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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Does the Love of God Matter?

Maya Angelou

While driving home, I heard this wonderful quote from Maya Angelou, a Civil Rights' activist overcame many difficult experiences. I thought I would share it with you.
"One day the teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was 24, very erudite, very worldly. He asked that I read from Lessons in Truth, a section which ended with these words: "God loves me." I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, "Read it again." I pointedly opened the book, and I sarcastically read, "God loves me." He said, "Again." After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes the majority? 
"That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears, and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains, down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silver seas. I'm a spring leaf trembling in anticipation."
(Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, 1993)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Finding Family at A Russian-American Wedding

Jake and Galena
Today I had the honor of attending the beautiful wedding ceremony of my Russian friend, Galena, to her American husband, Jake.

The word 'beautiful' doesn't do it justice. It was a moment of pure grace and rapture—a spiritually transformative event.

The wedding ceremony took place in the Salt Lake Temple and was officiated by Elder Paul B. Pieper, a humble, spiritual giant.

As fate would have it, I sat next to Brother and Sister Sessions, a couple that served in my exact same mission (Vladivostok, Russia) at the exact same time as me. As soon as I sat down next to them, Sister Sessions did a double take and said: "Smith!" I did my best to hide the emotion as I responded to their questions. I was touched that after all these years, they had remembered the quiet Elder who had left the mission a year early.

Shortly after I took my seat, Jake and Galena entered entered the room—what a lovely couple!—and the ceremony began. Tears sprang to my eyes as Elder Pieper spoke the words of the ceremony first in Russian, then in English. As I watched Galena, my dear friend of nearly ten years, be sealed to her husband for time and all eternity, I was overcome with a feeling of intense gratitude. The sealing power is real, and it is wholesome, good, and pure. I am grateful that knowledge and power of sealing relationships together for time and all eternity was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Parley P. Pratt said it best when he wrote:
"It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. . . . I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling" (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (1938), 259–60; paragraph divisions altered).
Through the power of this restored knowledge, two very different people had been sealed together in marriage for time and all eternity. Despite any cultural differences, they were now a family.

Furthermore, through the power of this restored knowledge, I had been blessed to serve in a remote corner of Russia, and had come to know the goodness and greatness of the Russian people. Despite our cultural differences, I now recognize them as part of my family. What a beautiful, rapturous thing. Sitting in that sealing room, my heart was filled with a strong desire to bring the blessings of the gospel (and the temple) to each and every one of the Russian people. If, for no other reason, than to help us all see each other as family.

So here's to you on your wedding day, Galena—Моя дорогая сестра (My dear sister).