This morning, I gave my farewell talk at my ward. My mom also got to speak and shared some of her feelings about her conversion and her testimony. We were both sooo super nervous! Mom hadn't spoken in front of a large group of people since she was in college, and I'd never given a talk in church before. But it went really well! Of course, I cried during Mom's talk and when some of the Primary girls and their teachers sang "A Child's Prayer" (it's my favorite Primary hymn)...
Thank you to everyone who came to support me today!!! It really means so much, whether you were there in person or in spirit! Thank you, thank you!!
I've posted my talk here if anyone would like to read it; I added a few things this morning as I was speaking, but it's mostly the same.
Good morning! For those of you who may not know me, my name is Rebecca Crowe, and I recently received my mission call to serve in the Georgia Atlanta Mission! I report to the MTC on the 18th, so in 10 days, and I'm so excited!
My mom's family is actually from Atlanta—her parents were born and raised there, her grandparents, great-great-great-great-grandparents...pretty much all the way back to the Civil War. I've been hearing stories my whole life about the South, especially Atlanta, and I thought I would share one of those stories with you today.
My grandma was 9 years old when the movie, "Gone with the Wind," came out. The premier was held in Atlanta, at the Leow's Grand Theatre. When the movie was released, it was a huge deal!! The governor declared a three-day state holiday; people were flying Confederate flags in front of their houses; there were costume balls and receptions; and a big parade was held on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, with all the stars from the movie. My great-grandfather, my grandma's dad, took her to see this parade, just the two of them. Her family was very, very poor, so I can imagine how special and exciting this must have been for my grandma. Well, as she's watching the parade, Clark Gable, who of course played the infamous Rhett Butler, is going by. He looks right at my grandma, and he gives her the biggest wink! I've always loved hearing this story, and I'm definitely going to be looking for Peachtree Street when I get to Atlanta.
President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the South when he said, “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir the man’s soul. This is the vision I have for the South. I believe that one day the South will baptize more people in the church than all other English-speaking missions in the world together….we will see the time when we will baptize hundreds and thousands, even tens of thousands. In your day you will see a million members of the church in the South. There will be Temples plural in the Southern States. What a great call you have to serve with these marvelous people.” I was already really excited about my mission call to serve in Georgia, and when I found this quote, that pretty much did it! I'm so excited and grateful that I get to be a part of the work that is taking place in the South.
My topic today is on the changing power of the gospel—so how living gospel principles can bring about change in all people.
In the scriptures, we find many stories of conversion, and some of these stories include miraculous events which led the person to be converted to the gospel. In the New Testament, we read of Saul, who persecuted the early Christians but then was baptized after he heard the voice of the Lord. And Enos, from the Book of Mormon, prayed all day and into the night, when he heard the voice of the Lord telling him that he was forgiven of his sins.
While we can certainly learn from these accounts, I think most of us may find it a little hard to relate to Paul or Enos or some of the others who had similar conversion experiences. In True to the Faith, we find that "angelic visitations and other spectacular occurrences do not bring conversion. Even Alma, who saw an angel, became converted only after he 'fasted and prayed many days' for a witness of the truth (Alma 5:46). And Paul...taught that 'no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost' (1 Corinthians 12:3)." In the Book of Mormon, we read about Nephi’s older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, who experienced heavenly visitations, and they were witnesses to the power of God working in their lives. But these miracles were not enough for their hearts to be converted, “because they knew not the dealings of that God who created them” (1 Nephi 2:12).
President Ezra Taft Benson reminded us, "For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment...."
He continues: “We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.”
Another "anchor" that we have available to us is the first principle of the gospel: faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is more than just passive belief; it is striving to live righteously, in a way that matches with the principles we believe in. I've heard that faith is like a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it gets. But it grows weak if we don't do anything with it. We exercise faith every single day. When we turn the key in the ignition, we have faith that the car will start. When we sit on a chair, we have faith that it will hold us up. When we flick the light switch, we have faith that the lights will turn on. I have faith this morning that you can all hear me thanks to this microphone! But how do we exercise our faith in Christ? Nephi said, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7). If we have faith, we trust in Christ to help us find ways to keep His commandments, so that we, too, can say, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded."
In Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, it says, "Remember that without faith you can do nothing" (D&C 8:10). But I’d like to change that to the positive and say, "With faith you can do anything." In the scriptures, we find examples of several people who exercised their faith in the Lord. A few weeks ago, my family and I went up to Prescott Valley to visit my grandparents. On the way home, it was raining with big, grey clouds on one side of us, and on the other side, the sun was still shining. As we were driving, we all noticed a double rainbow in the sky. It was definitely a beautiful sight. Every time I see a rainbow, I'm reminded of the faith of Noah. If he hadn’t exercised his faith and followed the Lord’s direction by building the arc, we would not have rainbows today. Also, let’s not forget the simple faith of a 14-year-old boy, which ushered in the Restoration of the gospel. If it wasn’t for him, we would not be sitting in this chapel today.
