My message tonight at our Stake RS Meeting.
The Refiner’s Fire
In Isaiah, we read, Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
I hope you sisters will indulge my sharing a story. A story I lived.
Just over 30 years ago, on a Wednesday night in the Fall at BYU, I got a phone call. The kind of call, that if you knew what was coming, you’d ignore and never pick it up. FOREVER.
It was my Granny and she told me about a new dress she was making for me, when an emergency phone call came in. Anyone remember emergency break ins? My Granny knew who was breaking in and so she told me it was likely my Dad with some bad news. And then she said, “your mother’s attorneys called me today. They wanted us to know your mother died.” Just like that. And then I dropped the phone.
This was the horrible, unexpected end of a new eighteen month relationship. As a freshman at BYU, I timidly began searching for my mother, who I had grown up without. It took a few phone calls to track her down, and when I finally did reach her I had to verify who I was with questions I would know.
We exchanged letters, visited over President’s Day. Later I got a summer job in California where I was able to see her a couple of more times. We exchanged more letters. She gave me gifts and began to hope that she had a daughter again; and maybe someday a son. I enjoyed getting to know a younger brother.
But the last six months, things went terribly wrong. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t really understand that. Nobody talked about it back then and my grandmother was a devout Christian Scientist. The only time I had ever been to the doctor was when I had pneumonia in second grade. I was in the hospital for three weeks.
She shared the news and the steps she’d taken. I just did not realize the weight of it for her. But I decided it was time to come clean and share my relationship with my family. Bad idea. Multiple divorces, spouse switching. The short story is, my family went nuts. My parents’ divorce was downright mean and ugly and my extended family must have still been feeling the effects of it over ten years later. I opened Pandora’s box. They came down on me from all sides. They were certain her only intent was to cause trouble.
The worst part was the ultimatum from my father. End my relationship with my mother or suffer the consequences. Meaning, no more support at school, and if he moved, I wouldn’t know where he was.
Have you ever been hit so hard in the stomach that you lose your breath? It felt kind of like that. I was angry, resentful, hurt beyond belief. So I stewed. For weeks I wondered what I should do. Finally, I wrote my mother a letter and told her what was going on. No cell phones remember? Long distance, remember?
I was only nineteen. I had no guidance in this kind of thing. I had no idea how it was going to turn out. She was livid. And she called my family names. And there I was; caught between two people and my future. Which should I choose? The budding relationship with my angry, defensive mother? Or the safe, loving relationship with a father threatening to cut off everything I’d ever known? Piece of cake!
At first, I was angry and wrote my dad a letter. Fine. Cut me off. See if I care. I can take care of myself. But I was afraid. I never gave him the letter. It’s still in my journal. So I came up with a compromise. I decided I would tell him it was over and then I would just write her now and then. He would never know. It was near the end of the summer and time to head back to BYU. I should have let her know before I moved.
In the weeks that followed, getting back to BYU, moving into a new apartment and church family, and settling back into a routine, I figured I’d get around to it. Then September came. A miniscule whisper appeared in the back of my head. Call your mother.
The little voice continued, and I eventually did. I left a message on her phone, but didn’t leave my number, not thinking that she didn’t have it. That little voice continued as a drumbeat into October, but the busyness of school and college life drowned out the voice.
The phone hit the floor and I did too. I collapsed in a heap and began screaming. Even now, I can still replay the seemingly super slow-mo reaction of my roommates. Puzzled looks, advances toward me. I plead for them to get my friend across the street to give me a blessing. I needed someone to make this better. Nobody could ever make this better.
My roommate and best friend of many years later told me that she could hear me screaming INSIDE of the house across the street as he and his roommate rushed to my aid. When Terrell got in the door, he slipped underneath me and wrapped his arms around me and began rocking until my screams subsided into sobs and I was able to regain a portion of composure to receive a blessing. I don’t remember what they said, I only know they brought comfort. In the most desperate moment of my life, I was rescued by two worthy young priesthood holders who reached out to me in a crisis.
That phone call finally came through and my Dad gave me the news I already had. I didn’t want to talk to him and he let me go quickly. It was difficult to get the answers, eventually from a grandmother I didn’t even know. My mother had taken her own life.
But it was all my fault.
It wasn’t all my fault, but it sure felt like it.
