Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why I Believe

In today’s crazy world, there are so many mixed messages being broadcast, twittered, published, and shared in various forms of social media, I can understand why there is confusion about what is real, and what is not. We live in a world of technological wonder, and yet there is more unhappiness, misery, anger, and greed flourishing despite all of the remarkable items that are available to make life easier. I have to ask, then, what is missing? In my opinion, it boils to down to simply one thing: we’ve lost our way. We have become so disillusioned, hardened, and skeptical, we no longer believe in the simple things that make life worthwhile: faith, hope, and charity.

I understand the confusion. I felt the same way years ago as a struggling teen. At that time we lived in a community where several religions existed. When school was in session, lunch hour became a heated discussion in the hallway as my peers did their best to prove that their way of thinking was correct. Doctrine was shared and debated, and each day I grew more confused as I tried to figure out for myself what was true.

At home, I continued to receive mixed messages. My mother had always believed in God, and had taught us at a young age that prayer was how we communicated with our Father in heaven. Nightly prayers were encouraged before we went to bed. It had become a habit. Then one day, my maternal grandmother became critically ill. When her life hung by a tiny thread, our father gathered us together in the living room for the first ever family prayer rendered by our clan. For the first time I heard my father pray out loud as he begged for my grandmother’s life to be spared. Sadly, it was not. After her death, my father told me that prayers were not answered. It was a confusing time.

Because it was a habit, I continued to pray each night, and I often begged to know who was right and what was true. Then one night (back in the “olden days” sacrament meeting was held at night) as I sat with some of my friends during a fast and testimony meeting for the LDS church, a young lady stood up to share what was in her heart. She was a college student, and someone most of us respected. As a result, we listened to every word she said. When she shared that she knew she was a daughter of God, my heart began to burn within my chest. It was something I had never experienced before and I was puzzled. Later I would understand that I had received some very strong promptings from the Holy Ghost, but at the time, I had no idea what was happening. Regardless, that incident filled me with a desire to gain a testimony for myself. The problem was, I had no idea how to go about obtaining such a thing. So I asked one of my friends for advice, someone I knew would be honest with me. We were the same age, and she lived next door, which was handy. I wandered over one night to visit, and eventually asked this friend of mine how one went about gaining a testimony. She told me that I needed to read the Book of Mormon, and then pray about it. 

Excitement filled my heart. Could it be that simple? I hurried home to put her counsel to the test. I went inside my bedroom, shut the door for privacy, and dug out my copy of the Book of Mormon. I sat on my bed and read a couple of chapters. Then I closed the book, knelt down in prayer, and asked for a witness that it was true. I was expecting something similar to a fireworks display, and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. I did experience peace of heart, which was an indication I was on the right path, but I was too young and silly to appreciate what that was. 

Disappointed, I tried to go to sleep, my father’s words echoing in my head. “Prayers aren’t answered. No one listens. Why bother?” 

A few days later, I talked to my next door neighbor/friend again and told her about my experience and how disappointed I was. She simply smiled, and told me that I needed to read the entire Book of Mormon—stressing that eventually, I would receive the witness I was seeking. Sighing, I finally comprehended that gaining a testimony wouldn’t happen overnight. 

To make an extremely long story short, let’s just say that during the next few months, opposition descended with a fury. This happens whenever we are trying to do a good thing. The adversary doesn’t just stand idly by when we are struggling to find truth. He throws everything he can at us to prevent that from happening. Doubts are whispered into our hearts and minds. Others around us are prompted to do and say hurtful things that can become obstacles as we seek to find our way. And challenges arise that sometimes bring us to our knees. 

The death of my grandmother that year was a constant heartache. I had been her oldest granddaughter, I carry her name, and there had been a special bond between us. Losing her made me question things I thought I knew about life and death . . . and prayer. 

A few months later, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with Lupus, and we nearly lost her as her kidneys shut down. She spent months residing in a hospital in Salt Lake City as I once again came face to face with questions about life . . . and death . . . and prayer.

