#LDSConf Talk: Chaplain Training

For chaplains, military leaders, and priesthood leaders who attended and requested the links for the books…

For the website where you can buy our memoir, Keeping Kyrie, about the story of our family, see www.ParentingClass.Solutions/the-books

For the website where you can get the commentaries that have been released thus far, see www.ParentingClass.Solutions/lds-resources

The books are all discounted there if you get them from us directly that way, though they are also available on Amazon and iTunes, etc.


My Talk:


Over and over, the Book of Mormon tells of our covenant with Heavenly Father:

  • that if we will keep His commandments,
  • we will “prosper” in the land.

In Hebrew, the word for “prospering” is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.  This word is consistently used in the Old Testament in the same context as the Book of Mormon covenant discussions, including the overlapping Isaiah verses (see Strong’s H6743, occurring 67 times in 64 verses).

This implies making it through hard times the same way you would fight to cross a river with a current trying to pull you under.

It is the word used when a plant can grow between dry rocks and still manage to blossom into a flower.

Tsalach is a word that means being prepared for anything,
no matter what burdens are placed upon you
or what mission you are given to accomplish
and remaining true to who you are
while completing that assignment.

Tsalach is also the word used when the Spirit of God falls upon a person,
crossing from Heaven to Earth in such a way
that somehow beyond what we can understand
that person is also changed and crosses through to Heaven –

the same way you are going to get soaking wet
trying to get across that river.

Now, we know that Nephi said all things are both temporal and spiritual, so we can look at both layers (1 Nephi 15, 1 Nephi 22, 2 Nephi 2).

As a mother of six special needs children, I would love some prospering, even if just enough to cover their medical bills without losing our home and family van.

And as a convert living in rural Oklahoma, it would be easy to assume this “prospering” meant what the so-called “Bible Belt” refers to as “the prosperity gospel”.

While I do have a testimony of tithing, and have experienced “sufficient for my needs” because of it, I don’t think these “prospering” verses are talking about getting rich from being good.

When the spiritual context is explored, “prospering” means making progress by “breaking out mightily”.  It means causing the success of others by working alongside them, by giving or sending help, and by going to where they need help (as opposed to staying where you are comfortable).  It means pushing forward in what is good, when what is bad seems to hold you back.   It means “to thrive” despite the circumstances in which you find yourself.

Putting all this together, this one little word for “prospering” – tsalach – means that no matter how hard life becomes
and no matter how intense your work is
and no matter how difficult your circumstances seem,

you continue to progress
by pressing forward in faith,
fully determined to keep your promises to Heavenly Father
and fully assured He will keep His.

“Prosper” doesn’t mean to gain wealth to yourself.

It means to pour out your whole self,
everything you have to give,
and all of who you are,
until you have served your purpose –

even completed your work on the Earth.

It means to return home victorious,
not just having kept your covenants on earth,
but returning home to embrace Heavenly Parents
with whom you made premortal promises
that have now been fulfilled
against all odds
with Their help.

That’s what צָלֵחַ, tsalach means.

That’s a lot for one little word.

That kind of thriving is what Frank asked me to share with you today.

I did not grow up in the church, and by circumstance and by choice, I was on my own at age 17.  Being separated from my family meant I had to put myself through college if I was going to make it, and that meant I was homeless between semesters.  It meant seeking help where I could find it, even if it was not always the best crowd.  The dangers and the messes I got myself into complicated things further, and I found myself in a miserable state – and I don’t just mean Missouri.

Alma 36:12-15 says it this way:

 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

 I was in an awful state, living in a depraved world, drowning in misery and bondage.

I was so miserable, actually, that the very first time I saw the missionaries was through a peephole of my front door – and I refused to open it when they knocked.

I just stood there, watching them, but not opening the door.

I felt my bones on fire – yet I could not physically open the door.

It was two years later, in an entirely different city, before I finally opened the door – and that only because friends introduced me to the Gospel simply by living congruently with it.

Ultimately, our friendship culminated in me asking more direct questions about the source of their faith and family values.   That’s when they invited me to their house for dinner with the missionaries.

They gave me my first Book of Mormon, which I read overnight at a park near the river.  I called in sick to work the next day, and read it again.  And then read it again the next day.

Everything changed.

I had grown up Southern Baptist, but had been confirmed as a Catholic while I was in undergrad, and then during grad school I was attending Jewish synagogue.  When I met the missionaries, I was in desperate search of ancient truth I found in different communities, but had so far been unable to integrate into a single practice.  I struggled with my personal relationships, was very distant from my family, and coped with it all through Buddhist meditation communities to help relieve some of my anxiety.

