The Thoughts of a Wandering Sheep

27 Oct

Sunday I was asked to share what I learned from watching the General Women’s Broadcast a few weeks ago.  So here are my thoughts and how it all came together for me.  It was a really good conference, and the messages really inspired me.

I began my talk with this poem.  I explained that I wasn’t going to read it exactly as written, because it is written in a vernacular, and that though I love this poem exactly as it it, I didn’t want the oddness of me trying to talk the way the poem is written to get in the way of the message.  I’ve learned by experience that my dad’s jokes aren’t funny when I tell them.  Willie Nelson’s songs just aren’t the same when I sing them, and I feel this poem would be the same way.   (But I’m not going to re-write it, you have it as it is)

Poor Lil’ Brack Sheep by Ethel M. C. Brazelton

POOR LIL’ BRACK SHEEP dat stray’d away,
Done los’ in de win’ and rain,
An’ de Shepherd He say, ” O hirelin’,
Go fin’ my sheep again. ”
An’ de hirelin’ frowns, ” O Shepherd,
Dat sheep am brack an’ bad. ”
But de Shepherd He smile like de lil’ brack sheep
Is de onliest lamb he had,
Is de onliest lamb he had.

An’ he say, ” O hirelin’, hasten!
For de win’ an’ de rain am col’,
And dat lil’ brack sheep am lonesome
Out dere so far from de fol’. ”
An’ de hirelin’ frown, ” O Shepherd,
Dat sheep am ol’ an’ gray. ”
But de Shepherd He smile like de lil’ brack sheep
Wuz fair as de break ob day,
Wuz fair as de break ob day.

An He say, ” O hirelin’, hasten!
Lo, here is de ninety an’ nine,
But dere way off from de sheep fol’
Is dat lil’ brack sheep ob mine. ”
An’ de hirelin’ frown, ” O Shepherd,
De rest ob de sheep am here. ”
But de Shepherd He smile like de lil’ brack sheep
He hol’ it de mostes’ dear,
He hol’ it de mostes’ dear.

An’ de Shepherd go out in de darkness,
Where de night was col’ an’ bleak,
An’ de lil’ brack sheep He fin’ it,
An’ lay it agains’ His cheek.
An’ de hirelin’ frown, ” O Shepherd,
Don’t bring dat sheep to me. ”
But de Shepherd He smile, an’ He hol’ it close,
An’ de lil’ brack sheep — is me!
An’ de lil’ brack sheep — is me!

So how does the Shepherd reach out for us and how does he bring us back to the fold when we have strayed wide?  I submit that one way He reaches for us is General Conference, and aren’t we lucky that the Lord doesn’t mind repeating Himself!?  He will call us again and again.  Sometimes I have to hear a truth many times for it to really sink in.  Sometimes I think I understand something, and then the Lord repeats it, and I realize there is a much deeper meaning which I had not yet understood.

I learned much from the General Women’s broadcast this fall.  Sister Eubank gave a definition of righteousness that I really loved.  She said: “Being righteous doesn’t mean being perfect or never making mistakes.  It means developing an inner connection with God, repenting of our sins and mistakes, and freely helping others.”  I can do that!  You can do that!  We can all be righteous.  Sister Eubank also said, “There is an energy that comes from happiness and optimism that doesn’t just bless us—it builds everyone around us.”   Hmm.  What small thing can I do to light real happiness today? What if it were as small a thing as changing my focus, could the things I already have to do change for the better?

Sister Jones shared how knowing our divine nature can give us courage and hope.  We need to value ourselves as Heavenly Father values us.  She encouraged us to savor the whisperings of the Holy Ghost and recognize that when we feel the Spirit, it is evidence of our worth to God.  She said:

If the love we feel for the Savior and what he did for us is greater than the energy we give to weaknesses, self-doubts, or bad habits, then He will help us to overcome the things which cause suffering in our lives.  He saves us from ourselves.  Let me re-emphasize: If the pull of the world is stronger than the faith and trust we have in the Savior, then the pull of the world will prevail every time.  If we choose to focus on our negative thoughts and doubt our worth instead of clinging to the Savior, it becomes more difficult to feel the impressions of the Holy Ghost.

Isn’t that true?!  It is true for me.

President Uchtdorf urged us to be joyful.  He spoke of a sister who lived joyfully “not because her circumstances were joyful, but because she was joyful.”  He said:

There may be things about life that are beyond your control.  But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destiny and many of your experiences along the way.  It is not so much your abilities but your choices that make the difference in life.  …You can find joy and happiness in the grace of God and in the love of Jesus Christ. You can be glad!  I urge you to fill your hearts with gratitude for the abundant and limitless goodness of God.”

