Turn your eyes upon Jesus Part 1

Before I get into this week’s episode I wanted to just express that this particular one will be vulnerable for me. And may be triggering for others. I will be giving a deeper more in depth look at what I have experienced while living with mental illness and what led up to my diagnosis.

I am doing this because I have had many people that have questioned whether or not they themselves or possibly a friend or family member may need help.

It’s important to mention that some of the things that I discuss may be triggering or difficult for those that struggle with mental illness. So if that is you, you may want to either skip this episode, or come back to it later when you’re feeling up to it.

Also please remember that there is a new nation wide suicide and crisis hotline number “988” that you can call if you need help. If you or someone you know is suicidal or deeply depressed, please seek help from a medical professional, preferably a psychiatrist, who can help you assess your needs.

I am not a Dr. so I can’t speak to diagnosing someone. But I have lived with mental illness for most of my adult life. And probably even some before that. My parents always said that I was very moody, so who knows maybe that was an early sign.

I will be doing this in 2 parts, since it has ended up being a little longer than I wanted it be.

Anyway I just want to let you know that this will be a tender subject that affects 1 in every 5 adults in the U.S alone. So I don’t take it lightly.

As I have been reflecting this week on what to share, I have had two scriptures roll about in my mind. A couple of posts/episodes ago I talked about the scripture in Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

I then focused a little bit on the “yourself” part of that scripture. Which I feel is very important, and why I talked about it.

However this week I have been thinking a lot about the first part of that scripture: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; While reflecting on that scripture another thought kept coming to me. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”. As I was pondering that thought I came across the scripture John 8 verse 12: I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.  

I haven’t talked about mental health in a while and for some reason I am feeling that I need to share a bit of my story again. There may be people that are new here that have not heard it and maybe I have’t fully shared it the way the Lord would have me do.

In a way that can maybe help others look to another source for help and guidance through the struggles you may be experiencing. That last scripture holds such great promise……he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.

What an amazing promise that is!

I was a young girl when I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was sitting at a youth fireside.  My first one.  I had recently turned 12 and had entered the Young Women program.  I wasn’t sure what a  “fireside” was.  I think that maybe most people don’t. 

“Do I get to go sit by a fire and roast “moshmellows” and make s’mores?”,  I asked my mom.  That’s the way I use to pronounce Marshmallow… (ok maybe I still do)!

She laughed, of course, and told me no, but not to worry because it was better than bonfires and smores.  Well that was kind of hard to believe!  “What’s better than smores?”, I thought. 

She was right (Big surprise there, moms are almost ALWAYS right!).  I sat in that pew just a few rows from the front, on the right hand side of the chapel.  You know the one, right in front of the Sacrament table. 

I sat mesmerized by the wonderful speakers that spoke of the journey they’d had and the way the Lord had helped them to overcome especially difficult challenges.  I felt the spirit pierce my hungry soul, bearing witness to me of the truth of what they were saying.  

I was so touched that I wished in my little girl heart that when I grew up, I could be just like them!  I wanted to help others feel this special and incomparable feeling that I was experiencing.  I felt so warm, so loved, and so seen by the Lord.  And all I wanted to do was serve Him by bringing others closer to Him.  It left an impression on me that has spanned the years and I often think about that moment.

But I think that the reason that it stands out to me so much is because we all have stories of trials and affliction that we pass through in this lifetime. And I think that we are meant to share our stories so that others can be comforted in knowing that they are not alone, and that there is another source that they can turn to that can bring peace, comfort, and strength and joy to their soul in these difficult times.

So much was in store for that young girl of just twelve years old.  I think back and reflect on all that I’ve gone through in my 50 something years. Some experiences were bright and unimaginably beautiful.  And some were dark, dreary and heartbreaking.  But now I have so much wisdom and many stories I can share about the advantages of turning your eyes toward Jesus!

On many occasions I have cried out to the Lord in anguish, “Why me? Why this? Why now?” I don’t think I am so different from others in that respect. But maybe, just maybe there is a purpose to it all. Maybe that little girl’s need to serve, to help others feel what she had that day, can help you begin to see your  light, your purpose.  Thereby allowing you to fulfill your mission here on Earth while doing it in FULL color.  

Though my life hasn’t been a rainbow of color for the entirety, I have had many glimpses here and there of what living life in Full color can look like.  It is something that I strive for each and every day.  Some seasons are better than others.  And my life ebbs and flows, as does yours, with the constant difficulties and struggles of this life.  It was meant to be that way. For that is how we grow into the person that God sees us to be.  

My hope is that I can share with you a few of those glimpses, and what I have learned in the process.  So you will be more able to begin to see in yourself, the divinity that is there.  And the great potential you have to see more and more what living life in FULL color can be like. 

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Have you ever felt that you were walking in darkness?  Do you feel that way now?  Have you wondered how in the world you will ever find joy? Peace? Happiness?

