Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dad's Special Gifts

“Would you like to go for a drive with me?” Dad asked.

I smiled before I turned around and answered, “Sure.” Making this request was the most humble I ever saw my dad. We had been through this routine for three years in a row, but I knew that this time would be the last. I handed my bowl of pie dough off to my little sister, grabbed my shoes, and went out to meet Dad on the driveway.

Dad headed the car towards the mall. Along the way we talked, but not too much. We talked about my life at college and my plans for the future, but sometimes he fell silent. I knew he was focusing on the task ahead of us.

During each of these yearly trips to the mall with Dad we went through every store that sold nice women’s clothes—every one. It was the only time I ever went to the really nice stores. Some stores would only take a minute or less—a quick walk-through and Dad would know that they didn’t have what he was looking for. In some stores we’d browse for a while. Sometimes he’d brush off the smiling sales ladies with the usual, “Thanks, but we’re just looking.” But in others he’d accept their help and take the time to describe how he was looking for something really wonderful. Sometimes he asked my advice about style, colors, or patterns, but other times he didn’t even hear the advice I volunteered because he was too focused on finding his special gift.

In the end, we always walked away from the mall with at least one plastic-covered hanger that hid Dad’s secret. Sometimes we came back with two or three hangers. Dad placed the loot carefully in the trunk, where it stayed until he snuck it into the living room late on Christmas Eve while Mom was getting ready for bed. Then, on Christmas morning, those plastic-covered department store hangers came into full view the moment Mom walked into the living room. She beamed at Dad, even before she opened them, and I think that smile made all the effort worth it for the both of us.

The last time I went Christmas shopping for my mom with Dad was the Christmas before I got engaged. I knew the engagement was coming and that we would be married within the year, so I also knew that it would be my last trip with Dad to find his special gift for Mom. I knew that the next year things would be different; my duties as consultant and companion to Dad on his special mission once a year would be passed to my younger sister. Imagining his request to her still warms my heart.

Maybe I’m not giving my dad enough credit, but I don’t think he engineered this activity as daddy-daughter bonding time to teach me how much he loved my mom on purpose. I think he just needed the company. It felt good that he wanted me for company, that he trusted me with his secrets and his desire to make Christmas special for his sweetheart. He didn’t do it on purpose, but Christmas shopping with Dad did teach me how much he loved my mom, and that knowledge helped me know, understand, and love Dad better.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review: Alone But Not Lonely by Paul S. Brandt

Alone But Not Lonely: Reaching for Hope and Love as a Single Latter-day Saint by Paul S. Brandt, LCSW. Printed in 2008 by Walnut Springs Press in Sandy, UT. ISBN 978-1-93521-700-8. 247 pages. Retail Price: $17.95.

We all have loved ones--family members and close friends--who are single and searching for someone to love for forever. The singles we know are in all types of situations. They may have been searching for a spouse for just a few years or many years. They may be divorced or have lost a spouse. It is because there is someone in each one of our families or close circle of friends with special family needs that Paul S. Brandt's book, Alone But Not Lonely, is such a wonderful addition to the library of LDS books of help and encouragement for singles.

Alone But Not Lonely covers all aspects of loneliness and the difficulties of being single, especially in an LDS context. Brandt defines loneliness and answers the deep questions that most singles have about acceptance, love, faith, and hope. After ten chapters of instruction, encouragement, exercises, doctrine, and Brandt's "Four Weeks to More Joy and Love" program, Alone But Not Lonely culminates with seven empathetic essays written by LDS singles in unique situations.

Alone But Not Lonely is full of instruction, encouragement, and ideas for change. Based on his qualifications as a social worker, psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, renowned speaker, and latter-day saint, Brandt is able to addresses the unique challenges of LDS singles in an encouraging, informative, understanding, and doctrinal-based way. Furthermore, in Alone But Not Lonely, Brandt is able to talk to his readers not as a therapist, a bishop, a father, or even a friend, but almost as if he were the voice of the readers themselves, reminding them what they believe, what hope there is to cling to, how to keep going day by day to find joy, and what they can change.

There is something powerful in a book like Alone But Not Lonely when its only weakness is that its page headers don't identify what chapter you're in. Paul Brandt's Alone But Not Lonely is an amazing find for anyone struggling with loneliness and the discouragements of being single.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review: Wisdom of the Prophets—Temple Worship, The Perfect Gift

Wisdom of the Prophets: Temple Worship, design by Andy Goddard, printed by Leatherwood Press, 2006. Retail price: $14.95. ISBN: 978-1-59992-008-5.