It seemed I had tried everything, and I had little hope anything else would really work.

In fact, when my first pair of missionaries presented me with a baptism date after six weeks of lessons, I responded by informing those young boys that they were the reason I hadn’t dated in high school.

I know!
I was so mean!
I was a mess, and had little strength left for any hope that life could be better.

But it was real.

And I changed slowly, and carefully.  My new friends in my new ward were careful not to mention my progress.  I showed up one Sunday in an actual dress.  A few weeks later, I showed up without any piercings, and my tattoos covered.  A few weeks after that, I posted on social media about giving away my very fine alcohol collection – my friends were only too eager to help.  A few weeks later, I shared a picture of my coffee maker in the dumpster.  I wouldn’t acknowledge anything, and wouldn’t talk to the missionaries, and my friends at church said nothing, but we all knew I was trying.

Except when you know it is real, there is only so long you can stall.  Nine months after my first meeting with the missionaries, I finally emailed the mission president and asked to re-take my lessons.

He replied by stating he would be agreeable to us meeting for an interview in the next half hour.

That’s how my life in the church has happened since that day.   I was baptized (finally) that Saturday – eight years ago today – and confirmed on Sunday, spoke for seminary on Friday, and went to the temple for the first time that Friday night.

Alma 36:17-23 continues:

And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

 I had been born of God.

Miracles happened the moment I acted in faith: I was promised I would hear and understand my own endowment, which seemed impossible, but then I unexpectedly qualified for cochlear implants just four months before I went to the temple.  I worked very hard, and my efforts were blessed more than what they had said was medically possible, and I was able to hear and voice for myself at my endowment.

I loved the temple, making the two hour drive every week and sometimes several times a week, after I was baptized.

Like Lehi wanting to share the fruit with his family, so did I want to share this new life with my family. Except I didn’t know them anymore, and had gone far from them, and did not know what to do or how to do it.

It seemed impossible.

But I was empowered by Temple blessings, and I did my best to gather my family.

I began to write to my parents every Sunday –  in part because I didn’t yet know what else I was allowed to do on the Sabbath – and this provided opportunity to testify of the atonement and share my love for my parents, and our Father’s love for my family.

It was the atonement that built a bridge between me and my father, who was dying of cancer, and his last words to me were to “do what God tells you to do”.

My mother responded to my letters right away, just a few months after I was baptized, she went with me on a road trip to see Nauvoo where she accepted a Book of Mormon at the Carthage jail. She already knew much of the history of the Church, and she actually taught me along the way.  It changed our relationship, and barely in time – as she was killed by a drunk driver the weekend after my brother and I did our father’s temple work.

Alma 36:24-28:

Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors; For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen;

 I was called on a church service mission two weeks before I was endowed, and served for almost four years for the family history and temple department.  I was part of the team that answered emails for people who had questions on FamilySearch.  We also started the FamilySearch Wiki, the community pages on Facebook and other social media, and developed the program and video that became the youth emphasis for family history work.  These experiences grew in me a love for the temple and ancestors I had once felt so distant – thousands of my own family names were taken to the temple, and I have felt their presence and support as I have done their work in the years since.

What once seemed the hardest part of my life had become the source of my greatest support.

Other opportunities followed because of this work, including several trips to Israel and Syria and Gaza and Jordan and the West Bank.  I got to meet with the congregations there, speak to them, hear them, and learn about their worlds and their struggles.  I had to find ways to minister to people enduring more than I could imagine, people who sometimes conflicted politically with what I understood to be good or helpful, people who were of such different cultures than to what I had previously been exposed.

This led me to wrestle with issues such as my past or even my own identity, the kind of issues we work through in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education, specialized training for chaplains).

The atonement released me from the bondage of my past, and yet reconnected me to my real past – that divine spark that is within me, and has always been there, as a spirit daughter of heavenly parents, and that spark grows within me each time I act in faith or obedience.  This “growing larger” makes more of me than there was before, as His Spirit leads me higher, line upon line, climbing Jacob’s ladder one rung at a time… except the ladder turns, for I am always repenting, and so it becomes the spiral staircase designed within me, even my very DNA.  I am ever led forward and upward by His presence.

