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.

Godly Sorrow

Not many people would understand why I felt guilty about failing to finish graduate school when I had spent the time with my sick mother, but to me, this was a spiritual failure. I knew what the Lord had asked me to do—He made it clear as day. I knew that He would’ve helped me because He had done it before. Yet, I failed to remember, and I didn’t trust Him.

About eleven years before Michigan, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during my sophomore year of college. By my senior year, she had outlived her original prognosis and prayed to see me graduate.

I needed to decide between going to graduate school and going on a mission. I prepared both papers at the same time, unsure of which path to take, and watched my mother’s health. When I prayed, graduate school never felt “wrong” per se, but a mission felt lighter. Once, an impression that my ancestors in the spirit world wanted me to go on a mission came to me. It felt like we were a team. No clear or powerful words, just a feeling, but enough to get me excited and I chose a mission.

My mother didn’t discourage me from a mission, but she did tell me her concerns. Her chemotherapy treatments were not working at the time of my college graduation and she felt she was running out of time. When my missionary assignment came, I wondered if this was really what the Lord wanted me to do or if I had gotten it all wrong. Meanwhile, my mother said a silent prayer asking Heavenly Father if He really needed me right then or if she could keep me for just a little longer. I looked up and saw her jumping for joy. This woman with cancer in her bones and treatments that liquified the marrow vibrated with excitement. The answer to her prayer was immediate and she knew that it was my mission and the Lord needed me.

My Stake President set me apart as a missionary and blessed me that as I served, my mother would be protected. I felt an assurance that she would not die while I was gone. 

In the Missionary Training Center, I received a letter telling me her chemotherapy treatments were working and her cancer was receding. Three weeks later, the first letter I got in Tennessee said that her cancer counts were low enough she could take a break from chemotherapy. 

The Lord keeps His promises. He honors our sacrifices until they’re not even sacrifices anymore. I know it.

Where was that faith when the Lord called me to go to graduate school?

I doubted the Lord’s call to go to graduate school, but the spiritual experience telling me to get a Ph.D. was far more powerful than any I received calling me on a mission. As I described in the post “Problem 1: I am Mad at Myself,” I quit my graduate program because my fear of losing my mother and not having her with me when I had my own children was too great. I gave in to fear.

In Michigan, remembering my mission felt great, relearning how to stand strong in the face of fear was empowering, but I still beat myself up over the fact that I had forgotten those lessons at a crucial time. What was the difference between the first call and the second?

I still don’t understand why I forgot to rely more on the Lord, but I can say that I became so narrow-mindedly focused on what I wanted I didn’t listen to anyone else and did not acknowledge any other options. I started to cut myself off and the cost came years later when I was torn apart by grief and anger.

I used to think I finally went back to God and asked for help because I simply hit the bottom, but now I think that He reached out first, bringing me memories that strengthened me to the point that I could reach out.

 Recognizing my depression and working to remove my avoidance tactics, carve out erroneous assumptions of my value, and chip away at my fear, prepared me to build unity. Unity with God and with others is essential to complete unity within ourselves. They are intertwined in that the Spirit testifies of our incredible value, gives us perspective, and courage. The people around us can help us find this too. When we share, ask, and listen, we see things afresh. A new angle will reveal truth we didn’t see before. One doesn’t replace the other, rather they are additive. At the same time, unity within ourselves is needed before we are open to seeking unity with others. We need confidence to reach out, assurance that we are valuable enough for someone to reach back, knowledge that we do have the strength to keep going.

There is sorrow that is destructive because we try to hide it, and thereby, we cut ourselves off. Then, there is sorrow that brings us together. When you’ve accepted the sorrow yourself, instead of avoiding it, recognized your value is intact, completely independent from your mistakes, you have the courage to ask for help. This is Godly Sorrow, this is Humility.

Sorrow that cuts us off is prideful independence ruled by fear. Godly sorrow is one that is shared, and it is powerful humility lead by courage.

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. 

Act with Purpose

As an overwhelmed working mother, I thought only of my to-do list, and how I fulfilled my duties determined my self worth. If I didn’t do the laundry, I was a bad mother. If I didn’t get results from the experiment, I was a useless scientist. If I gained weight, I was a horrible woman.

We live in a world that assigns value to things on a constant basis. We even assign values to people. And for some reason, we often accept another’s evaluation over our own.

