This is Life Eternal, to Know God

As a missionary, I taught a man that had converted to my faith from another church to which he still had strong ties through friends, family, and tradition. These ties made it difficult for him to pursue full activity in his new faith because he felt he was abandoning and even insulting his old one.

One time he asked my companion and me, “You don’t really think Mormons are going to be the only ones in heaven, do you?”

At this point in our conversation, I was starting to get a bit frustrated and I was about to answer, without love and understanding, with an explanation of Priesthood. The Spirit stopped me, however, and I pictured in my mind a group of people with labels glowing on their foreheads. They read, “Baptist,” “Catholic,” “Church of God,” etc. 

The Spirit asked me, What about Father Abraham?

I knew that Abraham would not have “Mormon” on his forehead. It might read “Jew,” but the Abrahamic Covenant is often claimed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and Abraham is certainly in heaven. It wouldn’t matter what label he had, I thought, he performed all he did with proper Priesthood, so Priesthood is the answer, right?

What about C.S. Lewis? The Spirit then asked.

I have no idea what particular label C.S. Lewis went by other than “Mere Christianity,” his faith and understanding of God, however, led me to believe that he would be in heaven. He knew the scriptures so well and had such faith, surely, he would do anything that still needed to be done.

I felt confirmation that yes, baptism and all covenants with proper Priesthood Authority are offered multiple times throughout our lives and in the Spirit World. Thus, it is not the largest determining factor, nor is it any great barrier.

What is the difference, the Spirit asked, between someone willing to accept the covenant and someone who is not?

Then I answered the original question from this man struggling with his faith, “I believe as it says in John 17:3, ’This is Life Eternal, to know thee the One True God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,’ and I have come to know God better through this Church than I could through any other.” 

This answer, that came through the Spirit, changed the way I view all aspects of our Church. We accept covenants with Him when we know Him and love Him. He blesses us with covenants so we can know Him better. To know God is the purpose of all we have and all we do. It is why He gave us Prophets, Apostles, and Priesthood. It is why we have scriptures, temples, callings, families, even this Earth and our bodies. 

I love my faith because the unique doctrines and practices have helped me such that I can now say I know God. If I ever lose Him, I absolutely know where to find Him again. I have a support system that will help me get to know Him better.

When my husband first started doubting in God and religion, we would talk about some of the things that frustrated and confused him. I remember one particular time, after I explained my view of things, he said, “That’s nice, but that’s not what Mormon’s teach. You’re really not that Mormon.”

I don’t know how else to describe my view, however. I learned it from God by reading the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants—in other words, by participating in and being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How can what I learned not be “Mormon” enough? 

My husband’s faith crisis did not make sense to me until he told me that he believed that the Mormon God was mean and vindictive, watching and waiting for you to fail so He could punish you. I do not believe that is the God of my faith and it is certainly not the God I worship, but since he told me this right after my own anger at God, it was understandable. When we lose sight of God, confuse His characteristics with those that are in fact foreign to Him, we lose our faith. When we can see God and know Him as He truly is, then we have found our spiritual home.

I told my husband that if he could not find God in this church, then to go look in another. Just don’t give up on God. God is not mean or vindictive. He is kind, patient, and encouraging. If I gain nothing else from my faith after I die, I will still have the confidence and strength that I have learned from God in this life. You’ll know you’ve found God and are getting to know Him when you can conquer your fears and feel surrounded by love and peace even in difficulties.

I absolutely believe that people of other faiths and religions are able to know God, because we are all His children and He abandons no one. He reaches out and speaks to all people regardless of creed. Each church and religion has its own set of tools, its own ways to come to know God personally and meaningfully. 

I know God—His character, attributes, and voice—because I have spent time with Him via the tools and instructions given to me through my church. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because the tools unique to this Church—the Book of Mormon, Temples, etc.—are among my most valuable and favorite tools in my tool box. I also believe God has particularly told me to be in this church and I have promised Him that I will always stay here. 

I hope everyone would be able to say likewise for their own decision on where they find their spiritual home. We all deserve a place filled with people and aids that will help us know God. As my husband and I learn of other religions and the different tools, rituals, and traditions people use to invite the Spirit into their lives, I find so much beauty. 

Ultimately, we are all on the same quest—to know God and have Eternal Life.

Strengthen Your Voice

In 2017, about three years after my frustrations with God were healed, I was listening to a report about a question and answer session held with two apostles of the church. Among the questions submitted to the apostles by the young adults of the Church was this one, “How can I differentiate between the Holy Ghost and my own thoughts and feelings?”

