10 December 2008

So THERE you are Paradox!

So I had this really nice post planned in which I would implore any and all who have not done so to watch I Am Legend. Besides inspiring my lovely and newest obsession with Bob Marley, the religious context is right on! I love a good dystopia any day, and the fact that it weaves religious elements into the mix has always been appealing to me. The vampire/zombies also prove to be highly appropriate because it's finals and/or flu season here at the Y, so naturally we all feel like we're sick and/or dying.

However, it was impossible for me to discuss the religious elements of the movie without giving away the whole plot. Seeing as I'm not willing to do that (which should be a REAL indication to you of my profound respect for this movie), I will simply demand that you watch it, and that's all you get. (And should you leave the experience thinking, as one seminary teacher does, that the movie is "nothing special," I suggest you brush up on your ability to recognize a Christ figure, realize that I AM Legend is a significant title, and watch it again.)

Not that we give much heed to the opinion of seminary teachers around here anyway. (Try not to take offense just yet. I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.)

One of my favorite elements about I Am Legend, however, was the intertextuality of Bob Marley's music. The only songs that come up in relation to the movie are Redemption Song and Three Little Birds, but I've since explored many others, and was surprised at what I found.

Bob Marley uses a lot of Biblical allusions in his music. He even manages a direct connection to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nago in Survival. For some reason, every time I tell someone about that around here, the first thing he or she says is "I don't even think there's a Primary Song about that." I kid you not, this was not only one of my initial reactions, it has been the statement of at least 3 or 4 people at this point. I'm not sure why.

One of the RAs I was eating dinner with last night asked, "Didn't he worship weed?"

I didn't know. I told him that I knew he was a Rastafarian, but that I wasn't sure what that means.

One of my friends made a pointed comment about Bob Marley's hygiene, and whether or not the presence of the "37 different kinds of critters living in his hair" outweighed his message; a comment I promptly ignored.

When I came back to my room, I decided to explore both Bob Marley's life and the Rastafarian movement while I was studying my Book of Mormon quotes via electronic flashcards, and listening to "Jamming." Apparently, it's a Rastafarian tradition to use "herb" as a spiritual conduit to a higher state of thinking and spirituality. It appears to have been an optional practice.

What appears to have not been so optional was the Rastafarian's belief in the Bible. According to Haile Selassie, the king of Ethiopia and leader of the Rastafarian movement, "unless [man] accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great Message, he cannot hope for salvation." Having listened to much of Bob Marley's music, that belief is the bulk of his message; as is his faith in Jah, the Rastafarian's name for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the trinitarian sense.

While Rastafari concepts expand into beliefs that deviate from my own (belief that Haile Selassie is an incarnation of God, that Jesus was a black man, among others) I see no reason to focus on those differences, especially when they relate to something as inconsequential as Bob Marley's dreadlocks. And I'm sure that when I put something like this into words, it looks really stupid when you read it. But I really have to wonder how often I am guilty of the same thing? Passing a completely irrational judgment of something I don't understand, thereby interfering with my ability to take away a really valuable message. I detest when people do this, and yet I know I'm just as guilty of doing it as anyone else.

Which is why I'm not surprised that for several weeks now, I've been reconciling with one of my worst prejudices--the one I have against seminary teachers.

I was watching one of the devotionals a couple of weeks ago that we have every Tuesday, and it was on the subject of spiritual education in the Church. It was so impressive to hear about the sacrifices that men and women have made throughout the Church's history to provide for the spiritual knowledge of its members--especially its youth. Hearing about Brigham Young Academy (the precursor of Brigham Young University) and its rich history alone was such an eye-opening experience. The devotional then mentioned an exhibit on campus that I visited soon afterwards.

As I meandered my way among the tales of sacrifice that have gone into educating the saints, I came to a very personal realization--one that felt as if all of the disconnected pieces of my life were suddenly falling into place.  My talents, my interests, my patriarchal blessing, my place in my life right now--all of it suddenly aligned in to reveal an image of something both remarkable and unexpected.

I want to be a religion teacher. I want to be able to do what my Book of Mormon professor has done for me by challenging me to become acquainted with the scriptures on a very personal level. I would love to one day be qualified to teach at BYU, preserving the sacred history of ancient scriptures to the rising generations. Learning from the scriptures has brought me such joy, and I've missed teaching so much. The idea of combining those two loves into the mission of my future has already buried itself deep into my heart as a dream I can't wait to start pursuing.

Imagine my apprehension when I went to my Book of Mormon professor's office to speak to his TA's about my options from this point--and they told me that I should go and look into the seminary teaching program across the hall.

Seminary teaching? You mean those pompous old men that manage to be condescending while at the same time assuming you've heard everything they're saying since the womb? What a way to find oneself in the belly of the beast.

And yet, it's an appealing option. I would be teaching in a classroom setting by my sophomore and junior years. I could finish my degree and actually have some prospects. It would be a lot like a mission, since there are so few positions I would go wherever I'm sent. Still, I was rather tentative to accept it as an option, and sure enough a hindrance presented itself before very long.

Should I ever have children, I would be expected to resign from my position and stay in the home with them. Every fiber of my east coast being instantly resisted this idea, and yet I knew I had to control my thinking. I have no concept of what it will be like to be a mother. If the Lord would challenge me to sacrifice my own professional interests for the sake of my family, it truly must be THAT important.

But I should not assume that I'll even be presented with the opportunity to marry in this life. Sometimes it just doesn't work out, and I will need to provide for myself should that occur--especially in a career where I would be satisfied with my work.

I see no reason not to proceed, and I do so with a destination in mind. It will require a lot of preparation; I have thousands of pages of scripture to become acquainted with in a VERY short period of time. I have personal biases and an overabundance of my own ignorance to transform into something usable... and a strong desire to meet the challenge that has been set before me:

"Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand."
Doctrine and Covenants 88: 78

01 November 2008

Transformation

Dress for Preference, the fall semi-formal - $0

White shirt to go under Dress for Preference - $0

Black and white shoes that not only go with Dress for Preference, but are perfect in every way and therefore must be shown to everyone who will come and see them - $24.99

Pearl necklace and Victorian locket paired set that tie the whole thing together - $7.99




Realizing that the transformation from feminist to feminine took place some time last week - Priceless.

09 October 2008

Life is Good


I just took my first college midterm. You know a good midterm by whether or not you leave with more questions than you answered. Mine mostly involve whether or not "creative answers" will merit any extra credit. So far, I've never been that lucky, but who knows. Maybe this time it'll actually work.

Unlike Socrates, I cannot admit ignorance when I don't know something. I usually just try to make something up. Which is why I could never be a doctor, or a diplomat, or a nuclear engineer. No... I'm pretty much stuck being a writer. Upon my entrance at college, I see now that I'm not very well suited for anything else.

And for some reason, I have neglected to share these until now: Just about everything for our classes is on an online database called Blackboard. This includes the capability to e-mail all of the students in any of your given classes asking them questions like, "What did I miss in class on Friday?" or "Where are the lab groups meeting tomorrow?" But you also get a lot of junk from TA's canceling their office hours and making random announcements to the class. This is one such e-mail from a TA for our Book of Mormon class:

"In order to help stay as orginized as possible and to more readily help each of you, please include which course you are enrolled in with any email. This can be done by giving the course number or the day and time that we meet. Thank you for your help."

It was followed soon after by this message that I have no problem believing came directly from our professor, as busy as he is:

"An email sent previously by a religion T.A. contained a typographical error in the spelling of 'organized.' We apologize for the error."

Life is good :)

27 September 2008

Sapphires in September

How do I describe the torment that has privately racked my soul for so long—finally purged from me in a moment so exalted, I fear I shall never know this lack of feeling ever again?

I feel no burning in my bosom, no radiance of any kind to confirm that what I have done is the beginning of anything significant. I desire none. For once, within me is perfect stillness—and if I close my eyes, I can see to the core of my soul with perfect clarity. Beyond anger, beneath grief, and buried under years of hatred is a solitaire of Mercy—my most precious gift. My tragedy.

I can see it so clearly—my parting promise given to me in a more celestial sphere. My brother, the Prince of peace and broken pieces, embraced me for the last time to the sound of worlds colliding in my breast to form a single perfect gem. He knew that dusty flesh alone could not suffice for suffering. And in this moment of ultimate sacrifice, I knew I needed to have that piece of Heaven closer to me more than I ever had before.

