Saturday, March 02, 2019

Speaking in church

Typically, soon after a family moves into a new ward they are assigned to speak so that they can introduce themselves to the congregation and so forth. At least, that's been our collective experience thus far so I'm going out on a limb and saying that it's typical.

But we weren't asked to speak when we first moved into this ward (and neither were Andrew's parents). I wasn't entirely sad about this because we'd spoken twice in rapid succession shortly before moving away from Durham and I don't particularly enjoy public speaking. So we thought that, perhaps, they simply didn't necessarily ask new families to speak in this ward. Fine.

We soon learned, however, that they certainly did ask new families to speak and we'd simply eluded that norm. It became a bit of a running joke for us, wondering how long we could go without speaking—or if we'd ever speak in this ward.

Andrew's dad tried to out us by brazenly telling the bishopric that our family had never spoken, but instead of asking us to speak they asked him to speak (which is only fair since he hadn't spoken either). But a few weeks later we got the call asking us to speak in sacrament meeting.

So what follows are the talks that Miriam, Rachel, and I gave. Andrew spoke as well but I don't have his talk on my computer. Our topic was "Each of us has the potential to become like our Father."

Here's Miriam's talk:

I’m going to talk about the Plan of Salvation and how that can help us become more like our Heavenly Parents.

When we lived in heaven we had a big war where we decided who would come down to earth. A third of the people decided to follow Satan and two thirds of the people followed Jesus. Those that followed Satan did not get bodies and come to earth. Those who chose to follow Jesus did. That’s how we know that we all followed Jesus—we’re here!

In May 2017, Sister Jean B. Bingham gave an address at Women’s Conference where she said, “the evidence of your inherent potential for greatness is the simple fact that you were born on the earth because you made the choice in the premortal world to accept Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation and to follow the example of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Jesus came down to earth as a little baby and he grew and “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). He began his ministry and was baptized to set an example and “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). At the end of his ministry he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane for all of our sins and sorrow. He was crucified and was then resurrected so that we can live with Heavenly Father.

Getting a body is the first step toward becoming like our Heavenly Father. We are born the same way that Jesus was and come to earth as babies. Then we, too, are expected to increase in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man. We have a lot of learning to do here on earth and part of that learning process is making a lot of mistakes. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are able to repent and be forgiven of our sins. 

When we die, we will go to spirit paradise to await judgement. If we try to be faithful, the Savior’s sacrifice will “open the door of salvation.” Then-president Uchtdorf said in October 2015 that “because of His grace, we will all be resurrected and saved in a kingdom of glory.” 

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we “aspire to something unimaginably great...It is exaltation in the celestial kingdom. It is life eternal in the presence of our Father in Heaven. It is the greatest gift of God. In the celestial kingdom, we receive ‘of his fulness, and of his glory.’ Indeed, all that the Father hath shall be given unto us” (Uchtdorf, General Conference, October 2015). 

I bear my testimony that the plan of salvation is a plan of happiness. I know that as we strive to become like our Heavenly Parents we will be helped along the way. 

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Here is Rachel's talk:

My name is Rachel Heiss and I have been asked to speak about how we can become more like our Heavenly mother and Heavenly father. 

I recently became a Beehive, even though I’m still eleven, I’ve noticed that the Young Women values are rather similar to the divine attributes of our Heavenly Parents. The Young Women values are faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue. Choice and accountability kind of ties in with how our heavenly parents always keep their covenants. Knowledge ties in with the fact that our heavenly parents are wise. Good works means being kind, gentle, and loving others unconditionally. And divine nature is the fact that we all have the ability to become like God because we are his children.

One of the challenges in personal progress is to develop your divine qualities by reading some scriptures and identifying the heavenly attributes of our Heavenly Parents. One of the scriptures that we were required to read was John 15:12. It says, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Heavenly Father loves everyone unconditionally. Another scripture we had to read is Galatians 5: 22-23. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” That is a pretty good list of Godlike characteristics.

Brother Brian K. Ashton said in his General Conference talk that “to become like the Father, we must develop His character traits.” He then listed some of  Heavenly Father’s perfections and attributes:
  • Heavenly Father is “Endless and Eternal.” 
  • He is perfectly just, merciful, kind, long-suffering, and wants only what is best for us. 
  • Heavenly Father is love. 
  • He keeps His covenants.
  • He does not change. 
  • He cannot lie. 
  • The Father is no respecter of persons. 
  • He knows all things—past, present, and future—from the beginning. 
  • Heavenly Father is more intelligent than us all. 
  • The Father has all power and does all that He takes into His heart to do.
I also made a list of divine qualities our Heavenly Parents have. My list includes that they are wise and powerful. They are kind and just. They are patient and gentle. They are merciful and keep their covenants. We can all become like our Heavenly Father and Mother. Some ways to do this are: reading your scriptures daily, praying, being kind and forgiving others, and being patient. 

