“Sisters, this is a call to arms, it’s a call to action, a call to arise. A call to arm ourselves with power and with righteousness. A call to rely on the arm of the Lord rather than the arm of flesh. A call to “arise and shine forth, that our light may be a standard for the nations. A call to live as women of God so that we and our families may return safely home. ” (Sheri Dew, November 1999 Ensign, We are Women of God)
Tuesday night, I knelt beside my bed and offered a prayer to Heavenly Father asking that I would have the opportunity to do missionary work tomorrow. I wanted to be able to serve others and not focus on myself so much because I've been so down about everything about myself. I have gotten myself into this cycle of, 'I'm ugly' - 'I'm fat!'- 'I don't have any friends' - 'I haven't done anything I set out to do today, I'm a failure' and it's REEAAALLY not healthy. I feel crap all day and I just have a pity party in my room alone. So, I turned to Him because I know He can give me these opportunities and that through the Spirit, I would recognize them as such.
The next morning I went to Seminary and we had a great class where we had to role-play the scripture verses that we were assigned. Act 1 was about Zacharaiah and his wife. Act 2 (my act) was about Zacharaiah being visited by the angel Gabriel and told that his wife, who was barren, was pregnant. He foretold about the child's future, him being John the Baptist. Act 3 was about Joseph and Mary being visited as well as the angel Gabriel and told that Mary was pregnant with Jesus. It was pretty awesome, lots of laughter :) I found that when I just put forth my best foot and stood in front of my fear, I really enjoyed myself! I didn't focus on if I looked stupid, or if I was doing everything perfectly. I was just laughing and being silly with other youth whilst learning of the gospel. I wasn't so focused on myself and for some time, I didn't worry.
After Seminary, I went home and for some reason I began feeling crap about myself again. I saw my pudgy tummy of shame, I saw that I hadn't read my scriptures yet or dedicated time for it, I saw that I don't have a goal for the future concerning my education or mission...to be blunt, I was starting to despise myself. Usually when I feel sad, or generally crappy, I sleep a lot or clean thoroughly, one being very useful and the other just makes me more tired. So, to get myself out of this loop I went to clean the house (it's an arrangement with mum, so that I can work for money towards my mission). I made it ABSOLUTELY SPOTLESS. Even I was impressed with what I could do in 2 hours. During those 2 hours though, I was so happy. I played music loudly throughout the house and I sang terribly as I wiped and washed the dishes, vaccumed and all that jazz. I didn't think or replay all the emotional garbage I've been cycling through lately. It wasn't until I finished and I had this spare time between now and when I was scheduled to go teaching with the Elders, that I began to feel those crap feelings about myself rise up in my chest. I kept thinking to myself, "Quick! I need to find something to do..." so I sat down at the computer to write...even then, it just made me think of how much I had to write but hadn't even started yet. I entered the loop again.
I was dropped off at the Chapel at 9:30am, the appointment started at 10 am. I sat on the front steps, relaxing and thinking about things. I read a few letters that I keep in my scriptures by people close to my heart, just for times when I feel absolutely horrendous. It brightened my day a little, but I was still pretty down or "quiet". Usually when I'm THIS upset, I turn to memories. I replay some of my favourite memories in my mind and usually that brings a little smile to my face :)
It was 10:05am and I began to reeeally need to go to the bathroom. As I was about to call the Elders and demand their presence, Aaron turned the corner and startled me. His first words were, "The Elders are late...shame on them" with a big smile. We spoke for a few minutes before the Elders arrived and we started digging into them about being late.
The lesson was about the Plan of Salvation, one of my favourite gospel doctrines. It's one full of hope, faith, absolute perfection, and it gives purpose to everything. So when Elder Griffin stated that it was the discussion for today, I was pretty excited. I sat back and listening and watching as the new missionary, Elder Choi, placed one picture down at a time. Each little picture representing a part of the Plan of Salvation. They were in English and Chinese so it was pretty cool to see the different interpretations of it. Aaron surprisingly remembered a lot of it! I was surprised, at times I was caught going "WAIT WHAT?...oh...wait...I remember that now :D". I loved the conviction, strong testimony, and excitement that Elder Griffin has in his teaching. It's very contagious and inspires you to teach with that same passion. Of course, being the member present in the lesson, the Elders usually ask you questions encouraging you to bear your testimony of what they just taught. They asked me what this scripture meant to me (It was in 2 Nephi I think...or Alma. It was explaining how this life is a preparatory time for us and that we shouldn't waste away our time that was freely given to us) so I had to bear my testimony of that.
