The front room of our house looks like an ordinary front room that you may find in any number of homes. It has some moderately comfortable couches, a second hand piano that the kids practice on somewhat diligently, and some standard Ikea furniture. It was just another room in our home until a few weeks ago when life changed and we started staying at home because of the coronavirus. Since we have been at home, this seemingly ordinary room has transformed into a sacred place — a place where my family has felt the Spirit, worshiped Jesus Christ, sung hymns, and learned the gospel.
When we first viewed our home, our realtor jokingly referred to the front room as the “meet the preacher” room. Little did he know that this room would eventually become the nucleus of our home-centered worship. Since we have lived here we have held our weekly Family Home Evening lessons in this room. Even when there were no couches, piano, or Ikea furniture, we held our lessons in this room.
When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were told that we would not be holding in-person church services because of COVID-19, the purpose of this little room changed. It was elevated in our minds from our family home evening room to our sacrament meeting room. We started spending careful time on Saturdays making sure it was clean. We dusted more often. We cleaned the windows. We made space for our family to partake of the sacrament.
On the first week that we gathered as a family to partake of the sacrament in our front room, we sang a song, had an opening prayer and then I administered the sacrament to my family. As I was blessing the emblems, I felt the cleansing, sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost come into that little front room. The children were still. The peace that attends sacred places was present in that room. Every week since, as I have knelt at our little sacrament table, I have felt that same spirit.
Our children have also sensed the change in our home. They have been prepared for our Sunday services. They have each, on separate occasions, found their way to the front room on Sunday morning to sit and be quiet. Sometimes they will sit with each other. I believe that their innocent spirits are sensitive to the Holy Ghost and enjoy being in places where He is.
I want to have that spirit in my home all of the time! How do I accomplish this? I believe the statement from the Bible Dictionary quoted earlier is true — the home compares with the temple in sacredness. So what steps can we take to make it that way all the time? Elder Gary E. Stevenson taught the following:
Imagine that you are opening your front door and walking inside your home. What do you see, and how do you feel? Is it a place of love, peace, and refuge from the world, as is the temple? Is it clean and orderly? As you walk through the rooms of your home, do you see uplifting images which include appropriate pictures of the temple and the Savior? Is your bedroom or sleeping area a place for personal prayer? Is your gathering area or kitchen a place where food is prepared and enjoyed together, allowing uplifting conversation and family time? Are scriptures found in a room where the family can study, pray, and learn together? Can you find your personal gospel study space? Does the music you hear or the entertainment you see, online or otherwise, offend the Spirit? Is the conversation uplifting and without contention?
All the things we put into our home, especially the activities we choose to engage in and the way we spend our time either invite or discourage the Spirit from being in our homes.
As we, individually and in our families, consistently point our attention to Jesus Christ, our homes can be sacred places. As we exercise our faith and continually repent, the Holy Ghost will be in our homes. Will they always be quiet and peaceful sacred places? No! They are sacred laboratories. Things sometimes go wrong in these sacred places. Sometimes they are loud! They are still inhabited by imperfect people. However, as we turn our eyes to the Savior and let His light fill us, we can allow the Spirit to sanctify our homes. They can become refuges from the storms of life. They can be filled with the Spirit of God.
In May of 1895, the ship Teutonic left the port in Liverpool, England, bound for the United States of America. On the ship was a three-year-old girl, Hannah Askew. She and her family were traveling to America to be reunited with her father. The family had moved from England to Australia in 1888, because of the shortage of work in England. Life in Australia, however, was not much better than life in England, so they had moved back to England. When the Panic of 1893 hit, Hannah’s father went to America to find work. He worked sporadically in different jobs until he got a well-paying job in the iron mines near Ishpeming, Michigan. After procuring lodging he sent for his family. Now the family was coming to meet him and begin their new life in the United States.
The ship had rough sailing and Hannah, her brother and sister, and mother were constantly sick. The quarters on the ship were cramped and miserable and she was kept inside for much of the voyage. The family finally arrived in the United States on July 3, 1895, and were welcomed at Ellis Island. That night they stayed at a friend’s house who fed them a dinner of bread and milk. They traveled from New York by train to Michigan and were reunited with their father. Hannah Askew is my great-grandmother and one of the millions of immigrants that came to America in the 1800’s.