In the quiet that fell over our house that night, I lay on the couch in the living room in the dark and felt nothing. Light streaming from the kitchen did nothing to make me feel better. My best friend, sat at my side, while I lay there. She said nothing until I was ready to say something. And when I finally did, she helped me know it would be all right. Some day.
Right now though, it felt like nothing would ever be all right again. I didn’t listen. I didn’t call. We fought. She was gone. I could never get any of it back. It was all my fault.
The next few days were a blur. Visiting with my bishop. Meeting my family. Strangers I was supposed to know and love but didn’t. People who showed me kindness anyway. I felt completely and totally alone. The funeral was strange. And I found no comfort.
Then a ray of light. At the cemetery, I wanted to say good bye. I bent over and put my head on the casket and cried. In my heart, I told her that I loved her, something I’d never said before, and that I would miss her. And then I stepped away from the casket.
I stood all by myself. I felt this wave of darkness and misery and loneliness engulf me, but I felt something else too. I literally felt as if the clouds parted, but there were no clouds. It felt as though a shaft of light fell upon me, but there was no shaft of light. I felt embraced in the arms of love. I felt tender mercies upon me and I felt an outpouring; an abundance of love, that took me by surprise.
I later found out that the Sunday I missed, included my bishop imploring my young single adult friends to pray for me. Those prayers were answered and I learned that my Heavenly Father knew EXACTLY who I was and what I was suffering.
He knew ME. He knew my fiery furnace. I felt Him there with me.
What did I learn? I can honestly say, that all those years ago, I’m not even sure if I thought about the atonement or really understood what it was. I didn’t specifically call out for it. But I testify, with everything in me that IT WAS the atonement of Jesus Christ that helped me through those dark days, and the year of depression and guilt and agony that followed.
I’ve reached out over the last few weeks to a group of women I am friends with online. I’ve asked them how the atonement has affected them. As stories of the most devastating kind have come into my inbox, I’ve been humbled. Rape, cancer and other health crises, poverty, infidelity, husbands with porn issues they refuse to give up, infertility, divorce, marriages that were more a jail or torture than a marriage, abuse, lost children—stories that are heartbreaking. But each one, testifying that the atonement of Jesus Christ is REAL. It’s REAL sisters.
There were two questions that came to me as I began preparing a few weeks ago. 1-What KEEPS me from accessing the atonement? 2-What HELPS me access the atonement? I hope you will ponder those questions and take them to the Lord. He will tell you EXACTLY what is keeping YOU or helping you access the atonement.
Nephi tells us in 2 Nephi 2, that there MUST be opposition in ALL things. He goes on to say that without opposition,
“Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.”
So, without opposition, or suffering, or affliction, the wisdom, purpose, POWER, mercy and justice of God is destroyed. I wish we could talk more about that. Think about that. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading the Infinite Atonement by Elder Tad R Callister.
Joseph Smith said, “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”
Sisters, our heart wrenching experiences are for our sanctification and consecration. I am confident that the majority of women in this room could come up and tell us of individual suffering that would have us hugging each other and weeping. Those same sisters would also stand and testify of the goodness and strength of a loving Heavenly Father and the mercy of His Son Jesus Christ to us. Why is that? How is that? We can turn to Jesus Christ as He beckons us, or we can suffer alone. He’s the ONLY ONE who understands completely.
There were 2 answers to my question 1. These are my answers. Not understanding my relationship with my Heavenly Father. And unbelief.
What is the first great commandment?
Love God with ALL, heart, soul, strength, mind. The scriptures tell us NOTHING can separate us from the love of God, and He wants us to return that love back to Him. That may be half the problem right there. Do we really love Him so much with ALL that we have and are that we trust Him rather than doubt Him? Do we accept the things we cannot change rather than worry, wring our hands, and whine about our lot to anyone who will listen?
What’s the second?
Love thy neighbor as THYSELF. What do we know about these 2 commandments and the rest of the law and prophets?
It all hangs on L-O-V-E. Love God, love self, love others. Every single commandment is about love.
“We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love Him.” But do we believe it? Do we understand the protection in it? Because if WE don’t, satan does. He knows that if we can doubt ourselves and the love of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, HALF the battle is won.
Then it’s a matter of telling us lies on the one hand to get us to sin. “Nobody will know. It feels good. It will make you happy. You should just give up.” And telling us lies on the other hand to keep us in misery. “Everyone will know, everyone will judge you. You’ve sinned too much. You can’t repent. No one loves you” He weaves a web of lies, and we fall for it!
