Make Something of Me

“God is determined, if possible, to make something of us. In order to
do this, He has to try us and prove us, to manifest principles unto us.
To show us, by placing us in various positions and subjecting us to
various trials, what we are, to show us our weaknesses and follies, in
order that we may be made to lean and depend upon Him, the Lord.”

~ John Taylor

~ Emily via Sidekick 5 LX

2010: A Year of Miracles

2009 closed with me being just barely baptized and recovery from a year’s worth of heart illness.  I received my first healing blessings.  While stuck on bedrest, I dove into mormon literature, devouring all the books I could find and exploring doctrine and beginning my line-upon-line.  I was finally cleared to “go outside”, and promptly packed up and went camping, reading “Jesus the Christ” overnight.

Christmas was spent still recovering, with a little tree in my little scary apartment that had no heat and a fireplace that gave me pneumonia.  But me and Neitzsche had the gospel, and we were happy and content.

But also, cold.

I got my Patriarchal Blessing at the end of December, and I was so new that I didn’t understand much of it beyond being aware it was amazing.  However, in a paragraph about my personal study and things to memorize, it specifically listed the Family Proclamation.  So I started there, just because it was specific enough for to know something to do.  I started memorizing it while in cardiac rehab, and would read it out loud to my “family” – my first names of my family I had begun to do at the Temple every week!

 I did not see my family still last Christmas, but the Family Proclamation got me to thinking about them.  So I did, for Christmas, send my a letter each to my mother and to my father.  My mother wrote back.  Then I started writing her every week.  Then we started emailing.  That’s how I got my mother for Christmas.

The Queens came and caroled to me, which was awesome because people just don’t go Christmas caroling Deaf people!  I laughed so hard!  It was AMAZING.  I loved it!

After being so sick, and all that hospice nonsense, I was very, very happy at the sight of Spring bursting forth.  I did not think I would see Spring, and this began my understanding and the increasing of my testimony of blessings and healings and faith.  To me, Spring was a miracle.

I began to walk again, resuming my Neitzsche walks that I loved before getting sick, which now had been a whole year ago.  I did not yet know that I qualified for cochlear implant surgery, and that there was one more year of surgeries ahead of me.

After studying the lesson manuals about the different prophets, and re-reading the Joseph Smith one that I had started in the middle of (in Relief Society, when I started going to church), I decided I wanted to learn more about that Joseph Smith place and the whole Nauvoo thing.  I googled it, researched it, and decided just to go see it for myself.  On a whim, I invited my newly re-discovered mother to go with me.  She agreed!  Three hours later, we were on our way to Nauvoo!

We raced ahead of a snow storm, literally making it to St. Louis twenty minutes before it hit!

AND, I could not just drive through St. Louis without stopping to do baptisms!

 The next day we drove through snow, staying ahead of the ice that followed, and made it all the way to Nauvoo!  We left St. Louis at 6am, and made it in time to tour Carthage Jail.  It made me cry.  It was amazing.  We were the only ones there, and so we got a special tour by the missionaries, where we got to go inside areas normally closed to tourists.  It was so special and amazing, and my mother accepted a Book of Mormon there, for the first time.

From the Carthage Jail, we headed to Nauvoo.  When I saw the river, THE RIVER, where the pioneers crossed, beginning on a day as cold and icy as that day I was there, I did weep and weep and weep.  I cannot describe how incredible the experience was, and how powerful it was to me.

Then, finally, up the road just a tiny bit,
around the corner and on the hill, was the Nauvoo Temple.  It was amazing.  While I went in for baptisms, and a personal tour (the Temple president said they were waiting on me – it was so CREEPY!  In that good, mormon kind of way!), my mother toured the little village there.  It was a very special day for both of us, I think.

 

After we saw all we could see in a single afternoon and evening, we drove all the way back to St. Louis that night!  We both only had the weekend off, so yes – we drove to Nauvoo after work on Friday, and were back in time for work Monday morning!  It was CRAZY!  But the time together in the car was precious and amazing, and so healing for us.  After this trip, we were friends indeed.

 The next exciting adventure was my first lesson in the blessings that come from tithing!  I got a house for my birthday!  No joke!  It was finished being built by my birthday, and we closed just after.  It was such a sweet experience.  To get baptized, I had to move out of my giant house the summer before… I lost a lot of furniture and fancy things, and I lost a gorgeous house.  I lost my best friend of three years, whom I thought I was going to marry.  Because I wanted to get baptized, I had to just let go of the contract and everything, just sacrifice it in obedience, my first big act of faith.  I was also paying for cardiac bills at the time, and started tithing, and lost all my equity and everything – it was a picture of financial ruin for foolishness from any other perspective, but it was an act of faith for me, part of preparing me for baptism.  So to me, this house was a miracle – a miracle of blessings for obedience, and a miracle of tithing blessings.  It was amazing.  I got a really good deal, but it was quality work from the builders… but they made several minor mistakes (nothing damaging the house) that also provided for me the free fence for my puppy, all new appliances for free, the garage door opener, etc.  It was AMAZING.  I cried every night, and drove all the way to Owasso everyday to see it.  This was my miracle house, given to me by my Heavenly Father.  And everybody knew it!  That was part of what was so amazing, because all my non-member friends were watching and seeing it all unfold, and even they knew there was no other explanation than it all being a God-thing.  It was AMAZING.

I continued becoming friends with my mother, and we continued healing.  It was very good for us.  I also continued writing to my father each week as well, but he never responded.

My mother, however, was up for another spontaneous weekend trip!  This time it was because I found family that were members!  Distant, but family!  I was doing family history work and connected to another line through my mother’s great-grandfather (the one who settled Eureka Springs), and this lady and I began to email back and forth.  She was so sweet, and turned out to be a Temple worker in Mesa.  I was so desperate for family, and so excited to have found family that was a member, that I decided to go meet her!

So, my mother drove over Thursday night, and then before dawn on Friday morning, she and I started driving west!  Just like that!  It was so fun!  Such an adventure, and again it was good time for us in the car, with nothing to do but talk and heal and chat and laugh.  Like Nauvoo, it is one of my best memories ever of my mother.  We drove all the way to Albuquerque the first night!   Of course I made it there in time to go to a baptism session at the Temple there!

We slept a few hours, and then left all our stuff in the hotel and got in the car and drove all that day to Mesa!  It was so fun, because we  had many adventures along the way… like dinosaurs!

 And my mother and I got to see the Really Grand Canyon together!

Then finally, right at rush hour, we made it to the Mesa Temple! 

I got to meet this lady, who helped me do baptisms, and while I did that my mother filled the car up with gas and got us food… so by the time I was back out again (and finished taking hundreds of pictures of the gorgeous garden grounds!), we were back on the road to Albuquerque!  We made it in the middle of the night, slept a few hours, and then drove all the way back to Tulsa the next day.  It was CRAZY!  But it was amazing!

After that adventure, it was time to say goodbye to my little river apartment:

 Because my house was finished!  Just in time for my birthday!

It was March when it closed, but I was moved in by April.  I missed my Brook Hollow friends very much, but I still got to see them at different things… such as Family Home Even
ing nights at the Masons, whom I love with all my heart.  I am so grateful to them and their teachings, from my first days as a visitor at church almost two years ago, to the friendship that has evolved since.  Mutual edification, I say.

Then I had my first Easter as a Latter-day Saint, and found out that means General Conference, WOOT!
 

Since I went to TOES to watch General Conference, and like after Stake Conference, I got to go out to eat with Brook Hollow friends afterwards.  But by now my worlds were starting to overlap, such as my terp at BH really being in my new ward at Ranch Creek, so that helped me transition into my new ward.

Then we found out, after being denied for four years, that a new procedure meant I qualified for cochlear implant surgery!  It was very exciting, a very emotional decision to make, and then it all happened very quickly.  We almost did not have time to say goodbye to my hair!

Recovery from surgery took more than two months.  It was horrific and horrible, but it was a miracle-in-the-making, no doubt.

I was supposed to get my staples removed at 14 days, but my surgeon left the country for a conference!  So I was stuck with staples in my head for another week!  I couldn’t handle it!  My body was pushing them out, so they were becoming painful and I was worried about them getting infected.  So I started taking them out myself with jewelry pliers.  HA!  Because that wasn’t the proper way to remove them, I could only do a few at a time… also, I really was trying to wait for the surgeon, so I was only taking out the painful ones.  But finally, it was so bad that my friend who is a surgery tech did use the real staple-removal-clippers to get the rest of my staples out for me.  My doctor was so mad that I had taken them out myself!  Excepting then, after he realized the time frame, and how we did it, he said I did the right thing.  So.  Whew.

Summer was spent simply, recovering from surgery.  I dropped off the planet from the social world, disappearing from friends and playtime to just be at my new house, my first time to live completely on my own, appreciating self-reliance, and celebrating each day in my little garden that I loved.  It was a beautiful, healing summer that did strengthen the fibers of my soul.

At the end of June, Sherry Campbell got assigned as my visiting teacher.  We made a newspaper dress!

Another thing I did in the summer was watch my hair grow back, so painfully slow… By July, I was clearly in the chia pet stage!  This is me at my mother’s Relay for Life, where I bought a luminary to honor my friend Brother Fish from the Oklahoma City Temple.

At the end of summer, it was time for my first missionary, Elder Max Black (from Idaho), to go home.  He was finished!  It took almost his entire mission to get me baptized and endowed! HA!  But we made it!  This picture is with him and the Hamiltons, the family that baptized me.

I recovered enough from surgery that Neitzsche and I were back to our walks!  My body felt swollen and stiff and weak after the two years of being sick, and I was glad to be outside walking again.  My vis
iting teacher began walking with us every morning, and visiting teaching grew into friendship.
 

I love her family!  They are so sweet and kind to me!  And they crack me up!  This memory is from the time Ron was out of town, and they had a leak in their backyard.  This is Riley with his invention that sucks water out of the hole… and sprays the mud on himself!  But it totally worked!  It really did get the water out!

I flew to Philadelphia for the National Association of the Deaf conference, which meant I was close enough to go see the Washington, DC temple!  My friend Jen drove me there, and I will be forever grateful to her – and so glad for far away friendships!

On the way back home, my flight had problems and so we were held over night in Houston… that gave me time enough to take a cab and see the Houston Temple, too!

The end of summer was spent swimming and playing, a freedom I had missed out thus far because of surgery.  The Campbell kids and I spent some time at the pool, and helped me as I learned to hear and speak!

Then I got called as a missionary!  How wild is that?!  It’s a MIRACLE!

I was so excited!  I thought I had missed out on being a missionary, since I am too old to go on a mission like the young people do, and not yet married or retired to go on a senior mission.  So I was honored and excited and thrilled that there was an opportunity for even me to serve a mission!

Trying to stick to my missionary budget, I had to go camping in Springfield to see the miracle-est of all!

 It was my brother!  He got baptized!  Almost exactly a year after I did!  SO AMAZING!
 

And then, by some other classic Emily adventure, my mother gave me another puppy.  And I mean PUPPY.  His name is Rilke (another philosopher-poet, like Neitzsche!).  Neitzsche (Nee-chee) is getting old, and the vet has been saying that if I want to train another deaf puppy, I need to do it now while Neitzsche still can.  He also said another puppy now will help Neitzsche live longer.  Thus came Rilke (Rill-kah).  It is so true!  Rilke is CRAZY, but he plays so well with Neitzsche, and I think we all needed it him and love him.

I do love my baby puppies!

Then, one of the most powerful and amazing days of my whole entire life, seriously.

The PRIESTHOOD was restored to MY family!  My brother got the priesthood!

Esther Zonts started joining me and Sherrolyn and others on our monthly Girls Night Temple trips, and so I began to get to know her family a little.  Adding the Zonts and the King families to one dinner table means A LOT OF CHILDREN!

In October, my dream came true!  I got to go to SALT LAKE CITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was such an amazing experience!  I got to meet my mission team at Church Headquarters:

And I got to go to FIVE temples in TWO DAYS!

It was amazing.  Just amazing.  I mean AMAZING.

By the time I got home, Autumn was officially in Oklahoma!

Riley and Haleigh taught me how to play “Charades”.  I have never laughed so hard!
 

Neitzsche started teaching Rilke how to go on walks:

I gave my first talk at my ward, a 5th Sunday 3rd Hour lesson (only a mormon can understand that!) about marriage.  It was intense, and everyone was very gracious.

 THEN THEN THENNNNN, the Campbell kids introduced me to McDonald LAND!

 

It was THE MOST FUN ever, and I did love it. 

By December, I knew the second cochlear implant surgery was happening for sure.  It was so horrific the first time, that I was not sure I would be able to endure it again.  Also, my body was just worn out from two years of surgeries.  But then, then I went to the SYMPHONY, and it was AMAZING.  I knew the second cochlear implant was worth it, and it gave me the strength to be ready for it.

Part of getting ready meant decorating my new house for the first time!

Also, I was accidentally in my first ever Christmas parade!

All adventures came to a screeching halt last week, when I received my second cochlear implant – this time on the right side of my head.  Again, it was horrific and awful.  Except this time I knew it would be worth it.

A week of blessings and good care from many friends, and much help from many Relief Society sisters, and I was back up and ready for new adventures.

There are always adventures to be had in Emily World, even when Emily is baptized shiny clean, and the days are marked by Temple trips and mission hours.

And 2010 had PLENTY of adventures.

The biggest being like the great Heart Healing of 2009, which did give me LIFE to live, with the responsibility and obligation to live it well, so was this year the great “Ear” Healing of 2010… in which I am allowed to hear, and now responsible and obligated to obey.

2010 was a year of MIRACLES, absolutely.

So now, 2010 closes with 3 Nephi 7:22…

And as many as …. were healed of their sicknesses and their infirmities, did truly manifest unto the people that they had been wrought upon by the Spirit of God, and had been healed…”

I can’t WAIT to see what happens next year!

Tleilaxu’s Eyes

Our brains have an auditory cortex on each side.

I hope that made you as dizzy as I feel.  Because I am mean that way.  HA!

But really, the pathways between your ears (or my cochlear implants) and the auditory cortex on each side of the brain make things a little more complicated:

But let’s simplify a bit:

There is more to hearing than just sound going in your ears.  There is how the sound gets to your brain, and then what your brain does with it.  But there is also a part of your brain that has to remember sounds, and there are different parts of your brain for sounds and speech.  So that’s why it gets complicated.

But for this, we are focused on these pathways of how sound gets from outside my head to into my brain to be understood – and how bilateral (two, one on each side) cochlear implants makes a difference.

The important thing to understand here is that it is not like the one implant only affects one part of my brain.

It does, actually, have the potential to affect both sides of the brain.

It has the potential to affect both sides, in some way, because there are pathways that cross across.  Here’s the simple version of that “complicated” picture above:

To keep things simple, what this shows is how sound from the cochlea can go to that auditory cortex, but it can also go to the other one on the other side!

Here is the graphic from yesterday, from the email I got from Cochlear Community, which talked about bilateral cochlear implants:

You can see from the blue and red arrows at the bottom, how the sound can cross to the other side.

