Lessons learned from Mary

Christmas is a time to reflect on and celebrate the birth of Christ. I love to think about Mary and her incredible role in this pinnacle moment in history. She was truly a woman of God. I admire her so much, and her life has taught me many lessons.

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1.  Mary was foreordained and placed in circumstances to fulfill her important mission.

Hundreds of years before Mary was born, prophets testified of her sacred role. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” King Benjamin prophesied, “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” And the prophet Alma declared, “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”

Because Jesus’ mortal lineage would come through Mary, in order for all prophecy to be fulfilled, she had to be born herself into the royal line of David and be raised with faith in the God of Israel and the Holy Prophets. And while my own personal mission may not be as magnificent, her story bears witness to me that our Father in Heaven places us on earth when and where he needs us and creates the circumstances in which we can reach our potential and achieve our royal destiny.

“As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Mary. And as the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, Inc., 1965, vol. 1, p. 85.)

2. Mary was “beautiful and fair.”

I don’t think the scriptures mean that Mary was a bombshell or excessively beautiful by worldly standards. She was “virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy,” and had the kind of beauty that radiates from obedience and spiritual light. The Hebrew word for “fair” can mean “goodly” and implies righteousness and covenant-keeping. Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Spirit “develops beauty of person, form and features.” We all know women who are absolutely beautiful because of their goodness and the spirit of attractiveness; Mary was such a woman.

3. Mary found strength in friendship with righteous women.

I love the story of Mary and Elizabeth. When Mary was processing the almost incredible news of her pending motherhood, she ran to Elizabeth, who by virtue of her own miraculous circumstances, was able to rejoice with her and offer support and encouragement. Even the children in their wombs lept for joy when the women embraced. I love the influence that good friends can have in my life. When we associate with covenant women, their faith and testimony increase ours; they make us better.

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4. Mary knew and experienced loneliness.

Certainly Mary, more than any of us, had a right to feel like no one understood what she was going through. Her situation could have very well threatened her upcoming nuptials, and her secret was so sacred that, other than Joseph and Elizabeth, she probably cold not make it known.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

I’ve thought of Mary, too, this most favored mortal woman in the history of the world, who as a mere child received an angel who uttered to her those words that would change the course not only of her own life but also that of all human history: “Hail, thou virgin, who art highly favoured of the Lord. The Lord is with thee; for thou art chosen and blessed among women.” (JST, Luke 1:28.) The nature of her spirit and the depth of her preparation were revealed in a response that shows both innocence and maturity: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.)

It is here I stumble, here that I grasp for the feelings a mother has when she knows she has conceived a living soul, feels life quicken and grow within her womb, and carries a child to delivery. At such times fathers stand aside and watch, but mothers feel and never forget. Again, I’ve thought of Luke’s careful phrasing about that holy night in Bethlehem:

The days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and [she] wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and [she] laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6–7; italics added.) Those brief pronouns trumpet in our ears that, second only to the child himself, Mary is the chiefest figure, the regal queen, mother of mothers—holding center stage in this grandest of all dramatic moments. And those same pronouns also trumpet that, save for her beloved husband, she was very much alone.

I have wondered if this young woman, something of a child herself, here bearing her first baby, might have wished her mother, or an aunt, or her sister, or a friend, to be near her through the labor. Surely the birth of such a son as this should command the aid and attention of every midwife in Judea! We all might wish that someone could have held her hand, cooled her brow, and when the ordeal was over, given her rest in crisp, cool linen.

But it was not to be so. With only Joseph’s inexperienced assistance, she herself brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in the little clothes she had knowingly brought on her journey, and perhaps laid him on a pillow of hay.

Then on both sides of the veil a heavenly host broke into song. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth, peace among men of good will.” (Luke 2:14, Phillips Translation.) But except for heavenly witnesses, these three were alone: Joseph, Mary, the baby to be named Jesus.

At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.

