“For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
It’s 10:58 P.M. I’m in the middle of my gym session reflecting on the months that have passed. I’ve had the blessing of connecting with many and the last few weeks I’ve found myself seriously reflecting on where I’m at in matters of my own salvation.
I started this tradition of listening to a conference talk while I workout and tonight’s is entitled, “Cleansed by Repentance” by Dallin H. Oaks. Though the opening scripture was not used in the talk it kept coming to mind and how frequently Its been illustrated throughout my life. Often it has been used and interpreted as a crouch rather than an honest desire to follow God. Recalling moments I sought to apply the atonement the thought came, was I driven by a guilty conscience or a penitent heart?
We know that sin is an act of selfishness and in contrast repentance is an act of selflessness. Putting all personal wants and desires second to what the Lord asks reflects true repentance. One of my favorite scriptures is found in John 17:19 where Christ offers the great intercessory prayer, “And for THEIR sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.”
The process of sanctification begins with a simple act of faith, believing that our imperfections, unique weaknesses and tailored trials are conquerable. As we walk through life with the savior, He gives us power to overcome and the things we can’t overcome He gives us the strength to bear with patience and endure.
In regards to faith the prophet Alma counsels, “ if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” (Alma 32:27) And as the desire grows the promised blessing comes that, “ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.” (Alma 32:43)
Consistent application of the atonement brings about the transformation necessary for salvation. Every aspect begins to change. Our words, uplift. Our actions, kind. Our thoughts, pure. Our hearts, full of love.
Whether you’re preparing yourself to make covenants with our Heavenly Father, working on keeping them or renewing them each week take a minute to be still and ponder, who’s sake are you sanctifying yourself for? Who’s depending on your example? Who needs your faith?
Be conscious of your capacity to influence and let it aid in guiding the decisions you make daily.
Ghosting - purposefully avoiding interaction, withholding attention or withdrawing from all communication without apparent warning or justification.
The last few months have been some of the most challenging. I went through a little depression period with the weight of my situation finally setting in. I’ve lacked in my motivation to simply do the little things and have felt a little forgotten. Self-pity kicked in and the destructive feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and a hollow emptiness managed to make itself at home.
Prayers ceased, scripture study was limited to spiritual posts on my social media feed and attendance at church grew into less of a priority. I felt hopeless and that led me to “Ghost God”. We’ve all been there. Avoided a person or situation intentionally for various reasons. But very seldom does the reason lie with the person or situation and is a reflection of how we’re dealing with things in our own lives.
Recently while scrolling through Instagram I found this post about how one of the adversary’s most powerful tools is indecisiveness. A flood of thoughts came to mind like President Monson’s quote, “Decisions Determine Destiny.” And Elder Uchtdorf’s talk, “Waiting on the Road to Damascus.”
“What am I doing?”
“What sign was I hoping for?”
Reality set in. There wouldn't be a sign. There have already been signs. From the countless testimonies borne to every spiritual experience I’ve ever had. I was humbled to think that I had been so blind to see how a loving Heavenly Father had blessed me with experiences and evidences to draw strength from to get through this. The Lord truly does prepare us for EVERY challenge, trial and hardship we will face.
If you find yourself in a place similar to mine, don’t let it last as long as I did. You know enough. You have enough. You are enough. Be hopeful and full of faith.
“Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.”
Have you ever felt stuck? In a place where you don’t want to be? Wonder why you’re where you are? Not sure what you should do?
One of my favorite quotes that I love came to me one day as a missionary. After a round table my Mission President had left his scriptures open and written on one of the pages were these words,
”He who is firm in will molds the world to himself.”
We often hear that happiness is a choice, but how do you choose an emotion? If that were the case I’d choose anger every time at the gym. We don’t choose happiness we choose to do things that make us happy. Happiness is a state that we create, not a light switch we turn on. It begins within us and if we let it, it transforms the world around us. Light cleaveth to light and as it grows everything else that does not fit or belong falls away.