As immigrants like Hannah entered New York Harbor, they passed under the welcoming arms of the Statue of Liberty. On the pedestal of the status are these immortal words:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door!”
The people who came to America were usually not the rich or the famous; they were the tired, the poor, and the wretched seeking a golden door. That golden door was opened for them in America and so they came seeking a golden opportunity an opportunity that was found in the great cotton and wool mills of the large cities, opportunity that was found in the mines, the farms, the west, and the railroad
These immigrants contributed to our culture and much of the richness that we now enjoy. Immigrants from Norway and the Netherlands brought many of our Christmas traditions. Italian immigrants brought some of our favorite foods. Immigrants from Ireland brought their legends of Saint Patrick. Movies were introduced to America by the Russian Jews and the Greeks. The log cabin was introduced by the Swedes, and the Germans organized symphonies and clubs. Because of the diversity of the cultures that are mixed to form the American culture, we have the richest culture in the world. America’s welcome became America’s wealth.
Since the days of the Ellis Island, we have continued to welcome immigrants and their descendants. We have strived to accept and befriend all people into our churches and our schools. We have elected them to public office and befriended them in our neighborhoods.
Although our doors may not be opened as wide as they were in 1895, when my great-grandmother arrived, our hearts are open still. In our hearts America still welcomes the world. We welcome them by carrying their burdens, by lighting their way, by reaching out to them.
The United States has helped people recover from war, and improved living conditions in third world countries. We have been a major contributor in disaster relief throughout the world and have been the intermediaries and helpers of many struggling governments.
In no war in which the United States has been engaged has it seized property or land from an enemy as a treasure of war. Always we have graciously helped the people in countries regain their lives. After World War II, the United States gave Japan millions of dollars to build steel factories and to help restore what had been destroyed by the war. When soviet armies blockaded Berlin, we airlifted thousands of tons of food through the winter to keep the people from starving.
The United States has also played a prominent role in disaster relief around the world. When there were earthquakes in India the US helped immediately. Rescue workers from the US were sent to help. Food was sent from the Red Cross and many religious institutions. When rain waters flooded the country of Bolivia, we again sent workers and food to help the suffering people.
Just as our government reaches out to others, so do our people. As individuals, we welcome the world. The United States is home to thousands of humanitarian organizations that routinely send help and supplies to the poor and needy of the world. In high school I traveled to Peru with one of these organizations. We took simple things such as nails, hammers, crayons, beads, and educational supplies, and we taught them how to use them. We taught them how to build an efficient stove out of mud, and helped put in a water system to help with sanitation problems. We helped them to improve their overall experience of life by taking America’s richness and sharing it with them.
Many other people help the poor and needy people of the world. We have organized groups like the Oulessabougou Alliance whose mission is to help the people of Mali. This organization raises money by selling goods produced by villagers in Mali to people in America. This money then goes back to Mali to pay teachers and to send educational and medical supplies. By helping in this way, they do not make the people dependent on America for leadership and organization. Almost all of the leaders in the alliance are from Mali and will continue to live there and support their country. The founders of the alliance have reached out with their hearts and helped to take the golden door to Mali.
America has welcomed the world in different ways throughout its history. In the 1800’s we welcomed thousands of people to our shores and our way of life. These people brought their culture with them and enriched our culture by it. People still come to America and we should welcome them still. Today we welcome the people of the world into our hearts as we not only welcome them to our shores but also build them up in their native lands and help them better their lives. Our welcome reaches across borders, it embraces all people, it seeks to better the whole world.
This text is a slightly reworked speech that I gave as part of a Independence Day speech competition in 2001. I think it is pertinent today
Today I taught a lesson to the deacon’s quorum at church. The topic of the lesson was “What covenants did I make at baptism?” I had been really busy this week and sadly didn’t get to preparing my lesson until Sunday morning. I was struggling to figure out what to talk about when I had an inspiration from the Holy Ghost to share a story about my ancestor Christian Hans Monson who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Norway in the 1800’s I have always loved this story and I wanted to share it with my deacons as an example of someone who kept his baptismal covenants. I thought it would be a good story to tell but I was completely unprepared for the way that I was touched as I shared this story to these young men today. As I was sharing the story, I was overcome by gratitude for what this man had done for me in choosing to join the church. The spirit filled the room as I recounted his story of conversion and of his courage in standing up for what he knew to be true. I admire and respect this great man and hope to live in such a way as to honor his name.
