25 May 2009

The Refiner's Fire

Yesterday was a long day. I mean, I'm no stranger to statements like that--but seriously. Yesterday was a mess that it'll take me some time to sort through in my head.


 We showed up to my father's funeral just before it started. In all honesty, it was something I wanted to get through as quickly as possible because I was extremely uncomfortable. Celebrating my father is something I've never been good about, and the fact that I was expected to in that setting was simply more than I could handle. I sat there silently, rigidly, trying to find some good in what I was doing, or at least for the end of whatever it was that was in store for me.

Just as in life, and the management of his affairs in death, his funeral was a tribute to the one fact about my father that I cannot escape, not even in my own behavior--he could never do anything half way. Just when you think what you planned will go smoothly, completely uninterrupted by the more unpredictable and toxic aspects of the full reality in which you actually live, memories enter, a constant reminder of the ghosts that may not take you down, but will be lurking in doorways until the day you die. Anger rises instantly, your back seizes with stress, and while you may forget to breathe, the desire to pray and live is stronger than your demons anymore.

Heavenly Father, please help mine unbelief. Protect me from these memories, that anger that threatens to destroy me at every moment. Help me to find unshakable faith in thy Son's Atonement. Lord, PLEASE save me. Forsake not thy handmaid. Lord, please help mine unbelief.

Over and over again, no matter how many times it takes. Do not open your eyes until you feel human again, or you will be taken under again.

The pastor, a confused, quivering man that--if he isn't in his eighties, looks as if he could be--bears a message to your deaf ears; he seems to know things that you ought to. But revelation never promised wisdom, and it's time you took some from the people who offer it--the fact that your father "wanted to do good." Let those words sink in deeply, as hard as it will be for you to trust them.

Lord, please help mine unbelief...


A memorial service, a circus, a refiner's fire... for me, it was all of these things--maybe more. One thing is certain: I'm no longer the believer I thought I was. I will either remain the grandest hypocrite of a fraud of them all, or I will become that sincere believer I always hoped, imagined, and promised--nay, even covenanted--I would be. I will either be the impurity that rises to the surface, or the purified silver right next to the heat.

I just began reading the Book of Mormon again, and I'm rapidly returning to the chapters about the liahona--that "ball of curious workmanship."

Curious? Curious, indeed...

14 May 2009

To Terah

And so we wander, in grief, towards the sun... is she rising, or setting?... How fragmented is our life, if not our reason for living?... How could I have known that such tears


would fall...


For days I prayed
For the right way
To pull covers and eternity

Over my head and dreams
would instead

Descend, in loving haze
A constellation daze

That would spell his name
Somewhere between Abraham

and home...

I never knew
how to bury you
Into a blinking sky

So now I will try
the ground.

10 May 2009

The Lord's Timetable

I gave a talk in the Singles Ward today. You can find it over at WatersofMormon.org where I also contribute. I won't be re-posting the content of my talk here, but I do have some goodies to share here.

Note: Because Waters of Mormon was disbanded many years ago, I've decided to post the talk inline on this post. Enjoy!



As an English teaching major, one of my favorite things in life is learning to appreciate and use the power of language. I view words and vocabulary as vessels that serve the purpose of literally holding spirit, whose exchange is powerful and sacred. I spend my life combining them, exploring their depths and precise shapes in order to understand the full and honest meaning of the oil they’re meant to hold, and it’s a talent with which I’m glad to be blessed.

I came to a discovery of two words recently that have long impressed me with their depth and complexity. Their ornate and masterful craftsmanship comes from their universal and eternal nature. Thousands of years, countless cultures and their history, have contributed unique and heartfelt loveliness to these two words. The best that mankind has ever had to offer can be summed up in both of these words. I felt impressed to talk about one of them as my topic, but found it to be inseparably married to the second word.

The first word is Family. The second word is Home.

My family isn’t exactly what you would call functional, and I grew up never knowing the safety and security, the peace and love that so many in this Church take for granted. What brought me into the church was the powerful love of God that, because of the spirit, exists wherever there is truth. At long last, I had found a place for my tired, broken, harrowed spirit—the closest thing to a home I had ever had.

Home…

Because I had the church, I had an opportunity to explore that word for the first time. I could bask in the warm glow of that one word’s oil for hours, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to go to Church and feel it again. Three hour meetings weren’t long enough to feed the hunger of my soul, the desire for more oil to fill this new word of mine. Time passed, and the day came when I finally had enough oil to keep my life well-lit after years of knowing only darkness.

But when my light grew bright enough, I could also see a new word that brought me sorrow every time I looked at it. Family; a word just as large and essential as Home, but I had let it become a very sad and dirty word by how much I had neglected it. I would peer into its dry depths and think to myself, “How am I supposed to fill this and make this better all by myself? I can’t do this. How am I supposed to live with that disappointment?” And so my division between Home and Family was set into place.