We grow together or apart, towards or away, but the direction is completely within our power. Whether we are in a broken relationship, in a dead end career path or our living situation isn’t ideal we can still find happiness in the little things that matter.
One thing that I love about the gospel is the simplicity of it. Once we’ve set our sights on eternal things, everything else takes its proper place. Our lives aren’t complicated, our perception is.
God has a plan.
And happiness is woven throughout that plan.
The alarm from my phone goes off. It’s 5 A.M. My room is still dark and the winter chill is still felt in the mornings even though spring has already begun. I look at my calendar and put an ‘X’ through yesterday.
"Another day." I think to myself. For me this isn’t a count down or tally but another opportunity to prove to Heavenly Father that I am worthy of the blessings of being a member again.
There will be days when the road ahead seems long and the goal appears too far distant to see. Hope may dim, enthusiasm may lack and encouragement may be scarce; but in these times of plateau may we remember the Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Still (verb) : make or become still
When I've found myself in an unprogressive state - whether spiritually, physically or emotionally - I tend to jump into the thought process of scrambling to figure out what I’m doing wrong, what I need to do more of or if I’m really where I am supposed to be. Patience is measured in your capacity to accept these moments and doing what you know and what you’re familiar with despite delayed results and expectations.
The Lord promises us peace in our pain, hope through our healing and comfort in conflict. There will be periods in our life where we may unintentionally get carried away in the ambient noise of the world. In such times it is key to remember to “be still”. As we ‘still’our thoughts, ‘still’ our words and ‘still’ the things we do we make ourselves more readily available to recognize, have experiences with and know our Father in Heaven. Know that He is God. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom though hast sent.” (John 17:3)
Monday September 10, 2012
"I am so grateful for this time I have to serve the Lord and if an opportunity presents itself to me and the Lord wills it, I will extend my mission. There is no greater joy in this life than to bring children back to their Father. My testimony grows daily of this work and I am so indebted to the Lord for the many blessings he has given me. I have a renewed desire to do all things that he asks of me, no matter how hard times may become or how weary I may get. My desire is to serve Him to the end. He is my strength and with Him I can do all things that He requires. I know without any doubt the truthfulness of the gospel and I love my Savior for everything He has done for me. There is a passion for this work that has been kindled inside of me. I am determined to give my very best the remainder of my mission and to pledge perfect effort in building His kingdom here."
"This is how we remember you. This is who you are."
I stood there in my mission presidents home office, humbly reliving in my mind myself as a faith filled missionary. Several years had passed since I left the Sacramento, California mission and I found myself having dinner in their home. I hadn't seen them since and it felt so good to be around them again. They were my 'parents' for the few years my faith was tested and tried the most.
At times we find ourselves lost in situations, circumstances and overwhelmed with our own individual trials life throws at us. Sometimes it takes the perspective of another to renew our view of who we are.
"Stresses in our lives come regardless of our circumstances. We must deal with them the best we can. But we should not let them get in the way of what is most important - and what is most important almost always involves the people around us. Often we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know.”
-Thomas S. Monson
Three words that I have grown to love in reference to my purpose here on earth are Build. Uplift. Inspire. I think of all the times I've withheld a compliment, neglected to share with someone how I feel and what I thought of them or failed to praise a person or show love. There is so much good needing to be said and done. Instead of hurting, help. Instead of rejecting, reach out. And instead of avoiding, accept. Don’t just make a difference. Be the difference.
The sound of the heater blasts as my music shuffles in the background. A storm rolled in while I was at dinner with some old friends that night. My car was filled with the scent of teriyaki smoke that emanated from my saturated sweater from grilling earlier. It took about an hour to make it home from the average 25 minute drive. Bumper to bumper with limited vision, the snow pounded against the caravan of cars. A thought crossed my mind, "We're in this storm together." As I sat on this thought patiently waiting in traffic I came to the conclusion that this is what life is. It's this snow storm we must pass through on our way home.
