Monday, August 24, 2015

Today I am grateful: I have been changed

This is a follow-up to the previous post. 

Today I am grateful that through the Atonement of Christ I am able to be changed.  Usually, when we think of the Atonement we the of the mercy that Christ shows us when we sin. We think of the power for Him to "remember [our sins] no more" (Heb 8:12).  We think of forgiveness cleansing us from the effects of the choices we have made.  We may even consider His power over sickness and infirmities (Alma 7:11-12).

However, the grace offered through the enabling power is what I am most grateful for today.  The power not just to be washed clean, but to be made more perfect through the forgiveness process.  I am grateful that as I have cultivated a relationship with the Spirit I have been changed.

I see myself as coming to earth with circumstances and personality that are unique.  I came with unique needs and challenges to overcome.  In order to become like Heavenly Father I would have trials to put aside the ways in which I am not like Him.  Many of my challenges come because they are part of whom I was when I came to earth.  Some things are a struggle between my opinions/feelings/pride and my faith.

When I think there are things that are incongruous between what I understand or feel and what God has commanded I find that it is my pride, not my faith at work.  I forget that God's ways are not my ways (Isa 55:8).  This does not mean I do not question when I don't understand.  This does mean that when I question I try to do so humbly, opening myself up to the Spirit to be taught of Him.    In faith I remember that God has all the truth, and that He is willing to share it with me (James 1:5,  Moroni 10:5).

When I struggled with feeling like God was unjust towards women because He didn't allow them to hold the priesthood I had forgotten that He is GOD.  He embodies all truth.  All things are known to Him.  He sees all.  His ways are perfect.  I was 6 when I first felt like I was being treated unjustly by God because I was not given the exact same opportunities as my brother and other boys.  I felt that way for 17 years. Yes, all through Young Women, college, and while on my mission I felt that somehow I was missing out because men and women are different.

I am grateful today for great Young Women leaders who thoughtfully prepared lessons.  They taught me truths that stayed with me: powerful messages that were brought to my rememberance when I was ready to understand and accept them.  I am grateful for the good example and influence of righteous friends, roommates and mission companions.   These women (and some men) loved me for who I was, where I was.  Most were unaware of my struggles.

At 23, when my heart was ready, the Spirit spoke to me.  He promised me that if I let go of my inferiority complex He would teach me my place in God's plan.  He promised to heal me of feeling unhappy in my own skin, and to give me joy in who I am.  I had a choice: I chose Him.  This was not an easy choice. I had to lay aside 17 years of anger, indignation, and parts of myself I valued very much.  I am so glad I did because He kept His promise.  Through humility I received healing, and understanding.  I gave up someone I thought I wanted to be to become what God wanted me to become.

I felt for many years that I wanted to be a boy.  I felt like God had made a mistake. I had many natural-man feelings.  I realize that each of these experiences is an integral part of whom I started out as.  The person I used to be is very different from the person I am today.  I hope that the person I need to become by the end of my life is as different from the person I am today as I am from the me of 25 years ago.

Today, I understand that the difficulties and challenges that I faced were important in developing empathy and understanding towards those experiencing similar feelings. I also have a deeper understanding of the workings of God and the power of Christ's Atonement.  I can see how far I have come through the Atonement.  I can feel the healing that has taken place in my life.  I can see how I have been changed to become more like Him.  This is the real power of the Atonement: to make space in our lives for Him to come in and change us to become like Him.  Ultimately this is the goal of the Atonement-not just to forgive us and clean us but to improve (sanctify) us.  When we chose obedience to Him and sacrifice of our natural-man we become like God.

Today I am grateful for Christ. Today I am powerfully aware that I have been changed.  I am grateful for the atonement; for its ability to change me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Today I am grateful: My life has been hard.

Today I am grateful that my life has been difficult.  This has nothing to do with the ongoing kitchen renovations at our house that feel like two steps forward followed by one or more steps backward.  Today I am grateful for my testimony of Jesus Christ and His atonement.  Today I am powerfully aware that my life was difficult early and often.  I am grateful that the Lord gave me these experiences when I was still young enough to be tethered to Him.  I know that I chose to remain close because I was so young and had the faith of a child.  I know that this closeness I found when I was young has helped me to remain faithful into adulthood and continue to choose the right.

As I see many of my friends or my friends' kids choose to leave the safety of the gospel, or "take a break" from commandment keeping I wonder how I got to be so lucky.  I still have my testimony and I still choose righteousness.  This is hard.  Staying righteous and choosing to keep the commandments is not the easy choice, but is ultimately the best choice.