But here is the thing about that cross-over, where the red and blue arrows cross – no one knows until the second implant is activated – whether the cross-over ENHANCES sound or CANCELS sound.  They have no way to test that yet on individuals, and so this is why I was cautioned that I may lose sound after the second implant or when the second processor is added on January 19th.

Michael Chorost, who wrote REBUILT, said it this way (talking about the complicated diagram at the top of this blog, and my cochlear implants being years of upgrades since what he experienced and wrote about):

“It’s well-known that the right ear sends most of its signal to the left hemisphere for high-level processing, and that the hemispheres have only partial access to what each other knows. But there is significant crossover as the signal ascends neural pathways to the auditory cortex. A quick glance at a diagram from Yost’s Fundamentals of Hearing makes that clear.”

(In the 4th edition of Yost, from 2000, it is page 228.)

So what this means is that having one cochlear implant has the possibility to affect both sides of the brain.

Getting a second cochlear implant, with the training will do the same thing, and then teach both sides to also enhance the other.

That feels automatic.

Except there is also the possibility that the cross-over cancels each other out, make it a starting-over kind of thing.

We didn’t know which way I would go.

Would I lose everything, and have to re-learn from scratch?

We knew not EVERYTHING, because at least this time I would know WHAT to listen FOR – even crossover signals that cancelled each other out would not wipe out the sound-memory that has been developed.  I would remember sound this time, know it in a way that I did not know with the first surgery.  So even if I had to start over, at least I would know where I was going this time.

Or, would adding the second implant just give me MORE sound (from the other side of my head) and give me direction (to be able to know where sound comes from)?

Or, would the second processor activate crossover in such a way that sound was actually enhanced?  Greater clarity, more discrimination between sounds, increased speech recognition – even in noisy environments?  More pitch perception, more tone discernment, more ability to understand even music?

We would not know until the second implant is activated, they said.

It is a hard thing to wait the four weeks between surgery and activation.  There has to be a waiting period because brain swelling has to go down enough that it is safe to activate the new 32 (for a total of 64) electrodes in my brain without causing any further damage.  Activation Day, or A-Day as it is known in the cochlear implant community, cannot come soon enough.  It isn’t until then that you know whether or not surgery was successful, and not until the subsequent mappings that you know HOW successful.

And so I wait, urging January 19th to arrive, so that I can find out whether or not this second surgery was successful.  And as I wait, I sit and wonder whether my crossover will cancel or enhance my hearing.

Until last night.

Last night, I was eating chips and realized for the first time that I could hear myself eating chips.  It was the weirdest thing!  I have not heard before this digital sound of your own chip crunching.

And that made me think and ponder, even about my earlier in the week observations that I could hear my own voice better than I could before surgery.  It was significant then, because there was the chance that after surgery the static-sound (the electrodes picking up the sound of brain noise inside my head) would be so much I would not be able to hear with my “old” processor (the first one, on the left), and that I may lose my hearing and my speech while my brain heals.

All of that was possible, even though I do not yet have the processor on the right, so I can hear no NEW sounds from the OUTSIDE of my head
until Activation Day.

So no NEW sound is coming IN to me, but already my brain is processing sound DIFFERENTLY!

This was confirmed when I was thinking about that the awful beeping sound I hate, the one that could drive me crazy because it sounds like an alarm clock going off in your head, or like the heart monitor at the hospital, except it is in my head and no one can turn it off… I just have to wait for the brain swelling to go down, and my adjustment to the new brain noise.  So the static is horrible, and it is frightening.  I can’t stand it!  That static sound is what makes cochlear patients go crazy (literally), and what makes them quit wearing their processors and give up on the Cochlear Implant before ever getting to the point of discovering how to understand sound.

(If you want to hear what it is like to learn how to hear with cochlear implants, going from the static sound to learning to hear digitally, CLICK HERE for a sentence example, HERE for a song example, and HERE for a music example.)

Except what I realized as I thought about that awful static sound is that the ONLY thing that relieves it at all is leaving the processor ON on my left side.  Any time I remove my left processor, that alarm goes off on the right, and it is horrible. So much that my greatest recovery challenge is being able to fall asleep with the alarm going off in my head.  It’s awful.

BUT, look what that means!

If my left processor is affecting the other side, then it means my crossover is GOOD!

And if already I can now hear my own voice, and hear myself crunching chips, then it means the crossover is not just good, but it is the ENHANCING sort!

This is the best news!  It is very exciting to me, and of a great comfort to me.  I do not have to wait four weeks (three more now) until January 19th to find out if it surgery was successful, because now I know it was!  I do not have to wait to find out if my crossover will cancel or enhance, because now I know it is enhancing already!

I will still have to work.  I will still have to remove my left processor and do my listening rehab with the right processor, to teach that side of my brain what it needs to know.

But it was learning all along!

It’s so amazing!

I think it will need it’s own listening rehab, of course, but I do not think I will be starting from scratch.

I think having sound coming at me – into me – from both sides will be some difficult, and sometimes emotional, adjustments and adapting-ness.

But it’s going to be okay.

And so here I am, one week since surgery, ready to get the 20 staples in my head taken out tomorrow morning, and already knowing that my crossover ENHANCES instead of cancels.

I am so relieved, and so excited!  It’s an amazing thing!

It’s a miracle, truly!

I am so grateful for being led to this insight, and for the peace and confidence understanding it brings me.

I am grateful for the people who have been caring for me and helping me.

I am grateful for the blessings I received before and after surgery, all of which promised a quick recovery.

I am grateful for a covenant God who keeps His promises.

After my first cochlear implant, I was not even awake yet after a week.

Today, not only am I awake, but I am more and more alert each time I wake up after sleeping, and I am feeding myself, regaining motor skill function, walking without my walker, folding my own laundry, able to still hear, able to still speak, and healing very well.

It leaves me in awe.

This morning my chapter to read was Helaman 3, and it made me want to claim an “unconquerable spirit”.

I knew, with Lachoneus, that the only way to be delivered is to cry unto the Lord for strength.

I have experienced, like Gidgiddoni, that when you do pray unto the Lord, He will tell you where to go and what to do.  He will show the way.

Even if it is just the pathway from your ears to your brain, from sound to understanding.

It is a miracle, I say.

My cochlea is the size of a pea.

What technology it is that can implant a device into my brain, and connect it to that pea-sized space so that I can HEAR sound, and not just see it.

Rhapsody in Hue: a Deaf Symphony by Cole Holland (the son of the real life Mr. Holland’s Opus)

From Static to Angel Songs

I want to blog because I did not yesterday, and now I remember none of it.  DOH!

This morning I played thinking games, working old formulas and playing in math books to wake my brain up.  I took a good nap, and felt very alert when I woke up.  So I think that was all very good.

The downside of becoming more alert is that you become more aware of how much you cannot do, and that leaves me frustrated and impatient.

I did step out into the sunshine, and feeling the sun on my skin did make everything better.  What a miraculous feeling we take for granted, what a gift of life in such a simple moment.

I am walking better and my motor skills are better today, but the biggest breakthrough is that I am finally starting to make friends with the horrific noise in my head since surgery.  It is an awful static, and it reminds me why some people go crazy after this surgery, and why so many people quit on their cochlear implants before ever getting to the phase of learning sound.  It is horrible.

It is a loud static, screaming at you, roaring at you, and you cannot turn it off or run away from it.

As I was laying there, I was thinking about what the doctor said about it being the sound of “brain noise”, which hearing people learn to tune out when they are babies.  I am hearing it now because of the electrodes in my head, and the brain swelling is making it worse.

But I realized that if it was a natural sound, and not the mechanical monster it seemed, then it must have meaning to it.

And so for the last three days, I have tried hard to tune into it instead of wanting to claw my way out of my own skull.  I wondered if I could tune in well enough, what sound – like learning to hear with my processor – what MEANING could I find in that awful static, how could I de-code it, so that the sound could be ignored or tuned out or familiar – even comforting.

So I began to listen.

And finally, the breakthrough was that I realized part of what I could hear in the static was my own heartbeat.

This was good and bad – at first it was hard because then the static had a rhythm, and that was almost more torturous than the constant static.  But then as I let myself breathe to the rhythm of my own heart beat, I found that my pain lessened and I slept better and I was able to focus more.

But still there was a painful sound in the static I could not identify – not until I realized it was like one of the beeps at the audiologist office, when I get the electrodes tested or a new mapping done.  So I knew it had to be related to my implant, and not one of my body sounds exactly, but somehow connected to an electrode issue.  So I kept listening, and I realized it was the same sound I hear in my left implant (still) when I am too tired or do too much – it is the beeping of one electrode or another (meaning different tones, high or low), but to the beat of my own pulse… faster if I am upset or doing too much, or a slow alert beep if I am too tired or exhausted.  I realized then the reason I did not like this beep was because it was too connected to my pain level.  So when I hurt more, that beep was louder and more persistent, beating out the pulse of my pain.

And so it irritated me, and it annoyed me, and it was like poking a stick at me where I already hurt. 

It was just uncomfortable.

But that was two sounds within the static that I had found – my heartbeat, and my pulse. Related, but not the same, and completely different sounds within the static.  The heartbeat sound is like the inside heartbeat sound, like on an ultrasound.  The pulse is the mechanical beep of the electrode.

Still behind it was static.

And so I kept listening.

Then I began to cry, for because in my pain and my just-this-side-of-a-fever, I had an experience where the static seemed to turn to song.  It was as if the pulse beep became the tick of a metronome, and the heartbeat sound became the rhythm and strings section of an orchestra.

This is what happens when you go to the symphony just before brain surgery.

But it was amazing, and beautiful, and made me cry – not weep, because weeping would have hurt.

But then, it got better – it was as if this simple march-rhythm, the constant, steady beat of the pulse and the heartbeat sound – it led me to realize that the static was a song indeed, and this is what I heard:

It was as if a choir of angels were singing to me through the static, specifically mens voices and then female voices, and then all of them together – and it was if it was this very song, except all the words were changed, as if it were a prayer to me.

I mean, not a prayer TO me, but like a blessing, where it was sung to me and the words were for me.

It was very sacred and special and words not for blogging.  But it was the most amazing experience, even if it was some combination of spiritual-ness-meets-brain-surgery-meets-symphony-ness.  Except I think it was more, of course, but it was amazing.

And since then, the static sound has not haunted me.

I still do not like the beeps when they come, but the heartbeat reminds me I am alive, and it is comforting.  It lulls me to sleep in my womb of blankets, and it comforts me when the pain is especially difficult.

But the static?  I now know the static is song, and so I wait for the words to come.

It makes me less afraid to take off my processor at naptime or bedtime.

It makes me calm and comforted instead of panic-ed or afraid or dreading the moment I have to remove it.

It makes the loud world in my head become a soft place of prayer again, as it was before the first surgery.

It is relief.

And yet, when I add the other processor on – the first one, on the left – when I put it back on, the static noise dies away.  It as is if when the world invades or distracts, then it is too impossible to hear the songs of angels.  And yet, the angels are not far, and still meaning comes to me when my processor hears sounds.

“They” thought I might lose my progress on the left side when I had surgery on the right.  They thought I might lose my ability to process sound, and my ability to speak.  They thought I might have to start all over after surgery.

I still might, after they add the second processor on the right.  We will see.

But for now, on this day, I have lost nothing.  I still can speak.  In fact, I actually can hear myself speak better than I could before, and I don’t know yet why that is or how to explain it.  Also, I can still hear fairly well when I listen with my processor, though some soft sounds are hard to pick up because of the static.  But mostly, mostly it is fine.

I have not really watched tv or listened to music much since surgery.  I tried a couple of times, and a couple of times friends were here who did.  But the static had been my enemy then, like pre-baptism, when I thought it static instead of angel choirs, and so nothing made sense.  I thought maybe I could still understand voices but had lost music.

Not so.

Today, since my static breakthrough, I was able to go to my car (my car is where I can hear best, just because I get to sit in a stereo system), and I was able to listen.

Again, I would have wept if it had not been too painful to do so.

We listened to the entire performance of Mozart’s Piano Concert No 24 in C Minor, and it was amazing.

Here is a clip from the 2nd movement:

It was powerful to me, and it moved me.  It felt as warm as the sunshine did on my face.

I was glad I to be alive.

And I could hear.

I really could!  I could hear the swell of the notes, the individual notes, some cords, the piano pieces specifically – which did make the pulse-beeps on th
e right go away, and sometimes some other instruments even though I could not yet tell which was what or which.  But it was lovely.

I especially love being able to hear each note – each note is such a miracle to me, and each one has its own color and life to it, as if I could sit in my car and listen, and without my body leaving that space, my spirit could waltz past a thousand individual flowers, each that smell uniquely and have their own shape and texture, yet all together reaching high to wave at the clouds passing by.

It was amazing.

This is the miracle of sound, and this is why I am fighting through one more surgery.

Because it is worth it.

The static-song in my head has changed from “O Come All Ye Faithful” to “Joyful, Joyful”, but again with its own Emily words, and I sit and listen and ponder in my dreams which words are poems I write, and which are angel blessings sung to me so that I might breathe another day.

My First Symphony with my Cochlear Implant

When I finished Christmas with my family, and they were on to other things, and there was no stalling left to do as they all went along their way, I said a precious goodbye to my baby puppies and started driving home.

Before I got very far, I received a message that my little (now grown-up and professional) friend Whitney Campbell got a an extra free ticket to the PROFESSIONAL symphony she was playing in last night!  Since I was still close to where it was anyway, I just turned my car around and met the Campbell family there for Whitney’s concert.

It was the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, a professional group in Northwest Arkansas.  This means Whitney is professional and everything!  She got paid!  She was ASKED to be in the orchestra, and was the only Bass Clarinet they had, and so she had tons of solos!  I was so proud of her! They performed in Bentonville, the ritzy cultural center of the home offices of Wal-Mart and JB Hunt and all kinds of gazabillionarie-ness-ness.

DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS WAS MY FIRST SYMPHONY SINCE MY COCHLEAR IMPLANT?!

It was AMAZING!  And I mean AMAZZZZZZING!

The first part included several classic Christmas pieces, including arrangements with a hand bell choir.  It was so beautiful that I wept.  I cried and cried and cried.

I cannot explain, do not know how to explain the layers of sound that I heard.  As soon as I discovered one sound, something else was already happening.  It was like flying through a rainbow while being thrown into the sea, all at once.  It was music-tastic.

The bells are still the most distinct sound I am able to hear, the most clear and crisp, like the flash of a camera.

But the other pieces of the orchestra – the sounds of a band are still blurry to me – just beyond what I can capture, but so close – but this orchestra last night, oh!  It was like voices in a conversation, different instruments talking back and forth to one another, and yet so subtle.  The voices of the orchestra were pure and soft and lingering, beyond any Jane Austen imagination, so… romantic, but sacred.

It was, by far, the most powerful experience I have had outside of the Temple.

It was, absolutely, one of the most sacred experiences of my life.

And when I closed my eyes, I could still hear it.  The sound was still there!

That is when I began to cry.