I have.  For many years I walked in darkness.  At least it seemed dark to me.  Colorless, lifeless.  A fog that could not be budged or lifted.  It seemed that no matter what I did, the darkness or fog was always there… waiting.  Waiting to engulf me in misery and pain.  To fill me with despair. 

Each day I would wake up in the haze wondering what the day would be like today.  Wondering if I would ever see light again. I pleaded with the Lord to take the darkness from me.  To lift what I could not lift myself.  It seemed endless.  No light at the end of the tunnel.

Would it ever be possible that I could come out of this fog?  Would it ever be possible that I could live my life in color again?  And not just dull color.  I wanted FULL real, vibrant color. I wanted to enjoy my babies in all their splendor.  Runny noses, tantrums, bubble blowing, running, playing, and energy spent, beautiful children, that needed a mom who was fully present.  I wanted to LIVE!  I wanted to live my life in FULL COLOR.  I say Full Color because depression and mental illness can kind of feel, at times, like its dull and colorless. Like you are living out your days in a fog.

I think I have hesitated to talk about this in depth, because I worry that when I talk about how hard it was for me, my friends and family will hear “my life was bad”. And that is definitely not the case. I had a good and beautiful life full of a lot of happy moments. But after I had children the illness started to seep into my life and changed who I was in many ways.

Now, as I look back, it was but a short moment in the whole scope of things. A snap and the years have flown by.  I had a lot of growing to do in that snap of time. As you know, growth can be painful.  It can be long and dreary (and it was).  Change did not come overnight.  It rarely does. 

So what did change?  What happened that brought that light and color back into my life?

The truth is I changed.  I changed my habits. I searched for answers. I prayed and pleaded continually.  And I believed.  It took every single ounce of what I had.  But I did it.  I believed and had faith that things could change.  

The Lord had promised me that they could change.  

Pray always and be believing, and all things shall work together for thy good. That scripture. is found in (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24).

I believed with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole strength, and my whole mind. 

 And He, my Savior, your Savior, the light of the world answered and said(Verse 28 of Luke Chapter 10) This do and thou shalt live!

Making Jesus Christ the center of our lives is a concept taught often by our modern prophets, seers, and revelators.  It is a simple concept.  But definitely not an easy one to accomplish. Especially when we are caught up in the rigorous difficulties of life here on Earth. 

I was around 29 years old when I had my first mental breakdown.  I did not have to be hospitalized at that time.  But looking back, knowing what I know now, it was definitely a psychotic break.

I had 4 young children between the ages of 6 and 10. And it was a very difficult and scary time in my life. I remember feeling like I was on top of the world one moment and then sinking into despair the next. And all the while just trying to hold it all together so that I could be the mom I needed to be for my littles. Of course they were pretty young at the time. And that first episode seemed to pass fairly quickly.

Looking back, I was able to hold things together pretty well. I stayed busy and had a great OB/GYN that had helped me tremendously with what I thought was depression. That’s certainly what it most often manifests as, in me.

But about 5 years later I experienced my first full on Manic Episode. I was taking on a lot at the time. I kind of had the “I can’t say no” syndrome. And so even though I had my hands very full, I would continue to pile more things on top causing an extreme amount of stress.

I had a very large event coming up for myself where I would be out of town for a week. My husband had a scout trip with my 2 sons. My oldest daughter had a dance camp and my youngest daughter was going to be staying away from home for the first time with the probability that she wouldn’t have much contact with us as parents because of the nature of our trips.

It was right around the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart (if you can recall that time). And we did not live far from that tragedy. My daughter was dealing with some anxiety because of that and then with us being out of reach, was really worried.

So my mama heart was pulled in so many directions. I wasn’t taking care of myself like I had learned to do to keep the depression under control. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t getting good sleep and the stress was taking it’s toll.

I remember that the night before I collapsed, I had asked for a priesthood blessing because I myself was experiencing some extreme anxiety. And although I still ended up having the manic episode, I feel that deep down I knew my focus was out of balance.

The following day we had big plans for the family. It was Saturday and we had planned on swimming and lunch with friends and then a fireworks concert downtown. I remember that day I was very “off”. Like I was just doing and saying things that didn’t quite make sense. I was super excited to take the kids to the concert, but I was so exhausted having not slept and just trying to make sure that everyone was getting the things they needed to ready for the trips that would happen the following week. Sometimes, we just need to say “no” even to the fun things, in order to preserve our sanity. Especially where our health is concerned.

Well, I don’t remember a whole lot about what happened that night. My brain and body had reached it’s max. I often explain it like a computer who has a number of windows open and soon it gets to the point that it just freezes up and you have to shut it down and reboot it. That’s kind of how a manic episode happens for me. I go and go and go, like the energizer bunny. Trying to do too much without sleep and good nutrition… basically running on empty for several days. And then my body just says,”that’s it! If you’re not gonna take care of yourself, then I’m gonna do it for you!” And it shuts down until I can get medical attention and have a “reboot”.

