Sunday, April 9, 2017

What I Believe About Grace


Do Mormons Believe in Grace?

My best friend in Jr. High was a born-again Christian. We would often share some of the unique doctrines that made our churches different. I explained the Godhead to her once and she said, “Oh yeah! We believe they’re 3 separate beings too! It wouldn’t make sense any other way.” The next day she came to school to confess that she’d talked to her mom and she had been wrong. Her church actually believed in the Holy Trinity, meaning God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all one being. On another occasion it was my turn to be stumped. She asked me if I believed in Grace. Honestly, I had no idea. I hadn’t really heard much about grace at church or with my family.

Grace is divine help or strength given through Christ’s Atonement and is often referred to as an enabling power. It is one of the most hopeful principles of the Book of Mormon and is grounded in the teachings of Joseph Smith and the restoration. It seemed strange to me that I never heard much about it growing up but as it turns out, I was not alone.

Said Elder Bednar: “Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints – for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”

Sheri Dew put it this way, “If we feel as though we’re along and must rely largely or even solely upon our own energy, talent, and strength – we don’t understand grace.”

President Uchtdorf spoke similarly, “It is a most wondrous thing, this grace of God. Yet it is often misunderstood. Even so, we should know about God’s grace if we intend to inherit what has been prepared for us in His eternal Kingdom.”

So Why Have Mormons Struggled to Understand this Marvelous Doctrine?

My dear Born-Again Christian friend I spoke about in my introduction knew she believed in the power of Grace. She declared it in her everyday conversations and you could see her face light up when she spoke of Christ’s power. But she believed Jesus’ Grace took care of everything and we don’t have to do anything. That we are saved by Grace no matter what we do as long as we accept Christ into our hearts.

We also believe that all men and women will be saved from physical death and live forever as resurrected beings. Through the Atonement of Christ, everyone will receive this gift. But we are blessed to know there is so much more to our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for us. We know we have the potential to receive eternal life, or exaltation, which is to live in God’s presence and continue as families. We can become just like God but this inheritance will require obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

These requirements can be misinterpreted as a need to work our way to exaltation or earn eternal life. But this belief is negated in 2 Nephi 31:19, “…for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” We are to rely wholly upon Christ to save us. Where has some of the confusion come from?

One scripture in the Book of Mormon that is recited often in reference to works verses grace is in 2 Nephi 25:23. It says, “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Are we really to believe we cannot access God’s grace until we have completely exhausted all our efforts?

President Uchtdorf added his thoughts on this scripture, saying, “I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase ‘after all we can do.’ We must understand that ‘after’ does not equal ‘because’. We are not saved ‘because of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?”

Further, Elder James Hamula said, “’It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’. Some may read this scripture to mean that God’s Grace is withheld until we have given our best efforts. I do not read it this way. There are simply too many examples of God’s grave being extended to man without him doing anything. The power of the Resurrection, for example, is given to all by the grace of God, irrespective of individual effort. I understand Nephi’s ‘all we can do’ language to mean that God’s grace is extended to us when we are diligent.”

Finally, Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during, and after the time when we expend our own efforts.”

I recently taught my YW about these two extreme views of grace. On one side of the chalkboard I wrote “grace” and explained it was the side that many Christian’s take, believing all we need is grace and our works are worthless. On the other side of the board I wrote, “works” and it represented those in our own church who Elder Bednar explains, mistakenly believe they must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by themselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.” I drew a line between the two extremes and asked the girls where the on the spectrum we should actually be. A few brave girls came forward and drew dots in varying places but always on the side closer to “works”.  One of the girls whispered, “I think she’s tricking us.” And she was right. Because truthfully there is no place for a dot. As Brad Wilcox says, it’s not about “His part and my part. It’s His heart and my heart beating together, loving each other and being conformed to the same image.”

