Sunday, February 16, 2014

Faith In The Promised Blessings

A saying I've heard for many years states, "God has a way of giving us a heart". In Ezekiel 36:26 it reads, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." This account explains the way that God gave me a heart of flesh and changed the way I lived. He did it by blessing me with faith.

A little back story is required to help this all make sense. Several years ago, I received a priesthood blessing that promised me that I would be able to receive those promises made to me that were so near and dear to my heart, including temple marriage and an eternal family.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we believe that the power of the priesthood, or the authority and power to act in God's name, was restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr, and the ability to have this power is given to every righteous man in the church. His duty is to use this power to bless the lives of his family and those he serves.

This blessing was a great comfort to me, especially as it was given shortly before I moved across the country to Washington DC. Moving here was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I didn't really know anyone, and as an introvert, it's sometimes difficult for me to meet new people and make new friends. It took some time, but I found myself slowly becoming acquainted with people at church and especially at my new job. The girls I worked with helped me more than they will ever know by being my friends as I struggled to figure out why I had come to this place.

I came here because I felt prompted to do so. I was trying so hard to exercise faith in my Heavenly Father's plan for me. Faith is, as Alma describes, "not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21) I could not see the reason that I was here, but I had faith that there was a reason even if I didn't know it. And I had faith that those promised blessings would be mine if I continued to have faith.

But then Heavenly Father began to test that faith. He gave me the opportunity to be in relationships that shook the very foundations of my confidence and self worth. Towards the end of my first year here, my sense of self was so distorted that I truly believed I was worth nothing. I was filled with doubt and fear. I began to question my faith. Not my faith in the gospel I believed in, but my worthiness to be a part of it. I felt like Peter as he tried to walk on water. At first he kept aloft, but then the winds and waves began to overtake him and he started to sink. (Matthew 14:24-31) But just as with Peter, the Lord did stretch forth his hand and lifted me out and I began to feel like perhaps my major trials were behind me for a time.

However, God in His infinite wisdom knew that my faith needed more strengthening, and so he gave me another trial. The first set of trials had given me compassion for those who are suffering the debilitating effects of self-doubt, abuse, and despair. Now, He wanted me to understand even more clearly the dark effects of depression. And to do this, he allowed my body to develop endometriosis.

For those who don't know what this disease is, a rough summary of it would be that it is an error in the female reproductive system where extra blood and tissue does not stay where it is supposed to and instead, escapes into the abdomen. It can cause varying degrees of pain and can lead to complications in the future, including infertility.

For me, in all my trials I always consoled myself by thinking that at least I had my health. If I was emotionally spent, spiritually drained, and intellectually depleted, at least physically I was healthy. But during that first year in DC I began to develop an increase in back pain. I'd always had pain, and I have a high tolerance for it, and so I thought perhaps I'd just injured a muscle and it would soon pass. It was a mark of how completely I was absorbed in my other trials that I allowed the pain to continue to increase until it came to a head in November. Just as I felt my other trials were lifting, I realized that my physical pain was so intense that I could barely function. I felt like a hot knife had been shoved into my back and was being constantly twisted back and forth. I nearly collapsed at work daily from the pain, but hid this fact from those around me because I hated feeling weak.

I finally went to an OB/GYN who diagnosed my endometriosis and discovered a large endometrioma (or blood filled cyst caused by the disease) as well. My case was so advanced that within 5 days of this discovery I was in surgery. When I first heard them say endometriosis, my heart sank. All my hopes and dreams for life centered around having my own family. I felt for a time that this last hope in my life was being taken away. My faith wavered for a moment as I considered what I had already endured and had to conquer in order to come this far in my life. I wondered how a loving Father would give me this trial- one that could possibly remove forever the possibilities of having my own children one day.

I had another blessing before the surgery and was again assured that all would go well. I chose to have faith in this blessing and the power that came with it, and went into surgery confident that I would be okay, despite the grim prognosis. After I awoke from anesthesia, I was told by that not only was the large endometrioma removed, but another cyst and my appendix as well. The surgery had taken twice as long as originally planned because my endometriosis was so extensive; they called it stage 4, which is as bad as it gets. The doctors were amazed I had not been on chronic pain pills for months with the amount of damage my insides had seen. Even so, I was blessed that the surgery went well and the possibility of children still existed. I felt relieved. Little did I know what was coming next.

