Look Inward, Then Look Upward

man-person-people-trainOn one of my many trips to Utah, I sat on a delayed airplane outside the Denver International Airport.  A storm was pushing through and there was no way that plane was going to get in the air any time soon.  Sitting there on the tarmac for what seemed like hours, I had an experience that I know now, was not a coincidence.  I chose the window seat (I always fly SouthWest so I get to choose), and a young man about the age of my oldest son sat down next to me.  We didn’t converse much at first, he seemed to be exhausted and wanting to sleep.  But after the captain came on for about the third time to let us know that we would not be getting off the plane or in the air for at least another 45 minutes, he struck up a conversation with me.  He started by asking questions.  And in a round about way we began to talk about marriage.  I think I must have told him that I’d just visited my boyfriend in Nashville and was going home to UT.

When I told him I had 4 children, he asked what happened with my previous marriage.  I explained the situation as best I could, and then he started to tell me about his family and how his parents had divorced.  He was not so long married himself, I think about 10 years, and he wanted to find a way to stay married to his wife and not let that happen to him.  So we discussed various reasons why divorce happens.  And so the conversation went….then the captain came on and said we’d be in the air soon.  We’d already sat on the tarmac for over an hour and half.  I watched out my window as the storm clouds rolled in, menacing and gray.  And thought about this chance encounter with a young man half my age, who seemed to know more about life than I did.  And I realized that is was not by chance.  You see, I believe that God places people in our paths for a reason.  And depending on where we are at spiritually or otherwise we can see those encounters for what they truly are.

Before I knew it, he was telling me about his life long use of drugs and his road back to the LDS church.  THE church, that I was in the process of leaving.  He told me of an experiences that he’d had with God.  Mind you, during this time in my life, I didn’t really want much to do with any church.  I was perfectly happy where I was.  He asked me about my boyfriend and we talked about him not being a member of the LDS church and that I was currently not active.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized this young man was a messenger  sent by God and he was there to give me a message.  I began to listen intently to what he was telling me.  It was incredible, the life he’d been through at such a young age.  But what he’d learned and was able to share was truly extraordinary.  After telling me pretty much his whole life story, he said that one conclusion that he’d come to after being at rock bottom and then working his way back up, is how important CPR is.  Not the traditional CPR but CHURCH, PRAY, READ.   EVERY DAY!  He said that he felt like he’d found the solution to most of life’s ups and downs and that was CPR.  I thought, ok I can see how that has worked for you in your life and I’m happy for you.  But, I tried that and it didn’t work for me.  And that was that.  We had arrived in Salt Lake City and we said our goodbyes.

When I got home, I pondered on that conversation several times.  I began to think, maybe I didn’t use CPR like I should have. Was I attending CHURCH ever single week (well yes, but was I REALLY doing the best I could to get everything out of it…probably not)?  Was I really PRAYING?  Or had my prayers become routine and repetitive?  Probably somewhat.  Was I really READING my scriptures every single day? No.   Did I have a lot of work to do?  YES!  And slowly….. VERY SLOWLY…. my heart began to turn back toward God.

Now, it was a super slow process turning my heart back.  It really took me getting to MY rock bottom, before I realized what a big part that chance encounter had played in my life.  And this past 2 years since I came back to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has been 2 years of extreme spiritual growth.  We have gone through temporal trials that have caused us to look inward and upward.  We have struggled with questions like, why did this happen?   And how long will it take to get through?  And what did we do to get here?  And where do we go from here?  Questions that I think many of us struggle with.  And I certainly don’t claim to have any of the answers to those questions.  All of our trials are different, with different time frames, and different variables.  But I do believe that they all have one thing in common.  God knows us!  God LOVES us and He knows, HE KNOWS what is best for us.  Whatever we think is good for us in our life, God’s plan is better!  It’s so important for us to look at where are hearts are and then to look upward.  To look to God, He knows the way!  His hand is in every facet of our lives and all He asks of us is to “remember HIM”.  “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6

Remembering him when our hearts are hard is not easy.   When our hearts are hard we are far from him.  We look to the world for our answers and not to our Loving Father in Heaven.  It is only when our hearts become softened that we are able to hear and heed the voice of the Lord and remember Him always.

There are many other practices that we need to be doing to stay close to the Lord and keep our hearts soft.  But CPR, CHURCH, PRAY, READ, is a pretty good recipe for success in the process of softening our hearts and learning to look inward and upward.

Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good…  Doctrine and Covenants 90:24

When we are struggling, when we are having success, when we have doubts, when we have joy, our God ALWAYS, ALWAYS remembers us!  Is it too much for Him to ask that we ALWAYS remember Him? Look inward and then ALWAYS remember to look up to that God that LOVES you!

