Why I want you to stay: A letter from a Mormon

I think the hardest business in the world is that of loving someone.

But it’s inevitable. From the moment we’re born we attach to someone like a plant’s roots wander for water, wrapping ourselves around laughter and friendship and similarities and bonds. People are everything to us.

And how ironic that because of that we experience the greatest joys–and the greatest pain.

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During the time that I’ve kept this blog I’ve seen stories that have changed me and I’ve made friends from worlds away who have uplifted me. And I’ve also seen my share of doubts, skepticism, even people struggling with their faith or the reason they’re even alive. I’ve loved people I don’t even know and I’ve teared up over those who have wandered away from a God they once loved. And that was the price of having this blog–of simply being human in general.

So you can say that this letter to you, whoever you are, is a long time coming. I’ve had the title scratched down for a while, almost scared to write it until some members of my own family began the back-stepping, the I-don’t-know-if-this-church-is-for-me journey.

All I want you to really know is that I want you to stay. Even if we don’t know each other at all, even if this is your first time reading my blog and even if you’ll never be back to it–I just want you to know that.

And it’s not for reasons you might think.

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While I was on my way to Denver a few weeks ago I was boarding my plane when I saw my stake president sitting a few rows ahead of my seat. We waved and smiled and the whole “Wow it’s a small world” conversation ensued for a minute or two. Then we landed, spent four days with family, and life went on. But as we were headed back to Seattle, lo and behold there he was again on our same plane. But this time, he was sitting right next to us.

I didn’t tell my husband this, but I knew exactly why he was there.

After a bit of small talk he turned more serious.

He asked what our opinions were on how to best convey the difference between the culture and the gospel for members. How do we tell them that the gospel is EVERYTHING–that the Savior lived and died for all of us–that the gospel was restored through Joseph Smith for those of us in THIS time who need that light to get back. How do we explain that?

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I was embarrassed to tell him I don’t know. That I’m struggling with seeing people I love doubt something they once believed. It hurts me to see the Savior fade away into some kind of illusion. And I have nothing to help them. I have no idea what to do!

That’s when he turned to Enos 1:9-10 and I realized that the struggle to have those we love remember God extended way back, long before Christ.

“Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.

And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments.”

“Don’t give up on them,” he finally told me before our plane landed. “They’re worth it, aren’t they?”

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And that’s why I write to you today.

It’s not about me being right or having all the answers for you. Because I don’t. It’s not even about you having all the answers in this life. Because you won’t. It’s about you being worth the reward.

You are worth the wrestle because you are worth Heaven.

I remember, almost seven years ago now, learning about the Book of Mormon for the first time, seeing the temple for the first time, feeling the waters of the baptismal font for the first time–and although I didn’t know it all, I knew one thing: It was all true. And that’s how most of us begin. But then over time people offend us. Lessons can hurt us. Things become familiar and the stories not as exciting. Sacrament meeting becomes routine rather than a sacred ordinance and suddenly we go a week, two weeks, three weeks, without getting on our knees. We go a month or two without church.

And we start to wonder if it’s true simply because we’ve stepped far enough away that everything begins to fade and blur in the distance we’ve created.

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That will happen to almost all of us. There will be a day when we have to be converted again. But you are worth walking back.

Turning away is a statement that will only hurt yourself. Forgetting where you’ve come from and the journey the Savior took to pick you up out of that place will only plunge your further into the world where almost everyone else lives nowadays, immersed in things that just won’t last.

Let’s talk real here.

You don’t like where you are. It’s confusing there. It’s sad. There are no real answers. But it usually feels safe. Safer than vulnerably putting your soul and heart on the line, safer than maybe not making it with the rest of your family. Safer than trying–only to fail. Right?

I get it.

But you are worth remembering why you came, no matter how long ago. You are worth the kingdom. You are the rightful heir.

I sometimes struggle with missionary work because I don’t want people to think that I just want to be right. I don’t want to seem “judgy” or pushy or God forbid, “holier than thou”. And I struggle because more than anything, I just want those I love and those I don’t even know to feel how it feels to have the comfort of the spirit when someone you love more than anything slips to the others side. I want you to feel how it feels to sincerely repent and feel entirely forgiven. I want you to know how it feels to see a prayer answered and to know exactly why it was. I want you to know how it feels to dress in white and see God in the faces of those who simply believe like you do with a faith that exceeds knowledge.

