Tuesday, April 25, 2017

School of Hard Knocks

I’m going to share something this morning that many people may scoff over. It is, nevertheless, true. I was once painfully shy. I seemed to be fine around those I knew well, namely my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. But whenever I was in the presence of those I didn’t know, I remained silent. This wasn’t always a good idea. Things often happened that threatened my well-being, but instead of letting others know that I was in pain, or frightened, I silently suffered through whatever had taken place, as I did my best to blend into the woodwork, as the saying goes.

One of my earliest memories of first grade was not a pleasant event. It started out innocent enough. For a year and a half, I went to the same elementary school that my paternal grandmother had once attended. It was an old rock building full of interesting sounds. Floors creaked, pipes rattled, and the very walls seemed to echo with children’s voices from years gone by. Some of the students were convinced the school was haunted. Since I didn’t know what that word meant yet, it didn’t bother me. I was more fearful of my classmates and teacher than of items that may have happened in the past.

I had reason to feel that way. One afternoon I crossed the room to sharpen my pencil. I heard a sharp sound and glanced out of our open classroom door. Horrified, I watched as our first grade teacher broke a yardstick over the unfortunate posterior of one of my classmates. That image stayed with me for months. It explains in part why I was hesitant to tell this teacher anything. One of my goals for that year was to stay unnoticed by this person who seemed mean and oppressive. 

It didn’t help that one of my classmates happened to be this woman’s niece. This young lady was a bit spoiled and she made the most out of being related to our teacher. Her word was law. One fall day as I stood out among the giant trees in the playground behind the school, this girl decided to include me in her game of make-believe. It was a common practice to pretend that the bases of the giant trees were houses and families were made up of other students as homes were set in order. That day during lunch recess, my teacher’s niece pretended to be the mommy in our pretend family. A young boy was assigned to be the daddy. I was relegated to the role of the child. Things seemed to go along quite well for a time. Then “mommy” came up with a brilliant idea. She turned to “daddy,” and said, “Let’s help Cheri learn to hold her breath.” 

This didn’t sound good to me, but I was small for my age and unable to fight both of them as they held me down on the ground in our makeshift home. “Mommy” sat on top of me and held her hand over my mouth. She then instructed “Daddy” to pinch my nose shut. “Daddy” wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he realized this wasn’t a good idea. “She won’t be able to breathe,” he argued. “I know,” ‘mommy’ giggled. Meanwhile I tried to free myself from her grip, but remained pinned on the ground. I felt overwhelmed by a horrible feeling and I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t cry out because her hand was still over my mouth. Things grew worse as “daddy” finally gave in and pinched my nose shut.

I’m not sure how long we remained in that position. I know I struggled as I never had before, but they were too big for me to budge. I nearly lost consciousness and thought that I would perish. Before all went black, I remembered something I had learned in Primary about prayer. I knew we were supposed to pray when things weren’t going well. I silently sent a frantic prayer heavenward. As soon as I asked for help, the bell rang. My captors immediately released me and ran toward the school. I lay in the dirt and gasped for air.

When I felt like I would live, I shakily stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves from my dress. Then I walked alone toward the school since everyone else had already made it inside. Needless to say, I was tardy, but for some reason, the teacher didn’t say anything to me. She was up in front of the class reading a story to my classmates, something she did every day after the lunch break. She merely nodded at me as I quietly sat at my desk and pondered what I had just survived. I was only six years old, but I knew something significant had taken place. It was more than the brutal treatment by two of my classmates. I had felt a strong sense of comforting peace moments before the bell had rung. I knew in my tender heart that my Father in heaven had heard my prayer that day. Not only had I survived my near suffocation, but I was not out in the hallway being punished for being tardy. That in and of itself was a miracle. 

I never did tell anyone what had happened that day—but it never happened again. For a time, I was left alone, though I never felt that I was. I knew my Father in heaven was very aware of me and that He was protecting me. It was a knowledge gained at a young age, and something I treasured—most of the time. I was not a perfect child, but I did strive to make good choices. I still had a lot to learn, but that one experience shaped me in ways I would not fully understand for many years. 

There were other experiences that reinforced what I learned that fateful day behind the school house. I knew that in times of trouble, God was only a heartfelt prayer away. This knowledge has provided an important lifeline during my mortal journey. 