Sometimes we may not comprehend or understand the "Why" of things. Why do I feel this way? Why did this happen? or Why am I here? In this moment? The Prophet Lehi explained to his son Jacob, "Thou knowest the greatness of God; and He shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain." (2 Nephi 2:2) Our storms we are in happen directly and indirectly and can occur from our choices or from the decisions of others. More often than not I find that I am my own whirlwind, hurricane or tsunami. Our individual and unique weaknesses are meant to help us trust in our Heavenly Father and grow closer to Him. "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble... For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)
To consecrate means to set apart and make holy or sacred. As we grow in faith our lives begin to change and our perspective becomes just a little clearer to see through the storms. We set ourselves apart from the things that hinder us whether it be addiction, lack of moral judgement or giving in to influences we're prone to. The light within us grows a little brighter and our smiles a little wider. With each new challenge overcome and weakness strengthened there is an outward reflection of our inward commitment, for Christ will be in our countenance.
Just like the storm I was driving in. I was alone, but I wasn't alone. We are all here together, and need one another. A prayer. A phone call. A visit. The greatest act of charity is to forget oneself and put the needs of another before your own. In any circumstance, turn outward and look upward and "when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:32) We are all Ohana.
Hurrying through the crosswalk to the seminary building, the fall leaves sailed through the air in the pick-up of the chill wind. Being late was a regular occurrence for me in high school. I flung open the glass doors and got hit, pleasantly with a wall of warm air. Even years after the move from Oahu to Utah I was still convinced I wasn't accustomed to the weather. I scurried up the stairwell to the second floor, peering into the glass on the doors of all the classes that had already started along the way. I arrived at my door, turning the handle slowly as if I could sneak in and no one would notice I was late... again. I take an empty seat near the back of the classroom showing up just in time for the lesson.
My teacher announced that this morning we were going to do something different. He pulled out the classroom phone and placed it on the desk in front of him. "Today each of you are going to call your parents on speaker and tell them how much you love them." (Years later I discovered I suffer from social anxiety - probably why I was always late and uncomfortable in all my classes.) Students were called and my heart pounding was the only sound I could hear. As I tried to focus I listened to a few of my other classmates calls. They were sweet with responses of "Oh I love you too" and "That made my day honey." My eyes widen and sweat starts to bead on my forehead as I hear my name. My heart sinks to my stomach and keeps dropping like its fallen into an endless pit. I slowly make my way up to the front, hands shaking as I struggle to find the keys that make up my parents phone number.
The phone rings, and with every ring I silently say a prayer that I hear the answering machine and can just leave a message. The ringing stops and I hear my fathers voice on the other end. "Hello?"
"Hey dad, its me"
"Yeah, Im just calling to say I love you dad."
An awkward pause.
"Is everything ok?"
"Yeah dad, Im just calling to tell you I love you."
"Hang on, let me go get mom."
The room fills with laughter and I turn bright red. One of the most embarrassing moments for me turned out to be one of the greatest lessons I've carried throughout my life. How much do we lack in letting the people closest to us know that we love them? We know how we feel, but do they?
"We should remember that saying 'I Love You' is only a beginning. We need to say it, we need to mean it, and most importantly we need consistently to show it."
-Elder David A. Bednar
Many of us know of someone who may struggle silently and needs to feel the presence and love of our Savior. They need to know that He is aware and it is our responsibility to remind them. "God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other." - President Spencer W. Kimball
The Gospel of Christ is intended to empower us to act. We keep commandments and covenants because we love. We sanctify ourselves because we love. We serve because we love. And "We love Him, because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) While the Pharisees were in commotion over WHO was right they failed to see WHAT was right, as they questioned the Savior, "Master which is the greatest commandment in the law?" And He replied, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God... And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:36-39) Heavenly Father commands us to love regardless of who they are, what they have done or where they are at in their lives. As we reach out in love to those in need our own burdens become a little lighter, our steps a little less heavy and our hearts a little more full. Let us say, mean and show love to others, for "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35) It could be the answer someone is looking for and the difference they need.
“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 peice 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.