Monday, October 13, 2014

Fast and Testimony Meeting

Our six kids outside of a Church building.  The sun was bright!


I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Generally, on the first Sunday of each month, members of the congregation are allowed to walk up to the pulpit and briefly express their beliefs and testimonies.  This is called fast and testimony meeting.  

Sometimes for those newly visiting our church, this unique meeting comes as a surprise.  Occasionally, when we bring our friends along to church, we hope no one will say anything that isn't quite doctrinally correct.  Regardless, these meetings can be wonderfully uplifting and spiritually edifying.

Since there are two parts of fast and testimony meeting, I will discuss both. 

FASTING

Members prayerfully fast during this day by going without food or water.  Anyone can fast.  We start and end our fast with a prayer.  Generally, we fast for three meals, starting with dinner on Saturday evening.  We don't fast to lose weight or simply go without food.  We fast for a purpose.   When fasting, we can ask God for additional help, whether it's for spiritual blessings, like gaining a greater witness of the divinity and truthfulness of a principle of the gospel, or we can fast for someone who is ill or otherwise in need of heavenly help. We don't have to wait until fast Sunday to fast.  We can fast anytime and for anything.  Fasting with purpose increases the intensity of our prayerful requests.

God is our Heavenly Father.  He understands our physical capabilities and our needs at all times, including during the fast.  He understands that sometimes we shouldn't fast.  For instance, pregnant and nursing mothers shouldn't fast.  If we need to take medicine, it's okay to drink.  When we have questions about when to fast or for how long, we should use common sense and prayerfully consider it.  Young children, for instance, shouldn't be asked to fast.  But at a certain age, perhaps they can be encouraged to skip a meal. 

Primary or Sunday School teachers should not bring treats on fast Sunday.  Candy, snacks and food items are not the reason we come to church and these can be a distraction anyway.  Occasionally, however, I don't think it's harmful.  Interestingly, our kids have been loaded up with sugar during their primary meetings and we've had to deal with the hyper after-affects, which can be entertaining, too.  

Seriously, though, when we fast we are asked to donate money -- this is in addition to tithe or the tithing we pay (ten percent of our income or our "increase").  This special fast offering, as it is called, goes to help others in need.  These funds are carefully observed so that they are not spent unwisely.  The bishop, a lay (or unpaid) minister, who oversees the congregation can give these funds for those whom he feels need them most.  

It should be noted that the Church encourages all members to be self-reliant and frugal. The president of the Church, President Thomas S. Monson, recently declared, 

"We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt. Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had a supply of food and clothing and were debt-free." (Ensign, Sept 2014.)

Again, these fast offering funds, donated by members around the world, help bless the lives of many others in need.  We should be generous in our donations, knowing that many lives are being blessed,  in particular those who are falling upon hard times.  Giving without a grudge or without expecting something in return, helps bless and edify both the giver and the receiver.

Whenever I may think to withhold my substance, I consider how much the Lord has given me.  Indeed, He has given me everything and He can take everything away, too.  If fact, He provides me with the very breath I breathe.  He sustains my very life!  Therefore, I owe all that I have to Him.  Whatever I can give, I do.  Of course, I also need to take care of my families' needs first, but I can also sacrifice, too.

TESTIMONY MEETING

I recently came across a few talks by leaders in our Church, and I looked up some talks that I remember about testimonies.  These quotations below say much more than I can say about testimonies on my own.  Whether for the longtime member of the Church or for those newly converted to the faith, these statements and teachings below, when followed, allow testimony meetings to be spirit-filled and truly bless all those in attendance, especially the penitent and heartfelt seeker of spiritual comfort. 

Please note that some of the teaching, reproof and advice given below is for those who are already members of the faith.  I believe all Church members would benefit from reading and following this advice, as well as those who are new and/or returning to the faith.