Then, adding insult to injury, I was attacked in the park across from my home one night. It wasn’t a random event. I had been called by my attacker (he lied about who he was—and this was before the day of Caller ID) and I was invited to an after-Christmas party, something I was assured all of my friends would be attending. Thinking this was a chance to de-stress, I walked over since the park was just across the street from our house, and found myself under attack from an unknown person. (We never did discover who he was.) Following strong promptings that came immediately (it was like someone was yelling inside my head to get my attention, since I was paralyzed with fright) I fought back and my assailant dropped me in the snow, and ran away. I was not harmed physically, aside from a few bruises, but emotionally, I would carry scars for a very long time. After that, I didn’t trust people. I was terrified to go anywhere alone, especially at night. So on and so forth. Once again I struggled with questions about life . . . death . . . and prayer.

My Young Women leaders were concerned because I seemed to retreat into a shell. I rarely attended meetings, especially those at night. I went to school, came home, and spent a lot of time in my room playing my guitar. I felt betrayed by everyone, including God. How could He have allowed this terrible thing to happen? Wasn’t I trying to be a good person? Hadn’t I been working on gaining a testimony? I was so busy feeling sorry for myself, I blocked out how watched over I had actually been during the attack at the park.
About three months later, my desperate Young Women leaders went to my parents and begged for their help. A tri-stake youth fireside would be held in West Yellowstone that spring and they felt this event would help me return to a sense of normalcy. In the past, my parents had always vetoed trips of this nature. I was their oldest child and they had been a little over-protective. The attack in the park didn’t help with this. However, they were beginning to worry over my retreat from life. And so we witnessed a tiny miracle—my parents gave their permission for me to attend the youth conference. I was stunned. I hadn’t even asked to go, since I didn’t want to go anywhere, and I knew they would say “NO!” My parents and leaders assured I would be watched over and protected during the entire experience, and eventually, I agreed to attend.
It was a blissful weekend. My friend who had been in the Salt Lake Hospital, was home recovering, and she went with me to this event. The two of us stayed in a hotel room with one of the Young Women leaders—a promise made to my parents—and I felt safe for the first time in weeks. The workshops held were enjoyable, and I actually smiled, something my friends and Young Women leaders pointed out. Everyone held their breath, hoping I was on the way back from my traumatic event. 

The last night of the conference, a special testimony meeting was held. As I sat with my friends, we were in agreement that a person had to be crazy to get up in front of all these people. We had been mixed in with kids from all over the area—it was a tri-stake event and there were people in attendance that we didn’t know.About half-way through the meeting, my heart once again felt like it was on fire—the same thing I had experienced months before when the college girl had shared her testimony. I found that I couldn’t just sit there. I stood up and headed to the pulpit. My friends and leaders were shocked. I had pretty much become a recluse since the attack. Now I was on my feet, walking toward a microphone. That was yet another miracle.

I don’t remember everything I said that day, but I’ve never forgotten how I felt as I shared what was in my heart. It was a simple, heartfelt testimony of truth. No details about my very bad year were shared—but as I stated that I knew I was a daughter of God, a strong witness was borne to me that this was true. And suddenly, all of the answers I had been seeking fell into place. I knew the Book of Mormon was true, something I had been studying all year. And because it was true, I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. All of the pieces of a testimony I had prayerfully begged to obtain, came together. When I returned to my seat, my heart was filled with a joyful peace I’ve never forgotten. That feeling stayed with me the entire night. The best part was, after the meeting, a younger girl in our ward came up to me and gave me a hug, telling me that for the first time, she had felt something from someone else’s testimony—the circle was complete.

I have had many trials—many challenges since that time, but the testimony I worked so hard to obtain, has stayed with me. It has been the glue in my life. Years ago, it helped me heal from a traumatic event that could have ruined everything. It helped me understand the miracles that had been a part of my life all along. It has helped me appreciate the little things that are actually the big things in mortal mode. It has filled me with the knowledge that God is very real, and He loves His children. He does answer prayers—but it is often in a different way and timescale than we anticipate. Faith and hope matter—and being charitable toward others is the key to finding true happiness.

