Saturday, December 22, 2012

TFOT - Consider the Blessings - Thomas S. Monson

Consider the Blessings - Thomas S. Monson

**A note**
I've struggled considerably in the past few weeks to get this lesson together - I just haven't had the clarity and inspiration that I have in other months.  It wasn't until this week when after reading a few other blogs with reviews of this talk, that I feel like I'm on the right path.  Thanks to my family and friends for helping me open my eyes to all the little blessings I've overlooked.

adversity
ad·ver·si·ty
[ ad vúrssətee ]

ad·ver·si·tiesPlural
NOUN 
1. 
misfortune: hardship and suffering
2. 
adverse happening: an extremely unfavorable experience or event

The way we use adversity is strictly our own choice,
For in God's hands, adversity can make the heart rejoice.
For everything God sends to us, no matter in what form,
Is sent with plan and purpose; for by the fierceness of a storm,
the atmosphere is changed and cleared, and the earth is washed and clean,
and the high winds of adversity can make restless souls serene.

And while it's very difficult for mankind to understand
God's intentions and His purpose and the workings of His hand,
If we observe the miracles that happen every day,
we cannot help but be convinced that in His wondrous way
God makes what seemed unbearable and painful and distressing
easily acceptable when we view it as a blessing.  ~ Helen Steiner Rice
President Monson opened his talk with the following:

"Much has changed since October 4, 1963, the day I was sustained - 49 years ago. We live in a unique time in the world’s history. We are blessed with so very much. And yet it is sometimes difficult to view the problems and permissiveness around us and not become discouraged. I have found that, rather than dwelling on the negative, if we will take a step back and consider the blessings in our lives, including seemingly small, sometimes overlooked blessings, we can find greater happiness."
President Monson does not brush away the difficulties that come with time; he acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to keep from getting discouraged.  What he shares with us is what he’s found helps him to find greater happiness.  I notice that he recommends instead of dwelling on the negatives around us (society in decline, moral standards dropping, etc..), we consider the blessings in our lives.  I don’t think this is about burying our heads in the sand, but rather choosing our focus.  Certainly what we choose to focus on is going to make a difference.  And while we don’t have control over the whole of society (as others retain their agency), we do retain control over our own lives and our own focus.

I also notice that he recommends that we also consider “seemingly small, sometimes overlooked blessings” in order to find greater happiness.  I think this is very wise.  So many times I expect my happiness to come from big dramatic events and I forget to notice the little triumphs and blessings, like simple satisfaction from a job well done, finding exactly what I need at the store when I really need it, small prayer requests answered, determination renewed from the encouragement of good people, and so much more. 

Remembering all those seemingly small blessings is no small feat and there is no way that he could have remembered what happened over the course of the past 49 years with any extra detail unless he had been carefully and consistently writing in his journal.  (What a great reminder of the importance of our keeping our own journals as a record!   
"One is that countless experiences I have had were not necessarily those one would consider extraordinary. In fact, at the time they transpired, they often seemed unremarkable and even ordinary. And yet, in retrospect, they enriched and blessed lives—not the least of which was my own."
If we stop to think about things, you'll realize that each of us have seen this in their own life - while in the midst of whatever we're going through it is hard to see blessings or details in a light other than with the attitude and perspective we have at the time, but after some time has passed - we see it with more experienced eyes and realize our growth, success, learning, or blessing.  It is in these moments that we would do well to record our own thoughts and inspiration surrounding these little moments.  It is by a constant recording of these that we can take stock of our own life.
"Reinforced constantly during my own review of the years has been my knowledge that our prayers are heard and answered. We are familiar with the truth found in 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon: “Men are, that they might have joy.” I testify that much of that joy comes as we recognize that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father through prayer and that those prayers will be heard and answered—perhaps not how and when we expected they would be answered, but they will be answered and by a Heavenly Father who knows and loves us perfectly and who desires our happiness. Hasn’t He promised us, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers”? 
   We hear the counsel all the time to be prayerful - and I think sometimes we're even immune to it because we do hear it so often.  We're reminded in D&C 10:5:
Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.
We're reminded to pray often and always to help us develop a relationship with our Heavenly Father - because when we are prayerful we are humble minded and teachable - it is in these moments that we can recognize those blessings that we previously thought a burden or curse.

