A New Kind of Beauty

cancer survivors banned torso tattoo

I dreamed a dream

I looked at my body in the mirror

Raised arms, I looked—turned

Alarmed eyes on my transforming torso

The stretch marks crawled across my skin

Ran up and around every inch

Horror. I had been stretched too far.

I stared and they ran—widened, lengthened

Wrapping around my body

Curling like a hula dancer’s hands

Ink in water, swirling patterns

Vines, petals, kanji, fractals

Panic and pain dissolving, transfiguring

Tattooing innocent skin with wisdom.

 

A new kind of beauty.

 

Photo: found this image just before publishing–choked me up

Love and Trust

kindness

Our inability to be kind and to be civil is a direct reflection on whether or not we trust Christ when he tells us that he has “overcome the world” and that “it is finished,”  so we must “fear not.”

If we trust Christ enough to follow his edict to love one another, we will do so much more to bring about the kind of world that we so desire to live in.  Yet we very humanly allow our fears to become resentments and create stresses that will directly hinder our ability to be kind and to follow this first—and most important—commandment.

My fears for my children feed my frustration, irritability, and anger towards them, “if you behave this way, what will become of you?” If I really trust in the Big God I have experienced, I can trust that God’s commandment for me to be kind and loving will do more for my children and any amount of fear and anxiety.

It is our ignorance that leads us to think that if we are kind and loving to someone, we are condoning or agreeing with their behavior. Christ would have us love one another, without exception, without condition, with out regard to status or stature or public persona, simply to just love one another.
What if we were kind, at every level? What if we trusted that the Savior would continue to move us all forward, and that the best—and perhaps only—way that we can help in this is to chose to keep his commandment to love one another?
Can we trust Christ enough to let him be the judge while we simply obey his commandment to love and show kindness?  This one commandment on which hangs all the law and the prophets—it’s the one case in which blind obedience has complete merit.

A New Name

purple forest 21097233_xlHere is my new home for my thoughts.  I pulled all the old posts from Hastening Heart, now gone, which primarily came from an LDS worldview.  I have 60 unpublished posts from the past two years which unknowingly documented my organic departure from that worldview, which I will start going through and unpacking into this new space, while I add in fresh thoughts from time to time.

Since I was a child I prayed that I would “see things clearly.”  I wanted to make friends with reality, to learn to work with what WAS, not what I or anyone else imagined things to be.  Of course, the day I say “I’ve got it!” Is the day I again lose focus in my quest to see clearly.  So this blog’s purpose is to simply record what I’m noticing and wondering, always with a goal of curiosity rather than certainty: curious wonder.

Hug Your Favorite Evangelical Today

Thanks Jacob for pointing out this great song that echos my own prayers.

Praise God — all that’s dead inside can be reborn!

The divide between LDS and evangelical or Catholic brothers and sisters who love and need Jesus Christ is so very unnecessary, and not pleasing to the Lord who asks us to simply LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

There is so much greatly inspiring material coming from followers of Christ around the world now and over the last two millennia that can strengthen understanding and faith–my tether to the Church in my time of pain and crisis has actually completely been the result of evangelical authors.

And, since the human brain edits out information that it hears often rather than taking up more memory space (which is why time seems shorter as you get older), it helps those of us used to any preaching tradition to hear the Good News of Christ in language that is not always in the same cadence and vocabulary we’ve heard all our lives.

(So go ahead and praise the Lord Jesus, you saints!  We were lost and are found!)

Let us avoid the irony of echoing 2 Ne 29, not about the Bible, but about our own cannon of latter-day doctrine:

“A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be anymore Bible.” To them, the Lord responded: “What do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the [Jewish prophets], and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto [them]?” (2 Ne. 29:3–4.)

Do we remember the travails and the labors and the pains of the early Christians, the Martyrs, so many God-fearing Catholic Saints, the reaching reformers who all sincerely sought and wrote about God–or was it all only a mechanism to set the stage for restoration?  All those lives were simply the opening act to the real show–which of course, stars us?

Do the words of restoration make the words of reformation useless? Not at all.

Do we remember the travails and the labors and pains of our other Christ-loving (or simply God-loving, or peace-loving or love-loving) brothers and sisters around us today who are praying, receiving knowledge and revelation, being called of God to their own ministries and good works and writings of the Good News?  Or are all their lives again, simply extras in the great blockbuster of restoration–which of course, stars us also.

BROTHER BRIGHAM SAYS NO.

While it may seem to some appropriating and convenient, Brigham Young argues that all Truth is Mormonism.  I like that, because I want to belong to a Church that loves all truth, wherever it is found.  Behold my favorite Mormon quote of all time:

“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods (DBY, 3, emphasis added).

Marjorie Thompson says, “I suspect that in times like ours, part of the new work of the Spirit among us is the labor of reclaiming timeless truths from the rich heritage of our historic tradition.”  She adds further, “I suspect what we are witnessing today may be close to the significance of the Great Awakening in the eighteenth century.”  (Reference: Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life)

Consider that–Resurrection, Reformation, Restoration … Revival!

Christ needs a unified people, and we will need to become one before He comes.  He needs all of us, any of us, willing to live for Him, to no longer have “any manner of -ites [the divides we humans put between us]; but [be] in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.  (4 Ne 1:17)

Let’s let our hearts, and our global community of Christ—be reborn!

Open Letter to Doubting Missionary

Somehow an email got passed along to me from a mom asking for prayers for her son who was on a mission and had encountered anti-Mormon material for the first time and was seriously doubting his foundations.  She asked if we felt inspired to write him a note of testimony to do so.  To my surprise, I did feel compelled to write this stranger to try to offer what had been helpful since I had suffered my own testimony blows.

Might as well share it for anyone else in the same situation if it can offer any comfort.
Hello, I’m not sure how I got
your mom’s note asking for prayers of support for you, and I don’t think you
are in my ward and maybe not even my stake, but I feel like I should write. It
seems you might be experiencing something I ran into myself several months ago
and I felt impressed to offer some thoughts from someone a few steps ahead of
you in a similar unsettling situation.

My name is Valerie, and I am a 42-year-old married mother of four, a lifelong
member who has always had great faith and a solid testimony.  It may not
seem we would have much in common, but faith is a universal thing, as is a
crisis of faith.