Wisdom of the Prophets: Temple Worship is a beautiful, inspiring, and inviting gift book. The design of the book is so appealing that I wish it were available in a larger coffee-table sized version. The quotations throughout the beautiful pages are not just by modern prophets, also modern apostles and quotations from the Doctrine and Covenants. The photographs throughout the book are wonderful, but I wish there were more temples and less just generic nature pictures. I also wish I knew who took the photographs. Overall, the beauty of the book and inspiring selection of quotes makes Wisdom of the Prophets: Temple Worship the perfect gift for pretty much anybody—yourself, a spouse, parents, siblings, newlyweds, children, current and prospective missionaries, and nonmember friends and family.

Family Freedom Day: My Parent's Financial Legacy, by Brian Ricks

"We encourage you wherever you may live in the world to prepare for adversity by looking to the condition of your finances. We urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt. . . . If you have paid your debts and have a financial reserve, even though it be small, you and your family will feel more secure and enjoy greater peace in your hearts."
—The First Presidency, All Is Safely Gathered In: Family Finances, Feb. 2007, 1 .

In the late 1980s, my parents had a comfortable home and my father had a high-paying job as a corporate attorney. Even though their life was very stable, my parents felt inspired that they should follow the prophet’s counsel to get out of debt and immediately pay off their modest mortgage. In order to reach this significant goal, everyone in the family had to sacrifice; we went on fewer and less-expensive vacations, cooked more meals at home instead of eating out, and found creative ways to patch our clothes instead of buying new ones. Through these lifestyle changes, and help from the Lord, my parents were able to pay off their mortgage in half the time that they had thought possible.

Not long afterwards, we understood why it was so important for us to follow the prophet’s counsel to get out of debt. My father lost his job and my youngest brother was hospitalized. Neither of these problems had quick solutions. A local employment slump meant my father did not find another job for several years. My brother remained in the hospital for almost a full year. My parents' decision to pay off our debts proved to be a double blessing. First, in a period of financial struggle, my parents no longer had to deal with a mortgage payment. Second, our family had learned a lifestyle of frugality that would last for a long time.

To commemorate the blessings of the Lord, my parents
decided to celebrate a family holiday called “Freedom Day.” Every year on the anniversary of becoming a debt-free family, we celebrate by playing games and having a special meal. My parents take this opportunity to recount the story of how they felt inspired to immediately heed the prophet’s counsel, how the Lord blessed them in their efforts to pay off their mortgage, and how being debt-free blessed them in the economically turbulent decades that followed.

Through this simple family holiday, my parents found a way to teach their children how to heed the words of the prophets and live the principle of frugality. Even though all of us children are now grown up, my parents still call on "Freedom Day" to discuss the events which this family holiday commemorates. Now that I am an adult, I realize that our Family Freedom Day was also how my parents showed consistent gratitude to the Lord for the miracles, temporal and spiritual, he has worked in their lives. As all of us children are now in a period in our lives where debt can be very tempting, my parents' reminder and legacy of fiscal principles has been a major blessing, and I look forward to when I can celebrate a Family Freedom Day with my own family.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Protect Marriage: Support Prop 8

Sergey Brin, the President of Google, has
publicly announced Google's opposition to Prop 8, which will protect the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

While Google has a right to voice their opinion, their opposition to Prop 8 makes me not want to 
use their services. A ban on Google seems a little inconceivable, but people will write letters supporting Prop 8 to Google we could show that Google doesn't speak for all the people in our Nation.

By clicking on this link, you can send a message to Google giving your support to Prop 8.

Writing a quick message to let Google know that we support Prop 8 and marriage between a man and a woman will only take a few minutes. If you're also willing to go the second mile, you can also write a mailed letter to Google's headquarters address:

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

If Google can take a stand against this important issue, we can certainly band together and take a stand for it.

Please send your message to Google and then forward this information to any friends who are willing to support Prop 8.

