My three beautiful daughters sang, "The Olive Tree," after my talk and many people expressed how much they appreciated the message and touching delivery.
Before Matt & Abigayle and Jordan, Danielle and family had to leave, we gathered in front of the pool in the back yard for a family picture.
Here are our farewell talks if you want to read them..............(I totally understand if you are, like, oh I am sure! Someone out there might want to read them though - maybe our son Ben who couldn't be there. Grab a snack, you'll be here awhile!
With the Mormon religion in the national news these days, the commonly asked question, “Are Mormons Christian?” is getting constant attention.
Jeffrey R. Holland an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently clarified to a group of national Christian leaders, (quote)“You and I share so many concerns about the spread of pornography and poverty, abuse and abortion, ….cruelty, crudity, and temptation, all glaring as close as your son or daughter’s cell phone. Surely there is a way for people of goodwill who love God and have taken upon themselves the name of Christ to stand together for the cause of Christ and against the forces of sin.” He went on to testify, “We believe in the historical Jesus who walked the dusty paths of the Holy Land and declare that He is one and the same God as the divine Jehovah of the Old Testament. We declare Him to be both fully God in His divinity and fully human in His mortal experience…We testify that in fulfilling the divine plan for our salvation, He took upon Himself all the sins, sorrows, and sicknesses of the world, bleeding at every pore in the anguish of it all. We declare that three days after the crucifixion, He rose from the tomb in glorious immortality, thereby breaking the physical bands of death and the spiritual bonds of hell, providing an immortal future for both the body and the spirit, a future that can be realized in its full glory and grandeur only by accepting him.. and His name is the only name among men, whereby we may be saved.” Close quote)
In today’s world, It is not sufficient to believe these truths, we must know them! The Savior himself taught:… ….And this is life eternal …..to KNOW thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
How can we KNOW him? In this distracting world that demands our attention and conformance with every turn, how exactly do we go about that?
Christ himself offered the answer……, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)
In this spiritual search for knowledge we are taught that the information we seek should “be written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” 2nd Cor.3:3
By searching, not just reading, the scriptures, as counseled, we can come to KNOW and FEEL Christ’s love for us in our minds and in our hearts by three significant ways.
Number 1) Frequent and constant exposure.
Number 2) Ponder and treasure the word of God until it reaches your heart.
Number 3) Courageously following promptings.
Number1)Frequent and constant exposure builds a familiarity and understanding that allows scripture to move from just reading words to touching our hearts in profound ways.
The Scriptures are the language of God, and as we frequently fill our minds and hearts with sacred words, they will become the way the Lord will answer our prayers.
The most humbling and intimate example of this came at a time when I was making the most important decision of my life. My husband and I had known each other for three years and twenty three hours after his return from his mission, He finally asked me the big question. In the moment I said yes …….immediately …….because it was what I wanted….. however, as the days passed I felt overwhelmed with the enormity of making a decision that would last for eternity and desperate to know God’s will in an undeniable way. I remember vividly going downstairs in my childhood home to a quiet place where I could stay undisturbed until I had an answer and knew His will without question. I remember thinking I would continue my prayer and fasting until I understood, with perfect clarity, the spirit whisper yes or no to whether I should marry him. I recall praying until my knees hurt, stopping and then starting again, and finally sitting in the dark of the room and just listening. After a time, clear, unmistakable words of scripture came into my mind, “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?” I have never forgotten those words as if they were being spoken inside of my heart and head at the same time. I opened my scriptures and found that the next phrase after those words are: “What greater witness can you have than from God?” I testify that the Scriptures are the language of God, and the more familiar we are with them, the more we will hear his voice!(D&C 6:23)
The scriptures underscore: “I, the Lord, … will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words” (2 Ne. 10:14)
“It is I that speak; … I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee. …
Number 2) Ponder, and treasure until the word of God reaches your heart.
Referring to the scriptures, the Savior instructed the prophet Joseph Smith, and all who would follow the Lord…. Hearken ye to these words. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Treasure these things up in your hearts, and let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds. (Doctrine and Covenants 43:34)
The Book of Mormon depicts a dream or vision which was given to an ancient prophet named Lehi. His vision is analogous to our day in that there were concourses of lost people wandering in strange roads and filthy water trying to find God. Amid the darkness, there was a path that led to a beautiful tree, a fountain of living water, and the sweetest, whitest fruit he had ever seen which represented the perfect love of Jesus Christ. On the side of the path there was a rod of Iron that symbolized the word of God or scriptures! The people holding on tight to that rod, clutching with all their strength through the distractions and temptations were able to make it to the tree and taste the fruit, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. Lehi tasted of the fruit and said,(quote) “I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I had ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof, it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy.”