I wanted to share his story here for you to enjoy. This version actually originally appeared in The Friend magazine in 1976 and you can find the original here.
Christian fingered the key in his pocket as he walked toward the jail. It had taken months of study and prayer before he had finally decided to use that key for something more important than just opening the jail door so he could carry meals to those who were held there as prisoners.
Almost all the men in the jailhouse were Mormon missionaries. Many of them had sailed into the Port of Frederikstad in a pilot boat they had fitted up and named Sions Löve (Zion’s Lion) so that they could easily travel to coastal areas of the Scandinavian Mission, then including all of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
At first Christian hadn’t paid much attention to the missionaries, for he was busy learning the catechism so he could correctly answer any questions he might be asked by the priest at the confirmation service that was soon to be held for prospective young members of the Lutheran Church. He was not concerned about the fact that almost as soon as any Mormon missionaries arrived in Frederikstad they were arrested.
Lutheranism was the national religion of Norway and missionaries who taught other doctrines were promptly jailed, some for only a few weeks, others for many months. During this time they frequently were taken to court and almost forced to renounce their religion and declare allegiance to the national church of Norway. Refusing to do so, they were then returned to their quarters.
Christian worked for the warden of the jail who instructed him to heckle and be as unpleasant as possible to the prisoners when he carried meals to them. This seemed like fun until one day a young missionary said, “Why do you talk and act as you do? Remember that so persecuted they the Christ and His followers in Bible times.”
The startled boy asked him to explain what he meant, so two of the elders began talking about the gospel and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Every night as Christian studied for his confirmation examination, he also studied the Book of Mormon, comparing it with his Bible and the Lutheran catechism. As the truthfulness of the restored gospel became more and more apparent to him, Christian prayed to know what he should do. Since no answer came before the confirmation date, he purposely failed the examination and then made application to take it again in six months.
Thinking back over his months of prayer and study, Christian knew what he must do. He finally decided to use his key to the prison to let the two missionaries out of jail long enough to go with him to a nearby fjord so he could be baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Afterward the three walked back to the jailhouse where the elders returned to their room and Christian turned the key in the lock to their cell.
Because of the persecution toward members of the Church throughout Norway, and also because he knew how angry his father would be, Christian did not tell anyone of the thrilling event that had taken place on that cold winter night of 1852. He knew he would not be able to make his stern father understand what he had done. He tried to talk with his mother but she would not listen. When the next confirmation service was held, Christian honored his application and appeared for his examination with the other prospective young Lutherans.
“Do you believe in God?” was the first question asked by the priest.
“Oh, yes,” Christian answered quickly.
“Can you describe Him?” was the next question.
“I know He is a Being with body, parts, and passions,” Christian replied. “I also know He does not sit on the top of a topless throne. I know our Heavenly Father is good and kind, that He sees, hears, and answers prayers. I know we are made in His image as was His Son Jesus Christ.”
The priest was surprised by this description but continued with the examination, becoming more and more amazed with the answers Christian gave. As the boy glanced at his father he could see that he was very upset. Finally, the priest said angrily, “You answer as if you belonged to that sect known as Mormons.”
“I do,” Christian said, “and I’m proud of it!”
At this declaration, Christian’s father arose from his seat near the front of the Church and rushed up the aisle and out the door, striking his cane hard against the floor with every step he took. Confused and embarrassed, Christian’s mother followed her husband, and their son was abruptly dismissed.
Christian went home wanting to talk with his parents, but he was afraid of what they would say. Having carried his usual armful of wood into the house that night, Christian was piling it near the fireplace when his father came into the room. At the sight of his son who he felt had disgraced him, Christian’s father struck him with his cane and then began to beat him. At last, panting for breath, his father laid the merciless cane on the table.