I have had three manic episodes in my lifetime. Enough to have learned what not to do. The crazy part is that once I move into that state, I have very little recollection of what is happening. I remember bits and pieces, like a puzzle that just doesn’t come together. And it usually takes several days of being heavily medicated to help me sleep and let my body begin to function efficiently again.

And then comes the tough part of trying to find a medication and recipe that puts my body back into a balanced mode.

With the first episode, I was in denial when I came out of it in the hospital. I didn’t want to believe that I had bipolar. Which I think is pretty typical with most people who face any mental illness diagnosis. No one wants to believe that they are broken. That their brain is not functioning the way it should. So not wanting to be medicated and fighting a diagnosis is fairly common.

Most people, in order to leave the hospital, have to agree to be seen by a psychiatrist or therapist. Unfortunately, they are very hard to get into (sometimes over 6 weeks waiting period). And the good ones who will really listen are hard to find. Most insurances do not cover psychiatric care. So that is another obstacle for those that suffer.

For several years after my first episode, I remained under the care of my GYN. With her limited ability to diagnose and treat the bipolar, and knowing my history, I was able to convince myself and her that what I had was nothing more than being over stressed and lack of sleep.

She agreed to put me on an as-needed medication to help me sleep. Which seemed to calm the symptoms for the time being. A few years after the incident, I started to notice feelings of depression coming on and asked her about a new drug that I had read about. She didn’t hesitate to put me on it. And I remained on that medication for almost 10 years before I would have my second and third episodes.

By this time, my kids were grown. I’m so thankful for that medication that allowed me to enjoy and participate in my children’s lives. I don’t know the reasons behind why it worked for so long. Other than the Lord was with me through that difficult time. I tried to focus on the joy in my life. President Russell M. Nelson mentioned in a talk in the October 2016 General Conference, which incidentally was right around the time I was becoming active in the church again (which I will talk more about in part 2), he said, “the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”.

I remember there were many times that I felt down and distant. But for the most part that medication seemed to work. And I tried really hard to focus on the joy in my life.

This is where I want to end Part 1 of my story. But I hope that just from what I’ve said that you will take a look at your own life. Whether or not you think you may have a mental illness, or you know of someone who might. Remember to be sensitive and give grace to both yourself and your loved one.

Although this may be, or already has been, a long road, there really can be a light at the end of the tunnel. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, no one gets there on their own. It takes a lot of love, understanding , support and grace. And in my case, a whole lot of Jesus!

In part 2 I will talk a bit more about my experience and what it took to accept the diagnosis and be able to move forward in my life. I think it’s fairly ironic that I’m talking about this as I’m nearing the 7th anniversary of those 2 second manic episodes that led me to the diagnosis and ultimately back to the gospel that I love so dearly. I hope you will stick around for that.

I will be referring to a talk by elder D. Todd Christoffersen called The refining fire of affliction. So if you’d like to read up or listen to that, you can find it here.

Thanks for listening/reading my friends. And I’ll be back again soon. Promise I won’t leave you hanging. Have a great week!

XO Wendy

The Lord is in the details

Today on the podcast I have a special guest who is in the midst of an extremely difficult trial.  She has been gracious enough to chat with me during this very vulnerable time in her life, in the hopes that what she and her family are going through can help someone else who may be in a similar situation, be able to draw hope and strength from our Savior.  

Sarah Plauche is a wife, a mother of six, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and one of the most soft spoken, loving, and kind people I know.  I am so grateful to Sarah for joining me on the podcast today.  Her 4 year old son, Anton was diagnosed with Medullablastoma which is a cancerous brain tumor, In April of 2021. 

The Plauche’s have seen many small miracles throughout this trial and have a firm belief that God is in the details of our lives.  I am so honored to have Sarah on the show today.  Take a listen here or on any podcast platform.

Post Interview thoughts:  Such good words of wisdom and advice from Sarah.  As she said Anton had a new smaller tumor that the Drs. removed a few weeks ago. Now he will have several weeks of proton radiation and chemotherapy.

I want to thank Sarah again for being so gracious and vulnerable while going through a really difficult time.  I loved how she has been able to recognize the Lord in all the tiny details of this journey and how she pointed out the way the Lord has prepared her to be stronger and have a greater capacity to overcome the challenges that lie ahead for her little family. 

If you would like to follow Antons journey you can find their caring bridge website here.

Our thoughts and prayers and good vibes go out to them over the coming months as they continue to navigate these rough waters.  That’s it for today my friends.  Be sure and stick around for more encouragement and upliftment in the weeks to come.  Have a great week! 

XO Wendy

This is the you tube link to 5 year old Anton’s journey with Medullablastoma.

All things shall work together for thy good.

Boy how life just has ways of throwing curve balls at you doesn’t it.  You think you are finally in the right position, your feet are squared and your bat is level with your elbow out.  Bases are loaded and you’re ready.  You’re eyeing the pitcher and you believe with your whole being that this is it.  This is the one that is going to be a hit it out of the Park.  A homerun for sure!  But as you swing with all your might, you hear the dreaded steeerike, you’re out of here!!!