Elder Oaks said in response, “This is a question we wrestle with all of our lives.”

I thought about all the times I had asked myself that same question and all the people that have asked it of me. I could not find the words to accurately describe the difference I feel between my own thoughts and the Spirit. I knew that I still wasn’t perfect at it, nor am I perfect at following a prompting even when I do know it’s from the Spirit. Anything I have been able to pin down and identify as clearly being from God has come through practice. Many attempts, simple trial and error, some successful and some regretful, have taught me to recognize the voice of the Lord.

As I thought of this, I remembered again that prayer for my mother (Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part II) and how I was at first met with a brick wall. I remembered how stunned I had been to feel that wall and then how it had come down when I expressed my own thoughts and feelings. When I tried to quiet my own desires so I could hear the Spirit, I heard nothing. When I spoke, I could hear. 

There seems to be a broad misconception that because the Lord’s voice is still and small, we must be completely silent. That to submit to the will of the Lord means to erase our own entirely. That to be filled with the Spirit, we must empty ourselves. One of my greatest failings is a tendency towards passivity, when the Lord has taught me boldness and confidence.

The thought struck me that the Spirit testifies of truth; thus, you have to say something for Him to testify about. He brings things to your remembrance; thus, you have to have some thoughts and experiences for Him to work with. He builds you up and strengthens you—He cannot do that if you are working to silence your own voice. He wishes to teach you how to be a Queen, a Priestess. Are you turning yourself into a puppet? 

We are inundated with a hundred voices a day. They tell us where to shop, what to buy, where to find love, what love is and what it feels like, how to earn love and belonging, who to be. The speakers of these voices have been very clever at getting into our subconscious. If they are hidden, and we don’t recognize them for what they are, we don’t even realize they aren’t our own. 

The first step in hearing the Spirit, is finding your own voice. What do you really think of all the messages that are sent to you throughout the day? What do you really want? Why do you want it?

When I prayed for my mother, I was not simply praying for a healing. I spoke of my love for her, I admitted my fears. Since all of these were true, the Spirit came easily and powerfully. I prayed for hope, love, comfort, and strength. I thought that removing my mother’s cancer would satisfy all of these desires, but the Lord showed me how to have exactly what I wanted in a more meaningful and long-lasting way. 

To be united with God in His will, I also needed to know mine with greater clarity. Such unity requires complete honesty, for only truth can be in the presence of God. This means acknowledging your fears, weaknesses, and your own desires but not to be ruled by them. Take them to God and lay them down honestly. 

The Spirit will help you in sorting out the fact from the fiction. He’ll help you see what’s important to you, even when others are trying to get you to see only what’s important to them. He’ll encourage you in your talents, even when they’re different than what others expect of you. He’ll tell you when to let go of a worry because it’s based on a fabrication. He’ll comfort you when you’re scared and stand by you when it’s worth doing anyway. 

The Lord invited us to be united with Him because He loves us, not because He wants to erase us. He wants us to show up and be a part of the conversation. The Lord will help you find your voice, and that is what He will strengthen.

Invisible Fires

Why, 12 years after I accepted my mother’s death and two years after she died, was I angry and blaming God for her illness? I still remembered the glorious way God told me of her death (See “Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part II). The wonderful part of God’s answer was the certainty of the promise that I would be with her again, but the promise itself is actually extended to everyone. My step-father is also sealed to my mother and will be with her again, but he was healed from his cancer and his time on earth extended. 

Instead of feeling like I had gained something, which is what I thought before, I felt that I had lost. I doubted myself again and wondered if there was something else I could have done. But when I looked back on it, I knew there was nothing else, I had done everything I could. Thus, it was God’s fault.

I also felt that God didn’t really care about my wishes. I wanted my mother healed, He said, “No.” I wanted to get married, He said, “Do this first.” I obeyed and did get married, but then the marriage twisted and became sour. I wanted children, the Lord said, “Later,” and when I fought, I was punished with intense exhaustion, frustration, and depression. I was always the one that had to wait. I was always the one that was wrong, or too impatient, too stupid to know what was really going on.

God’s love suddenly seemed manipulative and His will forceful. Instead of listening to me, He was twisting and pushing to see how long until I would crack. His tests were mean and unfair. 

After going to the temple and feeling His unconditional love (See “Welcome Back, I’ve Missed You”), I knew that He wasn’t insulting me and pushing me down, but I was still confused and hurting.