Now, the statements:

Fast and testimony meetings are held once a month, usually the first Sunday. Generally, babies are blessed in that day. After the sacrament, the conducting brother bears a brief testimony. He then invited members to bear brief, heartfelt testimonies of the Savior, His teachings, and the Restoration. Parents and teachers should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it.

Younger children should learn to share their testimonies at home or in primary until they're old enough to bear and appropriate testimony unaided in fast and testimony meeting.

—Elder Russell M. Nelson "Worshiping at Sacrament Meeting," Ensign, Aug 2004

Sometimes in a sacrament meeting talk or testimony, we hear a statement like this: “I know I do not tell my spouse often enough how much I love her. Today I want her, my children, and all of you to know that I love her.”
Such an expression of love may be appropriate. But when I hear a statement like this, I squirm and silently exclaim that the spouse and children should not be hearing this apparently rare and private communication in public at church! Hopefully the children hear love expressed and see love demonstrated between their parents in the regular routine of daily living. If, however, the public statement of love at church is a bit surprising to the spouse or the children, then indeed there is a need to be more diligent and concerned at home.
… The bearing of testimony need not be lengthy or eloquent. And we do not need to wait until the first Sunday of the month to declare our witness of things that are true. Within the walls of our own homes, we can and should bear pure testimony of the divinity and reality of the Father and the Son, of the great plan of happiness, and of the Restoration.
… And our testimonies are proclaimed and lived most powerfully in our own homes. Spouses, parents, and children should strive to overcome any hesitancy, reluctance, or embarrassment about bearing testimony. We should both create and look for opportunities to bear testimony of gospel truths—and live them.
A testimony is what we know to be true in our minds and in our hearts by the witness of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2). As we profess truth rather than admonish, exhort, or simply share interesting experiences, we invite the Holy Ghost to confirm the verity of our words. The power of pure testimony (see Alma 4:19) does not come from sophisticated language or effective presentation; rather, it is the result of revelation conveyed by the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost.
—Elder Bednar, “More Diligent and Concerned at Home,” Oct 2009


Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting won't need to be reminded how to bear testimony, should they feel impressed to do so in the meeting.

They won't give sermons, nor exhortations, nor travel reports, nor try to entertain, as they bear witness.

Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly.

Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language, or to go on at length.

—Pres Henry B Eyring, "Witness for God," Nov 1996


You can read my testimony on my Mormon.org profile page here: http://www.mormon.org/me/2GXB/JeffreyDenning


If you'd like to learn more about the Church, I invite you to watch Meet the Mormons, the movie.  You can also talk to a neighbor or friend who's a member of the faith, or speak with the full-time missionaries. Two other good references for learning more are the Church's official websites: Mormon.org and LDS.org.

#MormonMeansMoreGood
#MeetTheMormons
#FastAndTestimonyMeeting

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sanctified Through Suffering

This is from my little sister, Cindy. I wrote and dedicated the book Warrior SOS to her late husband, John Cloninger.

Sanctified through Suffering


January 24, 2014
 
I don’t talk much about the time spent caring for John as his physical health and strength declined over the months leading to his graduation from this life.  Watching the effects the brain tumor had on his body was so difficult. Those times were extremely hard to watch him suffer through, but above all, they were very sacred and sanctifying.
 