For me, it was a good friend from BYU that looked me up on Facebook and I found
out that while he is still active to some extent, he is the founder of a rather
large and busy blog that brought up all kinds of questions for me about the
church. I was already in a very difficult place of trial and upheaval when I read several things on there and it turned everything upside
down. It was so sudden. It was like I was one day safely and happily in my secure
place of faith and it all made perfect sense, and he somehow shoved me out of
it, and the next day I was looking in from the outside through a thick window
of glass. I suddenly had no foundation, I went to look for my testimony and
couldn’t find it.

I was flailing and scared.

The well-meaning advice to just keep going and moving through the motions and
it would all work out, it wasn’t working for me. When I prayed, I didn’t feel
an answer forthcoming. Those who are close to me became afraid; it started to
affect my relationships.  It was like I couldn’t understand the language
anymore, even though it was my native tongue. 
The discrepancy between what I felt before and after was painful and
sometimes I wanted to just avoid it and hide and not deal with it—the convenient “Sunday
headache.”  Yet all this time I had been praying, fasting, and going to the temple constantly–could so much darkness result from so much effort?  I thought storms like this could only happen if I did something wrong.

So I’m writing to give you a few thoughts that have been anchors to me at a
time where I felt like my foundation disappeared and things felt very
turbulent.

If you imagine that your belief structure is comprised of a tower of blocks on
a table, moments like this feel like the table has been tipped over, and when
you set your table back up, you’re not sure what you can safely put on it.

On the other hand, we all have gaps in our perception and none of us have completely
solid foundations. This clean slate might even allow for a new opportunity to
build it consciously as an adult, and carefully to avoid putting things back on
the table that should never have been there–the fluff, the family baggage, cultural
elements.

When you stand looking at your empty table, you may feel compelled to hurry and
find the box that says “the church is true” as fast as possible and put it on
the table. But that can’t happen first. It is not the first block. Others might
disagree with me on this, but I think recognizing this could help you to make
sure you’re asking the right question when you pray.

The purpose of the church is to lead people to Christ, it’s the purpose of most
churches. The church is not Christ himself, it is a structure by which we learn
about him and come to him. Again, many churches try to do this, most of them
well meaning. All our religion and devotion and our ordinances and rituals, are
designed  to point us to a direct and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

One thing that can get in the way is when kids get testimonies of the church
before they get a testimony of Christ. Their conduit to God is through the church. So in a moment of a crisis of faith in the
truthfulness of the church, it’s hard to reach out to God, because all of the
previous connection has been done through the church. But what
do you ask investigators to do when they’re wondering about the church? They
reach out directly to God. And sometimes the first step is for them to realize
there is a God to pray to. This is the universal truth, that there is a loving
God working patiently with you and who has gone before you and knows and feels
everything you think and feel, even your fears and doubts, and understands perfectly.
This is your anchor and is an easier first block.  

When doubt comes in, especially when church=God, it is common for that doubt to
come into everything you believe—is there a God at all?  Even with
everything that has happened in my life that has shown me over and over God’s
personal hand in my life, as my faith in the church wavered, even my faith in
God would sometimes take a beating, and the darkness of confusion and fear can
even overshadow any direct experience we have had with God and make us question
our own perceptions.

Remember Moses, when he looks at Satan and fears, he looks into hell. Fear is
the enemy.  Read about the New Testament Christ—he is always preaching a
doctrine against fear.  Doubt creates fear and darkness, but at the same
time, you don’t want to blindly believe things that aren’t true.  How do
you eliminate the dangers of fear while still determining what facts you can
rely on?  There is no fear in love, which is why Christ preaches love of
God and man.  You need to first access God’s love.

For me, the thing I
see that saves us in moments of doubt is that we can take the hand of God, and
he will patiently walk us through whatever needs to be walked through to
understand whatever he wants us to understand. And it might take longer than
you would like, but he, the Savior, is not the one who condemns, especially not
for your doubt.  No, he is always your
advocate.  He is near
you—he is brow to brow with you in prayer, he feels everything you feel. 
And while this may seem crazy, his plan for you cannot be derailed if you are
looking to him.  It is even possible he allowed this crisis of faith
purely as an essential way to connect you more firmly to him as the author and
finisher of our faith.  I have felt that may be the case for me, at least.

Do you see in the Scriptures how often when Christ comes across someone who
needs him, he will ask them first if they will believe what he has to say, or
do what he asks them to do? He asks this before he does the miracle or performs
the act requested.

If Christ were to ask you now, “if I tell you what is true, or if I simply
ask you to do something–even something that doesn’t seem to make sense, like
putting mud on your eyes or washing seven times in a river–will you do what I
ask you to do? Will you cling to the doubt or the fear, or will you trust me?” 
He may be waiting for your answer before he gives you his.

That answer can be a key for you. If your faith in the church takes a beating,
will you still do what God himself asks you to do?  Will you take his hand
in the sudden darkness and not demand to see every step, or throw your hands up
in despair that you can no longer see?

What I have learned over the past several months as I have prayed for my faith
to magically be restored and my understanding to be quickened again, is that it
hasn’t worked that way. I have begged to be either safely brought back inside
the room where it all made perfect sense, OR be allowed to throw the whole
thing away. The Lord has not given me either. But he has gently talked to me
and asked for things. He has reminded me that my loyalty is to him. He is
reminded me of the times he has showed me his love. He has reminded me that I can
trust him, the creator of all. He has reminded me that the first principle of
the gospel of faith—and faith is not knowing Faith is trusting.  In our church, we
always talk about knowing, and it is scary when you realize you’ve got to go
back to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ instead.

And sometimes, when I think I want to ask if everything is true and please just
restore my testimony, sometimes I feel like He is still working on the
foundation, and probably this time making it stronger, and based on the
fundamentals: Do I trust Jesus Christ? Will I be loyal to him?

I look on what I have come to know about God, his amazing power and love and
compassion, and I don’t believe there’s anyone in this world, in our church or
out of it, who can call upon him and not have him answer. And even in my most
doubtful moments, I knew that even if this entire church was founded on lies, that
the God I knew would happily take 15 million people who wanted to serve him and
would still bring things about to his purposes. I joked with my husband,
“even if this wasn’t his church to start out with, God would never turn
down 15 million volunteers.” I say this jokingly, but there’s some truth
to the idea that wherever people want to serve Him, he will accept it and make
it his. Including you, there on your mission.  He has the power to transcend
even the most baffling of human weaknesses.

This is a very good thing, since our church, as well as any other organization
involving human beings, is rife with them. How can something with real flaws be
of God? It’s a question we could ask about the entire earth, about each other,
about ourselves. But I see that he will work with anything willing to work with
him.