We'll split our Relief society into groups (depending on the number of sisters attending) and each group will receive one of the following 5 stories and be tasked to answer the following:

1.  What was it about this experience that blessed President Monson’s life?
2.  What about this experience blessed the the others in the story?
3.  What other bits of counsel did they notice?

(some portions of these notes came from thoughts shared by Michaela Stephens)
Story #1

     In early 1965, I was assigned to attend stake conferences and to hold other meetings throughout the South Pacific area. This was my first visit to that part of the world, and it was a time never to be forgotten. Much that was spiritual in nature occurred during this assignment as I met with leaders, members, and missionaries.
     On the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, February 20 and 21, we were in Brisbane, Australia, to hold regular conference sessions of the Brisbane Stake. During meetings on Saturday, I was introduced to the district president from an adjoining area. As I shook his hand, I had a strong impression that I needed to speak with him and to provide counsel, and so I asked him if he would accompany me to the Sunday morning session the following day so that this could be accomplished.
     Following the Sunday session, we had an opportunity to visit together. We talked of his many responsibilities as district president. As we did so, I felt impressed to offer him specific suggestions concerning missionary work and how he and his members could help the full-time missionaries in their labors in his area. I later learned that this man had been praying for guidance in this regard. To him our visit was a special witness that his prayers were heard and answered. This was a seemingly unremarkable meeting but one which I am convinced was guided by the Spirit and which made a difference in that district president’s life and administration, in the lives of his members, and in the success of the missionaries there.
     My brothers and sisters, the Lord’s purposes are often accomplished as we pay heed to the guidance of the Spirit. I believe that the more we act upon the inspiration and impressions which come to us, the more the Lord will entrust to us His errands.

So what was it about this experience that blessed President Monson’s life?
·      He felt satisfied he had acted on the impressions he got.
·      He felt satisfied he helped someone with his problems and questions without knowing he was doing so.
·      He knew had been led by the Spirit.  (It’s a wonderful thing to feel useful to the Lord.)

What about this experience blessed the life of the district president who received the counsel?
·      He saw that the Lord answered his prayers.
·      He received personal time with an apostle (!), who expressed interest in him and wanted to have a conversation about how he was doing with his responsibilities.
·      He got the direction he needed, with specific suggestions.

I have to wonder if President Monson’s meeting with the district president was going the extra mile, since the man was from an adjoining area.  Does that mean the district president was trying to get a double dose?  Would his district have gotten a visit from President Monson anyway?  I don’t know. 

President Monson tells us that his meeting with the district president was “seemingly unremarkable,” probably in the context of all the other meetings and interviews that he did.  There were manyspiritual experiences throughout that trip, and all of it good.  The extra blessing from it, however, seems to be that President Monson later learned how he had made a difference for the district president.  Somehow the district president got a message to President Monson about how his prayers had been answered by President Monson’s suggestions. 

I have to point out here that I noticed that in all of the stories President Monson shares in this talk, besides the commonality of focusing on how prayers are answered, they all have something that shows President Monson later learned the rest of the story.  The significance of his experience did not present it self immediately; he had to learn about it later.  It wasn’t immediately obvious how he was being of service as he was following a prompting from the Spirit.  He really had to have faith. 

When I noticed this, I also thought to myself, “But President Monson has all these people who want to tell him the story of how what he did really made a difference in their lives!  He’s special because he’s a prophet!  But then I thought, “Wait a second; this is something we should be doing for each other too!”  I realized that when someone in my ward shares a message that perfectly meets my spiritual needs, I need to tell them about it.  And when someone in my ward serves me in a way that profoundly blesses my life, I need to make sure they know how much I appreciate it.  We bless each other without knowing that we are doing it because the Spirit leads us, but it is learning how we have helped that makes our service a double blessing to us. 