I mentioned in my last blog post that I would share some of the experiences that have helped shape me into who I am today. I am doing this, hoping that these items may help others who are struggling, who are seeking to find their way. Today’s lesson: Prayers are answered—immediately when the need is great, but often in ways we may never understand. We are watched over throughout our lives, even though at times we are permitted to experience pain and sorrow to fully appreciate the joy that also exists.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Plan With Hope

This past weekend marked yet another Easter celebration. Many people throughout the world commemorated it by remembering the great sacrifices made on our behalf by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For some it was a time of tradition and ceremony. For others it was a chance to gather with loved ones and do fun-filled activities that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Easter—and that’s okay. Family time is important. Gathering together to strengthen eternal ties is crucial these days. Life becomes so busy for us that it doesn’t happen near enough. Thank heavens for occasions that give us an opportunity to renew the bonds that really matter. 

Christmas is a similar holiday. At the heart of both is the reminder of what is truly important. Most reflect at some point that the true hope in this world comes from what our Elder Brother made possible. How empty life would be if the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ did not exist. If all we believed in was the here and now—if some part of us refused to acknowledge that this life serves a purpose and the choices we make do indeed count for something.

There are many who are struggling in this latter day. They are often so consumed with inner pain and turmoil that it has blocked the light that offers hope. At times they become bitter and refuse to see the beauty and joy our Father wants us to find in this life. The adversary is cunning—he has had a long time to prepare for this day and he is very good at inspiring doubt, discouragement, and despair. In my opinion, these are the three degrees of destruction. These three items have led to untold misery and violence, something we are seeing on an increased magnitude in today’s world. At the heart of it all is a form of selfishness that started long ago. 

The battle between good and evil began long before man set foot upon this planet. It started before any of us were born. This battle had its beginning when we lived together as spirit children of a loving Father in heaven. We wanted a chance to grow and become more like our heavenly parents. And so the great plan of happiness was shared. We would have a chance to come to a mortal sphere where we would be tested, and we would have the opportunity to learn to control a mortal body. We would have the freedom to choose the kind of life that we would lead, knowing that if we proved worthy, family ties could become eternal, and our joy would be complete.

In the great scheme of things, there will always be opposition. (See 2 Nephi 2:11) This did indeed take place in the great heavenly counsel as another plan was shared. (See Abraham 3:22-28) The details of this plan were simple: we would be forced to make right choices and in the end, all glory would be given to an elder brother, Lucifer, who guaranteed that not one soul would be lost. Most of us realized that this plan, although tempting, was not in our best interest. We would all make it back to our Father, but without the growth and learning we desired. An argument ensued, and a battle began that is still being waged here upon the earth. 

Lucifer and his followers lost the first round. They are now determined to win the second round here in mortal mode. And currently, during these trying latter days, they are pulling out all of the stops. You may recognize their handiwork in items that inspire doubt, discouragement, and despair. We live in a world that worships money, power, and greed. Themes of selfishness and control are rampant. Violence is touted in movies, music, video games, and books. In short, we are deluged with dark messages compliments of someone who wants us to become as miserable as he is. The great challenge of our day is to block out these dark thoughts and turn instead to the things that will enhance hope and love. It truly is the simple things that will help us survive these challenging latter days. Prayer, studying (not skimming) the scriptures, attending church meetings and truly listening to gospel teachings, heeding the warnings and advice from our church leaders, attending the temple, the list goes on and on. All of these things will help us put on the armor of God that we desperately need to survive this current battle. 

There is still hope, love, and beauty in this troubled world. All around are signs of how much our Father in heaven loves us. Good works are taking place, and loving service is being rendered by those who know and understand what is truly important.  Miracles still exist, and in the end, Lucifer and his followers will lose  . . .   again. He knows this is true, and that is why he is trying to ruin as many lives as he possibly can before his time runs out.

How do I know all of this? It is a testimony that did not come easy, nor without a price. It came after hours on my knees in prayer, after months of searching the scriptures for truth. It came line upon line, precept on precept. I did not understand the Plan of Salvation all at once. It came bit by bit as life threw one challenging trial after another into the path I have walked in this life. It has given me the hope I have needed to survive. In future posts, I may touch on some of these experiences, hoping that these items might inspire others to search for truth and light as they make their way forward along the path of life. Just remember on dark days, you are not alone. We are surrounded by those who care, often by those who are sight unseen, who want nothing more than for us to succeed and push forward to a brighter day.