CLICK HERE to read Enos.

Enos is a one chapter book in the Book of Mormon, but it is powerful in its brevity.

We know from Jacob 7 that Enos is a son of Jacob.  We also know that Enos is of the covenant, or else Jacob would not have chosen him to pass down the records and write the things of God.  Enos opens with a tribute to his father Jacob, calling him “a just man – for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – and blessed be the name of my God for it” (verse 1).

What a blessing, like Nephi’s gratitude for “goodly parents”, for Enos to give his father.  This is a precious gift of honor he gives, acknowledging the contribution of his parents to his own faith.

But Enos has also done the work to make his parents’ faith his own.

Specifically, Enos says he wrestled before God, before receiving a remission of his sins (verse 2).

He tells a story of going about his normal daily activities, and during that time pondering “the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints” (verse 3).  These thoughts “sunk deep into my heart”, he said (verse 3).

This is such an important piece of what Enos did to develop his own faith.  Our beliefs become faith when we act (do something!) in response to our beliefs.  We develop faith by learning who God is, and by aligning our lives with His.   It is then upon this faith that the Lord reveals line upon line until that faith becomes knowledge, which is testimony.  This whole process is dependent upon the external work of reading Scriptures daily, praying un-cease-ing-ly, studying the words of prophets (old discourses, General Conference talks, BYU discussions, Fireside talks, Sacrament meeting talks, etc… all of it counts!), as well internal work of thinking, pondering, memorizing, reflecting, and asking for more.

He will reveal to us AS MUCH AS we are willing to receive.

We demonstrate our willingness through study, prayer, obedience, and pondering.

“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (verse 4).

Enos wanted it.

Enos feasted on the words his father taught him, the scriptures and words of the prophets, until he hungered for more.

It was then, when he was hungry to know more, when he was willing and ready to apply what he had learned, it was then that he humbled himself and prayed, submitting to the will of the Lord.

This is a sacred moment, one so sacred it almost feels intrusive to be watching through his written description of the experience. It is powerful.

“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” (verse 5).

Powerful. Sacred.

These are private, deeply sacred, powerful moments of repentance, with the Lord keeping His promise to cover those who repent with His at-one-ment.

This is an at-one-ment moment.

“And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away” (verse 6).

When we do wrong things or bad things or fail to do good, we should feel bad.  That isn’t false guilt.  We really are guilty, and feeling guilt is the correct response.  But getting stuck in the guilt would leave us helpless and hopeless, drowning in our own self-imposed shame without chance of recovery.  But “hopeless and helpless” is not of God.  The Savior is our hope, and His great atoning sacrifice empowers us to receive help.  Enos asks how this hope and help come (verse 7).

“And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen” (verse 8).  Enos has faith in Christ, that Christ will come, even though at this time in history Christ had not yet been born.  This is great faith, to trust the teachings of the prophets and the teachings of his father.

And then verse 8 closes with an interesting statement:

“go to, thy faith hath made thee whole”

It reminds me of John 8:11, with Jesus telling the hotshots to cast the first stone if they are without sin, and then watching them all crawl away, each with their own guilt.  Then the Savior looks at the woman and says,

“Go and sin no more”.

They are related in repentance, though Enos is further along.

The woman must “go and sin no more”, which is part of repentance in that when repentance is real, the sin is not repeated.  It leads to the restitution piece of repentance.  The woman is in process.

But Enos has completed the process:  “thy faith hath made thee whole”.

This “whole”-ness is what it means when other verses talk about how we should be perfect.  They do not mean we should be perfect, as in without mistakes.  They mean perfect, as in whole and complete.

So Enos teaches us that we can be made perfect (whole and complete) through faith in Christ, and by doing our part of repentance: the crying out to God with our whole souls, and the go-and-sin-n0-more.  Then the atonement makes us at-one, and even our sins are forgiven.  That’s the power of the atonement.

This was so huge, so transformative, that Enos wanted this for his people as well.

It’s like Lehi tasting the fruit and knowing he wants his family to also taste.

“I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites, wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them” (verse 9).

So again, it is the praying.

