What better time than the week between Christmas and the New Year to reflect on what has happened over the last twelve months. It’s a time when most of us think about the craziness of what has past and set new goals for what we hope to achieve in the future. Earlier this year, a particular church leader sent our congregation an email of questions we needed to ask ourselves. The gist of his message was, "What have we learned through this unprecedented year, and what do we need to do differently? I printed out the email and intended to answer each of his questions. Instead, I stuck the printout inside my journal and promised to get to the task soon. Guess what I’ve been doing over the last few days as I've prepared to fulfill the assignment to speak in church?
I’ve gathered my thoughts about what most impressed me this year. Those things have made me a different person, have caused me to repent, have immersed me in the scriptures, and have brought such joy to my soul that I can’t even express my sentiment adequately. I’ve learned so many things this year. I couldn't even begin to whittle them down to just a few significant points without leaving out something crucial in the ten minutes allotted to me. But I gave it the old college try.
First, I’ve learned that this has been the most incredible and wonderful year of my life. I realize, along with you, that we’ve limped through quite a few trials since January. Covid-19, riots, and the election. After a flood devastated my upstairs bathroom and leaked into my downstairs hallway at the beginning of the year, I discovered that good often accompanies the bad. My son and I had to live in a hotel for a month while a restoration company put in new walls and ceilings, repainted, and installed a completely new floor in most of the lower level. When we returned to our home in March, it was like moving into a new house. Out with the old and in with the new. Isn’t that like us? Some have experienced hard things this year, like losing loved ones, losing employment, and losing hope and faith in humanity. But all is not lost. Church leader Neil A. Maxwell once said, "For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the Lord is revealing the mysteries of the universe." The Lord promises us that he has the capability, the grace, and the mercy to restore our souls, our shattered faith and hope, and to lift us to a better place. Discovering this concept makes me view adversity with new eyes, though I have to reach down into my very depths and find sufficient faith, the puny, barely visible seed that it is, and allow the Lord’s reconstruction to take place because as we know, all things are possible with Him.
Along with these challenging times this year came the faith-filling events that have struck me with awe. I took part in two General Conferences as I’ve never experienced before, watching my Church leaders completely masked and distanced but with all-inspiring messages that have touched me in unusual ways this time. I’ve celebrated the 200th anniversary since Joseph Smith's First Vision, as well as the 400th year since the Pilgrims' landing. I’ve learned messages from the Book of Mormon that had slipped my understanding previously, of how closely that book correlates with what is going on in the world right now and with what is about to take place when our Savior returns. I’ve come to understand better that because of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that I'm of the literal seed of the House of Israel, and because I am a convert, I have been gathered into Christ's fold. I’ve learned more about the Savior’s condescension below all things to become mortal like us, just so he could learn the pain, infirmities, and weaknesses by experience and know how to better succor us and lift us to become like Him, perfect and without spot. Thanks to some friends, last week, I experienced the marvels of the Lord’s creations. By looking through a telescope lens, I witnessed Saturn's rings with my very own eyes and that for the first time in 800 years, that planet could appear closer to Jupiter and its several moons as their orbits aligned with one another.
This year, I’ve learned that you and I face a miraculous and wonderful future if we but hear the Savior's voice and heed it. In the April conference, President Nelson said, “The Church will have an unprecedented, unparalleled future." 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'” How wonderful is that? The prophet then asked us in the October conference, “How are we to deal with both the somber prophecies and the glorious pronouncements about our day?” He reminds us of the Lord’s promise, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” As well as the many other talks in the October Conference, this message reminded me I wasn’t as prepared physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually as I should be. The prophet's words have spurred me to study harder, add to my food storage, seek to overcome my fear of people, push myself to think of others more often and help those I can. That is a hard thing for me. But with the Lord’s help, I can get better at it.
I learned that what often seems impossible may be easier and more plausible than I think. As I’ve studied the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, Revelation, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants this year, I am convinced the 2nd Coming is closer than we think. I’ve studied the City of David's excavation, where some believe the Jews built their first and second temples and where the third is soon to follow. I’ve perused the website that displays the Minnorah, the shewbread trays, and the temple robes ready for placement within that new temple. And I’ve felt the significance of the Kohanim, descendants of the tribe of Levi, who in 2019 built an altar and sacrificed the first paschal lamb in 2000 years. I've witnessed organizations where some Jewish nations are beginning to see the possibility that Jesus Christ is their Savior. The gathering is going on, and the coming events will fulfill all prophesy. Just because miraculous events have never happened to us personally before and just because people have been discussing the 2nd Coming for a long time doesn’t mean that things can’t and aren’t happening all around us even now. Such occurrences have given me a greater urgency to repent and be watchful.
I felt excitement when President Erying, at the October General Conference Women’s session, said, “You sisters, your daughters, your granddaughters, and the women you have nurtured will be at the heart of creating that society of people who will join in glorious association with the Savior. You will be an essential force in the gathering of Israel and the creation of a Zion people who will dwell in peace in the New Jerusalem. Can the words of one of our prophets be any clearer? I believe with all my heart that the messages are right in front of our faces. Are we seeing and hearing them?
I have also learned to have more gratitude. As President Nelson asked us to look around for ways to be grateful and share that gratitude with others, how blessed my life has become. I'm thankful I survived a terrible flu in that hotel while they restored my house, that I got back into my home before the pandemic took over the world, that I celebrated the birth of my third grandchild on April 6 of this year, and that I finished and published my first book, even when I wanted to give up at times because the feat was too difficult. I’m grateful Heavenly Father guided me to find this Church over forty years ago. It's allowed me to rub shoulders with such wonderful brothers and sisters over the years, to learn gospel principles and doctrines that have changed my life, and that I’m living in the winding-up days of this last dispensation. And not only have I witnessed Saturn and Jupiter's conjunction, but President Nelson said there is much, much more to come.
And the glorious thing about all these things is that I’ve discovered I’m weird. You’re weird too. And it’s okay to be weird. The Lord encourages it. By weird, I mean I'm different from you, you are different from each other, and it's fascinating to realize that. It means I can bring to the table my talents, weaknesses, and abilities, and you can bring yours, and together, we can create a beautiful mess that will help each other as nothing else can. It means I won’t judge you for your uniqueness, and you won’t judge me for mine. We’ll just gather the love and attributes of our neighbors, or our cooky Uncle Bob’s, and together turn that mess into something glorious—to create a hodgepodge of grandeur and look to the future with hope and faith as we never have before. Repeatedly this year, the prophets have been telling us to improve our personal revelation, hope, and faith, and to Hear Him, our Savior Jesus Christ. I’m earnestly trying to listen and obey. So, when you ask me, “Are you looking forward to 2021? My answer to you is this: “You bet I am. As you should be. Because, as President Nelson has told us, “Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again.” I don't know about you, but I'm earnestly waiting and watching for the future joys to come.