I remember as a young mother reading that story to my children from the Illustrated Book of Mormon series. I had read the Book of Mormon multiple times and been exposed to the story about Lehi’s dream so frequently that I thought I understood any lessons to be found there. ……. but for some reason as I looked at the artist’s depiction this time of the white and radiant tree of life, and shared it with my beautiful, trusting, little children, the Holy Ghost testified to my heart for the first time that it was true! I felt it, with emotion that overwhelmed me, instead of just knew the information in my head. I actually felt the reality of the love of Jesus Christ for me and every one of you and knew with perfect certainty that there was nothing in this world more desirable than his love. My children looked at me questioningly as I could no longer read! To their worried questions, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” I could only say, hugging them close, “I’m not sad, I’m just so happy because……this story is true…and it came from Jesus who loves us so very much! ……….A very familiar story that I treasured enough to share with my precious children had finally reached my heart!
Number3) Courageously follow promptings.
The promptings and impressions received while searching the scriptures may change the course of our lives. If we follow unfailingly, we will be trusted with greater light and direction.
Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (D&C 93:19) (Matthew 16:24)
A perfect example of this is the story of my great great great grandmother Maria Susanna Merrick Maddison. She was born in Windsor Castle. Her Father’s official title was: royal purveyor of vegetables; an esteemed position held during the reign of several monarchs. She was afforded every privilege living in the castle. She married Sir John Maddison, an English squire; who was landed gentry, from a highly respected social class.
Maria’s second child, Rosina died at twenty months, without having been christened. Their minister would not provide a burial service for her. In an angry exchange with grieving parents he ranted, “hell is paved with babies who have not been christened!” Maria Susanna suffered desperately after her baby’s death until she met a woman who told her that she had joined a church that believed that one would see their loved ones again in Heaven and that families could be together again after this life.
Her husband John would hear nothing about the rogue and low class church called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He would lose his title and his land if he or his family did not stay faithful to the Anglican church. Secretly, Maria and her three children, Flora, Frank and Herbert met with the missionaries. After concentrated prayer and studying the Scriptures with an intense desire to know the will of God, Maria could not deny the feelings in her heart. With great trepidation, but certainty in her commitment to follow Jesus Christ, she and her three children were baptized. They were able to keep their membership a secret from John for two years, but when he found out, he was livid and told her he would cut her off without a shilling. She was told she would have to choose between living with him and her new church. Maria chose to follow Christ. With a fearful heart but committed spirit, she decided to immigrate with her three children to America and join with the Saints there. Her two sons, Frank and Herbert were, at the time, studying at Oxford University with their father’s financial support. They left their education to assist their Mother in her trek to a new world, leaving privilege, position and wealth. Harrowing and terrifying experiences awaited them in crossing the ocean for 9 weeks, then crossing the plains from Council Bluffs Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah, eight months from the time they left England. My daughter, Marianne, has written the following poem to honor her courageous ancestor. I apologize to those of you who have already heard me read this poem.
Maria Susannah Merrick Maddison
By Marianne Monson
My great, great, great-grandmother was born in a castle.
crumbling stone walls,
covered with ivy and importance.
She traded the castle for a white-washed chicken coop
in the Salt Lake valley,
where she dug up Sego Lily bulbs
with the hands of a lady,
white and soft.
How does one get used to a chicken coop
after living in a castle?
How does one who learned to dance
and do needlepoint,
learn to make soap from lye
and gather buffalo chips?
When she left England,
she had never brushed her own hair.
I picture her awkward fingers,
pulling the comb through;
plaiting the strands
for the very first time.
On her journey, she brought a tea cup:
airy hand-painted roses
circling thin porcelain.
Did she display her tea cup
in the chicken coop, do you suppose?
And did she ever look out of her chicken coop
and think of the castle she left behind?
And did she ever regret it—her sacrifice?
I believe she must have.
On dark days
when there were few Sego Lily bulbs to be found.
But I hope she can see me now,
telling the story to my children.
Whispering it into their soft ears,
pointing at her picture,
faded and creased with time.
I hope she can hear me say,
“This is your great, great, great, great-grandmother,
who was born in a castle
and moved to a chicken coop
because of her faith.”
And I hope someday I can tell her,
wherever we are,
“I don’t know how you did that—
carried a tea cup across an ocean and into a wilderness,
without even a crack.”
And then I will ask her, “How can something that seems so frail and delicate,
in the end become so strong?”