This is the praying we should do for the people we visit teach, and for those we love and serve, and for those we do not yet know they need our love and service.

But no matter how much we want it for them, they have to want it themselves.

The Lord answers Enos, saying that He will bless the people “according to their diligence in keeping my commandments” (verse 10).  This is the “inasmuch”, or the “to the degree”.  Yes, the Savior loves them – this is the unconditional part.  But His presence and blessings are dependent upon the people trying, being obedient, being diligent in keeping His commandments.

“And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him…” (verse 11).

Only now he is not only praying for his people, but also for his enemies.

“And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith” (verse 12).

This was a powerful experience.

And so Enos went through the land, amongst the people, to teach what he knows about the Christ to come, and of the way the Lord works in our lives (verse 19).

So Enos led the Nephites in seeking “diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God” (verse 20).  But the Lamanites refused, and sought to destroy the Nephites.

This is how the “murmuring” of Nephi’s brothers Laman and Lemuel, back in the day, led to this pattern of contention and destruction evident all through the Book of Mormon.  It urges us to nourish life and heal wounds and forgive and ask for forgiveness and become an obedient, covenant people.

But the Nephites are becoming a “stiffnecked people”, refusing to submit to the laws of God (verse 21).

Because the covenant people were not acting like covenant people, the Lord sent them “many prophets” to teach and heal (verse 22).

These prophets had a rough job dealing with the “harshness” of the people, “preaching and prophesying of wars and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God.  Enos hopes the people will listen to these prophets, which will help “keep them from going down speedily to destruction” (verse 23).

But the wars have begun, and now the Nephites and the Lamanites are officially fighting each other (verse 24).

And so the prophets do their work, as Enos has done in all his days (verse 26), testifying of Christ.

“And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest.  And I rejoice in the day when… he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father” (verse 27).

Jacob 7: Jacob and Sherem Showdown

CLICK HERE to read Jacob 7.

This is the last chapter of the book of Jacob.  He has taught us of the atonement, and given us beautiful understanding of how the Lord does nourish us no matter the context of our lives.  These same lessons taught us how to love and care for others in the same way we are nourished.  Together, all this reminded us of the consequences of our choices – for good or bad – in that the Savior’s love is unconditional, but the blessings He waits to give us out of that love are very much conditional on how we demonstrate our love for Him.

Jacob closes his book by returning to the narrative of the record of his people, showing how these doctrinal concepts play out in the lives of the people by the choices they make.

Jacob tells the story of Sherem (verse 1), who becomes a false preacher among the people.  He wants the people only to feel good, which is not love at all.  Growth and change are difficult and hard work, and truth makes us uncomfortable when it pushes us to progress further.  Yet Sherem uses flattery to woo the people, which is not the same thing as teaching truth that convicts so that the Spirit can do the transforming work of applying the atonement.  In this way, Sherem gives an illusion of friendship that points to a false gospel, in effort to “overthrow the doctrine of Christ” (verse 2).

“And he labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people…” (verse 3).

Sherem knew of Jacob’s faith and leadership, and he sought out opportunity to meet and talk with Jacob (verse 3).

But when Sherem spoke, he used only flattery as his power of speech, which is not of God and is “according to the power of the devil” (verse 4).

Yet Jacob’s testimony was not based on feel-good-flattery, and was not based on illusions of friendship, and was not based on powerful words that were not scripture-based.  His testimony was based on his own personal experiences with the God he knew.  Jacob held fast to his testimony, even his knowledge of revelations and angels.  Because He was so familiar with the Lord’s voice, he knew when it was NOT the Lord speaking.  “Wherefore,” he said, “I could not be shaken” (verse 5).

But Sherem still tried to make his move, slinking up to Jacob saying that he has sought many opportunities to speak to him because he knows that Jacob “goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ” (verse 6).

Then, in a bizarre turn of events, it is Sherem who accuses Jacob, saying that he does “pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses…” (verse 7).  This is blasphemy, Sherem says.

This seems shocking!  Jacob is the Prophet, so how is he not keeping the law of Moses?   Jacob is a covenant keeper, and a worthy priesthood holder, and leading the people as a Prophet!