I do not understand how sound can become like the slip of silky sheets or the melting of sweet chocolate.  I do not understand how that sound up on the stage becomes as close and sweet as a kiss inside of me.  I do not understand how it got from there to here.  I mean, I understand the physics of it.  I could draw it on paper.  I have always know that.  But I have never known THIS.

I kept reaching toward my head, almost unconsciously, for because the music was so tangible to me.  I have never experienced anything like it, and before music has been accessible to me only on paper – in some silent, visual, mathematical dance behind my eyes, or through touch – with different sounds familiar to me based on where and how I felt them in my body.  But this was an entirely different dimension, and entirely different experience.  This was music that flowed into me and over me and through me, like a river that was only mist, like a vision no one else can see.  It was so TANGIBLE, and my hand, without me realizing it, kept reaching up to touch it, as if it were an object near my head that I could catch, as if it were a magic bubble I might be able to touch.

But I could not touch it, and yet it was that real.

I sat in a chair to LISTEN to music I have read and studied and known on paper, and yet it came alive as much as if a real person had stepped out of a fairytale book.  The notes I have known on paper became 3D, changing from black and white dots to the color of sound.  I was in awe, and it poured over me like waves.

This was our favorite last night, Stille Nacht, by Franz Gruber, as arranged by Davis & Custer, except instead of the voices it was a cello.  I have always loved cello because that is a sound that I can feel in the deepest parts of me, beyond my bones.  Yet to hear that sound, the depth of its haunting, it was as the voice of God.

Here is that song, though nothing will ever compare to the version we heard last night, with the cello doing the voice part you will hear:

I found on YouTube a couple of videos of the cello version, but they were all high school kids and the recordings did not do last night justice.  What miracle is it when my cochlear implant can pick up sound better than a YouTube video?!  But if you want a taste, this one was the best, though the sound is still distorted and it does not do justice to last night’s performance:

The more lively, quick pieces were just as astounding.  Hearing specific notes, distinct pitches, noticing the spaces between notes – I could not even breathe!  I was so moved and caught up!  I have been practicing my “music program” on my processor, and listening to Christmas music as they told me to do.  So I have been proud of my progress of becoming familiar (digitally!) with Christmas songs and trying to hear and understand and learn the words of the songs… but to listen to these songs, pieces I know as one voice or one instrument holding the melody, become a 60 piece orchestra, with the melody dancing around different voices – it was like a ballet of sound!  It was as if there need be no ballet, for the melody itself was the dancer!  I cannot explain how incredible this was, and what a miracle to follow the melody around from voice to voice!

It was way better than Baa Baa Black Sheep on “Sound and Way Beyond“.

Except you know what?  Without the hours and hours everyday of listening rehab, without learning to tell the difference between Baa Baa Black Sheep and Happy Birthday, without studying each note of the scale, without studying the sounds of different instruments, without all those months of painful daily practice, I never ever would have experienced the symphony the way I did last night.

It was a miracle that totally topped snap, crackle, and pop.

The second half featured selections from “The Nutcracker”.  Excepting instead of just playing the classical pieces by Tchaikovsky, they played each selection the classical way, and then a jazz band played the Duke Ellington version!  It was incredible!  What a gift to me, to hear professionals play the same classic pieces in two different ways, so I could learn what the differences were!  It was AMAZING!

I loved it because the jazz band kept featuring different solos, which the orchestra also did, except in jazz band, it was a small band instead of a large orchestra, and when they played a solo, they stood up!  So I knew who was playing the solo!  And I could really, really watch and listen to that specific instrument!  It was incredible!  Again, it was way better than “Sound and Way Beyond”, of listening to which instrument is which.  Except without that practice, I never would have understood what was happening with the jazz band!

The band is still more “blurry” a sound to me, and they played so much so fast that I really could not listen that fast.  I tried hard!  But it was so much so fast, I just couldn’t catch it like I could the long, vibrating sounds of the orchestra.  But it was delightful, and it did make me bounce.  And it just makes me want to practice more.

I think I could hear the trumpets and the soprano sax the best, though both played so many notes I could not keep up.  But what fun it was!  What a chasing adventure it was!

Oh!  The whole evening did fill my soul and lift my spirits!  The sounds I heard are too new for me to hold – they have slipped beyond m
e already, for they are too fresh and too misty for me to be able to hold them in my memory.  Isn’t that a funny thing?  But oh!  I remember the experience of it!  And the experience itself is impressed upon my senses, like seeing stars after looking at the sun too long.

It was a miracle to me, a most amazing experience.

It was not about hearing.  I have studied music always, and have loved the feel and experience of all kinds of music, for always.  I really have.  But this was different than anything before, this was access like never before, this was a whole new dimension.  I was not even on planet Earth.

The symphony last night made every bit of the cochlear implant process worth it.  From the physical recovery to the HOURS of DAILY practice and listening rehab, to the private speech instructors, to wearing the stupid microphone for six months… Even the staples.  Even the staples, that’s how serious I am.

It was worth it.

And it made me want more.

It stirred passions within me, and made me hungry for more.

Selfish perhaps, yes.

Or maybe it was just the very gift I needed to be ready for surgery on Wednesday, to be ready to go through this one more time for the other ear, and then to do the work to make both sides work together into one sound.

It will be like 3D technicolor HD AMAZINGness.

It will be stereo.

Can you imagine the symphony in stereo?

Can you imagine that music pouring into your soul from both sides?

I might melt to the floor.

Next year.  Next year it’s a date with the symphony.

Sunday Night Talk

Okay, my talk was hilarious.

What I mean to say, is that my talk was actually very dry and serious – which, my BFFVT pointed out, is more ME than most people realize.  But it was not an “entertaining” talk.  This was different than my teaching talks, or lessons I have done, because there was no silliness mixed in to hold people’s attention.  It was just testimony-doctrine, straight up, no apologies, no softening, or cushioning.

What was funny though, was that we had extra time because the people who were supposed to do the music were sick and cancelled… and then on top of that, my email inviting me to speak said 15-20 minutes, when really I had 45 minutes to an hour and a half!  So there was some confusion, and I did not know until I sat down that I had more time.  I thought someone was speaking after me.  But no, it was just me.

However, I would have spoken just as quickly in 45 minutes as I did in 15 – just said more!  Slowing down is hard, when I waited so long with so much to say!  Do you know how much I could have said in an hour and a half?!  Too funny.

But alas!  Due to recent teasings from my Institute teacher about my lack of brevity, I was determined to stick to my fifteen minute time limit!  So, I spoke way too fast, determined to stick to my fifteen minute time limit.

Someone asked if I was nervous, and I really wasn’t.  I was just trying to say everything in fifteen minutes.  My Institute teacher said that saying it all that fast does NOT count as brevity.  HA!

So, while I was determined to stick to my fifteen minute time limit, what I did not know was that the whole 45 minutes was mine to speak. Which meant our meeting was thirty minutes short of time!  DOH!  But I really did not realize until the end that I was the only speaker and had more time – except I really felt I had said what needed to be said.  So I had to trust that, and so I sat down.

Some expected me to share more of my personal conversion story, but I was given a very specific topic and I tried to stick only to that.  So this was not the time to share that story.  A time will come for me to share that story, but this was not that night.

That is my explanation of the talk, for why it was so serious, and for why it was so short, because it is a funny story to know that I did not realize I would be allowed the whole time to speak!

My apology is not for topic or presentation, for I presented what was asked of me, but my apology is for the confusion of time, for I know many people drove a bit of distance to come hear the talk.

So, for those who could not listen as quickly as I could speak, here is the talk I gave tonight:

What have you learned about the Savior since you became a member?
How has it changed your life?
What have you become since being baptized?
I have learned that before the world was made, our Savior was our oldest brother and His name was “Jehovah”.   When our Heavenly Father presented His plan for us to receive bodies and have the opportunity to learn how to make good choices, Jehovah was the one who volunteered to help accomplish this plan the way Heavenly Father had designed it.  Jehovah created Earth by the will and power of Heavenly Father. 
          When our Savior was born on Earth through His parents, Mary and our Heavenly Father, He was born in Bethlehem, and primarily raised in Nazareth.  He began His physical, earthly ministry at age 30.  Three years later, He was betrayed and crucified on the cross and buried in a tomb.  I quote “The Living Christ”: 
He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.
He rose from the grave to “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life. He also ministered
among His “other sheep” (John 10:16) in ancient America. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).

ENDQUOTE
I know that He will return again to Earth, and reign as King for a thousand years.  I know that it is by His atonement it is possible for us to return to our Heavenly Father’s presence, if we also follow His physical and spiritual example through obedience, faithfulness, and service.  We must submit to Heavenly Father’s will and wholly consecrate our lives to Him just as our Savior did.
          I know that my Heavenly Father loves me, and that it was long ago – even in premortality – when I chose to follow our Savior.  I know that I accepted my “allotment” in life, these bounds of time and place in which I live, and that I did this knowing that Heavenly Father knew what would best teach me and prepare me for returning home with Him.  I know that I was prepared and trained for this life before I was ever born.  I know that my early life here was difficult, and that even though I thought, as in Jacob 5:22, that I was “planted in a poor spot of ground”, Heavenly Father and the Savior “nourished me this long time”. 
I know that before my baptism, I broke nearly every commandment there was.  I know that my greatest and best efforts at making something of my life left only a trail of destruction behind me.  I know that I was in no state to be returning to my Heavenly Father, and that I could not succeed this mortal life alone.  I know that the Savior died for my sins, for my failings, for my transgressions.  I know that when He resurrected, it brought me immortality so that I might never cease to be.  I know that His atonement and the Spirit that works to sanctify me is what make eternal life (celestial-ness) possible.  I know that the Savior lives, and that He loves me.  I know that as I do my best at keeping my covenants, He does provide and protect and bless me.  I know that when I fail, He does chastise me and urge me toward repentance so that I might be in that shiny place again.  I know that even in my little corner of the world, the Savior has work for even me to do.  I know that I can visit His house, our Temple in Oklahoma City, and feel even closer to His presence and experience things too sacred to discuss outside of that place. 
I know that through His Spirit during prayer and Scripture s
tudy and through priesthood leaders, and through our Prophet, He tells me what to do and what is next and what to understand.  He shows me things and teaches me things and unfolds His story before me.  I know that He does not forget me.  I know that He means business, but He is also gentle and kind and nurturing and good.  I know that He forgives.  I know that He makes all things possible, even returning home to my Heavenly Father.
What and How has it changed your life?
          Understanding who the Savior is has changed my life because, for the first time, regardless of circumstances, I am not alone.  I have a Heavenly Father who knows me and loves me.  For the first time, I am not lost or abandoned or rejected.  I know His plan teaches me who I am and what I am to do with my life.  For the first time, I am not overwhelmed by trying to survive impossible circumstances; I know the atonement makes it possible and the Spirit teaches me how to do so.  For the first time, I am not stuck thinking I cannot make something of my life; my baptism cleaned me up and qualified me for the learning, and my endowment empowered me to begin practicing.  For the first time, I am not hopeless for thinking I am not good enough; as 1 Corinthians 6:11 teaches me that the atonement has justified me and the Spirit does continue to sanctify me .
          I do not know these things myself, but I know them because the Spirit has taught me.
          This is what Alma says in chapter 36.  He is giving his first father-son chat, the one to Helaman, and then he tells of his conversion, of which I share a part starting in verse 12: 
  12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
  13 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.
  14 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.
  15 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.
  16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
  17 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.
  18 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.
  19 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.
I know that I am not worthy, because I rebelled against God.  I did not keep his commandments.  I did almost everything wrong, and one thing I did right – stay in school – even that, I did in the wrong order (instead of getting married first).  I know that I proved very well that I am nothing without Him.
I know that two years ago, my literal physical heart was dying because my spiritual heart was rotting.  Ezekiel 36: 25 says Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
     The Lord gently brought me to the Gospel, and I learned – remembered – His plan, and that plan included the tender mercy of the atonement.  This is how I learned about repentance.  I had to be scrubbed clean from so much, and then had to learn what to do with myself once I was shiny-ed up.  And so it was, that in my year between my baptism last year and my endowment two months ago, I learned that getting rid of the bad stuff was not enough.  Following the rules was not enough.  It is more than just following the rules.  I had to be so completely changed so that I was not just NOT-DOING bad things, but also producing good things.   I needed to be changed in who I was, not just what I did.  I needed to become something MORE.
My testimony is 2 Nephi 4:
 16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually
upon the things which I have seen and heard.
  17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
  18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
  19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
  20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
  21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
  22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
  23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
  24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
  25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them. …………………
  28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
As I prepared for baptism and since my baptism, through repentance and by the atonement of the Savior, and through His work accomplished by the Spirit, my life began to change.  Isaiah 55:6-7:  Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:      UAdd a Note Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Every piece of me has not only been redeemed, but is also being restored.  This is me, no longer condemned, but rather a work in progress.  Every piece of me, to the smallest of details, is being healed.  This is how complete and precise is the atonement of our Savior.  This was my experience of 3 Nephi 9:13 when it asks, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?”
When I began to soften my spiritual heart, my physical heart was healed.  As I began to be obedient, I began to learn to HEAR.  As I began to demonstrate my love for the Lord by being obedient, He began to demonstrate His love to me by pouring upon me blessings of provision and protection.  When I began to be diligent in prayer and Scripture study, He began to pour His Spirit into me so that I knew, so that I understood, so that I saw. 
 