I have a personal example that I think illustrates how exercising our faith in Christ daily can change anyone's life. I'd like to share this with you today.
When my uncle was in high school, he got involved with a group of friends who introduced him to drugs and alcohol. At first, it was something he did just for the fun of it and because his friends were doing it. But eventually, he came to rely on these substances in order to get through each day. My uncle went through rehab a few times, but he would just go back to his old ways. It wasn't until he started attending a church and found his faith in Christ that he realized he didn't have to stay in this cycle. He isn't LDS, but he exercises his faith in Christ daily, and his faith is the most important part of his life. My mom has said that, if he hadn't found a church, he wouldn't be alive today. My uncle's faith in Christ helped him to see the better path, and it gave him the courage to change. He's doing really well now; in fact, he's working at a Christian rehab facility, where he is helping other people who are struggling with the same things he dealt with before.
One way we exercise our faith in Christ is through the second principle of the gospel: repentance. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that we are all in need of a Savior, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Jesus Christ is our Savior. And because of His Atonement, we have been given the opportunity to repent. "Though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
Repentance is more than recognizing when we have done something wrong; it is “to change our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with [the] will [of Christ]” (Preach My Gospel 62). As our love for Christ and His gospel grows, we will want to be more like him and follow his teachings and commandments; and we will realize that, as children of God, we don’t need to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Repentance is not an easy process; it can be painful and it can be a long process. But it can lead us to feel forgiveness and lasting peace in our lives.
In a talk he wrote a few months before his passing, President James E. Faust recalled a story that was shared by Elder Marion D. Hanks. The story is of a man who repented and changed his life overnight.
"He had taken his son to the home of a family who was providing a place for him to stay while he participated in a baseball tournament. The young man seemed reluctant to go with his father to the home of his benefactor, and the father began to wonder if the people had mistreated his son. The boy half cowered behind his father as they knocked on the door. Once they were inside, however, his son was warmly greeted by the host family, and it was obvious he loved them very much.
"Later after picking up his son, the puzzled father asked him to explain his strange behavior. His son’s answer [was]:
"'I was afraid you might forget and swear in their house, Dad. They don’t swear at their house; they are really nice people. They talk nice to each other and laugh a lot, and they pray every time they eat and every morning and night, and they let me pray with them.'
"Said the father, 'It wasn’t so much that the boy was ashamed of his dad; he loved me so much that he didn’t want me to look bad.'
"This father, having resisted a generation of earnest people who had tried to help him find a better way of life, had been touched by the sweet spirit of his own young son."
President Faust added, "The power to change became so strong that this father not only returned to Church activity but became a stake leader."
Another way we can exercise our faith is through prayer. President Boyd K. Packer has said, "Prayer is your personal key to heaven. The lock is on your side of the veil." And our prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson, has testified that "He who notes the fall of a sparrow surely hears the pleadings of our hearts."
When I was a little girl, praying seemed to come naturally. I would lie in bed at night and just start a conversation with Heavenly Father. I would tell Him everything—about what had happened at school that day; about my hopes and dreams; and I would always finish by asking Him to give my grandma in heaven a hug and a kiss for me. But as I got older, I began to wonder if Anyone really was listening, or if I was just talking to the ceiling. And if Someone was up there listening, was He really interested in what I had to say? I thought that my prayers must not be good enough for Him, and I had trouble thinking of what to say.
I love the Bible Dictionary’s entry on prayer. It says, “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part. Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.” Around the time that I started meeting with the missionaries, I began to pray with faith again that my prayers were being heard. I believe that it is because of my prayers that I have felt closer to Heavenly Father than ever before. I have found myself once again having those long conversations with Him, just like I used to when I was a little girl. I know that He hears every single word, and He cares about what’s on my heart.
During the Priesthood Session of the April 2009 General Conference, President Monson shared a story of a woman and two missionaries who exercised their faith through prayer. I don't think it could be said in more perfect words, so I would like to share that story with you today.
"Sister Daisy Ogando lives in New York City, home to more than eight million people. Some years ago Sister Ogando met with the missionaries and was taught the gospel. Gradually, she and the missionaries lost contact. Time passed. Then, in 2007, the principles of the gospel she had been taught by the missionaries stirred within her heart.
"One day while getting into a taxi, Daisy saw the missionaries at a distance, but she was unable to make contact with them before they disappeared from view. She prayed fervently to our Heavenly Father and promised Him that if He would somehow direct the missionaries to her once again, she would open her door to them. She returned home that day with faith in her heart that God would hear and answer her prayer.
