Sunday, October 30, 2011

After All I Can Do

Ninth grade was a rough year for me.  As an honor student, I let my grades slip (of course, when they started to count!)  Basketball was my life and all of a sudden I wasn't keeping up with the competition that a bigger school had to offer.  I had health challenges and back problems. For the first time, my closest friendships were challenged.  I often felt I was letting people down.  Life was getting harder and I don't think I was quite prepared for it!  I had LOVED 8th grade and life seemed so much easier then!!!  But I was sitting in Ms. Wade's 9th grade English class one day and for whatever reason, I remember committing myself to be PERFECT--right then and there. From that minute forward, I was never going to make a mistake. I would play by the book and follow every rule to a T. I would get perfect grades, give my all in everything I did, be perfectly kind and live a perfect life...

As a 14 year old, in my naivety, I believed this was possible.

Sadly, I did not yet understand one of the greatest principles that now governs my life.

Adam and Eve had an opportunity to be perfect. They lived in the Garden of Eden and knew no evil, no temptation, no sorrow. But they also knew no joy, happiness or what it was like to have a family. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit which they were commanded by the Lord not to eat, they were separated from God's presence and became lost; subject to all the pains and sorrows of this world. This was essential to our Heavenly Father's plan for all of His spirit children. If Adam had not fallen and had remained in their perfect condition, we would not be on this earth today. Equally important to this plan was the need for redemption so that we, His children, would not be lost forever.

We needed a Savior.

As God's children, we are not punished for Adam's transgressions. Yes, we are all subject to the harsh realities of this life, but all is not lost forever!  Jesus Christ redeems us from our shortcomings, weaknesses, sins and heartache. Without Him, none of us would have the opportunity and privilege to return to live with God. We cannot be perfect because we are human! But through our Savior, Jesus Christ, we can. After all we can do, He makes up the difference.

I play the piano. I consider myself an untrained pianist. My mom taught me the basics but around age 9-10, I made it clear that I wanted to play what I wanted to play, when I wanted to play it. Typical! I spent a lot of time at the piano plunking out melodies and gradually, I improved. My technique and form were nothing to be proud of, but my sight-reading skills were pretty good and I loved playing. I spent hours on that squeaky bench in our living room each night and am grateful for that time. It wasn't until college when I received formal instruction that I learned how much I didn't know about the piano! But still, I am forever grateful to my mom for teaching me and for the hours I spent as a teen playing and composing my own music. I can't remember for sure, but I think it was when I was 17, my church was producing a musical presentation commemorating the LDS pioneers. I was asked to play a piano solo. The piece I was to play was too difficult for me and I knew it. But I practiced and practiced and practiced.  On the evening of the performance, I prayed that I would be able to play that song, perfectly. Considering I hadn't mastered it in my own living room, it was quite a stretch to believe that this could be done. But I did have faith in prayer at the age of 17, and I knew it could be done.

I played that song with zero mistakes.

I wish I had a recording of it because I'd like to know now if it sounded as great as I felt! All I knew at the time, and now, was that my fingers had extra help that night. I felt it! I was given extra help, after all I could do on my own.

As a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a teacher and an individual, I fail everyday.  I disappoint people. I hurt feelings. I am selfish. I let people down. I get tired. I want to give up.  I fear what I'm doing to my children! But I clearly understand the principle of giving all I have, and allowing the grace of God to make up the difference. Admittedly, as a Latter-day Saint woman, there is a high expectation that often times feels so far out of my reach.  Its no wonder that so many LDS women suffer from depression and feelings of inadequacy! But I have learned that those feelings do not come from God! It is not His way. I am sad for those who do not yet understand this principle. I am sad for those who feel that its too late to try, that they aren't worth it or that too much is required of them.  The Lord's mercy is real and available to everyone...always.

Because I am a Mormon, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior. He's made it possible for me to be better than I am on my own.  My best effort is enough.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It did or it didn't

I was a teenager when I sat in an office across from a woman who questioned me about my life.  She was searching for answers; clues, to find out if there was anything hidden behind what others could see. This was her trade, her occupation, her gift.  It was her job to uncover something that might help my parents understand me. I admit, I was not an effectively communicative teenager but have since wondered, does such a teenager exist? 

I don't find myself not liking people very often.  This woman was an exception.

