Good morning brothers and sisters. Friends and family. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces this morning. For those who are unaware of my identity, hi, my name is Eaven Wilker, soon to be Sister Wilker. I was called to serve the Ogden, Utah mission for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints! For the next 18 months I will be going out into the world serving God’s children and teaching others to help them come to know about Jesus Christ, essentially finding “God’s Love.”
So why? Why do 18 year old boys and 19 year old girls choose to serve? Why am I using my last year as a teenager to serve a mission for a year and a half? How did I come to make this choice?
This desire to serve came to me at such a young age. Having been born into the church my impressionable eyes got to witness the miracles and blessings upon myself and others.
One miracle that has stuck all these years made me understand truly that God hears your cries and with His divine timing your personal prayers will get answered.
Growing up we vacationed to Yosemite National Park more times than I can count. We’d drive the 8-10 hours with my cousins to meet with other relatives that we didn’t see much of. Our huge group would stay in clusters of tents right next to each other called “housekeeping.” One summer my little cousin Crue, who was 4 at the time, got lost. When someone noticed this all I can remember was the instant panic in the adults voices screaming out his name. There were complete strangers trying to help with the search and even the rangers got involved. People searched in groups or buddied up. I found myself with my aunt Heidi. After what felt like half a day, my aunt made the suggestion that we cross the bridge into this forest area to pray. So we walked away from all the noise, knelt down and prayed. I don’t remember what she said in that prayer but what I do recall is the absolute stillness I felt. I knew that the spirit in that moment whispered to me that everything would be ok. So we walked back over the bridge and instantly my mom screamed out, “I’ve found him!” This young child was found in one of our family’s tents sleeping buried underneath mounds of sleeping bags, blankets and clothing. At that moment my mom was prompted to check a place that had been checked multiple times. Her eyes guided to spot his tiny strip of blonde hair like a “needle in the haystack.”
Brothers and sisters I can’t tell you or even fathom what my family felt that day. What I can bear witness is that God sent His holy spirit. There are no coincidences. Being able to witness that, helped build the testimony I have today.
The power of God’s love is unique and personal. Filled with His love we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength, and bless and help others.
So how do we obtain this powerful love?
First we need to understand what God’s love represents.
In 1 Nephi 11, one of the earliest stories in the Book of Mormon provided me the answer. In it it talks of Nephi’s desire to see, hear and know for himself the things which his father, Lehi, had seen and heard in his vision of the tree of life. Instead of seeing the same vision Nephi was “caught away in the spirit of the Lord” and received his own vision. In them he is shown a series of visions: the tree of life, the rod of iron, and the great and spacious building, as well as the Savior’s birth, baptism, ministry, and crucifixion. What does this have to do with God’s love and obtaining it? Well..Verse 1 says, “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord..”
Desire, belief, ponder, I found are the key words to answering the question, How can I obtain God’s love? It begins with desire. Brothers and sisters so many of us end up beating ourselves up because we’re not perfect and we don’t do things exactly as they need to be done. I love that the scriptures emphasize that the desires of our hearts and the desires of our covenant relationship with our God is ultimately the desire to want to be better. Desire before all else. Nex, believing. Believing that the Lord is able to make things known. Then Ponder; like when Nephi says in chapter 11, “I sat pondering in mine heart.” As I was listening to the youtube channel, Scripture Central, two very important points stuck out to me on that phrase.
Nephi was not working on the fields or working on the flocks while pondering or sitting around at the dinner table letting the mind wander off– it was like everything was dropped giving this vision his undivided attention
In our modern times we might think that when we ponder it sits in the mind but as Nephi explains these are feelings not in the mind but they have sunk deep into the heart
Brothers and sisters, do you know how completely God, our Heavenly Father, loves you? Have you felt His love deep in your soul?
When you know and understand how completely you are loved as a child of God, it changes everything. It changes the way you feel about yourself when you make mistakes. It changes how you feel when difficult things happen. It changes your view of God’s commandments. It changes your view of others and of your capacity to make a difference.