Recovering physically from surgery was unpleasant, but it was the treatment afterwards that truly tested my faith. The doctors decided to put me into medically induced menopause in order to help clear up any remaining endometriosis they were not able to remove with surgery. Menopause at 30 was not exactly in the life plans, but I had no choice. The medication they gave me, Lupron, was known to cause other side effects including depression, and it did not disappoint.

For 6 months, I lived in blackness. I could not smile. I could not feel happy. I could not see a way out of the complete and utter despair that I felt. I could fake it well enough to get by. Most people would not have been able to see the amount of suffering I was enduring. I always said nurses were the best actresses. But behind the half smiles and steady daily survival, I was a shell. I had never experienced depression like this before. I wanted to be happy, but I couldn't be. It almost wasn't even a choice. I experienced the darkness of hell and learned a little more about what it means to feel completely alone.

Eventually the effects of the medicine wore off and my treatment progressed to other medications that helped me fight my disease. But I will never forget how it felt to be in that dark. God gave me the heart to see and feel how deeply depression can affect a life. I made it through because a part of me was able to cling to my faith; faith in knowing that, as Elder Worthlin said in speaking of the death and resurrection of the Savior:

"Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come."

Life has steadily improved since then. There have still been dark times to overcome, disappointments to face, and uncertainties to endure. My Heavenly Father knew me well enough to know that in order for me to become the person he wants me to be, I needed to be given these trials to test my faith and to help me grow. But in these trials He has continued to bless me, through the power of the priesthood blessings I have received, to know that He does have a watchful eye over me. He knows me, He remembers His promises, and He will fulfill them.

I was given another blessing this past week. I felt like I was finally moving forward in a positive direction, but then things seemed to become a little more cloudy. Again, God promised me that He was aware of me. He told me very clearly that He had brought me here to increase my faith in Him, and He was allowing this further trial in order to increase my faith just that much more. But He also promised He would give me all those blessings that I so fervently desire.

My story isn't that unique. Everyone experiences trials. In one way or another, God wants to give us all new hearts. It's not always easy, and is even painful at times. But my testimony is that He loves me, He knows me, and He will fulfill the promises He has made. Even when it seems as though life is falling apart, Heavenly Father is cognizant of our needs, our sorrows, our cares, and our hearts. I believe that He gave me faith in order to withstand the trials and sorrows necessary to give me a new heart. And with that new heart, I am finally becoming the person He knows I can be.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Gift of Forgiveness

Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human; to forgive, divine." Being the imperfect being that I am, divine forgiveness is something I not only admire, but desperately seek from day to day. Only Jesus Christ lived a perfect life on this world. The rest of us suffer from temptations and trials that seem to so easily beset us. Satan whispers constantly, waiting for the unsuspecting moments in life that can lead us astray. And when we give into these whisperings, we find ourselves broken, miserable, and lost. It is easy in these times to want to give up hope or think we can never be as we were. But that is when the light of the Atonement allows us to begin mending our lives.
For me, one of the most poignant moments of forgiveness in the Bible recalls the story of the woman taken in adultery. Her accusers would have her stoned according to the law, but they bring her to Jesus and ask "But what sayest thou?" Then Jesus answers with that beautiful lesson, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Stunned no doubt by his response, and perhaps shamed in remembering their own guilt, the accusers depart. I imagine that tenderly the Lord then asks, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?...Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." Jesus was the only man in the world that could have stood to accuse this woman, but instead He shows mercy and compassion. He does not condone the sin, but instead offers the admonition of "Go and sin no more." (John 8:4-11)
Heavenly Father will never excuse sin, but He loved us so much that He created a plan, with a Savior, that thereby we could repent and return to Him through the gift of forgiveness. Directly following this encounter with the woman taken in adultery Christ states, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12) Sinning can bring about a spiritual darkness that would envelope us with its blackness, but the light of Christ that comes by receiving forgiveness through the power of the Atonement will always bring us back into the presense of our Heavenly Father if we trust in Him.
Another favorite story from the gospels is found in Luke. The Savior has been healing and, seeking this blessing for friend, several men brought a man with palsy to be healed, but could not get into the house. "And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God." (5: 18-25)
There are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from these verses. First, no matter how hard the way may seem, never allow anything to come between us and the healing power of our Savior. Sometimes it might seem as though we have to figuratively dismantle a roof in order to uncover our Savior. But Elder Holland teaches, "Each time we reach out, however feebly, for Him, we discover He has been anxiously trying to reach us. So we step, we strive, we seek, and we never yield." (Holland, Broken Things to Mend) Christ wants to heal us spiritually through His forgiving power. We must never forget, that Christ suffered for each of us individually in the Garden. He knew, even before we did, the sins we would commit. He knows each of us so deeply and thoroughly that he knows exactly how to succor each of us. Alma states, "He will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:12)
Second, God heals us according to our faith. Not only did this man have to come to the Savior to receive forgiveness and healing, he had to believe it was going to work. I recall another story of healing, wherein a father brings his son to the Savior. "Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And staightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." (Mark 9:23-24) We must have faith to be healed, especially spiritually.
Finally, forgiveness is not complete until we learn to forgive ourselves. Christ said, "Of you it is required to forgive all men." I don't think there was any part of that statement that said, "Exept yourselves- I want you beat yourself up and tear yourself down for your failures." He said All Men. Sometimes I think forgiving myself is the hardest part of all. Once the steps of repentence are in place and all seems done, I still feel that somehow I deserve to be punished more. That what I did was so awful, I should live with my guilt. That for some reason I can never again be as good as I was. But I have learned that this is Satan's greatest lie. Because if he can make us hate ourselves, then we can not do nearly as much good in God's kingdom. We must learn that the power of forgiveness comes in completely washing our sins away, from our mind and God's. Only then can we truly feel whole once more.
I love the inspiring end to "The Miracle of Forgiveness." Elder Kimball quotes Matt 11:28-30 "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Then he states, "It is my hope and prayer that men and women everywhere will respond to this gentle invitation and thus let the Master work in their individual lives the great miracle of forgiveness."
It is my hope as well that we can all embrace the great gift of forgiveness. Whether our sins be large or small, the Atonement is there to allow us to return once more to our Heavenly Father and truly find peace and happiness in being forgiven.

