A few weeks ago was my baptism anniversary.
I was baptized seven years ago, and it ruined everything.
I mean to say, that at first my preparation for baptism felt like a long list of everything I could not do, but this was nothing compared to the relief of my burdens that lifted as I was lifted up out of that water.
If I didn’t know better, I would swear that I came out of the baptismal font in different skin, in a new world suddenly Technicolor, even though in my head that I was still living in the same body on the same planet.
But there was something glorious about it, something there were not words for, and some things there were words for that I soon learned are too sacred for speaking.
When I received a priesthood blessing soon after, I was told that Heavenly Father knew that I was eager to make progress, — and that He agreed I had much progress to make.
The blessing said that we can only make progress through experience, and so Heavenly Father promised me a multitude of experiences so that He could give me a multiplicity of blessings.
That He did.
That’s the blessing of a covenant.
Our covenants in the temple are not just about progression to some exalted state that makes us shiny, although that is part of the deal.
But covenants are also part of what prepares us for progression.
There is cleansing that we need, refining that must be done, preparatory experiences that prepare us for progression into more exalted spheres.
And I had a long way to go.
And so Heavenly Father has given me experiences, that I might be purified and prepared, even set apart as consecrated – even for His holy presence.
That sounds lovely in concept, but in real life it has been really hard.
So much has happened, and it would be much easier just to quit, to give up, or to give in.
There are days I want to scream “uncle” and let it be over, days I want to run and escape, and days I think I might drown.
Because life is really hard sometimes.
But He never, ever lets me drown.
I pray every day with my children, for our family prayers and all their individual prayers at morning and at night.
I pray every day with Nathan, for our couple prayers and for pleas as parents, in the morning and in the evening.
But when it is my turn, in the morning and in the evening, to talk to my Father who is my God, I beg for His help, for His mercy, for this cup to pass for me.
ENOUGH! I want to say.
Except that is the one thing I do not say, because there is only thing I want more than for a very hard life to stop: I really, really, really do want to progress home to my Father.
So what I know is that because He is my Father, it is okay for me to ask if the cup may pass.
And what I know is that because He is my Father, it is okay for me to ask for help in bearing the burdens placed upon my shoulders, because it is promised – even already given.
But what I also know is that He is my God, and He knows more and better than I, and so it is His will I want, even when life is too painful to see clearly.
I know He can see clearly, and that He sees me, eternally.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians:
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
36 ¶Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
There are times when we pray for healing, having full faith, and knowing full well that He could heal us, and we plead for relief, but instead we are told no.
We are told, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
We are also told that we are not forgotten, that He remembers us even more than the flowers in the field or the birds in the air, that He has written our names in the palms of His hands (Matthew 6:9 and Isaiah 49:16, 1 Nephi 21:16).
The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi quotes the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah in saying (1 Nephi 21; Jeremiah 1:5):
“Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee…”
This refers even to our premortal life, the time before we were born on Earth. He knew us. We knew Him. The Family Proclamation says:
In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.
Our Father-in-Heaven knows us, and is mindful of us.
Nephi goes on to say (1 Nephi 21:5):
“though Israel not be gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.”
When there is not-at-one around us, we are to do our part to restore the at-one-ness. Sometimes that means putting in an extra effort. Sometimes it means doing something someone else wants instead of what you would rather do. Sometimes it means taking a stand in our own lives for our own selves; sometimes it means letting it go and not worrying about what other people do. It means teaching others, and leading by example, but then respecting agency while others do their own individual work of learning to make good choices. It always, always means listening to (and obeying) the words of the prophets that testify of Christ.
“I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth” (verse 6).
Always, we are to be a Light, because we are made of light.
Just as He is a Light to us, the sheckinah of the Old Testament, that pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night that lead the Israelites through the wilderness, so we are to be a Light to others. But like the Israelites in the wilderness, others have to take their own steps. We are only called to show the way. As they learn to follow the Light, they will make it to the promised land.
That’s a promise.
And, in a world that is exponentially-escalating-more-and-more-quickly to the very end of these latter days, it sometimes feel as if the ugliness will win – especially on debate night.
But the Lord says, “… in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee…”
He will provide and protect.