What have you become since being baptized?
I do not ha
ve words in English to describe what I have become since being baptized.  I have become new.  I have become created.  I have become a spirit daughter of God.  These things I already was, technically, but they were rights-of-Being that I had not yet claimed.  I held within me, by design, those things, that divine nature, that origin – but I had not yet chosen to become those things or to begin the journey of fulfilling that potential.
Through repentance, and by the tutoring of the Spirit, I have begun the process of trying to become more like my Savior simply by doing what He says.  It is an effort of emulation, not just adoration.   D&C 35:21 promises that “they shall be purified, even as I am pure.”   
Ezekiel 33:14-16 explains:  “Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;     UAdd a Note  If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.     UAdd a Note  None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.” 
D&C 1:32 says, “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.”
It is the process of becoming aware of what I have done wrong, or what good I have failed to do, and seeing clearly how this affects myself, those I love, and my Savior.
It is the tears cried out from my soul, while stretched out on my bedroom floor as physically humble as I can be, covered with the comforter pulled from my bed – for feeling I am not even worthy enough to pray (though President Packer says I am, that we can always pray).
 It is the mercy that comes then, the peace that I am still His child, and the grace of added correction and instruction and guidance from my Father.  It is the saying these things out loud to my Heavenly Father and my priesthood leaders.  It is the exercise of my agency to choose to stop doing what is wrong, and to start doing what is right. It is the effort put into restitution
, no matter the cost, no matter in what form it comes, no matter how long it lasts, because I know the cost paid for me was infinite and in most horrific form.
 Then it is the still, small voice that comes – during my own prayers, at the Temple, during a talk, or from a priesthood leader – it is the still, small voice that says “it is settled”, that says “It is finished”. 
Though it may be days or weeks or months since beginning to wrestle with that layer or issue or incident, it is after that voice has confirmed to me that repentance has been completed, it is then that Sacrament is sweetest to me.  I am washed clean once more, and I am covered, and I am forgiven. 
But still even then, the process of progress has not finished or stopped, for the evidence of all of it comes when I am next presented with that same choice – the opportunity to sin in that way again, and yet am able and have the power not to do so. When I have the opportunity to sin, and yet do not, then I know not only is the past sin settled, but that my repentance is complete and that sin has no power over me.  And when I demonstrate obedience, then my Lord knows it, too.
In President Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness book, he says (p. 362), “There is a glorious miracle awaiting every soul who is prepared to change.  Repentance and forgiveness make a brilliant day of the darkest night.  When souls are reborn, when lives are changed – then comes the great miracle to beautify and warm and lift.  When spiritual death has threatened and now instead there is resuscitation, when life pushes out death – when this happens it is the miracle of miracles. And such great miracles will never cease so long as there is one person who applies the redeeming power of the Savior and his own good works to bring about his rebirth.”   ENDQUOTE.
This I have wrestled with for the last year.  I know, as Alma says, that I am nothing, and yet I am called to be something, someone.  I could not figure out how to reconcile this in my mind, and struggled with it for more than a year.  In D&C 43, both in verse 11 and verse 16, it tells us to “sanctify ourselves”.  I wondered how in the world I am supposed to do that, when I am the one who needs sanctifying?  And I am just a girl, with no keys to anything?  What authority do I have to be sanctifying my own self?
I found the answers in that same chapter, in those same verses.  When it says to sanctify myself in verse 11, it also says to purge out iniquity.  That is my job; my responsibility; my repentance process; my line-upon-line as I grow in the Gospel.  In verse 16, it says that as I sanctify myself , I will be endowed with power from on high.  This connected me back to verse 9 in the same chapter, where it there – finally! – outright defines what it means to “sanctify myself”.  Sanctifying myself is ACTING IN HOLINESS.
I have been given agency so that I might choose to return to my Heavenly Father, but that means I must choose to become like Him.  I will not be changed if I do not choose.  My choosing is an act of faith.  As I act in holiness, the Lord does make me holy.  As I bring that holiness to the Lord, even my very self, He does bring me into His house and make me one of His children.
Everything follows the pattern of the physical and the spiritual, the Aaronic and the Melchezedek priesthood.  The Aaronic priesthood has always cared for the physical things, and the Melchezedek works the spiritual things.  So even at the Temple, when I see it say “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord”, I know it has both a physical and a spiritual meaning.  The Temple is a physical place that is set apart and consecrated as the Lord’s house, where we can go and meet with Him there and be in His presence.  But it also has a spiritual meaning of going there to become His children. 
When we study the different royal families of Europe, we call them Houses.  Each family is a “house”, such as England’s current House of Windsor (name change!).  We are descendents of the twelve tribes of Israel.  We are of the House of Israel.  All of us, in all the worlds the Lord has created, are of the House of the Lord.  We go to His house, the Temple, to become of His house, his family.
But we must do this by acting in holiness.
Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.
This is why we seek after righteousness.
 I have become confident in the Spirit teaching me righteousness by teaching me how to act, one choice at a time.  It is possible, Elder Christofferson said at our most recent conference, “ because those who come unto Him have claim on His grace!”  The atonement has 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 does grow 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 is twisted, 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.  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. 
    UAdd a Note   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.  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 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 and His Father.  Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.
Recently, Elder Bednar taught us in an interview, saying that “through the atonement we are not only cleansed from sin, but we also receive strength to accomplish His work, no matter how ordinary we are… Every member has a testimony and knows what is true, but not every member is converted.  Being converted is more than just having a testimony of what is true.  The more you are converted, the more you become consistent and true to what you know.  It is one thing to know what is true, but another thing to be consistently true to what you know.  When you are converted, you will produce spiritual fruit that will be evident to others.”
What I have become since getting baptized is a divine spirit daughter with the potential to become like her heavenly parents.
“I have learned,” to quote Brigham Young, “that of myself I have no power, but my system is organized to increase in wisdom, knowledge, and power, getting a litter here and a little there.  But when I am left to myself, I have no power, and my wisdom is foolishness; then I cling close to the Lord and I have power in his name.  I think I have learned the Gospel so as to know, that in and of myself I am nothing.”
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 He has set prophets as the flaming sword that guards the path to the Tree of Life, and that Thomas S. Monson is our prophet today.
I testify that as we study the teachings of the prophets, ancient and modern, we will be led along that path, and that we will find life – if only we will HEAR. 
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Institute Lesson

On Tuesday of this week, I subbed for my dear friend Cheryl Mason and taught her Institute class.

The lesson was on D&C 46, 49, 50, 52-56.

That’s a lot.

But that’s how Institute rolls.

Here is my lesson-ness:

Chapter 46:

We are to ASK and SEEK the gifts of the Spirit!

Verse 7: 

 7But ye are commanded in all things to aask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all bholiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, cconsideringdthanksgiving, that ye may not be eseduced by evil fspirits, or doctrines of devils, or the gcommandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.

Holiness of heart
Walking Uprightly
Considering the End of Your Salvation
Prayer and Thanksgiving – not seduced by evil spirits, doctrines of devils, or commandments of men

Verse 8-9:
8Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived aseek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;
9For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a asign that they may bconsume it upon their lusts.

Seek the gifts so you are not deceived (implies knowing Truth, UNDERSTANDING)
Gifts are for knowing AND doing
Gifts are given for our benefit (to love Him, to keep His commandments)
Gifts are given for OTHERS (not to be consumed for ourselves, but for the church (verse 10))

Verse 11 – everyone is given a gift
Verse 12 – everyone may have different gifts

Verses 13-25 – examples of gifts – NOT an inclusive list!

Verse 26 – ALL gifts are from God, ALL are for the benefit of others

Verse 31 – done in the name of Christ
Verse 32 – thank God for it
Verse 33 – HOLINESS CONTINUALLY

– Holiness required to ACCESS the gifts
– Holiness required to DEVELOP the gifts
– Holiness required for the gifts to TRANSFORM us
– Holiness required for the gifts to effective TRANSFORM others

Chapter 49:

Verse 2:

2Behold, I say unto you, that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all, for they are not aright before me and must needs repent.

MUST repent – required for HOLINESS
MUST desire to know the whole truth – required for UNDERSTANDING

* QUESTION:  What spiritual gift is needed for “desiring the whole truth”?

Verse 8:

 8Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under asin, except those which I have breserved unto myself, choly men that ye know not of.

MUST repent – required for HOLINESS

* QUESTION:  What spiritual gift is needed for “repenting” or “desire for holiness”?

Verse 11:

11Wherefore, I give unto you a commandment that ye ago among this people, and say unto them, like unto mine apostle of old, whose name was bPeter:

Missionaries interviewed – even monitored – for HOLINESS – required to do their work

Verses 12-14 = PLAN OF SALVATION     (Temple!)

* QUESTION:  What spiritual gift is needed to go on a mission?  To share the plan of salvation?  To understand the plan of salvation?  To teach it?  To live it?

Verse 23 –

* QUESTION:  What spiritual gift is needed to “continue in steadfastness”?

* QUESTION:  Which gift is it to “look for the heavens to be shaken”?

Chapter 50:

(Read verse 2) – false spirits on the earth
(Read verse 3) – Satan trying to deceive you, to overthrow you

Back to 46:8,9 !  – deception means misunderstanding, not understanding

Verse 5:

5But blessed are they who are faithful and aendure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life.

Faith, Endurance – listed/described as Spiritual gifts – SEEK after them!

(Read verse 7) – hypocrites compared to false spirits – deceptive, not LIVING the truth, not UNDERSTANDING the truth, not walking uprightly, not living in HOLINESS CONTINUALLY

Verse 9:

9Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.

Be aware!  SEEK after AWARENESS.

Be aware –
  – or else will NOT do what is truth and righteousness
  – or else will NOT be HOLY

Back to 46:& – spiritual gifts REQUIRE HOLINESS!!!!

We must be aware of being holy (evidence of the gifts, evidence of progress), or we will not be aware we are NOT holy.

NOTE:  compare to frequent use of “OBSERVE” to keep the commandments – not just “keep the commandments”, but we are commanded to OBSERVE that we keep the commandments.

Verse 12 – Our theory confirmed!  Line upon line, precept upon precept, revelation upon revelation – here we get CONFIRMATION of our UNDERSTANDING, which gives us MORE, the next “line” to study and ponder and pray and SEEK confirmation…

 12Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may aunderstand.

The Lord teaches us so we understand.

We are to SEEK the Lord!

We are to SEEK UNDERSTANDING!

Verse 15 continues this “line”:

 15And then received ye aspirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?
–  spirits NOT of God do not LEAD anywhere – there is no line-upon-line

– God’s Spirit leads us line-upon-line, always progressing forward and upward

– doesn’t mean that if “of God” that it will be easy, or that it will not be hard work to UNDERSTAND

(Endowment Prep – one question from Psalms, for a whole year, always more)

– we must ASK for UNDERSTANDING, then SEEK to UNDERSTAND

Verse 16 – being made strong where we are weak is connected to our UNDERSTANDING

Verse 17 – the BOUNDS

– must preach (or use whatever GIFT is yours) God’s way, by the Spirit
– not our way

Verse 18 – by another way, even my way, is NOT of God

Verse 22 – when preaching (or using any GIFT), others MUST be edified

– compare EDIFIED to UNDERSTANDING
– if edified, it is of God
– if not, it is of darkness

Verse 24

24That which is of God is alight; and he that breceiveth clight, and dcontinueth in God, receiveth more elight; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
Light = UNDERSTANDING

More and More = Line-Upon-Line

Until Made Perfect – perfect = whole/complete/arrived

SHECKINAH – the Light of His Presence… lead the Israelites through the wilderness to the “Promised Land”

(Temple)

Arrived – PRODIGAL SON

(Temple)

Verse 25 – again, CONFIRMATION of our theory, of our UNDERSTANDING, with more ADDED UPON, that line-upon-line

25And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the atruth, that you may chase darkness from among you;

Truth chases darkness

Truth = understanding

Darkness = deception

Back to 46:7,9; 50:3

Truth = Understanding = LIGHT

Verse 28:

 28But no man is possessor of aall things except he be bpurified and ccleansed from all sin.
Perfection – wholeness and completion – ARRIVING (Prodigal Son)

Restating 46:7 in the negative – same principle

No man except he be PURIFIED and CLEANSED from all sin

Cannot arrive, cannot be made whole and “complete” – without HOLINESS

HOLINESS is REQUIRED to ARRIVE

“Holiness to the Lord” – Temple

Verse 29:

29And if ye are apurified and cleansed from all bsin, ye shall cask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done.

if purified and cleansed of all sin – IF HOLY then you can ASK

Back to 46:7 again – ASK in HOLINESS of heart

Verse 30 – if you ask (in holiness of heart!) – it will be given

Verse 34 – “to whom much is given, much is required”

– He that receives, must make account of it to God – is held ACCOUNTABLE to God
– The gifts are not MINE
– The gifts are FOR OTHERS
– The gifts are to be used for the church

(Consecration)

Back to 46:9,10

Verse 36 – AGAIN, CONFIRMATION of our theory, again lead Line-upon-line to the next “line”

36And behold, verily I say unto you, blessed are you who are now hearing these words of mine from the mouth of my servant, for your sins are aforgiven you.

Hearing HIS words = UNDERSTANDING

“Perfect” = whole/complete

COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING = made PERFECT (complete/whole!)

Perfect = Sins Forgiven = AT-ONE

Back to 50:24 again – Sheckinah – Light – Prodigal Son – AT-ONE!

Verse 37-39 – examples of people doing it

Verse 40 – Again, confirms our UNDERSTANDING and gives us a new “LINE”

40Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot abear all things now; ye must bgrow in cgrace and in the knowledge of the truth.
We cannot bear all things now = We cannot UNDERSTAND all things now

We must grow in grace and knowledge = LINE UPON LINE

Line upon line, precept upon precept, revelation upon revelation – ASKing, SEEKing, ACTing

Prepares us, transforms us, sanctifies us – so that we can ASK for and SEEK out MORE
 
Cannot have MORE until we are ACCOUNTABLE (faithful, good stewards) for what we have already been given – must be worthy NOT ONLY to keep and use what we have, but must be worthy for MORE

worthy = HOLINESS

We must be as little children, we must return to our Father, we must be like the Prodigal Son and return to the embrace of our Father – we must be HIS

Verse 41:

41aFear not, little bchildren, for you are mine, and I have covercome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath dgiven me;
Yes!  We *ARE*  HIS!

We are forgiven!

If we ACT in HOLINESS, we will UNDERSTAND

We will UNDERSTAND that we are forgiven, that we are AT-ONE!

Verse 43 – again, it is CONFIRMED to us, and the next LINE given

 43And the Father and I are aone. I am bin the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
Heavenly Father + the Savior = ONE (united in purpose, Prodigal Son returned – one FAMILY)

the Savior + Heavenly Father = ONE

IF THEN,

If I receive the Savior, then I am ALSO at-one!

I am the Prodigal Son, returned home and embraced by my father.

Back to 50:24 – I am made “perfect” – whole, complete!  AT-ONE.

Back to verse 36 – my sins are forgiven!  I am, indeed AT-ONE.

The Temple is a “House of Learning”

– we are promised UNDERSTANDING
– we are promised LIGHT
– we are promised AT-ONE-ment

Chapter 52:

Verse 4:

 4And inasmuch as they are faithful unto me, it shall be made known unto them what they shall do;
As much as – TO THE DEGREE – you are faithful, you will KNOW what to do

KNOW = UNDERSTANDING

Back to chapter 46!

If you LIVE IN HOLINESS, you will UNDERSTAND!

If you LIVE IN HOLINESS, you will KNOW!

Back to 50:24, 36

If you LIVE IN HOLINESS, you will become AT-ONE!

Verse 16 – if it is meek and edifies, it is of God (back to 50:22)

Verse 17 –

17And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made astrong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and bwisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.

– those enlightened by the Spirit bring forth FRUITS

FRUITS = EVIDENCE, RESULTS

      – Praise for Heavenly Father
      – Wisdom for Self and Others

Verse 18 – if there is no fruit (evidence), it is NOT of God

Verse 19:


9Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall aknow the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens.
That’s how to know all spirits in all cases – what evidence do they give of whose they are?

Back to 50:15 – if not of God, it does not lead anywhere

It is of God if it ADDS UPON, if there is the line-upon-line pattern that gives you wisdom and edifies others (and brings praise to Heavenly Father from both you and others)

Verse 34:

34He that is faithful, the same shall be kept and blessed with much afruit.
Same principle again, different words.

If we are faithful, there will be FRUIT

If we are
faithful, there will be EVIDENCE

If we are HOLY CONTINUALLY, there will be EVIDENCE

* WRITE:  WHAT EVIDENCE CAN YOU GIVE OF WHOSE YOU ARE?
 (not word-evidence, what is SHOWING, what can people SEE, what can people KNOW)

* TESTIFY

Chapter 53:

Verse 2:

2Behold, I, the Lord, who was acrucified for the sins of the world, give unto you a commandment that you shall bforsake the world.

the Lord was crucified for the sins of the world
EVEN MINE

He has TAUGHT me so that I might UNDERSTAND

Understanding His sacrifice makes me whole – complete – made perfect – “AT-ONE

The world is not of Him!

