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.

members at church

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.

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.

helping elderly

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.

idaho

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.

dark-road

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.

Why ‘God will give you more than you can handle’ changed my life: And how it fixed Christmastime

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote God will give you more than you can handle.

A whole year.

I can hardly believe it. It still surfaces as one of my most-read blogs of all time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s because out of everything we could ever go through as human beings, that is the one thing that connects us all. The struggle–and the triumph over it.

I read it again this morning, throwing myself back to the time when the Christmas lights were strung, the tree decorated, the little manger on the dresser paused in time with Mary’s eyes on the baby Savior’s face. Nothing had changed from just an hour before and I’m certain that even our cat was undisturbed from his sleep. Nothing had changed except our hearts. Because my dad, laying within the glow of Christmas lights, had breathed his last. This morning as I read it again it was so hard to wrap my mind around how time had continued to propel us forward, not even taking a moment to help us stand on our own. The night turned into day and the snow came and went and the needles on the tree began to dry and fall in a heap on the carpet. We were stuck in time, unable to breathe without pain, but time didn’t care.

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It brought me to here. Another Christmas. Another tree. And time to sit and reflect on that Christmas that changed everything.

I’ve been astonished–more so this year than any other year–how broken Christmas is for so many. And no, I’m not saying that because I lost my Dad at Christmastime.

This year more than ever I’ve noticed how superficial the holiday has become to so many. It’s the most stressful time of year for holiday shoppers who scurry around with holiday lists and rack up credit card debt. People compete to have the prettiest lights on the block and stores fight to have the best sales. The gifts, the traveling, the way we get so entangled in things.

And somehow we forget the things that were illuminated to me just one Christmas ago.

mary and jesus

The gift of breathing. The amazing, indescribable gift of having family by your side, even next to an empty tree. The wonderful warmth of hot chocolate and candles and twinkle lights as you simply share the company of a friend. The carols that remind us of the sleeping baby who came to save us all. The wonderment of a child waiting anxiously for Santa to come.

None of these experiences are things. And we know it. Deep inside, we all know it. But we forget over the years and become calloused to what is expected and to the status quo.

Time didn’t pause at the stable over 2,000 years ago. It kept going, and the child grew and he ministered and suffered and died and made his way in and out of our hearts through the years. We turned away from the cross and faced in all the other directions that promised fulfillment and peace and just left voids. And we continue to struggle to face the right way. Through the generations we’ve struggled to remember, we’ve struggled to fill the voids with material things and importance, and all along we’ve been breaking Christmas apart. We’ve been breaking our lives apart.

jesus hugging dad

I still believe that God will give you more than you can handle. This year–starting at last Christmas time–has been the hardest year of my life. Even now, as I write these words, I find tears streaming down my face. It’s not that it’s gotten easier, because it hasn’t. But I’ve learned something that takes me through.

God will empower you to fight the impossible.

God will send something to make you smile when all you want to do is melt into tears.

God will send friends–so many friends–who paint your life with sunshine and share the shadows.

God will remind you of the laughter and not just the pain within your memories.

God will fight for you to be okay and carry you when you’re weak.

God is for you.

This Christmas I choose to step away from the brokenness and the rubble of forgetfulness. I choose to remember the way my Dad’s face lit up when I hung the lights near his bed and the way he fought to stay with us. I choose to remember the way he didn’t grab for things when he got ready to step into Heaven–but he grabbed for our hands. Christmas is our reminder of the things that keep our feet on solid ground and the One who handles what we simply cannot. Christmas is our time to remember the way the Savior came to a broken world full of grief and pain and impossibility all in order to bring life, and relief and hope.

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Because of Him, you make it through the days you otherwise could not. And I believe more than ever, a year later, that we can’t handle everything–not a single day. But He can.

And that’s the reason to celebrate.

Not only Christmas–but every single breath.

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.

disciple of master

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.

bom reading

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.

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God

Here I sit in the early morning light and my whole house is still asleep except for me.

There is a decorative pumpkin already on the coffee table and a candle that smells like cinnamon. And every now and then a chill creeps in through the open window and reminds me that it’s that time of year again. Fall. And then winter. And the holidays.

And it makes it hard to write.

I love the holiday season–making ornaments in school out of macaroni and drinking cider at pumpkin patches and eating too much cranberry sauce and decorating the tree to Bing Crosby. But then last fall happened, and no matter what Dad had said, it still changed everything. This time last year Dad was coming home from the hospital. He decided to quit chemotherapy. He decided its ok to go home and die. And I decided that the changing leaves would never look the same.

hospital bed with dad

And it’s maddening.

So the other night I announced to my husband with teary eyes, “It’s been a year, Matt. And sometimes I am still just SO mad at God.”