And so I surrendered beautifully, placing myself upon the altar. I closed my eyes to the knife in His hand and pleaded silently.

“Do it.”

And for the first time, I felt gentle hands embracing my world. With inspired calmness, I picked out the envelope I would use to invite His miracle. I wrote my father’s name and felt no pounding in my ears. My mind was blank of my father’s voice, empty of his face, and devoid of fear both of him and for him as I wrote my name above the return address. I did not pause as I opened my purse and took out my pocket-sized Book of Mormon—my liahona, my iron rod, the rock of my salvation. My greatest treasure. A gift I had given myself for surviving my hellish odyssey to Utah—for the faith that carried me over a thousand miles and at least a dozen states—of mind and lines alike.

Everything I had and ever would trust—and it fit into the palm of my hand.

I did not pause to consider any of my own feelings as I unceremoniously jammed life and letter into an envelope and paid a stranger (my receipt says his name is Ryan) two dollars and thirty-three cents to send it to my grandmother. A note printed carefully on the back instructs, “Please be sure that he gets this.” As the only one who bothered to teach me about God as a child, I have to trust that she will listen to Him.

The preparations had been made, and so I folded my arms and said the prayer that would begin the transformation I had been avoiding for years. The crowds of people surrounding me seemed to disappear as I ascended the stairs.


Please open his heart. May he no longer resist what he should have been all along. Please let this work so I never have to go through this again.

And for the first time, every part of me became a sacrifice. I felt the firm tugging and pulling against my heart strings as His tender hands began to work their wonders deep into my soul. Somewhere between the bookstore and my dormitory, the anesthesia wore off and I felt the jarring forces grinding against my understanding until I was gasping for air. I wanted to hide, but I could not escape what had been so permanently done to me. For me.

Hunched against a washing machine in the basement of Hinckley Hall, I pled for guidance from tissue paper revelations bound in burgundy; opened to a random page...

...and winced when I saw that the passage in 3 Nephi was taken from Isaiah. How could I understand conundrums and fortune cookie language at a time like this?

Then I recognized the chapter, and I could barely read for blind and breathless awe.

These tears are the only sacrament that matters to me right now—a baptism of a different kind. A sacrifice without blood. Atonement without crosses. Shred of Mercy in a clenched hand. As I opened my eyes, the sacrifice complete, tears cascading freely down my face, I beheld the jewels of prophecy that had been promised me for so long…


O thou afflicted…Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

11 September 2008

Life as an Elder Holland Groupie

I came to Brigham Young University for countless reasons. One of them was to learn the things I need to know to be a better person--things they don't teach you in any other school. This past Sunday, I was given an opportunity that was nothing short of remarkable from beginning to end. I not only went to a fireside hosted by an apostle of the Lord, I was not only in the same room with a man for whom I have the deepest respect, and not only was my even being there an answer to a very simple prayer; I was sitting about ten feet away from Jeffrey R. Holland. I took pictures of this apostle, whose guidance has been essential to building my testimony, with my camera phone!




I left for the Marriott Center an hour and a half early, and I wasn't the first person to arrive. My only regret is that upon discovering that I was allowed to sit in the floor seats right in front of the pulpit, I wasn't bold enough to go to the better seats. It just felt wrong somehow. I allowed myself the privilege to sit in the third row--no closer. I pulled out my Book of Mormon and tried to catch up on my homework. But in all honestly, I've never liked homework so much. My Book of Mormon professor has given me a tall order, but a good one. Read from 1 Nephi to Alma 29 in two weeks. I remember getting very nervous about whether I would be able to keep up and understand so much in so little time. But like the gift of tongues to a missionary, the gift of learning with which I have been blessed has served me so immediately, inexplicably, and constantly that I scarce can believe what I am seeing. A book that I have been reading for almost a year, that I haven't finished, that I stopped reading because I COULDN'T understand it... and I've re-read and understood so much that I missed the first time.

As I waited for the fireside to begin, I marveled at this latest spiritual wonder in my life, completely unaware of the evening that was still ahead of me.

I read to myself silently as the Marriott Center filled slowly but surely. The quiet murmurings became open conversations became shouting matches as people fought to be heard over the people next to them. But it all sounded like a dull roar to me from where I was sitting. I ignored them all and focused on my reading.

But no one fails to notice when they all suddenly hush and practically jump to their feet in a single, collective swoosh.

I snapped my book shut and stood--with awe and breathless wonder--when Elder Holland entered the room, joined at his side by his lovely wife Patricia. Even as people took their seats again and more leaders filled into the stands, I didn't take my eyes off of this, the Lord's apostle. He seemed so deep in thought, and I wondered to myself what he could be thinking about that could create the facial expression he was wearing.

I wasn't left to wonder for very long because the meeting began. And after QUITE an introduction to his many accomplishments, so did Elder Holland's instruction.

I won't try to describe it. I encourage you to listen to it for yourself! There's a reason he's my favorite speaker out of all of the apostles. The hour you will spend listening to this is not an hour wasted, at all.

By the end of the meeting, I was in tears for reasons that I felt, but also couldn't understand right away. I thought of The Patient One and how much I heard seemed to be speaking to me about him, especially the line where Elder Holland so adamantly states that Heavenly Father keeps all of His promises to His children. I thought of how much I have seen in my short life, and how much better I could have handled all of it had I known these simple, yet POWERFUL truths about turning Liberty Jails into Temples. I thought of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and my love for him and all he did to pave the way for us in these latter-days. My admiration for him was already grounded but it has deepened significantly, as has the rest of my testimony since I've been in Utah. And Elder Holland's beautiful teachings on the nature of the Godhead, so simple that I can't believe I ever didn't know them, have given me even more to embrace every day about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As always, I draw closer to God when I listen to the guidance of this learned and respected apostle of the Lord, and have a firm testimony of the priesthood he holds.

As instructed, I read Doctrine &Covenants 121, 122, and 123. They put the task of this last dispensation into a clearer perspective to me than I've previously had on Opposition. We are fighting a literal war of the spirit every day on this earth. Satan and his minions are very real, and doing everything in their power to bind us and hinder us from doing that which is righteous and coming to know the true nature of our Heavenly Parents. I knew this before, and after reading these sections I am reminded that there is a way--a very Christian way--in which we are to respond to the challenges posed to us by men who would try to intimidate and belittle us.

We must tell their story, and never stop telling it. This is not the same as holding a grudge, or denying the perpetrators the forgiveness that we have been commanded to offer all men. Rather, the preservation of history must include transgressions and hardships endured because of ignorance and oppression. Only then can hatred be captured, studied, slowly transformed, then finally shared with those who must go forth knowing better than we knew. Only through this process of active learning do we truly ever begin to see the influence we have over that despicable power in the universe. Only through this process do we not only approach perfection of self, but reach into the lives of our posterity and bless them with all we have learned. These are our responsibilities in this life, and we cannot forget them or fail to know of them.

As always, I testify of the wisdom of these inspired men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are instructed and guided of the Lord to teach us deep and eternal truths that I have found in no other place. We receive guidance not only on provident living that is unique to what we do as Latter-day Saints, but we are blessed with increased understanding of that which has confounded Christendom for thousands of years. How blessed are we not to have to wonder anymore! Blessed are we for the truth that heals, and brings us to godly sorrow. I see now that the deep, powerful feelings that brought me to tears during this meeting were those of godly sorrow that bring men unto repentance. And because of that most fulfilling experience, I can honestly say I walked out of the Marriott Center a better person than I was when I went in. THAT is the kind of Christianity I've tried to realize in myself; one that constantly moves as I move, where Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are active forces in my life that truly inspire me to do even MORE than all things within my power.

I pray that all who seek a relationship with Heavenly Father find, at least once, the joy that I've felt since coming into this Church. I am convinced that life is much too short, and also much too long, NOT to have what I've found since I've put the Almighty at the center of everything I do. I say this not in praise of my own efforts, but out of the deepest reverence for His power to change EVERYTHING about my life. And I would not choose to go back for any price.

I leave these thoughts with you in peace and love in the name of Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the Almighty. Amen.

23 August 2008

Exodus: The Miracle

I've been in Utah just over a week now, and my vacation time with The Patient One's family is rapidly coming to an end. I have enjoyed my time with them so much. They have really helped to make Utah feel like home, and I'll always be greatful for that.