It takes us back to 50:24, 36, 43:

Heavenly Father + the Savior = ONE (united in purpose, Prodigal Son returned – one FAMILY)


the Savior + Heavenly Father = ONE


IF THEN,

If I receive the Savior, then I am ALSO at-one!

I am the Prodigal Son, returned home and embraced by my father.
If I am AT-ONE with my Father, and the world is not of Him, then I cannot be a part of the world.

I have to be APART from the world if I am AT-ONE with my Heavenly Father.

HOLY means SET APART.

I am SET APART from the world, made HOLY, so that I can be AT-ONE with my Heavenly Father.

Verse 3:

 3Take upon you mine ordination, even that of an elder, to preach faith and repentance and aremission of sins, according to my word, and the reception of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of bhands;

 4And also to be an aagent unto this church in the place which shall be appointed by the bishop, according to commandments which shall be given hereafter.

 Tulsa East Stake Confrence –

Baptism = WILLING to take upon the name

Temple = REALLY doing it – taking upon His name, become AT-ONE

But always, we have to leave the Temple
go back to the real world
to SHARE our UNDERSTANDING

To GIVE some LIGHT

It is for the benefit of others!

We have the ATONEMENT, and are asked to let others know about it!

Not just missionary work –
also LIVING IN HOLINESS,
walking in HOLINESS CONTINUALLY

If we are AT-ONE, and acting HOLINESS,
then we will see others as Heavenly Father sees them
and we will treat them with the pure love and service that Heavenly Father would want to do for them

We get CONFIRMATION of this LINE-upon-line in 1 Kings 19:19!!!!

Elijah cast his mantle on Elisha

We “take upon His ordination”

The Savior casts His mantle on us

We know WHOSE we are

We are His

Elijah left this world, and so Elisha had to physically continue Elijah’s ministry, his work

The Savior has left this world (other than visits!), and we are to physically continue His ministry, His work!

CONFERENCE TALK – Statue – HIS HANDS

Chapter 54:

 4And as the covenant which they made unto me has been abroken, even so it has become bvoid and of none effect.

Same thing, in the positive:

 6But blessed are they who have kept the acovenant and observed the bcommandment, for they shall obtain cmercy.
kept the covenant
OBSERVED the commandment

Those who are LIVING IN HOLINESS obtain mercy!

– understanding
– forgiveness
– Light (PRESENCE)

Now we know HOW – we UNDERSTAND the process by which

LIVING HOLY

brings UNDERSTANDING
which makes us PERFECT (whole/complete!) in Him,
AT-ONE with Him,
and we become LIGHT.

Chapter 55:

Verse 4:

1Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant William, yea, even the Lord of the whole aearth, thou art called and chosen; and after thou hast been bbaptized by water, which if you do with an eye single to my glory, you shall have a remission of your sins and a reception of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of chands;
There it is again!

REMISSION of SINS!

Forgiven!

AT-ONE!

But look more closely, once again – this time in different words – it is still conditional upon us

which if you do with an eye single to my glory
We must WALK IN HOLINESS CONTINUALLY to be AT-ONE

Walking in HOLINESS *requires* being set apart from the world

We must be set apart from the world to be AT-ONE with our Heavenly Father

If we are the prodigal son, reaching to our father, we must let go of the world, leave it behind, let go of anything that prevents that homecoming hug.

Nothing can distract us.

Nothing can deceive us.

There are many distractions, and we too easily are deceived.  This is why we must be repenting, why climbing Jacob’s ladder requires the curve in the staircase.  Ongoing repentance is the only thing that moves us forward, the only thing that moves us upward as we learn line-upon-line.

We must SEEK to UNDERSTAND
so that we can WALK in HOLINESS CONTINUALLY,
including being SET APART from the world,
so that we can become AT-ONE with our Heavenly Father.

Verse 2 – goes back to 46:9 – even this gift of AT-ONE-MENT is for others, not just ourselves

We must “preach” repentance and remission of sins

We must use the gift we have received to help others, love others, serve others.

Chapter 56:

So in case we were not paying attention, this chapter repeats EVERYTHING we talked about tonight

It says it all over again!

Except this time it repeats it in the negative

Verse 2:

2And he that will not take up his across and bfollow me, and keep my commandments, the same shall not be saved.

Same principle, opposite consequences (for NOT following the principle):

– if you do NOT take up your cross
– if you do NOT follow Him
– if you do NOT keep the commandments

You will not be saved!

Yes, the resurrection secures your physical resurrection, your immortality.

But the QUALITY of that immortality depends on you.

It depends on you because even that is still line upon line,
and we will receive what we are prepared for.

We will get as much LIGHT
as we are prepared to receive – as much as we are able to stand (“bear”) – back to 50:40

We will be saved through the process –

We must choose it, and we choose it by ASKing and SEEKing,
the process of UNDERSTANDING.

Verse 13 echoes the Old Testament, when the Israelites were finally settling in the Promised Land after their years in the wilderness (celestial-ness after mortality!):

13For according to that which they do they shall receive, even in lands for their inheritance.
We receive
according to what we do
We will be given
what we give to others
Our quality of life in eternity
will match what we earn (prepare for) now.

If we choose not to be separated from the world now, then it is that world we will receive later.
If we choose to sacrifice all things for His kingdom now, then it is His kingdom we will receive later.

We CHOOSE to be AT-ONE by walking in HOLINESS CONTINUALLY.

To walk in HOLINESS, we must be SET APART from the world.

This set-apart-ness is EVIDENCE of HOLINESS.

GIFTS are also EVIDENCE of HOLINESS.

We must ASK for and SEEK them.
Being HOLY gives us access to these gifts and strengthens these gifts.
We are commanded to use these for the benefit of others.

As we do these things, we are taught line upon line,
which does bring us UNDERSTANDING,
which does help make us PERFECT (whole/complete),
which does bring us to AT-ONE-MENT with our Heavenly Father,
for which we have are charged to bring others also to that place.

(Testimony)

HOLINESS TO THE LORD – on the Temple itself

I am a “Temple”

I should also have the shine of a light that is EVIDENCE of 

HOLINESS TO THE LORD.

My Beginning Will Not Dictate My End

To be or not to be,
to love or not to love,
to see or not to see,
to hear or not to hear,
to do or not to do…

These are the proverbial questions that leave me spinning in circles.

I want to have faith, but to ACT in faith is so much more than fairytale wanting.

I want to repent, but to CHOOSE what is good requires conscious effort.

Sometimes I am holding on by my fingernails, feeling no sturdy earth beneath my feet.

That is my own fault.

I am blessed with provision and protection and peace – and yet when I am not looking, tears fall… when I am trying to work, hands shake… when I am wanting to curl up with a book, my heart pounds.

To admit any sort of anxiety would mean failure.

Except there can be no progress without the confession.

I want to scream out, “My life has been hard enough!”

I want to cry out, “Why one more thing?”

I want to throw a toddler tantrum.

I want to quit.

I want to hide.

I want to run away.

Excepting that is not the way, and I know it.

As I lean against the wall, trying to catch my breath, words from the lessons last Sunday, words from our most sacred holy Sabbath, came to my mind and heart as if they were air itself.

“He wants you to pour your heart out to Him.”

But I cannot.

It would mean I believe.  It would mean I have faith.  It would mean looking Him in the eye, that flame of fire burning my soul and purging all that is not of Him.

It would mean daring to think I have a Father.

It would mean accepting the fact that I am human.  And weak.  And overwhelmed.

I should be praying for my visiting teaching people, my friends, those people that I love… even my family.

I should be praying for my patients, my homeless peeps, the shelters downtown, the community resources already running out of money this year before winter even starts.

How selfish it seems, to pray for me.

“He wants you to pour your heart out to Him.”

Something in me melts.  That something in me that has been healing since the first missionary discussions.  That something in me that has become a testimony, indeed, of my Heavenly Parents.

Still against the wall, I slide to the floor, and begin to cry.

I begin a litany of surface things about wanting to be a good missionary and trying to learn to love my family and how to balance my patients and professional work and begging forgiveness for being scared about hospital bills and doctor bills and Temple trip gas, and pleading for even more forgiveness for doubting any of it all, for I know better than to give place to any fear at all.

Then we get to the real stuff.

I roll onto my knees, curled into myself, and cry some more.

I say, “I don’t want them to cut my head open.”

He says, “It will give your family a starting place of Truth.  The past is done, and now you can talk to them.”

I say, “It is going to hurt.”  I am not sure if I mean cutting open my head will hurt, or if talking to my family will hurt.  Both, I think.

He says, “It hurt me when they killed me.  But really, they did not.  I gave my life for you.”

I am ashamed of my whining, ashamed of my complaints, ashamed of my selfishness.

I say, “I am scared to love.”

He says, “I have already taught you to love.  You must learn to be loved.”

I say, “I must not love the wrong person the wrong way.”

He says, “Love all people the way I love them.”

I say, “You know where I have come from, how I am nothing, what has been taken from me, what has been stolen from me, how deeply I was scarred and wounded and shattered.  I am too broken too heal, too scared to try, too raw to be that strong.”

He says, “I know where you have come from because I sent you here.  Protecting you, caring for you, bringing you out of the wilderness, cleaning you up, and bringing you to my Temple was part of the plan long before I ever sent you here to live that story.  The atonement is enough, sufficient, complete.  When you are weak, I will make you strong.  There will always be an escape.  There will always be my voice to guide you.  Do not be afraid.  Move forward.”

Always, there is this coming back to the “Do not be afraid… move forward…”

This phrase from my Patriarchal blessing has baffled me from day one, and so I write about it over and over again, because I live and breathe that phrase.  There is not a day that phrase does not get me through some moment.  There is not a day it does not give me comfort, grant me courage, or teach me which way to go.

Tonight, it came through a talk.  It is a talk that is homework from Institute: “This, the Greatest of All Dispensations”, by Elder Holland in 2007 (CES Fireside).  In this talk, he directly DEFINES what it means to not be afraid and to move forward!  How amazing is that?!  He says:

“We must never let fear and the father of fear (Satan himself) divert us from our faith and faithful living… We must go forward.  God expects you to have enough faith, determination, and trust in Him to keep moving, keep living, keep rejoicing.  He expects you to embrace and shape the future – to love it, rejoice in it, and delight in your opportunities.  God is eagerly waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has.  But He can’t if you don’t pray, and He can’t if you don’t dream.  In short, He can’t if you don’t believe.”

Whoa.

That Elder Holland really knows how to nail you.

He’s like the Apostle with a nail gun.  I mean NAIL you.   Or me, anyway.  Ouch!

I had never, ever thought about praying being a part of believing, though I had understand that to pray at all was an act of faith.   But certainly never ever ever ever had I considered DREAMING as part of believing.

Dreaming.

In my life, it has often been dangerous to dream.

It gets all sappy, way too quickly, in a very Les Mis kind of way:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they turn your hope apart
As they turn your dreams to shame

Excepting that was pre-baptism.  That was old school.  That was drama and pain and misery.

That is of Satan, just like Elder Holland said.

The Gospel takes it backwards, I knew.

I have learned enough to know that the atonement brings forgiveness, that celestial-ness promises a love that will never die, and that the plan of salvation makes life worth living.

But I had never gone back as far as the very first line, that the Gospel brings back dreams.

All things are restored!  I should know this!

How, in what miracles He has repeatedly performed over and over again in my life, is there any room for fear?  Even if they cut my head open?  Even if my family tries to have our first Christmas?  Even if I must fall to my knees in repentance?

And if then, it is true, then what are my dreams?

What fulfillment beyond-my-dreams has already come!  My own life is a miracle; my hearing is a miracle; my house is a miracle; my car is a miracle; access to the Temple is the biggest miracle; my family becoming a family is a miracle; forgiveness is a miracle.  And so beyond this, when I am already and forever so indebted to my Lord, what dreams are yet to dream?

I dream that the obstacles in life are not so great that I, through Christ, cannot overcome them.

I dream of being securely and confidently rooted in my identity as a spirit daughter of heavenly parents.

I dream of being responsible – held accountable – for my own attitude and feelings.

I dream of hopelessness and helplessness having no part in my life now, my life which has been redeemed and restored, in process of being made “perfect” – as in whole and complete and at-one.

I dream of understanding that “none of us is responsible for the misfortunes that befall us, (but) we are, thankfully, responsible for how we use those misfortunes.  We cannot alter past events, it’s true.  Not having been responsible for them, we cannot take responsibility for them.  But we are responsible for the effect they have upon us – for the meaning we assign to them and the way we remember them.  And we can learn and grow from them… (we can) let the event become exactly what it was – a very, very hard experience indeed, one of the worst a human being can suffer.  But it is not an excuse… my beginning will not dictate my end.”  (Terry Warner)

I dream of knowing that “the discovery that we are responsible for our troubles does not condemn us, but opens up a way of escape.” (Terry Warner).

I dream of teaming up with the Savior to accomplish the very possible “mighty change of heart”.

I dream of absolute honesty of soul.

And then, as if He knew I would be too scared to begin dreaming, of so little faith I would not even dare, an email arrives with the typed out blessing from Sherrolyn’s father the other night.  And so I cry some more.

Emily, know that the Lord has been mindful of you from the day that you were born into this earth. That He has cared for you that He has watched over you.  You have not been without your trials and tribulations and your challenges as you have gone through life to this point.  You have overcome many things…

He has blessed you that your paths have crossed with those whom you have felt close to that have made a difference in your life.  They have introduced you to that missing link that you have felt in your heart for many years but have now found…

I bless you with health and with strength.  I bless you that as different physical things take place within your body, that you will be comforted.  That you will know that the hand of the Lord is with those who are working with you and you will be able to find the health and strength that you need to carry out the work that the Lord has for you to do…

And Emily, put it in the hands of the Lord, the righteous desires of your heart, pour out your heart to him, let him know what those righteous desires are and He will bless you even with those blessings…

Pour out your heart, it says.  We end where we began, with the heart-pouring-ness.

And so I did.

That’s when I began to dream again.

Playtime

I am watching my little puppies play, secretly glad to have them back home, but also laughing at Rilke who looks so different since he finally got his first poodle cut.  He looks like a whole different dog!  Except he is CRAZY enough that I know it is him!

After I took my mother home yesterday, I had to stop halfway to get gas.  I sat there for a long time, texting some of my friends an essay that didn’t even make sense in English yet, because I was only getting the pieces as they came and needed the time to put them together.  They are the pieces I took with me to the Temple tonight.

Always, always, always bring pieces with you to the Temple.   I mean to say, that if you do pray every morning and every night, and if you do read your Scriptures every day, and take the bits of what you are learning with you to the Temple (often and regularly!), the Lord will put them together for you there at the Temple, and it is like watching a puzzle fall into place.  And the Spirit will tutor you and teach you what it means.

I promise.

So tonight, these were my pieces.

