IT'S MY ANNIVERSARY!
I can't believe it and I'm completely freaking out. I decided to celebrate this extremely special occasion to me to express gratitude for all the many experiences and people who got me to this point, and to the person who I am today :)
Normally when we ask ourselves where we will be in 5 years, or even 10 years, we like to jump to things like - 'I hope I'm happy', 'With someone I love/family/friends', 'Successful in my career', 'educated' - or things along those lines. The things that we say will make us happy once we accomplish or achieve them. And then, 5 years comes along, and we can sometimes end up being the same person we were back then but older, with more experiences, and possibly different people surrounding us in our lives. The trials and things that worried us 5 years ago might not even make us blink now but kept us crying at night back then. People we might have been so close to and never thought wouldn't be in your life move on with theirs or move in different directions. Time may be a man-made concept to help us run society, but we can be sure that it moves with or without us.
When I was 14, if I was asked where I thought I would be in 5 years, I would have no idea that I would end up here. To have met the people in my life that have helped me to shape me as the person I am today, to the experiences that have pushed me to the breaking point and pushed me further to God than anything else could have, to have extremely joyous experiences too that gave me a glimpse of what Heaven might feel like, to learn things, to try things, to have all these happen to me and to have that all start from a decision to join the Church. I have been pondering on these things leading up to today, and it absolutely boggles my mind of what the Lord can do to a life dedicated to Him as opposed to a life that doesn't know Him. There have been times in these past 5 years where I have been so close to God that my answers to prayers weren't these spontaneous and surprising moments, but a knowledge that He would answer nearly immediately and that I would know for sure that it was true, and I have had times where I pushed myself far from Him due to circumstances and my decisions in them, where I felt like God was even more of a stranger to me than ever before.
But when I prayed this morning, I could only express thanks for all that has been given to me in these very short 5 years. It feels like I only joined the Church yesterday and am still discovering all these new and completely awe inspiring doctrines that connect with my very soul. That every day I learn a little more about the Saviour through the scriptures and stop to think, 'How can someone have loved me so much and be so perfect? How can I be more like Him?'
My life is split into two parts; The life I had before the Church, and the life I have after joining the Church. Almost like black and white, a contrasting and illuminating evidence standing in front of everyone who knows me to see that change and that transition from black and darkness of not knowing God and having a personal relationship with Him to gaining that light in my life that brightened everything by having the Light of the World there.
I'm often one who is really good with my words, one who can eloquently convey what I am feeling and how I experienced something, but when I come to how I feel about the gospel and what it has done for me in my life, I become something like a mute crossed with an overly excited child. It is the single most important thing that has ever happened to me in my life, and will always be the most important thing that has happened. Yes, one day I will get married in the Temple and have children and raise them, and they will be in my top 5 of most important events that happen to me, but nothing will surpass my own personal conversion to the gospel and coming to a knowledge of Christ, which corrected my course for the better. So, for this 5 year anniversary post, I'm going to do what I do best and that is to express gratitude.
“A friend is more concerned about helping people than getting credit. A friend cares. A friend loves. A friend listens. And a friend reaches out.”
― Thomas S. Monson
Something that has really astonished me was the amount of love I had felt when joining the Church, not only by my Heavenly Father but the other youth, the leaders, and every single member I came in contact with.
I have met my best friend of 5 years through the Church, I have met people who have helped shape me as a person even though our time together was transient but left a mark on me that would never disappear, and I have met certain people that have been my trials and lessons that I need to learn that only came through them at that specific time. Though, there are some very special people to me that I wanted to thank especially for playing parts they never realized they were.
Kiriwai Howe - Thank you for being my role model of a young woman in Christ.
Thank you for helping introduce me into the Young Women's program, to take me under your wing when I was a shy little awkward 14 year old, and to answer all my questions and to explain things before I even asked. You became my role model, and someone who was a very genuine example of the YW's values, and being Christ-Like. I wanted to have the traits, characters, and the same feeling that you gave people by loving them, appreciating them, and treating everyone like the son and daughter of God they were. I wanted to be the kind of person you were for me when I first came to Church, and that's what led me on the path to really understanding who I was, and the worth of others. I also really adore your confidence and how you had this quiet presence. I learnt so much just from your example and how you treated others, and I respect and adore that so highly :) [1 Timothy 4:12]
Sister Moana Howe (Seminary Teacher) - Thank you for helping me to gain a love for the scriptures and to really appreciate them.