We both learned so much about the Savior through John’s suffering.  I learned through priesthood blessings that there is indeed purpose in suffering.  It is a necessary part of our growth and experience in becoming more perfected.  We all desire to be like the Savior and work so hard in our daily efforts to take on his attributes.  Kindness, forgiveness, peace, wisdom, love….but one of the greatest characteristics Christ showed to us in this life, was suffering….something that we never ask for, or try to emulate. I watched John give his will, not give up his will, but truly give his will to whatever the Lord saw fit to inflict upon him.  I watched him selflessly suffer and still want to live to be with his family. 
In one month, (July 2011) John went from being perfectly fine, doing surgery…feeling a little dizzy.  To being in a wheelchair because of severe dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty moving one arm, and numbness in the other.  As the tumor progressed, he had all of those symptoms increased in severity.  He had difficulty swallowing, the room was constantly spinning for him, he had extreme light and noise sensitivity, and was unable to read because of the ‘spinning’. Through all of this, John rarely if ever complained.  I only found out about some of the symptoms as the Doctor asked questions at his visits.   John’s spirit and joy at just being able to be with his family was always present even while he was experiencing hell.   When he couldn’t read anymore, I read aloud to him.  The light was too bright for him so I would open up an umbrella and he would hold it shading the light while I would read.  Hard as the circumstances were, we both loved and cherished this time together.  I would read him the scriptures or from books that he liked.  Over the next several months, I read him at least 5 books.  One that we loved and read a few times (3) was the The Message by Lance Anderson.

In the beginning, I would help John downstairs and then up to bed at the end of the day.  During this time Austin broke his foot.  One treasured time we had together was the two of them lying on couches on opposite sides of the living room watching TV.  Something came on that they didn’t want to watch and John had the remote, but couldn’t focus enough to see to change the channel, so Austin said throw it to me and I’ll change it.  It landed just shy of Austin’s reach and he couldn’t reach it.  I came to the rescue from the kitchen and we all had a good laugh.  We all felt that Austin’s broken foot was a blessing, allowing him more precious time with his Dad.

I was still in the Relief Society as 2nd counselor and had gone to a meeting.  When I returned, John had managed to hold onto the walls and make his way down to the kids room and was laying on the bed with them.  They spent a couple of hours singing primary songs.  He loved that, and talked about how special that time was a lot.  He would say that those moments are what life is about and how much he loves his children.

When it got to hard for John to come down the stairs, we spent a lot of time together upstairs. The kids would take turns going up and having their dinner with him in bed.  We would pray together around the bed and read scriptures together.  I remember hurrying around trying to do the house chores one day and remarking I really didn’t want to.  John just looked at me with love and said, “Then don’t, just come cuddle with me.”  I smiled and layed down beside him and cuddled….such precious times for all of us.  I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
 
When his physical strength declined still further.  It was such a loving, sanctifying, privledge to shave him, bath him, spoon feed him.  At this time he started to become upset about having to leave his family and at other times would get confused and try to get up and go somewhere.  He also wanted to be with me at every second.  It was at a hard time when I was having trouble calming him down that I had the distinct recollection of what I needed to do come into my mind. 

When the kids were babies, I would get up in the night with them and go into their rooms, with the baby monitors still on, I would sing them lulubys. Usually Angel Lullaby from My Turn on Earth, Stay Awake from Mary Poppins, and Baby Mine from Dumbo. Everytime I would return to bed, John would say, “When I’m old and don’t know who I am, will you sing to me? I love hearing your voice, it calms me down.”  I would laugh imaging my half asleep, midnight singing not really bringing comfort to anybody.  But I would tell him that I would…..he asked every time.

I had this memory come to my mind and I knew I should sing to him.  I began singing all of the lullabys that I had sung to our children to him, he would calm down and be so still.  I began singing a lot to him.  I don’t know how the tumor was affecting his ability to understand at times and I know that he could feel my love and have peace return during those times.

John continued to go to church in a wheelchair until he just could not get down the stairs anymore.  After that, every Sunday, a priesthood holder would come to our home after church to bless the sacrament for John.  Austin was a teacher and would pass the sacrament to John. After Austin broke his foot, I was moved to tears every Sunday as the sacrament was blessed in our living room downstairs, and then Austin would hop on one foot while holding the bread tray, over to the stairs and up 13 stairs, down the hallway, into our bedroom give it to his Dad and come back the same way.  Then do it all again with the water. He was dripping large drops of sweat each time. I was very moved by his love and care for giving his Dad this ordinance, and his honor of the priesthood.
 
John’s biggest request and one that I wanted too, was for him to remain in our home and not a care facility.