So, if I were to offer any advice, it is to be firmly and faithfully loyal to
your Savior, Jesus Christ. Trust him, trust that if you put him first, you will
not be led astray. No matter what crazy story, true or false, you might hear
about the church, nothing can separate you from the love of God, Paul says so.  If the Lord’s hand is ready to hold and guide
you through whatever you need to know, you don’t need to feel you have no
foundation.

It’s too easy to throw it all away -everything our ancestors sacrificed so much
for.  I was so close to just bagging it
all.  It would be so much easier in some ways. It got to a point where I
almost did not want it to be true. Some things were too painful and too hard.
But I tried to stay loyal to Christ himself, and I put my hand in his, first and foremost, and I
feel okay.

But this isn’t because he opened the heavens to give me a great vision about
how ‘it’s all okay and everything is perfectly true just as I always thought it
was.’ I feel him asking me, “If I tell you, will you do what I ask? Do you
trust me?”  

One day he says to me, “Keep paying your tithing,”
and I think, “What does that mean?  If you want me to do that, then the
church must be true, and this follows, and that follows . . .” and he tells me
that tithing is a law of sacrifice to God that aligns our hearts to him and
away from selfishness.  I have felt him asking me to keep the promises I
have made to him.  I think, “Well, the church must be true then if you
want me to keep my promises made in the church . . . “ and he says, “the
words and promises you spoke are made to me, and your obligation is to me.”  
I can’t back out on
the promises to love and serve God, just because doubts have come
up. 

I have also felt him telling me that he put me here for a reason, that I was
born into this church, this time and this place and with these people and with
this culture for a reason, because he wants me here. This is my place in the
world.  And that makes sense, because we can stand as a witness of Christ
in all things and all places.  Why not
then here?  Why not in this church? If our whole mission on this earth is
to feel and reflect the love of God (which I believe it is), then we can do
that anywhere, with anyone.  And this is where he put me.

That is not to say it doesn’t matter if we stay or if we go. It really does. I
have felt him telling me that there are some opportunities and experiences He
wants to give me here, things he wants me to participate in here, where he put
me, that wouldn’t be available to me if I changed course midstream.

And as I have thought on it, I feel that the Lord really is doing something. I
feel him really using this church to move forward a  greater purpose. 


I did have a pretty big reminder lately—several years ago I was folding
laundry and watching Thomas Monson be sustained. As I stopped folding to sustain him, I felt an overwhelming
and intense witness that he was called of God. I remember almost laughing and
saying to the Lord, “This is a little bit of overkill, don’t you think? I
am in the boat, I don’t really need you to hammer that home.”

Famous last words. 🙂

I hadn’t even remembered this until recently as I struggled with these things,
and the Lord brought it to my remembrance, gently reminding me that I told him
it was overkill.  

There’s something about this church. There’s something he’s doing with us that does
matter. It could be all of it is fundamentally perfectly true, no matter what
all the stories are. But regardless, I do feel him working
with it, and I feel him asking me to stay and follow Christ and love God and
neighbor here, in this church.

I keep imagining Peter on the water, how could he not look at the wind and the
waves and the impossibility of walking on water—a foundation that seems
completely not solid? This may be what you are feeling now. It seems an
impossible walk—to walk in the darkness, by faith (the first principle). Where
is the solid knowledge we so heartily profess over the pulpit? Who needs faith
with that?  But now you find yourself on liquid ground.  What does
Christ ask? Christ asks us to look at him and be not afraid, just look at
him—keep focus on him. We will sink when we look at the waves in the wind—aka fear. 

But if your eyes are
on Christ, you will be safe and you can walk this difficult, seemingly
impossible walk.  A walk of
faith.

Friend, be loyal to Christ. Trust him, even if it feels like your foundations
are shaking and you’re walking on something as unstable as water.  Look at him, and not the waves and you will
not be led astray. 

Of course Christ is pleased with you desiring to teach people about him.  You don’t need to worry that you’re wasting
your time or doing something he would not want you to do. His compassion and
his love is what will save you, and telling others on your mission about his
compassion and love will help save them. The church exists to bring people to
Christ, if you’re a missionary for this church, whatever its possible failings,
you can still bring people to Christ.

I don’t know if this was helpful in any way.  But I feel compelled to tell
you that if you decide to push forward and keep your hand in the Lord’s, and
trust that he will teach you and lead you and give you clarity in his time,
that there might be a time in the future where you look back and realize that
you needed to have your table turned over so that your foundation could be
built stronger for the things that might lie in front of you.  

Don’t tell
the Lord what he needs to tell you and how.  Ask him what you need to
know.
When he sees that you
really are willing to do whatever he asks (and won’t go away sorrowing like the
rich young man who couldn’t let go of something), when he sees that you will
believe what he tells you, the answers will come, even if they take some
time. 

I do feel for you Brother–the wind and waves are real, loud, and very scary.
Keep your eye on the Savior, be honest in your prayers about how you are
feeling, and when you are ready, tell the Lord you will do whatever he wants.
You will be okay.

Your sister in Christ,

Valerie

Get in the car

(For my atheist or agnostic friends out there, go ahead and swap out the word God in this one for “reality.”  That is my idea of God—the I AM—what IS.)

We are told not to get in the car with strangers–obviously.

Yet this is the perfect analogy for what Life/God/Reality asks of us, to get in the car, without really knowing the details of how it’s all going to play out, where we’re going to go, how we’re going to get there, and how rough the ride will be. Just the promise that it will be better if we get in the car than if we try to go it alone—that cooperating with I AM is a better approach.

When God pulls up and asks us to get in the car, if he is a stranger, we will say no. If we are full of fear, we will ask for a trip itinerary first. If we see God as a taskmaster intent on breaking us, we will stand even longer at that door before getting in. It is my sense that many of us “faithful” are faithlessly standing outside the car, looking in, and maybe have been for some period of time.

Maybe not even looking in, maybe looking around, maybe holding him up, like a cabbie, while we decide what’s best—or perhaps look around for other, better offers.  Still, we don’t want to miss our opportunity, should we decide to get in.

In my case, I will wail and argue self-pityingly that my destruction is inevitable, even as the chariot awaits.  I know that my refusal to get in in the name of inevitable hopelessness and destructive self-pity while my world crumbles around me is simply false, needless, and empty martyrdom.  Yet this is my delaying tactic of choice.

God is patient.  God IS.

Sometimes getting in is expedited by the fears, disappointments and traumas in life that chase us down—we jump in and say, “Go!  Get me out of here, and fast!” God, driving the getaway car.