Perhaps someone has hurt us and we start to think that we deserved that ill-treatment. Or another has something we want but can’t have and we think that is a reflection of our own worth as well. We become so entrenched in our societies’ economical systems that it can be difficult to step aside and learn a new way to see value. 

In Michigan, I taught a youth Sunday school class for 12 to 13 year olds. We read the first verse in 1 Nephi that reads:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parent, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I can’t remember my original purpose in reading that scripture, I only remember that as we read it, the Spirit told me I was highly favored. And I didn’t fully believe it. I honestly asked those young teenagers, “How do you know if you’re highly favored of the Lord?”

They started complimenting each other’s hair. Then mentioned their families. Then said they were grateful for the gospel. 

I’m sure that beautiful 13 year old girl with long blonde hair did feel blessed because of it. She complimented everybody’s hair regardless of color or style. But what about bald people? Or people that hate their hair? Are they still loved?

Nephi also felt blessed because of his parents, but Laman and Lemuel had the same parents and did not feel favored of the Lord because of it. Too many of us have bad parents that make critical mistakes, aren’t we loved? 

The gospel is important. However, we must be careful not to think we are better for being in one religion over another.

There is nothing wrong in being grateful for what you have, but when we think of these as measures of love, we might run into some trouble. Nephi says that he had afflictions but “knowledge of the goodness…of God” is what he focused on. This is available to everyone. I realized I was loved—I was just looking at the wrong measure of it.

Once, when I was a teenager, I felt miserable but also thought that the Lord wouldn’t help me because I wasn’t going to church. I was desperate to feel the Spirit and my sorrowful mind believed that I was too bad to talk to God. He wouldn’t listen to someone like me. 

I figured that if I could start doing better and show Him that I could be better, then maybe He would hear my prayer. My depression logic came up with one week of nightly scripture study for one heard prayer. As I read, the number of nights I needed to earn a heard prayer started to come down. Surely, five nights will be enough, a few verses later, maybe after three nights. By the end of my reading, I realized I was allowed to pray and the Lord would hear it. I felt the Spirit and I felt loved.

Commandments are not chores we do to earn nickels and dimes we can spend at God’s General Store of Blessings. Because society can only see the outside, it is society’s value system that determines love by what we do, how others treat us, and what we have.

The Lord sees our hearts. Commandments are God’s invitations to come and be with Him. Our obedience is our way of inviting Him to come be with us. We are loved regardless of what we do. The invitation stands even if we don’t accept it. If we do invite God to be with us, we will know how much we are loved.

What we do is important. We are always making choices even when we are passively trying to avoid making choices. The purpose behind those choices matter. We don’t need to earn love as much as we need to act to show love and accept it. When the purpose is true, our actions have power, even if they’re not perfect.

The Soul: Body and Spirit United

Depression is, at its core, a condition of separation. Its cure is connection. A depressed person is at war with herself and thus retreats from everyone else. 

This is a part of the physical nature of the disease. A depressed brain has become incapable of sending proper signals often due to biological or environmental stressors. Perhaps caused by a chemical imbalance or even a change in hormones, depression can happen to someone with a seemingly idyllic life. Or, if someone’s life has been extremely stressful, the brain can deplete the reserves of transmitters necessary for dealing with stress. Either way, a depressed person is only processing a portion of what is truly before them.

When you make a mistake there is no encouraging signal to allow you to process what you did right or even what you could do better next time. You get stuck, so fixated on a minor failure that it becomes a catastrophic collapse. An unkind voice becomes the only one you hear. No other voice or thought is able to get through.

This can be hard for a depressed person to understand or accept because our brains, our thoughts, are so intricately linked with our perceptions of ourselves. We think we are in control. If there is a failure, it’s my fault. If I can’t fix it, it’s my fault. I’m weak. I’m broken.

When my therapist began to prescribe a medication, I did not want to take it. I thought that if I, Christen, was not strong enough to be happy, and I needed to be Drugged-Christen to be happy, then the drug just confirmed that I was defective. He described some of the signaling of the brain, specifically dopamine and serotonin, and said that in my case my brain was using these signals faster than it could make them because of my current circumstances. The medication would support my brain in making these necessary transmitters.

He also pointed out that my body was working hard to support me through some intensely difficult things. My body was strong, pushing through and doing everything I asked of it. It was time for me to support my body.

When depressed, we develop habits, physical and spiritual, that numb the pain. Unfortunately, numbing is not the same as restoring and these habits often leave us worse off than we were before. Separating ourselves from what we’re feeling and thinking also leads to separation from others and the depression deepens.