Since I've been here, I've already seen so much. The first Sunday I was here, The Patient One's mother took me and some of our visiting friends to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I had never been to the Conference Center before, or seen Music and the Spoken Word, and it was nothing short of breath-taking. My eyes lit up the second I saw the organ. That little graphic on the front of the hymn books does NOT do it justice, let me tell you. I'm STILL fuming at my cell phone for being dead because I couldn't take pictures.

My first church meeting in Utah was rather odd, for reasons I can't quite articulate. Probably because I was the youngest person in Relief Society AND Sunday School, and I'm not used to having those meetings come first OR being completely silent in them either. And while I learned much from the lessons that I tried to take with me, I don't think anything they could have said would have prepared me for what I realized was coming the second I saw The Patient One again.

Have you ever wanted to tell someone something so badly that the thought of not saying it brings you to tears? Have you ever had the bizarre experience of having absolutely no idea what it is you want to say, only that you need to say it? You try not to bring it up because you've already made attempts to express the inexpressable, and you can't imagine what else you could possibly say. And meanwhile, you honestly feel like you're losing it. The littlest things force you to excuse yourself to hide in a bathroom, or a closet, or even in food storage just so you can regain your composure... little things like the smell of his cologne, the sound of his voice from across the house, the way he hugs his little sister for no apparent reason, or how peaceful he looks when he closes his eyes to pray. And then of course there's missing him when he's sitting right next to you.

So I did what any well-trained Young Woman would do. I prayed and read my scriptures to find some semblance of guidance for how to approach The Patient One about what has been left unsaid between us. Surely there's SOMETHING in the owner's manual about this kind of thing.

I pulled out my quad, plopped it open to a random place and started reading. Isaiah 27. Shivers ran down my spine. 27 is a HUGE number in my life. My confirmation date, the date of dorm check in, The Patient One's birthday, my favorite hymn, my favorite psalm, my favorite Shakespearean sonnet, and now the latest piece of guidance to my troubled mind. (I don't consider myself superstitious, but I know when to shut up and listen.)
1 In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
2 In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
3 I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
4 Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.
5 Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
 I read these verses through tears because I wanted so desperately to believe that they are true. I wanted to believe that The Patient One, the most important person in my life, will receive the answers and guidance he needs and deserves... an affirmation that Heavenly Father has not foresaken him, or abandoned any of the promises He made with him. I wanted reassurance that Satan would not go unpunished for what he has done to my dearest friend. I wanted guidance to know that encouraging him to seek answers in the Church wouldn't result only in more heartache for the both of us.

So I took these verses for the promises they held, and I put them in my heart. I had something to hold onto as I prepared to re-approach a subject with The Patient One that has continued to weigh heavily on my mind as a task given by Heavenly Father that I was unable to meet: getting him to speak about his secret struggle to his Bishop.

So with the help of his sister, we spoke to him about our concerns for him. He took it all in silently, staring ahead blankly without saying much at all. Only when we begged him to speak did he finally utter anything at all. He finally confessed that he felt no urgency to speak to the Bishop. He said that if these feelings are from God, there's nothing the Church can do anyway; and if they're from Satan, God has been content to allow it all to happen anyway, so what difference does it make?

With all of the seriousness and sincerity I could muster, I told him--without even thinking--that wasn't true and pleaded with him not to let Satan lie to him like that. I reminded him that I knew what it felt like to hate God for abandoning me to parents that have done horrible things to me... to want answers, justification for what I faced, and not to receive it until years later. But I testified to him that I knew God had sustained me through all of what I had faced, and He never forgot or abandoned me.

"God will never forget the promises that He makes to any of us," I said, "that's why I'm here right now."

As soon as I finished, I knew two things; the first being the truth of my words, the second being the fact that they weren't mine to claim.

And in his usual fashion, The Patient One said nothing.

I've experienced things in my life that have made me so angry I've wanted to hurt other people, and I've experienced sadness so complete I've wanted to hurt myself just to make it end--but the feelings I had in that moment surpassed both of them to become something I may never understand. I was instantly so drained, I couldn't hold myself up anymore. My forehead rested against his shoulder for several minutes before I could lift it again.

After all this time and everything we've shared, even when I'm sitting right next to him BEGGING him to speak to me, he still holds me and the entire world at a distance.

His sister said some things about his going to see the Bishop, but I didn't hear most of it... only the silence roaring in my ears of all the things he wasn't saying.

Eventually he sighed and said it was time for us to go to bed, but I would have none of it. Not until I was sure we were getting through this time. I asked him to pray with us.

He resisted at first, and he and I went back and forth briefly about who was more tired and therefore shouldn't  have to say the prayer. Then I told him, "I'm not getting into a pissing contest with you about this, now say the dang prayer." I wasn't proud of that, but I knew he needed to do this, and I would have stood on the table and screamed "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN," if it would have accomplished something.

And naturally he was somewhat grudging in the beginning. I don't remember most of what he said because it was very late, but I remember the tone of his voice. It started out hard and rigid, but eventually it softened, and by the time he finished I heard peace in his voice. I thanked God from the core of my soul for even this small blessing because there was so much more I wish I could have given him, but I knew this was only the beginning.

I hugged them both goodnight, lingered at the bottom of the stairs, then finally went upstairs to the guest room where I said more prayers, then finally collapsed into sleep.

Soon after that experience, we took the bus together from his house to the BYU campus--the first time I had ever seen it for myself. We left at about 6:30 am, and for a while it was really easy to be around him because we were so preoccupied with figuring out where we were supposed to go. While we were waiting for one of the other buses, we actually got to watch the sun rise. I tried not to find any romance in it, but that was pretty futile. By the time we hit I-15, I had given up on trying to hold my ground and slumped my head onto his shoulder. He seemed completely oblivious, but I know him better than that.

After getting off at the Wilk, we basically wandered around until we finally figured out where I was supposed to go for my job interview--after which, I was hired on the spot. I picked up my student ID card and tried to finish the paperwork for my employment, but wasn't able to. We headed over to the library to look up an address for a credit union that I needed. Then we went and had lunch, and I had to fight with him for several minutes to eat the other half of the pizza that I didn't want because I knew he was hungy, only to have him say it would have been better hot. *FACEPALM*

It was all very rushed, which made being alone with him much easier.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. On the bus ride home--which took a very long time--we listened to his iPod. Big mistake on my part. I'm a firm believer that you can learn a lot about someone by the books on their shelves and the music on their MP3 player. In his case, it remains true. It got to the point where I began to weep silently next to him. I know for a fact that he didn't notice.

So when we came to an intersection and he said it would be quicker for us to walk the rest of the way, I took the chance to throw my energy into movement and to put my mind on other things. It took a few minutes for me to recollect myself, but we had plenty of time. It turned out to be a 4 mile walk in the desert heat at the hottest point of the day. Fortunately we had plenty of water. Never listen to someone about a walking distance if he has ever done Cross Country. They have no concept of distance anymore.

He seemed to understand that I was very frustrated, so perhaps it was a mistake on my part to break the awkward silence by admitting that I wanted a gun. He asked if I was really that irritated with him. I said I wasn't mad at him, and he probably didn't believe me.

We made it home safely, and by then we were talking freely to each other again. There were so many things I felt like I wanted to say, but I had no idea what they even were, so I talked about everything else. That's how conversations tend to go with him because he's so content to live in his own little world, and only comes into contact with this one for things outside of himself.

Which is what makes what happened next such a miracle to me.

After praying and reading my scriptures many, many times as I sought guidance from the Spirit that I could understand, I repeatedly came across the commandment to fast. So I did. I started a 24 hour fast and kept to it strictly. I had no desire to eat, only to find answers for the questions that were burning inside of me all the time. How do I get him to go and see the Bishop like You commanded me? Is there hope for his future? What can I do? What should I say? And in that state of holiest hunger, I've more answers given to me in a way I have never experienced before, and never imagined could happen. But I was still afraid to press the issue more with the Patient One. I prayed for intervention.

And it happened in Sacrament Meeting.

His bishop dedicated the entire meeting to the youth. He had them speak about their many experiences from different camps and activities in which they had participated over the summer. Then he took the stand and praised them all endlessly--their strength to endure well in the gospel, to hold to their standards despite great temptation, and for the optimism they bring to everything they do. He marvelled at their courage for facing issues in these days that he, like President Monson, can scarcely imagine and he hopes they will always come to him with any problem they ever have.