Here is my message to Google:

Dear Google,

I just want to let you know that I disagree with your position on Prop 8. While you're entitled to your opinion, I would appreciate it if you would let Google users know that not everyone agrees with you.
I understood what President Brin said about the government encroaching on people's personal lives, but on this issue I disagree.
The Declaration of Independence says that it is the duty of the Government to protect the "unalienable Rights" of the "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" of its people. Undermining the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman infringes on the rights of those who support this view. Your counterargument, I assume, would be that passing Prop 8 and rejecting homosexual marriages is an infringement on the right to "the pursuit of Happiness" for homosexuals. You may believe this, but again I disagree. 

I feel that a key part of this passage in the Declaration of Independence is that these rights were endowed to "all men" "by their Creator." I believe in God and I believe in right and wrong. It is clear throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, that homosexuality is against God's law. It is He who gave us these basic rights, and thus what rights we grant to one another should follow his laws.

I realize that you may not believe in the values or theology that I espouse, but I just want you to know that I disagree and I would appreciate it if your users could understand that not everyone in this nation agrees with your stance on Prop 8.

Thank you,

Jennifer Ricks

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Make the Most of General Conference for Your Family

My experience and attitude towards General Conference has changed as I’ve grown up. When I was a young child, my parents asked my siblings and me to dedicate ourselves to watching at least one session of General Conference each day—both Saturday and Sunday. I remember that we’d ban together and plan out whether to sacrifice our Saturday morning or afternoon depending on what other activities—bike riding, swimming, or street games—were calling and when. On Sunday, we only had to stay in the living room for one session, but the rest of the day we could do quiet inside things—like coloring, reading, drawing, and board games—to keep the Sabbath Day holy even though we didn’t go to the church house on General Conference Sunday.

I can distinctly remember when I was about six or seven when I asked my mother if it was hard to be a grown-up because grown-ups had to sit still for both sessions on both days. My mother smiled and explained to me that it wasn’t hard because she and Dad enjoyed watching General Conference; it wasn’t a chore to them. I puzzled over what she said for quite some time. I remembered it for several more General Conference seasons and I noticed that it was true—she and Dad were always riveted to the television and listened carefully to every talk. They didn’t need coloring books or basic embroidery kits to keep them quiet and entertained; they just listened.

My parents’ interest in General Conference fascinated me. Several years later, when my attention span was finally long enough, I remember the first General Conference Saturday afternoon when I decided to stay in from play and see if I would like watching General Conference like my mother. Even though I was still too young to understand everything in the session, I remember a good feeling flowed into my heart. I knew that feeling came because I did something good even though I didn’t have to—because I did something good because I wanted to.

Now I’m a grown-up too. I am happy that I’m like my mother—that I look forward to General Conference and sincerely want to pay good attention to all sessions. But even now there are often outside distractions that compete for my attention on General Conference weekend and may even keep me from continual study of the Conference report afterward. The following ten tips have helped me make the most of General Conference for myself and my family.

1. Plan Ahead
General Conference is always the first weekend in October and April, but if, you’re like me, if you don’t plan carefully ahead then you’ll forget and schedule something else that Saturday. Carefully mark your family calendar so that everyone can plan to be free to fully participate in General Conference. Planning ahead will save you the stress of rescheduling conflicting events later.

2. Preparatory Family Home Evening

The Monday night before General Conference, present a special Family Home Evening lesson about General Conference. Discuss the importance of modern-day prophets and why we have General Conference. Help family members remember and understand the importance of continued revelation and that the General Authorities are receiving specific revelation for us and for our day. Encourage each individual to prepare themselves spiritually to receive revelation during General Conference by writing questions in their journals and praying for answers. In family prayer, ask for Heavenly Father to help family members to prepare to receive answers and revelation to uplift them in their trials. Also pray for the speakers of the Conference, even several weeks before General Conference, that they can have the Spirit guide them as they prepare talks.

3. Women’s Evening
Encourage the women in your home to attend the General Relief Society and/or General Young Women’s meeting the week before General Conference. Make it a special time for women to receive instruction from the prophet and spend time together as well as a special
time for the men in the home to support women’s Church activities.

4. Participate in the Sessions
Listen to or watch every session of General Conference. Encourage family members to take notes and write down personal thoughts on the talks in a personal scripture study journal.

5. Priesthood Session
Encourage the priesthood holders in your home to attend Priesthood session. If there are non-priesthood holding boys or men in your home, spend the time during Priesthood session teaching them about the priesthood to prepare them for that important responsibility.