I will be forever grateful for young man on a plane, that took the time to tell me about his life and his struggle to find life’s meaning.  For having a soft heart and the courage to listen and act on the Spirit’s prompting, to teach a total stranger about CPR!

 

Sharing our witness of Jesus Christ

There is an old saying that goes something like this.  “There are 2 ways of spreading light,  to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it!”  Elder D.Todd Christofferson of the twelve apostles, wrote a talk entitled Becoming a witness of Christ.   He said “people should be able to see in us something of Jesus Christ.  the way we act, speak, look , and even think will reflect Him and His ways.”  In other words we should be a reflection of the Candle (meaning Jesus Christ the light of the world).  In 3 Nephi 18:24  from the Book of Mormon, we read “Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.  Behold I am the light which ye should hold up- that which ye have seen me do.”  As you read this today, I pray that the spirit will be with you and that you will feel impressions on your heart and mind, as to how you can answer these questions. Ask yourself :  1. In what ways do I show that I am a reflection of Jesus Christ to others? and 2. What do I need to do to become a witness of Jesus Christ?

Those are some pretty big questions that hold a lot of weight with them right?!  And truly when you think of a special witness of Jesus Christ we usually think the 12 apostles, who are specifically called to be “special witnesses of Jesus Christ”.  But I believe, and D.Todd Christofferson does too, that it is within the capacity of each of us to become His witness!  Now this certainly does not come easy and hopefully we are making it a lifetime pursuit.  Very often it involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible….  I have seen this happen with my husband as he learned about the gospel and that this is indeed Christ’s restored church on the face of the Earth today.  His testimony began to grow little by little.  He began to make small changes (well he might say the were big, haha) that began to turn his life in a different direction.  We both did really, because I had gotten myself off of the path and had to make those changes to lead me to seek again for Jesus Christ in my life. 

  There are many ways that come to my mind when I think of being a witness of Christ or a reflection of His light.   But here are a few.  I think pure love (he atoned for us, it doesn’t come much purer than that) I think of compassion, a server, a healer of hearts and souls, a giver of light and so much more.  As I was evaluating my life and trying to answer those question I started to think of ways that people I know have shown those types of qualities to me.   

I have had many experiences throughout my life of people who have shared there witness of Christ with me.  Through the ways that they treated me or things that they helped me with.  The first ones that came to mind are my sweet parents!  They have always worked so hard to care for me, love me, and give me the precious fruit of the gospel. 

When I was going through my divorce and then when I became less active, never once did they waiver in their support and love for me.  They never made me feel rejected or left alone.  I always knew that I could turn to them, counsel with them, vent to them if needed and that they would never judge me.  I can truly say that I have goodly parents and that has been such a blessing in my life!  And through the way that they reflected the Saviors love they constantly bore silent testimonies to me of the truthfulness of the gospel and of their witness of Jesus Christ.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson stated that “All of us who are baptized and confirmed have taken upon us the name of Jesus Christ with a commitment to “stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places (Mosiah 18:9).   

He doesn’t ever say, well if your busy you don’t need to be my witness, or if your kids are sick and your house is a mess and laundry needs to be done, you can take a break for awhile, or if you are just tired of always doing what’s right and you feel like it’s all just too much, well then,  just go ahead and take some time off. 

He doesn’t say things like that because He knows what our potential is and He knows the fight that we are in against evil.  He knows the importance of taking a stand!  Standing means being strong, unwavering, leaning not unto our own understanding.  We can’t afford to take breaks from being a witness of our Savior.  There are too many souls that need saving, that need healing, that need something that only we can give them.  They need the peace of the Gospel plan they need the peace of Christ in their lives. 

In our church we have a youth program.  Each year they pick a theme to follow.  I love our youth theme for 2018.  If you haven’t watched the video  I encourage you to go and watch it. I’ve also posted it above.  The theme comes from D&C 19:23  “Learn of me, listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my spirit and you shall have peace in me”.  There is a great song that goes along with it.   The chorus goes like this: He gives us hope when hope is gone, He gives us strength when we can’t go on, He gives us shelter in the storms of life.   When there is no peace on Earth there is peace in Christ.

I came a cross this statement in Elder Christofferson’s talk and it really made an impression on me.  He says “a prophet has told us that the witness of the Holy Ghost makes an impression on our soul that is more significant than a “visitation from an angel”!  That thought just really struck me … the Holy Ghost makes an impression on our soul that is more significant than a “visitation from an angel”!   We have the opportunity to help make those impressions on others souls.  By having the witness borne to us through the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ lives and that He truly is our Savior puts us in unique standing because we then in turn can bear our witness to others and then they will have that impression or that mark borne to their souls through the power of the Holy Ghost.  It is through us, most likely, that others will have that witness make a mark upon their souls.   