One way I have learned to be patient is by watching my siblings. I am the oldest, so sometimes end up babysitting. However, my siblings can be quite a handful. One time, I was watching my siblings AND my cousins (with two friends and some adults, but the adults were upstairs with the babies). With two three year olds and one two year old, it was loud. The two year old was crying, and I think three other kids were running around and being really loud. However, we had to be patient and start a game before it got really out of hand. We set out a hopscotch mat and a tea party, and it was a little quieter and calmer. We had to be patient and long-suffering though. 

I bear my testimony that we can become more like our Heavenly Parents by developing heavenly attributes. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

And here is my talk:

Good morning Sisters and Brothers,

Our family has somehow avoided speaking in this ward until now, so if you aren’t yet familiar with us I will take a quick minute to introduce us. We’re the Heiss family—the young, cool, super-hip Heisses. We moved here from North Carolina about a year and half ago for Andrew to teach at BYU and because we knew his position wasn’t permanent we moved in with Andrew’s parents—the older, less cool, significantly less-hip Heisses.

Anyway, we have five children, Rachel and Miriam—who you’ve just heard from—are 11 and 9, and then there’s Benjamin, who is 6, Zoë, who is 3, Alexander, who is 1 and me, who is tired.

Andrew recently accept a permanent position at Georgia State University so we’ll be heading to Atlanta in the near future, which we’re rather excited about. Getting this job came as a great relief to our family. We invested a lot of time and energy for Andrew to get his training and it was increasingly frustrating that we were unable to secure a position even after several cycles on the job market. We were job hunting while he was finishing his dissertation, we were job hunting his entire first year of teaching, and we’ve been job hunting this school year as well. 

It was an exhausting and depressing and a little bit of a soul-crushing experience. 

Every day we would pray that we would find a job for Andrew, but more specifically, we prayed that we would find a job that would take us where the Lord needed us to be. We applied for hundreds of positions across the country and all over the world. Andrew was interviewed for many positions and although we were told several times that he was the top candidate, nothing ever panned out.

The weekend Andrew’s mom passed away was the same weekend Andrew was supposed to have interviewed for this job in Atlanta. They graciously rescheduled the interview and he ended up getting the position. As difficult as this job insecurity seemed in the moment, I’m so grateful that Heavenly Father is the one in charge and not me because He knows a lot more about my life than I do and He answers my prayers perfectly. 

We had been praying, if you remember, that we could be where the Lord would have us be. We were working hard on our end but nothing seemed to be budging on the Lord’s end. This was so maddening for me, like, I was getting angry. I could not understand why we had to go through this seemingly insecure time and I could not see what the Lord had in store for us. We had no future here, that much was clear, so what were we still doing here?!

Then Andrew’s mom got sick and very suddenly passed away and I realized that we were exactly where we were supposed to be at this time in our lives. The Lord knew that we needed to be here so that we could spend this precious time with her, in her home, before he called her home to be with Him. And then, you know, we also got a job and a direction for our future, but that seems trivial in comparison to the miracle of simply being here.

In his April 2017 address, Return and Receive, Elder Ballard said that “it is good to have goals and plans for our careers, for our education, even for our golf game. It is also important to have goals for our marriages, our families, and our Church...callings...but our greatest and most overriding goals should fit into Heavenly Father’s eternal plan.”

In fact, Elder Ballard believes that “one important key to happiness is to learn how to set our own goals and establish our own plans within the framework of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan,” because “if we focus on this eternal path, we will inevitably qualify to return to His presence,” which is hopefully our ultimate goal, right?

I wish I could say that I had been more content to wait on the Lord’s timing because I should know that all things will work together for my good, an idea that is iterated several times throughout the scriptures (Romans 8:28, D&C 90:24, 2 Nephi 2:2) but I wasn’t. I’m not.

I am fallible. I am impatient. I am ordinary. I am human. 

Shortly after she was called as the General Relief Society President, Sister Jean B. Bingham spoke at Women’s Conference addressing her own “ordinariness,” because we are all quite ordinary.

She says, “even in my ‘ordinariness,’ Heavenly Father saw value, and has helped me begin to develop the gifts and graces He knows will help me become all that He has designed me to be. Know that your Heavenly Father will provide all that you need to become ‘extra’-ordinary as a daughter [or son] of God. The wonder of His heavenly economy is that every single one of us can be spectacular because of our unique bundle of talents and abilities. Unlike the world, in His kingdom there is no winner’s platform that only has room for one or two. Each of His daughters [and sons] has been taught and prepared and gifted premortally with marvelous potential” for exaltation in the Celestial kingdom.

Thus, even in our ordinary state, we can choose to do extraordinary things. We can choose to cultivate the divine characteristics with which we’ve been endowed and can seek out knowledge and experience that will help us become more like our Heavenly Parents.

One hundred years ago, the first presidency issued a statement saying that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” We are children of Heavenly Parents, “formed in [their] divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and [just as a child] of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of [adulthood], so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God” (The Origin of Man, 1909).

“This life,” Alma 34 tells us, “is the time for [us] to prepare to meet God.” The life we are living is hopefully bringing us step by step closer to God as we use our lives and talents, no matter how ordinary or divine, for good.