How true it is that many of the greatest moments of motherhood are quiet and sacred.  Since most of ours are not accompanied by stars and angels, they are often unnoticed by the rest of the world, but not by God. It makes sense that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

5. Mary loved the temple.

It stands to reason that Mary would have been raised in the deeply religious Jewish culture, and the temple was the center of that faith. Given her devotion, it is possible that she could have been one of the many young virgins that were known to do work in and for the temple “includ[ing] sewing and creating vestments, washing the vestments of the priests which would be stained regularly by animal blood, preparing liturgical linen, weaving the veil of the Temple, and most importantly, liturgical prayer.” (Dr. Taylor Marshall) We do know that shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to present him to God. There they were met by Simeon and Anna, who both bore testimony that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Not only did this confirm His mission, but it reaffirmed hers. This is what the temple does for me now. When I attend the temple, I learn about the Savior and I learn about me. Having that testimony of her divine role reinforced in the temple must have been a powerful boon for Mary.

We also know that “[Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.” (Luke 2:41.) And after twelve years, that testimony was reaffirmed, once again in the temple, when Mary found Jesus there teaching the elders and he testified, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The temple seems to have been a sacred, defining place for the Holy Family.

6. Mary knew the scriptures.

Raised as a devoted Jew, Mary would have known and understood the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Both during and after the annunciation visit from Gabriel, Mary showed an understanding of who Jesus Christ was to be. Her questions centered on her own part, but she believed in and rejoiced about the arrival of the long-prophesied Savior. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)

When Jesus first announced his divinity, he did so by standing in the synagogue and reading and expounding upon the scriptures. He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:21) Robert J. Matthews taught about the circumstances of Jesus’ childhood, which would explain his knowledge of the scriptures:

The atmosphere of the home was one of obedience to the Lord as commanded in the divine law. It was at home that Jesus probably received his first lessons about the history of Israel and of past deliverances of his people by the hand of the Lord; here he also undoubtedly learned of the hopes and expectations for the future, as written in the scriptures.

My heart tells me that Mary played an important role in teaching and testifying about the scriptures and helping young Jesus recognize and understand his own mission.

7. Mary faced fear and grief with faith.

When the angel first told Mary that she would be the mother of God’s son, she was bewildered. “How can this be?” she asked, perhaps equivalent to the modern “Are you kidding me?” She must have felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and uncertainty. Her whole future must have seemed suddenly unexpected and even dangerous, but she responded with faithful surrender, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord…” When Herod’s decree threatened her newborn’s life, she and Joseph again responded to heavenly guidance and were protected. There were probably many times that Mary faced fear during Jesus’ childhood and ministry. From the time he was lost for many days and finally found in the temple to the day when an angry crowd shouted, “Crucify him!,” Mary had to trust that her son was in his Father’s hands. In her moment of greatest grief, Jesus himself showed her tremendous respect and love. Elder Bradley D. Foster taught,

In the final, most pivotal moment of His mortal life—after the anguish of Gethsemane, the mock trial, the crown of thorns, the heavy cross to which He was brutally nailed—Jesus looked down from the cross and saw His mother, Mary, who had come to be with her Son. His final act of love before He died was to ensure that His mother would be cared for, saying to His disciple, “Behold thy mother!” And from that point on the disciple took her unto his home. As the scriptures say, then Jesus knew that “all things were now accomplished,” and He bowed His head and died.

8. Mary was obedient to the will of God.

Oh, how I love Mary’s example of obedience, even in times of uncertainty. She seemed to inherently trust God and know that He would do what was best, even when the details didn’t make sense to her. She must have felt an incredible responsibility, and I have no doubt that her initial submission to the Father, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” set the example for all that Christ did throughout his life. Perhaps even in his darkest hours in Gethsemane, when he was of necessity left alone to suffer and face his own fear and uncertainty, her example gave him the strength to say, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

I love Mary because I love Jesus Christ. I know she was a “precious and chosen vessel” and her life teaches me how to be more truly Christian. The Savior of the world came as a baby and was given the gift of a righteous mother. Her example is one of the many gifts to celebrate at Christmastime.