At one time, John had gotten into a place where he wasn’t sleeping at all, not day, not night, nothing.  To make things worse, at night he was getting confused and trying to get up to go somewhere.  With his severe dizziness, he couldn’t walk only a step or two before stumbling and falling.  I would run to get up and then try to explain to him that he needed to stay here and in bed.  He was confused and wouldn’t really cooperate.  I would struggle with trying to support him as he would get up so he wouldn’t fall and the episodes were lasting a couple of hours a night.  After 3 or 4 nights, I was completely exhausted.  The hospice nurse came out (who had worked as a collegue of John’s and he had asked that she be his nurse, Bonnie Hart)  as well as the hospice Dr (who was a friend and collegue of John’s, and close in age, Dr Hemmersmeier-I need to write a whole other story about him) came out. Down in the living room we were discussing the possibility of if this didn’t resolve that maybe John could go to respite care for a few days and then return, but said nothing to John.  When we went up to check on John he kept trying to get up and go while they were there and then sit.  It went on for about 20mins. Then John sat on the bed and sobbed, “How can I leave my family?  How can I leave my kids? How can I leave my wife?”  My heart ached as I knew he was grieving what he knew he would have to face in death.

I asked him if he wanted to stay with me, he cried and said, “ yes, I never want to leave you.”  I told him, “ok, you can stay with me, and I’ll never make you leave.”  He quieted down and went to sleep.  As the good man that he was, Dr Hemmersmierer had nurses spend the next 3 nights with us 24hrs so I could get a few more hours of sleep. 

Around this same time, Alisa Hardman and Kristina Morley showed up on my door with cleaning supplies in hand and said they had come to clean my bathrooms.  I let them in, was so exhausted that I ended up falling asleep on the couch while they cleaned.  Twice, the ward and Stake RS presidency (Jan Gailey, Lori Preece, Barbara Anderson) came over and cleaned and organized my kitchen and did all of my laundry.  Lynda Pike brought us dinner once a week for an entire year!!  The Morgan Valley Marathon raised money and gave us $900.  The Facebook group, Morgan Moms, took donations at Christmas and gave us $500.  2 years in a row, the bishop gave us an envelope with $500 in it that someone gave him for us.  A girl Jeff went to school with, Hope, did an entire Christmas for us that year.  My mom’s work did a bake sale and gave us $500, they never knew us or met us.  Jeff, my brother, started a non-profit foundation to help us and other vets, Warrior SOS, he taught shooting classes and gave us the money.  He also contacted two different artists (Megan Rieker, and …) that signed and gave us prints of their work. Along with many, many other acts of love, kindness, and charity.
 
I don’t know if I can write about the last few weeks.  When we found out that the cancer was back and there was nothing more they could do, it was mid July.  We have kids birthdays lined up every month starting August (Maegan) through February.  Sept (Caleb), Oct (kiersten), Nov (our anniversary), Dec (Amber), Jan (Austin), and Feb (Eli). Many crazy, emotional thoughts went through my mind.  I thought about how having John die so closed to one of their birthdays might have a negative impact for the rest of their lives.  I said a silent prayer in my heart, “Please, let him make it through all of the kids birthdays one more time.”  I recanted that prayer, many, many times as I watched him suffer.  As winter approached, I prayed in my heart not to let it snow so I wouldn’t have to bury my husband while standing at the cemetery in feet of snow. 

The last weeks were so hard to watch.  The tumor took away the ability for John to close his eyes, they remained open for 3 weeks.  He had lost the ability to move at all and to communicate in any way.  I still talked to him and hugged him.  I remember coming home on Sunday evening after attending New Beginings for Young Women’s with Kiersten,  Austin had just had his Eagle Court of Honor a few days before.   My heart wrenched watching him suffer and I climbed onto the bed near him.  I cradled his head in my arms and pulled him close to heart.  I whispered that it was ok for him to go now, that all of the kids had had their birthdays and there wasn’t anything coming up.  I took a breathe and then said, “I want you to go, I don’t want to see you suffer anymore.”  Even as I said those words, they hurt so bad. I didn’t want to say them, but I knew he had to go and I didn’t want him to suffer anymore. 