Brothers and sisters, I tell you this story because this mistake can happen to ANYONE. I’ll even venture to say that it can happen to those of you in this room who least expect it, and my heart goes out to any of you that struggle to live by the light of one vessel where we were designed to have two. It’s a pain and grief unlike any other, and we have been warned to be watchful and prudent in all that we do to keep the bond between home and family strong enough to protect us from that pain.

In Moses, we read of the first mortal family of Adam and Eve—their respective, yet equally important responsibilities that required them to depend upon each other in order to start their family and create a home. In Moses 5, verses 1 and 2 we see the model of unity the Lord intends for his children.
"And it came to pass that after I, the Lord God, had driven them out, that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him.
And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth."
 Let me emphasize; only by working together can families be established in righteousness, thereby creating a home that enjoys the fullest happiness Heavenly Father can bestow. Just as families do not exist with one person doing all the work, a home cannot be built through one person’s labors. Even the Lord does nothing alone.

I’ll admit now that I spent years feeling frustrated at the division of my situation because I was so focused on my own hurt, I fell for a division that never should have existed in the first place. Only after turning to the wisdom and council of the prophets did I understand my mistake. Elder Russell M. Nelson teaches that:
“In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.”
In my mind, this used to be a really depressing thought because I found it hard to imagine that my family would ever accept the gospel, even though I have every reason to believe in and hope for such a blessing. I tried to throw myself into the Church, telling myself that being surrounded by that Spirit and the people who brought it there would always be enough.

The only thing wrong with that idea is that it isn’t true. The First Presidency issued a letter in February of 1999 with a statement that read:
“The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.”
From my experience, I testify that this includes the Church itself. The Church is not a hiding place from life and its problems—at least, not permanently. Especially when it comes to families, we have a responsibility to seek for the healing powers of the Spirit to deal with our challenges, then get back to work serving and building our family relationships—always having Home as our objective.

That can be hard to see when we’re in more of a position like Abraham’s—fleeing from evil, traveling, maybe even wandering, from place to place looking for somewhere to call home in the mean time. When you focus on the fact that his father tried to kill him, his situation sounds miserable. Consider also the fact that he had to face the commandment to kill his son Isaac, and this story looks about as unfair as it gets.

President John Taylor once counseled, “it is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals, and that we be tried. But why is it that we should be tried? There is just the same necessity for it now that there was in former times. I heard the Prophet Joseph say, in speaking to the Twelve on one occasion: ‘You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.’ Some people have wondered why so many of the Twelve fell away. God tries people according to the position they occupy.”

So what is needed in times of adversity, especially when Satan’s target is our family, is a change of perspective. We see in John Taylor’s statement the idea that God will try the Priesthood according to the positions they occupy, but we are also tried according to the position within the family that we hold. Elder Nelson also teaches that:
“The final responsibility to prepare for salvation and exaltation rests upon each person, accountable for individual agency, acting in one’s own family, bearing another sacred title of mother, father, daughter, son, grandmother, or grandfather.”
Until recently, I didn’t realize that my position as a daughter within my particular family was so important as to be considered sacred. When I look at it properly, it makes sense that Satan would make the building of a strong, united, loving family so difficult to do, especially when he has had control over them for so long.

And now that I’m in a position to see better, I not only see that Heavenly Father loves His children, but I know what that means, and I know what it looks like when He bestows His peace, His love, upon families and homes.

It looks like Abraham’s trust in taking what family he has left, fleeing from Haran, and believing that eternity would be their covering as they dwelled in the tents that became their homes until they reached the Promised Land.

It’s the image immediately after Christ’s ascension in Acts 1, where the apostles AND Christ’s mortal family are praying together—symbolically and literally united; just like Christ would have wanted.

The scriptures are full of what might be labeled today as non-traditional families, families that go through changes of all kinds, and I’m sure that there are those in this room who can appreciate that because they’ve seen their share. But it can be so crippling to allow yourself to feel alienated or inadequate if your family isn’t perfect. We can do nothing alone, and if our families have a lot to work on, it isn’t our fault, and we can’t fix it by ourselves. Heavenly Father will be displeased if you exhaust yourself physically and spiritually, to the point of near apostasy, if you try to go through these challenges alone.

Also understand that sometimes, part of our responsibility to our families and to the Lord will be to leave our families for a season. Even if you are the only source of spiritual strength to them, know that the Lord loves all of His children, and He will take care of them. As it says in Luke 9:

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

If you endure the season of planting, always seeking the timetable and the will of the Lord in all things, your family will be gathered around you once again at the harvest. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I know that “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

If it wasn’t for all that I’ve been through with my family, for the sake of one day having a home with them, I never would have had the love and appreciation that I do for them right now. Knowing that, I’d willing do it a thousand times over because for the first time, there is oil in both of my lamps. Seeing the happiness that those drops have brought, I promise you that no other investment can provide such great returns.

