Elder and Sister Schwitzer were with us for part of last week and it was wonderful. I have always had admiration and great respect for our General Authorities, but never imagined that one day, a few would become dear friends, and that we would be comfortable having them over for lunch or dinner. But it is beginning to happen!
Tuesday we were blessed to have Elder and Sister Schwitzer in our home for a bowl of chicken curry soup, bread sticks, caramel dip and apples, and oatmeal raisin cookies. Some of the sisters had decorated the Doxey Trailer for Christmas prior to their arrival. Their copy of the photo history book I compiled was wrapped and placed under the tiny tree the day before. Elder Schwitzer mentioned that he so pleased with the “beauty and Spirit” of the book that wanted a copy for each of the First Presidency. I was not at all prepared for that request and tears were my immediate response as I tried to wrap my mind around what he had just asked. It was a joyous payday for my efforts, but so far beyond the scope of audience I ever imagined. I ordered the books as requested and they should be delivered before Christmas.
During that same luncheon, he taught us the relationship between pride, envy, and malice. Scripturally they are often contained in the same passage. Elder Schwitzer taught that they are very closely related, even causal in nature. He explained that contention is an indicator of pride. Pride is a self-absorbed vice where everything is viewed through the lens of “what about me?” From pride grows envy. Envy is when a second lens is added that distorts a person’s view further. Suddenly, “what about me?” is compounded by “you have something I don’t have and that’s not fair.” Malice results when those attitudes become so consuming that one determines a course of action to do something about it. That was insightful to me, and the more I have pondered it, the more evident that pattern is in both big and small things I observe. We were grateful for that wisdom from Elder Schwitzer.
Tuesday evening, we gathered at the Director’s home for dinner and a fireside. Sister Schwitzer suggested that this Christmas we ponder the role of Mary in the story of the Christmas, and identify some lessons we can learn from her. In a nutshell, Mary was a very young teen who was about to face shame and scorn in a very strict, male dominated society. What the angel revealed to her may have ended in her death, yet that pure, innocent, young woman responded with her willingness to submit to God’s plan knowing that with Him nothing was impossible. She pledged to do whatever was required without question and without full understanding. As she pondered this sacred event in her heart, she found private joy in her conviction that God would magnify her in this role and somehow things would work out. She found peace in times of uncertainty and fear because she knew she was serving God’s purposes as she allowed Him to prevail in her life. What a beautiful description of what the faithful strive for.
Elder Schwitzer spoke of the numerous times he was sent to help call a new stake president. As he accompanied different Apostles and Area Seventies in this assignment, he learned that the interviews with potential candidate were not about the questions asked or answers given. They were merely a chance for God to reveal His will to those called to make the selection. He learned quickly to remove all of the world’s standards for determining leadership qualifications and to pay close attention to the feeling each brother brought with them.
He suggested that our mission is a window of opportunity to learn better to access the Spirit and learn how He speaks to us because we have fewer distractions, and our focus is pointed to sacred things every day. He promised that if we would pay the price of personal discipline, we will be able to distinguish between the voice of the Spirit and our own voice of reason. We will have a deeper, more intense understanding of how Heaven communicates with us. Elder Schwitzer said that councils teach us how to listen to the Spirit and come to a unity of the faith. Continual compromise is not what is intended! They serve as the process of each member aligning through the Spirit as one.
He suggested three things to help us in that process.
- Learn to study the Book of Mormon in the context of its application in our current world. The book was written for our day and reading it with that foremost in our minds will help the Spirit teach us what lessons are available and where we need to change. He suggested we start with Alma 5 as a “how-to guide” to communicate with God. He identified the doctrine of Nehor that lead to the destruction of the Nephite society. The core was there is no need for change. Repentance is not necessary and there are soothing excuses and reasons to support that self-defeating pattern.
Elder Schwitzer mentioned the prophesied “great division” or polarization we see in our world. He identified the source of that division. It is pride and contention! They are not symptoms, they are the cause. He asked us to consider what that means to us as we rub shoulders with a world drowning in fault-finding, bantering, vicious debate, backbiting, and open, hateful slander and accusations. Is it possible to be meek, yet valiant in such a setting? He said the answer is found in the Book of Mormon. It is more than a historical document, it is a Second Witness of Jesus Christ.
- Learn to listen to the Living Prophet. Elder Schwitzer shared that he has known President Nelson for decades. He first met him as a young medical student learning about the Star-Edwards Heart Valve from Dr. Nelson. He determined to someday be like him. He confided that Elder Nelson’s influence grew each time their paths crossed. He considers President Nelson a friend and they often sit in counsel together regarding the future of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Elder Schwitzer bore his witness that President Nelson is a man of God and the true and living prophet on the earth today. He suggested we study Mosiah 15 to better understand the critical of a prophet in our quest to become heirs of God’s kingdom from a study of those who rejected and killed Abinadi. The phrase “hear and hearken” suggests careful application of counsel given. To “believe” means that our focus is ever on the horizon of the future, watchful for the promises of God to be fulfilled.
- The final step came as a challenge. Elder Schwitzer suggested we intentionally use the Spirit in our daily work, in the little things as well as the big. He promised that “angels intersect our paths daily” when we are in tune with the Spirit. He witnessed that the Spirit desires to be our constant companion and is able and willing to tell us “all things what we should do.”
He challenged us to pray for God to open our minds and understanding. He promised as we strive to do as he suggested the results will go far beyond the “green fields of Adam-ondi-Ahman.” We will learn the revelatory process together and reap the blessing of having the Spirit close in our lives. What we learn will be written in the “fleshy tables” of our hearts and we will each leave better and different people.
This week Darrel helped with a big road improvement project near the East Entrance. Three culverts were installed on the road west of there and rocks we placed to prevent erosion. He watered and rolled the roads in that area after a dozen semi-loads of gravel were laid. He installed some new lights at the sawmill, and helped frame-in and put sheeting on the new expansion at the Work center. It was thrilling to witness how fast the work is progressing on that project.
Ben Cox, the farmer who leases the majority of the farm ground at AOA, became ill with COVID this week. Meals have been taken in daily, as well as many sincere, prayers. The Cox family have been a part of AOA for generations. Ben recognizes this as “God’s land,” although he is not a member. He recently did all that was necessary to obtain permission to be buried in the Everly Cemetery someday. It is our desire that he not get that wish soon. A special AOA fast was held this weekend. We all love Ben, Del Ray, and Zac Cox.
My extra time this week was spent in taking care of the Christmas details that are important to us. We feel that meaningful gifts for our children and a Christmas letter are worth the time, effort and resources required. They bring joy to us and are one way we choose to “Light the World with Light and Love.”
Our family has also had the tradition of sharing the “Twelve Days of Christmas” with selected families through the years. We were tempted to let it slide this year because of our situation, but were divinely lead to the family of Andy and Lavina Gingerich, from Lamoni, IA. We felt we should extend the magic, warmth, joy, and Spirit of Christmas with them in this way. We plan to secretly deliver a box tonight and feel a tingle of excitement as we anticipate the delight of their seven young children.
May the true Spirit of Christmas bless us all this season as we find opportunities to share His light and His love.
Sincerely, Darrel and Karen Kenison