It’s a classic case of projection, where someone is mad at someone else because of something wrong inside of themselves.  Instead of fixing what is wrong inside of them, they instead focus on it being wrong in other people.  We all do this at times, but if we are not being healthy and well and in tune with the Spirit, it can really be a problem.

We see it here with Sherem, who is a false preacher accusing the Prophet of not keeping God’s laws.

And we see, still in verse 7,  the error of Sherem’s claims in what he bases it on:  he says that Jacob is wrong because no one can know what is to come (in the future).

This is the basis for Sherem’s attack, which is in the pattern of those who frequently cause contention.  Instead of doing their own work and focusing on their own learning and progress, they focus on what is wrong with other people.  Because they are not making progress, and are only stagnant – which is death, they do not have the knowledge they need to understand things correctly.

But Jacob, who is a covenant keeper, and thus making progress (not just dying by stagnation), has knowledge.  When we do the work of gaining knowledge, then the Spirit enlightens us further and teaches us more, revealing to us more and more and more.   So when Jacob was attacked, “the Lord God poured in his Spirit into my soul” so much that he was able to show that Sherem’s words of attack were not correct.  He did not retaliate, and he did not get mean and ugly.  He simply re-aligned the accusations with truth, and let the truth speak for itself… let the Spirit speak for itself.

Instead of getting lost in the contention-drama Sherem was stirring up, Jacob focused on the doctrinal implications of what Sherem was saying.  Thus we have a beautiful lesson how, even when attacked with contention-drama, we can simply point back to the Savior and let the atonement work.  This brings far more healing, by the power of the Spirit, than if we got in the way by taking it all personally and escalating the contention-drama into war.

In verse 9, Jacob said to Sherem, “Do you deny the Christ who will come?”

Sherem said, “If there were a Christ, I wouldn’t hate on him.  But there isn’t, hasn’t, and won’t be a Christ.”

Even now, instead of hating on Sherem, Jacob continues to point to the atonement – both in behavior and interaction, so that his response was pure and holy, and only of God (with no contention-drama).

“And I (Jacob) said unto him (Sherem): Believest thou the scriptures?  And he (Sherem) said, “Yea” (verse 10).

So then Jacob tells Sherem that if it is true he believes the scriptures, then it must be that he (Sherem) does not understand them.  Because none of the prophets have written or prophesied without speaking of the Christ (verse 11).  Jacob says that EVERYTHING written in scripture points to Christ, even these scriptures they have which we now call the Old Testament.

But not only this, when prophets speak (even through writing), the Holy Spirit manifests the truth of their words (verse 12).   So not only do we have the words of the prophets testifying of Christ, but we also have the Holy Spirit confirming those testimonies and revealing more than just the words we see on a page.

So, Jacob says, everything has pointed to Christ.  And without His great atoning sacrifice, “all mankind must be lost”.  This is a tiny phrase that is expounded upon in Alma, with most of the 30’s chapters delving into this in-depth.

But basically, we know there are three kinds of death.  First, there is physical death, which we all experience because of the Fall from God’s presence in the whole Garden-of-Eden events.  Secondly, there is the first spiritual death, which is our separation from God because we are all born outside God’s physical presence (Heleman 14:16-18, D&C 29:41).  This “estrangement” (love the phrase, taken from Tad Callister’s book, Infinite Atonement, which the Prophet said we should read) is because of the Fall.  Thirdly, there is a second spiritual death that is a separation from God caused by our individual sins and transgressions that we ourselves have chosen.

The Atonement is the answer to all three kinds of death, and without it we would be “lost” as Jacob said.  Without the resurrection of our physical bodies to be reunited with our spirits, we would be no physically different (other than our mortal experience) than Satan.  Without being reunited to the presence of God, we would forever become more and more like Satan.

This is why we must pray continuously.  This is why we must be cleansed through fasting and service.  This is why we must go to the Temple regularly and often.   Because we should be getting shinier and shinier, not darker and darker.