Maria Susannah made the sacrifices she did because as she read the scriptures and prayed for guidance, she came to know and feel the love of Christ. That irrefutable knowledge changed the course of her life, indeed became the guiding motivation to “Follow him, no matter what and no matter where.
Five years ago, at the suggestion of President Anderson to set a date to serve a mission both Dwight and I felt strong impressions from the Spirit that we should commit to each other and to the Lord to go on a mission in the Fall of 2012. As we committed to that course in repeated prayers, we saw miracles happen in our lives to make it possible. One by one events transpired until our path was opened and we felt compelled to keep our promise to the Lord to go.
It is not without sacrifice. We are so sad to leave our family, friends and our comfortable life that we love here in Saint George, …..but we want them to know that though we will miss them so much…..Jesus said, He that loveth father or mother…… son or daughter more than me…… is not worthy of me.
Though we leave with some trepidation, Christ promised, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10)
I know that Jesus Christ lives, that he died for me and you, that his arms are outstretched still and always, that he stands at the door beckoning us to welcome him into our hearts and lives, that he will return again in glory, and that the way to KNOW him is found in the scriptures through constant searching, pondering and courageously following promptings from the Spirit……
Until we meet again, and in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen
I. It was Mark Twain who observed, “It’s not the things we don’t know that get us in trouble; it’s the things we do know that just ain’t so.”
a. As witnesses for Jesus Christ and members of his true church, we stand before the world and boldly testify, “We know certain truths”
b. In a post-modern world that embraces skepticism and relativism, where absolute truth does not exist, our assertion of knowing must seem strange
c. Many are skeptical. How do you know these things are true?
d. Or to put it in Twain’s vernacular, how can we be sure that what we hold to with such certainty “just ain’t so?”?
e. With your indulgence, I would like to answer that question with a personal reference and in the process address the main reason Marilynn and I have chosen to serve a mission
II. I grew up in loving home, the 5th of 6 boys, no girls.
a. In my family, no one ever complained about what’s for dinner
b. There were too many hungry boys more than willing to consume my portion and theirs, too.; it was survival of the fittest
c. Dinner was often accompanied by lively discussion
d. We regularly debated everything from politics and religion to science, human nature and the philosophies of men
e. In those family discussions, I learned to question everything
f. As I approached my mid-teens, 2 of my older brothers had stayed close to the church and gone on to serve missions; 2 had not
g. At 16, I was deeply skeptical of all religion, doubting the very existence of God
III. One night, I found myself in the company of a young woman; somehow the conversation turned to religion; I shared with her many of my questions and doubts
a. She listened patiently, and then said, “You know, Dwight, I have many of those same questions, and I don’t know most of the answers. But this is what I know: When I do what is taught in this church, I am happy; and when I don’t, I am not.”
b. As a self-styled rationalist and empiricist, I was struck by two aspects of her response
c. First, I could test her proposition in my own life; I did not have to accept the assertions of others. Though only 16, I had experience enough to test the validity of her statement
d. Second, if the proposition were true, it struck me that it was probably not by chance
e. If true, there was likely a higher power that designed the world to be so and revealed His designs and purposes to leaders who, in turn, imparted these truths to others
f. I pondered this proposition for the better part of two weeks, sifting through specific incidents in my life with an honest heart; testing this idea as thoroughly and objectively as I could
g. At the end of that two weeks, I concluded my friend was correct
IV. Later, I realized, as described by Alma, that I had planted seeds mostly based on teachings of my parents and thus of the church
a. Some had begun to swell and sprout, producing moments of peace and joy
b. Of course, this did not produce an immediate testimony in me, but at 16, I began to pray with faith and real intent
c. In time, sweet answers came, borne of the spirit, providing a powerful witness and further enlightening my mind
V. Then at 19, I was called to serve a mission
a. In retrospect, now 60 years of age, I see that that mission was the most shaping experience of my life
b. While interacting with people from all walks, I saw first-hand the results of good and bad choices
i. I saw the devastation and heartache of adultery; the insecurity and burdens resulting from pre-marital sexual relations
ii. I saw the blessings of getting a good education, of being honest in all one’s dealings, of serving others generously
iii. I observed the power of family, both good and bad, to bless lives or produce lifelong challenges for individuals
iv. I saw the crippling curse of addictions; the empty lives of people searching for something, but not knowing where to look for purpose or hope
c. I also saw imperfect people striving to change; investigators taught correct principles, who then had courage and faith to apply these principles in their lives
d. I beheld the fruits of repentance and obedience to God’s teachings, as described by the Apostle Paul: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23) and those fruits were all good
e. What I really witnessed is the wisdom of an all-powerful, all-loving God who created this world with both physical and moral laws
f. Surely, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21)
g. As my wife and I raised our 5 children, we tried to emphasize, “Do this, and it will bless your life.”
h. It is most comforting to know, in advance, certain seeds will grow and begin to be delicious to the souls of our children, because this church teaches the laws upon which all blessings are predicated.