It took every ounce of my self control NOT to jump off of the pew, grab his face, and scream, "SEE?! Now will you go?"

But he got the hint. He started inching over to the bishop's office after the meeting, but never made it to see him. But the fact that he is FINALLY willing makes my heart swell with joy and testifies to me that Heavenly Father hears our prayers, cares about our fasts, and fulfills the promises He makes to His children.

Funny how He only tries to teach us what we should already know anyway, huh?

16 August 2008

Exodus: The Flight

People have always called me a pioneer for being a convert, and I've always questioned whether or not I deserve to be compared with people who made so many more sacrifices, and lost so much more than I ever did. But now that I've made my cross country journey, I can appreciate their analogy a little more.

My flight to Atlanta was both short and mildly uneventful. The most interesting part of the flight was sitting next to a mother-to-be that I had pleasant conversations with. It was her first time on a plane, and she was worried about many things--knowing where to go when she landed, wearing the seat belt in her condition, seeing her family again after so long--and I tried to reassure her in any way that I could. I talked to her about her daughter-to-be (Jillian Marie), and we fawned over her beautiful little life in a way that only women can. When there was a break in the conversation, I prayed for little Jillian and her mother. And as I looked around me, I felt the need to include other nameless strangers in my prayers. The military men and women that all seemed to be wearing the same inordinate expression; a mixture between muted interest in their surroundings, and a stoic worry masked only by a disciplined face. I prayed for their strength and well-being because I've met enough members of the military to know that they all need prayers.

I prayed for people I didn't even know, despite my non-affinity for Ms. America prayers (you know the type-- Dear God, please feed the hungry, let everyone have peace and happiness, etc.) because it felt right, and it meant something to me that day. I guess there really is a time and place for everything.

We landed in Atlanta, and with my 50 pounds of books and an overstuffed laptop case, I waddled awkwardly down the narrow aisle and stepped into the Atlanta airport for the first time in 2 years. And wouldn't you know it, some things never, ever change.

Swarms of people wandering around confused and unaware of where they're going, cutting people short as they wander into Burger King and other such stores on the other side of the corridor--completely unaware of the fact that they literally almost made me drop everything I'm carrying and fall flat on my face. You wouldn't believe how many times this happened. (Note to readership: Look where you're going when you're walking, and don't cut in front of someone if they're already walking faster than you are. Especially if they're carrying something that is close to half their body weight. Chances are, they care more about where they're going than you do for your need to stop and search, ponder, and pray about whether you want Subway or Chick-fil-A!)

And of course, leave it to Atlanta to not only to put the Salt Lake flight in a terminal on the other side of nowhere, but to then CHANGE the terminal to the OTHER other side of nowhere.

Then delay said flight.

Then, after finally boarding said passengers ONTO said flight, return them all to the airport because SOMEONE forgot to shut one of the doors on the plane.

I kid you not people. It was a LONG. ARSE. DAY.

But once we were in the air headed to Salt Lake City, it was just a matter of time before I would be in the place I've dreamed about my whole life--the place I would leave Maryland for. The place I would finally call "home."

I took pictures out the window with my cell phone, watched the second Tomb Raider movie on my laptop, played Free cell, noted changes in the geography below me, anything I could to pass the time. Eventually I got tired enough to start nodding off, so I drank something caffeinated (Coke people, relax!) and spent the rest of the flight ignoring the in-flight movie and staring out the window. I mean, nothing I brought with me to do even began to compare with the God's-eye-view of my country I had through my little window. I didn't want to miss a thing.

And then, for the first time, I saw desert. Green patches finally gave way to sparse shades of brown. Brilliant reds Crayola has yet to name and mass produce painted the earth below as the terrain became more jagged and barren.

Are these mountains? Are they so big that I can't see them? How will I know when we get to them?

Then we got to them.

Colossal peaks jutting into the sky, daring me for a second to ever forget them as long as I live, let alone describe them. I cannot do them justice... not yet anyway.

And as our flight started drawing to a close, the mountains seemed to get bigger and all the more inspiring. And as soon as I saw the Y on the side of that mountain, I knew where I was.

I had no words. I just got really excited and tried not to cry.

I began to count the chapels and temples that I could already see from my place below the clouds. I saw parts of the BYU campus that I already recognized (X marks the spot, or rather, the ASB). I noticed the way everything seemed to be cradled in the hands of the Salt Lake Valley, protected on every visible side by mountains, and I already felt safer than I ever have before.

I saw the Salt Lake Temple, and laughed at myself because it never occurred to me that it wasn't actually blue.

And finally, we touched down in this, my new world.

Finally made it, I sighed with relief.

They requested that those with connecting flights exit the craft first, which made no difference to me. As much as I love my books and don't regret a thing about bringing them out with me, I wasn't at all excited about picking them up again. Not when I could already feel the blisters forming on my shoulders.

But I had an entire city, my new home to explore. That was all that mattered to me.

So I made my way to the baggage claim and begged for my suitcase to be there... and nearly collapsed from exhaustion when I didn't see it anywhere. But thankfully, THANKFULLY, a brief trip to the baggage office proved that they had it on a shelf back there for WHATEVER reason.

(I'd make a joke about God calling ahead just to Job me one more time, but I don't want to invoke the punishment of another Delta flight.)

So with my 80 pounds of luggage, I wheeled myself slowly out to the passenger pick-up place and practically threw myself at the bench. It was really warm that day, so I was already sweating.

And yet... it didn't feel like I was. I lifted my hand to wipe my brow, but there really wasn't anything there. I took my hand and waved it in the air in front of me.

Nothing. No moisture. At all.

Heat without humidity. My first revelation in a land full of things just like it that I just don't understand yet.

But as The Patient One's mom pulled up in her white Yukon, I knew the worst was behind me. I picked up my bags and tossed them in the trunk like they weighed nothing at all because that's how it felt.

I did it... the words I lived for... the ones I love to say to myself even now, days later... and will never get tired of saying.

I did it... I did it... I DID IT!!!

14 August 2008

Exodus: The Departure

Getting to this beautiful place was nothing short of nightmarish. From the time I woke up to the time I was picked up from Salt Like International, it was just one crisis after another. And for someone who is as easily stressed as I am, I really began to wonder if I was going to make it.

My day was supposed to start at 5:30 AM because I was to meet my boss at the gas station with my mom so we could drive down to the airport together. We had to coordinate because of some logistics to pick up my boarding pass. And so I had a cell phone alarm set for 5:30 AM.

It decided to go off at 6 AM instead, and my mom wasn't even home from work yet anyway.

So with no possibility of a shower, I threw my clothes on, brushed my teeth, threw my hair into a ponytail and tried to take my luggage outside to meet my mother. It was extremely heavy and awkward to move, and I ran over my foot in the process.

We met my boss at the gas station at 6:30. I felt really bad that we were so late because I know what traffic is like down to their physical therapy clinics, and I knew she had early morning patients. I knew making her late was really going to mess with her morning, but I knew there wasn't anything I could do about it.

We finally got on the road and headed to BWI. By this point, the reality that I was leaving was full force. I wasn't sad. Or scared. Just nervous to trust that I wouldn't be making the trip back to my place in a few hours. I was simply nervous to trust my own luck and abilities to get me as far as I needed to go--but I couldn't think about that. I knew my mother's confidence was entirely wrapped up in my own. I had to be strong for her.

We got inside to check in and pick up my tickets, and the kiosk wasn't recognizing any of the information my boss was putting in. I began to panic, and almost started to cry. How could everything be going to pieces already?

Finally the information went through. We weighed my checked suitcase, and it was 20 pounds overweight. The fact that I had been attempting to smuggle my most treasured paperbacks was suddenly revealed. And out they came... including Fahrenheit 451, which I literally don't know how I will survive without. That book is where this restlessness in me, this need to find more--be more--actually started for me. But pieces of myself left in a big red bag that today, and I knew it was a different kind of tithing. I couldn't think about it in any other way.

I said goodbye to my boss, my second or third mother of sorts, and I began the trek to security with my mother. I was ready to go through, but she wasn't. So we sat in some chairs for about 15 minutes. I couldn't take my eyes off of security, so eventually my mom tried to let me go. She gave me a hug, and I felt her head get heavy on my shoulder.