It’s not that I have trouble believing in him. I’ve never really had that kind of trouble. And besides, how can you be mad at someone who isn’t there? No, the trouble I had with Him was figuring out why sometimes it feels like He turns his back. Like He’ll take away the best you have, He’ll let you scramble to make ends meet, He’ll watch as you pray for something that simply never comes. He’ll be silent when you demand answers. And like a child at her parent’s closed door, I weep. I stomp my foot. And then, “I hate you!” and storm off. 

fall time

You might wince at reading that. And it’s ok. There are many people who believe you shouldn’t EVER be mad at God, let alone hate Him. And part of me envies those people. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever get to that point where trials don’t make me shake a fist at the sky. And part of me wants to tell those people it’s ok. It’s ok to get mad at God.

So since Fall is making its entrance I’ve been thinking a lot about all of that this week. And it wasn’t until someone asked me a simple question that I’ve come to grips with something. The other day someone at work randomly asked me, “Kayla, you being a literature person, what do you think is one of the greatest love stories ever written?”

So I pondered *because I’m a literature geek* and thought through the hundreds of romances I’ve read so far. I thought about the plot lines so many of them follow–There’s a protagonist and by some event that protagonist falls in love. But the person the protagonist falls for is challenging. Sometimes forbidden or unreachable or unaware. The obstacles arise, including fights or misunderstandings or hurt along the way. But then the end always comes and somehow love wins out. No matter how it wins, it seems to. And the thing that makes it romantic? The protagonist always believed it would.

And it hit me.

I know the greatest love story ever written.

It all began with a protagonist who created light out of darkness and who formed love with his very hands. That protagonist loved so deeply that he let his great loves leave his presence and wander–for years–far away. Some of them decided they didn’t love him anymore. Some hated him. Some simply forgot. And there were others. Others who loved him. Who believed they’d be back with him. Others who had so much faith until the winds picked up and they blamed him for knocking them down. But the protagonist loved. Always loved. He even watched his own son die a horrible death to save the wanderers from a horrible fate. He wept and tore the skies open when his great loves were the hands to kill. Years would go by and he’d watch his great loves make up stories and theologies as to who he was. He sometimes waited to be talked to for a very long time. But he always waited and he always loved. Because out of every love story, He is the protagonist that loved the most. He’s the one who knew the end of the story and understood when those he loved hated him and asked “Why me?” He cried with them and laughed with them and he sat behind a closed door, his hand gently pressed against it, as his own child screamed “I hate you!”, yelling much too loudly to hear anything he had to say.

But He always loved.

jesus2

My heart gave out a little when I thought this all over the other day, and I still think about it now as another chill sweeps into the living room and makes my sleeping bunnies rustle in their cages.

God is part of the greatest love story ever written–and so are we. He has a deep compassion for us that we so rarely have for Him. It’s amazing, really.

It’s going to be natural to be the characters that wander. It’s in our description. It’s in the plot.

He’s going to understand when we struggle–because that’s what this world offers–and He’s even going to get it when we blame that struggle on Him. But He loves us through it all and keeps giving us new moments, new days, new opportunities to come back to Him and to find joy.

He understands that when we’re angry at him, we’re caught up in moments where we forget how much He loves us. And how He’s on our team.

mad at god

Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Since the beginning of time, love has been the source of both the highest bliss and the heaviest burdens. At the heart of misery from the days of Adam until today, you will find the love of wrong things. And at the heart of joy, you will find the love of good things. And the greatest of all good things is God.”

The pages turn and I enter in to a new Fall. Some enter in to new lives after a big move or new, overwhelming schedules after a baby. Some are waking up to a new day without limbs or a new week without a job. One by one the pages turn and if we let it, we forget who’s turning the pages. We get angry at who does. And we forget that:

“God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God. It isn’t evil to stumble and wonder why. Look at Job. And Jonah. And Jesus himself, who thought for a brief moment that God had turned His back. But we must rise from it. We have to remember.

jonah

It takes faith to remember that as we scream and cry at the closed door there is a Father on the other side, forehead pressed against the door, eyes wet.

And He just waits.

Because only we can open it again.

 

 

The worth of an addict

“Just don’t show my face”.

He said it almost immediately, before I even knew this would be much of a story. But it’s a story that needed to be told, with or without his picture.

I’m an addict.

This is Jay’s story.

The addiction started when he was just fifteen. And so did the dreams.

drinking2

Dreams that hit him hard in the middle of the night–even when he was completely drunk out of his mind or still sniffing the last of the powder on the rim of his nostrils. Even when he passed out, needle marks in his arms, the dreams hit. And it’d wake him up and remind him that on his 18th birthday he was going to die.

He didn’t take the dreams seriously, really, although in the back of his mind he always wondered why he kept having that same dream. A foggy staircase, yelling coming from behind him–and that fatal shot to the head.

