Author Archives: Stephanie Gifford

Calming the Storms of Doubt

Sacred GroveOftentimes I struggle to find enough self-esteem to fill a thimble. It is by far my biggest challenge. I look at various aspects of my life – everything from appearance to filling my roles as wife, mother, teacher, church member and citizen – and one phrase just seems to sum it all up: Not Good Enough. Perhaps you know the feeling. I am well aware that doubt and uncertainty are tools of the adversary, but having that knowledge doesn’t mean they are easy to overcome.

Doubt is such a powerful tool that Satan tried to use it to thwart one of the greatest events in history. We read in Joseph Smith-History about the dark moments immediately preceding the First Vision: “Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction” (JS-H 1:15). In another account of this event, we learn even more about the negative influence on the future prophet. “The adversary made several strenuous attempts to cool the passion of [my] soul. He clouded [my] mind with doubts and brought to [my] mind all sorts of improper images to prevent [me] from attaining the object of [my] endeavors…” (emphasis added)

Joseph Smith did not succumb to those doubts and neither can we. Remember why doubt comes. This account is a great illustration of a simple truth: Satan attacks what is good. Though the heavens may not be opening to usher in the restoration in our lives, the principle is the same. When we are striving to do good, live righteously, and fulfill our eternal purpose, Satan will try to derail our efforts. He knows that he can’t generally do it in the more obvious ways, so he has to subtly pick away at an individual in every way he knows how. I don’t struggle with temptations to steal, murder, commit adultery or anything like that, but I do struggle significantly with being distracted by doubts and allowing those doubts to reduce my effectiveness.

Joseph SmithIn order to stay on track and push the doubts out of my life, I rely on my feisty German side to take over and focus on another lesson learned from the First Vision. Joseph Smith said, “It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me?” (JS-H 1:20, emphasis added)

A disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom.

I have always been drawn to that phrase and consider it a personal aspiration. I also want to be a disturber and an annoyer of the adversary’s kingdom. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that Satan doesn’t win a single battle within my sphere of influence. I want to actively work for the Savior and build his kingdom in any way I can. We have to choose a side; there is no place in the Kingdom of God for fence-sitters. One of my favorite quotes is from Elder John A. Widtsoe: “The troubles of the world may largely be laid at the doors of those who are neither hot nor cold; who always follow the line of least resistance; whose timid hearts flutter at taking sides for truth. As in the great Council in the heavens, so in the Church of Christ on earth, there can be no neutrality. We are, or we are not, on the side of the Lord” (April 1941 General Conference).

Being on the side of the Lord comes with opposition. We need to recognize when the adversary is trying to render us ineffective and then press forward in righteous endeavors regardless of that opposition. The Prophet Joseph set a great example for all of us. From the time he knelt in that grove of trees until the time of his death, he faced tremendous resistance and hostility but stayed on an undeviating course of righteous accomplishment. We can and must do the same because we are each helping to continue the work he started.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28 states, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” When doubt and uncertainty start to get you down, remember whose side you are on and why those feelings creep in. Don’t let the adversary win. Be a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom by following the counsel given in this scripture. Find your good cause and bring to pass much righteousness in your sphere of influence. Doing so will allow us to feel God’s love and the assurance that we are always good enough for him as we serve him and keep his commandments.

Netflix Now a Landmine of Pornography for Teens

Child watching TV The world has become a minefield that our children and families are expected to navigate, with landmines of evil disguised at every turn. Landmines are insidious by design. They are hidden underground awaiting an unsuspecting victim to trigger an explosion. You never know where they will turn up, and their effects can be devastating. Even when you think you’re aware of the impending danger and have properly swept an area, you can still be taken by surprise as I was a few days ago.

There I was sitting on my couch about to watch some Netflix. The work I do is in the area of sex education, and there just happens to be a new show on Netflix entitled ‘Sex Education,’ so I watched it to see what angle they were taking. Given the title, the previews, and the age in which we live, I certainly didn’t expect a pure show, but I also didn’t expect the blatant display of pornography that awaited me in the opening scene. The first episode opens with a teenage couple having sex with full nudity and full frame shots of what is happening. It was shocking. Continue reading

The Battle Rages On – Will We Engage?

Family reading Friend magazineWe have reached 2019 and the start of a new home-centered and Church-supported plan for teaching from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Come, Follow Me. A change of this magnitude can be accompanied by trepidation and uncertainty, but consistently moving forward with faith will help us be successful as we take our place as the prime gospel teachers of our children.

Why the Change?

In his opening address in the October 2018 General Conference, President Nelson said, “The adversary is increasing his attacks on faith and upon us and our families at an exponential rate. To survive spiritually, we need counterstrategies and proactive plans. Accordingly, we now want to put in place organizational adjustments that will further fortify our members and their families.”