 Sister Mariott’s talk was my favorite.  She reminded me of something I had learned and needed to re-learn better.  She counseled us to abide in the Lord.  Jesus said, “Thou shalt abide in me and I in you; therefore, walk with me.”  This is something I keep forgetting to do.  When my day is hard—when it begins with yet another night of short, interrupted sleep because the twins apparently don’t need sleep like regular humans—I forget to turn to the Lord, to ask His help to do my work cheerfully.  Sister Mariott said, “Our challenges can pull us off this course of happiness.  We can lose our trusting connection to God if trials drive us to distraction instead of sending us to our knees.”

For a large chunk of my life I tried to repent by myself.  I thought that was how I was supposed to do it.  I asked God for forgiveness and promised to be better, then I tried to make myself better.  Eventually I learned a truth that Sister Mariott also knows.  She said, “Independently forcing ourselves to love others is insincere and hollw, and it simply doesn’t work.  Our sins and pride create a breach—or gap—between us and the font of all love, our Heavenly Father.  Only the Savior’s Atonement can cleanse us of our sins and close that breach.”  I have a weakness towards pride when I am angry that I’ve struggled against for years.  President Benson said, “Pride does not look up to God and care about what is right.  It looks sideways to man and argues who is right.  Pride is manifest in the spirit of contention.”  So if there is fighting, it’s pride.  In my own efforts to change, all I achieved was a thin veneer that fooled me into thinking I was making progress but then cracked under any real pressure.  I remember a day when I was suddenly confronted with how little progress I’d made and how ugly my sin was.  I thought of the years I’ve been trying to change and felt my live was a wasteland, a barren desert devoid of hope.  I realized that I had not changed in any essential way.  I spent a couple of days drifting about in shock not knowing what to do, still praying and reading but without faith or hope that it would do me good.  I couldn’t see a way forward, I was so discouraged by my past failures.  President Uchtdorf said, “Even when you stumble, even when you turn away from him, God loves you.  If you are feeling lost, abandoned, or forgotten—fear not.  The Good Shepherd will find you. He will lift you upon His shoulders. And He will carry you home.”

And so the Good Shepherd found me and carried me home.  I came across these beautiful words in Isaiah 43:18-19 “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”  He will do it. He will make the highway through the wasteland and rivers in the desert.  When I took myself to the Lord and admitted that I was powerless to change and asked Him to change me, then some real change began in my life.  I learned that I have success conquering my weakness ONLY when I remember to abide in the Lord’s power.  Sister Mariott said, “The Savior repaired the breach between us and Heavenly Father.  He through His great atoning sacrifice, opens the way for us to partake of God’s loving power, and then we are enabled to repair the waste places in our personal lives.” The more I turn to Heavenly Father and seek His help, the more I have felt His love surrounding me.  When I was a teenager, I thought that the reason the Savior said His yoke was easy and His burden light was because being righteous causes us less problems, and wickedness leads to all kinds of extra misery.  That’s probably true.  But I’ve found since, that His burden is also light because He helps us carry it.  Sister Mariott urges us to accept God’s love and sacrifice our own natural selfish and fearful tendencies.

It is now with our mortal limitations, that the Father asks us to love when loving is most difficult, to serve when serving is inconvenient, to forgive when  forgiving is soul stretching.  How? How will we do it? We earnestly reach for  Heavenly Father’s help, in the name of His Son, and do things His way instead  of pridefully asserting our own will. 

It is easy to become overwhelmed by all that must be done.  We think we must do all the things.  A few weeks ago my husband and I met with our bishop to counsel with him about a problem that we had not been able to solve ourselves.  He gave us some counsel, including to rise each morning with grateful hearts.  After we got home, I sat down with a notebook to write down the counsel he had given us and the impressions I had so that I wouldn’t forget them.  Then I remembered that we had also been challenged by the Stake President to prepare for our upcoming stake conference by praying and asking the Lord what he would have us do (Acts 9:6).  I felt suddenly overwhelmed, how could I change so many things at once? Surely I would fail.  But I had my pen and paper out so I figured I had better buck up and get on with asking.  So I prayed about it, and the answer I got from the Lord was to be more grateful for my blessings.  So when the Lord says, “by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” that doesn’t just mean that the prophet speaks for the Lord.  Literally, the advice of my priesthood leader and the message from the Lord were the same.  The Lord is so efficient!  Think of the Savior.  On this Earth, he did not heal all who were sick.  He did not heal all who were blind.  He did not raise everyone who died right then.  He got tired.  He left one town and went to another.  He did not do everything.  But He did do all the Father asked.  And that was enough.  We, too, can do all the Father asks of us.  Sister Mariott said, “When we give our heart to the Father and the Son, we change our world—even if circumstances around us do not change.  We draw closer to Heavenly Father and feel His tender acceptance of our efforts to be true disciples of Christ.  Our discernment, confidence, and faith increase.”

I believe this is true, and I know that our Heavenly Father indeed helps us when we seek Him.

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