Sis Howe :) You took something that most of the youth would either roll their eyes at, cringe at, or fall asleep at the sound of and turned it into something that I looked forward to every morning at 6-7am. Besides Personal Progress, Seminary and the Scripture Mastery was another program that helped me to strengthen and grow my testimony. You shared these amazing stories and made it an enjoyable experience to not only learn the scriptures and doctrines, but to make them applicable and fun! I often share my favourite Seminary experiences and games that put certain principles in a different light or perspective. Your enthusiasm and passion for the scriptures are so infectious and it made me fall in love with the scriptures and how they spoke to me. [Proverbs 22:6]
Natalie Dickman - Thank you for showing me what it was to stand up as an example of Christ.
Oh my girl, you are such a beautiful soul that really showed me what true friendship was and how it means to be a friend that cares, loves, listens, and reaches out. You helped me to not be embarrassed or ashamed about my enthusiasm and love for the gospel, and to not be afraid to be confident in that. Whether that was in class, in my actions, or words. You always encouraged me, loved me, and helped me to see my worth when I was too hard on myself. You were my partner spiritually, and it was during our friendship that I drew closer to the Lord the most, because I was in the presence of a friend who made it easier to live the gospel. There were many times during our friendship and your time here in Australia that I would always wonder if the Lord knew that I needed you at that time in my life, and that you were the perfect blessing to me in my life. I thanked God for you continuously, and always appreciated how much you simultaneously comforted me but also kicked my butt out of the comfort zone. With you, I had the confidence and faith to give talks that would have normally made me crumple into a heap and cry, to SING IN FRONT OF PEOPLE AT FIRESIDES AND SACRAMENT MEETINGS AND BAPTISMS AND EVEN A MISSIONARY FAREWELL!
I still am astonished at how you got under my skin to actually get me to do it, and not only do it but enjoy it. You were one of the very (very) rare few people who I felt that our connection was not just earthly bound, but something that had formed or existed in the pre-existence before. It was the only way to explain how close we were, how it felt natural and instinctive together. I appreciated your friendship so much, it hurt me and ached when you had to move away, but even though we're on two different paths I know that you're a friendship that I will never lose, even if we only hear from each other every 4-6 months to update each other :) And you're currently serving your mission, and I am so extremely proud of you.
[Doctrine and Covenants 6:33-37]
Chelsey Lynn - Thank you for helping me to realize the impact that I made, and to have a happiness in all things.
If there was anyone who was going to teach me about humility and meekness, it would have to be you my Chels :) You help me understand the Plan of Salvation so much more, with a greater perspective than I could have ever of imagined. No more was I being plagued and suffocated by my worries and anxieties (Well...I still am, but much less!) because I had that eternal perspective, and the hope that followed it. You also helped me to realize that while I may be small, that I am fierce :P But the fact that I could affect one life, to help one Child of God, to be a friend to someone who would be my friend, you taught me a lot about making a difference doesn't mean to make a difference to millions, sometimes it's just one :) [2 Nephi 31:20]
Mee-Eun Fell - Thank you for teaching me the importance of the temple, and of never wavering in the Lord's standards.
You were my absolute FAVOURITE YW's Leader :P I know we aren't meant to have favourites, but the things you taught and the things you did resonated with me so much in Young Women's. We had plenty of conversations about marriage, dating, family, temple, standards, and everything else they teach in YW's :P I remember distinctly one talk we had, while I was at your house, where I got to see all the pictures of the temple near your bed and quotes from the Prophets and Apostles, and you turned to me and said - ' Never lower your sights, Ash. Not for one moment. The temple is where you're going to end up if you want to get there, and your standards will carry you there. Marriage, or for yourself, you want to go to the temple'
And from that I always aimed for the Temple and nothing less, I understood the importance of it and why it's increasingly important for us to go and prioritize the temple. To see you blessed with a beautiful family for your efforts and diligence gives me hope for my future as I set up the foundation of my eternity with the standards and sights I set now :) [ Joshua 24:15]
Michael Klenka (Big Bro) - Thank you for introducing me to the gospel, for believing in me and never being shy or scared to share the gospel with me. Thank you for teaching me missionary work.