There is no stagnant ground.  Stagnant is death.   We are either moving forward, with softened hearts and submissive spirits, so that we are increasing in love and service, or we are moving backward into bitterness and gossip and negativity and selfishness.  The prophets have said if we are not moving forward, then we are moving backward.  There is no standing still, there is no waiting it out.  Every choice is a choice to progress forward and upward toward God or a choice to slide backwards and away from God.

Because Christ conquered physical death, the first two kinds of death (physical death and spiritual death from being born outside God’s physical presence) are healed, fixed, taken care of.  He has already done that work, and so all of us, regardless of our belief in Him or love for Him, will receive our physical bodies and return to His presence (even if just for the moments of judgment).  We will all be resurrected, and we will all face God.  This is unconditional.  So we are not lost.

But the second spiritual death, that caused by our own sins, is corrected only when the atonement is applied through repentance and our own hard work of submitting to His will and demonstrating our love through obedience and service.  Our redemption from our own sins is very much conditional, as the consequences of our own sin is removed only through the repentance process.  He has done the work to provide for it, but its application depends on us accepting, receiving, and actually applying it.

In its simplest form, it is like friendship, which can be very much unconditional.

But the quality of friendship is very conditional, dependent upon the love given and positive interactions had within the context of that relationship.   Relationships are not facts or done deals; they are fluid and ever flowing.  They are not flowers picked and pressed into a book, but living gardens that must be cultivated, pruned, and nourished.

So it is with the atonement, which has guaranteed us all immortality.

But the quality of that immortality, our eternal lives, depends upon the quality of relationship we develop with Him now.

Sherem, though, who is flattery-based (and so would find such conditions insulting because of his pride), does not accept this.  He is so stubborn that he refuses to submit even long enough to ponder the idea.  Instead, the contention-drama continues with a direct challenge: rather than accepting the truths, or swallowing his pride to see what he can learn from those truths, he again demands what he wants when he wants it, and it has to be his way.

This another moment where Sherem thinks he is being so tough and so “right”, but instead is clearly screaming out his symptoms in a fit of rage that makes it easy to see what is wrong with him.

Demanding what he wants, when he wants it, in his way, is obviously not submitting to God’s will or doing it God’s way in the timing and pattern God has revealed.

So Sherem demands a “sign”, but not only does he demand a sign, he demands it “by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the which ye know so much” (verse 13).  Now he is not only rejecting truth, but mocking the Holy Ghost!

This cross-references to Korihor, who comes later in the Book of Mormon.  We know from the Korihor incident that sign-seeking is almost always an indication of sexual sin.  While this chapter does not talk about Sherem and any sexual sins directly, adding this cross-reference to Korihor, we know that these stubborn fits with explosive rages of someone who wants what they want, when they want it, and wants it their way (NOW!), that this goes along with sexual sin.  This inability to submit to confrontation, and this refusal to submit to the promptings of the Holy Ghost are both symptoms of sexual sin.  This flattery instead of friendship, this gossip to woo the people instead of teaching to heal them, this demanding of proof (of love, of God, of friendship, of anything) instead of focusing on demonstrating it himself… these are all symptoms of sexual sin.

The problem is not that Sherem doesn’t know the law (of the covenant).

The problem is that he is only going through the motions.   He is not progressing, is not receiving revelation, and is demanding signs (which is evidence that he is trying to fit the law to him instead of submitting himself to the law).

Rather than becoming more like God, these choices and behaviors move a person backward, more toward Satan.  It happens because instead of claiming the atonement through the Great Exchange of Isaiah 22, by which we give up our sins in exchange for His righteousness, Sherem is instead demanding the law fit his sins, even justify them.  Anytime someone feels justified, it is a symptom of this.  We are never justified in our behavior, because it is Christ who brings the mercy to what justice demands.  We are justified only through faith, and our faith is demonstrated by obedience.  We are either behaving like God, or we are not.

So Jacob knows better than to fall into this Sherem-trap, and says “What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign in the the thing which thou knowest to be true?”  (verse 14).

Again, the problem is that Sherem knows better.

This isn’t a new convert discovering the amazing process of signs that follow evidence of faith.

This isn’t a moment of covenant making, when signs are given as evidence of that covenant.

This is demanding a sign without giving evidence of faith.