It's always REALLY interesting when you have to bear your testimony of something; my thought process goes as such - 'Take in what he just said and begin to interpret the words' - 'Think about the question and discern my feelings towards it' - 'begin to panic when I don't recognize any feelings and begin to question if I really have a testimony of it' - 'The Spirit takes over because I'm stupid and gives me the words, feelings and way of speaking that comes off as a testimony' - 'I feel hot flushes in my face and I lean back in my chair, wondering if I just said all that and if it made sense' - Repeat this cycle during the entire lesson. Sometimes I really feel for the Elders and having me as their member present in the lessons :P
I was then asked by Elder Griffin about the Resurrection and how it has blessed or helped me in my life...-cue the cycle of thoughts-, I thought about it for a moment and then for some reason, I felt a really strong burning in my chest and this confidence that came from no where just suddenly engulf me. I didn't feel the hot flushes, or the doubt in my way of speaking. I knew exactly what I was saying and exactly what I was trying to get to. I shared how, because I knew of Jesus Christ before I joined the church but having no church or foundation, I didn't really have much of a purpose or a good relationship with my Heavenly Father. I often questioned His way and His love because I thought about all those people who, if they didn't hear about Jesus Christ, would go only to Hell because it was ONLY Heaven or Hell to me before then. I thought,
"What kind of God would be that unfair to His children? Does He even really love them if, just because they didn't have the chance to hear of Jesus Christ and His gospel, He'd banish them down to Hell with murderers, liars, and thieves?"
So, when I heard of the Plan of Salvation and how many times during it that it gives everyone a second chance, and how the Resurrection is for EVERY SINGLE SOUL...I knew that this was the Just, Merciful, and Loving Heavenly Father I believed in. I knew that He is love, He is full of it and would NEVER just say, "Oh too bad...you never heard about the gospel or the church and although you lived a pretty good life, not doing anything bad or majorly sinful...you're still being banished to Hell with Satan and his followers. Sorry!". He would be merciful, loving but fair. He would say, "You didn't get to hear about my Son, or the gospel. I will give you this chance, I will teach you about this gospel and YOU will have the agency to whether or not you will follow it". I expressed also how that I was so ecstatic that the Resurrection for EVERYONE. It's a gift freely given to all of us, all of us will be immortal. How much of a blessing is that?! that is pure love!
As I was bearing testimony, I felt that power behind my words. I was quite startled at first, but then it became familiar. I felt the Spirit and I wanted that feeling to stay with me...but of course, as soon as I ended bearing my testimony, that feeling of pure confidence and conviction left me slowly. I did still feel that peace of the Spirit, and I knew He was present in the lesson, but I didn't feel that power or conviction any more. I guess in a way, that is a blessing from Heavenly Father. If we felt that ALL the time, we'd take it for granted. As in the scriptures it says, "there must be an opposition in ALL things". We have to experience feeling crappy and having trials in order to fully appreciate the powerful and peaceful feeling of the Spirit. BUT, then that's when our faith comes in. We need faith to remember those powerful experiences of the Spirit during our hard times of trial, doubt, and sadness. We must remember, through Faith, all the times and experiences we have had of Peace and happiness. We can't simply think that because we're going through the hard times, that's all there is. There is no peace or happiness but only sadness and trial. That's where our faith - our hope and belief in things that are not seen but a true - comes into play.