"No! Don't! Do not cry, because if you cry I'm going to cry and I can't afford to cry right now. I'm going to do this because it's what I've always wanted... because that's what you taught me."

I don't remember what she said after that. Maybe she didn't say anything. I just remember looking back from the line for security, and seeing her standing there--and part of me wishing she would go home so I wouldn't have to see her be as sad and tired as she was. I could see it--she needed to sleep.

I got through security, lugging my book-stuffed carry-on and my jam packed laptop case as far as I could before taking short rests. Nothing had wheels, and I knew I was carrying somewhere between 50 and 70 pounds worth of my things. But there was no easier way. I had to keep moving.

I got to the gate for my flight to Atlanta, and sat next to a really nice older woman. She reminded me of Georgia--her chic, yet casual look complete with deep shades of purple paisleys and blue jeans brought back the feel of that Southern hospitality, and the taste of that peach tea I will never forget. It reminded me of home somehow, like Georgia always does. So when my mom called me, anxious for more reassurance, it was no surprise to me when this woman--a grandmother going to "spoil her grandson"--gave me a smile, a wink, and reassurance of my own that "mothers are always like that."

I smiled and exhaled deeply, and felt some measure of peace in knowing that she will always be my mother.

But as I boarded my flight to Atlanta, I knew that it was necessary in many ways to leave her behind. I knew I couldn't be their staple anymore. I prayed for this moment for my entire life, before I even knew anything about prayer, and it was time to go...

19 July 2008

Modern-day Pioneers: A Youth Talk

So picture this with me. The first counselor's daughter gets up and talks about her pioneer ancestors, and pioneer day, and how hard all the Saints worked to get to Utah. I'm sure it'll be great. Maybe it'll even have some funny stories to it. Who knows. She bears her testimony. I'm on the edge of my seat. She finishes. I get up, and try not to trip. It doesn't work. I try to pretend like no one saw it. The bishopric adjusts the podium as a formality, even though she's not that much taller than me. I arrange everything the way I like it on the podium, then look up and see everyone staring at me. And for half a second, I forget how to speak.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I get the shivers, and that's when I know to begin...


I want to begin with a question. What is a pioneer? I’ve considered this question carefully as I’ve thought about the answer I would share with you today. And as I’ve studied the lives of men and women I’ve admired, both inside and outside of the Church, I’ve noticed that they share one common element that defines them as pioneers—their willingness to face challenges larger themselves in order to find and know the truth about their lives and their world. In that way, we are all pioneers for making the necessary sacrifices to be in this room today, but I was asked to talk specifically about the experiences of converts and modern pioneers. So after modifying my perspective, I found myself asking a new question: What does it mean to be a pioneer today?

But first, consider with me Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee responsible for the persecution of countless Christians. He took Christian men and women and cast them into prison. He consented to the martyrdom of Stephen, and watched as this servant of the Lord was stoned to death. And in Acts 9, we read:

Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

The task of being a pioneer has not changed. Mankind has been fighting the same wars with himself and those around him for thousands of years, observable in the questions we ask ourselves every day. Think of the last time you faced a decision or a problem that seemed beyond your ability to handle. After, “Why me?” and variations of that question we use to communicate how helpless we feel, we eventually come to the point where we finally ask “What should I do now?” And it’s at that point we have the opportunity to become like Saul and the pioneers we celebrate today: the pioneers who made the decision to change their lives, forgive themselves for who were before and what they had done, and to listen to the Lord when He speaks to them. That was the decision that Saul had to make when he chose whether or not to obey the Lord’s instructions, and go into the city. It’s that decision in our every-day living that makes us pioneers.

8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.
13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

Imagine if you were Ananias. You’ve just been instructed by the Lord to help someone you know has hurt, killed, and imprisoned members of your Church. All around, this situation doesn’t look very good to Ananias based on everything he has ever seen and learned on his own. Do we ever question whether ALL men can be pioneers in their own lives? Do we hesitate when we see that Heavenly Father invests faith in someone else that we may doubt? Do we ever say of someone we know, “I cannot speak to him or her about the Church because he/she would NEVER accept the truth I have come to understand” and refuse to give that person a chance to prove us wrong?

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
21 But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

When Saul was doubted by those that knew of his past, he redoubled his efforts to teach others about Christ, improving his world and changing himself. And eventually, his name changed from Saul to Paul, and he became not just a disciple, but an Apostle for the Lord. And because of Paul, we have almost all of the New Testament, in the form of letters and teachings to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians; the Hebrews, Philippians, Thessalonians and Colossians. He was a great teacher, an essential pioneer in the hands of the Lord, and a great example to us in this day on how to be a more saintly society, a people of pioneers in body, mind, and spirit.

I have a great testimony of the changes that we take upon ourselves when we become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the fullest of our abilities. These changes we are making are essential to reach our fullest potential, and to achieve the greatest good.

I testify of the Word of Wisdom, and the changes it has allowed me to make in my own life. I did not always feel this way. Although my attraction to the Church was instantaneous, my willingness to be obedient was not. I drank coffee and tea, I had my ears pierced multiple times, I wanted tattoos, I ate what I wanted, wore clothes that did not get me much respect, and I viewed my body as something that I could use and abuse in any way I wished because it was mine. This I did, for many, many years and yet I saw no reason why I should change. I did not see how these sacrifices were connected to becoming a better person. But I knew the Church was true, and that meant ALL of the Church—every part—and to be a convert meant I was going to have to be a pioneer about this part too. And as I took each change, studied it, applied it to my life, and disciplined myself to seek the value in what I was being taught, I found the wisdom of the Almighty in every commandment. By obeying the Word of Wisdom, committing to the Law of Chastity, and challenging my perception of my body, I had to face appetites within myself that had always controlled me, and I learned I had the power to fight back. I learned that before I could make any other changes to my life, before I could even think of teaching the Gentiles like Saul, I had to stop acting like one of them because it wasn’t enough anymore.

But dealing with physical appetites is only the gateway to the challenges of becoming the kind of mental pioneer Church members have to be in these latter days. In order to be pioneers of mind, we take upon ourselves two essential tasks: the discipline of our thoughts, and the pursuit of knowledge. By the time we face our physical appetites, we discover that we must be aware of all of our thoughts all of the time in order to control them. We have been instructed by numberless prophets, apostles, local leaders, and brethren of all ages, from all ages, to beware of the things we put inside of our heads. We have been cautioned about our language, our music, our literature, and anything that engages our mind because of how difficult our thoughts are to control, and how permanent can be the damage to them. And we might think, “That’s easy for a bunch of old men to say. They were born into completely different circumstances than me. How could anyone so out of touch understand my pain?” I spoke to a member of the Church not long ago who said he was embarrassed to have to introduce his friends to our Church because it is led by a bunch of old, white men. But rather than judge him harshly, I decided to go out of my way to prove him wrong. I found something that is a little long, but I want to share it in its entirety because it shows that even our prophets share in the challenges they invite us to face today. The following was written by President Spencer W. Kimball:

"No peace had yet come, though I had prayed for it almost unceasingly. . . . I turned toward the hills. I had no objective. I wanted only to be alone. I had begun a fast. . . . My weakness overcame me again. Hot tears came flooding down my cheeks as I made no effort to mop them up. I was accusing myself, and condemning myself and upbraiding myself. I was praying aloud for special blessings from the Lord. I was telling him that I had not asked for this position, that I was incapable of doing the work, that I was imperfect and weak and human, that I was unworthy of so noble a calling, though I had tried hard and my heart had been right. I knew that I must have been at least partly responsible for offenses and misunderstandings which a few people fancied they had suffered at my hands. I realized that I had been petty and small many times.
I did not spare myself. A thousand things passed through my mind. Was I called by revelation? . . .
If I could only have the assurance that my call had been inspired most of my other worries would be dissipated. . . .I knew that I must have His acceptance before I could go on. I stumbled up the hill and onto the mountain, as the way became rough. I faltered some as the way became steep. No paths were there to follow; I climbed on and on. Never had I prayed before as I now prayed. What I wanted and felt I must have was an assurance that I was acceptable to the Lord. I told Him that I neither wanted nor was worthy of a vision or appearance of angels or any special manifestation. I wanted only the calm peaceful assurance that my offering was accepted. Never before had I been tortured as I was now being tortured. And the assurance did not come. . . .
I mentally beat myself and chastised myself and accused myself. As the sun came up and moved in the sky I moved with it, lying in the sun, and still I received no relief. I sat up on the cliff and strange thoughts came to me: all this anguish and suffering could be ended so easily from this high cliff and then came to my mind the temptations of the Master when he was tempted to cast Himself down--then I was ashamed for having placed myself in a comparable position and trying to be dramatic. . . . I was filled with remorse because I had permitted myself to place myself . . . in a position comparable, in a small degree, to the position the Saviour found Himself in when He was tempted, and . . . I felt I had cheapened the experiences of the Lord, having compared mine with His. Again I challenged myself and told myself that I was only trying to be dramatic and sorry for myself.
. . . I lay on the cool earth. The thought came that I might take cold, but what did it matter now. There was one great desire, to get a testimony of my calling, to know that it was not human and inspired by ulterior motives, kindly as they might be. How I prayed! How I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled!"