“Oh, Father,” Christian said quietly, “it feels good to be whipped for the gospel’s sake.”
At these words, the father became even more furious. He picked up stick after stick of firewood and hurled them at Christian. When the wood was gone, he opened the door and shouted, “Get out of my house. I never want to see you again!”
Bruised and bleeding from the beating and the wood that had been thrown at him, Christian dragged himself out to the barn where he threw himself upon the hay. Late that night after her husband was asleep, Christian’s mother noiselessly tied a little food and a few of his belongings in a handkerchief and went out to the barn. Tearfully she treated her son’s injuries as well as she could.
“Why, oh why, did you do this thing, Christian?” she pleaded heartbrokenly.
“Because I had to, Mother,” Christian replied. “I have studied and prayed and I know this is the only true Church. I tried to tell you but you would not listen to me. I cannot deny what I know, Mother. If I did, it would be to deny Jesus Christ, our Savior, and I cannot do that.”
“If, as you say, you know this is right, my boy,” his mother told him, “then you must stand firm. But oh, how my heart aches.”
When the first streaks of dawn appeared in the sky, Christian’s mother crept back into the house. Christian picked up the little bundle she had brought to him and started walking down the road. As he passed his house he breathed a good-bye to his parents, for he knew he would never see them again.
Christian Hans Monson didn’t know where he would go or what he could do. “But I have a testimony,” the fourteen-year-old boy said to himself. “Whatever happens, I can never deny that. And I know that because of my testimony, all will be well.”
Patience is an interesting quality. It has been described as “the capacity to endure delay,trouble, opposition, or suffering without becoming angry, frustrated, or anxious.” Most people know that they need to learn to be patient but when it comes down to learning to be patient it is often more difficult than it seems it should be. I’ve been blessed in my life to have many experiences that have helped me to develop patience.
While I was serving my LDS mission in the Philippines, I had to learn to deal with people that I didn’t get along with well. I also learned that people have their agency and that no matter what I did, sometimes they would choose to not follow the things that I was teaching them. More recently I was taught patience when a trip home to see my family for an important even didn’t go as planned.
Patience is an especially important virtue when we desire a blessing from the Lord. Sometimes it is difficult for people that believe in the promises of God to understand why He doesn’t bless them with the righteous desires of their hearts when they want Him to. Learning to have patience with the Lord can be particularly difficult and requires faith and diligence in following the commandments of God.
In Psalms 27: 14 David says that we are to “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” When we want any blessing from God, it is important that we realize that we need to wait for His timing in receiving that blessing.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks quoted Neil A. Maxwell saying,
“The issue for us is trusting God enough to trust His timing. If we can truly believe He has our welfare at heart, may we not let His plans unfold as He thinks best? The same is true with the second coming and with all those matters wherein our faith needs to include faith in the Lord’s timing for us personally, not just His overall plans and purposes.”
So the key to learning to patiently wait on the Lord is to have faith in the Lord’s timing. I know that as we learn to have faith in the Lord’s timing in our lives that we can live richer, fuller, happier lives. If we are constantly questioning why we aren’t getting this or that blessing that we feel we deserve, then we will never learn to be happy. If we have this negative, scarcity-based mindset we will always live lives of scarcity. If, however, we choose to rejoice in the blessings that are ours and focus on the abundance of blessings in our lives we will be better able to wait on the Lord for blessings that he has promised will be ours.
While I was exploring the University of Texas at Austin this July, I discovered a statue and a plaque that were quiet interesting to me. The plaque was at the base of a statue of a father and mother holding their young child. They are looking upward together. They are striving for a better world and teaching their child to do the same. The plaque reads,
“The family is the foundation upon which the world of business is built, and it is a vital force in the local, state and national economy.”
The statue is by Michigan native Charles Umlauf who worked at UT Austin as a sculpture instructor. His works can be seen across America from the Smithsonian and New York city to Central Texas. I believe that Mr. Umlauf catches the essence of the importance of the family in this simple statement and with his statue. The family is not simply an old tradition, it is the fundamental building block of society. Without a family with a mother and a father to teach them, children grow up with a skewed sense of their place in society. They struggle to understand their civic duty and they have more difficulty becoming a contributing citizen. It is important that our society preserve this fundamental unit. If this unit crumbles or if it is forcibly replaced by a government or social activists, the very fundamental part of our free society will disappear and we will be left to stumble in the dark.