"In the meantime, two young missionaries who had been sincerely praying and working to find people to teach were one day examining the tracting records of missionaries who had previously served in their area. As they did so, they came across the name of Daisy Ogando. When they approached her apartment the very afternoon that Sister Ogando offered that simple but fervent prayer, she opened the door and said those words that are music to every missionary who has ever heard them: 'Elders, come in. I’ve been waiting for you!'
"Two fervent prayers were answered, contact was reestablished, missionary lessons were taught, and arrangements were made for Daisy and her son Eddy to be baptized." Daisy and the missionaries prayed in faith, and their prayers brought the blessings of the gospel to both Daisy and her son. I can only hope and pray that I will be able to have a situation as beautiful as that while serving in Georgia.
As I was preparing for this talk, I found myself thinking a lot about my own conversion experience. It is definitely something I treasure—even though my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel did not develop overnight, nor did I experience shining lights and voices from heaven. Alma taught that it is "by small and simple things [that] great things [are] brought to pass" (Alma 37:6). When I was learning about the Church, it was the seemingly "small and simple things" that I was striving to do each day, as well as the promptings of the still, small voice of the Spirit, which led me to find the truth (Alma 37:6).
As I was attending my Sunday meetings at the singles ward, and as I began to participate at the institute, I was making lots of wonderful friends. I saw how happy they were as they were living the gospel principles that I was learning about, and I found out that I could know that same happiness for myself. After my baptism, I have continued to do those “small and simple things” which were the building blocks for my testimony. And those “building blocks” have only grown stronger as I continue to live the gospel each day.
This past week, I've been trying to think of specific examples of how the gospel has changed my own life since I was baptized. To be honest, it was a little hard for me to see how I've changed personally over the last year and a half, just about, so I asked my family if they have seen any changes. These are some things they shared with me: "You don’t drink tea anymore. You run around the house singing hymns all the time. You don’t get cranky as often. You are less shy, and you reach out to people more instead of waiting for someone else to take the initiative. You are very devoted to your faith and the Church. You are happier.”
Last Sunday, I attended a special fast and testimony meeting at my old singles ward that I was in while I was going to ASU. I was actually baptized into that ward, so it definitely holds a very special place in my heart. Before the congregation was invited to share their testimonies, each member of the bishopric and their wives had the opportunity to speak and share their own testimonies. Sister Randall, the wife of the first counselor, shared a quote that her husband often says: "If you live the gospel, you will always have a bright future." I just love that so much, and it's true! When we choose to live the gospel, it doesn't mean that life will be easier. We will still have trials, but we know that those trials won’t last forever, and we don’t have to carry our burdens alone.
I know that if we live the gospel, we will have a bright future, and as Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, "[We will] come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:13-15).
Before I close, I'd just like to say how grateful I am to be a part of this ward. I haven't been here for too long—I was actually in the singles ward of this stake when my mom and I started coming here in December, and my records were transferred here in February. But since I've been in this ward, I've met so many wonderful people. I have to be honest, though, I was a little nervous about being in a family ward, since all I'd really known were singles wards. We call it a family ward because it's for families, but I feel like I really do have a family here. I love you all so much, and I’m really going to miss seeing you all, but I hope we can keep in touch and I’m sure Mom will keep you updated, as well.
I am also so grateful for missionary work. I know that without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I definitely wouldn’t be getting ready to serve a mission myself. Something kind of special…one of the missionaries who taught me up to my baptism is going home this week, so his mission is ending right when mine is beginning. And he’s actually beating me to Atlanta (he has a layover there)!
I’m also so grateful for my family. They’ve been so supportive with everything, first my baptism and now as I’ve been preparing for my mission. We’re really super close, and this will actually be my first time living away from home. I know it’s going to be hard, but I know that we’ll be watched over. I just love them so much!!
And I’d like to share my testimony that I know that Heavenly Father loves us, and He knows us even better than we know ourselves. Over the last few weeks, as I’ve been getting ready to leave on my mission, I have been feeling kind of inadequate, and I’ve been wondering if I have what it takes to be a good missionary. But I know that Heavenly Father knows what I’m capable of, and I know that “in the strength of the Lord, I can do all things.” I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior; I’m grateful for His Atonement, and for his example, and I know that He has made it possible for us to return to live with Him and our Heavenly Father again. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I know that President Monson is our living prophet today. I know that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, and if you read it and pray about it with an open heart, it can change your life, as it did mine. I just love this gospel so much, and I’m so grateful to have it in my life. I can’t wait to share what I know to be true with the people in the Peach State, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.