President Monson points out how if we act more on the inspiration we receive, the Lord will entrust us with more errands.  This is something I have to work on because I tend to be somewhat impulsive, and I have had some spiritual things I’ve tried to do on impulse blow up in my face (i.e. offend people).  That’s made me cautious.  But I trust that I will learn.

Story #2

     I have learned, as I have mentioned in previous messages, never to postpone a prompting. On one occasion many years ago, I was swimming laps at the old Deseret Gym in Salt Lake City when I felt the inspiration to go to the University Hospital to visit a good friend of mine who had lost the use of his lower limbs because of a malignancy and the surgery which followed. I immediately left the pool, dressed, and was soon on my way to see this good man.
     When I arrived at his room, I found that it was empty. Upon inquiry I learned I would probably find him in the swimming pool area of the hospital, an area which was used for physical therapy. Such turned out to be the case. He had guided himself there in his wheelchair and was the only occupant of the room. He was on the far side of the pool, near the deep end. I called to him, and he maneuvered his wheelchair over to greet me. We had an enjoyable visit, and I accompanied him back to his hospital room, where I gave him a blessing.
     I learned later from my friend that he had been utterly despondent that day and had been contemplating taking his own life. He had prayed for relief but began to feel that his prayers had gone unanswered. He went to the pool with the thought that this would be a way to end his misery—by guiding his wheelchair into the deep end of the pool. I had arrived at a critical moment, in response to what I know was inspiration from on high.
     My friend was able to live many more years—years filled with happiness and gratitude. How pleased I am to have been an instrument in the Lord’s hands on that critical day at the swimming pool.

How did this experience bless President Monson?
·      He had a good conversation with his friend and was able to use his priesthood.
·      He learned there was a reason behind the inspiration he received to visit his friend in the hospital.
·      He was able to be an answer to his friend’s prayer.
·      He learned that he was able to save his friend’s life just by visiting.

How did this experience bless President Monson’s friend?
·      He got to see that the Lord heard his prayer and knew of his desperation even if an answer didn’t appear in the next instant or even the next five minutes.
·      He learned President Monson cared for him enough to make an unscheduled visit.
·      His hope for his life was renewed.

I find it interesting that President Monson was in the middle of swimming (exercise) when this prompting came.  He could have said to himself that he would do it when he was done with his swim, but instead, he acted immediately.

It is neat that President Monson didn’t give up when he found his friend’s room empty.  He inquired after him and tracked him down.  That tells you how much faith he put in the inspiration he received that it was important to find his friend.  President Monson had no idea at the time that his friend’s life was at stake, and his friend didn’t say anything at the time to indicate his despondency.  If this friend hadn’t ever said anything afterward, this visit would have seemed ordinary, except for the inspiration for the visit.  It was learning the backstory later that made this experience special.

This story is very difficult for me for several reasons.  First, I have mentioned troubles with impulsiveness.  Sometimes I have troubles finishing things because I get ideas of something else to do instead.  I have to work hard to finish what I start.  So, I worry that I might feel obligated to interrupt myself all the time, while thinking that if I don’t do what my impulse is, it might lead to someone committing suicide!  Perhaps that sounds absurd, but somehow that’s what I worry about. 

I suppose the story highlights for us the importance of learning to recognize the voice of the Spirit.  This is something that I feel I need to work on; I have a hard time telling whether it is the Spirit speaking to me or whether it is just me.  I suppose it is the kind of thing that has to be learned (and relearned) by experience.
Another thing I notice from this story is that President Monson seems to do a lot of visiting people.  Visits are part of his modus operandi and go clear back to when he visited those 80+ widows when he was a bishop.  I’m glad I do visiting teaching, but something tells me there is a certain power in personal unscheduled visits that we forget in our fast-paced world.  I can think of two times when I made unscheduled visits to some people and discovered that I had been inspired.