Alma 32:27 offers hope to those who think they are nowhere near being worthy of receiving grace. “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” The rest of the chapter compares the word to a seed that may be planted in your heart. The seed begins to swell and causes your soul to enlarge, enlightening your understanding and increasing your faith. The seed sprouts and grows, proving it is a good seed. The seed eventually grows into a tree and is nourished with great care, so it may take root and bring forth fruit, becoming a tree that springs up unto everlasting life. And with diligence, faith and patience with the word, it may take root and grant fruit that is most precious, sweet, white and pure and you will never hunger or thirst again. The rich symbolism of the tree taking root represents a process within us that requires grace from beginning to end. That entire process started with exercising, “a particle of faith,” and “no more than a desire to believe.”

We don’t have to wait until we have done everything we can do to receive grace. I don’t think I’ve spent one day of my life doing all I can do yet I’ve been granted grace countless times. From the above scripture, we are told we can receive grace by exercising a particle of faith and a desire to do good.

Waiting until you’ve reached a certain level of righteousness in order for grace to be granted reminds me of my some gym friends I met during my previous career as a fitness instructor. They didn’t want to join my yoga class until they were more flexible out of fear of feeling inadequate in class. While the very stretches that would give them the flexibility they were seeking were waiting for them in my class. We cannot wait until we’ve done all we can do before seeking God’s help. For we need God’s help to do any good thing.

Then, What is the Point of Works?

Brad Wilcox explained, “We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

Moroni 7:48 reads, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”

Working to earn our salvation is futile and limits our access to God’s power. Working in gratitude and love for God and the great gift He has given us, allows us to change from the inside out, for the right reasons. These acts of humility allow God to change our very natures and gradually, usually almost imperceptibly, we become more like Him. We will continue to grow upward in the next life if we practice while we’re here and that is what allows us to be comfortable in God’s presence and to one day, unimaginable as it may seem, become like Him and inherit all that He hath. What a blessing! And what a different type of motivation besets us when we know we are working out of love for God and the desire to live with Him in His heavenly home.    

What Exactly Can Grace Look Like in My Life?

Sheri Dew wrote, “The Savior has ‘all power’ in heaven and on earth. He has power to cleanse, forgive, and redeem us; power to heal us of weakness, sadness, illness, and heartache; power to inspire us; power to conquer Satan and overcome the flesh; power to work miracles; power to deliver us from circumstances we can’t escape ourselves; power over death; and power to strengthen us. When the Apostle Paul said, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,’ he was describing grace.”

For me grace takes many forms:

Grace helped me to see my genetic illness as a tool to remind me to always reach out to those who suffer.

Grace helped me to thrive in a variety of situations I never thought I’d end up in in 2016, the hardest year of my life.

Grace made me more patient than I ever thought I could be when my first son was born and continues to soften me as my 3 children grow.

Grace took all the burdens off my back when I said yes to serving as the Young Women President in my ward in an already chaotic and trying time in my life.

Grace enabled me to knock on a young man’s door after midnight, 13 years ago and ask him to help dig my car out of the snow. I’m not sure he needed grace to say yes but we both needed it to prepare for a temple marriage that came 6 months later.

And that same grace allows our family to learn about, love and become more like our Savior with each passing day, knowing we have the chance to live with Him and each other in eternal bliss. And for that gift I know I can never repay Him.


This life is not about earning heaven. It is about learning to become like Heavenly Father. I pray we can all exercise our own particles of faith and allow the marvelous gift of grace to transform us into the eternal beings we are meant to become.

Please comment below: What does grace look like in your life?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unexpected Miracles Filming Reality TV


Last year my husband and I had the unexpected opportunity to film a reality show called, “Playhouse Masters,” about our family and custom playhouse business. Season 2 airs on TLC this year and has all ready been viewed in countries all over the world. My start on this journey… wait journey’s the wrong word. Lets call it mountain climb. My start on this mountain climb was steep, treacherous and I had no clue how to use the climbing gear. 

Basically, I’m a shy, quiet girl who previously had no intention of starring on any kind of television show, let alone one that shows so much of my life and family. There are no words for the kind of inadequacy I felt. Nonetheless I climbed because I had the strongest feeling God was joining me on the expedition. 

With that comforting thought also came a feeling of responsibility. My husband and I both felt like we were to use this unlikely opportunity for good. We weren’t really sure at the beginning what kind of good would come but we saw miracles and found opportunities to serve all along the way. And yes, I felt like God was climbing with us all the way through. 

