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.

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Why I chose to be a Latter-day Saint: And not a Mormon

I still remember the smell of the chapel as I sat down five years ago.

It was a scent l I hadn’t smelled before–a scent that I’ve since gotten used to. The walls were bare except for some paintings of Christ and people I didn’t recognize and I wondered briefly where the crosses were. I remember touching the broken spine of a hymnal and only recognizing one or two hymns inside.

It was different. Somewhat strange. It was my first time in an LDS chapel and I had just turned 19.

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But I like looking back at that day. It was that day–before I even read the Book of Mormon–that I chose to be a Latter-day Saint. Already coming from a Christian background, I had done my time and served my sentence of confusion and wondering where the pieces fit. It was that day that I had my first realization that the missionaries seem to glow…for lack of a better term. It was that day that I realized how exciting the stories are in the Book of Mormon. And better yet–how they speak truth. It was that day–in mid summer–that I heard the first hymns I’d ever hear and my eyes filled with tears at “Lord I would follow thee”.

And I often go back to that day to remind myself that THAT is who I chose to be. A Latter-day Saint.

Not a Mormon.

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I know the terms are interchangeable, and I often use the term Mormon, just like you probably do. There’s no harm in that and I’m not splitting hairs. But for the purpose of my story I would venture to say that those two terms mean totally separate things. From being in the church only 5 years, I already would bet my life on it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in being Mormon. Even for me. And that’s because we all start as Latter-day Saints and then get plunged into a culture that demands so much. Pinterest-inspired Relief Society invites, canning activities, the details behind missionary preparation *and God forbid, any hesitancy to go*, The Princess Bride, John Bytheway, short engagements, Stake dances, *and my personal favorite* “So when are you going to have a baby?” after a month of marriage.

I’m not saying all of the culture is bad, because it isn’t. But when you are more immersed in the culture than in the foundation of the church itself–the very reason I stepped into the baptismal font and cried at “Lord I would follow thee”–that’s when you become Mormons instead. That’s when you become a member of a club rather than a disciple of a master.

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And that bothers me.

It bothers me because I still retrace my steps five summers ago into the chapel for the first time and I still remember opening the Book of Mormon and seeing Alma at the top of the page for the first time. I still remember how it felt to learn about forever families— and to not just vainly repeat, “Families are forever” or nail a pretty sign that says the same thing above a door frame. I remember how it felt to really let the message sink in and to cry into my hands when I realized, without a doubt, I’d see my uncle again who died just a month before I learned about the church.

I remember how it felt to say for the first time, “This church is true” and to not be able to go on with what I had to say because it overwhelmed me how true the statement was–and how it changed my life. It wasn’t repetition. I didn’t say it to fill time or to keep up with the standard. My heart just knew it.

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It bothers me that so many of us have forgotten who we really are because we’ve exchanged it all for a lifestyle made out of old habits. There are those who stray from the culture–the women who work two jobs outside of the home and the single dad; the young man who decides to wait a couple years to serve a mission; the young woman who celebrates 30 years old without a ring on her finger; the couple who can’t have kids; the wonderful stay-at-home mom who is so over-exerted she sees a psychologist every week; the kid with autism who doesn’t fit in. There are thousands–maybe millions–of Latter-day Saints who are forced out of a gospel they fit into because a culture whispers to them that they do not.

And that has to stop. We need to regain footing of who we are and the beautiful gift we’ve been given.

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When I chose to be a Latter-day Saint I chose that “I would follow, thee”. I chose that I’d spend my whole life telling people about the book that changed my life in a week.  I decided that I’d dress modestly not because everyone is forced to out of tradition, but because I represent Him. Five years ago I learned that the prophets from long ago told the truth and their sacrifices made way for me to find out about the good news–and I can’t forget that. It was my decision to leave it all behind–old beliefs, friends who no longer wanted to associate with me, comfortable familiar church buildings, and songs I learned as a toddler–for an unfamiliar gospel that I somehow KNEW was true. And nothing convinced me of it other than Him. Not culture, not tradition, not anything else.

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Our culture has lots of good, don’t get me wrong. And if we remember why we do some of the things we do the spirit will come back to it. But don’t let it make you forget. Don’t let it deter a soul who has just heard “Lord I would follow thee” and doesn’t know yet that families are forever.

Choose to be a disciple. Choose to be a saint.

Everything else is meaningless.

The four simple truths that matter most: And why we often forget them

My favorite teachers are three and a half feet tall.

They snort when they laugh, they get sticky hands when they eat suckers, and they hoard the crayons when they draw pictures.

My favorite teachers have barely filled in their school shoes, they still wear bows in their braids, and they dream of being astronauts, doctors, and missionaries in different countries.

They come in the shape of my nieces and nephews–and also my primary kids.

