leave. The love that I feel when I am at the temple is perfect and unconditional.
Next is addressing the What, Who, When, Why, Where and How of temple baptisms. …What do we need to do to partake of this great work? It all starts with family history  - searching names, finding records, and indexing. But it is so much more than that. It is finding connections to not only your family, but helping others find theirs. ..Who? We are the sons and daughters of God - and we must do this for our brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to help bring them back into the fold of God. … When? The time is now. Elder Bednar tells us: "With the technology capability that you have, you were prepared for this day. The time is now. I don't know of a greater blessing than ultimately realizing that God trusts us and depends on us to do His work." Where? Why the temple, of course! The next question is Why? Because we cannot be perfected without them. In Doctrine and Covenants 128, we read about baptism for the dead: "For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fullness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place."
Sister Allison concluded with her heartfelt testimony.

Sister Lorraine Swift

Words from Sister Lorraine Swift on personal revelation: “Hold your soul very still and listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit…” Our Father in Heaven sees such good in each of us and in the temple we can see ourselves as we really are. The pure in heart who go into the temple of God….the individual….must have a strong desire in order for the Lord’s will to be revealed unto him. We can take our deepest burdens to the temple and expect to come away lighter because he has helped our burdens. I take myself out of this world of fashion, frenzy, and occasional phoniness to go to a place where all are alike – there are not clocks – each of us has earned the right to personal revelation. Little by little the Lord reveals his will to us, and we reveal our lives to him until we give our whole lives to him. Jeremiah 29: 13And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

President Stephen Swift

We hope you feel welcome at the temple. You have a long way to go – challenges are put in your way. We hope you feel comforted when you come. We hope you know that the temple prepares for you - all the workers. It is wonderful to receive you in the temple. The Lord’s holiness permeates every room and ordinance. The temple is referred to as “The most glorious of all subjects”. In section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 9, which is just after the Kirtland Temple was dedicated in the year 1836, it reads  “Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house.”  We now have 148 temples!
President Swift has a special connection with the Los Angeles Temple – it is the first place he felt the spirit, while doing baptisms. The other source of his spiritual experiences was the Sabbath Day. He remembers his mother faithfully getting him and his siblings to church. The Sabbath and the temple allow us to remove ourselves in significant ways from our daily chores.      

President Erich Peterson

Sunday Morning Session – The things we have spoken about and have learned from fellow members of our stake will help increase our faith and the faith of others. We live in the latter days, and are witnessing the winding up scenes in preparation of our Lord’s coming. While there has never been a time in which we have more tools to help us learn and live the gospel, it is also a time in which we are witnessing many things that can bring hardship and sorrow.  Some things we are able to control in our lives, while others we cannot, whether they be external or internal circumstances. We may not be able to control bad weather, the loss of a loved one, the overall economy, a lost job, or someone who has done something or said something unfavorable to us. Research has shown that there are primary emotions that each of us feel that can suddenly come upon us, that we cannot initially help: Feelings such as being hurt, being surprised, feeling frustrated, confused, or embarrassed. There are situations that are presented to us that can create these initial feelings whether we want them or not. However, the same research shows that what we do with these primary emotions can be within our control. One example is the feeling of anger, a feeling that is the potential choice that comes from the primary feeling of being embarrassed, hurt, frustrated, or confused.  In the world we live in today, one could easily see that there are situations that cause all these primary emotions, which leaves us to decide how we will respond.  In Nephi chapter one, we read that Nephi, upon learning from his father that the Lord has commanded their family to leave Jerusalem and travel into the wilderness, is faced with an important decision: Do I follow the counsel of my Father? Or do I follow the example of my older brothers who do not believe the words of my Father? Nephi writes “And it came to pass that I Nephi, . . . having great desires to know of the mysterious of God . . . I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.”  A great decision of prayer proved to be a turning point in Nephi’s life, which was caused by the Lord “softening the heart” of Nephi to believe.

As we live in a time in which it has been prophesied that the hearts of men would wax cold, we, more than ever, will need to keep a “softened heart” to navigate successfully as a disciple of Christ. A soft heart allows clarity of thought, seeing things as they really are, a clearer path to a solution, and the ability to feel the love of the Lord. A softer heart allows the ability to gain from an experience; it is a hedge against bitterness which clouds judgement and stops progress in our relationships on earth as well as with our Father in Heaven, which can cause us to turn our back on those things that we once held dear. The soft heart allows one to continue to love even those who may be causing embarrassment. The soft heart allows one to retain the dignity of knowing who he or she really is, and it allows us to take the high road, seeing everything with greater perspective. It hedges against those feelings that Satan would use to slowly pry you and I from our faith, or cause us to justify an act of disobedience.

It’s hard for our hearts to stay soft when they hurt – no one likes to cry or suffer through these feelings.  It’s hard to feel remorse during the repentance process, because no one likes to feel guilty - but remorse is important, because the degree of remorse is the degree of determination to change. 

In a day where we see much contention, we are reminded of the words of Christ when he stated: “There shall be no disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been . . . behold this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”

How can we keep a softened heart? In my experience, when I feel these primary emotions, it’s usually not the best time to think about matters that I’m struggling with. So what I try to do, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, is to temporarily suspend judgement and visualize myself putting them away in an imaginary box. Then later when I know I am in the environment of the spirit (from having read the scriptures, or having been to the temple or church, or while in prayer), then I open up the box and release the challenge. The challenge or problem is no longer dwelling in the environment of doubt, fear, and frustration, but rather is released in an environment of understanding, patience, long suffering, brotherly kindness, diligence, peace, and love unfeigned. I am more ready to see the situation as the Lord sees it, rather than what I initially saw with my limited experience and perspective. The more difficult the situation, the more we need to allow the waves of the spirit to wash over it again and again.

The soft heart is the heart that the Savior describes in the beatitudes along with it’s respective blessings: “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.  And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God. And blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake; For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.”

The soft heart is the humble heart, the teachable heart, the forgiving heart, the patient heart, the broken heart, the contrite heart, a heart that listens, a heart that loves, a heart that swells wide as eternity.

Let us pray for the softening of our hearts, the softening of the hearts of those around us, those who are leaders of nations, those surrounding us who are stirred up to anger, and those who are hearing the gospel. Let us pray for those who doubt, who grieve, who suffer, who are misunderstood - that we may be the peacemakers, and be called the children of God. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.