While filming our first episode, we had a client who wanted three Peter Pan themed playhouses, including a lost boys fort, Wendy’s house, and a ship. Tyson was really worried about getting the ship to look right and wishing he had a real ship to inspect but out here in the prairies, we don’t exactly have that luxury. When he was on his way to the client’s house with his Uncle Derral (who also works with us) to see their property, they pulled over on the highway because they saw something that made their jaws drop. It was a real, old ship, on a trailer behind a broken-down semi. As they talked with the semi driver, they learned that the ship was on it’s way to it’s new owner, a man named Tom Hanks, who had purchased it for an upcoming movie because he wanted to use a real, authentic-looking ship. Because the semi-driver was having minor truck problems and had to pull over, Tyson and Uncle D were able to take pics of the ship and instantly formulate a plan of action. That ship turned out to be one of the most amazing structures they had ever built. Some would think it was a coincidence but the feelings in our hearts we all had that day told us otherwise. 



Ship playhouse end product!

On another occasion, after our show had aired around the world, we received a message from a man who will remain anonymous, which read:

Appreciation call is more than overdue. I am a fan of yours… I am fascinated with the work that you do and the fact you are helping others really speaks to me. I have recently come out of a 3-year spell of depression since being made redundant from the armed forces. It’s thanks to seeing programs like yours that prove there are still good people helping others in this life among all the corrupt politicians… etc that have ruined so many. The look on your experts faces [your children] when they see your builds reminds me of the small (small in comparison to your projects) things I do for my daughter but that aside the reactions that you guys get make me thankful that I too have a loving family. Thank you for your time, entertainment and in a way my self-helpJ Keep up the good work guys. 

When Tyson brought this message to me I cried happy tears. I had no idea our silly show could touch someone in such a meaningful way. I felt gratitude for a God who works in mysterious and sometimes very obvious ways! Tyson and I both agreed the entire season of filming was worth it if he was the only one helped by it. 

And that’s why I learned to write my stories out. First of all, when I felt a prompting from God to start my blog I didn’t want to and I didn’t know why I should. But the above lessons taught me listening to his quiet commands always results in receiving His help along the way and that sometimes we just can’t predict who we can help by moving forward. When I write, I think about writing for the one person who may feel inspired or like they’re not alone by reading about my experiences. And I promise, if my shy, introverted self can film a reality show and share some of my intimate thoughts online, God can help you do anything He prompts you to do.

Always, 

Audy

Monday, March 6, 2017

Guest Post: A Feel-Good Miracle Story by Amber Pearce

Billy's Miracle
By Amber Pearce at www.leftwithasmile.com

(Want another miracle story? Check out the one I wrote for Amber's blog:  http://leftwithasmile.com/an-unexpected-miracle-on-tlcs-playhouse-masters-by-audrey-leavitt/ )


Every family has their stories.  You know, the ones that get brought up and repeated at almost every big family gathering.  Even though the story has been told a million times every one listens, chimes in and reacts as if it is being told for the first time. Many are the stories of that one thing someone will never live down, like the time we were home alone and my big brother got stuck inside a folding couch and we had to call 911 to help get him out. Though I love to laugh (and that one makes me laugh every time) I especially love the inspiring stories. The stories that define the fabric of our family spun from trial, determination, faith and miracles.

When family gatherings at my house move into story telling mode there is one member of our family that everyone has a story for.  Everyone has a story to tell about Billy. Most of them are funny because he had the quickest wit of anyone I’ve met. All of them are precious because he was so precious to us. And to think we almost didn’t have those stories to tell. The fact the Billy lived and joined our family was a miracle in and of itself. My parents adopted him at 5 months with the understanding that he would have severe mental and physical disabilities. We were told he wouldn’t walk or talk and that he likely wouldn’t live past 4 years. How wrong they were, but that is not the miracle I will tell today. Though the gift of new life is often referred to as miraculous especially when we get to hold a newborn baby in our arms; often we don’t see the miracle in that same precious spirit leaving this world.