In this excerpt, we see a Prophet of the Lord have to endure what many of us have to do on a regular, maybe even a daily basis. We find ourselves overcome with negative thoughts in which we question our ability to face the responsibilities Heavenly Father has given us. But the Holy Spirit tries to reach out to us, reminding us of the truth we may have forgotten in a moment of frustration or despair. We are invited to remember that God does not expect us to do anything alone. Like President Kimball, we have the choice to remember all we have been taught—that we are precious sons and daughters of a great promise, that we have power and potential beyond our ability to imagine. It is true that we have many tasks ahead of us in the days to come, but we cannot afford for the Adversary to plant fear, doubt, and lies in our minds… because if you let him, he’ll be able to reach out and touch your heart, and he’ll be able to take anything and everything from you then. Discipline your minds; do not let him get that close to you, my wonderful brothers and sisters. Have the courage to face his lies and deceptions and say, “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.”

But in a society that turns parents against their children and children against their parents, that praises those who share hatred, but not faith, that teaches Man to love himself instead of others, and that money—not knowledge—is power, it can be hard to navigate the pessimism of the natural man today. And when we keep the standards of the Lord, it can feel as if we have lost our place in this world. I literally watched as my friends and family pulled away from me because they had an idea in their heads of what they thought a Mormon was, and I guess they feared that what I knew was contagious somehow. My mother tried to sabotage my efforts of coming into the Church. I would go to school, and my teachers would treat me differently because of what I am. They treated my principles like they didn’t matter, and would make jokes and accusations about the Church in front of me because they didn’t know what else to do. I would come home, and because of Mitt Romney, or the Fundamentalists in Texas, or even that LDS guy on American Idol, suddenly everybody was an expert on the Church, what we think and who we are. News analysts, journalists, and documentarians who don’t even know us try to speak for the Church and for us. They mock us for our faith in our prophets, and they treat the most sacred aspects of our religion with scorn and disrespect. They use our own history against us, twisting facts to sell stories and attract viewers. And the chilling part of all this is that it works.

And we could turn a blind eye to the way we are treated. But that is no longer enough, which is why Elder Ballard has encouraged us to join the conversations that take place about us, especially on the internet. He realizes that for many of us, this is asking us to face reservations we may have about speaking to others about the gospel. This is asking us to commit to being well-versed with our scriptures, our doctrine, and our history down to the most specific details because that is what it will take to undo the damage that has been done.

I testify that if we will be willing to be vessels for the truths we’ve been taught, we can and will change the way people see us. My mother went from trying to chase me out of the Church to defending me from others at graduation parties and family functions. My friends respect me for the sacrifices that I’ve made for my faith, and they now feel comfortable enough with me to express their desires to have more faith in their own lives, which has opened the door for missionary opportunities—just like we’ve been taught to expect.

We are taught to be pioneers in our minds because it allows the truth to sink deep into our souls where it cannot be touched by doubt and deception. We will be blessed to feel more secure in ourselves, and this peace of mind will show in everything we do. Only then will we truly begin to approach the spiritual richness of being a Latter-day Saint.

When we act in a way that reflects our divine nature in the truest sense, we approach the holiness that is our potential. We become pioneers for the Lord, with hearts so fertile, He can plant any truth or commandment inside of them, and obedience will grow. That kind of faith is difficult even for Saints with strong testimonies to achieve. Elder Gerald N. Lund spoke in April’s General Conference about God’s relationship with our hearts and spirits, saying,

“The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, which allows Him to dwell in our hearts and communicate directly with our spirits...
The heart is a tender place. It is sensitive to many influences, both positive and negative. It can be hurt by others. It can be deadened by sin. It can be softened by love. Early in our lives, we learn to guard our hearts. It is like we erect a fence around our hearts with a gate in it. No one can enter that gate unless we allow him or her to.
In some cases the fence we erect around our hearts could be likened to a small picket fence with a Welcome sign on the gate. Other hearts have been so hurt or so deadened by sin that they have an eight-foot chain-link fence topped with razor wire around them. The gate is padlocked and has a large No Trespassing sign on it.
Individual agency is so sacred that Heavenly Father will never force the human heart, even with all His infinite power. Man may try to do so, but God does not. To put it another way, God allows us to be the guardians, or the gatekeepers, of our own hearts. We must, of our own free will, open our hearts to the Spirit, for He will not force Himself upon us.”

Are we preparing our spirits to meet our Heavenly Father? Are we taking advantage of the opportunities we have been given to face our fears, to become the pioneers we covenanted to become when we were baptized? I encourage us all to ask ourselves those questions the next time we feel lost, afraid, alone, or broken. I pray we will remember that “the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” because he doesn’t ask us to be perfect. On the contrary, he invites us to be broken because:

“It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume… it is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

When we become converts and pioneers for the Lord, there will be times when it seems like a never-ending test. You encourage yourself to move forward in good faith, but it feels like you’ll always have your back to the sunrise like the pioneers did as they moved West… having only the sun as a guarantee as it dips below the horizon in front of them, and the choice they’ll have to make the next morning. Do we turn our backs on another sunrise and keep going, or take the easy route and return to the life we lived before, and everything we had instead of the truth? And I agree with Sister Vance when she said that being a convert isn’t easy. It’s not. But every part of the experience is necessary, and it brings us all to a realization that is crucial for any Latter-day Saint.

We are a people that will always know great sacrifices, and we cannot be afraid of change. Changes in ourselves, changes in our lives, in our world, in the people around us, and in the things we love and cherish. We may not pull handcarts, or walk across plains, over mountains, and through valleys anymore, but I trust we’ve all felt the struggles of the pioneers in our own ways. We marvel at their strength for all they have achieved, but we cannot allow ourselves to doubt the value of the work we have been given in our own day, and the accomplishments we’ve already made. We must embrace change, because despite what people think about our conservative way of life, our principles and standards bring about the only change worth embracing—the change that brings humanity’s best efforts back into this world, and preserves the goodness of the Lord in the hearts of His children.

That is what it means to be a pioneer today.

In closing, I want to bear my testimony that I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of God, the only one of its kind upon the earth. I testify of Joseph Smith, our beloved prophet, and the divine origins of his mission. I testify of the Restoration that he gave his life to preserve. I testify of our scriptures, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. As powerful as they have been through time, they will continue to bless us with understanding and truth. And finally, I testify of you brothers and sisters, and the goodness of your hearts. I have not known many of you for very long, but I embrace you all as my Church family, and I pray that you always know how much our Heavenly Father loves you.

Peace be with you all this day, in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN.

26 June 2008

Weeds

Kneeling on the stone wall, my bare toes resting on damp earth, I weeded my boss's garden that she planted at the edge of woods on her property. I barely noticed as the sun continued to set as I threw myself into my latest task and avoided thinking about a lot of things.

At least, not directly.

And after two days of work in her four very large flower beds, I have had plenty of time to converse with Heavenly Father about many things.

I asked about my predicament--to understand how to better serve my friend who had entrusted me with a secret so far beyond my understanding, I have handled it with next to no grace at all.




And He taught me about weeds.

I noticed that weeds are usually simple to pull. Some are smaller than my finger in their youth, with barely any root at all. It's almost tempting to leave many of them behind when you look down the side of a house and see the daunting size of a flowerbed that is ridden with weeds yet to be addressed.