Luckily for us the Lord doesn’t just give us three strikes.  He lovingly comes behind us, puts his arms around us and his hands above ours on the bat.  He gently sways with us as we eye the challenge at hand. We follow His lead as he gently prods us to try, and try again.  And before we know it, we have hit the ball and we are running the bases. Even though it may be slow at times. As we round third base with all our might, we see Him.  Cheering us on at the plate…. Come on, just a little bit more.  You’ve got this!  

Sometimes we make it all the way onto the plate with a steady jog.  And sometimes we have to slide in with all our might to make it there before the catcher tags us for the out.  And sometimes, oftentimes, we hit a pop fly and we are out before we even get started.

But the important lesson in all of this is that we keep going.  We keep trying… keep pushing, even when the odds are stacked against us.  With Christ beside us we can do it.  We can give Him the yoke and ask Him to help us pull.  And He will do it without reservation. 

Matthew 11:28-30  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.

I realized last week that we are already halfway through 2022!  Can you believe it?  After the pandemic season in 2020 and then easing back into life in 2021. It’s finally 2022… this was going to be the year!  The year that everything makes a comeback, right?  At least that’s how I felt.  

My last official post/podcast was December 7, 2021. My plan was to take the rest of December off and then come back strong in January.  But on the evening of December 28th we got the call that my new granddaughter had arrived!    

My daughter had a few complications and instead of me coming into town when the baby was 3 weeks old, we decided that she needed her mom there to make up the difference.  She was exhausted. So I jumped on a plane and flew to Utah on January 2nd!  I skated into 2022 with my sixth grandchild.  It was so much fun to spend the first two weeks of the year in Utah helping my daughter with her first-time-mom experience. It was the best!  We just did all things baby! And she was able to recover enough to feel more confident in her momming when I had to leave to come home.

And now it is July! As I reflected last week on the things that I had planned to accomplish in 2022, I realized that I am pretty far behind, as far as MY plans and goals are concerned.  However, I think the Lord is right on track with what HIS plans and goals for me in 2022.  

Shortly after I returned home I woke up with a severe kinked neck.  I didn’t remember injuring it.  So I continued working out and doing everything that I normally did.  Figuring it would go away within a few days.  It did not! 

Within a week the pain was so bad right between my shoulder blades that I was popping ibuprofen like it was candy.  Then the pain started to extend down my shoulder and arm.  I still hadn’t had it looked at because I thought it probably was an injury that just needed to heal.  

I went back out to Utah in March for the baby’s baby blessing.  I was in so much pain that I would lay on a neck stretcher that my daughter happened to have, and that was the only relief I would get.  So I determined when I got home that I would have it looked at.  

Long story short, after months of physical therapy and chiropractic appointments trying to heal it, my Dr. finally scheduled an MRI and an EMG to check for nerve damage.  Turns out it was a herniated disc in the C 6 vertebrae. Great!  I was so depressed.  

For those of you that know my history with mental illness, know that working out and exercise is key in helping me maintain and balance my illness.  So thinking that I would not be able to work out for maybe several months was literally so distressing to me.

I knew I would be able to walk outdoors for a few months but what would happen when the weather got too hot to walk?  Here in TN, 80 degrees feels like 100!  But the Lord has been watching out for me.  There have only been a handful of days that I haven’t been able to get outside due to weather and the trend keeps going.  

My back, neck and shoulder feel better every day.  And I’m looking forward to being able to work out at home like I’m used to as soon as the heat gets unbearable. 

Meanwhile, (sorry this is getting long).  With all of the stress, I’d developed another facet to the mental illness that I have.  I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet, but feel like I will at some point.  I am currently taking measures to get that under control as well.

Now I don’t tell you these things to make you feel pity for me or give you this big sob story of an excuse for not making another Post/Podcast.  Although, it is a pretty good excuse, haha.

I tell you because one of the things that I have learned through this experience is that it is so important to give yourself grace in this life.  

We just can’t do ALL the things ALL the time.  We are not meant to.  There is a time and a season for everything. 

In church today we had a speaker that talked about the two great commandments to Love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  But he emphasized that he believed that the third commandment is kind of snuck in there.  To love your neighbor… but just as importantly, you must love yourselfBecause you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

We get so caught up sometimes in serving our neighbor, trying to keep all the commandments, go to the temple, take care of our families needs, work, school, cleaning, cooking.  And the list goes on and on.  Before we know it we are exhausted and feel so much pressure and anxiety that soon we are trying to pour out what we don’t have to give. 

I’ve talked about this before here.  And it’s important to note that I am not saying quit taking care of everything and just focus on yourself.  No.  I am saying take time to make sure that you are doing the small and simple things that fill your own cup.  So that when it comes time for you to do all the other things you can pour from a full pitcher. 

That’s funny I just used a baseball pitcher and a water pitcher in the same post..that’s the English language for you! 

Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about I’ll share what works for me.  I have a love to create or be crafty.  I never really considered myself an artist, but now when I look back at all the things that bring me joy, they are things that I learned how to do.  Then created myself, (which makes me an artist, haha).  

And then most often I share them with others because it increases my joy and brings a little joy to the receiver as well.  

So I started making time to practice the piano again. I focused on my scripture study, and journaling.  I dusted off my crafts and started making and sending cards.  I picked up a couple of new talents of creative lettering, quilting, and watercoloring.  These things have all been so therapeutic for me.

I thought that I was doing all these things for me.  But then I started to get feedback from people who had been recipients of my gifts.  And it made me realize that as I was filling my cup, I was also pouring out to those whose cups needed filling in some small way.  

Now that’s an example of what works for me.  I am certainly not saying that you all need to go make a run to the craft store, lol.  Although I can show you all the great deals if that’s what you want to do wink, wink.  

You do you!  Find the things that bring your heart joy and do more of that!  Even if you have to pencil yourself into your very busy calendar!  You are worth it!  And the Lord will support you in your efforts to fill your own cup.  So that you can help fill another’s.

Another thing that the speaker in church mentioned in his talk was that not only do we need to fill our cup, we need to realize how far we have come and not focus so much on the things we don’t have or can not do.  

As I said I picked up watercoloring in the last little bit.  And just like the strokes of paint, you can’t really tell what the finished piece is going to look like from one stroke.  But after the work is done and you stand back and look, you can  see the character that each stroke ads and builds to the final image.  

It is the same with your life, you can’t really tell what kind of stroke each moment is adding to the final image but you can be sure that without those strokes the final image would not be complete.  Don’t underestimate or wish away the small moments and details in your life.  They are an important part of the image of you that the Lord is creating.  And what the Lord sees is always bigger and more grand than we could ever imagine.

I think getting that injury was God’s way of showing me that I was trying to pour from a cup that was quickly nearing empty.  It made me slow down.  To take it easy and start focusing on the small and simple things.To notice the strokes of paint that He was using to develop me into the woman that He wants me to be.  And now that I am getting healthier again, I can see that he was in all the details of what was happening in my life.

I am constantly reminded of the small and simple things and relationships along the way that were put in my path to help me make it through. And not only that, it helped others make it through their challenges too and  brightened both of our lives.  That is the way that the Lord works… one by one through relationships. 

As I reflect on all the challenges over the past few months and growth that I’ve had, I am reminded over and over that “all things shall work together for thy good to them that love God and keep His comnmandments.” Romans 8:28 and D&C 90:24.

And I can see clearly now that although it truly has been stressful and trying.  It has taught me new things about myself, the Lord, and others.

So this is my invitation to you in this halfway point through the year.  Take some time to evaluate how full your cup is.  And if it’s pretty empty, take some time to do the small things that bring you joy so you can start to fill it back up. 

Maybe start with a little brain dump into your journal, of all the things you want to be doing now that you aren’t able to at this time.  Then you can come back to that when it’s your season. 

But, make sure to find a few things that you CAN do now and start filling that pitcher!

And now if you’ve stuck it out this long, here, the big announcement: I’m finally going live on YouTube!

I’ve been wanting to do this since I started photography 12 years ago.  I posted a few videos and then just didn’t have the time or resources to do it.  It wasn’t my season 😊. 

So you can get to the channel by searching “wendy Bertagnolli” or  “Learn. Create. Love.” It’s going to be a lot of fun.  Short videos on learning new and fun ideas for just about anything.  

But don’t worry, there will still be a lot of Jesus along the way.  And you can still listen in here to the podcast for more interviews and all of my ramblings.  Hopefully it just gets better and better!

XO Wendy

and… I’m back

Well, sort of. Just wanted to pop in and say hello! It’s been a hot, messy minute hasn’t it? I’m grateful if you are still here, that you have stuck with me. Although this is not a full post/episode. I wanted to let you know that I am still here. Just been going through a bit of rough water in the past 6 months.

Isn’t that how it always goes? I had just reached the 50th episode of my podcast, Pointing toward Hope, and I wanted to take a few weeks off for the birth of my new granddaughter (my 6th grandchild, YAY!). And when I got home… life just hit and I’ve been going through a lot! More to come on that in the next few episodes/posts.

But for now I just wanted to pop on and say thanks for sticking around! One big announcement that I have is….drum roll please…….I have a new line of journals!!!! I have been doing so much journaling over the past six months and I was looking for a new journal. I couldn’t find one that I liked so I decided to create my own! So I did, and they can now be purchased on Amazon. More will be coming soon so keep an eye out!

I want you to know that I see you! God sees you and knows of your struggles and your challenges! Never have I known this more than I do now. Man oh man is He big God! We’ve got to stick together in these tough times and I am here for you!