Count on God to go very slow in that circumstance, half smiling.

At some point in life, we learn the hard way that we can’t drive and never could, and that any moment we thought we were in the driver’s seat was a delusion.

Bruised, broken and banged up, it is painfully clear that cooperation with reality will hurt less than resistance.  This is a wild river, and careful navigation comes through respecting the current and seeing the river as it is, not as what we wish it to be.

Further, I myself will always become more with eyes wide open in the embrace of WHAT IS than frantically cranking my wheel (think toddler in the back of the car with the toy steering wheel—ha ha, he thinks he’s driving).

God, grace, basic goodness, the universe, reality—we cannot turn toward any of it with a long list of prerequisites. We can get in and ride in comfort or be dragged behind it.  Foolishly we demand assurances—answers to all of our petty concerns, our intellectual quandaries. We see through the glass darkly, and demand an answer for the darkness we see, an answer before we get in the car, before we accept what IS.

But really, what other choice do I have anymore? Now, other sources have ceased to make me whole? If I continue to resist the driver, the car, the road, the planet, I see now there will be no healing, there will be no peace. Self direction is destruction, and leaning on others, I fall. When the world is crumbling beneath our feet, now I get willing to jump in the car — when it appears there’s no other choice.

I want to get in, I don’t want to hold back anymore. I want to take hands with WHAT IS and not ask for prerequisites.  This is the life that I choose. To stand, shoulder to shoulder with I AM, come what may. But even this, this level of sacredness, is not created, only uncovered.  Not by any striving on my part, but by surrender to what is and has always been.

From outside the car, I peer in. I look into the face of the Teacher and see love, searching, questioning, a comprehensive empathy, a deep, understanding of everything that keeps me out of the car and everything that drives me toward the car. He gets it. He asks me gently, even as the world loudly crumbles about us, to come with him.

Not a stranger—a friend, offering a ride, the only ride, the last car out of town.

It’s time to get in the car, and trust the driver.

Should I stay or should I go?

For the purposes of this piece, I am setting aside questions of abuse and actively damaging relationships that simply must be exited for personal safety. For the sake of this discussion let’s limit the topic to relationships that still may feel damaging, painful, draining, empty, or difficult, but are not abusive. 
——

Should I stay in this broken marriage?

Should I keep ties with this manipulative parent?

Should I keep attending these tense, cold family gatherings?

Should I embrace this difficult wayward child?

Should I keep going to this church when I often leave more empty and hurting than when I went in?

When the hurting is louder than the call to duty, when obligation or even obedience isn’t compelling me strongly enough to counter the compulsion to avoid pain.  What to do?

Dang it, we all just want love in this world—to feel valued, to belong and feel safe.  Why is such a universal aching need so very hard for us all?  Almost everything comes down to this.  We want love–we want to feel love for others, yes, but mainly we want to feel love from others.

Aye, there’s the rub.  We’ll give them ours when they give us theirs (and in the way we want it given).  We’ll give them ours when they earn it. We’ll give them ours when they behave as they should.

And they echo the same conditions.  Thus the standoff.

We deem relationships worthwhile because they bring something to us. If not love, security, friendship, joy and peace, sometimes we simply value the relationship more than the alternative: solitude, guilt, fear of sin or judgment.  Sometimes we are noble, and value the lessons we gain in a hard relationship and trust in the personal growth and hope in a positive turn in the relationship.

It still all comes down to: what’s in it for us?

In a marriage, people end it because the pain or work outweighed the benefits.  Same with church going, jobs, friendships, and sometimes even children and parents.

In the case of marriage, it can be said “We just fell out of love,” like our relationships are dictated by random weather.  Do our relationships just happen to us passively, like a spell has been cast?  But what they mean is, “We determined the relationship no longer held value, it didn’t give me anything anymore.”

Yet Christ tells us all relationships are inherently valuable.  Not just spouse and child and sibling and parent, but boss and employee and coworker and neighbor and fellow church member and friend—and enemy. Why?  Because He knows our need–that we just want love in this world.  And He knows that love can be found in any relationship.

Learning to feel and give love is the purpose of life.  Family, our first relationship lesson, creates a flawed environment where we practice that. We don’t get a say in our parents or siblings (the LDS worldview sometimes implies maybe we did at some point, but I certainly hope a wiser soul did the pairing up), but now these relationships seem thrust upon us.  Family relationships naturally develop because of sheer time spent together and the weight of influence our parents have (for both good and bad).  We may choose in most cases how many children we have, but we don’t get to choose who they are.

Marriage, on the other hand, is different from other family relationships in that it involves autonomy and choice, as opposed to biology.

It may be all our family relationships are purposefully designed by God and not an accident of biology, it adds a measure of meaning and purpose to the people we are placed with, parents and siblings. It may be that it could be just as well random because God knows we can learn about love in any environment.  While we can’t see now whether our choice was involved as with a marriage, all relationships offer an education in love whether you believe that God is involved or not.

This is because God is love (1 John 4:8), and all love is merely an extension of the love of God.

All our love to each other, and even to Him, is simply moon to His sun, and we are all in various phases at various times.  Just like the moon, we shine brightest when we position ourselves directly to Him.

This is why love can be felt and given in any relationship, because God is always there. But, we can choose to receive or reject that opportunity for education, and of course some relationships make it easier than others.

Let me channel my Born-Again Mormon Buddhist for a moment and say that I believe that what we think is “good” or “bad” in our family relationships is generally not necessarily either, but always comes down to an experience and education in love, or compassion, as the Buddhists might be more apt to say.  Call me crazy (and I am), but my ability to love and empathize with others, for instance, was a direct lesson from an abusive parent who was himself severely abused.  What is good there?  As I’ve said before, God does not dispel darkness, just as darkness is not pushed out by light, God transfigures darkness into light.  We run around labeling circumstances and experiences and people “bad'” then later often can see, even with our human, fallen eyes, that God has transfigured it into what we would call “good.”

God can, and will, and already has—whether we believe it or see it yet or not—transfigured our darkness into light.  

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God 

—Romans 8:28



Whether marriage or sibling or parents, we can choose whether we really want to feel and reflect love in that situation or not.  Of course you can decide you are going to practice this only with selective people, to make it a little easier.  Whether to church, or any relationship we find ourselves in, we can choose to learn how to make it work or choose not to bother.

 That’s where that first principle of faith is again involved, believing there would be any growth or value in making that effort.

