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.
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.