XO Wendy

Let it Refine You

Well hey everyone!  It’s good to be back.  I planned on taking a little break but it just ended up being a little longer than planned.  But that’s ok, because that’s kind of how life is right?  We think we have it all figured out or we have a plan and then the Lord comes in and says, “nope, I’ve got something else prepared for you…it’s going to be hard but it’s something better.”  

And that’s kind of how I feel about this whole past year.  I was looking back recently at some of the goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the year and I am nowhere near where I thought I would be because of the circumstances that I went through in the beginning months of this year.  And you know what?  I am not even unhappy about it!

 I feel like I am in such a better place than what I would have been.  I don’t know for sure, I mean my situation today would certainly look different than it does.  But I can most assuredly tell you that I see the hand of the Lord working in and over my life in so many ways as I look back and as I see things unfolding before me looking forward.

It’s a marvelous thing to have the spirit of the Lord guiding and directing you as you go.  But in that, there is a lot of ongoing work that has to take place to get to that point.

 As you may have guessed from the title I’m going to talk just a little bit about the refining process that we go through when faced with trials, challenges, adversity, etc. And how we can gain the inner strength to let them be a refining process rather than a defining process. 

It is the 50th episode!!!  YAY!!!! I felt like I should definitely lean in to what we are all about here at “pointing toward hope”.  And I feel like the pieces for this episode have kind of been collecting over the last several days as I have had mini moments of inspiration when things that I heard or read or dreamt just sunk in.  So I am going to try to collect all of those things and hopefully organize them into something that will be meaningful and impactful for you as you listen today.

I found a great talk By Ellen W. Smoot from April 2002 General Conference talk Called Developing Inner Strength.  I will be referring to that  throughout this podcast and will link it in the notes.  I loved this question she posed.  “How do you and I become so converted to the truth, so full of faith, so dependent on God that we are able to meet trials and even be strengthened by them?”

That just got me thinking about how we sometimes tend to lean into our trials more, then lean into the Lord. If that makes sense.

For example, we might tend to say this is just who I am, this is how it’s always gonna be and there isn’t a thing that I can do about it.  So in my situation instead of saying I HAVE bipolar, it becomes I AM bipolar.  Which is a totally false statement.  

Do you see the difference? To say I AM something… is basically removing the possibility that I can change it from something that defines me. Just changing that one word or that one negative feeling, can allow me to turn it into something that refines me and grows me as a person if I let it.  

From my standpoint, having Bipolar is definitely not something I enjoy. But it’s definitely not who I AM either.  Changing my view of it has allowed me to turn something that has such a negative connotation into something of a miracle.

When YOU do this, then you can see the opportunity in the trial to make it into something miraclous. Something that will strengthen you from the inside to the outside.

Personally, I have worked really hard to take that feeling of being defined by my trial to being strengthened by and through it. I’ve tried to turn it into something positive that I can learn and grow from rather than feeling defeated by it. Which is not easy at all!  To be honest, somedays it just downright stinks and I do feel totally defeated by it. There are just so many negative feelings that surround it.  

I don’t think that I’m alone in that, when it comes to trials or adversity.  There are a lot of situations where negative feelings and thinking take place. Thinking that you are defined by your trial, can happen with a lot of different types of experiences that we go through. 

There are so many big traumatic parts of your life for sure!  I am not diminishing those experiences in any way!  

However, I feel like our tendency as human beings having an Earthly experience, we do tend to want to let those things define us or maybe we tend to look at them with negative thoughts and feelings. Like this is how other people define me or describe me.

I mean I could fall into that category very easily by letting those labels that are thrown around so lightly, be overwhelming and  defeating.  But I have gotten to the point where when someone says something like, “So and so is so dramatic and does this and this and this, they are definitely Bipolar”.  I can blow that off.  It always stings a little and sometimes I want to get defensive about it.  But I’ve learned that I can’t take things like that personally.  And you have to understand that when someone says something hurtful in a situation like that, they probably don’t have any idea that you were hurt.  So why make yourself a victim over it?

Anyway, I kind of got sidetracked there for a little bit but I want you to just take a second and think about some of the things in your life that you see as negative experiences or trials.  Maybe it’s not a sickness or illnes. Maybe it’s something that happened when you were a child, a mistake you made, or something that happened unexpectedly that has changed your life immensely.  We’ve all experienced that in the last two years haven’t we?  

The point I’m trying to get at is, can we try to see ourselves and our trials as a growing, learning, refining process? Think of it as being purified and polished just as a piece of metal when it’s being molded? And I’ll talk a bit more about that in a minute.

Recently, there was a brilliant woman that gave a talk in my church.  And I think her talk was what kind of started the ball rolling for me.  She gave so many good nuggets of wisdom.  Her topic was having gratitude through adversity.  That kind of sounds like an oxymoron, right?  I mean how do you have gratitude when you’re going through really difficult situations? 