It’s a promise.
But He also makes it possible for His work to be accomplished, even making a way for us to do our testifying in good and appropriate and inviting kinds of ways, and that mostly by example – yes, more than anything else, by being an example.
“Go forth; to them that sit in darkness: Show yourselves.” (verse 9)
When people see the Light, they begin to understand.
It’s a promise.
It stirs them up to remembering a taste of before, and leaves them hungry for more.
“They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places” (verse 9).
The “high places” points to the Temple.
I saw the Lord
sitting on His throne
High and Lifted Up
How do we get to the temple?
Our family gets in the car, turns on the GPS, and follows the directions to get on I-44 and drive West to Oklahoma City.
West is the direction.
West is the ordinance.
The first ordinance that points us towards the temple is baptism.
“… for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by springs of water shall he guide them” (1 Nephi 21: 10).
In 2 Nephi 31:17, we read:
“For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water;
and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.”
Our repentance is our evidence, our token, our act of faith given to our Father-in-Heaven, just as baptism is an external act of eternal consequence that shows us the way home.
But then, to receive the remission of sins by fire, and by the Holy Ghost?
Receiving the Holy Ghost is a gift, but to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost is hard work and takes practice in real life. It gets messy. It means life is going to be hard.
It means we must endure the trials and afflictions of mortality, knowing that He can work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) as we go through this Refiner’s fire enduring the hard things of life.
But we are not alone.
He promised: My grace is sufficient for thee.
More than the flowers of the field, and more than the birds in the sky, He knows you.
And loves you.
The very hairs on your head are numbered, and counted (Luke 12:7).
The very days of your life are numbered, and counted (D&C 122:9).
This is the doctrine of Christ, even the plan of happiness – a plan for YOUR happiness – that no matter the how others may violate you, and no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in, and no matter no matter the trials and afflictions of mortality, you have been given the promises of children of God.
My grace is sufficient for thee.
Why would we need refining?
Why can’t life be like a cozy autumn morning, with crisp air and cold rain, the kind where you might as well eat a good breakfast and then go back to bed.
Why do we have to get up? Why does life have to be so hard? What is being refined out of us?
Sister Carole M. Stephens gave us three reasons in her recent talk, The Master Healer, at October conference.
The first thing being removed from us is all that is not of God.
“The Savior, the Master Healer, has the power to change our hearts and give us permanent relief from the sorrow caused by our own sin.”
She tells the story of the Savior meeting with the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4). He knew about her very serious sins, but He also knew she had a teachable heart.
My grace is sufficient for thee.
Sister Stephens said:
“Our Savior will speak to us in a voice we recognize when we come to Him – for He knows us. He meets us where we are. And because of who He is and what He has done for us, He understands.”
We have all faced the discrepancy between who Heavenly Father says we are, and that which we have failed to live up to thus far.
But it is by the atonement, by calling on the Son, that we are able to embrace our Father as prodigals and be called sons and daughters of God. We do this very thing when we present ourselves in the temple.
My husband and I fostered more than 80 children in four years, and we adopted the six who stayed.
Nothing has ever been so hard as parenting.
In fact, Nathan says that parenting brings out our shadows, those things in us that need refining, that we never would have encountered in ourselves if we had not been parents.
We really were much nicer people before we became parents!
But even then, He whispers to us, my grace is sufficient for thee.
As Sister Stephens said:
“When we come to Him with humble and teachable hearts – even if our hearts are heavy with mistakes, sins, and transgressions – He can change us, “for he is mighty to save” (Alma 34:18).
“And with hearts changed, we can, like the Samaritan woman, go into our own cities – our homes, schools, and workplaces – to witness of Him.”
We can be a Light.
Sometimes our Light seems to flicker when we are violated by others.
Let me tell you a story:
There once was a man who had served in Afghanistan and come back home. Having endured much trauma, he sought counseling at the VA for PTSD. They struggled to find him a good medication mix that worked well for him without causing other problems. When some of his soldier buddies began acting out instead of seeking treatment, he sometimes quarreled with them as he urged them to seek professional help as he had. On one of these nights, one of these soldiers, who was dating the man’s sister, got too rough with his girlfriend. This man defended his sister, but because of domestic violence laws in that state, all three of them were arrested. He paid his fine and the charges were dismissed in court, but the man decided to move across country to get away from his buddies who were drinking too much. He got his counseling services transferred to another VA, enrolled in college, and packed up to start a new life away from all the drama and war trauma he had endured.