But then his 18th birthday came and he couldn’t shake the dread.

“I didn’t know what it meant,” Jay said. “All along God was trying to tell me something and I just kept pushing it away. And so my 18th birthday came, and I decided to get high with friends.”

smoke2

Sneaking out after dark, Jay snorted, drank, laughed, and smoked his way until dawn, filling his body with so much substance that, “I don’t even know how I lived through that” he says now.

Marijuana, cocaine, heroine, opium–Jay kept going long after his friends were passed out. By morning he was ready to go home and not wake up for another year.

“But that’s when another friend called,” Jay said. By this point in the story his eyes are lost, just a little bit past my shoulder. “That day my whole life changed.”

A friend convinced him to go with him and a group of guys to get some drugs for a good price. Jay didn’t want to go of course–he could hardly see straight. But he did.

“I don’t remember much,” Jay said. “But I do remember snippets, like from a movie. I remember holding a guy by his neck and yelling at his face. I remember three loud pops and a pain in my head like a rock hitting me from a slingshot. I remember looking up at a blurry staircase and seeing someone yelling in Spanish, pointing a gun down at me. But that’s when it goes black.”

Jay woke up in a hospital handcuffed to the bed.

The sentence was 7 and a half years for 1st Degree Robbery with Gun Enhancement.

“On top of that, I had been shot three times,” Jay said. “I died for two minutes. But they brought me back.”

And the story should have ended there. But it didn’t.

male portrait

Jay didn’t stay true to the rules that most prisoners go by. He didn’t follow a certain pack. He’d play pinnacle with the Russians and then get his hair braided by the blacks. He’d speak Spanish to the Latino group and strike up conversation with the Italians. The guards didn’t like it so Jay spent more time than usual in solitary confinement.

“You asked where I found God,” Jay says to me now. “That’s where.”

With nothing but time, Jay turned to books. “I read and studied about every religion you can think of,” he said. “But all I kept coming back to is there’s a God. And he hears me. He loves me. He forgives.”

Jay prayed–talking to God as if He sat in the corner with his ankles crossed, nodding along to Jay’s stories and offering a hand on his shoulder when the tears would come. The concrete walls weren’t enough to keep the words locked inside. God was right there in the room.

“I decided then and there that I’d never take drugs again. It’d be a hard road, but I couldn’t go back. I made a promise to God.”

And it wasn’t easy.

Children drinking

After serving his sentence, old friends were quick to invite him to parties again. Dealers he knew from the past had special deals on the baggies of white stuff they carried in their bulging pockets. The past–with its dark, luring fingers–begged him to come back.

He had to walk away from old friends–people he even cared about–and for years and years he had to move jobs every few months when background checks failed and employers shooed him out. Jay had to leave his old town and meet new people and spend Friday nights convincing himself that it’s better to sit alone then to sit with wrong company.

Even now–years later–after meeting his wife and having three children and finding more joy in teddy bear tea parties then in beer pong–it follows him. And that’s because it’s the path he once chose.

“I’m an addict,” Jay said. “I always will be. But that’s not all I am. That’s another man inside me that fights to come out every day. But he doesn’t win.”

addict with jesus

We live in a world where addiction is taboo. Especially within the church. We smother talk about pornography and we wrinkle our noses in disgust at cigarette smoke following a man into the chapel. We often categorize alcoholics, even subconsciously, as people who have no self-control and we label food-addicts as fat, lazy, or disgusting.

We tend to judge addicts more harshly simply because we’re taught to label addicts as sinners worth shunning rather than prisoners worth saving.

We often forget that the Savior himself sits in solitary confinement, listening to a prisoner, and forgiving him despite it all.

But Jay hasn’t forgotten it. Not for a second.

jesus prays

“It’s been years now, but it’ll always follow me,” Jay said. “When I get stopped for a simple traffic ticket now, the cops will always call for back up when they see my record. And I don’t get mad. I understand it. It can be hard to live in a world where your mistakes follow you, but I know that doesn’t define me.”

How do you do it? I ask. How do you live that way?

“We all have that ‘other’ person inside of us,” he responded. “We either choose to acknowledge it and overcome, choose to give into that person, or choose to ignore it completely. I’ve decided to acknowledge that addict.”

Jay is hoping to instill the same message into his three little ones now. His daughter has nightmares sometimes and wakes in the night crying and fearful. He said he’ll take her and walk around the house, praying and waving a smudge stick the family has as a physical symbol of God cleaning the house and keeping them all safe.

“It’s exactly what I did in my cell, in a sense,” Jay said. “I tell my daughters–‘Now we can use different things to make us feel a little better, like this stick. But first we must pray. We must always pray.”