While I was listening to her speak (it was a phenomenal talk btw) I kept having a thought run through my mind that I’d heard someone say on a podcast that I listen to.  “Sometimes the miracle is IN the tragedy”.  I don’t know why I was thinking that specific thought, but maybe it was because when we are going through something, anything really, if we try to look at it from a different perspective (which is what I think having gratitude in adversity means), then the whole experience can become a beautiful miracle.

At the end of this woman’s talk she said one thing that I have talked about before here on the podcast. And if you weren’t paying attention to her talk then you would have missed it.  She said, when it comes to hard things and being grateful for them, think of them as refining you, NOT defining you!  And even though I’ve said it myself many times, the way she paired it with gratitude just made me look at it from a little different perspective.  

There is a video that I have watched and I’ll try to link it if I can find it again.  About the process that a Blacksmith goes through when refining metal.  I’m not sure if you are familiar with the process but let me just explain somewhat. It is a long and grueling process that requires intense heat and repeated hammering. A refiner is really good at knowing when the fire is hot enough but not too hot!  And you also have to use fire and water, and you need to know how to use both of them together.  And the reason is because the Blacksmith (or the refiner) needs to be able to bend and mold that piece of metal into something completely different.  Free from impurities and something polished and beautiful.

Nobody wants to go through a refining process, right?  I mean it is super intense.  But in this process from what I understand the refiner is right there the whole time.  He is completely in the entire process.  The metal can not be left alone.  There are certain things that need to happen at certain times.  And you love this because in Isaiah, he teaches us about what our refiner, meaning Jesus Christ is like, when he says this in 

Chapter 43:1-3  1 But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob (insert your name), and he that formed thee, O Israel (insert your name), Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.

2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

3 For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour…

So He’s basically saying, Don’t you worry, I am going to be here every step of the way.  I love you and I’m not going to leave you!

Is’nt that just so cool?  He knows when the water comes and you feel like you’re drowning, He’s gonna be there!  He knows when you feel like you are walking through fire and the heat is too intense and you want to give up, He’s gonna be there!

He is our refiner.  

So I want you to remember that process as we talk about a couple of other mini moments of inspiration that I had this past week.  So I was reading the Book of Heleman, and if you are familiar with this part of the Book Mormon, it is part of the war chapters and it can be difficult chapters to get through.  But I determined when I started the war chapters back in Alma that I was going to get something to apply to my life out of these chapters.  And you guys,  I feel like the Lord answered my prayers on that so completely.  I have really had so many mini moments.  So I encourage you to really dig into those chapters and see if you can’t grab some gold nuggets out of there.  

Anyway, back to Helaman it is Chapter 3 So just a refresher this is a time when many people are dissenting from the church and persecuting members of the church.  At that time Nephi the son of Helaman is filling the judgement seat and he decides that because of the persecution they are going to leave Zarahemla and move to the land Northward.  And it says it was a great distance. And you know they didn’t have cars and carts and all that back then. So I’m sure they were traveling with everything on their backs or their donkeys.  It was probably extremely hot and they were thirsty and it was super hard.  

And it says they crossed over many waters and rivers (remember the water and the heat of the refiner’s fire?).  And when they arrived it was a land called Desolate.  Why? Because there was nothing on the land it was barron, everyone!  And so what did they do.  In verse 7 it says this: nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly aexpert…..  And then it goes on to say how they built houses and when trees grew they took care of them until they could use them.  They built cities!  So they took this trial that was upon them and they turned it into something amazing. And the Lord was with them through every step.

But then in verse 16 I believe, it was Mormon talking here.  He goes back to before they left Zarahemla to explain what was happening there and what caused them to leave.  And the following verse is what stopped me that morning.   

35 It reads  Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.

And that’s the word that caught me, everyone! Yielding.  What happens when we yield?  We give others the right of way, right?  So in this case they are yielding their hearts to the Lord!  They are turning it over to the Lord knowing that he will sanctify them and purify them.  Just like a Blacksmith does with the metal.  When it is under that intense heat it is purifying it.  Jesus is our refiner!  He sees things from a much grander perspective.  He can turn us into something beautiful.  Something so much more than we can achieve on our own.  

It just gives me chills when I think about how many times the Savior has walked with me through my trials, and turned them into a miracle.

It reminds me of when I was younger and I went through a pretty hard experience with some friends.  I won’t get into the details, but I will tell you that it was something that happened to me way back when I was barely 13.  And it concerned being bullied. 

So you can imagine at 13, you are at such an impressionable age and you’re molding your identity and just changing so much and trying to figure out who you are. 

And just at the peak of that time in my life is when this experience happened.  It was an event that happened because of something careless that I said to someone, not thinking anything of it.  Someone walking behind us heard it, and within minutes….. I’m not even kidding.  I was surrounded by a group of girls pointing and laughing and bullying me.  My friends that were with me when they surrounded me, quickly slipped out of the circle.  And I felt so alone at that moment. 

And to make matters worse, the bullying continued for several weeks.  To the point that the principal and parents got involved.  It was really quite hard as a 13 year old.  I remember days when I thought I just couldn’t go to school.  I would get stomach aches thinking about it.  It still makes me anxious to this day. 