If you never opened your mouth, if you didn't live and LOVE the gospel when you joined, I would never have been interested or intrigued by the Church. The way you acted, the way you spoke, and the way you loved others so dramatically after joining the Church opened my eyes and made me stop and think what could be making you so happy. Without that example through your actions, I got to start my path on the gospel on the best foot, with a natural curiosity and not one made by having you shove it down my throat and throwing LDS confetti around. You are so eager to share the gospel, and that made me excited and eager to share it with others. You also believed and hoped that I might come to the knowledge by myself, and never thought 'Oh Ashleigh will never accept the gospel, she isn't ready to hear it just yet'
You believed in me, so I believed you when you bore your testimony :) [Doctrine and Covenants 123:17]
True conversion occurs as you continue to act upon the doctrines you know are true and keep the commandments, day after day, month after month.
- Bonnie L. Oscarson
There's something that changes your life when you have these things in your life; it becomes brighter, it becomes easier (Yet doesn't mean you don't have trials, you still have PLENTY of those and possibly even more, but it's easier because you have perspective and faith in God), and you live your life to a set of standards that never changes, even when the world does nearly every day.
Before I had the gospel knowledge, I was quite a miserable person trying to find my purpose, standards, beliefs, some kind of foundation that I could ground myself on when things began to get overwhelming or crazy. I didn't and so I started to look in the wrong kinds of places, where society tells us that we will find peace and fun and what everyone else is doing, but I didn't like it at all. It was a horrendous lifestyle, and one that I didn't even realize was horrendous until I gained the knowledge that I have now. People will say that God's commandments, doctrines, laws, principles, and covenants can become suffocating and constricting, but I found the complete opposite for myself. With each commandment that I keep, it protects me from things that WOULD narrow my choices and opportunities because of certain consequences of my actions, it gives me a straight path to follow, and most importantly of all it gave me perspective.
This perspective of the doctrines and commandments of God helped me to stop fearing certain worries that would fester in my mind, they gave me hope for the future and forgiveness for my past and to live my present with an enthusiasm. They guide my life when I change as a person, my surroundings change, people change, and everything is in turmoil. They never change, they never fail me, they never stop giving me hope and love and comfort.
They taught me to love more profoundly than I ever thought possible.
They taught me to forgive others with no hesitation and with arms fully open and accepting.
They taught me to lead my life in a good way, helping those around me and making a difference.
They taught me that life doesn't just end here, leaving everything we do meaningless, but that we return to our Loving and Forever Patient Father in Heaven.
They taught me that my body is a temple, and to treat it in such a manner of reverence and sacredness that it deserves (though I'm still going to eat those french fries and regret it later when I see my tum-tum)
They taught me about diligence, obedience, and the ability to not believe that freedom is the ability to do whatever I want, but to have the self control to make decisions appropriately.
They taught me that every person is important, has worth, and is a Child of God. Every single one.
They taught me empathy, and to put myself in someone's shoes and feel them before judging how their shoes look.
They taught me that God hasn't given up on His people, not for one moment. He could never forget us.
They taught me that there isn't a thin line between Heaven and Hell, and that God is an uncaring and justice filled God, but it's a glorious and magnificent plan that is so well thought of and is filled with love and mercy.
And Most Important Of All,
They taught me that I have a Saviour who loves me, and loved me enough to die for me to give me an Infinite Atonement to correct my mistakes in this life, to change and be better than I was the hour before. That He gave the perfect example for me to follow, to CHOOSE to come onto Him and accept His gospel and have a better life, even better than I could have ever dreamed up or wanted.
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 25:26
How does one even begin to explain the love and appreciation for the Saviour? How does one even begin to fathom what He has done for us, and put it into words of how they feel about it?
When I joined the Church, many of the different doctrines and principles of the Gospel were amazing to me. The Plan of Salvation? You mean there isn't just a Heaven and Hell but multiple Kingdoms that is more fair? You mean that we came down here with a purpose? You mean that those people who didn't get to hear about Jesus Christ get to have another chance after they die?
Prophets and Apostles are alive and have been called of God in this day? You mean that there is still revelation? You mean that there is an organised Church of God on the face of the Earth in which He SPEAKS to? You mean that God hasn't forgotten His people and that He is still actively engaged in His children's welfare?
The Temple and Eternal Families? You mean that there are certain sacred buildings where we can do the Lord's ordinances? That families don't just end here, but that they can still be the same loving environment and community in the next? I can be with the ones who love and understand me the most for all time and eternity?