6. Use Online Resources
If any family members miss a session of General Conference due to scheduling conflicts, record the session to watch later or download the video or audio file from Make sure that any family member who missed a session has someone to watch the make-up session with.

7. Continuing Study
Get a copy of the Conference Ensign for every member of the family. Encourage each family member to highlight or underline their copy, write notes in the margins, look up the scriptures cited in the talks, and use the Conference talks as an opportunity for individual study, reflection, and meditation.

8. Family Scripture Study
Read the Conference Ensign aloud as a family as part of daily family scripture study. Invite family members to share insights from their personal study of the conference talks with the rest of the family during family scripture study. Display the pictures of the speakers in the Ensign during the lesson so young children can learn to recognize the General Authorities.

9. Continued Family Discussion
Help family members recognize quotes from the recent Conference talks in Sacrament Meeting talks. Discuss how the speakers did or could have used the talks you are studying as a family.

10. Ongoing Resources
Use video clips and quotes of recent Conference talks to supplement Family Home Evening, Sunday School, Young Men, Young Women, Priesthood, and Relief Society lessons. Remind participants that you’re referring to the most recent General Conference to inspire them to continue to study and treasure the words of the living prophets.

By preparing for General Conference, taking time for it when it comes, and continuing to use Conference addresses for the months afterward, each General Conference can become a bi-annual uplift and enrichment to our homes and to each of us personally. After implementing these ideas, keep looking for ways to let General Conference spiritually rejuvenate you and your family as much as possible. Through your example, you can help other family members learn for themselves the blessings of following our modern-day prophets as you and your family learn to appreciate, love, and look forward to General Conference.

Our Family Journal

It was almost a year ago when my husband and I took some advice and guidance from general conference and applied it to our family. I never thought that a General Conference talk could still impact my life this much a year later. As the first talk in the Sunday Morning session of the October 2007 General Conference of the Church, President Eyring taught the members of the Church by example “to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness” (Ensign, Nov. 2007, 67). As President Eyring related to us the account of his first inspiration to begin keeping a family journal and how keeping the family journal was a daily blessing for him as he “became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers” and “felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that [came] because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ,” President Eyring also shared that that his family journal has since been a blessing years later to his sons as “reading of what happened long ago helped [them] notice something God had done in [their] day.”

After hearing President Eyring’s talk, I knew that this was the perfect use for a wedding gift that had been dormant for months. One of my former Young Women’s advisors had given us a beautiful wedding gift: a leather-bound journal with gold-edged pages and an artistically textured cover. She also pasted our wedding announcement in the inside cover of the book to make it especially ours. I knew that such a wonderful gift deserved a wonderful purpose and all summer I had been brainstorming how we could use the journal and put the gift to good use. I toyed with a lot of ideas in my mind, but nothing ever stuck or gave me enough motivation to begin writing in the journal. The summer ended and we were well into autumn before the answer of what to do with the beautiful journal came where I least expected it, in President Eyring’s talk.

After General Conference, my husband and I prayerfully decided that we should follow President Eyring’s example and use our wedding gift to start our own family journal. While President Eyring used his family journal to write down “evidence of what God had done” for his family each day, we decided that we needed to use our family journal to write down a moment when we were happy each day. Every night we take turns and each write a sentence or two in our family journal about a happy event that day. We have found that by writing in our family journal we have been more grateful for the many blessings that Heavenly Father gives us each day. As we approach General Conference this year, I’m excited to have a year’s worth of entries in our family journal. Soon I’ll be able to look back and see what blessings had come into our lives exactly a year ago. This exercise has been important in motivating us to keep important family records and has helped us draw closer as a family as we seek to recognize the daily blessings that the Lord gives to us.

In beginning a family journal of your own, you could do as President Eyring did and ask: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” Or, you could personalize the idea of a family journal and prayerfully adapt it to your own family’s needs. This could mean a happiness journal, a gratitude journal, a journal of family spiritual experiences, or a blessings journal. As you seek his inspiration, the Lord will bless you with promptings of how you can better keep baptismal covenants as a family to always remember him. President Eyring has promised us that as we “will find a way to preserve [memories of God’s messages] for the day that [we], and those that [we] love, will need to remember how much God loves us how much we need Him,” these memories “will soften [our] hearts to allow the Holy Ghost to testify to [us].”