I definitely felt calmed about the lessons. All my fears, doubts, insecurities and mistakes didn't upset me as much as they did earlier. I spent a few moments about the lesson, speaking to the Elders about Michael and his first week in the New Zealand MTC. Elder Griffin expressed that he really missed Michael...it really touched me. I thought of how quickly Mike and this elder connected and became close friends...and I wondered if any missionary ever thought of me like that, whether a sister or an elder who needed an ear to listen or some encouraging words when the work was hard...I wondered if I had ever affected any of them like that. I'll never know, but it's always something that I can ponder later, or that I can focus on when I help and serve other people or at least have the opportunities to.
The Elders invited me to another lesson later in the day to teach a young woman who is a recent convert, like I, named Sophie. I had been to her previous lessons and was so inspired by her enthusiasm, passion and vibrant love for the gospel. She would get excited over things that I simply became used to, or took for granted after awhile. I accepted and was pretty excited to go :)
I arrived late. I felt so bad -cue almost entering the cycle- :P I arrived 30 minutes late to the lesson, and they even waited for me! They answered questions that she had and I arrived all ashamed like. I truly was. Missionaries or pre-missionary like me should learn and be precisely on time. I failed. BUT! It was a wonderful lesson, I really learnt a lot from it.
They began to teach Sophie about the Restoration of the Gospel. It was interesting to watch the Elders teach and for myself to be able to follow as I had studied the first lesson of Preach my gospel which is the Restoration of the Gospel. I was able to see how they tied the bullet point topics and make it come off as a conversation and discussion more than a bullet point presentation or a clearly memorised speech. I guess, inside, I was subconsciously taking notes for when I become a missionary.
As I watched the Elders teach, I was slowly remembering what I felt when I first heard of the Restoration. The awe, the wonder, the faith beginning like a seed in my heart. Everything I heard about Joseph Smith, about the First vision, about the Great Apostasy ..everything 'clicked' in my head and heart. It's almost like when a teacher is teaching you maths, and she says " Two plus two equals 4" she then shows you on the board, or paper, or on her fingers..it and 'clicks', it just MAKES SO MUCH SENSE! I felt this warm sensation again take over my chest and head during the lesson. It's this peaceful, knowing, and understanding comfort.
Elder Griffin then asks me, after speaking about Prophets of God, how knowing Prophets exist and are called of God has affected me in my life. As before, I feel that peaceful assurance, that strong conviction and powerful Spirit arise in me again, ~ it's a feeling you recognize instantly and remember so closely to your heart~. I begin sharing that, before I joined the church ( I speak and bear testimony a lot like this...I hope it's not a bad thing), my main question in life was not where I had come from, or where I was going after I died, or what my purpose was, it was about Prophets. I wondered why, in our generation, there was no Prophet. I continuously asked, why? Are we too sinful for a prophet? What about Moses's people, who when he had left for the Ten Commandments stone tablets, built a bull of gold and worshipped it with all of kind of sinful activities? They still had a prophet and yet were incredibly wicked. Are we more wicked than them?
As I heard about the Restoration, a mere 2 and half years ago, I received an answer to that question of mine.
as I bore my testimony of this truth of this wonderful knowledge that I have come to grow, nurture and gain through the Spirit, I shared how I understood a little of how much Heavenly Father loves His children and NEVER EVER gives up on them. In every generation, except the Great Apostasy, there has been a Prophet to guide His children. He never forsakes us, He never gives up on us even when we are sinful and make mistakes. It showed to me of just HOW MUCH He loves us, His love is everlasting and eternal. To me, a Prophet is physical sign and evidence that Heavenly Father loves us, and He has not left us to ourselves. He stands as a witness of the Godhead and their purpose for us. It helped me believe that because the Prophet is a man called of God, that Heavenly Father is willing to speak to us and guide His church through Revelation as long as we are willing to listen and 'hearken to His words'.
Elder Griffin just stared at me after I finished bearing my testimony of Prophets, and then exclaimed "Wow! I never thought of it like that...I'm going to teach that in our other lessons when we teach about Prophets!" I was very humbled...like really? A missionary who has been in the MTC, been teaching for months...was inspired to teach something that I said? :| I was humbled by that.