There was once a wealthy man who, in preparation for a long trip, called his servants together, and gave them each a portion of his wealth to look after in his absence. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one—every man according to his ability—and then he left for his trip.

The servant who had received five talents went and traded and gathered interest and ended up accruing another five talents. The servant who had received only two talents did the same and ended up doubling his money as well. But the servant who had received one talent was afraid that he would lose it so he dug a hole and hid the money there for safekeeping. 

After his long journey was finished, the wealthy man returned to see how his property had fared.

The servant who had received five talents brought forth his other five talents, presented his lord with ten talents, and said, “You gave me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more!”

His lord said unto him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

The servant who had received two talents brought forth his other two talents and said, “You gave me two talents: behold, I have gained beside them two talents more!”

His lord said unto him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

Then he which had received one lowly talent came and said, “Lord...I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, here thou hast what is thine.”

Perhaps by now you’ve recognized that I’m telling the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30) so you know that the wealthy man was not pleased with his slothful and fearful servant and, in fact, took the talent with which this servant had been entrusted and gave it to another more ambitious servant. But, honestly, the story didn’t have to go that way. 

The servant who had been given one talent could have also gone out and doubled his talent and then the lord would have been equally proud of his work. 

We, likewise, are all given talents, abilities and divine spiritual gifts that will help us be successful in our lives here on earth as we “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize [our] divine destiny as heirs of eternal life” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World). But we aren’t all given the same talents and sometimes we feel like we are, perhaps, more on the the ordinary side of things than on the extraordinary side of things.

In Doctrine and Covenants, section 46, the Lord discusses various spiritual gifts that he gives to His children. “To some,” He says, “it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of others it is given to believe on their some it is given to have faith to be healed; and to others it is given to have faith to heal. And again, to some is given the working of miracles…”

But, He reminds us, “all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every [one] is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.”

Our duty, then, like the wise stewards in the Parable of the Talents, is to discover the divinity within ourselves, no matter how ordinary we think our gift is, and to multiply that gift by sharing it with others, that we may all benefit from each other, that when we meet our Lord he will greet us by saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

In Sister Jean B. Bingham’s talk titled, How Vast is Our Purpose, she asks a series of questions: “What do you want to accomplish in your life? What are your goals and aspirations? What ‘extraordinary thing’ will you choose to do?” Whatever your goals are, “do you think our Heavenly Parents want us to succeed? Yes!” She says, “They want us to succeed gloriously!”

Elder Ballard explains that “there is no greater goal in mortality than to live eternally with our Heavenly Parents and our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is more than just our goal—it is also THEIR goal. They have a perfect love for us, more powerful than we can even begin to comprehend. They are totally, completely, eternally aligned with us. We are Their work. Our glory is Their glory. More than anything else, They want us to come home—to return and receive eternal happiness in Their presence.”

Returning to our Heavenly Father is a beautiful goal and a worthy goal—the worthiest goal—but even with all the celestial help of our loving Heavenly Parents and the atoning sacrifice of the Saviour, I often feel like it is a difficult goal. It is a goal that requires endurance to the very end. It is a goal that requires patience and faith. It is a goal that requires us to change and grow and stretch. It is a goal that requires us to learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30). 

And I think, really, that’s key. We don’t have to achieve exaltation or perfection all at once—and we won’t—but, little by little, with consistent effort, we will become changed. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf put it, “Exaltation is our goal; discipleship is our journey” (October 2015, It Works Wonderfully!).

So, today, if you feel stuck in your progression or overwhelmed by your ordinariness, I encourage you allow the Saviour’s “grace to lift and carry [you] during [y]our journey from where [you] are now to [y]our glorious destiny in our Father’s presence.” Elder Uchtdorf promises that “as you exercise a little faith and begin your walk as a…[disciple] of our Lord Jesus Christ, your heart will change. Your whole being will be filled with light. God will help you become something greater than you ever thought possible” (October 2015, It Works Wonderfully!).

I would like to add my testimony that Heavenly Father is aware of me and of you and of the details and intricacies of our lives. He hears and answers our prayers in the most loving manner. And although he allows us to go through hardships and heartache and although at times our faith falters or we make mistakes, He is always there to guide us home when we’re willing. He has given us so many gifts to help us on our journey. 

I’m thankful for temples and for eternal families and that we get to learn and grow together. I’m thankful for our prophet, President Nelson, who assures us that “we need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless” because our “perfection is pending” (November 1995, Perfection Pending). I am so grateful for the atonement of the Saviour in my life, that He made it possible for us to return to the presence of God. I’m thankful for Heavenly Parents so full of patience and love and I aspire to one day be like Them. 

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

It was fun to study the same topic as a family and to discuss who would cover which parts of the topic in their talk (a surprising number of family units do not do this when they speak and we end up hearing the same General Conference talk reiterated over and over again in the same meeting). I helped the girls polish their talks but they mostly wrote them on their own. They both delivered their talks well—they spoke loudly and slowly and clearly. 

I can't really say how I did except to say that...I got through it.

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