Story #3
     On another occasion, as Sister Monson and I were driving home after visiting friends, I felt impressed that we should go into town—a drive of many miles—to pay a visit to an elderly widow who had once lived in our ward. Her name was Zella Thomas. At the time, she was a resident in a care center. That early afternoon we found her to be extremely frail but lying peacefully on her bed.
      Zella had long been blind, but she recognized our voices immediately. She asked if I might give her a blessing, adding that she was prepared to die if the Lord wanted her to return home. There was a sweet, peaceful spirit in the room, and all of us knew that her remaining time in mortality would be brief. Zella took me by the hand and said that she had prayed fervently that I would come to see her and provide her a blessing. I told her that we had come because of direct inspiration from our Heavenly Father. I kissed her on the forehead, knowing that I perhaps would not again see her in mortality. Such proved to be the case, for she passed away the following day. To have been able to provide some comfort and peace to our sweet Zella was a blessing to her and to me.

How was this experience a blessing to President Monson?
·      It was a chance to use the priesthood.
·      It was satisfying to find out he had been an answer to prayer.
·      It was probably satisfying to find out that he had been the one that she prayed to see.
·      It was satisfying to find out he visited Zella at a good time, since she died the next day.

How was this experience a blessing to Zella Thomas?
·      She got to see her prayers answered—the Lord knew who she wanted to see and brought him to her.
·      She obtained a priesthood blessing as she wanted.

Here’s another case of an unscheduled visit and not one that was convenient; he had to drive many miles to do it.  It is also a case of visiting an elderly widow, something he had done before, so while visiting widows might be an uncommon practice for us, President Monson, if he had chosen, could have called it unremarkable.  Once again, it seems that learning that Zella had specifically prayed for him to come elevated what could have been an ordinary ministering visit into something much more dear to President Monson.
Story #4
     The opportunity to be a blessing in the life of another often comes unexpectedly. On one extremely cold Saturday night during the winter of 1983–84, Sister Monson and I drove several miles to the mountain valley of Midway, Utah, where we have a home. The temperature that night was minus 24 degrees Fahrenheit (–31°C), and we wanted to make certain all was well at our home there. We checked and found that it was fine, so we left to return to Salt Lake City. We barely made it the few miles to the highway before our car stopped working. We were completely stranded. I have seldom, if ever, been as cold as we were that night.
     Reluctantly we began walking toward the nearest town, the cars whizzing past us. Finally one car stopped, and a young man offered to help. We eventually found that the diesel fuel in our gas tank had thickened because of the cold, making it impossible for us to drive the car. This kind young man drove us back to our Midway home. I attempted to reimburse him for his services, but he graciously declined. He indicated that he was a Boy Scout and wanted to do a good turn. I identified myself to him, and he expressed his appreciation for the privilege to be of help. Assuming that he was about missionary age, I asked him if he had plans to serve a mission. He indicated he was not certain just what he wanted to do.
On the following Monday morning, I wrote a letter to this young man and thanked him for his kindness. In the letter I encouraged him to serve a full-time mission. I enclosed a copy of one of my books and underscored the chapters on missionary service.
     About a week later the young man’s mother telephoned and advised that her son was an outstanding young man but that because of certain influences in his life, his long-held desire to serve a mission had diminished. She indicated she and his father had fasted and prayed that his heart would be changed.They had placed his name on the prayer roll of the Provo Utah Temple. They hoped that somehow, in some way, his heart would be touched for good and he would return to his desire to fill a mission and to serve the Lord faithfully. The mother wanted me to know that she looked upon the events of that cold evening as an answer to their prayers in his behalf. I said, “I agree with you.”
      After several months and more communication with this young man, Sister Monson and I were overjoyed to attend his missionary farewell prior to his departure for the Canada Vancouver Mission.
Was it chance that our paths crossed on that cold December night? I do not for one moment believe so. Rather, I believe our meeting was an answer to a mother’s and father’s heartfelt prayers for the son they cherished.
      Again, my brothers and sisters, our Heavenly Father is aware of our needs and will help us as we call upon Him for assistance. I believe that no concern of ours is too small or insignificant. The Lord is in the details of our lives.

How was President Monson blessed by this experience?
·      He received help on a very cold night.
·      He got a chance to use his influence for good to persuade a young man to go on a mission.
·      He got to find out how events had been orchestrated to bring about his meeting with the young man.
·      He got to find out why his efforts to reach out to the young man were an answer to prayer and fasting.