And maybe that is why this life really is inherently an equal playing field for everyone, no matter the circumstances we are born into.  If the purpose is only to learn to feel and reflect love, we can learn that in both negative (or what we call negative) or positive (or what we called positive) experiences. We can learn it with any type of person in our family, our workplace, or our church. The Savior has gracefully provided for our inevitable failures to do so in the learning process.  This provides a level of safety (our only safety), even in this most treacherous world.

Christ said, “It is finished.”  He has done His work already, and we are simply learning to cooperate with Him.  This is what my friend’s Bishop means when he says, “Everything is already alright.”

It is not saying that everything goes exactly as God would have it.  Of course, that would be a perfect world, and how could He wish upon us such pain and suffering when He couldn’t even allow us to fall in the first place without our active consent?

It is saying He can work with anything, and he can save us in any circumstance, and no darkness is out of his reach.  He is that big.

Neither is it saying that nothing we do matters. We can choose to prolong our pain (and that of others) by resisting His love and staying on the dark side of our moon.

It is simply saying that we can choose to learn to love one another, or we can choose not to, in every moment and every situation.

It is saying that Christ has already paid the price for all of us us not loving one another.  He did this so that when we do choose not to love, later we are free to choose again—to try again.

Christ’s immense patience and gentleness works with us in our messy free will.  He can even make our dark choices to not love now end up later increasing our capacity to love when we turn again and try. He is that big.

As we see the consequences of our choices in ourselves, our families, churches, our nations, not to love, it helps us understand the importance of that love all the more.

That’s the need for the fall, the ugly beauty of this very painful fall: to see what lack of love does to us and to others, and to the world, and to experience the healing power of love. God is the realist, who, knowing how this would all go, provided a Savior to swallow up all of that loveless pain in His love, ever giving us another chance to learn to love again.  Always shining His Son to our moon.

If you boil it down, giving and receiving love is the only source of true joy and value and meaning in our lives We don’t always call it love–we can call it feeling valued, belonging, having purpose or a connection.   But in the end it is a sense of being loved.  And there are many loving relationships that don’t see God as the source of love, but thus it is regardless.  I know many happy, loving, generous souls that aren’t necessarily spiritual or religious and say they have no interest in obeying God, yet here they are loving one another (exchanging God, as God=Love) just as their Savior asked.  Others may warm a pew every Sunday yet have cold hearts.

This parable in Matthew 21 on this point has come to mean a lot to me:

 28 ¶But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go awork to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, aI will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
 
30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and awent bnot.
 
31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

This is why the hard phrase “Wickedness never was happiness,” (Alma 41:10) really does apply. Selfishness or fleeting and immediate pleasure never brings lasting happiness.  The moon cannot brighten itself.  The Sun still shines—yet we sit alone in darkness at noonday.

Job 5:14

They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night. 

Deuteronomy 28:29

    And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. 

Yes, no man can save any of us.  Cursed is he that puts his trust in the arm of the flesh (his own, or others).

2 Nephi 4:34

    O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth histrust in man or maketh flesh his arm. 

We look to each other–other fallen mortals–to fill our need for love, and we ultimately are left empty.  We cannot look to other flesh to fill our aching heart.  Even the nicest of them.

Yet, facing the Sun, feeling love (God) in us and through us, and then reflecting it back to one another, relationships brighten—it brings joy.  Thus the true definition of repentance: turning from self and sin to Savior.

Isaiah 58:10

And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: 

So we can say to ourselves, I’m not feeling any value/love/joy from this environment — this family, this neighborhood, this church, this job. And we can choose whether we want to be a part of it or not. God gracefully allows us to take the time we need to figure this out. He knows we’ll need time, that’s why he placed us here in time.

We can even isolate ourselves completely, disassociate from these neighbors, this church, this family, this marriage, because we cannot feel that love there.  It is true that some places are easier to feel loved and others, some lessons are harder than others.  It is true that when we are empty and feel no connection to the love of God, we are more inclined to turn away from harder relationships where the love is not free-flowing, because our own moon is new and we feel dark and cold.  We then increasingly see our relationships as empty, because we are empty.

But the Son still is ever radiant and always patient.  He knows that love can be felt anywhere and He is always ready to make us shine full again.

And even if only one member of a marriage or family or workplace or congregation turns to face the Sun, their light is reflected to the other members. When you face Him, those facing you, even those not currently facing the Son themselves, will feel His love, too.

This is why the love of God and man stands at the head of all the law and all the prophets.  When we feel the love of God, it flows into all of our relationships, actions, it sparks purity and goodness at every level.

But the measure of the first (love of God) dictates the measure of the second (love of man).  That is why we cannot look to man first to put love into our relationships.

So again the question: “Should I stay or should I go?”

The answer: “Whether here or somewhere else, the lesson will be the same.”

CAPAX DEI (Come Join With Us Part VI)

[This is part VI of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

There is a phrase used by early Christian mystics: “CAPAX
DEI”—it means creating capacity for God. 
The premise for this is that all our religiosity and spiritual striving—in
the Mormon world, that long list of ACTIONS—is simply the act of creating a
space for God—to enter in, change us, and make us whole and one with Him. 


These early Christians used the analogy of the sailboat, that
in our religious practice we set our sails, essentially tuning them to the wind
of the Divine.  But it is God that fills
them and moves us.  Without Him, all the
sail-setting will come to naught and we won’t move an inch. 

We are all called upon to open up ourselves for God and allow
Him to work in us.  As Ezra Taft Benson
said, he makes more of us than we can make of ourselves.  We must cooperate with Him, we must clear out
our baggage and get out of the way.  Prepare
ye the way of the Lord into your heart.

We are wise to search ourselves to discover what other things
are filling the places that God is ready fill.

Consider the lamp of the ten virgins—these are Church
members—what are the lamps? Testimonies, knowledge, actions, but they represent
outward performances.  Yet half of them
neglect to notice there is no oil in them?

LAMP +      ?      = LIGHT

Do we spend our time polishing our empty lamp, our
religiousness—a tidy, clean vessel for the world to see?  Could it be that we imagine that somehow having
the vessel of ACTION is sufficient, and we need no light now, here, in this
dark world, we will simply be judged at the end on how nicely we cared for our
lamp? What comfort is treasuring an empty lamp? Why not allow God to fill us
and have light now?

It’s human tendency to mistake the symbol for the thing
itself.  It’s like eating a picture of a
pineapple in lieu of the fruit itself, or holding a map instead of going to the
actual place. 