Every holiday was my brother Billy’s favorite.  The day after one holiday was over he would start asking about the next.  Who was coming, what would we do?  He would ask these questions that he already knew the answers to several times a day out of sheer excitement.  We may have lost patience with any other 25 year old, but Billy wasn’t any other 25 year old.  Billy’s physical and mental disabilities blessed him with the innocence of a 4 year old and he radiated love joy where ever he was.

Christmas 2005 was an especially popular topic with Billy because more family than usual would be gathering together to celebrate.  He LOVED his brothers and sisters. He would tell one sibling they were his “favorite” and in the next moment tell a different sibling they were his favorite. He had so much love in that body of his he couldn’t decide on just one.  His loved extended to everyone around him where ever he was. There wasn’t a single greeting that didn’t include an enthusiastic “Hi!” followed by him rushing over to give a hug. There would be plenty of hugs this Christmas and he showed his excitement by constantly listing off everyone that would be coming.  Of course he didn’t forget to also list off what he wanted Santa to bring him.  This year it was a captain’s hat. He loved to dress up and a captain’s hat would top off his ensemble of jeans, button up shirt, suit coat, cowboy boots (that he absolutely refused to wear on the right feet), and walking cane (that he didn’t need but thought he looked pretty cool using.)  Yep, he would show up this Christmas in style.


He would also show up this Christmas feeling sick. Darn it! Billy was the life of the party, we couldn’t have him feeling sick!  We needed him well enough to whack the Christmas Eve Pinata with his cane, scramble to scoop up all the candy, and then come to each of us to taunt us with his winnings. At least we still had a few more days until Christmas. We would just remember Billy in our prayers and surely he would be better by then.


Christmas Eve morning came and when my mom went in to check on Billy he seemed to be feeling a little better.  Phew! We went on with our preparations for our traditions to be held that evening and let Billy rest a little more.  By 5pm the house was bursting with family and the magical excitement Christmas brings.  A few of us went to Billy’s room to check in on him and wake him for the fun.  As we entered the room we immediately noticed his breathing was especially strained. I had heard that breathing before when my son had croup and the sound immediately set off alarms in my mind. Everyone’s reaction was the same. We need to take Billy to the hospital but first he needs a blessing. My father would often lay his hands on our heads and offer a prayer by inspiration intended to heal the sick.

My brother Charles (Billy’s true favorite) was asked to give the blessing as the rest of us gathered into the room. A tangible spirit of love and peace filled the room as Billy’s brothers and father laid their hands upon his head.  My mother and I leaned into each other as we listened to the sweet blessing and I impatiently waited for the reassurance that Billy would quickly recover.  I opened my eyes before the blessing was over to look at my brother and then exchanged a glance with my mother.  We were overcome with emotion and understanding. My brother’s words softly settled over us, “Billy, you are so very loved by your family. Heavenly Father loves you too and He wants you to come home to him.”  Nothing but sobs could be heard as we all tried to comprehend what was just spoken.  What?  How could this be?  He just has a cold! Its Christmas!  My dad called for the ambulance just as my sister walked in the door from a day of shopping. Even though she had the flu she had been searching all day for the one gift Billy wanted, a captain’s hat.  When she heard the news she dropped the hat to the floor and burst into tears.

Between all of Billy’s siblings there were a lot of young children who were still excited for Christmas. They couldn’t really comprehend what was going on and it was overwhelming to try to continue to celebrate when we just wanted to be with Billy. Word of Billy’s condition got out and without having to ask several women from church gave up Christmas day with their families and showed up at our door to watch the children so we could go to the hospital.  What a priceless and selfless gift they gave.

I walked into the hospital room to see my mother by Billy’s side, both her hands gently stroking his soft skin. Her gaze would hardly leave him. I knew she was trying to soak up every moment she had left with him.  I walked over to her side and touched Billy’s pale hand. “I haven’t clipped his nails in a while.” What a funny thought at such a somber moment.  At times I would help to shave and groom him and I felt a pang of guilt that I hadn’t taken the time to help him lately.