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Primary is a class we teach every sunday at church–and for the past year I’ve seen the same group of kids go from pre-school to Kindergarten. And from barely talking *because they’re playing the shy card* to barely letting me get a word in edgewise.

They’ve been my pseudo-children in a sense–and they’ve been some of my greatest teachers.

It really hit me yesterday how much they’ve grown in front of my very eyes, reminding me every week of why we’re here on earth, what we’re meant to do, and who we’re called to be like. Back to the basics, they teach me. Keep life simple.

And simplicity can be so hard.

Yesterday was one of those *Wow, I’m learning more from these kids than they are from me* days. I have those days a lot. But yesterday was something out of the ordinary, really.

 

I came to church straight from a work meeting, and I was frazzled beyond belief. Is there even enough hours in the day? I’m not convinced quite yet that 24 are enough. My mind was nowhere where it should have been, but I quickly rushed to class and tried to get in the mindset of the lesson.

We were teaching about the holy spirit. As we talked, the kids, one by one, all wanted to share stories. That’s not an uncommon thing really–but these stories seemed uncommon. Uncommonly simple and profound all at the same time. With these stories I was reminded of four simple things that I think we ALL tend to forget as soon as we grow out of our size four shoes, stop coloring out of the lines and no longer consider Spider Man our greatest hero.

It was good to get a reminder.

Kindness matters. 

David–one of the boys in my class– reminded me of a motto that I’ve always tried to live by. He told a story of a little boy in his kindergarten class who isn’t very nice. He says rude things to people and kind of likes to be alone. One day at recess the boy was coloring outside and the breeze whisked away a couple of his pages. Without even thinking David scrambled after them and retrieved the papers, bringing them back to the boy and letting him know that a good trick is to keep the loose papers under his foot while he’s drawing so they won’t blow away. I asked David why he helped the little boy out when he’s been nothing but mean to him. “Because it doesn’t matter how he is,” he responded matter-of-factly. “I’m supposed to be kind.”

How often do we forget kindness? We live in a society and a world where many believe that kindness is something to be earned, deserved, or given if the mood is right. But kindness–in its simplest and truest form–is actually running after those runaway papers in the wind simply because that’s what Christ would do.

Prayer works.

After David’s story, Kali’s hand shot up. It wasn’t about kindness, she prefaced, but prayer. Her dad had recently traveled to Mexico and when he came back from the trip he had given her a charm bracelet with beautiful stones. Well one day, she explained, the bracelet went missing and she couldn’t find it anywhere. She searched and searched and searched and finally she fell on her knees and prayed that she would PLEASE find that pretty bracelet from her Dad. After saying amen she had a feeling to check under the stairs. And there it was. Does Heavenly Father care about your bracelet? I asked. “Probably not,” she shrugged. “But he cares about me.”

Did you think to pray?

Count your blessings–then share them.

I sometimes forget this one and I bet you do too. Count your blessings, we hear. Count your blessing, Name them one by one, we sing. But what good is hoarding the blessings and not sharing them? As I watch these kids I’m reminded of the importance of sharing every piece of everything. They don’t hesitate to tell the new kid in class about Jesus. They don’t hesitate to share their jelly beans or share how to spell the word Heaven on the chalk board. They go to school each day and share with their teachers what they did at church, not even giving a second thought about how it may be perceived. They share the good news of everything that comes their way. Why don’t we?

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is one of my favorite quotes. And as I observe my class I often see a class full of blazing candles–all flaming like torches as they seek out wicks that have dried out.

Follow where others try to lead.

We’re a society aimed toward being revolutionary. Changing the world. Discovering new planets, changing the way politics operate, or being top in sales at our firm. And that’s perfectly okay to aim high. But whatever happened to the virtue of following? In the attempts to forge a new path I think it can be easy to forget that we’ve had many saints, prophets–even the Savior himself– pave the way already. We’ve had pioneers walk miles to reach a common place of rest, hearts all turned toward the same Zion. We’ve had prophets teach the same stories and generations of family members instill the same traditions and morals. We have so many heroes to emulate. “She wants to be just like you,” I’ve had mothers say to me when talking about their kids in my class. They never say, “She hopes to be way better than you”.

There’s so much fear nowadays in mediocrity and not enough desire to uphold the things that generations before us fought for.

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I could honestly go on and on about the things I’ve learned from these kids. But the simple things are my favorite. And the older I get the more I need to be reminded of the basics. The simple things that keep families together and the beggars with change in their pockets. It’s the simple things that were once preached on mountain tops and etched in stone and written by hand on parchment only to be passed down to us. It’s the simple things that turn us from a hardened, bustling, distracted adult into a child again– fresh from Heaven, and at the Savior’s feet. The beauty in the gospel–and in life– lies in its simplicity.