A few months after my trip to the temple, I was in a Sunday school class. We began with the story in 1 Kings chapter 18 where in Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a sacrificial show down. He wanted to prove to the people that the idols were powerless and empty, whereas the God of Israel lived and used His power to answer the prayers of His people. When the priests of Baal set up their sacrifice and prayed to their idol for fire, there was no answer. When Elijah prayed over his sacrifice, including buckets of water poured over the fire wood, God sent fire from heaven and completely consumed the sacrifice. The people saw this, fell on their faces, and cried, “The Lord, He is God.”

In chapter 19, Elijah has fled to a cave in Horeb the mount of God. The Lord calls to Elijah and before the cave passes by a mighty wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by a fire, but the Lord was in none of these. After the fire came a still small voice. Only then did Elijah go to the mouth of the cave to hear the Lord.

As we discussed this story, which I had heard many times, I thought, What do you mean, you’re not in the fire? One chapter ago, you literally made a fire to prove your existence and your power. If you’re not in the fire, then why make the fire?

I remembered the few times I tried to share the story of my mother on my mission. I wanted to testify of the mighty change of heart, the incredible miracle that is learning the will of the Lord. My hope was to inspire people to pray to discover His will so they could see the beauty of life through God’s eyes. I never got through the story. I was interrupted by people telling me my mother would be healed if I would stop doubting. 

“You just need to have more faith.” 

“Keep praying, you’re not there yet.” 

I stopped telling it because it was too hurtful to hear people essentially blaming me for my mother’s future death, which I knew would come. It was not their intention to hurt me, they wanted to inspire me to have greater faith by testifying of God’s ability to heal, but they spoke without listening. I became increasingly frustrated with other people’s definition of miracles and their attempts to judge my faith. The complete lack of listening to God and expecting all miracles to be right in front of your face made me so angry, I just stopped talking about miracles all together. I didn’t know how to get people to understand that the greatest miracles are invisible. 

As I remembered this in that Sunday school class, I realized I had two fires before me. The visible fire that was my step-father’s physical healing and the invisible one that was in my heart the night I learned my mother would die. The Lord asked me, “which one is the more powerful fire?” 

I now definitively believe that the most powerful miracle will be the one that happens in your own heart, the one no one else will ever feel or see, except those that truly know your heart. A physical fire is a flash in the pan, it lasts only for a few seconds. If you want to tell me about a miracle, go ahead. I believe God is a God of miracles and He still works among us every day. But tell me how you’ve changed, tell me what you learned from God. Otherwise, there is no power there. Who we become because of what we learn is what lasts for eternity. These are the eternal flames where God can be found.

I also learned that too many people build their perceptions of God’s character backwards. They look around for physical fires and assign their own reasons to those fires and thus begin to sketch the character and motivations of God. Instead, if they sought to know God’s character by listening to His voice, they would know Him and then they would better understand the fire. 

God sent the fire to the sacrifice for Elijah, and people saw the fire, but they did not see God or hear His voice. They were not converted or changed. God sent the wind, the earthquake, and the fire to the mount, but Elijah did not see God or hear His voice in those manifestations. To know God, to learn from Him and of Him, to see His hands, His power, and His love, is to listen.

I was reminded that day, that I knew God because of countless prayers and time spent with Him. One healing did not change Him, I already knew who He was. I remembered my spiritual eyes and started feeling fires again instead of looking for them.

Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part 2

Through my months of practicing Enos-type prayers (explained in my previous post), I found better ways to study for Organic Chemistry, insights into friendships and other relationships, as well as a constant sense of tranquility. When I felt confident that I knew the voice of the Lord, I decided to pray again for my mother. I went through my usual mental preparations to clear my mind and focus on what I wanted to say and how to listen. Perhaps because I was extra nervous, I also pushed my own desire down so as not to bias what I was feeling. I wanted to know that what I felt was truly from the Spirit and not in anyway a reflection of my own fears or desires. 

I was met with a brick wall.

I became frustrated, desperately angry. By this point, every time, I prayed I would feel the Spirit. Some sort of comfort, peace, love, welcome. Why was He ignoring me when I asked my most important question?

I vented my frustration in prayer. I pleaded for Him to tell me and talk to me. I told Him how afraid I was of my mother’s death. How much I loved her and how much I wanted this knowledge. And that’s when the wall came down.

I saw, in my mind, my mother walk through a veil, passing from this life to the next. There was a group of women waiting for her. They were so excited to see her, everyone hugged and laughed. A few seconds later, I walked through the veil and was met with the same enthusiasm. I understood that this did not mean my mother and I would die a few seconds apart, but that she would die, and I would finish my life without her. When I reunited with her, it would feel as if we had been separated for only seconds.

