“What did you do!?” and “I can’t imagine you doing anything THAT bad” are the typical questions and comments I receive. When it comes to matters of identity we often recognize others and ourselves by something significant they or we are not very proud of. Sin will always be sin. Great or small “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree...” (Alma 45:16)
In a Brigham Young University devotional, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled , “Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is that charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ.” If we are to act like and be disciples of Jesus Christ we need His sight, His view and His perception of individuals and that most certainly includes ourselves. If our Father in Heaven, in His unconditional love, chooses to “remember them no more.” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42) we too must remind them no more. Those who may feel that you yourself are what's bringing you down, because one of the hardest things is forgiveness of self, have faith in the atonement. Believe in Christ and believe Him when he says, "Thy sins be forgiven." You are NOT your mistakes.
Trudging down the road of repentance, we can get confused, conflicted and discouraged threading the things we have done into who we are. Mistakes, misdeeds and misfortunes that have happened can all be forgiven, mended and healed. It is of the utmost importance to remember, it is not about what we have done wrong but what we have broken. In our temples there are heavy covenants and commitments we vow to keep. When our lifestyle is not in accordance with what we have promised it is essential to take a step back, reevaluate where we are and decide for ourselves where we truly want to be. We have all made mistakes. We all fall short. Every one of us are either passing through Gethsemane, just about to enter or have triumphantly returned. No matter what aspect we may be in the Savior can be found along side us strengthening, encouraging and lifting through our progression.
Repentance is one of the hardest things for an individual to open up about. When feelings of shame, embarrassment and fear are involved how are we to grow? How do we find support in where we are wanting to go? We understand that the purpose of guilt is to lead us to truly repent and instill a lasting change. Once the decision has been made we're entitled to the saviors mercy and grace the moment we humbly turn our hearts and start on our path to Him and we are blessed with continual peace every step of the way.
"Remember, repentance is not punishment, it is the hope-filled path to a more glorious future."
- Elder Richard G. Scott
The road you are on is a positive one. Do not be ashamed for choosing to repent and if you're in a position where you feel the need to change, have the courage to step up and do it. You are the only one in control of where you go. Have faith that there will be many to support, love and stand with you through it. Like in the Disney movie 'Lilo & Stitch', "Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind." Though we make covenants and promises individually we get to heaven together. It is our responsibility regardless of where we are at in life to "mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." (Mosiah 18:8) Be mindful of the needs of others, because this is a journey we decided to do with each other.
Sitting on the back row of the chapel, being there but not there. This was my second Sunday to church and I knew this was where I was suppose to be, but still feeling a void inside. The meeting finished and I wrestled with the idea of leaving and not attending the second hour. Juggling through apps on my phone looking for some reason to justify leaving, one of the sisters introduced herself and asked if I was new to their ward and if I was staying for class. I reluctantly responded with, "Oh, I'm not a member." To hear myself say those words out loud caused my stomach to wrench.
One of the most self destructive things any of us can do, is focus on what we 'are not'. In studying the nature of Heavenly Father we find that He is a creator, He builds, He uplifts and through grace He makes us more than we ever thought we could possibly be. Likewise, our thoughts, words and actions should reflect that of His character. To see ourselves as He sees. It has only been a short while and I've felt a vast amount of doubt, insecurity, loneliness and worthlessness. This isn't how God intended it to be. The purpose of repentance is to allow us to recognize, heal and align our hearts with His will. When ones focus revolves around what we 'are not', we prevent the effects of the atonement to change, reshape and refine our lives.
In moments where you feel your heart is failing, your spirit is wracked and uncertainty swarms inside you, it is pertinent that you remember why you started on this path back to the savior. To be like Him.
It crosses my mind often. I have no commitments and no promises I am tied to. I could live my life how I want to. Why don't I? My character is determined in what I do when no one is watching, when I don't have covenants to be loyal to or standards to uphold. I am happiest when I am true to what I know and when what I know is true.
“The savior is the source of true peace. Even with the trials of life, because of the savior's atonement and His grace, righteous living will be rewarded with personal peace."
-Elder Quentin L. Cook
"When you fell from the peak,
And the stars had broke their code,
I'm tryna forget,
How I landed on this road,
I'm caught in between,
What I wish and what I know,
When they say that you just know."