How was the young man blessed by this experience?
·      He got an opportunity to do a good turn (and for an apostle!)
·      He got to visit with an apostle and discuss the direction of his life.
·      He got to have multiple interactions with Thomas S. Monson.
·      Ultimately his desire to go on a mission was strengthened and bore fruit.

This certainly identifies how fundamentally good the young man was, if that explanation rose to the top of his mind when offered reimbursement.  President Monson is checking out how the young man is doing in a manner appropriate to his age.  This is how cares for his stewardship and fulfills his responsibility to bring others to Christ and to strengthen his brethren. 

The case of this young man must have preyed upon President Monson’s mind afterwards.  Most people would have left matters where they stood, but President Monson seems have gone to some trouble to find out the young man’s address, and he followed up with a letter of gratitude, encouragement to serve a mission, and the gift of a book with specific counsel for the young man underlined in it.

It is neat that the interaction continued between President Monson and the young man.  He builds it into a relationship instead of something disposable.  How many of us, if we had been stuck on the highway like President Monson was, would have continued to connect with a person who helped us?  How many of us would have sent thank you letters or would have continued to connect?  This makes me think about how I choose who I will form lasting relationships with.  It shows me that maybe I am rather selfish, choosing to cultivate relationships that I expect to gain from, rather than just cultivating relationships because a person is a child of God. 

When you think of all the conditions that had to line up for that meeting to take place between that young man and President Monson, you get an idea of how involved the Lord can be in the details of our lives.  Consider the factors that the Lord would need to take into account:
1.     President Monson’s diesel car and the distance it would be able to drive before the gas would thicken and starve the engine.
2.     How cold it would have to be and for how long before the diesel gas would thicken.
3.     Getting President Monson to the right place.
4.     Getting the young man on that highway going in the right direction at the right time.

We understand what got President Monson out there; he and his wife were concerned about their Midway house and whether it was okay.  (I’ve heard stories of mountain cabins whose pipes burst and flood during exceptionally cold weather, so maybe this was on their minds.)  What we don’t know was what brought that young man out on the road at that time.

When we examine our lives, I’m sure we can find all kinds of experiences like this where circumstances just lined up perfectly to bring about a tender mercy and when we think about all the factors that had to be taken into account to make it happen, it boggles our minds.  That is when we know that the Lord has been at work in the details of our lives.  And the amazing thing is that when He is setting it all up, we have no idea.

Probably when President Monson and his wife were starting that frigid walk to the nearest town he never realized that unpleasant experience was an integral part of a blessing the Lord was about to bestow on another person.  This makes me think that there may be times when uncomfortable things I experience may be part of the Lord’s plan to bless some of His other children.  If I could only remember that the next time I have one, I might be able to bear it more patiently..
Story #5
     I should like to conclude by relating one recent experience which had an impact on hundreds. It occurred at the cultural celebration for the Kansas City Temple, just five months ago. As with so much that happens in our lives, at the time it seemed to be just another experience where everything worked out. However, as I learned of the circumstances associated with the cultural celebration the evening before the temple was dedicated, I realized that the performance that night was not ordinary. Rather, it was quite remarkable.
     As with all cultural events held in conjunction with temple dedications, the youth in the Kansas City Missouri Temple District had rehearsed the performance in separate groups in their own areas. The plan was that they would meet all together in the large rented municipal center on the Saturday morning of the performance so that they could learn when and where to enter, where they were to stand, how much space should be between them and the person next to them, how to exit the main floor, and so forth—many details which they would have to grasp during the day as those in charge put the various scenes together so that the final performance would be polished and professional.
     There was just one major problem that day. The entire production was dependent on prerecorded segments that would be shown on the large screen known as a Jumbotron. These recorded segments were critical to the entire production. They not only tied it all together, but each televised segment would introduce the next performance. The video segments provided the framework on which the entire production depended. And the Jumbotron was not working.
     Technicians worked frantically to solve the problem while the youth waited, hundreds of them, losing precious rehearsal time. The situation began to look impossible.
     The writer and director of the celebration, Susan Cooper, later explained: “As we moved from plan A to B to Z, we knew that it wasn’t working. … As we were looking at the schedule, we knew that it was going to be beyond us, but we knew that we had one of the greatest strengths on the floor below—3,000 youth. We needed to go down and tell [them] what was happening and draw upon their faith.”
     Just an hour before the audience would begin to enter the center, 3,000 youth knelt on the floor and prayed together. They prayed that those working on the Jumbotron would be inspired to know what to do to repair it; they asked their Heavenly Father to make up for what they themselves could not do because of the shortage of time.
     Said one who wrote about it afterward, “It was a prayer the youth will never forget, not because the floor was hard, but because the Spirit melted their bones.”
     It was not long before one of the technicians came to tell them that the problem had been discovered and corrected. He attributed the solution to luck, but all those youth knew better.
     When we entered the municipal center that evening, we had no idea of the difficulties of the day. Only later did we learn of them. What we witnessed, however, was a beautiful, polished performance—one of the best I have seen. The youth radiated a glorious, powerful spirit which was felt by all who were present. They seemed to know just where to enter, where to stand, and how to interact with all the other performers around them. When I learned that their rehearsals had been cut short and that many of the numbers had not been rehearsed by the entire group, I was astonished. No one would have known. The Lord had indeed made up the difference.
      I never cease to be amazed by how the Lord can motivate and direct the length and breadth of His kingdom and yet have time to provide inspiration concerning one individual—or one cultural celebration or one Jumbotron. The fact that He can, that He does, is a testimony to me.

