Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being Like Nephi

Flashback to August 2012. This was one of the most grueling periods of my mission. It was also one of the most rewarding. The Lord blessed me with diamond truth to guide my mission and my life. Now I see the truth in Brigham Young's prophetic statement, "God never bestows upon his people, or upon an individual, superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them."

'If God commanded me to do all things I could do them'
I will not use this space to ruminate my trials, but I will share a 'superior blessing' with you - a truth, a lesson meaningful insofar as you have fought through and overcome your own severe trials. Months ago I shared this experience with my mission president and my family. Now I share it with you.
I'm finding little evidences of God's love everywhere I go. I'm beginning to understand how much He's blessed me. I'm beginning to see how foolish and selfish it is to focus on the things He hasn't yet given me. And I'm realizing more and more that sin distances me from His perfect love. He wants me to be confident, and the only way I can be confident is to trust Him.
I've studied a lot about the life of Nephi over the past few days. There is a man who was humble and confident. Though faced with overwhelming opposition and at least some feelings of inadequacy and sorrow, he never doubted in the Lord's promises. He exhibited faith and humility as he went about accomplishing the will of the Lord. I am so impressed by his remarks in 1 Nephi 17:50-51
And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?
Nephi didn't focus on the daunting task of shipbuilding—something he had never done. He focused on his abilities. He focused on the Lord's infinite capacity to accomplish good. And he made the important connection between the Lord's power and his power. He recognized with absolute faith and sincere humility that he was capable of doing anything the Lord commanded him to do.
I'm not one to doubt the Lord's power. I have always felt that He is there and that He works miracles. But I'm learning from Nephi that I should not doubt my power to do the Lord's will, either. If the Lord desires to use me to accomplish miracles, why not? If the Lord wants me to be the answer to someone's prayer, why not? If the Lord wants me to be a powerful leader—something I feel intimidated by—why not? Part of trusting Him is trusting that I can do what He wants me to do. If I doubt myself, I'm doubting Him. If I doubt my abilities, I'm doubting His abilities. If I criticize and berate myself, I'm not applying the Atonement.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Redefining Weakness

For months I've tried to describe a precious truth I've been learning piece by piece, primarily on my mission. While teaching a group of missionaries four days ago at the MTC the revelation came in an instant. (If ever the cliche 'crystal clear' was appropriate, it fits here):
I define my strengths and weaknesses.
Need further evidence? Let me introduce you to just a few of the people I've met who live this principle:

  • Mike Schlappi, the wheelchair-bound paralympian who transformed a personal tragedy into an inspiring life of motivating service
  • Elie Wiesel, the champion of peace and equality who endured indescribable hardship in a Nazi concentration camp. Wiesel has been described as a "messenger to mankind"
  • RaNae McKee, the beauty queen-turned-mom (to children, foster children and missionaries) who defied death by freely sharing her life
  • Kevin Carroll, the idealistic, energetic sexagenarian who believes in the power of a red rubber ball

Can anyone dispute that these men and women have overcome significant obstacles? Can anyone doubt that they view their impediments, handicaps and experiences as strengths, not limitations?

The struggle to redefine weakness as fortitude is something I'm well acquainted with. Someday I'll tell you my story. 

But really it's not my story any more than it's your story. And it's not really your story, either. It's our story - mankind's story - our collective effort to process, understand and overcome our private struggles. You cannot win a personal battle without inspiring another soul. My mission president says, "Everything you do affects another soul."

The ultimate author of this story is the "author and finisher of our faith", the One who willingly bore each piercing pain in an effort to love, understand and redeem us all (see Hebrews 12:2, Alma 7:11-13). The miracle of the Atonement is not that Christ will take away our weakness, pain, and sorrow. The miracle is that He will change our weakness into strength, turn our pain into power, and develop our sorrow into everlasting joy. 

I finally perceive the meaning of the Lord's timeless words:
If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27, emphasis added) 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Best Relationship

            After a months-long hiatus I’m back to blogging. I knew I couldn’t stay away forever. I’m never sure how useful my musings are to the general population, but I learn a lot by writing my thoughts down rather than letting them swirl endlessly in my mind. Writing is just one way to express the feelings of the heart. Perhaps you’ve taken up music, art, or some other form to communicate your thoughts.
            One basic human need is companionship. I’ve thought at length about three video clips produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which I first saw on my mission. These videos expose us to real people who, for a variety of reasons, felt the emptiness that resulted when a companion was lost or never found. Naturally these losses left them feeling…well, lost—and heartbroken, discouraged, and empty.
            But these are stories of triumph, not tragedy, and the dominant theme in these threads is this—“no matter what I experience in life I will be faithful to my covenants and I will be faithful to God. My relationship with Him is most important. Further companionship is a blessing and a bonus.”

            Love empowered Chris to forgive when teenager Cameron, driving drunk, killed his wife and several children in a car accident. The incident left him feeling “crushed: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.” But Chris noticed that when he prayed God didn’t immediately try to solve all his problems. He listened with love. He allowed Chris to vent his anger. And then He taught him about His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Atonement. He allowed Chris to let go of a burden that would have destroyed him. And in finding the power to forgive Chris enabled Cameron and his parents to let go of poisonous memories that would have dulled their futures forever. “I was just completely overcome,” Cameron’s mother, Marilyn, said. “It was like…the despair was being washed out from my soul.”

            Love motivated an anonymous young wife to mend when her husband revealed he had been unfaithful and wanted a divorce. The announcement came during the holidays, and the crushing secret ruined what should have been an enjoyable time with family. Heartbroken and hopeless, the woman gladly took her crying young niece to another room in order to be alone. Here, overcome with emotion, overwhelmed by a burden she felt she couldn’t carry on her own, she realized she was not, in fact, alone. Looking into the infant’s innocent eyes she felt these words impel her heart with force: “You’re not holding me; I’m holding you.” The woman realized the Lord was shouldering her tremendous sorrow.

            Love allowed Ty to look past cultural expectations and postponed dreams and embrace a challenge that frustrated him. A titanic struggle with same-sex attraction left him wondering if he belonged in the Lord’s Church. Years of painful loneliness preceded a glorious experience of divine love—a reassurance of superior power in which the Lord told Ty, “Just stay with me; one day at a time.” In order to overcome this significant challenge Ty had to acknowledge that he might never enjoy marriage in this life. And he was okay with that. God first, companionship second. He said, “I express gratitude always to the Lord for that divine communication which really transformed my approach to this issue which has ultimately led me to where I’m at today”…happily married, by the way.
            We all long for meaningful relationships. Sometimes those relationships are tragically cut short. Sometimes they are destroyed by the reckless avarice of a former soul mate. Sometimes they happen much later than we hope they will. Sometimes they never even start.
            But there is one relationship that can be eternal. It is not temporary, it will not be sabotaged, and it can begin the very moment we want it to. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the best relationship we can develop. I feel the power of His love in the words of this hymn:

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.