Monday, June 18, 2012

For A Moment

Have you ever had a phone conversation that begins with the phrase "Hold for a moment please" or some derivative of that statement? For me, once those words are heard, I roll my eyes and settle in for the long haul because I know that moment will seem to me to last forever.

There are many such moments like this in life. Moments when it seems time stands still, the world ceases to revolve, and everything in life becomes caught in this one long pause that carries on indefinitely. These are the moments that memories are made of. The ones forever engraved in our minds with such vividness that we can view them years down the line with the same clarity as when they occurred.

Many of the moments are happy. Time spent with family as a child, being taught to ride a bike by a father, learning to cook with a mother, special vacations to exotic locations like Disneyland and Beaver, UT (great ice cream-just saying). Eventually there are more poignant moments. A wedding day, the birth of a child, your little one taking his first steps. Moments of joy that resonate within our souls.

But there are also moments of darkness, too many to even describe them all, when our souls seem battered by storms that never cease, when the night has fallen, when even the stars in the sky are obscured, and every path seems strewn with the wreckage we call our lives. In moments like these, it is hard to see how we can ever navigate the oceans of dispair and find our way back to the light and love of our Savior.

The scriptures are filled with countless examples of these bleak moments that were made light through the mercy of the Lord. I think about the life of Joseph in Genesis 37, 39-45. He was cast into a pit and then sold by his brothers into Egypt and later, falsely accused and imprisoned for years. I wonder if there was a point in his life that Joseph looked upward and simply asked, "Why?". It is hard to see the end from the beginning when we are in the midst of our trials, but if we can endure these moments in our lives, the Lord can put is in places that will be of greatest benefit to both ourselves and those around us. Because of the events in his life, Joseph was in place to save his family from famine.

Sometimes these moments are ones that come because of our own failings. Alma the Younger, though taught by a loving father the ways of the Lord, strayed and in his own words "went about seeking to destroy the church of God" (Alma 36:6). It took an angel of the Lord appearing unto Him to cause Alma to being to change his life. Said he, "I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins...Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God to be judged of my deeds." (Alma 36:12, 15) Alma's moment lasted for 3 days and 3 nights but I'm sure to him, it felt like an eternity.

We may not have an angel appear unto us and distill in us the need to change, but there will be times when we hear the clarion call of the Savior of all mankind, pleading with us to repent, to come back, to allow His mercy and His Atonement to have a place in our lives. It is hard to believe that He would want us back, that we haven't gone too far, done too much, or failed too many times that we no longer have any redeemable worth in His eyes. And yet the Lord forgave even Alma, a wicked and idolatrous man (Mosiah 27:8), and helped him become one of the greatest prophets to the Nephite people.

Alma states, "My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but i am snatched, and my soul is pained no more... (Mosiah 27:29) 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 equisite and sweet as was my joy" (Alma 36:21).