I didn't like her.

She asked me basic questions about my life...where I went to school, who my friends were, what I liked to do, what I was good at...those were the questions leading up to what she really wanted to know.

I distinctly remember her asking me if I ever used drugs or alcohol. If I had had sex. If anyone had sexually abused me. If I had ever been in a fight at school--(this one was downright laughable).

To each question, I answered:




Not even once?


Long pause. She jotted down some notes. Then finally looked up at me and said, "I'm going to need you to give me a name of a teacher who I can call so that I confirm that all you've told me is true."

This was humiliating!  Surely, I knew I had never been in a fight at school, that I was often teased because I stayed far away from what most kids were doing in high school, that there was nothing wrong with me, that I wanted nothing more than to get out of her office!  The last thing I wanted was for her to call one of my teachers and ask these questions.  My word meant nothing.  I left her office feeling horrible.

I've thought back on that time and realize now that the reason I felt so awful then was because this woman saw me as someone other than who I knew I was.

Joseph Smith was just a boy of 14 years when he began to question his life.  Like today, there were many different voices and he wanted to know which one was Truth.  How could all of them be right when they contradicted each other?  At 14, he prayed to know which religion he should join.  In 1820, he had a vision where Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him not to join any of them.  From that day on, Joseph was instrumental in establishing Christ's church upon the earth once again.

In his own words, Joseph said, "I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.  One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other -- This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him!"

As most people know, this started a lot of controversy in the religious world.  Controversy that remains today.  Joseph Smith was hated, persecuted, tortured and eventually, he was unjustly killed. 

I have heard this story my entire life.

Does it seem preposterous that he had seen a vision? Yes it does.  Was I there to witness it?  No, I was not.

Yet, he said it happened. His life is a witness that it did. He went on to be a great leader and the church has grown exponentially since its early beginnings. His life was given in service to the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  His life was taken by men who conspired against him because they saw him as someone other than who he knew he was.

Here are Joseph's own words in response to the accusations he had to bear:

"Why persecute me for telling the truth?  I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen?  For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation."

This personal example I've shared is nothing compared to the frustration that Joseph Smith must have felt. I tasted a tiny bit of what it felt like to have someone see me as someone I was not; where her doubt was more important than belief; where a need for confirmation from another witness was more important than my word alone.

Put yourself in his shoes. If Joseph did see God, how could he have denied it?  

I do not worship Joseph Smith.  Jesus Christ is the head of the LDS church.  Joseph was a great instrument in restoring truth to the earth.  Because of him, I have many blessings. I will forever be grateful to him; yet he is not, and never will be my God.

Either Joseph saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, or he didn't.

Because I am a Mormon, I believe he did.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Words I Never Said

I saw a headline this week of an article that read:

"Mitt Romney: part of Mormon cult".

Politics aside, let me just say, Mitt and I have something in common.

It was my junior year in high school and I was sitting in my English class. There were two girls who sat in front of me talking to a boy who sat next to them. The girls were trying to explain to this young man that, surely, he would never go to heaven. The boy asked one of the girls why not? and she told him that he hadn't found Jesus. The boy then turned to me and asked if I believed in Jesus. I said yes. One of the girls quickly turned to him, not to me, and said that, in fact, I did not believe in Jesus, but that I belonged to a cult.

What was a cult anyway? I had no idea.

In my 16 year old insecure way, I let it be. But it bothered me on many different levels; that she would tell this young boy he would never go to heaven, that she didn't even know me and told of my beliefs--which were false; and that she had made assumptions about me based on my religion alone, which she obviously knew very little about.

Jesus Christ was crucified for being who He was. He went about doing good yet was despised for it. He never made an apology for who He was or what His life was about. His life didn't begin in Bethlehem when he was born or end on Calvary when He was crucified. He was foreordained before the earth was created to be the Redeemer of the world and to save us from our sins. And He will forever be the Living Christ.

I wish I could rewind back to that day and say this to that girl:

I do believe in Jesus.

I wish I could tell her I know that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to be a perfect example for all of mankind; that He wasn't just a man, but a God and that He was the only one who could accomplish this because he was God's only begotten Son. I would tell her that every day of my life I wake up and pray that I can be more like Him, that the qualities He taught while He lived on the earth are the very principles I am trying to instill in myself and my children; that I also know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. I would want her to know that I feel His love when I am sad, lonely or hurt. He is my friend.