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GCBC Week 22: “Teaching after the Manner of the Spirit” by Brother Matthew O. Richardson

I got to substitute teach the 5-year-olds in Primary today.  It was great.  I love to teach. I love to bear testimony.  I love the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’m grateful for the Holy Ghost that makes the message more powerful than the teacher or the delivery.

The Spirit has been an important part of teaching experiences I’ve had with my children, too.  Last week, during all the carpool hours, I had great opportunities to discuss some important principles with my kids.  I could feel the Holy Ghost helping me and helping them.  It gave me the confidence to testify about things I know are true.

Teaching after the Manner of the Spirit by Brother Matthew O. Richardson, 2nd counselor General Sunday School Presidency

“While we are all teachers, we must fully realize that it is the Holy Ghost who is the real teacher and witness of all truth. Those who do not fully understand this either try to take over for the Holy Ghost and do everything themselves, politely invite the Spirit to be with them but only in a supporting role, or believe they are turning all their teaching over to the Spirit when, in truth, they are actually just “winging it.” All parents, leaders, and teachers have the responsibility to teach “by the Spirit.”2 They should not teach “in front of the Spirit” or “behind the Spirit” but “by the Spirit” so the Spirit can teach the truth unrestrained.”

What points stood out to you as you studied this talk?  Share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.

FOUR talks left.  Can you believe it??

To anyone who is checking out GCBC for the first time, the goal is to read one General Conference talk a week and discuss it together as an on-line “book club.” If you want to learn more, go here, and join the discussion here each week.

GCBC Week 17: An Example of the Believers

Well. The next talk on our schedule is one by Sister Mary Cook of the General Young Women’s presidency.

Be an Example of the Believers
Sister Mary N. Cook
First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency

I thought it would be fun to add one more into the mix this week, too, just to get another perspective on this same topic.  Elder Nelson gave the following talk during the general Priesthood session:

Be Thou an Example of the Believers
Elder Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

What are your favorite moments or quotes from these talks?  Is there anything you learned here that you had not considered before?  What stood out to you as you studied it?  And, most importantly, what did they make you feel or want to do?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

(If this is your first time to General Conference Book Club, click here to learn more about it.)

GCBC Week 3: Stay on the Path

“Stay on the Path”
Sister Rosemary M. Wixom
Primary General President
Saturday Morning Session

Sister Wixom’s talk is a great reminder about the sacred responsibility that parents have to anchor themselves and their children on the path of righteousness.  She uses several different phrases that highlight both the urgency and the purpose of spiritual parental guidance.

“If they understand the Plan, and who they are, they will not fear. … We begin to make the plan known to our children when we hold tight to the iron rod ourselves.”

“The world will teach our children if we do not.”

“When we are intentional about holding them and teaching them of Heavenly Father’s plan through prayer and scriptures, they will come to know where they came from, why they are here, and where they are going.”

I was struck by how important it is to be purposeful in our parenting, to take the seemingly meaningless experiences of the day and let them point children toward a better understanding of gospel truths and their own important role in God’s plan.  Her message reminded me of several previous talks about intentional parenting that have inspired me as well.  Perhaps you may want to read some of these this week to enhance your study of Sister Wixom’s talk:

A Prayer for the Children by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

More Diligent and Concerned at Home by Elder David A. Bednar

Watching with All Perseverance by Elder David A. Bednar

Nourishing and Protecting the Family by Sister Julie B. Beck (link to download and print talk)

How about you? What are your favorite moments or quotes from Sister Wixom’s talk?  Is there anything you learned here that you had not considered before?  What stood out to you as you studied it?  And, most importantly, what did it make you feel or want to do?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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(If this is your first time to General Conference Book Club, click here to learn more about it.)

General Conference Book Club Week 9: President Eyring

Alright friends, step away from the pie.  Time to feast on the word of God.  (I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.  I did.)

Let’s study President Eyring’s fantastic talk this week, shall we?  President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency spoke during the Sunday morning session of General Conference and his talk was called “Our Perfect Example.”  I was immediately drawn into his talk in the introduction:  “Different as we are in circumstances and experiences, we share a desire to become better than we are.”