That’s the problem.

But it is Sherem’s choice, and Jacob respects his agency.

Jacob says, “Dude.  This isn’t right, and you know it.  But not my problem.  God is good about giving us what we ask for, so I’d be more careful in my asking.”   More careful, mostly, because Sherem has already proven that he is not ready to receive.   So stop asking for more when you haven’t received what you have already been given, he says.

Because Sherem is denying God’s power (the Holy Ghost), Jacob says that will be the sign Sherem receives: a sign that is evidence of His power.

“Nevertheless, not my will be done; but if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come.  And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine” (verse 14).

The moment Jacob says these words, that power of God (the Holy Ghost) does come upon Sherem, “insomuch that he fell to the earth” (verse 15).  But it’s the next words that are so incredible, so Jacob, so loving-Jehovah:  “And it came to pass that he was nourished for the space of many days” (verse 15).

When the power of God came upon Sherem, it was not a power of destruction.

It was a power that nourished.

It’s just like the vineyard, two chapters ago (Jacob 5), where we are “nourished this long time” by the Lord as He and his servants (prophets, priesthood leaders) work the vineyard (church, earth, us).

It’s that simple.

What is not of God, destroys.

What is of God, nourishes.

All that nourishes is of God.

All that destroys is not of God.

It’s that simple.

Contention, drama, fear, bitterness, rage, negativity, gossip, and hating are not of God.

Nourishing is of God.

And when we are nourished, when we submit to recognizing that He does nourish us, then we begin to see God and understand a taste of who He is.  Only then do we truly begin to understand ourselves.

So Sherem called his followers together because “I desire to speak unto the people before I shall die” (verse 16).

And when he spoke to them, he spoke “plainly unto them and denied the things which he had taught them, and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels” (verse 17).

This was more than a deathbed confession.

This was working out his salvation, applying the atonement, doing the work of repentance – including restitution – that is required for the atonement to conquer that third type of death, the one that comes because of our own sins, the one that comes when we separate ourselves from God.

“And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil” (verse 18).

The atonement heals that deceit, when Sherem says in verse 19 “that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him (Christ)”.   Not only are the scriptures true, as in accurate or even real, but they do “truly testify” of Christ.   All scriptures point to Christ; everything is about the atonement.

And when we testify of Christ, the Holy Spirit does its work to confirm that testimony in the people who listen, who hear it, who are around us.

“And when the multitude had witnessed that he spake these things… they were astonished exceedingly; insomuch that the power of God came down upon them…” (verse 21).

So the people were also nourished!

“Now, this thing was pleasing unto me, Jacob, for I had requested it of my Father who was in heaven; for he had heard my cry and answered my prayer” (verse 22).

The sign Sherem demanded became a sign to Jacob, as a witness to the covenant.

Which covenant?

The premortal covenant we all made: that Christ would atone for us, and we would testify of it.

Jacob has testified of the atonement, and the power of Christ’s atonement came upon the people.

If he had become part of the problem, or if he had been sucked into the contention-drama, it still would have been going on – probably even worse.

Instead, Jacob ignored who other people said he was, and held fast to who he knew he was in Christ.

Instead, Jacob did not “bite”and become part of the drama, but created healing instead.

Instead, Jacob did not let other people’s opinions have the power to change his relationship with God, but give him opportunity to testify of Him.

Instead, Jacob did not let someone else define him or trap him into poor choices, but rather focused on who God was and relied on His power to strengthen, provide, protect, and heal.

Instead, Jacob did not take the accusations personally and he used the force field of his “shield and buckler” (D&C 35:8-14), so that the Savior could accomplish His purpose for the people.

“And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people” (verse 23).

Notice that “they searched the scriptures” (verse 23) was part of what maintained that peace.   Not wresting the Scriptures (making the scriptures fit a preconceived notion or agenda), and not just only hearing scriptures at Sacrament meeting on Sundays.   SEARCHING the scriptures: reading them, pondering them, cross-referencing them, studying them, hearing the words of the prophets.