I still reflect on life . . . and death . . . and prayer—but now I know how important these things are. I’ve never taken them for granted and each one has touched my heart in a myriad of ways.

To those of you who are seeking truth—know that the pieces will come together eventually. Sometimes we just have to put our trust in God and steadfastly do those things we know will eventually help us find our way. It will take time and effort, but the end result is very much worth the journey.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Famed Yellow Brick Road

We all have days when we wonder why we ventured out of bed. Yesterday was a day like that for me. I woke up with a splitting headache that would not go away. It appeared to be a nasty arthritis inspired type of thing--the kind that makes you feel half sick. I tried everything I could think of to encourage its departure, but it was all to no avail. The headache from hades refused to leave, no matter what I did. So I took a time out from life. I soaked in the tub and tried to get my body to calm down. I dressed in comfortable clothes and avoided a frantic pace--something I had been keeping up for several days in a row. I turned on soothing music and closed my eyes, doing my best to relax. I dirfted off to sleep for a bit, and though the headache was persistent, I noticed that I did feel somewhat better after resting.

I love to read, but yesterday reading seemed to aggravate things, so I continued to listen to music. Eventually, I wandered out to the living room and found a movie I haven't watched for a long time--a gift from one of my sons, a modern adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz." It's a six hour adventure (it was originally aired as a mini-series on TV) which is why I've never watched it in one sitting before . . . until last night. I started it at 4:00 and it wrapped up about 10:00 p.m. The nice thing about owning the movie, is that it can be paused for periodic snack breaks. I mostly sat, intrigued by the storyline and noticed an analogy for life. See if any of this sounds familiar:

The heroine, D.G., feels restless. She senses there is something important she is supposed to be doing in her life, but she can't quite figure out what that is. She comments at one point that she just doesn't feel like she fits in with everyone around her. Then suddenly, adversaries arrive in her life, intent on causing her harm. The people she thought were her parents, (they weren't--they were actually keeping her safe until it was time for her great adventure) save her by throwing her into a raging tornado that propels her into a strange land. She finds herself alone, and doesn't know who she is, why she's there, or where she's supposed to be going.

Adventures abound as D.G. meets up with people who help her find her way. These people become her friends and she learns that each one is seeking something they are missing from their life. Glitch longs for wisdom. Tin Man is in need of a change of heart. Raw, a lion looking sort of fellow, lacks courage. Together they help each other as they journey along, seeking the answers to questions that plague. At times everything seems to be upside down as corruption has twisted things that used to be good and pure. It is a confusing journey as the four friends seek for a purpose to their life. They help each other through challenging times, certain their quest is crucial.

D.G. is also aided by hints that arrive just as she needs them most from her real parents. She learns that she is actually the daughter of a queen, and that she has an important mission to fulfill. The happiness of her family depends on the choices she makes. It takes every ounce of stamina and courage she can muster to survive--her faith in what she now knows to be truth gives her the strength she needs to save her family during a perilous time. And in the end, love is what matters most. Love for her family helps D.G. push beyond what she thinks she is capable of accomplishing and she is able to face her fears and stand up for what she knows is right.

This movie has a feel good ending and I found myself smiling when it was finished. And since my brain is always searching for symbolism (no wonder I get doozy headaches on occasion) I reflected on what I perceived was the message. We all start life somewhat like D.G.--most of us try to figure out who we are and why we're here. It would also be nice to have a hint of where we're going. Along the way, we meet people, good and bad, who influence our journey, and the choices we make. The adversary and his minions never make it easy and obstacles always seem to surface at inopportune times. We are tested and challenged along the way, and those experiences, though never fun, are what help shape us into who we're supposed to be. Eventually we figure out that the people who matter most are our family members--those who are truly in our corner when the going gets rough. And in the end, the thing that matters most is love.

So . . . I guess this was an important reminder I needed yesterday. Sometimes we all need a brief time out from life to ponder where we're at on our respective yellow brick roads. It's easy to get bogged down with all of the running and going and doing and trials and challenges. Sometimes we need a reminder that the journey truly is worth it in the end.