John died that night, February 20, 2012.  John died 13 days after the last birthday.  The snow storms that year were mild and would snow a few inches and then melt.  At the funeral, there was no snow on the ground.  The sun came out and warmed us during the dedicatory prayer (I’ll have to tell you the story about that answered prayer and tender mercy).  And then it snowed pretty heavy a day or two later.
 
John died when he was supposed to die, at his appointed time.  Our family was strengthened, upheld, sanctified, unified, and received multitudes of miracles and blessings through this suffering.  We learned of love, service, family, eternity, and of God's infinite love for us.

(story of Austin and date of February 20th) and blessings saying that Heavenly Father knows and it is his plan.

Social Media, Interpersonal Communications, and Differences of Opinion

“We challenge all youth to avoid bullying, insults or language and practices that deliberately inflict pain on others.  All of these violate the Savior’s command to love one another.

“The Savior taught that contention is a tool of the devil. That surely teaches against some of the current language and practices of politics.  Living with policy differences is essential to politics, but policy differences need not involve personal attacks that poison the process of government and punish participants.  All of us should banish hateful communications and practice civility for differences of opinion.”


—Elder Dallin H. Oaks, CR October 2014

Warrior SOS

Check out my Warrior SOS blog, too: http://www.warriorsos.blogspot.com

Especially, the inspired words of my late brother-in-law, for whom I dedicated the book Warrior SOS.

Here's a link to his words: http://www.warriorsos.blogspot.com/2011/05/two-time-iraqi-war-vet-father-of-six.html

Here's a link to buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D3WO7VK

Must We Define the Traditional Family out of Existence?

Yesterday the Supreme Court refused to hear cases out of UT, OK, WI, and two other states regarding same-sex marriage.  I may not be popular, but that is okay. I choose to stand on principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those are the principles that have allowed freedom.  

Regardless if a thing is legally right, it does not make it morally right. 

I rue the deafening of American Christian values and the great earmuffs of apostasy. If we wish to be both free and happy, we must return to our Christian roots and do all in our power to strengthen the family.

In 1980, President Spencer W. Kimball said: 

"Many of the social restraints which in the past have helped to reinforce and to shore up the family are dissolving and disappearing. The time will come when only those who believe deeply and actively in the family will be able to preserve their families in the midst of the gathering evil around us.
“… There are those who would define the family in such a nontraditional way that they would define it out of existence. … 

“We of all people, brothers and sisters, should not be taken in by the specious arguments that the family unit is somehow tied to a particular phase of development a moral society is going through. We are free to resist those moves which downplay the significance of the family and which play up the significance of selfish individualism. We know the family to be eternal. We know that when things go wrong in the family, things go wrong in every other institution in society” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 3–4; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, 4).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Move onward

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it,—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.

 —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Warrior SOS blog link

I'm working on a book titled, Man Down!

Stay tuned....

Also, be sure to check out my Warrior SOS blog.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Happiness

Below is a video from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that he gave to BYU-Idaho students on Sept. 24, 2014 about happiness. Here's a link to an article, highlighting some great points in the talk: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865611629/Elder-Holland-shares-keys-to-happiness-during-BYU-Idaho-devotional.html


Additionally, here is a link to a great article about the science of happiness. It was a recap of Hank Smith's comments at BYU Educational week. Hank Smith is a great instructor. I heard him speak to youth in a meeting earlier in the year.  He was funny and entertaining. More importantly, he is intelligent. His Ph.D. study, as I recall, was on the science of happiness. 