Now ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for our own personal spiritual growth!  But it can come through the witnesses of others that we turn our life just a little bit more toward the Savior.

This happened for me as a certain individual truly stood as a witness to me of the Savior.  Every time that I did come to church (and it wasn’t that often) she made sure that I knew that she knew that I was there.   She reached out and tried to find things in common.  She was a lifeline making a mark on my life that literally saved it, when the time came.  When I went through my health problems, she was the one that I reached out to.  She was the one that I knew, no matter what she was doing, would drop everything to come to my rescue.  And she did!

What kind of mark will you make in the lives of those around you?  What kind of reflection will you be?  I invite you to put some real thought into those questions over this Special Christmas season when we remember the birth of our Savior.  When we come to a new year and re-evaluate our lives and our priorities.  What kinds of changes can we make that will help us to be that special witness of Jesus Christ for some one else? We know that because of Him, our eternal happiness is assured.  As our faith in Jesus Christ shines through, we show others who “labour and are heavy laden” how to find rest in Him how to find peace. 

I have shared scriptures today from what we believe as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to be another testament of Jesus Christ.  This is one of my favorites:  We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. (2 nephi 25:26)

We must write according to our prophecies, that our children may know…. or that the world may know, to what source they need to look for peace. 

 I testify to you that Jesus is the Christ,  the atoner, the sacrificer, the giver of light, the healer of souls.  My redeemer and your redeemer He is where we go to find peace.  Can we work just a little bit harder to share that peace through our witness of Him?  I know we can.   

Adversity and the Adversary

Note:  This post is referenced in this previous post where I said I would share the story about finding my Doctor.

praying hands

It has been almost two years to the day that I lay on my living room sofa in a complete pile of tears.  I had all but given up on finding the right medication and a good Dr. to take me on my journey to wellness.  I had been put on waiting list after waiting list to get in to see a psychiatrist.  I had a scheduled appointment, and the day before I was to see the Doctor I ended up back in the hospital following another manic episode.  The Dr. I was supposed to have seen said that since I was unable to make that appointment,  that I would be scheduled for another 6 weeks out.  I felt so beaten down and forgotten.  Why was God not helping me in this? Where was He when I needed Him the most?  And why am I so broken?  These were the questions that I asked myself over and over again.

My husband Joe, had come home to check on me during his lunch break.  He gave me the news that he was finally able to land me an appointment with a strongly referred psychiatrist…. for 6 weeks from that day!  I was torn, I knew this was a good thing but I was completely devastated that I had to wait so long.  I am not going to make it another 6 weeks I cried, I’ll end up in the hospital again, I just knew it.  Joe could see that I was near my breaking point.  We were both at a loss of what to do.  The adversary was working so hard on us, trying to break us down.  I think he knew that we were nearing the fork in the road where we would be required to make the choice of whether to try and do this all on our own or put our trust in the Savior  and let him carry us.

The Savior said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30)

I know I’ve used that scripture previously but it describes so perfectly what I was experiencing, and what I needed to know.  And although at the time I was probably further from God than I had ever been, I also knew that he would hear my cries.  I think the important point to remember is that we all have our loads to bear.  Each one of us goes through hard things, each of us experience opposition and trials that can lead us away from God.  Or they can build and strengthen us if we will trust in His plan for us.

Elder David A. Bednar of the quorum of the twelve Apostles once stated, “Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness.”  Adversity, then, is essential to our success!

Joe calmly took my hand, and said I think we need to ask God for some help on this.  Can we pray? (This is my non-religious husband whom I had never seen pray before).  Of course, I said a resounding “yes, please pray for us!”  He then poured out his heart right there in front of our sofa.  I don’t really remember the exact words he used but I know that he truly pleaded with a true and honest heart that God would exercise his hand in our situation and somehow bring us peace and comfort and help us get through this hard trial that we were experiencing.  He closed the prayer and I felt a peaceful calm settle over me.  Joe went back to work and I fell into a deep sleep, which was unusual during that time because of my condition.  I awoke to my phone ringing about an hour or so later.  The woman on the line explained who she was, the receptionist of the highly referred Doctor that Joe had spoken with earlier, she explained that they had had a cancelation and knew that I was in desperate need to get in to see him.  “Could you be here at 8:30am tomorrow morning?”  “YES!”  I exclaimed, “I’ll be there.”  I hung up the phone and dropped to my knees,  I knew this was truly God’s hand working a miracle in our lives!