More importantly, to that boy in my English class, I would say that I believe there is hope for him to go to heaven!

I have often wondered how many others viewed me as being part of a cult, or even a non-Christian. Probably more than I would like to think. This story I share was not a single incident that happened in my life where my eyes were opened to the way others viewed me. There have been many. Maybe someone is reading this right now who still sees me this way. But, like my Savior, I will not make an apology for what I believe or who I believe in. I am grateful for the different religions throughout the world who talk of Christ, rejoice in Christ, preach of Christ and point their children to Him that they might know what source to look for a remission of their sins. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ that provides hope, happiness and peace. I'm not sure why there are so many people who do not include me in the circle of Christian denominations, or who are derogatory in their comments toward my faith, but that's okay.

Because I am a Mormon, I am a Christian. And I believe in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I know I am His Daughter

As a Mormon, I believe that I am literally the offspring (spirit child) of a loving Father in Heaven. A spirit is who we are, inside our bodies, and it is the spirit that makes us alive. God is the Father of my spirit. This God who I pray to, and whole-heartedly rely on for everything I have, is my literal Father. He has a tangible form and image; meaning, he has a body of flesh and bones as all of us do. Before we were born, we lived in heaven with our Father. I don't remember this, none of us do, but I know it is true. Psalm 82:6 says "all of you are children of the Most High." Heavenly Father knows who I am, inside and out, because I am His daughter. I am a child of God.

Because I know I am God's daughter, I know I inherited divine qualities I am striving to uncover and improve. I've never been the most confident kid on the block, but deep down, I've known I am worth more than I can see, or know. I also want to please Him. I look to Him for acceptance, for self-worth and for guidance only a father can give.

When I was a kid, I learned to love baseball.  Particularly, the Seattle Mariners. When I met my husband as a sophomore in college, a poster of Ken Griffey, Jr. hung over my bed and he still teases me about that. Growing up, my family regularly went to the Kingdome to catch a game. After a stop at Dick's Burgers, we'd pull up to the enormous concrete edifice, encircled by its long, winding ramps. I can still see and hear the smells of Seattle while walking up that ramp, usually to the highest entrance.  I'd feel giddy inside when I walked into the stadium and saw nothing but a vast green field. We arrived early for batting practice. We'd sit in right field (the cheap seats, but where Griffey hit his homeruns) with our little league gloves on. We waited for Griffey, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Alvin Davis to find our gloves with a swing of their bat.  I loved Harold Reynolds, Randy Johnson and Omar Visquel.  I held my score card in hand, with my chocolate malt in the other, and kept track of every pitch. After the game, sometimes we'd wait around for an autograph or two. It was pretty exciting.

But why? Why did I love baseball so much? Well, it is a great game, the best game; but I have a theory.

I loved baseball because my dad did.

In fact, I can't think of anything he loved more, other than his family. I played from age 4 (t-ball) up until I tried out for the fastpitch softball team at BYU and made it. I always wanted to make him so proud of me. He was always my biggest fan. When I wasn't playing well, he was always there helping me to get back up and work harder. I'd pitch to him out in the front yard until my arm was too sore. He never doubted that I could be great. I never was great, but because he believed I was, I felt that I could be. When I did well, he was proud. When I stunk, he was still proud. When I struggled, he gently tried to help me correct my form. He encouraged me to work hard, and I worked so hard. When I decided to quit, I never remember feeling like I let him down; like I was a failure. I knew that he didn't love me because I played softball. He loved me because he was my dad.

Heavenly Father doesn't love me because of what I do with my life or what I don't do. He never doubts that I can be great and because He is my Father, I know I can be. He sees my potential and sees past my weaknesses because of my potential. When I struggle, He will gently correct my path. He encourages me to work hard. And I am working harder than I've ever worked at anything before. No, God doesn't love me because of what I do or what I am good at or not good at. He loves me simply because I am His.

Because I am a Mormon, I believe that just as my dad loves me with an unconditional love, so does my Heavenly Father, with an even greater love.  I was fortunate to have a living dad while on this earth and how grateful I am for his love.  However, each of us have a loving Father in Heaven and how grateful I am for Him.

Each of us is a child of God. Each of us has a loving Father.