As the rest of the family filed into the room I was overwhelmed with the realization of what a gift it was that so many of us were here to say goodbye.  If he had gotten sick at any other time than Christmas that wouldn’t have happened. Heavenly Father knew how loved Billy was and how hard it would be for us to let him go.  He showed such love and mercy in letting us tell Billy how much we loved him, and giving him one more hug before He called him home.

The doctor removed the breathing tube. Until this moment Billy had been mostly unresponsive so we weren’t sure if he would even be able to communicate with us. Another small miracle, though he couldn’t speak he was suddenly very alert and happy we were there.  I showed Billy the things Santa had stuffed in his stocking and some of the gifts he had received.  If he could have I know he would have jumped up the second he saw his new captain’s hat. He tried to sit up and reach for it but didn’t have the strength. You could sense his contentment as I placed it on his head for him. His ensemble was complete! We moved on to Billy’s favorite thing to do... sing!  Billy would shake his head yes and no as we tried to guess which Christmas song he wanted us to sing.  He always loved to sing at the top of his lungs and you could see his joy as sounds of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and other Christmas songs filled the intensive care
unit.

In a moment the entire family spontaneously began singing Billy’s all time favorite church song, “Called to Serve.”  Tears and love were overflowing and I’m surprised we could sing out the words with such strength. The song Billy sang hundreds of times before took on a whole new meaning.  Billy always talked about how he was going to go on a mission for our church when he “grew up” and of course we all knew his disabilities would make it impossible. The Spirit helped us understand that not only had Billy already been on a mission his entire life, but he was also being called home to continue his mission for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  Those unexpected yet precious moments in the hospital were a miracle from Heavenly Father. As soon as we finished singing and hugging Billy goodbye, he closed his eyes, unresponsive again. A few hours later his spirit returned Home.

I was granted the privilege of helping to prepare his body for burial.  I wanted to clip his nails and shave his face for the last time.  As I shaved his face I softly sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” just as he had requested every other time I shaved him.

When my brothers dressed him they put his cowboy boots on backwards just as he would have liked it. His cane was placed by his side and captain’s hat on his head.

At his over-flowing funeral each person was asked to stand if they had ever been hugged by Billy and every person in the room stood.

The Lord knew how much we cherished Billy and how hard it would be for us to see him leave this world. Out of His great kindness and love he let us know that he was bringing Billy home and he gave us those precious moments of goodbye.  We will always remember and the story will always be told of the Lord’s tender mercies and evidence of His powerful love on that beautiful Christmas 2005. We will miss our sweet Billy but we are grateful for the gift of eternal families and the knowledge that we will see him again.  Love you Billy; I know you are signing in heaven.

Amber started www.leftwithasmile.com to uplift and inspire through stories and empower with health tips. She shares stories of her own along with stories submitted by readers. "I sincerely hope Left With a Smile and the
stories shared here will be a source of light and smiles for you!  I hope to take the abundance of hidden yet TRUE goodness that is out there and make it more visible and available!"  She is a wife and mom of 5. She loves yoga, loyal friendships, and living her Faith.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why Instagram Should Never Make You Feel Bad About Yourself

Do you think she'll look at me like that forever? Of course!
And she'll probably never ask me if she can join Instagram either 😂

One of the most beautiful and talented women I know made a surprising comment to me not long ago. She said, “I hate social media. It makes me feel bad. So I stay off of it and live my life and I’m happy.” I’ve heard similar sentiments from others since the social media takeover about 10 years ago but it struck me extra odd this time, a woman so accomplished could be so affected by something so meaningless.

We’ve all discussed and read the truth about Instagram. People are only portraying the best parts of their lives. They use airbrushes and filters and some have even purchased cookies they’ve depicted to their followers as “homemade.” I just don’t fully understand why we’re still allowing these half-truths to affect our senses of self when we’re aware of the white lie foundation social media builds it’s platform on.

The more I pondered, the more I realized how easy it is to allow Instagram lies into our minds where they can disguise as truths that make themselves far too comfortable in our hearts. You see, we all have vulnerabilities and weaknesses and Instagram’s got a perfect lie for each one. These lies can be harder to identify because some of them have been evading us since long before social media became mainstream.    