The first few days after my excommunication were the hardest. Trying to wrap my head around what I have lost and given up. It's a hard thing to come to the realization that YOU are the cause of where you are now. Regardless of circumstances, situations and negative opportunities we are each given the ability to make a choice. "We are free to choose liberty and eternal life... or [to] choose captivity and death." (2 Nephi 2:27) At the end of the day what matters is what choices you decided to make. This is my life now. I am no longer a member of the church and it hurts. This is a loss that will take quite some time to heal from. I feel like I am now someone on the outside looking in, torn between "what I wish and what I know." I wish I was there. I wish I was participating. I wish I was serving. I wish I was sharing in what I once had. What I know is I can't be there now how I want to be. What I know is this is my season to reflect, recommit and reconcile with God. What I know is one day I'll be back.
I entered the gym the first weekend hoping to clear my head. Instead of my regular playlist I had selected tracks that reflected how I felt inside. With a string of sad songs and minimal motivation, I struggled to push through what I came to do. When your heart feels heavier than the weight you're pushing and your spirit needs a rest day (or month) it's hard to focus. On the bench I sat staring in the mirror and the thought came, "Even though you're not a member anymore, you're still a child of God." A peace came over me and I was blessed with a moment of relief. I've always heard the term 'tender mercies' used but now I had complete understanding of what they meant and felt like. Heavenly Father still loved me and He didn't expect me to remain sad, miserable and hurting for the time I had left to make my way back.
I had fallen further than I imagined. I was in a place I didn't want to be. The road that got me to where I am, was not worth what I had to give up. To anyone who may be struggling with finding the courage to take that step forward or are currently lacking in faith. Hold on. It is not easy but it is worth every blessing you are entitled to. Know there is a God who knows you. He knows every thought that crosses your mind and every feeling that enters your heart. When you hurt, He hurts. Know that He loves you and is well aware of where you are. You are not forgotten. You are still a Child of God.
Knowing this doesn't mean the hard days won't come, that the adversary won't continue to use every weakness we have against us or that we will be immune to doubts, heartache and confusion. What it does mean is that we have the strength we need to endure what we have been called to pass through and give us the hope that in the end we can return back to our heavenly home. We know how to get there. We know what it requires. We just need the courage to do it.
I've often thought that the strongest souls are the ones who have endured the hardest trials in life. I've been through some really hard things and tend to wonder, "why do I feel so weak?"
Tonight, I waited patiently outside the doors of the High Council Room. I had just finished hours of sharing difficult events of my life - mistakes I've made, unfortunate things that have happened to me and uncovering how inadequate I am at making choices when going through tough times. The apple symbol flashes on my phone as I turn it on. It takes a minute to load and I notice the "I love you too" response to my text before I started tonights process. I half smile and my heart sinks, beating wildly in anticipation of what was going to be the outcome of this disciplinary council. "This is the right thing to do." I tell myself, followed by thoughts of, "Whatever the Lord says I need, I will do" or more disappointedly "How did I come this far?".
I'm lost in my head as I hear the door creek open. I look up to see my Stake President motioning to come back into the room. Everyone's standing as I make my way back to my seat. The energy in the room is intense but peaceful, chaotic yet calm. The words that came next sent my world in a spiral. "Brother, we have found it necessary that you be excommunicated." The voices fading around me as if I am underwater. My spirit and body in shock, struggling to comprehend and feel the gravity of what was decided.
"Did this just happen to me?"
I sit in silence, occasionally nodding as members of the council share their feelings and hopes that I never give up and hold fast to the things I know are true. When the concluding remarks had been said, one by one I'm embraced in hugs accompanied by words of encouragement and love. With swollen eyes and a heavy heart I gratefully accept their kind words, desperately soaking in every positive note I could.
It's a quarter to 11 as I get in my car. It's cold, but tonight the air feels colder. On the short drive to my home my mind is flooded with flashbacks and I replay the day that my father had baptized me a member of this church that had been a part of my life for over 30 years. It had a great influence on every good piece of the man I had become and now that part of me was gone.
I sat alone in the dark imagining what my life will look like now. Who will stay? Who will go? How do I get back? The weight starts setting in, pressing my soul. I lay wide-eyed for hours. Still in disbelief and a shattered spirit my eyes grow heavy and I drift to the psalm, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) We are strongest when our Heavenly Father is near. When we are broken, weak in the heart but willing to rise to what is required of us we find an intangible strength within us. Again, “why do I feel so weak?”. Because the strength being displayed is not my own.