But the best analogy for this Capax Dei vessel is simply our
heart—the scriptures say so much about this. 
The beautiful empty lamp is our lips that draw near while the heart
wanders far from Him.

So again, what is in my
vessel that takes room that could be filled with God—filled with his
Spirit? 

I’ll tell you—Pain.  I
hold on to my pain like a prized ribbon (or a germy teddy bear)—same with my sorrow, anger, self-pity,
disappointment, regret.  I can let go of
them and let God fill those aching places, but I can’t will my clenched fists
to let my noble story of suffering go.

A long time ago I asked God to make me His.  Repeatedly this prayer has been answered by a
broken heart.  I have always wondered why
my loving Savior asks this of us.  I’m
starting to see that this is simply part of the work of Capax Dei: as I have
requested, He is simply breaking up my will to make space for His. 

A beautiful thing here is that His will for any of us can be
carried out perfectly in any circumstance imaginable, in any place in the world,
and at any time, with any person—it simply requires us to allow ourselves to be
filled by him.  To look for His
light.  (Remember–the eye is the light
of the body, look and live.)

So, what does all of this have to do with going to Church?  


I went back and analyzed the list of Uchtdorf’s promised
blessings for those who “Join With Us.” 
I sorted them into like categories and saw they fell neatly into four
areas:

·        
DIVINE
COMFORT & HEALING
·        
REDEMPTION
·        
KNOWLEDGE
·        
DISCIPLESHIP

I then saw that these four areas fell neatly into a sort of
yin and yang of God/Man, Spirit/Body, Oil/Lamp.  In the blessings he lists, there is a clear
division between things we can ACT on and do for ourselves (works/external
actions) and things God must do for us (sanctification/saving/grace), back to
my aunt’s original comment of finding out what was God’s job and what was my
job.  Of course we will feel empty if we
have one without the other, yet a large portion we cannot earn or force or
create for ourselves.  If we want to be
independent on this, we will never be finished.


Our ACTIONS, our works, are where we simply create a space
for Him to come in.  Capax Dei.  We then simply look, ask, trust and believe that
he will do the rest—we allow him to do His work in us. 

Just as we personally can mistakenly look to an empty lamp
for light, perhaps I have been looking for the outward commitments of my Church
observance to deliver the healing, and was sorrowing that I wasn’t finding them. 

The Church
can symbolize the healing, ritualize the healing in ordinance, teach us about
the healing, persuade us toward the healing—but only Christ can do the
healing. 

As Uchtdorf said, this is a church with a Divine mission carried
out by a group of flawed mortal humans.  It’s
very apt that people suggest you “stay in the boat” when testimonies waver—as
the Church is just that—a vessel being created to complete a destiny.

The Church is Capax
Dei—it is setting the sails for Christ to fill and carry us to the finish of
His work here—to prepare the earth and build Zion for Christ to enter.     

But the capacity of the Church to be filled with God begins
with the hearts of the members.

“It is deeply damaging to the church and its members to suppose that we
can transform the world if we are unwilling to be transformed personally.” 
 (Marjorie Thompson)

Capax Dei—making a place for God to enter—it’s our hearts,
our homes, our meetings, any place or group we inhabit, but especially our
Church as a whole.   Capax without Dei is
emptiness.  Everything is an opportunity
to open our eyes and hearts to the direction of Divine wind, to see the gifts,
to trust that He will fill us. 


“What could happen if an entire congregation or community became a
faithful doorway into God’s living presence?” 
 (Marjorie Thompson)

Think on that.  We have
an exciting road before us as a Church. I hope to get out of my pity party and
join with you for it.

So the variable in this divine algebra—solve for X: the wind
in the sails, the oil in the lamp, the only thing our hearts are really designed
to hold, the essential extra ingredient required to fill the emptiness and
attain the promised blessings: THE LOVE OF GOD.
 1 NEPHI 11
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the aLamb of
God, yea, even the bSon of the Eternal cFather! Knowest thou the meaning
of the dtree which thy father saw?
 22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the alove of
God, which bsheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore,
it is the cmost desirable above all things.
 23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most ajoyous to the soul.

There’s that joy again.

Those first two great commandments
that everything hangs upon and boils down to—receiving and reflecting the Love
of God—that is what will save us, our Church and this world.  It is what has saved me and is saving me.

Because I have felt that love I see now how Jesus Christ is mighty to save—He has felt everything I ever have
felt or will feel.  He understands me, and understands you, with a perfect and patient empathy.  He is your personal and intimate advocate, He
is never your accuser.  He has already
paid all of your debts from your birth to your death.  I have felt His saving power and witness that
he can transfigure pain and suffering and sin and brokenness and darkness, even
all of it in this whole crazy world, into light.

And even better, He can do it now.  Not just in the end,
but every day.  We do not
have to wait until this life is over or put in a certain number of actions or
hours to feel the cleansing and transcendent power of the Love of God.  It is right here, right now, and ready to be felt at any moment if we simply
look for the light.  

A Savior doesn’t
watch you drown here only to save you in heaven after death.  Our beloved, dear Savior can and will save us—you—HERE.  

NOW.  

Simply look to Him—and live.   

Not sure how?  Here’s the practice I started with that helped me to start to see God’s hand in my life. 

Post by Valerie Wise Christensen.

PART I
PART II: THE MISSING FACTOR
PART III: THE DARKNESS
PART IV: THE LIGHT
PART V: THE WIND & THE WAVES
PART VI: CAPAX DEI 

THE WIND AND THE WAVES (Come Join With Us Part V)

[This is part VI of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

I joke that I am a Born Again Mormon. It is true that I have felt
a direct connection to Jesus Christ that has become more tangible and real than
any other religious or spiritual experience. 
I wondered if it could last.  Dark
Utah winters are hard on me, and all the unresolved life baggage isn’t
magically carried away by some cosmic bellhop.


I’ve had a very hard winter and challenges continue.  But I’m happy to report that the change—the
deep sense of God’s love for me, an intense love for Jesus Christ, and a lack
of fear—it has stayed with me.  The
sorrow is back, and I’m doing difficult work with my counselor to process past
issues, I still wrestle with theological questions, but I do it in the safe
arms of a loving God.  There is something
changed in me, a solid foundation and sense of intimacy with the Divine.  I feel forgiven, and I feel Him continually on
hand, ready to forgive again whenever necessary as I stumble along my path.