Monday, September 22, 2014

Perfect and Perfection

This is a wonderful article by Elder Gerrit W. Gong, titled "Becoming Perfect in Christ." (Ensign, July 2014, pp. 14-19.)

I recommend reading the entire article, but here are some brief excerpts:

A misunderstanding of what it means to be perfect can result inperfectionism—an attitude or behavior that takes an admirable desire to be good and turns it into an unrealistic expectation to be perfect now.Perfectionism sometimes arises from the feeling that only those who are perfect deserve to be loved or that we do not deserve to be happy unless we are perfect.
Perfectionism can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, procrastination, discouragement, self-justification, and depression. These feelings can crowd out the peace, joy, and assurance our Savior wants us to have.
...
Students beginning a new school year, especially those leaving home for college, face both excitement and concerns. Student scholars, athletes, artists, and so forth go from being a “big fish in a little pond” to feeling like a minnow in an ocean with unfamiliar tides and swift, unpredictable currents. It is easy for students with perfectionist tendencies to feel that, no matter how hard they try, they have failed if they are not first in all things.
Given life’s demands, students can learn that it is sometimes perfectly fine to do all they can and that it is not always possible to be the very best.
We also impose expectations of perfection in our own homes. A father or mother may feel compelled to be the perfect spouse, parent, homemaker, breadwinner, or part of a perfect Latter-day Saint family—now.
What helps those who battle perfectionist tendencies? Open-ended, supportive inquiries communicate acceptance and love. They invite others to focus on the positive. They allow us to define what we feel is going well. Family and friends can avoid competitive comparisons and instead offer sincere encouragement.
Another serious dimension of perfectionism is to hold others to our unrealistic, judgmental, or unforgiving standards. Such behavior may, in fact, deny or limit the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives and in the lives of others. For example, young single adults may make a list of desired qualities in a potential spouse and yet be unable to marry because of unrealistic expectations for the perfect companion.
Thus, a sister may be unwilling to consider dating a wonderful, worthy brother who falls short on her perfectionist scale—he does not dance well, is not planning to be wealthy, did not serve a mission, or admits to a past problem with pornography since resolved through repentance and counseling.
Similarly, a brother may not consider dating a wonderful, worthy sister who doesn’t fit his unrealistic profile—she is not a sports enthusiast, a Relief Society president, a beauty queen, a sophisticated budgeter, or she admits to an earlier, now-resolved weakness with the Word of Wisdom.
Of course, we should consider qualities we desire in ourselves and in a potential spouse. We should maintain our highest hopes and standards. But if we are humble, we will be surprised by goodness in unexpected places, and we may create opportunities to grow closer to someone who, like us, is not perfect.
Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.
Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received.4 In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple.
The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.
For those who may feel chronically burdened or anxious, sincerely ask yourself, “Do I define perfection and success by the doctrines of the Savior’s atoning love or by the world’s standards? Do I measure successor failure by the Holy Ghost confirming my righteous desires or by some worldly standard?”
What excellent questions!

For those who feel physically or emotionally exhausted, start getting regular sleep and rest, and make time to eat and relax. Recognize that being busy is not the same as being worthy, and being worthy does not require perfection.5
For those prone to see their own weaknesses or shortcomings, celebrate with gratitude the things you do well, however large or small.
For those who fear failure and who procrastinate, sometimes by overpreparing, be assured and encouraged that there is no need to withdraw from challenging activities that may bring great growth!
Where needed and appropriate, seek spiritual counsel or competent medical attention to help you relax, develop positive ways to think and structure your life, reduce self-defeating behaviors, and experience and express more gratitude.6
Impatience impedes faith. Faith and patience will help missionaries understand a new language or culture, students to master new subjects, and young single adults to begin building relationships rather than waiting for everything to be perfect. Faith and patience will also help those waiting for temple sealing clearances or restoration of priesthood blessings.
...For those burdened by cares to find perfection or to be perfect now, our Savior’s freely given atoning love assures us:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30).7