In contrast, many efforts were made “to reclaim and restore the Lamanites to the knowledge of truth” (verse 24), but these were not successful because the people so loved contention-drama that they DELIGHTED in wars and bloodshed, which established and maintained hatred.  Hatred leads to destruction.

Destruction is not of God.

Hatred that leads to destruction is not of GOd.

Delighting in “war” (even in girl-world trauma-drama) that leads to hatred that leads to destruction is not of God.

Loving contention that leads to delighting in war that leads to hatred that leads to destruction is not of God.

Contention is not of God.

We must “fortify” (verse 25) ourselves against contention, and we do that by studying the Scriptures, by praying, by living (behaving and interacting) worthy of the Holy Ghost, and by nourishing.

Nourishing is of God.

Nourishing heals.  Nourishing progresses.  Nourishing creates more life.

Contention destroys, and leads to mourning (verse 26).

Jacob pleads with us to be nourished by the Lord, and to nourish each other.

That is the way of keeping covenants: to nourish.

That is the way to become more like our Savior:  to nourish.

Because This is #America

Last night I stayed up late, chatting with my brother. We didn’t have a curfew, and we weren’t in danger being outside after dark. We talked about anything and everything, with no restrictions limiting our sharing, laughter, or discussion.

Because this is America.

This morning I slept later because of being up late last night, and no one punished me for it.

Because this is America.

When I got up, and my brother’s family was still sleeping, mom and I left for a morning drive. We didn’t need permission, and could drive anywhere we wanted.  We have our own driver’s licenses, without being restricted because of our gender.  There were no checkpoints, no police barriers, no war zones.

Because this is America.

While we drove, my mother and I talked about religion.  We both believe in God and even Jesus and definitely the Holy Spirit, but we worship in different ways.  But we do not worship in fear or in secret.  I can worship how I want, whether it is my 4 year old declaring it to be family prayer time in the middle of the pool, or whether it is me enjoying an easy two hour drive to the Temple, or whether it is my mom visiting my church on a Sunday when I sing a song my friend had the freedom to write.  My nieces and I can sing “Follow the Prophet” on the playground, and I can read the Ensign at the gym.

Because this is America.

On our drive this morning, my mother and I also talked about what is going on in the world.  We are able to discuss politics without being imprisoned, and we are able to participate in the process by voting in elections –  even though we are women – without having guns pointed at us, without threats against our families, and without corrupted governments ignoring our votes.  We can discuss our opinions while sitting in a public restaurant, and we can access news all over the world through a variety of unrestricted technological venues.

Because this is America.

My mother and I drove where we wanted, and chose the store we wanted.  We weren’t assigned a certain place, and weren’t rationed in our shopping.  We picked what we wanted to eat, and enjoyed it sitting comfortably in the cool air out of the hot sun.  We spent money we had earned, and had change leftover. We had variety to choose from, and selected by our own preferences.  While we ate, no car bombs exploded in the street, and no gunfire filled the air.

Because this is America.

While we were gone, my friend texted me.  She is a friend I picked out because I wanted to and I enjoy her company.  She is caring for my dogs and garden while we are away. She has five children, three girls and two boys.  She is allowed to have the children she wants, and keep them alive and raise them, no matter how many or their gender.  I have the freedom to raise my garden, choosing for myself what crops I grow and how much of them I use for myself or share with friends.  If I sell any, I get to set my own prices with the local fair market.

Because this is America.

When we finished, we drove past different gas stations and picked one with a fair price. We didn’t wait in line, weren’t in danger while filling up, and didn’t have to choose between breakfast and gas for the car.

Because this is America.

Next, we went to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine.  I got my medicine with the insurance plan I chose to participate in, and with money from a job I chose to work.  We picked the pharmacy we wanted to pick, out of lots of choices and options.  The medicine I got is what it says it is, and it is safe for me to actually use.  It matches what the doctor prescribed, and he is the doctor I chose from the hospital I picked.

Because this is America.

We drove back to our condo, for the vacation we designed, along the route we chose to take.  We enjoyed the scenery without danger, and celebrated park views that our voted-for taxes support.  We passed churches we disagree with, businesses we don’t support, and political campaign signs we don’t like… all while respecting their freedom to exist as much as our own.