For a moment, we might feel like we are in the darkest of nights. We hang our heads in failure when we give into the temptations that so easily beset us and take us away from the paths of righteousness. In these moments we might feel as if we are dangling from a cliff with only a finger or two preventing our fall into the abyss. It is in these moments that Satan whispers to give up, give in, and quit trying. He would tell us we've failed. Our moment has lasted for too much of our lives. There's no hope left. BUT HE IS WRONG!

The most vital moment in history sheds its light upon everyone in everytime. The Savior of the world atoned for each person so that we could all find our way out of the dark. I know His moment was not easy. In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried to His Father, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done." (Luke 22:42) How dark this moment must have been! But the darkness was conquered, Jesus is the Savior for each of us, and we can overcome our own moments of darkness through Him.

Isaiah wrote, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer...For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. (Isaiah 54:7-8, 10)

What comfort this promise gives! Even if in our moments of despair we feel as if the Lord has forsaken us, we can know of a sureity that He will have mercy on each of us. He has covenanted to bring us peace in our moments of deepest grief. He is the light and the life of the world. He will take the moments of our lives, both the good and the bad, and will mold us into the person we were meant to be.

One of my favorite poems states:

My life is but a weaving
between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors,
He worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow,
and I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
and I the underside.

Not til the loom is silent
and the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
in the skillful weaver's hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
in the pattern He has planned.

Heavenly Father is aware of our moments. He knows our happiness and our sorrow. He sees our weaknesses and our strengths. For a moment we might feel as if we have no hope, but He has promised mercy to each one that gives his heart to Him. He loves us all, He has a plan for each of His children, and if we let Him, He will create of our moments a masterpiece.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Look Up And Live

When I was in Oregon over the summer, I drove along the coast and stopped at several locations where lighthouses overlooked the rocky shore. They stood as silent sentinels to guard against a treacherous shoreline; friendly beacons that would light a dark night and guide ships to safety.

I love the imagery of a lighthouse; a guiding light when all around is dark. Often in life I feel like I'm on a boat in the middle of a stormy ocean. Surrounded by boisterous waves, it's hard to take my eyes off the frightening depths beneath me. But when I remember to look up, it's then that I can see the brilliance of the lighthouse, and I know that I will live if I follow it's shining beacon.

There are numerous examples in the scriptures of times when salvation came from looking up. In Numbers, we read the account of the Israelites as they are journeying through Canaan. They complain, again, about not having bread or water and so "the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." (21:6) The children of Israel were sinning against the Lord and suffered the consequences of their disobedience. But because the people began to repent, "the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (21:8-9)

The Lord has compassion on his children. He knows that we will make mistakes. And so He has prepared a way for us to be healed from sin in our lives through the Atonement of His Son. Repentance can be as healing for us as looking to the brass serpent was for the Israelites. But we read in 1 Nephi 17:41 "He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look ; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished."

All that was required was to look! But because of the easiness of the way, many would not look and perished. How often do I refuse to look to my Savior because of pride, stubborness, or doubt. If we can believe that we will be healed by looking, why not look? Nephi taught, "And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come. And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal." (Helaman 8:14-15)

Another Nephi taught, "And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them...I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved." (2 Nephi 25:20)

If we can look up at our Savior, and exert our faith in repentance, then He will exercise His atoning power to heal us from the sins and afflictions that are keeping us from being whole. The Savior's life was set as an example for us to look to; to know how to live to return to our Father in Heaven.

In the vision of the Tree of Life, the angel repeated told Nephi to "Look!", and Nephi "looked and beheld" the tree of life, the Lamb of God and Christ's mission upon the earth, the iron rod, and the sacrifice of the Savior for our sins. Because Nephi looked, he beheld and understood how Christ could help us gain eternal life.

When Christ came to the Americas after His resurrection, the people were gathered at the temple in Bountiful. It is recorded, "And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven...And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they understood it not. And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.

"And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name- hear ye him. And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven...and he came down and stood in the midst of them." (3 Nephi 11:3-8)

The people listened and when they understood the voice, they cast their eyes up towards heaven. Once we can understand the Spirit that prompts us to look to our Redeemer for life, we too can look up and behold the marvelous healing power of the Savior.

In the middle of a tumultuous ocean storm, a lighthouse can break through the darkness and bring a vessel safely to harbor. Likewise, in life there are times when it feels as though the darkness is all encompassing, everlasting, and unrelenting. But if we can lift our eyes from the depths of our sorrows and pain, we too can see the light of our Savior illuminating for us the way back to His light.