Fill your vessels drop by loyal, obedient drop, and I testify that you will have the light of home and family to be with you once again. This Mother’s Day, I pray we all will remember what is most important in life. Our mothers have created families that can last forever. May we always support them with our every effort, no matter what our circumstances—always using what we’ve learned because of those circumstances to do so. In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.
 


Those who choose to go over to Waters and read the talk will see that it isn't your typical Mother's Day talk. I noticed that myself and wondered if it was appropriate. It then occurred to me that I would only be sent with such a message if it was necessary, so I pressed forward, and I see now that it's a good thing I did.

While I was giving my talk, I had the unique experience of receiving impressions about my audience as I was speaking--knowing, at times, when what I was saying applied to certain members in the room. One young woman stood out to me in particular. I've never met or seen her before, nor did I completely understand what her situation was, nor was I even certain that what I was feeling was an impression at the time.

It wasn't until Sunday school that things became clear to me. Our lesson was on the Kirtland Temple. I shared a comment about the timetable of the Lord and how God has a better idea of what is needful than we do because He understands how things not only affect us, but those around us. The woman I noticed earlier then raised her hand to speak.

She shared that she was a child of a closed adoption, and she has sought her birth mother throughout her life. She said she agreed with what I said because after years of searching, she just recently found her maternal grandparents in the phone book, and she trusts that it was all in the timing of the Lord.

Out of all the people that told me how much they enjoyed my talk, her compliments resonated with me the most because I can see the hand of the Lord in our meeting, and it makes my heart swell to know that I accomplished my purpose--and to see that in someone else's life. I can honestly say that I put everything I had into the message I brought, and I trust that she will know this some day.

I pray that she will be fortunate and protected on her journey and in her search for peace and truth.

03 May 2009

Joy

The past week has been nothing short of incredible. I've learned from experience, over and over again, that prayers are always answered in the infinite wisdom of that God who treasures the truest happiness of all of His children. I thought my experiences in Manti were beyond anything I could have ever hoped for? I see now in hindsight that Heavenly Father was only warming up as far as the extension of blessings is concerned.




The day I spent in Temple Square with my mother, grandmother, and a dear friend of mine was so marvelous as to be completely beyond anything I could have asked for except through the deepest desires of my heart. To have all of us surrounded by sister missionaries, by testimony, history, scripture, and the truth that has come to be so essential to everything that I am, to my joy, to life itself... to finally see blossoms in front of me from such a long sowing season--how do I BEGIN to express the joy that came to my heart to be a part of the harvest? God lives! He loves His children and hears their prayers! He may answer them in His own time based upon the fullest understanding and fulfillment of His law, but answer them He does! I watched this happen! After months of begging, pleading, praying for answers about what to say to my mother, I heard in the testimonies of those missionaries what she needed most to hear--about the workings of the Spirit. Witness and instruction came to me that day as we travelled about Temple Square. We watched the Joseph Smith movie together, and they could see in the sincerest tears of my heart's devotion how much I treasure Joseph Smith, what his life and death means to me even though I've never met him personally. Paintings and symbolic portrayals of that holiest love between Heavenly Father and His children--magnificent in every detail.

By the end of the day, my mom turned to me while we were in a church history art museum and said that she felt that she was finally beginning to understand what it means to enter the temple. "You have to live it, breathe it, love it, know it, teach it, preach it... otherwise, why would they let you in?"

I almost cried. "Exactly," I said simply. I never thought I'd hear from her such a beautiful expression of everything the temple is. That in itself is a most precious gift I will treasure forever.

My grandmother's experience in the temple was much quieter, with the few parts of it that were most remarkable. She was invited by one sister missionary to fill out an information card, and my grandmother explained to them--upon declining their offer of a visit from missionaries in her home--that she had my friend and I to be her example of what our church is about. That was quite a sobering moment for me, because I admit that I wasn't the best example in the time we were all together. While I was trying very hard to control myself, I can't say I was always successful with keeping my temper in check. I didn't give up though, and I prayed not only for patience, but that they could at least see how hard I was trying for them. That's one thing I wish I could show them--how much of what I do in the church is for all of us, for the preparation of our place together, in hopes that they will some day be willing to be a part of this great work with me.

That's something that, perhaps, I was hesitant to believe in enough to ask for it, to hope for it, to work towards as an end for fear of the disappointment. But after such a beautiful experience in Utah, I know I cannot be afraid to hope as far as the reaches of my imagination will stretch. There is no happiness, no horizon too far away if I will be believing and willing to travel the distance. How glorious and full is this joy I've found in His plan for my life!

And yet, this is only the beginning. I see now that I cannot even begin to fathom His power to bless me. What great joys are ahead if I will only be obedient and believing?

That question alone fills the darkest reaches of my mind with the brightest light.

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