Because this is America.

My nieces and I went to the pool without being attacked. We laid in the sun without being afraid, and played in the water without being in danger.  We laughed on the playground without being guarded, and debated our opinions without being jailed.

Because this is America.

In the afternoon, we all did what we wanted when we wanted.  We scattered our own ways, with my niece free to watch a movie she wanted to see, my mom and best friend watching different television shows, me reading a book I had the freedom to purchase, my brother reading the news from the sources he chose, and all of us texting and tweeting and Facebooking whatever we wanted to say.

Because this is America.

Then, in the evening, we gathered again, to make our plans for celebrating tonight… since we are free to celebrate in the ways we want.  We could make plans for this week, as we are free to operate as a family in the ways that best suit us as individuals and as a family.  We all have jobs we chose, and mom got to retire when she wanted.  We can work and play and worship and celebrate and rest in the ways we choose, and we have the freedom to travel and communicate in the ways best for us.

Because this is America.

Tonight, before we go to bed, we will gather as a family again, and say our evening prayers.  We will do so in safety, and without fear.  We will pray the way our family believes it best to be done, using the words we feel prompted to use.  We will go to bed in safety, without worry of tomorrow or fear of the night.

Because this is America.

And in America, we are spoiled like a Father spoils his children.  We are blessed with provision and protection, and an abundance more than we could ask or imagine.

But good Fathers balance this “spoiling” with guidance and instruction, and even discipline when the guidance is not followed.

Grateful for this freedom to believe what I want and to say what I want, I say now what I believe about America.

I believe that America is a chosen and sacred land, blessed by God.

I believe these blessings are “inasmuch” (to the degree) that the people who live here act and behave like a chosen and sacred people.

I believe the freedoms and abundance we enjoy are meant to be both enjoyed and shared.

I believe it is a shame to squander these privileges or to be ungrateful for the miracles they are.

I believe not living up to these privileges will forfeit them.

I believe that part of the gift of such freedom is the responsibility to use those freedoms well.

I believe the American dream is still alive, when we do the same hard work our ancestors did, in the same sacrificing kind of way.

I believe there are reasons we wanted government without monarchy, and lives without tyranny.

I believe that fireworks are fun, watermelon is yummy, and family gatherings are the best.

But I also believe that our native ancestors taught us how to respect this land, our colonizing ancestors taught us how to defend our rights to live our own lives, and our pioneer ancestors taught us how to live up to those responsibilities.

I believe my civil war ancestors proved no one has the right to own or sell another person, and that this applies to everything from slavery to rape to financial bondage to emotional manipulation to school bullies.

I believe that World War I taught us that dictators are not okay, taught us how to work together, reminded us how to sacrifice, and demonstrated how important it is for us all to learn to play well with others.

I believe World War II taught us that we are all one people.  No one should be murdered because of the way they worship God.  No one should be tortured because they can’t hear, have a limp, or were born with a different eye color than you.

The wars since have taught us that no matter our  political stance, we should love and honor our soldiers because they are soldiers, period.  They have fought for our rights and freedoms and the rights and freedoms of others.  They have given their lives to maintain my freedom to worship the way I want and say out loud the things I believe, as well as my ability to participate in my own government and make choices for my own welfare. They do this while protecting me from those who use God as a weapon and those think that money or military can buy me, bribe me, or own me.

Civil rights movements provided ways for life to be accessible to us all.  I can request sign language interpreters for doctor appointments, get a job regardless of how well I hear, and watch captions on television.

There are some things in America that I think we still need to change.  But I have the freedom to say so, as well as the responsibility in helping make those changes.  There may still be room for improvement, bit that improvement starts with me.  If I want something to change, I can do something about it.

Because this is America.

And tonight in America, as fireworks shoot through the sky like “bombs bursting in air”, I will cry with gratitude for these things.

And when I pray tonight, because I have the freedom to do so, I will thank God for the service of those who fought for this country… including my ancestors, my grandfather, my uncles, and my father… as well as my cousin and his wife who just left Afghanistan.

And I will say, “Thank you.”

Because this is America.