President Monson goes to cultural celebrations every time there is a temple dedication, so it would be easy for him to think of the event as unremarkable.  Yet you always hear him mention them in conference and speak of how well done they are.  This shows he works hard to not take for granted the wonderful experiences he has.  Learning of the circumstances behind the excellent performance, however, made the Kansas City cultural celebration into an extra blessing.

This is an interesting story too because it is one in which President Monson wasn’t directly involved.  However, you might say that his impending visit was a motivating factor and all the participants wanted to present an excellent performance for him.

I loved this statement of Susan Cooper’s that President Monson shares because it exemplifies a number of excellent virtues.  She moved from plan A to B to Z--showing resourcefulness and creativity and hard work.  Taking into account the schedule, she knew the performance would be beyond their abilities--showing humility.  She also knew the power of prayer, the faith of the youth participating, and the great power that comes from large numbers of people united in prayer for the same thing--showing her great faith in the efficacy of prayer and the mercy of the Lord to hear and answer.  Because she had that faith, she was able to inspire them to exert their faith as well.

I suppose if all our journals were mined for the blessings that we have received and then put all together, we would see the scope of the Lord’s care for us all, His mighty power and His attention to detail, as well as the intimate knowledge He has of our lives, along with His masterful ability to prepare and order events for our good.

It makes a difference whether you believe the Lord wants us to seek His help or whether you believe the Lord doesn’t want to be bothered.  Believing the Lord wants us to seek His help encourages us to come to Him more often, bringing Him problems large and small.  It suggests that there may be blessings He can’t give us unless we ask for them.  (Not that He would be unable to give those blessings without our praying for them, but the blessings might be more effective if we recognize them, and to ask for them helps us recognize them, which means they have a teaching component to them.)

With so many horrible and negative influences in the world being broadcast in all manner of our days - we overlook all of the little moments of blessing all the time.  This week as I left early to go in to work while my children stay snuggled in their warm beds I was feeling a bit grumbly and sad that I wasn't able to be a stay at home mother - I miss all of the fun things we do especially during the holidays and as I stepped out of the door, a sight greeted me that made me realize how close he is to each of us.  You see a rosebush I thought I had killed this past summer greeted me with a beautiful pink rose - my favorite.  A rose in December!  That rose made me remember that I have so many blessings.
President Monson declares:
"My brothers and sisters, the Lord is in all of our lives. He loves us. He wants to bless us. He wants us to seek His help. As He guides us and directs us and as He hears and answers our prayers, we will find the happiness here and now that He desires for us. May we be aware of His blessings in our lives, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, amen."

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