I realized my greatest fear was to be alone. I was worried about those few seconds; it wasn’t going to feel that short here and now. I begged God to stay with me, to not leave me alone. 

I remembered going to the temple with my mother and step-father when I was 14 and being sealed to them for time and all eternity. The Lord told me that He had always been with me. He knew this was going to come and so He prepared me beforehand to build me up and give me the strength I would need. He had been there for me before the storm, and He certainly wasn’t going to leave me in the middle of it. 

I felt again the promise that when reunited, I would recognize that the separation was very short and then we would be together for all eternity and never separated again. I wanted this promise desperately. The words of my prayer went from, don’t you leave me, don’t you ever leave me, to, don’t let me leave you, don’t let me leave this church.

I saw, in my mind’s eye with my physical eyes closed, Christ sitting in the chair upon which I was kneeling, holding me and stroking my hair as I cried. I felt like I was on fire, my entire body burning. Physical reflexes took over and I jumped back to get out of the flames. I started to drop to the ground to roll and put out the fire, and then realized there was none. 

Years after this event, while training to be a missionary, I read 2Ne 4:21, “He hath filled me with His love, even unto the consuming of my flesh,” and I felt an echo of that fire. God’s love is a fire. 

God’s love is intense enough to consume fears, to sear truth into our very souls. I knew that my mother would die from her cancer, but I was not afraid. The weakness of my flesh, the fear that came from a mortal perspective, was gone—consumed by the flame. I know that I will be with her again. The truth of God’s promises seems to be in my bones. 

When Christ invites us to be one with Him as He is one with the Father, it is not merely poetic. Neither is it a blessing to be enjoyed only after we die. There are ways here and now to be united with God. We can learn directly from Him and He will teach us to see as He sees, to do as He does, and to love as He loves. To truly know and see the will of God, is to love it and accept it as your own. His perspective is beautiful. To change your perspective to match His is life changing. The change that will come to your heart is nothing short of miraculous. 

I knew this. Why did I forget it? The Lord had to remind me of it and help me see it afresh when, years later, I became angry with Him. I thought He was cruel and manipulative for forcing His will upon others without consideration or fairness. I had to be reminded that the miracles, the justice, the mercy, the fairness is in His love. And it is found in unity.

This story is continued in Invisible Fires.

Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part 1

I prayed constantly for a physical healing for my mother. Many scriptures teach that if you ask in faith you will receive, so I asked. But it never felt right. At first, I thought it was doubt—that I lacked the faith to actually receive the miracle I wanted. I kept praying and trying to increase my faith that God could heal my mother, but my prayers never changed, and I always felt off. Then, I remembered learning about Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He ended His prayer saying, “thy will be done” and my seminary teacher taught us to end our prayers the same way, thus praying with humility and trust in God’s will. I began adding “thy will be done” to the end of my prayers and I felt right. Prayers for my mother brought comfort but I started worrying in a new way.

I prayed constantly for a physical healing for my mother after her cancer diagnosis. I was still young, only 18, and she was the only one that had stayed with me through everything. At that time, the thought of losing her scared me more than anything else ever had before or ever has since.

Many scriptures teach that if you ask in faith you will receive, so I asked. But it never felt right. At first, I thought it was doubt—that I lacked the faith to actually receive the miracle I wanted. I kept praying and trying to increase my faith that God could heal my mother, but my prayers never changed, and I always felt off. Then, I remembered learning about Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He ended His prayer saying, “thy will be done” and my seminary teacher taught us to end our prayers the same way, thus praying with humility and trust in God’s will. I began adding “thy will be done” to the end of my prayers and I felt right. Prayers for my mother brought comfort, but I started worrying in a new way.

If I felt wrong when I prayed for my mother to be healed and right when I prayed for God’s will to be done, was that because it wasn’t God’s will to heal her? Desperate to hold on to hope, I wanted it to be that I simply needed to be more humble. I wanted to submit to God’s will, but I also became obsessed with how to know it. I reasoned that if I knew what His will was, I would have the faith required to receive the miracle He was willing to give or the strength to remain faithful after her death without becoming bitter or depressed. I have always wanted to be in control, and in a situation where I had none, knowing the outcome before hand was the only way I could get some back. 