So I don’t usually share personal things on my blog but I’m getting married next month and I wanted to share my story. I’m marrying the lovely Sarah Huggard on 13 May and I am so excited! She is the most wonderful girl in the world and I am so blessed that she is willing to marry me. We have so much in common and look forward to long life together.
It all started on Valentine’s Day 2009. We were both in the BYU Concert Choir, and we had both gone of up to SLC to watch the BYU Men’s Chorus have master class with the King’s Singers. Sarah kind of had her eye on this tall, blue-eyed baritone, and although we hadn’t talked much before, we sat together during the master class. Sarah said, “I got kind of excited inside, but I tried to not let it show too much.”
The next week Adam asked Sarah out on their first official date. Sarah was surprised that Adam asked her! It was a group date to the Space Center (where they do simulated space missions that make you feel like you’re part of a Star Trek movie). For the next two months or so, we went on a few dates, hung out some, and saw each other a lot in choir.
At the end of April, Sarah mustered up all the courage she had and asked Adam on a date to the BYU Singers’ Bon Voyage concert. Thankfully Adam said yes, and we had a grand time. At the end of the date, Adam asked if he could be “blunt”, which Sarah found rather refreshing. He told Sarah that he liked her, but he just wasn’t ready to start any sort of relationship right then.
Despite this conversation, Sarah’s mind was spinning when Adam asked asked her on a date four days later. Over the course of the next six weeks, we went on seven dates and hung out on the side. Finally, in June, we decided to start dating exclusively.
“The next two months were so enjoyable,” Sarah said. “I hadn’t ever had a boyfriend, and Adam was incredible. He was kind, proactive, intelligent, talented, a hard worker, sensitive to the Spirit, living the best he could, and attractive besides! I couldn’t figure out how a guy like him ever wanted to date me.”
For whatever reason (that Adam still can’t figure out), Adam broke up with Sarah in August. We still wanted to be friends, but heaven knows how often that works out with ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. Adam was a confused mess and Sarah was heartbroken, but with time and the power of the atonement, she was able to accept what had happened and fully heal. The hard part was that we lived in the same apartment complex, and once school started, we saw each other in choir every day again. We had to get used to seeing each other often but not interacting like we had been able to do before.
In November, Sarah started to seriously consider serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By December, she started the application papers, but she felt like she should wait until January or April of 2011 to serve, so she decided to put the application away for a year or so.
Adam started to get wind of all this mission talk through the magic of facebook (ahh, facebook). He got a bit nervous with all the talk and decided that he’d better figure out what was going on. He sent Sarah a message out of the blue that went something like this:
Sarah, I saw that there’s mission talk on your wall. Have you started your papers? Just curious, Adam
Sarah: “Wait, what? I was so confused. There was no way that Adam could have noticed mission talk on my wall without committing the crime of facebook stalking. Suuuuuuuuure he was ‘just curious.'” As confused as she was, she replied and told him that she had started her papers but that she was waiting for a year or so before she left. You can imagine how that made Adam start to think. He had already started considering trying to date Sarah again, and hearing this news took that feeling to a whole new level.
About this time, almost every guy Sarah knew decided to get back in contact with her and/or ask her on a date. One day after choir, Adam followed Sarah to the library. Along the way it seemed like she talked with 100 boys and Adam got more and more nervous. He stopped Sarah in the library and asked if he could take her out on Friday, but she already had a date for that night. He settled for Saturday.
Sarah’s head was spinning, but she tried to tell herself that Adam was just asking her out because we were friends. She told herself to not make a big deal out of it. Adam, meantime, was ecstatic! He had gotten up the courage to ask her again and it felt really good that she had accepted.