It was truly amazing to me, and my heart couldn't take how much it was happily jumping to hear these things. But when they taught me about Jesus Christ, and the things He did and what He taught during His ministry, the type of love He showed to those He taught who society shunned as sickly and unwanted and unforgivable, how He was never for Himself but for others, and dying for all of mankind's sins so that all the Children of God, every single one of them, would have the opportunity to repent and not be doomed to instant damnation at the slightest sin.
I knew of Christ as a child, but I never knew Him. He was not personal to me, I didn't have a relationship with Him of drawing to Him for strength, or living a lifestyle worthy to be in His name. I knew of His ministry but I did not know the content of His sermons, His specific healings, and the magnitude of the sacrifice He made. My understanding of Jesus Christ was that He died for all mankind, and that he led a perfect life. It wasn't enough to settle in my heart and to hit me with the significance of it all, but now that I had found Christ and His restored Church, I was overcome with the love that He has for me. If there was ever any person who knew what I was going through, or had gone through, or was going to go through, it was the Saviour who felt every kind of pain imaginable. He descended below all things so that He could comprehend all things (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6) and that means He can comprehend your pain, because we aren't greater than the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 122:8). I knew that not only was Christ's Atonement for repenting of sin and receiving forgiveness, but it was also for those who needed encouragement, support, encouragement, a source of strength when all of ours is expended, a light to guide us through our hard times. It's not just for the sinners, but the righteous too.
I love my Saviour, and to sound completely and utterly cheesy, He has become my best friend. My foundation, my hope, my light, my redemption, and my all.
As Nephi has said, 'But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love' (2 Nephi 1:15)
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my daughter*, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
- Doctrine and Covenants 122:7
The Lord knows what He is doing when he gives us trials, and sometimes the self afflicted trials we give ourselves. I am an absolute WHINER during my struggles and trials, I am sometimes worse than Laman and Lemuel. I am a professional murmurer, and I know it. In the moment of struggle and the moment of the said trial, I will be like those wailing children thrashing and sobbing on the ground while their [Heavenly] Father watches on patiently and lovingly. It's only after I've cried myself out, I've bruised my arms and my legs and my throat is hoarse, then does my Father reach out to me and I take it quietly, then realize why the trial had to happen and why I had to learn it.
I can't say these past 5 years have been easy. There has been loneliness, bullying, depression and suicide attempts, anxiety, and relationships that were close to me falling apart. I struggled with faith at certain times, knowing if God was there anymore for me and if He wanted to hear from me anymore, or if I was willing to listen. These experiences were my Refiner's Fire, molding me and bending me to change to what the Lord knows I can be as a finished piece.
I've grown to learn and love trials, and the hard struggles that make you just weep bitter tears as you drop to your knees in prayer. Those are the moments where you receive your most growth, where it is either going to knock you back so that it will propel you forward or trip you up, depending on how you act towards the trial. I've reflected on the many times where I thought I couldn't persevere, where I couldn't endure and push through, and yet somehow I did with the Lord's help and I gained perspective, I gained the experience that I needed and learnt a valuable lesson only learnt through that specific experience.
In this Church, I have been pushed to my extremes. Pushed to tears and to heartfelt prayers that went on for as long as I needed to speak to my Father in Heaven. I've been coaxed out of that comfort zone, to push the boundaries and fences that I put myself in and wish to stay there, even though there is a much better destination just beyond. I wouldn't change any of these experiences, even the ones that I regret, because they make me who I am. They make up who Ashleigh is, and her weaknesses and strengths. Without these experiences, there would be no reason to come to Earth in the Plan of Salvation. Our earthly trial is to learn opposition, to learn to choose God time and time again, and to test ourselves on certain qualities like patience, faith, charity, and all the other traits of Christ. That's what this is for! That is what life is about!
It has taken me so long to learn this, to thank Heavenly Father for my trials, the ones in my past, the ones I'm currently experiencing, and the ones that I will experience in the future. I thank Him for trusting me enough to push me and give me these moments that let me prove myself and challenge who I think I am, and what I'm capable of.
5 words in 5 years?
I Know My Redeemer Lives
And hopefully, in the next 5 years, I will have my own family to share the gospel with and help them to feel the love of God like I have :)