That phone call changed everything for me and for us.  We were now at least “on the journey” towards me becoming healthy again.  The Doctor turned out to be exactly who I needed and has helped me throughout the past couple of years to get and stay well.  However it has been, and continues to be, fraught with many obstacles along the way.  Once we chose to lean on God and get on the right path in that fork in the road the adversary started throwing fiery darts, it seemed, at every turn.  We are told in the Book of Mormon that there is opposition in all things  “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11; see also verse 15).

Although trials come, we must remember that opposition permits us to grow, it strengthens us it helps us to learn to trust God even more and to …lean not unto our own understanding Proverbs 3:5.  And let Him direct our path!  Because even though we may think we have a great plan.  He sees more and His plan is better for us!

President Henry B. Eyring stated in the October 2017 General Conference address “… as much as we have already built faith and courage in our hearts, the Lord expects more from us—and from the generations after us. They will need to be stronger and braver because they will do even greater and harder things than we have done. And they will face increasing opposition from the enemy of our souls.”

So we see that the obstacles that the adversary throws at us our necessary so far as we are leaning toward and trusting in the Lord to guide us through these obstacles.  Life is not easy, it was not meant to be easy.  As Elder Bednar stated. “Happiness is not the absence of a load…”.  It’s what and how we deal with that load that really matters.

Joe and I were recently commenting about the length of this trial and how we just didn’t think it would take “so long” haha.  But I can honestly say that without experiencing the ups and downs of these past few years, we would not have grown so close to our Savior.  We would not know God the way we do now.  We would be floundering wondering which way to turn and how to move forward.  But through the strength of our Savior and  Redeemer we have learned that we CAN have happiness even amongst the loads!

What being “away” from the church taught me.

praying-adult-female-619161-mobile

I never considered myself in-active or “less active”, because to me, that meant that you had left the church.  That meant that you had denounced your faith in some way, which I never felt like I did.  However, I did step “away” from the church for a few years.  I had just gotten divorced and I’ll admit that I was really struggling with a lot of what it meant to be a member of the LDS church.  How could this happen to me?  I was married in the temple.  Things seemed to be going so well.  Was it a lack of faith?  Was it a lack of desire?  Was it complacency? Was it loneliness?  What was it exactly, that made me want to distance myself from all that I had known?  I was born and raised in the church.  I did what all my friends did, and most members that I knew.   Grew up, married a returned missionary, got married in the temple, had a family, and then lived happily ever after, right?!  So what had happened to my happily ever after?

The thing is, leaving the church, or stepping “away” from the church, your faith, your testimony, all that you have ever known to be true, doesn’t happen overnight!  It is a slow process that happens seemingly, without you even noticing until one day you’ve done it.  You are “away” from the church.  You don’t attend, or study or maybe even pray anymore (although I think prayer tends to be something you continue even when you are away.  Or at least you try).  You don’t practice your religion anymore.  And members of the church who know you and hear about it, think “it’s really sad”.   You are essentially known as a “less active” or inactive member.  I remember referring to myself as, “I am no longer practicing”.  But really what you’re saying is a veiled way to say “I no longer have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, therefore I have stepped “away” for a while to figure things out.” I had somehow lost my way… “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:13–14)

The ironic part is that at first it feels very freeing!  I remember saying on many occasions, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and I just can’t reconcile that it coincides with my being away from the church”.  Honestly, I never thought it would happen to me.  I did everything I was supposed to do, everything that I had been taught all those years growing up.  Sure I made my share of mistakes, as does everyone.  But I had tried to be diligent in all that I had learned through the years after my temple marriage.  Holding many different callings, while raising my little family in the gospel, going to the temple, studying my scriptures and going to church.  I was keeping my covenants, and praying.  I was doing everything, wasn’t I?  Or was I?

Truthfully, I have to admit that my temple attendance wasn’t where it should have been.  I wasn’t really reading my scriptures as much as I should have.  And I probably had become redundant in my prayers…. And I am sure there were many other “little” things.  I don’t really know exactly how it happened because it all happened SO slowly.  And the scary part is, that it can happen to ANYONE! I hoping that by sharing my experience it can be a voice of warning.

In Matthew we read: Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in thereat. (Matt. 7:12) It seemed so much easier to be on the path that I was now on.

But then, that is how the opposition works right? One little flaxen cord at a time.  Like a big giant fluffy, feather, gently coaxing you.  “You don’t need to read your scriptures tonight, you’ve worked so hard all day and you’re tired.  You can get to it tomorrow.”