So I’ll make my confession. As the youngest of six in my family I’ve felt insecure about fitting in my entire life. Don’t get me wrong, I am unbelievably blessed to have the family and friends I do but when I see groups of girls having all the good times together, it reminds me how hard it has always been for me to fit in. I found a really great solution to this as an adult but when I’m feeling weak those same child-like questions like, “What’s so weird about me?” can catch me off guard.  

What about everyone else?

For each woman struggling with her body image, there is a 5 am gym junkie posting her 6-pack abs, flexed biceps and an inspirational quote that feels more like a taunt than encouragement.

For every mother feeling like she can barely get through the day, there is another crafting with her kids who look like they walked straight out of a J Crew catalogue, while drinking green smoothies.

And for every family who is desperate just to get their bills paid each month, there are plenty of others showing pics of their beachy vacations, beautiful homes and robot maids who cook, clean and help the kids with their homework (or is that just what it seems like?).

I am not anti-instagram or anti-any-of-the-above-people. I don’t know anyone’s true intentions and I know mine aren’t always perfectly pure. I do love certain aspects of Instagram and the incredible vehicle it can be for spreading ideas, love and goodness.  So I hope I got my point across about some of the problems related to social media and self-esteem without making anyone feel like they are the cause of the problem. I like to write about solutions and most often I find the best answers are found inside us, granted by the ultimate Problem Solver.

We have a Heavenly Father who sees everything behind the Instagram stage. He knows what our lives really look like and more importantly, who we really are.  In the end, none of us will be able to hide behind smiles, editing or filters. Does this perspective change the importance we place on the seeming perfection we can endlessly scroll through?

All that matters is the truth inside us and only God knows that multidimensional story. The good news is, He doesn’t base his assessment of us on our number of followers, sponsors, poses, filters, masks, shape-wear or any of the other magic we use to impress the world. Isn’t that a sigh of relief? None of us have a genetic, financial or illusionary advantage when it comes to His judgment of us.


This no-makeup makeup look only took me 1 hour and required 37 products 😂
So how does He feel about me?

He let me know long ago during a prayer that I wasn’t made me to fit in. I was to be a little different so I could find others who also struggle to feel included. Since that day I have felt much less lonely. He also promised me that as I seek to find others like myself, I’ll have the companionship of the Savior with me. I’m just fine appearing solo in a picture, knowing I’m really not alone at all. He loves me enough to let me know one of my many, invisible, personal purposes. For me, Instagram can become a reminder to find out who doesn’t have a group to snap a pic with and discover how wonderfully weird they are too.

And how does He feel about all of us?

He loves us. He cares about our physical and mental health but the ripped abs are straight up optional. He cares that we love our children and nourish their bodies, minds and spirits but hand-me-downs won’t diminish what’s on the inside. He loves us rich or poor, adventurous or not, hipster or mainstream. There is something real behind those pictures and if we focus on nurturing that, no make-up guru, sports hero, or paid-to-play Instagrammer can change our sense of self.  Can we maintain this perspective while we’re scrolling? Can we post with purer intent and the purpose to uplift? With Him, yes, because He makes anything possible. And I’m gonna try too.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Beautiful Trials



All the great truths are paradoxical. I can demonstrate with the example of children. They are difficult from the beginning of conception and throughout pregnancy, with morning sickness, sore ribs, heartburn and an endless list of other symptoms. Luckily, most pregnant women I know are so sick of pregnancy by the end of the third trimester they may be willing to join the circus as trampoliners just to induce labor. What else could possibly cause us to long for the beginning of a process that just might produce the worst pain we've ever been felt? And lets not forget the possible complications. Wait, no, lets forget them all. From there we move into the sleepless nights of newborns, the constant chase of toddlers, the sass of growing children, back to sleepless nights of teenagers and I predict the gut-wrenching worries never end for all the days forever and ever. That description sounds fairly bleak. But if we are to believe that all great truths are in fact paradoxical then what about the opposite end? The excitement of a positive pregnancy test. Watching an entire human body move through its' own belly-home. The relief of a clear-lung baby-cry signally the end of a heroic delivery. Love. And the beginning of a soul-replenishing lifetime, filled with fat-cheek kisses and unending, indescribable love. How could we possibly receive something so good we can't find suitable words to describe it without having to work, sometimes painfully, so hard for it? A paradox.