We all live in a very challenging time—great storms, wind and
waves rage about us.  It is very hard here
and many of us have to deal with painful things we never would have
expected.  We don’t have a lot of control
in many aspects of our lives.  Many of us
are empty, sorrowing and aching on a soul-deep level.  We are strangers in a strange land, a fallen
people in a fallen world.  Further, that
blessing and curse of free will provides us little safety—we are surrounded
with 8 billion people who are free to do whatever they want to each other all
the day long.  It’s a recipe for global
mayhem, scriptural prophecies are no comfort at all, and you can see why so
many were scared to take the risk to even come here in the first place. 

But the promise was that Christ was big enough to swallow it
all and we would be able to come home with all the education and growth of this
experience but be cleansed from the stain and pain of this fallen world. We
could go into the pit and find our pearl and purpose, and were promised a
Savior to get us out, clean us off, and it would all work out for the best.  We were to keep our eyes fixated on him.

After my “saving” moment, as I said, I didn’t feel afraid
anymore, even if I did feel sorrow.  I
understood I had to keep my eyes off the wind and waves and on my Savior, looking
to light instead of darkness, and only then could I take on this task of living—a
task that feels as impossible as walking on water some days. 

In my seeking for light, I felt a instinctive desire to praise
Him and thank Him for what he’d done for me. 
When Sunday would come, I would go to Church hungry for Christ,
sometimes starving, ready to worship the God that makes blind see.

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ,
we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our
prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a
remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:23, 26).

Our Hymns are a beautiful reflection of this—full of praise
and worship and our dependence on God.  (Remember this tip when you don’t know what to do and feel lost–“It is as simple as 123.”  As in Hymn 123).

Yet in our lessons and conversations with each other, too
often we let our eyes wander from the light to the darkness.  We let the adversary sneak in, sow fear and
doubt, and call our attention to the wind and the waves.  We move from the childlike dependence Christ
asks to prideful independence and act like it really is all on us.  And as a result, sometimes our Church
meetings can start feeling less like worship and more like self-help and pep
talks about working harder to tread these waters. For someone hurting and
needing comfort, there is greater balm in finding and clinging to the lifesaver
that is Christ. 

I’ve seen the disastrous fruits of my self-help.  The principle of self-sufficiency was never
intended to extend itself to Christ himself. Christ is both the author and
finisher of our faith, who even grants us life and breath from moment to moment,
King Benjamin says.  We rely on him for
everything whether we know it or not—yet too often His name is only mentioned
to conclude talks and prayers.  

Now we are told that we are to preach nothing but repentance
to this generation, which can be interpreted to mean we must spend all our time
berating our weakness.  But what is
repentance?  It’s a turning away from sin
and self toward Savior, accepting his cleansing Grace. If we want to be good at
something, we watch the master, we learn from the best.  Said another way, when we’re bowling, we don’t
watch our hand, we watch the pin we are aiming for and allow that image to
adjust our physical actions.   

But when I put my focus on the false idol of my human
weakness—it destabilizes the peace I had felt as I focused on the true God and
His love.  Throughout last fall and
winter, too often I came home from meetings sinking in my life’s water, hungry
and aching, fixated again on my lack instead of my God’s plenty, on my darkness
over His light.  I find myself wondering again
if maybe even in my exhaustion I really do need to just find a way work harder
to earn grace.  My eyes leave His, I’m
back on my own in the storm. 

Then that particularly painful day the first Sunday of the
year hit and sent me reeling. My perception and pain was causing Church to
become a traumatic experience.  I went
home and told myself I couldn’t go back, thus the seven weeks.  This inactivity wasn’t final or declarative,
but more slippery and cowardly—a few weekends away here and there, a headache,
a work deadline, etc.  My sweet visiting
teacher and a few friends in the know watched petrified as what everyone (including
myself) thought was a rock-solid valiant churchgoer crumbled to dust in a
moment.

With over two months of missing church, you may find yourself
called into the Bishop. 

The first meeting was a little awkward.  We have a wonderful, kind Bishop who is sincerely loving and concerned.  He encouraged me to consider that this
difficulty was more related to my perception rather than what was happening in the
meetings themselves. I’m the first to admit my perceptions are inaccurate, and I clearly have a lot of baggage going in.  But were the meetings secretly full of worship, praise and comfort in
Christ and I just am not noticing it?  Maybe in my exhausted state I
just can’t see it through all the pioneer fortitude being declared.  

Originally he was worried maybe I was being a
perfectionist and letting Satan make me feel down on myself.  But I fundamentally don’t believe in
perfection without Christ, and have no interest in trying to do that on my own
and see no scriptural foundation that He expects me to be perfect without Him. 


I know it’s mercifully not all up to me.  I’m just raw and exhausted and need the
comfort in Christ that I know is there, and the continual cry of
self-improvement is overwhelming and discouraging. It took a couple of tries
but eventually there was good understanding with the Bishop and we had a good talk.  In the end, I want to look at Christ’s light
and rejoice in it, but it seems worship is always focused on my own fallenness. That’s not worship at all.

The Savior says “I’ve got you. Fear not. Have faith. Just look
to me in every thought.  Keep your eye
single to my glory.” Christ’s plan for perfection was simply that despite the
inevitable mistakes we would make in this world, if we looked to Him, he would
make us whole—perfect—through Him. 

Satan says, “You’re on your own.  Look at everything you are doing to mess this
up.  You know, if anything goes wrong
down there, it’s on YOU.  Just try harder
with that puny arm of the flesh.  Just go
a little faster than you have strength. Oh no, this will NEVER work out. Your
life plan is completely derailed.”  Count
on him to be the eternal Alarmist.  Satan
is the real perfectionist—wasn’t it he who wanted to make sure every detail was
controlled and no mistakes were allowed? 

But still we listen to him. 

Around this time, I wondered out loud to my friend, “Couldn’t
we spend a little more time rejoicing in Christ, praising him for this 99.99%
of our salvation rather than myopically focusing on our own pathetic fraction?”

My friend said, “Well it makes sense that we’d spend most of
our time at Church talking about what we
should do.  Christ has done His part, and
that is assumed.  All we can do is focus
on ourselves and what we can do.” 

And I totally agree with this, as long as we can agree that all
we can do is look to Christ.  Without that caviat, I don’t agree at all.  Christ says
to look unto Him in every thought,
and that we are completely powerless to do anything
without him.

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I
will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can
do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land,
for which we will praise his name forever.
(Alma 26:12). 

I have spent enough time worshiping the false idol of my
weaknesses and relying on my own arm of flesh to purge them.  I have seen God change in moments errors I
futilely strived against for years simply because I finally looked to God’s
power instead of my weakness.  I’m done
with self-help, but I will look and live.