Consider the words he used: “attacks,” “survive,” “counterstrategies,” “proactive plans,” “fortify.” These are battle terms, and it makes perfect sense. The War in Heaven continues to rage on the earth today and we cannot afford to have an “all is well in Zion” attitude. The adversary has increased his attacks on the righteous and on families and we need to fight back. The prophet is calling upon us to take an active role in opposing the efforts of the adversary by being proactive in strengthening our families and ensuring the gospel is taught in our homes. This is a matter of spiritual survival. Continue reading

A Call to Protect the Virtue of Our Youth

ClassroomThere is a movement being pushed in classrooms throughout the country called Comprehensive Sexuality Education or CSE. It is not your traditional sex education about anatomy and physiology. Instead, it uses graphic content to teach students the process of having sex, including how to negotiate sexual encounters and how to acquire and use contraceptives. It normalizes homosexual sex, alternative lifestyles, and gender theory. It teaches students about abortion and where to find reproductive health services in the community. Students often role play various same- or opposite-sex scenarios to learn how to encourage their partner to use protection. Many CSE programs teach children and youth that they are sexual beings and have a right to sexuality education. Any or all of these components – and many more – can be included in a Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum. A link to examples is included at the end of the article.

Many of these teachings are completely counter to what we believe about the divine origin of gender and the sacred nature of sexual intimacy. This topic is frequently addressed by Church leaders, and there is no question as to the standards we are commanded to uphold and to teach our children. Continue reading

Keep on Paddling!

Row boatThe scriptures are full of prophecies about the last days in which we live. One of the most well-known is this verse wherein Nephi warns of Satan’s tactics: “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).

Complacency. Satan desires to keep us asleep and therefore ineffective in standing for truth and righteousness. He tries to keep us so busy that we don’t have time to fully live the gospel or recognize the myriad of ways that he is attacking the family and the gospel plan.

The opposite of complacency is vigilance. Nowhere is our eternal vigilance more important than in our own homes protecting our children from the influence of the adversary that rages all around them. Time and time again we have been taught the steps to take in protecting our families. Read the Book of Mormon every day. Pray together. Hold weekly Family Home Evenings. Spend quality time together. Participate in family councils. These seemingly simple things will give our families the best chance of overcoming the world and being together for eternity. Continue reading

Men and Women Have Equal Access to the Blessings of the Priesthood

Rocket at takeoffIn his recent General Conference talk entitled, “The Priesthood and the Savior’s Atoning Power,” Elder Renlund uses an analogy wherein he compares the priesthood to a rocket. The rocket is used to deliver cargo, or payload, which in this case is the opportunity to benefit from the Savior’s atoning power. The rocket of the priesthood delivers this cargo to all worthy members of the Church who desire it, regardless of gender, age, economic status, or any other factor. The Savior’s atoning power is made available to all, and all are invited to receive it.

What is the purpose of the priesthood?

Elder Renlund describes the purpose of the priesthood in this way: “For Heavenly Father’s purposes to be accomplished, Christ’s atoning power needs to be made available to God’s children. The priesthood delivers these opportunities. It is the rocket. Priesthood is essential because necessary ordinances and covenants on earth are administered only by its authority.”

The opportunities delivered through the priesthood include baptism, confirmation, partaking of the sacrament, healing of the sick, blessings of comfort, setting apart when receiving a calling to serve, and the opportunity to make covenants in the temple. Each of these opportunities are available to men and women alike. We, as women, miss out on nothing even though we are not the ones to administer these ordinances. The sacrament is meaningful to me because of the covenants I make as I partake each week. Those covenants have no greater importance to those who administer the ordinance. The priesthood holders who bless the bread and water and pass the trays to members of the congregation simply make it possible for us to make these covenants, and for that I am truly grateful.

It is true that there are great blessings associated with being a worthy priesthood holder, but those blessings come because they keep themselves worthy to administer these opportunities to other members of the Church. The priesthood is used in the service of others; for example, priesthood holders cannot give themselves blessings or set themselves apart for a calling. Similarly, women and young women also receive great blessings from maintaining their worthiness and devotion to the Savior’s work and the service of those around them.

What comparable blessings do women receive?

Elder Renlund also stated, “I have come to realize that the purpose of . . . using the priesthood of God in any way, is to assist Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in Their work—to provide the opportunity for redemption and exaltation to each of God’s children. Like the rocket whose purpose is to deliver a payload, the priesthood delivers the gospel of Jesus Christ, enabling all to make covenants and receive the associated ordinances.”