Go ahead buy that dress that isn’t really long enough for your temple garment… it’s so cute and you’ve worked so hard to look good.”  One more little feather.

It’s ok to miss church today.  Since you got divorced, no one really cares anyway.”  One more little feather gently waving and caressing you away.  It feels so good to be free, you say!  But little do you know how hard Satan is working on you!  All of those “little tiny feathers” are turning into a very tightly woven cord, and you are being led along without even realizing it.

Joseph B. Wirthlin of the quorum of the twelve apostles stated, “We get sidetracked by submitting to temptations that divert us past the bounds of safety. Satan knows our weaknesses. He puts attractive snares on our paths at just those moments when we are most vulnerable. His intent is to lead us from the way that returns us to our Heavenly Father.”

After a while I was so comfortable with the way that I was living my life that I began to think I no longer needed religion in my life.  I no longer needed the church or a testimony or to be “bound” down by callings and church attendance. I had entered in at the wide gate and it felt good to be just like everyone else!

And then something began to happen…. I NEEDED God.  I NEEDED the church.  I NEEDED the priesthood.  I NEEDED my testimony! I NEEDED all of it! And how had that happened? Yep, you guessed it, SO SLOWLY!  Little seeds were being planted along the way until all of sudden it was unmistakeable!  You can see my post “living with bi-polar” for some of the story but I will definitely write more about all of the little experiences that happened in between in upcoming posts.  But lucky for us, one thing that God never does, is give up on his children!  No not one.

“How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

“And if it so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” (Matt. 18:12–13.)

Luckily, God’s angels both here and on the other side are working just as hard if not harder to get you back!  And now that I am back, I am so thankful for that.  I know that there were many prayers and fasts that went out in my behalf.  Many times my name was probably written in the roles of the temple.  Many tears that were cried for my salvation, and many angels that were working from the other side to influence me.

So why am I writing about this?  It’s not exactly an easy subject to approach.  People leave the church for all different reasons.  There is nothing special or singular about my situation or why I left.  At least that is what I thought.  But the truth is, I believe it IS similar for most people, in that it happens SO slowly.  One small act at a time.  One small thought at a time.  One small step at a time.  And before you know it, you hear yourself saying…”I’m not sure I’ve ever had a testimony”,  “I’m really not sure if the church IS true after all”.  and “I’m happier than I’ve ever been without it!”

I think what I am trying to say and what I have been prompted to write is that you have to keep The whole Armor of God on! See Ephesians 6:10-18  Not just sometimes…. ALL THE TIME.  ALL DAY, EVERY DAY!  You must to do all the little things EVERY DAY!  Sometimes more than just once a day.  You MUST keep yourself unspotted from the world.  You must live IN the world but not be OF the world.  If you are like me you’ve heard that statement a million times growing up in the church! But it has never been more true or more important than it is today.  In The Book Of Mormon (another testament of Jesus Christ) Mormon Chapter 8  gives us insight into today’s world, Moroni says he has seen our day, and it includes wars and rumors of wars, great pollutions, murders, robbing, and people who tell us that there is no right or wrong in God’s eyes. He describes people who are filled with pride, caught up in the wearing of expensive clothing, and who make fun of religion. He is shown people who are so obsessed with worldly things that they allow “the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by”3 without being noticed.  

But we should not despair,  it is the Lord’s way that will lead us to life eternal!

The prophet David O. Mckay taught: Christ is the light to humanity. In that light man sees his way clearly; when it is rejected, the soul of man stumbles in darkness. No person, no group, no nation can achieve true success without following him who said:

“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12.)

Has my life gotten easier since I came back to the church?  In some ways yes, and in some ways no.  In reality it has actually been a really hard road.  Quite like a roller coaster, lol.  My family and I have had to go through a lot of things physically, spiritually and mentally that I never thought we would have to go through. But that is how we grow, that is how we become stronger and better people.  We don’t grow by being in a comfortable spot where there is nothing changing, no growth. However, through it all I have no doubt that my Savior is with me, that he is my advocate to the Father! I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.  Philippians 4:13 

I am also comforted to know that I need not fear for He is with me, I know where and how to to find the peace that only He can give.

Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Doctrine and Covenants 88:63

I am confident that as I purposefully follow the commandments that I will not be led astray again.  Elder David A. Bednar of the quorum of the twelve Apostles has been known to say, “If you read the Book of Mormon every day, you will never fall away”.  If you’ve gotten this far I commend you and if you have learned anything I hope you will realize that my story can happen to anyone!  That you can NEVER take your membership in this gospel for granted!  It truly is a gift!  A gift that is meant to be shared with others!