That is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

The same pillar of cloud by day, the same pillar of fire by night, that very same light, the Hebrew sheckinah itself that led the Israelites through the wilderness has led me through my own wilderness, released me from bondage, and set me free.  D&C 58:42 says “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.  By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”

It is my Saviour who does make me Holy.  D&C 60:7 says, “And in this place let them lift up their voice and declare my word with loud voices, without wrath or doubting, lifting up holy hands upon them.

For I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you.

To be holy is to be set apart; it means to forsake the world, and to leave the past behind.  It means not being afraid to move forward, and to seek after righteousness with all my being.  It means to thrive.

That is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

The atonement makes this possible, and at my baptism I said I was willing to take upon me the name of Christ, but it is only at the Temple that I do so.  To become holy is to become at-one with my Father, through the embrace of the Prodigal Son.

Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.

The Hebrew word for this process is  קָדוֹשׁ- “kadosh” (Strong’s 6918).  It is the process of sanctifying.  It means the cleansing of what is not-holy for the purpose of proving oneself as sacred.  This separates us from what is not-of-God, and only then can we become holy, which is a work beyond just repentance.

Holiness is what happens because of thriving.

קָדוֹשׁ Kadosh is a result of צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

That’s why “enduring to the end” is part of the deal.

But we do not endure passively, waiting for the difficulties of mortality to be finished.  In Hebrew, there is an idiom that means “to fill the hands”, which implies we must be about the hard work of ministering.  There is a literal transfer of power (Exodus 28:41, 29:22, 26; footnote on Leviticus 21:10) from Him to us.

This means to be both equipped (have the capacity to) and authorized to minister, and it implies that the more you minister, the more you are empowered to minister even more, until your hands are literally full.

We call this the Priesthood.

And when we are consecrated – set apart for (in purpose) and dedicated to (fulling that purpose) – the Priesthood…

That is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

But even the work we are given to do comes to us line upon line,
precept upon precept,”
here a little and there a little
(2 Nephi 28:30).

My first assignment in the church was to start a blog and share my conversion process.  It was unusual and I wasn’t sure what to write, but that’s what the missionaries and my Bishop told me to do.

I named my blog “Housewife Class” because I didn’t know what Relief Society was called in English.

But I wrote a little every day, recording my studies of the scriptures and what I was learning.  Heavenly Father made my small talent into something greater, so that the blog was turned into an app, and then I was hired by Deseret News, and then was asked to help write reviews and articles about mental health and family relationships and social issues.

A year later, I got the assignment to write a blog post for every chapter of the Book of Mormon, which was daunting and took me almost an entire year.

But that was also the year my parents died, and the intense study of the Book of Mormon is what got me through those depths of grief.

Heavenly Father continued to bless my efforts, and now eight years later, those writings are now being released as a seven volume commentary on the Book of Mormon.

I could never have imagined that as a brand new convert.

Back then, I was only focused on where I had come from and all too familiar with my faults.  I felt I had nothing to contribute, and no resources with which to do any good.

My perfection, as Elder Holland said this weekend, was “still pending”.

It is true, of course, that we often fail.  But our failure is neither permanent nor fatal.  Only Christ met the demands for holiness, but in this new and living covenant He has consecrated us, through the veil of His flesh, so that by His holiness we boldly approach (Hebrews 10:20; Hebrews 4:16).  This is the veil pattern, the point of His mortality:  that there is a discrepancy between who He has called us to be and who we have only been, but by claiming the atonement there is a transfer of power and we are able to become like Him –

  • able to become who He has called us to be
  • able to be who He has said we already are.

This process of becoming, by the Law of Consecration, through tsalach, gives us an active way not just to believe in God, but to believe in what Heavenly Father has promised: that we can become something more than we now are.

Elder Christoffersonh said we are sanctified as we make sacrifices to choose holiness.

Unfortunately for me, the next step in my faith development was learning that I needed to get married – and even this understanding came “line upon line”.

First, I had to gain a testimony of the doctrine of marriage and family.

Then, I had to act in faith – which included reaching out for blessings, fasting, and praying.

I was sealed to my husband, Nathan, in the Oklahoma City temple three years and two weeks after I was baptized.  He had served as a missionary in Korea, and then returned to New York for graduate school.  He was a writer, like me, except he wrote musicals and plays and song lyrics, all of which were way more fun than the stuff I was writing.

But I couldn’t just check marriage of the list and assume my progress was complete.

Nor did the wonderful blessing of finding my husband mean life suddenly became easy.