While I was wondering about how to learn God’s will instead of just praying for it in the abstract, I went to an Institute class and learned about Enos. Even now, decades later, Enos is one of my favorite prophets in the entire Book of Mormon and I consider this Institute lesson a life changing miracle all on its own.

Enos was a prophet that contributed only one chapter to the Book of Mormon, and in that chapter, he prays a mighty prayer all day and all night. While his prayer begins in asking for forgiveness for himself, he extends it to pleading for his friends and then his enemies. He doesn’t simply ask for his enemies to find the gospel in a general way. In the end, he asks for the ending and purpose of the Book of Mormon rather specifically including the destruction of his own people—a rather illogical leap to make on his own. He somehow knew, as God did, what would happen and God’s plan to extend mercy to all his children.

Enos prayed for God’s will as if it was his own. In the Bible Dictionary, under the definition of prayer, there is this descriptor, “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” Throughout the course of the prayer, Enos showed how his spiritual strength grew until he not only felt Christ-like love but also thought in a Godly way. He understood God’s will and wanted it himself. 

After I heard this lesson, I went back to my dorm room and re-read Enos over and over. I wanted to know more of the nuts and bolts. What are the steps, how exactly does one achieve this final outcome in a prayer? Thoughts came to me such that I now say the Spirit taught me how to pray. 

I learned how to slow down such that I could discern my thoughts from spiritual promptings—the difference between my voice and the Lord’s. I no longer rattled off a one sided email, but invited the Lord into a conversation. My prayers changed dramatically and I found, like Enos, that I not only heard the Lord’s voice, felt confident in His love and mercy, felt an increase in my own God-like love for others, but also knew the will of the Lord because it became mine as we worked and talked together. 

This type of praying is difficult and takes a great deal of mental focus. In Michigan, I wanted to pray like this again, but found it too hard with all the pain in my heart. Even now, I’m often too tired and too easily distracted. But when I was in college praying for my mother, I had an intense motivation and my prayers were an incredible source of strength. Learning how to pray in this way and dedicating myself to do so everyday lead to the greatest spiritual experience I have ever had. 

I find myself wondering how to bring this kind of dedication back. Is it through knowing our close connection to God? Is it the desire to hear His voice so regularly? What is it that really holds me back on those nights I’m too tired?  Can I connect my will to God’s even when it’s not as urgent as life and death?

This story is continued in Will of the Father, Will of the Child, part 2

“I will be Enough”

My mother and father divorced when I was still an infant. One night, my mother watched me as I slept in my crib and cried saying to God, “Why did you give her to me? You knew this would happen, so why give me a child now? She deserves a mother and a father, brothers and sisters. I cannot give her those. I am not enough.”

In response, she heard the Spirit say, “I love her more than you ever could, and I will be enough.”

My mother told me that story when I was young, but it didn’t stick with me until she told it again after her cancer diagnosis. I had come home from college for a long weekend to be with her after her first surgery. Her cancer was advanced, stage IV metastatic breast cancer and with each new test, cancer was found in a new place: her lymph nodes, her shoulder, her spine, her hip, and her liver. They did not think she would live long but she wanted to be as aggressive as she could in treatment options to have as much time as possible.

I tried telling her she was enough, she always had been, but she stopped me and said, “No, I have always needed God. He loves you and knows you better than I do, and I have needed Him to tell me what to do many times. He will always take care of you, and He will be enough.”

I left her bedside and wondered how I could trust this promise. Her diagnosis was a difficult blow for me. I often felt she was my only family, my only true confidant. I could not envision a future without her. It wasn’t just a rug pulled out from under me, it was my entire world. Could an amorphous, unknowable, silent God fill such a void?

I thought about why I loved her. She loved me, she took care of me, she listened to me, and she taught me. Could Heavenly Father do all of those same things for me? John says that we love God because He first loved us (1John 4:19). He says that He will care for us as He does the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-30). He hears our petitions and teaches us the mysteries of heaven.

Next, I thought about how I showed my love to my mother. I talked to her, I listened to her, I did things with her, I did things for her. I realized these are the same things Heavenly Father has asked me to do. All the commandments have this as their purpose. To spend time with God, involve Him in our lives, learn to hear His voice, do His work.

The parallels were there, and I wanted to try and build a close parent-child relationship with God, but the differences were also stark.  I started by reading the scriptures and ran into some problems right away. Some verses were confusing. I didn’t get to know my mother by reading other people’s stories about her, God just felt too far away. He wouldn’t take me out to dinner for my birthday, He was harder to hear than my mother over the phone, I didn’t know His laugh. I did know He could heal.

In the beginning, I prayed constantly for my mother to be healed. If He gave good gifts, and the greatest gift He ever gave me was my mother, then healing her would be an ideal way for Him to keep His promise.

I did not understand the promise at first, but as I turned to God, I learned more of what He could do. The greatest way I have found God is in prayer. He is not unknowable or silent. The next few posts are the story of how I learned the importance of spiritual things, spiritual healings, and what I consider the greatest miracles of all—unity with God. Because, He is enough.

No Self-Hatred Necessary, Welcome Home

God is so smart. I expected lectures and condescension when I got mad at Him and questioned His reasoning. Instead, the Spirit helped me remember my own past experiences. He gave me space and showed a tremendous amount of patience. Looking back on it now, if He had tried to send me a message about why my mother needed to die while my step-father got to be healed, I would not have responded well. 

My anger against God for the death of my mother did not stop my attending church. Rather, I attended with challenge in my heart. I practically dared God to comfort me with cliched platitudes, or to say that His ways were higher than my ways. In my mind, this would prove He didn’t know or care about me personally and that He was purely manipulative. When nothing came, I felt both vindicated and disappointed. Eventually, I came to crave the comfort, even if it was a platitude. I just wanted something.

I decided to go back to the temple. There was no grand sin that made me feel unworthy to be there, but rather the embarrassment of talking badly about someone behind their back, they over hear you, and then you have to go to their house and ask them for a favor. I definitely had my tail between my legs, head hanging in shame. An entire apology with generous amounts of self-flagellation was scripted in my head before I began.

I was worried about going into the Celestial Room—this is the one place I know for sure I will always feel the Spirit and I love how peace washes over me as I walk through the door—but what if it wasn’t peace this time and I met anger instead? I braced myself for a rebuke knowing that I deserved it. 

Before I could sit down and offer my prayer of self-recrimination, I felt the presence of God and His words, “Welcome back, Christen. I’ve missed you.” I felt loved. And that was it.

I sat down and tried to pray but nothing else would come. The words I had formulated beforehand disappeared and could not leave my lips. God, it seems, did not want me to rake myself over the coals. He simply wanted me to sit and relax. He did not try to explain Himself, He just let me feel loved and safe. 

We don’t need huge reasons or grand intricate plans before we accept others, ourselves, or Him. We simply need to feel loved and know that we are safe. He is infinitely patient and understanding. You don’t have to explain it to Him. He already knows what happened, what you were thinking and feeling.

He knew all the nasty things I thought about Him and He knew why. His feelings weren’t hurt, and He wasn’t out for vengeance. He just missed me.

He misses all of us. He will help us understand, show us the things we overlooked, teach us how to move forward. First, we need to let go. Be still, know that He is God, and God is love. 

Sometime after this, again at the temple, I offered an apology without self-hatred, just an acknowledgement of what I didn’t want to do again. As if sitting right beside me, He said, “Yes, we need to work on your conviction, and we will do it.”

I understood that we were a team. He did not abandon me because I was such a useless failure. I still had a purpose, a mission to fulfill, and we would do it together.

Be Bold and Show Up

I am, by nature, a rather passive person. When depressed, my tendency towards passivity is incredibly damaging. 

I felt stuck. I couldn’t stop the thoughts that I was incapable because I didn’t do anything. I wanted my actions to be centered on love and connection but was worried my efforts wouldn’t be correct or welcomed.

As a new missionary, I was also timid and afraid. I devoted a lot of study time to the topic of boldness but, unfortunately, didn’t find much that was particularly helpful. The prophets were so sure of themselves, their spiritual promptings so distinct. I knew the Spirit only as a general feeling—I didn’t understand what it meant to receive directions so clearly. Some examples from other missionaries didn’t strike me as bold as much as downright mean. I knew the truth could be hard to hear, but does it then necessarily follow that we must be hard when we deliver it? I wanted to be brave, but I didn’t want to be unkind.

A couple of months into my mission, my trainer and I were affected by an emergency transfer. Our Zone Leader, knowing that this was a tense situation for us, came to give us Priesthood Blessings that morning. In mine, I was told that there were people waiting for me to teach them the gospel and that I would find them and have a successful mission if I could be bold. I appreciated the encouragement of the Spirit, but also thought, I know, I’ve been trying, but how am I supposed to do it?

Later, that same day, a sister from the ward called to say she couldn’t go with us as scheduled to a lesson because she was feeling unwell. I told her that was fine, and I hoped she got better. I thought we’d go by ourselves, but my trainer told me to find someone else. I prayed to know who to call and felt that I should call back the original sister. That seemed rude to me. She’d just told me she was sick. I thought it was just wishful thinking on my part, a desire to avoid any more phone calls, and tried someone else instead. That failed. I felt again that I should call back the original sister.

I thought about the Priesthood Blessing and my direction to be bold. I was afraid the sister would be mad at me for bugging her when she’d already told us she couldn’t. I decided to call her but not push her. I said, “I’m sorry you’re sick, is there something we can bring to you when we go out to our appointment?” So bold. She replied that she had just been talking with her daughter and realized they weren’t sick, they were just feeling low and what better way to get out of the dumps than to go out with the sister missionaries. She asked if we still wanted her to go with us to our appointment. I was amazed! I had done something bold!

When my trainer and I arrived at the sister’s house, she asked if we could take some flowers to her mother’s grave on the way. What happened in the graveyard was far more than I expected and taught me what it was to be bold in a way I hadn’t thought of before. The full story can be read in the post “A Light in the Darkness.” I would like to add that while I wish it was some grand inspiration that made me move and help the injured man in the cemetery, it was not. I was frozen and I didn’t answer my companion’s call to come and help, at least not right away, because I was too afraid. A dog came out of the woods and I went to the dog. I love dogs and they don’t scare me. I pet his head and shooed him away. Then, I went to help.

I have learned that boldness is to act in spite of fear. It is to move when you think you can’t, even if the move is small. One action will bring more. Confidence grows as we simply try. Sometimes, “all we can do” is show up and then the grace of God will meet us where we are (2 Ne 25:23). The reality of our fear isn’t as big as we imagine and the realization of our hopes is always grander than we dreamed. 

A Light in Darkness

Trials, hardships, sadness, fear, things that makes us feel hopeless, are all symbolized by darkness. Light is a symbol for hope. That power that pushes back darkness and helps us keep going. Hope is not the same as wishful thinking. Hope comes with knowledge, confidence, and love.

When I was a new missionary, I felt overwhelmed and scared. God gave me hope. Whenever I most need it, when darkness once again surrounds me, God reminds me of this lesson and gives me light.  

For an unrelated reason, our Zone Leader came to give my trainer and I priesthood blessings. In mine, I was counseled to be bold. I had already been studying boldness in the scriptures but was not really getting anywhere. I was getting frustrated and discouraged.

Later that day, my missionary trainer and I were scheduled to teach a lesson with the help of a sister in the ward. I called her to confirm, but she said she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to go with us. My trainer told me to call someone else, but the Spirit told me to call back the original sister. I thought that sounded pretty rude considering she just told me she wasn’t feeling well. Then i thought of that priesthood blessing from earlier. Ok, I thought, I guess I’ll be bold.

I called her back and asked her if we could bring her some soup. Apparently I wasn’t ready yet to be fully bold. Luckily for me, when I called sh said that she realized she wasn’t sick but down in the dumps and decided that going with the missionaries was the best way to pick herself up. I thought that was a miracle on its own! The Spirit gave me a prompting but also took care of it so that I would be successful even with minimal effort on my part. Hallelujah!

When we met up with this sister, she asked if we could quickly put some flowers on her mother’s grave on our way. There are many small cemeteries scattered around the country areas of Georgia and Tennessee. This should not have added any time to our trip.

However, when we first pulled into the graveyard, there was a van parked in front of the grave and a man was collapsed next to it. Due to poor cell reception, the sister driving us needed to leave to call for an ambulance. I got out of the car with the full intention of helping, trying to remember first aid, and then froze.

My mind went completely blank, paralyzed by a sudden and intense fear. Not the fear of physical violence, that had already been done, but fear of palpable darkness. As I stood there, it seemed as though someone was laughing at me. I was ashamed that I could not move, embarrassed at my own weakness, and someone thought that was hilarious. Unseen fingers slick with a heavy oil sought to cover my skin and seep into my pores. My companion kept calling for me to come over to her until I finally moved. More to run away from the darkness than anything else.

The man, now lying on his back, was fatally injured. We wrapped the wound as best we could, but there wasn’t much to be done. We prayed, spoke with him for as long as he was able, sang hymns, and then kept silent. While we sat with him, we were surrounded by a light that shielded us from the darkness. The fear was gone, I felt completely calm. My lungs expanded without constriction, my mind took in not only our conversation and his condition but also the light filtering through the trees and the beauty of the place. The beauty of the whole world astounded me. I felt blessed beyond measure with the love of Heavenly Father.

We remained with the injured man in this state for about half an hour until he passed away. With that final breath, the light began to recede. A couple of minutes later when the emergency vehicle arrived and the EMT began her work, I became aware again of the darkness. This time, however, the presence was farther from me. Those fingers that before were taunting and pushing were now clenched in rage, but they could not touch me.

Even so, the feeling of that much rage directed at me brought back doubt of my own strength. I cried to God asking why I was sent there when I was unable to do anything of any use. The man had died. I had not helped him. I thought a Priesthood holder would have been more effective: the Zone Leader, the District Leader, a man from the ward that lived in the area, so many choices other than me. I felt useless and powerless.

In answer there came to my mind a picture of myself wearing the mantle of a missionary and emanating light. There also came the knowledge that I had fulfilled that which was asked of me. I pushed back the darkness. That was my purpose as a missionary. Where ever I stood, darkness could not. 

The light that shone from around me was brilliant and powerful. I understood at that moment that I had made covenants to my Heavenly Father and with those covenants came the ability to call upon the accompanying blessings at any time and the assurance that my call would be answered. I would be able to fulfill all that God asked me to do because He would enable me to do it with all the light and power of heaven. 

In the middle of my intense trials and darkness years later, this is what I wanted to be again. Full of light. A light for my family. Sure of my own power to conquer the darkness. When this memory returned to me, I felt the same hope. I wasn’t there yet, but I knew that I could get there because the light of heaven is still promised to me, and heaven always answers.

Remember, remember…doctrines over habits

This post is part of “My Story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

We are never grateful for our trials until we start to learn from them—until we start using them to build strength in spite of fear and pain. The memories of previous trials and triumphs give us the courage to face current ones. When we learn from our experiences, even the failures, the truth we’ve gained gives us power throughout the rest of our lives, come what may. 

For me, the turning point in Michigan came late one night when I couldn’t go to sleep even though I so desperately needed to. Filled with various levels of rage, frustration, self-loathing, and weariness, the most shocking thing was how familiar it felt. Lying in bed with my thoughts swirling around, I remembered that I had felt this way before. 

It had happened in the Missionary Training Center, in an auditorium full of missionaries. I just panicked. I felt like a fraud. What have I done? I asked myself. I’m not strong enough to serve a mission. This is the stupidest mistake of my life.

Then I looked down and read from the Joseph Smith History, open on my lap.

For I had seen a vision, I knew it and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God 

As I read these words, memories returned of the things that I knew from personal revelation, those things that God had taught me Himself through His Spirit such that I knew it, and God knew that I knew. My mission was an expression of gratitude to Him for all that had come before. Knowing that He wanted me to do this for Him, it seemed ungrateful to quit.

I was still terrified, but I served. I served with love, and I grew, and I found joy. Not only had I survived my mission, I had thrived as a missionary. 

Lying in my bed, seven years later, I remembered being that missionary. Once again, I was scared, but I remembered the promises and the blessings. Did they still apply?

Before leaving my mission, I spoke with the Branch President in my last area. Sensing my sadness about going home, he told me not to worry. “Your title and job description change, but you are always serving,” he said. “In all important matters, nothing really changes. You just move from one calling to another.”

I tried at first to think of the missionary schedule—the measurable goals, the reporting methods. These didn’t work in my new life, no matter how hard I tried. I no longer had two full hours in which to study, or a 24-hour companion, or the luxury of focusing completely on the work of God. My responsibilities had expanded and become so varied, I felt pulled in too many directions.

But that Branch President was right. My covenants didn’t change. My study time may have decreased, but the scriptures are still a source of inspiration. I still serve many people in many ways. As a missionary, I learned how to serve. Those lessons were just as powerful as ever. I loved my mission because I had become a missionary. 

In Preach My Gospel there is a quote from President Boyd K. Packer that I used constantly when planning lessons for others: 

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than the study of behavior will improve behavior. 

If someone was having a hard time with a particular commandment or aspect of the gospel, I would try to find the underlying doctrine that would help. I was there to help people build testimonies, not boss them around. I now needed to do the same thing for myself. 

Just as memories had strengthened me in the MTC, memories of previous victories over depression and pain strengthened me again in Michigan. The circumstances were different, but the feelings were the same. I combed through my memories, reliving the experiences and paying particular attention to the lessons. I thought about the significance of those lessons and how they applied to me in my new roles. I discovered that eternal truths apply regardless of position or circumstance. And truth really does set you free.