Because of something I learned while I was in Salt Lake City, I have been pondering “sheckinah”.  It is God’s “glory” or “presence” – think “pillar of light” and “pillar of cloud” that led Moses and the Israelites through the wilderness (see Exodus 13:21).

The Hebrew word “sheckinah” indicates not just that it is the presence of God, but that it is His dwelling space.  It is the space in which He dwells; it is the glory that surrounds Him, that is Him. It is something beyond what anyone like me is able to explain, but we are taught it “plainly” in the Scriptures.  The Hebrew word for “tabernacle” (Temple!) is a derivative of this same root as this “dwelling”, and what it explains and implies (a little more directly than implying) is that the closer you are to that presence, the more easily, readily, able you are to perceive God.  It is so hard to explain in English!  But in English-mormon words what it means in a way, is that the closer you are to that sheckinah, the more thin the veil is, and the more you are able to see and/or know and/or experience of who and what the Lord is.

We know the Temple is the Lord’s house, and that just like in the Old Testament, this is where that “sheckinah” is/rests/dwells/comes.  We know that we go there to see that Light, to bask in that Light, to embrace that Light, to soak that Light into ourselves.  We know that if we go and worship there, we are taught and tutored and transformed, so that we can become more like our Savior, and that we are then expected to take that Light with us out into the world and love and serve others as He did.

So this is something I have been thinking about and studying since I was in Salt Lake City and learned something there, and what I learned was in response to the original question of how am I supposed to be a light to the world?  How can I light up my tiny corner of planet earth, and maybe make the world better in some tiny way?  It seems so lofty and noble and fairy-tale-ish, and I am nobody, except we are called to do that very thing!  ACK!  So how do I?   This is the question that was answered to me in Salt Lake City, and those precious hours in Temples there did unfold layer after layer, like one of those old-school scrolls unrolling, ever expanding in showing and explaining.

That’s all well and good and amazing enough, but when I come back to the “real world” of Emily World, how do I put it into practice?

So I have been pondering this and studying this and asking this.

Then yesterday, when I was driving back from my mother’s, I was listening to cd’s of the 2009 October General Conference.  This was super special because that was my first General Conference!  So the words were familiar and warm, like a sweet smell – a gift to my digital ear that was not there a year ago.  The words did warm my heart-memory.

I was listening specifically to a talk by Elder Oaks (CLICK HERE TO READ IT), which you can watch here if you want:

He talked about God’s love and God’s commandment.  How grateful I am that these were some of my very first teachings!  What repentance is has wrought, what healing it has brought, and what miracles of transformation the Spirit has accomplished “line upon line”.

He spoke a bit about agency, and how Satan tries to destroy it.  Stealing our agency has always, consistently, from the beginning, been the plan of attack by Satan.  As I listened – ah, still a miracle to me, the listening – as I listened, my brain began to vibrate in that Spirit kind of way, when understanding pours into me and cross-references fly through the air like starlings.

What it made me think of some of Nibley’s talks and writings that I have been studying about the atonement.  I love Nibley, not just because of his depth or vast knowledge (what he knew personally was far more than what he shared – he was actually very private, and did not initiate the publications of his writings), but because of his curiosity.  He asked questions, followed it up, then asked more.  It’s how he learned.  Listening to talks of Nibley is the first time I have ever heard anyone SPEAK the way that I THINK.  I do not at all claim to be a Nibley, and I know nothing when he knew much.  But I mean it is a DELIGHT to me to have discovered someone who can demonstrate the process, and who testifies of the treasures found because of it.  It gives me comfort and courage and sends me on amazing trails of spirit-tutoring.

But here is the thing about his writings and talks about the atonement. Nibley consistently brings any discussion of “atonement” back to its original context in the Old Testament, which was in respect to the rites in the Tabernacle of Moses (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers).  Here we are talking about, in my own basic words and paraphrase, of how the sin was transferred onto the scapegoat and the scapegoat sent out AWAY from the camp, and how the lamb was slain to atone for their sins, the whole process of both telling the story of the creation, fall, and atonement while also enacting their role in it.  Significant, yes?

All of it pointing to our Savior, both in His sacrifice for them (us!) and His welcome of us back home.

But while His sacrifice (or the old testament lamb as a type pointing to the Savior) was for all, the welcome back home is conditional upon our choice to return home.

The father could not welcome home the prodigal son if the prodigal son never did the work of going home.

But when the son left that environment and those people and changed his ways and did the work of walking home and had the faith that his father would be there, then when he did return home – the father was indeed there waiting for him, and he did welcome him home.

He embraced him.

But he could not get to the embracing if he had not done all the work to get home.

Even though the embracing was made possible by the father, who was standing there waiting – expecting, even.

The son still had to do his part of CHOOSING to go home.

So I was thinking about how this is part of what happened to me before I was baptized.

I was thinking about how I thought I had sinned so much, was already so bad, and already was not forgiven, that somehow all that turned into me believing I could not be forgiven.  It turned in to me believing that I was already condemned.  So it no longer mattered to try.   If I was no longer welcome in God’s family, then God’s rules no longer applied to me. So nothing mattered, and I became more and more miserable as life got worse and worse.

That was a “cunning plan of the evil one“!

When Satan could make me think that I was condemned already, then what did anything else matter?  He made me think I was lost, so why would I try to be rescued?

He tried to take away my agency, so that I would not choose the Gospel.

So part of what getting baptized meant was saying out loud that the Lord could still rescue even me.  It was CHOOSING to let the atonement work on me and in me, and CHOOSING to be forgiven by the Lord.

This was my act of faith:  believing that the atonement was (is) big enough, perfect enough, complete enough to save EVEN ME.

That’s the difference between being a child and knowing Jesus was real… and being an adult who truly puts FAITH into who He is, what He did, and believing that it applies even to me.

And that is how I am “given much”.

Which means, “much will be required”.

So it comes full circle, from choosing NOT to let the atonement work, to actually letting it do what the Savior intended it to do – which is to cover my sins.

Which means I must “go and sin no more” (John 8:11, Alma 39:9; D&C 6:35, 24:2, 82:7).

So I know it is true when Alma says I am NOTHING.

And yet, the Savior has redeemed me.

Which means, I am redeemed because of the righteousness of my Redeemer, not because of anything I have done.

Righteousness is brought to pass by the Spirit telling me how to act.

So much that when I got baptized, and began to learn line upon line, and started choosing what the Spirit told me to choose, the other stuff (old stuff, bad stuff) began to disappear.

I could just let it go, because the Spirit told me what to hold on to.   It was the iron rod!  This holding fast to what was good meant that, by default, I was letting go of what was bad.

It is so simple!

When I began to choose, I was reclaiming my agency.  The illusions of the evil one fell away, and the Spirit could teach me clearly – distinctly – what was real.

The atonement did FREE me from that depraved state, so that I am now – indeed – FREE!  I am free to choose!  It was thinking about these very simple things that did help me to understand what it means when we read about being a slave to sin (see Romans 7:8-12), and I see how my sin did put me into bondage.  I see how I choose bondage by choosing sin.  I see what an awful bondage it was!

Even my whole family – in context of the family proclamation – as each of us failed our individual roles in being a family the way Heavenly Father designed – we were SCATTERED and each of us suffered our own bondage.   It is so true!  We could be our own disaster story in the Book of Mormon!

But this is now my joy: to be free to choose, and the more I choose Heavenly Father’s way, the more I am transformed.

So this is my agency (which goes back to the talk by Oaks):  I am free to choose to be in bondage, a slave, as miserable as Satan is…. or, free to choose the happiness that comes from being whom I was created to be, like my Heavenly Father, so that I get to be my true self (a divine daughter!), rather than always fighting against myself or being trapped in things not of my Father (and so thus not of myself, in the true sense).

Becoming like my Savior, so that I may learn who I am in my Father, that is what becomes me – what makes me BECOME – so that I am one integrated whole self, whole in truth, made perfect (complete).

I can choose to let the atonement cover what is not of God, so that the Spirit can sanctify me exponentially toward infinite progress, or I can choose to limit my progress and be miserable as Satan (who did not get to fulfill the measure of his creation).

My life is a gift from my Heavenly Father, and living it my way instead of His way is “unrighteous dominion”.

Or, I can be true to the source of me, from the One who gave me life, and NURTURE me into life beyond this embryo state.

The best “embryo” talk ever is the one by President Kimball.  He also said that KNOWING is not enough.

It has to be a DOING.

So what am I doing?

In considering this, I realize that if pre-mortality prepared me for mortality, then mortality prepares me for eternity.

We know that this life is the time to prepare to meet God.

Preparing to meet God takes me back to the prodigal son returning home.  It takes me back to the Temple.

It takes me, in a way that surprised me, back to the creation story.

When I think of “meet”, I think not only of the embrace of the prodigal son and his father, but also of Adam and Eve.  I think of Adam and Eve because I think of “helpmeet”, and remember that helpmeet means “a companion who is equal and necessary in full partnership”.

Then I realize why I think of Adam and Eve when I am thinking of the prodigal son being embraced by his father, for because the prodigal son is – in that very moment – restored to his place in the family.

This is what the atonement does for me; it restores me to my place in the family of my Father.

But anytime I think of Adam and Eve, I am reminded that I am not yet married and commanded to do so.  But in this context, it is less harsh for not yet having done so and more in preparation for teaching me why and how and for what purpose.

For because, we may know in our heads that husband and wife are companions who are equal and necessary in full partnership, but we know in our hearts that husbands and wives are very different!

But this takes me back to sheckinah, for because this is part of the answer to my question about how to be a “light”.

And if you know anything about light, you know that it is made up of two very different properties, yet one without the other does not explain light.  Light has both particles and waves!  Light needs both properties to be light, to function as light, to exist as light.  Even though they are nearly opposite properties, so much that they even work differently more than work together, it is in the together-ness that they make up light.

It is so very male and female, in an un-scientific kind of way, with one piece of the whole being the packets that go out (the priesthood, the power, the authority), and the other piece being waves (the emotion, the spirit-ness, the intuition).

But even more fascinating, is how – like light – we are commanded not just to keep the commandments, but to OBSERVE the keeping of the commandments.  Mathematically, scientifically, the act of observing changes the results.

Oh!  Look at this silly cartoon clip that explains it:

Know what other dimension requires an observer?

Time.

Time is only a measurement, which requires someone to do the measuring.  It is a measurement between events.  Time only exists when there is an outside observer who thinks they are inside, sort of like being in your own black hole.

The only reason this relates at all, in this long Emily World random writing, is because of the symbol of the circle in the square, of heaven meeting earth, reminds us of the second law of thermodynamics – except the sqaure moved out – which combined with what we know of light, if we were playing around with the math of it, gives the white hole to the black hole… excepting that white holes cannot exist because of the second law of thermodynamics… UNLESS you moved the square back over the circle, like the symbol of the Temple.

And that, not getting into nerdy wormhole science, creates this:

(That’s a National Science Foundation image.)

If you take out the science fiction, this is mathematically where and how a new universe would be born.  That’s why it is fascinating to us, because of the shape it creates, which is a symbol we have been given and has been interpreted even in the most ancient of art.  Even more so, the other shape it reveals.

So, that is what I want to share later, when it is the right time and place and there is someone who cares and is Nibley-curious enough to figure it out.

Here is the brand new 2010 image done by Andrew Hamilton (Colorado) and John Hawley (Virginia)… CLICK on the picture to see it move:

Now that is incredible, to input mathematical formulas into a computer and be able to get an image of a pillar of light, in a context that requires opposition and observation (implying agency) and in so doing makes creation possible.  Fascinating and familiar concept.

So this is what takes us back to sheckinah, and to Adam and Eve, so that not only is that the same as us, but also photons are always moving, but interactions with atomic scatters will cause them to either be delayed or advanced.  How is that not mortality?!  How is that not our work to climb the ladder?!

And we even see that in the diagram of the light itself:

Which, if you turned it up, would give the same DNA-spiral-staircase as the Jacob’s Ladder turned through ongoing repentance.  It’s lovely!

Also, photons can be absorbed by nuclei or molecules, which provokes nerve impulses (discovered by George Wald in 1958 as he worked with the retina).   This science-information is fascinating when considering the 1879 talk by Erastus Snow in which he said “the wonderful mechanism of the nervous system, through which the spirit makes its impressions upon the body…”

All of that to say that what I learned from the Oaks talk was about being judged not just based on what I do here, but also what I accomplish and who I become.  Judged not only for how I lived this life, but judged to determine what I qualify for in eternity… which means I must let the atonement work – not just in cleansing me from the past, but also in becoming something of my potential.

For example, while my mother was here, we watched a movie about Queen Victoria.  This is one thing my mother and I have always enjoyed together, my whole life, the study of the history of the royalty and especially the queens, with Queen Elizabeth always being one of my favorites (of course!).  But when I study these Queens, one thing that is evident is that everyone always knew whether the Queen would be good or bad by what kind of student they were as a child, and how willing they were to be taught, and how well they could channel their passions for the greater good.   They knew what kind of Queen she would be based on her own response to her family dynamics regardless of what they did, and how well she played with others.

Always, her wisdom was not measured by success, but her success was measured by wisdom (not the same as knowledge).  And her wisdom was measured by her ability to discern the true nature of things and respond accordingly, including how and when and from whom to accept help… as well as her ability to endure the experiences that developed that discernment.

The people always loved best the Queens who loved them well.

As we talked about in Institute, I was PREPARED in pre-mortality to succeed in mortality, prepared for what I needed to do here, for my role here.  In the same way, my mortal life does prepare me for what is to come – and how well I am prepared will determine how much of that I get to do, who I get to be.

I know it is basic LDS doctrine, and I am botching it all up trying to explain it from the perspective it came to me yesterday.  But you know better than I do, more than I do, and so do understand what I am trying to say.

Back to the sheckinah – because Moses had seen the Light, and knew the Glory (the process of that and how and what it teaches us is a different blog!).  Because he knew that Glory, he was also able to discern false lights and knew the difference.  He said, “Where is your glory” (Moses 1:12-15)… but he could say that because he knew the difference.

So we, I think, should work to learn the difference.

I need the atonement to be able to stand the Light.  It must cover me, so that I can know.  The more I seek the Light, then the more I can discern what is NOT the Light.  This protects me, but also helps me to become.

This is why I need mortality to learn that Light.

Always I must come back to it, through repentance, climbing ever upward through that spiral.

My “Marriage” Talk for 5th Sunday Combined Relief Society and Priesthood 3rd Hour

Today I “had” to give the 3rd hour talk for 5th Sunday combined Relief Society and Priesthood.

It was trippy because I got a blessing in Salt Lake City about teaching and Temple service, and I laughed (like Sarah!) because I do love the Temple but I am just a patron that goes and bothers them, but I do not know what to teach to anyone… so I was wondering how that was going to play out in my life.

And then I got a text from the Bishopric (since they can’t call me!  Doh!  They out-smarted me!) asking me to talk this Sunday.

So BAM, just like that, the Lord let know me that the teaching was going to start right away.