My testimony echoes the words of John: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:14-17)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Light of The World

When I was a child, I have a memory of going deep into a cave with my family. When we were sufficiently far enough in that we could no longer discern any light from the entrance, my father had us turn off the flashlights we were using. The result was instant darkness. I held up my hand, inches from my face, trying to see even a tiny bit but to no avail. The darkness was simply too engulfing, too complete. Of course, all we had to do was turn back on our flashlights and that light that seem so insignificant when we were first entering the cave was suddenly a bright, shining beacon in the dark.

Life is often like that cave from my childhood. We enter in, leaving the glowing sun without, and venture forth into the dark. At first the light from the cave entrance illuminates our path, but gradually it decreases until we find ourselves surrounded by utter blackness, unsure of how we arrived and hard pressed to find a way out. The despair of finding ourselves in this situation is often overwhelming and makes it difficult to believe that we will ever emerge from the darkness.

But though at times it's difficult to see, Heavenly Father has prepared a way for all to rediscover light in their lives. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to the world to be the light of the world. John 1:4-5 states, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Christ shines in the darkness as our beacon of hope; our sure way to emerge from whatever darkness is engulfing our lives and back into the light of God. John explains further, "[Christ] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." (1:9)

A familiar psalm expresses the belief "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalms 27:1) Whether it is fear, disappointment, grief, self-loathing, depression, anger, or any other malady that keeps us from seeking the light of Christ, He continues to plead with us to come unto Him. John records, "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

Sometimes, when I feel as though darkness has blinded my path and I can no longer see, I remember the story of the man born blind. For countless years, this man had lived in darkness with no hope of escape. Then Christ came, as recorded in John, and stated, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he (Christ) had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing." (John 9:5-7)

Christ can perform a similar miracle in each of our lives. He knows how to remove the blindness covering our eyes and hiding the light. He invites us each to wash/repent so that we too may come forth seeing. I love the imagery in Isaiah 9:2 "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Abinadi further declared, "He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death." (Mosiah 16:9)

But Heavenly Father will not force us to choose the light. He has given each person their agency and will not retract that gift. Like the serpent raised in the wilderness with the promise that he that looked would live, we each have the choice of whether or not we will seek for light in our lives. Samuel the Lamanite, in preaching to a wicked Nephite city asked, "How long will ye choose darkness rather than light?" (Helaman 13:29)

Sometimes it's hard to believe that even with the sins we have committed in the past, God would still want us. We are afraid that if we turn to the light, we will be rejected and found unworthy. But then I remember the story of Alma the Younger. He went about actively trying to destroy the church of God. He committed many sins and led others down the paths of wickedness as well. But Alma was confronted by an angel who caused him to review his life and the path he was taking. Alma states, "I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell... And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul." (Alma 36:12-13, 16)

But God showed mercy even to this man who had committed so many sins against him. Alma continues, "And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. 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." (Alma 36:17-21)

If God can heal even a man such as Alma and bring light back into his life, then surely he can do the same for each of us. One of my favorite songs when I'm feeing low contains these verses:

Never doubt His goodness.
Don't believe that it's too late.
He sees your every struggle,
and He knows the trials you face.
Feel His warmth around you.
See His arms are open wide.
Know that He stands ready,
when you start to change your life...
Follow and believe Him.
Put your trust in Him again.
Change your heart forever.
Let the miracle begin.

The light of Christ is a miracle in each life. D&C 88:67 states, "And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be fill with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things."

D&C 88:11-13 states, "And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space- The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things."

Just as turning on a flashlight instantly brought light to me in a dark cave, the light of Christ can and will light the life of each person that turns to Him. And I know that by following that light, we can all come back into everlasting light in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

He Is Risen

Since tomorrow is Easter, I've been pondering on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus The Christ. I could not begin to recount the ways in which Christ has affected my life and the lives all of who have lived or ever will live. I echo John's words, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25)

I cannot add much to the scriptures, the revelations, the numerous books, and the continuing testimony of the prophets that already preach and testify of Christ. I can only encourage anyone seeking for truth to look to the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, for it truly testifies of Christ. Believe the words of the living prophets and apostles; they are special witnesses of Christ and have been given power and authority in this time to testify of the reality of a living Savior who gave His life and then took it up again in order to redeem the world.

All I have to give is my testimony of a personal Savior. I know He knows me, cares for me, and wants me to return to His presense to live with Him and my Father in Heaven again. I know that through following His teachings, I can have joy and peace in this life. I echo Peter who, when asked by the Savior if he would continue following him, said "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." (John 6:68-69) I know that Jesus is that Christ, the only one who had power to perform the great and last sacrifice that would satisfy the demands of justice and encircle me in the arms of safety. (See Alma 34:9-16)

Joseph Smith testified, "And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father- That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God." (D&C 76:22-24) I have a testimony that Joseph spoke the truth. That the true church on the earth today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I know that Jesus Christ is the head of our church and that He has given the priesthood authority to our leaders today.

I know He lives. I know that He atoned for my sins, was crucified, and rose again that Easter morn. He overcame the pains, afflictions, and sins of man. He overcame the bands of death. I know that He did this for me. Christ's ministry was for the one. I know He knows me personally, and He knows each of us personally. He gave His life for me so I could return to live with Him again. This is why I celebrate the Easter season- He has given me hope, peace, and love. He is the author and finisher of my faith, and the reason for the hope that is in me.

I cry every time I read the words of the angels, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen." (Luke 24:5-6) I add my testimony to that statement and testify He is risen, and He is the Savior of the world.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How Firm A Foundation

I know it's a Christmas picture, but I just love the Salt Lake Temple. I'm always humbled to think about how much was sacrificed to erect this magnificent edifice. It's beautiful both outside and in. It stands as a beacon; a shining testimony of the truth held dear by Pioneer Saints of the importance of temples and the work done therein. The part of the temple not seen, however, is my favorite story to hear.

The account is given of how the Saints intially built the foundation of this structure using sandstone. They completed the foundation only to have to bury it for fear of the US Army coming through the valley. Once they uncovered the foundation, they were disheartened to realize that the stones they had worked to lay for years had cracked. The wrenching decision was reached to remove the sandstone foundation and replace it with granite. The effort took years, but was worth it as the granite foundation has held up the temple that has become a symbol of faith for millions. The Saints knew that only a sure foundation would be able to hold the weight of the temple. It had to be built carefully, one stone at a time. It had to be exact, so that the pressures it was under would not cause it to collapse.

Our spiritual foundations are just as crucial in supporting us through the pressures and trials we face, as the physical foundations are in supporting buildings like the Salt Lake Temple. Recently I've experienced a trial in my life that has given me pause and caused me to honestly examine my foundation of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. How have I built my foundation? On whom does it rest? And is it really strong enough to withstand the pressures in my life?

A scripture came to mind of an account Christ gave of the wise and the foolish man in Matthew 7:24-27. He states "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house: and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

When I am afflicted with the rains, and the floods, and the winds of life I know that I can withstand, because I have built my foundation on the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have faith in my Savior, in God's plan, and in His ability to help me stand firm in times of trial. If I hold true and faithful to the covenants that are my foundation, then I know I can weather life's storms. This doesn't mean that the storms won't come. In fact, I think the winds, the floods, and the rains try harder to tear down those houses that are built upon the rock. But if we have built ourselves up as carefully as the Saints did in laying the granite foundation for the Salt Lake Temple, then our foundations will be sure, solid, inmovable, and able to withstand the tempest.

In the Book of Mormon, Jacob teaches the Nephities, "This stone (meaning Christ) shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the [we] can build." (Jacob 4:16) Later, Helaman exhorts his sons, "Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." (Helaman 5:12)

As we carefully lay the foundations of our faith in Christ, as we keep His covenants and obey His laws, He has promised that we cannot fall. When we're beaten down, we will be there to lift us up again, to strengthen our feeble knees, and keep us on the path to eternal life.

It is foolish to believe, however, that we don't need to take care in building our foundation. Haphazard efforts in laying our spiritual cornerstones would be as ludicrous as thinking that throwing stones into a trench would create a solid base for a building. Firming our foundations takes precision, effort, and time. But once laid, it becomes our anchor in the storm.

One of the greatest examples to me of a firm foundation is Captain Moroni. The scriptures state, "He was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ...Yea verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men." (Alma 48:13,17) What a character statement! If we could be like Moroni, firm in the faith of Christ, what a difference it would make in our lives. How crucial it is to build our foundation firmly on the gosepl of Christ. Only then will we "be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)

In the hymn "How Firm A Foundation" it reads,

"How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for yor faith in his excellent word!
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am they God and will still give aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake!

God will never forsake us in our times of need if we build our foundation of trust on Him. Though He won't stop the storms from coming, if we are firm in our faith He will enable us to weather whatever trials may come. When the tempest is raging, He will always be there to calm the winds and the waves. And I know that because my foundation is built upon Christ, I will always be able to stand.