We spoke a little more and then finished off with Moroni's promise in chapter 10:3-5 where he physically dares and challenges us to "Ask your Heavenly Father if this church be NOT TRUE". I shared how I absolutely adore this promise, this challenge...he had SO much surety in himself and in the church that it was true that he challenged others to ask if, instead of being true, if the church ISN'T true. I shared my personal experience of taking that challenge and what I experienced. I then remembered when Mike once told me that he came into my room and I was crying, stating gently, "I know this church is true, Mike...". I hadn't remembered that experience in a long long time. But, like a video, it replayed in my mind as bright as the sun. It touched me, and I felt my Father's love for me expressed clearly and strongly.
As the missionaries left for Trade-offs, Sophie and I had an hour to talk before Mutual started. It was one of the deepest, clarifying, and personal conversation I've had in awhile. I was able to express things that I've experienced as a convert to the Church to another convert, and she actually understood where I was coming from. I felt understood, loved, and that I was gaining a close friend in the potential future. I was surprised to see just HOW much we had in common, before and after joining the church.
Mutual began to start, and we separated off to our own friends to say hello to. I cleared my mind of all these stupid and imaginary insecurities, fears and doubts I had and just put one sentence in my mind to follow : "Focus on others and Forget yourself". As I focused on this one sentence, I threw out all that fear of 'appearing stupid, weird, silly, or anything', I focused on the person I was talking to and trying to figure out how to make this person feel like a Child of God. I found that, as I did this, I was able to let go of these chains of doubt and fear and more fully stand in the sunlight that is the peace of the Spirit and the love of Christ and my Father. I was able to see the eternal worth of each of the young women and men I spoke to, and as I did that, they were able to see me. I didn't feel forgotten, or lonely but I felt cherished.
As I walked with the other youth, I was getting 'ASHLEIGH!"s and hugs from a lot of the Young women and men. I was kind of startled, I even began to think, "Are they pitying me because Mike left for his mission and they think I'm upset or somewhat apostate in the Church?" and I felt tinges of anger...but, remembering the feeling of the Spirit from the lesson earlier, I was able to realize that those tinges of anger and the feelings of lacking worth throughout the whole day was from the Adversary, Lucifer himself.
He was twisting my mistakes, weaknesses and insecurities around on me and making me believe that they were my OWN thoughts. I felt quite foolish to know that I was falling for his traps, his 'illusions' of myself and as the night progressed with the other young women surrounding me and almost, in a way, looking up to me as a role model...I had not a glimpse but a clear, full sized, image of my divine worth and eternal qualities that overcome my weaknesses, fears, and insecurities. I remembered things from my Patriarchal Blessing that let me get a small glimpse of the woman I was in the Pre-existence. The young women were a great help in this. I'm not sure if they did go out of their way to help me, or if that is actually how they treat me all the time...
but I felt like an 'leading light' to them. I felt that they looked up to me, and they watched my example and they way that I conduct myself as a standard for a young woman. That petrifies me to think that other people look to me as a standard, an example...the only way I can describe this fear is the same fear that Alma the younger felt when he realized his sins and 'desired to become extinct in the sight of God'. I want to shrivel away from it, I don't want people to look at me and think, "Wow...she is such an example. I'll follow the small things she does to live a righteous life and live the standards of the Lord" only then to realize that I'm only a human, I make mistakes and they are clear and big. I don't want someone to think I'm perfect when it's clear to me every single day that I'm not.
...but, as I read my Patriarchal Blessing, it's clear. This is what Heavenly Father wants me to be, and how I conduct myself. He wants me to be a 'leading light' and an example and standard to others, not just Young women. As I look throughout my life, it's made clear and quite often a pattern in my life of leadership and being an example. I don't know why Heavenly Father wants that for me, but He has an eternal perspective. He knew that, perhaps, I was a "Great and Noble one in the Pre-Existence" (Abraham 3:22-23) and knows what I'm capable of doing and becoming in this mortal life. I don't and that's why I must follow Him, for "His thoughts are not my thoughts, nor are His ways my ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts higher than my thoughts, and His ways higher than my ways" - (Isaiah 55:8-9). I mustn't put my needs and desires before my Father's in Heaven. He knows SO MUCH MORE than I do...it's like seeing the potential of someone and clearly wanting to scream and them and say "THIS IS ALL THAT YOU CAN BE! YOU CAN DO SO MUCH! YOU HAVE INFINITE POTENTIAL TO BE!" but them still having the agency to decline that potential because they desire something else...I don't to decline this eternal potential I have been given, as time goes on His will for me will be made clearer and I'll have a remembrance and glimpses of who I was and who I can be in this life. I must have faith, which is the clear and positive opposite of Fear and doubt.