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I want you to get there with me.

And I will wrestle for you and plead for you and believe in you and cry for you. Jesus always tended to care for the 1 lost sheep out of the hundred, and that’s our burden to continue.

Because I love you, whoever you are. You are beautiful. You are SO needed. You are worth it.

And if you don’t hear it from anyone else, I want you to hear it from me.

I want you to stay.

When ‘God’s plan’ hurts the most

Yesterday was a hard day. And so is today.

I didn’t want to write about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I sat in the bath for over an hour watching the bubbles die and staring at a drippy faucet.

My eyes were puffy–like they are now–because just twenty minutes before that I had bawled into my pillow.

I was supposed to be pregnant this time.

It had been a week, and yesterday was the day I would take a test. It would OBVIOUSLY be a positive. I had all the signs and I was already prepping how I would tell my family.

I was supposed to be pregnant.

But, as if it were some kind of sick joke, the same thing happened. Within minutes, my answer came. No baby this month either.

You’d think that I’d get used to the (-) symbol. That I’d get used to piecing myself back together. But this time was different. I got angry. Why is God turning his back on something so simple??

It’s been almost three years now that I’ve been going through this endless cycle, waiting for two minutes while biting the heck out of my nails only to see the same symbol every month and like clockwork…explode into tears. I’ve been operated on, I’ve been cat-scanned, I’ve been medicated, I’ve been evaluated, I’ve been through boxes and boxes of ovulation kits. I’ve wasted pregnancy tests and I’ve chucked them across the room. I’ve said, “I’m done” more times than I can count but I still find myself tracking the calendar each month. I still dream about our baby.

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It’s the worst pain I’ve ever been through…physically and emotionally.

Not many people see this side of me, though. I walk out of my front door and tell people around me with a smile that we’re trying, that it’s been hard, but we’re excited for the day to come. It’ll just take more time, I say. Diplomatic. Very non-dramatic. Please don’t pity me I say in my head. And so no one sees it…they only see that I’m tough. That I have faith.

No one except for one: My husband.

And it’s like I didn’t notice it until yesterday. He’s always so joyful. Even yesterday, when he was about to burst with excitement at our pending “news”, he looked down at that horrible symbol and just grabbed me and pulled me toward him. I hit his chest and told him to let me go. He held me tighter. I told him not to pity me. He was silent. So I cried and he pet my hair and he covered me with a blanket and got me ice-cream. He told cheesy jokes as I laid there, and even managed to get me to smile. He danced like a weirdo (totally wrecking his ego, but it’s all for the laughs). Unaffected. Or so I thought.

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Later that night I came into the room after my bath and he was studying, a serious expression–a sad one–on his face as he stared forward. His face changed as soon as he saw me and he attempted to make me laugh. But I had caught it.

“Are you sad too?” I finally asked.

“This is the hardest thing ever,” he answered, and I believed him.

But you wouldn’t know it. His priority was to be strong for me. To be joyful. To stay put together so I would have somewhere to land when I fall apart.

He’s heartbroken every month too. He wonders what’s going on and he battles with the whole “why” of it. But he doesn’t give up hope for me. He never isn’t there. He never loses joy.

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And I realized–so it goes with Heavenly Father I bet. It hurts him too when we hurt. But his purpose is to give me hope. To give me strength. To be the voice that doesn’t say, “Wow this situation is dire” but to instead whisper to my heart, “It will be okay. Soon enough.” To be joy.

And still, that’s the person I tend to get angry at. The one I can blame and cry to and get utterly pissed at because he doesn’t talk back.

But he feels the pain. Every part of it. ALL of it. And he sees the pain of people all over the world who suffer far greater than I do– pains that I probably couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

Yet he still has–and gives–joy. And hope.

How amazing.

When the night got quiet and my husband fell asleep I flipped through my phone, blankly staring at Pinterest and photography ideas. I stumbled across this picture with the quote below it:

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“Because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice…He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do.” —David A. Bednar

And this is why we need him. It’s why I need him.

There are these moments in life–and I’m sure you’ve had your fair share–where I’m just DONE. I don’t want to move my feet. I don’t want to try again. I don’t feel like laughing or saying “It’ll be ok”. Especially when a righteous desire just isn’t coming to pass for what seems like no reason at all. Especially when I feel like it’s all coming against me.

And somehow, without even realizing it, He steps in quietly and sits with me awhile. He does everything I can’t and somehow gets me to do everything I thought I couldn’t do.

Somehow I have a husband who has faith enough to look ahead with hope and make me laugh. Somehow I have friends who text me at just the right time to tell me they love me. Somehow I get the courage to stand up, wipe the tears, and face another day, another round, another try.

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Somehow He stays in the room, probably holding a hand over mine, even as I complain about His timing and His plan.

This very moment–this unbearable task–is teaching us to be more like that.

Brigham Young once said: “Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”

And I believe that more than anything. Although challenging, everything that happens to us teaches us a little bit more about what we need to become and the areas we need to refine.

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I want to have children more than anything. My heart–my soul–yearns for it.

But more than that even–I wish to continue forward.

I wish to be more like my husband, who sings through the silence of misery. More like those of you who suffer through the unbearable and praise the eternal. More like the Saints who buried children and walked through deserts with wounded feet simply to see Zion.

More, Savior, like thee.

‘Second chances and forever love’: The winner for the Temple Memory give-away

The give-away that should have ended a couple of weeks ago extended a little while longer simply because I didn’t want the e-mails to stop coming. As I sifted through each and every temple memory sent from people all over the world, I felt the spirit so strongly re-testifying to me the power of the temple and the truthfulness of it all.

I cried through some of them, got chills through most of them, and smiled with all of them simply because the message was the same with every single experience: God lives. And He loves us uniquely and individually.

Because I don’t want to keep such inspirational stories to myself I will be posting several of them for the next couple of weeks, and I hope they’ll touch your heart just as much as they’ve touched mine.

But today I wanted to post the winner for this give-away. It was sent to me from Trent Rogers from California. His story teaches about the journey of finding love again and the healing power of love from our Father in Heaven. Congrats, Trent!

Greetings Kayla,

What a great idea! Your idea to give back to your readers and to let us share some of our own life experiences is wonderful.
Some time ago a friend of mine forwarded a copy of your blog to me to read. It contained some unusual and helpful insight into a problem I was facing at the time. I bet you never thought that your words would resonate with a middle aged man who was divorced and suddenly an empty nester all at the same time. Loneliness and pain felt from losing a relationship or loved one are certainly feelings felt at any age I have found. Your words and the spirit behind them belie a much older soul it seems to me. I am sure you have been a creative and also helpful spirit for a long long time, perhaps even before this life.

Anyway, I wanted to share….

Flashback a few years when I was a man married to a woman I loved but who “loved me but was NOT ‘in love’ with me.
I had wanted to be sealed in the Lord’s Temple for many years but there was always a hesitation or excuse from her. Eventually she left to find another love and I thought perhaps my time was passed for finding that Forever Love. Some time later I had come to California on business and was sitting alone in my hotel room with nothing to do one evening. I got online to look at some LDS dating website that I was not even a member of and I happened upon a profile. I expected it to be a woman from Utah, as this was my own laptop but interestingly it was pulling up people in Southern California. I sent a short message to the woman asking if she wanted to communicate back and get to know one another. Next thing you know I find out she lives in San Diego, two hours south. We both took a leap and jumped….

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The first lunch we met and that simple date lasted for many hours as we exchanged stories…
I went home to Utah and we began a long distance love affair. I returned to California often after that.
On our third date we drove up to Orange County and went to the Newport Beach Temple. What a beautiful and serene ocean-themed place it is. Surely that would be our favorite temple. Several weeks later we attended the San Diego Temple along the I-5 freeway in La Jolla with it’s Disneyland-like spires and amazing glow washing off the evening fog that is so common near the coast. I felt such peace and contentment being in the temple with my new best friend. That temple would surely be our favorite date night temple going forward….

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Well now we fast forward 2 years later. I long ago sold my home in Utah and packed up all my stuff, kissed my grown up kids and friends goodbye and me and my puppy dog took off for California. I am happily married now and me and my wonderful eternal companion have been sealed forever in the latest of our Favorite temples :“The Draper Utah Temple”.

God lives and loves us. It’s the whole reason for Temples.

 

The truth about ‘changing the world’: And why you fit right in

It’s just one of those days.

One of those days where I open my eyes and it’s not that I just want to write, but I need to. There are days where my fingers just take off and I just pour my guts on to the keyboard and everything just seems to go quiet and hollow for a while. And then there are the days where it’s hard to write down exactly what my heart is thinking and feeling, and my fingers can’t keep up. But days like today–I almost feel like as I type you’re out there somewhere with a letter in your hand, reading my words as they scrawl across the page, so I’m trying to be meticulous about what I say and how I say it. Because it has to be right today.

Yesterday a close friend of mine told a story that I can’t stop thinking about. He was at work when he looked outside the big windows across from him and noticed a man pounding on the window of his car on the passenger side. The man looked around, paranoid that someone might be watching, and my friend looked away and pretended to not pay attention. The man pounded the window again and again, and this time my friend paced across the room, opened the door, and walked toward the man. His eyes were as big as dinner plates. “I just wanted the Pepsi and the change,” the man stammered. My friend looked into the window and sure enough, he had left his Pepsi and some coins in the center console. Without missing a beat my friend opened the door, grabbed the Pepsi and coins, and gave it to the man. When the man asked why he would do that my friend merely answered, “Why not?”

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I’m struck by this story, and not for the reason you might think. Of course I’m so grateful to have such Christlike friends who choose to do good every single day. But more importantly, I dwell on the man who saw those few coins and that beverage and wanted it SO BAD. It was everything to him to just have THAT. To my friend, it was something so little and insignificant, something he took for granted as he grabbed it on his way to work. But in that moment, without a moment of hesitation, my friend recognized that this man (although going about it the wrong way) needed it more than him. And who would guess that it wasn’t his car or his stereo equipment or anything jammed in the backseat. It was his soda.

And that’s when it struck me.

We have so much to give that we don’t even realize most of the time–and more importantly, we don’t realize the impact we have on so many when we decide to give it.

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Sometimes I photograph clients, or write on my blog or complete little projects and actually convince myself that this is just something small. Something that will pass and fade and something that simply keeps me busy and optimistic. You probably think that too. I’m sure of it. You go through your day and it’s just that–YOUR day. And you just think that these moments belong to you and no, you could never change the world. It’s not that far-reaching.

But I refuse to believe that anymore.

I refuse to believe that in the fabric of eternity you paying for someone’s meal who stands behind you won’t have a ripple effect. I don’t believe that the blankets you crochet only serve to keep new babies warm. And I know without a doubt that what you say to the person struggling at work and that inspirational Facebook status you posted “just because” won’t vanish into thin air. I’m saying this because I know that sometimes it feels like you’ll just disappear someday. Or that in a way you already do or only effect a small group around you.

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I’ve learned differently.

This morning, as soon as I opened my eyes I saw my phone blinking. A message from my best friend. She had sent an email with the short little message, “Kayla, if you ever think you’re not changing the world, think again!” The e-mail attachment was a blog that her mom had sent her, a blog that is kept by an inmate named Krissy Hansen who was wrongly put behind bars. I could paraphrase the excerpt of the blog, but I won’t or it wouldn’t be the same or quite as touching as Krissy’s. So here it is.

“My mail today was powerful.  Cards, typed letters, hand written notes, newspaper articles, and pictures.  Most from people I know, but a few from those I don’t.  I have read each of them enough times that if someone read me the first few words from each letter, I would know who it was from.  I have tried to set them all up in my locker, but there’s not room for all of them.  I shared some of the landscape pictures with some of the other girls.  Full color is so needed in here.  Why keep all this good stuff for myself?  I highlighted one of the church articles a friend sent in and gave it to another inmate.  She read it and asked if she could keep it to read again.  My friends on the outs have no idea what a strength they are to those in here.  I am thankful to be able to pass along the goodness.  

I went to Bible Study tonight.  Individual girls talked a lot at the beginning.  And cried a lot.  And felt broken a lot.  A couple of them witnessed to each other their simple testimonies of what they know to be true of trials and how the Savior fits in.  There was a lull in the conversation.  The pastor said, “Keep going, you’re doing great!”  I realized we weren’t going to get to our Bible study of “Your Life in Christ,” but the conversation was much more meaningful and applicable.  There was an awkward silence and then one of the girls said, “All I know is that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”  It was the catch-all phrase that someone always says when someone is having a tough time.  The title of one of the articles I just received in the mail popped into my head.  I had a thought to bring it to Bible study, but I didn’t.  Now I know I should have.  It was titled God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle: I Guarantee It.”  

The other girls all shook their heads and agreed with the comment that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  I silently objected, but didn’t think it was the right time to stand contrary with emotions so raw.  Then I felt that “Be Brave, Be Bold” feeling.  And there was still awkward silence.  
And more awkward silence.  
I felt like the pastor knew there was something waiting to be said and he was patient to let it happen.  Finally I spoke up.  “Actually, I think He does give us more than we can handle.  He doesn’t expect us to handle hard trials all by ourselves.”  I looked around the table, wondering what I was getting myself into – with the full attention of a room full of inmates, going contrary to what they all just agreed with, and a pastor from another church kicked back in his chair that seemed so comfortable with the situation – like he knew this was the way it was all supposed to play out from the beginning of his lesson.  

I shared with them the article I received today.  There’s not a verse of scripture that says He won’t give us more than we can handle.  The verse, I paraphrased, actually says “Those that are heavy laden, come to me.  I will give you rest.”  I explained what a yoke is between 2 cows – to help them share the load together – and how our Savior tells us to take his yoke upon us.  If we do it by ourselves, we will fail.  If we try to be strong and think that we can do this because God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, we will break.  I only know, because I would have broken a long time ago.  Like a single cow trying to pull the whole load by itself, it’s just not meant to happen.  Sometimes maybe He purposely gives us more than we can handle – not because He wants to break us, but because He wants us to turn to Him, to realize, and accept Christ’s help – “Take my yoke upon you,” he tells us.  

I felt like I should take a seat after I spilled my heart on the table for everyone to decide if they agreed, but I was already sitting.  So I waited.  The girl across from me was the first to agree.  Then a few others commented about how that makes a lot more sense.  Shortly after, the pastor thanked me and closed our Bible study with prayer and my heart stopped pounding so loud.  When we got back to the pod, 3 inmates asked to read my article.  It got passed around and ended up in the hands where it belonged all along – with a girl who needed the message the most that it carried.  I could tell she didn’t want to return it to me, so I offered it to her.  She acted like she just received a trip to Disneyland.  (Actually, if she can learn to apply the message, it’s better than a trip to Disneyland!)

I am thankful for the author of the article who was willing to relate her own heartache.  I am thankful for my good friend on the outs who read the article, felt the prompting to send it to me, and then most importantly – acted on it.  She was able to touch a roomful of inmates today that needed to know that Christ is real and He’s there and ready to take this long walk of recovery with them – that it is more than they can handle alone, but that He’s ready to take part of the load.  I am thankful for my own experiences in the past 3 years that relate that I haven’t done this alone.”

I’m not posting this to toot my own horn. Actually, on the contrary. I’m writing this because I believe in the power of change. I believe it takes one voice, one deed, one person, to do good. To change things. It takes you to stop cornering yourself in your little town or your little home or little church group and to remember that you don’t have to travel a great distance or write the greatest American novel or grace the covers of magazines to impact those who will never even meet you. It takes you to give of yourself every single day. You have the power to stretch and knit and change the fabric of the world.

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You don’t change the world. But you change people. And little by little, those people change the world.

I cried through that letter the same way I cried over my friend’s story about the Pepsi. What are we to give? And more importantly, what are we to change that we never knew even needed to be changed? An attitude, a heart, a desire, a purpose?

I don’t know if I’m accurately describing my heart right now, but I hope my words are doing their best. I think the perspective of “It’s just little ole me” is what keeps things the same. Because all it takes is little ole you after all.

That is enough to circle the world, even without your name attached to it, a hundred times over through people who were changed directly or indirectly. That is enough within the cells of a state prison or in the villages of Africa or the streets of New York or the banks of a lazy southern river.

You are always enough. I know it sounds cliche, and you’ve probably heard it before. But maybe one more time was all you needed to know it. So I might as well tell you again. It’s not about being known. It’s not about covering the planet with your name. The truth is, changing the world is just a fancy way of saying what it really is–changing people.

And the next time you think that you don’t, well,–I’ll echo my best friend–

Think again.

God doesn’t need your prayers

I was a junior in college when a friend of mine and I set off to find the haunted house that everyone had been raving about for Halloween. We had forgotten our phones but we had a pretty good idea where it was. Now, let me set the scene.

I went to college in Idaho. It’s not exactly the state where you should set out without a GPS. We were literally a speck in the middle of wheat, potatoes, old gas stations, and dark unkempt roads. There are side roads that lead to nothing and main interstates that lead you to towns smaller than shoeboxes. But we had been there three years and were confident we’d find the place.

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An hour went by and we were still on a dark road. My friend shifted in the passenger seat uncomfortably and we both exchanged nervous glances.

“I thought it was just a half hour away?” she said rhetorically. I shook my head and turned the wipers on. It had started to snow. Maybe it was further than we thought, I rationalized. But with each mile marker the streets became darker and suddenly the names of the towns didn’t look very familiar. No map, no GPS, no phone to call my room mates and double check where this thing was at. Needless to say, we meandered the dark streets until the haunted house was well past closed and we decided to just turn around so we didn’t get stuck without gas on top of it all.

We laughed until we cried that night and chalked it up as a crazy college memory. But looking back, sometimes I feel like that scenario is all too familiar in my life. Forgetting the map. Being completely in the dark with no direction.

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How many times in my life do the roads get dark and I’m utterly confused and taking all the wrong turns, and I still don’t ask the guide for help? How many times do I not use the tools given to me? How many times, I wonder now, do I not pray?

I struggle with pride sometimes because I like to feel like I have a good grasp on my life–that I can literally handle it ALL. I can balance 11-hour work days, house upkeep, my small business, my pets, my husband, my friends, my family, my scripture study, my insane LIFE because I just CAN. And then two days will go by and I’ll realize with shame that it could have been so much easier if I had just asked and taken the time to get on my knees. In shame I realize that “taking it all on” and “knowing” all the turns and all the steps forced me to not communicate with my guide, my built-in GPS–my Father.

So many of us I think have prayer on a checklist. Scripture study? Check. Visiting teaching? Check. Prayer? Check check.

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And we treat it as one of the duties we have to be right with Heavenly Father. We say our prayers and we thank Him for the food and suddenly–BAM–we feel good about ourselves for getting it all done and still managing to be a saint.

I’m guilty as charged. But it has to change. Yes, even for you.

To put it simply, God doesn’t need your prayers. He has always existed and will continue to always exist without you. He loves you and hurts when you don’t talk to Him, but He doesn’t wilt. He doesn’t cease to be working and creating and blessing lives. He is there whether you turn to Him or not. So prayer on a checklist doesn’t satisfy Him for the day or open the gates of Heaven. No, prayer is all for you. It’s for me.

Prayer is the only way we can get the guidance we need when our lives are void of streetlights and we’re running out of gas. We need to nurture our relationship with Heavenly Father just as much as we need the air we breathe.

I went back to Idaho this past Christmas to spend the week with my best friend and her family and to also surprise my sister who I rarely get to see. I hadn’t been back to that part of Idaho in two years and I felt my heart warm at the view of the endless fields, the snowflakes big enough to fill the palm of my hand, and the sky uninterrupted by cityscape.

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It occurred to me while I was there that life kept going on without me, of course. My best friend existed just fine, had a baby, and looked just as beautiful and talkative. My sister still worked every day,  my nieces getting so tall, going through life without me. Nothing needs me to exist. But boy, do I need them to live.

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It takes effort to nurture relationships, to be part of lives, to glean joy and strength from the people you just can’t handle living without. Could we exist without each other? Sure. Do we want to? Never.

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The same goes for God. Sometimes, I think, that goes unnoticed. Life propels forward, and we forget to ask Him questions, tell Him we love him, or thank Him for the strength to keep moving. We forget to ask for directions.

The road is dark. It’s endless. There are turns we shouldn’t take and turns that we miss. But we have the map.

He doesn’t need my prayers, I realize now. He doesn’t need anything.

But boy, do I ever need Him.

Joseph Smith’s multiple wives: And why I don’t care at all

I wasn’t always Mormon.

Not even close. I was baptized about three different times in three different churches and I sang the songs out of almost every hymn book there is. I’ve worshiped at altars and I’ve rocked out to Christian rock (still do) and I’ve sang in gospel choirs. And along the way I took steps–vital steps–towards getting to where I am. And to where I’m going.

Each religion, each church, each sermon taught me a little more and steered me a little more and prompted all those important questions that beg to be answered. And slowly, little by little, I was converting to Christ.

And I still am, even now.

My baptism in the Mormon church didn’t stamp on my forehead a “Good to go” pass. To be honest, I knew very little except for the fact that I knew it was true, I felt the spirit like never before, and I was so IN LOVE with the light. But it was just the beginning–the very beginning trailhead–of a daily journey and a daily conversion.

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Because of that, you can imagine my confusion when I learned, around the fall of 2010, that Joseph Smith had multiple wives near the end of his life. You can imagine the way I shrunk in my seat during my Book of Mormon class and hurried back to my apartment with my hood shielding me from snowflakes and frozen tears.

I was angry.

They didn’t tell me about that! I said through clenched teeth. Sure, I knew polygamy was part of our church’s history, just as it’s part of Biblical history and even pagan history. But Joseph Smith? My newest hero?

It felt like he died all over again and turned into a monster at the same time. I crumbled. I wondered if I should go home. If I should even be a member anymore. I prayed a lot, wondering why something so big hadn’t been brought to the surface until now.

Because of those feelings I turned to a mentor who I had grown close to and trusted more than anyone else.

I cried to him about my predicament, expressing how betrayed I felt.

And he said just one thing: “Do you believe he’s a prophet?”

“Yes.” I answered it without thinking. Because–well, of course I did. I’ll never forget the chills that ran through me when I read Joseph’s testimony or heard for the first time of the story when he knelt to pray in a grove of sunlit trees. I’ll never forget the peace that rushed through me when I closed the Book of Mormon after reading the last page or the way those I’d lost along the way somehow seemed to encircle my bed and sing a chorus of joy. Of course he was a prophet. I had no doubt that he was chosen to restore all that had been lost and degenerated over the years.

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After I said yes my mentor nodded simply and tears filled his eyes. “Then that’s our answer.”

And with that, he encouraged me to go on a trip that was about to take place. A week long church history trip that would start in Illinois, a place where the early saints lived and worshiped and built a temple and then started a long and deadly journey to the west. Without thinking twice I went.

And it was there that I learned about it all–the good, the bad, the ugly–the reason he’d be known not only for his compassion and dedication and the way he’d play with the children and write love letters to his true love Emma, but for evil in a day and age where some deeds are misunderstood and mislabeled.

I sat here at the place where he fell to his death.

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I touched every statue that paid tribute to his sacrifice.

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I stood in reverence at the staircase where the herd of men stormed toward the room where Joseph hid with the others, guns in hand, ready to end it all.

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And I sat at his final resting place, listening to the wind and smelling wildflower that blossoms every year beside the stones.

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And I loved him more, even while knowing more.

Like Abraham, Jacob, Solomon, David–and who knows how many more–he sealed to multiple wives for reasons that seem unsettling to us today. Like prophets before, he did things that seem disturbing in modern day times all for the work of the Lord. Like prophets that came before him he put God first, even when his reputation threatened to decay and even when he’d be like a lamb to the slaughter. Like prophets before him, he spoke truth. He put God first. He had no other Savior except Christ Himself. And because of that, I sat at his tombstone over 150 years later with tears in my eyes, my heart knit to a gospel I might have never known without him.

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The Savior wasn’t popular…and He still isn’t. Moses could barely speak. Abinadi burned at the stake as he spoke of the coming Messiah. And people laughed and mocked Noah as he spoke of the flood and built an ark in the glow of a dry sun. But they were God’s servants.

And I love them for it.

There will always be a shadow if you look for it–some reason to doubt, or fear or wrinkle your nose at the thought. There will always be the one thing that Satan uses to convince you it’s all a lie. All an act.

But the spirit of truth tells us to remember. The love. The truth. The doctrine. The goosebumps during that part in the song that reminds us, “Millions shall know brother Joseph again”.

So I say praise to the man who communed with Jehovah.

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Praise and honor given to the man who reminded us of Christ and whose hands gently fit in all the missing puzzle pieces.

Praise to the man who taught of a loving Heavenly Father and taught of His ways, even when tar burnt his flesh the night before.

Reverence given to a mouthpiece who said first that families are forever, well past the grave. That my dad, my cousin, your mom, your brother, our friends before us–will all see God.

That’s all I need to know to love him.

Praise is given to that.

Dying naturally is NOT undignified: What we can learn from Brittany Maynard

This is one of those blog posts where I’ve written the first sentence about thirteen different times and I’ve deleted it just as many times. Here goes sentence number fourteen.

I think it’s because deep down inside I dread talking about something that bothers me, even when the rest of the country stands as advocates. I sometimes worry about hurting families or saying something that will be misconstrued as, “Well, that blogger is insensitive.”

Because, in all honesty, this is a sensitive subject. In all honesty, it broke my heart just as much as those who agreed with her decision. Brittany Maynard has been the topic of debate for some time, and just last weekend she decided to go through with her decision to take her own life after she was given the grim diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer. Death would be slow and painful, doctors said, so she packed up and moved to Oregon and decided to use the “Death with Dignity” law.

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Her story is a painful one. And it brings me back to just last year. Around this time last year my Dad had just begun hospice. His diagnosis was just as grim as Brittany’s. I will never EVER forget the sound of his voice. The way it had changed. The coolness of his veiny hands and the sunken dips of his eyes. I won’t forget the doctors telling us it would be slow and painful. And I won’t forget dad nodding as they said it, telling us with confidence that’d it all be ok.

Towards the end, just like Brittany feared with her own death, my Dad lost touch of the world. The things we saw and the way we’d muffle our tears as we assured him we were close was anything BUT the character of my Dad. But even then–my Dad was never undignified.

And that’s what brings me to the point of why I’m writing. “Death with Dignity” implies that dying by the hand of cancer or another fatal disease lacks honor. It implies that people like my dad–who get to the point where clothes bother them and memories of fishing when they were twelve become “reality” and their children do what they can to clean up the mess in the bed sheets–suddenly rid themselves of the dignity they once had. And that infuriates me. Death is not undignified. And neither is suffering.

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I sometimes lay awake at night thinking of the fear that my Dad must have had during those moments when we were asleep around his bed but he just watched the hands of a dying clock. I can’t imagine the finality he must’ve felt. The terror of what it might feel like when his heart decides to stop. And with Brittany, I can’t imagine it either. It’s a subject that I’ll never grasp unless it’s my turn.

But even still. There are thousands–millions–of people who live out each second every day. Millions of people who suffer and still thank God for every day that they wake up and see the faces of their children. There are countless souls who get handed a fate that would make anyone’s heart weak, but they face it with dignity and grace. Not one of them is undignified. Not for a second.

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I feel uncomfortable saying that Brittany chose wrong. Even though my religious background and my discomfort with “suicide worship” makes me want to say that, I sift through the pictures of this beautiful girl and can’t help but swallow my blunt opinion because I realize that it wasn’t an easy decision. And I realize that her family is hurting. Her husband is a widower. Her travel plans are no more. And that is enough to keep me quiet about her particular case and whether she chose right or wrong, regardless of everything.

But within a country that cries out for everything to be on our own terms, I can’t help but stand apart. It’s my body we hear during abortion debates …it’s my own life to take we hear with Death with Dignity…it’s my life to live and my choice who I love we hear with civil rights cases. And despite my opinions on any of these things, I can’t help but notice a common thread. We want to take the reins. We’re tired of life–or God for that matter–dictating what happens to us or what turns in the road will be up ahead. We want to set the terms. We want our dignity.

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And I feel like we’re forgetting where true dignity comes from. Dignity isn’t maintaining a beautiful face and living a life free of pain and free of shame. Dignity is trudging through the muck of life, dirt smeared on your face and sins heaped like piles at your feet, and still carrying on and looking up. Dignity is facing it all head on and deciding it’s still a beautiful life. It’s still worth living. Dignity is having the respect for yourself, and for others, that it takes to carry on despite the fear or the embarrassment or the lack of control.

And looking back, seeing my Dad’s blue eyes shoot up to the corner of the ceiling as he took his final breath, I can say without a doubt that I’ve never seen a man with more dignity.

Life is hard. Cancer sucks. Mourning is—well, there might not be a word to describe it. But we face it every day because that’s what we’re here to do. The Savior never said it’d be easy. In fact, he felt it all for us long before we were here and he bled and cried and begged for relief. We are not exempt.

I pray for Brittany’s family and I have cried over her story. Such a beautiful girl with a trial that would overwhelm anyone. I pray for comfort and love and peace in that home.

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But I also pray for our country–and for our world even–to reevaluate.

In the moments beyond our control we learn about endurance. Love. Bravery in the face of fear. And faith. We learn that death is a moment beyond our choosing, but the eternity afterwards has everything to do with what we choose while we’re here.

That choice is a life well lived.

That choice is dignified.