“It should be clear that Christian spirituality begins with God, depends
on God, and ends in God.  We owe our
capacity to be spiritual to the grace of One who creates us free to share our
love.”
Marjorie Thompson

When I’m hurting, I am comforted when I glory in the strength
and power of my God.  Yet some of my friends will look at me skeptically and worry that such talk of grace puts us at risk of complacency.

Do we really
believe that resting in Christ’s grace and love makes us complacent and
lazy?  For me, it’s just the opposite.  With my eye on Him, I am filled with His
love, I am happier and energized and hopeful and end up doing more, but more
efficiently.  I even physically feel
better. I’m led by the Spirit in the moment instead of by tasks and checklists
which can’t fortell the unseen demands of the day.  When I feel His love, I’m beautifully
compelled to share His love—the ACTIONS get easier.  His burden really is lighter than the ones we
place on ourselves.

When my eye isn’t on him, I’m too hopeless to move.


We don’t need to work harder to earn His love and grace, we
need to work harder to FEEL and REFLECT his love and grace. We are so afraid of
being complacent that we avoid the word “grace” as if it isn’t the complete fuel on which we run.  

 “The spiritual life is not a task
of self-reformation…Spiritual growth is essentially a work of divine grace with
which we are called to cooperate.  Free
and active cooperation is our share of the labor….All is grace, yet all depends
on our willingness to work freely with grace.” 
(Thompson again.)

Our work is to allow God to reform us.  It is cooperating with him.   It is Capax Dei.

Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life

THE LIGHT (Come Join With Us Part IV)

[This is part IV of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

The light started to come in September with the advice of a
sweet Aunt who told me I was trying to do God’s job for Him and I needed to
figure out what was His job and what was mine. 
She suggested I start being still, and simply notice God’s little gifts
from day to day and write them down.  She
called it “making a little lane change” in how I was thinking about things.  It sounded trite and simplistic, but as I had
already thrown in the towel and come to terms with a much lower glory on earth
and in heaven, what could it hurt?


In just a few short weeks of this practice, naming the gifts,
I started to see Him more and more, and then everywhere.  When I talked to my visiting teacher about
this, she recommended a book called 1,000 Gifts (a dare to live fully right where
you are), where this practice of naming God’s gifts actively led the author to
a deep and personal relationship with Christ. 
As I practiced this little hunting game of naming gifts, my experiences began
to mirror the author’s. As I looked, I began to see. 

Over the weeks I started to feel something I can only call
Joy. I can honestly say I had never felt that feeling before. Fleeting
happiness yes, but not Joy.  I felt like
I was seeing things that I had never seen before, even though they had always
been there, I could see that life was good, and that to some extent I had
wasted so much of my life in darkness and despair, focusing only on all of the
places that I and the world were falling short, focusing on the real and
painful darkness, but not allowing myself to see the transcendent Joy that was
all around me and just there for the seeing.

Yes, there is darkness, and the darkness is not pushed out or
beaten by light, it is simply transfigured into light.  I started to see how even my own dark
experiences in life have in many cases already been transfigured by Christ into
light.

This effort all culminated one day in the kitchen when I was
making dinner and listening to the Tab.  The
song “I believe in Christ” came on, and I walked over to turn it
down, because that particular version is very bombastic and a little annoying,
but as I went to do so, I was stopped in my tracks as with a hard stomach
punch, and became overwhelmed by an enormously powerful physical experience
where I felt completely filled by this feeling of Christ’s love for me—and the whole
universe—and the love was so huge that I couldn’t bear it and physically had to
lean on the counter to stay standing.  I could
hardly breathe.

I always wondered how I could build a relationship with
Christ since we always prayed to the Father, but somehow in this moment there
came this enormous connection to Christ directly—just an instant awareness and
connection to Him and what He did for me—it was an all-encompassing comfort.

I felt this distinct impression to notice that this
experience did not happen in the temple or the chapel or on the mountaintop, or
even in my anxious striving and seeking (in fact I had been going to the temple
daily most of the past summer just to make it through the day), but in my
kitchen as I was wrist-deep in flour just listening to music–in my day to day,
mundane life, He was showing me he could save me in my daily walk, even while
my children walked quickly through the kitchen, giving me odd looks as I cried
like a baby—awash in His love. 

A Yale theologian and favorite writer of mine, Marjorie J.
Thompson, said, “Christ provides realistic hope for a realistic life.”  (I highly recommend her book Soul Feast)

I felt literally saved in this moment. I felt so loved, so at
peace with where I was on my journey, that I was in God’s hands, and He  had me, I did not be need to be afraid
anymore.  

I tried to recover myself and get back to dinner, but then
the song, “I am Called By His Name,” came on and I felt this intense
burning in my heart—a sense of being literally branded by Christ, made His,
becoming called by His Name as the song played. 
It was searing joy.

Dinner was late. 

But it’s okay, because now I knew how God felt about me—I can
understand those who say they are saved, because this love saved me from being
lost.  I was found.  He knew where and who I was, and it wasn’t
just ideas or symbols or words, it was inside me.  The song Amazing Grace meant something
entirely new.

I was so peaceful and happy and grateful for quite a long
time, I joked to my husband that I might have a brain tumor or something—perhaps
you’re thinking the same thing, or maybe that I’m bi-polar with all this happy/sad.  Nope–just a boring depressed person saved by Jesus.

All of the fear went away, even the fear about all those
close to me leaving the church, all my religious anxiety, wondering what
eternity looks like—I just trusted.  If
God loves me like that, I just need to keep feeling and reflecting that love
and everything would be okay.  In fact,
like my friend’s bishop always tells her, “Everything is already okay.”  Did we think
Christ wasn’t serious when he said not to fear? 
Did he mean don’t fear unless something really scary comes up?  Don’t fear unless a loved one wanders?  No, he says, look at me and don’t fear.  When Moses fears, he looks into the mouth of
hell.  Fear breeds fear.

The result of this experience was the loss of fear, because I
knew in whom I had trusted.

I no longer felt like my own weakness or mistakes now or in
the future could derail my great cosmic plan somewhere.  Christ was what He said He was.  He did not leave us comfortless.  I can look to Him, and He is big enough to
save me, and all of us, and He loves me, and all of us, enough to actually do
it, whether we see it, or believe it, or not. 
He has done the work, and it is finished.  Our work is to look and live.

NEXT: PART V: THE WIND & THE WAVES

Post by Valerie Wise Christensen.

Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life