“The message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can and must expect to become better as long as we live.”

“Love is the motivating principle by which the Lord leads us along the way towards becoming like Him, our perfect example.”

“I hope you will go out today looking for opportunities to do as He did and to love as He loves.”

 

You can read the talk here, watch it here, or listen to it here.  It’s also on page 70 of the November Ensign.  (Go here for GCBC information.)

I know you’ll really like this talk.  Please share some of the things that you learn or think or notice as you study it.  I love reading all your great insights.

The fruits of a name: glory or shame?

imgShakerFruitTreeIn the local news, there has been a story this week of a man who has been accused of some horrible stuff.  I went to bed uneasy last night after reading the article, but I didn’t pay close attention to the details.  Today I got a phone call from a well-meaning neighbor letting me know that the accused person lives right by me.  After an initial shock and some back-and-forth detective work, we both determined that it couldn’t possibly be my neighbor, but it is his adult son who lives elsewhere in town.  They have the same name.

I’ve felt a little heavy-hearted today, as I always am when I read or hear stories of abuse or crime, especially when children are involved, but this time there’s a more personal sadness to the story.  I like my neighbors.  They are kind and thoughtful and have done nice things for my family.  They are an older couple and they have shown faith and determination while she has undergone cancer treatments on and off over the last year or more.  I can’t imagine the turmoil they must be experiencing knowing that their son is accused of a shameful act.  And I especially feel bad for the father who is known by the same name.  His son has dragged his name through the mud.  His parents will no doubt now feel deeply embarrassed, perhaps ostracized by many.  And that goes without mentioning the pain and turmoil it will surely wreak within their own family dynamics.  I am sad for them.

And yet I realize how often we are careless with our own names.  We perhaps do or say things that, though not criminal, smack of selfishness or reckless abandon.  We fool ourselves into thinking that our choices are ours alone and don’t affect others.  This news story has reminded me that this is not so; Whatever I do with my family name reflects upon my whole family, for better or for worse.

And any of us who considers ourselves Christian does so with a direct connection to the name of Christ.  I have entered into a covenant to take His name upon me, and therefore, He graciously (and obviously at certain personal risk) allows my life to be connected to and associated with His.  When anyone who knows me to be Christian sees me serve and love and show kindness, I glorify His name and honor Him.  When I choose to be selfish or undisciplined or quick to judge, I tarnish that name.  And though He himself cannot be diminished by my poor choices, I blatantly misrepresent Him and I hinder the expression of glory that could and should be for Him.

I remember as a missionary in Argentina, I wore a small black badge every day, pinned directly above my heart.  There were two names on it:  My family (maiden) name and the name of the Savior.  I can recall the tangible responsibility it symbolized.  My identity was wrapped up in theirs, and I knew that whatever I said or did would represent them in some way.  We all wear one of those, you know— at least figuratively.  I make mistakes all the time, but I do better if I remember who I stand for.  I’m certainly not implying that our imperfections mean complete, overwhelming failure or cause for shame.  The Savior does not expect us to be perfect, but his mercy is perfect and his atonement can make us perfect if we repent and submit to Him.

Elder Russell M. Nelson said:

“One day you will be asked if you took upon yourself the name of Christ and if you were faithful to that covenant. . . . We are all allowed—even encouraged—to achieve the fulness of the stature of Christ (see Eph. 4:13).”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson pointed out how, with each obedient act, there is an increase in our blessings and in our ability to honor His name:

“Our willingness to take upon us the name of Christ and keep His commandments requires a degree of faith, but as we honor our covenants, that faith expands. In the first place, the promised fruits of obedience become evident, which confirms our faith. Secondly, the Spirit communicates God’s pleasure, and we feel secure in His continued blessing and help. Thirdly, come what may, we can face life with hope and equanimity, knowing that we will succeed in the end because we have God’s promise to us individually, by name, and we know He cannot lie.”

I’m amazed how generous He is with His name.  I hope I make Him proud of how I use it.