Elder Jeffery R Holland taught: “The first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength.”
How can each of us know deep in our souls that great truth of eternity?
General Conference talk by Susan H Porter, titled, “Most Joyous to the Soul”
(i will be quoting her a lot)
The prophet Nephi was shown in a vision the most powerful evidence of God’s love. Upon viewing the tree of life, Nephi asked to know the interpretation thereof. In answer, an angel showed Nephi a city, a mother, and a baby. As Nephi looked upon the city of Nazareth and the righteous mother Mary, holding the infant Jesus in her arms, the angel declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”2 At that sacred moment, Nephi understood that in the birth of the Savior, God was showing forth His pure and complete love. God’s love, Nephi testified, “sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men.”
We can picture the love of God as light emanating from the tree of life, shedding itself abroad over all the earth into the hearts of the children of men. God’s light and love permeate all His creations.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that we can feel God’s love only after we have followed the iron rod and partaken of the fruit. God’s love, however, not only is received by those who come to the tree but is the very power that motivates us to seek that tree.
Think of what motivates you..is it someone close to you? Is it a trial that you've overcome?
Growing up super close with my siblings and cousins I had many great examples in my life. These important people have no idea the impact and guidance I find in them individually. My amazing family motivates me to want to be a better person. This example gives me the strength to come unto Christ to follow the commandments so that I can live forever in Heaven with the family I've been blessed with on earth.
More specifically, even though I made the decision to serve when I was younger, the people in my life who’ve been on a mission like my dad, whom I look up to and respect so much, have helped me get to the place I'm at spiritually. I’ve got 2 older cousins serving right now who are like brothers to me. One in the Dominican Republic and the other in South Carolina. And finally my brother Cameron serving in Portugal is the ultimate motivation because I have seen the light in his eye flash so bright when he talks about the miracle he has seen. Even though they are so far I feel more connected to them than ever before.
Over time, I have come to understand that our loving Heavenly Father has planted within each of us the seed of His eternal love.
So what about those times in life when we feel far from God’s love?
God’s love is not found in the circumstances of our lives but in His presence in our lives. We know of His love when we receive strength beyond our own and when His Spirit brings peace, comfort, and direction. At times it may be difficult to feel His love. We can pray to have our eyes opened to see His hand in our lives and to see His love in the beauty of His creations.
Sometimes we feel distanced from Him because we’ve made mistakes or sinned and haven’t found the strength or courage to take the first steps towards repentance. Sometimes we get so busy and distracted by worldly matters that we fail to practice the small and simple things which bring us closer to Heavenly Father and His love. We may also feel like we’ve had one too many unanswered prayers or one too many people who have hurt us or times when we think God didn’t help us.
We might feel so out of touch with God’s love in our own lives that we can’t even conceive of how we can share that love with others.
In a digital devotional, Larry Laycock spoke to all the young adults of the world saying, “No matter the station or conditions of our lives, no matter what suffering or injustice we have endured, our Heavenly Father’s love can grow through the hardships of our lives. I can overcome all pain, anger and frustration.”
This is reassuring. There are times where I get stuck in my depression. Feeling like after all of the do overs, failing every chance I get at progression, that there is no way that I deserve to be brought back up. When nothing in this world brings satisfaction and I feel like giving up.
I think of God’s love. Because it is everything. It is the ocean. It is music. It is laughter. It is what ultimate everlasting joy is.
“For I reckon that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
I know He lives. I know He loves us. I know we can feel His love here and now. I know His voice is one of perfect mildness which penetrates to our very center. I know He smiles and is filled with compassion and love. I know He is full of gentleness and kindness, mercy and desire to help. I love Him with all my heart. I testify that when we’re ready, His pure love instantly moves across time and space reaches down and pulls us up from the depths of any tumultuous sea of darkness, sin, sorrow, death or despair we may find ourselves in and brings us into the light and life and love of eternity.
“I know that my Redeemer lives. What comfort this sweet sentence gives! … He lives to bless [us] with his love.”