How much like temptation, came the whispered statement to my mind.

But the comparison of evil to weeds seemed so tired and subjective. What makes a flower so different from a weed? A few blossoms dictate which plants I am told to pull from the ground and throw into the woods, and which plants I will protect and nurture? Because I only have the task of tending to these flowerbeds because my boss's son doused them all in weed killer--he thought he was "helping,"--but I have to say: there isn't much of a difference between a dead flower from a dead weed from where I was sitting. It all seemed so superficial, but I held my tongue and let the whisper speak.

Weed pulling has been a two-day project. On the first day, I started in the large, stone flowerbeds that were built into the patio. The first flowerbed barely had anything for me to pull. As the most accessible bed, I could see it received the most attention. I probably plucked more dead heads (withered blossoms) than weeds. And when the work was done, seeing the flowers in their thriving, perfect corner of the world really was a pleasant image. Starting with that bed gave me an understanding of what it is I'm trying to create by getting rid of weeds, and the importance of the first thing I learned that day: always pull any weed you see, no matter how small. Chances are excellent (but not guaranteed) that weeding is easier when the weeds are small.

One of the elevated beds right up against the house was full of orange lilies of some kind. They grew so tall, I only noticed a few weeds poking up among the tops of their skyward blossoms. But when I pulled back their leaves, I saw them. They were everywhere. Clover, grasses, tiny vines. It was then that I learned my second lesson about weeds--always look for them, even if you think you won't find any, because part of their design is to go unnoticed.

The ground level bed next to the basement door was no pleasant task, but it was necessary. Just like the bed that received a lot of attention and represented the ideal, this bed was nothing but weeds and represented how inherently unruly and unappealing weeds are. You sit down to tend to them, and there's almost no way to tell where one begins and the others end. Pulling haphazardly does not get the job done any faster, even though you know everything has to come out anyway, because they all grow in different directions. In order to get them out, you have to go to each weed's source. Finding it can be the majority of the challenge, especially anything that spreads like a vine. But once you start pinching at the origin of tangles, instead of at the tangles themselves, you'd be surprised at how easily the entire thing comes out of the ground.

My least favorite area, and the most difficult area, was on the side of the house beside a stone path. The path leads to the driveway, and the crevices between the stones were dotted with many, many weeds. These had already been sprayed with weed killer, but that made them even more difficult to pull because the little tufts of grass--almost too small to grasp--would break off in my hands unless I gripped and pulled them just right. And the bed between the house and this path was no better. The ground was hard and dry with lots of rocks. The weeds were easy to see, of every size and variety, and were practically daring me to pull them. Even when I pinched at the origins of even the most unassuming weeds, they would break off in my hands because the roots were packed into the parched ground too tightly. I puzzled over what to do for several minutes as I rested, until I finally pulled a hose over and doused the ground. It didn't make sense--weeds need water, so why am I going to feed them in order to kill them--but that brought to mind the story of Jael in Judges. She fed the enemy, Sisera, only to drive a nail through his head once he was asleep. Likewise, sometimes weeds have to be tolerated patiently before they can be pulled. And because it was high noon by the time I got to this bed, I eventually moved on to one of the others without finishing.

I started on the bed next to the woods. After planting the flowers she left for me--my favorite calla lilies--I began to work my way down the wall, pulling weeds as I went. I quickly learned about the value of reinforcements--the weeds certainly had them. Worms, frogs, bugs, and plenty of other things that are "gross" and make me leap away from the bed in girlish horror. But not to be outdone, I drenched myself in bug spray (thank goodness for girl's camp leftovers) and continued for a little while longer. The sun was beginning to set, and I was beginning to feel the effects of the day.

And now as that next-to-last bed is nearing completion, I realize what this parable of the weeds has taught me.

Working against temptation is necessary, and it's always going to get your hands dirty. Calmly and patiently identify the source. Pull from there, and don't expect it to work on the first attempt. Watch out for outside forces. And for the love of all things sacred and holy, don't make it worse. Hacking away at your vices (or someone else's), even when it appears constructive, hardly ever is. You might just break off what may be your only opportunity to do the good you intended to do.

I know a lot about that because of the situation I threw myself into a couple of days ago with Boyfriend (henceforth to be called The Patient One, because he certainly has to be to deal with his problem, and all the ways I've made it worse.)

I don't know much about the weed he is facing. And part of me desires to do nothing less than to reach into his life somehow and just pull it out. I'm accepting more and more every day that I do not have the ability to do that, and that I shouldn't pretend like I do. It makes me put my expectations and my hopes in all the wrong places--mostly on myself. And since this was back before I knew anything about weeding, I approached it like I do most other things in my own life--fully prepared with a fully-loaded arsenal and a plan of attack. And when he wouldn't let me, I guess my thought process at 1 a.m. was to be more forceful, because the message--no the accusations I sent him were terribly lacking in respect, compassion, and tact.

Needless to say, he responded like anyone else would: in defense of himself and making accusations of his own about my imperfections. It was like yanking on a thorned weed with my bare hands, and then staring at the cuts in my hands and marvelling at the fact that they were bleeding.

And while I know I've hurt him deeply, and he isn't really speaking to me right now, I'm just hoping that The Patient One will be as forgiving as he has been patient with me. Because as clumsy and misguided as I have been with what he revealed to me, I am doing everything I can to accept it...

Who would have thought that believing it and accepting it would prove to be two different weeds?

17 June 2008

Confession



When I got to church on Sunday, I was already feeling a little better. I had said my prayers, read my scriptures, taken advice from a friend, and played phone tag in order to make an appointment with my bishop. The storm had lifted, and the hardest, most disorienting part was over. But I had to choose a new heading, the direction in which I would go in the days and weeks ahead. I needed the guidance I knew only God could give me, so after attending two sacrament meetings (mine and the Young Single Adults), taking the sacrament twice (did you know the missionaries take it every time they're in a sacrament meeting?), and killing some time in the Gospel Doctrine class, I finally met with my bishop.



What I had to tell him wasn't as difficult to say as I thought it was going to be. And by the time I was sitting in front of him, I was sick of bearing the weight alone. I told him everything--about what Boyfriend had confided in me, how much I was struggling to cope and understand what I was supposed to do, and the mistakes I had made in the process. I told him a little more about myself and some of what I've been through so he could better understand where I am in my life. He was probably surprised to hear some of it--I know I don't look like the type be self-destructive in general. But I knew I was doing the right thing by telling the truth, and I would only be hurting myself by keeping these things to myself at this point.

He advised me that I should encourage Boyfriend to talk to his bishop, and he told me that it would be possible for Boyfriend to do so without his parents knowing about it. Then Bishop Mullins gave me a blessing, which I was more than eager to receive.

...that I will more fully rely on my Heavenly Father and pursue my
relationship with Him...


...that I will always remember to say my prayers and read my scriptures
to more fully understand my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus
Christ...


...that I will feel their love for me and know that they care...

...that I will be able to pursue that which is good and noble in the
times ahead...


...that I will be willing and inspired on how to speak to Boyfriend about
going to see his bishop...

When I opened my eyes, I wasn't crying anymore. I felt the peace with which I had been blessed. And while I still had the task in front of me to talk to Boyfriend, I knew that telling him the truth would be the easiest thing for me to do, that the words would come easily if I told him exactly what was in my heart and what I had been prompted to tell him.

So I did. I sat down and wrote him a long message about all I had learned in the past few days from my prayers, scriptures, the people in which I had confided, and the blessing I had received. I told him that I would stand by him through all of this because I care about him. I told him that I'm glad he shared his secret with me, even though my initial reaction to it probably made him wonder if that was the right thing to do. But with each day that comes and goes, I feel better about what I've learned from this, and all the things he and I will learn together in the days ahead.

And while I have no idea where we're headed, and that scares the hell out of me, I guess it doesn't matter. He knows what He has planned for us. He made us promises before we came here, and He intends to keep them.

In the meantime, I plan on keeping mine. I gave Boyfriend my word that I wouldn't give up on him, and that when I arrived in Utah for college I would be glad to see him again. Somehow, I think we have a lot of things to learn and work through until then. But we'll get through it the same way we got through three years of being together with a giant secret between us.

One day at a time.

12 June 2008

Coming Out

Boyfriend came back from Utah to visit for graduation. After several months of difficult conversations, loneliness, and such that I've faced with my closest friend being so far away, it was such a relief to have him home again.