How did I get here? Why do I stay? Why have I not struggled to stay as I see those around me struggling now? Why/how am I sure that this is the right place to be?

I think the answer to some of these questions is that many of the trials that people I know are experiencing  now I already struggled through, some of them many years ago.  I will freely admit that I did not enjoy all the challenges that I have had.  I did pray for many of them to be lessened and removed.  I did not fully appreciate the value they would bring to me later.  I am a product of these experiences.  The person that I am today is a direct result of these many difficulties.

I didn't love that my mom couldn't volunteer at the school because she was at work.  It (and many other things) made me feel different.  I thrive today because I am comfortable being different-and I actually dislike it when I "fit in."  

I am grateful that early on I had to confront my feelings that girls were "second rate" because girls' programs in the church didn't offer similar opportunities for girls and boys.  I had to deal with being judged by how I looked and felt (which wasn't always like a girl).  That I had a complex (as a child/teen/young adult) about women being less because they were not allowed to hold the priesthood.  That I wanted, for many reasons, to be a boy.  That I had loving leaders and teachers who took the time to prepare lessons, listen to the Spirit, serve me, and pray for me.  I am grateful.  

Today I am grateful I chose to stay anyway.  That as a child and a pre-teen I felt anchored in my testimony even if it was made of only 2 or 3 powerful experiences.

As I prepared to go on my mission many people I came in contact with reminded me that I would have to wear a dress every single day-a fact that I was well aware of--even if a not so small part of me wished I could wear a suit. I had gone to serve the Lord partly because I wanted it to be a commandment for me like it was for priesthood holders.  I also went because He needed me there. I was willing to serve Him on His terms whether or not I understood or agreed with them.  I chose obedience and brought my non-conformist heart along for the journey.

I felt like my mission companions had burning testimonies that towered over mine.  I felt they were on fire to share this knowledge, and I was not.  It is hard for me to see some of these same people set aside the covenants they have made.  I respect their agency in choosing to sin, and do not wish to condemn them.  I love them.  I ache for them and the trials they are facing. My testimony now has me desiring mercy, understanding and forgiveness for them.

Christ chose me.  He kept me close and gave me opportunities to choose Him early and often.  With child-like faith I chose Him through the extended illness and eventual death of my father.  I chose Him when I was lonely in a family unlike all the ones pictured in Primary.  I chose Him when depression enticed me to end it all.  I chose Him when my family members stopped choosing Him. I chose Him when I didn't understand my role as a girl/woman in the kingdom. I chose Him when He took my daughter back to live with Him. I choose Him when chronic depression overtakes me. 

I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost and the spiritual gifts that we have access to through it. I realize that the events of my life have often left me feeling very alone and vulnerable.  I sought the companionship of the Spirit as a balm for this.  As I cultivated this relationship with Him I developed capacities beyond my own.  I received blessings that I needed and the sure knowledge that I am known and never alone. Through the Spirit I have been taught my place in the kingdom and that as a woman I am not, nor have ever been "second class" to God.  I have developed some of my spiritual gifts with a desire to perfect and strengthen these and others.

 I am grateful that while I feel my testimony is not the intense blaze that draws people to it, it is a small very hot core that keeps warm for a long time.  It does not come with big fanfare, but keeps burning long after the other has extinguished itself. My testimony is not made of kindling and small dry sticks--experiences which help us to feel God's love, but with limited lasting effects.  Mine is not made of miraculous events alone-which give us intense burning fire that without continued nourishment will burn itself out quickly.  Mine is made of many large fat logs which don't burn quickly.  They take a long time to heat up.  They keep the core warm, and they consume slowly.  They feed the fire, but they do need some attention for maximum effectiveness.  Mine may never be a raging testimony inferno, but it will be a place that always has a hot core, plenty of difficult trials to keep it going. There are many trial logs I can look back on and see how they have grown my testimony.  Heat that I can draw on again and again as I look to burn through my new trial logs that will add to my testimony fire tomorrow.  

I am grateful for being allowed to experience difficult trials and challenges early in my life.   To be led and guided in those times to reach out and hold to the truth.  In these times I know what I am,  where I am, who I am and why I am here.  I do not need to wonder what I will choose when the next challenge arises-I have already chosen.  I choose Him. Today I am grateful that my life has been hard.