Over the last 11 years I have discovered another paradox in life. I couldn’t have found it without living through it for as long as I have. I was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome but the really awful symptoms didn’t start until just over a decade ago. It’s been a long fight. The first few years I spent trying to convince multiple specialists my pain required much more than a psychiatrist. Sometimes I wondered if they were right. But I pressed on until I received a proper diagnosis from my Geneticist a few years ago. I will say very little about my symptoms but chronic pain and fear of the future are among the worst. It has been by far the most difficult trial to grace my 30 earthly years but I would rather write about the opposite side of this paradox.

11 years ago when the pain began I would’ve done anything to make it go away while today I wouldn’t change a thing that's happened. That’s because 11 years ago I thought the greatest miracle in my life would be a physical healing and today I recognize my decade-long change-of-heart is far more miraculous. The pain and fear that gripped my entire being sent me down a Christ-searching path because I was so desperate for relief, help and answers. I prayed constantly on my knees, in my head, everywhere I was. I searched my scriptures for truth and went to the temple often. I knew my only choice to get through this trial gracefully was through His grace. Overtime, and I mean years, I learned to trust more and more in His plan. The future seemed less daunting and I was able to better focus through the lens of eternity. I still needed help in the present and He granted me that too. Merciful revelations came through scriptures, prayer, blessings and the Spirit. Slowly, very slow my fears turned into faith and my pride into humility. I’m not there yet. Not even close. But I know I needed these pains to witness the miracles God can make of us.

I am forever grateful for the empathy seeped slowly into my heart throughout my sickness. Choosing to walk this rocky road alongside Jesus has allowed me to feel with others unlike I ever could. Those who know me best know I feel a whole lot but it seems my feels have been exercised to go more outside myself. For the mentally and physically sick, I consider you my people and I will mourn with you all the way through. For your caregivers, I’ve got extra compassion to spare because I’ve watched the sad desperation in my husbands’ and parent’s eyes every time I suffer. And for those who have been accused of exaggerating or making up their illness to get out of work or other obligations? Well, you have an ally in me. I would rather risk believing you and finding out I was wrong than not believing you and finding out I was wrong. I know that feeling all too well and it is a lonely state to be sick and disbelieved at the same time.

Speaking of caring. I will be irrevocably grateful for the compassion shown to me by every single well wish, hug, flower, food, offer, long talk and compassion shown to me throughout my time in pain. I have seen the Lord’s hands on the bodies of family and friends over and over and I know what charity feels like. One night, I couldn’t sleep, trying to adjust to a new medication. Tyson stayed by my side, rubbing my jittery legs through exhaustion. I remember feeling a depth of love for and from him that was new for me. Never having to doubt his commitment to me, regardless of what we have to deal with together is a precious gift I will never stop feeling blessed to have. This past Sunday, a lovely couple in my ward came over to chat. I had recently told my ward over the pulpit a bit about my illness (my talk was on heavy trials – I got the hint) and most of them hadn’t previously known. The husband told me he had had a dream that Tyson and I were asking him for help. He wanted to let me know that he was there for us anytime we needed anything. It was so selfless and humbly honest I made a mental commitment to take him up on his offer when the time comes.

To some it may seem crazy, but to me there is so much beauty in my pain. I barely got started on these few pages and would love to add more about listening to the relentless prayers of my innocent kids asking for a healing miracle for their mother or how giving up my fitness career made room for a new writing job that has become one of the greatest blessings in my life. What it came down to and always comes down to is the choice to take the Lord’s way through. He has made all the difference in a potentially life-draining situation. To change for the better (at least a bit) on the inside while my body grows more painful on the outside is a part of this great paradox I was blessed enough to discover. And with all the unknowns of the future, I do know this: Walking the road with Him means faith will overcome fear, joy will overcome despair, and love will always win. 

Always,

Audy

Let me know about how your trials have become beautiful to you by commenting below. Your feedback is the gas to my writing car (hahahaha).