As a teenager, I obsessively watched classic movies and did puzzles, solitary activities I always did alone. In Michigan, I obsessively read cheap kindle books. I joked that I was a book-aholic, until my daughter wanted to play with me, and when I put her off she quietly answered, “I don’t like book-aholics.” That’s when I realized avoiding my problems was making them worse.

I wasn’t listening to my body when it said I was tired and needed sleep, because I was too busy trying to numb my spirit and stop the negative thoughts. I was too exhausted to think and thus also unable to hear my spirit ask for those things that would bring true relief.

There is a unique doctrine in the restored gospel that the soul is the body and spirit of man (D&C 88:15) and the two inseparably connected bring a fulness of joy (D&C93:33). I find a lot of power in this unity.

The body is not evil and weak—a thing to control or suffer through until your final freedom. Your body is a part of your eternal identity. The experiences it brings you will teach you things that are impossible to learn in any other way. To care for and listen to your body will strengthen your spirit and increase your capacity for joy.

On the other hand, your body is not the only determining factor of your identity. Your biology does not dictate your life. When left to itself, the body has no view beyond the present. It easily falls to appetites that cannot be satiated and the resulting constant pursuit leads to destruction.

Together, spirit and body united, you can find joy and truth. Either one in dominance at the expense of the other is living only half a life. Both bring awareness and connection to the world around you. 

I tried to stop reading so much and realized I first needed to reconnect with myself—to listen again to what I was feeling. When was I tired? What made me feel rested? When was I hungry? What made me happy?

One thing I love about my daughter was that she never said she wanted a cleaner room, or better food, or a prettier mom. She just said she wanted me. When I stopped avoiding the thoughts running through my mind and instead focused on actually being with my daughter, I was better able to tell fact from fiction.

Slowing down to fully feel and connect physically and spiritually was the first form of unity that helped me wake up and truly see myself.

A Promise of Light

This post is a part of “my story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

When I say that I was frozen with fear in that small graveyard (full story in “A Light in Darkness”), it’s not inaccurate, but it’s not a full description either. It was fear, but not of anything physical. It was shock, but not from seeing blood. It was the fear of picturing myself in his position. It was the shock of a formerly depressed and suicidal person seeing an actual suicide. 

I was not detailed in my suicidal fantasies when I was a teenager. I remember feeling completely powerless. Frustrated that no one would listen to me, I wanted a powerful display that they couldn’t ignore anymore. But, I also realized that if people thought everything was my fault in life, they would do the same in death. I wanted to make people listen. I wanted to be understood so that I could understand.

I can now definitively say that suicide is not an eloquent expression of feelings. It’s messy, stinky, and awful. Death doesn’t enhance your voice, it silences it. 

When I was depressed, I lived and breathed because of Alma the Younger. He was my favorite prophet because he knew what darkness was. Although Alma the Younger was raised by a righteous and powerful prophet, Alma the Elder, he pulled people away from the church. An angel appeared to him and Alma fell into a coma-like state for a few days. In chapter 36 of his book in the Book of Mormon, Alma tells his son that he “was racked…with the pains of a damned soul” until he remembered his father preaching of Christ. When he remembered this, he cried to Christ for mercy and was filled with joy. He says:

And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

I knew that this was my promise. One day, I would receive light as intense as was my darkness. 

Alma went on to have more joy through his missionary work. I also discovered my full light and an immeasurable joy in being a missionary, lifting and serving others. I found my voice in helping other people through the darkness. God kept his promise.  

Words cannot express how I have wished that we could have found that man earlier. He fought with intense darkness but, in the end, was not claimed by it. I find hope in this—there truly is no darkness so thick that Christ cannot banish it with light. But, I also feel deep sorrow. I can only conclude that his darkness was such that he isolated himself from those that would help him until God sent two sister missionaries that could connect with him while he was too weak to push them away. 

There are still too many that die alone. Too many that believe the lies of depression that they have no power, no one will listen, no one cares. The truth is that you have incredible power. The truth is that you are the only one who can tell your story, and there are people waiting to hear you. 

We all pass through sorrow in our own way. We all discover our light. I think those of us that have survived darkness, perhaps especially suicidal thoughts and depression, have a duty to say there is light and joy. The night does end. The light is equal to your darkness. So, if you’re feeling especially dark, your light will be that much more amazing. Just hold on.

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.