VI. As members of this church, we realize we have no corner on access to blessings that flow from obedience to correct principles and laws.
a. Because they are laws established by a loving God, correct principles bless the lives of people of all faiths and of no particular faith
b. For example, without a doubt, the most powerful testimony of tithing I have ever heard was borne by a woman of no particular faith, but who noticed the principle of tithing while reading her Bible
i. She spent an inordinate amount of time researching charitable organizations to learn which ones got the money most effectively to those whose lives she wanted to bless
ii. She told me of how her business had prospered and her life had filled with happiness since she had begun to pay 10% of her gross income to support worthy charitable organizations
iii. She stated matter-of-factly that she would never think of not paying 10% of her income because it had produced such blessings in her life
c. Likewise, the sweetest description that I have yet encountered of the joy that accompanies Sabbath-day worship came from a book written by a devout Jew, Hermann Wouk, in “This Is My God.”
i. Wouk wrote, “If one were to ask me what I love most about my Jewish faith, I would answer without hesitation, ‘the Sabbath.’”
ii. He then went on to describe how this day is filled with worship and family, reflection and scripture reading; all producing joy and setting it apart from every other day of the week
d. Testifying of the effects of God’s laws, on September 17, 1859, in Dayton, Ohio, Abraham Lincoln inscribed the following words in a Bible belonging to Miss Annie Harries, “Live by the words within these covers and you will be forever happy.”
VII. Knowing that these laws operate unfailingly, do we take full advantage of the powerful gifts and blessings provided by the Lord and taught by church leaders?
a. Do we regularly feel the joy of FHE, of home teaching and visiting teaching, of complying with the Word of Wisdom, of tithing, of temple worthiness?
b. Have you recently felt the joy of praying so long that you did not want to cease praying?
c. When was the last time you read the scriptures so regularly and so in depth that you couldn’t wait to immerse yourself in them again?
d. Have you gone through the temple recently and felt the power of the temple going through you?
e. Have you sensed, in wonder and awe, the supernal goodness and greatness of God, proclaiming in your soul, as Moses, “Now for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed”? (Moses 1:10)
VIII. I stand before you today a flawed and imperfect man.
a. As I reflect back through my years in mortality, I know my life has been blessed with peace and joy to the degree I have conformed to teachings of the gospel
b. Conversely, my joy has been diminished to the extent I have strayed from God’s laws; for “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10)
c. Humbly, I bear my witness to all who will hear
d. I know God lives; He is the father of our spirits; He loves us with a perfect love
e. I know Jesus is the Christ, my personal Redeemer and Savior and yours; he has purchased our souls with his precious blood
f. I know Joseph Smith was his prophet; an instrument in the hands of God to restore his true church and priesthood and to bring forth the Book of Mormon, a second witness of Jesus Christ
g. I know this church is led by Jesus Christ, himself, through living prophets, seers and revelators; President Thomas S. Monson is the oracle of God on earth today
IX. The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ is not only the plan of salvation and the plan of redemption; it is also the plan of happiness and joy, in this life and in the life to come
a. The longer I live, the more I realize how few things I really know, but these few things I know and they are just so
b. I know them by the power of the spirit
c. I know them by the operation of God’s laws in my life and in the lives of others
X. Knowing these precious truths and knowing that God’s laws bless lives, Marilynn and I feel a desire to share this joy with as many as possible.
a. In two weeks, we will leave behind family members, the good people of this ward and community as well as other friends and loved ones for 18 months
b. We will travel to the West Indies, devoting full-time service to sharing the joy of the gospel with a people of a different culture and a different race, but all children of God and therefore our brothers and sisters
c. We will invite others to bring all the good found in their faith and traditions and let us add to that good from the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
d. Our hearts are deeply grateful for circumstances that permit us to serve
e. Today, the words of the prophet Alma as recorded in the 29th chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon capture the feelings of my heart:
f. “Yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance, and this is my joy. And behold, when I see my (brother or sister) truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me…then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.”
XI. Brothers and sisters, the God we worship is a God of covenants, a God of truth;
a. Amazingly, the most powerful being in the universe is bound to bless us, when we do as he asks; but when we do not, we have no promise. (D&C 82:10)
b. Of these precious truths I humbly bear witness… in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen
We took a picture of the originals......minus Benjamin!