I’m a believer that we have the power to CREATE our lives. One of the ways we can do that is through affirmations. If words created the world and they did, and testimony won the war in heaven and it did, words are very powerful. What is an affirmation? Let me repeat, “we are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us.” Or how about this?
“We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision…”
If you rewrite it in first person and say it every day, it sounds something like this. “I am a beloved daughter of God and my life has meaning, purpose, and direction. I am devoted to Jesus Christ, my Savior and Exemplar. I am a woman of faith, virtue, and vision.” Years ago, I studied the YW Theme and the RS Declaration and my patriarchal blessing, and created my own Personal Proclamation. I encourage you to do the same. I promise you, if you look yourself in the eyes in the mirror every day and say these kinds of things. Eventually, you will believe it. Then you will become it. If you need help, ask me, call me or email me, I’ll help you do it.
For the sake of time, I’ll skip unbelief and share what’s on my list of things that HELP me access the atonement.
Gratitude, humility, trust, sacrifice, covenants. I’ll just touch on two.
The word gratitude is not found in the scriptures. It’s thanksgiving. The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving. Giving thanks was an important part of the law of sacrifice. I find that interesting. It was a prayer or offering after confession, conveying gratitude for forgiveness. In section 59 of the D and C, after God tells us all the things of the earth that he has given us to use and rejoice, he says:
21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.
There’s that word ALL again. I’ve been practicing gratitude regularly for over ten years. As Cicero and Pres Uchtdorf have both said, gratitude is the parent of all other virtues. I testify that it is true. Practicing a grateful heart in ALL things, makes it easier for us to conquer other failings with the help of the atonement. It might be a bit of an extreme example, but in one very conscious moment of gratitude, I experienced a physical healing. Gratitude sets our hearts in the right place to access the atonement.
Speaking of hearts, God just wants our broken hearts. We are no longer required to sacrifice animals on the altar to be consumed by fire. No, Heavenly Father invites us to put our hearts on the altar to be consumed by the atonement. We have altars in the temple, and we have an altar in this very room. Each week as we partake of the sacrament, or as we attend the temple, we can symbolically place our hearts on the altar and give up our sins and our animal nature and allow His atonement to purify us.
Any action we take to draw near to Jesus Christ activates the POWER of the atonement. It’s really simple. Heavenly Father ALWAYS prepares a way for us. The Book of Mormon testifies of that over and over. All we need to do to access the way He has prepared is keep the commandments. Years ago in a conference talk Sister Dew invited the women of God to “identify at least one thing we can do to come out of the world and come closer to Christ. And then next month, another. And then another.”
In January’s young adult fireside, President Nelson challenged them to consecrate a portion of their time each week to read EVERYTHING about the Savior in the standard works. He pronounced promises with that challenge. He blogged about his 6 week experience with it on lds.org
. As I have studied the atonement of Jesus Christ, I have felt a greater measure of the Spirit and I have felt the power of the Holy Ghost increase in my life.
The simplest way to access the atonement is all the Sunday School answers. If you want to discover the way that is prepared before you by our Heavenly Father, do these things. (Hold up For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, and the Vision for the Pima, Az stake. Come unto Christ and invite others to do the same. Doing so will add needed drops to our lamps as we wait for the bridegroom. Come Unto Christ Sisters)
I testify that the atonement of Jesus Christ is real. That if we ask our Heavenly Father what keeps us from accessing the Atonement, He will give us an answer unique to us. If we ask Him how to better access the Atonement, He’ll show us a unique way to do that too. We are daughters of Heavenly Father. He loves us. He wants us to succeed. Jesus Christ suffered all things so that He would know how to succor us. When we turn to Him, He runs to our aid. Sometimes we can’t feel Him there, but He is. Likewise, as we suffer, we will also know how to succor those within our influence. Elder Orson F Whitney said:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . .and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”
We are invited to be joint heirs with Him. The only easy path to that is sharing the yoke with Him and giving Him our burdens, and like Him, NOT SHRINK. If we ACCEPT that Christ suffered, why do we EXPECT that we won’t?
I add my testimony to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it.”
I’m so very grateful that the Lord has compensated me already for my losses. He has smiled down upon me in ways I could not have imagined as I suffered in the furnace of my affliction. I’d like to close with this clip. The refiner’s fire. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
[Last edited Mar 03, 2017 22:52:11]