The date was so enjoyable! We went to Café Rio, Opera Scenes at BYU, and to an ice cream shop. We were able to talk like old times and just enjoy each others’ company. At the end of the date, Adam asked Sarah if he could take her out the next weekend, and she, completely surprised, told him, “Suuuuuuuuuure.” When she seemed to accept so readily, he also asked if she wanted to run up to his grandparents’ house in Salt Lake with him the next day, Sunday, and she agreed to go with him. Adam just thought, “Wow things were going great!”
Sarah’s head was still spinning. It seemed like Adam was interested in starting things up again, but she didn’t like being confused. She didn’t want to risk getting her heart broken again. She said, “I knew that I needed to ask Adam what he was up to.”
On the drive home from Adam’s grandparents’ house, she mustered up her courage again and said to Adam, “I’m sorry if this is a little blunt or awkward, but I’m confused, Adam. What are your intentions?” He chuckled and replied, “Well, I have intentions.” He went on to explain that he had realized a lot of things over the past several months, and he wanted to date Sarah again. When he asked Sarah what she thought about that, she said, “Well, I’d love to date you again, but honestly, I’m scared. I don’t want to get my heart broken again.” Adam bravely said, “I don’t want to manipulate you at all, but I can’t see me wanting to break up with you again.” …in other words, he was in it for the long run.
Sarah knew she needed to ponder seriously about what she wanted to do—and about what was the right thing to do. She brought up some of her concerns with Adam about dating him again, and she decided to let him know by our date on Saturday if she would date him again. Adam thought that was fine and was overjoyed that she even would consider dating him again. He thought that a week was really quick and would have been willing to wait much longer to let Sarah feel comfortable again.
Well . . . the whole one week thing didn’t work out so great.
Since we have choir together, we saw each other every day, and we talked every day after class. Sarah even went over to Adam’s apartment twice and talked to him. She could see that Adam was sincere in word and deed. After pondering and praying a great deal, she realized that she really wanted to date him, and she felt like it was the right thing to do, too! Adam was so excited when Sarah finally told him (on Wednesday mind you and not on Saturday), and Sarah was excited too. 🙂
That Saturday (so two weeks after our first date the second time around), we had a choir concert in SLC. We were holding hands at the concert and got some slightly confused looks from the choir who had no idea that we were dating. After the concert, we went to Marie Callender’s for pie with his parents, and Adam surprised Sarah with a lovely bouquet of flowers. We chitchatted on the way back to Sarah’s home and marveled at how our time apart had helped us.
On this drive, Adam bravely brought up a risky topic: “So, if this were to go long-term…….have you thought about timing at all?” Sarah told him, “Yes….” (Sarah said, “I’m surprised I could even get the word out of my mouth! You see—Adam has an internship in Austin from May to August, and we both knew that we were in it for the long run…so if we wanted to get married soon, it would have to be in May, before going to Austin, or in August, after being apart all summer, after Adam’s internship, and right before school started. That was no bueno.”)
Through the course of our conversation, we realized that we wanted to get married—and in May. From that point we were “unofficially engaged” and decided to tell only our parents.
Three days later, Adam asked Sarah’s dad for his permission. Wednesday, we went ring shopping. Friday, we had a splendid date. That evening, Adam said, “I have something to show you, but it has to be in the morning…like early. Can I pick you up around 6:40?” Sarah, mostly unaware of what was going on, told him yes.
All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Adam picked Sarah up in the morning, and we drove to the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. We walked over to the east side of the temple grounds and had a lovely talk about all sorts of things, particularly about covenants, while watching a beautiful sunrise come over the mountain. After the sun rose, Adam had Sarah sit down on a bench. He knelt down, said some wonderfully romantic things, and asked her to marry him. 🙂 Sarah ecstatically replied, “Yes!!!””
I am thrilled beyond belief! It is miracle to me that everything has worked out so perfectly. Adam is the man of my dreams and more, and I’m so excited that he and I get to spend eternity together. We have been truly, abundantly blessed.” — Sarah
“I am the most blessed man in the world. I’m so happy that Sarah would even give me the time of day let alone want to marry me. I love her and I am excited to spend eternity with her. She is the most gorgeous girl in the world! She has prepared herself in the right ways to be a righteous wife and mother in Zion and for that I will be eternally grateful.” — Adam