Later, there was a man with a criminal background driving under the influence and speeding while fleeing his parole officer from Tennessee. Giving in to some road rage, he started playing chicken with a semi-truck traveling from St. Louis to Oklahoma City. The semi called in the problem and asked for help, and another family called in another concern on the road, so another patrol car joined in the race to try and slow the guy down. The patrol car spotted the guy with his car packed so full he didn’t even see the flashing lights. Instead, the guy tried one more time to pass the semi, speeding ahead once again but this time clipping the front edge of the semi as he tried to change lanes. The force of the impact locked them together, spun them around, and threw them across the median into oncoming traffic where they came to a stop – right in front of my mom’s car.
These two men – the soldier who defended his sister and asked for help for wartime PTSD – and the guy who clipped the semi and killed my mother – they are the same man.
It is the same man, but his story told two different ways.
This is why I forgave him that dark night, because the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Anyone could take any snapshot of my life and tell very different stories from one moment to the next.
But it is Christ who transforms them. It is Christ who transforms me.
“Complete healing will come through your faith in Jesus Christ and His power and capacity, through His Atonement, to heal the scars of that which is unjust and undeserved.”
We are a family of scars, Nathan and the children and me.
I am Deaf, and have cochlear implants. I also have ovarian cancer.
We have triplet seven year olds: one is Deaf with cochlear implants like me, one has cerebral palsy, and one has autism.
We have twin four year olds: one has reactive attachment and is mute most of the time we are outside of the house, and the other has fetal alcohol syndrome.
The baby is 18 months, and she was born without an airway, and while we are delighted with her (less so as she approaches her 2nd birthday), it is very-very-very hard to keep her alive. She has spent most of her life in the hospital, and two weeks ago she was sent home from Primary Children’s in Utah for palliative care.
What are Nathan’s scars? He has some. Mostly, we’ve just worn him out.
Because he is good to us, a present and participating father, and a doting husband, and I adore him. Truly.
He is the best thing to happen to me besides my own conversion, and I know absolutely that he is a blessing to me as a result of covenant keeping.
Because this is the plan of happiness. Happiness. No matter how hard life gets, and sometimes life is really, really hard.
But there is beauty in adversity.
And there is joy for us – joy for us now. There is beauty in the love that we shared, and rejoicing in the miracles that make us a family.
Sister Stephens said:
“Remember your divine identity: you are a beloved child of Heavenly Parents. Trust your Father’s eternal plan for you.”
Remember, He promised us:
My grace is sufficient for thee.
As a counselor, and as a chaplain, and as a wife, and as a mother, and as a woman, one of my favorite quotes from any conference was from Elder Holland’s now famous talk about “Good Things to Come” given back in 1999 and referenced last year in conference. He said, to all those who are weary and struggling and grieving and trying as hard as they can in the most impossible circumstances:
“Don’t give up! Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead—a lot of it. You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
I know that we are children of Heavenly Parents, and that we are loved and known, and have been loved and known since before we were born.
I know that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son, and that He prayed for us in the Garden and that he died and rose again.
I know that the Spirit corrects and guides and comforts me.
I know that God has always used prophets, and I testify that Joseph Smith was a humble man who was a prophet of God.
I know that the priesthood has been restored, and that we have access to sacred ordinances in holy temples because of that priesthood.
I know that our prophet today is President Thomas S. Monson.
I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that it is a story of a family, even for my family.
I know that our family is happier and more peaceful when we study the scriptures and pray together every day.
I know that because of the temple, I am not married until death do us part, but for time and all eternity. I know that I have also been sealed to my own parents, who have already passed through the veil, and that this same sealing power has blessed us as we adopted our children – so much that not even hospice gets the final say.
I know that this is the plan of happiness, no matter how hard life is sometimes, and that His grace
is sufficient – even for me.
And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ,