He knows how it feels to be sixteen

Well, it’s happened.

I knew it would.

Ever since my little sister was born, her perfect little self bundled up in a pink striped blanket and a little hat the size of my 7-year-old hand too-big on her head, I knew it would happen. One day, she’d grow up.

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And since I’m 7 years her senior and get the–honor?–of going through things before she does, I knew that one day she’d get her heart broken. Or that a boy would be mean. Or that someone would make fun of her and it’d be up to me to tell her they’re wrong. I guess I was just in denial that it would happen any time soon *or ever, really* because I just couldn’t handle it.

But yesterday, it did.

It’s a long story so I won’t get into it all (also because that’s her business), but part of it I suppose is my fault. I’m protective of my sister *like too much, maybe* and I saw something going on that was hurting her, and my entire family, as a result. An unhealthy situation, you might say. And now my sister is left with a broken heart. And in her words, “the world is ending”.

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I remember that feeling. You probably do too. Or if you’re a teen–sixteen, seventeen, eighteen maybe–you probably know what that feels like right NOW. And if I’m correct, you feel like it’ll never get better. Life just…sucks. Right? And everyone can tell you that this isn’t your whole life, that time heals all wounds, that as you grow and learn and experience life, those wounds you’re experiencing now will feel like NOTHING ten years down the road. I mean, I tried to tell my sister that. But of course that didn’t work, because right now the world is ending. And how dare anyone say different?

I felt helpless watching my sister go through this yesterday because I love her more than life. But nothing could stop the tears. No one could convince her that she needs to keep herself safe and sometimes being hurt now saves you in the long run. And deep down, I knew nothing would work. After all, nothing worked for me at that age. I had to carry the illusion of the world ending–I had to cry into my teddy bear and write in my journal that I hate my parents. It’s just what happens while you’re growing up. But for us who look back on that time, we helplessly want to CONVINCE those teenagers that they’re wrong–it WILL get better, and it’s not that bad compared to what’s about to come later in life.

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And that’s when my former bishop came over to the house and talked to us and I brought up the subject. His response was simply, “How do you think Heavenly Father feels with US even, when he has a much bigger perspective?”

And right then and there, it hit me. Heavenly Father, our perfect and loving parent, has been through it all. He knows what it’s like to cry over a boy in junior high or feel the stab of rejection at prom. He knows how it feels to lose a job in your twenties or have a spouse cheat. He knows how it feels to lose a parent–or a child– or face a doctor when they tell you it’s cancer. He knows how it feels to get older or weaker or to start forgetting things. He knows how it feels to die. But more importantly–he understands the joy at the end–the growth through the journey– and the reason to all things, simply because he has the bigger picture.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” -Jeremiah 29:11

And how many times, through scriptures, comfort by the spirit, and revelations does he try to convince us, just like I tried to convince my sister, that everything will work out for our good? And just like my sweet little sister, we fail to believe it. Because we haven’t ever faced something so hard.

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I still go through those times, of course–especially now, while laying beside my dad as his breathing is getting more labored every day, or dealing with financial struggles or hardships at work–where Heavenly Father whispers to me that I will overcome. That he knows my struggles and also knows I’ll conquer them. But like a sixteen year old again curled up in my bed, I sometimes simply can’t believe it.

But I have to trust.

There’s nothing I can say to make my sister feel better right now. Because life is a process you just have to experience for yourself and overcome each day. It’s a small, teeny oh-so-tiny tiny glimpse of what Heavenly Father feels for us and the sorrows he must feel when we shake our heads and say, “No Father, this isn’t fair. It won’t get better.”

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Because it will. And he knows that, just like I know my sister will get better.

He knows our pain and he knows the joys to come.

And he knows, girls *and guys*, exactly how it feels to be sixteen.

The gift of a prophet: And why we’ll always need him

Right before General Conference started this weekend I recounted to my husband my first General Conference experience when I was 19. I told him about how I had notebook paper neatly folded in half to take notes–quotes on the left side and feelings on the right–and how my heart pounded in excitement to hear the prophet for the first time. *A bit over the top maybe, but it was awesome*

I love looking back and remembering how that felt–hearing him speak and give me direction for the first time.

All my life I had gone without knowing who he was or what a prophet was even needed for. And then, just like that, I suddenly knew I would always need him.

Over the five years I’ve been a member the excitement and fire has died down a little as I prepare for General Conference–yes, I still love that time of year when I can hear guidance from the pulpit–but of course, with time, I have gotten used to being under the direction of a living prophet. It’s just become a natural part of my life.

But then, this happened.

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A young boy ran up to the front of the conference center, and the prophet leaned down to take him by the hand.

And suddenly, I remembered it all. The excitement, the awestruck wonder–the amazing gratitude that filled my heart as I quickly jotted down notes. I remembered how blessed we really are to have a living prophet in this day and age–a man who is just as much a prophet as Adam, or Moses or Abinadi or all the others who went about God’s work and spoke truth. And just as much as this sweet little boy needs him who ran up to grab his hand, I need him. You need him. We all need him simply because in this broken world where we are overwhelmed with the noise and booming voices of those pointing us toward different paths, we need the voice of the Master–the voice we recognize as the tour guide down the right path.

I saved that picture of the boy as soon as I found it drifting around my newsfeed on social media, saving it as a reminder to myself that we will always need a prophet’s voice, and reminding myself to be more like that child. To trust and follow the spirit and elbow my way through crowds and doubt and opposition just to get to where I know truth and light is.

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Conference finally ended *It always seems to go by way too fast* and I found myself enjoying different blog posts and updates from members of the church who took away something from conference that aids them in their lives. And then, I stumbled across this. Now, I’m not trying to accuse the author or the New York Times of anything and a lot of what the author said in the article is true and well-written. I’m just going to relay how I became slightly saddened at how this article has circulated around the walls of friends and family and complete strangers who (in many cases that I’ve read) are suddenly questioning the authority and validity of our prophets and are suddenly crying out for reform. This article, along with some other things I’ve read, says it was told that the “church” makes mistakes. When in reality, President Uchtdorf and other apostles in the past have said that “people” make mistakes but the church and it’s doctrine is always true. But never ever was it mentioned that revelation, guidance, or inspiration is just told to us off the cuff and eventually may go down as error. His talk wasn’t a PR move to cover dirty tracks. On the contrary, it was said that although everyone is human, prayer, supplication of the Lord, and inspiration from the Lord goes into the preparation of the words given to the church.

Many of the quotes this weekend have been taken out of context.

“The prophet will never lead us astray” is something we hear a lot and it’s often misconstrued as meaning the prophet is a perfect divine being who can do no wrong. But that isn’t correct, as we’re all well aware. The reason the prophet won’t lead us astray isn’t because he’s infallible– it’s because the Lord won’t let him.

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This twist of some General Conference words this weekend have not only sparked articles, but has somehow given ammunition to movements within our own church, such as the Reform Mormonism movement. As I’ve delved into reading about these different organizations and writings it saddens me that suddenly the consensus is either that we don’t need a prophet OR that the prophet is just a really great teacher, but changing the church and seeking “pure truth” is a personal battle and one we don’t need a prophet for. It’s saddening. And it’s been a personal battle for me to see active, great members decide that the world’s loud, politically correct, “love means not having rules” voice is more worthwhile to listen to. Because it isn’t. And it never will be, even though I realize that saying that isn’t going to be popular.

We live in a time where good is called evil and evil is called good. We live in a time where it’s confusing how to vote or what stance to take when so many of us want to be kind and good and loving but certain mandates of the Lord are called intolerant or mean. We live in a time where it’s not popular to read books written thousands of years ago or to spend a whole weekend watching hours worth of talks by men and women whom most of us have never personally met. We live in a time where faith is synonymous with ignorance and declaring something as a sin before God is somehow declaring that we aren’t being Christlike. It’s a scary time.

And because of this, I thank God for a prophet.

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I thank God for little children who nudge their way down an aisle of a conference center to touch the hand of the person they know with all their heart counsels with the Savior. I’m so grateful we have personal revelation as well as revelation from God’s mouthpiece, just as it was thousands of years ago. It’s evidence of God’s unending love.

The world is changing and ideas are reforming and of course it’s okay to seek answers and go on that personal journey toward truth. I also realize that we sometimes are given revelation from the mouths of prophets that revolutionize how we’ve been doing things for a long time–such as missionary age. But we wouldn’t have been given that inspiration that has amped up mission efforts without the voice of a prophet, for example.

I’m personally glad that the majority has clear minds and hearts that wish to do good and seek truth and have personal inspiration in their daily lives.

But let us never forget that we need a prophet, friends.

And let us never forget what a gift it really is to say that.

Cyberbullies: the “friends” you invite inside

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.

He created water and plants and animals *obviously I’m paraphrasing here but bear with me*.

And he created man and woman–his crowning creation.

And that crowning creation had to learn how to keep this planet revolving through communication, hard work, family relationships, and expression. This crowning creation evolved over thousands of years, learning what it takes to survive–and thrive–together.

In those days, days that our parents and possibly even we got to enjoy (when we only had one world) it was hard to confront a neighbor about the dog that keeps peeing in your yard. It was guilt-riddling when you accidentally voiced how someone’s new haircut looks bad, and you had to deal with watching the tears roll down their blushing cheeks. It was sometimes hard to express an opinion different than someone else’s because you were worried that he or she might take it the wrong way–and that was TERRIBLE because you CARED about them. I remember those good ol’ days–and I’m not even THAT old.

But then, God’s crowning creation decided to create their own world. A new world. Cyberspace. Complete with walls, streams of popular music and videos always playing in the background, instant letters that pop up before someone’s eyes within seconds of sending–even without a stamp. In this world we hang a picture of ourselves and invite friends in, even friends we don’t know. We share our photo albums and quickly leaf through others’ as well. We laugh (lol) and we cry ( 😥 ) and all the while we hide.

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We hide behind brightly lit computer screens, sometimes thousands of miles away from the person we invite inside our “domain”.

And suddenly, with the creation of that new world which popped up not even that long ago– so many of us have forgotten that the “friends” or “followers” or the voiceless profile pictures that we interact with on a daily basis are people just like us, another one of God’s crowning creations, hidden behind another computer screen.

And with that lapse in memory as we live within our comfortable cyber houses and decorate our cyber walls, so many people become people they never would have been in the world we were supposed to live in–the one with real water and mountains, real expressive faces, and real houses full of real friends.

Cyberbullying, a new term that had to be coined because of the fact that it takes place in a new world, is causing God’s crowning creation to turn against one another with cold-heartedness that comes because we’ve forgotten each other. We’ve forgotten that in this simulated house we’ve built, we have real guests who will at some point leave, and take with them what we’ve said.

Just a couple days ago I heard this story.

A 12-year-old girl–a pretty, smart, sweet girl– jumped off of a building and killed herself. Why? Because the visitors within this cyber world, the ones cowering behind computer screens, told her to. They told her that she’s hated. That she deserves to die. They called her names and continuously jabbed at her–not even giving a second thought before hitting “enter” or “post”. Day after day, even after she shut down various forms of communication, they got through to her. And finally, that cyber world meshed with her real world. And she jumped, just like someone told her to. It took less than ten seconds for someone to type that–someone who probably doesn’t even know her in this real world. Ten seconds stole the life of someone who had been alive for 12 years.

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Cyber-bullying is real. It’s not some abstract, horrible story we hear about in the movies. Open your newsfeed. Read comments on a blog. Sift through comments on a news story or pictures in an online album. I promise that within minutes you’ll find a trace of it. You most likely have even been a vicim of it. I know I have. And that’s because not all cyber-bullies would be real-life bullies–some of them are kind, responsible people in the real world.

In real life, those bullies have to look into the eyes of the ones they call names. They have to see someone wince with pain at every insult or shrink back in fear over a threat. They have to hear responses from those they converse with and learn real-life stories told with real pain or real emotion. The emoticons such as this: 😀 or this:  😦 are actually the sounds of someone laughing, someone crying. But in cyber land, they are silent. The only sound we hear is the tapping of our fingers against the keys and our own thoughts–thoughts sometimes riddled with rage or selfishness.

We are still God’s crowing creation. And we still share this beautiful, REAL earth with beautiful, REAL friends and even strangers who come along the way. And whether it be your cyber place, complete with little updates about your day or photos from your last family vacation, or your real home, complete with conversation, manners, and handshakes– be a good host.

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Because your visitors, your friends, and your followers will leave at some point, looking up from cyberspace and into the real world.

And they’ll remember how you made them feel.

I wish the cyber-bullies who hurt that precious 12-year-old would understand that. I wish they’d realize she took those words with her, long after she exited that online realm and took a leap off a very real, dangerous tower.

I wish everyone would realize that sticks and stones sure do break bones, but words–those matter too.

Even in that other world that we ourselves created.

Related articles

http://stopcyberbullying.org/

Armies of angels and marshmallow hearts: The signs of an eternal family

I can never read straight through The Family: A Proclamation to the World without stopping at a certain paragraph.

It’s impossible, actually. My eyes will read and re-read a few lines at the top until I look up from the page, imagining certain faces that come to life when those words are read.

These lines read: “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”

Eternally. It’s a concept that is too large to imagine. It’s a concept that doesn’t conjure up images of galaxies dusted across a black universe or golden gates piercing endless blue skies. Not for me, at least. Instead, I see faces.

The first face I see is usually the face of my uncle. His name is Uncle Tom. And when I see his face, he’s smiling as he usually was, a glimmer of mischief in his eye as he plans his next joke, an easy smile as he props up a baseball cap onto his head to itch the hair underneath–a random memory I have of him from early on. I usually imagine him holding me as he reads to me from my arsenal of books I’d bring over to his house when I was tiny–or I see him holding my left hand as my Aunt holds my right, walking down a forgotten pathway somewhere in the recesses of my memory. I see him wink at me again, just as he did from his bed right before he left us, lifting his hand to hold mine–telling me he’ll watch me from Heaven as I take on the world. He’s eternally there. Unaged. Untouched when I read this from the proclamation.

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I then see the face of my sister-in-law, Natalie. And usually she’s laughing–one of those big, crazy laughs that have the rest of us busting up within seconds. I see her throwing her mane of curly hair over a shoulder as she shoots pictures with her beloved camera, seeing the world through a different lens. I see her sitting on the dressing room floor of a bridal shop with me, laughing until tears come down our faces, because we had ripped the back of a dress that I was trying on. I see her holding one of her children on each hip, still strong enough to support their little bodies. Still breathing without the support of oxygen. Unaffected by cancer.

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Shortly after her, I see the face of my cousin Kenny. A spunky, rebellious guy with a twinkle in his eye and a way of making life into a roller coaster of adventure. I see him scheme with an exaggerated rub of his hands as he cheated his way into winning the game of Clue each time we played. I see him singing terribly to Leeann Rimes. I see him untouched by the hand of a murderer. Safe, smiling, cheeks flushed from his last adventure somewhere.

I see my Great Grandma, also known as Grandma Ducky. And when I see her she’s usually still at the lake she’d take me to, bag of bread in hand, chuckling her raspy chuckle as I’d throw the bread and nervously back up as swarms of ducks flocked to my feet. I see her dancing with me in her arms,  and I smell tobacco and sweet perfume on her sweater. I see her arranging photo albums again, her crooked hands stroking the pages with each passing memory. She isn’t asleep in bed, a heart monitor by her side. She isn’t in a coma anymore, passing quietly beyond the veil. No, she’s awake.

And then, I see my dad. He’s a family member who isn’t gone, but right now he’s bravely fighting cancer–waking up each day with renewed energy and positivity despite his paling skin and dire diagnosis. But I still see him as I read those lines from the proclamation–and he’s not sick. I see him with a full head of hair–thicker than mine sometimes. I see him picking blackberries with me in our backyard and creeping out to our pond to catch frogs with me and dump them into our bathtub, much to my mother’s dismay. I see him from across the altar in a chair next to my mom as I got sealed to my husband, smiling proudly in a bright blue tie.

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With these lines of the proclamation I am given the renewed perspective that there is no end. And the love of family is far stronger than the distance created by death. They feel close to me when I read those eternal words and when I remind myself that relationships are perpetuated beyond the grave. It’s as if they never left or are never going to leave.

Elder Holland once said something that underscores the truth of this principle: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike…you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection.”

Those words ring true in so many ways. Those who love us always will, even from beyond the veil. I’ve felt them so many times–their encouragement, their concern, their love.

When my sister-in-law passed away it was a day before my birthday. We were at my parent’s house and my mom set in front of me a slice of cake and hot chocolate, trying to bring whatever joy she could into the house. Tears slid down my cheeks, and I grabbed my husband’s hand. In a silent prayer I asked Natalie to just send a sign that she’s ok. I don’t know why I needed it when I so clearly believe in the world to come, but during that kind of pain, I did. Nothing happened right away–no bold voice from the sky or extraordinary vision. But as I reached for my hot chocolate I looked down into the mug and saw it. A heart. A heart perfectly formed from melted marshmallow. To some, it may seem crazy. To tell you the truth, I haven’t told a soul until now. But to me, it was all I needed. OF COURSE Natalie would send me love that way. She was creative, funny–and she knew I’d know it was her.

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The sweet truth of eternal families is all around us if we simply choose to take notice and choose to believe.

Sometimes those loved ones will ride to your rescue on unseen chariots of fire.

Sometimes they’ll smile at you in your dreams.