But it was during that time that I decided to yield my heart to the Lord.  What did he want me to do?  I decided that I needed to have my patriarchal blessing. 

So we scheduled it.  And I was determined that I was going to prepare myself and be so ready for this because I really, really needed to hear from the Lord himself that everything was going to be ok.  

So I did those things from verse 35… I fasted and I prayed and I humbled myself and I had faith that the Lord would come to me. Or at least be with me during this fire that I was experiencing. I yielded my heart to Him with all that I had. 

Well the night came that we were to go to the blessing and I remember so distinctly like it was yesterday.  I was so nervous and my palms were sweating and my stomach was growling and the Patriarch seemed to talk forever before he started the blessing.  

And so he began… it was still and quiet except for when his clock chimed at the beginning.  And at that moment I got my miracle.  In the midst of my trial I recieved a miracle.  It wasn’t from the words that were said, because honestly he was very well spoken and I didn’t understand a lot of the big words he used.  Or the way he worded it.  It was like scripture.  But…. I do remember how I felt.  When his hands and my father’s hands were on my head and the patriarch called upon the priesthood power, I felt a tangible presence like I’d nver known before.  And it stayed with me until the clock chimed again and the patriarch closed the prayer.  

It was so powerful that as we were driving home I remember asking my dad if someone else had joined them in the prayer.  He was surprised at that of course and I explained what I had felt.  And my parent’s and I were all in awe at the sacredness of that moment.  He was there to let me know that He was with me every step of the way.

When I got my blessing and read it.  There was one little part that talked about the friends I would have in my life.  And some counsel on the importance of choosing good friends. 

One thing that I determined at that time, is that I would do everything in my power to never make anyone feel the way I had through that experience

It left such an impression on me that I have never doubted the power of the priesthood.  And I never hesitated to call upon it in times of great need. 

Would I have been able to have that experience if I hadn’t gone through the bullying and felt abandoned by my friends?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  I had to go through that trial to experience the miracle.

So let’s go back to talking about finding that inner strength to keep moving forward. As we have been studying the Doctrine in Covenants, in come follow me, about all the horrible things that the early members of the church went through, it has made me think more about where that inner strength comes from.

“In sister Smoot’s talk she shares an experience from a Pioneer woman who traveled across the plains from Navoo, ILL to Utah.

She shared the following: “To demonstrate the kind of inner strength I am talking about, I would like to share the story of Susanna Stone Lloyd, who at the age of 26 left England in 1856 and traveled to Utah alone. The only member of her family to join the Church, Susanna was a member of the Willie Handcart Company. Like so many other pioneers, she endured life-threatening hunger, illness, and fatigue.

Upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Susanna borrowed a mirror to make herself more presentable. Despite her best efforts, she recounts: “I shall never forget how I looked. Some of my old friends did not know me.” Having sold her own mirror to an Indian for a piece of buffalo meat, she had not spent much time looking at herself. Now she did not recognize her own image. She was a different person, both inside and out. Over the course of rocky ridges and extreme hardship came a deep conviction. Her faith had been tried, and her conversion was concrete. She had been refined in ways that the very best mirror could not reflect. Susanna had prayed for strength and found it—deep within her soul.

If someone like Susannah can take a horrible situation like that and turn it into something so beautiful, can we?  I am sure that she had to dig pretty deep within her soul to find the strength that comes in and through our Savior.  Because let’s face it.  We don’t get through these experiences without divine intervention.  We can try.  But speaking from experience, it sure is a lot harder when we try to do it alone.  Without the help of our refiner.

We can walk through the fire on our own.  We can feel like we’re drowning in our adversity.  We can be hammered over and over again by the  happenings of this mortal life. But it is so much more doable when we allow our Refiner, Jesus Christ, to be a part of the process.  This proving process.  This refining and growing and polishing process.  Yes it stinks.  Yes it hurts.  But at some point we will be able to look back and see the tiny mercies.  The little miracles.  And in the end.  If we endure it well, we can come out having been molded into something beautiful that anyone who looked upon us would just say, “wow”!

Have you ever done that when you have seen something that someone made that was so intricate and detailed and beautiful that all you can say is, “wow”?  That’s the kind of miracle I’m talking about.

I promise you, everyone.  You CAN receive a miracle in the midst of your trial.  I have no doubt that the Savior is walking with you through it!  He is in the process every step of the way.  He won’t leave you.  He can’t leave you!  In order for you to be molded through the fires of life He has to remain by your side, so that the right things happen at the right time.

Lean on Him.  Trust Him.  Pray and fast often.  Be humble and YIELD your heart to him.  Let him take the lead.  And then follow Him!  I beg you to follow Him with all of your refined and purified and polished heart! 

That’s it for today my friends! If you or a friend have had an experience that you’d like to share.  Please contact me, I’d love to have you on the show. Talk to you again soon!

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