Also, I cried and cried.  Of course I did.  It’s what I do.   But I cried not because I was scared – I love my ward, and I would do my best, and so the Lord would make it into something or not, so what else could I do about it? – but I cried because it was a moment of the Lord saying to me, “I trust you. Do this.”

That is enough to humble a person.

And I cried and cried, for because what complete redemption this is, that the Lord would trust me with a tiny task, for because without the atonement I was not worthy of His trust.  So this experience was very healing to me, very huge in a personal way of being trusted.  It is a miracle of the atonement, I think, and I see how it makes sense that after nine months of missionary discussions a girl would get baptized, and then spend a year repenting and restitution-ing and immersing in Scriptures, and then get endowed, and then be given a turn to act like a grown-up and teaching a tiny something of what you know.

To whom much is given, much will be required.

And the atonement has healed so much, and I am in awe of what the Spirit can do.

It was also interesting that the topic given me was “Marriage”, with some specific items to include (directly and frankly but delicately and appropriately), so that it was another experience of integrating me into one united whole of Emily-ness, as my professional life and experience was able to offer something of use to my awesomesauce ward full of people that are my brand new friends, but that I love with all my heart.

So yes, a week of fasting and praying and two trips to the Temple for editing and learning, and then finally today:  the big talk.  I hope that it went okay, and several people asked for notes from the talk and some of the references, so I will share it all here in case that is helpful (with added stick figures in honor of Sherry and Lynn):

For a free copy of the Family Proclamation, CLICK HERE.

This is my copy of the Family Proclamation.  It looks like this because it took me that long to memorize it.

After the introductory paragraph, the very first line says All human beings – male and female – are created in the image of God.  We forget this because we think we already know it.  We learn it as preschoolers, but then as we grow up, we forget to apply it.  So I like that we are reminded of this first, because it absolutely affects how we interact with our spouses.

Classic example is Moses 5:10&11

 10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.

  11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, [did not ridicule or mock or complain] saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.

[Adam wasn’t wrong; Eve just added perspective – exactly the pattern Relief Society can give Priesthood, and wives to husbands, when we are all working in the proper order of things with the attitude of the Spirit and not just “attitude”]

The Family Proclamation goes on to remind us that each has a divine nature and destiny, which reminds us that of us have a divine nature.  Each of us born into bodies to experience this life can have the knowledge that previously (premortally) we did something right – we learned enough to get this opportunity.  This reminds us that even your spouse, on the very worst day, on the very hardest day, your spouse is still a child of God.  This gives us an eternal perspective with which we can see our spouse; it provides a way to find the good.  Keep looking.  It is in there.  There is good in your spouse.  Find it.

The next paragraph starts out with In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan…. again, this means, part of every spouse (because we ourselves, are “perfect”, right?  only our spouse has problems?), part of every spouse – some part within them, is of God and knows the plan.  This gives hope to those who did not marry in the covenant and so now finds themselves with a non-member spouse, and it gives comfort and courage to those who married in the covenant but their spouse is not keeping the covenants.  This helps because it reminds us that everyone born on the Earth did, at some time in the past (premortally), know what the plan is – and did accept it at that time!  Now, on earth, this side of the veil, they may not remember, but we have what that does lead us to it?  (LIGHT OF CHRIST!)  So even if they are not of the covenant, they do have the Light of Christ within them, to which you can appeal to based on principles even without using church words.

The next paragraph is about the potential for parenthood between husband and wife.  We need to talk very seriously about sexual relations.  The Lord has set the bounds for sexual relations, and we make covenants to stay within those bounds.

In my office, I often see the confusion that people think these bounds simply mean not having sexual relations with someone who is not their spouse. But it means so much more than that.  It means doing the work – sacred powers of procreation are to be employedthat leads up to sexual relations, so that it is a natural result of attentiveness and communication already established.

Often in my office I see two extremes:  I see times when a spouse is FORCING sexual relations – which is not only stealing, but even in marriage that is called rape, and it is illegal.  I also see times when a spouse REFUSES sexual relations.  Now, there are times because of physical or emotional or other issues when it is okay to say no.  I am not talking about that.  I am talking about those who refuse sexual relations in order to AVOID the emotional obligations.  That is also stealing.

We need to be kind and considerate, always giving and always developing into each other.  We need to follow the pattern Heavenly Father has set for us:  the Lord is always there, always ready, always INVITING us – we should also be inviting and welcoming to our spouse.  We need to constantly be wooing the other, and loving them well.  We need to still be dating in some way.

The bottom of the first column reminds us again of this teamwork approach to family life.  It says Husband AND wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and their children.

Both husbands and wives are responsible for LOVING and CARING for EACH OTHER and the CHILDREN.

Both spouses need to be nice to each other, love each other, and take care of each other.

Both spouses need to be helping with the children.  Husbands, you helped bring them here.  They are your responsibility, too.

Both spouses need to be helping with housework.  Both of you are the grown-ups that live in that house, and both need to help with the cleaning and maintenance of it.

It doesn’t mean there are not preferences for your family, and the Family Proclamation talks specifically about being flexible and adapting to your family’s individual needs.  And each spouse has a specific role and purpose.  But under that, no one spouse should be entirely responsible for anything – we need to work together on everything.

Failing to fulfill family responsibilities most often comes in the form of one or both parents being too often absent from the home, husband and father blessings not being given, spouses and parents too distracted for eye contact and talking time, and lack of appropriate touch.  We know that families that do not spend time together with mothers and fathers present often have children acting out in ways that seek that attentiveness and emotional response in ways that are destructive to them.  What we forget is that how we interact today affects who we become tomorrow.  The tone of our response to our spouse today affects our marriage six months from now.  Even in the most recent General Conference, we were told that we should be creating now who we want our children to be five years from now, by spending time with them now in order to teach them now what they need to know five years from now – that advice, by the way, is built on a talk given back in 1981 that said the same thing.  So we are responsible to already know it, and are being reminded of it again – which means we are not doing it.

Parents exercise unrighteous dominion by giving children overbearing or out of proportion consequences.  Parents also fail to fulfill obligations when not giving any consequences.  Parents follow the plan of Satan, which was to remove agency, when trying to force children to “obey” by making them do what is wanted through physical force or intimidation or threats or fear, instead of giving them options and letting them experience the natural consequences of their choices.

Then it says, to remind us again, that while we do this, it should be in the LOVE and RIGHTEOUSNESS.

That means no unrighteous dominion.  The husband should be PRESIDING, which is helping each person function to full capacity in their role.  It is helping them and supporting them as they become who they need to be.  It is not forcing obedience (removes agency, and that is Satan’s plan, not Heavenly Father’s plan), and it is not sitting back and doing nothing while everyone else does all the work.  Families are hard work, and we have to work together as we develop them.

The next paragraph talks again about fidelity in marriage – COMPLETE fidelity, it says.  This is again about more than just being only married to your one spouse.  This is also about things like pornography, which is the only non-doctrine topic that is mentioned in every session of every General Conference.

I see in my office two big things that pornography does that helps me understand why it is such a tool of Satan.

First, it separates the husband and wife – it isolates them from each other.

Secondly, it makes a person like Satan, in that their  body no longer functions as it was made to function.  This is what Satan wants, for we were gifted with bodies and he was not.  He wants us as miserable as he is.

This paragraph then leads into the beautiful words that describe what makes successful families.  I love these words so much that I put them above my fireplace.  It was funny that the people who helped me with them forgot the word “work” in the list, but my mother says that is okay because all the other words ARE such hard work!   The words:  faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities (play).  Notice how love doesn’t even come until the middle – girls and boys have different views of love, right?  So we have lots of work to be able to understand each other and what love means.  Notice also that love doesn’t come until AFTER repentance, forgiveness, and respect.

Then it says again, that fathers are to PRESIDE – this means present to function as a preside-er (research on absent father shows problems in teenage years for girls and boys – higher risk for teen pregnancy and drug use).  It means to love, and to show appropriate affection and touch.

Ladies, it says mothers are primarily responsible for the NURTURE of children.  This means eye contact, one on one time, and hugs.  I see often in my office where moms were great with the babies, survived the toddler stage, and enjoyed the childhood stage, but then just stop when their children become teenagers.  They don’t know what to do or how to interact with them, talk with them, or touch them.  Our teenagers are hungry for this, and need this – the will find it somewhere, and it is better if they find it with you.

This applies to those without children, or grown children, or unmarried as well.  I can love the children of my friends, play with the children in my life, find ways to be good and kind to them – this is my responsibility even as a member of our ward.  It is how even I can be a “Mother of Israel”.

And then, once more, just in case we missed it all those other times, it says once more that In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.  We have to work together.  We must.  That’s the way the plan is set up.

It looks like a triangle:

Here is how it works:

If you are both INDIVIDUALLY working to become more like Heavenly Father, you will – naturally – grow closer to each other.

So if this is what we are taught, let’s look at a specific example.

Alma 18 gives the back drop for King Lamoni and his Queen.

We read about how King Lamoni was a really bad guy for a really long time.  Genius, absolutely brilliant, but a bad guy.  He did terrible things.  Ammon shows up to preach the Gospel, and after being a stubborn head like myself, King Lamoni finally GETS IT, and collapses as if he is dead because he is so overcome by the Spirit.  In the last verse of chapter 18, we read how the Queen – who was told the King was dead – stayed with his body for two days and two nights, mourning him as was the custom.

This shows us that regardless of the terrible things he had done, she honored him – for the position he held – by paying proper respects according to their culture.

But it also says she “greatly lamented his loss”, which shows a love for the person he was beyond the bad behaviors he was famous for all those years.

Then, in chapter 19

  1 And it came to pass that after two days and two nights they were about to take his body and lay it in a sepulchre, which they had made for the purpose of burying their dead.
  2 Now the queen having heard of the fame of Ammon, therefore she sent and desired that he should come in unto her.

She refused to give up.  She refused to be hopeless. Something in her was determined to survive.  Something in her knew how to find LIFE again, and that same something told her that she could find it with the Prophet. What is that in her that wants to know? (LIGHT OF CHRIST)

  3 And it came to pass that Ammon did as he was commanded, and went in unto the queen, and desired to know what she would that he should do.
  4 And she said unto him: The servants of my husband have made it known unto me that thou art a prophet of a holy God, and that thou hast power to do many mighty works in his name;

She demonstrated knowledge.  She had already been responsive enough that something in her was stirred up enough to begin understanding.  This asking for help, the sending for the prophet, was her act of faith – it was her EXPERIMENTING to see if it was true.  This was her taking the first missionary challenge, and trying out in FAITH to see for herself if it was true.

  5 Therefore, if this is the case, I would that ye should go in and see my husband, for he has been laid upon his bed for the space of two days and two nights; and some say that he is not dead, but others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in the sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink.

Everyone else said “he stinks”.  Love it!  All her friends were being rude, all the fancy people were saying he wasn’t good enough, and all the in-laws were pointing out what a mess he was.  Everyone around her was kind enough to remind her, probably repeatedly, of all the things that were wrong with him.  All the people made sure to list all the things they hated about him, pointed out everything he did wrong, and reminded her of his horrible past.  People high enough in ranking to be giving the Queen herself were saying, “Really, get rid of him.  Bury him.  Cut him loose.”

But she said, “to me, he does not stink.”

She did not let the pressure of others interfere with her relationship with her husband, and she remained loyal to him despite the very dire circumstances.

  6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God—

  7 Therefore, what the queen desired of him was his only desire. Therefore, he went in to see the king according as the queen had desired him; and he saw the king, and he knew that he was not dead.

The prophet knew what was going on.  He knew the queen’s act of faith counted as OBEDIENCE because it was in line – in tune – with the will of God.

Because she was acting in faith, and because she was obedient by doing so, the prophet was able to respond to her request and do what she had asked.

  8 And he said unto the queen: He is not dead, but he sleepeth in God, and on the morrow he shall rise again; therefore bury him not.

Acting in his role, Ammon went to check the scene.  There’s yellow tape everywhere, the news crews are filming live, and it’s already been posted on Facebook.

But because the Queen had acted in faith, and in that way had been obedient, the prophet was able to give her specific direction about what was going to happen, and specific instruction about what to do and what not to do.

This gave her comfort and hope, which was a blessing in response to her obedience and faithfulness.

  9 And Ammon said unto her: Believest thou this? And she said unto him: I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.

That is faith!  Anytime I exercise faith, the immediate blessing is an increased capacity to act in faith!

Even if other blessings come later in the Lord’s timing, the increased capacity for even greater faith is always a blessing that comes immediately in response to faithful obedience.

 10 And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites.

This is incredible.  Her faith is so strong here that she gets a blessing because of having demonstrated it, just like that.  And what a powerful blessing, for because “blessed art thou” is a blessing regarding her state of being.  She is blessed.  Period.  It just is.

(WHO ELSE ACTED IN FAITH THAT THE WORDS “BLESSED ART THOU” MAKE US THINK OF?)    (MARY)

It is a statement of fact, she is blessed, and a statement of promise as far as what future blessings will come to her because of being in that state – it implies a present progressive connotation.

Note also the parallel poetic device, classic to ancient scripture, TO HER – EXCEEDING FAITH – WOMAN – GREAT FAITH.  Beautiful.

  11 And it came to pass that she watched over the bed of her husband, from that time even until that time on the morrow which Ammon had appointed that he should rise.

She now has the increased capacity to act in faith, so that she is able to continue to be obedient.  She believes in Ammon’s words, and behaves in a way that demonstrates what she believes.  He said he would wake up tomorrow, and so she stays by his side until tomorrow.

After all the terrible things he had done, and despite all the horrible things people knew and said about it, she remained true and faithful.

Look how she is blessed for this act of faith, for this diligent obedience that becomes an act of service, a demonstration of devotion:

  12 And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.

When her husband, who was probably not that much fun to live with before, not if he was that much of a mess even publicly, when he awoke, the first thing he did was reach out to his wife.

That’s enough to make a girl cry.

What girl doesn’t want to be appreciated, to be noticed, to be thanked?

Wives sacrifice their very lives – physically and literally – to support husbands and raise children.  They do it because it is the right thing, but what healing and strength and softening comes when the husbands do directly and sweetly thank them for their sacrifices!

And look how his transformation, his sanctification by the Spirit moves him to the place where he should be – doing the things priesthood holders should be doing: giving his wife a blessing

What comfort and strength is given, and what tender love is built, when husbands and fathers give their wives and children blessings regularly and often.

This is the miracle of the atonement.

  13 For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.

  14 Now Ammon seeing the Spirit of the Lord poured out according to his prayers upon the Lamanites, his brethren, who had been the cause of so much mourning among the Nephites, or among all the people of God because of their iniquities and their traditions, he fell upon his knees, and began to pour out his soul in prayer and thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his brethren; and he was also overpowered with joy; and thus they all three had sunk to the earth.

So now the conversion of the King has helped convert the Queen, also.

Because the King has moved into the place where the Lord means him to be, because he has stepped up to the plate, because he repented with his whole being, and because he acted in faith and obedience as he prayed and thanked God, because of this his wife was also overcome with joy.

MEN – You want a happy wife?  Fall on your knees and pour out your heart to God in repentance.  Thank God for your family, and in this way learn to love them.  That is what will make your wife happy.