On the contrary, marriage provided a new context that I needed in which to continue to progress – which meant thriving despite difficult circumstances.

As soon as our honeymoon was over, Nathan had to return to New York to finish his employment contract, and he was stuck there during Hurricane Sandy.  He came home for good just before Thanksgiving, but then my mother was killed right after New Year’s.  We had five miscarriages in the first year, and grief seemed to drown us and we clung to each other through such difficult times.

But then these difficult times grew more complicated as we fostered more than seventy children in four years, and while I fought ovarian cancer twice.  We ultimately adopted six of the children, all with special needs and the youngest spending most of her life in the hospital and now on palliative care.

As we endured these challenging experiences, I could not complain.  Heavenly Father had gifted me with what I had most struggled with: family, and it was my work to learn and heal and grow and improve.  For me, these challenges were a restoration of all things, as I progressed from having no family to having all things restored.

Yes!  The restoration of all things!   BAM!  A family of eight!

But seriously, for me, this was tsalach.

My posterity is my prosperity, in a tsalach kind of way.

They are the token of my restoration,
a blessing from the signs of obedience I have offered.

They are the promises of kadosh, of holiness.

My family is the covenant blessing.

My family is the plan of happiness.

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.

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 when I don’t even know how to act in faith, such as when we are faced with choices like either paying the mortgage or paying for the equipment for our daughter to stay alive.

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, during our family prayers and all their individual prayers.

I pray every day with Nathan, during our couple prayers.

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 from 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.

But I also know is that because He is my Father, it is okay for me to ask if the cup may pass.

The Savior did.

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.

Like when you look everyday into the eyes of children growing up in the shadows of others’ consequences.

Like when you are out in the field, or in the ER, or in the community, and find a gun pointed at your head when all you did that morning was get up to go to work.

Or when you really want to be at home in your own bed with your spouse, but you are sent far away on assignment or it’s your turn for overnight hospital coverage.

Or when you are working all the hours you can just to pay off medical bills, and Heavenly Father sends you a big-ole-self-care slap in the form of a Health Survey for chaplains.

Those are moments we need to remember tsalach, and the promises of Heavenly Parents.

Those are the moments we need the very embrace of our Father-in-Heaven, and those are the moments we cling to temple covenants.

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.

More than the flowers of the field,
and more than the birds in the sky,
He knows you.
And loves you.

As I close, let me tell you two short stories to demonstrate this:

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.

There is another story about 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 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.

Elder Scott said:

“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.”

Experiencing this level of healing prepared me for chaplaincy, even when Frank told me that I still needed another Master’s Degree no matter what PhD I had.   The timing coincided with more women chaplains, and this encouraged me and strengthened me to do the hard work of all the hoops through which we jump.

Completing the CPE process helped me integrate some of these separate pieces of my life into one story, but coming here each fall has given me the courage to offer something back to the world in which I live.

I have made friends here in your good care, though am often too overwhelmed by real life to be a very good friend from so far away, but this room fills my heart with love and spirit-strength that will help me to endure hard months yet to come.

I thank you for your kindness to me.

This is the plan of happiness.   Happiness.  No matter how hard life gets, and sometimes life is really, really hard.

But there is beauty – even tsalach – in adversity.

Tsalach in adversity means that all is not lost.

It means there is purpose in all we endure, that it means something.

Even in the adversity of every day life, besides work, or the work of marriage and raising a family, or advocating for the special needs of my children or even placing my daughter on palliative care,

even then,

there is joy for us – joy for us even now.

There is beauty in the love that we share, and rejoicing in the miracles that make us a family.

 

I testify that we are children of Heavenly Parents, who love us deeply and know us intimately.

I testify that our Savior lives.  He died innocent in place of our guilt, and now He is resurrected, and He lives.  He is the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten of the Flesh, and He is my Redeemer.

I testify that the Spirit will correct, instruct, guide, and comfort me to the degree that I respond.

I testify that He has set prophets as the flaming sword that guards the path to the Tree of Life, and that Joseph Smith was a humble and mortal man but also a prophet of God – as is President Thomas S. Monson our prophet today.

I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that it is a story of a family, even for my family, and that it changes everything.

I testify that temple ordinances have been restored along with the restoration of the priesthood, and that “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally” (Family Proclamation).

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 my very own marriage that was exactly right for me, and has continued to bless us as we adopted our six 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 even when life is hard,

we are not alone

or forgotten.

We are known
and remembered
and loved.

And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ,
Amen.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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