After a week of spending time with me and his friends, he and I were sitting together on our friend's dock one day. He turned to me and said there was something he needed to tell me, but he didn't think he'd be able to say it. I encouraged him to talk to me. I reminded him of the trust he claimed to have instilled in me. Finally, fearing that his secret was one that perhaps ought not to be kept, begged him to tell me. Eventually, his silence got to be too heavy for me, and I gave up. We changed the subject.

Last night was very similar. We knew he would be leaving today, and tried to make the most of our remaining hours together. He was very close to me; asking me if there was anything I needed, always sitting close to me and reaching out to me with a ready hand. Perhaps that doesn't seem so atypical of a couple of teenagers in a relationship, but Boyfriend has never been like that. For as long as I've known him, and for as long as we've been together (about 3 years now), he has been very careful and conservative in ANY display of physical affection with me. It's something I respect very much about him, and have never questioned. So while I was, I guess you would say suspicious of the difference, I didn't think all that much of it.

Then he took me to the end of the dock, where we would share one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had.




We have never been afraid to be content with silence. We love to sit together and allow the beauty of nature to speak the thoughts we sometimes are unable to say. Last night was no different. The sky was a lovely pastel blue that blended like watercolor with the distant horizon, with a half-full moon poised perfectly at the end of the dock. And because the world was beautiful, I was afraid to ask him what he was keeping from me. But I knew that if I didn't ask him now, he might never tell me. I suspected that for one reason or another he would be breaking up with me, and I knew I couldn't allow something like that to go unsaid.

So I pushed the moment to its crisis. I asked him to tell me what he was keeping from me, and I'll never forget the way his face fell. He told me quietly that he could not bring himself to say the words. He told me that he hates himself for his struggle, that he didn't want me to think any less of him, and that he couldn't bare to see my reaction when he finally did tell me. I pleaded with him with all the yearnings of my heart--reminding him of how much he means to me, of what he has brought to my life as the person who helped me to convert, as someone I have trusted with more of myself than he will ever know. And after a pause and a silence that I swear could have cracked Heaven open wide, he restated his problem, and I repeated more of my desires to be close to him now, to help him with whatever it was.

This went on until the sun went down, and the moon rose higher and higher into the sky.

Finally, the silence cleaved us both in two. I cracked first, and he held me as everything spilled out from my secret hiding places. I told him of my weaknesses, how much I relied on him in so many ways to help me keep the pieces of my life together--how much I've struggled without him here. As I released my thoughts, gave them words, I felt as if I were casting stone after stone from my chest and watching them sink and into the murky depths of the Chesapeake.

I guess he must have felt something in my confession, because he finally let go. He took my embrace and allowed me to hold him as he shed tears that I couldn't understand. I crooned and whispered maternal nothings to him because it felt right somehow.

It's OK...

No, it's not.

You don't know that.

Yes, I do.

It's OK... It's OK... It's OK...

And again the silence.

I begged for the truth. I would not allow him to be Prufrock this time. I needed to know what he was keeping from me--what was keeping him from trusting me the way I had always trusted him.

Finally, the words escaped in such a wild fury I barely understood them.


"I struggle with same-gender attraction."





He leaped away from my shocked and breathless shell to the other side of the dock. He never saw me reel as my entire universe came to a grinding halt and my orbit changed directions forever. But because caring about him is the only thing my lonely little planet knows how to do, I returned to my sun.

"Look at me."

He refused.

"Please look at me, and see that I haven't changed."

Tear stained eyes found me and nearly broke my heart all over again. But I looked him in the eye until he smiled and knew that I would never leave him--not like he feared. Not like a secret, scared part of me wished I could.

"I'm so proud of you for telling me. Some people have gone their entire lives without being able to say what you have said."

I didn't know what to say after that, so I didn't say anything. I let the gravity of what he was telling me pull me into a new frontier where I had never travelled before. I thought of him--the jokes that everyone made about us with their talk of a marriage that I wanted to believe in. I thought of his parents, who have already "lost" one wayward son this week to the Marine Corps. I thought of his new life in Utah--how many times he had called it, and tried to make it "a new start."

And I thought of all the times I had made jokes about homosexuality, had given root to ugly prejudices, and I was ashamed of myself.

"I'm so sorry," I said through violent, trembling sobs. "I'm so sorry."

He understood that I wasn't giving him pity. He knew my compassion, and the apology that I hoped was also coming from Heavenly Father to His son for the cross he has already borne in secrecy. How desperately I hope that to be true.

But as I stood with him on the end of that dock, I knew if I examined my testimony, it would have a large crack. Fixable, but present. If only my dearest friend, someone who asks for so little and deserves so much, could say the same.

He had asked me before his confession if I would promise to still be his friend, to talk to him--essentially, not to abandon him now that I knew his secret. I gave him that promise, even though I have no idea how to keep it at this time.

What do I do with the feelings I have for him? They're not platonic. They haven't been since I met him. I've only ever destroyed lingering feelings like this that I can't escape... I can't do that now. It would ruin our friendship, and he needs me. I need him...

A glaring truth amid tempests and cracking testimonies.

I need this young man in my life, and he needs me. He needs to know that there is a place for him in this world, and I can teach him how to find it. I know I can. And he can teach me how to stand on my own now that I feel like it's impossible. On our own, he and I cannot do this. But together, we will not fall.

"I still stand by what I said," I stated, referencing something I had mentioned earlier in the week from a different context. "You can't do this alone. So do me a favor and please talk to me more than you have in the past."

"It'll be easier now that half of what I say to you doesn't have to be a lie or a secret," he commented.

"Well," I replied simply, "make sure you take back all of your words."

I asked him if I could talk to my mom about this because I knew I needed her. I promised him that his secret would be safe with my family and with me.

That was when our friends came to find us. They continued to call us lovebirds like they always had, and I was grateful it was dark so they couldn't see how much it hurt me. I didn't walk with Boyfriend (who will be needing a new title), but I didn't allow myself to get too far from him...




That was two days ago, and it already feels like I've been bearing this weight for so much longer. Thinking of all the memories I've shared with him; the dances, the dates, the times I've felt separated from him even when he was standing right next to me, and it all makes perfect sense... I think that's what hurts now. All this time I've wanted the truth from him, and it has cost me everything I didn't want to pay to finally get it...

And of course, God has been as puzzling and quiet as ever.

But perhaps that's for the best. I admit, I'm so furious with where Boyfriend and I are right now, part of me wants to hate myself for ever putting my trust in a God that would do this to us.

I think of the life that Boyfriend will never have. No temple marriage. No children. No answers to why he should live this way--feel this way. A lonely, celibate young man with nothing to look forward to in a family's church. And it makes me angry. They've preached to us in EFY and Sunday School and Youth Conferences about how life is supposed to work--baptism at 8, mission at 19, temple marriage, children, grandchildren, repeat. And no answers as to where to go or what to do when that just doesn't work out.

I think of the future I wanted to share with him, and still would if there was any way. I think of the prayers I've said in the past two days, the scriptures I've read, the pleas for SOMETHING I can understand from my Heavenly Father, and all He has told me is that endurance is necessary and miracles are possible.

And I want to believe it. I want to believe it so badly, it brings tears to my eyes. But I don't know if I can right now. Not today. And I'm not the one who has to believe it anyway, so what does it matter? At the end of the day, I'm not the one suffering the most. I see that now. After holding Boyfriend's weeping, bowed head to my chest, I see now who suffers most.

And that's what kills me. That is what ripped and tore, and now aches and throbs...

So I have myself on auto-pilot right now. I cry when I have to (which is a lot), I pray when I can stand it (which isn't often at the moment), and I'm going to call and make an appointment with my new bishop for Sunday. The fact that he is a complete stranger will help me to throw up this part of my universe in front of him. I plan to ask him for a blessing, and hopefully I'll find some clarity in it. And not even for my sake, but for Boyfriend's... he's the one I care about right now.

(Funny how some things never change.)

I have to believe there's something we can do... some way out of this mess. Some hope for, if not what we planned, for something better than what we now anticipate.

Until then, I guess Boyfriend will just have to settle for being a Heretic like the rest of us who don't fit the molds that the youth in the Church deal with so much--those of us who pay a high price to be ourselves when we're taught every Sunday to be... something else.

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