Sometimes they’ll whisper love to you when you read the Proclamation to the Family or bend your knees in prayer.

And sometimes, they’ll simply send you their love with a marshmallow heart.

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**This is a blog that I wrote for the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” celebration. I was honored to write for this! Many thanks to Monserrat, the creator of this celebration, for asking me to do this. You can find my post, as well as many others, very soon on her wonderful blog at http://chocolateonmycranium.blogspot.com/.

At the banks of a river: A mission tale

I’m laying here in bed, laptop on my lap, watching the morning light make patterns on my black sheets through the blinds, and I can’t help but write today. My husband left hours before to go fishing–a pattern he’s picked up recently since the salmon run started and I’d dare say he’s addicted to it. *Fishing counseling coming right up* I don’t have a clear memory of him leaving–just a kiss on the forehead as he said he’s “Gone fishin'”. Just like a true fisherman would say 😉

But the fact that he’s out there fishing on a beautiful day like today, standing very still at the water’s edge with his line in the water, hoping for something just as big as the days before, puts this idea on my head that I can’t shake. He’d probably laugh if I told him what it’s reminded me of, but it’s true. He’s always been a fisherman, of sorts, to me.

Let me rewind the clocks a little bit to explain what I’m thinking.

About a year before I met Matt, I had a sudden desire to serve a mission. Yes, I was ambitious and adventurous and I wasn’t really the “I want to go to school and get married” type–though I have no qualms with people who are like that. It just wasn’t in my blood. I wanted to serve a mission purely because I wanted people to have exactly what I was given when I was baptized–a second chance. So I hurriedly did my mission papers, attended mission prep, and daydreamed about what it would be like to wear that tag and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. But that spiritual high turned into something else very quickly. As I began praying about serving a mission (and not just wanting to) I began to receive a different kind of answer. I got this feeling that I indeed had to serve a mission, just not this kind. It wasn’t a right step to take because I felt there was something else I had to do. 

Needless to say, I cried. A lot. I felt like a horrible person for feeling that I didn’t feel right about serving a proselyting mission. I had SO many amazing girlfriends who had served or were currently serving, and I was the biggest advocate for missionary work. So why didn’t I feel right about going? It deeply disturbed me but I couldn’t shake the feeling. So I went to my bishop within a week of struggling over it, and told him I felt I shouldn’t go. And that was that.

But the guilt sometimes still found me–until I found Matt a year later. And he taught me something about missions.

When I told Matt I hadn’t served a mission–he was the only one who’s ever looked at me with a dumbfounded look and said, “Yes you have.” He’s the only one who explained to me that a mission doesn’t have to include a name tag–sometimes God has a different mission in store. But always, no matter what mission it is, it always includes love. And it always includes patience.

When I see Matt fishing, I can’t help but think of his words. How patient he is. How persistent. How now, even years after returning home from Africa after serving for two years, he’s also a fisher of men. He knows his mission isn’t over, and he knows that mine isn’t either. Just like with fishing, you start small. You wait for hours, days, and sometimes years wondering if your testimony will ever make a difference, sometimes feeling downhearted when people you care about turn away and want nothing to do with the things that you hold so dear to your heart. You might see family struggle with uncertainty and trials–you might have a dear friend who loses faith. And it disheartens you when they turn their face. But as I was taught, you start small, just like with fishing. You sit on the banks and wait. And if something gives a tug and then turns to leave, you don’t cast your pole off in frustration and never come again. You just wait. And you keep casting your line.

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How different this world would be if we all realized we’re on a mission. A mission to love–and therefore, a mission to save. Whether we’re the Relief Society President, or someone who enjoys sitting at the back and taking notes to share with her children later. Whether we’re a bishop or someone who just loves to help people out, moving their furniture as they move into the neighborhood, or bringing over soup when someone is sick. Whether we write poetry or stories or paint pictures or teach a Kindergarten class–we’re on a mission.

And with this knowledge, my guilt and the heaviness I had carried for so long has melted away.

I’m a missionary. You’re a missionary. It’s not an entitlement or a title of superiority–it’s an honor. A service.

We start small, a kind word or action at a time, one talent shared at a time, one testimony told at a time–until we realize we’ve helped to change a life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether it started through friendship, comfort, words of advice, or a dish full of casserole.

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Because after all, it’s the man upstairs who does the fishing. We’re just the ones sitting on the banks for him, patiently helping to reel someone in from the swift current of life. Patient, still, and unhurried, eyes lost on deep waters.

Just like a true fisherman.