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “…Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is simple. It really, really is.
And I’m grateful to all my three-foot something giants for showing me that.
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The difficult side of joy

I’ve come to realize that I’m very indecisive. So indecisive in fact that I could barely decide if I was. But just this week I decided. I’m indecisive. And I decided something else– It was keeping me from joy.

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I didn’t want to write this post at first because 1) I didn’t think anyone else had this problem. And 2) It seemed like too simple of a concept. But it wasn’t until a conversation I had with one of my best friends the other night that it occurred to me that maybe I’m not alone in thinking there’s one side to joy. I think many of us forget that one side of joy is more rewarding than the other–because we can choose it.

I told my friend a couple nights ago that I’ve officially decided to make changes–to take leaps of faith–and decide to dictate my life and choose to be happy instead of letting life just happen the way it wants. “Well…isn’t that the point?” my friend said.

And it is. But sometimes we don’t get the point until later on in life. Some people never get it.

See, I’ve always been a positive person. Not many people see me without a smile *unless it’s 4 in the morning– because I am NOT a morning person*. I always laugh off problems and I’m a master at sweeping things under the rug and only lifting the rug to inspect the mess when no one else is around and I’m free to sulk on my own and fester in worry. I have a knack for tending to other people’s problems before my own and this very blog post will come as a surprise to nearly 95 percent of my friends. BUT alas–it is true. I sometimes forget that joy is two-sided. And that it can indeed be difficult to choose it.

The first side of joy, I’ve come to find, is the joy that happens to you.

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It’s the birth of a baby. That promotion you’ve been crossing your fingers for. It’s the day where everything is going right, the sun is out, it’s a friday, and the paycheck was good. It’s the moment when you get a phone call from your best friend or you buy your wedding dress and take a look in the mirror. THAT side of joy happens to you without any effort. And it’s our favorite kind. If you deny that–well, I’m pretty sure you’re either lying or you’re just a saint.

Then–there’s the other side of joy. The joy we choose.

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This is the side of joy, I’ve come to find, that can be difficult. It’s difficult simply because it doesn’t exist unless you decide to create it. This is the kind of joy that comes after a year of agonizing through a job you hate and finally deciding to quit and take a leap of faith that another job offer across the country will be better for you. This is the kind of joy that happens after you lost the person you love the most and all you want to do is watch Netflix in bed–but you decide to put on your shoes and go visit someone who’s sick. This is the kind of joy that happens when NOTHING is going right about the day, the paycheck is small, it’s a Monday, the car broke down, the baby won’t stop crying–and you decide to just BE happy anyway, laugh, and take note that the roses in the front lawn have just started blooming. This is the kind of joy that happens when you break free from an oppressive relationship–scared to be alone–but deciding it’s time to make a change. This is the difficult side of joy, and not just for indecisive folks like me.

It’s difficult to choose joy I think, because as humans we have that famous catchphrase that “Life happens” or “You-know-what happens” *Curse word not included*. And in turn, we let it happen–and we become these objects that are just acted upon over and over and over, tumbling and bruising and drifting. We easily fall into a sense of security with just letting the day pan out the way it may and reacting to everything simply because we’re not letting anything react to us.

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I don’t know about you–but I decided I’m not an object. 

I decided I need to–And YOU need to– start deciding more frequently that life is too precious to live under the authority of paychecks, commitments, fear of change, insecurity, opinions of others, or the whims of chance.

We weren’t created to be acted upon.

In 2nd Nephi 2:25 it clearly says: “Men are that they might have joy”. I’ve heard that scripture a lot. But I never realized until recently the big fat “MIGHT” in the sentence. It doesn’t say we will have joy. It doesn’t say we are given joy. It says we might have it.

But the stipulation is us.

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We’ll have joy if we decide we’re worth it. We’ll have it if we aren’t afraid of change. We’ll have it once we simply decide that it’s what we were created for after all. We’ll have it once we put effort into the gospel and time into those we love. We’ll have it once we realize that we write our own story and can choose what becomes the conflict and when the page can just simply turn without a second thought.

I realize that there are situations where it can be hard to choose joy. Chemical imbalances, mental illnesses, PTSD–and a multitude of other problems and ailments can change or alter the way one thinks or responds. And I’m thankful that there’s help for those kind of situations. I’m not minimizing the pain and frustration that come with that. But with the proper help or medication, there comes a point where you regain the ability to choose again.

We were all given that ability as soon as we came into existence.

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We come into contact with so many decisions every day. What to wear, what to cook for dinner, what to do first on a busy to-do list at work, what time to show up at the meeting, what to say to that sour-faced cashier. And we do it–even easily most of the time. But we often skip out on the choice to have joy. And that’s the most important choice of all today.

So, why not make the choice? As my friend would say–Isn’t that the point?

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.