This Sunday, I taught a combined lesson for the Relief Society (women 18 and over) and Young Women (12-18 year old girls) in church. Some have asked for my text, so here it is:
I’d like to share a story about my father. When I was just seven years old, he bought our family a ten acre parcel of land on Yosemite Road in Sonora, California on the edge of the Sierra Nevadas. It was known as one of the most picturesque pieces of property in the county, with a large hill near the back that my little sister called “the top of the world.”
My father quickly went to work: he excavated and graveled a road from one end of the property to the top, set up fences and gates, bought horses and goats, constructed a hay shed, and dug out a large pond for the family of deer that lived in the thicket of brush near the base of the hill.
This was my father’s kingdom.
Then, there were the trees. The land was already wooded, but my dad went to a local nursery and bought truckloads of little trees, fresh seedlings. He lined one side of our property with about fifty Poplars, tall soldiers with fat fluttering leaves. He scattered the rest of the land with literally hundreds and hundreds of baby Ponderosa Pine trees, known for bark that smells like vanilla.
He cared for those trees as if they were his children.
Because of the terrain, he didn’t irrigate… every day off of work, he filled our family’s empty used milk jugs with hose water and loaded them, 40 or so at a time, in his old beater Toyota truck that was decades older than we were and drove up the hill. One by one, he would gently hand water each and every tree on the mountainside. I remember standing at the base of our property, where our simple home was, and looking up the hill at his figure, usually on bended knee, tenderly caring for his seedlings. He started before I woke in the morning, and usually didn’t stop until dinnertime. When he lost one, sometimes for no known reason, he was so disappointed and we were sad for him.
A few times, I caught him standing at the top of the hill to survey his domain.
What role did we, his children, play? Primarily, we enjoyed living in paradise. We sledded down the hill in the winter and built forts in the summer and rode the horses year-round. A few magical times, my sister and I secretly climbed on top of the horse’s shelter to lie on our backs and look up at the stars.
But we worked, too. Every day before the school bus came, we fed the animals. We “helped” dig the holes for the Ponderosa Pines using a manual Post Hole Digger, and dad said we all earned our PHD. Some days, we went with our father to the mountainside and helped water, carrying those heavy jugs from the truck bed to the little trees so they could get their nourishment.
We all felt the spirit of that place, and loved to help our father make it grow.
Now, my dad would probably be surprised to hear that I learned anything much spiritually from his example. But the more I look back on this story from my childhood, and picture my father tenderly stroking the soft needles of our Ponderosa Pine trees, I recognize the simplest form of the gospel:
Our Heavenly Father has created for us a place in which he wants us all to thrive, to feel fulfilled, to be happy. He works tirelessly to make it so. He has planted seeds, hoping for success. He cares about each and every one of us, and loves us.
And so, I ask you to think about the question from my story: What role do we, his children, play? We get to enjoy all the bounties and blessings He has provided. And we are called upon to work, too, to help grow our Father’s kingdom on the earth. You probably won’t ever be asked to work a Post Hole Digger, but we all have a role in building up and nourishing the kingdom.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said “Every righteous man and woman has a significant role to play in the onward march of the kingdom of God.” (Women of Righteousness, BYU Devotional March 2001, Ensign April 2002).
And we’ve heard as sisters in Relief Society and Young Women, we share the errand of angels.
D&C 58: 27-28 is a familiar scripture: “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 agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good, they will in nowise lose their reward.”
What are you doing to help our Father? Maybe you tend to one little seedling, or perhaps you’ve been asked to flood a mountainside. I’ve asked a few of my friends to share a specific way in which they are helping grow our Father’s kingdom on earth.
Cami, a high school junior
Margaret, a recently returned senior missionary
Amy, a mother of young children
There are so many great examples among us. You make dinners for new moms, you help throw bridal showers, and you make sure the less active girl in your Beehive class never sits alone at a fireside.
I’m reminded of Elder Jeffery R. Holland’s most recent General Conference address on angels: “When we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with – here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods.”
Now that you’ve heard a few ideas, has something come to your mind?
I’m still trying to figure out what my “role” is, and how I can use my skills and talents to truly further the work. For now, I’ll try to simply “pause to help and lift another.” Really, if we are a friend or a mother or a visiting teacher, we are already doing so much to help our Father.
I encourage you to study Julie B. Beck’s talk from General Relief Society Conference. It directly correlates with what we’re talking about today. An excerpt:
“Just as the Savior invited Mary and Martha of New Testament times to participate in His work, women of this dispensation have an official commission to participate in the Lord’s work. From the earliest days of the Restoration, women were active in helping build up the Church by supporting missionary efforts, contributing to the construction of temples, and establishing communities where the Saints could worship together. The organization of Relief Society in 1842 mobilized the collective power of the women and their specific assignments to build the Lord’s kingdom… (w)omen have an official role in the Church with great responsibilities, “including working in the temple and teaching the gospel.”9 Further, Relief Society is to help women “plant and make grow . . . a testimony of [Jesus] Christ and of the Gospel,”10 “strengthen the family and the home,”11 and “attend to all family duties.”12 It has responsibility to take care of the “necessities of the poor, the sick and the needy,” but President Joseph F. Smith said that the larger part of its work is “to look after the spiritual welfare [and salvation] . . . of all the female members of the Church.”
One of Sister Beck’s references said we are to plant and make grow a testimony of Jesus Christ and of the Gospel. I can testify that I have seen many of you working to help grow our Father’s kingdom, and I know there are many others I haven’t seen. It is my hope and prayer that we will all do our part, so that if our Father was to stand at the top of the hill and look down on his creations, he would be pleased.