WOMEN – You want a happy husband who is warm and caring, sweet and attentive?  Forgive as this queen did.  Forgive regardless of whether he has asked for it, begged for it, or earned it.  If this feels hard to you, spend some time in D&C 64.

Everybody needs to be looking for good things, noticing good things, praising progress, and encouraging the smallest of efforts.  That would be more productive than condemning failures and making each other feel miserable.

29 And it came to pass that she went and took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!

These verses are poetic parallels to verses 12 and 13.

They are added here for emphasis, to show how the cycle repeats itself for even deeper conversion, more complete repentance, and more full joy.   This upward circular pattern is what lifts them up both physically and spiritually.Look also how this parallels with their neighbors after Aaron has gone there to convert them – look in Alma 23:6 and 7.

They NEVER fell away BECAUSE they became a RIGHTEOUS people!   And it defines what made them as a people (family!) righteous.

  1. They laid down their weapons of rebellion (any marriage weapons need laying down?)
  2. They did not fight against God.
  3. They did not fight against each other.

Then if you look down in verse 16 and 18, you see the depth of conversion and what happened as a natural result of it.  They were so changed that they were given a new name – feel familiar?  That is always the pattern of covenant making – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, (Revelation 2:17).

As a result of becoming this NEW people to the very depths of their being, they became “industrious and friendly”.

WHO WANTS AN INDUSTRIOUS HUSBAND?!
WHO WANTS A FRIENDLY WIFE?!

But how did they do it?

They OPENED A CORRESPONDENCE and the curse of God no more followed them.

They had to start talking to each other!

President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “I think that (couples) should be willing, even at this day, and in the present condition of things, to enter the sacred bonds of marriage together and fight their way together to success, meet their obstacles and their difficulties, and cleave together to success, and cooperate in their temporal affairs, so that they shall succeed.  Then they will learn to love one another better, and will be more united throughout their lives, and the Lord will bless them more abundantly.”

Satan has many forms of attack, but they all follow the same pattern as from the beginning.  He attacks in the same way he has always attacked: by removing agency.  In our culture, he is most successful at removing our agency in two ways: by distracting us and by putting us to sleep.  He likes us busy so that we do not pay attention, so that we do not notice, so that we do not appreciate. He likes us in front of the television so that we do not see visions.  He likes us with loud music so we cannot hear the soft whispers of the Spirit.  He likes us lost in videogames so that we are not learning how to communicate with our spouse, how to talk with our children, or how to constantly pray with our Father.  He likes us on the computer, so that hours pass by without us noticing.  He likes us apathetic and uncaring, for that is the opposite of love, and it is far more damaging and destructive than hate.

Satan has other tricks up his sleeve as well.  He likes us abusing the gift of pain medication so that we are asleep, cranky, and making impulsive decisions in a moment that have forever consequences.  He likes us addicted to substances like alcohol and energy drinks and television and technology and jobs, and so that we have an ever increasing dependence on those things which stop us from thinking and from interacting within the bounds the Lord has set.  Satan likes us ashamed instead of convicted, so that we do not ask for help.  He likes us unhealthy and unwell, so that we cannot think clearly or make good choices.  All of these serve the same purpose of removing our agency and thus enslaving us.  He wants us as miserable as He is.

He tries to use our differences against us, instead of us uniting to complement each other.  All people have their own layers to their own line-upon-lines.  One may be more ready to live the Word of Wisdom more specifically, while another may be more ready to keep the Sabbath Day holy with more depth and consistency.  You must respect the place your spouse is in, where they are on the ladder, and help them up rather than knocking them off completely.  Gently allow them to take their steps of progress instead of punishing them for not being where you are.  If you ridicule the lower place on the ladder where your spouse is, that they are not as high as you, you may be surprised to realize that your high place of mocking is in that great and spacious building, while your “lesser” spouse is at least ON the ladder, holding faithfully to the rod even if not yet progressed to the tree.

It is important to discuss and work through mistakes, both little things and more serious matters.  Forgiving does not mean ignoring, nor does it mean acceptance of unhealthy or negative behaviors from another.  Despite the actions of others, we are never asked to play the victim or enable wrong behavior.  Be careful what you are enabling and encouraging.  While someone else abusing you is not your fault, there are lines of safety that is your responsibility to draw and to seek help in enforcing.  Nothing about the gospel plan is about being “stuck”.  Always, the gospel is a plan of action, and always there is an escape – a way to develop new skills, a way to become more like Heavenly Father, a way to do something new to make positive changes.

It is important to remember that you cannot change other people.  You can only change yourself.  Others have the right to agency, and need the opportunity to exercise their own experience of line upon line.  This means when your spouse may very well choose poorly. In those times you are called to forgive without judging.  The atonement has the ability to work in the lives of others in miraculous ways.  Going to the Temple regularly and often provides protection, provision, and blessings for your family that are both temporal and spiritual.  The promises of obedience to Temple attendance is a GATHERING of your family; if you want to unite your family, heal your family, lead your family in the way of Christ, then you must go to the Temple.

It is the making and keeping of Temple covenants that establish and maintain a marriage.  Elder Kofford said of difficult trials in marriages:  “through it all, three things have been very clear to all of us who stand ahead of you in the line of marriage: we made a commitment to God, we made a commitment to each other, and we will keep those commitments.”

It’s not up for debate.  There’s no question about what is required of us.

He continues, “One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: whenever there is a difficulty between a husband and wife in their marriage relationship that is serious enough to threaten that relationship, one or the other (or both) is not living the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That means that one or both of the marriage partners are not keeping the covenants, commitments, and promises they made at the altar of the Temple.  If you love God enough and follow His teachings, everything else will work out just fine and you will be blessed to find solutions… A home is not a home in the eye of the gospel, unless there dwell perfect confidence and love between the husband and wife.  Home is a place of order, love, union, rest, confidence, and absolute trust…  One in which the father is devoted ot the family with which God has blessed him, counting them of first importance, and in which they in turn permit him to live in their hearts.  One in which there is confidence, union, love, sacred devotion between father and mother and children and parents.  One in which the mother takes every pleasure in their children  supported by the father – all being moral, pure, and God-fearing.  Parents… should love and respect each other, and treat each other with respectful decorum and kindly regard, all the time.  The husband should treat his wife with the utmost courtesy and respect.  The husband should never insult her; he should never speak slightly of her, but should always hold her in the highest esteem in the home, in the presence of their children.  The wife also should treat her husband with the greatest respect and courtesy…. and she should live and conduct herself at home so the home will be the most joyous, the most blessed place on earth to her husband… Nothing should be permitted to come in between you – father and mother, husband and wife; there never should be a shade of difference of feeling; there never should be a thing permitted to come between you and estrange you one from another; you should not allow it.  This is essential to your welfare and happiness and to the union that should exist in your home. We all have our weaknesses and failings… But… is not forgiveness better?  Is not love better?  Isn’t that better?  Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by reiterating them?  Is it not better to drop them and say nothing about them – bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each others’ faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better?”

 8 My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.

  9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

  10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Kimball discusses these verses and then adds – in the context of husbands and wives forgiving each other – that “unless a person forgives his brother his trespasses WITH ALL HIS HEART he is unfit to partake of the sacrament”. 1 Cor. 11:29-30

Then he goes on by sharing an example of a letter he wrote to someone who had complained about marriage problems (p. 270):

I do know that two people as seemingly intelligent and apparently mature as you two, could have a gloriously happy life, if both of you would begin to let your concerns run in favor of the other, instead of in favor of your selfish selves.

The escapist never escapes.  If two people, selfish and self-centered, and without the spirit of forgiveness, escape from each other, they cannot escape from themselves.  The disease is not cured by the separation or the divorce, and it will most assuredly follow along in the wake of future marriages.  The CAUSE must be removed.<

Perhaps you have thought that your home was the one home that was frustrated with problems.  You should know that most couples have misunderstandings but many solve their problems instead of permitting their problems to crush them.  Many wives have shed bitter tears, and many husbands have lain sleepless hours, but thanks be to the Lord that great numbers of these folks have been smart enough to solve their difficulties.

Now, my beloved friends,… the matter is in your hands – you may do as you please, but I warn you that the trouble is deeper than you realize, and not easily resolved by divorce.  And I warn you also that, either separated or living together, you will be damaged and cankered and poisoned and dwarfed by bitterness and hatreds and loathings.  THE FIRST NEED IS TO MASTER YOURSELVES.

The good news is that these problems can be healed through the power of the atonement, but only by completing the very specific steps of repentance.  Repentance enables us to turn back toward God, firmly established in the path He has laid out for us.  As we walk this path, a humble and repentant people, we again move upward as we move forward.

President Kimball also said:  “The married life must be affectionate and kindly and selfless…  Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity.   Each spouse takes the partner with the understanding that he or she gives self totally to the spouse – all the heart, strength, loyalty, honor, and affection with all dignity.  Those who claim their love is dead should return home with all their loyalty, fidelity, honor, cleanness, and the love which has become embers will flare up with scintillating flame again.  If love wanes or dies, it is often infidelity of thought or act which gave the lethal potion.  I plead with all people bound by marriage vows and covenants to make that marriage holy, keep it fresh, express affection meaningfully, and sincerely, and often…”

Look back at the example of King Lamoni and his Queen, and how they lead us through the process of repentance so that we were climbing the upward spiral of a staircase, like at the Temple – famous at Nauvoo and Salt Lake City.

What happens is that patients come to my office with their marriage in crisis, thinking they are “hanging by a thread”.  They and their spouse are strangers, so that they now live in TWO lone and dreary worlds:

Except that we know we are never hopeless, and we have a path provided to us.

So maybe for us, since we are members of the Church with the full gospel, it is more like a tightrope instead of hanging by a thread.

Except, we do not have to be afraid, for because we have the atonement.  It is the work of the atonement that makes it all possible, that turns our rope into a bridge from here to there.

And, if we have a spouse who is ALSO doing their individual work to develop their individual relationship with Heavenly Father, so that we are also growing close together, then I don’t have to be only on my own tightrope.  We have two ropes:

And still then, even on the hardest of days of trying to walk the path together, we are not alone.

We have the examples of heavenly parents.  Their support is like two handrails.

Except still, we need planks to walk on.  We need something to which we can firmly and boldy plant our feet.  We need something strong enough to hold us as we move forward.  Always, over and over again, we are repeatedly told to do these basic things both individually and together as families.  Elder Kofford of the Seventy said that reading, meditating, and studying the Scriptures on a regular basis is not only about learning new things, but also about “refining your spirit”.  This is sanctification, the process that increases our spiritual capacity and transforms us to be more like our Heavenly Father.  Yet it is most often these simple things that we neglect – and without them, we have no planks on which to step to move forward.  

These are our spiritual habits, both individually and as families:

Sacrament attaches our bridge to the atonement, so that our whole way is made safe.

Prayer is the safety harness that guides each step.

Family Home Evening is the spacer that makes each plank close enough together that even our children can cross.

Tithing “enrolls our names”, and so attaches our rope to our heavenly parents – tithing is the supporting beams of the handrails of our bridge.

The Word of Wisdom keeps our planks clear and clean, so that our path is not slippery.

The Law of Chastity keeps ON the bridge.

Home teaching and visiting teaching are the bolts that connect our planks in place.

But, the most amazing piece is the Temple – the Temple is what LIFTS our bridge up toward Heaven, so that it is not a bridge we are climbing, but a ladder… it is what separates our church from all others.  The Temple is what defines us as a covenant people, so that we are not just trying to survive and walk across to the next day… we are are climbing UP, on Jacob’s Ladder.

Yes – Jacob’s Ladder, and as one of my favorite BYU professor Skinner would say, this is how the process of being faithful in those simple, daily spiritual habits becomes the very process by which we keep our covenants.  Elder Wondra, of the Seventy, took it even further, talking about how even our very struggles, the deepest pains of our hearts, become the line-upon-lines through which we climb to God.  He said, “…we learn to trust in the love of God, even if we might feel God has forsaken us—for when we overcome through faith, these bitter and sorrowful moments in our lives can become like steps on Jacob’s ladder, leading us into the heavenly presence of God.”

The good thing about knowing well the blueprints of the Lord, which means developing those individual spiritual habits and going to the Temple often, is that then we know what our bridge should look like, and how it helps us climb the ladder.  When we understand that, we are able to tell what is not right and where a marriage needs correction, instruction, or direction.

But here is what is amazing.

Go back to King Lamoni and his Queen.

That ladder is always curving, always curving as they climb up, for because repentance is continuing, is always necessary.  We are constantly called to repentance, so that our upward climb becomes that spiral of a staircase.

Know what else looks just like that?

Our DNA:

So the science, the math, the doctrine, the stories, the family, the examples… it all teaches the same principles.

By the atonement it is possible, we are sanctified through the journey, and the purpose is fulfilling our very divine nature and destiny as and for which we were created!

When we are not living the gospel, we are missing handrails and missing planks, and it is dangerous and scary.  You should be concerned.  You should be frustrated and angry and not wanting to walk across such a rickety bridge or tiptoe across such a slippery rope.  Your feelings are legitimate and accurate, holding important information that will work like a warning sign to get your attention.

BUT – your feelings are not facts!  They hold information – critical information – but they are not reality.  Reality comes not from your feelings, but from the choices you make in response to those feelings.  You create your reality by your behaviors and choices.  Feelings just hold information about the status and quality of the consequences of those choices.

So yes, if all is not well, you should feel bad.

But don’t get stuck there.  Do something about it.

Agency gives you the choices:

You can choose to jump.  You can choose to risk walking across as is.  You can refuse to move forward and stay stuck.  But none of those choices have anything to do with the plan of happiness.

The plan of happiness is the choice to live the Gospel.  Living the gospel means that the more you learn about your heavenly parents, the stronger the handrails on your bridge.  It means that each day you pray and each day you study your scriptures – both individually and together – you are adding planks to your bridge that you and your family can safely walk across.  It means that every trip to the Temple blesses your own family as much as it does bless those who have already died (the Temple is NOT *only* for dead people!), and that as you are blessed, it lifts you up so that you are not just progressing, but progress upward.  It means that as you continue the process of repentance, your forward progress is a spiral progress that moves you upward.

I testify that Heavenly Father has given us the promise that if a husband and wife will do the work to grow closer to Him as individuals, they will grow closer to each other in their marriage.  I testify that the Lord’s blessings are reserved for those who keep His commandments.  I testify that His love is extended to all, and that He gives opportunity for all to become obedient.  He loves us and wants us to repent and return to Him.  I promise that we will receive His blessings as we are faithful in doing so.

In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.

NOTE:  My footnotes did not transfer from the document, so I am sorry they are not attached to specific places, but here is the list of them if there are any you want to look anything up.  I have added links where I could to help make it easier – click and enjoy!

1D&C 132:3

14 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, #292, “O My Father”.
19 Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde G. Williams.  1996, 256-257.
24 Spencer W. Kimball.  The Miracle of Forgiveness. Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, 1969.
25  “Marriage in the Lord’s Way”, part two, LDS Ensign magazine, 1998, by Elder Cree-L Kofford