Some young women wonder if they are less important than those who hold the priesthood and administer the ordinances of salvation. Indeed, exercise of the priesthood is very visible in the Church. It is easy to see that our wards and stakes are led by men who have this authority. Women often seem to have roles that are less prominent. However, prominence is not synonymous with importance. We need to help young women understand that they, too, have a role in bringing about the salvation and exaltation of God’s children.

When young women turn twelve years old, they have the opportunity to go to the temple and perform baptisms and confirmations for deceased ancestors. They have the opportunity to do research and find those ancestors who need these saving ordinances performed. In fact, our female ancestors can only be saved by the work of other women and young women in the temple. They need us, and we need them. Our twelve-year-old girls also enter the Young Women’s program and begin their Personal Progress. This program is designed to help them become women of faith and virtue. Each value and characteristic they develop will prepare them for future service in the Church, and especially for their role as mothers.

Motherhood is another area where prominence does not equal importance. The world often demeans motherhood and puts forward the idea that women should be equal to men in the workplace and not be relegated to the burdens of home and children. In high contrast to this view, the First Presidency has said: “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.” What powerful words are used to describe this holy calling! When we honor our role as mothers and give it our full devotion, we grow in harmony with our Father in Heaven. Our work becomes His work, which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). This is what we need to teach our young women. They need to understand the principle stated in the Family Proclamation, that the “family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” Women have an essential role to play in the eternal destiny of mankind. We cannot let the world’s definition of equality drown out what the Lord has stated. Men and women are equal in His sight. We are not identical, but we are equal. We each have our own role to play, but the purposes of God cannot be accomplished without these roles working in harmony together.

Certainly, it is understood that not all women reach the eternal ideal of marriage and family in this life. Lessons of patience and waiting are found in one form or another in all of our lives, but it is incumbent upon us to magnify the circumstances we’ve been given and do all we can to further the work of the Lord.

In a General Conference address, Sister Sheri Dew taught of the essential role all women have as mothers. She said, “We are all mothers in Israel, and our calling is to love and help lead the rising generation through the dangerous streets of mortality. Few of us will reach our potential without the nurturing of both the mother who bore us and the mothers who bear with us.” She discussed how our youth need each one of us to be an example of a righteous woman. Aunts, grandmothers, friends, primary teachers, youth leaders, and Relief Society members all have the opportunity to impact children and youth and help guide them along the path which leads back to our Father in Heaven. Women have been given the role to nurture, and this responsibility extends beyond the walls of our own home.

Women are essential to building the Kingdom of God on earth. Women are essential to leading God’s children along the path to salvation and exaltation. Women are called upon to defend the family in a world which is rapidly increasing in wickedness and moving further away from the laws of God. May we help our fellow sisters in the gospel, including our young women, to embrace and magnify their eternal role as Daughters of God. May we focus on the Lord’s definition of equality and importance and not the world’s. By doing so, we take our place alongside the priesthood in assisting Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as they “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

General Women’s Meeting Highlights: Joy D. Jones

Woman hugging her daughterRecognizing my own worth has never been easy for me, and I guarantee I’m not alone in the struggle. Why is this such a difficult battle for women? We learn in our homes and at Church from a very young age that we are children of God. We are taught the Plan of Salvation. Our Young Women study Divine Nature and Individual Worth. And, yet, strong self-esteem eludes many women and girls. Why? Continue reading

Courage and Commitment in the Latter Days

Handcart pioneer familyLast month we celebrated Pioneer Day. The monumental courage and commitment of those early Saints has always impressed me, and I have been trying diligently to channel my inner pioneer spirit. I want to take the legacy of faith they passed down and carry it forward because we have a work to do in our time just as they did in theirs.

The world we live in is a mess. Many people want to turn off the news for good, and who can blame them? Our society is turning away from God and insisting that absolute truth does not exist. We are changing the definition of the sacred institutions of marriage and family. We see terrorism, political corruption, human trafficking, creeping socialism, threats to religious freedom, nations on the verge of war – and the list goes on. Paul warned that “in the last days, perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Times are now perilous, indeed! How do we keep from being overwhelmed with all the evil that we face?

One of the first answers that comes to mind is to live our lives according to the commandments so that we can qualify for the guidance of the Holy Ghost in all that we do. That is definitely necessary, but we need to take it a step further. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world” (BYU Devotional, 9/17/96, emphasis added).

How do we contribute good to the world? Certainly, we start in our own homes. We MUST teach our children the principles of the gospel and give them a firm foundation centered in Jesus Christ. We cannot rely on others to do the teaching for us. Sheri Dew said, “We no longer have the luxury of spending our energy on anything that does not lead us and our families to Christ. . . In the days ahead, a casual commitment to Christ will not carry us through” (October 1999 General Conference). What strong counsel! Continue reading