So...what I'm clearly trying to say in this post is that; Yes, I have been struggling to feel that worth that I used to so clearly know and believe with all my heart and soul. It's not that I'm sad because Michael left, my happiness and pride for him leaving and serving the Lord is much stronger than my sadness of his departure. I have let the adversary toy with my insecurities, weaknesses and fears for way too long. I let my head become his play thing, something he can twist and distort the views of what I believe in and KNOW with certainty to be true. I didn't think it would be possible, but it is. I thought that if I was reading scriptures, praying, and doing all the simple but powerful things that invite the Spirit as my companion, that I'd be safe from the adversary's deceptions. I was clearly wrong, and I've made a mistake of losing precious time because of it. The adversary can get to you in ANY SINGLE WAY. For me, he came through my fears and insecurities of myself. As an introvert, and an INFJ, I focus A LOT on my weaknesses and how I can overcome them. In a way, that was a good thing! I was focusing on how I could be a better version of myself and to be 'polished' into the woman that Heavenly Father knows and desires for me to be again. But, as anything else in this world, if it's unbalanced and becomes your main sight...it will destroy you slowly and bit by bit. The adversary knows me well, he knows all of us very well. He was our brother in the Pre-mortal existence! He knew a way of twisting this good intentioned goal into a way of almost destroying my self esteem and the vision that my Father has clearly given to me of whom I can be again. I'm glad the Young Women were there for me to help me recognize who I am and the clear way that Heavenly Father has set for me. It's so easy to take one step in the wrong direction and end up a thousand miles away from where your goal was originally set. Lucifer is cunning, he is a master liar and he knows me as personally as Christ and my Father in Heaven does. That's scary.
Like a child in a large crowd holding the hand of her father, knowing that as long as she is with her father she is in safety, she is not alone and she knows the way as long as she holds tightly to her father's hand and follows his guidance that she will not be lost in the crowd; such is life. Lucifer and his minions are the crowd, waiting and hoping that I will lose sight of my Father in Heaven and of Christ's example that I will be lost in their deceptive crowd. But, as long as I keep my sight on my Father and hold the hand of Christ and follow His example, I will not be lost and I will have safety in that.
This is a long entry, and I apologize. But I KNEW, deep in my Spirit, that I needed to clearly write this all out. This is something that I will continue to experience throughout my life and I need to warn myself in the future of this. I need to tell myself, "Ashleigh! You have experienced this before! do not be deceived by the master of lies, he does not want anything good for you. Hold tight to the knowledge of who you are, who you were in the Pre-mortal existence, and who you can become again in this life if you continue to keep sight of the Father and never EVER let go of the hand of Christ. Lean on His example and hold tight with all your might, for if you ever let go, Lucifer is waiting to grab that hand and drag you off. Lucifer has never loved you, but Christ has loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). Hold tight, always remember and focus on what is REALLY important which is Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the Father ALONE"
I'm so grateful for this experience, I'm grateful to know that Heavenly Father still loves me, especially when I lack, and that He is never going to give up on me even when I give up on myself. I'm so thankful for the Saviour's atonement and that because of it, His grace has filled all my weaknesses and made me whole. I am so happy I am able to write this down and get this all off my chest, as I can literally feel the physical and temporal weight of it on my shoulders and chest.
Whoever reads this, I pray that you may also find and come to know with conviction that you have divine worth, and eternal qualities that Heavenly Father wants to help you nurture and grow as long as you listen to His guidance.
Doctrine and Covenants 45:62 has greatly helped me in this, especially when I lose sight of what's important.